Posted by: Drew | September 9, 2008

The Slippery Slope of Opposing Teen Marriage

This week, a teenage girl who less than a week ago lived in relative obscurity, has now become a celebrity. This is due of course to the announcement that this young woman is 5 months pregnant and her mother has accepted the nomination to run for Vice President of the United States. I am speaking, of course, of Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol.

While teen pregnancy has become something of given in our culture, teen pregnancy amongst politician’s daughters has not. The announcement of Bristol’s pregnancy on the same week of the Republican National Convention has of course resulted in a plethora of editorials from Newspapers across the country addressing the issue of teen pregnancy. Not surprisingly, many of the editorials chastise conservatives for their abstinence-only sex education programs, claiming that abstinence-only programs don’t work because teens will have sex anyway and, without contraception, they will end up pregnant. This argument fails on numerous grounds, but I will just point out the obvious. First, teens today are not ignorant about contraception. Secondly, saying that higher teen pregnancy rates are the final argument against abstinence-only sex education is an “ends justify the means” argument. We cannot fall into the practice of determining what we are going to teach our teenagers based on their actions. Yes, teens will be teens, but we must teach them what is best for them and the best thing for teens is for them to abstain from sex until marriage. Abstaining from sex until marriage is the healthiest course of action for teens in terms of avoiding pregnancy and disease, and in terms of establishing healthy families.

This post, however is not about abstinence-only sex education, its about teen marriage. Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, the father of Bristol’s child, have decided to get married. I think this is wise and mature decision. We have all heard the statistics concerning children who grow up in single parent homes, such children are far more likely to get into drugs, commit crimes, end up in prison, and have problems in their marriages in the future.

In spite of these statistics concerning single parent homes, Sarah Kershaw, writing for the New York Times, wrote an article this week titled, Now, the Bad News on Teen Marriage. The title of Kershaw’s article is terribly misleading. While it is true that teen marriages are 2-3 times more likely to end in divorce than marriages of those who are 25 or older, it does not follow that teen marriage is a poor choice.

The article briefly cites arguments from sociologists who say that the large number of teen divorces is likely due to the divorce boom of the 1970′s that arose from the establishment of no-fault divorce. In addition, the article notes that Teens are more likely to get divorces because teens are increasingly delaying adulthood. We live in an age where teens are not expected to take on much responsibility and are discouraged from marriage under that same impetus. This is a phenomenon that has been noted by numerous sociologist and is telling about Bristol Palin’s situation.

What I see here are two teenagers who made the foolish and immoral decision to have sex before marriage but are now making the mature decision to have the baby and to raise him/her in a two-parent home. That is a mature decision that looks to the wellbeing of the child. Yet, instead of being commended for such mature decisions, they are being chastised and warned that their marriage will likely end in divorce. Numerous journalists have claimed that the Palin family is forcing the marriage against Levi and Bristol’s will. That may be, but we don’t know that. It could be that they are simply acting on their own convictions and doing what they believe to be the right thing to do. It could be that they were raised to think this way–to look beyond themselves and to take responsibility for their actions. But in reality we don’t know why they have made the decision they did, but we can commend them for seeking to do the right thing for their child.

I am not saying that more and more teens should get married. I am, however, saying that opposing teen marriage just because teen marriages are more likely to end in divorce is the same slippery-slope argument as opposing abstinence-only sex education. Both arguments are “ends justify the means” arguments. Both arguments fail to point teens to what is best for them and for their futures. Divorce is an evil thing and I certainly hope that Bristol and Levi’s marriage does not end that way. For the sake of their child, I hope they do get married and I hope that their child has two parents living in the same home!

I simply cannot say that teenage marriage is categorically foolish–especially in the instance of teen pregnancy. Such an argument would elevate the teen’s desire to find “true love” above the child’s need to grow up with his/her mother and father. I cannot make that argument. I think we have a hard time with teen marriage today because we don’t understand self-sacrificial love, our’s is a society that is too selfish when it comes to understanding love. Further we are postponing our teenagers from growing up and setting an awful example of healthy marriage for them–which is why so many teen’s marriages end in divorce.

Here’s to hoping and praying that one teen couple’s decision to marry stays the course and one child’s life is blessed with both a mother and a father!

Posted by: Drew | August 29, 2008

This Blogger is a Married Man!

Its true, today marks the 12th day of my newly married life. As many of you know, I spent the last 5 months engaged to Jennifer Miller, the most incredible girl I have ever known, and I can now say that she is my wife! Jennifer Miller Dixon!

We spent the last two weeks having the time of our lives on a cruise to the Bahamas and Virgin Islands, which I hope adequately explains my lack of blogging in recent days. Needless to say, it was by far the best vacation of my life. The Lord blessed Jennifer and I with some much needed time to connect and grow together. I intend to reignite my blogging passion in the weeks to come–though it will be tempered, as Kevin can relate, by a far greater passion for the woman that God has united me to in marriage!

