Monthly Archives: July 2009

Matthew – Seeing the Forrest and the Trees.

I was in seminary for longer than I care to say and 90+ hours later I had a degree that said I accomplished a certain level of learning and competence. And I did learn some helpful things. First, I learned that I didn’t know that much. Second, I learned that seminary doesn’t give a person exhaustive and complete knowledge of the Bible but it does equip people with the tools to deal with a lot of the questions that come a long the way. I learned a lot more than this, but perhaps one of the most helpful things I learned was that in order to understand the minutiae of the Bible it is helpful to see the big picture. We need to see the forest as well as the individual trees. Too often we get lost in the trees because we are clueless about the forest.

If a person can figure out what the author is trying to communicate on a meta-narrative level, then understanding the purpose of a book can help you make sense of details that communicate the big picture. For example, John is quite clear in his Gospel why he is writing. He gives us a purpose statement in John 20:30-31. He says, “These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Why has John written what he has written and left a lot of other stuff out? Because the stories he has chosen have the theological purpose of communicating that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God so you can believe in Him. Everything in the book should be interpreted in light of this purpose statement. A purpose statement is like a set of guard rails in that it keeps you on the road and not driving off into the wilderness where cars were never intended to go. Sometimes we take the Bible for a joy-ride creating meaning that was never intended by the author.

Unfortunately, not all authors are so obvious with their purpose for writing. But they still have a purpose or thesis, but sometimes the reader has to pay more attention by observing details such as what is peculiar to one book as opposed to another. Matthew is a book that requires some close observation in order to figure out the author’s intent. So I have provided it as an example of combing the book to compile a guiding big-picture purpose by which the smaller can be interpreted.

The Purpose of Matthew is: To Manifest Jesus the Rejected Messiah of Israel as the ever-present divine son of God, having all authority to set up his rule.

To Manifest Jesus: Matthew’s purpose was to make Jesus more clear in many ways, primarily to the Jews. Matthew did so first through the genealogy (1:1-17), showing that Jesus descended from Abraham in the line of King David. Jesus was manifest through the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary (1:18-23) which was fulfillment of scripture. Jesus was manifest to the gentile Magi who had heard of Him and came a great distance to worship Him by following a star. (2:1-12) Jesus was manifest through His escape to Egypt because of angelic warning and his subsequent return to Nazareth (2:13-23), which again is fulfillment of the Old Testament. Jesus was manifest by John the Baptist who came as the forerunner preaching repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand. (3:1-12) Jesus was manifest through His baptism by John. 3:13-17) Of course, he was manifest at every step in Matthew through his person, (1:1-4:16) through His proclamation, (4:17-16:20) and through His passion and resurrection. (Matthew 16:21-28:20)
The Rejected Messiah of Israel:Jesus’ rejection begins in Matthew 2:17-18 when Herod tried to have Jesus killed as a baby to protect his kingship. In chapter 8 Jesus heals a demon-possessed man and the people of the town ask Him to leave. (8:34) In Matthew 9:3 Jesus is rejected by the religious establishment when accused of doing miracles by Beelzebub. Jesus is rejected in his home town of Nazareth. (13:55-58) Jesus’ ultimate rejection is foreshadowed with the forerunner’s (John the Baptist) execution at the hands of Herod. After all, if the forerunner dies, Jesus will also receive a righteous man’s reward. (14:1-12) Jesus predicts his own rejection in his passion prediction. (16:21) Peter also rejects Jesus by rejecting the Messiah’s purpose. (16:22-23) Jesus is rejected and betrayed by one of his own disciples, Judas. (26:14-16) Jesus’ rejection is understood by His own disciple’s lack of understanding of what His being Messiah means. His rejection is seen in Peter’s outright denial. (26:69-75) His rejection is finally and ultimately seen in His being crucified on a slave’s tree as an insurrectionist. (27:32-44) Jesus is rejected all along the way of Matthew’s narrative as people reject His teaching and miracles.
As the Ever-Present Divine Son of God: Jesus is manifest as ever-present in Matthew 1:23 when his called Immanuel, meaning God is with us. He says in the Great Commission (28:20) that I am with you always. This is significant because essentially the whole book of Matthew is sandwiched with the promise that God is with those who are with Jesus. Jesus is displayed as the divine Son of God through His fulfillment of scripture. Matthew 1:18 through 2:23 is dense with the fulfillment of scripture that is brought about by Jesus’ incarnation and early life. Jesus is shown to be the Son of God at his baptism when the God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (3:17) In tempting Jesus, Satan said, “If You are the Son of God.” (4:3) Jesus is manifest as the Son of God by being called Lord by those who honor Him as God rather than those who saw Him merely as “rabbi” or teacher. (9:28) Jesus is shown to be the Son of God by Peter’s confession in 16:13-20, by the transfiguration in 17:1-13, by Jesus’ resurrection in 28:1-10. Jesus is the ever-present and divine Son of God.
Having All Authority to Set Up His Rule: Jesus had authority through His teaching which was displayed for example in the “Sermon on the Mount.” (7:29 and Chapters 5 -7) His authority was also shown in His mighty works and healing (8:1-17), and the calling of His disciples. (9:9-13) He also had and has authority over nature seen in His calming of the storm, (8:23-27) his use of language, such as “I am” statements, and by walking on the water. (14:22-36) His authority is also expressed in the transfiguration, (17:1-13) and by Peter’s confession, (16:13-20) and establishing the church on that confession that Jesus is “The Christ, The Son of The Living God.” Jesus established and validated His claims by the prediction of His death and his subsequent conquering death with his resurrection. Also He is shown to have authority by His two commissions in Matthew. (10:1-6 and 28:18-20) And again, by His repeated fulfillment of scripture with His own life and words.

