God’s Reign as Self-Sacrifice?

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I decided to insert one extra post in this series.  Just in case you’re not convinced that self-sacrifice is the mark of God’s character, and therefore his dominion and rule, I want to look at one more scene.  Actually, it’s one scene in two passages.  First, let’s look at Revelation 5.1-5

5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

So, what’s happening here?  Well, we’re looking for a King.  We’re looking for someone who has authority to unroll the rest of history.  Particularly, someone who can usher in the New Creation.  The 7 seals do point to perfection, but primarily because of the first use of 7 in the Bible, the perfect creation in Genesis 1 where, through his Word, God transforms a chaotic void into a very good creation! The person we’re looking for can bring in, by their authority, the perfect New Creation.

Luckily, a worthy one appears.  The Lion of Judah (kingship is promised to Judah’s descendant forever in Gen 49.8-12),  who also happens to be the Root of David (the coming, promised Davidic King!) has conquered!  So, He can open the seals, He can rule the rest of history!

Where do I get that idea of authority or ruling?  Well, besides the reference to Judah and David, we’ll see it in this passage in a moment, but let’s look at another passage that is recording this same scene – Daniel 7.

“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; and the books were opened.

13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

Look at that.  We have the same heavenly throneroom.  We have one seated on the throne, and we have books (SCROLLS of course).  And in each, one approaches the throne, but in this Daniel passage we see what is given over to Him…Dominion, Glory, Kingdom!!!  The right to rule all things forever!

Now, as we look back at Revelation 5, we’ll get a little more detail to round out our picture.  Particularly, WHY IS THIS LION-KING, THIS SON OF MAN FIT TO BE KING FOREVER?  Look at this!

5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain (sphadzo). And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain (sphadzo), and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Wow!  You are worthy FOR YOU WERE SLAIN!!!  Because you gave your life as a sacrifice!  To redeem the lost.  You gave your life for theirs!

Friends, why is Jesus so utterly worthy of dominion and a kingdom?  Why is He worthy to unfold the rest of history, to bring the New Creation in?  My life for yours!  That’s what makes Him the perfect King!  And of course he’d rule this way because He is the image of the Invisible God…this is who He has always been and always will be!  Or as Hebrews 2.9 puts it:

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

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Absalom as anti-Christ

Remember, two posts back we saw that because God’s VERY NATURE is self-giving, self-sharing, self-sacrificing, that is also how He rules…it captures the nature of His dominion.  We saw last post that David demonstrates this in his self-sacrificing behavior in the David and Goliath story (of course, he does a bad job of this in the whole Uriah and Bathsheba incident).  In this current post, we want to learn the same lesson, but in another way.  Instead of seeing the glory of Jesus’ self-giving dominion through a positive example, we’re going to see his glory through a negative example.

I looked online for a good picture of Absalom and found one…

blood sucking vampire

Oh wait, is that not Absalom? Let me search again…ah, that’s better.

Let’s turn to 2 Samuel 14 to meet this handsome devil. At this point, David is King on the throne over all of Israel. Absalom is his oldest son. David had two older sons, but both are now dead.

Before we dig in, you need to know that the Bible spends 7 chapters on Absalom. From 13-19. SEVEN chapters! As we look at this story, be sure to ask yourself, “Why does God spend so much time telling us Absalom’s story?” I’m going to argue because he wants a very detailed picture of earthly kingship to contrast with His Kingship. So, let’s look at Absalom.

David was described as a man after God’s own heart. What about Absalom?  In 14.25-26, here’s what we read: 25 Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. 26 And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight.

Now, you may be thinking, “Schell, it’s not a sin to be good looking.” But, there is a heavy emphasis on the external with Absalom. Contrasted with the earliest descriptions of David, all of a sudden, this description is quite chilling.  Remember, the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t look at the outside!”

We also see another glimpse of his heart if we skip to chapter 18, verse 18, which reads “Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day.” Anytime anyone in the Bible starts to worry about their own name, trouble is close behind. You may remember at the tower of Babel, God has just told the people to spread out, to fill the earth, and the people gather together and say, “Let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to heaven so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

This is worrisome behavior, but where we really see what’s in his heart is in chapters 15-18 where he plots to overthrow and kill his father, David. Starting in Chapter 15, we’re just going to do a fly over to catch the highlights of this story while really looking at Absalom.

  • He provided himself with a Chariot (15.1).  This is an act of claiming the throne.  One of his brothers will do this later in the book.
  • Set self up as judge, threw David under the bus (15.2-4).  David was judging the people’s cases, but Absalom told them otherwise.
  • Stole the hearts of the people (15.5-6)
  • Rebellion: Has himself declared king.  “ABSOLOM IS KING IN HEBRON” (15.10)
  • Tricked many into joining his side (15.11)
  • Even made sacrifices (15.12), almost as if to say, “Well, the king of Israel needs Yahweh’s approval, so I’m going to at least fake it.”
  • David is forced to flee for his life  (15.13-14).
  • Sleep with David’s concubines (16.21-22) to bring shame on them and ridicule to David.
  • Seeks the life of his FATHER (17.1-4, 18.3).

