Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Good Read


Started what looks like a great book this week: Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, by David Barton. He is the founder of Wall Builders, a ministry committed to preserving our moral, religious, and constitutional heritage.

The book is described as the following: An essential resource for anyone interested in our nation's religious heritage and the Founders' intended role for the American judicial system. Original Intent combines hundreds of quotes from primary sources with the author's exposition on hot topics such as revisionism, judicial activism, and separation of church and state. A substantial appendix encompasses full texts of the founding documents, biographical sketches of numerous Founders, and extensive reference notes.

Check it out!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quotation of the Day

The theological environment today is apt to lean toward the individualistic and therapeutic rather than toward the corporate and historical. The church's response to modernity has led many Christians away from historical church resources and kingdom theology toward self-improvement, individuated faith, and sensationalism. Theology, and therefore the applied theology of the Christian life, has been usurped by the subjective self. The Christian mind has been eroded by this self-absorbed therapeutic theology.

- Michael Schutt

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hope and Healing from Isaiah 61, part four

h) Purpose realized

The result of this marvelous work of healing and restoration is realized in verse three – “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” God will bring himself glory through their lives, and others will recognize His work in them. Perhaps previously other people were aware of the mourning and despair that accompanied the person’s bondage and darkness. Now God has done a work and the praise for the redemption goes to him: “Instead of being rejected, the people of God will be accepted and prepared for a great and glorious future.” God plants them not as tulips but as oak trees, symbolizing stability, permanence, and abundance. To glorify himself in them is the designer’s purpose in their planting. [Calvin writes, “By these words he points out the restoration of the people; as if he said, ‘Whereas they had formerly been rooted out and resembled a dry stock, they shall be planted and settled.’ . . . [T]here is no other way in which we are restored to life than when we are planted by the Lord.” Commentary on Isaiah, 307-8.] As Oswalt summarizes, “We are made to be mirrors; when his beauty is reflected in us, we become beautiful.”

Today, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not limited to the Lord Jesus Christ when he walked upon this earth. The church was birthed in conjunction with the outpouring of the Spirit – this time not upon Jesus but upon Jesus’ followers. The Day of Pentecost ushered in a new era when the Spirit of Christ would not just be upon his believers but would live in them. Jesus promised that once the Spirit came, he would work through them to carry on the same ministry. [The Holy Spirit will be their counselor and comforter, will guide them into truth, will live with them and in them, will not leave them, will teach them the things of Jesus, will remind them of Scripture, will produce peace and fruit in their lives, will guide them into the will of God, will reveal more of the Lord Jesus to them, and will equip them for godliness. John 14-16 NIV] The apostle Paul later taught that individual Christians are the temple of God and that “God’s Spirit lives in you.” A Christian needs to look no further, initially, than to the Spirit living inside of him to find the greatest resource to experience hope and healing – the promise of Isaiah 61:1-3.

Isaiah’s section on hope and healing has three applications: what it meant to the original hearers, what it meant in the ministry of Jesus, and what it means today to the abused. The prophecy spoke first to the Jews who received the revelation. VanGemeren writes,

This redemption . . . is not to be limited to the eschatological future.
The prophet quickly moves from the restoration of the people to the
restoration of the land. God is also concerned with the ruins and assures
his people that the cities will be rebuilt and that this will be funded by
the wealth of the nations. The new position of the people of God is
expressed by the word priests (Is. 61:6). They will be priests of the
living God while others take care of menial tasks.

Spiritual benefits are mixed with God’s concern for physical well-being.
The people have been disgraced in exile, but they are assured that they
will have a double portion in the land. The Lord knows that the people
have suffered double for all their sins (40:2) and he gives back what they
have missed during the exile. The purpose of the acceptable year of the
Lord is to prepare the Lord’s people for the fullness of redemption. While
they are on earth they receive the firstfruits of redemption. The Jews
after the exile experienced the restoration of the cities, help from the
nations, and productivity of the land. They were comforted by God’s grace physically as well as spiritually.

For the follower of Jesus Christ, the application of these passages are two-fold First, many of the promises of hope and healing promised in Isaiah 40-66, particularly chapters 60-66, are eschatological in nature. Ultimate healing, vengeance, and vindication will occur when the Lord Jesus Christ returns at the end of the age to establish his throne in the millennium, [Russell Moore writes, “Historical premillennialism affirms the future, literal, global reign of Christ and his followers over the earth. . . . Jesus at his coming resurrects those who have trusted in Christ, commencing their promised rule with him. . . . The survivors of the nations – who submit to the rule of Christ – continue to live, marry, and repopulate the earth. The curse is rolled back but not completely reversed. The nations no longer war against one another since King Jesus rules in peace. . . . The millennium is not neatly divided from the eternal state. Instead, it seems to be an overlapping of the ages, an interlude between this age and the age to come.” Russell Moore, “The Doctrine of Last Things,” A Theology for the Church, Danny Akin ed., (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2007), 911.] reigns as King of Kings, and then ultimately creates a new earth and heavens as “the home of righteousness.” The reign of the kingdom of God contains many promises that are fulfilled in part now and in part later. This tension creates birthpangs that cause creation and God’s children to groan inwardly as they wait in eager expectation for the creation to be “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

