10.15.2010

This Blog is Moving

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10.12.2010

10/10 Sermon Notes

The Glory of God

Objective Reality: His Works

Notes available as a pdf.

Introduction

A friend of mine asked me this week what I preached on for my first sermon as pastor. I smiled and said, “God.” He chuckled and said, “That’s good; start simple,” and I replied, “Yeah.” Now what he meant by that was that I began with something basic or, better, fundamental to the Christian faith, rather than something complex and controversial. Better to start with God than something thornier, e.g., the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, the fate of those who have never heard the gospel.

Nevertheless, something about his comment--and my initial response to his comment--struck me as troublesome. Why would I ever consider the subject of God to be simple? Perhaps it’s because I grew up learning about him. A little child can comprehend the concept of God, right? If she couldn’t, we wouldn’t spend so much valuable energy teaching her about God. Perhaps, then, we think that, since a child can understand something about God, then we must know all there is to know about him. I mean, sure, we’re going to keep growing. But it’s not like there’s more to the Bible that is going to be written. Once you’ve read it through a couple of times, you’ve basically got the point, right? Now that we’ve got this much figured out, we can move on to other things.

But can we? We probably wouldn’t verbalize such a thing, that we have God figured out. But practically that is how we live, as if God were a fairly simple subject matter that we pretty well understand—certainly more than the average person on the street. And there is no better way we reveal how little we think of God than how little we talk directly to him or about him. (Illustration of Michigan football for me.) If we really understood who God is and what he is like—if we understood his glory—it would transform our lives.

That’s why we’re taking four weeks to study this subject, the Glory of God. We learned last week that God’s glory begins with his massiveness/weightiness/heaviness inherent in his nature. We may describe his nature in terms of his his oneness (there is none like him), his threeness (he is three), and his character (what he is like).

Transition: All this would be unknown to us had God not revealed his glory to us. So this week we want to discuss the displays of God’s glory. God is intent on glorifying himself in everything.

Body

1. Visible Displays.

1.1 Throughout Scripture God displays something of his magnificent worth visually, usually to emphasize his presence with his people. We’ll look at three separate displays of God’s glory in the OT. I want you to look for two things as we read these texts: notice how the glory of God displays itself and how people who see it respond.

1.2 Displays of God’s glory during the Exodus

1.2.1 Exodus 16.10 – And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

1.2.2 Exodus 24.15-18 – Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

1.2.3 Exodus 34.5-8 – Moses said, “Please show me your glory” (33.18). He wanted a visible demonstration of the glory of God. 19And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (33.19-23). 5The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” 8And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (34.5-8).

1.2.4 Exodus 40.34-35 – Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

1.2.4.1 Similar events at the opening of the Temple: 2 Chronicles 7.1-3 – As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

1.3 Display of God’s glory to Isaiah. Isaiah 6.1-5 – In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

1.4 Display of God’s glory to Ezekiel. Ezekiel 1.26-28 – Above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness all around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

1.5 Argumentation: It is as if God takes a slice of time and space to display visually something of his glory. And when he does, it manifests itself in clouds and smoke and brightness and fire! In this sense we can refer to the glory of God as “the rainbow-like display of God’s manifold perfections.”

1.6 Application: Some want God to prove himself by showing up right here, right now. They reason, “If God appeared to people back in the Bible, I have a right to see him, too. He owes me that much!” This fails to consider that appearances like these were hundreds of years apart from one another and that many people in the Bible never saw visions like these. This line of thinking ends up betraying our own arrogance. A God like this—one whose very appearance forces us to our faces—is not one that can be manipulated or cornered into obedience. He owes us nothing; the fact that a God this great would show himself at all is an act of grace.

Transition: A second category emerges that is closely related to his visual displays.

2. His Creation.

2.1 Why a separate category?

2.1.1 The visible displays of his glory we just talked about were direct pointers, indicating what God is in himself, such that Moses, an Israelite, Isaiah, or Ezekiel could point to one of those displays and say truly, “There is God,” or “I saw the Lord.”

2.1.2 This category is similar in that we’re talking about a display of God’s glory that is visible (i.e., we can see creation). But it is quite different in that we cannot point to the creation and say truly, “There is God.”

2.1.3 In other words, the first point describes God’s visible displays of what he is like, while this point describes God’s visible displays of what he can do. It’s the difference between essence and activity.

