March 30, 2009

Hope against Hope - Part 1 - The God of hope

Hope against hope – that is the call of every Christian sojourning in this world. We have the promise of persecution and trial (2 Tim 3:12; John 16:33), and in the face of that, the promise of hope. The persecution of the world in America is not torture, imprisonment, or political exile (as some of our brothers and sisters face this very hour). It is a much more subtle, much more deadly assault. You may not be persecuted in this sense for claiming the name of Christ, but slowly we are being persuaded to lose hope in God. Is he trustworthy? Is he reliable? For today’s persecutors, the answer is “No!” The evidence is all around you. The misery of the whole world demonstrates that he is not helping (they say). At the same time, abundance and wealth lull us into a sense of satisfaction and contentment – not in God, but in the things themselves – to the point that we are tempted to rely on and put our confidence in them. “God may not be there for me at retirement, but I sure hope my investments are.”

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. 1 John 5:4

Jesus said that He has given us his words that we may have peace, though in the world we will have tribulation. “Be of good cheer,” he says, “for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The trial of our faith is to believe and trust him in the face of a whirlwind of opposition – that we may have peace. Left to ourselves, we may be facing a pretty bleak future, but he knows this, and he has sent the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. We take comfort in knowing that by letting our requests be known to God, the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phi 4:6-7). And having this peace, we rest assured that God will supply all of our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phi 4:19).

Are any of you anxious? Are any concerned about an uncertain future in a cold and scary world? Ask God for peace, and he will supply it. This is our prayer:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Rom 15:13

Rest assured that the source of your joy and peace is the power of the infinite and eternal God, and more specifically we realize this power by believing in him.

The question may be asked, “Well that’s great for my spiritual development, but how does that help me pay the bills tomorrow? How does that help me in the face of all the horrors of the world?” Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:25-33

We’re all familiar with these comforting words – but do you believe them? Do you realize that part of believing Jesus is believing in words like the above? If we cannot trust him when he says things like that, how can we trust him when he says things like this:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24

We are Christians, and by the power of the Holy Spirit believe that Jesus’ words about eternal life are true. Let us pray for the power to believe that his words elsewhere are also true. Let us lean wholly on the faithfulness of God, who has shown himself to be faithful in all things, and trust in him for every situation and circumstance in life.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

How valuable and precious is this kingdom? It may not be readily apparent, because it is a hidden treasure. However, in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have been given a glimpse into this treasure, and it is infinitely valuable.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matt 13:44-45

March 2, 2009

The Glory of God

Below is a powerful sermon series by Paul Washer on the Glory of God. The whole series is good, but by the end of #3 you may find yourself lost in worship before the throne of the risen Lord. Enjoy!

How to find out what the Bible teaches…

The excerpt below is from the introduction to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and gives a helpful summary of how anyone with a Bible and a concordance (or free Bible software – www.e-sword.net) can learn what scripture teaches on a given subject.

How does one go about making a doctrinal summary of what all the passages of Scripture teach on a certain topic? For topics covered in this book, many people will think that studying the chapters in this book and reading the Bible verses noted in the chapters is enough. But some people will want to do further study of Scripture on a particular topic or study some new topic not covered here. How could a student go about using the Bible to research its teachings on some new subject, perhaps one not discussed explicitly in any of his or her systematic theology textbooks?

The process would look like this:

(1) Find all the relevant verses. The best help in this step is a good concordance, which enables one to look up key words and find the verses in which the subject is treated. For example, in studying what it means that man is created in the image and likeness of God, one needs to find all the verses in which “image” and “likeness” and “create” occur. (The words “man” and “God” occur too often to be useful for a concordance search.) In studying the doctrine of prayer, many words could be looked up (pray, prayer, intercede, petition, supplication, confess, confession, praise, thanks, thanksgiving et al.)—and perhaps the list of verses would grow too long to be manageable, so that the student would have to skim the concordance entries without looking up the verses, or the search would probably have to be divided into sections or limited in some other way. Verses can also be found by thinking through the overall history of the Bible and then turning to sections where there would be information on the topic at hand—for example, a student studying prayer would want to read passages like the one about Hannah’s prayer for a son (in 1 Sam. 1), Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple (in 1 Kings 8), Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (in Matt. 26 and parallels), and so forth. Then in addition to concordance work and reading other passages that one can find on the subject, checking the relevant sections in some systematic theology books will often bring to light other verses that had been missed, sometimes because none of the key words used for the concordance were in those verses.11

(2) The second step is to read, make notes on, and try to summarize the points made in the relevant verses. Sometimes a theme will be repeated often and the summary of the various verses will be relatively easy. At other times, there will be verses difficult to understand, and the student will need to take some time to study a verse in depth (just by reading the verse in context over and over, or by using specialized tools such as commentaries and dictionaries) until a satisfactory understanding is reached.

(3) Finally, the teachings of the various verses should be summarized into one or more points that the Bible affirms about that subject. The summary does not have to take the exact form of anyone else’s conclusions on the subject, because we each may see things in Scripture that others have missed, or we may organize the subject differently or emphasize different things.

On the other hand, at this point it is also helpful to read related sections, if any can be found, in several systematic theology books. This provides a useful check against error and oversight, and often makes one aware of alternative perspectives and arguments that may cause us to modify or strengthen our position. If a student finds that others have argued for strongly differing conclusions, then these other views need to be stated fairly and then answered. Sometimes other theology books will alert us to historical or philosophical considerations that have been raised before in the history of the church, and these will provide additional insight or warnings against error.

The process outlined above is possible for any Christian who can read his or her Bible and can look up words in a concordance. Of course people will become faster and more accurate in this process with time and experience and Christian maturity, but it would be a tremendous help to the church if Christians generally would give much more time to searching out topics in Scripture for themselves and drawing conclusions in the way outlined above. The joy of discovery of biblical themes would be richly rewarding. Especially pastors and those who lead Bible studies would find added freshness in their understanding of Scripture and in their teaching.

11 11. I have read a number of student papers telling me that John’s gospel says nothing about how Christians should pray, for example, because they looked at a concordance and found that the word prayer was not in John, and the word pray only occurs four times in reference to Jesus praying in John 14, 16, and 17. They overlooked the fact that John contains several important verses where the word ask rather than the word pray is used (John 14:13–14; 15:7, 16; et al.).

Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology : An introduction to biblical doctrine (35). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.