Video

Sinclair Ferguson’s Session from the 2015 Ligonier Conference

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I would highly recommend taking the time to watch/listen to this. A very important message!

Christ’s Message to the Church – Sinclair Ferguson

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A Review of “What Is the Gospel” by Greg Gilbert

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Greg Gilbert (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He has authored books such as the new Who Is Jesus? and James: A 12-Week Study.

I used Gilbert’s What Is the Gospel? in discipleship with a brother over a few weeks. It is a short, accessible introduction to the gospel. The book begins with some various ways that the gospel is defined in today’s books and sermons. He covers a large array of viewpoints on what certain people think that the gospel is all about. It is from that array that Gilbert hopes to come to a more biblical understanding of the gospel within the book.

The biblical gospel…is like fuel in the furnace of worship. The more you understand about it, believe it, and rely on it, the more you adore God both for who he is and for what he has done for us in Christ, (p. 21).

Gilbert then encourages us to go to the Bible as our authority as to where we should ascertain an understanding of what the gospel is. Walking through Romans 1-4, he points out how the Apostle Paul explains the gospel. He breaks it down to four crucial questions that Paul answers through his presentation of the gospel:

1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
2. What is our problem? In other words, are we in trouble and why?
3. What is God’s solution to that problem? How has he acted to save us from it?
4. How do I – myself, right here, right now – how do I come to be included in that salvation? What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? (p.31)

This culminates, as the last question points, to a proper response, which Gilbert points out that Peter explains in his sermon at Pentecost: repent and believe, which is evidenced by the act of baptism.

Gilbert then takes us to God as Creator, which establishes his authority over his creatures. Yet, God is not just the Creator, but a Holy and Righteous Creator, which distinguishes him from any other form of creator or god that is on the marketplace of religions. From there Gilbert moves through the four questions to the subject of man and his problem of sin. Man has broken his relationship with God in rebellion through sin. This is the startling contrast of a predicament that man finds himself in, a rebellious creature shaking his fist in the face of a Holy and Righteous Creator.

If we reduce sin to a mere breaking of relationship, rather than understanding it as the traitorous rebellion of a beloved subject against his good and righteous King, we will never understand why the death of God’s Son was required to address it, (p. 52).

That of course leads to the need for a remedy to this situation if man ever hopes to be restored in relationship to God. That remedy is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He became the first and last God-man, being fully God and fully man and was born of the virgin Mary. He lived a perfect life, free of sin. He died a criminal’s death that he did not deserve, but he did so as a substitutionary sacrifice in the place of sinners. Jesus did not however stay dead. On the third day, he resurrected, coming out of the tomb in which he was laid by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A righteous and holy God can justify the ungodly because in Jesus’ death, mercy and justice were perfectly reconciled. The curse was righteously executed, and we were mercifully saved, (p. 69).

This good news, this gospel requires a response from every person that hears it. The response that God calls us to is that of faith and repentance. The faith that is spoken of in terms of a response is not an easy believism or that one simply agrees that these events took place. This response of faith is such that the hearer believes that he or she is now a partaker of the benefits of the work of Christ, namely that those who believe are considered righteous before God because of Christ. Gilbert says, “Putting your faith in Christ means that you utterly renounce any other hope of being counted righteous before God,” (p. 79). This then leads to repentance, which Gilbert points out is an acknowledgement of Jesus’ kingship and lordship over those who believe in him. This leads to a steady, lifelong hated of our sin and subsequent war against it. Gilbert points to the Apostle Paul’s words that true believers will perform “deeds in keeping with repentance,” (Acts 26:20).

Once he finishes the four question framework from earlier, the last three chapters of the book focus on the kingdom, the cross, and the power of the gospel. His explanation of the kingdom is fivefold: the kingdom of God is God’s redemptive rule over his people, the kingdom of God is here, the kingdom of God is not yet completed and will not be until Jesus returns, inclusion in the kingdom depends entirely on one’s response to the kingdom, and to be a citizen of the kingdom is to be called to live the life of the kingdom. This chapter, though brief, is a helpful approach to the kingdom in a world, as Gilbert points out, that seems to be all over the place as to what the kingdom is. It also helps show how the gospel is related to the kingdom.

In his chapter on the cross, he seeks to encourage that we keep the cross at the center of the gospel. He does this partially be dispelling three “gospels” that do not in fact keep the cross at the center. The first is that “Jesus is Lord” is not the gospel. While the statement Jesus is Lord is absolutely true, it is not the whole sum of the gospel. The second is Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation is not the gospel. He points out that this is a great summary of the Bible, but it is not in fact the gospel. Lastly, cultural transformation is not the gospel. At the heart of Gilbert’s point in this section, he is trying to argue that the gospel is not primarily about changing the world, but about redeeming God’s people. He offers some critique against those that he calls transformationalists and says, “I think the optimism of many transormationalists about the possibility of “changing the world” is misleading and therefore will prove discouraging,” (p. 108). He does agree that the forgiven and redeemed people of God do indeed bring change to the world, but that is only accomplished through the cross. His main concern is that cultural transformation can for some, become the main thrust of the gospel, which in fact it is more of a byproduct of the gospel, but not the gospel itself.