The Lord Jesus will fulfill these promises, particularly in Isaiah 61:1-3, in any person’s life who has been abused or oppressed. However, the promises are conditioned upon the believer’s response. The process may be gradual and will be the result of maturing discipleship. As the believer learns to walk with God daily and apply the Word of God to his life, the Spirit of the Lord indwelling each believer is able to manifest the same type of healing already explained. So, Isaiah’s words to oppressed people offer hope and healing to the exiled and post-exilic Jews, to believers of Jesus Christ of all the ages, and to victims of oppression and abuse.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hope and Healing from Isaiah, part three

e) Favor extended

Isaiah prophecies that favor will be extended. Often for the person who has experienced abuse, the victim feels that he is an outcast, that he does not have or deserve the Lord’s and other people’s favor. In this promise Isaiah tells God’s people that as they come under the ministry of the Lord that they will walk in God’s favor, or pleasure. When the Spirit descended upon Jesus, it marked the Father’s pleasure. And when the believer comes to the cross and draws close to the Lord, the person experiences the Father’s pleasure. This fundamental concept of acceptance before God is pivotal to understanding grace. Because of Jesus, believers are accepted and loved. It is because they are in Christ that they experience all of the riches of heaven. Perhaps no chapter of the Bible depicts so many of these riches as does Ephesians 1. In that chapter, Paul describes some of the benefits of being found “in Christ.” Included in every spiritual blessing in Christ are the gifts of holiness, blamelessness, love, adoption as God’s sons, God’s pleasure and grace freely given, redemption through Christ’s blood, the riches of his grace lavished upon us with all wisdom and understanding, and the ability to walk in his will. Now, because a person is favored in Christ, that soul will be a trophy for the praise of his glory. As a person continues to heal from abuse, this wonderful grace will “remove the doubts which might arise” and distract the heart.

Childs believes that Isaiah’s reference to the year of the Lord’s favor, or the good-pleasure of Jehovah, reminds the Jews of the Levitical Year of Jubilee which brought “the great change in Israel’s fortunes initiated through God’s favor.” Smith describes this promise as proclaiming for Yahweh a year of grace. For the believer in Christ, every year and every day is now one of grace, of receiving the Lord’s favor. The Christian can learn to rejoice in the good favor of the Lord, who welcomes him with open arms much like the father of the prodigal son.

f) Vengeance coming

One of the promises to God’s children through the Scriptures is the word, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” Referring to this word from God, Paul instructs the Romans, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. . . . Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” The abused person has been violated. He will feel that someone has stolen something precious from him. The natural response will be, probably many times, to want to hurt the abuser or persons in the abusive system. God’s Word says to refrain from that desire. God will one day settle the scores, the day when God “sets right all that is wrong and perverted in his world.” The idea of the vengeance of the Lord accompanies the idea of forgiveness.

g) Comfort provided

One of the titles of the Holy Spirit is Comforter, and this Comforter promises to care for the wounds of the hurting. Nothing will ever be able to separate the child of God from his perfect, transforming love. With this enduring love comes assurance that the sovereign Lord is El Roi, the God who sees. The Bible reveals this name of God in Genesis 16, when Hagar has been mistreated and cast out from Abram and Sarai’s presence. Pregnant, alone, and afraid, she encounters the presence of the Lord, who comforts her and promises her a future. Hagar responds by saying, “You are the God who sees me.” Few truths can bring as much comfort to one that is hurting like the realization that God is intimately acquainted with all of the ways of his children: “You hem me in – behind and before . . . . All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” This knowledge coupled with the assurance that God will use everything in the life of his child to conform him into the image of his son – God’s ultimate purpose for our lives – brings rest to troubled hearts.

Romans 8 explores this concept. Verses 28-30 tell us that in God’s foreknowledge of who would receive Christ, he purposed and predestined that believers would become like Christ. Therefore he is able to use everything past, present, and future to work together for that outcome – the glorification of the Father in the lives of his children. Verses 31-34 explain that God is for his children – he is not against them. They receive his favor, grace, and provision. Then verses 35-39 celebrate the fact that nothing in all of creation – not even abuse – is able to separate God’s people from God’s love.

Leanne Payne comments that many believers and churches emphasize the presence of God in the past and the future but say little about the manifest presence of God in the present. She writes, “The Early Church had no such difficulty, no schism between mind and heart. Their worship was quite literally a celebration of the Presence. After our Lord’s death and resurrection, the early Christians came together knowing that He would meet with them in a special way once again. Rather than going to church (their minds were not clouded with the notion that buildings or organizational structures were the Church), they came together as the Church to fellowship in His Presence. And we might say they ‘practiced the Presence’ in a number of ways or modes. ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen,’ part of the earliest liturgy, was in some of their hearts an incredible remembered experience. Memories of lives shared together in the breaking of bread, in long journeys, and in the teaching of multitudes must have been vivid ones for many. Beyond memories of Christ’s Presence, however, they knew by virtue of His Spirit descending on them at Pentecost that He was always present, indwelling them. In yet a third way, pertinent to what we are here considering, these early disciples knew that when they invoked Him, Christ would ‘come again’ by His Spirit as they gathered to worship, hear the Word, and break bread (make Eucharist) together.” The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 48-49.


The reality of the incarnation evokes worship – that the presence of God tabernacled among people in Christ. Today the Lord continues to tabernacle, or dwell, among his people through the presence of the Spirit. It is the constant presence of God, available to all who believe, that brings comfort and assurance in extreme circumstances. The knowledge of God’s presence enables a believer to accept and endure many hardships. With this fact is the reality that Christ intercedes for his people today. He is regularly and constantly before the Father praying for his church. Even when Christians do not know how to pray, when they are “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life,” believers can submit to and trust the Holy Spirit to help us in their weakness and intercede the will of God for them when they cannot. Nothing comforts the hurting child like the presence of the heavenly father.

