Supercharged

Paul wanted the faithful Ephesians to move from concepts to communion. There is knowing the truth of God, and then there is knowing the God of truth, through his truth. This is his prayer for them, and for all believers, in the second half of chapter one.

There are three truths he wishes believers to know in this way:

  1. “the hope to which he has called you”

  2. “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints”

  3. “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe”

I would like to take a moment to reflect upon the third item on this apostolic prayer list.

Believers are the ongoing subjects of God’s power. What kind of power exactly is explained in the next verse: “according to working of his great might, that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (v 20).

First, this is a resurrection power. The Bible’s nickname for being totally depraved unregenerate children of Adam under the wrath of God is being dead in sin (2:1). When you were saved, you were raised from spiritual death, or, resurrected in Christ. Your baptism pictured this. But the resurrection power of God toward you did not cease upon your conversion; it continues to work and transform you into the image of God in Christ. This is always happening by his providence, and most especially through his means of grace.

Secondly, this is God’s power toward Christ. Jesus earned this resurrection power by his perfect life and wrath-bearing death. Because the Righteous One put away sin when he died, death could no longer hold him, having no dominion over him. And so, God raised him in a breathtaking act of power which tore the fabric of creation and produced the only physical new creation stuff in existence: the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What this means for us is that, in Christ, we are the perpetual recipients of God’s powerful grace, which Jesus earned with his law-fulfilling life and sin-atoning death. He is the proper subject of its working; and we, in him, are its proper subjects by imputation. He did it for us.

God’s power is always working in your life if you are a believer. You can rest in his promise to finish the good work he started, and bring you to stand before him in splendor and holiness with great joy. However, if you once begin to really grasp this truth, you will find your faith so strengthened, your joy so full, and your heart so at peace, that you may come to feel that you are, even now, as Paul says in the second chapter, “seated with him in the heavenly places.” And that is something worth praying for.

Heart Eyes

“I didn’t know that my heart has eyes,” said the hater smugly. He didn’t like the song Open the Eyes of My Heart and vented his frustration thusly. While the wise man can play the part of the fool, I don’t think that was his role. I believe Ignorant was the character upon the stage. For, had he never read, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened (Ephesians 1:18)?

Yes indeed, your heart has eyes. Your head does too (well, if you’re wise it does, says the wise man — Ecclesiastes 2:14). These biblical inner optics are rather different than the pagan’s idea of the third eye—they are the truth at which the ignoble perversion grasps. After all, was it not for its ability to make one wise that Eve ate the fruit? And was it not because their eyes were opened that Adam and Eve fled from the presence of the Maker? This was an enlightenment which plunged the whole human race into death and pulled down the fabric of the universe with it. So get as woke as you like about how messed up this world and the people in it are (except you, of course)—it will solve nothing, and you will remain a fallen realm on legs, a very world of living ruin.

The Ephesians had their fair share of these magic third eye openings prior to faith (Acts 19:19). Now they needed their understandings opened. Why? Not only to grasp the concepts of God’s cosmic grace, but to handle the realities themselves. This heart work must happen before we are able to experience God’s truth—and that is the experience that counts.

Heart’s eyes means that we are in the realm of experience, of affections and desires. Yes, we must become heart-eyed emojis for God’s grace in Christ, filled with faith, hope, and love, or we have failed to taste and see that he is good. The cold-hearted psychonautical mountings of the heathen’s third eye openings feel significant, but they feel and know nothing of God’s power and amazing love for sinners.

For this reason you must pray the prayer of the psalmist every time you open God’s word: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18). The old Grinch’s heart grew three times in size; may the eyes of your heart outdo the corrupted Who. Pro-tip: The wondrous things to see are the Lord Jesus Christ in all his saving splendor!

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

Ah yes, Thanksgiving. I feel about it how the old round preacher felt about Christmas: there is certainly no religion in the keeping of Thanksgiving Day, as a holy observance, but yet we are, with the Spurgeon, glad for the extra day together afforded to families by it. On this account, to adapt his own phrasing, I could wish there were 20 Thanksgiving Days.

The giving of thanks is an exotic plant that only grows in its native soil: a heavenly heart. The giving of thanks is the mark of the child of God, just as ingratitude is the mark of Satan’s own little ones. It is that badge of dishonor given to them by the apostle: “they did not…give thanks” (Romans 1:21).

Fear not, I will not be giving you the salutary observe Thanksgiving spiritually (for this is true of all things, after its own fashion), nor its sister-exhortation, Make everyday a Thanksgiving. Rather, I simply want to observe that you are either a thankful person or you are not. No amount of exertion on your end of things can produce it, just as no amount of, shall we say, inaction can squelch it. It is either there, or it is not, because you are either it, or you are not it.