Gilbert finishes with a chapter to encourage and challenge Christians to believe in, celebrate, and keep the gospel central to their lives. Christians should be encouraged to spread the gospel to the world, which begins with those right in front of us. He also calls for non-Christian readers to take serious the claims of the gospel and respond rightly.

As you might be able to tell, this small book packs a punch. I found it quite useful to use for discipleship and enjoyed reading it for my own edification. I particularly liked the chapter on the kingdom. The book would also be a great resource for a new Christian or someone checking out Christianity. It presents the good news of Jesus Christ faithfully and in an understandable way. I commend it to you!

Reflections on 9Marks First Five Years Conference

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This past Monday, our church’s youth pastor intern and I began a journey towards Charlotte, North Carolina for the 9Marks First Five Years conference. Under normal driving conditions, we would have arrived in Charlotte in plenty of time for dinner. However, we just so happened to be driving on the infamous day of Snowpocalypse. We literally drove until we were forced off the interstate as it had been closed down. After an unplanned, interesting stay in a hotel at a small, remote exit, we made it to the conference the next day about 20 minutes into the first session.

My draw to this conference was the specific focus for those that are beginning in ministry in their church. Though, as I have mentioned before, I have been doing ministry, mostly bivocational, for about 7 years now, I am in the first few months of my first, full-time position as a pastor. I have already discovered how vastly different this position is than what I have been doing for the last 7 years (more about that in a later post).

As we were driving through the dreadful winter weather on Monday, we joked that this conference better be the best conference we have ever attended. Thankfully, we were not disappointed by the conference in the slightest. The couple of days of sessions proved to be well worth the drive. I won’t try to recap all of the sessions nor list all of the speakers, but I will highlight some things that I took away from this conference.

Slow Down

The theme of slowness kept coming out in different ways in the various sessions. It was also a big part of the conversations that we would have after the sessions. There is such a temptation to want to come into a ministry position at 110 mph and just blow the roof off the place, but that is a sure way to tire quickly. Many of the speakers kept coming back to the notion of valuing faithfulness over productivity. John Onwuchekwa’s entire session was about this very thing. He said, “Jesus aimed for faithfulness, not usefulness and productivity.” Other speakers exhorted us to focus on preaching the Word and loving the people above all other “strategic” things we may desire to do in our first years. Sometimes the cannon that we are shot out of from seminary is a bad marker for the pace and manner in which we enter real ministry. That is of course all the more reason for young men to stay connected to local churches throughout their seminary and other preparatory years.

Love Jesus

Jeremy Yong reminded us, “A supreme love for Christ is what brings forth a love for His people.” Obviously, pastors should love and trust in Jesus. But I wonder how easy it can become to merely talk to others about how important it is that they love Jesus, but actually forget to love Jesus? This manifests itself in all kinds of general and practical ways: trusting in Jesus, praying, being in the Bible, singing, finding joy in Jesus, and so on. If we are not orienting our hearts towards Christ it is and will be impossible to help anyone else do so.

Discipleship

The tangible thing that I believe embodies both a slowing down and an emphasis on loving Jesus is discipleship. Harshit Singh referred to it as, “a time-consuming, blood-sucking, heart-wrenching, love-filled process.” Nothing can make us slow down more than making the effort to dig into the lives of those around us. With all the temptations to program everything we do in the church, discipleship forces us to set all of that aside and build relationships that are directed to Christ. I would say that discipleship is the output of a life that is slowed down and loving Jesus. As one of my mentors often says, “our smartphones are liars.” They tell us that everything can and should happen instantaneously, but not so in God’s economy, or should I say, not so in true reality.

Conclusion

One of the many things that I appreciate about 9Marks is how dedicated they are to upholding the importance of the church. That was evident in all that we heard for the two days of the conference. I am hopeful that God can work into my heart and mind, these themes and others that we heard at the conference. No pastor desires to start off and point themselves towards unfaithfulness and ineffectiveness. I pray that God will use what I was able to take in throughout the future of my ministry.

If you weren’t able to attend or livestream the conference, I would highly encourage you to check out the session videos at the link below:

First Five Years Conference Videos.

A Pastoral Case for Studying Biblical Languages

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They are often the dreaded classes for the Bible college and seminary student. They make up some of the confusing parts in theology books. They are considered wastes of time by some in the Church. They are Biblical Greek and Hebrew. When one desires to study for the work of ministry in various contexts, these subjects are usually going to be part of that process. For many, the very idea of having to go through these classes is off-putting at best. They often become a box to tick in the journey of finishing a degree. I would like to suggest that they should be looked at not as a freshman health class that must be completed, but as helpful and necessary tools for faithful gospel ministry and biblical exegesis.

Humbly

The first thing to be said about the study of these languages is that it must be done humbly. Studying these languages is a step back into a world in which we are not currently residing. These are forms of particular languages that are no longer used. Some of the world’s greatest scholars debate various aspects of the way these languages were used. Therefore, they are not to be approached with great pride and gusto. Many have said that knowing a little bit of anything is dangerous and that holds true with these languages. Our ability to parse one Greek word and weave it into a sermon or lesson is not cause to puff out our chests and call our listeners to bow before us in great amazement. The great danger of pride with these languages is that the majority of our audiences will never be able to question our use of these languages in a sermon or lesson. The danger then is to turn the knowledge of these languages into some sort of intellectual trump card, assuming that people think, “Well, he mentioned that Greek word, so he must be right.” The study of these languages bring us that much closer to Paul writing his letters to Timothy for example and feeling the wonder of the personal nature of God’s word. That is cause for great praise and humility, because we are still handling God’s word, though it is not in a language that many around us speak.