2.1.4 What I’m describing is the difference between Christian theism and pantheism (the idea that all is God).

2.1.5 Illustration: We often sing, “In the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.” But what do we mean? Is the wind that rustles the grass God? No. When we say that he speaks to me everywhere, does that mean that the chirping birds and crashing waves are the voice of God? No. To say Yes would be pantheist. (Frankly because of the possible error of interpretation, it may be best not to sing this stanza!) What (I think) the hymnwriter meant was that the works of God in creation testify to the Person who created it. The creation is not the Creator, but teaches us about him and leads us to him.

2.2 Biblical evidence

2.2.1 Isaiah 6.3 – And one called to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

2.2.2 Psalm 19.1 – The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2.2.3 Psalm 97.6 – The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.

2.2.4 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.”

2.2.5 But isn’t that a reference only to the people of God? Cp. Ex 9.16 – [The Lord said to Pharaoh,] “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

2.2.6 Romans 1.18-20 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (For a helpful list of attributes of God that can be known through creation, cf. Doran, Johnson, and Eckman, For the Sake of His Name [Allen Park, MI: SGI, 2002], 201.)

2.3 Application: God is showing us something about himself through everything that he has made, from the vast expanse of stars that we see on a clear, moonless night, to the person sitting next to you on the bus, who herself is made in the image of God. His intention is for us to look around us—to look at all that he has made—and to learn truth about himself, indeed, to see his glory!

Transition: If all we had were visual displays, however, we would be left to our own interpretation as to what God really is like.

3. Verbal Displays

3.1 Scriptural Basis

3.1.1 Exodus 33.18-19 – Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, ‘The Lord.’”

3.1.2 Exodus 33.5-6 – The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

3.1.3 After the Decalogue was given: Deuteronomy 5.24 – Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the first. This day we have seen God speak with man and man still live.

3.2 Argumentation: “Even unfallen Adam needed to hear God’s direct speech that supplemented and interpreted God’s revelation in nature. He didn’t need to figure everything out for himself; in many cases that would have taken a long time or indeed been impossible for the finite mind. So, as God’s faithful covenant servant, Adam accepted this help gratefully. He accepted God’s interpretation of the world until he made the tragic decision to accept Satan’s interpretation instead. But after the fall, at least two other reasons for special divine speech entered the picture. One was man’s need of a saving promise, a promise that could never be deduced from natural revelation alone. The other reason was to correct our sinful misinterpretations of natural revelation. Romans 1:21-32 shows what people do with natural revelation when left with no other word from God. They repress it, disobey it, exchange it for a lie, disvalue it, and honor those who rebel against it. Thus, God has given us Scripture, or “special revelation,” both to supplement natural revelation (by adding to it the message of salvation) and to correct our misuses of natural revelation. As Calvin said, the Christian should look at nature with the ‘spectacles of Scripture.’ If even unfallen Adam needed to interpret the world according to God’s verbal utterance, how much more do we!” (Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994], 22-23).

Transition: As spectacular and gracious as the displays of his glory visibly, through creation, and through his words, none compares to the display of his glory that we read about in 2 Corinthians 4.6.

4. Personal Display.

4.1 In Christ.

4.1.1 2 Corinthians 4.6 – 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. You don’t know the glory of God apart from Christ. Jesus is the climactic display of the glory of God (cp. Heb 1.3).

4.1.2 Predicted: Isaiah 40.5 – And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

4.1.3 Incarnation: John 1.14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

4.1.4 Earthly ministry: John 2.11 – This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. But not merely in his acts of kindness for the poor and socially outcast.

4.1.5 Crucifixion of Christ: John 13.31-32 – When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” John 17.1 – When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (cp. Philippians 2.5-11).

4.1.6 Why is it crucial for God’s glory to be displayed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ? Because it is the means by which he is glorifying himself through a host of people who are in Christ.

4.2 In us through the gospel.

4.2.1 Romans 9.23 – to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.

4.2.2 Ephesians 1.6, 12, 14 – to the praise of his glorious grace. Today’s choir anthem (“To the Praise of His Glorious Grace”) wasn’t just another nice truth to line up with all the other biblical truths you’ve learned. It is the point of the gospel—to take a people who should display God’s glory through his eternal and just condemnation of us and make us a people who display God’s glorious grace.

Conclusion

Illustration of the Mayflower Pilgrims writing back to England. So I would say with Job, Behold, these are but the outskirts [i.e., fringes, borders] of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand? (26.14).

