Monday, April 30, 2012

the "son of man" and "the saints"

But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.
Daniel 7:18
If you want to take on the task of understanding biblical prophecy, you have to start with Daniel chapter seven. There is a lot of important detail to unravel in the visions described here. It is shrouded in symbolism and vibrant imagery. But there are a couple of concepts that I find very intriguing.
The first really breathtaking part I see is found in Daniel 7:13-14. The "son of man" who is given an indestructible, everlasting kingdom that extends globally is a unique figure. When the interpretation of the vision is asked for by Daniel, he is given an explanation of the four beasts described in Daniel 7:1-12 as four kingdoms. He is not given any explanation as to the "son of man" and the everlasting kingdom given by God. We are left to our own interpretive skills to sketch out the identity of this world-reigning king.
The second unique feature is the term translated "the saints" in this passage. it is a term the Daniel picks up here and uses extensively to talk about a unique people who belong to God. Why does he not call them "Jews" or "Israel"? Why are they just generically "the saints"? Is he only wanting to emphasize their holiness, or is there something else at work here? Again, the text reveals only clues and does not give a definitive answer.
The emphasis on the kingdom of the "son of man" (an everlasting dominion) and the identity of "the saints" who receive and possess that eternal kingdom make this chapter a crucial passage to decipher. The fact that this kingdom is eternal carries with it the reality that it is earth's final kingdom. It over rules all others. Once it starts it never ends. There has to be a way to understand these terms. I believe "son of man" (the common First Century AD Jewish title for messiah) is a messianic term. And Jesus claimed it. The citizens of that eternal kingdom appear to be much more than just Israel since they are broadly called "the saints". There is thus a plan being slowly unveiled for us in the book of Daniel, and we see it from this point forward.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

an excellent spirit

Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.
Daniel 6:3

I have always been intrigued by six words that describe Daniel: "an excellent spirit was in him." This seems to be such a high compliment for a man in such rough circumstances. Technically, Daniel was a prisoner of war. He was taken captive to Babylon while really still a child. He was raised in the Babylonian court to the best training he could receive, but he was a captive. He did not choose his vocation. He was trained to assist Babylon in the administration of captive Israel and Judah.

Daniel rose to prominence among all the court administrators because he had that unmistakeable, hard to fully define, but clearly visible "something" that led to his success with others. The text calls it "an excellent spirit". It is a combination of his love for God, his servant's heart, his winsomeness with people, and his administrative giftedness. People like what they saw in Daniel and it led him to success, even with new kings and differing government administrations.

Darius is the third king under whom Daniel has served. He is the first non-Chaldean king. Generally when a new nation occupies a defeated capital, it replaces all administrators with its own personnel. But the Persians kept the court staff, perhaps out of necessity due to the complex make-up of the empire they had captured. There were many people groups and languages into which any royal edict needed to be translated. The empire stretched from modern day Turkey to Egypt. This need helped Daniel to continue to thrive. Darius had designs on Daniel, noting his excellence and planning to move him into a prime minister position that would administrate all the sub-governors of the empire.

God blesses integrity, faithfulness, and love for Him. That does not mean we get an easy path. Daniel's excellent spirit resulted in trial and a night in the lion's den because unrighteous men could not stand him. But in the end, God kept him safe and the king carried out his plan to promote Daniel so that his gifts could serve the empire in the greatest way. An excellent spirit is hard to find, but in the end, it is used by the Lord. It is a noble goal to desire to have such a testimony for the sake of God's kingdom.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this,
Daniel 5:22

Well the Bible tells us about a man
Who ruled Babylon and all it's land
Around the city he built a wall
And declared that Babylon would never fall

He had concubines and wives
He called his Babylon "Paradise"
On his throne he drank and ate
But for Belshazzer it was getting late

For he was weighed in the balance and found wanting
His kingdom was divided, couldn't stand
He was weighed in the balance and found wanting
His houses were built upon the sand

The people feasted and drank their wine
And praised the false gods of his time
All holy things were scorned and mocked
But suddenly all their laughing stopped