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of experiences and I want to share with you, that through the whole process of preparing for our wedding, getting married, and going on our honeymoon, I have been thoroughly struck afresh with a profound sense of God’s perfect, beautiful, unmerited grace. As I stood before all the amazing people that had encouraged, prayed for, and supported myself and Jennifer in preparation for marriage, I was literally speechless. The thought that kept reoccurring in my mind was “why has God blessed me so bountifully? I don’t deserve this kind of love and support from my friends and family, and more than that I certainly do not deserve to be loved so dearly by Jennifer.” That is grace, isn’t it? God giving us bountifully what we have not earned.

The last two weeks have been a beautiful picture of the gospel to me in many ways. I have seen God’s grace in the love that friends and family have shown to Jennifer and myself with their gifts and sacrifices on our behalf. The gospel was set on display quite powerfully in Jen and I’s wedding ceremony. I wept as I waited for Jennifer to walk down the isle while singing The Church’s One Foundation. I wept for two reasons. First the thought marrying Jennifer was overwhelming. Secondly, as I sang about Christ and the church, God’s purpose in creating marriage became abundantly clear as I sang,

She [the church] is His [Christ's] new creation by water and the Word. From Heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride, and with one love He bought her and for her life He died.

Of all the things that I do not deserve, the thing I do not deserve the most is God’s covenant love–his love that takes a filthy, rebellious, and selfish man like me and makes me anew with the water of His Word. I don’t deserve to be freed from the sin that I cherish and to be united anew to Christ my Lord, but that is exactly what God has done for me in Christ. That is what God does for all who put their trust in Christ alone for salvation. He makes us anew. He gave himself up for us, that we should be holy and blameless in His sight. He seals us with His blood. He gives us the greatest possible gift that He can give us on earth, “mystic sweet communion with God the three in One!” Through this communion, we also have the sure hope of the consummation of peace forevermore–united with Christ in heaven, reigning with him and enthralled with His glory for eternity.

This is why marriage exists–to display God’s glory in redeeming sinners like me. As I stood before Jennifer, my friends and family and God almighty and vowed to love Jennifer like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, I was hit with the reality that my union with Jennifer is merely a small picture of the union for which I was created. I was created to know, worship, and adore God. I am convinced that God gave me Jennifer as a constant reminder until He returns or calls either of us home, that He has poured out His grace on me in Christ. That is why I exist–to display the glory of God in redemption. Pray for Jennifer and I, that we would display the glory of God in the face of Christ faithfully to the ends of the earth.

Posted by: Drew | March 26, 2008

How Should Our Churches Be Led? 3/3

how-should-our-churches-be-led-3.jpgWhile many people today would argue that the plural elder model of church government is not demanded by the teaching of the New Testament, I think, it nonetheless represents the clear teaching of the NT. To hear this argument see my article How Should Our Churches Be Led 1/3. In this post, I want to address how a plurality of elders is the best model for the spiritual growth of our churches.

Let’s be honest, most baptist churches today do not have a plurality of elders, so I know that there is likely an immediate knee-jerk reaction to a young seminary student like myself who claims that the NT model of church leadership is clearly marked by a plurality of elders. Understanding my lack of long-term experience in church ministry, I hope to humbly show how an elder’s biblical function lends itself best to plural elder model.

In my previous post, I looked at the role of elders in shepherding the flock. I think shepherding the flock means caring for the spiritual needs of the congregation as well as providing biblical vision for spiritual growth of the church. Shepherding the flock is closely tied to the second distinguishing function of elders–to teach.

If you read the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, the clear distinction between a deacon and an elder is that an elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:9). Titus 1:9 gives more explanation as to what this involves as Paul says an elder/overseer must be “able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Thus an elder must be able both to teach sound doctrine and recognize and correct false doctrine. Thus Paul commands Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). I think teaching the Bible implies responsibility and authority–not authority inherent in the elder, but as one given authority by the church to teach God’s authoritative Word. Thus the connection between shepherding the flock and teaching becomes more clear.

Protecting the flock against false doctrine is tied to shepherding in that a shepherd would see it his job to protect his sheep from various dangers. This is an authoritative function, an elder is not merely to teach but also to protect the flock from false teaching. Thus it would seem that Paul had in mind for NT to churches to trust their elders and follow their teaching.

As mentioned in my previous post where I looked at 1 Peter’s teaching on elders, “shepherding the flock” involves “exercising oversight” and seems to indicate that elders are given the authority to set the vision and direction of the church (1 Peter 3:2). It makes sense that the same people in the church who are given the authority to set the biblical vision and direction are also given the authority to teach. If a church hopes to move in a biblical direction it must be teaching the Bible well.

This is where the typical single elder model (functioning with a “pastor as CEO with vice president deacons”) runs into problems. In such a model deacons tend to function as quasi-elders. When the head pastor of a church is the sole elder/overseer of the church, the deacons typically function as checks/balances and advisers to the head pastor. I see three significant problems with such a model:

1. In the single elder model, deacons are typically given authority and often are not focused on fulfilling a servant role in the church. As I said in my first post on church leadership, a deacon’s job by definition is to serve. In fact, deacons were appointed in Acts 6 because the apostles said, “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2). The verb “to serve tables” in Greek is diakoneo which is the verb that gives definition to the function of deacons–to serve. In contrast to the deacons, the apostles determine to “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Thus it seems clear that a deacon’s role is more generally to serve in the church rather than specifically to teach or lead the church.

