Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Color of Church Conference

It was a great weekend here at Immanuel with Dr. Rodney Woo and the Color of Church Conference. We were encouraged, challenged, convicted, and refreshed by God as His Word was delivered. A few things that I take away from the weekend are:

1) Multiethnic ministry requires the power of God to accomplish. We cannot manufacture it in our own strength.

2) To paraphrase Rodney Woo, if you begin with God's Word, you can't end up anywhere else but having a multiracial (his word, I prefer "multiethnic") vision.

3) It is not our programs or efforts that will be most effective in winning people to Christ, but our personal relationships with them.

4) The process of building an intentional multiethnic ministry is long and difficult, but worth every bit of sacrifice and effort.

5) Two fundamental areas where change is most crucial are worship and leadership. Two caveats to this are that worship has to be authentic, meaning that we cannot "contrive" diversity in worship until there is some diversity in the congregation; and diversity of leadership is no guarantee that diversity in the congregation will happen. But it won't happen apart from having diverse leadership.

6) Multiethnic ministry can never run on "autopilot." Ministries will regress to monocultural preferences where the multiethnic conviction is not constantly restated and on the front burner.

7) Success cannot be gauged on the response of those we are trying to reach, but on our faithfulness to reach out to them with the gospel.

These principles and many more can be heard in the audio recordings of the sessions, which are available through the following links:

Color of Church Conference Session 1

Color of Church Conference Session 2

Color of Church Sunday Bible Study

Color of Church Sunday Sermon

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reflections on the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention

Looking back on this year's Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida, there are several key points that deserve to be highlighted in retrospect.

I have attended thirteen consecutive SBC Annual Meetings, dating back to 1998's gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah. During that time, I have been witness and party to some matters of great and historic importance in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. I hope that many years from now, we will look back on this gathering in Orlando in 2010 as a monumental Convention in Baptist life.

Of first importance was the discussion surrounding the Great Commission Resurgence. This conversation has been building for some time, and came to a head at last year's meeting in Louisville. During that convention, I helped Dennis Conner draft a motion that the President of the Southern Baptist Convention appoint a taskforce to study Cooperative Program giving and consider allowing churches to designate portions of their Cooperative Program funds to specific causes. At the time that we drafted that motion, I was not even in favor of it. I love the Cooperative Program (for those unfamiliar with the Cooperative Program, I have provided an overview of it here). I saw the motion that I was writing as a potentially fatal blow to the Cooperative Program. However, as the Convention unfolded, and through many private conversations, I began to see that the Cooperative Program was already terminally ill. If anything, this motion would offer some measure of "life support" to the CP by encouraging churches to continue giving to it, while also allowing those churches to support specific Baptist causes and withhold support from Baptist causes that they did not want to fund. While this motion was not acted upon, the spirit of it was included in another, larger and more important, motion.

Dr. Al Mohler presented a motion in Louisville that the president appoint a task force to examine how Southern Baptists might best cooperate for the sake of the Great Commission. The full text of that motion is as follows: That the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 23-24, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky, authorize the President of the Southern Baptist Convention to appoint a Great Commission Task Force charged to bring a report and any recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.

This Great Commission Resurgence Task Force met several times over the last year to discuss ways of streamlining Baptist efforts to reach the lost in North America and the ends of the earth. We anticipated receiving their report and recommendations, knowing that major changes would certainly be outlined. There were assumptions along the way that the report would insist on State Conventions keeping less CP money, or that perhaps the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) would be combined into one agency, to name a few. As the year progressed, we learned that these options would not be presented. What was presented was a lengthy document that provided important background material leading up to seven recommendations. The document can be read in its entirety here.

With the report slated for Tuesday afternoon, many messengers postured to strike the report preemptively through motions from the floor during the Tuesday morning session. Of sixteen motions introduced from the floor in the morning session, no fewer than six were directed toward the GCR Report, and at least three others seemed somewhat related. This was to be expected, given the advance publication of the report and all the polarized rhetoric that had been swirling through social media outlets and Baptist Press before the meeting. What was not expected (at least not by me), is that Dr. Morris Chapman would take the opportunity of his final address as Executive Committee President, a post he has held honorably for eighteen years, to launch into a full-scale attack on the GCR Report. His "report" can be viewed here (advance to the 7:00 mark for the beginning of Chapman's tirade).

He began with a question that many were asking in the face of the pending GCR Report: "What is wrong with the Cooperative Program?" This question was met with enthusiastic applause, as were several follow-up statements made in support of the CP in Chapman's address. But as his address became more venomous, the applause lessened, and I believe that, in the hearts of many, respect for Dr. Chapman lessened as well. My perspective on Chapman's address is that he jumped into deep waters to rescue the CP, and as a result, both may have drowned. His comments included pandering to select groups of Southern Baptists in order to sway them away from supporting the GCR, as well as direct attacks on a few SBC leaders whom he did not name but did not need to. At one point Chapman said, "We must learn to differ, and yet love each other in Christ," but there were undoubtedly many who did not detect this kind of love in his words.