For on the wall there appeared a hand
Nothing else, there was no man
And then, the hand began to write
And Belshazzar couldn't hide his fright

For he was weighed in the balance and found wanting
His kingdom was divided, couldn't stand
He was weighed in the balance and found wanting
His houses were built upon the sand

Well no one around could understand
What was written by the mystic hand
Belshazzar tried but couldn't find
A man who could give him peace of mind

But Daniel the prophet, the man of God
He saw the writing on the wall in blood
Belshazzar asked him what it said
And Daniel turned to the wall and read

"My friend your weighed in the balance and found wanting
Your kingdom was divided, it can't stand
Your weighed in the balance and found wanting
Your houses were built on shifting sand."

lyrics by Johnny Cash

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I, Nebuchadnezzar

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
Daniel 4:34

Nebuchadnezzar was so full of himself that God brought him by divine decree to complete insanity and back again in order to show him that God alone is the sovereign controller above all things. The king of Babylon had been warned in a dream that such a humiliation awaited him. Daniel urged the king to repent so that such an experience could be avoided (Daniel 4:27). But the king did not follow the advice of his wisest and most reliable counselor.

His "answer" back to God's call to repent came a year later when in a particularly grandiose display of megalomania, he patted himself on the back for achieving all the greatness of an empire (Daniel 4:30). No sooner had his voiced ended in the self-aggrandizement of prideful speech than God spoke from heaven to inform the arrogant king that his kingdom was taken from him. What followed was seven years of complete insanity. Nebuchadnezzar went from palace to field, from living like an emperor to living like an animal. His reason was gone, and there was no way for him to take pride in his present accomplishments. It is hard to brag about mental illness, especially when you can't speak in human language any longer! Nebuchadnezzar went absolutely stark-raving certifiably nutso! And God made it happen to get the king where He wanted him to be.

After seven long years of living life completely off his rocker, God amazingly restored Nebuchadnezzar, and he found himself again back into his former position at the center of the Babylonian empire. This time the king is humbled. He returned to sanity both mentally and spiritually. He immediately blessed and acknowledged God's sovereign rule over him. No more was he filled with just himself. That was a tough lesson to live and learn.

So what can I learn from a mad king's pride, fall, and humiliation? I know that when left to myself, I too am Nebuchadnezzar. I may not have his palace or his riches. I do have his tendency toward manic self-aggrandization. It is what sin does to me. If I focus just on me, I am well on the road to a kind of Babylonian insanity. But if I focus on what God had done, I can rest in faith that all I am and all that I have are the product of God's grace and care. That is personal sanity that keeps me in balance.

Monday, April 23, 2012

the faith that reaches kings

"If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
Daniel 3:17-18

The account of the courageous faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the face of death by the fiery furnace is a commitment that God honored. They refused to practice public, politically correct idolatry at the threat of death. And their courage was rewarded by God. But their faith was the foundation of their brave answer to Nebuchadnezzar.

There are three words in their answer back to the king that indicate the unswerving conviction that drove them. Those three words are "but if not". They are convinced that God can save them from death in the fiery furnace, but if God chose not to do so and they died in the flames, they would not be bothered one bit. It changed nothing. They still would not bow to worship anything other than the Lord their God and Him only.

Of course as the account plays out, they are sentenced to death, bound, and thrown into the furnace. The king is amazed as he sees them walking alive in the flames, protected by an angel of God. He orders them to walk out from the flames (an order they are happy to obey), and immediately recognizes the greatness of the God of heaven Who guarded them in the blaze.

God used the occasion to spread His knowledge among the Gentiles. Nebuchadnezzar is clearly convinced that the God of the Jews protected them. He promotes Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even greater posts of political influence. It even leads Him to offer an official announcement about the power of God, praising God for His greatness over all the earth (Daniel 4:1-3).