2. The “pastor as CEO model” often gives authority in overseeing the church to men who are not involved in the teaching ministry of the church. The role of an elder is both to teach and to shepherd the flock by exercising oversight. This single elder model involves casting the biblical vision for the spiritual growth of the church. The single elder model typically gives deacons authority in counseling and advising the pastor as he casts the biblical vision of the church but typically this model does not warrant them the same authority to teach. It ought to go without saying that the primary way that elders set the biblical vision is by preaching and teaching the Bible. Deacons are servants and not those accorded authority to teach–thus the ought not be accorded similar authority to cast the biblical vision for the church.

3. The “pastor as CEO model” fails to adequately recognize the importance of service in the body. Because this model confuses the biblical role of deacons, it fails to adequately recognize those who give of themselves to serve the body when it extends deacons role beyond that of service.

I also think that the “pastor as CEO model” lends itself more readily to failure upon the failure of the senior pastor. While this can happen in a church with a plurality of elders as well, the plural elder model spreads the responsibility to teach, preach, and cast the biblical vision to multiple pastors/elders such that when a pastor falls into disrepute or leaves the church, the church already has recognized men able to teach and preach the Bible in the pastor’s absence.

While I do not think that single elder churches are necessarily in sin, I think the NT clearly points to a plural elder model. Thus, if our churches want to promote faithfulness to the Bible’s clear teaching and spiritual growth, they would do well to consider carefully the Bible’s teaching about how our churches should be led.

While this has not been a comprehensive look at the roles of elders in the local church, I hope it has been helpful to you in thinking about the Bible’s teaching on church leadership and maybe even challenged you to think about how your church ought to be structured to best display the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Posted by: Drew | March 18, 2008

Reconciled to Christ Part 4: Saving Reconciliation

reconciled-to-christ-part-4-saving-reconciliation.jpg(21) And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (22) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (23) if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

In my last post on Reconciliation, I looked at the negative side of reconciliation. The need for reconciliation implies that there is something wrong in the world. Colossians 1:21 tells us that apart from Christ, all men are “alienated” and “hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” So the reconciliation set forth in Colossians 1:22-23 must answer how our state of being separated from God may be healed and Paul does just that.

In my last post, I asked the question, “how much of a sinner are ya?” I asked the question because I think that most people will admit that they are not perfect and would even admit, to some degree, to being a sinner. However, I think most people fail to realize just how sinful we are when seen through the eyes of the holy God who created us for His glory. So I set forth two tests to see whether you are a sinner and just how much of a sinner you are. The first was death–if you can conquer death (the curse of sin in Gen 2:17), then maybe you are not a sinner. To give you a statistic–1 out of every 1 person dies! That statistic, however, is not altogether accurate as there is one who has passed this test–Jesus Christ. The second test was a test to see how much of sinner you are. The test I proposed was this: spend one week doing nothing but praising God, living wholly and completely for the God’s maximum glory through Christ.

If you are thinking that these tests are impossible, you are absolutely right. We cannot gain right standing with God, nor do we want to (Rom 3:11), so the result is alienation–separation from the God for whom and through whom we exist! We are “hostile in mind” toward God, we are his enemies and we cannot restore ourselves to God.

The good news of the gospel, however, is that Christ has conquered our two greatest enemies through his death and resurrection! Christ passes these two tests on our behalf!

Unless you have given absolutely everything to God, you are still in sin and are alienated and hostile to God, doing evil deeds. The good news, however is that there is a man who perfectly gave everything to the Father. The good news for you and I is that though we were alienated and hostile in mind, Christ has reconciled us in his body of flesh by his death. Christ gave everything to God-he died on the cross bearing our sin, so that we might be redeemed.

He was obedient, Philippians 2:8 tells us, “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We have done nothing to deserve God’s redemption. When Paul tells us in verse 22, that Christ has reconciled us in his body of flesh by his death, he is telling us that Christ took on real human flesh and died a real human death. Christ was just like you and I in every way only without sin (Heb 4:15). Christ perfectly obeyed the Father, he lived the life you and I simply cannot live-a life wholly and completely devoted to God. I asked you earlier if you thought you could go a week without sinning-Jesus went his whole life without sinning. And I asked you earlier if you thought you could live every second completely sold out for the glory of God if thought you could do it. Jesus did. He lived every millisecond for the glory of God-something we could never do! But the good news is that both his life and his death can be applied to your account. The good news is the mystery hidden from the ages–Christ in you the hope of glory (Col 1:27). He died for you meaning that if you believe in him, He has faced the death you should have faced. He lived the life you should have lived. He is your substitute, suffering for sin and facing the wrath of God in our place. But if Christ has wrought this regenerating work in you, the Christ is not only your substitute, but he now lives in you.

Paul has a huge view of God and his view of God is rooted deeply in the God-man Jesus Christ who created everything for His own glory and whose death and resurrection has conquered the enemy that you and are helpless to conquer. Christ has conquered sin and death.

And this reconciliation that we have through Christ’s bodily death has a purpose. Look at verse 22, “he has now reconciled [us] in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” So all who have trusted in the gospel are now reconciled through the death of Christ in order that they might be holy and blameless before God. Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one may see God.” Thus in order to be truly reconciled to God, our sinful estate must be changed. We cannot remain in our hostile mind doing evil deeds and expect to go to heaven, God must intervene and change our estate if we are to stand blameless before God and be accepted into his presence on judgment day.

