Sunday, June 28, 2009

God's Love Toward the Sinful Believer

This morning at Binbrook Baptist Church I preached a sermon on Genesis 35. I was blessed as I soaked in the content of the passage this week, and I post the sermon manuscript below. In retrospect, I would have done well to turn this into two shorter sermons with even more focus on application (as my amazing wife told me at lunch), but I do trust that God used it anyway!

Most people today know Charles Wesley as a great hymn writer. We love to sing ‘O for a Thousand Tongues’; ‘And Can it Be’; ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. Most people of Charles Wesley’s day also knew him as a preacher and outdoor evangelist. But those who knew him best knew Charles Wesley as a loving husband and father. He married Sarah Gwynn, who was 18 years younger than he was. He called her ‘my Sally’ or ‘my dearest friend’. Sarah Gwynn was physically beautiful. She was spiritually mature. She complimented Charles Wesley, sharpened him spiritually, was a friend to him. In his journals, you’ll find entries like this one: “April 10, 1749 - At four my brother took leave of us. I passed the day in prayer, chiefly with my dearest friend”. After five years of marriage Charles Wesley’s dearest friend Sally was diagnosed with smallpox. The disease was often a killer, but she survived. But her appearance was totally altered. Her face was disfigured. People could no longer tell she was 18 years younger than him. After her recovery a friend came to visit and privately he exclaimed, ‘Charles, your wife!’ Charles interrupted and replied, ‘isn’t she beautiful!’ To the outside observer Sally looked hideous. To her husband who loved her, Sarah Wesley was beautiful - she was still ‘my Sally. . . ‘my dearest friend’.
As we have been walking through the life of Jacob on these Sunday mornings we’ve probably been tempted to look at Jacob the sinner and exclaim, ‘how hideous’. We are disgusted with Jacob, just like we are often disgusted with ourselves when sin shows up in our lives
But in Genesis 35 we are shocked as God looks at Jacob the hideous sinner and exclaims: you are my beloved!
This morning, we are going to be shocked together as we notice three displays of the love of God to Jacob the sinner.
As we walk through this chapter we will remember that this is how God treats those who trust Christ as their Saviour this morning!
We’ll also look at the Bible’s big picture and see how the life of Jacob in Genesis 35 leads us to Jesus Christ.
What are the three expressions of God’s love to Jacob the sinner?