Take this week to examine whether it is so with you. How fares it with your soul? For it is the proof of nothing less than your eternal destiny, in whatever direction that may be. You are either a recipient of God’s free gift of eternal life to sinners through the blood of his Son Jesus Christ, or you are not. Secure for yourself the blessed status of giver of thanks by trusting in Jesus today.

The Parable of the Good Augustinian

The Good Samaritan. We’ve heard the parable countless times. What does it mean? Modern interpreters know for a fact that it is simply an illustration of the lawyer’s sin and failure to keep the law, which—I dare say some would teach—if he does, he will inherit eternal life. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Ancient expositors of the New Testament thought very differently about this popular passage. Augustine gets picked on for his exposition of it by several modern manuals on the craft, but Augustine’s reading did not begin with himself, and was certainly no attempt at novelty. We may well call it the patristic reading, for we find it in men who went before him, such as Origen (some of my readers were instantly triggered just now) and Irenaeus. Their interpretation was simple: Jesus is the good Samaritan in the parable.

What can we say about the parable? Perhaps a bit of context. It is an illustration of the second table of the law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27). A lawyer asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer was that he must keep the commandments: “Do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:28), a clear expression of the principle of works given to Adam and echoed in the Mosaic law. The lawyer then asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29).

Jesus went on to illustrate the commandment with the parable of the good Samaritan. He proves to the lawyer, who wants to work his way to heaven, that he does not love his neighbor and therefore will not inherit eternal life—at least if he means to rely on his own works to do so (and we think he means to do just that: “desiring to justify himself” v. 29). The foreign Samaritan in the parable does, however, love his neighbor.

I’m reading a book on hermeneutics right now called The Letter and Spirit of Biblical Interpretation: From the Early Church to Modern Practice. In my reading today the author explored Augustine’s interpretation of this parable, which I read intently, with a thought here or there about the outlandish nature of all that the old saint saw in Jesus’ words. But, if you follow me on social media, you may know that this morning I posted a picture of this book with the comment that in three sentences this guy convinced me of the patristic reading of the parable of the good Samaritan. It all clicked for me. Many other sentences have done mightily, but they did not attain to the three. They are as follows:

“Second, although Jesus could have illustrated the command of neighbor love in a number of ways, the parable that he presented is clearly a rescue story, a story about salvation. This choice carries significant consequences for interpretation. In a day when all Christian interpreters agreed that the scope of Scripture is Christ, it would not require a great hermeneutical leap to imagine the rescuer, the savior, in this story as Christ.” (p. 88)

Well that took me straight to glory and I do believe I love the Lord Jesus more now than I did this morning when I opened that book. He is indeed the eschatological good Samaritan who kept God’s law perfectly, attaining eternal life, and did so in a marvelous saving act of love for his dying neighbor—me!

Paul's professional appearance

“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” Galatians 6:11

Is there any communication tool quite like sarcasm? Oh how some of us love the ironical spirit, and I daresay, have even channeled the singing of its muses. For it is so effective. I suppose it is an example of ad absurdum, in which device the absolute ridiculousness of the opposing view is marched publicly to open shame. Those who decry the practice know that God himself would never partake of such low methods.

In any case, this is the very sense in which I mean to say Paul’s professional appearance. For he had none. There was nothing about Paul’s appearance or manner that said cleric to those around him. When he was arrested in Jerusalem he was mistaken for an Egyptian revolutionary (Acts 21:38). He didn't even look like a Roman citizen, let alone a holy man. He had not, apparently, donned “the uniform.”

I think this lack of professional appearance (for we have made the ministry a matter of professionalism) is also seen in the text before us. Paul, as scholars believe, struggled with poor eyesight. It was perhaps a remnant of his blinding conversion experience. In any case, he did not benefit from the advances of modern optometric science and was left to face the world with a blurred sight which could not have been more perfectly contrasted with the razor spiritual vision he possessed.

Well, as I said, his poor eyesight seems to rear its blurry head in the verse before us. For the large letters of his own hand were not simply a devise to show the Galatians how very serious he was—a role which the letters do seem to play within the text—but their cause seems to be his inability to see small and more professional letters. Whether he hand wrote the entire letter himself or simply penned the farewell section, the fact is that Paul’s penmanship was less than professional. He wrote in the wild though undoubtedly more artful hand style of a graffiti artist.

Now think about this. Here is Paul, penning one of his parts in the greatest Book ever written, the Book of books itself. Do you suppose that ancient or modern scholars would look upon this crusty manuscript with awe and wonder? Would anything about its physical appearance scream “THIS IS FROM GOD”? Certainly nothing about it would even whisper “cleric.” And yet here it is in all its God-breathed exquisiteness.

