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Posts Tagged ‘Paul’


What does evangelism have to do with grace? Obviously we want the other person to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ. But why do we want this? Mike Bechtle ponders this in the short, next chapter of Evangelism for the Rest of Us.

Let’s be honest. We often feel guilty about not sharing our faith. I feel it at times. As I prepare a sermon that touches on evangelism I can feel it. I want to produce conviction, surety of thought, on having it as a priority. But I’m sure it is often heard through the filter of failure and my words produce far more guilt than I’d like.

Evangelism often seems like one more obligation of the Christian life. The type A persons around us (or in us) have it on their To-Do List. It’s about obedience, for the love of Pete.

Yeah, but ……

We miss the point if it isn’t about compassion. The Father didn’t send the Son to save sinners as part of His To-Do List. “Oh, yeah. Time to save some sinners!” We see God’s great compassion for sinners in Scripture. This is most clear in Jonah, particularly chapter 4. Jonah’s compassion was limited to the plant that grew up overnight without any help from Jonah to provide Jonah with shade lacking from his lousy lean-to. Jonah was there hoping God would smite those lousy Assyrians. God, on the other hand, had compassion for this great city filled with people and animals that He made. God sent Jonah to them, not out of sense of obligation, but out of compassion. This is also why He sent the One greater than Jonah. “For God so loved the world…”

Too often we are about obligation, obedience, checking stuff off our list (or growing our church to satisfy our selfish ambitions or pay off our mortgage- ouch!!!!). We simply lack compassion.

He tells of a car salesman who paid him and his family so much attention. He felt connected to this guy who seemed interested in them. But the next day the salesman didn’t pay any attention to them when they came to pick up the van. It was simply the sale he cared about.

As we evangelize, or bear witness, we can be all about “closing the deal.” We can communicate that in unexpected ways. This mentality, not just its manifestations, is wrong. But that is what happens when our motivation isn’t compassion.

What we need more of to bear witness more consistently is compassion and love.

“But the more we love people, the more we will want to share with them. The focus will be external- on them, not us.”

As we grow in love our evangelism will be rooted in grace rather than guilt.

God uses weak people. The treasure of the gospel is in jars of clay. He didn’t remove Paul’s thorn but said “My grace will be sufficient.” He didn’t give Paul super-human strength, but enabled Paul to persevere despite that distracting, disabling thorn. The thorn seems to have become a means by which Paul gained opportunities to bear witness.

We hate pain. We’d rather be pain-free than experience sufficient grace. And that means we’d rather enjoy ease (like Jonah) than be channels of grace by pointing people to Jesus. Graceful  evangelism bears witness from reality, who we really are and out of our circumstances, not out of some fantasy land where Christians have it all together, have plenty of cash on hand, and never deal with sickness and tragedy. God often reaches people dealing with tragedy or illness through people who have or experienced something similar.

As Christians, Bechtle argues, we are to be bilingual people. The language of faith is our second language if we’ve come to faith in adulthood. We are speaking to people who don’t know or understand the language of faith. We are communicating to unbelievers. Graceful witness means speaking their language (I’m not talking about dropping “f” bombs), translating our faith into words they can understand as best we can. We connect it to their world, their needs, rather than keeping it abstract. Graceful witness doesn’t expect them to learn our language so we can share the truth (if they come to faith they will learn it).

This will happen if we genuinely care about people. If we love them and have compassion on them, we won’t expect them to buy a theological dictionary so we can evangelize them.

If we genuinely care about people we will listen to them.

“If I learn what’s important to him, I can find out where Christ might fit in his life.”

The above statement isn’t meant to somehow limit Christ, but to identify the points of entry for the gospel. Because you genuinely care! We want them to come to faith for their well-being, not so you can boast about it, ease your guilty conscience or feel better about spending time with them.

Graceful witness keeps in mind that it doesn’t all depend on me. I’m not just talking about my theological commitment to “the efficient call”, meaning God converts the person. I’m also talking about the fact that God may be using a variety of people in this person’s life. I can show them grace because it isn’t about my timetable for them or somehow showing my methods are superior to yours like some kung-fu showdown. (Yeah, I’m not sure where that came from.) We genuinely care and so wait on the process and players God is using. It isn’t about my airtight arguments. It not about winning the debate. It is about loving another person.

 

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I was so excited about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation I was laying awake for hours in the middle of the night.