The prophet pictures the comfort of the Lord being offered in three ways: a crown of beauty instead of ashes [“The words garland instead of ashes are a paronomasia. The word for garland is from the same root as ‘beautify’ or ‘glorify’ (cf. 60:7,9,19), a symbol of joy, festivity, and dignity.” George Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s Bible: Volume V (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1956), 711.], the oil of gladness in place of mourning, and a garment of praise to replace a spirit of despair. A crown would represent the endowment of blessing and the achieving of victory in contrast to the ashes of mourning. In the life of a believer who has experienced the pain of abuse, God is able to do a work over time that will make his life seem beautiful again. The psalmist declared that “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Oil is often a symbol in the Bible for healing, refreshment, worship, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Enjoying God’s favor, his child can be glad, reveling in his anointing. The person who once kept a despairing spirit can now exchange that dismay with celebratory praise. As God continues to move in this person’s life, he will experience the Lord releasing him from the wounds of the past and moving him into the joy of the future. Joy will be released in the life of the one moving closer to Jesus, letting go of the wounds of the past, and enjoying the presence of God. [Childs writes, “The effect of the prophetic proclamation on the servant’s offspring is the outpouring of joy and praise, occasionally expressed in the language of the Psalter: ‘oil of gladness’ (Ps. 45:8; cf.23:5; 133:2) ‘planting of the LORD’ (92:13).” 505-6.]

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hope and Healing from Isaiah 61, Part Two

c) Healing given

The Lord promises to bind up the brokenhearted. The word for brokenhearted here is the Hebrew word sabar; it can also be translated smashed, broken down, shattered, crushed, injured, and stripped. It is to these types of persons that the Lord wants to come and release his ministry. The broken heart may have resulted from sexual abuse that occurred long ago. It may result from an abusive parent or from an unwanted divorce. Pain may result from experiencing spiritual abuse at the hands of a once-trusted pastor.

Stanley writes, “Let your pain drive you to God today. In running to God and in resting in Him, you will discover more about who He is. You will discover more about who He has created you to be, how He desires that you related to others, and what is truly valuable and important in life. If you let your pain drive you to God, you will discover what is important to God. And ultimately, you will be healed of your pain. The Lord desires to bind up the brokenhearted. Invite Him to do His work in you today.” Stanley, 231.

Whatever the pain, the Bible promises that as the poor person draws close to Jesus Christ, allowing his Spirit to minister to him, he will begin a process of healing. David Seamands explains that the wounded should “keep trusting God and believing his goodness, even in the midst of the inexplicable. We may not be able to trace God’s hand in what has happened, but we can still trust God’s heart. And trusting God’ heart encourages us to turn toward him.”

d) Freedom proclaimed

For the person who has experienced painful bondage – whether that be emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical – the Bible promises here release and freedom. “In the Near East the freeing of prisoners (from debtors’ prison) as an act of justice often occurred in the first or second year of a new king’s reign (and then periodically after that). . . . Thus the ‘jubilee’ in this case was primarily concerning those in debt (for either financial or legal reasons) and for the freeing of debt-slaves.” John Walton, Victor Matthews, and Mark Chavalas, eds. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 639. The captives will be liberated and the prisoners will walk in darkness no more. The wounded can find hope in the fact that God does indeed offer these gifts. Calvin wrote, “We are prisoners and captives, therefore, till we are set free (John 8:36) through the grace of Christ; and when Christ wishes to break asunder our chains, let us not refuse the grace that is offered to us.” God does not want his children walking habitually in gripping fear, pain, and self-condemnation. He does not want his children crippled emotionally long-term because of the wounds of yesterday. With the ministry of Jesus comes a release from former chains and a light that replaces former darkness.

Freedom and light are by-products of walking closely with the Lord. Jesus promised that a disciple who learns to abide in the Word of God will experience greater and greater degrees of freedom. This freedom will include liberation from fear, guilt, shame, and dismay.

“The more you focus on who God is and what God is like, the more your attitude and your thinking will begin to change. You will begin to line them up with the truth of God’s Word. You will begin to feel and think the way God feels and thinks. As you begin to feel and think the way God feels and thinks, fears fall away. A sense of confidence and assurance builds. You will find yourself relying upon and trusting God more and more. The more you put your trust in God, the more you discover that He never lets you down. You can count on Him! When that happens, a boldness develops in your spirit so that anxiety is a thing of the past. You know who you are in Christ and who Christ is in you! You come to the place where you trust Him to be with you and to help you through whatever circumstance or experience life hands you.” Stanley, 29.

The longer a person who has been wounded will draw closely to Jesus, walk in his Spirit, and abide in his Word, the more that person will be freed from the shackles of yesterday’s abuse. Kay Arthur teaches that in the Bible, the balm of Gilead is a symbol for the Word of God. “You – anyone – can be delivered your pit of despair because there is a balm of Gilead, and there is a Great Physician there! . . . God’s Word is our plumb line by which we are to measure everything we hear, everything we believe, everything by which we live. . . . It is vital that you know God’s Word and that you allow it to dwell in you richly. We need to know the Word of God so that it can keep us from ungodly counsel. . . . The Bible is the only book which, in its entirety, is composed of the very words of life, the very precepts of God. And if you are ever gong to be healed, if you are ever going to be whole, then you must have the balm of Gilead, the Word of God. . . . His name is Jehovah-Rapha, the God who heals. He is the Physician in Gilead, and you can cry, ‘Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved’ (Jeremiah 17:14). He will heal; He will save.” LORD, Heal My Hurts (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 1989), 41,43,45-46.