Commitment

The study of these languages should be given a level of commitment beyond the grade in a class. We all know that there is a way to finish a class to get a grade and a way to finish a class to learn. Unless you are in a unique setting, no one will ever call into question your progress in the Biblical languages once you leave your Greek or Hebrew professors. Therefore, there is a commitment that should exist beyond the classroom to continue in the exercise of knowing and learning these languages. Cramming for vocabulary quizzes or trying to memorize declensions of nouns at the last minute are not examples of commitment. There are numerous ways to continue to stay committed to the study of these languages for the sake of your ministry, some of which I will mention at the end of this post.

Proper Application

I remember one of the first times I was able to weave my newly found knowledge of Biblical Greek into a sermon. It was minimal, but I was excited to be able to use it and not have it just be information that I learned. A rather obvious principle for any kind of knowledge is to apply it properly. I wouldn’t be trying to use the Pythagorean Theorem to balance my checkbook, because the two have nothing to do with each other. Neither should we wrongly use our growing knowledge of the Biblical languages in awkward or inappropriate ways. Two great books that speak to this very topic are Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson and Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics by Moises Silva. A classic example of improper application is saying because the Greek word for power, dunamai, sounds/looks like our word for dynamite, that the power that is talked about when this word is used in the Greek text must mean explosive. This and other common examples of errors we can make can be found here. It is necessary for us to have a firm foundation in the languages as to not make these kind of application errors.

Why Bother?

I just finished a two-year journey through Greek and Hebrew, which I took through Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The reason that I took these classes is that my M.Div. did not have as much Greek and Hebrew as I needed to continue towards doctoral studies. One thing I discovered pretty quickly as I began these classes is how much I didn’t know/remember English grammar. When I had to diagram a sentence for my Greek exercises, I couldn’t remember how to do it in English, let alone in Greek. I also couldn’t really remember what a passive participle was; studying any other language forces you to get stronger in your native tongue. This alone helped me in my reading and study of the Bible. When I can now look at a passage and see the significance that a particular preposition makes, I see the text in a whole new light.

Another thing I have realized is the need to properly pass on the ability to dip our toes into the original Biblical languages to a congregation. Through teaching and preaching, with a good basis of the Biblical languages, one can pass on good exegetical practices that can include mini lessons in Greek or Hebrew. No, a congregation does not need to and will not realistically all walk out knowing Greek and Hebrew, but Lord willing, they will know how to better study the Bible and apply it to their lives.

Learning the Biblical languages helps us in our reading as well. Many of the Christian books that we read from Christian living to Theology, all mention Greek or Hebrew to varying degrees. Rather than stumbling over those sentences, paragraphs, or sections, those with a foundation in the languages have those stumbling blocks removed from their learning and edification.

I know that many seminaries are offering M.Div. programs without any languages, which I think is a mistake. Granted, some get a good basis of the languages in the undergrad Bible College work, yet I think more can always be helpful. Having now finished these classes as well as previous classes during my M.Div., I can heartily urge you to take the time to learn the Biblical languages humbly, with commitment, and with an aim to properly apply them in your ministry.

Resources for Studying the Biblical Languages

http://dailydoseofgreek.com/ – Dr. Plummer from SBTS walks through Greek basics and the Greek text in a host of helpful videos

http://www.hebrew4christians.net/ – an exhaustive look at Hebrew grammar and other helpful tools

https://quisition.com/ – an interactive flashcard site that allows you to build decks of flashcards to study of Greek and Hebrew terms (and many other topics as well)

http://www.blueletterbible.org/ – a Bible site with a host of tools, but of note to languages is the interlinear option for Old and New Testaments

A Review of “Unbreakable: What the Son of God Said About the Word of God”

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Andrew Wilson is the author of the book, Unbreakable: What the Son of God Said About the Word of GodHe serves as an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne, UK. He is currently studying for a PhD at Kings College London. He blogs regularly at Think Theology.

I grabbed a copy of this book for a class I taught at our church regarding Jesus as the Word of God and the Bible as the Word of God. I heard about the book in detail recently when I watched the debates with Andrew Wilson, Steve Chalke, and Brian McLaren. In these debates, Andrew talks a bit about what he discusses in Unbreakable. Having been personally exposed to both sides of the debate regarding Jesus or the Bible as the Word of God to us, I appreciated Andrew’s approach in the debates and his approach is expanded upon in his book.

The book is short, ringing in at 78 pages, but it is not lacking content. His approach is centered around various aspects of scripture: its authority, sufficiency, and inspiration, to name a few. However, as the subtitle suggests, he is concerned about what Jesus upholds and emphasizes about the scriptures. The greatest summary statement of the focus of this book is, “I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust in the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus,” (Wilson, 10). This outlook is one that could bring needed clarity to those confused about the question of, “Do I emphasize Jesus or the Bible?”