1. God Expresses His Love and Grace to Jacob Through a Call to Repentance
In the context of Genesis 35 Jacob has been living in persistent half-way obedience over a period of ten years. God has mercifully delivered Jacob from death at the hands of Laban, and death at the hands of Esau. God called him to return to Bethel and give honour to the God who saved him. . .and Jacob simply did not go. For ten years he lived in Shechem.
In Shechem he failed to lead his family in righteousness - first letting Dinah venture out and next remaining silent while his sons planned to execute vengeance against Shechem. In the end Jacob is left fearing for his life - the allies of Shechem will surely wipe us out!
But in Genesis 35:1 God comes to Jacob the sinner, and speaks these words, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau”.
Jacob had ignored the call of the merciful God of the universe, and his family is in shambles as a result.
But instead of stomping him out, God speaks to Jacob and God commands him: do what I’ve been telling you to do for ten years! Come and worship me at Bethel in the way I have prescribed for you!
If you are a Christian who has been fooling around in half-way, half-hearted obedience, or even persistent disobedience, what does God say to you? If you persistently fool around on the internet in garbage, or you persistently find yourself offering tidbits of gossip, or you avoid even seeking God throughout the week, what does God say to you? The undeserved call is this: put off your sin, put off the things that are keeping you from me, and come to me and worship. I will be gracious to you! God graciously calls Jacob and you to repnt
What does repentance look like? Jacob’s response is a telling model. Probably for the first time in his life he takes some leadership in his family. Imagine how hard this would have been for timid Jacob. He addresses them as they live in Shechem and he commands them: 1) get rid of your foreign gods, 2) purify yourselves, 3) let us go to Bethel and worship!
They gave over all their foreign gods, even their earrings that would have had symbols on them of foreign gods, and Jacob buried them.
The symbolically purified themselves of this sin by changing their clothes. And they set out to go to Bethel to humble themselves and worship the only true God.
Stepping back for a minute, this should boggle our minds: all these ten years, Jacob’s family has been living with foreign gods in their midst. We know that some were smuggled in by his wife, Rachel, as they ran from Laban. We can imagine that some were taken from Shechem as they looted the city. All this while, Jacob’s family gave lip-service to the true God, and they kept foreign gods too.
Over and over in Scripture when God calls his people to renew their commitment with him, they are ruthless with getting rid of all foreign gods, or idols. At Mount Sinai the golden calf was destroyed. In Joshua 24 at Shechem Joshua challenged God’s people: choose one or the other: God or idols. You can’t have both! In Acts 19 after the Ephesians became Christians they burned books that they had used for magic arts.
What is a foreign god? A foreign god is anything that takes the primary place that the true God demands. A foreign god demands devotion and attention. A foreign god promises provision and security and significance.
In Canada in 2009 most of us don’t bow down to a physical idol. But in Canada in 2009 the worship of foreign gods is alive and well. We take things, often good things, and give them the place of prominence in our lives that only God deserves. They inhibit our worship as we devote ourselves to them instead of God.
So what is a concrete example of Canadian idolatry? In Colossians 3 the Apostle Paul is listing sins that his Christian readers need to get rid of in their lives. In verse 5 he cites ‘covetousness which is idolatry’. Coveting, loving things more than God is idolatry. In a similar way in Matthew 5 Jesus states bluntly: you can’t serve both God and money.
All of a sudden this call to put away all foreign gods or idols hits home a little more. If we love things more than God we are essentially idolaters. If we confess we love Christ and want to commit ourselves entirely to the one who saved us, but make more time for extra work for extra savings for extra spending, than for God, we are idolaters.
This forces us to do some deep thinking. Ask yourself: is there anything in my life that I give an inordinate amount of time and attention to? Time and attention that only God deserves?
Like being a home owner Like getting a better career? Like buying a better car?
Is there anything that keeps me from serving at church as I ought?
Is there anything in my life, that if I lost it, I’d be beyond hurt, but I’d be devastated?
These are the kinds of brainstorm questions to ask yourself as you seek to locate and repent of idols - foreign gods - in your life.
God demands primary place in your life. If you are in Christ, you must not love husband or wife or children or job or house or career or authority or serving at church, more than you love God!
And, as we see modeled here, as we repent of our idols, God is gracious to forgive us of our idolatry!
We see with Jacob that when God comes and graciously gives a command to worship him, there is a heart impulse: I need to eradicate everything that keeps me from my great God!
So in v. 7 Jacob renames the place ‘El-Bethel’ which means ‘the God of Bethel’. The place is not primarily sacred. What is sacred is the God who met with him there.
Would you pray with me that God would so show himself as beautiful and satisfying that we’d impulsively give up our own cultural idols, in order to worship him alone?
This call for us to repent of idols is an expression of God’s love and grace to Jacob and to us!

2. God Expresses His Love and Grace to Jacob Through a Covenant Re-Affirmation
The next words of God to Jacob are words that reaffirm the covenant he’d already made with him in Genesis 28 and 32.
In Genesis 35 God begins: “your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel”.
Jacob means deceiver. Israel means ‘prevails’ because Jacob had come to God in weakness and struggled and by God’s grace, prevailed. Jacob has brutal connotations. Israel has connotations of a weak person that God exalts.
Jacob had been given this new name 10 years previously. But he had not been known by it because he was still acting like ‘deceiver’.
But here, God comes and renames him again.
Then God reaffirms his covenant: “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you”.
These are words that had been spoken to Abraham, then to Isaac. Now they are reaffirmed to Jacob as well.
We’ve said that Jacob is like us but he is more than ‘like us’. He is the head of God’s people. In this chapter, the baton is being passed, from Isaac to Jacob. God has taken a man who was identified at the core of his being as ‘deceiver’ and turned him into ‘prevailer’.
In this chapter God has overcome Jacob’s passivity. & in v. 5, made the surrounding people afraid of him because God would protect him. He has eradicated idols & made a worshipper out of him.
As we step back and look at the big picture we know that God was doing this with the salvation of peoples around the globe in view.
Making Jacob the head of a people, and giving Jacob 12 sons was the beginning of God making a people for himself.
As the Old Testament wears on, this people for God is given a succession of leaders - like Moses and Joshua. Like the Judges. Like King David and Solomon.
And this people for God grows enormously through the Old Testament.
All of this snowballs until Jesus is born. With the birth of Jesus God’s people are given a new and a permanent head. No more succession. And in Jesus God’s people are given a perfect head: no more need to refine a sinner to make him worthy. Jesus is God the Son who has never sinned.
We come freely to worship God together because Jesus is the head of a new people. We look forward to the day when a multitude that no one can count from every tribe and tongue and people and language will worship at the throne of Jesus, the lamb who was slain.
Genesis 35 is one piece in God’s overall working around the world.
Genesis 35 is an expression of God’s love and grace to Jacob, and ultimately, to you and I, as Jacob continued God’s plan and purpose that would lead to the coming of Jesus Christ.