Now, you know why I confused Absalom with a blood sucking vampire!  Finally, in the midst of the battle, Absalom’s hair gets caught in a tree (18.9) OH, THAT HAIR, that beautiful hair, that luscious hair, a physical expression of the glory that Absalom hungered for was his downfall.  And, in short, he is speared by Joab and his men and thrown into a pit. (18.14-17)

What does all this tell us about JESUS?  Well, we saw in David’s faith in God, a picture of Jesus’, who is God the Son, trust in God the Father. David is a positive picture. And Absalom is a negative picture. To see Jesus’ in contrast to Absalom, look at Philippians 2.5-11.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Notice first that Jesus was exalted to his throne only AFTER trusting His father and saving His people.  BECAUSE (Therefore in v. 9) He was self-giving (vv. 5-8), He is fit to be King (vv. 9-10).

HOW MUCH MORE DIFFERENT COULD JESUS BE FROM ABSOLOM?  Let’s look at three ways.

First is how they relate to their fathers.

David flees Absolom

Absalom slept with his father’s concubines to bring shame on David, to show his contempt for David, and ultimately, he wanted to kill David.  He wanted glory and dominion for himself.

Not my will, but yours be done, Father

Jesus said things like “I’ve come to do the will of my Father. My food is to do the Father’s will. Father, not my will, but yours be done.”  He wanted to give glory to the Father.  He wanted to bring men and women to the Father!

What about in this area of glory and name?

Absalom riding through Jerusalem to be seen

Absalom didn’t just want glory in this life, seen in buying a chariot and riding through town to be seen and admired by everyone, but sets up a monument to himself so that even when he’s dead, people will think about him. He tries to build himself up.

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Washing the feet of His disciples

Jesus emptied himself. He left the glories of Heaven to come to earth. Jesus humbled himself to death on a cross. Literally emptied himself, pouring out his blood to save sinners.  He was the greatest SERVANT of all.

What about their judgments?  Both Hung on a Tree, buried in a pit/tomb.

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Absalom’s Death

Absalom, full of himself, is ensnared, literally, by his pride.  His life said, “everyone’s life for mine”.  Jesus’ act of supreme sacrifice declared, “MY LIFE FOR YOURS” from start to finish.  Absalom was speared through for his own sin.  Jesus was speared for our sin.  Absalom hung on a tree because of his treachery.  Jesus hung on a tree to forgive our treachery.  Absalom got what he deserved.  Jesus got what we deserved.  His life for ours.

Image result for jesus on the cross

Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

So, Absalom helps us see the glory of Christ, precisely because he is nothing like our Jesus.  From the core of his being to the way he rules, our God is a self-giving, self-sharing God, and that is how Jesus came and how He continues to rule!

King David – A Jesus-like Savior

David is appointed King, that is chosen by God, and then anointed King. This happens in 1 Samuel, chapter 16. It’ll be several years before he actually is enthroned as king. He’s chosen and anointed, but only after trusting the Lord and saving God’s people, will he be enthroned. And that’s the story we want to look at in chapter 17, just one chapter later, where David saves God’s people.

David is anointed and in the very next chapter, we get to see his SHINING MOMENT as the anointed one (echoes of “Messiah” should be ringing in our ears), even though he’s not yet taken the throne.

We’ve said in the last post that Biblical Kingship is all about my life for yours.  How do we see MY LIFE FOR YOURS in the story of David and Goliath? Most of us know the story…especially the ending of the story.  SPOILER ALERT: David wins. And we often think about this story and we try to place ourselves in it, and inevitably, we put ourselves in David’s shoes. Glen Scrivener (whose unpacking of this story is fantastic here) catalogues a list of sermon titles based on this story, things like: Defeat the Giants in our lives, The five smooth stones of the Christian life, pebble power.  But a major point of the story is this: you’re not David. Instead, you NEED a David.

The whole story is set up by Goliath’s challenge. He says, pick one of your warriors to fight me. If he wins, you all win. If I win, we all win. This is a practice commonly called champion warfare, in which the hopes of the entire army rest on one, individual champion, one warrior.  I doesn’t matter how strong, hopeful, skillful, worried, scared, weak the rest of the army is…it only matters what their champion is able to do. In fact, the Israelites seemed to be on the verge of surrender or desertion.

