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Did you know that starting with the March 15th Sunday morning service & the March 25th Wednesday evening service, Sunday & Wednesday videos can now be accessed through the Central Baptist Church NLR app and website? All future sermons posts there will include a video link as well. Check it out!

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Matthew 4:23-25

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Matthew 4

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Matthew 4:23-25 is an interesting summary of the public ministry of Jesus Christ. I would like to approach it using 1 Corinthians 12:27 as our key for interpretation and application: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” I am doing this because I believe that 1 Corinthians 12:27 is the bridge connecting the history of the end of Matthew 4 with the present day living out of that history in the life of the modern church. Put another way, if the church is the body of Christ then the church should be modeling in its modern expression what Jesus modeled in His earthly ministry.

What kind of ministry, then, did Jesus model? When we look at the last three verses of Matthew 4, three pictures emerge.

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Genesis 29:1-18

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Genesis 29

1 Then Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep lying beside it, for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place over the mouth of the well. Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” They said, “We know him.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” They said, “It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!” He said, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together. Water the sheep and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.” While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 Now as soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. 13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14 and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month. 15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. 18 Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 

Most folks enjoy a good love story. In Genesis 29-30 we have a love story Genesis style, which is to say, a love story filled with great acts of virtue, great acts of deceit, intense feeling, and staggering familial dysfunction. In other words, this is a very human love story. It is very human, but it is not merely human, for in the love story of Jacob and Rachel we see glimpses of God’s love for us.

Let us consider this love story, then, and, in so doing, consider the nature of true love itself. And in doing that, let us explore the beautiful glimpses of God’s great love for us that emerge from these verses.

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Genesis 28:10-22

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Genesis 28

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

The Hutterite Chronicle is an important book that tells the story of Anabaptist followers of Jesus and the many trials and persecutions they faced. Harold Bender passes on a beautiful comment from “a moving account written in 1542 and taken from the ancient Hutterian chronicle where it is found at the close of a report of 2,173 brethren and sisters who gave their lives for their faith.” The comment about these martyrs is this: “Their faith blossomed as a lily, their loyalty as a rose, their piety and sincerity as the flower of the garden of God.”[1]

What a testimony to these brave men and women. What a witness! Would that such could be said of us. Perhaps it still could be!

Irenaeus, the great father of the early church, once said that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.”[2] To be sure, the glory of God is more than this and greater than this, but Irenaeus is certainly correct that God’s glory is magnified in lives lived in harmony with God. How then, do we get there? How do we exhibit the glory of God and live a life that looks like a flower of the garden of God?

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Dan Crawford’s The Prayer-Shaped Disciple

51okvHajJiL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_When I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary over twenty years ago I took one Spring a class called “Spring Evangelism Practicum” with Dr. Dan Crawford. This class represented an effort on the seminary’s part to serve and assist Baptist churches in frontier areas of Baptist work in the United States. In essence, the Seminary would send students to areas with little Baptist work to preach a Spring revival and to encourage the pastors of these churches. The students received academic credit and preaching experience in the process. I was sent to Minot, North Dakota, in early 1996 or 1997, I don’t remember which.

I found Dan Crawford to be a sincere, intelligent, and inspiring professor. The classes leading up to the week on the field were helpful, often humorous, sometimes cautionary, and always carried with them a sense that this was serious work upon which we were embarking! I remember the whole experience with great fondness.

I thought of Dr. Crawford last year and found his website, Disciple All Nations. I was really happy to see that Dr. Crawford has provided free pdf copies of many of his books on his site! And I was even happier to see that his book, The Prayer-Shaped Disciple: Learn How Prayer Can Enrich Your Spiritual Life (Hendrickson, 1999) was available for free. I was excited because I was wanting to find some solid and helpful material to take our church through in a Wednesday night prayer meeting. So that’s what I did for a good bit of last year. We put a link on our app to the book and made printed-off copies available to those who desired a hardcopy instead and worked through the book for a number of months.

