Christ Humbled and Exalted

What in the world are we doing here on a beautiful Saturday evening standing in the mud? Some of us are working. Leading multiple worship services the week before Easter is our job, so we have to be here! But what about you? Why are you here tonight?

Life can be inconvenient, even hard, and being a Christian can sometimes be really hard! Especially when you consider what else you could be doing—your own thing rather than all the difficult and unpopular things Jesus calls you believe, say, and do. So why do we follow Jesus? For a lot of happy reasons I’m sure: his promises of blessing, resurrection, and glory! But the Bible says, and the whole life trajectory of the Son of God shows, that to follow Jesus is to walk a road of humiliation that leads to the destination of exaltation. Some have asked if it’s possible to rejoice at Christ’s empty tomb without first bowing at Christ’s cross. Or, “Can you be an Easter Christian without also being a Good Friday Christian?”  Our Bible text today, Philippians 2:5-11, beautifully and poetically illustrates an important truth about life by answering these questions.  Just as God’s Son humbled himself by refusing to cling to his heavenly position, and chose to follow God’s plan to become the crucified man Jesus Christ, so all who follow Christ must also adopt his humble mindset. When God rewarded his Son with the highest honor, he showed humility precedes exaltation. Continue reading

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Christian, You Are a Priest

Have you ever wondered what kind of Christian God wants you to be? When I was in college, my church was full of other students who came from dozens of faith traditions back home. At first it amazed me that I could have so much in common with believers who grew up with very different backgrounds and practices. What did that say about them? What did it say about me? That despite our differences, we all believed the same gospel, worshiped the same God, and practiced similar ways of living as Christians. Finally I figured it out—we are evangelicals. Peter gives us seven characteristics of a Christian priest, all of which turn out to be the major defining characteristics of classic evangelical Christianity.

Another way of getting at these defining characteristics of a Christian according to the Bible is by asking the question, “What am I saved for?” The answer defines the evangelical believer, who in the language of this passage is called a priest. One particular passage in the Bible (1 Peter 2:1-12) answers these question. As the Scriptures repeatedly declare, many who experience God’s goodness are mercifully redeemed to praise the Lord Jesus Christ and offer their lives in spiritual sacrifice to God. You are saved from this proud and evil world to serve in God’s evangelical ministry to be the life of the world for his glory.

The apostle Peter addresses his epistle to the “elect exiles” of Asia Minor (1 Pet 1:1). These were Jewish but mostly Gentile Christians far away from their spiritual home in Jerusalem. Hence they wondered if they were overlooked in God’s redemptive plan for the world, and thus struggled with their identity, purpose, and call as Christians on the outskirts of the kingdom. Did God have any use for them? Continue reading

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Jesus Outside the Lines (Book Review)

Smiley-face Christians.  Not the cliché variety that are syrupy-sweet and refuse to give a straight answer when you ask them a hard question about the Bible or their faith.  Not that kind, but the kind that are winsome and truth-telling.  You may not know these kind because they are an endangered species nowadays.

Perhaps smiley-face Christians is not the best label to slap on such people.  Joyful, tolerant, thoughtful, meek, and strong are adjectives that I’d choose to describe the kind of faith that is attractive, or at least above reproach.  And it’s the type of Christian that author and pastor Scott Sauls proposes as the ideal in his book Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward For Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides [JOL].  For those who are unfamiliar with Sauls, he formerly served on the pastoral staff with Tim Keller at the well-known urban congregation Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  Sauls seeks to imitate the character, faith, and ministry of his more famous pastor-mentor, emphasizing the traits of humility, gentleness, and open-mindedness.

JOL is a highly praised book, with a host of evangelical authors and celebrities endorsing it as a message that needs a wide readership.  I agree, but it is not the final word.  JOL is more like “Attitudes of Christian Cultural Engagement 101.”  Written out of a sense of frustrated and tired desperation, Sauls calls on all Christians, and those investigating the faith, to dial the emotional intensity back a couple notches and take a chill pill.  Because he, like many other bystanders in the current cultural war for the soul of western civilization, are tired of taking sides.  What he means by “sides” is the polarization of tribal orthodoxy that have hardened into positions that we assume are right, true, and good without considering the arguments of the other position—as if there is only one other side!  The Table of Contents reveals how many people line themselves up on their preferred side and then hurl hateful invectives without actually thinking about what they’re against. Continue reading

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Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Volume 1 (Book Review)

There is a growing body of popular literature that seeks to restore respectability to the view of young-earth creationism (YEC).  After falling out of vogue in the scientific community, YEC made something of a comeback when Henry Morris published The Genesis Flood in 1961.  Since then YEC has grown from a Morris family cottage industry to a multi-national and multi-disciplinary voice crying in the wilderness outside the secular scientific establishment.  It’s been more than 50 years since Morris dropped his bombshell on geologists, and YEC practitioners have long recognized the need to update Morris’s seminal work for a new generation of scientists who look to the Bible as a truthful guide regarding its implications for geology.

