Consider Your Ways

Nothing can warp your priorities like an unhealthy dose of self-interest. When your view of the world can’t extend beyond the mirror, your spiritual vision becomes clouded. When you over value your self-image, you will discipline your kids for misbehavior because they have embarrassed you, not because they have disobeyed.

Being too interested in your own image in parenting means you care more about how others perceive you than you do about your own child’s heart. When you are driven by selfish ambition, your family, friends, church, and God will inevitably take a back seat. You can’t pursue God’s glory with your life if you are pursuing your own.

Haggai’s first sermon-like message to the people of Israel was a call for them to “consider their ways.” The Lord himself said the Jews had reasoned among themselves that it was not the right time to rebuild the house of the Lord. The time didn’t seem right because their priorities weren’t right. Rebuking them, the Lord calls the Jews “these people” rather than “my people” indicating that their pursuit of self-glory was reorienting the focus of their worship.

While the Jews were diligent to rebuild their own homes, they feared there weren’t enough finances or materials to take on a temple reconstruction project. But the fact remained: their homes were complete, while God’s house was in ruins. God didn’t need a home in order to have a place to dwell, but the temple was the central location of God’s dwelling place with his people. The problem is clear: God’s people prioritized their prosperity over God’s presence.

If we aren’t careful, we will fall into the same trap as the Israelites. If we don’t stop to consider our ways, we will find ourselves pursuing personal prosperity over the Lord’s presence. Through Christ, we have access to God’s presence that ancient Israel never even dreamed of having.

To neglect the presence of God by prioritizing anything in our lives over pursuing him in his Word, prayer, and the gathering of believers is to turn the gospel on its head. We have been brought near to God through the work of Christ, so it would be foolish to intentionally move away from him for the sake of personal prosperity that will soon pass away.

Intimate Love, Costly Grace, Wondrous Holiness: Navigating a ‘Boring’ Passage

road-sky-sand-street.jpgJourneying through the book of Exodus can feel a lot like wandering in circles through the Sinai wilderness—it’s easy to get lost in the details. Exodus is an exciting and enjoyable book to read and study through at least the first 20 chapters. But the last half of the book is rarely read, studied, and preached—except for a few stories (Ex. 32-34). One of the reasons is that the book shifts from narrative to lengthy descriptions and commands. The last half of Exodus, particularly Exodus 28-31, are a little boring to the casual reader.

In Exodus 28, there is a seemingly endless list of specific descriptions and commands from the Lord as to how the priests’ garments were to be designed. An instructional tone continues in Exodus 29 as the Lord explains how the priests should be consecrated (set apart for service to the Lord). In Exodus 30 we see more instructions regarding the placement and purpose of tabernacle elements such as the altar of incense and the bronze basin. Exodus 31 reinforces Sabbath commands while Exodus 39 is a lengthy description of the Israelites obedience to the Lord in making the priests’ garments.

From a bird’s-eye view, Exodus 28-31 and 39 are all about God’s love, grace, holiness, and glory. True, this is a very broad and general statement that could nearly be true of every biblical text. But there is something unique about this section of the Exodus in how it relates to the rest of the Bible and even to you and I today. Exodus is all about God’s glory extending to the ends of the earth through his chosen people who possess his indwelling presence.

By God’s grace alone, he chose a people for himself and dwelled with them. The tabernacle was constructed as a means for God to live with his people. One of the most glaring realities communicated in Exodus 28-31 is that God demands and defines how he will be approached and worshiped. Because of our sin, approaching God on our terms will always prove disastrous. He is too holy for his people to just waltz into his presence whenever and however they so please. In the words of pastor Landon Dowden, “You don’t just stroll into God’s presence.” If Exodus 28-31 teaches us anything, it teaches us that it is incredibly costly to dwell peacefully with the living God.

Ultimately, Exodus 28-31 points to Christ, our great high priest, who makes “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). Only by being clothed with his righteousness can we fearlessly approach the throne of God (Heb. 4:14-16). The fact that we possess the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit every waking and sleeping moment of every day should leave us in awe of the work of Christ on our behalf.