All this came on the heels of a courageous faith that will trust God even if death is the outcome of faith. That is the kind of commitment that attends real faith. And that kind of commitment is blessed by God to spread His fame among the nations!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

promoted by God: reversal of fortune

Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.
Daniel 2:48

It is amazing what God will use to accomplish His work. God used a night of troubled sleep for Nebuchadnezzar to bring Daniel into prominence in the empire of Babylon. It all started with a bad's night sleep and a troubling, half-remembered dream. Nebuchadnezzar summoned his court and demanded that someone tell him the troubling dream and what it all meant. His advisors begged him for any details of the dream, but whether he could tell them anything or not, Nebuchadnezzar refused any details. They had to reveal to him both the dream and its meaning. The fact that he could not remember it was insignificant. If they advisors cannot do this, the cranky king will kill every last one of them!

Daniel is confident that God will reveal this to him. He boldly asks the king for a time to reveal the dream, then asks his friends to pray to God for him. And in that night, God answers their prayer. The next day Daniel is able to explain to the king of Babylon what troubled him so greatly.

And the broad themes of prophecy in the book of Daniel are unfolded. In the first of four visions in the book, God lays out a map of future world history (see the chart from the ESV Study Bible below for a clear way of seeing how these visions interconnect).

This convinces Nebuchadnezzar that God has indeed given unusual insight and answers to Daniel. It is so important to the king that he appoints Daniel to the position of prime minister over the empire. Almost exactly like Joseph in Egypt, Daniel is thrust into the top echelon of leadership overnight. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are made regional governors. Suddenly the captive Jews are placed in positions of high leadership within the empire. God not only saved them, but also exalted them.

God loves to show Himself through stunning reversals of fortune. In this case in one day Daniel and his friends went from being under threat of execution by the empire to leaders at its very highest levels. They were promoted by God for His purposes. And the rest of the book of Daniel will continue to show God's power with His people as they lived by His demands among the pagans.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Faithfulness rewarded

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
Daniel 1:8

This is an intense instance of spiritual bravery. Daniel and his friends had been taken away from Jerusalem in the first wave of captives that Babylon hauled away to Chaldea. And these noblemen's sons were educated in the king's court. The had no other choice in the matter. They could train to be royal courtiers in Babylon, or they could die. One did not simply refuse king Nebuchadnezzar!

But Daniel wanted to keep the dietary restrictions of the Law. He wanted to practice his faith, and without a doubt the food served in the king's court would not be kosher. There would be the issue of forbidden meats. There would be the bigger issue of being served meat that had been offered to idols. It was a messy situation for a young observant Jew. But Daniel had resolve. He did not want to make himself ceremonially unclean, so a brave plan formed within his mind, and he approached his superiors with a helpful suggestion.

Daniel worked politely within the system and asked the chief of the eunuchs to give the Hebrew program participants a chance to prove themselves. Daniel proposed a vegetarian diet for the Hebrew captives. This was a shrewd solution. Daniel knew there would be no worries about violating the Law with a simple vegetarian diet. And a ten day trial period tested his faith and showed the chief of the eunuchs respect. He made it a temporary challenge and not a permanent demand.

God blessed the shrewd, polite, and wise plan of Daniel. At the end of the dietary trial, everyone was impressed with the health and the appearance of the Hebrew program participants. God blessed their resolve and obedience. And in the end they were able to practice their faith and also enter Babylonian culture with full acceptance and respect. This actually was quite an accomplishment when you consider it.

It takes courage to obey God in a pagan culture. It takes wisdom to also find that culture to be respectful of that kind of faith. And that challenge is before us like never before today. In a post-Christian, post-modern environment like we live in today, we could learn a lot from Daniel's story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
1 Timothy 6:6-8

I see so much around me
that vies for my affection;
lots of stuff to occupy me
and fight for my attention.

It looks so good, so appealing
to have and get and own and gain
-- yet these things, in my heart revealing
what yet I want to possess and obtain.

Through magic lies of advertising
I am drawn to what I'm told
will make my life full, my self inviting
and so with this pitch, I am sold.

The thing is bought, I'm beside myself...
the new wears off and boredom hits
and soon dust collects and it's on the shelf;
my eyes despise it now where it sits.