The Lord has the power to free the victim over time from the painful effects of the abuse. Light is promised multiple times in the Scriptures. Isaiah promises that for the one guided by God, darkness will be turned into light before them, even along unfamiliar paths. Jesus taught, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And John later teaches walking in Jesus’ ways will be walking in the light.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quotation of the Day

Those who attend to the roots of life do well. Those who are careless about their roots face serious problems. If you give all your attention to the fruit you will err. If you concentrate on the roots, fruit will appear in time.

- Bob Schultz, Practical Happiness

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is a Disciple?

Lorne Sanny, former president of the Navigators disciple-making ministry, defines a disciple as someone who has three qualities: he is personally identified with Jesus Christ, she is consistently obedient to God's Word, and he is bearing fruit of two types. First, there is Christian character. Then he bears the fruit of leading others to Christ and helping them become mature disciples.

Jesus Christ issued a simple call - it was the simple call of Jesus. He walked up to ordinary fishermen and said, "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Or, I will show you how to fish for people. The Message says, "Come with Me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." Then it says, "They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed."

Are you asking questions, or are you simply dropping your nets and following? Our mandate is none other than this first, clear call of the Lord. It is the simple call of Jesus: Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men and women.

When Jesus left this earth, He gave us what is called the Great Commission. That mandate, to make disciples, involves, going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey all things that Jesus has taught. How will we teach others all the things that Jesus has taught? It is through the process of discipleship, or disciple-making.

What is discipleship? Discipleship is simply the term we use to describe the process of teaching a new Christian how to follow Jesus and become a fisher of men, someone who can lead another person to Christ and teach them to follow Jesus. Robert Coleman writes, "The Great Commission is not a special calling or gift of the Spirit; it is a command - an obligation incumbent upon the whole community of faith. There are no exceptions." In Matthew 28:18-20, as Jesus ends His earthly ministry, He basically told us, "Continue in the simple call of Jesus."

As a church we need to evaluate all that we do in the light of the simple call of Jesus, the call to make disciples. On that great Day of judgment, we will not be evaluated on how big were our budgets, on how beautiful our buildings, on our public image nor our many programs. What will matter and remain on that day will be the answer to the question: Did you make disciples?

A shoe factory has one purpose: to produce shoes. Regardless of the manpower, the effort, the money spent, if the factory does not produce shoes, it is missing the mark! Likewise, a church can be very active in a variety of endeavors and still not be producing disciples. One leading evangelical British minister warned American believers, "Mark my words, North American Christians: Your large church buildings will be as empty as the cathedrals of Great Britain within a span of twenty-five to fifty years if you do not change your methodology." Churches have methodologies as wide as Jonah's whale! The methodology we must return to is that of Jesus. His method was men and women: leading them to salvation, making them disciples, and teaching them how to become fishers of men. Our ministry is people: spreading God's amazing love to them with the intention of making them fully devoted followers of Christ.

It is often wise, as Maria Von Trapp sang to us, to start at the very beginning, 'cause that's a very good place to start. So, if we are going to produce disciples, we need to understand, WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?

There are five types of people in the world:

LOST PEOPLE, CONVERTS, DISCIPLES, WORKERS (or LABORERS), and LEADERS

Many churches are full of converts, those who have been born again into the kingdom of God. However, Jesus told us to make disciples. The word disciple means "learner" or "follower." Learning has to do with knowing. Following has to do with obeying. Jesus described this well in John 14:21, "If you love me, you will obey me, and if you obey me, I will manifest myself to you." That verse describes the life of a disciple. He loves Jesus. Because He loves Him, He obeys Him (as a follower). And as he obeys Jesus, the Lord makes Himself known to the disciple (as a learner). So as you obey Jesus you come to know Him better. That is the pathway of intimacy - that is love.


DISCIPLES ARE . . .

LEARNERS, knowing Jesus intimately, and FOLLOWERS, obeying Jesus immediately


The Four Characteristics of a Disciple

The learning and following of disciples is expressed through several characteristics. These qualities of life will be found in a growing disciple . . .


1. Abides in the Word of God (John 8:31-32)

Jesus said that IF YOU ABIDE (CONTINUE, REMAIN) IN MY WORD, THEN YOU ARE TRULY MY DISCIPLES. A convert has not yet learned to abide, to live a lifestyle that is soaked in the Word of God. The psalmist describes the person who meditates on the Word of God DAY and NIGHT (Psalm 1). God told Joshua that the key to his success was meditating on the Book of the Law day and night.

A disciple has learned to feed himself - he is not dependant on other people, his preacher, his teachers. He gleans from these sources, but He knows how to go to the true Source. He or she is a person of the Book. As a growing disciple, he is learning have a grip on the Word of God by . . .