Thus in Christ’s reconciliation on the cross, he not only takes on our sin upon himself and pays its penalty but he also imputes or credits to us his very righteousness.

Thus Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God has not only placed all our sin our on Christ but God has credited the very righteousness of Christ to our account. Paul says, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Thus we are holy and blameless before God because Christ has died in our place and Christ is righteous in our place. So we can indeed stand holy and blameless before God because Christ took our sin and God has applied his righteousness to our account such that we are declared to be righteous before God.

Thus the first element of the purpose of our redemption is that we are declared holy before God based on Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross. Such that when God looks on us, he does not see our sin but Christ’s righteousness applied to our account such that we can be holy and blameless in his sight.

In this post, I have looked at how Christ savingly reconciles sinner like you and me to himself. In my next post I will look at the cosmic implications of Christ’s reconciliation and how he restores the purpose for which we were created.

Posted by: Drew | March 14, 2008

Is Your Church Failing to Reach Young Men?

is-your-church-failng-to-reach-young-men.jpgCollin Hanson has written an excellent editorial in Christianity Today, titled Wanted: Young Men in the Church, about how young men are delaying getting married and starting a family, and in essence prolonging adolescence. Hason rightly notes that this development should concern the church. Hanson obviously has a heart to reach these young men with the gospel and asks whether our churches are poised to reach these young men.Hanson cites a couple of interesting articles on the issue of prolonged adolescence. One is from in the winter volume of City Journal by Kay S. Hymnowitz, titled “Child-man in the Promised Land,” and the second article is by David Brooks in the New York Times, titled “Odyssey Years.”

Brooks succinctly lays out the process that many young men are currently going through as they delay growing up and starting a family, he writes:

Dating gives way to Facebook and hooking up. Marriage gives way to cohabitation. Church attendance gives way to spiritual longing. Newspaper reading gives way to blogging.

Amen! if we could only get the young men in our churches to be as excited about the Lord and church life as they are about facebook, we would really be on to something!

Hanson, applies this situation to church life. He says:

Spoken or not, many churches have practiced an evangelistic strategy that doesn’t expect to reach young men until they return with wife and kid in tow. If this was ever a wise strategy, surely now it is bound to fail. Hymowitz points out that in 1970, 69 percent of 25-year-old and 85 percent of 30-year-old white men were married. By 2000 those numbers had dropped to 33 percent and 58 percent. Between 2000 and 2006 alone, the median age of marriage for men climbed nearly one year, from 26.8 to 27.5. Can our churches afford to wait at least 12 years, between ages 18 and 30, for men to return? Maybe this is a better question: Are young men doomed to self-centered pursuits so long as they haven’t tied the knot?

I think Hanson is on to something. Many of our churches simply are not geared to reach these young men. So what do we do? Do we learn how to play more video games and develop more single-minded programing in our churches? Do we need to “hook up” these single young men in order to free them from their own selfishness?

Hanson says that is not the answer, he writes:

Evangelistic appeals grounded in felt needs won’t do the trick with these men. What good is this approach when we see no evidence that these young men feel the need to change? And if we adjust our beliefs and behaviors in order to attract these men, we run the risk of peddling the gospel and precluding God-given transformation.

In other words, Hanson doesn’t call for a overhaul on all our church programming. Nor does he think that we just need to get these young men married. Instead he suggests the ancient idea of plugging into the lives of these young men and sharing the gospel with them. Hanson seems to have the hair-brained idea that difficult and demanding but joyful life of pursing Christ might just free these young men from their own narcissism.

Hanson makes the important point that “everyone wars against the sinful tendency to shirk responsibility and accountability . . . unless you know the gospel freedom that is.”

Our churches are not reaching men, but it is refreshing to hear someone so clearly get to the heart of the issue and point to the only viable solution as Hanson does. Hanson says these young men “aren’t so different from everyone else. They need the gospel to liberate them from themselves, so that they will seek first the kingdom, not the latest Will Ferrell movie.”

Hanson also suggests that part of the reason why our churches are not reaching you men is because of our lack of clarity on gender roles. Unfortunately I don’t have time to address that issue right now, but I think he might be on to something there as well.

That said, let me throw a few questions at you:

1. Is your church failing to reach young men? Why or why not?

2. What remedy might you suggest to reach these young men? Is Hanson’s solution too simple?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Posted by: Drew | March 14, 2008

Fun Friday: Sigur Ros – Heima

So much of what we do here on elect Exiles is very serious–currently I have posts planned on Reconciliation to Christ and Divorce and Remarriage. Kevin is planning a series of posts on the various aspects of the gospel. We are quite serious in the things that we write on this blog and we should be as we want to bring glory to Christ in the things that we write on this blog. That said, I think its worth posting something fun from time to time and for the sake of alliteration, I suppose I will post these fun things on Friday!

We live in a dark world, one in which sin’s effects are widely felt. However, I think there are glimmers of image of God around us if we pay attention. So when I see a small glimmer of the image of God in man, from time to time I hope to point it out.