What I have is a problem with what I spent;
I placed spiritual value on material stuff.
What I needed to learn was real contentment
so that joy could meet me when life gets rough.

I came into this world confused and naked,
nothing in my hands, needing love...
and I will leave it tired and vacant
of anything to take to homes above.

What I have is what I need for
simple living...the life to live.
I'll redefine my goals and reach for
just needful food or clothes, the rest I'll give.

Trust in God for what I need shapes
my heart to seek His loving face.
As my selfishness dies, God remakes
me contented to appreciate His grace.

Monday, April 16, 2012

a church budget in a nutshell

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 5:17

This is one of the earliest evidences that the early church financially supported its leadership. When it is understood in the context, especially with 1 Timothy 5:18, it is clear that Paul is instructing Timothy to direct the church to support its elders in a significant way. The reason given is that the work of preaching and teaching is extensive and as it builds the church, it requires real labor on the part of the elder who is exercising this gift.

Why is preaching and teaching hard work that is worthy of the church's financial commitment? First and foremost, it is because it is essential to the church's commission. Teaching and preaching are the means by which the Great Commission advances. The gospel is preached. Disciples are taught. And those elders gifted to do this are on the front line of the advance of the church. It is also time consuming. I know that when I preach just on Sunday, I will spend 8 to 12 hours of my week preparing for the Sunday teaching time... not to mention preaching it two or three times. And then there are all the individual and group training times throughout the week that require preparation to perform. It would make sense for the church to financially support this work. It is central to the church's purpose and call.

If you look at this command in context, it is compelling. Paul is talking to Timothy about local church budgetary concerns. He begins the focus with a discussion on one of the primary care ministries of the first century church: the support of destitute widows (1 Timothy 5;1-16). There are guidelines set in place for just how Christians should support these widows through the local church, and it is clear that these women really did serve the Body of Christ as well (1 Timothy 5:9-10). After moving from that ministry and its budgetary considerations, Paul moves on to discuss the role of elders in a congregation and the monetary support of those who preach and teach. The early church invested its resources in those who advanced the preaching of the gospel.

Now this is a biblical priority within the local church. Notice that Paul does not abandon care ministry to deal exclusively with the support of "church staff". Neither does he exclude the support of teaching elders in favor of only proving "care funds". There is a tension here that the church has to live with and the balance is to participate in both essential expenditures by caring for those in need (in this case widows who need financial assistance) and funding the teaching of the gospel to advance the kingdom (supporting elders who are worthy of double honor). That is the financial mission of the church in a nutshell.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

supportive leadership in the church

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
1 Timothy 4:13

There are three aspects of spiritual leadership that Paul encouraged the young man Timothy to practice in Ephesus. These would be the sustaining elements of good church development and would mature both the body of believers and Timothy's own leadership. And they center around the Word of God.

The very first practice that Timothy was to devote himself to was the public reading of the scriptures. This was the way in which most church members learned the Word of God. Yes, there was a higher degree of literacy in the Roman world, but access to scrolls and books was still pretty limited, particularly as persecution of the church ratcheted up to serious levels. Most people learned the truths of scripture and memorized the Word through the practice of public reading. It was the way biblical literacy and knowledge of the truth advanced. It was very important in the practices of the church for substantial public reading of the Word of God to take place so that vital exposure to the gospel and the content of the scriptures could be maintained. People learned the truth this way.

The second substantial support ministry in which Timothy was to engage was exhortation or encouragement. This is the ministry of personal application of Christian truth. It is what we might think of as coaching and it is also a kind of warning. It is personal discipleship and corporate encouragement. And it is the type of activity that is time intensive for a leader. It is people focused, and requires not only that we know the scriptures, but that we get to know our people. It helps people live out the truth by encouraging them, counseling them, and warning them.