Wilson’s style in this book is accessible and helps deliver the content well to the degree that this book could be recommended for the lay person and for the seminary student. As a pastor, I feel the pressing need to be able to explain heavy, weighty doctrinal truths to those that don’t care about the fancy terms and theological debates. Wilson does this in Unbreakable and gives his readers the language and the explanations to pass on to a congregation or to those that his readers may be discipling.

I have a few favorite parts in this book that I find particularly helpful. The first is from his chapter on the centre (he is from the UK) of scripture. He talks about being at lots of weddings as a pastor and often being caught in the background of candid wedding photos of the bride and groom. He says,

When we read the Scriptures, Jesus is the centrepiece. He’s the one the photographer was trying to capture. We’re there too, in the background, and we can approach that and give thanks for it. But the Bible isn’t about you. It’s about him. (Wilson, 32)

This is a helpful reminder to all that would classify the Bible in the kitschy terms that we sometimes use like road map, guidebook, rule book, and so on. An affirmation that Jesus is the center of the Bible is a needed emphasis for all of us.

Another great section is his chapter on the challenges of scripture. He tackles the ideas that often become areas where people balk at the claims that the Bible makes, particular to areas of sexuality and the like. In all of the ways that we can try to slip past the claims that the Bible makes about certain topics, Wilson points out Jesus’ resolute, uncompromising, yet loving stance in relation to these topics.

The point is: whenever Scripture challenges some of our deeply held beliefs, as it often does, we have a choice. We can challenge the Bible, or we can let the Bible challenge us. We can do a Jefferson on it, cutting out the bits we like and binning the rest. Or we can do a Jesus on it, affirming the accuracy of the Bible in spite of the difficulties we have with it, and allow it to refine our view of God, the world, sexuality, or whatever it may be. (Wilson, 53)

His mention of Jefferson is about Thomas Jefferson regarding the fact that he cut out all of the mentions of Jesus’ miracles in the Bible and created his own version of the Bible. His actions are akin to what many do with whatever seems to offend the most in the Bible. Wilson points us to what God wants to do to, through, and with us with His written Word, which is to bring us in accord with his will.

I wish that Wilson would have dealt more with the topic of revelation in relation to Jesus and the Bible. This wish is not born from a deficiency in Wilson’s book, but simply what I personally wanted him to talk about. Millard Erickson, in his Christian Theology, talks about the theological debate between God’s special revelation being either propositional or personal. “Revelation is not either personal or propositional; it is both/and. What God primarily does is to reveal himself, but he does so at least in part by telling us something about himself,” (Erickson, 221). I would say that Wilson indirectly affirms this, however a chapter on this both/and topic of special revelation would have been a good addition.

In conclusion, I would and will recommend this book to anyone wanting to dig into the doctrine of scripture. The main reason why I would and will recommend this book is that it is a Christ-centered view of scripture. Whether a reader is coming out of a background with a low view of scripture or perhaps too high a view of scripture, this book can help bring either back to the orthodox center. I believe this book can help revive a proper love for the scriptures in light of what Wilson says about their purpose, “The Scriptures are there to point to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We must honour them when we find our life, and our joy, in him,” (Wilson, 61).

Liturgical Discipleship

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I love liturgical worship. There was a season during seminary where I served as an interim pastor in a small church that followed a liturgy for its Sunday services. My prior experience with liturgical worship was when I was young and didn’t want to be at church. What I considered to be boring and monotonous when I was young, was the very thing that drew me to love it during my interim pastorate. There are so many great elements: the repetition, the awareness of what was coming next, and the fact that as a church we were all walking through the liturgy together. The repetition helped me to not only remember what was being said and/or what needed to be said, but it also enriched my prayer life. Sometimes one just needs to pray, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” The liturgy also helped facilitate a common language among the church. For example, when we talked about confession, our minds all went to, “we have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves…” and so on. Nevertheless, this isn’t a post about worship, but instead about discipleship. I am aware that others have coined the term “Liturgical Discipleship,” and my intention in this post is not to coin or re-coin terms, but merely to give a description to a practice that has blessed me.

I have already discussed repetition and common language as being core elements of liturgical worship and I suggest that these are core elements of Liturgical Discipleship as well. I am not, as the link above, referring to Liturgical Discipleship as discipleship that roots itself in the liturgy, but rather that discipleship should have a liturgical aspect to it. This is then worked out practically in repetition and common language.

The above image is a picture of a canvas that hangs in my study at church. In the picture you can see a few quotes and the entirety of the canvas has a whole smattering of quotes on it. These quotes are all from a mentor of mine, who was our pastor for a number of years. The canvas was made by a fellow congregant and distributed out to a few of us who were all equally blessed by this particular pastor’s ministry. Each of these quotes are not just hanging on my wall, but they are firmly lodged into my brain and heart. Behind each quote is a story and within each story is a biblical principle/passage. I have heard each of these quotes and their subsequent stories so many times that I could tell them just like he did. And that is the point. That is Liturgical Discipleship.

