Seven Pastoral Practices for Bringing Biblical Theology to Church

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Yesterday, I gave seven pastoral cautions for bringing biblical theology to the church. And as advertised, here is the rest of the story: seven pastoral practices for bringing biblical theology to church.

This is list primarily for pastors and the role their preaching can play in helping their congregation value a unified reading Scripture that leads to Christ—for this is what the best biblical theology does. However, these encouragements may also serve any member of the church, as healthy congregational have more than biblical pulpits. They must also have members who long for and pray for the Word of God to grow in their midst.

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Churches Are Gathering Again: Here’s Why It Matters So Much

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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.
This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

— Ephesians 3:10–11 —

This Sunday our church plans to regather again . . . outside . . . with appropriate spacing.

Approaching this Sunday, it is worth recalling that it has been more than two months since our congregation assembled to worship Christ, sing praises to God, and hear his Word. This means, it has been more than two months, that our church has fulfilled its calling to be a public witness to the resurrected Christ. Maybe your church has been closed for just as long?

As we prepare for service on Sunday, we are excited to meet again, to take the Lord’s Supper, and declare the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and brought us into his light. We have been grieved by the loss of fellowship and the chance to see our family of faith. But even more, we have—or, at least, I have—been even more grieved that our non-assembly means that God’s life-size billboard of grace, the church, has not been seen in our region for nearly a quarter of the year. With that reflection in mind, I preached the last two sermons on Joel.

While Joel addressed a people whose physical temple had been closed by God, there is an analogy to the church. The local church is the living temple of God, where Spirit-born, Spirit-filled living stones gather to testify to the Lord’s excellencies (1 Peter 2:9–10). The church, as Paul says in Ephesians 3, is the means by which God glorifies his grace on the earth, before the watching eyes of angels and men.

Keeping this in mind recalls why not gathering is such a big deal, and why it is something that cannot go on indefinitely. Christian discipleship means more than getting our weekly sermon fix via Zoom, it means gathering with the saints, testifying to the resurrection of Christ, and being the light of the world which invites others to come out of the darkness. This is perhaps the greatest loss during the days of COVID-19, and one that we may have missed along the way.

In our church, we have prayed much for church to open again. And we rejoice that we will, by God’s grace, gather this Sunday. Joel’s message to a closed temple has been a help to see the need we have to gather. If you are still uncertain about gathering, take time consider Ephesians 3:10–11, 1 Peter 2:9–10, and the book of Joel. I am persuaded that they give us strong medicine to combat the complacency of non-gathering brought about in these days.

May these sermons encourage you and challenge you to consider the essential place of gathering with the saints. For indeed, the church (the assembly of God) can’t be the church when it doesn’t church (=assemble). To that end, let us continue to pray and pursue every opportunity to assemble, until the church is once again meeting with regularity with all the saints.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Eternal Perspective in a Time of Isolation: A Meditation on Psalm 90 (with Sermon Video)

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[This is the first message in a series, Steadfast Psalms for a Scattered People]

This week our church was “cancelled.”

Praise around the throne of God went on unceasing, but our church didn’t gather because of the now-infamous and still-dangerous Coronavirus. With this unwanted hiatus, our elders decided to offer a devotional meditation for our congregation. This was not an attempt to replace church—an online “gathering” cannot reproduce what the body of Christ gathered does. Yet, we wanted to feed the flock from the scriptures. And this week that word came from Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, the man of God.

You can watch the video here. What follows is a more fulsome meditation on this Psalm.

In these days of self-imposed and government mandated isolation, we need to learn from those who have walked the path of isolation and walked it well.

In the Bible, few have experienced soul-crushing isolation like Moses. At forty, Moses was a prince in the household of Pharaoh. Yet, in the blink of an eye, Moses went from the center of power in Egypt to the backside of the dessert, where he would chase sheep for another forty years. Continue reading

The Light is Dawning on Those Whom God is Saving: 10 Things about John 3:1–21

hence-the-boom-vbQsU3kVVPI-unsplashFor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
— John 3:16 —

John 3:16 is a glorious diamond, but it only one jewel in the crown of John 3.

Many times we quote, hear, and share John 3:16 without its context in John’s Gospel. This is not a bad thing. A single diamond is beautiful, but set in an engagement ring or on a king’s crown, the placement makes the diamond better. The same is true when we put John 3:16 back into the Bible and see what comes around it.

In what follows, I outline ten things about John 3:1–21 to help us better understand this whole section of John’s Gospel.

