Fire in the Soul: A Few Reflections from Together for the Gospel 2018

t4g.pngFor the last ten years, God has kindly provided me a season of refreshing every other April in the city of Louisville through a gathering known as Together for the Gospel. When I began going, I lived in that city as I studied at Southern Seminary. In 2010 our family moved fifty miles north to Southern Indiana. And in 2010, 2012, and 2014 I made the hour drive to attend the conference (Living in Northern Virginia, I now find it hard to believe you go 50-miles in under an hour). Twice in those years I drove that distance by myself; soon to see many friends, but alone in my participation from my church.

Like many who attended that conference I rejoiced in the time together, but also lamented the lack of interest from my church.

Fast forward to this year, and I stand amazed at God’s kindness in letting me worship God with 12,000+ people from all over the world and with 20 people from our own church. For three days, it was a joy to hear messages from Mark Dever, H.B. CharlesLigon Duncan, Matt Chandler, and others, but what was most encouraging—most amazing to me!—was sitting in Section 210 with 20 brothers from Occoquan Bible Church. As David sang, “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:5).

For this last week at T4G, I praise God for his kindness in surrounding me with so many like-minded brothers in Christ. I marvel that 20 men from age 16 to 60-something would be willing to make a 10-hour drive to spend 3 days worshiping God. Little could I have imagined such a fellowship a few years ago, which heightens all the more my anticipation for how God might use the seeds sown last week in the lives of our church.

Here is a sampling of the encouragement we received last week from some of the brothers who went from our church.  Continue reading

Red Carpet Christianity: A Summary and Conclusion to the Book of Ephesians

more-than-we-can-imagine_Red Carpet Christianity (Ephesians 6:21–24)

Since September our church has studied the book of Ephesians. This week, we finished the sermon series with a summary and reflection on Paul’s letter. In particular, I argued that the gospel creates communities of faith that learn how to walk together in love. It’s this love that displays the wisdom of God to the world and that builds up the individual Christian.

To turn it the other way, Ephesians teaches us that individuals need gospel communities (i.e., local churches) to grow in grace and truth. We need one another to grow up in Christ and we need others who model for us what it means to walk in wisdom. This is what we find in Ephesians 5–6, models of godliness in various situations in life.

Still, because the ideals of Ephesians 5–6 are not always found in our homes and workplaces, we also need Christians who have faithfully applied the lines of Scripture to difficult situations. Hence, Christians are built up when they consider the lives of other saints and seek to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). This is a main point in this sermon and one that unites all that we have seen in Paul’s glorious letter to the Ephesians.

You can listen to the sermon online. Information about the individuals mentioned in the sermon can be found below, as well as links to all the previous sermons in this series. Continue reading

Not Quite the End: Five Pastoral Lessons from the End of Ephesians

jakob-owens-298335-unsplashI love the end of Paul’s letters. Why? Because there is so much missions-mindedness in them. For instance, in Romans 16, Paul lists a few dozen of his gospel associates. In Titus 3 he shows how he is making plans for the gospel to go throughout the Mediterranean. And in Colossians 4, he is again speaking of the laborers who are both faithful and dangerous.

This week our church finishes up the book of Ephesians, and again Paul is demonstrating the way that he scheming for the gospel’s advance and shepherding the church in Ephesus he knows and loves. Though the content of Ephesians 6:21–24 is considerably less than other letters, we can see that his closing words do more than just conform to the epistolary conventions of his day.

In fact, there are at least five ways Paul’s closing words in Ephesians 6:21–24 display his pastoral heart. Continue reading

The Enduring Goodness of Marriage: What the Gospel Has to Say to a Culture of Cohabitation

old-people-couple-together-connected.jpgWith his characteristic biblical insight and cultural engagement, Tim Keller’s book on marriage, The Meaning of Marriageis filled with wisdom and encouragement. Aimed at marrieds and singles considering marriage (and singles who have sworn off the institution), Keller provides a helpful look at God’s design for marriage.

Importantly, he spends the first chapter considering the state of marriage today. He recognizes the way in which marriage has been assailed by the culture, and he makes a cogent argument for the enduring goodness of marriage in a secular age.

It’s from this first chapter, I want to share a few quotations that reflect on the pain of marriage, the enduring goodness of marriage, the perversion of marriage (i.e., how redefined expectations for marriage have twisted God’s original design); and way the gospel brings hope and meaning to marriage.

If these quotes resonate with you, I encourage you to pick up Keller’s excellent book. Continue reading

Marriage: Counter-Cultural in Every Generation

louis-moncouyoux-3615There are many who have read Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22–33 as an accommodation, or even an appropriation, to the Greco-Roman culture. However, Clinton Arnold in his outstanding commentary on this section, shows why that cannot be true. Taking an extended look at “The Roles of Wives in Roman-Era Ephesus and Western Asia Minor” (pp. 372–79), Arnold shows why Paul’s words are radically counter-cultural—both in his day and in ours.