READING THE WORD, HEARING THE WORD, MEMORIZING THE WORD
MEDITATING ON THE WORD, STUDYING THE WORD, and APPLYING THE WORD


2. Obedience (Matthew 7:21; John 14:21)

A disciple of Communism obeys the teachings of Communism. A disciple of an outstanding voice instructor follows the instructions of that person. A disciple of an ice skater couch follows the directions of that individual. So, a disciple of Jesus obeys Him. How beautifully the fishermen illustrate this characteristic for us in Matthew 4. Did you see that when Jesus speaks to them, when He calls them, the Bible says, "And they immediately left their nets, and followed Him." The New Living translation reads that they left their nets at once and went with Him.

A good litmus test for your own discipleship is this: When Jesus speaks, do you obey Him? When the Holy Spirit speaks through God's Word, do you obey? When you know what the Lord wants you to do, is your obedience immediate, or do you ask a lot of questions? The Message says, "They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed." If you don't obey God, it is because you don't love and trust Him.


3. Spirit-controlled (Ephesians 5:18; Galations 5:16; Acts 6:5)

When the disciples walked with Jesus, they literally walked with Him! They woke up in the morning, looked at Jesus, and thought, "Today, I'm with Him!" In our day, in the Church Age, God has left us the Holy Spirit, the One who comes alongside of us to help us, to comfort, to convict, to guide, and most importantly, to manifest the Person and Power and Purity and Presence of Jesus in, through, and around us.

It is only the Christian who is filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit who can please God. The fleshly, natural, carnal Christian cannot please God. Only the spiritual man, empowered by God's Spirit, can carry out the will of the Father. At salvation we get all of the Spirit of God. The appropriate question then, for the believer is not "Do you have the Spirit" but "Does the Spirit have you?"

In the great Shantung Revival in China, what some historians call the greatest revival and spiritual awakening of Southern Baptist history, Martha Franks, Bertha Smith and others witnessed that a key to that mighty move of God was when many believers realized that they were not filled with the Spirit of God: He was not able to flow out of their lives (John 7:37-39) because self was on the throne instead of Jesus. The Spirit is poured out when Jesus is on the throne! Bertha Smith wrote, "If He sees that we are clean, and that He is in complete possession of us, He will fill us just as He filled the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple when they were dedicated to Him."

Are you filled by the Spirit of God? Are you walking under His direction and in submission to His leading? Smith said that "there can be no fullness of the Spirit without a life of yieldedness." Are you yielded? Are you resting in His ability?


4. Fruit-bearing (John 15:8,16)

In the Old Testament, the Lord filled His house with His glory. And that glory evoked tremendous awe and worship from His people. After God later removed His glory, it was not until Jesus Christ came to this earth that the glory returned. Then, just before He went back to the Father, Jesus explained how that glory would remain in this world: "This is how My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples" (John 15:8.) Today the temple of the Lord is filled with glory through the process of fruit-bearing. Those Christians who are fruit-bearing disciples bring the Father glory.

First, we can bear the fruit of godly character. As the Spirit controls us, He produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23) and the fruit of righteous living through our lives. So, when you bear patience, joy, love, gentleness, and when you obey God, the temple is filled with glory. Second, as you give witness to others of Christ's work, you are empowered to be His witness, leading others to Christ and then helping them to be His disciples, God is glorified. It is this process of making disciples of other people, taking converts and teaching them to obey, to walk with Jesus in the details of life, that brings the Father glory. And is that not the simple call of Jesus? Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. Third, we can do good works. Jesus said that when we do a good work with a right spirit, we are not just doing it unto people but unto the Lord. That makes good works eternal! And finally, we bear fruit when we involve ourselves in making a positive, cultural impact on the world around us. Theologians call this "redeeming the culture," which can be traced all the way back to what is called The Cultural Mandate in the first chapter of Genesis. In these four ways Christians are able to bear fruit and thus please their Lord.

In closing, Matthew 4:19 gives us this picture of disciples. They are abiding in the Word of God, that is, they hear and appropriate what Jesus says. Then, they are obedient, and their obedience is immediate. They are responsive to the person of Christ, as today we are to be responsive to the Spirit of God. And they embark on the journey of becoming fruit-bearing disciples, fishers of men.

Oh, Father, bring Yourself glory in and through our lives. Teach us to be Your disciples. And make us Your vessels whom You use to make disciples both here and around the world. And keep our nose to that mandate. We love you. Thank you that as we obey you, you will make us know you more and more. To your name be glory.



Review

1. What is the simple call of Jesus?

2. What is discipleship?

3. What is a disciple?

4. What are the four characteristics of a disciple?

5. Today, what brings the Father glory?

Hope and Healing from Isaiah 61, Part One

One poignant passage in The Book of Consolation is Isaiah 61:1-3, which includes some of the most powerful prophetic statements in the Bible describing the healing ministry of the Lord,

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has
anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me
to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s
favor, and the day of vengeance; to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown
of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called
righteous trees, planted by the Lord, to glorify him.


The spirit of this passage reveals that Jesus Christ came not only to save humans from their sin but to make them whole. In this prophecy, we see several promises of what the ministry of the Holy Spirit, accompanying the Lord Jesus, will do in the lives of people: an anointing outpoured, hope promised, healing given, freedom bought, favor extended, vengeance coming, comfort provided, and purpose realized.

a) Anointing outpoured

This text refers to the healing ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah 61:1 points to the Messiah. Ortlund writes, “These three verses are all one long sentence, because Jesus was given the greatest anointing in the history of the human race for one reason : to bring good news to the poor. . . . He defines his ministry as helping people in trouble, people in bondage, people whose hearts are broken.” Jesus will later declare his messianic authority in his hometown synagogue by reading this passage and stating, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Scripture promises that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the Messiah – the same Spirit that Isaiah earlier describes as the one of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. This Spirit will be poured out on Jesus Christ at his baptism in the Jordan River, signifying the Father’s pleasure in the one he loves. The anointing of the Spirit upon Jesus enabled him on this earth to walk in the fulfillment of the functions mentioned in Isaiah 61:1-3. Walking in the freedom and healing of the Lord is the birthright of every child of God.

