Friday, January 29, 2010

Stephen’s Speech: The Precursor to Paul’s Conversion

Yesterday in my New Testament 2 class taught by Dr. Thomas Schreiner* we discussed Stephen’s speech before his martyrdom in Acts 7.  I have to be honest in that I typically skim over his speech thinking that it is simply Old Testament history that I am already informed of.  As we went over the heart of this speech in class not only this text but Paul’s conversion took on a new life for me. 

In Acts 6 we read of what Stephen is being accused of:

We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God…This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.

The principle charges against Stephen is that he is going against the Law and the temple.  Then Stephen gives his defense.  Why an Old Testament history lesson?  In these particular stories Stephen is pointing out a few key things.  First of all he is pointing out that God does not need the land and that God does not need the temple.  Furthermore, he is pointing out that it is fitting to the history of Israel that they reject the one that is God’s agent of redemption.  In other words what they are doing to Stephen and the other apostles is the same thing that has always happened: you think you are serving God but you are really blind to God’s working of redemption.  Hence his concluding point:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. 

Now after this speech they are enraged and Stephen adds fuel to the fire by pretty much saying “I see Jesus standing up and pleading my case and not yours”.  Then they cast him out of the city and began to stone him.  And it is quite possible, because the text says “the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul”, that he is the ring leader of this entire mob.  We know it had a dramatic effect on him because he mentions it again in Acts 22:20. 

After Stephen’s stoning we are introduced to Saul who is, “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison”.  Saul is quite confident that he is on a mission from God to stamp out all of these God-hating Christians.  But something happens in Acts 9: Saul (later called Paul) is confronted by Jesus. 

In one climactic moment it is revealed to Saul that he is guilty of what Stephen had accused him of.  Rather than being God’s instrument of truth he was rather the one that was responsible for killing God’s instrument of redemption. 

What do we learn from this?  It is quite possible to think that you are “helping out God” but all the while be stifling His agent(s) of redemption. 

*By way of note, this blog post is not what Dr. Schreiner said in class.  It is simply my attempt at further understanding the connection between Stephen’s speech and Paul’s conversion.  If something is wrong or I butcher a text the blame lays squarely on me and not Dr. Schreiner. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Should We Serve Our Own First?

Yeah I know it’s Wednesday but I just could not let this go until next Monday.  So pretend that I wrote this on Monday and it got stuck in some cyber filter, wound up in a parallel world, and somehow just posted today. 
I am beginning to see rumblings of people frustrated with the American government providing relief to the Haitian people, “when we have hurting people over here.”  I’ve even seen this little jewel pop up on several people’s Facebook status:
Shame on you America: the only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment - yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won't have the guts to copy and and paste this...
First of all that is one of the most uninformed and narrow minded statements I have ever read.  If you are my friend on Facebook and you thought this would be cool to cut and paste—then I am sorry if I offend you, but this statement is just plain wrong and outright irresponsible.  Do a little fact checking.  Are we really THE ONLY COUNTRY where homeless are without shelter, children go to bed without eating, etc.  Seriously?  Have you seen Africa?  Do you know about North Korea?  starving_child-sudan2
There are numerous places in much worse shape than we are.  But that is not my main issue.  Let’s just pretend for a moment that this statement IS true.  Should we “serve our own” before we serve the needs of others? 
This way of thinking within Christian circles I just do not understand.  Yesterday morning on a Christian radio station I heard an advertisement for some spa/resort business that said something like this, “In 2010 you should finally do something for yourself…come in to blah blah blah and we’ll give you the care that you deserve.”  These advertisers are not stupid.  They are appealing to something within us that wants to say…”Yeah, you’re right, I’ve been always giving—it’s about time I start taking.” 
The  principle is the same as the Haiti response.  Why should I take care of someone else when I myself am hurting? 
As a side note I do understand there are times when you are absolutely burnt out and you have nothing more to give anyone.  You do need to get away for a little while and retreat.  Even Jesus did this (Matt. 14:23).  But notice that Jesus “went up on a mountainside to pray”.  He got His refreshment by spending time with the Father.  He did not get his refreshment by going to a health resort, or calling up his disciples and saying, “hey guys why don’t you serve me for awhile.” 
So, why should you take care of someone else when you are hurting yourself?  Why should our nation send relief to Haiti when we have homeless people and orphans here?  Because that is exactly what Jesus would do.  Jesus would not refuse to serve a Samaritan because the Jews were under Roman oppression.  You look at the Cross and compare that to this “I need to care of my own needs first”, New-Age, Oprah-driven, egocentric junk.  I do not see my bleeding Savior climbing down off the cross and saying, “someone else will have to serve for awhile…I have my own needs”.  You find me one explicit place in Scripture where Jesus put His humanly needs above other people and I will delete this post and copy and paste that silly little shame on you America thing myself. 
Now if you want to point out American duplicity I’ll show you were it is found.  It is not in America helping Haiti.  I fully support our nation in supporting the people of Haiti.  Where you can see American duplicity has its roots in this “serve my needs first attitude”; and we see the fruit in this attitude in the atrocity that is abortion. 
Shame on you America for fighting the genocide of other nations while neglecting to address your own infanticide.  Shame on you America for waving a flag that says we fight for freedom but refusing to fight for the freedom of the unborn.  Shame on you America for exalting a woman’s right to choose while neglecting the much smaller and less developed woman’s right to choose.  Shame on you America for exemplifying an attitude that says, “me first and then I’ll serve you.” 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review of According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