The lesson for us is simple. Do we have eyes to see God’s real working and power? Or are we enslaved to the earthly categories of the elementary principles of the world, that which we can merely see and hear? Paul condemns these bankrupt categories in this very letter, even as he defies them in his own personal appearance and in the script of his own hand. In the end, I think Paul’s appearance was really just that of a normal person.

Does this mean we should not be excellent in what we do? Certainly not. We are constrained to be so. But excellence is, after all, a relative term. Let us be excellent where it counts, and where there is liberty or even impetus to break the worldly categories of what ministry is “supposed to look like,” then with God’s help we will not yield in submission to them for even a moment.

Let us be real spiritual people who have spiritual sight to see God’s glory where and how it really exists.

The Spirit-empowered life

“Walk by the Spirit” Galatians 5:16

“Walk by the Spirit.” I daresay that you’ve heard of it by the hearing of the ear, but I wonder, have you seen it? Does it look like shaking with a seizure or losing all control? Does it sound like shouting in worship? No, walking by the Spirit is none of those things. It is a much more, shall we say, spiritual thing than those very bodily and visible activities I have just listed.

Moving onto what it is, we know that it is first of all a very necessary thing. It is the key to holiness (v. 16-24). It is most desirable, for in it is found the key to real spiritual power and joy and all sanctification. In other words, you need this today.

As to how it is done, thankfully Paul gives us a clue in verse 25. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Do we live by the Spirit? If we are believers we do. How, then, did we receive this Spirit that we live by? Paul told us just a bit ago in this same letter: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:2). The implied answer is obvious. We live by the Spirit by hearing with faith.

How then do we attain the Spirit’s ongoing power on our little lives, a.k.a. walk by him? In the same way that we received his majestic presence in the first place: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:5). This is how we walk by the Spirit, by hearing with faith.

Work it out and you will see that sanctification is by faith alone. Indeed, the faith that sanctifies is never alone, and so we work out our salvation with fear and trembling through the obedience of faith. But we do so by the ongoing power of the Spirit of God attained by means of hearing with faith.

Very well. But, hearing what with faith? Well, that is the favorite theme of all God’s preachers and of all God’s inspired penmen and of the Spirit who himself inspired them and of the mature old widow upon whom his power rests: “Jesus Christ…crucified” (Gal. 3:1). Or, as Paul has it for himself, “The Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20).

Now you try it. Commune with the One who died and rose in your place to give you eternal life as a most free gift of God’s amazing love for you, a hell-deserving wretch. See if beholding him in all his free mercy does not supply you with great spiritual power to overcome the sin in your life today. And then you will know what it really means to live a Spirit-empowered life.

Seasons

“A word in season, how good it is!” Proverbs 15:23

Not everyone is fortunate enough to experience all four seasons in full force. In Minneapolis, it is true, old Jack Frost mayhaps overstay his welcome at times, but we are at least favored with real winter, and, more to the point, real fall.

The turning of the seasonal tides always reminds me of an old Nas lyric:

In a Lex watchin Kathie Lee and Regis
My actions are one with the seasons

You may hate all things pumpkin spice (it is, after all, that time of year) but, I daresay you can at least appreciate the love of things that are in step with the season. A fireside hot chocolate is out of season in July, but most delicious in December. One can hardly think of frosty lemonade in the haunts of January’s strength, but is there anything more refreshing in the blast of August’s humidity?

Well, when it comes to seasons, there is nothing so fitting as a word in season. What is a word in season? The first line of our verse offers some help: “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man” (Proverbs 15:23). The idea is that of an answer when it is needed. Thinking of what you might have said after the fact is no use at all, at least not to that conversation. It is the word in the moment, the fitting word, the answering word, that carries most weight, that is most good.

The Lord is faithful to send us words in season, or, to put it another way, at the times when we need them most. A good book is always good, but a good book read in season becomes nearly inspired. The same is true of sermons and even words from other believers. If you’ve been walking with Christ for any amount of time, I’m sure you have experienced this and can exclaim with Solomon, How good it is!

But, is there any way to improve our chances, so to speak, of finding words in season? There is, and it is really very simple. We must fill our hearts and minds with Scripture now. For, you see, if you have God’s word at the fingertips of your heart, the appropriate word will always be ready to present itself. We may even think of this as a way of taking dominion, ahead of time, over the various seasons of our lives.

Store up readiness for all seasons by storing the word of God in your heart today.

What Pastor Luke is reading: Richard Muller

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, to be perfectly specific. Sounds like a mouth full—and it is—but I'm finding that it's really a head full. Muller is P.J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids and is a premier scholar on the theology and theological method of those who came after the Reformers. I would like to share three benefits I'm receiving from his work.