3. God Expresses His Love and Grace to Jacob By Bringing Tragedy
Have you ever been surprised by tragedy as a Christian? Have you ever been shocked with the timing of it? Sometimes the very time we are being drawn nearest to God, tragedy comes and it hurts!
You might reason that if you are actively repenting, God ought to deal well with you. But right here, in Genesis 35, the same thing happens. Jacob repents, he’s on a spiritual high, he’s being refined spiritually, he’s leading his household in worship, he’s the head of God’s people. And at the end of the chapter he weeps.
At the end of Genesis 35 Jacob attends three funerals and lives through a family tragedy.
You might reply that the text never explicitly says that God controlled those events. But let me remind you that in 35:5 God changed the hearts of an angry people so that they inexplicably feared Jacob and his family and did not avenge the deaths of their allies in Shechem.
And Genesis 35:11 identifies God as ‘God Almighty’.
God is sovereign over these three deaths and a family tragedy.
So, first, Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse dies. A person who was very close to Jacob’s mother, who he loved dearly.
Then, Jacob’s beloved wife goes into labour and things begin to go horribly wrong. As she was dying she called her son ‘Ben-Oni’ which means son of my sorrow. But Jacob renames him ‘Ben-jamin’ which means son of my right hand - a title of honour and optimism. Rachel is buried on the way to modern day Bethlehem.
Israel/Jacob was living in the land, and his oldest son Reuben had sex with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. This is not simply sexual sin. Reuben had motives. He wanted Rachel’s nurse, Bilhah, to not be the new favourite wife. He wanted his mom, Leah to have that honour. This was also a cultural ploy to secure the inheritance rights for himself. This was also a power play on his father - to take one of his dad’s wives for himself. In Genesis 48 this move would ultimately cost Reuben the right of firstborn. That would fall to Judah who would be in the lineage of Jesus Christ. But for now, Jacob waits in pain.
A bright spot is introduced as the 12 sons of Jacob are named. God is doing the work he promised to do, building his people up.
But then another funeral comes. Esau and Jacob, reunited, bury their father Isaac. The old man died under the blessing of God.
The baton was now really officially passed on to Jacob.
So we are left with a question. In the midst of so much repentance and difficult obedience and authentic worship, why did so much tragedy come to Jacob at once?
Why do you experience pain as a faithful, growing Christian?
Why do deaths occur, family tragedies hurt us? Charles Wesley was a godly man who lived all of his life with what we would call cyclothymia - clinical depression.
What was God doing, and what is God doing?
There is an aching and a yearning in Jacob and in every Christian, for something more than this life can offer us. God, by his grace, lavishes every believer with tokens of his favour, good things in life to enjoy. And, at times, God, by his grace, removes some of those good things to keep us looking forward, to keep us from trusting this life, to keep us from making idols of the good things in life.
Isn’t the message of the latter half of Genesis 35 simply this: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. . . These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb 11:13, 39-40).
Just like Jacob had euphoric nearness to God in his life, and in the same breath, experienced horrible tragedies, so we today, love the God who draws near to us in Christ, and pant after the fullness that will only come in heaven.
If you trust Christ as Saviour, God’s steady, unfailing love and favour rests on you. He will always do you good. He will command you to get out of sin - he’ll use people and preachers to reveal your sin to you and his grace as well. He will reaffirm his love for you by showing you Christ, the head of the new covenant, the reason you are accepted before God. And God will lovingly detach you from this world through various means including pain and loss.
This will all be used to prepare you for an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Anniversary Pics

Natalie and I are back from our overnight getaway at the Weston Harbour Castle in Toronto. We celebrated five years of marriage in style. The absence of children helped make it very refreshing, and the return to our two great kids was a treat today.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Happy Anniversary, My Love

Five years ago today I married the love of my life. Natalie continues to be my dearest friend and means of grace to sharpen me spiritually. A lot can change in five years, though. Our family has grown form two to four. We moved from Toronto to Binbrook, and have now been a ministry couple for 4.5 years. And our bond has only deepened. At this pace, I'm excited to see what ten will bring! I love you, Natalie.