Not really. Just some insomnia as I pondered my next sermon, my sermon series that begins in January and a host of other things. One of them was the Reformers.

Some people are very critical of the Reformation. There is indeed cause for lament over another divorce in the body of Christ (as a friend’s sermon put it). Some people are really bothered by the sins of the Reformers and subsequent leaders. Sins they are.

Many happen to be sins that our age looks down upon most severely. Sins that were not necessarily understood to be sins in their day. Luther’s anti-Semitism late in life. Calvin’s involvement in Servetus’ trial as a heretic resulting in the death penalty (this would be scandalous today, not necessarily sinful, though many misunderstand the circumstances and act like Calvin lit the fire). Edwards, Whitefield and others owned slaves. I could go on.

Some try to discredit the Reformation, or other movements within Protestantism, based on the sins of such leaders. How could God use such stubbornly sinful men?

Perhaps their sinfulness is the precise reason God used them.

God magnifies His grace by using Moses the murderer, David the adulterer & murderer, Jacob the con man, Abram the liar, Peter the impetuous, Paul the blasphemer etc. And the Reformers.

Ah, but those men repented. Luther, Edwards and others didn’t. Hmm, what about the sins you fail to repent of? Shall they overcome union with Christ too? Do they mean you were never united to Christ? We have to be careful for the measure we use will be how we are measured.

I’m not saying that these things weren’t sins. I am saying that His grace is greater than their sin (and mine).

By their sinfulness He is also saving us from our sinfulness. As Calvin noted, the human heart is “a factory of idols.” We would turn these men into saints, like Rome and the Orthodox so. Rather than leaders, we’d make them super-saints who were better than us. Even now many of us still struggle with this. Some try to down play, ignore and outright reject the idea that they were sinner like us.

God is patient and long-suffering with sinners. His active and passive obedience are sufficient for our salvation. As Steve Brown so “scandalously” said at the Ligonier National Conference in ’91, “there is nothing you can do to add to, or take away, from the work of Christ.” We are justified by Christ’s righteousness, not our own. This is the whole point of the Reformation’s re-discovery of the gospel. This is revealed clearly in the lives of these men (and women). Their faith was imperfect, just like ours is.

We quickly forget that we have our own cultural blindspots. We stand firm against many forms of addiction/idolatry. But not gluttony or shopping. Not our idolatrous pursuit of external beauty and “fitness”. Our “American Dream” driven greed would be called idolatry by Paul. Our exaltation of our culture as a norm (particularly by majority cultures) would receive a Galatians-like lashing from Paul. We’d better take the log out of our own eyes lest we somehow think we are better than these saved by grace alone saints of days gone by.

Reformation Day should really be humbling. We are truly saved by grace alone, always. Salvation is thru faith alone in Christ alone. It is for God’s glory alone. Reformation Day is the great day to remember that “Salvation Belongs to the Lord”, the focus of my sermon from Jonah 2:8-10.

The Reformation, and the Reformers, need not be perfect for us to express gratitude. It isn’t about big parties and celebrations (though those aren’t wrong) but about the grateful disposition of the heart.

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James notes something quite important about the effects of faith:

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1

James is merely applying the message of the Old Covenant to the church. These priorities are there. Protestants have typically focused on the last of these, sanctification. In the 19th century a number of orphanages were built by leading figures like Charles Spurgeon and George Mueller. In recent days we’ve seen the focus on adoption arise, in part because of this verse.

But what about widows? We haven’t focused on that very much which is to our detriment in my opinion. Though I’ve been a pastor since 1998 and a number of congregants have become widows in that time, I surely haven’t cared for them as well as I ought to have. The subject really isn’t talked about much.

Recently our men’s study went through 1 Timothy and we spent a night talking about this. At about the same time one of our members became a widow. There just don’t seem to be any books on caring for widows.

Thankfully Crossway has just released Caring for Widows by Brian Croft and Austin Walker. It is not a very long book, and it is filled with very short chapters. In this way it can quickly help pastors, deacons and ministry leaders know why they should care for widows and provide some practical ways of caring for the widows in your midst.

The first section is written by Austin Walker. Austin focuses on the precepts, principles and examples found in Scripture to communicate that widows should be cared for and how they were cared for. As a result, he focuses on God’s love and concern for widows since they were among the most vulnerable members of society. Jewish law made provision for them (tithing, gleaning, Levirate marriage) so that poverty would not destroy them or tempt them to use sinful means to survive. God demanded justice and compassion for the widows, and if they failed He would hear their cries and bring curses on Israel.

