Friday, June 26, 2009

Personal Musings on the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention
This week my family and I attended the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Having missed the past two Conventions, it was a joy to be able to go this year - especially since it was in Louisville, which is home to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have a personal love for this school and everything it is about under the wise leadership of Dr. Al Mohler. But most of all, I am thankful that Southern Seminary has reclaimed its original confessional heritage (i.e., The Abstract of Principles) and operates faithfully by that doctrinal standard.
As far as highlights go, the Convention had many for me. First and foremost, there was the Tuesday morning Founders' Fellowship Breakfast. The special speaker for this event was Dr. Danny Aiken (president of Southeastern Seminary). Dr. Aiken gave a wonderful exposition of the book of Third John. And at the end of his teaching, he gave ten reasons why he appreciates Founders' Ministries and seven words of caution to all of us who are a part of the Founders' movement. His words of caution were especially helpful, edifying, and convicting. But what ministered the most to me, was Dr. Aiken's irenic, winsome spirit by which he delivered his entire message. I thought to myself: "Dr. Aiken is a man whose example would be worthy to follow in this respect." For though this dear brother would not claim himself to be completely in agreement with everything we Calvinists hold to - yet, he has proven himself to be a bridge builder with us, whose kindness and friendship emulates a robust Christian maturity that every believer would do well to take on for themselves.
In addition to Dr. Aiken's message, I was thrilled to reunite with some old friends. It was wonderful to see Phil Newton and catch up with him. This brother has been a great encourager to me and a wise counselor in the work of the ministry. I especially appreciate his insightfulness about church planting. Another dear friend I was glad to see was Jeff Robinson. Jeff and I are like "two peas in a pod." I sometimes think that maybe we were separated at birth. We share so much in common it is uncanny. I was thankful God provided for me some great time of fellowship with Jeff, which with our busy schedules is a very hard thing to come by.
Moreover, along with seeing these brothers, it was an honor to have some personal time with Dr. Tom Nettles. I say this was an "honor" because Dr. Nettles is one of my heroes of the faith; and he is my favorite church historian (next to Iain Murray). But what I value the most about Dr. Nettles is not his brilliant mind as much as his gracious, humble, and kind spirit. This man is a true Christian gentleman. And I find in him much that is worthy to emulate as a faithful follower of Christ, and teacher of His Word and providence in history. Needless to say, the Founders' Fellowship Breakfast was worth the trip!
Among other highlights, there was the acceptance of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) document, along with forming a task force to study how the Southern Baptist Convention can more effectively be a Gospel-centered denomination. With over 8700 messengers, 95% voted in favor of this adoption. This was huge. Especially since such well-known leaders, like Morris Chapman, had openly opposed the GCR. But I believe that a new day has begun to dawn in the SBC. A day in which we are going to be about the Gospel and not about the Southern Baptist Convention. A day in which Southern Baptists are going to be more known for their passion for Christ, rather than their passion for Southern Baptist funded programs. The vote for the GCR on Tuesday evening sent this message loud and clear to those who cannot see that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the SBC.
Furthermore, the massive turnout of Southern Baptists under the age of forty proved that a new day is indeed dawning. This younger generation of Southern Baptists appear to be fed up with business as usual and earnestly desire the Convention to move back to the Gospel. Their voice was heard powerfully on Tuesday evening when the GCR vote was passed. But I grant, that even with the vote passed, it is still going to take a long while before the substance of the GCR makes the impact needed on the Convention. More than anything, for the Convention to be Gospel-centered it must start with the pastors and the local church. This is where the GCR must take its deepest root, because this is where it is going to matter the most.
On Wednesday, my family and I took a trip to Southern Seminary to visit the school and help honor the celebration of Southern's 150th anniversary. There was a huge luncheon held at the school that day (and my buddy Jeff Robinson was kind enough to secure tickets for my entire family to attend!). But before and after the luncheon we took our time to take in the sights of this historic school and its beautiful campus. In the Archives Room we got to see the Bible used by Charles Spurgeon (that was a thrill!), along with original books that had been used by Boyce, Broadus, and Manly that bore their own handwriting in the margins. Now I know that to many of you that might seem boring, but to me as a lover of church history (and especially Baptist history) I was a kid in a candy shop (though I couldn't take the candy home).