1. The flow of John 2–4 moves from light to darkness.

It is well recognized that John’s Gospel turns on the themes of light and darkness. Already in John 1:9 we heard John say, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Later, Jesus will say, “I am the light of the world” (8:12). But what about in between? Is there a theme of light dawning in chapters 2–8? I believe there is, or at least we see a progression of light in John 2–4. Consider this outline: Continue reading

The First Word about the Eternal Word (John 1:1–18)

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The First Word about the Eternal Word

This Sunday we began a new series in the Gospel of John with a look at the first 18 verses. These verses are known as John’s Prologue, and they serve as an introduction to the whole book.

In this sermon, I showed the shape and substance of John’s Prologue. The shape of John’s introduction centers on verse 12 and leads us to consider who can believe in Christ. This is the main point of John’s whole Gospel (see 20:30–31) and it is helpful to see how the prologue captures that main point too.

The substance of the prologue is devoted to a glorious vision of Christ and all the ways John will identify him. In short order, I outlined 12 “posters” displaying who this Christ is. John’s Gospel is very visual (as it employs all manner of signs and symbols) and I tried to show that in this message.

You can listen to the sermon online. You can find response questions and an introduction to John’s Gospel in this blogpost. As with our last sermon series through Joshua, I will aim to post a weekly “ten things” blog to help identify key literary, biblical, and theological themes in each passage. Follow along if you want to learn more about John’s Gospel.

Response Questions

  1. What does the opening of John’s Gospel teach us? 
  2. How does seeing the structure of the prologue help us see the main point of the passage? How does it help read the whole Gospel?
  3. How does the beginning of the Gospel of John compare with Genesis 1? What about the other Gospels?
  4. What ought we to conclude from John’s testimony (v. 6–8, 15)?
  5. How does comparing John 1:14–18 to Exodus 33–34 help us understand who Jesus is?
  6. What should be learned from the comparison of the law with grace and truth?  Why is the NIV translation better than the ESV? And why is the KJV wrong? What difference does this make?
  7. Which truths about Jesus do you find encouraging? Why? 
  8. How ought we to respond to this text?

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

That You May Believe That Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God: 10 Things about John’s Gospel

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This Sunday we begin a new sermon series on the Gospel of John. As we prepare for that series here are ten things to keep in mind as we enter this incredible book.

1. John has a simple four-part arrangement.

If you want to understand a book’s message, begin with its structure. And in John, we find a simple, four-part organization.

  • Prologue (1:1–18)
  • Book of Signs (1:19–12:50)
  • Book of Glory (13:1–20:31)
  • Conclusion (21:1–25)

In this basic outline, the prologue and epilogue balance the book with two interior sections. The first interior section, the book of signs, introduces who Jesus is through a series of extended narratives that identify him with many Old Testament shadows. The second interior section, the book of glory, shows the events leading to Christ’s death on the cross—the event that displays the pinnacle of his glory.

Setting up these two “books,” the prologue introduces us to the Son of God, who is the Word of God Incarnate. With a highly tuned chiastic structure, John opens his book by focusing on how the Divine Son will bring children into the Father’s family (v. 12).  Additionally, the prologue introduces themes about the Son of God—his eternality, his deity, his dwelling with humanity, and his fulfillment of history—which will be found throughout the book.

Finally, the epilogue closes the book with the events that took place after Jesus’s resurrection. In this final section, the purpose of the book has already been disclosed (John 20:30–31), and now Jesus is sending his disciples out to bear witness to Christ. It is with great symmetry, that the book opens and closes with men bearing witness about Christ—John the Baptist is the witness who prepares the way; John and Peter are the witnesses who find greatest attention in John 21. Interestingly, this focus on witnessing is found throughout the book too and indicates the way that the Spirit blows through these pages.

As we study this book, we will look more carefully at the organization of this book. But for now, these four sections give us a place to begin. If you want to see a more detailed outline of the book, watch these two videos by the Bible Project.

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Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: More Than 120 Notes on the Book of Joshua

joshua07This week we finished up our series on the book of Joshua. Here is a run down of all the notes, sermon, and related resources that we put together for that marvelous book.