Finally in 2009, creation scientist Andrew Snelling met the challenge by releasing his two-volume work Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation & the Flood (ECP).  Published by Master Books, a ministry of Answers in Genesis, ECP is a noble attempt to provide a one-stop shop to investigate YEC.  Now in its third printing, ECP seems to have become THE BOOK that proponents and opponents must interact with if they want to understand and respond to the best arguments and evidence YEC has to offer.  An alternatively fitting subtitle might have been “The Cumulative Case for Young Earth Creationism.” Continue reading

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Christian, You Are a Prophet

I used to think my church was special. When I say “my church” I mean whatever congregation I happened to be with at that time. From my immature perspective, the College church had the cool music. The Bible church had the celebrity preacher. The Reformed church had the right doctrine. And the Charismatic church had the Holy Spirit. At every one of these stations of my Christian pilgrimage, I’ve noticed one thing in common. Every church thinks they’re basically better than the rest! And almost every Christian thinks the most loving way to treat people is to get you to be more like me. “IMITATE ME, as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Relational dynamics between Christians and in the church have a tendency to gravitate toward self-expression and self-benefit because in some ways we are, consistent with our fallen nature, immature in our faith. For example, Christians use their spiritual gifts to build up themselves (often without realizing what they’re doing) rather than to build up others. Thankfully we’re so spiritually mature that we don’t need instruction on how to use our gifts. Ha! That’s exactly what the very-gifted but childish Corinthian church thought. Before receiving God’s instructions, they were in fact making a mess of their worship, their ministry to each other, their evangelism, and their reputation in the community. What about us? Is it possible that you and I need a reminder, even a course correction, regarding how we use spiritual gifts?  A particular passage (1 Corinthians 14:1-25), tucked away in the NT, helps answer this question.  It turns out the Bible gives reasonable instructions why Christians, when they gather together, should speak edifying and intelligible words to each other rather than speaking with unfamiliar tongues (unless interpretation is provided). Thus Christians use their spiritual gifts to prophesy to believers and even inquiring outsiders.

Before looking at 1 Corinthians 14, recall how the Heidelberg Catechism 32 begins to unpack the identity and calling of the Christian. “Why are you called a Christian? Because I am a member of Christ by faith and thus share in His anointing, so that I may as prophet confess His Name, as priest present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him, and as king fight with a free and good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and hereafter reign with Him eternally over all creatures.” We’ve already considered how a Christian is a king. Now we will look at how a Christian is a prophet. Continue reading

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Good & Angry (Book Review)

A few years ago, biblical counselor, author, and speaker David Powlison published a book called Good & Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness (hereafter G&A).  I received my copy in the mail shortly after its publication, but it sat unread on my shelf until recently.  To be honest, the red front cover intimidated me because I know one of my besetting sins is anger, and I know my anger is usually not the good kind.  For quite a while the mere sight of the book convicted me of a recent bout with anger, and set me back in the right direction toward repentance and humility.  But eventually, it came time to drag it off the shelf, like prescription pills from the medicine cabinet, and take my licks.  Not because I’m sadistic or a glutton for punishment.  But because I figured G&A would actually provide some help for me.  It’s just that my mindset needed to be right, and my heart prepared for soul food—not the junk but the healthy stuff that nobody really craves!

Even though G&A is a fine book, this will not be a glowingly positive review because it feels weird to praise a message right now that probably will slow-cook in my life for years to come.  And those years will no doubt prove whether the insights into anger found in this book prove fruitful.  Don’t believe anyone who struggles with anger when they try to pump the latest fad as THE ANSWER that cured all their ills.  That’s not the way the world works.  And it’s certainly not the way the Lord Jesus normally works to change people from the inside out.  Almost without fail, real and lasting change in the right direction happens over the long haul and is won through many hard-fought battles with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  And when it comes to the big ones—sinful expressions of sex, greed, pride, and anger—well, those take a lifetime to conquer.

I remember the first time this insight came to me. Continue reading

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1 Samuel: Looking On The Heart (Book Review)

Recently I reviewed a study book by Tim Chester on the biblical book of 1 Samuel.  In this post I’d like to recommend another on the same book—this one by a faithful and expert expositor named Dale Ralph Davis.  His book, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart [1SLH], is the third volume in his series of commentaries on the historical books of pre-exilic Israel.  Preceding volumes are on Joshua and Judges, and subsequent volumes are on 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings.  Each of these are celebrated in the genre of expositional commentaries—published studies that feel more like beefed-up sermons than analytical essays.

Like Davis’s book on Judges, 1SLH achieves the balance of easy, enjoyable, accurate, illustrative, applicable, encouraging, convicting, and even humorous prose.  The reader gets the sense that the author would certainly be a great Bible teacher and preacher to sit under.  Perhaps a favorite!

And yet, I can envision that Davis’s style and tone might not be everyone’s favorite.  But regarding the kind of book he’s written, most would agree it’s a home run.  Recently I came across an unfair, mean-spirited, one-star negative Amazon review of 1SLH.

You pays your money and you takes your chances. But not any more, with this series of commentaries or anything by this publisher. First of all, the author is not as cute as he thinks. He is verbose. Verbose people usually, like this author, don’t have anything to say and don’t know what they are talking about. This book is poorly written. A real editor would have helped. Give me a pair of scissors and I’ll give you a better book, but still one not worth reading.  I read a lot of commentaries. Surprisingly, the best ones are old ones. Real old ones. These are the survivors, written by people who worked hard to give real insight. Spiritually, they stand head and shoulders above most commentators including the newly minted ones. Beware of any person who has written commentaries on all the books of the Bible. I know, I know, there are so-called “giants” who have done this. Beware, I say, beware.  If you liked this book, good for you. Maybe the mass of christians are so poorly read and so spiritually arrested that books like these are warranted.

To which I can only ask, did this reviewer read the same book I read? Continue reading

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