Monday, November 16, 2009

We Are Going to Be Parents!!!!!

It's official. For any who don't yet know, Katie is pregnant! We found out last Wednesday morning that we are going to be parents. We don't yet know how long she has been but we estimate about four or five weeks. It has been surreal to say the least. My parents are thrilled that they will be grandparents. This will be their first.

So I will be keeping everyone updated with everything on the blog. I hope all who read will share our joy in the new life that is being formed in Katie's womb. I pray also that God will save my child and use him/her to conform us both more into the image of Christ.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Lord's Supper and a Clear Conscience

This coming week at Church in the Boro, we will begin observing the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis. This came about partly through our pastor Rob's experience at the 2009 conference of the Association of Charismatic Reformed Churches where a message was given concerning the Lord's Supper and Revival.

As part of our weekly observance, Rob asked me to prepare a monthly, short, mini-devotional about one aspect of communion. I decided that I would also make these available to the rest of the web through this blog.

When Jesus and His disciples sat down to eat, at one point our Lord took the bread and wine and revealed to them their symbolism. Matthew's account goes like this:

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins..." (Matthew 26:26-28 NASB)

Luke's account makes clear that the "covenant" being referred to here is the New Covenant which was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, which promised among other things, the forgiveness of sins (Jeremiah 31:34). Christ comes now and announces that His impending death will bring that promise to a realization and now infuses the elements of the meal with symbolism of that fulfillment.

I want to focus particularly on how that fulfillment applies to the forgiveness of sins that the New Covenant brings. According to Hebrews, the Old Covenant which was made with Israel on Mount Sinai was never intended nor able to procure actual forgiveness (Hebrews 10:11). As a consequence, a guilty conscience cannot be made clean because one's sins are still over him (Hebrews 9:9).
However, with the New Covenant, by the blood of Jesus, we can experience true forgiveness and live with a clear and clean conscience before God and man (Romans 8:33,34). As a result of our forgiveness and clean conscience, we are now able to approach a holy, holy God with no fear; knowing that we are accepted and considered faultless. We are able to draw near to God in the Holy of Holies anytime and anywhere, but especially when the saints gather together.
How does this apply to the elements in the Lord's Supper? According to Hebrews 10:19-22, we are exhorted to approach God with a clear conscience through the veil, which is Christ's flesh. We know that His flesh, or body is represented by the bread. Let us therefore eat of the bread and enter the Holiest place by faith through the veil.
Let us also drink of the cup, by faith recognizing that it is Christ's blood which truly takes away our sins and allowes us to finally have a clear conscience (Hebrews 10:22)through the New Covenant that God makes with us.
Dear saints, if you struggle with a guilty conscience, then this meal is for you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Revelation 20 and the Persecuted Church

This Sunday at Church in the Boro we are holding a special service to honor and pray for the persecuted church. I think this gives us a special opportunity to reflect on what many believers throughout the world face when they decide to follow Jesus. It may also help to prepare believers in North America for what may be around the corner for them.

I think it also affords a unique opportunity to "rescue" a certain biblical text from the point being missed in the middle of important questions about eschatology. I think that Revelation 20:1-6 should be read primarily as a text which teaches the blessings Christ will give to the persecuted, and especially the martyred Church. In fact, I think that most, if not all of New Testament eschatology is focused on hope for those persecuted in Christ's name. Revelation 20:1-6 reads like this in the English Standard Version:

1Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
Although hidden in plain sight, I believe that it is primarily the martyrs throughout the Church's history who are the focus of Christ's millennial reign (though it also points to a those who are given authority to judge, which may refer to other faithful Christians), and I would further suggest help to provide valuable insight into its interpretation. Curiously, there is no mention at all in Revelation 20 of anything like a rebuilt Jerusalem temple complete with bloody animal sacrifices or anything resembling "reconstruction". It would seem that such theories distract from the real emphasis of the passage which is the vindication and reign of the martyrs of Jesus throughout the world and Church history.
It is also worth noting that Christ and those resurrected will rule over the very nations who were responsible for putting them to death in the first place. Verses 1-3 emphasize that the devil (who gave power and authority to the Beast to wage war against the Lamb and His saints) is consigned to the abyss for the purpose of not deceiving the nations any longer. This would indicate to me that those who suffer and die for the Gospel's sake in world missions will one day reign over the nations alongside Christ as proof of His love for them (Revelation 3:9).
Such promises, along with those of future glory in the New Heavens and New Earth provide a powerful motivation for bringing the Gospel to the nations and suffering for Christ's sake. This is the real message of New Testament eschatology. Let us pray for those suffering to advance the Gospel of Christ and let us take comfort and motivation from Jesus' promise that we will one day reign with Him not only in the millennium, but after God has renewed and restored the universe (Revelation 21:1-22:5).
As an aside, I think that these points favor the Historic Premillennial interpretation, although they could possibly be worked into an Amillennial framework.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Die With Your Boots On!

