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

Getting into the Psalms: A Personal and Pastoral Reflection

psalmsPsalm 1, Psalm 23, Psalm 51, Psalm 103, Psalm 110, Psalm 121 and Psalm 139. These are just a few of my favorite Psalms. Through the years, I have prayed these Psalms, memorized them, preached them, and turned to them in dozens of counseling situations.

In fact, I remember one Sunday a few years ago when in preaching Galatians, I called an audible and preached Psalm 103, because the needs of the congregation were so great that only a Psalm could reach the depths of emotion present in the room that Sunday. And another time, a distraught husband visited church, and Psalm 32 became the landing zone to help assess the impact of his sin and the hope of finding forgiveness—“Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven” (v. 1)

More personally, the Psalms have been a regular source of strength, comfort, and encouragement to me. When first learning how the Bible applied to all areas of life, Psalm 139 gave sufficient reason to oppose abortion. I still remember turning to verses 13–16 to explain why Bible-believing Christians must defend life in the womb. Likewise, when facing trials, Psalm 121 has regularly been a comfort. Its promises of the Lord’s protection have steeled my heart from many worries. And more recently, when facing the hostility of a purported minister of the gospell, Psalm 55 was sufficient to strengthen my soul. To know that God’s people face betrayal is gut-wrenching reality, but one that the Psalms are capable of addressing. In short, the Psalms have played a necessary role in my life over the years. They have fed my soul. And I’ve seen them feed the souls of others.

Practically, I read at least one Psalm a day. (Except for those days when I don’t and then I catch up on the following day or two). In chronological order, I read through the whole Psalter in five months (January–May), with one extra month (June) to read them through more quickly. I do this to help facilitate prayer, but also to remind myself of the storyline of salvation contained therein. Yes, there is an order to the Psalms and knowing it adds greatly to understanding the Psalms and worshiping their God.  Continue reading

Pierced ‘That I Might’ Praise: The Worship Only Penal Substitution Creates

altar

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:21 —

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God,
being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
— 1 Peter 3:18 —

In and around the church, there has always been a group of theologians and pastors willing to question or deny penal substitution—the evangelical doctrine that affirms Christ’s death as a payment of penalty for sinners who trust in Jesus. Like Peter objecting to Christ’s prediction of suffering and death (Matthew 16:21–23), liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Schweitzer, and Adolph Von Harnack, along with modern authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and William Paul Young (author of The Shack) have maligned the blood of the cross.

Unfortunately, such denial of penal substitution depends upon a denial of Scripture, a defamation of biblical authors, and twisting of biblical words. At the same time, making Christ a mere model, teacher, or prophet, follows the lie of Satan (Matthew 16:23); it effectively denies the deity of Christ and God’s plan of salvation, foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. But aside from the theological considerations—which are considerable—denying penal substitution  steals glory from God’s work and praise from the believer’s heart. Continue reading

Learning to See the Beauty of a Gospel-Centered Church

churchThis Sunday we start up a new cycle of membership classes at our church, what we call Discover OBC. And in our first part we look at the Gospel and the Church. I love teaching about these two subjects, because they are at the core of Christianity. The gospel is the message which brings hope to a sinful world; the church is the community created by that gospel and commissioned to protect and proclaim that gospel so that the whole world might hear of King Jesus.

I love the gospel and the church, and I can’t wait to teach about them Sunday. But it wasn’t always that way.

How Do You See the Church?

Admittedly, for me, I was slow to understand and appreciate the importance and beauty of the local church. In high school and college, I came to faith, began sharing the gospel, and learning how the Word of God impacted all of life. In this time, church was important, but only as an extension of my individual Christianity.

For me church was an a la carte affair. I was committed to worshiping on Sunday, but not to any particular church. As long as I heard the Bible somewhere, that was enough. I was committed to evangelism and discipleship, but I did not see them as necessarily connected to the local church. As long as the gospel was going forward, surely that was enough. Right? What did the local church matter?