It's challenging

I'm used to reading Puritans like Owen and Charnock, but I'm not as used to the modern scholarly flavor of this kind of historical theology. It has been demanding, and I love that. It's making me think. It's making me reexamine my theological presuppositions. More than anything it's letting me know how very much I have to learn.

It's edifying

It is building up my faith. God's truth is exquisitely majestic and the great theological prowess of our spiritual forebears hunted down that glory in God's revelation. Great minds revolved the mighty themes of Scripture and produced pristine theological system. The wonder, the unsearchableness, the riches, the privilege of having the disclosure of the living God in Christ is being driven into my heart anew.

It's true

The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is his bride, and he has been faithful to sanctify her over the centuries. We've heard it ad nauseam, "We stand on the shoulders of giants," but it's true. We are not reinventing the wheels of truth and error in the year of our Lord 2018. No, we are building upon the Herculean excavations and Michelangelonian productions of many workmen gone before. We benefit tremendously from the Lord's work through them, his gifts to his church (Eph. 4:11).

What are you reading?

Cross-check: Real Bereans

"The Bereans cross-checked Paul hard." Such ran a popular meme I saw some time ago. It expresses our common understanding of the noble Bereans and their conduct. The idea itself is correct: we need to examine teachers by the word of God to make sure what they're saying is biblical. But it's the spirit of the meme, and of our common use of this text, that is wrong. I'd like to do some cross-checking of my own here, because we're cheating ourselves out of something noble and wonderful. Let's look at the text:

"The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." Acts 17:10-11 

The Thessalonian Jews, with whom the Bereans are contrasted. were skeptical in the way we commonly mean.

They distrusted Paul. Their posture toward his preaching was one of skepticism and doubt. This should be our exact posture toward false teachers. Believers can smell when something is wrong, for "they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:5). It is then that we must, ironically, adopt a posture more similar to that of the Thessalonian Jews. A more suitable text for this is Isaiah 8:20: "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn." Indeed, cross-check false teachers hard with the word when they come with their mutterings.

The Bereans weren't skeptical. At least not in the way we mean.

What made the Bereans noble was how they received Paul's preaching. It's the vibe that I think we miss here. Their posture wasn't negative, it was positive. Their hearts readily drank up what he said: "They received the word [that Paul spoke] with all eagerness..." The Bereans sat under such mind-blowing gospel preaching that they had to pinch themselves with Scripture to make sure they weren't dreaming. Now that's a Berean of a rather different sort, isn't it? They cross-checked their disbelief hard with the cross of Jesus Christ in all of Scripture. 

No earthly prosperity or fleshly doctrine ever hits the hearts of believers in this way, but the eternal gospel of God's free grace to miserable God-hating wretches does. So be a real Berean. Sit under the the kind of preaching that makes you sift through the Bible every day to see if God's grace is really that amazing.

Spoiler alert: It is. 

30 by 30

"Ye have not, because ye ask not." James 4:2

It has become a proverb that the last thing we think to do in any situation is to pray. An emergency appears, calling us to immediate action, which we all too gladly answer without first going to God for help and counsel. There seems to be, running alongside of this, a corollary in regards to things that we need. We wonder why we do not have what we need or even righteously desire, and the answer is so easy that we miss it: We have not because we ask not.

I rarely get biographical in these meditations, but I am after all a pastor of a church whose website you are current perusing. This church happens to be called Redeeming Cross Community Church in Minneapolis, MN. We are like any other relatively new church plant: in need of grace and, quite honestly, grace in the form of numbers. We are unspeakably grateful for our members, and yet we also need more.

Rather than spend months wringing our hands over this need, we have decided to take direct aim at the problem with direct prayer to God. Specific prayer. To be perfectly honest, we have already experienced this sort of thing in the annals of our own history. A few years ago we began praying for ten new households to join the church. Much to our surprise (which unmasked our unbelief), both individuals and families started showing up to church. And then they kept coming back. And then they wanted to join. In fact, one of our elders came from this incoming group. We installed a nice group into membership some time later and rejoiced greatly. However, somewhere along the way, we stopped praying.

Well, we are going to start praying again, and this time we're praying for 30 new members by December 30 (which happens to be the last Sunday on our present lease at Anthony Middle School). 30 by 30. This is not an ultimatum; it is the kind of specific request which we believe our most bountiful God delights in. Members, begin praying every day! Friends, would you please pray with us, that we might rejoice together in the Lord's amazing goodness to Redeeming Cross and to all of his churches? Indeed, start praying more specifically in your own life as well.

After all, it may very well be the case that you have not, simply because you ask not.