Also during our time at Southern, we went to the Lifeway Bookstore (how could I dare pass this up). But, believe it or not, I didn't buy a single book. However, under God's surprising providence, I ended up helping a dear gentleman purchase some books on the subject of Calvinism. He actually came to the store on a mission to find a couple of books that would explain in the plainest of terms Reformed theology. His son is a student at Southern, and he had encouraged his dad to read up on Calvinism. So, there he was, in the theology section of the store with one of the Lifeway clerks trying to find an appropiate book to meet his need. I just happen to be walking by and overheard their conversation. I couldn't help myself. I jumped into the dialogue and spent at least thirty minutes or more conversing with this dear brother over what he was looking for. By the time it was over, he had purchased a copy of R.C. Sproul's book, What is Reformed Theology? and Steele, Thomas, and Quinn's Five Points of Calvinism. He was a happy man and I made a new friend.
After the luncheon at Southern, there was one more thing I wanted to accomplish while we were there at the Seminary: I wanted to find the graves of James P. Boyce, John. A Broadus, and Basil Manly, Jr. These Baptist worthies formed the very first teaching faculty at Southern (1859), and James P. Boyce was the principle founder of the school and its first president. Again, it is the love in me for church history (and Baptist history in particular) that drove me to seek out where the remains of these godly men were buried. And I am happy to report that we found them (though we needed a map to do so!). They are buried in Cave Hill Cemetery, a mile down the road from Southern. What I really appreciated about this journey was my precious family being so patient with me looking for the graves of these men. They couldn't understand my pursuit but they went on the trip with no complaints. How I love them so!
Finally, on a very personal note, the Lord provided some special moments of expressed appreciation from pastors and denominational leaders who receive our church newsletter. These words of thanks were very unexpected but deeply touched me and humbled me. Our church newsletter goes out every month to 260 people across Georgia and beyond (and that list continues to grow). Many of the receipents I know personally while others I have never met. But when these brethren make a point to say "thank you", and that they look forward to reading the newsletter every month - you just can't help to be humbled at how it pleases God to use your feeble efforts to edify His church. All in all, it really was a joy and special time under God's grace to attend this year's Southern Baptist Convention.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The "Mean Streak" in Self-Control
To quote again from Ed Welch's book, "Addictions", on the matter of self-control - Dr. Welch observed a characteristic of biblical self-control that many Christians seem to be unaware of:
"...there is a mean streak to authentic self-control...Self-control is not for the timid. When we want to grow in it, not only do we nurture an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand of ourselves a hatred for sin...The only possible attitude toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war...There is something about war that sharpens the senses...You hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are in attack mode. Someone coughs and you are ready to pull the trigger. Even after days of little or no sleep, war keeps us vigilant."
We should apply these words from Dr. Welch carefully and thoughtfully. How many of us, as Christians, are honestly "vigilant" about remaining sin (Rom.7:17-23)? Are we on the constant watch for this enemy within our members? Think of it this way: if I knew that as I went to bed there was a rattlesnake lurking somewhere under the covers, would I rest easy? Of course not! I would find that nasty snake and kill it. Well, there is something worse than a snake that we must be ready to kill - it is what the apostle Paul described as "sin that dwells in me" (Rom.7:17). It is that residual propensity toward evil, which though dethroned in the Christian, yet remains as a subtle deceiving enemy of our souls. And what's worse, this enemy knows nothing of sleep or vacations. Sin is always at work to tempt us and draw us away through our thoughts, affections, and desires. Thus, we must develop by God's grace a genuine "mean streak" against sin in every and all forms.
This means affirming that the Christian life is war. It is a war not against other people, but an all-out combat against every sinful impulse I find in myself. Moreover, my hatred for sin will only grow as I keep before me what God says about sin in His Word. I need to see sin as God sees it! I need to see that it is a transgression of God's law (I Jn.3:4). It is therefore always in rebellion against God's revealed will, and hence, it defies His sovereign authority. Furthermore, sin kills. It kills man's soul. It kills human relationships. There is nothing in sin as sin that serves to redeem humanity. No matter how much sin may fill us with pleasure - it is a fleeting pleasure that is deceiving and destructive. Armed then with these biblical principles about sin, a violent streak will grow in our hearts by God's grace which will serve to strengthen the self-control that we have been given by the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:23). So wage war, Christian! Fight by the Spirit and the Word and may we give sin no quarter but only what it deserves - death for the glory of God (Rom.8:13).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Greater Need for Self-Control
For the past several weeks I have become more personally convicted for greater growth in the grace of "self-control" (see Gal.5:23). In helping me toward this growth, I have been encouraged and challenged by a book entitled, "Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave". This book is written by Edward T. Welch who is a well-known Christian counselor, and has served since 1981 as professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Welch's basic thesis in the book is that "addictions" are in truth a "worship disorder." In other words, this is really an issue of the heart and therefore a question of who or what we will worship. Will we worship ourselves and our own desires, or will we worship the true God?
