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 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

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

Ten Things Ephesians Teaches About Christ and his Church

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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, . . .
— Ephesians 3:10 —

The ESV Study Bible has a succinct list of ten ways Christ and his Church are related and described in the book of Ephesians (p. 2267). For anyone wanting to dig deeper into what Scripture says about God’s people, Christ’s body and bride, and the Holy Spirit’s temple, the book of Ephesians would be an important starting place. Keep an eye out for these verses (listed below) and you will gain great insight into how Paul understands the church for which Christ died and is now building.

Christ is the head of the church 1:22–23; 4:15; 5:23
Christ is the cornerstone of the church 2:20
Christ is the Savior and sanctifier of the church 5:23, 26–27
Christ gives the church ministry workers 4:11–16
Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the church 5:25
Christ nourishes and cherishes the church 5:29
the church and her members dwell and grow in Christ 2:21–22; 4:15
the church is a means through which God manifests his manifold wisdom 3:10
the church submits to Christ 5:24
the church is Christ’s body, and individual believers are members of his body 1:22–23; 3:6; 4:4, 16; 5:23, 30

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Onur on Unsplash

Martin Luther: Rediscovering the Gospel and Reforming the Church (A Biographical Sermon)

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Martin Luther: Rediscovering the Gospel and Reforming the Church

As we gathered at church this Reformation Sunday, we did so with the fruits of the Reformation still impacting our lives. From the Bibles in our laps (or on our phones) to the message justification by faith alone in Christ alone, we who know the true gospel of grace are, in so many ways indebted to the men and women of the Reformation. Through their suffering, couple with the faithful who have gone before and after them, we have received an incredible heritage.

Accordingly, it is appropriate to spend time learning from their example. Indeed, it is even biblical. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who taught you the word of God, consider the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faith.” This morning, that is what our church did, setting our series of Ephesians aside for one week, in order to remember the life of Martin Luther and to learn from his faith.

Indeed, any study of Martin Luther requires a specific topic. His writing is so voluminous and his impact, not to mention his personality, is so vast, it requires any biographer to hone in on some aspect of his life. When John Piper preached a biographical sermon on Luther, he chose his relationship with God’s Word. For me, I chose to focus the church he aimed to reform with the gospel he reclaimed.

In this biographical sermon, I considered how Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel led him to fight for the purification and replanting, if you will, of the church. In truth, he never abandoned the church, but with the key of the gospel, he sought to unlock the church from its captivity to Rome. Therefore, there is much to learn from Luther about the gospel and the church, and how we can and ought to be gospel-centered churches.

To find out what we can learn from the life and legacy of Martin Luther, you can listen to the sermon online, or you can read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are included below. Continue reading

What Servant Leadership Looks Like: Seven Lessons from Theodore Roosevelt

bookFor the last few weeks I have been listening to the audiobook by John Knokey, Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of American LeadershipThis has probably been one of the most enjoyable and fascinating biographies I’ve ever read. Knokey traces the development of Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership from his developmental years at Harvard to his two terms as president of the United States.

Most of his time—or at least, the most memorable time—is spent with Roosevelt as a frontiersman in the Dakotas and a military colonel on the way to Cuba. In these anecdote-filled chapters, the reader is given a firsthand introduction to how Roosevelt became a leader and how his leadership forged the spirit of America for the next century.

For anyone interested in American history or presidential leadership this book is excellent. In fact there are many lessons about leadership in the book and countless stories to illustrate them. To summarize, I will distill seven lessons from Roosevelt’s larger-than-life leadership, and make a few applications to Christian leadership in particular. Continue reading

Take Heart My Brothers: Six Pastoral Priorities in the Face of Church Conflict

ethan-weil-262745In fair weather, the Pastoral Epistles are a storehouse of spiritual wisdom and instruction for the life of the Church and her ministers. But as we know too well, such cloudless skies are infrequent. Thankfully, when affliction grips the body of Christ, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are the most capable of helping pastors and churches navigate dark skies and turbulent winds. And thus in times of relational conflict and spiritual warfare, we (pastors) need to study them with an eye to what they say to about leading the church through conflict.

Indeed, in these letters (and others), Paul often speaks about the work of Satan, and significantly he places our enemy not outside, but inside, Christ’s fold. For instance, among born-again believers, Paul speaks of the way Satan finds a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), ensnares young believers ambitious to lead (1 Timothy 3:6–7), and turns brothers into opponents (2 Timothy 2:22–26). Because of his spiritual invasion, the church must always be on guard (1 Peter 5:8), praying against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10–19), and aware that ungodly people sneak into the church (Jude). Even more, wise elders must give themselves to steering the church straight in the face of opposition that comes from within the church and without.