Where Are the Signs and Wonders of the New Testament?

Recently I was preaching from Acts 8 and talking about Philip and his forced mission to Samaria courtesy of Saul’s persecution following the death of Stephen. In verse five it says the Philip went down to Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. Philip began sharing the gospel with those who had not heard it since the gospel had been hanging out in Jerusalem with the apostles following the Acts 1:8 progression. Verse six goes on to say that the crowds were giving attention to Philip and what he said because of the signs (or attesting miracles) which he was performing. In other words, in Samaria, signs and wonders were affirming and giving credibility the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Which begs the question, “Why don’t we see signs and wonders in many of our churches the way we did in biblical times?”

I’ve wondered that myself. Why don’t we see God do some of the miraculous acts that occurred in the New Testament? Why don’t we see people walking on water, or water turned to wine, or water stop mid-stream, or the lame made to walk and the blind to see? Where are these things now? Were they simply embellishment by the writers of the NT to prop up the gospel and Jesus and the mission of the apostles? Maybe people back then just didn’t know any better. Maybe they were just uneducated and easily duped, buying into mass hallucinations and good showmanship. So what is it?

About miracles:

  • Definition of a miracle: “A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” – Wayne Grudem – I think this definition is important because a miracle or sign should point others to God through Jesus. It should get the attention of people and cause people to take notice of God.
  • What should be considered a miracle?: Anything that is less common which could have a wide range. So the parting of the Red Sea is definitely a miracle but isn’t it also a miracle when someone who has been diagnosed with an incurable disease, finds out at there next doctor’s appointment that the disease is gone? Or when after 90 minutes a man who was pronounced dead by paramedics come back to life? Or when a Muslim in a restricted country begins having dreams about Jesus and someone shows up with a Bible soon there after? Are not these also miracles? Of course we do not want to water down the idea of a miracle by saying everything is a miracle, (even though I suppose to some extent it is) but if an event or activity causes us awe and wonder and to acknowledge God’s power because it was so unusual then we ought to consider that a miracle. Birth may well be a miracle, as one of Lacey’s female doctors asserted during the pregnancy of our second son, but people have babies all the time. So we should give thanks to God through Jesus that we have babies but that doesn’t mean they are miracles in the sense of the New Testament idea. A baby born with no earthly father is a miracle that bears witness to Jesus and who He was and is.
  • Miracles were common in the NT both in frequency and agency. 1 Corinthians 12:4-31 addresses not a specific situation but the nature of the church. Also when Paul writes Galatians he is addressing several churches and assumes miracles are present there. Galatians 3:5 Jesus gave authority to heal and cast out demons not only to the twelves but also to seventy disciples. (Luke 10:1, 9, 17)
  • Purpose of MiraclesMiracles authenticate the message of the gospel, bears witness to God’s kingdom coming and advancing, helps those in need, removes hindrances to ministry and ultimately brings glory to God through Jesus.

So why don’t we see miracles the way the NT describes them? Here are several thoughts?