Out of the twelve chapters that make up this book, there are two which are devoted to the issue of self-control. In the first of these two chapters, Dr. Welch seeks a proper biblical definition of self-control, which he rightly calls "a gift of the Spirit." As he unpacked this definition, I found his explanation extremely helpful, and I hope it will serve to edify you as well. In his definition, he states four important propositions:
1. Self-control means living within boundaries. Getting very practical about this, Dr. Welch says: "It means eating in public if we struggle with food. It means having passwords for internet accounts that must be opened by someone else; throwing out old reminders of the past idolatrous relationship; and never walking to a bar alone."
2. Self-control means thinking before acting. This is a really insightful principle. None of us ever think biblically before we sin. Sin works against us to crowd out any wise biblical instruction that would prevent us from giving in to irrational wicked cravings. Thus, to walk in self-control, is to think before we act. It is "considering the conquences of our actions in contrast to giving 'no thought to the way of life' (Prov.5:6). It is remembering what the Lord hates and choosing to hate those things too (Prov.6:16-19; 8:13). It is learning from the lessons of the past. It is meditating on the good instruction we have received (Prov.16:20) and being suspicious of our abilities to justify our own plans and desires."
3. Self-control is not emotional flatness or indifference. Rather than being a cold stoicism, self-control works with strong and powerful passions and cravings. But those passions are Godward and Christ-centered not sinful. Self-control, as a fruit of the Spirit, guards us and helps us fight against sinful passions while strongly encouraging godly passions.
4. Self-control is not self-dependence. This is hugely important to understand. "Self-control is...not the same as self-dependence, in which we rely on personal will power to control ourselves. Instead, self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit, given through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a side effect of the fear of the Lord." In short, "self-control is a strategic countermeasure to the insatiable cravings of sin." A countermeasure that looks to Christ, trusts in His saving work, and depends on the indwelling presence of the Spirit as the source of power to resist the sin that remains in our members (see Rom.7:23; cf. 8:13). But it is a godly virtue that must also be cultivated by our acting upon the wise instruction of God's Word (Prov.1-9). Thus, it is "the skill of living a thoughtful, careful life in which we do what is right despite our desires. It is tested when we are alone or we feel unsatisfied. What do we do when no one is looking? Who or what will rule you then? Your desires or your God? Self-control is the skill of saying 'no' to sinful desires, even when it hurts."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stop Comparing and Follow Jesus!
Recently, I have been reminded of those sweet, convicting, blunt words of Christ to Simon Peter: "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me" (Jn.21:22). The occasion for these words were in response to Peter's question concerning how Jesus would call John to suffer and die for God's glory (Jn.21:20-21). Since Peter had just been told how he would die for the glory of God (Jn.21:18-19), he wanted to know in what manner his friend and fellow-brother in Christ would also lay down his life for this same purpose. Jesus however did not treat Peter's question as an innocent inquiry. He brushed it off with a firm rebuke that said in effect: "Peter, it's none of your business how I choose for John to die for My glory. Your only business is to FOLLOW ME!"
Like Peter, I too need this same blunt reproof. In fact, I would even go so far to say that we all need these hard words from our Savior. Why? Because we are all wired to compare our callings, gifts, abilities, possessions, and varied trials with each other. And at the root of such comparing is an ugly craving to know how we stack up in relation to others. Are we more spiritual? More gifted? More popular? More knowledgeable? More admired by others? And if we find something we have more than our fellow-Christians, there is a subtle, sinister feeling of superiority that wells up in our hearts. Yuck!! How disgusting and deplorable to find something so unloving in us all. Yet, it is there. It was in Peter when he looked at John and wondered how will he glorify God in death. And it is in each of us when we look at our fellow-Christians and start comparing ourselves to them under the providence of God. But like Jesus said to Peter, He says to us as well: "What is it to you how I call and gift and prosper your brother and sister? You follow Me!"