You may think I sound a little post-modern but I really do see the image of God (not in a saving way) in the band Sigur Ros. When God created Adam and Eve, he created them in His own image, and I think that part of what that means is that man has in inherent desire to create as well. Of course man will never come close to matching the creator’s ability to create, but nonetheless, the presence of the imago dei (Image of God) in man is the reason why man desires to create art, music, and literature.

So while I really do not know what worldview the band Sigur Ros holds to, I do know that they have created some incredibly beautiful music that reminds me that God has created me in his image. Such music isn’t possible unless we have a beautiful God who has created us in his own image.

So I wanted to tell you about an amazing video I saw this week. The video was made by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros and is titled Heima. Heima means “at home” and that is essentially what the film is about. The film follows the band on a tour through various small venues and intimate concerts played for free in the band’s home country of Iceland. The film was made in the summer of 2005, just after Sigur Ros had finished a long world-wide tour after receiving critical success for their album Takk (which I think will go down as one of the greatest albums ever made).

The music in Heima is beautiful, but so is the filming. I never thought I would have the desire to go to Iceland but after watching the film I really would like to see it. The free concerts that Sigur Ros plays are often out in the countryside of Iceland surrounded by beautiful scenery, also each of the songs includes video footage from various places around Iceland. I think the video is also an example of how music often brings people together–I think in part because of the imago dei.

While you will not be able to understand any of Sigur Ros’ lyrics (unless you speak Icelandic), I think you will find their music beautiful and an example of the fact that God has created us in His image and given us the ability to create beautiful works of art. I don’t know what worldview the band espouses and it is probably a good thing that I can’t understand their lyrics, because I can just appreciate the beauty of the music. The video above is a special version of the trailer of the film with the song “Hoppopolla” which is one of my favorite Sigur Ros songs, enjoy!

reconciled-to-christ-part-3-just-how-much-of-a-sinner-are-ya.jpg

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. – Colossians 1:21-23

This post has been a long time coming. As I took a long break from blogging I thought no one would notice if I just didn’t finish this series of posts but I think this is a series worth doing so I figured I would go ahead and finish it up!

That all the world will be reconciled to Christ (Col 1:20), implies that there is something wrong with the world. In Colossians 1:21, Paul tells us just what the problem is. Its an ancient problem. A problem that is bigger than terrorism, global warming, or world hunger. It is the same problem that every person (except for Christ) has faced and been unable to overcome in and of themselves. It is the problem of sin.

In my previous post I said that sin is big deal because God is a big deal. In other words sin is our biggest problem because the one we are sinning against created us for His glory and we have rebelled and lived for our own. We were created to love, know, enjoy, and worship God and we have instead sought to set ourselves in God’s place by loving, enjoying, and worshiping ourselves.

Thus Paul explains the results of such rebellion in Colossians 1:21, he tells us that we are “alienated” and “hostile in mind” because we have rejected the purpose for which we were created. Instead of worshiping and loving and rejoicing in the one true God, we have rejected his reign and rule and attempted to overthrow Him. We have attempted to place ourselves on God’s throne. We desperately want to be in control of our own lives. But the Bible hits us pretty hard with some powerful realities. The Bible tells us that from Adam on everyone is enslaved to sin apart from Christ and that the result of sin is death.

But before I further explain the sad state that we are in apart from Christ, let me give you two tests to see just how much of a sinner you are. Maybe you don’t think you are all that bad off, maybe you are a generally good person and have never really thought of yourself as a sinner. Well here are two tests to see if you are a sinner and just how much of a sinner you are:

1. Test #1: Try and see if you can keep from dying! The wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23) and death was the curse that resulted from Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden (Gen 2:17). So, if you think you can keep from dying, you might not be a sinner!

No matter how “in-control” of your life you think you are, you will NEVER conquer death. Have you come up with a way to overcome death? Is there anyone reading this who thinks you aren’t going to die? You and I will die someday and face the God who created us for His glory. So we are all subject to death and Genesis 3 tells us that sin is the curse of death.

2. Test #2: See if you can’t go a month, a week, even a day without sinning. This is the test to see how sinful you are.

Let me give you an example. What if you were to try to go a week, just one week, without lying. Maybe you are a pretty truthful person, maybe you could do it. But lets not stop there. Also for that whole week try not to say anything bad about someone behind their back. But let’s not stop there, for that whole week do not think any sexually impure thoughts about anyone.

But sin isn’t just breaking rules, it is rejection and neglect of God! So here is the really difficult test, for that one week spend every single second of your time praising and worshiping God. Make sure everything you do, you do for God’s maximum glory . . . think you could do it?

Whether we want to admit it or not sin rules our lives and its not just that we have rejected God’s rules, the reason our sin is such a big problem is because we have neglected God himself. Every millisecond of our lives belongs to God and we have neglected to give him our time and our worship. Instead we have lived for our own pleasure and our own glory and the disastrous result is that we are cut off from God, we are alienated from Him and we cannot manage to change that fact. As Paul tells us in Romans 6, apart from Christ we are slaves to sin. We cannot please God-we desperately need him to intervene.