Well, near the end of college I “sensed the need” to join a church. I didn’t have any biblical reasons for the desire; it was just something I felt. (N.B. I am glad for this decision, but I don’t think it is the way the Bible teaches us to make decisions). After five years of walking with Jesus, I moved across the country to join a Bible-teaching, elder-led local church. And “attach” is probably the right term, because I still conceived of the church as the place individuals attach themselves to one another, more than a covenant community created by Jesus and bound by his Spirit.

As I look back, I realize how much I conceived of the church and Christianity in radically individualistic ways. I had come to believe the gospel, but the operating system of my life was still the expressive individualism I inherited from my culture. Not surprisingly, this is how I approached church. Even after joining the church, I still approached church this way. It wasn’t until I began to study the Scriptures on the matter, that I began to see that the Bible was and is at odds with the individualistic Christianity that I first adopted.

Four Metaphors for the Church

Most helpful to me in understanding what the Bible says about church were the many metaphors Scripture gives to us about the church. For instance, 1 Timothy 3:15 says we are God’s household; 1 Corinthians 12 calls us the body of Christ; Ephesians 5 likens us to Christ’s bride; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19 describes us as God’s temple; Ephesians 2:19–22 says the same thing; and 1 Peter 2:5, 9 adds that each of us are living stones in that temple. I have written about these things before and will cover them in our new members class, but today I want to suggest four others word-pictures that might help you and I think about what church is and isn’t.

  • First, the church is a family home not a spiritual hotel. That is, the church is not an amenity-filled temporary residence; it is meant to be a long-term, family-filled gathering place where we do life together. While our culture teaches us to be consumers, a church based on God’s Word teaches us to be brothers and sisters.
  • Second, the church is a military outpost, not an earthly resort. While there is a place for retreat and rest, the church is a royal embassy engaged in spiritual warfare. Therefore, we come to church not just to escape, but to be equipped and to work together to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to a hostile world.
  • Third, the church is a heavenly practice, not an earthly pit-stop. On a long journey, rest is needed. But if we treat church as merely the rest on our journey, we miss that church is actually the goal, not the pit stop we take on the way to something else. More accurately, gathering to worship and fellowship is the way we practice our everlasting life. It is not given to merely assist us in earthly labors; it is meant to subvert earthly labors as it teaches us to store up treasures in heaven. In this vein, God may be calling you to use your gifts to build up the body of Christ, imperfect as it is, rather than using your GPS to find the service that best meets all our needs. But to embrace that we must remember the church is not yet perfect.
  • Fourth, the local church is a temporary shadow, not the full and final substance. How often do we complain (if only in our hearts) that church is not like we want it? In truth, this is how it will always be. Until all of God’s people, from all ages and all places, are gathered around the throne room, we will experience the thorns and thistles of this age—even in the church. Therefore, it may help to remember that our local assemblies are but grace-filled shadows of God’s ultimate goal—a new creation filled with resurrected saints.

Indeed, these kinds of word-pictures have helped me think more clearly about the biblical picture of the church. Based on the metaphors of Scripture, they have enlarged my heart for the church—in all of its grace and grit. A gospel-centered church is truly a beautiful creation. I pray these images will help you see its beauty and mission as well.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Enlarging Our Missions Footprint

feet

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation,who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
– Isaiah 52:7 –

 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel.
For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
– Romans 10:14–17–

Imagine a child who is growing into adulthood. Each year she grows taller, stronger, wiser. Only with this child, her feet never grow any larger. While her arms and legs gain length and strength, the foundation of her body, the feet, disables her from running, jumping, playing as she’d like. Because she doesn’t have adequate support for her growing body, her feet become misshapen and debilitating for a healthy life.