  1. We simply don’t ask for miracles. We don’t believe. Perhaps we are too modernized to believe that God can do anything beyond what we can explain. Perhaps we have too much medicine and stuff to need to ask God what we can’t do for ourselves.
  2. We do see miracles but they just aren’t as common as they once were. Just because something happens in the Bible does not mean it is normative. For instance, giving of the Spirit through the laying on of hands is found only once in the Bible for those who had already believed (Acts 8) the gospel of Christ, but just because it happened doesn’t mean that we should expect it to be the rule rather than the exception. Typically if something is a rule or something is normative or expected the Bible will come out and prescribe what has already been described. And while miracles are mentioned in the epistles, they are mentioned much more frequently in the gospels and Acts, where the Bible is more descriptive rather than prescriptive. The collective emphasis of all the NT and the Bible is the fullness of Christ and our growing into his likeness as the end of all things.
  3. Perhaps miracles have ceased. I personally don’t hold this view but there are those who believe that the closing of the cannon, which is the 66 books we now have the make up the “protestant” Bible, do not require the attesting power of miracles to validate biblical authors.
  4. The law of attraction excludes us from witnessing miracles.1 Corinthians 12:27-31 talks of the gifts of miracles and gifts of healing. Maybe in our desire to be around those like ourselves in giftedness we aren’t around those who possess those gifts. Perhaps there are those who have that giftedness and don’t know they have it. Maybe they are exercising these gifts and we don’t know it.
  5. Maybe TV evangelist such as Benny Hinn and our modernized view of miracles have distorted what we thing they ought to be to the point that we don’t recognize them. Does someone have to be slapped in the head to be healed or is it simply come by prayer?
  6. Maybe we have unfairly condensed the Bible stories. When I think of miracles and the like I often only have a visual image of what happens on Trinity Broadcast Network where you line people up and pop them in the head and they roll around on the floor barking like a dog. Perhaps these miracles and signs that Acts 8, for example, speaks of are really over a period of months or even years as opposed to an all-day healing extravaganza.
  7. So my answer is that I really don’t know why we don’t see miracles the way the Bible describes them. I do believe that miracles still occur, but maybe they occur as people cry out to God in prayer and instead of by the hands of someone we would identify as a prophet or apostle in the Old and New Testament. I think this is worthy of a lot thought and some study especially as Acts is read and digested. We probably ought to be constantly asking why don’t we see the things we read about in Acts. Do I trust God and his sovereignty to act on His behalf in an uncommon and extraordinary way or have a relegated what God might do to what I am capable of, which really makes us god, and a limited one at that. I suppose if there is any take-away from my meandering about a topic I am very uncertain about it is this: Let’s pray for God to do uncommon activity among those of us at Eagle Heights and may it bring wonder and awe to God and point others to an unchanging Savior amidst a very changing world.

William Wilberforce & “Real Christianity”

William Wilberforce is dead and has been for quite some time. He was born August 24, 1759 in England and died in 1833. His legacy though lives on and his words and are just as relevant today as they were when he lived.

Wilberforce was a politician who is best known for being friends with John Newton (writer of Amazing Grace) and William Pitt, the youngest British Prime Minister ever, and for taking on the slave trade in England and seeing it abolished. On October 28, 1787 at the age of 28 Wilberforce wrote, “God Almighty has set before me two great objectives, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” Thanks to Wilberforce, in 1788 a motion was made to Parliament to abolish the slave trade but was rejected. In March 25, 1807, a bill was passed in the British House of Commons that outlawed the slave trade in Britain. But it was not until 1833, three days before his death, that a bill was passed that freed all slaves in the British empire. Wilberforce fought for 45 years to see the slave trade abolished and slaves freed.

But Wilberforce was much more than a human rights activist or politician. He was a follower of Christ and attempted to see everything through the life and eyes of Christ. As a matter of fact, around 1785 Wilberforce returned to the faith of his youth and contemplated leaving politics to become a minister. But upon seeking out the advice and wisdom of John Newton, Wilberforce decided that God could use him for great things as a politician in Britain and so he sought to bring about the reformation of “manners” where God had gifted him and placed him. In 1797 he published the first of two books, The Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of This Country Contrasted with Real Christianity. It became an immediate best-seller and became commonly known by its shorter title, Real Christianity.

As you will see from these excerpts, people have not changed all that much when it comes to God, Jesus and morality, even though we are 300 years removed from the time of Wilberforce and his specific cultural challenges. The following quotes are from chapter one of Real Christianity.

Look at the life plans and their everyday behavior; for the moment, forget about things that are specifically religious, and now let me ask, can you tell the difference between these people and those who claim to be unbelievers?

Take away going to church activities and what do you have? An unbeliever according to Wilberforce.

Let us wake up before it is too late. No one can predict the painful results of having our faith watered down like this, especially at a time in history when we have so much freedom of thought and such fast communication, when ideas pass so easily between groups of people.

I wonder what Wilberforce would say now?

When people pay so little attention to educating their children in their faith, we cannot expect that they will pay any more attention to other parts of their behavior. Most people are at least motivated by love and responsibility when it comes to their children; obviously, if even this cannot move them to be diligent Christians, they will have little concern for the state of Christianity in their own country, let alone care about communicating the light of divine truth to nations who “still sit in darkness.”

If you aren’t advancing the gospel at home you certainly aren’t going to be advancing it anywhere else.

Many people apparently believe that it matters very little what they believe so long as they act all right. The other related concept that is held by many is this: Sincerity is the only thing that counts; our opinions and conduct may be anything we want, provided we are sincerely convinced we are right. According to this idea, a sincere person may run into consequences for her actions from the society around him/her, but in God’s eyes he/she will never be condemned so long as he/she acted in good faith.