Author: Graeme Goldsworthy

Pages: 251 pages

Publisher: IVP

Price: 16.29

Genre: Theology/Biblical Interpretation

Quick Summary:

According to Plan is exactly what it claims to be: An Introductory to Biblical Theology. Biblical theology is essentially studying “how the Bible holds together as one book with one message” (20). What that message is and how exactly it comes together is the nature of the biblical theologian’s task. According to Plan is Goldsworthy’s suggestion for understanding the Bible’s central message. The book is broken up into 4 parts: the Why? How? What? Where? of biblical theology. Interspersed throughout are very helpful summaries, diagrams, and charts. For further help the reader is given a study guide at the end of each chapter.

What I Liked:

According to Plan is “written for those who have not had any formal theological education”, yet it was still a required book for my seminary class on Hermeneutics. The book is written that well. It is able to hold the interest of the theological student but does not fly over the head of those without a formal theological education. In my opinion any book claiming to unfold the Bible’s central message must be about Jesus; Goldsworthy’s offering does not disappoint. It is Christ-centered throughout. The Lord used this book alongside a few others to help shape a Christ-centered hermeneutic in my own personal life. This is probably the most helpful resource on an introduction to biblical theology.

What I Disliked:

Anything that I would put in this section would be simply straining gnats. This book is an excellent resource. The Church would be well served to have every member go through such a study.

Should You Buy It:

Yes. This book will cause you to think. It will get the wheels rolling towards a more biblical theology. The principles in this book are ones that you should not store away on a bookshelf. You should buy this, take notes, apply it to your Bible study and pass it on to others.  At only $16.29 you will be happy you bought this.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Lesson on Prayer From a Little Boys Tears

I understand that my two year old does not quite understand logic; but I still talk to him as if he did.  Tonight he really wanted to play with a very sharp screwdriver-type-thingy (that’s the technical term).  He had found it and wanted to run around with it.  Obviously, Nikki and I were not cool with his new found toy.  So, we took it away from him.  Then the waterworks came.  Then I said something really profound: “Son, I’m not going to let you play with something that is going to potentially kill you no matter how much you whine about it”.  Then I felt as if the Lord communicated to me this:  “Sounds familiar, Mike”. 
How often do I keep whining about something that I do not have that would end up killing me.  Often the reason why God does not answer my prayers and respond to my silly crying is because if I got what I wanted I’d end up killing myself.  The Lord is good.  Good father’s don’t let their children play with pointy screwdrivers no matter how much they whine.  And our Father doesn’t idly sit by and let us play with sin no matter how much we whine to get it or keep it. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

John Rogers on Bible Importance

I am not 100% certain that I agree with what is being said here.  But I think the general principle and fervency of heart behind it is worth emulating.  In the 1620’s John Rogers spoke to some 500 souls about their neglect of Bible reading.  The story as told by John Howe (I am picking it up from J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness):

He personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible…it lies in such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs, you care not to listen to it.  Do you use my Bible so?  Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.”  And he takes up the bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it and carrying it from them, but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly.  “Lord, whatever thou dost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods, only spare us the Bible, take not away thy Bible”. And then he personates God again to the people: ‘Say you so?  Well I will try you a while longer, and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more…observe it more…practice it more, and live more according to it.  (Packer, 47 emphasis mine)


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hump Day Humor: Busted!

I found this while doing sermon prep.  The original source is unknown but I found it here.

The drunk husband snuck up the stairs quietly. He looked in the bathroom mirror and bandaged the bumps and bruises he'd received in a fight earlier that night. He then proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he'd pulled one over on his wife. 

When morning came, he opened his eyes and there stood his wife. "You were drunk last night weren't you!" 

"No, honey."