Speaking metaphorically, Isaiah 52:7 extols the beautiful feet of those who bring good news. In context, Isaiah 52 is a prophecy that recalls the enslavement of Israel (“You were sold for nothing,” v. 3) and the greater salvation that God is going to bring. Isaiah tells the people of Israel to rejoice in the happy news of their salvation (v. 8), for the Lord has revealed “his holy arm” and promises to lead Israel on a new exodus (vv. 10–12). In context, Isaiah 52 sets up the announcement of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), who will deliver all God’s sheep—the elect from Israel and the nations—from the very sins that led them into exile. It’s in this context that the good news is brought.

In the New Testament, Paul picks up the same imagery. When speaking of the gospel going from the Jews to all the nations (Romans 10), he quotes Isaiah 52:7, explaining that the beautiful feet “preach the good news,” i.e., the gospel of Jesus Christ. In context, Paul inquires how the nations will hear the good news of salvation, unless men and women proclaim the gospel. “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

Romans 10 is one of the most forceful passages in the Bible for the call of Christians and especially churches to engage in missions. From Acts 13 on, the pattern of missionary activity is for churches to recognize gifted servants whom they can send out to deliver the good news to those who have not heard it. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are called by the Spirit and commissioned by the church to take the gospel throughout the Mediterranean. Ever since, “New Testament churches” have followed their pattern—raising up, sending out, and supporting missionaries.

In other words, “beautiful feet” do not come by accident. They are cultivated in and sent out by local churches. Continue reading

For Your Edification: Baptism, Membership, and Life Together in the Church

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the church, membership, baptism, and life together in the church. As I preach through 1 Corinthians and our church works to update its prospective member class, I’ve found great profit from reading the works of Jonathan Leeman (Church Membership and Church Discipline) and Bobby Jamieson (Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Membership) on these subjects, but I’ve also found help in some shorter pieces.

Whether you are a pastor, a member, or a free-range evangelical, these resources will encourage, challenge, and bring light on the subject of membership in the local church. Perhaps in the weeks ahead I can add a few posts myself.

Is Church Membership Biblical? by Matt Chandler

If you view church as some sort of ecclesiological buffet, then you severely limit the likelihood of your growing into maturity. Growth into godliness can hurt. For instance, as I interact with others in my own local body, my own slothfulness in zeal is exposed, as is my lack of patience, my prayerlessness, and my hesitancy to associate with the lowly (Rom. 12:11-16). Yet this interaction also gives me the opportunity to be lovingly confronted by brothers and sisters who are in the trenches with me, as well as a safe place to confess and repent. But when church is just a place you attend without ever joining, like an ecclesiological buffet, you just might consider whether you’re always leaving whenever your heart begins to be exposed by the Spirit, and the real work is beginning to happen.

You can also find John Piper’s strong affirmation of “How Important is Church Membership?Continue reading

‘Body Language’ in 1 Corinthians

body languageE. Earl Ellis summarizes his article on “Soma in First Corinthians” (Interpretation, 44 no 2 Apr 1990, pp 132–144) by saying,

Paul’s concept of the “body,” so obscure for our modern way of thinking, nevertheless underlies the whole of his theology, and is decisive for understanding Paul’s teaching on ethics, sacraments, ministry, and the Christian hope. (132)

In this article he shows how ‘body’ is a significant concept in 1 Corinthians and in all Paul’s writings. Indeed, in our body-obsessed culture we need to recapture a biblical theology of the body. Ellis’s article is a helpful starting point.

Applied to the church, the term soma (“body”) is a significant metaphor (see 1 Corinthians 12:12–26) that informs the whole letter. As I argued in my sermon yesterday (“Body Life in Christ’s Household: An Overview of 1 Corinthians“), to be a member in Christ’s church is to fundamentally change the way we think about the body. Whereas the unbeliever is dead in their union with Adam (Romans 5:12–14, 18–19; 1 Corinthians 15:22), the child of God is made alive in Christ and baptized into his body (1 Corinthians 12:12–13). The implications of this union for ecclesiology—the doctrine and practice of the church—are manifold.