Die with your boots on! No, I'm not referring to the song by Iron Maiden, but the principle of perseverence, tanacity, or even sticktooitivness if you will. And no, I'm not trying to get all Tony Robins on you either. I think that there is real virtue in sticking with something that is hard. And before you call me Captain Obvious, I think it is actually okay to fail...if you at least give it your best and don't quit. In other words, if you're going to go down, go down fighting. Die with your boots on!

The reason I am thinking of all this is because I find myself doing lots of things that are really hard. I uprooted and moved to Georgia, I joined a new church that challenges me immensely, and I work at a very demanding job now. I've never had all of this at one time and the temptation to quit has been very strong. But the Lord is faithful and He has reminded me many times of Scriptures that speak of being faithful, even unto death. He promises me that if I trust in Him while faithfully doing my job, loving my wife, and serving my church, He will reward me with great rewards in Heaven after the resurrection of my body. So even if things don't work out here, at least I am going to do my best, trusting His power, and leaving the outcome to Him.

Two of the things that have really encouraged me are the doctrine of the resurrection of the body that believers will receive when Jesus returns, and the nature of spiritual warfare. Jesus promises His followers that those who are faithful and wise will receive a resurrection to eternal life and receive rewards when He comes (Matthew 25:14-30). The devil knows this so he and his demons war against us to try to get us to quit and become like the guy with the talent who hid it in the field and was destroyed for it (Matthew 25:24-30). He does this by telling us that Jesus doesn't really love us, or that we don't have the power to do it, or that we will be better off by doing something else that doesn't advance Christ's Kingdom. Our flesh doesn't help either becuase it lusts against the Spirit who helps us obey Christ (Galatians 5:17).

I believe the best way to fight back is to remember that Jesus DOES love you, that He has forgiven you, and that He does promise that if you belong to Him, you will persevere triumphantly to the end (Jeremiah 32:40; Romans 8:31-39). The followers of Jesus are those who overcome by the Blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:10,11). That is, they conquer by remembering that their sins have been forgiven and that Jesus loves them furiously. The devil's only weapon - accusation, has been taken from him.

Saints, let us conquer by the Blood of the Lamb and die with our boots on!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Zealous for the Charismatic

You might say that over the last several months this label has described me. I first became a "charismatic" or "continuationist" about six years ago when I was nineteen years old. It happened when I realized that I wanted to pursue the pastoral ministry. I toured a small Baptist college and took some literature home with me (I didn't realize it at the time, but I strongly suspect that college to have been independent fundamentalist baptist).

My dad noticed a rather strong statement against speaking in tongues. Basically, if a student either spoke in and/or encouraged others to speak in tongues, they would be kicked out of school. This, along with another baptist man I knew who encouraged me to read John MacArthur's book Charismatic Chaos, sent me on a search through the Scriptures to determine whether or not the "gift of tongues" was for today. Long story short, I came to believe and realize that tongues had not ceased and was still a gift being given today. Needless to say I had to find another college to attend.

I soon came to Trinity College of Florida and there also ran into the question of the "miraculous" gifts of the Holy Spirit. I and a few other students and professors firmly believed in them while others were either completely cessationist (believing that they were not for today, although there were relatively few) or among the "open but cautious" crowd that still bothers me to no end.

Anyway, over the last six years I have thoroughly studied, doubted, reaffirmed, refined, and repeated the process over these gifts of the Holy Spirit. I am not an "expert", but I know what the Scriptures say and I have experienced many of these things in my life.

It's interesting to me that other related issues would present themselves. Since 2003, I have studied, discussed, and come to affirm other things like signs and wonders, dreams and visions, the Ephesians 4 ministries, Acts as prescriptive and not merely descriptive, manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as experiential.

I should however say that I don't believe it is enough simply to theoretically or theologically affirm them without actually seeking them. This is reductionistic and out of step with what Scripture teaches (1 Corinthians 14:1 for example on prophecy). This is what drives me crazy over the "open but cautious" camp or even charismatic fellowships that confess it but leave it there and don't actually do anything about it. I have come to believe that it is important to contend for the overtly supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit and to actively seek it for God's glory and in conformity to Scripture.

