Roots: Looking Back and Reaching Forward

 

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a new preaching series entitled “Roots: Looking Back and Reaching Forward.” This series is the second of a three-part series related to our 40th anniversary as a church, following on our series, “Power in Prayer.” This is a series celebrating our legacy as a church, and also recalibrating as we head into the future together. We will look back at what God has done in our midst at Eastbrook, while also looking forward to what God is calling us into as a church.

September 7/8 – “Activated by the Holy Spirit”

September 14/15 – “Truly Community”

September 21/22 – “Growing Disciples”

September 28/29 – “Sacrificial Generosity”

October 4/5 – “Worship in the Beauty of Holiness”

Exemplary Lives of Renewed Pastors

Richard Baxter.jpgIn reading J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness some time ago, I came across this moving quotation from Richard Baxter about the need for pastors to attend to their own lives in ministry. Baxter was an interesting figure, best known for his writing of that classic of pastoral practice, The Reformed Pastor.

Just a quick note that the term ‘reformed’ for Baxter does not merely refer to the reformed theological tradition, but also to the pursuit of a thoroughly reformed life before God. A more easily understood title for that book today might be “The Renewed Pastor.” I am confident that more than a few readers might agree with me that what we need today, no less than in Baxter’s day, is renewed pastors whose lives are exemplary and saturated with the character of Christ.

Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others….be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others….watch therefore over your own hearts: keep out lusts and passions, and worldly inclinations; keep up the life of faith, and love, and zeal; be much at home, and much with God…take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine…lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues….we must study as hard how to live well, as how to preach well.

This is a challenging and good word to those of us who serve the Lord and His church in pastoral ministry. Baxter draws attention to the key topics: the steadiness in our exercise of faith, the personal response to the message we preach to others, dealing with the desires and longings within our own hearts, our zeal in ministry, and our everyday living for God. There is hardly any part of our lives to which Baxter fails to call attention. God forbid that we should take lightly our call and the example which we must set as servants of Christ in His body!

With confidence, Paul could say these words to one of his congregations: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Pastor, I ask myself and invite you to join me in considering whether we can we offer the same confident statement to our people from our own lives. With a tip of my hat to E. M. Bounds, I must say that what we need today as pastors is not primarily more activity in the church, or more impact in the social arena, or better programs, or more-updated models of ministry. No. For all the good that those things can offer, they are not the primary necessity in pastoral ministry today or in any other era. Our primary need for pastoral ministry in today’s church is that humble servants of Christ will lay down their lives daily in order to be made completely new and alive to God in Christ. May God transform us as pastors into examples others can follow for His glory.

The Apostle James’ words come to mind:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).

Recovering Holiness

HolinessAs I continue to reflect on the nature of pastoral ministry, ministry in the North American evangelical church, and questions of ministry integrity, I find myself returning often to the topic of holiness. Even writing the word holiness makes me feel a little bit “old school.” However, if I hold the tension of that uncomfortable feeling for a bit, I cannot help but think we may need to be a little “old school” right now on this issue.

So, I turned to a voice from an earlier time, J. C. Ryle, whose classic book Holiness has been highly regarded for years, with pastors like J. I. Packer and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones urging Christians to read it. Let me share a brief excerpt from his introduction to this book, which, I believe, puts some perspective on where we stand today in North American Christianity.

I’ve had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and entire self-consciousness to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country. Politics, or controversy, or party spirit, or worldliness have eaten out the heart of lively piety in too many of us. The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background. The standard of living has become painfully low in many quarters. Immense importance of “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked. Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” persons, so-called, are not so amiable, and unselfish, and good-natured, as others who make no profession of religion. Yet sanctification, in its place in proportion, is quite as important as justification. Sound Protestant and evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt. It is my firm impression that we want a thorough revival about scriptural holiness, and I am deeply thankful that attention is being directed to the point.