Throughout the duration of my sitting under his ministry, these stories and their bite-size quotes and biblical passages were preached from the pulpit, discussed over coffee, delivered during funerals and weddings, and spoken through tears and laughter. In other words, these stories, quotes, and passages were woven throughout life together with my pastor. The significance of this is that I am not the only one who took part in this liturgy. The congregation by and large could and did recite, “confession is good for the soul,” and know what it meant. In times of struggle many would recite to themselves, “God is not in the business of wasting a consecrated life.” Though we may have rolled our eyes and chuckled to ourselves when we heard one of them for the fifteenth time that month, we knew and ascended to the truth of these statements.

My mentor would not want me to make much of him in this post, because his intent in delivering this liturgy to us was to point us to Christ, which of course is the point of any proper Christian liturgy. In the above link that I mentioned before, James K.A. Smith delivers a lecture entitled, “Liturgical Discipleship: Worship as the Center of Spiritual Formation.” He said, “liturgies are rituals of ultimacy that are love-shaping.” In his lecture he gets after some of what I am referring to here. My pastor worked to create a common, repetitive language (what I am calling a liturgy) that he used to help shape our love of Christ. Smith explains in his lecture that there are other rival liturgies that seek to foster our love of things other than God. The creation of a Christ-centered liturgy helps us to shape our love of Christ in the midst of the world.

The reality is that every Christian that disciples anyone already does this. We already have the little platitudes that have been worked into our lives that we in turn pass on to others. However, I am suggesting that we not only need to do this more, but we need to be intentional about doing this. Many attempt to disciple others through just reading a book together, reading scripture together, or some other action that is done together. None of those things are bad, but simply going through the process of doing something together is not necessarily discipleship. I would suggest that in order to lead in the process of discipleship or rather to disciple someone, we need to be responsible in creating a Christ-centered liturgy (repetitive, common language) to draw disciples into. A great example of someone who did this is Jesus (see the parables). Another example is the Holy Spirit (compare Paul and Peter’s teachings in their epistles). Finally, Paul in his various letters to different churches says many of the same things in many of the same ways to each church (compare Ephesians and Colossians). Obviously, Paul’s synthesis of ideas throughout his epistles is ultimately attributed to the Holy Spirit.

Smith says in his lecture, “liturgy is about discipling desire.” While he is talking particularly about liturgy in relation to worship, I think the statement fits what I am aiming at here. What we can ultimately do through creating these liturgies of discipleship is upholding the otherness of the Christian life in relation to the world around us. These liturgies that we create for the purpose of discipleship help us to foster desire for Christ through digestible and repeatable truths that are tied to stories and ultimately THE story of the Bible. This Liturgical Discipleship gives us a baseline for our lives in Christ and with His body.

Practical Thoughts on the Trinity

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And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. – excerpt of the Athanasian Creed

I could go on, but you can read the rest here. The Athanasian Creed represents one of the Church’s classic defenses of the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine is by far one of the most confusing for many people to attempt to understand, as it is so big and so complex. Yet, it is so central to orthodox Christian faith. God is one God in three persons. As high up of a doctrine as this is, it is not disconnected from the day-to-day life of a Christian, nor is any other doctrine. What follows is a brief look at a few areas in which the doctrine of the Trinity is shown to be deeply practical in our Christian lives. This is certainly not an exhaustive listing, nor are any of these sketches comprehensive, yet they present an introduction.

Salvation

Many have said something to the effect that salvation was ordained by the Father, secured by the Son, and applied by the Spirit. We love the Cross and celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We love and celebrate the birth of Christ, which began the march toward Golgotha. Yet, the fullness of the Godhead was, is, and continues to be at work in the process of salvation. One place we see this is in 1 Peter, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood,” (1 Peter 1:2, ESV).

Each of the prepositional phrases in this verse are modifying “elect exiles” from verse 1, thereby referring to the salvation of those elect exiles. These exiles are elect according to the foreknowledge of the Father, affirming the fact that the Father ordained their salvation. These exiles are elect in the sanctification of the Spirit, in that they were set apart. This idea of setting apart builds on the foreknowledge of the Father. Finally, these exiles are elect for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood. Karen H. Jobes, in her commentary on 1 Peter, feels that the obedience and sprinkling should be seen as a hendiadys (one idea expressed by two words), which is therefore ultimately referring back to the establishment of the covenant with Moses in Exodus 24:3-8. In that passage, the people express their obedience to the covenant and then are sprinkled with blood (Jobes, 72). Therefore, these phrases not only refer back to elect exiles, but also build on each other. The exiles are elect by the Father, in the setting apart of the Spirit to obey Christ and be covered by his blood.

The work of the Godhead in relation to salvation is clear in this passage. Each person of the Godhead is working in unity to accomplish salvation. The knowledge of the mechanics of this not only informs us, but leads us to a properly informed worship, prayer, and Christian life.

Prayer

In a similar fashion to salvation, there is a formula of sorts that exists for Trinitarian prayer. We pray to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We often address the Father as we began our prayers and many of us close our prayers, “in Jesus’ name.” As Romans 8 tells us, the Holy Spirit helps us as we pray, and more explicitly helps us to pray. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,” (Romans 8:26, ESV).