Note: I would have posted a 'romantic' picture of the two of us, but we never, ever take pictures. We are limited to what other people take, and then e-mail to us. So here is our family at our daughter's first birthday.

On the Death of Michael Jackson

Tim Challies writes:

So the king is dead. What a sad end to a sad life; a pathetic end to a pathetic life (by which I mean to use pathetic in its true sense as “arousing pity and sympathy). I don’t know that I have ever seen, in one man, such a combination of self-love and self-loathing, shocking narcissism combined with equally shocking self-hatred. Truly Michael Jackson was unparalleled.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

John Piper: "Why I don't have a television and rarely go to movies"

I really appreciated John Piper's arguments on this issue. The article can be found here. Over the years, the principles behind Piper's 'no t.v.' lifestyle have really helped make me ruthless as I (guiltlessly) own a t.v. and watch a very moderate amount of it. Through his influence I've been ruthless with what I don't watch. I've also sought to guard against time-wasting with t.v. I highly recommend considering what he says. His argument is threefold: 1) he has a ZERO tolerance policy for ANY sexual content; 2) t.v. is most often trivial; 3) t.v. is time-consuming and addictive. I'll let you read the whole thing for the whole argument.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

John Bell on Gay Evangelism

My friends John Bell and Tim Challies teamed up today (actually, Tim let John write a guest post on his famous blog). John pastors a church plant in downtown Toronto, and he has a particular burden for the gay and lesbian community - to see sexually broken individuals find saving grace in Christ! I really appreciated John's story and commend it to you as well. You can find it here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Being a Slave of Christ

I recently finished reading Murray Harris' excellent book entitled, 'Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ'. This is a technical book that can be easily applied devotionally (I read it mostly on weary mondays as a means of understanding where my allegiance ought to lie). It examines slavery in the 1st century context, and then moves to apply that to the New Testament teaching that Christians are slaves of Christ/God. For example, the Apostle Paul identifies himself as a slave of Christ in his introduction to Romans, Philippians, and Titus, as do James, 2 Peter and Jude in their respective introductions. 1 Peter 2:16 has this command for all Christians: live as slaves of God. What does this mean? What does this look like? Is this desirable? This past Sunday night at Binbrook Baptist Church, we walked through the content of this very helpful book. Below are the notes I used to lead the discussion. Although they may be a bit skeletal, I hope they are helpful. Some of the people in attendance were writing feverishly, so I told them I'd post the notes here. Also, some were away and I thought they might appreciate the content of the study to work through in their own time. Here is the copy/paste:

For tonight I want us to look at a single theme from the New Testament. It’s simply this: if you are a Christian, you are a servant, or a slave of Christ.
The desire for this study came from two places. Lately on my days off I’ve been reading a book that traces the theme of ‘slave of Christ’ through the entire New Testament. I’ve wanted to grow as a totally committed follower of Christ, so I thought I’d read this book to help me understand what that should look like in my life. I found the book very helpful in its teaching.
Then this week I was back in 1 Peter, preparing for our morning sermon for Father’s day. And as I was looking at the context this line stuck out to me from 1 Peter 2:16 “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God”. Usually when I see a line like that it doesn’t hit me. But I just finished reading a book on the theme of slaves of Christ in the New Testament.
Then I remembered that the idea of being a servant of Christ in 1 Peter 2:16 is the introduction for Christians husbands, is their preparation, for hearing strong commands to love and nurture and care for their wives. This teaching on being a servant of Christ is practical for life.
So tonight, in the time that remains I want to unpack the idea of what it means to be a servant of God, or a servant of Christ, as a Christian. What does it mean? What does it look like? Why would I want to be this?
This is not going to be a study that looks at one passage. Rather, it’s going to be a study that looks at a theme throughout the Bible.