It saddens me that Dr. Chapman chose to "go out" like this, but that's something he's going to have to live with, and I hope that he feels like he did the right thing within his conscience. Moreover, I hope it will not tarnish what was an otherwise noble career as a leader in Southern Baptist life.

Moments after this divisive address, the GCR Task Force presented their report and recommendations. There were numerous questions, motions to amend, speakers both for and against the recommendations, and some of the sloppiest parliamentary process I have ever witnessed. You can view the report and the debate here (the report concludes and the debate begins around the 37:00 mark and goes throughout the remainder of that linked video and continues here). In the end, the recommendations, slightly but not substantially amended, passed overwhelmingly.

There are a few things that need to be understood about these approved recommendations. Most importantly, only two of the recommendations that were approved make any changes. Recommendations 1 and 2 move that the messengers "adopt" something, namely a mission statement for the convention and core values. The other five recommendations that were approved do not make the sweeping changes that some may fear or expect. In each of them, the language specifically states that the messengers "request the Executive Committee" (and in the case of recommendation 5, the EC and the International Mission Board) "consider" the suggested contents of each recommendation. This means that no substantial changes are guaranteed to happen until and unless the Executive Committee acts on these recommendations or brings their own recommendations back to the Convention next year in Phoenix or in subsequent years. So, for example, the brother from Michigan who sat behind me and assured me that the passage of this report would lead to the end of our convention within five years may be premature in hitting the panic button. Likewise, those who believe that an entirely new day has arrived in Convention life are premature in their jubilation, for we will all have to wait to see what the Executive Committee does with these recommendations.

It should also be noted that until the end of September, Morris Chapman is still at the helm of the Executive Committee. Frank Page, a member of the GCR Task Force (and a former member of Immanuel Baptist Church), will succeed him on October 1. After hearing Dr. Chapman's rant against the report, it is not hard to fathom that these recommendations can be addressed and dismissed by the Executive Committee before that office changes occupants. Let's pray that this will not be so, but that the voice of the messengers will be heard loud and clear by the Executive Committee as they take up the discussions in their coming meetings.

The debate and vote understandably ran long, and as soon as it was passed, the messengers filed out rapidly under the mistaken assumption that all that remained was the benediction. However, there was a ballot vote run-off for president that only a small fraction of the messengers were present to participate in, and the introduction of new motions which included one of the most ridiculous 90-seconds I have ever seen in my history of attending the SBC. In that brief moment, a young pastor, would-be rapper, presented a motion to affirm support of Mark Driscoll and the Acts 29 church planting network. It was received well by the messengers, but no action was taken on it. I do believe that it was necessary for someone to state on the record that not all Southern Baptists are content to beat Driscoll and the A29 movement like a pinata, and that we (at least some of us) do appreciate what is being done through his network, but this young brother needed to consider his audience and the potential effect that his chosen medium would have on gaining support for his position.

In the presidential run-off, Bryant Wright was elected as President of the SBC for the upcoming year. He was my personal choice in the vote, and I believe he will serve and represent Southern Baptists well in the coming year. I was also pleased with the announcement of Frank Page as the new president of the Executive Committee, and have been displeased to learn of the tribulation that he had to endure to arrive at that post. I know that Dr. Page will face many challenges as he begins this work, and I hope that we as a denomination will hold him up in our prayers in all of our churches.

The International Mission Board report is always a highlight of the convention, and this year was no exception. It thrilled me to hear Dr. Rankin and others challenging the messengers to lead their churches to adopt unreached peoples for strategic missions focus. The entire IMB booth in the exhibit hall was set up to facilitate churches to select unreached people groups for adoption. I am personally saddened that this was Dr. Rankin's final report as president and am prayerful that the IMB search committee will be led by divine providence to find his successor.

Finally, I will add that I am encouraged to see a return of young Southern Baptist pastors to the table. I think that our seminaries, Baptist21, and 9Marks have all been influential in facilitating this. When I first began attending conventions, I was 24 years old and had been in pastoral ministry for 4 months! I was the youngest guy at the SBC (or so it felt), not including those who were being cared for in the nursery. In fact I was closer in age to those in the nursery than to a majority of the messengers. But this year as I look around, I find myself in about the "median age" category, with as many there younger as there are older, and in about mid-range in terms of experience as well. If anything, I have found that being "stuck in the middle" (with no reference to "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right" intended) is perhaps a more awkward position to be in, but I am encouraged by the numbers of young leaders I see, and the spirit they demonstrate. In past years, many in the younger camp have been characterized by angst and antagonism. Thankfully, most of those have either changed their tune or changed their fellowship.

The 2010 SBC has the potential to be historic. It is too early to call it that yet. We have to see what happens with the GCR recommendations. Right now they only exist on paper. Time will tell if they work their way into the shoe-leather of every Southern Baptist Church. I can speak only for the congregation I serve. I can say that the issues surrounding the GCR have motivated me to recommend strategic changes in our mission involvement, and we are seeing some of those things come to pass. I pray they will continue and that Immanuel can be a part of what God is going to do through Southern Baptist churches to reach the nations in the future.

