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Give Me Grace to See Beauty

Aug 24, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Grass-growing-on-sidewalk.-800x533_tLord Jesus,
Give me grace
to see the beauty
lying at my feet
in the commonplaces of life,
to feel that You are near,
and to find that life is as wonderful today
as when men and women saw You
in the days when You were on earth.

F. B. Meyer

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The God Who Will Not Be Tribalized

Aug 23, 2014 | Trevin Wax

keep.your.head.upLance Lewis:

To tribalize God is to preach, teach, and live as though He exists to promote the narrow interest of a particular group, culture, or country…

Cultures that tribalize God always fail to take Him seriously enough to deal with their own sin issues. This helps answer the question of how Reformed churches in particular could on the one hand affirm that God’s choice to save individuals has nothing to do with any positive traits or characteristics arising from those individuals while on the other hand denying Communion to confessing believers solely on the basis of skin color. They, like their evangelical brethren, gave in to a form of the social gospel by putting the sinful social desires of their culture above the godly eternal truths of Scripture. They failed by not confronting and challenging their communities to embrace Christ authentically and live out the implications of His gospel fully. They were willing to enjoy the privileges that God’s sovereignty brought them without ever reflecting on the reason behind those blessings. They muted God and relegated Him to the status of divine mascot.

As I stated previously, that is a perfectly understandable way for countries, cultures, and peoples to view God. Despite the radical secularism of the West most of the world is still deeply religious, with much of that religious effort aimed at securing the favor of a particular deity for the purpose of enjoying the advantages of wealth, opportunity, security, and wholeness in the here and now.

The problem when you encounter the God of Scripture, however, is that He has His own agenda and refuses to be tribalized.

He will not be used to prostituted to carry out the will of a particular country or people group.

He cannot be tamed, will not be bribed, would never allow Himself to be bought, and is so utterly complete and sufficient within Himself that He really does not need any of us for anything.

Any country or people group that dares view Him as their own private tribal warrior who exists mainly to do their bidding and deliver the goods runs the risk of watching their country or people group crumble in successive cycles of destructive depravity even as they rise to the top of the social food chain.

- from Keep Your Head Up

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eBook Giveaway: God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

Aug 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

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Some of you may be wondering why so many people are talking about the Bible’s storyline lately. What’s the big deal? Why is it so important for Christians to be able to connect the dots of the Bible’s grand narrative?

In this blog post, I list four reasons, and in a more recent post, I listed twelve books that showcase the Bible’s storyline. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts was on that list. Here’s what I wrote:

This book shows how the Bible is telling the story of the kingdom of God. In just a few short chapters, Roberts walks through the story of God’s kingdom as it unfolds in the Bible.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the alliteration (the pattern of the kingdom, the perished kingdom, the promised kingdom, the partial kingdom, the prophesied kingdom, the present kingdom, the proclaimed kingdom, and the perfected kingdom). I’m a nerd, I know.

With newest release of The Gospel Project for adults and students, titled The Story of God’s Kingdom, The Gospel Project and IVP have partnered to give you this free eBook. Click here to download.

 

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Know Your Southern Baptists: Alvin Reid

Aug 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Alvin ReidName: Alvin Reid

Age: 55 (April 3, 1959)

Why you’ve heard of him: He is one of the nation’s leading experts on evangelism and youth ministry.

Position: He is the Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry, as well as the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Previous: Before coming to SEBTS, Reid taught at Houston Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Boyce College. He has also taught internationally at Kiev Theological Seminary and Cape Town Baptist Seminary.

In addition to his time as a professor, Reid also served as a North American missionary in Indiana and as the state director of evangelism and stewardship for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana. He also served as a minister of education, music and as a pastor for churches in Alabama and Texas.

Education: He graduated with his B.A. from Samford University and his M.Div. and Ph.D. from SWBTS.

Books: In addition to writing scores of articles He is the author, co-author, or editor of more than 20 books, including Radically Unchurched: Who They Are and How to Reach Them, Raising the Bar: Ministry to Students in the New Millennium, The Convergent Church, Evangelism Handbook: Biblical Spiritual, Intentional, Missional, and his most recent work Firefall 2.0: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals.

Why he’s important: In 1970, in a church touched by the Jesus Movement, Reid came to Christ at the age of 11 and began his passion for and interest in evangelism, revivals and spiritual awakenings.