I believe there are three important truths to draw from this often overlooked and seemingly obscure passage of Scripture.

1. God’s Love is Deeply Intimate

We see his deeply intimate love in the simple fact that he desires to live with us. Most of us are particularly careful in choosing who we live with. Whether in choosing a spouse, college roommate, or camp roommate, we don’t want to live with someone who will inevitably cause us harm. We choose who we live with based on their merits and their history with us. I’m so thankful God is not like us. He chooses to live with people who will inevitably cause him harm. He chooses to live with people who will deliberately turn their backs on him despite his unfailing goodness. It wouldn’t take long for the people with whom he has chosen to dwell to start worshiping a calf made out of gold. Yet, this God of deep, intimate love constantly pursues his people not based on their merits or history, but solely on the basis of his love.

2. God’s Grace is Costly

The only way for a God of infinite holiness and a people totally depraved with sin to live together is forgiveness. In any broken relationship, the party who is wronged must forgive the party who has wronged in order for the relationship to be restored. Well, the relationship between God and man is broken with a greater divide than any other relationship in history. Mending this relationship will require more than just blind acceptance. God would cease to be God if he allowed man into his presence without dealing with their sin. Grace and forgiveness that are in any way meaningful are always costly. And they are costly to the one showing grace and offering forgiveness.

The sacrificial blood-bath in Exodus 29 is not for the sake of religious rituals. These sacrifices are necessary for the possibility of forgiveness. And they point to the ultimate sacrifice, the divine sacrifice where the God who owns heaven and earth takes the greatest loss by sending his Son to bear his wrath against sin. God’s grace is indeed costly. But it is costly to himself. Oh, the lengths and depths of God’s grace!

3. God’s Holiness is Wondrous

Being overwhelmed by the mountain of details in Exodus 28-31 isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They speak to the wonder of God’s holiness. Remember, you can’t just waltz into God’s presence however and whenever you like. So, the details aren’t ritualistic. They aren’t for the sake of information overload. They are a testament to the grandeur and wonder of God’s holiness. One of the more sanctifying things you can do is meditate on God’s holiness or otherness. Just how different is he from you?

In all honesty, Exodus 28-31, and really much of the last 20 chapters of Exodus, is difficult to read. It is easy to miss the importance, meaning, and significance of these chapters. It is easy to get lost in the details. However, with the right lens, we will be able to see not only the importance of these chapters as inspired Scripture, but we will be able to see the deeply intimate nature of God’s love, the costly nature of God’s grace, and the wondrous nature of God’s holiness.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Morning Mashup 05/24

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A mashup of Kindle deals, articles, and videos for your information, edification, and enjoyment.


KINDLE DEALS

Shepherding a Child’s Heart | Tedd Tripp | $4.99

Shepherding a Child's Heart

Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word | George Guthrie | $0.99

Read the Bible for Life

ARTICLES

Why Social Media (and the Church) is Making You Sad | Russell Moore

“We’ve been warned that social media can distract us, shorten our attention spans, disconnect us from real-life relationships. But what if our Facebook and Instagram are also making us miserable?

3 Ways Biblical Theology Will Change Your Bible Study | Holly Marr

“Biblical theology is an important discipline for understanding both the high-level narrative of Scripture and the development of key themes across the canon.

Appreciating the overarching narrative of Scripture and the development of themes across the Bible can significantly impact the way you study God’s Word. Here are just three ways.”

Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like’ | Molly Worthen

“Yet here is the paradox: “I feel like” masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.”

Don’t Waste Your Summer | Kevin DeYoung

“In a little over three months we’ll all be moaning, ‘Where did the summer go? I can’t believe it’s over.’ So what can we do over the next hundred days or so to help alleviate that feeling of loss? Or to put it positively, what can we do to make the most of June, July, and August? Here are twenty suggestions.”