There are various passages that discuss that we do come to the Father through Christ, and we can apply that coming to the Father to prayer. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6, ESV). This verse is explicit in naming Jesus as the way to the Father. Later in that chapter Jesus specifically mentions prayer, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son,” (John 14:13, ESV). This prayerful access to the Father through Christ not only facilitates connectivity with the Father, but also glory to the Father, in the Son. Finally, a classic text for this concept is found in Hebrews 7, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them,” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV). This intercession that Jesus makes is certainly in relation to salvation, but intercession is essentially prayer, therefore our hope of intercessory prayer to the Father comes through Jesus.

It is in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit that we have access to God the Father. While this is a doctrinal truth brought to us through concepts and promises as discussed above, it is also the way in which Paul understood prayer. We want doctrinal truths to come alive and be practical and Paul shows us that with this particular truth. “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,” (Romans 15:30, ESV). Paul is genuinely asking for prayer here, he is not explicitly speaking in a didactic tone. It is significant though that the way in which he asks for prayer from them is by acknowledging that the prayers are to God (that is the Father) by Jesus and by the love of the Spirit. Paul’s request for prayer is an acknowledgement to the Trinity’s work in prayer.

Spiritual Life

A final way in which the Godhead can be practically experienced in our Christian lives is in fact one of the most practical parts of our Christian lives. The nature of our spiritual lives or our everyday walk with Christ through all that life brings us, is that bedrock, practical side of our Christian experience. To impose a formula to this as with the other areas, I would say that the spiritual life of a Christian is lived in obedience to the Father, in the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A passage that encapsulates this, among many other things, is Romans 8:1-8. One of the ways that this passage could be summarized is that the Father worked in Christ so that we could walk in the Spirit. Another passage that also speaks about walking in the Spirit is Galatians 5:16-25. One way to summarize this passage is to say that those who inherit the kingdom of God are those who also belong to Christ and thereby walk in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit therefore is inextricably linked to the Father and the Son. A final passage that shows the Godhead working together in our Christian experience is in Romans 15, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope,” (Romans 15:13, ESV). This blessing that Paul is speaking to his readers is calling for the Father to fill believers in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit with joy and peace that they may abound in hope. Joy, peace, and hope are tangible, life-altering things to have in a life and they are received from the Godhead.

Conclusion

We don’t have to work very hard to make doctrinal truth practical. Scripture shows us again and again how these big truths come to us and meet us down in the dirt where we walk. The doctrine of Christ comes to us by way of the Incarnation as the Son of God stepped down into time, identifying with us by adding humanity to his divinity. Michael Horton, in the introduction to his systematic theology, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way says that drama (or story, i.e. the Bible) should lead us to doctrine and doctrine should lead us to doxology (or praise), which should ultimately lead us to discipleship (or life). Theology is something that we not only study, but experience and live. This is true for such a big truth as the Trinity. The one true God, who is eternally existent in three persons, encounters and interacts with us in real, tangible ways. That is a real blessing and mercy to us. Thanks be to God!

Rev. Charles Fribley Thompson – Thoughts on Legacy

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Rev. Charles Fribley Thompson was born August 11, 1852 in Henry County, Ohio. He was one of sixteen children born to his father. Of those sixteen, eleven were with his mother. Charles’ father’s first wife and all five of their children died of diphtheria. In one year, 1863, Charles lost five of his siblings to Camp Typhoid Fever. He was of a similar age as his siblings that died that year and contracted the disease, but recovered from it. Charles’ parents, Daniel and Rebecca moved from Henry County to Navarre and Daniel worked at a mill in town. Rebecca was originally from Navarre and her family were blacksmiths. After Daniel and Rebecca lost five children in 1863, Rebecca moved away and died shortly after. Daniel remarried and moved around throughout Ohio and Indiana for a time. Daniel died in 1871 at the age of 47.

In Charles’ autobiographical sketch, he says that he was converted to Christ at the age of 13 at Cooke’s Chapel, shortly after his siblings died of Camp Typhoid Fever. He also recorded that shortly after that he worked for a preacher named Fessler. He then went to live with his aunt back in Navarre, Ohio. He married Clara Barbara Muskoff in 1877, and they later had three children. Charles bought a farm outside town. He was active in his church, Shepler United Brethren Church, and served as Sunday School Superintendent. He was licensed by the conference in 1889 and was admitted to the annual conference three years later. In 1896 he was ordained by Bishop Mills in the United Brethren Church. He served as a pastor in various congregations in the area from 1891-1905. His wife Clara passed away in 1905 and a year later he was appointed the Superintendent position of the East Ohio conference and he served in that position until 1911. He remarried and served as a Congregational Home Missionary in Idaho from 1913-1919. He then moved back to Ohio and retired from vocational ministry in 1927. He died at the age of 81 in 1934.

One of his children, John E. Thompson, stayed in the Navarre area and took over his father’s post as Sunday School Superintendent at Shepler United Brethren Church. At the time of Charles’ death, John’s son Charles Harold Thompson held the post of Sunday School Superintendent of that same church. Charles Harold also took over the responsibility of the farm that his grandfather Charles Fribley Thompson bought those many years ago. Charles Harold Thompson and his family continued to live in the house on that farm and attend what later became known as the Otterbein United Methodist Church. Charles Harold Thompson is my great-grandfather, which would make Charles Fribley Thompson my great, great, great-grandfather.