I need these words of rebuke often. Sadly, in the world of church ministry, it is laden with the depressing bondage of fatal comparing. You can't read Christian magazines, hear Christian radio, or go to Christian conferences without receiving the insinuated message: "You're not making it. You're not really successful. If you just preached in this way, enhanced your worship style like this, and employed this evangelistic method - then you would have a church of thousands and be recognized." How discouraging! And if I buy in to this kind of message then I will quickly become a slave to the fear of man and the folly of fads - all in the name of "doing ministry". O how refreshing are those hard words of Christ to Peter: "What is that to you? You follow Me."
So rather than compare ourselves, as either individuals or churches, to the rest of the body of Christ; may we all resolve by grace to simply be faithful followers of Christ. This means rejoicing in whatever calling or giftedness Jesus has blessed others with different than our own. It also means being content with whatever we have received from God to use for His glory (Phil.4:11; Heb.13:5). It further means that the true standard of so-called success in God's kingdom is simply being a faithful steward of whatever God has called us to do (I Cor.4:2). Finally, we must trust in the wisdom and love of God's providence which governs and directs our lives in the very pathway where He knows we will glorify Him most (Prov.16:1,9; Jer.10:23; Rom.8:28; 11:36). Thank you, Lord Jesus, for Your much needed tough words to free us all from the foolishness and ugliness of comparing. Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Danger and Delusion of Desiring Man's Universal Approval
In Luke 6:26, Jesus gave a strong warning and searching condemnation to His disciples, "Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." I have thought often about this passage and what it says about the danger of popularity and having the universal approval of men. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having a "good name" and being "well thought of by outsiders" (see Prov.22:1; I Tim.3:7). But this is not what Jesus is cursing. Rather, the condemnation of Luke 6:26 is both loving and attaining the global praise of men.
Now it must be admitted that there is in all of us a lust for man's approval. We want people to like us. We want people to think we're wonderful. And it is an added plus if "all people" think we're great! But such a desire is not good nor commendable but sinful and dishonoring to the name of Christ. The reason for this is because at the root of this lust is what the Bible calls "the fear of man" (Prov.29:25a).
The fear of man shows up in many different forms. But one of the most common manifestations is the self-centered longing to please others for their praise. This means that we will do whatever it takes to have the approval of others - even if that means compromising the gospel and fudging on our obedience to Christ!
There are numerous examples of this. There is, for instance, the young Christian man who will never take a stand for Christ with his unbelieving parents for fear of offending them and suffering their scorn. There is also the Christian woman who prays for her employers' salvation, but for fear of losing her job, she refuses to take the opportunity to actually speak to him about his need for Christ. Then finally there is the pastor who is unwilling to run the risk of losing his ministry if he would preach the whole counsel of God's Word. For this man, he tickles the ears of his congregation with what they want to hear, rather than proclaiming the Truth they need to hear. And his motivation in this is to be liked by all - thus gaining universal approval. Such a motive reeks of cowardice and selfish ambition!
But what is most shameful, is that in each of these examples, the lust for man's praise always compromises and undercuts one's devotion to Christ and a bold witness for the gospel. Moreover, if we do win the popularity contest then we have immediately positioned ourselves with "the false prophets". This was the chilling reminder Jesus gave to His disciples - that when "all people speak well of you", remember..."for so their fathers did to the false prophets." The false prophets claimed to speak for God, but it was all a lie (Jer.5:31; 6:14; cf. II Peter.2). They only told the people those things which would never offend nor disturb their consciences. They would not preach on holiness, sin, repenatnce or judgment. And why? Because what they valued and loved above everything was the applause and approval of men. This was their idol. This was their god. To have "all people speak well" of them was the passion and pursuit of their life.
Is this what drives us in our relationships with others? Is this the mark of our ministry? Are we ensnared by the fear of man that seeks the praise of man? If so, we need to repent. For we cannot have the universal praise of men while honoring Christ at the same time. Hence, we must forsake this carnal lust for man's praise. And such a forsaking will manifest itself by a daily renewal of our love for Christ, our willingness to suffer for Christ's name no matter the cost and treasuring His glory above that of any other (see Lk.6:22-23; 9:23; 14:26; I Cor.10:31; Phil.1:21; 3:4-14; Col.3:17).