From one end of Scripture to another—from one end of time to the other—God is determined to make his glory known. Hk 2.14 – For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. You will glorify God forever; you exist for his glory, and God will not fail to get glory from your existence forever.

10/3 Sermon Notes

The Glory of God

Objective Reality: His Nature

Notes available as a pdf.

Introduction

Please turn to the first page of the Christian Bible, to the first chapter of the first book, a book entitled Genesis. For those of you unfamiliar with the Christian Bible, you might expect that the first book/segment of the Scriptures would be all about beginnings. And you would be right; thus the name Genesis. I’d like to begin this morning’s talk with the first four words of the Bible: In the beginning God. Now the rest of the sentence tells us what this God did in the beginning, but I stop our reading here to offer a simple observation: the author does not begin by explaining who this God is or even by defending that he exists. He merely asserts, In the beginning God.

For us who are Christians, this is no surprise. But for those of you who question the existence of God or who have come this morning seeking answers about the God of the Bible, this may seem unscientific or arrogant or obscurantist. “Don’t simply tell me that he did this, that, or the other without some proof or reasoning or empirical data to support your claim.” But if you keep reading the Scriptures beyond the first four words, you’ll find that the book—not just Genesis, but the entire Bible—is the progressive unfolding of this God. You may be familiar with stories here and there: Noah and the ark, David and Goliath, Daniel and the lion’s den. But in reality the Bible is one story with one plotline and one main Character. The other stories point to the great Story, and the other characters direct our attention to the real Actor. The Bible is all about God.

In fact, not only is the Bible all about God, but everything that exists is all about God. Turn please to the second half of the Christian Scriptures, to the New Testament letter to the Romans, chapter 11 (pg. 764). At the end of a long, complex argument, the apostle Paul breaks forth in doxology: 33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Everything is from him, everything exists through him, and ultimately everything will go back to him—thus the glory is his forever. Everything exists for the glory of God. It is the supreme reality of life. And if you regard the glory of God to be practically irrelevant to your life, you will never understand your life at all.

So then what must we do? We need to go back and study the glory of God. We could spend the rest of our lives seeking to understand his glory. In fact we should! What I’d like to do over the next four Sundays, however, is devote our attention as a congregation to the subject The Glory of God.

So let’s start right here with that word glory. Glory is not something that starts with us and goes to him; it is first and foremost something that is inherent in God himself. The meaning of dbk = heavy (as in fat [Eli in 1 Sa 4.18], riches [Abram in Ge 13.2], or the liver [Ex 29.13]). Thus we could say for starters that the glory of God refers to his weightiness, his massiveness, his heaviness.

Transition: What makes God weighty? What is it about his nature that makes him massive? This morning I’d like to explore three qualities of God that make him heavy.

Body

1. Oneness. His uniqueness.

1.1 Proven through creation.

1.1.1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1.1).

1.1.2 The God of the Bible is not a local deity; he asserts his authority over the entire universe. He created, and there is no one like him.

1.2 Proven through the exodus (p. 41).

1.2.1 [The Lord said to Moses,] “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians’” (Exo 6.6-7)

1.2.2 [The Lord said to Moses,] “Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exo 7.4-5).

1.2.3 The first plague: water to blood (Exo 7.17).

1.2.4 The second plague: frogs (Exo 8.10).

1.2.5 The third plague: gnats (Exo 8.18-19).

1.2.6 The fourth plague: flies (Exo 8.21b-22).

1.2.7 The seventh plague: hail (Exo 9.14-16, 29).

1.2.8 The eighth plague: locusts (Exo 10.1-2).

1.2.9 The tenth plague: death of the firstborn (Exo 12.12).

1.2.10 The exodus itself. [The Lord said to Moses,] I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord (Exo 14.4). Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses (Exo 14.30-31). And so they sang, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exo 15.11).

1.3 Proven through the prophet Isaiah (p. 485).

1.3.1 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust (Isa 40.12-15).

1.3.2 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? . . . Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness (Isa 40.18, 21-23).

1.3.3 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing (Isa 40.25-26).

1.3.4 I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols (Isa 42.8).

1.4 The fundamental meaning of God’s glory = his uniqueness.

Transition: At this point the God of which I am speaking sounds little different from the God of the Jew or the Muslim. This is precisely where the Scriptures inform us more about the One True God—and where the distinctions begin to emerge.