The book covers a lot of territory, really pretty much any topic you can think of pertaining to prayer and then some other topics besides. It is quite thorough. It is marked by an irenic spirit, a strong effort to ground all of its assertions in scripture, a heavy use of illustrations (which, to me, was a strength but I wonder if some folks might think there are too many), a sense of urgency and passion about prayer, and a very helpful practical approach to prayer and the various issues surrounding it.

This would be a very good book to give to somebody just trying to figure out how prayer works and what it is. In saying that I’m not trying to say that it is elementary or basic. On the contrary, there are deep waters here as well and those who have been believers for some time will likewise be challenged by the work. Also, the book addresses a number of issues related to conducting a prayer ministry that pastors and ministry leaders will find interesting and helpful.

I would say that The Prayer-Shaped Disciple is a strong, solid contribution to the issue of prayer and the reader will read it with great profit!

Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak

51Dzsive8mLEarlier this year my wife and I returned to Asheville—where we go as often as we can—and spent a few days at The Grove Park Inn—where we honeymooned almost 25 years ago—and visited once again the Biltmore House—where we’ve been a gazillion times before! While in one of the bookstores at Biltmore I noticed a series of books that seemed to be aimed at young adults and that were being displayed prominently. Neither my wife nor I had ever heard of these books. I looked it over and thought it was interesting then put it back so we could do the tour. The next day we were in a Barnes & Noble in Asheville and saw another prominent display for these books along with a series of posters on the windows promoting them along with a flatscreen broadcasting on loop a trailer for one of the volumes and decided to pick up the first volume, Serafina and the Black Cloak. That night, while sitting in front of one of the fire places at The Grove Park, I read aloud 63 pages to Roni. We were both charmed and intrigued by this wonderfully delightful and odd story. What is more, the fact that the story is set in and around the Biltmore House really made it come alive for us. It was so much fun being able to stop and say, “We know where that is!” or “I can picture that perfectly in my mind.” Last night we finished the book (having had a number of delays over the last many weeks).

The story (and series of books) is about a twelve-year-old girl named Serafina who lives, secretly, in the basement of the Biltmore with her father who is an employee on the estate tasked primarily with keeping the Dynamo running that provides electricity for the house. The Vanderbilts are unaware that Serafina and her dad live in the basement or that Serafina sneaks around the house at night catching rats, something that she is strangely good at! Anyway, something keeps happening to the Dynamo and, in the darkness that results, something even worse keeps happening in the house! The children of the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt are going missing, disappearing, Serafina discovers, in the folds of an ominous black cloak being worn by a mysterious and terrifying person of great malice and evil and strength. Serafina befriends the Vanderbilt’s nephew, Braeden, and together they determine to solve the mystery of the black cloak and stop the figure from inflicting any more harm. Along the way, Serafina begins to learn more about her own origins, about who and what she is!

I best not say anything else about the story, but I did just want to say that as lovers of good tales my wife and I really enjoyed this story and we will begin the next volume soon. Some of the scenes would be too much for little kids, I would think, but young people in general should really enjoy these stories and, judging by the success of them and talks of possible movies to come, are enjoying these stories!

This is fun, fun stuff!

So, yeah, Roni and are all in! Long live Serafina, the guardian of Biltmore! 

 

Genesis 28:1-9

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Genesis 28

1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother. Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

The church is now at a crossroads. We are emerging, slowly and cautiously, from our pandemic quarantine to confront a world fractured with racial tension, unrest, anger, and strife. It seems to me that the church has an important question it must answer: What are we going to be? Not, what are going to do? What are going to be?

The church must ask itself if it truly wants to offer an alternative vision of community by being radically cross-shaped and Christocentric or whether it wants to play a game on the sidelines with just enough religious language slathered over it to convince itself that what it is doing really matters.