Following the content of 1 Corinthians we might say that when the modern individual is gripped by the reality of their union with Christ and his body, it produces unity and knocks down divisions (ch. 1–4); it produces holiness and empowers purity (ch. 5–7); it motivates love and self-sacrifice (ch. 8–11); and it builds the body in love (ch. 12–14) because individual members use their spiritual gifts for the common good of others (12:7) and not for themselves (14:4). Most significantly, when believers live self-conscious of their place in God’s body, they are ready to deny self and live in love, holiness, and unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ. In short, they display the resurrection power of God to raise the dead to manifest life as Christ’s body.

Next time you read 1 Corinthians keep an eye out for Paul’s body language. It unites the whole book. And provides a powerful antidote against selfishness and a motivation to live for the glory of God in all things.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Recommended Reading: Ten Books on Prayer

praySunday I preached on the church’s calling to “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Among the seven points of application—“seven ways to improve your pray life today”—one of them had to do with learning how to pray.

In truth, nothing teaches you how to pray like praying, and especially by praying with others who know how to pray. The disciples asked Jesus “to teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). The assumption is that both John and Jesus prayed with and before their disciples, hence prompting their question.

Theologically, it is the Spirit who directs our prayers (see Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18; and Jude 20). But practically, like Jesus’ twelve disciples, we too need to learn from our Lord how to pray. Certainly, the Scriptures are the place to learn what it means to “pray in the Spirit,” “by the will of God,” “for his glory,” and “for our joy.” But if you are like me, you are helped when men and women gifted to teach and gifted to pray write books that relate Scriptural truth to real life.

Therefore, if you are earnestly desirous of learning how to pray, consider these ten books on the subject. I have found them helpful and encourage you to check them out too. Continue reading

Joy in the Lord, in the Church, and in the Ministry

joy[Yesterday, I preached my first sermon as pastor of preaching at Occoquan Bible Church. Leading up to that day, here’s what I wrote to our church].

 Not that we lord it over your faith,
but we work with you for your joy,
for you stand firm in your faith.
 – 2 Corinthians 1:24 –

Joy in the Lord

Joy is what pulsated in the Godhead when the world was still an idea (cf. John 17:24–26). And joy is what moved God to create the world. While under no compulsion to create, it was God’s good pleasure to create a world whereby his glory could be displayed and enjoyed.

For the sheer pleasure of it, God created the Manatee and the Milky Way, earthworms and electricity. And in the middle of it all, he made man and woman—the pinnacle of creation (Psalm 8), the acme of his affection. Continue reading

Marveling at God’s Direction in Our Lives: An Update on the Schrocks

obcThe plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established. . . . 
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
— Proverbs 16:1–3, 9 —

On Wednesday August 26, the elders of Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia (20 miles south of Washington, D.C.) unanimously called me to be the pastor of preaching at their church. Since June I have been in conversation with them about this position. In July Wendy and I had a wonderful visit with the elders. Following that trip, the elders announced my candidacy for the position of teaching elder (pastor of preaching) and for the last 30 days we (the church family and our family) have been prayerfully considering this call.

During this season of prayer, our whole family visited OBC. We loved it. Our kids loved it. And we felt increasingly convinced that God was leading in this process.

In our visit, we were deeply encouraged by the way the Word of God and the gospel was made central in all aspects of the church. We loved meeting the families at OBC and hearing their passion for Christ and work of the ministry in and through the church. I preached twice (on membership and eldership) and got to sit in on a handful of activities during the week. Long story short, we left Northern Virginia on August 17 hopeful and prayerful that we would soon return.

Next week, we will do just that. After six months of seeking the Lord and watching him direct and redirect our steps, we will load up all our earthly belongings and join God’s people in Woodbridge, Virginia.

We are incredibly excited about this move. We praise God for his faithfulness and love and provision during these months of uncertainty (=unemployment). We give thanks to him for all of you who prayed with us, encouraged us, and ministered to us. And we marvel at how he led us to OBC. It’s that story I want to share here—that this marvelous works might be magnified and that you might be encouraged in your own earthly pilgrimage. Continue reading