2. Threeness. His Triunity.

2.1 The Son.

2.1.1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1.1-3, p. 804).

o radiance = lit. brightness, either active (inherent) or passive (reflected).

o Because of the phrase in v. 3b, it’s best to take it as passive: Christ perfectly reflects the glory of God the Father.

2.1.2 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed (Jn 17.5).

2.2 The Spirit.

2.2.1 And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Gen 1.2).

2.2.2 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? (Isa 40.13).

2.2.3 And 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 (2 Cor 3.18).

o Edwards, Unpublished Essay on the Trinity.

3. Character. His perfections.

3.1 Expressed in his name.

3.1.1 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Ex 3.14, p. 39).

3.1.2 Yahweh, the covenant name of God: he is independent and immutable.

3.2 Expressed in his attributes.

3.2.1 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exo 33.18-19, p. 62).

3.2.2 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped (Exo 33.5-8).

Conclusion/Preparation for Communion

How then may we come to this table? How may we commune with the Unique, Triune, Impeccable God? We who have sinned! We who continue to fall short of his glory! Where does our confidence come from, that we might approach God at this table and not be among those guilty whom the Lord will by no means clear? Our confidence comes in Christ alone. He has lived the life we could not live, he has died the death we deserve, he lives again to intercede for us, so that we may enjoy fellowship with the One True God.

9.30.2010

A Scholarly Dialogue: The Book of Isaiah in Jewish and Christian Tradition

If you're looking for something to do tonight, you might want to head to Trinity Baptist Church (map) for a conversation tonight concerning the book of Isaiah as understood by Jews and Christians. Two scholars will be flown in for the event:


Dr. Richard Averbeck, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages and Director of the PhD Program in Theological Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL.


Dr. Adolfo Roitman, Lizbeth and George Krupp Curator of the Dead Sea ScrollsandDirector of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.


The event begins at 8:00 p.m. and costs $10 per person at the door ($5 for students).

8.20.2010

Ezra Resource Available Online

A few days ago, I was discussing an online review of Phil Brown's Hope Amidst Ruin, and a friend mentioned that he benefited greatly from it in preparation for a sermon on the book. He went on to tell me that Brown's book--his doctoral thesis--is available in its entirety online. You can access it here.

If you're curious, the review that prompted our conversation was written by Jim Hamilton, Associate Professor of Biblical Theology at the Southern Baptist Seminary. Hamilton calls it "the best literary and theological analysis of Ezra available." Since his initial review Hamilton has posted his "notes on what Brown says about plot, point of view, and characterization. Excellent stuff, and the description of Ezra’s theology is even better."

The book is also available for purchase.

8.10.2010

Execution of Afghanistan Aid Workers

In case you hadn't heard, ten Christian aid workers were executed by the Taliban late last week. A friend of mine knew two of the victims. He said that the group had taken all appropriate precautions, but were nevertheless intercepted by the Taliban. You can read more about the tragedy here.

May the Gospel advance in the Afghan people.

8.04.2010

A Missionary's Perspective on Immigration

One of our missionaries, David H., is on furlough in the States this summer and observes the following:

A little time in some churches has given me the impression that some Christians are allowing their feelings and positions on a variety of significant national issues to be forged by conservative TV and radio personalities, rather than the Scriptures.
As a prime example David points to the issue of illegal immigration. After pointing out the missiological opportunities the American church has to reach these people, he concludes:

Instead of seeing this issue as an opportunity to reach lost people, we are forming and fueling strong negative feelings against immigrants by spending more time listening to unregenerate radio personalities than meeting actual people from all over the world, praying for them, and telling them about Jesus.

Shame on us.
Read the whole article here.

7.25.2010

"What Can You Do? What?"

Dan Olinger, one of our elders at Heritage, is leading an eight-week mission trip for college students to East Africa. Yesterday's blog post in part described a slum near Nairobi and, more importantly, provokes Christians to think how we serve people living there.