The third practice vital to successful leadership within the church is teaching. Without good teachers, the church will fail its mission. Teachers have a passion for the gospel, for explaining the scriptures, for advancing the church, for helping people understand God's truth and live it out. Great teaching guards the doctrinal distinctiveness of scriptural theology while also helping believers apply it to their unique local church setting. It makes deep truth personally accessible. Teaching "the whole counsel of God" equips believers to be Salt and Light in the world. It draws hearts to the majesty of God. It leads to repentance of sin to serve Christ. It defends and presents the gospel in a culture that does not naturally seek God's truth. It ties all three practices together as teachers read scripture and encourage believers with God's Truth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

the poetry of theology

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16

Paul quotes the poetic expression of an ancient Christian creed that many Bible scholars conclude is a part of a first century hymn of the church. It is fascinating to examine the structure of this confession. It centers on the gospel, but in terms just different enough to cause us to think through the "mystery of godliness".

It starts with the fact that Jesus was "manifested in the flesh". This is the wonder of the incarnation, covering every dimension of it from His Nativity to the fact that He died on a Roman cross. In every way in life and in death, Jesus showed Himself to be fully human. God came to us in the most obvious way possible in Jesus. This was the unexpected miracle of the Messiah... that perfect omnipotent deity would reside in a human body and die for our sins according to the scriptures.

The poem says Jesus was "vindicated by the Spirit". The verb used is the same Greek word used to describe being justified. But that is not what is least not the justification of sin. What is meant is that 1) in the ministry of Jesus the Holy Spirit vindicated the authenticity of his teaching and work, and 2) at the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit vindicated the salvation accomplished at the cross.

The third phrase denotes Jesus' deity in a poetic expression, "seen by angels". Angels proclaimed His birth, they attended to Him after the temptation in the wilderness, they announced His resurrection, and they encouraged the disciples at His ascension.

The next two phrases anticipate the impact of this gospel creed. Jesus is "proclaimed among the nations", which is gospel preaching. It is the work of ALL Christians to lift Him up and testify to His work. And that is effective so that He is "believed on in the world". This hints at the reality of the work of His Church, His called out assembly of believers in the world.

The final phrase reminds us Jesus is relying on us for He has been "taken up in glory". I believe it also hints at our anticipation of His return. If He has been taken up, He will come again in the same way, as the angels proclaimed at His ascension. What an encouraging message and what a deep set of truths the gospel really is!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

prayer before politics

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Timothy 2:3-4

The "good" referred to in verse 3 is the command in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 for Christians to earnestly pray for kings and all those in authority over them. Why was this "good"? Ultimately this is going out to a Mediterranean world ruled by Caesar. And a brutal military kept the peace with Rome. But Paul's urging for Christians to prayer was for a greater purpose. Paul knew that a stable society (even a forced stability at military might) would be the environment in which the communication of the gospel could spread. And that would please the Lord!

Paul longed for God to be glorified in a peaceful culture where travel and communication could move forward unhindered. That way God's desire that all people come to the knowledge of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ might be realized. The peaceful prayer of Christians for governing authorities was one part of that process.

We are in the middle of a political season in the United States. And I have been watching Christians here confuse kingdoms all my life. It is sad to see hopes pinned to political candidates. Our hope is in God. Paul could ask churches to pray for Caesar who was so pagan as to expect worship as a god from his subjects! What does that tell us about who we should be praying for today?

Christians are not commanded to be politically active. We ARE commanded to be prayerfully active. That does not mean we cannot be involved in politics. Not at all... but rather, like anything else in "this world", we should not confuse it with the expression of God's kingdom. We should only see it, like any other part of our lives in this world, as a means for people to come to the knowledge of the truth of the gospel! It isn't about political liberalism or conservatism. It is about obeying this command and concentrating on God's work in this world. What men will do and how people will lead us politically WILL be disappointing... I guarantee it. What God does through Christ in the gospel will be a cause for rejoicing forever!

Monday, April 9, 2012

identification as a sinner

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
1 Timothy 1:15

Paul identified with the real human condition. He knew that he was a saved sinner. It was a way for him to identify with and appreciate the gospel in a real and truthful way. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (the gospel). And Paul was the foremost sinner (identification).