There have been so many interesting discoveries for me as I have read through the family genealogy that contains all this information. One thing that is interesting is that if Charles Fribley Thompson had not survived Camp Typhoid Fever, I wouldn’t be writing this. He not only survived, but was converted to Christ shortly thereafter and his life was one committed to Gospel ministry.

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Charles Fribley Thompson’s Ordination Certificate

One of the churches that he served at for a time and was instrumental in helping start is now called Justus United Methodist Church. I have had the privilege of preaching at that same church a few times. He served in a few other churches in the Navarre area, which is where I live. Additionally, he served as a minister in Sugarcreek, Ohio from 1895-1899, which would have been the time that he was ordained. I am currently a pastor in Sugarcreek. I grew up playing in the farm that he bought all those years ago as well as helping bail hay a number of times. I also grew up attending the Otterbein United Methodist Church with my grandma, his great-granddaughter, from time to time. Actually, I was baptized there as an infant.

God’s grace to this man in allowing him to recover from a serious illness that claimed the lives of many of his siblings had a profound impact on my life, which is crazy to think about. One might say that God’s grace to him was God’s grace to me and the rest of my family. Additionally, the fact that God not only spared his life, but also eternally saved it through faith in Christ is an even greater grace. Charles’ surrender to Christ not just when he was 13, but for the remainder of his life changed the trajectory of his family for generations. This story is a testament to the faithfulness of God and to the generational impact we can all have. I remember reading George Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards and particularly where he talked about how Edwards would often pray for the next four to five generations of his family. I don’t remember the specifics, but if one were to look at those next four to five generations of his family, he had some significant people as his descendants.

As I read this side of my family’s genealogy, I think about all the names, names that wouldn’t be here had God taken Charles. I think about the lives that have been lived and the ways that God has worked. As many people do as they read through genealogies in the Bible, it is easy to gloss over them as names and “begets,” but each name is a testament to God’s work. There is another wonderful blessing of reading this genealogy that goes beyond my own family. Charles Fribley Thompson wrote about his ministry in his short, autobiographical sketch, “Over 900 were taken into the church during his ministry. 136 on Navarre circuit in one year.” Hundreds of lives were impacted through Charles’ ministry. People heard him preach, were discipled by him, and were ultimately introduced to Jesus through his ministry. I am thankful for the legacy of Charles both as has been worked out in my family and in my community.

Reflections on Nehemiah

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I recently finished teaching through the book of Nehemiah in our Wednesday night service. I have preached through the book before, but this time was an opportunity to slow down a bit more. When I taught through it before, I was serving as an interim pastor for a church plant. My focus during that time was emphasizing the relevancy of the narrative of Nehemiah to the work of starting a church within a community. This time I taught it to a group of people who faithfully attend our Wednesday night prayer service. That changed the focus from starting a church to being the church in a community. Setting aside the obvious practical applications of this book (leadership, importance of prayer, trusting in God’s provision and protection, and so on), I was struck by the connections in this book with Christ and it being some of the last narrative in the OT before the time of Christ. The whole narrative builds to this crescendo, only to have everything unravel in the last chapter.

At the beginning of the book, Nehemiah was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes in the Persian kingdom (1:11). He was aptly placed to facilitate the return to restore Jerusalem, because he was in a place of trust with the king. The king, who had no reason to, allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem. It seems that the Persian kingdom financed Nehemiah’s excursion as well as materials to rebuild the wall (2:7-8). Nehemiah’s plan is accepted and blessed by the locals (2:18). However, just as soon as progress was made, enemies arose (2:19). Everyone joins in the work to rebuild the wall. People from far and near across socioeconomic lines took part in the work (3). Overt and covert opposition continues and threatens the completion of the work, however, God thwarts the plans of the opposition (4,6). Aside from external opposition, internal issues arise that are founded in the people’s disobedience to God’s law (5).

The wall is completed and it leads to a number of ways that the people collectively respond. They begin to look within their ranks to see who is among them by taking a census (7). Ezra, the priest, reads the law to the people as they gather. They respond to the reading of the law by celebrating the Feast of Booths (8). The people then respond with confession and repentance (9). They reconfirm the covenant in some specific ways in which they have lets things slip (10). The leaders then take to the business of distributing people throughout the city to continue to rebuild and reestablish normal life (11). A large worship service is facilitated to dedicate the wall (12). Nehemiah goes back to the king for a time, perhaps about a year, and in that time things fall apart in Jerusalem. He returns to find the people going back to old practices and breaking the covenant that they had just signed and confirmed. One of the key men that were in opposition to the rebuilding of the wall exploited his connection to a priest and had his residence set up in a storeroom that was for tithes and offerings (13:4-5). The people had specifically disobeyed the three key areas that they spelled out in the written confirmation of the covenant (13:10-31).