He has been at SEBTS for almost 20 years and has developed a reputation as someone who loves his students, his church, and the lost. He has preached in over 2,000 churches across the country and ministered on four continents, where he has preached, equipped leaders and taught in seminaries.

Previously, Reid traveled extensively to preach at student events, but recently, he has devoted more time in investing in his local church of Richland Creek Community and serving as the young professionals director.

For more information about Reid, visit his website at AlvinReid.com.

Notable Quotes:

“If youth can learn trigonometry in high school they can learn theology in church.”

“Lost people are generally more amazed at our silence than offended at our message.”

“We should love fishing as much as catching; i.e., we should love being friends of sinners.”

“I know I am experiencing personal revival when I stop confessing everyone else’s sins.”

“People we meet can tell three things about us: if we care about them, if we believe what we are talking about, and if the hand of God is on our lives.”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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Trevin’s Seven

Aug 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

trevin's sevenKindle Deal: Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel by Mike Cosper. $0.99.

1. Ebola and the Glory of God: An Interview with Nancy Writebol’s Family

2. Kerry Ray – Choosing to Live an Unbalanced Life

3. Thanks to Luke MacDonald for having me on the Vertical Podcast this week. We had a 20-minute conversation about lots of stuff going on in the news and how Christians should respond. You can subscribe to the podcast here.

4. Pope Benedict Was Right, and the World Owes Him an Apology

5. What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight Moon

6. Craig Blomberg – 5 Misunderstandings about Church Discipline

7. The Other Side of Ferguson – Local Churches Fighting Injustice

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Matthew, Mark, and Finding “Ethics” in the Story of Jesus

Aug 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

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I’m blogging through Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament over the next several weeks. In this introductory post, I laid out a reading schedule. If you’re just joining us, don’t miss the post that sets the stage for how we understand the ethics of the New Testament, or last week’s summary of Paul’s moral vision.

Today, we’re looking at the ethical vision of two Gospels – Mark and Matthew. How does one go about finding “ethics” in the story of Jesus?

Hays recognizes that we can’t limit the moral meaning of the Gospels to the didactic passages alone. Instead, we need to discern the Gospels’ ethical vision from understanding the shape of the story as a whole.

The Gospel of Mark

Christology: For Mark, the central question concerns the identity of Jesus, and the answer is that Jesus is the suffering Messiah.

“To be Jesus’ disciple means to allow one’s identity to be stamped by the identity of the one who died forsaken on the cross” (79).

Discipleship: Jesus’ sacrifice is vicarious for his people, but it is also exemplary. Mark makes clear that Jesus’ followers are to embrace the cross. This is what discipleship looks like:

“To be Jesus’ follower is to share his vocation of suffering servanthood, renouncing the world’s lust for power” (82).

Eschatology: The community is called to a posture of intense wakefulness. Because Christ is returning soon, believers cannot afford to compromise the radical demands of discipleship.

6 Observations about Mark’s narrative world

  1. The world according to Mark is a world torn open by God. (The kingdom changes everything.)
  2. Because the cosmic conflict is underway, time becomes compressed.
  3. God has reversed the positions of insiders and outsiders.
  4. Mark’s Gospel redefines the nature of power and the value of suffering.
  5. Mark’s vision of the moral life is profoundly ironic; God’s love and power are manifested in unexpected ways.
  6. This Gospel’s lack of closure calls for active response from the reader.

The Gospel of Matthew

Christology: Matthew shapes his Gospel from beginning to end in a way that shows Jesus to be the Teacher who expounds Torah in a new and authoritative way. At the same time, Jesus is the One who fulfills the Torah.

The Community of Faith: Matthew sees the followers of Jesus as a community of people who obey the teachings of Jesus and are thus “training for the kingdom.” The community’s mission is expressed in three ways.

  • A communal ethic of perfection: to see the world from the perspective of God’s future (98).
  • The hermeneutic of mercy: double love (for God and others) governs the construal of the law (101).
  • Community discipline and forgiveness: rigorous moral norms combined with forgiveness and reintegration for the repentant (102).

Eschatology: Matthew focuses primarily on the continuing and promised presence of Jesus with his people. This leads him to relax the eschatological urgency we find in Mark, even as he continues to stress the Lord’s presence in the community of faith. Eschatology (specifically, future judgment and rewards) continues to serve as a powerful warrant for moral behavior.