What Paul was doing was not any kind of unhealthy fixation with his sinful past. On the contrary, he is celebrating salvation and new life in Christ. But he also does not want to forget his wonderful salvation. By owning his own sinfulness and Christ's salvation of sinners, Paul is passing on his sense of hope and forgiveness. He wants others to accept the "trustworthy" statement of the gospel. And in celebrating the impact of this on his own life, Paul is adding to the appeal of a message that saved even a foremost sinner like he was.

There has to be a simple humility that must attend our preaching of the gospel. Paul was not pointing his finger at others (although he does list the unholy deeds of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Instead, he is humbly acknowledging his own deep sinful condition and trusting Christ who came into the world to save sinners. Paul puts himself on the list of sinners... at the very top! His own personal testimony was the primary reason for the primacy of the gospel in his heart. He was not getting over grace shown to him in Jesus. By acknowledging his sinful state, he is exalting his great Savior.

Paul's example helps me understand how my own humble testimony ought to attend my telling of the gospel to others. It is not so much that I point fingers at others' sin. It is more that I acknowledge my own sin and how Jesus saves me from it. That is a powerful part of the gospel message. And I should not shrink away from identifying myself as a saved sinner.

Friday, April 6, 2012

the great opportunity found in pastoral prayer

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

I dearly love the way that the apostle Paul prays. He prays with such precision, fervor, and faith. It makes me feel like I am spiritually dysfunctional. I want to strive to pray like this, more and more, and the only way that I know to get there is to follow Paul's example and pray his prayers after him.

That is why at times when I am called upon to pray in the assembly of believers at Mill Creek, I often have a Bible with me, open to one of Paul's prayers. There is a unique opportunity in pastoral prayer. All the believers in the worship service are together focusing and (I hope) agreeing with what I am praying and asking of God. And I feel I would be a poor shepherd indeed if I did not pray for God's glory to be displayed in the flock, encouraging them to live obediently and lovingly before God. Paul's prayers keep me centered on what scripture reveals is our deepest need.

For the Thessalonians, Paul prays for God's sanctifying work to define the testimony of that church. And that is something he has mentioned much in his short letter to them. That holiness is to be both internal and external, displayed in spirit, soul, and body. And it is something hinging on both the obedience of the believer and God's powerful sustaining grace.

The goal is also present in the prayer: to be blameless before Christ at His return. And the faith it takes to commit to this is well placed. We can be confident that the God Who calls us to live before Him in this way will not fail us. He is faithful. He will keep us His forever. We must live and pray by that faithful call.

Again... my prayers often fall short of this depth. But when I begin to model them after this example, I am confident my prayers are God centered and meaningful. I am thankful that God teaches me how to pray!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

passionate purity

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,
1 Thessalonians 4:3-4

My heart should be passionate for purity. Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to live a life of purity. It is God's will that they be free from sexual immorality. The word used here is "porneia" - a term used to broadly describe all sexually immoral attitudes and actions. It means they should abstain from a lifestyle of overt personal sexual expression that has no boundaries. To be clear, it is not the sexuality that is the problem. It is the improper expression of it (outside of marriage) that is the problem.

Sexual expression has healthy boundaries. It is a good thing to express sex within marriage with a spouse. That is part of what is meant by controlling our bodies in holiness and honor. Sin corrupts sex. And that is bad because sexuality is at the core of our personhood. We are created either male or female. And that is central to who we are and how we express the image of God in our world. Christians express God in holiness, taking their delight in God and finding God's delight expressed to them as they live in a holy way that pleases Him.

The pressures to crumble and give in to a "porneic" lifestyle in our culture are intense. The call to sexual purity within marriage is mocked... even despised. Rampant internet pornography of every kind is now the punchline for sitcom jokes on television. Unholy sexual expressions and unions are celebrated with parades these days. And if we attempt to point out the wrongness of it, we are ridiculed as intolerant and uncaring people.