Ten Differences Between Delagating and Dumpster Leadership | Eric Geiger

“Sadly, what some leaders call delegating is really dumping, doing whatever it takes, as quickly as it takes, to get responsibilities off their plate and onto the plates of others. On the other hand, delegating is wise, effective, and loving. Effective delegation spreads responsibilities to others so that the organization can accomplish more while simultaneously developing other leaders.”

How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life | Nicole Cliffe

“I know that sounds depressing, but I found the idea of life ending after death mildly reassuring in its finality. I had started to meet more people of faith, having moved to Utah from Manhattan, and thought them frequently charming in their sweet delusion. I did not wish to believe. I had no untapped, unanswered yearnings. All was well in the state of Denmark. And then it wasn’t.”

VIDEOS

Morning Mashup 09/07

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Start your Labor Day off right with a mashup of articles for your information, edification, entertainment, and enjoyment.


How Andy Mineo’s “You Can’t Stop Me” Became Baseball’s Top Walk-Up Song – Andy Mineo’s “You Can’t Stop Me” just proved it’s universal popularity by winning Baseball Tonight’s inaugural Whammy award.

(Almost) The Whole Continuous Story of the Old Testament in 11 Books – There are 11 books in the Old Testament, that almost tell the entire story of God’s redemption before Christ.

When Does Your Religion Legally Excuse You From Doing Part of Your Job? – Very helpful article from The Washington Post.

Need We Jail Each Other Over Marriage Licenses? – “The situation in Kentucky reminds all of us that America is extremely divided on issues that show no signs of weakening. This zero-sum culture war cannot continue if the social fabric of America is to have any chance of unifying around a robust pluralism.”

11 Easy Steps to Repenting on the Internet – Barnabas Piper on the brutal realities of repenting online.

The Promise of God in Threatening Pain – NFL center, Garrett Gilkey, offers helpful reflections on the sovereign promises of God in the midst of pain.

Defending the Bible, Protecting the Faith – Dr. Timothy Jones, my current family and discipleship professor discusses how believers should respond to skeptics in this interview about his new book, How We Got the Bible.

Church Discipline, Contemporary Grace Style – Rick Phillips with some weighty questions with those who identify with Tullian Tchjividjian and the Contemporary Grace Movement.

Can a Label Edify? – And here is Ray Ortlund’s response to Phillips. Admittedly, he doesn’t address any of Phillips’ questions or concerns, but does raise legitimate questions over the benefit of labels.

Pop Atheism and the Power of the Gospel – “As conservative Christian convictions continue to be marginalized, I fear the evangelical response might be something other than courageous love. We could be tempted to shrink back in fear if we aren’t properly propelled by the power of the gospel. Like Sayers, we may wish they all would just leave us alone.”

How I Learned to Live Joyfully – I try to read everything J.I. Packer writes. He is a superb teacher. This piece recounting Packer’s personal experiences only proves this to be true.

Faith’s true office is to see life in the midst of death. –John Calvin

Did Paul Write 1 Timothy? (Part 1)

Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_ProjectMy church family is currently going through the book of 1 Timothy on Sunday mornings. My pastor is preaching through this book to the congregation, and I am preaching through this book to the children. I have greatly enjoyed this method so far as it gives me the opportunity to better learn from my pastor as he prepares his sermons and when our sermons are in sync it creates a better post-sermon atmosphere for conversation in the home.
As we go through this series, I would like to share some things I am learning about 1 Timothy, preaching, kids, prep, or anything else I feel may be of help to some of you. Today and tomorrow, I want to take a look at some preliminary issues regarding 1 Timothy.