Historical Setting: Matthew writes his Gospel as an “ecclesiastical diplomat;” he pulls together different traditions into a master narrative that unifies the church under its confession of Jesus’ lordship.

7 Observations about Matthew’s narrative world

  1. The world is stabilized and given meaning by the authoritative presence of Jesus.
  2. The present is the time of the church’s mission to make disciples of all nations.
  3. God’s ultimate judgment of all will be based upon works of love and mercy.
  4. The bitter conflict with the synagogue is a salient aspect of Matthew’s world.
  5. The community must be characterized by humility, patience, and concern for the “little ones.”
  6. Obedience is represented as a simple possibility for those who hear Jesus.
  7. The church is a community where people can find security and can act with moral confidence.

Some Personal Considerations

I appreciate the way that Hays takes seriously the distinctive elements we find in the Gospels. He does not mute the voices of Matthew or Mark in his attempt to summarize and synthesize their contribution to our understanding of Jesus. I also appreciate his take on the Sermon on the Mount as a method of training in the ways of righteousness.

Some of Hays’ hermeneutical moves are puzzling (his allegorical approach to Peter walking on water, for example), based primarily on his reconstruction of the historical setting in which the Gospels were written rather than a persuasive case from the text itself. Overall, though, these two chapters made me want to go back and immerse myself in the narrative world of the Gospels, to once again be shaped by the ethical vision on display in both the didactic portions and the historical narratives.

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Worth a Look 8.21.14

Aug 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy by Steve Monsma. $2.99.

Monsma lays a foundation of biblical principles that should undergird all our political involvement. Three principles are key: justice, solidarity, and civil society.

Thabiti Anyabwile – Why We Never “Wait for All the Facts” Before We Speak:

My brother pastor thinks that by speaking before we “have all the facts” we’re putting the gospel on the line. I think by not speaking about about the facts we do have and the patterns of injustice affecting the marginalized we’ve already abandoned the gospel and what it demands of us.

You decide.

Shaunti Feldhaun – Restoring Our Faith in Marriage:

I have seen in the research what every marriage counselor knows intimately: divorce isn’t the greatest threat to marriage. Discouragement is. A sense of “why bother” is. And for too long, our confidence in marriage has been undermined by persistent misunderstandings and damaging myths.

The president of the World Jewish Congress asks, “Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?”

The Jewish people understand all too well what can happen when the world is silent. This campaign of death must be stopped.

5 Statements on the Apostle Paul’s “Tombstone:”

In Acts 20, we get a glimpse into what Paul would have wanted on his tombstone. Paul gives a farewell speech to some of his closest friends, and summarizes his entire philosophy of life. I’d like to be able to have these five statements be the funeral sermon at the end of my life.

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When Your Father Tells You To Walk: Engaging the Sanctification Debate Through the Lens of Adoption

Aug 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

23snaps-First-StepsEvangelicals have been engaged in a contentious conversation about the nature of sanctification and what role God’s Law has in shaping our spirituality as we become more like Christ.

On the one hand are those who believe the way we grow in holiness is by allowing the Law is to drive us to our knees, show us our continual need for a Savior, so that we renounce all works of self-justification and rest fully in Jesus. This process takes place over time; the wonder of being justified becomes the motivation for obedience. 

On the other hand are those who believe growth in holiness includes grace-driven effort. In light of Christ’s finished work on our behalf, we pursue holiness, heed the moral exhortations in Scripture, and seek progress in our obedience. One purpose of the Law is to lead us to renounce our self-sufficiency, but another purpose is to show us what the Spirit-empowered life looks like, a life God expects us to live.

Sometimes, both these perspectives collide in the life of one person.

From the Law-Centered Life…

Consider the woman who grew up in a legalistic environment. It seemed like all she heard was the law, often disconnected from the gospel. The Christian life was reduced to a checklist, a series of do’s and don’ts.

In church, she learned that the gospel is the good news of God’s grace, but the law is “where it’s at.” To put it another way: “Yes, of course, we are saved by grace, but…

That “but” is deadly. It sucks the life out of our Christianity because it shifts the emphasis away from Christ’s redeeming work and points toward whatever good works we’re supposed to be doing. Christ’s good work for us gets taken for granted and our good work for Christ gets the spotlight. This is disastrous for the Christian life, as many have discovered personally.