That's the end of my look back on SBC 2010, but I'd be happy to entertain questions and dialogue further about the convention in the comments section below.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Jesus Christ, the Living Stone - 1 Peter 2:4-8

Audio available here or on our podcast on iTunes

We have probably all heard the story of the three little pigs. Each one built a house using different materials. One built a house of straw. The Big Bad Wolf came to visit, saying, “Little pig, little pig, let me in.” But the pig said, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.” And the Big Bad Wolf said, “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down.” And of course, he did just that, and enjoyed a nice dinner of pulled pork barbecue. Then the wolf went to the second pig’s house, which had been built out of sticks. This encounter also ended badly for the pig. But when the wolf came to the third pig’s house, which was made of bricks, there was a different outcome. No matter how hard he huffed and puffed, he could not blow the house down. He decided to come down through the chimney, but the third pig had placed a pot of boiling water in the fireplace. The wolf landed in the water, and the third little pig had a feast of boiled wolf for dinner. There have been many morals drawn from the story over the years. One could be that an insatiable appetite for pork may result in premature death. But more evident is this lesson: it pays in the end to be wise and careful in making and executing plans.

Like those little pigs, we are building something. We aren’t all building houses necessarily, but we are all building our lives. Unlike the pigs, we do not have three sets of plans to choose from; only two. There are plans developed by men and plans developed by God. All of us will build our lives according to one or the other sets of blueprints. Now here on the construction site of life, God has placed a piece of building material. Quoting Isaiah 28, Peter says here, “Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone.” And this stone is Jesus Christ. He is described in verse 4 as a “Living Stone.” He is not like the idols of the nations which are carved out of stone. These stones are worshiped, but they are dead. They are like those idols described in Psalm 115:

They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat

Christ is not a dead stone, but a living one. He is alive, and through His resurrection from the dead, alive forever more. The world is a construction zone, upon which men and women are building their lives. And God has set a stone in the midst of this field. What we do with that stone indicates if we are building with God’s plans or men’s plans.

I. Those who build on the plans of men reject the Living Stone of Christ

The first thing see about this Living Stone of Jesus Christ is that He has been rejected by men. Obviously, this does not mean that He has been rejected by all men, or all human beings, otherwise we would not be here worshiping Him today. But it is true in a general sense that Christ faced overwhelming rejection by multitudes in His own day, and continues to be rejected, sometimes vehemently and violently by many still today. They see this stone that has been set in their construction zone and wonder why in the world it is there, who put it there, and how to get rid of it. It is just in the way of their plans to build their lives on their own terms. They may initially try to ignore the stone that is Jesus Christ. But He can hardly be ignored. That was the source of much frustration for me before I became a believer. Everywhere I turned there was someone talking about Jesus, or there was some church on the corner, or there was someone reading a Bible, or some artwork depicting scenes from the Bible. At least for those of us in the Western World, Jesus Christ is impossible to ignore. There are reminders of Him everywhere. And that gets under the skin of the unbeliever who is trying to ignore the stone that they think is just cluttering up their construction zone. They keep bumping into it.

So then, they may try to remove the stone. This happened in Jesus’ own day. The most ardent rejecters of Christ in His day were the religious leaders of Israel. They got tired of bumping into Him and His teachings and His followers. They were trying to build their own system, and they didn’t need Jesus messing it up. There’s a warning for the contemporary church in those religious leaders. They had built an enormous facility, amassed a huge following, had many programs, and were handling vast amounts of money. But they were rejecting Jesus Christ. God was not in what they were building. So we need to ask ourselves … is God in what we are doing? Or are we so caught up in building our own systems that we have ignored Him altogether? A. W. Tozer once said that if the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. That is a tragedy. That was the tragedy of the first-century leaders of the Jewish religious system, and it is the tragedy of the Church, especially the church in America and the West today. And when those religious leaders got tired of bumping into Jesus, and they could ignore Him no longer, they sought to remove the stone from the construction zone by having Him killed. And they succeeded, for just under 72 hours. Amazingly, the stone showed up in the field again. Jesus rose from the dead.

Throughout history, there have been people so bold as to think they could remove the stone. They have sought to wipe out all traces of Jesus Christ from the face of the earth. Tyrannical emperors, radical philosophers, and others have had their turn. And none have succeeded. Today, the so-called “New Atheists” are having a go. They are led by people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. This movement was characterized in a 2006 Wired magazine article as condemning “not just belief in God but respect for belief in God.” In their minds, “Religion is not only wrong; it's evil.” In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris writes, “I have set out to destroy the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.” And this is mild in comparison to some of the heated rhetoric emerging from this movement. But like every other effort to remove the Living Stone of Christ, time will show that this one will likewise fail.

The Living Stone of Jesus Christ cannot be ignored in the construction zone of life. Neither can He be removed. People try, and think for a moment that they have succeeded, but He keeps showing up. Those who are trying to build their lives and their empires on the blueprints of man keep bumping into Him at every turn. And so the Living Stone of Jesus Christ becomes for them, “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” The presence of this Stone in their field annoys them because they keep tripping over it. They have in their minds plans for building their own lives their own way, and Christ is not a factor in their planning. They have not only tried to ignore and reject the Living Stone, they do not believe and have actively determined to disobey Him. “They stumble,” Peter says, “because they are disobedient to the Word.” They disobey the Incarnate Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the written Word of God, the Bible, by insisting on building their lives apart from this singular stone. But if they would hear and heed this Word, they would turn to Him and believe and allow their lives to be built according to God’s blueprints rather than their own. But by ignoring Christ, rejecting Christ, disobeying Christ, they stumble on the Living Stone, and great is their fall.

We are told here that there is a predetermined consequence for rejecting Jesus Christ, the Living Stone. The translators of the NASB have inserted the word doom here in the text to indicate the severity of this end. Elsewhere in Scripture, it is spelled out with precision. In Proverbs 14:12, we read, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Surely death awaits us all, but the one who dies in rejection of Christ suffers a destiny worse than death. Dying in a state of separation from God leads to eternal separation from God. Jesus said that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. Perishing is the end of those who die without Christ, and that perishing will occur in hell. The book of Revelation describes hell as a lake of fire, where the unredeemed will join Satan and his spiritual forces and be tormented day and night, forever and ever. Jesus described it as a place of eternal fire, eternal punishment, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Sam Harris, that radical atheist I quoted earlier, seems to understand the severity and the consequences of rejecting Christ better than even some Christians. He said, “If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in ‘eternal fire’ …. If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way.” And while Harris does not believe that the basic doctrine, or any doctrine for that matter, of Christianity is true, at least he understands the implications. And we can pray for him and those like him, who stumble over the Living Stone, will turn from their errors and be saved before it is too late.

All around us are those who are building their lives on the plans of men. They have ignored the Living Stone that is Jesus Christ, they have rejected this Stone, they have disobeyed the Word and thus they stumble. And so it would be for us all because of our sin had God not intervened to show us that there is another way to build our lives.

II. Those who build on the plans of God find the Living Stone of Christ to be the Cornerstone

Out here on the side of the building is a cornerstone. It has the name of the church and the date this building was built inscribed on it. But in all reality, this cornerstone is merely decorative. It doesn’t serve much of a structural purpose. But in ancient times, the cornerstone was the most important part of a structure. The entire building rested, to some degree, upon that stone in such a way that if it were removed, the entire structure would collapse. This stone was the truest cut stone of the building and set the standard for what was true and level in the rest of the building. If the building had a solid and true cornerstone, it would be a well-built building.

Here Peter says that the Living Stone that is Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of the building that God is constructing. “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very cornerstone.” And like all good cornerstones, this one is described as “choice and precious,” in the sight of the architect. And the architect is God. God the Father looks upon His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and says of Him, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” He is a choice and precious stone for the construction of God’s building.

And what is God building? He is building a spiritual house. The Apostle Paul said in Acts 17:24 that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. A woman asked Jesus on one occasion on which mountain is God more rightly worshiped? Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. … But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” So, God is not confined to a specific structure or geographical location. No building can be built to house Him. This building in which we meet is no more the “house of God” than any other building or location where those who worship Him in Spirit and truth gather. I have gathered with Christians in East Africa under a Baobab tree and with believers in Eastern Europe on board a ship in the middle of the Black Sea, and I assure you that God does not need a house to dwell in. So He is building a “spiritual house,” a habitation for Himself that is not made with brick and mortar, stick or straw. The language is metaphorical. He is building a spiritual house for Himself.

This spiritual house will be the place of a holy priesthood where spiritual sacrifices are offered up. Again, the language is metaphorical. Israel had a literal temple, with literal priests, who offered literal sacrifices. If that is what God wanted, He didn’t need to reinvent it. It was already there. But when Jesus visited that temple and observed its priests and its sacrifices, He pronounced the entire system to be worthless and spiritually dead. God had no more need of that building, and so some years after Peter wrote these words, the Jerusalem temple was destroyed and has never been rebuilt. But God’s work goes on today through a spiritual temple. And God had no more need of that priesthood. He says here that He was establishing a “holy priesthood.” This implies that the former priesthood had become unholy. As we’ve said here many times, the idea of holiness has to do with being set apart for God’s specific use and purposes. The Jewish priesthood was no longer useful to God; it was no longer set apart for His purposes. So He was making a new priesthood that would occupy a spiritual temple. And God had no more need for those old sacrifices. They were past their expiration date. They were given to Israel to point them forward to an ultimate sacrifice that was to come; and it had come in the person of Jesus Christ. His substitutionary death for sinners rendered those offerings obsolete. The new priesthood would not be occupied with killing animals. Those offerings were no longer acceptable to God because the perfect sacrifice had been made once and for all. So the new priesthood would offer spiritual sacrifices that were acceptable to God through Jesus Christ: offerings of worship, intercession, ministry and witness. Worship comes before the throne of God on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. Intercession is acceptable on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice and actually pleads the blood-bought benefits of Christ’s sacrifice. Ministry that is acceptable to God is that which functions as a conduit of His grace, where the recipients of Christ’s sacrifice not only receive but also extend the benefits of God’s grace in Christ to others in His name. Witness proclaims Christ’s sacrifice to those who have yet to hear, yet to believe upon Him.

And God is building this spiritual house with the living stones of those who believe in Christ. Matthew 16:18 has been one of the most controversial verses of Scripture in the history of the Christian Church. There Jesus says to Peter, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The name Peter means “rock,” and therefore many have said that Jesus was telling Peter that He was going to build His church on Peter. The entire history and tradition of the Roman Catholic Church has been built primarily upon this interpretation of the verse. But isn’t it interesting that, if this is what Jesus meant by these words, that Peter doesn’t bring that up here? In fact, what Peter himself teaches here is the exact opposite of that interpretation. Peter understood that when Jesus called him “Peter,” He did not mean that He was going to build His church on the rock of Peter. Rather, Peter understood that Christ was going to build His church on the Rock of Himself. When Jesus told Peter, “Upon this Rock, I will build My church,” He was referring to the Rock that Peter had just spoken of before this. Before saying this to Peter, Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That is the Rock that the Church is built upon. And everyone who comes to recognize Christ as that foundational cornerstone of God’s spiritual house, the church, becomes like Peter, a smaller living stone that is fitted together upon the Living Stone of Christ.

God is constructing His spiritual house with living stones, those who have been made alive in Christ Jesus. We are those who have “come to Him as to a Living Stone” (v4). We are those who have found Him to be choice and precious for the purpose of building our lives, and have therefore believed upon Him (v7). And those who believe in Him, Jesus Christ, the Living Stone, the Cornerstone, will not be disappointed (v6). Those who reject the Cornerstone will be disappointed to find that all that they have built comes to ruins before the throne of God as they are judged with eternal condemnation. Those who believe upon Christ will find that it is not what they have built for themselves that matters, but rather that they have been built up together upon the Cornerstone of Christ for God’s purpose. And they will not be disappointed, for they will find that God has used their lives for His glory, and they have received eternal life in Him.

Shakespeare wrote, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Peter would prefer to say that all the world is a construction site, and all the men and women are building their lives in it. Some are building according to their own blueprints. Some are being built together according to God’s blueprints. And the difference is found in one solitary Stone. God says, “Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone.” What will you do with that stone? If you build upon the plans of men, you will try to ignore this stone and reject this stone. You will disbelieve and disobey the word concerning this stone. You will be offended that this stone refuses to go away, and ultimately you will stumble over this stone to your own destruction. But those who are being built up according to God’s plans bow before this stone in faith and worship, and find themselves in the hands of the master architect and builder, God Himself, who is building us up together upon the Cornerstone. Jesus Christ is this stone. And it is our response to Him that determines our life here and now, and our destiny for all eternity. In Acts 4:10-12, Peter, the Apostle who wrote the words that occupy our attention today, stood before his persecutors, a crowd of people who were building their lives in defiance of Christ, and made a bold proclamation. He said, “Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead … He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

He who believes in Him will not be disappointed, but will be saved. But for those who disbelieve, the stone which the builders rejected becomes a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.” So what will you do with this Stone, the Lord Jesus? Will you stumble over Him and fall to destruction? Or will you bow before Him and be built up upon Him as a part of God’s spiritual house and holy priesthood? The choice is yours. What will you do with this stone? What will you do with Jesus?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Word Which Was Preached to You - 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

Audio available here (click to stream, right-click to download) or on our iTunes podcast.

When people answer the call to serve God in ministry, they find that suddenly they are the recipients of advice of some kind or another, some good, some bad, some solicited, some unsolicited, from nearly everyone they encounter. In the New Testament, we encounter young man named Timothy who had answered God’s call to pastoral ministry. He had the great privilege of being mentored by none other than the Apostle Paul. Paul knew this young man, and he knew the church that Timothy had gone to serve in Ephesus. And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned the young preacher that the days were soon coming when people, even those within the church, are going to become lovers of self and lovers of money; that they will be boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. He says that in the days to come, there will be many who will “not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” And he even suggests that there were already some like this in the church. Now, what advice do you think the great Apostle might give to the young preacher? How should he deal with these matters? Perhaps he should form a committee. Maybe he should call in a church consultant or schedule a special meeting to address the issues? No, rather, Paul gives him one piece of advice. One simple statement lays out Timothy’s ministerial strategy in the face of all of these adversities. In 2 Timothy 4:2, he tells young Timothy, “Preach the Word.” Three words. Preach the Word. And these words are not merely one man’s opinion. This is God’s inspired truth recorded in sacred scripture to admonish us all of the sufficiency, the authority, and the reliability of God’s Word.

Our passage today causes us to turn our thoughts to the subject of the Bible itself. Peter says in 1:25 that “this is the Word which was preached to you.” At some point along the way in their lives, these men and women and children had come under the preaching and teaching of Scripture. And it had a revolutionary effect on their lives. When we hear the Bible preached, when we read the Bible, or when we study it, we are not just hearing empty words. These words are powerful and effective if we incline ourselves to them. So we must be diligent as readers and as hearers of the Word and never think that we have just opened one of so many other books, or listened to one of so many other talks. This is God’s Word and it accomplishes God’s purposes when we take it in.

I. The Word Which Was Preached To You is God’s Word

In verse 23, Peter speaks of the Word of God, and in verse 25, quoting Isaiah, he refers to the Word of the Lord. And he says that this is the word which was preached to you. It is God’s Word. Now, I must say that not all preaching is the preaching of God’s Word. It is the Scripture, and not the sermon that is God’s Word. In what is called expository preaching, the sermon is thoroughly rooted in the sacred text and the truths of that text are drawn out and explained. So a preacher does not have God’s permission to come to the task of sermon preparation and say, “OK, I want to preach on a certain subject, and here is what I want to say about that subject, so now let me look through the Bible and find verses that support what I want to say.” That is not preaching God’s Word. That is abusing God’s word in order to preach my own words. And every person who attempts to preach or teach or speak in the name of Christ should come to the Bible and allow the text to dictate what we believe and what we will say. It is the text of Scripture, and not my opinions or any other person’s opinions, which God has declared to be His very word. So, in preaching or teaching, our words are only God’s words inasmuch as they accurately proclaim the truth of what is written in this Word, the Bible.

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah to address the prophets of that day by saying,

Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise Me, “The LORD has said, ‘You will have peace’”; And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, They say, 'Calamity will not come upon you.' But who has stood in the council of the LORD, That he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? … I did not send these prophets, But they ran. I did not speak to them, But they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have announced My words to My people, And would have turned them back from their evil way And from the evil of their deeds.” (Jeremiah 23:16-22)

So, according to the Lord Himself, some who claim to speak for God actually do not. Those who do are those who spend time with God, and receive His word clearly, and then announce His word. Therefore, we should never be lazy listeners. We must be discerning, like those Christians at Berea in Acts 17, who are described as being “noble-minded … for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” When they heard the preached word, they returned to the written word to compare what they had heard with what God had spoken.

The Bible is God’s Word. We are told that twice explicitly in these few verses in First Peter. Therefore, because it comes from God, there are certain things that must be true about it. And Peter elaborates on a number of those things here. First he tells us that God’s Word is true. In verse 22, he says that these Christians have been obedient to the truth. We read in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man that He should lie.” People lie. It is characteristic of human beings to exaggerate, twist the facts, distort the truth, and even tell bold faced lies. But these things are not true of God. Titus 1:2 says that God never lies. Hebrews 6:18 says that it is impossible for God to lie. God can be trusted because He has never lied, He does not lie, He indeed cannot lie. Therefore, all that God says is true. Since all of Scripture is “inspired by God” or “God-breathed,” as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, and “the word of God,” as Peter says here, then Scripture must be truthful just as God is. As David prays in 2 Samuel 7:28, “You are God, and your words are true.”

Not only is God’s Word true, it is also pure. In 2:2, Peter compares the Word of God to pure milk. This idea of purity has to do with something that has not been adulterated or diluted. A chemical can be weakened by diluting it with water or another substance, and it is therefore no longer pure. Two substances can be combined in a mixture, resulting in something altogether different than the pure original substances. But the Bible has not been diluted in any way, and its truth has not been mixed with any error. We do not have to go through and determine which parts are true and which parts are not, because it is truth, without any mixture of error, in its entirety. David writes in Psalm 12:6, “The words of the Lord are pure words.” Therefore, we must be careful in our preaching, in our teaching and speaking of the word, and in our hearing and reading of the word, not to adulterate or dilute God’s truth with erroneous human opinions.

Then Peter also says that God’s Word is living (1:23). The context in which Peter says this has to do with seed. He says that you have been born again as a result of a certain kind of seed. This seed, He says is the living Word of God. I don’t know much about gardening or farming, but I do know that there is such a thing as bad seed. It may be old, dried out, cracked open, or otherwise damaged. If you put that seed into the ground, nothing happens. That seed is essentially dead. It cannot bring forth new life. But when you plant a good seed, a living seed, into the ground and care for it properly, that seed will bring forth new life. Peter is borrowing imagery from the Lord Jesus here, who taught a parable about a man who went out to sow seed. And the seed fell on four different kinds of soil. And some of that seed produced life, and some didn’t; and some sprouted quickly, and just as quickly died; but some of it grew and produced a bountiful harvest. Now here’s the thing – the problem was in the soil, not in the seed. It was the same seed that was sown on all the soils. The seed was good, and when Jesus explained this parable to His disciples, He told them that the seed is the Word of God. It is alive, and it has the ability to produce life in the soil of our lives if we nurture it once it has been sown.

When I was in college, I was a new Christian, but I was struggling to live for Christ. It seemed like every time I came home and attended church, my pastor preached a sermon that was exactly what I needed to hear. I thought someone was tipping the pastor off about my sins! I would return to my dorm room on campus and pick up my Bible, and I would open it up to some point and begin reading, and I would find that the text was exactly what I needed to read. Has that ever happened to you? How do we explain that? The Word of God is living! It is alive and it meets us at our point of need, it deposits itself into the soil of our lives, and it is good seed. Therefore, if it lands in good soil, a life that is willing to allow the seed bear fruit, then the seed will grow and transform us from the inside out.

These are not dead words on dead pages in a dead book! Try it – read any other book, and see if it is able to produce the kind of life within you that the Bible can. It cannot. The Bible is uniquely able to work its way down into the very foundation of your soul to produce new spiritual life in you. The writer of Hebrews said it this way Hebrews 4:12 -- For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No other book, no other word, has the ability to cut like this one. It is a living and active word that is sharper than the mightiest of swords. The sharpest sword, the sharpest scalpel, can divide the head from the neck, or the muscle from the bone, but the word of God is able to separate the soul and the spirit, the joints and the marrow, and to cut all the way down to the very thoughts and motives of the human heart. It is a living word.

And then Peter says in addition that the Word of God is both imperishable and enduring. These ideas are similar but not identical. That the word endures means that it has not been destroyed. That it is imperishable means that it cannot be destroyed. And God knows, plenty of people have tried to destroy it. Some of these have been inscribed in the pages of history books, and others have faded from memory altogether, but the Bible still stands.

The imperishable nature of the Bible is here contrasted with perishable human nature. In 1 Peter 1:24-25, you should find the words in all capital letters in most English Bibles. This is a way of indicating that the words are a quotation from the Old Testament, and in this case, it is from Isaiah 40: "ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER." Human beings come and go, and in the grand scheme of history, our lifespan is rather short. We are like grass, which quickly withers. Some human beings accomplish great things in their lives, but the glory of these accomplishments is like a flower. It lasts just a little while. But God’s Word does not quickly fade from view; it does not wither or fall; it stands forever. There has never been, and there never will be, a time throughout all eternity that these words are shown to be untrue.

Every now and then, someone will come up with some scientific or archaeological discovery that challenges the teachings of the Bible. But in every case, either the so-called science is found to be faulty, or else unprovable, or in some rare cases, Christians have discovered that their interpretation of Scripture rather than the words of Scripture were in error. More often than not, that which is discovered through the right practice of science, where results are repeatable and provable, or that which is discovered buried in the sands of history, has served to confirm the truthfulness of the Bible and the errors of men rather than vice-versa. And every human effort to stamp out the Word of God has resulted in utter failure.

In 1971, Ravi Zacharias was ministering in Vietnam as the war was going on. He had a young Christian interpreter traveling with him by the name of Hien Pham. Shortly after the Communists took over all of Vietnam, Hien was arrested for aiding and abetting the Americans. While he was in prison, his Communist captors sought to brainwash him into renouncing the Christian faith. Over time, Hien began to weaken. He began to think that maybe the Christians had lied to him; maybe God did not exist. One night, he made up his mind that he would go to sleep and wake up the next day to never pray or consider himself a Christian again. The next morning, Hien was ordered to clean the prison’s latrines. As he emptied all the foul contents, his eyes caught a glimpse of paper that appeared to be written in English. He washed off the paper and stuck in his pocket to read later. That night, he pulled out this piece of paper and began to read it. This is what he read: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Of course Hien was reading from Romans, Chapter 8. The next day, Hien volunteered to clean the latrine, and continued to do so regularly. And every day, Hien would find pages of Scripture soiled by human waste. Apparently someone in the camp was using a Bible as toilet paper. But over time, page by page, Hien reassembled a significant portion of the Bible, and those pages became words of life to him.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). And here Peter tells us that the word which has been preached to us is God’s Word, therefore it is true, pure, living, imperishable, and enduring.

II. The Word Which Was Preached To You Accomplishes God’s Purposes

We are a fickle people, are we not? For evidence of this we need only see how people react to changes in the weather. When it rains, we complain about getting wet; if it doesn’t rain, we complain about how much we need it. We know that we need the rain, because when it comes, it waters the plant life and restores the water supplies. Rain always accomplishes a purpose when it comes. And God says that His Word is like this. In Isaiah 55, God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). When God’s Word goes forth, it accomplishes His divine purposes. And Peter tells us here what those purposes are.

First, when God’s Word is proclaimed, or shared, or taught, or read, it has the ability to produce regeneration. This is the theological term we use to indicate the new birth, as Jesus said in John 3, “You must be born again.” We are all born dead; we are spiritually still-born, dead in our trespasses and sins. If we would be made alive spiritually, we must be born again. In regeneration, we are set free from the death of sin and made alive to God by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus referred to this as being born “of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit must regenerate us. We cannot regenerate ourselves. We are spiritually dead and can do no good work to commend ourselves to God. The Spirit must make us alive. And He has sovereignly chosen to do this through the Word of God. Peter says here that we have been born again, not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is through the living and enduring Word of God. As the Word enters our life through reading it or hearing it, the Spirit of God nurtures the seed of the Word to produce faith in us.