In our New Testaments, we often see phrases like ‘servant of Christ’ or ‘servant of God’.
Can you think of some places it is found, off hand?
Intros -
Romans, Philippians, Titus. . . James, 2 Peter, Jude
1 Pet 2:16 - live as servants of Christ
Gal 1:10 - trying to please men, not servant of Christ
When our Bibles use this phrase we often find a footnote. What does the footnote say?
Greek: bondservants
What is a bondservant?
Someone who is voluntarily a servant for life - awl through ear, permanent mark to make him a slave of a master for life
Still by way of introduction, why would anyone ever want to be a servant, or a slave for life?
Kind master, security, nowhere else to go, married and wants to stay with his wife and kids, etc
The Greek word behind ‘servant’ with the footnote, ‘bondservant’ is ‘doulos’. Paulos, doulos ieisou Christou - Paul a servant of Jesus Christ.
In the book I just read, the author pointed out a tension: the Greek word ‘doulos’ means more than simply servant. It literally means ‘slave’. However, when we hear the word ‘slave’ today, we most often think of what?
The tragedy of African American slavery
I’m not going to debate how to translate certain words. Tonight, I hope to overview some of the background of the 1st century concept of slavery, to help inform our understanding of the Biblical metaphor of what it means to be a slave of Christ.
What’s the difference between a servant and a slave?
A servant gives service to someone, and a slave belongs to someone
If you’ve seen any movies from England 100 years ago, you probably know the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ dynamic. Can anyone explain it for us?
The master and his family lived upstairs, and the servants lived downstairs. Being a servant was hard work, especially if you were a scullery maid - the worst job. But as a servant, you were an employee. You could quit at any time you wanted.
A slave is so much more - a slave is owned by a master.
So when we see the term ‘servant of Christ’ in the NT, we should think in terms of being owned by Christ. We are not our own.
Three things are true of a slave:
A slave is exclusively owned by a master
A slave is totally available for his master (no slave can serve two masters - love one, despise other, etc)
A slave is completely dependent on his master (food, lodging, pay, good treatment, etc)
Later, I’ll give you a handout that outlines all the NT passages that speak of being a slave of Christ/God. We won’t need that for now.
For now let’s understand more about 1st century slavery.
Then we’ll compare it to African Slavery of more recent history.
Then we’ll be able to soak for a time in what the first readers of the Bible understood when they boldly claimed to be servants of Christ.

A. 1st Century Slavery
So what was slavery like in the 1st century AD in the Roman empire?
There were actually three cultures we need to look at to understand slavery in the 1st century. We’ll look at the two that apply to the interpretation of the NT.
Jewish Slavery.
Jewish slaves most commonly performed menial household tasks. At various points in Israel’s history, they also were engaged in forced labour, and in doing menial tasks in the Temple.
How do you think slaves were acquired in Ancient Israel?
Capture in battle, birth to slave parents, purchase, default on debt, inheritance
Compared to other cultures, Israel’s views on slavery were much more humane:
They were regarded as a part of the master’s family and participated in the Sabbath rest, religious feasts, etc
Had to be released after six years unless they chose to remain slaves forever
Injured by master - set free in compensation
Sell self into slavery = treated like an employee
Manumission - through redemption, Jubilee year
No external mark of status as slave unless ear pierced with awl as lifetime slave = symbolized attachment to a family, rather than servant status
Lev 25 - masters must not rule over slaves ruthlessly
Slavery in the OT was viewed as an unalterable fact of life. It was regulated.
But the OT also looked forward to a time when there would be no distinction between master and slave: Joel 2:28-29; Job 31:13-15.
What NT passage shows direct fulfillment of the Joel passage?
Gal 3:28

Roman Slavery
We could have looked at Greek slavery, but we’ll focus here instead.
We needed to look at Jewish slavery because the OT is the background for the NT. And Paul and Peter were Jewish Christians who were steeped in the OT.
But we also need to look together at Roman slavery because Paul and Peter and all 1st century Christians lived in the Roman empire.
The first Christians did not have the freedom to practice slavery as the OT commanded. They were ruled by Rome. As we understand Roman slavery as well as OT slavery, we’ll be best prepared to understand what the metaphor of slave of Christ is means.

One author writes: “Rome evolved the most complex slave system of all the peoples of the premodern world”.
In the Roman Empire (= the whole civilized world) in the 1st century there were a total of 50-60 million people. 10-12 million of them were slaves. 1 out of every 5 citizens was a slave!
In the city of Rome itself, 1 out of every 3 citizens was a slave!
The number of slaves you owned reflected your status. A poor citizen might own 1-2 slaves. A senator may own 400+ slaves!
Remember the reference to Caesar’s household at the end of Philippians? This is a reference to the 20,000 slaves who cared for the administrative details of the empire.