11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

24 All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid.

For 40 Days, Israel was waiting for a savior to defeat Goliath

They need a hero! Saul was meant to be their champion, their king, but he was just as scared as everyone else.  So what does David do? He steps in and says, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him (Goliath). Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Essentially, he’s saying, “my life for yours.” I’ll fight on your behalf.  Do not be afraid.  I’ll put myself in danger for you.  And he learned this as a shepherd.  Look at verse 34f.

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.”

Question: “What makes you a qualified savior, David?”

Answer: “I know how to lay down my life for another.”

This story isn’t about Joe Plumber taking on big pharma. It’s not about the Loser University defeating Champ State at football. If you and I are anyone in the story, it’s not David…it’s the helpless soldiers standing around on the brink of despair. They could not save themselves, they needed a savior. It’s not a story about an underdog, it’s THE Story of divine rescue, by faith alone, by God’s grace alone. It’s a picture of our anointed King Jesus, sacrificing himself, to defeat Satan, Sin, and Death for us. Or as Scrivener says, “We don’t do it for Jesus, Jesus already did it for us”

So David was appointed by God and anointed by God, but only after saving God’s people is he enthroned. Does that sound familiar?

What is Jesus’ Kingdom like?

The Kingdom of God has been a topic of interest since I become a believer.  In seminary, my studies in Biblical Theology afforded me the chance to really dig in on some aspects of it.  I remember reading George Ladd for the first time and realizing that the word “kingdom” in both Hebrew and Greek could mean a place (England), a people (the English), or the reign of the King (During Henry VIII’s Kingdom, the Reformation began in England), with the latter being the primary use when discussing God’s Kingdom – it’s about HIS REIGN.  That was mind blowing for me.

One thing we did not discuss as much was the nature of the Kingdom flowing out of the nature of the King.  We did discuss what God’s consummated reign my look like, but we failed to connect it to the very character of our God-King himself.  The reign of God is the way it is because that is what GOD HIMSELF is like!  That’s something that has been of interest to me recently.  So, in this and the next 3 posts, I’m going to unpack what that means for us.

I heard Glen Scrivener tell a story once about Tom Wright.  Tom Wright was a chaplain at Merton College, which is a part of Oxford University from 1975-1978. One of the rules at the time was that every student had to meet with the chaplain at least once. As you can imagine, that was often quite uncomfortable for the majority of students who self-identified as agnostic or atheist. Often a student would say, “I have to meet with you, but I don’t believe in God.”

Eventually, Wright grew curious, and started responding, “That’s interesting.  Which one? Which God don’t you believe in?” Taken aback the students would think for a moment and then describe the god in which they didn’t believe. After they shared, Wright, with relief in his voice, would say, “Oh, that’s fantastic, I don’t believe in that god either.”

It was fascinating how close the descriptions all seemed to be. They used different words, but all were essentially in agreement on the key content of who this god was. They spoke of a god that was more like…

  • A cosmic hall monitor, the govenator, dishing out divine decrees simply to flex his muscles.
  • He’s a withdrawn, fickle, and impersonal deity, looking for whom he might smite with a great smiting…smoting…let’s go with smiting?
  • He’s what James Torrence called “a contract god.” If you want his blessing, or at least for him not to wipe you off the face of the earth, you better perform.

What they all have in common is that these are all descriptions of POWER. That’s what comes to mind. A Lord, that is, a King, that is all power and little of anything else.

Well, no wonder they didn’t want a god like that.  Michael Reeves says “you don’t love a god like that. You might be grateful that he doesn’t kill you, but you’ll never love him.  that this sort of god is like a cosmic speed camera.  He may let you off with a warning, for which you may be grateful, but he’s never won your heart.”

AND THESE DESCRIPTIONS COULDN’T BE FURTHER FROM THE GOD OF THE BIBLEWhat we’ll see instead is that God’s kingship, his dominion, even when he gives law (because he does that), but everything he does, every part of his kingship – it flows from a completely different fountain. At the heart of God’s dominion is this principle: MY LIFE FOR YOURS.

Think of it like this: What was God doing before Creation? Jesus said a few very interesting things. In his prayer in John 17.5, he talks about the glory that he and the Father shared together before the world existed (17.5). In verse 24, he says to the Father, “you loved me before the foundation of the world.”  From all eternity past, we see fellowshipping together, sharing together, giving to each other.  I’ve heard one preacher say this: “There are no mirrors in the Trinity.” Jesus isn’t checking himself out making sure he looks as good as the Father. The Holy Spirit isn’t worried that the Son is receiving more glory…NO, they are enjoying each other, giving to each other. And that is the heart of God’s Kingship.  Self-giving, self-deferring, sacrificial love is THE mark of a real king because that’s the marker of the real God.