Brueggemann writes, “The act of anointing consists in being especially designated by God for a particular task through an anointing by oil, an act freighted with deep symbolic significance. The ‘anointed’ (= messiah) is the one designated in such sacramental fashion with special powers and authority for a special God-given task. . . . The act of anointing was recurring liturgical authorization and legitimation of royal power. Thus the act designated a member of the Davidic line, and, in the first instance, referred to a present-tense king.” Reverberations of Faith, 127.

Oswalt writes, “In Isaiah the Spirit is especially associated with the power to bring justice and righteousness on the earth, often through the spoken word (11:2; 32:15-16; 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:21). . . . [H] is anointed by God for his task, and the Spirit filling is because of that anointing. Interestingly, the only places in the OT where Spirit filling and anointing are mentioned together are in connection with the establishment of the kingship.” The Book of Isaiah 40-66, 564.

Because of the oneness of God, for these Old Testament saints addressed by Isaiah, this promised hope and healing would come through Yaweh. Elwell writes,

In the OT Yahweh alone was the source for healing, just as he was
considered the same source for sickness. Summarizing the basic OT
attitude concerning sickness and healing, Deut. 32:29 portrays God
as the direct dispenser of sickness and disease as punishment for
man’s sin, . . . while healing is a reward for obedience, a manifestation
of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and love. This applied not only to
individuals but also to entire nations.


b) Hope promised

Christ is commissioned to preach good news to the poor. Inherent in this proclamation is certainly the gospel, the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins. Every human of Adam’s race has sinned. They are poor spiritually. They need redemption. And Christ’s first commission here is to deliver that news of redemption. However, the context of that commission makes it clear that the scope of redemption is not limited only to having sins forgiven. The gospel is aimed at the entire person – making persons whole. The concept of redemption involves bringing someone back to his original state. When God created humanity in the garden of Eden, he made them to experience wholeness, completeness. The first man and woman experienced incredible union and communion with each other and God. Sin marred that wholeness, and the process of redemption today begins with the forgiveness of sins but continues in teaching persons how to walk again in wholeness. Relating the gospel of Christ to the Babylonian captivity, Elwell writes,

[T]he basic concept [of the gospel] has its rightful origin in the
religious aspirations of the nation Israel. Some seven centuries
before Christ the prophet Isaiah had delivered a series of prophetic
utterances. With vivid imagery he portrayed the coming deliverance
of Israel from captivity to Babylon. A Redeemer shall come to Zion
preaching good tidings unto the meek and liberty to the captives.

The word translated poor here is the Hebrew word anaw. Other meanings of this word include humble, afflicted, oppressed, helpless, needy, and meek. Calvin comments, “Christ is promised to none but those who have been humbled and overwhelmed by a conviction of their distresses, who have no lofty pretensions, but keep themselves in humility and modesty.” Every person is lacking in some way. Their poverty may be routine boughts with insecurity, fear, or depression. He may experience rejection and pain because of unhealthy relationships with parents, siblings, or friends. Wounds can mark the person who already has his sins forgiven. When that occurs, the good news needs to continue to be preached. The aim of that good news is not just justification from sin’s penalty but healing and redemption from sin’s consequences. The Bible says that Jesus grew mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. So the ministry of the Spirit on Jesus is not only interested in one aspect of our lives but, instead, in our entire being.

Charles Stanley writes, “No matter who we are today, we are ‘poor’ – or lacking – in some way. We are brokenhearted over something or someone. We are captives to the memories of the past and the limited expectations we have for our futures. We are blind to our true position and place in the Lord Jesus Christ. We truly need to be set free because each of us is oppressed by the enemy of the soul.” The Source of My Strength: Relying on the Life-Changing Power of Jesus Christ to Heal Our Wounded Hearts, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), x.

This promise of hope offered to the poor, the anaw, provides wonderful news. No one is beyond hope! No situation is too difficult that Jesus in his redemptive power cannot touch, transform, and restore. What the afflicted must do is believe. When two blind men cried out for Jesus to have mercy on them, he asked them a vital question: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Receiving a positive answer, he touched their eyes, saying, “Let it be done for you according to your faith!” And they were healed. Their healing was contingent on their belief that God could and would restore them. The afflicted must stand on the promises of God’s Word and believe. One of the great temptations in oppressive situations is to give up hope. Instead of believing for future redemption a person may resign for present disappointments. Beth Moore writes, “The Bible teaches that there are no lost causes. No permanent pit-dwellers except those who refuse to leave. Every person can know the complete redemption of Jesus Christ, purpose for life, and fullness of joy.”

The connotation of the poor in verse one “speaks of all who are distressed and in trouble for any reason, including sin. Ps. 25:16-21 explains this larger sense of the word well. As Jesus would say later (Matt. 9:12-13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31-32), he had not come to announce good news to those who were comfortable and in control, but to those who were in deep trouble. To such persons, God’s victory over all that is holding them in bondage is good news indeed.” John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66 of The New International Commentary, R. K. Harrison and Robert Hubbard, Jr. eds., (USA: Eerdmans, 1998), 564-5.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Dire Need

Richard Blackaby has a great blog commentary today about the great need for leaders today who are statesmen, not just crowd pleasers. Read Politician or Statesman?