The church must be the church: a called-out community of radical Christ-followers whose lives individually and corporately present a countercultural vision of what love and life in the Kingdom of God looks like.

Our children are watching.

The world is watching.

God is watching.

In his important little book, The Anabaptist Vision, Harold Bender shows that even in the Protestant Reformation—that great effort to reform and change the church, this movement ostensibly to rid the church of cold, dead formalism, a poisonous theology of works-righteousness, and the detachment from an authentic walk with Jesus Christ that such can bring—the church still failed to be the church! Bender writes:

There is abundant evidence that although the original goal sought by Luther and Zwingli was “an earnest Christianity” for all, the actual outcome was far less, for the level of Christian living among the Protestant population was frequently lower than it had been before under Catholicism. Luther himself was keenly conscious of the deficiency. In April 1522 he expressed the hope that, “We who at the present are well-nigh heathen under a Christian name, may yet organize a Christian assembly.” In December 1525 he had an important conversation with Caspar Schwenckfeld, concerning the establishment of the New Testament church. Schwenckfeld pointed out that the establishment of the new church had failed to result in spiritual and moral betterment of the people, a fact which Luther admitted, for Schwenckfeld states that “Luther regretted very much that no amendment of life was in evidence.” Between 1522 and 1527 Luther repeatedly mentioned his concern to establish a true Christian church, and his desire to provide for earnest Christians (“Die mit Ernst Christen se in wollen”) who would confess the gospel with their lives as well as with their tongues. He thought of entering the names of these “earnest Christians” in a special book and having them meet separately from the mass of nominal Christians, but concluding that he would not have sufficient of such people, he dropped the plan. Zwingli faced the same problem; he was in fact specifically challenged by the Swiss Brethren to set up such a church; but he refused and followed Luther’s course. Both reformers decided that it was better to include the masses within the fold of the church than to form a fellowship of true Christians only. Both certainly expected the preaching of the Word and the ministration of the sacraments to bear fruit in an earnest Christian life, at least among some, but they reckoned with a permanently large and indifferent mass. In taking this course, said the Anabaptists, the reformers surrendered their original purpose, and abandoned the divine intention. Others may say that they were wise and statesmanlike leaders.[1]

Where are these “earnest Christians” who are willing to stand up in the midst of a fractured social order and point people not merely with their words but rather with their lives to Christ Jesus? In Genesis 28, Isaac and Rebekah’s family begins to fracture. Jacob must flee, having deceived his father. Esau must navigate his great and bitter anger and hatred for his brother. In this parting of the ways we find truly two ways constituting two warnings. We must heed these warnings in our own day if we are going to be the church in any sense that can be called “biblical” and God-honoring.

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John Michael Talbot’s Francis of Assisi’s Sermon on the Mount

41Di9MFwr-L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Musician, author, and Arkansas’ most famous monk, John Michael Talbot has written an interesting book on Francis of Assisi’s twenty-eight “Admonitions.” I usually read Talbot’s books anyway, but I read Francis of Assisi’s Sermon on the Mount: Lessons from The Admonitions in particular as a part of his Inner Room School of Spirituality which I am participating in as a personal devotional exercise. Talbot describes the origin of the Admonitions thus:

Most experts agree that the admonitions had their beginnings in short teachings St. Francis would provide for his spiritual brothers when they gathered for large community meetings. These teachings were then written down and compiled for the first time after Francis’ death. As you will soon see, they address very real, common problems, and this means they were intended to be put into practice by the friars. As in, first, listen—then, go do! (p.7)

The Admonitions will sound familiar to anyone familiar with Francis’ life and teachings, which is to say that they will sound convicting, at times painful, at times extreme, at times comforting, and always heart-stirring. Let me give a fairly typical example. This is Admonition 4:

I did “not come to be ministered unto, but to minister,” says the Lord. Let those who are set above others glory in this superiority only as much as if they had been deputed to wash the feet of the brothers; and if they are more perturbed by the loss of their superiorship than they would be by losing the office of washing feet, so much the more do they lay up treasures to the peril of their own soul.