"Well, if you weren't, then who put all the band-aids on the bathroom mirror?"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Repentance and Baptism Question

I realize this question could lead to controversy.  But I really am curious as to why this is.  I do not know the answer although I am trying to figure it out.  Here is the question and it is mostly for my Lordship salvation believing Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. 
Why do we make certain that we make repentance part of what you must do to be saved but say that baptism is not necessary for salvation?  I ask this because of Acts 2:38.  Those hearing Peter’s sermon were cut to the heart and asked what they must do (which is probably asking what do we do to call on the name of the Lord as Joel prophesied).  Here is Peter’s response:
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 
Why then do we (Southern Baptists) tell people that they must repent and believe but we do not say they must be baptized? 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday’s Ministry Musing: The Importance of Being a Faithful Pastor to Your Little Church

I’ve had to learn something the hard way again…imagine that!!!  The Lord is painfully showing me the need of being a faithful pastor to that which Jonathan Edwards called your little church: “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church.”  I cannot be a faithful pastor to my wife and son at “big” church until I am a faithful pastor to my wife and son at our own little church. 

I think many pastors struggle with this.  I know I do.  I work at the office preparing sermons, spending time in study, time in prayer, time planning, and time solving all the worlds problems (or at least thinking I can).  By the time I get home at night I am exhausted.  Home is supposed to be your haven.  The place where you go to “get away from work”.  The problem is that my “work” is Jesus. 

Yeah, yeah I understand that my time at my office should be far more devotional and if my time spent at “work” were more energized by the gospel that when I came home I would be overflowing with Jesus instead of trying to escape ministry.  I agree.  And that’s the problem.  This is why what W.H. Griffith Thomas said hit me like a ton of bricks:

“We cannot make up for failure in our devotional life by redoubling energy in service for Christ. Our work will never rise higher than our devotional life. As water never rises above its level, so what we do never rises above what we are. And in our preaching we shall never take people one hair’s breadth beyond our own spiritual attainment. We may point to higher things, we may ‘allure to brighter worlds,’ but when we ‘lead the way’ we shall only take them just as far as we ourselves have gone. We shall never take people beyond our own spiritual attainment.”

If I can be boldly honest right now I’m less concerned about spiritually leading my congregation.  I am far more concerned about being faithful leading my wife and son.  If who I am at home does not reflect what I am in the pulpit then it will cripple and badly skew my families view of Jesus, the power of the gospel, and the deep love of God. 

If I get 1 less A at seminary, read 5 less books this year, preach 10 less sermons, go to 20 less meetings but my presence at home is far more impacting then I count those things as nothing.  What good is it for a preacher to gain his whole congregation but lose his own family?  If the Lord chooses to never use me to impact another soul except my wife and child(ren) then I will have been faithful. 

May I be faithful to my little church.  May it be a church that is filled with love and self-sacrifice.  May it be a church that I am willing to die for…and even more so may it be that which I am willing to live for.  May I never forsake this sacred charge.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Does Your Heart Sing Doing Exegesis?

One of the main things that drew me to Southern Seminary was knowing that I would get to study under such men as Dr. Tom Schreiner.  I am very excited that this semester I am taking his New Testament 2 class.  In preparation for the class I am reading his book on Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Guides to New Testament Exegesis) .  This quote struck me:

Exegesis will never be one’s passion unless one’s heart is gripped by biblical truth; only then will it lead to a deeper and richer joy in God (John 15:11).  If one’s heart never sings when doing exegesis, then the process has not reached its culmination.  And if one has never trembled when doing exegesis (Isa. 66:2), then one is not listening for the voice of God.”  (Schreiner, T. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles p19)

In case you are not aware exegesis is simply the exploration of the meaning of a text (in our case a biblical text).  To exegete something is to attempt to discover it’s meaning. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A "Critical" Prayer for the New Year

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you may be tempted.

Heavenly Father,

How easy it is for me to have a ‘critical’ spirit toward my brother. How easy it is for me to observe and confidently list his failure, his short-coming, and his inadequacy. If I see through your eyes, my heart will break with every word that I utter. If I see with the assistance of Satan, something else will happen. I will see the sin, but my observation will lead me to pride and judgment rather than humility and genuine concern. If I truly examine my own heart, most of my criticisms of my brother have to do with the rationalization of my the elevation of my service.....and to the foolish notion that I have greater insight and understanding of someone else which gives me the ‘right’ to pass judgment....... even if that judgment is forever unspoken.

I know that I judge others when my heart is not heavy when I criticize. I know that I have no humility when it causes me no lingering grief nor pain to utter a critical word of my brother. I know that I have leapt into the quicksand of pride, ego, and self-righteousness when I confidently speak the words of condemnation as if you have given me a special revelation of someone else’s soul.