How much did a slave cost, in terms of annual income? Does anyone want to take a guess?
Unskilled male adult = 2 years income
Skilled = up to 8 years income!
Roman slaves served a wide variety of roles. From menial tasks to tutoring children to managing shops or ships. Chain gangs, cooks, cleaners, doctors, sexual partners.
The only thing they had in common was the fact that they were owned by someone else.
Broadly speaking, there were urban (city) slaves and rural (country) slaves. It was typically better to be a city slave.
Whether he had a good role or not, a slave could not own property, make a contract that was legally binding (e.g. Marriage), hold public office, or serve in the army.
If a slave ran away, what do you think the punishment often was?
Crucifixion, or branding the forehead with an F - for what?
- breaking of bones, amputations, hot tar, restraining collars, the rack, flogging
Runaway slaves were common. Slaves wanted to be free.
Also common was for a city slave to serve his master well, earn money, and but his freedom after 10-20 years of faithful service.
Some masters were kind to slaves and slaves wanted to stay with their master. Some masters were harsh and slavery was hell.
*Whatever the case, the word ‘slave’ was regarded as a term of disgrace or insult.
Although some slaves were treated well, and had it pretty good, most were not, and most did not want to be slaves. Most had one goal: to be free.

B. 1st Century Slavery Compared with African Slavery
So that’s a bit of a picture of Roman and Jewish slavery. What are some ways this sounds different from African-American slavery in the more recent past?
Not distinguishable by race, speech, or clothing
Sometimes more educated than their owners
Often held very responsible professional positions
Reasonable hope of freedom after 10-20 years of service (by their 30’s at the latest)
Were not denied the right to public assembly
Were not socially segregated (at least in the cities)
They could accumulate savings, and buy their freedom
Their natural inferiority was not assumed
Not stolen!

So, 1st century slavey was very different from African American Slavery. But it was still much more than being a servant (hired employee).
Slaves were owned by someone else, they were totally dependent on their owners, they lacked the power to refuse work, they always faced dire consequences if they disobeyed their master.
We are embarrassed by African slavery of the recent past - and we should be. It was a tragedy. But we should learn this picture of Roman slavery and have it in mind as we read the NT.
The scholar who wrote the book I read argues that we should always translate the term ‘slave of Christ’ to help this hit home.
I still see a problem with this b/c when we think of slavery we think of African slavey. I’d simply suggest that we have in mind this picture as we read our Bibles.

C. NT attitude towards slavery
With this understanding of slavery, notice that the NT does not condemn it. In fact, 13 of Jesus’ parables have slaves as a part of the story.
But aspects of slavery were spoken against strongly. Can you think of any?
Exploitation of slaves for financial gain - Acts 16
Man-stealing - 1 Tim 1:9-11
The NT also elevated slaves as equals in the church. Gal 3:28 - no distinction. Slaves and masters worshipped in the same church. Slaves could be elders over their masters!
We could say a lot more about why the NT did not raise a rallying call to end slavery immediately. But we don’t have time! For now, we’ll say that Xians didn’t want to be seen as a primarily social institution, and that evangelism was the primary priority. Ultimately, the gospel laid the foundation for the obliteration of slavery. If you’d like to go deeper here, you can borrow my book!

D. Slaves of Christ/God
This all raises a question for us. If slaves in the NT always wanted to be free - if some would save for a decade or two with one goal: freedom, and if others would risk beatings and even crucifixion, just to run away - if that was the case, why would it be viewed as positive to be a slave of Christ.
If it was shameful to be known as a slave, or be called a slave, why did the earliest Christians refer to themselves as slaves of Christ voluntarily?
Why would they also love to confess, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ = sovereign, in control, absolute ruler?

Before we answer this, let’s soak in some of the passages on our handout. We won’t read them all, but let’s soak this in.
Acts 16:17; Rev 1:1; Rev 19:2; Luke 1:38; Titus 1:1; Gal 1:10

If you are a slave you are owned by someone else
If you are a slave, you do not have a say how you will spend your time
If you are a slave you obey orders
If you are a slave you are completely dependent on your master
If you are a slave, you may have a good position or a bad position, but you are not free!