And another, Admonition 6:

Let us all, brothers, consider the Good Shepherd who to save His sheep bore the suffering of the Cross. The sheep of the Lord followed Him in tribulation and persecution and shame, in hunger and thirst, in infirmity and temptations and in all other ways; and for these things they have received everlasting life from the Lord. Wherefore it is a great shame for us, the servants of God, that, whereas the Saints have practised works, we should expect to receive honor and glory for reading and preaching the same.

As I said, painful, but, for me anyway, greatly needed. The Admonitions are a good way for somebody unfamiliar with Francis to get a sense of what he was about.

Each chapter of this book begins with an Admonition which is then unpacked throughout the chapter by John Michael Talbot. Talbot’s commentary in each chapter is typical JMT! Which is to say the commentary is engaging, insightful, and very helpful. Talbot’s commentary is also oftentimes autobiographical and confessional. I appreciated this. He shares a number of very interesting insights into his personal life, his career as a musician, and especially his role as the head of a monastic family. Talbot can be quite self-deprecating about his own flaws, which I appreciated. A few times he talks about his own struggle with ego and the challenges of fame. Also, he offers a number of thoughts about the dangers of public ministry in particular.

This would be a good book to give someone who wants to consider basic issues of self-discipline and spiritual formation. It would also be a good book for pastors and ministry leaders to read. In the hands of Talbot, St. Francis’ teachings are shown to be relevant and significant. As a Protestant, there were, of course, some occasions where I simply had to observe as an outsider as well as a few occasions when I had to disagree, but none of this led me into conflict with the heart of the book, with the heart of Francis’ Admonitions, or with what Talbot is trying to accomplish here. On the contrary, I found the book very convicting and highlighted a number of areas to which I will return for further reflection.

Matthew 4:18-22

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Matthew 4

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

I miss Dallas Willard. He died a few years ago. He was ordained a Southern Baptist minister but is best known as a philosopher at the University of Southern California who wrote powerful books on Christian spiritual formation. One of the great themes of Willard’s life was the need for those who profess Jesus to actually be disciples of Jesus. I think one of the most painful books I have ever read is Willard’s book The Great Omission. The title is a play on words with the Great Commission (i.e., Matthew 28:18-20). By The Great Omission Willard meant that the church had omitted something very important: discipleship. Let me share with you a number of statements from different places in the book that illustrate Willard’s great concern.

Who, among Christians today, is a disciple of Jesus, in any substantive sense of the word “disciple”?…[T]he governing assumption today, among professing Christians, is that we can be “Christians” forever and never become disciples.

            So the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciples— students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.

            For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.

Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ.

The disciple is one who, intent upon becoming Christ-like and so dwelling in his “faith and practice,” systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end.

“Discipleship” is a term that has pretty well lost its meaning because of the way it has been misused. Discipleship on the theological right has come to mean preparation for soul winning, under the direction of parachurch efforts that had discipleship farmed out to them because the local church really wasn’t doing it. On the left, discipleship has come to mean some form of social activity or social service, from serving soup lines to political protest to…whatever. The term “discipleship” has currently been ruined so far as any solid psychological and biblical content is concerned.[1]

Wow. Ouch! My goodness. Is he right? Has the church omitted actual discipleship from the Christian life? To answer that we should consider how the Bible itself defines discipleship. To do that, we should consider the way in which Jesus called his first disciples and how they responded when He did so. The text can be found at the end of Matthew 4:

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

What does this reveal to us about the nature of discipleship?

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Episode 8 of Quarantine Theology is Up

53934059_10155773595881805_998680905360867328_nIn this episode, I talk with Dr. Holly Beers of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, about her book A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman. This is a fantastic book and I’m truly grateful for the conversation! She offered a number of very interesting insights. Check the interview out here.