Monday, June 08, 2009

Self-Denial and Sacred Delight
The principle issue behind the Sabbath command is love for the Lord. In fact, it is the principle issue behind the entire moral law of God (see Matt.22:37,38). But the application of our love to God by keeping the Sabbath focuses on loving God with our "time". This is why God says:
"Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day (or the first day now under the New Covenant) is a Sabbath to the Lord your God" (Ex.20:9,10).
How gracious and generous God is to us. He grants us six full days to pursue all our legitimate interests of work and recreation; while requiring only one day to be devoted entirely to His worship and service. This doesn't mean of course that we do not worship God the other six days, but our worship of the Lord in those six days are fraught with much distraction! But on the Sabbath, on this one day, we have the privilege to show unfettered love to our Lord by self-denial and sacred delight.
Consider how Isaiah 58:13,14 unfolds this two-fold dynamic of what we deny and what we enjoy on the Lord's day:
"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
In the first place, our love to the Lord on the Sabbath is shown by self-denial. We do not profane this holy day by treading upon it with our selfish ambitions and pursuits: "If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath..." The outworking of such desecration would be to do those things which only please us rather than God. Again, it is all about the use of our time on this day. How do we spend the day in our thoughts, conversation, and activity? Are we doing those things that bring us into closer communion with God - like reading Scripture, praying, witnessing to others, ministering to the sick, gathering in public worship? If the time we spend on the Lord's day is anything less than what will bring us directly into fellowship with Christ, then we are profaning His holy day! So turn off the T.V., refuse to do business with the world, and leave your household chores alone. The Sabbath is God's day not family day, not sports day, not work day. We must therefore deny ourselves on this holy day.
But on the other side of self-denial, our love to the Lord on the Sabbath is shown by sacred delight. There is no day in all the week that encourages greater joy in the heart of the Christian than the Sabbath. "Call the Sabbath a delight," God says through Isaiah. A delight! Why? Because we have the justified opportunity and advantage to devote all of our time in one day to the worship of our God. Moreover, when we honor the Lord on His day, He in turn blesses us with the joy of Himself: "I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father." In figurative language, God promises to bless us with Himself. Can anything be greater to the Christian heart than to enjoy more of God? This is our heritage as God's people and it is the heavenly reward of calling the Sabbath a delight.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Necessity to Remember the Sabbath
When God gave His moral law in the ten commandments (Ex.20:1-17), it is very peculiar and significant that only the Sabbath command is mandated by the call to "remember". "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy..." (20:8a). The obvious question is, why does this command begin with "remember"? There are two primary reasons: in the first place, God is saying, "Don't forget it or neglect it." The Old Testament writers often use this word "remember" in this way. For instance, in Exodus 13:3 Moses reminds the people not to forget the historical act of their redemption and liberation by God: "Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery, for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out."
In the New Testament, Jesus uses a similiar term when instituting the Lord's Supper: "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Lk.22:19). The point is, we are not to forget nor neglect what God has called us to observe. And certainly the implication behind the call to "remember" in these examples, is that we are fully capable as God's people to by-pass such commands either by omission or commission. Think about it: we have enough residual sin despite our redeemed natures to overlook, ignore, or rebel against what God has commanded us to do (e.g., Rom.7:14-23). Hence, when God says we are to "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", we should beware of our own hearts' potential to disregard the Lord's holy day.
The second reason we are commanded to "remember" the Sabbath, is because God is calling us to both observe it and celebrate it. In other words, we are to remember this day above all others by virtue of the fact that God has commanded us to observe it in a special way. The outworking of this observance is to keep this one day set apart (holy) from the other six days by resting from our usual routine of activity, and engaging ourselves in both the private and public worship of the Lord (Ex.20:8-11; Isa.58:13,14; Eph.5:18-19; Heb.10:24-25). Commenting on the blessing of Sabbath celebration and observance, Matthew Henry observed:
"God did design it to be an advantage to us, and so we must make and improve it...He had much more regard for our souls. The sabbath was made a day of rest, only in order to its being a day of holy work, a day of communion with God, a day of praise and thanksgiving; and the rest from worldly business is therefore necessary, that we may closely apply ourselves to this work, and spend the whole time in it, in public and private."