But that’s nowhere near what most people think, even Christians, when they consider that God is King, God is ruler.  God’s Kingship is this: MY LIFE FOR YOURS.  Or we might say from our perspective “His life for ours,” “THE KING’S LIFE FOR MINE.” That is what Biblical Kingship should look like, because that’s what God’s rule looks like.

So, let’s look at this MY LIFE FOR YOURS kingship in Scripture. We’re going to see that this is what good earthly rule looks like, but we’re also gonna see WAAAAAAAY more that it’s all here to point us to His rule, to our good King – King Jesus. We will see, in the end, that our God isn’t a cosmic traffic camera, willing to give us a free pass in return for good behavior and a little gratitude. No, He means to win our hearts. To WIN OUR HEARTS.

So, in the next post, we’ll look at King David and how God’s character shaped his reign.  The following post, we’ll look at Absalom, David’s son, as a negative example of what we’re talking about.  Finally, we’ll look to Christ, and ask about how we ought to respond. These two earthly kings are going to help us see Jesus more clearly and that His reign flows directly out of His heart!

Stat of the Month – Christians in Saudi Arabia

This month’s stat that should change your life comes from researched compiled by Patrick Johnstone (creator of Operation World) and Duane Miller.  Here it is:

There are, right now, more than 60,000 Saudi (Arabs living in Saudi Arabia) men and women who are active followers of Jesus.

What do you think about that?  We are talking about a country where conversion from Islam is a capital offense.  If you are not a Muslim, you can’t even enter some cities in this country.  They have actively worked to block/limit any sort of Christian presence and proclamation, and yet…AND YET the Gospel is going forth!

So, what’s the take away?  First, I hope we understand the power of prayer that is evidenced in this stat.  Since 9/11, prayers for the Muslim world have increased dramatically, and those prayers are having a significant impact.  Second, many of these believers have encountered Christian truth through technology.  We have to continue to ask, “how can we use technology to see the Gospel advanced in countries that are hostile to Christ’s message?”  Finally, it shows that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.  Johnstone and Miller share that the increase of missionaries in the Muslim world since 1960 has been significant.  Should we be surprised that more laborers and more sowing of the Gospel results in more conversions?!  What if we had sent twice as many laborers over the last 5 decades?

What do you think about this stat?  Share your thoughts!

To see the numbers for other countries and to hear how the research has been conducted, be sure to read the entire article.

Local Church – Global Impact 5: Mission Tightly Defined

This is a continuation of the last post about Biblical Convictions about mission.  What I’m trying to do in that post and this is to lay a foundation from which to build our mission engagement as a church.  And this is where the foundation must come from – the Word of God.

So, what I’m going to do is a little dangerous.

I’m going to give 5 Biblical reasons why the “mission of the Church” should be tightly defined as proclamation based.*  There are certainly folks out there that would disagree.  They may disagree with my reading of the Scriptures.  They may point to other passages that I won’t be engaging.  I am aware of their arguments and positions, but I still believe that as we look at the major thrust of Scripture, we’ll land where Scrivener and DeYoung and others landed in the previous post.  Namely, we’ll see that the mission of the Church is evangelism that leads to discipleship that leads to church planting.

Point 1: The Blessing from Abraham for the Nations (ETHNE) is the Gospel

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” -Galatians 3.8

The choosing of Abraham and therefore Israel is a choosing that places them in a unique role between God and the nations/gentiles.  The Lord has promised to BLESS Abraham and his seed in such a way that all the nations will be blessed.  And that blessing for the nations, according to Paul, is the Gospel.  It’s good news!  It’s news of rescue that must be preached!

Now some will say that the blessing Abraham received was land, offspring, finances, and a great name.  But those things were given SO THAT Yahweh might provide a Savior for the world.  Those circumstantial blessings (name, land, money, offspring) were simply to create a scenario in which the Messiah could come.  With no offspring, the promise breaks down.  With no land, it would be difficult to create a people through whom God might redeem all the other peoples.

Point 2: The Great Commission Fulfills Restoration Promises

Often folks will say, God’s mission is the redemption of the cosmos, not just humanity.  That’s true, but what they fail to see is that the redemption of the cosmos depends on redemption of humanity.  I want to show this in 2 ways.  First, I want to show that Matthew sees the fulfillment of the Great Commission as the fulfillment of land and restoration promises.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matt 28.16-20

The entirety of Matthew’s Gospel is to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises of Yahweh.  That is true all the way until the end.  Here’s the difference, part of Christ’s fulfillment of OT promises comes through the ministry of the Church, particularly as she goes and proclaims the Gospel to all nations, making disciples of all people groups.

It is interested to read Matthew 28.16-20 next to two key OT passages – Joshua 1.6-9 and 2 Chronicles 36.22-23, here:

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” 22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.’