The Spring Online

The Spring Church is now online! Check out www.thespringchurchonline.org

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Quotation of the Day

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. For this reason, the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.

- A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hope and Healing from Isaiah, part three

Isaiah 56-66

Isaiah offers many other words of hope in chapters fifty-six through sixty-six to the post-exilic people who return to their homeland. Motyer calls this final section of The Book of Consolation as well as the entire book of Isaiah “The Book of the Anointed Conqueror.” The vision of the Anointed One is the heart of this section. These chapters serve as both a word of hope to the post-exilic people returning to a devastated Jerusalem as well as a “visionary outreach to the eschaton.” These eleven chapters are concerned with the future of Jerusalem. Brueggemann writes, “Yahweh will create a new Jerusalem, will send his glory there (60), will enact jubilee there (61), will break the silence so that the city can be renamed and recharacterized (62). This is the very city that had to be terminated in the earlier traditions, but now is to be the focus of Yahweh’s positive zeal.” The opening exhortation of this section says, “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” Here the prophet introduces the discipline and tension of waiting for future realities to be consummated. This theme of waiting before the Lord surfaces again as a key idea in this book. In light of the Anointed Conqueror, these eleven chapters reveal the characteristics of a waiting people. Ortlund suggests that these characteristics illustrate how the people of God can keep the embers of revival glowing.

Isaiah delivers a sermon in chapters 56-57. He describes God’s people as they should be and will be in 56:1-8. In 56:9-57:21 the prophet describes God’s people as they shouldn’t be but are. Historically, a mixed-match of people found themselves in Jerusalem and the surrounding area when the Jews returned. There were Jews who were faithful to the Lord and Jews who were not. There were foreigners who wanted to follow Yahweh; and there were pagan foreigners who mocked the Jews. In the midst of this setting, God’s people were challenged to remain faithful. Isaiah challenges the Jews to be righteous and uphold the Sabbath (56:1-2) and opens the door for the believing foreigners to come into the covenant community and be blessed (56:3-8), thus constituting a change of practice looking forward to a much-enlarged worshipping people of God. Chapter 57 reminds the Jews once again of their past sins, yet offers comfort and hope to all who will come to the Lord with contrition. God offers this promise for revival:

For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever,
whose name is holy, “I live in a high and holy place but also with
him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of
the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”


Ortlund writes, “What is revival? True revival is God coming down among, visiting us, dwelling among us in his glory, overflowing into our need (Isaiah 57:15). Revival is the manifest presence of God, the immediacy of God, the kiss of God, the nearness of God in his goodness and power. Revival is a time of refreshing in the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:20). It’s a season in the life of the church when God causes the normal ministry of the gospel to surge forward with extraordinary spiritual power. . . . Isaiah leads us by the hand toward true revival. . . . In Isaiah 56-66 . . . the prophet shows us the way into ongoing revival as we await the fullness of God’s coming kingdom.” Ortlund, Raymond, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 375-376.

One characteristic of a waiting people is having contrite hearts who welcome and entertain God’s presence.

Chapters 58-59 deal with the responsibilities of the people if they are to walk in an upright relationship with God. As they walk in the realities of true fasting, they will experience the Lord’s guidance, satisfaction, and strength. The prophet contrasts true religion with what true religion is not. To a disillusioned people, the Lord reminds them that he is able to fulfill his promises. The people are called to thoroughly examine their lives to move towards repentance. Because of the bankruptcy of the people, they need a deliverer.

The section of chapter 59:14 – 63:6 focuses on the coming of the Anointed Conqueror. The tone shifts and Isaiah describes the future glories of Jerusalem. Zion is to awake, look at the glory fulfilled, and watch God’s presence transform the city and her people. Her restoration is assured. Motyer writes,

In 59:15c-20 the Lord himself dons garments appropriate to the task of
salvation vengeance. Then the Anointed One appears, endowed with
Spirit and word (59:21), and his coming dates the advent of the day
of favour and vengeance (61:2). It is on him that the Lord puts the
garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness (61:10) and
salvation for Zion (62:1), Finally, the wearer of the robbers announces
the completion of the work of vengeance and redemption (63:1-6).

The final portion of the book, 63:7 – 66:24, declares the majesty of the coming Lord. Isaiah offers a prayer for the nation (63:7-64:12), asking God to be compassionate to them and to punish their enemies. The prophet declares the righteous victory of the Lord for his people. Their Messiah will “ride in majesty on a white horse. And the nations will learn that the Prince of Peace is also a Man of War, judging sin and delivering his people.” Then God describes to them what his kingdom on earth will involve. His people will inherit the land, while unbelievers will be cut off. The Lord reminds them that he rewards righteous living (65). The book closes by God reminding them that he esteems the humble, that he will judge, that he will give birth to his nation, and that he will establish a new heavens and a new earth.

