The Consequences of Self-Deception

July 31, 2008

(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.)

Consider this phrase from Isaiah 44:20: “A deluded heart has led him astray.”

Note that it does not say, “He was deluded about the truth.” Unquestionably that is the case. But the phrase says more: After being deluded about one matter, that very delusion leads us yet further astray from the truth.

In Isaiah 44, this is the case with idol worship. The prophet here mocks the man who takes a block of wood, cuts it up, then uses some pieces to cook food and calls the rest a god. Verse 20 concludes: “He cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” Having turned away from the One Who is the First and the Last, the one true God (verse 6), the idol worshiper eventually becomes unable to escape the delusion he willingly chose. He acts foolishly, but can’t recognize it. His chosen delusion leads him further and further from the truth. He is trapped.

This is a great danger that Scripture warns against again and again. Indeed, all fallen humanity is caught in this trap. Read more

Are You a Runner? Discipline and Consistency in the Race of Faith

July 31, 2008

(This sermon on 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 was preached 7/27/2008. For a version that is easier to print, click here. The audio is available here.)

What is your favorite biblical image of the Christian life?

  • We are soldiers in the army of God?
  • We are the bride of Christ?
  • We are God’s ambassadors, proclaiming His Truth, speaking His Word to the world?
  • Or perhaps the image from John 15: Christ is the vine, we are the branches, connected to Him, getting sustenance from Him.

I love all these images – but my favorite biblical image is that of running the race of faith.

As I wrote in this week’s email, I love this image in part because of when I grew up. As a 16 year old just beginning my second cross country season, I watched the 1972 Munich Olympic games. There were numerous thrilling moments, especially Dave Wottle’s come from behind victory in the 800.

But what most impressed me – the event I can still see most clearly in my head – was Frank Shorter’s win in the marathon, destroying an excellent field. Shorter’s victory inspired hordes of new runners in the US, all wanting to complete a marathon; for me, the previous, vague idea that one day I might run a marathon became the certainty that I would.

My interest in running carried over to Bible reading. I scoured my Good News New Testament for running images. I well remember underlining 1 Timothy 6:12, which reads in that translation, “Run you best in the race of faith. ”

I also encountered the other biblical running images, including the 1 Corinthians 9 passage we will consider this morning. I began to see, dimly, that as wonderful as competing in races was, it’s major benefit, even it’s major purpose, was to display spiritual truth.

Over the next five weeks, I will share with you these biblical truths that I began to glimpse as a teen. Running in and of itself, like God’s other good gifts in this life, can be both a blessing and a curse. If we put running right at the center of our lives, if we allow it to dominate our lives, it will become an idol that drinks up our lifeblood, as it diverts us from the only source of true life, Jesus Himself.    But if we see this gift, this challenge, as a picture, an analogy pointing us to God, displaying spiritual truths in human form, then running can be the gateway to a closer walk with God. May God be pleased to use this series to that effect. Read more

What are Elders and Why Do We Have Them?

July 25, 2008

(This is a summary of the second sermon in the six-part series, “God Gave Pastors and Teachers,” preached on June 15. The audio is available here.)

Why do we exist as a church?

The glory of God is our goal. This is the reason we exist.

We as a church are not able to glorify God in some ways:

  • We won’t create galaxies or planets
  • We won’t raise up kingdoms and bring them down

But what can we do, by His grace, through His power?

Basically there are three ways we glorify God:

1) We worship God corporately: proclaiming and singing and delighting in the glory of God

This gives God glory DIRECTLY

2) We proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who don’t know Him

  • Through Missions: Reaching ALL NATIONS with the Gospel of the glory of God
  • Through Evangelism: Reaching our neighbors with the Gospel of the glory of God

3) We build up the body of Christ

  • In knowledge
  • In love
  • In faith
  • In Christlikeness
  • In perseverance

We can summarize these three ways in short phrases: We glorify God through:

  • Expressing joy in Christ
  • Spreading joy in Christ
  • Deepening joy in Christ

Thus, elders exist to help the church fulfill the reason for its existence.

  • Through worship
  • Through outreach
  • Through edification

God gives pastors and teachers as gifts to the church, so that the church might become what He intends it to be. The growing, strengthening, thriving, worshiping bride of Christ. Read more

What is Preaching and Why is it Important?

July 25, 2008

(This is a summary of the first sermon in the six-part series, “God Gave Pastors and Teachers,” preached on June 1. The audio is available here.)

The title of this sermon series comes from Ephesians 4:11-14, which says, in part:

He gave the . . . pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

Note that God gives pastors and teachers to the church.

  • They are His gifts, His presents, tokens of His love for the church.
  • They play a key role in equipping God’s people to minister as God intends.
  • They play a key role in guarding the church from waves of false teaching.
  • Thus they play a key role in enabling the church to become the interdependent, smoothly functioning body of Christ Paul describes in Ephesians 4:16.