As Ryle continues his introduction, he outlines a series of issues related to holiness, some of which apply to our own day and some of which seem more bound to his own time. It is, however, his first point that I find particularly relevant to our own context. In the midst of our heavy emphasis on grace in North American Christianity, we have at times veered off into various versions of antinomianism, where there is no place – or at least disregard – for God’s law and obedience. As with the work of Dallas Willard, sometimes simplified in the writings of John Ortberg, we find Ryle grappling with the tension between faith and work, between earning God’s favor and application of effort to honor God. On the subject of holiness, he writes:

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness; that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ; that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness; that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy; that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by the faith of the Son of God; that faith purifies the heart; that faith is the victory which overcomes the world; that by faith the elders obtain a good report – all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith….Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,” but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ (Rom. 4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it “worketh by love,” and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man (Gal. 5:6).

What Ryle emphasizes, and we rightly need to recover, is the emphatic coupling of justifying grace with sanctifying grace. We need to recover the truth that our unearned salvation by grace through faith in Christ overflows into a holy life strenuously lived as worship unto the Lord through obedience. I cannot help but think that one of the things we most need to recover today in North American Christianity is holiness.

Praying to the Holy God [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

In prayer we approach the God of the universe face to face. Although the word ‘awesome’ has been devalued to our contemporary ears, this reality of prayer is truly an awesome thing.

The prophet Isaiah found out how awesome this is when he had a vision of God while at prayer in the Temple in the year that King Uzziah died. The heavenly throne room was unveiled to Isaiah’s mortal eyes, and he was clearly overwhelmed at the sight of the Living God and the angelic beings around His throne. Isaiah’s response is both familiar and strange to us: “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty'” (Isaiah 6:5).

Most of us rarely think about God in this way, let alone approach Him with such an awareness of His awesome holiness. The American writer Annie Dillard comments on this reality with language so strong it may catch us off guard:

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.[1]

Of course, we should remember that as New Testament Christians we stand on this side of the Cross, the tearing of the veil, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus who lives now as our eternal Mediator before the Father. Even so, it is good for us to consider the awesome holiness of God. It is good to enter the place of prayer aware of the awesome Being whom we are approaching. It was this reality that caused the prophet Habakkuk to pause in the midst of the raging of the nations around Jerusalem to say: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

Holy, holy, holy, are You,
  Lord God Almighty.
Although I do not approach You with a crash helmet,
  I am aware of how great You truly are.
And so, I humble myself before Your power,
  even as I worship You with all of who I am.
There is no one else like You,
  and there never will be.
I stand in awe of You
as the only, awesome God.


[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1982), 58.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Thursdays with Murray [Humility, week 7]

Andrew Murray 2As I continue with my series of posts on Andrew Murray‘s brief book Humility, today I look at both chapter seven, “Humility and Holiness,” and chapter eight, “Humility and Sin.” These two chapters augment one another as counterpoints on similar themes.

In addressing the relationship between humility and holiness, Murray writes: “Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.” As he has done before with other aspects of our walk with Christ, Murray returns to the theme of humility being the proof of our holiness.

The great test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it be manifest in the increasing humility it produces.

This flows from Murray’s conviction that humility is a direct reflection of the character of God revealed in Jesus’ life and teaching. Thus, he can say at one point in this chapter: “the holiest will ever be the humblest.” This is so, he writes, because:

humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all….And where the creature becomes nothing before God; it cannot be anything but humble towards the fellow-creature.

This leads directly into the central theme of chapter eight, “Humility and Sin,” where he describes humility as “the displacement of self by the enthronement of God.” Similar to his comments in the preface to the book, Murray is intent on differentiating between what he see as an unhelpful over-emphasis on and fixation with our sinfulness and the appropriately needful sense of our need for grace that leads us to fixation on the glory of God in Christ.

The point which I wish to emphasize is this: that the very fact of the absence of such confession of sinning [in the writings of the Apostle Paul] only gives more force to the truth that it is not in daily sinning that the secret of the deeper humility will be found, but in the habitual, never for a moment to be forgotten position, which just the more abundant grace will keep more distinctly alive, that our only place, the only place of blessing, our one abiding position before God, must be that of those whose highest joy it is to confess that they are sinners saved by grace.