In both passages, you’ll see significant overlaps.  Look at the Septuagint, for me, makes this even more clear.  You’ll see doubt/fear on the part of those being commissioned with Matthew and Joshua.  You’ll see clear communication on what the goal is (all nations, all the land, a house at Jerusalem).  You’ll see authority being assigned.  You’ll see the expectation of obedience and completion.  You’ll see the expectation that those commissioned will GO and fulfill what they’ve been given.

Why does Matthew pattern the Great Commission after these passages?  It’s not just a commission formula.  It’s FULFILLMENT!  Matthew is saying, “all the promises regarding land, restoration, etc. in the Old Testament will be fulfilled in this way!”  The road to restoration of the cosmos runs through the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  This is particularly meaningful for the 2 Chronicles passage.  They were heading back to the land, back to build the Temple, back to Yahweh.  This was meant to be the restoration, but it wasn’t.  Matthew says, “the Great Commission is!”

Another reason I believe this is Paul’s argument in Chapter 8, namely that the redemption of the creation WAITS FOR THE REVEALING OF THE SONS OF GOD!  Or to sum up, creation will not be redeemed until God has finished redeeming His children.  Creation will grown, waiting in futility, until salvation is finalized.  The road to the redemption of the cosmos is paved with evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.

Part 3: The Early Church’s activity

How did the early church respond to the Great Commissions (Matt 28.16-20, Luke 24.44-49, Acts 1.8, John 20.21, and Mark 16.15)?  What did they do?  The preached the Gospel as they went out, discipled new believers, and planted churches.  That’s how they responded.  We see no example of them engaging politically (not that some of them weren’t active in politics because of their professions).  There is some care for the poor, the widow, etc. but those examples are all Christians taking care of Christians.  That’s not to say that there wasn’t wider care.  What I’m saying is that Luke is trying to tell us what the church on mission did.  Because they were simply Christians, they loved the poor, the widow, but this is Christian ethics, NOT missiology.  If you took the entirety of the book of Acts, you’d see a Church busy about proclaiming Christ to the lost.  So, how did they respond to Christ’s commission?  Evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.

Part 4: Paul Planted Churches

There were many missionaries, ordained and sent, in the New Testament time.  But, we only get to follow 1 of them around – Paul.  Which means that we should look closely at his activity to discern the work of mission.  Yes, he did collect funds for the suffering churches, but if we take the few references in the NT to that and then argue that it was central to Paul’s ministry, we’d be arguing that 3 or 4 verses are as important as hundreds of others that show Paul preaching, discipling, and raising up churches.  Look at Romans 15.19b-24

19b from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
    and those who have never heard will understand.”

22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

He’s COMPLETED work from Jerusalem all the way to modern day Croatia and Albania.  What had he done in those regions?  Established churches.

Point 5: God Keeps His Promises

Genesis 12.1-13 says that the blessing through Abram’s seed, that is through Jesus (Gal 3.17), will go to all peoples.  It just makes sense that the end would wait for this promise to be kept.  Regardless of eschatology, passages like Matthew 24.14, Romans 11.25, and 2 Peter 3.8-13, should lead all of us to say, “Yes, God will keep His promise.  He is God of ALL nations.”  So, He is waiting and redeeming men and women from all nations.  He’s not waiting for poverty to be demolished (though we should want it to be) or political peace throughout the world (though we should pursue that).  This is the only mission that He’s promised to complete before the end.  And, we know He keeps His promise because we see them in Revelation 7:9 gathered before the throne of God, worshiping the Lamb of God.

OK, I tried to keep that short.  Each point, perhaps, should have had it’s own post.

Life Changing Stat of the Month – April 2017

Hello friends, before jumping back into my series on Local Church mission strategy, I wanted to start a new Monthly-ish series called “Life Changing Stat of the Month” where we simply share a stat and discuss it’s importance for the Church and her mission.

This month’s stat comes from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.  I want you to read it at least 3 times before moving on.  Ready, here it is:

86% of all Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian

What do you think about that?  That means that the largest blocks of people without the Gospel don’t even know someone that could tell it to them.  What should that mean for the Church?  This SHOULD have seismic shifts in our churches’ mission strategy (we’ll visit this soon), in our short-term mission practices, in our prayers, and in our day to day lives.

Do you see it…the lost are, in many ways, because Christians choose to not live anywhere near them.  Even some residual evangelism might take place if we just lived among them.  Some people ask me why God is allowing the refugee crisis today…I think a major reason is this stat.  I think Paul would agree.  Read Acts 17.26-27

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.

God has, as my friend Cody Lorance says, taken the 10/40 Window and started shaking it upside down over places where Christians do live and churches do exist.  WHY?  So that these poor, lost, miserable masses might seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him!!!!