To the Gospel-Centered Life

In reaction to the moralistic, rules-centered Christianity, this woman runs to the great truths of the gospel (what Christ has done) and skips by the New Testament’s commands (what we are to do now, in light of what Christ has done).

She thinks: As long as I preach the good news of Christ’s unmerited favor to myself, good deeds will naturally occur. There’s no need to stress what God expects of me as a believer; the key to growth in Christianity is to return again and again to my need for God’s grace, and then bask in the beauty of His justifying work through Jesus.

Over time, however, she begins to have doubts about this strategy. Some biblical texts don’t fit this paradigm. Who is right? she wonders.

The Freedom of Belonging

It’s here that we need to remember what it means to be adopted into Christ’s family.

God is your Father. You belong to His family because of Jesus’ work on your behalf. He tells you that He is making you in the image of Your Savior-Brother who gave Himself for you.

Now imagine that whenever He says to do something, He whispers to you, There will be times you will fail, but I want you to know, you are part of this family. The good news is your Brother has stood in your place, and as you marvel at His sacrifice, your gratitude and love for Me will increase.

There’s a beautiful freedom at work here, a reminder that one’s status as a family member isn’t dependent on one’s own work. You’re there by grace.

And yet, it’s possible for a person to internalize this gospel truth in a way that is constraining rather than freeing. If this is all we ever hear our Father say, we might begin to see the good news of Christ’s work as a ball and chain that reminds us only of our frailty and fallenness, instead of the gospel freeing us for obedience.

The Freedom of “You Can Do It, Son!”

Let’s change the conversation around. Your Father comes to you and issues a command: Love your enemies.

Well aware of your ongoing struggles, you reply, “I don’t think I can.”

He smiles and says: Your Brother has loved His enemies perfectly in your place, but I see you are becoming more like Him. So I say, “love your enemies.”

You look up to your Father: ”You think I can do this?”

He nods: My Spirit is in you. Of course I do.

Suddenly, the seemingly impossible command of God is not constraining but freeing. ”My Father calls me to obey! He thinks I can do it!”

This is no longer a command that drives you to your knees in repentance; it’s a command that surges through your veins and fires you up.

Imagine a baby just learning to walk. The Father doesn’t say, “You’re going to stumble, so I’ll just let your Brother walk for you.” No, your loving Father says, with a gleam in His eyes, “I know you can do it!” And like a jolt of electricity in your toddling legs, you look up at your Father, you see your big Brother walking, and you gather up your courage and totter forward, amazed you are moving.

Imagine the boy on the soccer field whose Father is on the sidelines, saying, “Take a shot, son!” Knowing you have His love no matter what, even if your shot misses, you risk it all and aim for the goal. Your Father believes in you.

Freedom to Obey

Legalism is an ever-present danger to the Christian life. If we view God only as our Judge, we will never understand how God’s commands, how the Bible’s imperatives, could be anything but condemnatory toward us.

But if we see God through the eyes of adoption, as a loving Father who in His grace now calls us to obedience, then we are freed by the commands of love.

So, on we go. We stumble forward in grace, knowing if we fall, we can run to Him for forgiveness, and when we succeed we can run to Him with gratitude. We belong to His family, no matter what.

Sometimes, the most loving thing a Father can say is, “Get up and walk.”

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Worth a Look 8.20.14

Aug 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Political Thought: A Student’s Guide (Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition) by Hunter Baker. $0.99.

Award-winning professor Hunter Baker helps political amateurs gain a foundational understanding of the subject and encourages seasoned political observers to find a fresh perspective in this book. Learn how to fruitfully consider and discuss politics, and gain a greater capacity for evaluating political proposals and the claims that go with them.

D. A. Carson – What Are Gospel Issues?

Not only do we not agree on what things are gospel issues, I suspect that sometimes we do not agree on what “gospel issue” means. The following reflections provide the merest introduction to some of the factors that strike me as relevant…

Matt Chandler – More on Ferguson and White Privilege:

What is so deceptive about white privilege is that it is different from blatant racism or bias. A privileged person’s heart may be free from racist thoughts or biased attitudes, but may still fail to see how the very privilege afforded to him or her shapes how he or she interprets and understands the situations and circumstances of people without privilege.