120 Notes on (Almost) Every Chapter of Joshua

  1. Getting to Know Joshua, Son of Nun, and Joshua, Son of God: Or, 10 Things About Joshua 1
  2. Rahab’s Redemption: 10 Things About Joshua 2
  3. Baptism in the Jordan River: 10 Things about Joshua 3–4
  4. 10 Things about Joshua 5:1–12**
  5. A Text Filled with Types: 10 Things About Joshua 5–6
  6. How God’s Judgment upon Achan’s Sin Teaches Us to Find Grace in Christ: 10 Things about Joshua 7
  7. 10 Things about Joshua 8**
  8. His Mercy is More: 10 Things about Joshua 9
  9. Under His Feet: 10 Things About Joshua 10
  10. The Last Battle: 10 Things About Joshua 11–12
  11. 10 Things about Joshua 13–19**
  12. The Wisdom of God at Work in Israel and the Church: 10 Things About Joshua 20–21
  13. Old Testament Instruction for the New Testament Church: 10 Things About Joshua 22
  14. Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23
  15. Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: 10 Things about Joshua 24

** Placeholders for future ’10 Things’ on these chapters. Continue reading

Beloved, Keep the Faith: What Jesus’s Final Words Say That Joshua’s Can’t (Joshua 23)

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Beloved, Keep the Faith: What Jesus’s Final Words Say That Joshua’s Can’t (Joshua 23) (Sermon Audio)

In Joshua’s penultimate chapter in Joshua, we hear a word from Joshua calling for an ultimate commitment to God. Speaking to the people he has led out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land, Joshua says “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God” (v. 11).

In short, Joshua’s last words to Israel urge Israel to keep the faith. Only, as Joshua 24:31 indicates, Israel’s faithfulness is very short-lived. Only one generation after Joshua continues to keep the covenant (renewed in Joshua 24). Thus, for all that Joshua has done and said, it is ultimately ineffective. And as we read his words today, we can feel the same kind of discouragement, if we don’t place the weakness of his sermon with the eternal life that Christ gives with his final words.

Indeed, in this week’s sermon we will see how Joshua’s final words, like his entire life, are meant to lead us to Christ. From this connection everything that Joshua can be applied to us today, with (re)assurance that our faith will endure because Christ himself is keeping us (Jude 2), even as we keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).

You can listen to the sermon online. For more on Joshua 23, you can read this week’s Ten Things blogpost: Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

The Last Battle: 10 Things About Joshua 11–12

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashIn Joshua 11–12 we come to the close of the first section of Joshua. Here are ten things about those two chapters.

1. Joshua 11 repeats the same pattern as Joshua 10 . . . but faster.

Joshua 11:1 begins just like Joshua 5:1; 9:1; and 10:1. In each chapter, kings from Canaan “heard” of the exploits of Israel and Israel’s God. At first “the kings of the Amorites” feared the Lord (5:1), but then others sought to fight Israel (9:1; 10:1; 11:1). The difference in responses, it seems, is because Ai defeated defeated Israel when Achan sinned. A consequence of that debacle was an increase in hostility (and confidence) among the kings of Canaan.

This surge of confidence is what initiated the clash of Israel and the nations in chapters 10–11. And between these two chapters, we find a literary parallel. As Kenneth Mathews observes,

Chapters 10 and 11 have a general correspondence: both begin with a coalition of enemy kings (10:1–5; 11:1–5); both describe their respective battles (10:6–39; 11:6–11); and both contain a summary of the fallen (10:40–43; 11:12–23). There are details are similar, such as the Lord’s explicit directive to engage the enemy and the author’s attribution of the victory to the Lord (10:8, 14; 11:6, 8). (Mathews, Joshua102–03)

At the same time, there are differences between the chapters; the greatest difference being the speed with which Joshua 11 covers the material. In this chapter, “only one town is described in detail and there are no lengthy descriptions of a chase or of miracles. This suggests an acceleration in the narrative. Moving ever more quickly, the text completes the description of the conquest” (Hess, Joshua227–28).

This faster pace reminds us how biblical narratives are written. They are not intended to cover everything. Instead, in their selectiveness, they point the reader to the important (read: theological) facets of the story. For readers today, comparing chapters 10–11 helps us see how Joshua is written and what these battles reveal about God. Continue reading

His Mercy is More: God’s Surprising Kindness to Liars and Self Reliars (Joshua 9)

joshua07His Mercy is More: God’s Surprising Kindness to Liars and Self Reliars

Lies and liars. Our world is filled with them, and we often struggle to know what to do with them. This is true when are deceived, but it is also true when we are the deceiver.

On Sunday we saw another deception story in Joshua. And to play on words—Joshua 9 teaches us again that (first) looks can be deceiving. For instead of seeing how the lies of Gibeon are met with swift punishment, we find that God’s mercy overshadows their wrongdoing. At the same time, we also learn how Israel’s self-reliance is covered by the wise mercy of Joshua. Thus, in this chapter we find great hope for liars and self-reliars, which is to say we find hope for all of us!

To see how Joshua 9 leads us to appreciate more of God’s mercy and to become more merciful, you can listen to the sermon online. You can also find response questions and further resources below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading