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Bondservants of Christ October 31, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”

(Philippians 1:1)

Philippians is one of Paul’s later letters, written while in Prison in Rome (c.f. 4:22), and towards the end of his life. This places the letter as having been written in the early 60s, AD. The Church in Philippi had sent him a gift (4:16,18). It was not uncommon, in ancient times, that those in house prison were to pay for their own lodging essentially, forcing them to rely on the generosity of friends and family. Such is the context of this letter where Paul is responding back and saying, “thank you,” to these generous Christians.

Though this first verse is little more than an introductory greeting, it contains a great deal of depth and ought not be overlooked. To begin with, we find Timothy with Paul. This is earlier in his imprisonment as Paul is speaking of sending Timothy to the church in Philippi with his greetings and for their aide (2:9). Yet, this is taking place before Paul writes for Timothy to return (2 Timothy 4:9) which is closer to his death. Again, this helps us to discern the timeline of Paul’s letters.

More importantly is the title that Paul applies both to himself and to Timothy. He says that they are slaves or (as is sometimes translated) bondservants of Christ Jesus. The term that is used here is douvloß (doulos), which is one of the terms that Paul quite regularly uses to describe his service to Jesus Christ. This term refers not to a mere hired servant, but to a servant who is bound (as a slave would be) to his master. As Christians, we serve Christ Jesus and Christ alone. We given permission to have two masters (Luke 16:13) and we do not serve Christ for a season and then serve another (as hired servants might do). We are bound to serve Christ until the very day we die.

This is a mindset that the modern church has largely forgotten. People are quick to live lives and expend energies for the things that they want, but when they get tired, weary, or frustrated at the direction that things are going, they bail out and do something different. Such is not the calling of a Christian. No matter what the cost, not matter where he leads us, we must follow for we are not our own. We, if we will be faithful, must grasp this notion and serve Christ, not self.

Bearing Fruit…Mature Fruit October 30, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“To declare, 

‘Indeed, Righteous is Yahweh!’

‘My Rock!’

‘There is no injustice in him!’

(Psalm 92:16 {verse 15 in English})

Thus, what is the ripe fruit of spiritual maturity? Indeed, it is a declaration of praise that God is righteous and that he is the rock upon which you base your life. It is the declaration that not only that there is no injustice in Him, but that there is nothing unjust in his Word. Thus, that world is followed and obeyed in life … not begrudgingly, but joyfully. And from that joyful obedience flow the many fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, knowledge, virtue, hospitality, generosity, mercy, peacefulness, reasonableness, sincerity, impartiality, obedience, and things like these… (Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 1:6; 2 Peter 1:5-7; 3 John 8; 2 Corinthians 9:7; James 3:17; John 15:8-11). Indeed, if a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), this is the fruit that ought to identify our lives as mature and Christian…not the crosses that we wear as decoration or the Jesus-stickers on our cars.

Yet, how often we find people who speak of this on Sunday but completely ignore this on the rest of the days of the week. Trees do not bear one fruit on Sundays and a different fruit the rest of the week…indeed, trees bear fruit the whole season of their maturity. And so shall we. As we began this psalm we highlighted that it was written for the Sabbath. Indeed, it is our Sabbath rest and worship that ought to plant us (as trees) firmly upon the rock of Christ, but so planted, we then engage the rest of our week on the basis of that foundation, not in spite of the foundation laid Sunday morning.

Really Good Fruit October 29, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“Even now, they prosper in their gray hair;

They are plump and juicy.”

(Psalm 92:15 {verse 14 in English translations})

While I can’t say that I know anyone who would like to be described as “plump and juicy,” we must remember that the analogy of the tree bearing good fruit is still before us. Thus the “plump and juicy” is a reference to those who are mature in their faith bearing the fruit of faith that is rich and desirable — pleasing to those in their midst. Such fruit, the psalmist reminds us, belongs to the grey hairs in our midst, who have made their lifestyle one marked by walking in faith and obedience.

How radically different the Biblical perception of age is from the current western perception of age. Now in my mid-forties, I am still a comparatively young man (though it definitely depends on who you talk to). Even so, I (and those of my age) often look back and focus on all the things that I am no longer able to do, that I used to be able to do when I was in my twenties. Back when I was a younger man, I was stronger and had better endurance than I do today. In fact, while I was never in the running to win “Athlete of the Year” or anything remotely like that, I was in probably the best shape of my life and I was able to do things then that, when I try to do them now, leave me sore and regretting the action for days. Yet, these are all physical things.

The Bible presents a different picture. The physical is not bad…indeed it has some value (1 Timothy 4:8)…but the spiritual is more profitable for us. Thus, instead of looking back at what we used to be able to do physically, the Bible presents us as looking forward to the spiritual maturity that we will one day have if we remain faithful in our walk of faith. And the gray hairs do not signify wasting away, but instead they signify growth and maturity…dare I say…they are something to be celebrated, not detested. This is the reward for a life of faithfulness. And this is how one grows good fruit…really good fruit.

Budding Trees October 28, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“They are planted in the house of Yahweh;

In the courts of our God, they sprout.”

(Psalm 92:14 {verse 13 in English translations})

How often we find that we do not blossom in life because we do not plant ourselves in the right place. To plant yourself (keeping the analogy of the righteous being like a tree) in the house of Yahweh does not mean that we all need to be pastors of churches; it simply means that we must find our foundation in the Word of God — in a relationship with him — seeking to be in his presence as you do all you do in life, whether that be farming or banking or working in the services industries or being a pastor of a church. Everything we do must be rooted in God and in his word. When we seek to do that, indeed, that is when we will bud and sprout.

Remember, too, that there no longer is a physical temple to travel to; that temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and God has kept its foundations bare even to this day by placing an Islamic Mosque on its location. Why is this significant? First and foremost, because Jesus is the greater temple. His body is the temple of which he spoke when he said, “tear this down and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:21). Thus, in his resurrection, this temple is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth — as the creed would word it.

Even so, there are “lesser temples” in this world — the bodies of believers (1 Corinthians 6:19). For we are the Temples of the Holy Spirit, walking and talking and working our way through this world. It is the Holy Spirit in us that fulfills the role that the Old Testament Temple played (to be a sign of God’s presence to the world). Yet, indeed, how can we genuinely be Temples of the Holy Spirit if our roots are not sunk deep into the living water of God’s Word.

A challenge for those who are skeptical. Commit to immersing yourself in the Scriptures. Seek out scriptural counsel before you do anything you do — not just the big things but the little things as well — and discover whether or not you find wisdom there. I believe you will. I also believe that the more you sink your spiritual teeth into the scriptures, the hungrier you will become, for you (again the tree analogy) will sprout forth and will bear the Fruit of the Spirit.

Finally, it is here…Getting back into a better routine October 27, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Uncategorized.
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Seven years ago I began the process of writing an introduction to Systematic Theology — a primer of sorts — from a broadly evangelical perspective, for use with the students I taught. Two summers ago I took a week and wrote the last chapter as well as expanding the chapter on Theology Proper into two chapters to make it more manageable. This past summer, I edited it by hand and last week I finally finished putting in the edits and building the index, table of contents, etc… Though I am no longer teaching High School, for me it was an unfinished project that needed to be finally birthed and used as it may, if even only as a future textbook for our children whom we homeschool.  ;-)

In the end, as I mentioned recently, I made the choice this summer to pause on my usual devotional writing and work on these two projects to bring them to completion. That done, I have missed the daily devotional writing and am looking forward to getting back to them (along with getting back to the comments and questions that some of you have left me). May God bless you and may God bless this completed work. If you are curious, you can click on the image below…

Living Blessedly Cover

 

Note, that I haven’t dropped off of the Map…at least not intentionally. October 02, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Uncategorized.
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This summer I made the decision that instead of writing new material, I would focus on putting some old material into a format so that it would be ready for publication. I am not sure that my decision was entirely the best idea, but nonetheless, that was the call that I made and I am still plodding through some materials that I began and are hanging over my head like a lead weight…I like to finish that which I begin. So, be patient with me and more writing will soon grace these pages. For those who have sent comments, be patient too, I am not ignoring you and have not forgotten your thoughts.

On a more positive note, I have gotten one of my projects into print… The book is entitled, God’s Glory —  Man’s is Dust: An Introduction to Reformed Theology.

This book is essentially a revisiting of a series of lectures that I used to give in Ukraine to new seminary students. The goal is both an understanding of the Calvinistic TULIP and the origins of the Calvinistic/Pelagian, Semi-Pelagian, Arminian, Neo-Arminian, Wesleyan debate. Yet, in approaching it for publication, I designed this for those sitting in the pews under reformed preaching. It is not overly technical, but hopefully deep enough that I won’t insult your intelligence and may even present some aspects in a way you might not have considered. This is meant to be the first in a series of theological books aimed at those in the pews.

That said, if you are interested, it can be found either at Amazon or at Lulu.

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Trees… July 16, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“The righteous are like a sprouting date-palm tree;

Like the cedars of Lebanon they grow large.”

(Psalm 92:13 [verse 12 in English])

 

The psalmist gives us a picture of two trees and parallels that with one who seeks to live a righteous life (or a congregation that does so). The palm, or a better translation would be the date-palm, along with the cedar were trees that were prized in the ancient world. Both grow quickly and had a variety of uses. The date-palm was perhaps best known for the abundance of fruit that it would provide to the people. Dates were a staple food and in some regions in the middle east, the sap of date trees was also collected for syrup. Palm branches formed a significant resource for weaving baskets and other practical items, and the wood of the date, though not suitable for large-scale construction, was still useful for smaller buildings as well as for burning.

While the wood of the date may not have been suitable for large-scale construction, the wood of the cedar was. These trees would grow to be well over 100 feet tall with trunks as much as 8 feet in diameter at the base. These huge trees grew especially quickly and plentifully in the region of Lebanon and thus their fame even today. In addition to buildings, their wood was also used to construct naval and merchant ships and was a significant building material used in the construction of the Temple in Solomon’s day.

Thus, the psalmist has the strengths of both of these trees in mind when he thinks on the character of the righteous…the church that follows after God. Their growth and maturity should be measurable and the fruit they bear useful for the community. In fact, every aspect about the church should be found to be useful for the work of God. The church itself should be a useful resource to the community and highly adaptable to changes in the world around them. Such is the church that worships God faithfully in Word and in Spirit. Such is a church that is focused on Christ and not on themselves.

Sadly, many churches do not reflect this characteristic as many individual Christians do not as well. How we should all be learning and growing in our understanding and application of Scripture. If this is not happening, something is askew. How our congregations ought to be growing deeper in the Word of God, which also ought to cause others to become curious and thus over time, the congregation grow broader.

The Wall Goes Up! July 15, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“My eye has been made to see my wall being raised up;

Before me is the one who does evil;

My ear hears.”

(Psalm 92:12 [verse 11 in English])

 

A short survey of English Bible translations will give a vast variety of interpretations of this verse, thus it ought not be surprising that the one I offer above is again rather distinct from some of the others. In fact, about the only thing that each translation can be said to have in common is that it speaks of the eye seeing and the ear hearing something, though that something is debated by translators.

The text literally speaks of seeing “my wall” being raised up. The Hebrew word used there is r…wv (shur), which typically refers to a small wall that might be placed around a well or a fence that might be laid between two people’s property. In context, it seems that God is giving the psalmist the confidence to say that though the enemy is on my borders, I shall not fear because even now I see God erecting a wall to protect me and to protect this covenantal land that God has entrusted to my family.

If we translate the verse in this fashion, then rather than it speaking of the destruction of the psalmist’s enemies, its focus is really on the defense of the psalmist from his enemies…something that lends itself better to the following verses. Remember too, this is a Sabbath psalm, and as such, this is that which the assembled congregation would be singing as they implore God’s protection from the foes all around them.

The notion of the ear hearing things is not so much a notion of the psalmist hearing perhaps the clamor of the enemies outside of the walls, but instead it is covenantal language that speaks of the design of God: “He who has ears, let him hear” is a common Biblical phrase to say, “Listen to the design and wisdom of God.” In other words, while the enemy is before you, listen to God’s plan to preserve you healthy and strong from the onslaught of the wicked…for (as the following verses speak) it will be you who bear fruit in old age.

Thus it is a reminder to us to be confident and sure that God is in the business of strengthening and walling in his own to preserve them from the evil one. And indeed, God is still in the business of preserving his own today which ought not only to give us confidence in doing his work in this world, but it should also drive us to praise for he has done this for us.

An Offering of Praise July 11, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“You have raised up my horn like a tower;

I poured out as with fragrant oil.”

(Psalm 92:11 [verse 10 in English])

 

This verse is a little awkward to translate and as such, there are various renderings in our various English Bibles. To understand this verse, though, you need to break it down a bit and understand some of the key terms. The first word is that of the horn, or in Hebrew, N®rRq (qeren). This can refer to a simple ram’s horn or a vessel in which oil is contained, but when used metaphorically, it typically refers to strength or that which holds the oil that spiritually strengthens the believer.

Connecting the horn to the oil is fairly obvious given the second line of the verse, but we still have the word MEa√r (re’em), which I am rendering as “tower” though many of our translate as “wild ox.” The term itself is highly debated amongst scholarship, but many see the language of the horn in the verse as the guiding interpretive feature. And, on a level, such a rendering makes sense if we see the horn as a sign of power and the strong wild ram or ox on the mountain as a symbol of strength. Yet, such a translation does not seem to take into account the language of the oil later in the verse.

The term can also be rendered as the word “Tower,” a high place that also serves as a refuge for the believer to worship. Given the language of the raising up earlier in this verse, such a translation seems to make more sense, seeing also a tower as a sign of strength against one’s foes.

The next term in dispute is that of the pouring out. Many of our English translations render this phrase as “You have poured…” or “I have had oil poured…”. The problem with both of these renderings is that the verb in question, llb; (balal — to pour out) is in the first person  singular in the Qal stem. That means that “I” must be the subject and the verb is active, not passive…thus dismissing both major translational option. Rightly translated, it is “I poured…”. Some would argue that in poetry one is given some degree of grammatical freedom, but granting free reign here just adds complexity to the meaning rather than presenting the simple meaning of what the text says.

So, what is this fragrant oil that is being poured out? Most of the translations (by rendering the verb as a passive or as a second person) presume that the psalmist is being anointed with the oil in question, yet that is not what the text states. Instead, the psalmist is pouring out his oil that has been lifted up to this tower — on this high place. Rightly understood, it seems better to understand this pouring out to be a kind of drink offering that is being made by the psalmist in honor of his God who has lifted him up and has protected him from his enemies. Again, remember the context of this psalm is worship, if we get too far from God being the subject of our affection and focus more on God’s affection toward us, we lose that spirit or tone of worship before our creator and sustainer.

Thus, may we too be quick to raise up an offering of praise to our God, both in public and in private worship. May he be glorified and honored in all that we do. Our strength comes from him, let us return that strength to him in offerings of praise.

Enemies shall Perish! July 04, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“For behold your enemies, Yahweh!

For behold your enemies shall perish!

All those who do iniquity shall be scattered!

(Psalm 92:10 [verse 9 in English])

 

Indeed, in the end, all of God’s enemies will be tossed into the lake of fire where they will be tormented forever…bringing an end to their torment of God’s own, their mocking of God’s name, and their flagrant sin and wickedness. In that end, all the enemies of God will know and intimately understand the finality of God’s wrath. And in that time, we will not weep. We will not mourn. We will not grieve. We will celebrate the victory of our Lord and the destruction of his enemies.

Yet, these words are not purely words that speak of the end times. Even in this life, God brings his hand of judgment upon the wicked and scatters them just as he scattered the wicked people who built the tower of Babel. For a season, from our perspective, they seem to prosper, but they are bereft of life and truth. They suffer their own sorrow and loneliness as they seek to find satisfaction in anything but the one who can bring satisfaction to their life. God even gives them over to their wickedness and allows them to become so mired in their wretchedness that they cannot see anything but their sin before their eyes. He robs them of satisfaction and he robs them of rest.

Beloved, we are all so often tempted to envy the wicked and their abundance. Do not be tricked into doing so. Their pleasure is fleeting and their satisfaction is empty. But in Christ, satisfaction is full and pleasure is eternal. Though we may suffer for a season, there is an eternal weight of glory before us that is beyond compare.

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