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet was taken out to a valley full of dry bones in a vision, and the Lord asked him, “Can these dry bones live?” Ezekiel confessed that he did not know. But God told Ezekiel to do something very strange. The Lord told Ezekiel to preach to the bones. And as he preached the Word of God to those bones, they began to rattle around and assemble themselves together, and they became covered once more with skin, but they were not yet alive. Then the Lord told Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind. In Hebrew this word for wind is ru’ach, the same word translated as spirit. I believe the Lord was commanding His prophet to speak to the Holy Spirit. And as Ezekiel prophesied to the Spirit, the Spirit began to move, a wind began to blow across those dead skeletons, and they became alive.

God has given us the same task He gave to Ezekiel. He has told us to go into all the world and make disciples for Him. But Lord, these are just corpses! They are dead in sin, so how can they be made alive? And the Lord would have us to proclaim His word to those who are dead in sin, and as we do, His Spirit will move and bring them to life as they hear and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said in Romans 10:17 that faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. So we announce God’s word to the world, and tell them that in Jesus Christ God has become a man, and He has satisfied the righteous demands of God’s Law on our behalf, and He has taken our place in death by taking our sins upon Himself at the cross, and He has conquered sin and death through His resurrection and will save all who trust in Him as Lord and Savior. And as this message goes forth, it is like seed being sown. And the Spirit of God will nurture that seed. There may be some soil issues that prevent growth initially; but the seed is good. So we keep sowing, and we try to cultivate that soil and sow more and more seed into it, and as we do the Spirit brings new life in the divine work of regeneration as people are born again to new life in Christ.

But God’s work is not completed at regeneration. It continues through sanctification, that divine work of the Holy Spirit by which He shapes us and molds us into the image of Jesus Christ. As He sanctifies us, He makes us holy; He makes our lives a reflection of what He has declared us to be: the righteous people of God. And how does the Spirit accomplish sanctification in us? The same way He accomplishes regeneration in us: through the Word of God. Jesus prayed to the Father for His followers in John 17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.” Peter says here that we should crave this Word, long for this word as a newborn baby longs for his mother’s milk. We are spiritual infants and we need the nourishment that God’s Word supplies if we are to grow. So we long for the pure milk of the Word, he says, and by it, we are able to grow in respect to salvation. With every drop of the Word we swallow, we taste the kindness of the Lord and grow more into His likeness.

As we obey the word, we are purifying our souls, he says in 1:22. And as a result of His sanctifying work, we are coming into a more mature and sincere love for God that manifests itself in a love for one another. This love, he says is sincere, fervent, and from the heart. It is not fake. Where the Spirit of God is not at work, it has to be faked; but it can’t be faked for long. But where the Spirit is working His purpose of sanctification by the word, love is growing within us genuinely and sincerely. We begin to put off the things that operate against love; things which Peter mentions here in 2:1 – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander. The language of putting off has to do with taking off a garment. It is as if the Word and the Spirit have grown us to the point that those characteristics no longer fit. So we must put them off. And as we do, they are replaced with a sincere, fervent, and heartfelt love for the brethren – our fellow believers in Jesus Christ.

And God will continue His work of sanctification in us until it is completed perfectly. That will not happen in this life. He will never be finished with us here and now; but 1 John 3 tells us that we will see Christ face to face one day, and when we do, we will be transformed; we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. This is glorification. This is when the transformation of our entire being will be complete and we will stand perfect in glory with Christ for all eternity. Because we have been born, not of perishable seed as all humanity is, but born again of imperishable, eternally enduring seed, we have the assurance of eternal life, which will be lived forever in the presence of Christ and in the likeness of Christ in heaven. Those who have not been born again by this enduring seed will perish eternally. I heard Howard Hendricks say once that there are only two things present today on this planet which will survive eternally: the word of God and the souls of men. Those who have been born again will live forever in heaven; those who have not will exist forever in hell; and the word of God will endure forever. So if we want to invest our lives in something that will matter for eternity, there is nothing better than to spend our lives depositing the Word of God into the souls of men.

This Word which was preached to you, God’s true and pure, living, imperishable and enduring Word, will accomplish His purposes in you to bring you into salvation through the new birth, and to transform you into the likeness of Christ, purifying you from the inside out and creating a sincere love for your fellow Christian, until the day we see Christ face to face.

So then, what shall we do? We must not take such a Word as this for granted! No Peter indicates two responsibilities we have to the Word here. First, in 2:2, we should long for it. We should desire this Word as if it were more important to us than food. And in fact, it is. Jesus said, “MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD” (Matthew 4:4). This is our milk, it is our meat, it is our bread. We will starve without it. So we need to feast upon it at every opportunity. We do this by reading it, hearing it read and proclaimed, studying it in depth, memorizing it, meditating on it, as often as possible. And secondly, Peter tells us in 1:22 that we must obey this Word. The purpose of spending time in the Bible is not to accumulate more facts. It is to transform our lives, and this is only possible as we obey what we find in the Word. And as we long for the Word and obey the Word, we will find the Spirit of God growing us in our faith and transforming our lives for God’s glory.

Do you have confidence in the Bible as God’s Word? Has it brought you to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it at work in your life shaping you to become more like Christ? Do you long for it? Do you obey it? This is the word which was preached to you.