The Dispute of Paul

This may come as a surprise to some of my Christian friends, but there is great dispute over whether or not Paul actually wrote some of the letters in the New Testament bearing his name. While there are certain letters that no one disagrees was written by Paul, there are others in which Pauline authorship is doubted. There are three letters from Paul in particular that probably are in highest dispute: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

These three letters are better known as the Pastoral Letters because they are written to young pastors and deal with church polity and conduct, as well as Christian living. While Paul’s name is attached to each of these letters, and though from the casual reader’s eye there is no reason to doubt that Paul wrote them, modern scholars have serious concerns that Paul did not pen the Pastoral Letters at all. Although the church held that Paul wrote the Pastorals from the early church through the 1800’s, the modern/liberal theological movement of the 1900’s, which is alive and well today, began to question authorship of nearly all books in the Bible. Critical scholars nearly are in consensus in their denial of Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Letters.

Over the next two days, we will look at four reasons given by critical scholars as to why they believe Paul did not write the Pastoral Letters. This is highly important to discuss, because the difference between Paul writing this letter in the 60s AD or someone else writing it in the second century AD is of tremendous. And as you will see, the integrity of both the authors and text itself is at stake in the evaluation of authorship.

Two Things to Keep in Mind

Here are a couple things to keep in mind while reviewing the following claims of critical scholars:

(1) Scholars and truly anyone evaluating evidence cannot help but be influenced and even biased by cultural situations and academic expectations. So, if there is a preconceived notion that Paul did not write certain letters bearing his name, it is much easier to interpret data in that light, and vice-versa.

(2) Many assumptions must be made when evidence is slight or lacking completely. These assumptions often fall to biases or preconceived notions that can cause the evidence that is present to be skewed.

Let’s look at two of the four reasons why scholars doubt Pauline authorship of the pastoral letters and quickly evaluate them. We will look at the other two reasons tomorrow.

Reason #1: Using pseudonyms to write letters was common practice in the Hellenistic culture of the first century.

The argument goes something like this: In the Greco-Roman first century culture it was commonplace for people to use pseudonyms when writing letters. This was especially true when they were writing in the line of someone’s tradition. And since much of the pastoral letters contains elements of Pauline theology, it is likely that someone, either a contemporary of Paul or more likely a later “disciple” of Paul, would have written this letter and ascribed it to Paul.

Problems with this common assertion are mostly ethical. While it is possible that someone other than Paul used his name as a pseudonym, since he was highly influential, the content of the letter would be filled with bold face lies, fictionalized events, and fabrications.

Reason #2: The pastoral letters do not fit well within Paul’s overall ministry.

The question scholars raise here is this: Can the pastoral letters be fitted within the framework of Paul’s ministry as recorded in Acts and in his other letters? Modern scholars doubt that they do. An example they give is that there is no evidence of a man named Onesiphorus ever visiting Paul when he was imprisoned, such as is recorded in 2 Timothy 1:16. To me, this is unsatisfactory and assumes non-Pauline authorship from the start. Because for those who believe Paul wrote the pastoral letters, 2 Tim 1:16 is the occurrence of Paul describing this visit. Just because Luke did not include it in his historical volume (Acts) or Paul did not mention it elsewhere does not mean that it did not happen to Paul.

What’s worse with many of these observations and assumptions is that it paints an incredibly unethical picture of the author. So, Paul is just lying about Onesiphorus, someone writing for Paul is lying, or a later author simply fictionalized the event.

This reason also seems to fall on its face when passages like 1 Tim 1:12-14 are considered. The author describes himself as one who was “formerly a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” This fits perfectly within the framework of Paul’s ministry. Should we take this passage as referring to someone other than Paul who had a similar experience? We would be taking a great leap to makes such an assertion. It is much more likely that the one who claims authorship is the Paul of Acts 9 who was converted from his life of blasphemy and persecution.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Radical Faith in the Face of Ruthless Suffering

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This semester I am taking a course entitled, “Interpreting Daniel.” It is what you would expect–a verse by verse exegetical examination of the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel is a theologically rich and full book. Truly one semester is not nearly enough time to adequately pursue all of the issues in Daniel.

I wanted to share just one of the many things that have both alarmed and captivated my heart and spurred me to greater faith in Christ. This particular insight came from an unsuspecting place in Daniel.

3Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility,4youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.5The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.6Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.7And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
–Daniel 1:3-8, ESV

Let’s break down what is going on here. The king of Babylon, who had recently conquered Judah and taken its people into exile, ordered Judah’s finest to be specifically brought to him. He clearly has a desire to assert his self-proclaimed glory by showing his dominance reaches to the heights of Judean society.

The king orders for “youths without blemish” from the Judean nobility to come to the king’s palace to be indoctrinated with the “literature and language of the Chaldeans.” They were ordered to eat specific food and drink specific wine, food and wine that came from the king himself. While this on the surface seems like a walk in the park compared to what the word “captivity” typically connotes, the next few verses highlight the sinister intentions of the king and his ruthless brutality. “And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego” (v. 7).

In years past, I would have thought very little about the brutality of this captivity, and surely would have belittled the significance of the name change. However, after further study it is clear that Daniel’s captivity was indeed as bad as one would assume, maybe worse.

Consider what Daniel and his friends likely endured as a result of exile.

1. Daniel and his friends were torn from their families

These young men were specifically chosen from Judah’s finest, and in the process were ripped away from their families. Being taken into captivity was like the Gestapo storming a Jewish home and dragging mother and daughter into one train car while throwing father and son into another.

2. Daniel and his friends were likely castrated.

The fact that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among the “chief of the eunuchs” seems to indicate that they themselves had been made eunuchs. It was not uncommon for the king of Babylon to castrate men of conquered nations, so it is likely that Daniel and his friends were castrated when they were taken captive.

3. Daniel and his friends were robbed of their identity

Daniel, Hananiah, and Mishael, and Azariah had names that reflected their faith. Their identity was found in being part of the people of the one true and living God. When the king of Babylon brought Daniel and his friends to his palace, he not only had them trained in Chaldean culture, but he also renamed them, not simply because he didn’t like their names, but as an exercise of theological dominance. He renames these four Judean young men after his gods. He is essentially desiring to wipe out their religious affiliation. He wants their to be no semblance of the God of Judah. The king of Babylon had conquered God’s people and now he wanted to show that he had essentially conquered their God. He had no place in Babylon and the king wanted this name change to reflect what he arrogantly felt was a certain reality.

4. Daniel and his friends were teenagers

The king of Babylon called for those who were “youths without blemish.” Based on the historical context, conservative scholars have placed Daniel’s age at the time of being taken into exile at around 14. Daniel and his friends were barely teenagers when they were taken into Babylonian captivity. This is alarming and disgusting to think of fourteen year-olds suffering such cultural and theological dominance, and physical brutality at the hands of one of the most ruthless men on the face of the earth at the time.

So, to this point we are given a picture of four young teenagers who were torn from their families, castrated, culturally and theologically dominated, robbed of their identity, and treated as property by a ruthless king with uninhibited power. Yet, after all of this, we are told that these young boys were resolved to fully devote themselves to God. They remained faithful in the midst of severe persecution, suffering, and abuse in a place where their God was seemingly dominated by a ruthless human king.

If anyone had a reason to doubt God’s goodness it would have been these teenagers. However, Daniel and his friends clearly trusted the sovereignty and goodness God despite their circumstances. They did not “defile themselves” with the king’s food and drink. Even though they would have reasonably been broken down after what they had been through, they demonstrated strength in weakness that only God can provide.

These boys have taught me that our circumstances do not determine our attitudes toward God. God’s self-revelation determines this. God has declared himself to be good and sovereignly faithful to fulfill all of his promises to his people. We trust this because he has said it is so, not because our circumstances may seem to tell us otherwise.

The fact that Daniel unashamedly and boldly trusted God over and over again throughout Daniel after initially suffering such atrocities is truly amazing. I am amazed at his faith. I am amazed at his resolve. I am amazed at his unhindered trust in God. He did not allow his circumstances to dictate his theology. Instead, his theology rooted him in something much greater than his circumstances.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.