Therefore, it is deeply necessary that when it comes to the observance and celebration of the Lord's day, we must be commanded to "remember" this day! There are far too many traps and distractions propagated by the world, the flesh, and the devil to work hard at our disowning of this day God has set apart for His worship. So Christian, remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Sabbath Command Still Exists
As hard as it is to believe in our lawless age, God's command to keep the Sabbath is still a viable and binding moral requirement for every Christian. Let me give at least three biblical reasons which prove that the Sabbath command still exists for today. First, the perpetuity of the "moral law" as a whole proves the continued existence of the Sabbath command. Nowhere in the Bible is God's command to keep the Sabbath isolated from the binding nature of God's moral law as the rule and standard for how we are to live. For instance, in God's promise for the New Covenant, He declared through Jeremiah: "I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts..." (Jer.31:33). He does not say, "I will put My law, except for the Sabbath command, in their minds, etc..." It is the whole of the moral law that God promises to inscripturate on the new hearts and minds of His people in the New Covenant (see Heb.8:8-13). And this includes the Sabbath command which is "the fourth commandment" in God's moral law (see Ex.20:8-11).
There is also the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself regarding the moral law, where our Lord maintained that He came to fulfill it and not to destroy it; and whoever teaches men to break one of the least of the law's commands would be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt.5:17-19). The Sabbath command was no exception to this standard Christ laid down. Moreover, there are the descriptions of the moral law as being "holy, just, and good", along with "spiritual" (Rom.7:12,14). Again, the Sabbath command is not excluded from these descriptions. Henceforth, by the perpetuity of the moral law as a whole, establishes clearly the perpetuity of the Sabbath command for today.
Second, the extensive teaching of Christ Himself regarding the Sabbath establishes its continuation for today (see Matt.12:1-14; Mk.2:23-3:6; Lk.6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Jn.5:1-18; 7:20-24). In all four Gospels , no less than eight times, Jesus is recorded as giving a thorough teaching and clarification on the Sabbath command. Nowhere does Christ undermine or abolish the Sabbath. Rather He clears the confusion which the Jewish leaders in His day were propagating about it. Concerning this fact, J.C. Ryle elaborated:
"The plain truth is that our Lord did not abolish the law of the weekly Sabbath: He only freed it from incorrect interpretations, and purified it from man-made additions. He did not tear out of [the Ten Commandments] the fourth commandment: He only stripped off the miserable traditions with which the Pharisees had encrusted the day, and by which they had made it, not a blessing, but a burden. He left the fourth commandment where he found it, - a part of the eternal law of God, of which no jot or tittle was ever to pass away. May we never forget this!"
Now one of the most prominent errors of the Jewish leaders regarding the Sabbath was that a "day of rest" meant a day of total inactivity and non-exertion. But human dormancy in which one becomes completely passive has never been the point of keeping the Sabbath. In response then to such gross misinterpretation, Jesus advocated three types of activity that were lawful for the Sabbath. First, there are to be works of piety. This is the most obvious reason for God ordaining a day of rest from our normal employments: it is to redirect our energies and efforts toward the work of worshipping and serving the Lord with unhindered devotion (cf., Isa.58:13-14; e.g., Matt.12::5; Jn.5:17).
Second, there are to be works of necessity (see Matt.12:1-6). This would include such things as food, sleep, and cleanliness which all meet basic human needs and are in full accord with keeping the Sabbath. The third and final type of work Jesus advocated for Sabbath-keeping was works of mercy (see Matt.12:7-13). Above all other conflicts Jesus had with the Pharisees over the Sabbath, it was at this point that the greatest contention ensued. The Pharisees were infuriated with Christ for healing people and feeding His disciples on the Sabbath (Mk.2:23-3:6). But Jesus reproved their Sabbath errors and lack of love for God and others by both example and teaching. He fed hungry disciples and healed the sick. And in this way, Jesus teaches us what is lawful and right and honoring to God in keeping the Sabbath.
Making a pointed application by Christ's example concerning these "works" which should be carried out on the Sabbath, Walter Chantry noted:
"When you confront specific questions regarding behavior on the Sabbath, you will find some issues of application to be obvious, while others are less clear. If you think of the issue of necessity, all will at once recognize that it is proper on the Sabbath for armed forces and police to defend society. It is appropriate for ambulance drivers, nurses and firefighters to work on God's holy day. None will question in these cases. On the other side of the continuum it is altogether clear that the work of athletes, clowns and trinket salesman is unnecessary on the Sabbath. Some cases are black and white."