To do this elders must keep a few things before their eyes. That is, we must prepare ourselves for the turmoil that sin and Satan bring to the church. And thus, in the face of constant threats, churches and church leaders do well to have a clear understanding of what to do when trouble comes. And there is no better place to find this counsel than the Pastoral Epistles.

So, if you are a pastor going through rough waters in your church, or if you are church member wondering what a faithful model of leadership should look like in the face of conflict, here are six priorities from the Book of Titus to guide your steps. Surely, these priorities will need to be administered with care in various contemporary settings, but they nonetheless provide biblical direction for churches to keep in mind when the wind and waves of church conflict seek to run the church aground. Continue reading

The Church as Christ’s New Creation: How a Multi-Ethnic Church Fulfills God’s Promises to Israel

tung-wong-70780This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:6 —

In Ephesians 2 Paul spends a great deal of time explaining how the Jews and Gentiles are no longer divided by covenant or country, but instead have become in Christ ‘one new man in place of the two’ (v. 15). This “two becomes one” theme culminates and crystalizes in Ephesians 2:18–21, when he says that the temple Christ is building is comprised of Jews and Gentiles. He writes,

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Amazingly, in these verses, Paul highlights at least three ways in which the temple is comprised of Jews and Gentiles.

  1. He says that Christ preached peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near (v. 17), which is to say Christ preaches peace by his Spirit to far off Gentiles and near(er) Jews. There is not a different message for each group and there is certainly not a different covenant. Rather, the same message of Christ-centered peace is offered by Christ to all people—whether Jew or Gentile.
  2. He says both Jews and Gentiles have access in one Spirit to the Father (v. 18). Indeed, in Christ those who were once near do not have a greater access than those who were far off. Like John and Peter (John 20:4), one may have arrived at the empty tomb sooner than the other, but the first one to Christ did not get a greater blessing. So it is with Jews and Gentiles in Christ—both have access to the triune God and neither have more access than the other.
  3. He says Gentiles, who were once separated from the blessings of God (Ephesians 2:11–12), and Jews, who once clearly had multiple advantages over the Gentiles (see Romans 3:1–2; 9:4–5) are now fellow citizens. Indeed they are fellow members of the household of God, such that only with one another can the temple of God be joined together.

In short, Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2 of reconciliation makes clear that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but instead there is one new covenant people who possess all the same blessings in Christ. Continue reading

Grace on Display: In Paul’s Ministry and Christ’s Church (Ephesians 3:1–13)

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Grace on Display: In Paul’s Ministry and Christ’s Church

Most of the time when we read the Bible we seek to make direct application to ourselves. Because the Bible is for our instruction and sanctification, this is absolutely right. Sometimes in Scripture, however, we find that the first application is not to ourselves. Ephesians 3:1–13 is one of those instances, and yet it is also a passage bubbling over with grace for the believer.

As I preached on Ephesians 3:1–13, I sought to show the grace of God in Paul’s ministry, the grace of God’s in Paul’s gospel, and the grace that culminates in Christ’s Church. In short, even though this passage Paul reflects about God’s grace to him, it can strengthen our confidence in God’s grace as we understand how God has worked in church history and in what God intends for the church today.

Because my sermon deviated so much from my original notes, I am not including those this week. But you can find the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources can be found below.  Continue reading

More Than Could Be Asked or Imagined: Four Surprising Ways Christ and His Church Fulfilled the Promises to Israel

ben-white-197668When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:4–6 —

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains how the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church was a mystery hidden to the Old Testament people of God. In the strongest fashion he explains how Christ’s cross created “one new man” (2:15), tearing down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The result in Ephesians 3:6 is that Gentiles are “fellow heirs” (sugklēronomos) , “fellow members of the body”(sussōma), and “fellow sharers (summetoxa) of the promise in Christ Jesus”.

In these three desciptions, Paul uses the strongest terms to explain that the status of Jews and Gentiles is equal in Christ. No longer are the people of Israel advantaged over the Gentiles, as it was under the Sinai Covenant. Now in Christ Jews and Gentiles share equal statues. As Paul teaches, both are condemned for their sin and thus both redeemed by God’s free gift of grace—not by law-keeping. This makes all participants in Christ’s new covenant equals, brothers and sisters, co-heirs with their Lord.

Still, to get a handle on this newness in Christ, it is equally important to understand how the apostolic teaching was new—new to the first century believers and new to anyone today entering the church today. On that newness, Clinton Arnold gives a succinct outline of the ways in which the plan of God was previously unknown but now revealed through the gospel.

Under four points, he identifies (1) the means, (2) the Mosaic law, (3) the manner, and (4) the magnitude as constituting something different and greater than could be seen by the Old Testament saints. Here’s what Arnold writes (Ephesians, 190), Continue reading