Archive for November, 2015

Ephesians 2.1-10 – But God!

The sermon recording from November 29, 2015.

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Joel: Locusts & Spirit (part 3 – 2:12-17)

JoelIn the first few verses of Joel 2, Joel announces the great and terrible day of the Lord drawing on imagery found in the threefold disaster that had come upon Israel (recorded in Joel 1). Joel’s announcement was very bleak, ending with the question, “For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it” (Joel 2:11, ESV)? However, in the Minor Prophets, these wild announcements of impending doom are almost always followed by an announcement of hope if those for whom the warning was intended would repent. Therefore, it is no surprise that Joel 2:12 begins,

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster (Joel 2:12-13, ESV).

Of course, this call to repentance and announcement of the possibility of God relenting raises all kinds of questions for folks. Indeed, many take such verses as the basis for justifying their denial of God’s absolute sovereignty. However, before we run too far down that road, we must remember two points:

First, God condescends to communicate with us in ways that we can understand. The condescension of God in no way renders his revelation untrustworthy, but it does direct how we read, interpret, and apply God’s Word.

Second, Scripture is replete with examples of second causes. We do not have to deny God’s sovereignty in order to affirm meaningful actions by his creatures. God has ordained the means as well as the end.

R.C. Sproul addresses these issues in a devotional note he wrote on Jonah 3:10,

God is free to alter His announced judgments when we repent (Jer. 18:1–10). Despite His knowing whether we will trust Him before we do so, He still condescends to respond to our trust, and thus our actions are significant. Though we must not take this truth for granted, our Father will always freely forgive those who turn to Him. His lordship does not abolish the real impact of our choices; instead, it establishes them as part of His overall decree (WCF 3.1). (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/god-relented/).

In addition to offering hope if the people repent, Joel’s prophetic call to repentance offers a helpful picture of what repentance looks like. Repentance is often defined as turning from sin to righteousness. The common application of this definition of repentance is, “Stop doing bad stuff, and start doing good stuff.” Joel offers a slightly, but importantly, different picture of repentance. Joel’s call to repentance is essentially a call to stop doing whatever it is you are doing and call out to God for mercy. All the congregation of Israel from the elders to nursing infants are to stop and call out to the Lord for mercy. Even the priests are to stop and weep and call out to the Lord,

Spare your people, O Lord,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
“Where is their God” (Joel 2:17, ESV)?

Repentance is not turning from bad works done in the flesh to good works done in the flesh. Repentance is turning from any work done in the flesh to the Lord, that he might show mercy.

Further, the repentance that is pictured in Joel 2 is communal. This communal repentance offers something very different from the common just-me-and-Jesus view of Christianity that leaves us each operating as our own little church with no real connection to or accountability from anyone else. Undoubtedly, individual repentance was necessary, but the people of God were called into solemn assembly to lift up one voice of repentance to God. In the New Testament, we see such public confession of sin in Acts 19:18 and James calls us to confess our sins to one another. The individualistic version of Christianity that results in our detaching ourselves from the body of Christ (yes, expressed in the local church) or repeatedly detaching ourselves from particular local bodies because “they don’t get it,” or “they’re doctrine isn’t pure enough,” or “they’re practice is what I think it should” be runs afoul to the picture of a covenant community found throughout the Bible. Paul doesn’t even call faithful Christians to leave the Corinthian church; rather he calls them all to repent and be unified before their God.

Finally, we see in these verses the proper motivation for repentance. Read the final lines of verse 17 again. “Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God’” (Joel 2: 17, ESV). Notice that it is God’s glory among the nations that is offered as the motivation for repentance. This is not to say escaping judgment offers no motivation whatsoever. Rather, it is simply reminding us that the ultimate motivation for repentance is God’s glory, that his name may be great among the nations. Even in repentance the glory of God is the chief and highest end of man.

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Ephesians 1.15-23 – Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians

The sermon recording from November 22, 2015.

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A Relevant Statement by Packer on the “Christmas Spirit”

“We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said [pertaining to Jesus' incarnation] makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.

“It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is [the Christmas spirit] the spirit of those Christians – alas, they are many – whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just to their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.

“There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be. If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9). ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2:5). ‘I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart‘ (Ps 119:32 KJV).”

-From Knowing God, by J.I. Packer

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Ephesians 1.13-14 – Praising the Spirit for Redemption

The sermon recording from November 15, 2015.

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Ephesians 1.7-12 – Praising the Son for Redemption

The sermon recording from November 8, 2015.

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Joel: Locusts & Spirit (part 2 – 2:1-11)

JoelAfter calling the Israelites’ attention to the total devastation that had come in the form of multiplied natural disasters, Joel uses these events as his source for imagery to describe the future day of the Lord. Joel 2:1-11 is bookended by references to the day of the Lord. On the front end there is a call to warn the inhabitants, and on the back end there is a call to sober judgement.

Blow a trumpet in Zion;
sound and alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness (Joel 2:1-2a, ESV)!

The Lord utters his voice
before his army
for his camp is exceedingly great;
he who executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
who can endure it (Joel 2:11, ESV)?

Joel is moving from the lesser to the greater to help the people of Israel see, as bad as the natural disasters were, “the plague of locusts is not the worst thing that could happen” (Witmer, ESV Gospel Transformation Bible). As we acknowledge Joel’s literary move, we must also be clear that he is in no way asserting or even implying that the plague of locusts, the drought, the fire, and the devastation they brought were not real and were not actually economically, emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually devastating. Joel is not denying the realities and significance of the material world. Joel is not saying, “Y’all should get over the physical devastation because something bigger is coming.” Rather, it is precisely because Joel recognizes the pain of the devastation they are experiencing from the natural disasters that he draws on that situation as his source of imagery. Scripture does not force us into viewing life through some material/spiritual dichotomy; rather, it draws us into viewing every aspect of life and creation as connected and serving a larger purpose of glorifying God. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36, ESV).

The day of the Lord of which Joel is warning the people is a day of judgement from which no one will escape. Matthew 24:29-31 records Jesus’ foretelling of the same event using much of the same imagery. This great day of judgement is neither to be ignored or scoffed at; rather, the announcement of such a fearsome day should drive us to repent and call out to the Lord of this day for mercy on this day. Joel’s words put to rest any notion that we will escape in our sin and announces the truth found throughout Scripture,

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:5-6, ESV).

We must not be foolish. If we continue in our sin, a devastation that outstrips the total devastation brought on Israel through the locust/drought/fire plagues, awaits us, but in his grace, God has sent his prophets to warn us of the coming judgement that we might repent.

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Ephesians 1.3-6 – Praising the Father for Redemption

The sermon recording from November 1, 2015.

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