Austin also points us to God’s work to provide for particular widows. There is a chapter on Ruth and Naomi. He also reminds of of the widows that Elijah and Elisha ministered to in miraculous ways to demonstrate God’s loving compassion. Jesus also cared for widows, raising one’s dead son and making sure His own mother would be cared for prior to His death. We also see how the early church provided for widows in the book of Acts.

As noted above, the chapters are short. Walker doesn’t waste much time. There is no fluff there, but he does a fairly thorough job making his point. Any church officer or ministry leader can’t avoid his point: we need to care for the widows that God has placed in our care.

Brian Croft writes the second section of the book which focuses on some particular ways we can and should care for widows. These include the private ministry of the Word, equipping the congregation to come along side them, what it means to visit in various situations (home, hospital and nursing home),writing notes and cards, and celebrating holidays with them.

Their needs are not simply financial. He could have spent a little more time on this, at least in helping churches evaluate which widows need financial assistance or working them through the process of downsizing so they can care for themselves. Ideally, husbands provide for their spouses through savings and life insurance. Here in America, Social Security provides some benefits. But these may be insufficient should health problems arise. The family should care for them, and then the church.

The church needs to show them compassion even if they are not helping them financially. They have emotional, relational and practical needs that used to be met by their husbands which are no longer being met. Particularly if family is not nearby, the church becomes important in meeting these needs. It could be as simple as a deacon coming by to change A/C filters to fixing leaky faucets or other repairs. It is also a ministry of friendship by men acting like sons to her, or younger women acting like daughters.

In terms of visitation, I was a little surprised by how short his hospital visits were. I’ve often found people in the hospital to be quite bored and willing to visit unless they were in great pain or other distress. He is right in that the dynamics change when someone is in the hospital. But whenever we visit it is important to include the ministry of the Word and prayer.

There are also times when a widow’s loneliness is more profound: anniversaries, holidays and birthdays. These are times to send notes and cards reminding them that they are loved by God and you.

He “caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy” (Job 29:13). That should be the aim of the church in ministering the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ to widows. It is not only the ministry the church should undertake, but it is an integral part of that biblical religion which James defined as “pure and undefiled … before God and the Father” (James 1:27).

Taking care of the widows among us does not make for a dynamic program. But it is an important part of church ministry. This little book helps equip us for this important ministry. This is a book pastors, deacons and leaders should read, and implement.

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Peter Hubbard, like Jesus, is not content for us to merely be gracious to homosexuals in Love Into Light. He’s not content to change the climate in the church regarding people who struggle with same sex attraction (SSA). He wants repentant, believing strugglers to be a focus of outreach and part of our community.

This doesn’t happen accidentally. We need to be wise in how we live in community and go about outreach. In talking about community, he starts with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which is a pretty good place to start. Community is important, essential, but it can often be idolatrous too.

“The one who pursues community to escape loneliness is trying to escape from himself.”

I’ve seen that happen. I’ve experienced that to an extent. We just experience the loneliness, and don’t really understand what is going on in the heart. We should not forget that we are made in the image of God, however. As a result, we were made for relationship; for community. God is the eternal community of Father, Son & Spirit living in loving harmony. We were made for that. We also recognize that each person within the Godhead is differentiated. They have a sense of self. Loneliness can be a sign that we don’t have a strong sense of self, or enjoy being by ourselves.

“So in one sense we don’t need each other (God is enough). Yet in another sense we desperately need each other (He reveals Himself to us in community).”

Many people in the church who struggle with SSA often agonize alone. They fear rejection, if people knew. They need the acceptance of the group, and the group needs their honesty. This is a hindrance to community if there are any sins that are kept private. We don’t let anyone into our hearts and are … alone.

He relates how his congregation had a frank discussion of homosexuality. It prompted one member to think more deeply about their sin, and how it was “natural” to them- meaning they had a predisposition to anxiety.

“I”m being challenged to realize that we all may have something in our ‘nature’ that is sin, and we cannot choose to condone our own sin, even though we have a propensity for it. He have to fight against it as the Holy Spirit frees us from it.”

Community deepens as we recognize this fact about ourselves. If we do, we see that while their sin is different in the details, it is not different in kind. If worry is 2nd nature to you, a life-dominating sin, you can understand what it would be like to continually be attracted to the same sex. Just try to a second to consider what it would be like to know that your very attractions are wrong. Every day presents numerous opportunities to stumble in your heart. Of course, even heterosexuals face this as our hearts are tempted to move beyond fidelity, lusting for our neighbor’s spouse or a single person.