It’s hard to describe in words what the conditions are like. The surfaces are all dirt; there is no paving, tile, or concrete. There is no electricity or running water. The surfaces of the homes and narrow “sidewalks” are uneven and filled with haphazard trenches, which run with raw sewage and water runoff from cleaning. The stench is astonishing. The homes are occasionally concrete block or mud but more often corrugated metal, wood slats, or just open. There’s rarely enough room to walk two abreast through the alleys. Chickens and dogs wander freely. Occasionally footing is pretty tricky; at one point the only bridge across a wide trench running with sewage is a truck bumper, for which we are grateful. In one alley we pass a table covered with large and relatively aged fish heads, adding to the olfactory complexity of the experience. Children are everywhere, sitting, playing, staring.
KIbera is allegedly the largest slum in Africa. (Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg, fights it for first place.) The thing that’s really hard to fathom is that people generally live here voluntarily. These and other major slums of the world--in Mexico City, Cairo, Shanghai--are the products of urbanization, mass migrations of people from rural areas into the cities to find work. Living decently in the cities is much more expensive than in the country, of course, so workers squat in these dense areas, not designed for human populations, free of sanitation and thus overwhelmingly dangerous to life and health. Many of the residents put on nice clothes every weekday and go to work in offices in the city; if you saw them on the sidewalk, you’d have no idea they live in the slum. They make a good wage and send the extra money back to their families in the country. It all seems so unnecessary.
Where do you start in ministering to these people? Do you open clinics, trying to hold back the cholera and dysentery and mortal dehydration, knowing from the beginning that you will be overwhelmed by the waves of human suffering? Do you install toilets? Connected to what sewer system? Do you want to make living here more comfortable, thereby encouraging a larger influx, which will just overwhelm whatever system you can cram into these few acres? Do you just preach the gospel, hoping to get them into the family of God seconds before the dysentery gets them? Can you minister for months, years in the midst of this place and not, like Jesus, be moved with compassion, moved to act in powerful and effective ways to alleviate their suffering?
What can you do? What?
It’s wrenching.

Read the whole thing here.

7.22.2010

Oracles for Today

I read the oracles of Isaiah 13ff. this morning and was wondering why there are no words from the Lord like these today. Certainly the nations of the earth are no less violent or unjust. Does our age—or, for that matter, the ages from the close of the OT canon until now—not need a specific word from the Lord about the destinies of individual nations? It seems that this could even become a criticism of the OT, of the Scriptures, of the Lord himself. “If there were a God,” a skeptic may ask, “and if the Bible were his book, whence the revelation today? Why are there no contemporary oracles against, say, North Korea, Morocco, Iran, Liberia, or the United States?”

I am persuaded, though, that this criticism arises from a heart that believes God is obligated to speak in every age the same way as he did in a previous one. If we ask about such oracles in our day, we must wonder too about the lack of similar words before the time of the OT prophets. And yet the presence of God—more specifically, the word of God—in that era is unquestionable. The forms may change, but the activity of God does not.

Actually this criticism should be turned on its head. Far from contributing evidence to the Scripture’s lack of integrity, OT oracles prove that when God speaks—even when he speaks words of judgment—his words are full of grace. He is not obligated to communicate to Moab, Damascus, or Assyria. Yet he opens his mouth, as it were, and communicates truth so that people will turn from their sin and look in faith to him. And in precisely this way there is no difference between the specific oracles to the nations of old and the general call of faith and repentance to our contemporary age. All these words are words of his grace, meant to awaken sinners to the living God: the aroma of life to life for those who believe, but the aroma of death to death for those who will not.

6.08.2010

Hope for Alyssa

Here's a great way to buy some good music and support a worthy cause.
Over the past three months Jon and I have been working hard on a fundraiser for our friends, Josh and Alyssa Stolvoort. Alyssa has been bravely battling brain cancer since November 2008 and has gone through three surgeries, chemo, radiation, and many types of therapy.
I have recorded a CD of songs that are filled with HOPE. These songs are close to the hearts of Josh and Alyssa as well our own. The Stolvoorts live in HOPE every day despite Alyssa's medical condition because they have the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.
We want to share this HOPE with everyone we know, so we are making the CD's available for purchase online. All proceeds from sales will be given to Josh and Alyssa towards Alyssa's medical expenses. We greatly appreciate any contribution that you can make to this special cause.
Thank you so much,
Jon & Kelly Hubbard
The songs featured on the CD will be familiar to most of you. Here's a list of the tracks:
  1. Introductory word from Alyssa
  2. In Christ Alone
  3. O Great God
  4. Complete in Thee
  5. Beneath the Cross of Jesus
  6. Give Me Jesus
  7. I Will Glory in My Redeemer
  8. Mercies Anew
  9. Speak, O Lord
  10. The Gospel Song
  11. O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
The song texts are rich, and the arrangements are beautifully simple: a single female vocal accompanied by piano. You can listen online to samples of tracks 4 and 8. The CD costs just $12 plus shipping and handling.