Lord, when you give me the eyes to see me to see only that which leads me to humbly bring about healing and restoration. For every single criticism of someone else that crosses my mind show me ten failures and sins of my own. Whenever I begin to open my mind or my mouth to criticize my brother, show me Christ and show me my sin first. Then in humility may I be used by you to obey your word and gently help to restore my brother.

Friday, January 1, 2010

10 Years Ago Today

Ten years ago I was sick…well, hung-over.  I had graduated high school the previous May.  Many of my friends had went away to college—I had chose to pursue a degree at a local junior college.  For New Year’s Eve many of my friends had came back and we went out to “celebrate” the New Year.  I had fun, but it felt empty.  I was beginning to realize the emptiness of the life I was pursuing. 

Ten years ago today I prayed a desperate prayer.  I do not remember the exact words that I prayed; I only know it was desperate and something similar to “I don’t want this life anymore".  I was beginning (but not fully) understanding my deep need for grace.  I was desperate for God to fill the emptiness in my heart, redeem my life, fulfill the deep longings of my heart, and to change me.  Consider this and see the beauty of redemption. 

Ten Years Ago I was:

  • Lonely.  I deeply desired a relationship with a significant other, but continued striking out.  On January 1, 2000 I was looking for love and beginning to give up hope of ever finding it (her). 
  • Deeply depressed and controlled by a strong desire to “fit in”.  My life was controlled by fear.  I knew that at any moment I would be exposed by all of my friends for the loser that I really was.  I was always trying to be somebody I was not.  On January 1, 2000 I was deeply depressed and looking everywhere to find some sense of meaning, purpose, and a place to belong.
  • Trapped with no idea what to do with my life.  I had already changed my major 3-4 times in the first semester (which is typical).  Did I want to be an elementary school teacher, a P.E. coach, a history teacher?  I certainly did not want to be where I was.  On January 1 2000, I had little hope of not simply wasting my life. 
  • Guilty.  I had messed up big time in many things and I knew it.  I only new God from a distance but I did know enough to know that I had done things that were not holy.  I had no idea how far away my heart actually was (and sadly still can be).  On January 1, 2000 I was guilty before a holy God and I felt it. 
  • Lost; that sums it up perfectly.  I was miserable.  I am not certain if I was actually in a relationship with God or not at this time.  I might have been living in a ton of rebellion, because I felt deep conviction.  Whether I was actually “lost” or not I am not sure—but I certainly felt like it. 

Today I am:

  • Happily married to my wife of 5 (almost 6) years.  She is the one that my heart was longing for on January 1, 2000.  On May 15, 2004 God provided the permanent solution to my loneliness.  Apart from Christ, my wife is the greatest blessing that the Lord has given me in the last 10 years.  The Lord has used her to mold me and shape me.  But more than that the Lord has used her to deeply love me.  I am deeply love my wife and I know without a shadow of a doubt that she deeply loves me.
  • Enjoying be a father.  I have a two year old little boy.  On January 1, 2000 I was still working through my own wounds.  Today, those are healed and I am a father to an amazing son. 
  • Satisfied in my life.  I do not mean satisfied as in “this will do” but satisfied as in I do not have a residing emptiness.  This does not come from my life situation.  I was financially strapped on January 1, 2000 and I am just as much on January 1, 2010.  My clothes aren’t better.  I might have less friends.  Worldly speaking I do not have that much.  But I have Christ and that is all that I need.  He has fulfilled my every longing.  He is my place to belong.  Furthermore,
  • I am an associate pastor at a church in Indiana.  There was no way on January 1, 2000 that I thought I would be preaching the gospel in Indiana and attending a seminary.  Not only are my brothers and sisters in Christ my “vocation”, they are also my friends and my family—they are my place of belonging. 
  • I am forgiven.  The Lord has redeemed me.  Only those close to me know how deep my redemption has been.  My heart has changed.  My desires have changed.  How I spend my time has changed.  Everything really is different. 

One story stands out in my mind as a picture of redemption.  Shortly after coming to Christ on January 1, 2000 I began working with youth at the Baptist church in my hometown.  It was probably more for me than for them—but the Lord has used it tremendously.  On one occasion I was sharing with the students about my past.  I had photocopied a journal entry to share with them, so they could see my frame of mind before Christ.  I ignorantly left the master copy on our coffee table at home.  My mother saw it and became very nervous that I had left to commit suicide.  That is how depressed and lost my heart was.  Today I write about the glories of Christ and the joy of salvation. 

God truly does redeem—I am evidence of that.  On January 1, 2010 I want to say thank you that the Lord has redeemed me.  And I want to pray that the Lord might redeem me further still.  If you are reading this on January 1, 2010 and if you are hung-over like I was on January 1, 2000 know that God redeems.  If you feel the emptiness of a life wasted on January 1, 2010 know that God can restore all things. 

Only one life twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.


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