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Earlier in his book Love into Light, Peter Hubbard talked about change. There he talked about unrealistic expectations for change. Change is an internal thing.

Discussion of change for a homosexual (as well as for any sexually immoral person, like addicts) eventually gets to the issues of celibacy and marriage. How you understand yourself if important to this discussion. If you view yourself as the world labels you (“homosexual”, “pervert” “misfit” or “dirty”) you will live out that reality. If you view yourself as God views you if you are in Christ (beloved, holy, son) you will begin to live out of this new reality. No, not perfectly. It is a progress. But God’s labels for those in Christ provide something of the goal.

He notes that we struggle with this notion of an “assigned” life or label. Deep down most of us suspect that God doesn’t have our best in mind. Deep down we think that we know the path to a fulfilling life better than God does. We forget that this is what got us in the deep hole we were in in the first place.

Additionally, Matthew Vines, he notes, talks about how homosexuals often feel left out as their friends marry and have kids. This is not something particular to homosexuals. I didn’t get married until I was 36, and a father until 39. I saw so many friends get married and have kids. I felt left out, forgotten and as if it would never happen to me. That’s the funny thing about sin, it deceives us into thinking we are the only one who feels this way. We don’t realize that others who don’t share our reasons also feel the same kinds of things. Marrying late wasn’t really MY choice. I wanted to get married, but experienced that frustrating reality that the people I wanted to marry didn’t want to marry me. And the people who wanted to marry me were not ones I wanted to marry.

I, like many in my state, wondered “what if God is calling me to be single, forever?” It seemed a fate worse than death at times. I wasn’t struggling with SSA. This is a human problem, not merely a SSA problem. My wife and I have many older friends who have never been married.

There are a number of people in the Bible who were never married or were widowed and remained single and alone with no outlet for their sexual desire. Jesus is pretty prominent there. As fully (hu)man, He would have experienced sexual desire. He would have found particular people attractive. But he never acted upon such desire. He mission trumped all those internal feelings and desires, such that His food was to do the will of His Father.

We also see Paul (probably widowed since he was a Pharisee of Pharisees). Paul was a sinner, like the rest of us. Paul lived in a culture with few if any sexual boundaries. There was temptation without and within. Surely there was loneliness and frustration. As the head of her household, Lydia was single or widowed as well. As that head of household, there would have been slaves or servants she could use to satisfy her sexual desires, as was common. But every indication is that she lived a faithful, obedient life that flowed out of her faith and love for Christ.

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For the next two weeks, my sermon series on Colossians will be in the portion of the household code dealing with slaves and masters. Later, we’ll explore Philemon. But this is not the only household code in Scripture that addresses the subject. We find them in Ephesians 5-6 and Titus 2. The subject appears in 1 Timothy 6, 1 Peter 2, 1 Corinthians 7 and some other places. It is important for us to remember that in Philippians 2 Jesus is called a slave who obeyed to the point of death, death on a cross.

It is hard for us to grasp all of this. Thankfully legalized slavery has been abolished in most of the world. We are still fighting human trafficking. We have a very different set of experiences than the original audience of the Scriptures.  So let’s look as this, at times with help from John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life. (I am a bit uncomfortable with his reliance upon James Jordan at times. Some theonomists have fallen into what I think is the dangerous false doctrine of kinism).

Slavery was common in most of the ancient world. Not race-based slavery, but slavery. In the Old Testament we see that the Patriarchs owned slaves. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers (which as man-stealing was punished by death in the Old Testament, and was affirmed as a heinous sin in the New Testament).

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Any conversation about homosexuality inevitably will turn to what the Bible says. There are bound to be many misunderstandings about what the Bible says, and attempts to say that it doesn’t really say what it says. This is where Peter Hubbard turns his attention in the 4th chapter of Love Into Light.

It is just a chapter, so it is a survey that focuses on a few key texts. There are whole books devoted to this singular topic. This is intended to hit the highlights.

“Real Bible study is an act of corporate execution as we die to our preferences and together stand in the counsel of the only Person Who embodies and defines life.”

Studying the Bible is painful for all of us because it doesn’t say what we wish it would. Each of us may have a different topic with which we disagree with the Bible. But, as he notes here we have to wrestle with it or we have made ourselves to be autonomous.