People may be sincere as sincere can be but they may be sincerely wrong.

For all our advancement and advancing we really aren’t that different as humans. Wilberforce, though he is dead, still speaks to us with relevant precision that should convict us.

Hopes for “Go Together”

I hope we are mostly ready to “Go Together”, taking Jesus to a changing world. But some people aren’t ready and there will always be people who aren’t ready. There is no Christian nirvana (ideal condition) in this life for we will always be fighting and struggling this side of heaven. We must do what we can with those who will go and take Jesus.

That’s not to say that just because someone doesn’t help with “Go Together” that they aren’t on board with Jesus and the Great Commission and the glory of God. Of course anyone can help because everyone can pray, so in that sense there are no excuses but there are legitimate reasons for not participating in person in this extracurricular and supplemental event. There are also illegitimate reasons for not participating that flow from an apathetic heart about the mission of God to share the gospel with every tribe tongue and nation, beginning right here in Stillwater, Oklahoma. And that is the reason we are going together: for the gospel. We have got to be about sharing the gospel, otherwise we are a disobedient people and church.

But I want to be more specific about what “Go Together” might accomplish for us at Eagle Heights. Here are several hopes:

  • Go Together reminds us to go to people and not to expect them to come to us. Reggie McNeil says, “They are not coming to us, we have to go to them.” He is right. Pre-Christians might come to us occasionally but by-and-large we have got to go to them. Additionally, the Bible is clear that we are to be going. Matthew 28:19-20 We have got to be out in the community together.
  • Go Together serves as a reference point rather than a gospel necessity. We don’t need events to share the gospel! Events should be supplemental not the end. This event ought to be something that we can point to and say this can happen everyday and needs to happen everyday. We go into the community all the time but are we looking for ways to serve Jesus by serving others where we are going? Do we serve people at work, at the grocery store, at the restaurants where we eat? We don’t have to come to church to serve and we don’t need the church to create an event to serve, we can serve wherever we go just like Jesus did in John 2 at the wedding when he turned water into wine. Go Together is an example of what ought to be happening individually and even at the Small Group/Bible Study Group level.
  • Go Together builds unity around the cause of serving others because of the gospel.Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. If any person in the history of the world deserved to be served it was Jesus but he came to serve by laying His life down as a ransom for many. We ought to be unified for the cause of the gospel and serving together to see others believe the gospel because of what the Jesus had done for us in bringing us good news by serving us with His death. The goal of all unity is not good feelings but the gospel and seeing it advanced. A gospel advancing church will be a unified church and unified church should be a gospel sharing church that serves others.
  • Go Together provides a way for people in Stillwater to hear the gospel. That’s simple enough. We are going together to serve but in the process of serving I hope that there will be opportunity for the sharing the whole gospel to the whole person that results in a new creation.

I don’t know what to expect this Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. but I know God wants us to be going and praying. May God give us unity for the gospel as we demonstrate what needs to happen more and more both individually and corporately by going together.

Don’t Let a Good Thing Hinder a Good Thing.

The following is from Michael Oh’s sermon at the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference. He is expressing concern over good things that might hinder other good things. He is also making a distinction between evangelism and missions.

Two recent trends pose a problem to going and sending:

1) The idea that we’re all missionaries.

There is something commendable about this idea. But there is also something flawed with it. The term “missions” historically meant crossing geographical or cultural boundaries to make Christ known. Making Christ known in your native context is called evangelism, which is distinct from missions.

To say that we’re all missionaries is to ignore the reality that billions of people outside of your experience have never heard of Christ’s coming. It ignores the obligation of every Christian to be a global Christian.

2) The abduction of mission language by non-missional groups.

There are so many misuses of the terms that have nothing to do with the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ into the world. Some churches talk about living missional lives here in America. But this can lull us into thinking that we don’t need to go in order to make Christ known, but can fulfill our obligation from where we are.

Signs of a Struggling Church – Is Eagle Heights a Struggling Church?

Sometimes it is just better to let others write, which makes me wonder why I don’t do this all the time and save myself of the time of trying to write. Except that writing helps me think. Nevertheless, below is an article I picked up from Twitter that talks about signs of a struggling church. Of course this list is not exhaustive but it is helpful. I personally thought that there was at least one of these that was absolutely true of Eagle Heights, with maybe a little from one or two others that are worth pondering. Feel free to comment on where you see Eagle Heights succeeding and where you see Eagle Heights needing to improve. No doubt we will always be a church that in need of evaluating both. I don’t know if we are struggling church but I hope we are always a church that is struggling to be the church God would want us to be, because in this life we will never cease to struggle.