Apart from Christ we are all hostile in mind toward God. This word hostile implies that we are enemies of God in our minds–Romans 5:10 uses the same word to show that apart from Christ’s saving work on the cross applied to us, we remain God’s enemies. Our minds are radically opposed to Him. We have disdain for his ways but our thoughts are no the only part of us that is clouded by sin. In fact Romans 8:7 tells us that, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

We are not only hostile in mind toward God, but we also continue to do evil deeds. We neglect God’s commands and live our lives the way that we want to live them. We lie, we slander others, we covet the things others possess, we give into sexual temptation. So Paul tells us that apart from Christ our minds are hostile to God and further are lives are continually marked by doing evil deeds. And most importantly we more often seek to do the things that exalt us rather than that which glorifies our creator. We live for our own glory.

I think a lot of people have a hard time with this. Sin is a very hard thing to fess up to. We tend to think we are generally pretty good people and though we may make some poor decisions now and then, we consider ourselves generally pretty good people. We don’t lie often or maliciously slander others all that often, we don’t cheat on our spouses, we generally think we are pretty decent people. At least we are better than a lot people we know.

This kind of thinking, that we are not all that sinful, falls flat in the face of Colossians 1:15-20. This idea that we are not all that sinful will not hold up against the fact that Christ is before all things and therefore deserving of all glory, all honor, all praise. He is the firstborn from the dead and if you have neglected to live in light of that reality then, friend, you are alienated from God. As Isa 59:2 tells us that “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

A small view of your own sin usually means you have a small view of God. If that is you, cry out to God, ask him to open your eyes to behold his greatness and to accurately see your dire estate. May God be so big in our minds and the weight of our sin so clear that the promise of saving reconciliation through faith in Christ might become truly sweet.

Posted by: Drew | March 5, 2008

How Should Our Churches be Led? 2/3

how-should-our-churches-be-led-2.jpg1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. -1 Peter 5:1-4

In my first post on leadership in the local church, I made the case for the plural elder model, I alluded to two primary functions of elders in the local church–to teach and to “shepherd the flock,” while similar in many ways, these two functions are distinct. Understanding these functions is essential to understanding how elders should operate in a plural elder model. In this post I want to focus on what it means that an elder is to “shepherd the flock” and “exercise oversight” as the Apostle Peter tells us in the above text. In the third and final post I will breifly address the teaching function of elders in the local church.

What does it mean “to shepherd the flock of God”?

Needless to say the word gives the picture of a herder of sheep. The verb “poimaino” “to shepherd” is the same verb that is found in John 21:16 where Jesus commands Peter to “shepherd my sheep.” A literal sheep-herder would continually direct, tend to the needs of, and protect the sheep in his care. Similarly elders are to give direction to the flock of God, tend to their spiritual needs and protect them from false doctrine that would spiritually wound them (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:14). The same verb “to shepherd” is also used in Acts 20:28 to describe the responsibility of elders in the church. Here Paul charges the Ephesian elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Thus Paul understood that eldership involves the responsibility to pay close attention to those in the under the elder’s charge.

It should also be noted that both in 1 Peter 5:2 and Acts 20:28 elders are given the task of overseeing–but the church cannot be considered theirs as the church is referred to as the “flock of God” and “the flock . . . which he obtained with his own blood.” Thus whatever oversight an elder posses has been given to him as he has been charged of the Holy Spirit to shepherd the flock. Thus anyone who wishes to be an elder should remember that the Holy Spirit appoints elders–thus it is not a position that one ought to campaign for (I do not mean to sound overly spiritual here, I am a congregationalist–so I think the church approves of such appointments by voting to accept those brought before the church as potential elders). Also, because Christ purchased the church with his own blood, the church is not an entity that an elder can utilize to celebrate his power over the flock. This is confirmed in 1 Pet 5:3 when elders are challenged to shepherd in such a way that they are “not domineering over those in [their] charge, but being examples to the flock.”

So we have established essentially what it means to “shepherd the flock of God,” but what does it mean to “exercise oversight”?

Often the participle translated in the ESV “exercising oversight” is substantivaly in the NT to mean “overseer” which is a term used synonymously with “elder” or “pastor.” In 1 Peter 5:2, however, Peter has already used the term “elder” and the participle “excercising oversight” probably refers to the function elders are to serve in the church. Thus in 1 Peter the participle is utilized instead of the noun “overseer” (1 Timothy 3:1-2) to signify function. This word “exercising oversight,” “episkopeo” in the Greek is the combination of two words just like it is in english, “over” and “sight.” Visually it gives the picture of looking out over the congregation and setting its direction. Thus, I believe it is the function of the elders of the church by the leading of the Holy Spirit and under the direction of God’s word to set the vision and direction of the church.

Setting the vision for the church is not something that the elders do in and of themselves but it is something that they are to do “voluntarily, according to the will of God” (1 Pet 5:2 NASB). Thus the elders are not charged with setting just any vision, but a vision that accords with the will of God.

Finally, elders are to exercise oversight “not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” Thus elders are not to exploit their congregation for selfish benefit or monetary rewards. Instead an elder should find joy in guiding, protecting, and caring for the members of his church. Being a good elder requires tremendous humility it would seem. Also elders are not to “exercise oversight” in such a way that they domineer “over those in [their] charge,” but instead they ought to be “examples to the flock.” Thus an elder has the tremendous challenge of serving his congregation by simply being a spiritually edifying example to those in his church.