Well then, besides welcoming the unreached that come to us, what are we to do?  What if we started allowing the Biblical priority that the Gospel should move from where it is to where it is not (see Genesis 12.1-3, Luke 4.43, and Romans 15:18-24 for instance) affect where we send workers.  It may not be enough simply to say, “we’ll send you anywhere God has laid on your heart.”  Maybe we need to help them see God’s heart on this matter.

What if, too, we encouraged our marketplace professionals to find out if their company (or a company like it) might consider transferring them to Unreached places.  I have friends that have been transferred (along with very healthy pay raises) to some of the most unreached Muslim countries in the world.  We must be in contact with the lost.  Even those of us stuck in the West or the “bible belt” need to be asking whether many lost people know us.

I know some of you out their have even better ideas.  Let’s hear them!

A Model for Biblical Masculinity

At our church, we are about to begin a new quarterly time for men to get together and pursue God’s vision for Biblical masculinity, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic.  I wanted to share a little “model” with you that is my attempt to capture, in visual form what Biblical masculinity looks like, as well as some description (as short as I could bring myself to it) of how it all functions together.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A MODEL OF MASCULINITY

I’m a visual learner. I love charts, graphs, maps, and funny cartoon clippings. I also am a big-picture person. I struggle with details, but if you can give me a compelling overview, then I can begin to dig into the details in a way that keeps me from getting overwhelmed. So, when I began to ask, “what makes a good man” I quickly found myself trying to create some type of visual aid that would help me understand the big picture. Out of that, came the above Model.

While we could say much about the different pieces of this Model, I want to show how they all fit together here.

CORE IDENTITY OF WORSHIP

The Model consists of a core identity; namely, living in a loving relationship with the one, true God as a worshipper – one who delights in, who enjoys fellowship with the Triune God.

At the heart of every real man must be a heart of worship towards God. Not just any god will do, however, because we will become like what we worship. So, if the god I worship created mankind because he needed them (ancient Greek gods for instance), then I will become a needy, self-serving man who demands that others exist to fulfill me. If I worship a god who created mankind, but now keeps his distance (the god of Islam, deism), I will be a detached man who produces something (perhaps work, a child, a family) but then stands apart from it as if it must now continue without me. If I believe creation comes from an accident (new-age spiritualism, most forms of evolutionary theory, Gnosticism), then it doesn’t matter how I live. In this view, the fact that I’m a man is an accident any way. Finally, if I believe that creation isn’t a reality (Buddhism, Hinduism), but is a mirage, a façade, then my life isn’t real either, so the best thing I can do is ignore reality and spend my days seeking nirvana – whatever self-actualization plan I prefer. I will check out on my responsibilities because I don’t really believe in reality.

However, if I believe in the God of Christianity, the Triune God, who is real, who created with intentionality, who created not out of need but out of love, who created and then didn’t run away but remains active in the world, who takes all responsibility for what has been, what is, and what will be, and if I’ve been made in His image – to do his works, think his thoughts, and represent Him in the world – that makes all the difference. At the heart of every real man is a delight in the God who made him and all things. If that is missing, nothing else in the Model will work.

3 SECONDARY ROLES FLOW OUT OF WORSHIP

There are 3 other roles that every man must fulfill, represented by the outer circles of the Model. Every man must be a Shepherd, Soldier, and Sage. The core characteristics for these roles are Love, Courage, and Wisdom respectively. Certainly, each man will gravitate towards one of these roles more than another, but he is called to develop in and live out of all three.

And all three need to be tethered to Worship. Because God’s Wisdom, God’s Courage, and God’s Love are completely different from the world’s wisdom, courage, and love. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” If we start from any point other than the God of Scripture, we are hopeless. Our best love, courage, and wisdom, conjured up somewhere other than from the power of God, are faulty, weak, and foolish. And so to move out from that place spells doom. Soldiers will become dictators, Shepherds will love sporadically or with sappy sentimentality, and Sages will use their wisdom for their own good or for no one’s.

FIDELITY TO GOD’S COMMUNAL LOVE, KINGDOM MISSION, AND DIVINE TRUTH

In fact, these three roles are really responses to God. They exist because God exists and is who he says he is. God is love. That is the core of who he is, and so as those made in his image, we too are called to love (Shepherd). He is community, the Trinity, and so we were created to love in community. The Shepherd role reflects the appropriate response (relational fidelity) to God’s communal love.

So too, God is King of a Kingdom, and he is on a mission to establish that Kingdom. As citizens of that Kingdom and co-heirs with Christ, we are drafted into the Kingdom mission. We are His vice-regents. The Soldier role reflects the appropriate response (missional fidelity) to God’s Kingdom mandate.