Prayer Points this Week for The Spring

As we pray this week, here are some specific things to pray together:


1. That the Lord will draw us close to Himself.

2. That the Lord will cleanse us of sin.

3. That the Lord will fill us and pour out His Spirit on us.

4. That the Lord will open our minds and hearts to hear Him.

5. That the Lord will fill us with wisdom, revelation, and understanding.

6. That the Lord will provide for The Spring in terms of resources.

7. That the Lord will provide the right place for us to meet.

8. That the Lord will fulfill His purposes for us.

9. That the Lord will work through us to reach people, make disciples, and impact the culture.

10. That the Lord will glorify Himself in and through us.

Fasting, a Biblical Practice

When Jesus was describing the "normal Christian life" in the Sermon on the Mount, he emphasized three spiritual disciplines: praying, giving, and fasting. In each instance, he begins the explanation of each discipline with "when you." When you pray, when you give, and when you fast. The implication is obvious - the normal Christian life includes the habits of praying, giving, and fasting.

Richard Foster writes, Fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way. God's people fasted in the Bible for various reasons. Immediate guidance needed. Deliverance from the threat of an oncoming enemy or threat. Financial needs. Repentance of sin. Whatever the reason, it is always a means of the Lord's people setting aside a time to ask Him to work in their lives in a special way. The primary reason for fasting, though, must be fixed in our minds and hearts. The primary purpose is simply to draw near to the Lord.

Charles Spurgeon, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, wrote, Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has Heaven's gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central Glory.

Years earlier, John Wesley declared, it was not merely by the light of reason that the people of God have been, in all ages, directed to use fasting as a means: but they have been taught of it of God Himself, by clear and open revelations of His will. Now, whatever reasons there were to quicken those of old, they are of equal force still to quicken us.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Leading Congregations that Win

Last night I shared with our congregation this insightful list from Bill Easum's Growing Spiritual Redwoods. He contrasts the thought-processes of members of declining churches with members of thriving churches:

DECLINING CHURCH MEMBERS contrasted with
THRIVING CHURCH MEMBERS


Committed to the church / Committed to Christ

Managing committees / Deploying missions

Holding offices / Doing hands on missions

Making decisions / Making disciples

Trained for membership / Life-quest for quality

Serving at church / Serving in the world

Raising dollars / Rescuing people

Doing church work / Finding fulfillment

Retiring from church work / Pursuing constant growth

Surveying internal needs / Sensitized to community

Eager to know everyone / Eager for everyone to know God

Loyal to each other / Drawn to the unchurched

Come and sit / Come and be changed

Help me / Help me help others

The Power of the Fast

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava,
that we might humble ourselves before our God.
Ezra 8:21


The power of the fast is found in the abject humility of people who desire the Lord's way in their lives more than the bread that sustains their physical bodies. Fasting is an announcement the soul makes that the body will not rule over it, and it declares there will be no relief until the issues set before God are resolved in spirit. Fasting does not signal sincerity but rather humbles the soul with dependence upon God.

During his fast Ezra sought the Lord for direction for the families with him and for protection of both the people and the possessions God had given them. Isaiah 58:6 focuses the fast on loosing "bonds of wickedness," undoing "heavy burdens," and freeing "the oppressed." The hunger and discomfort of the fast are reminders to pray, be in the Word, and demonstrate the living Word of our Savior, that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4).

- Pastor Jack Hayford

Ezra's Fast

Last night I spoke to our people from Ezra 8, when Ezra is about to lead the second group of Jews from Babylon back to their homeland of Jerusalem. They are about to leave a place they have lived for 70 years. They are looking at a many-mile trek with the threat of bandits and other threats. They have all of their possessions with them.

It reminds me of the old western movies when the wagon train travels for many miles to reach a new destination. It seems like in most of those movies the train has to cross at least one raging river at some point. Ezra and his people must have felt some of the same fear of the unknown.

Ezra knows that they need God's guidance and His provision. So, as their leader he calls for a fast.

21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

He calls the people to seek their God for a day. Notice, they fasted and prayed for three things:

1) That they would humble themselves before God
2) For God's guidance and safety on their journey
3) For God to take care of their possessions

Sometimes at night I stand or kneel in my children's rooms and pray things like, Lord, please guide me for them. Please lead me and help me know how to lead them. I think Ezra and his people felt that kind of concern. I know many times when we go on a vacation when we leave the house I feel inside something like, God, please take care of the house and our stuff while we are gone. That's what Ezra was seeking God for - Lord, please guide us so our families will be ok, and please take care of our stuff!

Last night I called our people to fast and pray this week.

As a new church we are at a juncture where we need to make some decisions for the fall. We are particularly praying about where we need to meet in order to worship together on Sunday mornings. As I outlined last night, there are several options on the table. But at this point we want to seek God in a special way.

Fasting is a very biblical concept. It involves going without food, or certain types of food, for a specific period of time in order to give that time to seeking the Lord. If physically able, a person can skip a meal or meals and instead spend that time in prayer, worship, and intercession. I suggested skipping one meal, or skipping the same meal for several days, or doing what the Jews did on Yom Kippur - fast supper, breakfast and lunch, and then eat a small meal for supper. Whatever you do, the point is to seek God in a special way.

We are fasting and praying for the same basic things as did Ezra:

1) To humble ourselves as a people before God
2) To ask God to guide, provide, and care for us a a church
3) To ask God to provide the "stuff" we need - particularly the right meeting place

In the book of Acts, chapter 13, you see the church fasting and praying together.

1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

It was as the church was worshiping and fasting (seeking God together), the Lord gave them the instructions for Saul (Paul) and Barnabus to go on their first missionary journey.

I encourage you to spend time seeking the Lord in a special way this week. We are trusting God to guide us, and we are humbling ourselves before Him asking Him to work.