This is amazing. Airplanes dodge thunderstorms over world’s busiest airport:

Last Friday, a thunderstorm in Atlanta wreaked havoc on the comings and goings at an airport that sees more than a quarter of a million people pass through its gates each day. Watch this timelapse of the hours during the storm as the incoming planes were maneuvered by the air traffic controllers around thunder clouds like characters in an old video game until they can sneak through the storm and safely land. Incredible…

J. A. Medders – Wisdom is a “Who” More Than a “What”

Jesus is Wisdom. He is the Proverbs wrapped in flesh. They are animated and fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

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Is Sanctification a Process or a Position?

Aug 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

SanctificationIs sanctification the “process” of being made holy?

Or is it a term that refers to our position as belonging to God?

That’s the question at the heart of David Peterson’s Possessed by Goda book I summarized yesterday. (Start there to get the gist of Peterson’s proposal.)

Today, I want to follow up with some thoughts on how Peterson’s book plays out in day-to-day ministry.

What Is Sanctification: A Process or Position?

Possessed by God is a good contribution to the ongoing discussion on the nature of sanctification and the pastoral wisdom of knowing where to put the emphasis when discipling believers.

Peterson admits that sanctification can be conceived of as a process, but he argues that the New Testament emphasis (building on Old Testament examples) is on sanctification as a position, a status bestowed on us at conversion. He warns against focusing more on the process than the position because such an approach can actually work against the progress that a believer wants to experience.

In surveying the sanctification debates, it appears that some Christians focus on the motivations for growth in holiness and seek to measure the progress that takes place in this life, while other Christians believe one should focus more on the definitive aspect of our sanctification that comes with salvation, believing this emphasis will motivate us to live out the identity that has been bestowed upon us in Christ.

What Do You Emphasize?

When pressed, pastors and scholars on all sides of this conversation generally affirm the statements and teachings of others. The difference lies in where the accent should be placed and the potential consequences of getting the emphasis wrong. Peterson is squarely on the side of emphasizing the definite nature of our being consecrated, set apart for God as his people.

The strength of Peterson’s work is his ability to engage various biblical texts without ever losing sight of their wider context. In fact, it is an appeal to context that leads him to disagree with J. C. Ryle’s interpretation of Hebrews 12:14 (a verse that says “without holiness, no one will see the Lord”). Peterson and Ryle are not far from each other, but Peterson’s approach sees holiness as an expression of our “once-for-all” sanctification and Ryle sees holiness more as “proof” of our salvation.

At the risk of oversimplification, we might put it this way: Peterson believes stressing the positional aspect will lead to the expression of the progressive aspect, whereas Ryle believes stressing the progressive aspect will lead to evidence of the positional.

Or to look at it from the other side: wrongly emphasizing the progressive will lead to an obscurity of the positional and to doubts of salvation (according to Peterson), whereas wrongly emphasizing the positional will lead to apathy and lack of incentive to faithfully pursue a holy life (according to Ryle).

In pitting Ryle and Peterson against each other, I do not want to give the impression that their differences are quite as stark as presented here; neither is it true that Peterson uses Ryle as his primary foil (he engages with a number of scholars, both living and dead). But I find it helpful to simplify the discussion as a way of facilitating further conversation among pastors and counselors who genuinely want to see people growing in holiness and yet disagree as to the best way to biblically motivate them to obedience.

Concluding Thoughts

The strength of Peterson’s proposal is his reliance on eschatological categories and the doctrine of our union with Christ. It is refreshing to see the sanctification debate placed in the wider context of eschatological realities, a move that incorporates the outlook of various New Testament passages (including, but not limited to Romans 6-8) and also keeps us firmly in the soil of the biblical narrative and worldview, not in the miry debates between systematic theologians through the years.

Peterson’s work is careful and nuanced, making him a needed voice in the conversation about how Christians grow in obedience.

Anyone interested in the ongoing (sometimes heated) discussions about sanctification should consult Possessed by God. He ably incorporates biblical exegesis, systematic insights, and historical analysis into his study, such that the reader comes away with a greater appreciation for God’s work in justifying and sanctifying us in the past, and a stronger desire to manifest God’s work in our obedience in the present.

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