The final reason for the continuation of the Sabbath, is that the New Testament clearly teaches a continued Sabbath-keeping for the Church; having only changed the day of worship from the seventh to the first, as the result of Christ's resurrection which accomplished the redemption the Old Covenant looked forward to which the New Covenant now fulfills. The essential and greatest proof of this continued Sabbath-keeping in the New Covenant is seen in the historical narratives immediately following Christ's resurrection. In all four Gospel accounts of the resurrection, at the head of each narrative, we see the words: "Now on the first day of the week..." (Matt.28:1; Mk.16:1; Lk.24:1; Jn.20:1). And what follows this revelation of time, is the several appearances that Christ makes on this "first day of the week" to all His disciples. The whole of the day from "morning" (see Matt.28:1-10) till "evening" (see Lk.24:13-32; Jn.20:19-23) becomes a "holy day" of worship to the risen Lord. Hence, by the events of this first day of the week, the Lord Jesus Christ was setting a new pattern: the seventh-day Sabbath of the Old Covenant was changed by Christ Himself to the "Lord's day" as the Christian Sabbath for all New Covenant believers. This means therefore that the substance of the Sabbath commandment (Ex.20:9-11) remains unchanged except for the day itself that is now to be observed on Sunday (see Acts 20:6-7; I Cor.16:1-4; cf. Heb.4:9-11). The famed church historian, Philip Schaff, summed up the continuation of the Sabbath on Sunday in this way:
"This is the beginning of the history of the Lord's Day, which to this day has never suffered a single interruption in Christian lands...Sunday is here pointed out by our Lord Himself and honored by His special presence as the day of religion, and public worship, and so it will remain to the end of time. God's word and God's day are inseparable companions and the pillars of God's church."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Too Much Like The World
In Romans 12:2 there is a divine imperative given for all Christians in every age: "Do not be conformed to the world..." In other words, do not let the world shape you into its mold. This means that we are not to allow the way we think or feel or conduct our lives to be "conformed" into the thoughts, affections, and actions of the world outside of Christ. A Christian therefore is to be separate in how he lives before the world. Another term for this way of life is "holiness." Christians are to live holy (see II Cor.6:14-7:1; Heb.12:14; I Pet.1:15,16). And the supreme way in which every believer in Christ lives holy is by living in obedience to God's Word, which calls for an evident non-conformity to how the rest of the world lives.
Thus, for the Christian, he is to talk in a manner that obeys God's Word. This would exemplify gracious words that build others up, rather than engaging in words which are coarse, gossiping, slanderous, and deceitful (Eph.4:25,29; 5:4). A Christian is also to think in obedience to God's Word. What we think about God, about Jesus Christ, about man, about sin, salvation, heaven, hell, marriage, family, government, and everything else in life - must all come under the divine authority of God's Word (II Tim.3:16-17). And from thinking in obedience to what God's Word teaches will also spill over into the very manner and conduct that we carry into the world everyday. The world that is outside of Christ should therefore see a difference in how Christians live! A difference that openly follows Jesus Christ in a spirit of love and devotion that seeks to make much of Him and His glory no matter what that may cost them in the eyes of the world (Matt.10:16,34-39; Lk.9:23; 14:26).
And one of the greatest opportunities Christians have every week to show such selfless and sacrificial devotion to Christ, is on the first day of the week - which is called "the Lord's day" or "the Christian Sabbath" (see Acts 20:7; I Cor.16:2; Rev.1:10; cf. Ex,20:8-11; Isa.58:13-14). But the sad truth is, the vast majority of professing Christians in our day fail greatly to express their love for Christ in this way. For many Christians, to speak in terms of "keeping the Sabbath" or "observing the Lord's day", is a language and activity which is foreign at best and scolded at worst for being "too rigid" and "legalistic". To say this another way: despite God's command to set apart one day out of seven for His worship alone, most Christians find such a command a taxing burden on their time rather than an expression of love to the Lord.
Therefore, it seems to be at this point more than any other, where Christians are too much like the world rather than being different from the world. In other words, how often is Sunday - the Christian Sabbath - treated by many Christians as just another ordinary day? How many Christians are there who buy, sell and work on this "holy day"? Or how many Christians celebrate things other than the worship of God on this day, or in addition to the worship of God on this day? The point is, when God commanded in His Word, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex.20:8), much of the Church in these modern times have turned a deaf ear and have followed after the passions and pursuits of the world. To say it again, we are too much like the world when it comes to how we treat the Lord's holy day.

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