Finally, God is true. Though every man be found a liar, he will be found true. And he not only knows the truth, but knows what to do with it, so he is also all-wise. His wisdom makes even the wisest man look like a fool. And so, He has given the Spirit of God to each of us, in short, he has given us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). The Sage role reflects the appropriate response (theological fidelity) to the truth of God.

THE BALANCE OF THE 3 SECONDARY ROLES

Not only must they flow out of the heart of a worship, but these three roles also help balance each other. For instance, a Soldier who doesn’t use wisdom (Sage) will lose the battle, and one who doesn’t love (Shepherd) might win the wrong battle or win the right battle wrongly, believing that the ends justify the means. Similarly, a Shepherd who allows love to trump truth (Sage) has actually departed from real love. And a Shepherd, busy loving, who forgets his mission (Soldier) leads the sheep into danger or away from true blessing. Finally, a Sage who loves knowledge and wisdom, but forgets to employ that wisdom for the good of God’s people (Shepherd) and for his Kingdom (Soldier), fails. All three need each other.

THE INTERWOVEN BEAUTY OF THE 3 SECONDARY ROLES

And when they are working together, we see beautiful and critical activities flowing out, illustrated by the 3 outer rectangles. When courage (Soldier) and love (Shepherd) combine, the result is service – sacrificial, humble service to God, His Church, and humanity. When love (Shepherd) and wisdom (Sage) combine, the result is cultivation – that is, space for the things that make life beautiful and bountiful, from poetry to farming to government that is just. Finally, when courage (Solider) and wisdom (Sage) combine, the result is Christ-like leadership, resulting in the people of God wisely and boldly fulfilling their purpose.

This is just an overview. We could dive much deeper into each role and activity.  Thoughts?

Local Church – Global Impact 4: Biblical Convictions

OK, remember, Mission is not my idea.  It’s not John Piper’s idea or Billy Graham’s or the Apostle Paul’s idea.  IT’S GOD’S IDEA!  Which means that He alone has the right to determine what the mission is, how it should be done, who should do it, etc.  And this is SOOO crucial.  Much of mission today is accomplishing a lot of the wrong things.  It’s not only doing damage in many parts of the world, but it’s sapping resources that could have gone towards the Biblical mission we’ve been given.

The next few posts are going to try and help us look at the Word and understand what it is that God is calling us to.  We need clarity.  I’m going to call in a lot of help in these particular posts because we are treading on very hotly debated issues.  So, why don’t we start with this question: what is mission?  I’m going to share a few resources with you that I believe BEST answer this question.  The following posts will show, further, why I think this is the case.  So without further ado, I want to point you to:

What we will see is that the mission of God is a Gospel mission.  And since the Gospel is news (really, really good news!), it must be heralded.  So, proclamation is central.  We will also see that the Church is central.  She, under the leading of the Spirit, commissions the “sent ones” (literally: missionaries), and those who are sent are to plant Kingdom outposts, that is local expressions of the body of Christ, i.e. local churches.  The activities of mission therefore are those that share the Good News, that disciple believers deeper into the Gospel, and that plant Gospel churches among every Ethnicity/People Group (Greek: ETHNE).  I’ll unpack each of these core concepts in posts to come.

What is God’s Glory and Why does it Matter?

Last year, I read Michael Reeves’ wonderful little book Delighting in the Trinity. In it, he spends just a few pages showing how the Trinity, particularly the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shapes our doctrine of God, including the attributes of God like Holiness, Wrath, and Glory.  I want to focus some thoughts, reflections on the last one: GLORY.  Very briefly, he declares that God’s glory is His outgoing love. THAT is what God’s glory IS.

This was new to me. To my shame, I must admit that I’ve never taken on God’s glory as an object of study.  Nor was it covered in any particularly way during my time in seminary.  Like many younger reformed evangelicals, I’ve always looked to John Piper for an explanation of God’s glory and why it matters, but what Reeves was saying was a departure, at least in part, from Piper’s approach.  I wanted to know more.  But, where to turn?

I’ve listened to many of Reeves’ sermons since then.  I have found several where he introduces this idea again, but in most of them, he doesn’t cover much more ground on this issue.  There is one workshop called Matters of the Heart: How to Enjoy God where Reeves unpacks it further, with the assistance of Jonathan Edwards.  It may be a good place to get a first look at what I’m talking about.

That brings me to the real point of this post.  Glen Scrivener has taken up the idea (I don’t know if he got it from Reeves or vice versa or some other way) and helpfully interacted with it quite a bit.  So, the rest of this post will be a bit of an annotated Bibliography of Scrivener’s Doctrine of God’s Glory.