So I’ll throw it out to you. What is the foundational reason why Christians delighted in calling themselves slaves of Christ?
Christ became a slave for us!
Mark 10:45 - the son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many
Phil 2:6-8 - Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a slave, 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.
Isa 52:13-53:12 - the servant of Yahweh
John 13:2-5 - washing the disciple’s feet
Christ, the eternal Son of God voluntarily became the lowest of slaves for you. He gave up all his rights in order to purchase your freedom.

Really, according to the NT, everyone is a slave.
You used to be a slave to sin. But Christ redeemed you. In Christ you are a slave to righteousness. Christians have just changed yokes.
Cf. Mt 11:28-30 - my yoke is easy and my burden is light
You used to have a harsh master who would lead you to hell eternally. In Christ, you have a kind master who only ever does you good.

In Christ you now enjoy having your person and service belonging wholly to him.
You love to humbly submit to him.
You have no place to question your obedience to him.
You have an exclusive preoccupation with pleasing him.

You don’t fear serving a harsh master. The master became a slave and bore all the harshness for you.
What is more, you are also made sons of God and heirs of a great inheritance.
The image of slavery breaks down because of how elevated your status is in Christ. You are bought with a price. You do not own yourself. But you have been given every blessing!
That is why Peter can command in 1 Peter 2:16 - live as slaves of God.
Then he can go on to command behaviour that is completely counter-intuitive and completely non-desirable.
Why would anyone submit as a citizen of a harsh government?
Why would anyone submit as a slave to a harsh earthly master?
Why would anyone submit as a wife of an unbelieving husband?
Why would anyone tenderly serve as a husband of a wife, no matter how she treated him?
Why would anyone humbly love and serve others in his or her local church?
Because they have been served by Christ.
Because they have been given every spiritual blessing by Christ.
Because they live under the watchful eye of their master, Christ, who controls all things, and who never lets them suffer beyond what they can bear.
Because they are preoccupied with two things:
Pleasing Christ in all their behaviour
Seeing others become slaves of Christ

We could have said a lot more. But I’m going to have to close things off there for now.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Death is Not Dying - Rachel Barkey

Two weeks ago I listened to the testimony of a godly Christian woman from Surrey B.C. who is dying of cancer. Rachel Barkey is a 37 year old wife, mother, and church member. I saw today this update from her web site. Death is slow and painful for Rachel Barkey. Her words helped me meditate on the fleeting nature of life and evaluate what is important, namely, glorifying Christ. I'd highly recommend listening to her testimony and reading her updates. You can watch her testimony here, or download the audio here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What is a 'De-Churched' Person?

In this two minute video, Matt Chandler explains what a de-churched person is. I was really helped by his insight. If you are not familiar with Chandler's ministry, he pastors the fastest growing church in the USA (about 1000 new people a year for over seven years). He's an expository preacher, gifted at penetrating application, and pastors in Dallas, Texas. His greatest burden is for the people who attend church regularly, think they are saved, but do not really know Christ. Very often baptismal testimonies at his church go like this: "I've been a part of church all my life, but now I realize I never really knew Christ until recently. . .". A close friend of my wife is a member of his church and really appreciates his ministry. Take a look at the video and be blessed.

If anyone knows how to upload YouTube videos right not a blog post, do you mind letting me know in the comments? That would really help this recovering Luddite.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts

I have to admit that I haven't yet given 'Sojourn Music' a fair shake. I've heard they are good, and I have many friends who like them, but the snippets I've heard so far didn't suit my taste. That was not the case with this You Tube video of a song from their new album: Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts, Volume 1. My three year old son agrees (although he was disturbed every time the breakdancing scene came up. . .'he fell down!!'). I'm glad they are putting rich theology to new music. Maybe I'll but this one.

Mark Dever's Vacation Reading

I just came across this and thought it was hilarious. In this post, Mark Dever gives an annotated bibliography of the fifteen books he just read on his one week vacation! Even more impressive than the sheer volume was the diversity of what he read. Warning to self: do not attempt to copy this. My brain is too small.

This summer on my two week vacation I hope to read 2-3 good books. Hopefully a good piece of fiction, a good secular history, and a good book to feed my soul.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fighting the Fear of Man: Psalm, Anti-Psalm, and Sermon

Most who know me are painfully aware that one of my primary sin-struggles is fearing man rather than fearing God. In this matter I am not who I ought to be. But, by God's grace I can say that I'm not who I once was. I can see God rooting this sin out of my heart and life day-by-day in his faithfulness. Sometimes his faithful love in this regard is painful: "no discipline is pleasant at the time, but only painful". But he is always faithful. As my Saturday progressed I was blessed from three different angles on this very issue. One was in a Psalm, one an anti-Psalm, and one a sermon. Read on to see what I mean.