The idea that Christ is the “chief shepherd” in 1 Pet 5:4 seems to imply that every elder in every local church is an under-shepherd to Christ who has bought the church with his blood and sealed its future with his resurrection. Realizing that elders are subject to Jesus the “cheif shepherd” seems to indicate that to shepherd the flock of God and exercise oversight is no easy task. In fact, it is quite daunting. As someone who plans to be an elder/pastor in the future, this job-description in 1 Peter 5 seems a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, it is Christ’s church and not mine, he purchased it with his blood and he has set its course in eternity by his own Word and He promises to guide those who lead it as elders with his Holy Spirit! Thus, on the foundation of God’s Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit, our churches really can grow through the shepherding and oversight of its elders to more clearly display the glory of Christ!

Posted by: Drew | March 4, 2008

Oaths, Commitments, and Truth Telling

Oaths, Commitments, and Truth Telling“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. -Matthew 5:33-37

 

The greatest sermon ever preached, is certainly not devoid of controversial teaching! If there ever was a preacher who stirred up controversy with his preaching, it was the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equates remarriage with adultery, tells those who lust to cut off their hand or gouge out their eye, and to turn the other cheek to the one who slaps you on the right. Jesus’ words are difficult. And certainly the issue of oaths is no less so.

Did Jesus really mean that we should never make an oath? Is it wrong to swear on the Bible before giving testimony in court? Does Jesus mean that any and every oath is sin?

This can hardly be the case given that God makes oaths (Gen 22:16-17; Heb 6:17; Gen 9:8-11; Luke 1:68; Ps 16:10, 132:11). Further, Jesus spoke under oath at his trial (Mt 26:63-64) and Paul took vows where he called God “as [his] witness” (Rom 1:9; 1 Cor 1:23; 1 Thes 2:10).

So what is Jesus’ point about oaths? I think the answer lies in Jesus’ response to false interpretations of the law which he summarizes in 5:37 when he says, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’” As he so often does in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus corrects false interpretations of the law. Jews, especially the Pharisees, in Jesus’ day had elaborate categories of oaths each of which were binding in varying degrees. For instance an oath sworn “by Jerusalem” was not binding but an oath sworn “toward Jerusalem” was, an oath sworn by the temple was not binding but an oath sworn by the temple’s gold was. It was not binding to swear by heaven or earth. There are many more examples, but the point Jesus is making here is that the Jews (the Pharisees in particular) had set up unnecessary categories in an attempt to avoid God’s punishment for speaking dishonestly. Thus Jesus’ teaching was not a contradiction of Mosaic law, but rather the perfect interpretation of the Law’s teaching on oaths and speaking truthfully.

D. A. Carson, in his commentary on Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary sums up the OT regulation of oaths by saying, “the Mosaic law forbade irreverent oaths, light use of the Lord’s name, [and] broken vows. Once Yahweh’s name was invoked, the vow to which it was attached became a debt that had to be paid to the Lord” (Ex. 20:7; Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; Deut 5:11, 6:3, 22:21-23). That is why one should not swear by heaven—it is God’s, nor by eath—it is God’s, nor by Jerusalem—it is God’s. Nor should one swear by their own head, again, it is God’s. God is the creator of anything and everything we could possibly swear by. Therefore, it follows that every oath made is ultimately an oath to God himself! When we swear by any other entity, we are merely attempting to diminish the consequences for breaking our promises and not telling the truth. Thus what Jesus is criticizing was likely false categories of oaths rather than oaths altogether. Carson sums it up well when he says, “if oaths designed to encourage truthfulness become occasions for clever and [casual] deceit, Jesus will abolish oaths.”

We are all probably more guilty of making false oaths than we are willing to admit. We don’t swear by heaven, earth, or any city, but we do couch our promises with all kinds of exceptions. i.e. “I’ll be home at 5:30 so long as everything goes as planned.” Its rare that everything goes as planned in this life, so instead of feeling obligated to be home when we say we will, we just diminish the consequences by phrasing it advantageously! We also embellish the truth to make ourselves look better. When we break promises, we are the first to list all the reasons why it’s not our fault that we broke them. When was the last time you said, “I am sorry I didn’t do what I said I was going to do, I don’t have a good excuse, I broke my word, please forgive me”? Jesus responds to the type of half truths we are so prone to by saying, “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” In other words, do what you say you will do and keep the promises you say you will keep. If you can’t seem to ever keep the big promises you make, maybe you should start by making smaller promises that you can keep. Maybe you need to work at learning to apologize to those you have wronged without making excuses for everything you might have done wrong.

If you are reading this please know that I am preaching to myself here as well! Jesus, as he so often does in the Sermon on the Mount, shows us how far short we fall of keeping the law. The good news is that there is one who has kept absolutely every promise he has ever made to us, who one makes every promise “yes” in Christ (2 Cor 1:19-20). Jesus’ teaching on oaths is one that we continually fail to keep, in fact but by the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot keep any of Jesus’ difficult commands in the Sermon on the Mount. Thankfully Jesus has come for sick rather than those who already see themselves as healthy, and for the sinner rather than the one who already sees himself as righteous (Matt 9:12-13). I am thankful that Jesus doesn’t expect us to be righteous in and of ourselves but only to mourn that we aren’t righteous and hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:4, 6). Further, if we believe, God promises to apply the very righteousness of Christ to our account (Rom 10:4).