GOD’S GLORY ALONE

The first place to start is his post entitled “God’s Glory Alone Sermon.” This is a sermon from a series on the 5 Solas of the Reformation. The first half of the sermon reviews the first 4 Solas and introduces the 5th through the story of David and Goliath. About 2/3 through the sermon, Scrivener says:

“The living God is Giver.  And it’s this very grace that is His glory. But what does that word mean really?  Glory.  It’s a big bible word. What is God’s glory?”

The rest of the sermon answers that question, primarily through John’s Gospel (click here for more John’s Gospel and God’s glory). In short, Scrivener answers the question thusly:

Wind the clock back all the way through time, before creation, back and back and back into the depths of eternity and you will find Jesus with His Father loving and serving each other in the power of the Spirit.  That’s what the trinity has ALWAYS been up to.  That IS the eternal life of God.  So on the cross, when we see Jesus giving Himself up to the Father we see the eternal glory of God.  At the cross when we see the Father GIVING His Son to the world, we see the eternal glory of God.

The cross IS God’s glory.  And it’s the glory of infinite SELF-GIVING love.  God’s glory is His grace.  It is His very “Godness” to give Himself away to us and for us.

You really should read/listen to the whole thing though. OK, so that brings us to a definition, but I wanted to interact more with this understanding of God’s glory, and there’s (thankfully) no shortage of this on Scrivener’s blog, including his posts and quite a bit of good interaction in the comments. So, the rest of this post is an attempt to give you an idea of how to explore this treasure.

SERIES: WE DID IT ALL FOR THE GLORY OF LOVE

Well, Scrivener put together a little series of posts to wrestle through “what is God’s glory?”  Not only is this little series named after a great song from the greatest decade of music, it’s also a great next step in the journey of discovering what God’s glory is all about.

In Part 1, you are invited to look at a selection of verses/passages that will help frame the conversation.  Part 1

In Part 2, he begins to interact with John Piper’s classic understanding of God’s Glory and why it may not be the best way to think about/talk about it.  Part 2

Part 3 takes digs deeper into the differences between what Scrivener is proposing and Piper’s approach.  Part 3

Part 4 digs into more scripture so that we aren’t just looking at it from the Gospel of John, and then Part 5 digs into Ephesians 1 as a final study.  Part 4  //  Part 5

MORE INTERACTION WITH JOHN PIPER

Now, I want to be sure to highlight how much Scrivener spends genuinely praising John Piper for his life, his ministry, his influence, and theology. He even shares an embarrassing moment when he tells Piper that he’s his biggest fan and then realizes he’s just behaved like a fanboy (in first link below)! Even in the comments sections, it seems that any time Scrivener interacts with a commenter (and the topic involved Piper’s theology of God’s glory) who is new to the site, he makes sure to reiterate his appreciation for Piper. Not only that, but his comments on Piper are always respectful, so don’t get the sense from me that he’s just a Piper-hater. Those folks exist. Scrivener isn’t one of them. So, here are some links to explore:

Why I am a Trinitarian Hedonist

Theo-centric? (or “What does God-Centered mean?”)

Piper’s Theology of Glory (this is a shorter version of the next one)

God is not a Narcissist (He gets the Trinity involved here in a very helpful way, as you’ve probably seen already…and more to come below)

One of the questions that arises in this discussion is the nature of God’s love for us. Piper would say that God’s love for us is primarily seen in making it possible for us to love Him (therefore glorying Him). So there is a boomerang effect where the intention is that we would make much of God. Many have posited squirmy reactions to this, but it’s PIPER, so they don’t speak out for too long. But, I think this Reeves/Scrivener approach (“God’s glory is His grace” in the word of Jonathan Edwards) actually does greater service both to God’s fame and to his affection for his people. Scrivener interacts with this question in his God Loves God more than God Love Us? post. And just for fun, here’s a short, wonderful quote on Why God Love Us.

TRINITY SHAPES EVERYTHING

In his post called Beginning with the Creator? Scrivener is super-helpful to show why the TRINITY must be the starting point for understanding God’s glory.  And why starting anywhere else is detrimental/dangerous. Read it! You’ll thank me! For more on this topic, see his Oneness and Threeness post and his You and Me, We’re Not so Different Really post.

So, how do I wrap up this tour through Scrivener’s writings on the glory of the Triune God? Well, I guess by saying that you should spend more time over at Christ the Truth. I may eventually do a similar post looking at his writings on Mission. But, I’ll also say that this understanding of Glory; namely that it is the outgoing love of God, that it is His grace, His cross…that it is the Gospel, which Paul calls the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus,” changes things.  Look at the overflowing love of God!  Oh what a God we have! Oh, what a beautiful Father! Oh, what a glorious Son! Oh, what a majestic Spirit of overflowing love! Glory isn’t an abstract, glowing blob of awesomeness…it’s the love of God on the move! That changes everything!