This morning in my devotions I meditated on Psalm 128 and was deeply encouraged by witnessing the fruit of fearing God. The short Psalm reads as follows:

1 A Song of Ascents. Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
5 The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
6 May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!

It's plain from the Psalm that fearing Yahweh and obeying him (i.e. walking in all his ways) are inseparably linked (v. 1). Then, in verses 2-6 the covenant blessings for covenant obedience are gloried in. The clear call in this wisdom Psalm is to join the Psalmist in this area of obedience. . .and enjoy the blessings that will be yours.

As I reflected I thought about changing a few words around. I first encountered the idea of an anti-Psalm in David Powlison's very helpful booklet on stress. In it, Powlison rewrote Psalm 131 by stating its opposite. Instead of having a calmed soul, his anti-Psalm had a typical worrier with an anxious soul. In light of the fact that Psalm 128 lists covenant blessings from Deuteronomy for the one who fears Yahweh, I thought it appropriate to rewrite it, from the perspective of one who fears man. Then, I'd replace the covenant blessings with their opposties - in the vein of the covenant curses of Deuteronomy. Here is my imperfect anti-Psalm:

Cursed is the one who fears man, who rejects God's ways!
Others will eat the fruit of his hard work; you are cursed, it will go poorly with you.
Your wife will be barren; your children will be few.
Behold, thus shall the man be cursed who fears other men.
Yahweh curse you from Zion!
May you see the destruction of false professors all the days of your life.
May you never see your children's children.
Burdens be upon false professors.

Of course, we worship a gracious God and if a person is in Christ, he is always accepted in the beloved. But the anti-Psalm explicitly shows what the logical end would be for a man who carried his sin of the fear of man to its logical end (if you know what I mean). If every sin has the goal of sending a man to hell, then this anti-Psalm expounds what life would be like for the man who ran headlong into the fear of man, failing to repent and cling to Christ in his sin.

Later in the day I cut the lawn. Often as I do menial tasks such as this I listen to a sermon. This morning I listened to my good friend Ryan Fullerton preach a sermon entitled, 'fighting the fear of man' from Galatians 1:10. It was not only the best sermon I've heard on the topic; it was among the best sermons I've ever heard. You can download it here. Ryan and I were roommates in 1999, and he mentored me over the phone for the following few years. We've remained friends, even though we are both really busy with our respective families and pastoral callings. But I always love to listen to his preaching. He is always interesting, insightful, and he preaches to the heart. He is penetrating with his application. He challenges, encourages, and always points the hearer to the cross. Such was the case in a special way with this sermon. I commend it to you, the blogosphere!

So that is a bit of a summary of how God has been shaping me with his word today. I pray these same things are a blessing to many!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Watch On-Line - Christianity in China

When I was at the 'Basics' conference for pastors a few weeks ago, John Piper talked about a series of DVD's called, 'The Cross: Christianity in China' that he and his wife had watched a few years earlier. He mentioned the web site where they could be streamed for free and talked about how often talk of joy came up as men and women described horrendous persecution. I was at home alone tonight, so over supper I watched the first one, and was blessed! I am a wimpy westerner who views comfort as a basic right. These men and women had joy as they suffered for Jesus. I need more of this. You can find these videos here (scroll down to find the four part series called, 'the cross: Christianity in China').

Friday, June 5, 2009

Toronto Pastors Conference 2009. . . In Photos

I just saw that the Toronto Pastor's Conference web site includes a photo slide show of the conference here. Above is a taste to whet your appetite (or turn your stomach).

Toronto Pastor's Conference Audio

The Toronto Pastor's Conference has come and gone, and although I'm still recovering physically from the rigorous schedule, I'm also extremely encouraged at what God did in our midst this past week. About 100 people, mostly pastors, gathered for the three days. Most striking was the diversity of the men in attendance. Harvest, Presbyterian (PCA), Baptist (FEB, BCOQ, Sovereign Grace), Southern Baptist, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Reformed (CRC, Heritage), and more, were all represented. The extended breaks created opportunity for me to get to know many of these men and be encouraged by what God is doing through them. The sessions by Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker left me with a fresh awe at the beauty of Christ's Church. If you are interested in downloading, you can get the audio for free here.