That being said I wish to clearly spell out what I believe about the charismatic. Some might need further clarification, but for now here they are. I believe:

-That all of the gifts and offices of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are still valid for today and will not cease or disappear until Jesus returns to earth (1 Corinthians 13:8-12; Ephesians 4:9-16).

-The gift of prophecy in the New Testament is not entirely the same as that in the OT, but not entirely different either. The difference is more of function than nature. This may require further clarification in the future.

-Prophetic gifts, dreams and visions, and the like are no threat to the sufficiency of Scripture or Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone).

-These gifts and offices are given by the risen and reigning Christ as signs of the present and advancing Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:9-16)

-We should pray expectantly for healing (James 5:14-18).

-Demons are still active in the world today although Satan and his demons were dealt a decicive blow at the cross. The casting out of demons is still a ministry needed today and serves as a sign of the present Kingdom of God (Matthew 12:28; Mark 16:17-18; John 14:12)

-The office of Apostle is still functioning. Apostles are church planters, provide oversight to clusters of churches, and often take the Gospel to unreached people groups (Ephesians 4:9-16; pretty much the entire book of Acts).

-We should seek, pray for, and expect God to confirm the Gospel through signs and wonders (Mark 16:17-18; John 14:12)

-God still speaks through dreams and visions (Acts 2:15-21)

-The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is experiential although ideally part of the conversion process (Acts 2:2-4; 8:14-17; 9:17-18; 10:44-46; 19:1-6; this also requires some further clarification, which I will provide sometime).

-All of the gifts should be pursued and practiced by the Church for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ and furthering its unity, especially the gift of prophecy and the gift/office of apostle(1 Corinthians 14:1;39; Ephesians 4:9-16)

-Narrative portions of Scripture, and especially Acts can serve as a paradigm for normal Christian experience (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 5:16b-18)

-All things should be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:39). Decency and orderliness are not unclear. There is little distinction between "God's order" and human order. That said however, orderliness and not always clean and neat or easily explainable.

Well there you have it. I'm sure someone won't like what I've written but as Martin Luther so eloquently put it centuries ago: "My conscience is captive to the Word of go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New Frontiers Men's Retreat

I just got back about ten minutes ago from Atlanta for the Southeastern Regional Men's Retreat for New Frontiers. I have really enjoyed getting to know more about New Frontiers. I think that there model of leadership, particularly in the area of the apostolic ministry is solid, biblical, and practical.

However, the theme for this year's men's conference was not the apostolic ministry but rather biblical masculinity. John Lanferman, the apostolic leader of NF in the United States, took us three times to the story of Elijah. He noted that Elijah was not a "well-balanced" prophet, but rather a fiery preacher who was zealous for God. He knew he was God's man, in God's place, at God's time. However, Elijah was a man like us (James 5:17), and he was tempted to quit and throw in the towel. We looked at 1 Kings 19 and Elijah's encounter with God on the mountain after the incident with the prophets of Ba'al.

It's interesting that God, being like a father, told Elijah to basically get back in the game and do God's work when speaking to him in the "low whisper" (v. 12).

...And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of Hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." And the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place... (1 Kings 19:12b-16 ESV)
Later, we heard about how Elijah put his mantle on Elisha and mentored him and the sons of the prophets in 2 Kings 1 and 2, and how Elisha received a double portion of the spirit that was on Elijah.
Carl Herrington, pastor of Jubilee Church in Atlanta, also spoke to us about the spiritual battle we are in and encouraged us as a community, and not as isolated individuals, to take up the armor of God in Ephesians 6. He noted how many churches in the West act as though the spirit realm doesn't exist, or at least minimize it.
The worship music was awesome and I was prayed for the receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit which I did receive by faith. I praise God and hope and pray for more of the Holy Spirit as I continue to follow after God.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Learning Discipline and Commitment

If I had to pin down one area of significant growth and challenge, it would be in the areas of discipline and commitment. I have come to realize that for whatever reason, whoever is to blame (and it's probably me); I am not a terribly disciplined person. I never did well in school growing up because I didn't want to sit down and apply myself to my work. This explains why I dropped out of high school (I did eventually attain my G.E.D. however).

Commitment is another area that I have not been good at. If I had learned commitment earlier in life, I might have finished college or still be working for a cable company in Tampa. I might be farther along in my sanctification also.

I don't write all of this to get you to feel sorry for me, but just because I want to highlight what is clearly right now my biggest challenge. I still feel very overwhelmed at times but I am trusting in God's grace to make me someone who is more useful to His Kingdom. It's amazing to me to think that just washing the dishes can be so significant to one's growth in Christ.

I assume that the vast majority of people reading this are believing, evangelical Christians. If that is you and you think about it, please lift me up in prayer over this. I need it.