Although the flow of language could use some editing, the flow of thought is overall clear. If we want greater humility, we must not become fixated upon our daily struggle with sin but with the greater grace of God that overcomes our sin. The way toward this is what has sometimes been called the expulsive power of Christ’s presence in our lives:

As health expels disease, and light swallows up darkness, and life conquers death, the indwelling of Christ through the Spirit is the health and light and life of the soul.

Putting it even more clearly, Murray writes:

Being occupied with self, even amid the deepest self-abhorrence, can never free us from self. It is the revelation of God, not only by the law condemning sin but by His grace delivering from it, that will make us humble. The law may break the heart with fear; it is only grace that works that sweet humility which becomes a joy to the souls as its second nature.

Both in terms of holiness and sin, Andrew Murray emphasizes the grace of God and His presence in our lives through Christ as more valuable than anguish over sin as the key.

Do you agree with Murray’s emphasis? 

What have you found to be most helpful in your own growth in humility?

[Read the entire series of posts on Andrew Murray’s book Humility here.]

God of the Displaced Ones. part 2

This past weekend, I concluded both Eastbrook’s Missions Fest as well as our series “God in Blank Spaces.” Building off of Jenny Yang‘s message on the global situation of displaced people the previous weekend, I continued the theme of God’s mission amongst the displaced people of the world.

My approach to this topic, however, was to engage more deeply with the theme verses chosen for the week from Leviticus 19:33-34:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

I sought to provide an overview of the book of Leviticus and its vital role in our own faith today as the New Testament people of God. In particular I focused on Leviticus’s theme of holiness, giving attention to four aspects of holiness that we must grasp clearly:

  1. God makes His people holy.
  2. God is making His people holy.
  3. Holiness is personal in nature.
  4. Holiness is relational in nature.

Here is the video and sermon outline of my message, “God of the Displaced Ones, part two.”

You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

 

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New Hope (discussion questions)

Exiles Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “New Hope,” which is the first part of our series “Exiles” on the book of 1 Peter. This study walks through 1 Peter 1:13-2:3.

  1. When was a time that something you were hoping for came true? How did hope sustain you in the waiting period?
  1. This weekend we continue our series, “Exiles,” on the New Testament letter known as 1 Peter. Take a moment to begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you and transform you through His truth. Then, whether you are alone or with others, read 1 Peter 1:13-2:3 aloud.
  1. Peter begins his letter with an extended prayer celebrating the hope that we have with God in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1-12). In this next section of the letter, he explains how we live fixed upon that hope. 1 Peter 1:13 begins with an imperative statement. What do you think Peter means when he writes: “set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming”?
  1. In 1:14-15, Peter build upon the new identity given to believers in Jesus by their “new birth into a living hope” (1:3). What does Peter call the believers toward in these verses? Why does he say we should live that way?
  1. ‘Holiness’ or being ‘holy’ has fallen out of fashion these days. Why do you think that is? What might it look like for us to live meaningfully holy lives today in our everyday settings?
  1. Peter builds on the theme of holiness in 1:17-21. What is Peter’s main exhortation to the believers here? What does he say are the main reasons believers should do that?
  1. Moving from the focus on holiness and appropriate fear of the Lord, Peter begins to talk about the way we live with one another as Christians. How would you restate Peter’s main request of the believers in 1:22?
  1. In what ways do you think holy living and loving others relates to our hope in Jesus Christ? Why do you think these topics be related in Peter’s mind for ‘exiles’ (1:1) and ‘foreigners’ (1:17)?
  1. Drawing upon imagery found in Psalm 34:8, Peter encourages the believers in 2:1-3 to grow up with God by having the right sort of spiritual nourishment in their lives. Why do you think they must rid themselves of certain things (2:1) and also crave certain other things (2:2)? What do you think the ‘pure spiritual milk’ Peter is referring to means in our everyday lives?
  1. What is one specific thing you sense God is speaking to you about your life through this study? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray about what you share together. If you are studying on your own, write it down, pray about it, and share this with someone during the next few days.