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Place an order here.

Read Alyssa's story here.

5.21.2010

Olinger Reviews My Book

Dan Olinger, one of Heritage's elders and the Chairperson of the Division of Bible at BJU, reviewed my book today for our church's blog. Dan has read my book more times than anyone else ever will, myself included. He was a reader on my dissertation committee and then served as editor for publication. I think he's read it nine times!

You can read Dan's review here.

4.11.2010

Moving to NYC?

I shared with the Heritage congregation today how the Lord has been directing in the lives of my family. Below is the text of what I read (more or less).

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Thank you for your prayers and concern for my health. It’s been six weeks now since I had surgery to remove a liter of fluid from my heart. Every week I feel a little bit better, so much so that right now I feel as well as I have in two years. God has been most merciful to me and my family.

When I went into surgery, Kimberly and I walked up to the hospital with our arms around one another’s waists. I told her that I had a strong sense that this was not my time, that I would survive surgery, survive this whole incident, that it wasn’t time for me to go. I had been hesitant to tell her that because, of course, I could have been wrong! To my surprise Kimberly said the same thing to me. As a matter of fact, we had a stronger sense that this was not my time than when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Of course, we confessed that we didn’t know the future and that, if this were my time, God would be doing what was good and right. Nevertheless that sense remained.

I think I can tell you why, humanly speaking, the Spirit had given us this sense. It is becoming increasingly likely that the Lord is preparing to uproot my family from Heritage and plant us in another congregation. We sensed that this was not the time because we believe God still has glory to get from our little lives.

This whole process started over a year ago when I had lunch with Mark Dever in D.C. He told me about this church, and that got the ball rolling. After securing Danny’s permission last March, I began to correspond with the search committee. That led to a first visit for Kimberly and me back in September, then a second in November and a third in January. Later this morning, the church will have a congregational meeting during which they will announce their intention to call for a vote re: my candidacy. It looks like our whole family will make one last trip (the first for the girls) on the weekend of April 25. Then the church will vote May 16. As you can tell, this is not a “done deal” yet, but we thought it wise to announce this today with the other church.

Let me tell you a little bit about the church where I am candidating. It is the First Baptist Church of New York City. It is one of the oldest congregations in the country, actually a bit older than our country at almost 250 years old. The first pastor served during the American War for Independence as George Washington’s chaplain. The church’s building is located in Manhattan on the Upper West Side at the corner of 79th and Broadway, two blocks from the American Museum of Natural History, three blocks from Central Park, and about twenty blocks from the Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, and the Met. There is a subway stop literally at the front steps of the building. The building itself has a capacity roughly equivalent to our sanctuary, but there are currently only about 120 members of the church. God has graciously preserved this congregation’s fidelity to Scriptures and desire to see Christ honored. We view it as an awesome opportunity to revitalize an urban ministry

The most unusual thing about this process has been the potential for a double transition, with both Eric and me moving on. Neither of us planned this. Frankly, the process with NYC has moved very deliberately, so much so that the elders have been preparing for this announcement this since the Elder Retreat in September. We all thought that today would have come a while back. (Of course, given my health issues, we can see why God kept the process moving slowly.) We can really say nothing more than that the timing was the Lord’s. Christ is the head of the Church, and it appears that he intends for Heritage to endure two pastoral transitions at once.

[Note: This actually points to an uncommon work of grace in our church, namely, the relatively long pastoral tenures that God has blessed us with. Danny has been here 18 years, Sandy for 13, and Warren forever. That is unusual—a gift from the Lord. Some churches always have a pastoral opening, but that (thankfully!) hasn’t been the case here.]

The most difficult thing about this has been the prospect of moving on from Heritage. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here almost a decade now. And even though we’re not leaving yet, it appears that by the end of the summer God will have repositioned us. Over the past year Kimberly and I have shared many tears at the thought of leaving Heritage. You have welcomed us into your lives. You have borne with me as I learned to serve as a pastor, first as Pastor of YYAD, then as PMV. And most significantly you cared for me and my family through the darkest moments of our relatively brief lives. Heritage is much more to us than a building or an order of worship or great preaching. Heritage has been our home; you have been our family. We love you.