From Dating, To Engagement, To Marriage: A Man’s Meditation on Proverbs 31

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[The following is a biblical meditation for young men considering engagement and marriage. You can find a PDF of the questions here.]

In Proverbs 31, we find a beautiful, twenty-two verse acrostic poem describing an excellent wife. While these verses focus on the character of a godly wife, they are written for a young man to discern and desire these characteristics in a future wife. For men seeking marriage, these verses can provide a fruitful place to prayerfully consider the kind of woman he should marry. With that in mind I’ve drawn a few questions from each verse, attempting to make contemporary wisdom that addressed an agrarian world.

For practical purposes, these questions do not all need to be answered in the affirmative to proceed towards marriage. No one marries a perfect spouse, but these questions can be asked to clarify the enigmatic question: Is this the one? More specifically, when answers arrive as weaknesses or negatives, godly men should ask: Can I embrace that weakness? Or better, is God calling me to lead, love, and lay down my life to bolster this woman and to cultivate weaknesses towards greater strength.

These questions should be asked with significant soul-searching and self-examination; they should not be used to judge another or to point out faults. They are for clarity, not condemnation. That said, many marriages stumble because biblical wisdom has not been applied from the start. These questions, therefore, are meant to stir up wisdom and to press young men to consider from Scripture the kind of characteristics that should be present in a godly wife. In so doing, the man should also grow in wisdom.

10An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

An excellent wife is from the Lord (Prov. 19:14), not from man. So in what ways can you see that God has brought the two of you together?

Does this marriage have the mark of God’s handiwork, or yours?

Do you treasure her? Why? What would you lose without her? Continue reading

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

Keep Zion in View: Help for the Beleaguered Reader of Isaiah

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If you have started the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, you may be thinking about now: Isaiah a big book—a big, confusing book. If so, have no fear, you are not alone. One of the first times I read Isaiah—Isaiah 13–19 in particular—I just gave up.

This post is written so that you won’t follow that same path.

When I gave up reading Isaiah, I had no idea how to read Isaiah, or any other Prophet. I was trying to read Isaiah like I read Paul or John. I was looking for a nugget of truth or application in every verse, or at least one in every paragraph. However, that’s not the way to read Isaiah. Isaiah is like climbing a mountain—literally and literarily!!

In the book of Isaiah, Mount Zion is the goal and each section of the book keeps coming back to his holy hill. The effect is a pronouncement of salvation and judgment in surround sound. Yet, you wouldn’t know that the first time you read the book. (However, Isaiah 2:1–4 does supply a help key to the rest of the book). And thus, to get the most out of reading Isaiah, you will need to see the big picture.

Indeed, reading Isaiah can feel like putting a puzzle together without the box top, if you don’t have the big view in mind. But if you have the boxtop, i.e., a picture of what the whole book is about, it makes the reading understandable and far more enjoyable.

That’s the goal of this post—to give you a few boxtops for Isaiah. The following videos, sermons, and literary outline, therefore, are a few ways to get your bearings in Isaiah. May they help you read this big and wonderful book with less confusion. Continue reading

The Vexation of Vanity: A Word from Richard Sibbes about New Year’s Resolutions

new years.jpegVexation always follows vanity,
when vanity is not apprehended to be where it is.
— Richard Sibbes —

In his treatise The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Richard Sibbes, notes many causes of despair. Among them is vainglory, the pursuit of passions which are intended to elevate the soul with earthly things.

On the first day of the year, when New Year’s Resolutions abound—our own family wrote down goals for 2020 this morning—Sibbes words are a good tonic to prevent ascribing too much hope to our earthly abilities and how they might achieve “glory” for ourselves in 2020.

On this first day of the year, I am glad I read Sibbes’ words and I share them with other glory-seekers. He states that one “positive cause” of soul conflict comes from . . .

When men lay up their comfort too much on outward things, which, being subject to much inconstancy and change, breed disquiet. Vexation always follows vanity, when vanity is not apprehended to be where it is. In that measure we are cast down in the disappointing of our hopes, as we were too much lifted up in expectation of good from them. Whence proceed these complaints:

    • Such a friend hath failed me;
    • I never thought to have fallen into this condition;
    • I had settled my joy in this child, in this friend, &c.

But this is to build our comfort upon things that have no firm foundation, to build castles in the air, Continue reading

Reading for Scripture Saturation: Introducing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

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How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

With 2019 ending and 2020 approaching, many are thinking about how they might read the Bible in the new year. And rightly so—the Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on the very word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). So we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the next year.

Personally though, I wonder if our daily reading plans help us with this idea of Scripture saturation. Often, such plans call for reading single chapters from various parts of the Bible. And the daily routine can invite checking the box without understanding the book. So my question has been: does such reading help us or hinder us in our Bible reading? Continue reading

Imagine . . . : 16 Observations on Imagination, Theology, Discipleship, and the Church

michael-aleo-DpgzNS1yvWg-unsplash.jpg“Imagine there’s no heaven.”
— John Lennon —

“Many churches are suffering from malnourished imaginations,
captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life.”
— Kevin J. Vanhoozer —

In seminary I took a class called “The Worshipping Church,” where one of our assignments included visiting churches outside our denomination. In one of those visits, I went to a local Roman Catholic Church, where before, during, or after the service (I cannot remember), the instrumentalist played the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. If you are unfamiliar, the lyrics begin

Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try
No hell below us / Above us only sky

Admittedly, the instrumental tune is soothing, but the casual denial of heaven and hell is satanic. And though the words were not sung aloud in the service, to anyone familiar with the song, it was not too difficult to imagine what the song was saying.

I bring up this occasion not to bemoan the presence of that song in church—it’s exclusion from the worship set should be obvious. I bring up the song “Imagine” to observe the lack of imagination that cripples so many of God’s churches. As Kevin Vanhoozer has observed, “Many churches are suffering from malnourished imaginations, captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life.”

Going further, Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine, reiterates the need for churches to engage the imagination. Indeed, this is more than a hat tip to the arts; as Vanhoozer argues, imagination is a necessary (and biblical!) step between theory and practice, between faith and love.

As he has (for years) sought to bridge the chasm between knowledge and action with what he calls “theodrama” or “the drama of doctrine,” Vanhoozer rightly observes the importance of imagination. And in what follows I want to cite sixteen of his observations on this subject and why it is so vital for the church. Continue reading

For Disciples and Disciplers . . . A Short Biblical Survey of Beauty

waterfallAnd 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 their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4–6 —

In recent days I have become increasingly convinced that biblical teaching, preaching, and discipleship must do more than transmit information. We must proclaim the Truth of God with the same beauty that we find in Scripture. Indeed, the Spirit of Truth did not inspire the Word in some drab and dull way. It is filled with poetry, irony, mystery, and symmetry—in a word, beauty. And the more we see such Christ-centered beauty, the more we will understand God’s Word and become like the Word made flesh.

To put it biblically, if salvation comes from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4–6), than sanctification is beautification, where the disciples of Christ reflect the glory of God in ever-increasing ways (2 Cor. 3:18). As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, “The ‘holy array’ in which the priests of ancient Israel worshiped God (1 Chron 16:29, RSV) now becomes the righteousness of Christ (Gal 3:27), the humility (1 Pet 5:5) that clothes all believers” (Kevin Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition129). Continue reading

What Hath the Lord’s Supper To Do with Baptism (pt. 2)

ryan-loughlin--a8Cewc-qGQ-unsplashYesterday, I began to consider the necessary unity of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or to put it differently, why baptism is the necessary prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. Today, I will make a biblical-theological case for why this unity should be believed and practiced.

By looking at how the whole Bible sets the stage for Christ’s two ordinances, we find a compelling reason for practicing them together and in order—baptism first, then the Lord’s Table. Or as we will see from Joshua, the Lord’s is for those who have passed over the waters of baptism and entered God’s land. This is physically and historically true with old covenant Israel; this is symbolically and personally true for every member of God’s new covenant.

It will take a little bit of time to see all the pieces of this argument, but for those willing to put in the effort, there is a great reward for seeing how Scripture unifies God’s ordinances and explains their place in the life of the Church and the Christian today. In what follows, I will offer two presuppositions and four reasons for why the Lord’s Supper requires baptism. Continue reading

Glorifying God in the Grind of Life

christ.jpegQ. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and know him forever.
— Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1 —

There is nothing more important than knowing why you exist. And nothing provides a better answer than this: You were created to glorify God.

Speaking to the people he was redeeming from the nations, God says in Isaiah 43:6–7,

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Speaking of the purpose of redemption, Paul says a millenia later that God predestined, called, and justified his people, so that he could glorify them (Rom 8:29–30). While God does not give his glory to another (Isa 42:8; 48:11); he does all things for his glory, including making mankind in his image to reflect his glory to the world.

Indeed, Habakkuk 2:14, echoing Numbers 14:21 and Isaiah 6:3, says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Indeed creation exists as a canvas for God’s glory and mankind exists to know, enjoy, and magnify God’s glory.

It is impossible to read the Bible for any length of time without running into this theme. And it is equally impossible to find our purpose or God’s purpose for us, without attending to this lofty ideal. Yet, because it is lofty, the idea of God’s glory may seem unreachable or mysterious. What does it mean to live for God’s glory, or Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:31—to eat, and drink, and do all things for the glory of God?

That’s the question I will be trying to answer tonight as our college and career ministry kicks off it’s first meeting. In the coming weeks, our church will host a college and career gathering at 7:00pm on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. The goal is to equip Christians, explore topics of faith for Christians and non-Christians, and to provide a place of mid-week fellowship for those in this seasons of life.

Because the glory of God is so central to life—and also so enigmatic—we will spend our summer thinking about how the glory of God presses into all areas of life. Indeed, we will not fully comprehend God’s glory in our earthly life, nor in eternity—where we will always be experiencing more of his glory—always satisfied and seeking more.

That said, here’s a part of tonight’s lesson, plus a list of future topics we’ll consider. Continue reading

Learning from the Past to Be Faithful in the Present: Four Reasons Why Church History Matters

church historyGod’s people are a people of history. Because our faith stands or falls with the historical events of Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15)—not to mention all the historical events leading up to Christ’s advent—Christians are a people who should care deeply about history. Yet, often we don’t.

Non-denominational Christians, especially, know little about what happened before Billy Graham. Many know something of the Reformation, but few know what happened between John on Patmos and Martin Luther in Wittenberg. This is unfortunate, because we learn a great deal about our faith, the church, and the gospel by looking at all periods of church history.

To that end, this Sunday and next, we will consider deacons from an historical perspective. While our doctrinal formulations and church practices are founded on Scripture, we are benefitted by looking at church history to see how faithful (and unfaithful) churches have thought about and employed deacons. Still, before considering that subject, it might be worthwhile to remember why church history matters and how to rightly approach church history. Continue reading