It is hard to not feel frustrated and disappointed when finishing the book of Nehemiah. It leaves the reader thinking, “Look at all God has done for you, and still you can’t get yourselves together?” The text seems to respond with a resounding, “No!” God had engineered things to degree that he had Nehemiah in a position of trust and prominence with the kingdom under whom his people were exiled. The Persian king basically financed an expedition to help some of his subjects rebuild a city that could later lead to an uprising. Some indigenous people were not happy about what the Jews were doing rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Yet, it was God that they were ultimately opposing, which meant they could not succeed. The wall was rebuilt despite internal and external opposition and the sins of the people. God allows his people to once again hear his law and respond in praise, confession, repentance, and a newly found commitment. God’s man leaves for a short time, and all of that falls apart. Even in Nehemiah’s return to put an end to the disobedience that had arisen, one does not finish the book feeling hopeful for the people.

Clearly something more was needed to bring the people to obedience and keep them there. Like the Israelites that were delivered in the Exodus, God’s wonderful works of deliverance were not enough to keep them in obedience and neither was the giving/reading of the Law. God had given his people the command to be obedient and he had given them examples of obedience, but the command and the examples were not enough to keep them in obedience. The people needed power to keep them; power that would align them with the examples and commands that God had given.

Nehemiah returned to his people to call them back to repentance and obedience as a type of Christ. Christ came to his people in the midst of their disobedience and he called them back to obedience by telling them the truth about themselves (their sin) and telling them the truth about himself (the Gospel). Nehemiah is a shadow of Christ. However, he comes back only with the power to call them back to the promises that they had made through the confirmation of the covenant. He is fallible and susceptible to the same failings as the people, otherwise, he wouldn’t have asked God to spare him in the midst of his rebuke of the people (13:22). It is only Christ that can come to his people and provide them with the power to keep them in obedience. It is also only Christ, that can atone for all the disobedience that had mounted up on the part of his people. If the book of Nehemiah ended on a high note full of hope and promise, there would be no need for Matthew chapter 1 and all that follows it. Nehemiah 13 leaves us hoping for the words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” (Matthew 1:1, ESV).

We are bombarded with stories that celebrate the human spirit; stories that tells us about triumph and the overcoming of obstacles. These triumphs are always worked out on the backs of people in the midst of difficult circumstances. The Bible tells us a different story. Even Nehemiah, who was a righteous man from our estimation, was not able to bring about triumph and the overcoming of all obstacles. The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, leaves us with a longing, an unfinished sentence, and that longing is satisfied and that sentence is completed in Christ. We are meant to finish Nehemiah with a bit of a groan that leads us to look for something more. Thanks be to God that, that looking ends with Christ! The search is over for the One who can bring true and lasting deliverance.

I am a Pastor

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I am a pastor. What a wonderful and weird thing for me to say. In many ways I have been a pastor for several years now, working in various types of pastoral ministry. However, my involvement has been in addition to working a full-time job. Things changed two months ago when I was ordained at my church. Depending on the tradition that you are from, you may have a different understanding of what that means. You may also think it is a useless tradition. My own understanding of ordination has been shaped around my belief in the local church. During the time I spent here at my church in this year-long internship, I had asked if ordination could be a part of my journey. We had agreed to pursue it whether I would be hired on by the church or not. I wanted to submit to the leadership of my church and have my calling assessed and affirmed (or not).

The experience was a real blessing. Sitting before a council of about 19 guys, I was asked all sorts of questions pertaining to my character, my doctrine, and my calling. It resulted in a vote to ordain. That day was the culmination of several years of prayers. However, there was an additional blessing that was awaiting me after that day. For a few months prior to that date, the church had been talking with me about the possibility of coming on staff. That was finalized in October and here I sit today.

There it is, a huge change in my life summed up in two paragraphs. However, this change has been much more complex than what two paragraphs can explain. I have worked for nearly six years at Smuckers, which you may or may not know is one of the finest companies for which one can hope to work. That made the change challenging. As much as I have been praying towards pastoral ministry and as much as I believed that God had called me and was preparing me, the loss of that security was scary. On top of that, I have never been a fan of leaving a job. Any job that I have ever left has been because I was moving or some other necessity. Lastly, change is just hard, and it isn’t favorable, even if it is a change towards something that you want.

One serious consideration that I prayed and thought through was the fact that God had weaved into me such a love for bivocational ministry. As I have said before, it is something that I kicked against for some time, but God brought me to a place of loving it. A mentor told me that I would miss the mission field aspect of being in the workplace. For whatever reason God saw fit to make that a critical part of my life and ministry. I’m sure that he will use it in various ways now that I am full-time at the church. I know that it has changed me in many ways, particularly in seeing the value in every vocation. There is no menial, unimportant task in the kingdom. Also, it has helped me see the necessity for Christians to actively embrace the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of their lives. As Christians, we cannot compartmentalize our lives to the degree that certain parts are left out of our lives as disciples.

So here I am at the church, writing this at my desk. It is a strange feeling. These last few months leading up to today have been challenging as my wife and I have felt the brunt of spiritual attack, doubts, frustrations, uncertainty, and struggle. Nevertheless, I am thankful. God has been faithful to us and brought us to this point. Making the decision to leave Smuckers and come to the church was difficult. Letting go of the comfort of what was normal to us has been a challenge. Nevertheless, here I am. I am a pastor. I’m praying that God will continue to use me, just as I prayed before. I’m praying that God will continue to provide as I prayed before. I’m praying that Christ will be exalted in my life, just as I prayed before. In some ways nothing has changed and in others, everything has changed. Thanks be to God!