Just this last week I counseled a person in my church who needed pastoral direction because a next door neighbor issued a Facebook invitation to anyone in the neighborhood who wanted to "swing". An open marriage just moved next door and now a Christian marriage feels threatened. This is the way it looks when people will not control their own bodies in holiness and honor. Fortunately, the person seeking counsel is committed to marriage. But the threat of our culture's sinful form of sexuality is literally just yards away from home and family. The truth of this passage from the apostle Paul could not be any closer to us!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

a disciplemaker's passion

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 3:8

This is Paul's ministry heart hanging out on his sleeve for all the world to see. He longed to hear back a report on the Thessalonian church. He wanted to know how they were doing in their Christian maturity. The passion of a disciplemaker is bound up in the progress of those to whom he is called to help toward maturity in Christ. Paul finally sends Timothy on a mission to Thessalonica to find out the status of the young church.

And Paul is thrilled with the report that comes back to him. Timothy brings back news of the church's continued success even in the midst of persecution and difficulty. This is the sort of joyous message that Paul has been hoping to hear. His hopes are realized. His prayers are answered. His hard work is confirmed to him. And rejoicing fills his heart.

And Paul communicated his joy back to the church. He encouraged them by letting them know how much their commitment and growth encouraged his heart. There is a cycle of joyful encouragement going on in this little account that looks something like this:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Word at work

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
1 Thessalonians 2:13

Paul details the process of evangelism and church building by telling the story of the Thessalonian church. He describes the hard work of his apostolic ministry among them. They responded to the gospel as Paul and his team shared it in tender relationship with them. Paul spends quite a bit of time explaining why the close relationship was necessary. There is a tremendous tenderness expressed in the gospel ministry that is very compelling.

And in the end, conversion happened and a church was born, not because of the word of just a human being. Their lives were changed by the power of the gospel which the Thessalonians accepted as the Word of God. In ministry humans do the caring labor, but it is the Word of God that brings the powerful changes. Paul rejoiced that these people believed that message for what it really was, the Word of God. And that is what is really at work in them.

I have the privilege of being able to identify with the process that Paul details here. My vocation is the exercise of tender, faithful ministry. And there is great joy in that experience. It is hard work to have that call to the tender care of believers. And it is often a tough calling to be faithful in proclaiming and teaching the gospel of God. But when God does His work with His Word... watch out! Lives are changed. It is a powerful and personally exciting experience. Nothing can compare to the work that God's Word does in believers.

Thank You, Lord, that Your Word works in Your people. And thank You, Lord, that when we are faithful to obey it, great changes are made in our lives as Your glory is demonstrated. Help us to be believers who let Your Word live in us for Your great glory!

Monday, April 2, 2012

real change... real hope.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

This is a report of mass conversion. The Christians at the city of Thessalonica were believers who noticeably changed as a result of coming to Christ. And the cites around them took notice. Their conversion had regional impact. In Paul's remarks we see the unique fingerprints of genuine conversion.

The first mark was a visible turn to God. They heard the gospel message and responded to it. The necessary second mark of their conversion involved turning from their idolatrous past. There was a clean break from pagan idolatry and a clear turn to authentic Christianity. There was no messy syncretism. It was a "truth vs. falsehood" moment of distinction. And the truth was found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The third mark of their conversion is found in what they turned to God to do: they turned to serve the living and true God. Their conversion was a new allegiance that was backed up by a lifestyle that was eager to serve the Lord. They were saved to serve, and that naturally showed up in their actions. They were unmistakably visibly Christian in their outward service to God.

The final mark of their conversion showed up in a patient faith. They put their hope in "waiting for His Son". It seems unusual to us today to make a new eschatological hope essential to the mark of a Christian testimony. And that is a sign of our own doctrinal laziness! Real hope is an outcome of real faith. And the hope of the second coming of Jesus ought to follow in the hearts of those who are genuinely converted. It makes sense. Jesus takes care of my past sin, He sent His Spirit to help me in my present to serve Him, and He is my hope for the future. He thus fills my every concept of time as I come to Him by faith. That is the gospel hope in all of its fullness! And I am happy to be reminded of it as I spend time in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian church. May that kind of hope and change be really what the gospel brings to me and to all those that I know!