Writing to a church combatting spiritual powers, Paul is not adopting the idea of patriarchy and headship from the Roman culture. If anything, he is opposing an ancient form of feminism that saw women asserting greater independence. In particular, citing many primary sources, Arnold shows how growing wealth among women, coupled with positions of leadership and the rise of goddess cults all worked to create “freedom and opportunity for women,” which had the effect of creating competition between married men and women (376).

This “new Roman woman,” as Arnold calls it, shows why Paul’s words about marriage and the family in Ephesians are not simply a cultural accommodation. Rather, as he puts it,

Ephesians was thus written to a place and at a time where traditional Greek and Roman roles for women and wives were in a dynamic flux. It is no longer accurate to portray the social-cultural environment as oppressive for women, denying them opportunities for leadership in religious and civic institutions, and extending to them no places of involvement outside of the domestic sphere. Of course, these opportunities would not have been available to most of the peasant and populations. But the same opportunities would have been closed to peasant and slave men as well since their primary focus was on survival. (378)

This is a vast change from the way many have read Ephesians. But we can ask, what significance does this have for our reading of Ephesians? Continue reading

Washed by the Water of the Word: How Paul Applies Ezekiel’s Words on Marriage to Christ and the Church

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Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
— Ephesians 5:25–27 —

In his commentary on Ephesians, Clinton Arnold shows how Paul takes up the imagery and language of Ezekiel to explain the work of Christ in purifying his bride, the church. As Ezekiel 16 looks forward to a day when the God of Israel will redeem and purify his covenant people, it is important to see how Ezekiel’s prophecy is fulfilled by Christ and the church. Thankfully, Paul demonstrates how Christ’s purchase and purification of his bride gives us explicit textual evidence for that fulfillment.

Arnold picks up the way Paul has made those connections and helpfully shows us how the many passages describing God’s marriage with Israel (e.g., Isaiah 54:5; 58:8; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:1–10; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2:19–20; 4:12; 5:4; 14:4) are picked up and applied to the bride of Christ composed of Jews and Gentiles. Here’s what he says, Continue reading

Learning to Love One Another: The Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Burden-Bearing (Galatians 1–6)

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Learning to Love One Another: The Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Burden-Bearing (Galatians 1–6)

In recent years, it’s been hard to miss our country’s rise in racial tensions. Or maybe we are just seeing what’s been there under the surface all along. Our country seems overwhelmed by all kinds of racialized sentiments. And in the church, Christ’s multi-ethnic bride continues to bear the scars of deep-seated racial division and hurt that goes back decades and centuries.

By contrast, the Bible presents a glorious vision of multi-ethnic worship, centered around the throne of God (see Revelation 5, 7, 21–22). And in Paul’s letters, there is a constant refrain for a diverse people to be unified in the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.  

On this point, this Sunday’s sermon focused on the gospel message in Galatians and how it relates to racial reconciliation. From Galatians’ six chapters, I drew out six gospel truths. In six points, we see that Galatians

  1. is all about the gospel;
  2. identifies a kind of division (in the church) that denies the gospel;
  3. proclaims a gospel that is international in scope and content;
  4. prioritizes faith as the fundamental community marker;
  5. teaches those who have been justified by faith alone to be passionate about justice;
  6. and calls the gospel community to seek justice in love, service, and burden-bearing to one another.

This sermon marks the second time I’ve preached on this subject. (The first was a biblical theology of race). As before, this subject is an incredibly heavy one, and one that still raises more questions than I have answers. That being said, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer that can give hope and help to the body of Christ bruised and broken by racism.

My prayer is that God would use this sermon as one small step to help our church grow as community compelled by the vision of Revelation and led by the directions of Galatians (and the rest of Scripture). May God bring healing to his church and may the power of gospel be see in multi-ethnic communities of faith. You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and further resources are below.  Continue reading

Nine Spiritual Disciplines from Charles Octavius Boothe (1845–1924)

dexter avenueAs our church finishes up a month-long study on the spiritual disciplines—personal and public—I turn to Plain Theology for Plain People by Charles Octavius Boothe (1845–1924). In chapter 6, entitled “How Christians Should Live and Labor,” Boothe lists nine “spiritual disciplines” that should mark the life of the believer.

In what follows I will introduce the man and his work, as well as the nine spiritual disciplines that should mark every believers’ life. I encourage you, if you are looking for a short, readable book on doctrine that is heavy on Scripture and clear on doctrine, take up and read Boothe’s Plain Theology for Plain People. Continue reading

Abortion: The Witness of the Church throughout History

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Scripture is clear on defending the life of the unborn, but so is church history. So, as we approach Sanctity of Life Sunday, here are a few quotes from church history. From the first century to the twenty-first century, care for orphans and the unborn is a priority of the church (see James 1:26–27).

(Many of these quotations listed below were collected from printed material from CARE-NET, a strategic ministry to women and children; other quotations come from Life News and Eternal Perspective Ministries). Continue reading

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