If Jesus’ teaching on oaths hits you like a ton of bricks and reminds you how desperately far you are from keeping his commands, then that is probably a good thing. Call out to the one who has kept every promise to us concerning our salvation. Ask for help. You can be true to your word, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has promised to all who believe!

(21) And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (22) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (23) if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. -Colossians 1:21-23

The Purpose and Scope of Christ’s ReconciliationIf I could sum up the Colossians 1:15-20, the verses immediately preceeding the above text, in one sentence, it would be this: Jesus is really really big. In my last post, I looked at the big picture of reconciliation. I wrote about how Christ is the center of the universe. I looked at how Paul sees Jesus as creator and the firstborn of all creation meaning that he sovereignly rules over absolutely everything. That means that Christ soveriengly reigns over you and me, over Louisville, over Kentucky, over the United States, the planet earth and the entire universe. Everything has been created through him and for Him and He holds it all together. Were it not for his sustaining the universe, everything would disintegrate. So as we come to the second part of this series on Colossians 1 we must remind ourselves that we are not self-sufficient creatures. We are created beings. We exist by the will of God, he created us and therefore has rights over us to do with us what he will. Further, we ought to remember that we were created for God—to fulfill his purposes, to live the way that he calls us to and to do the things he commands us to do! Isa 43:7 tells us that God has created us for His glory. Thus I don’t exist for me. You don’t exist for you. I exist for God. You exist for God. Everyone exists for God.

In my last post, I also about how God has reconciled all things to himself by the blood of the cross. The need for reconciliation implies that there is a problem in the world. That problem stems from the time of Adam and Eve when they took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in an attempt to become like God. And of course we know what happened don’t we. The image of God in which they were created from then on was marred, it was corrupted. Their sin was not just that they ate of a tree that they shouldn’t have eaten from, it wasn’t just that they broke some strange rule, their sin was that they rejected God and attempted to dethrone Him. Its not just that they disobeyed but that they thought that by doing the very thing that God told them not to do, they could become like Him. But we know what happened, in their attempt to dethrone God, they were cast out of the garden and faced the stark reality of living life in separation from God. From then on death entered the world and sin began to reign on earth, because as Romans 5 tells us, from then on everyone after Adam lived in sin.

Sin is a big deal because God is a big deal. Sin has disastrous results because the one we are sinning against is massively big and massively holy and infinitely deserving of all praise (c.f. 1 Samuel 2:2). Sin is a massive problem—it is our biggest problem. And because it is such a big problem it requires a big solution—and Jesus has provided that solution on the cross for all who would believe. So this post marks the first of a series in which I am going to write about our greatest problem and its solution. Colossians 1:21-23 will be my guide as Paul sets forth therein, the specific reconciliation of sinners to God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:21 marks a shift from the general to the specifics of Christ’s reconciliation. Colossians 1:20 simply sets forth the truth that Christ has reconciled all things to himself on the cross. Colossians 1:21 shifts to tell us how the believers at the church at Colossae individually were savingly reconciled to God through Christ.

If you just glanced over Colossians 1:20, you might come away thinking that everyone is going to be saved since Christ has reconciled all things to himself. If you were to just glance at this verse without carefully reading the book of Colossians you might think that Colossians 1:20 indicates that all people will go to heaven. That simply cannot be the case because of what Paul says in verse 21-23. Thus Colossians 1:21-23 is a perfect example of how we must always read and study passages of Scripture in context. Paul is writing to believers in Colossae and in verse 21, he reminds the Colossian believers where they have come from. He says they were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” This sets forth an all encompassing picture of our sinful estate. Sin has affected our mind, our actions, and most importantly has left us in a state of being alienated from God. And this state of alienation or separation from God will remain forever unless you put your hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ as Paul tells us in Colossians 1:23. So Paul makes clear that only those who have placed their hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ can have hope of being savingly reconciled to God. Everyone in the end will be reconciled, but Paul gives no hope of heaven for those who refuse to put their hope in Jesus Christ—those who remain alienated from God will be painfully reconciled to Him in the end because they refused to submit God and His way of salvation (c.f. Matt 25:41).

It is important that we not forget the great Christ-exalting verses immediately preceeding Colossians 1:21. Paul has just set forth in the previous verses how all things were created by Christ and for Christ and how He is before all things. The backdrop for Colossians 1:21-23 is the preeminent glory of Jesus Christ who is before all things!

Thus again we must remind ourselves of the purpose for which we were created. We were created by God and for his glory.

Because we were created by God and for His glory, our sin has cause us to be alienated and hostile in mind toward God and that is a big, big problem. But maybe you don’t think you are all that much of a sinner, so in case you don’t think you are all that bad-off, in my next post I will give you two tests to see whether you are a sinner and just how much of a sinner you are! I will also address more fully what Paul means by our state of alienation apart from Christ.

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