Five main points: Read more

Running the Race of Faith

July 25, 2008

(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.)

The Bible is full of images that help us to understand the Christian life: we are part of the army of God, engaged in battle; we are part of the body of Christ; we are Christ’s ambassadors, his envoys, representing him in this world; we are a building, being built up into Christlikeness; we are branches, Christ is the vine; we are the bride of Christ; we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. All of these analogies are rich and useful.

My favorite analogy, however, compares the Christian life to running a race. This analogy is not common throughout the Bible, but Paul loves it, as he uses the running and racing image at least nine times in his epistles. In addition, the author of Hebrews uses the analogy once.

The analogy is particularly rich for me because I am a product of the running boom. I grew up during a period when mile world records would be the lead headline of the sports section; when an American set two of those world records; when 100,000 fans filled a stadium to witness a track meet between the US and the Soviet Union. Then came the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. That summer, as a 16 year old who had been running competitively for less than two years, I watched Jim Ryun, the mile world record holder and my boyhood hero, fall in his 1500 meters heat and thus fail to make the final; I watched Steve Prefontaine, an American runner only five years my senior, make a game effort to win Olympic gold in the 5k; and, most importantly, I watched Frank Shorter demolish the field to win the Olympic marathon. After those Olympics, millions of Americans began running, many hoping to complete a marathon. Every teenage boy in the country who was already running competitively began to dream of mile world records and marathon victories. I was no exception. Read more

Submission and Disagreement

July 19, 2008

(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.)

In Sunday’s sermon, we looked at Hebrews 13:17, which reads in the NIV:

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

In discussing this verse, I said, “Submission only comes into play when there is a disagreement.”

Several of you have asked (respectfully and submissively!) if this is correct, particularly considering that God the Son submits to God the Father. Surely there is no disagreement between them!

This is an excellent point, and many thanks for the input. I’ll correct my statement briefly next Sunday; here let me elaborate on the idea more fully than will be possible in the sermon. Consider first the nature of God the Son’s submission to God the Father: Read more

Tony Snow, Death and Life

July 12, 2008

Tony Snow died of colon cancer this morning at the age of 53. He is best known as President Bush’s former Press Secretary.

But Tony and I first met 35 years ago, when were freshmen at Davidson College. We both loved philosophy, and had several courses together. Tony was a voracious reader, a quick thinker, and a prolific writer. Full of energy, full of ideas, adventurous in spirit, he clearly had an interesting life ahead of him. I took a year off between our junior and senior years, going to Kenya to teach secondary school. That year changed my life, as I focused for the next two decades on issues of economic development, spending several years overseas.  Tony corresponded with me while I was in Kenya, and, intrigued, decided to go himself the next year. He taught at the same school. Read more

Why Read the Prophets?

July 11, 2008

“Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.” Isaiah 1:4

Those are some of the opening words of the book of Isaiah. I read them this morning, along with the rest of Isaiah chapters 1, 7, and 8, following the chronological ordering of the Bible Unity Reading Plan. Because Israel’s prophets wrote about 30 percent of the Old Testament and almost all of them lived and wrote between the years of 750BC and 515BC, those of us following this plan will be reading mainly from the prophets for the next three months.

There are passages in the prophets that most Christians know and love: Those we read every Christmas, such as Isaiah 9 and 11; the song of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53; the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31. These are pearls in the midst of . . .

Of what? We’re tempted to say, “in the midst of the less interesting parts of these books.” Or even to say, “in the midst of the less important parts of these books.” For the prophets devote a great deal of time to condemnation of Israel and Judah (such as Isaiah 1:4 above) and then also a great deal of time condemning the nations surrounding them. This can be . . . dare we say, tiresome? Read more

The Opposite of Disobedience

July 4, 2008

(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.)

What is the opposite of disobedience?

The obvious answer is “obedience.” But that is not the biblical answer. And understanding why this logical answer is not biblical is key to living the Christian life.

Consider Psalm 1, which begins by describing the righteous man in negative terms:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

The righteous man does not act like or listen to the advice of those opposed to God, nor does he join them in mocking God. That is, he does not disobey God.

The psalmist then contrasts that negative description of the righteous man with a positive description. If the opposite of disobedience were obedience, we might expect a direct contrast with “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,” perhaps something like: “But he walks in the law of the Lord.” This would create a nice parallel with the first verse; furthermore, it would be a true statement. Indeed, Psalm 119 opens with similar words: “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD.”

But instead of that truth, Psalm 1:2 goes deeper, displaying the root of the matter:

but his delight is in the law of the LORD.

The opposite of disobedience is not obedience. The opposite of disobedience is delight.

Why? There are at least four biblical reasons: Read more