Many, like Matthew Vines, will accuse us of misinterpreting the Bible. They will accuse us of mishandling them to issue a blanket, absolute condemnation of something the Bible never condemns. I think Hubbard makes a good point about this.

“Who wants to misinterpret the Bible at the expense of hundreds of thousands of people who feel condemned to lives of shame and loneliness? Who has the time and the desire to dream up sexual prohibitions that God hasn’t created?”

In other words, those with whom we disagree seem to paint us in the worst possible light: homophobes, bigots etc. I understand the desire to avoid guilt and shame. I ran from God for awhile, wanting to enjoy activities that the Bible says are immoral. We all have those things, and they are pretty important to us at the time.

The first charge made is that the prohibitions against homosexuality were temporary. Some of the prohibitions are found in Leviticus with a number of other immoral sex acts (Leviticus 18). People like Jay Bakker and Jack Rogers say it was wrong for the Israelites, but not for us today. Jay, like many today, will point out that Leviticus mentions they shouldn’t eat shellfish, wear clothing made of wool and cotton, getting tattoos and other such far less important things. The argument is that we have evolved past things.

Okay, some of those things were about how Israel was set apart ceremonially from the nations around them. What you won’t find is a penalty for eating shellfish. At most, you wouldn’t participate in corporate worship as being ceremonially unclean.

The penalty for all those sexual acts (which they neglect to mention include incest and bestiality) is death. This are how Israel was set apart from the nations morally. This was a severe penalty. We are talking about two fundamentally different things. Are we to assume that we have evolved enough to say that incest and bestiality are okay too? Or are they the only permanent prohibitions in that exact context? See how misleading their argument is?

Hubbard argues (the above was mostly mine) that Jesus affirmed and fulfilled the Old Testament. He fulfilled the ceremonial laws in such a way as to render them obsolete (read Hebrews for example). He fulfilled the moral law for us, but not in a way that renders it obsolete. We see that the New Testament affirms the Old Testament prohibitions on numerous sexual sins, including homosexuality. That brings us to one of the controversial texts in this debate: 1 Corinthians 6:9.

That passage includes an original term by Paul- arsenkoite. It is a debated term, claimed to mean “male prostitute.” How does Hubbard respond? “The Apostle Paul coined this term from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. He was pointing back to Leviticus 18:22.”  It is the combination of arsenos  and koiten. It is not connected to rape, or prostitution, but of having intercourse with another man as if he were a woman. He is restating the OT prohibition against homosexuality.

Another claim is that the prohibitions are misunderstood. The claims regarding 1 Corinthians 6:9 is such a case. Another is Sodom and Gomorrah. They, supposedly, were judged for being inhospitable. Yes, they were that. But the original story in Genesis 19 makes clear that they wanted to engage in homosexual activity with the men. As Jude 7 notes, they were immoral. That it manifested itself in attempted homosexual rape is pertinent. Both Philo and Josephus interpret this to mean it refers to homosexual acts, not simply sexual violence.

A third claim is that such prohibitions are rooted in ignorance. Mel White is one man who puts this forth, as though the homosexuals then were very different from the loving, committed homosexuals today. This argument is a form of chronological arrogance, for there were committed gay and lesbian relationships in Paul’s day. It assumes we are more enlightened and wiser than those blood thirsty primitives. If only they understood that some are homosexual by nature. Romans 1, they claim, refers to those who are heterosexual but engage in homosexual activity. The point of Romans 1 is not to isolate homosexuality, but to show homosexuality as one of the results of exchanging the truth for a lie. Sin manifests itself in many ways, as Paul mentions in Romans 1. Homosexuality is one of them.

Others, like Luke Timothy Johnson, place our experience above Scripture. The commands of Scripture, he argues, are fallible. Paul was subject to his personal prejudices and preferences. It assumes that the Bible is merely a human document and that it also is fallible when it says that the Spirit inspired Scripture. The Scriptures are authoritative, my experience is not. I am to judge my experience by Scripture, not Scripture by my experiences.

In fact, it would appear that the claims are merely projections of their own arguments which take texts out of context, misunderstands the words used and are filled with ignorance of history as well as Scripture. If we have the opportunity to talk through these texts with a homosexual or an advocate for them, we can use the material here to address those concerns and show that the problem is not the Scriptures or our fundamentalist interpretation.

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