Thursday, May 6, 2021

"Spiritual Wind Sprints" For Depth in Grace


I came across this 2-minute video recently – it is from a 2013 talk by Tim Keller on Gospel Renewal – and I thought about wind sprints back in my football playing days.

Wind sprints were not fun or affirming.  At the end of a three-hour practice in August, our coach would line us up along the goal line, blow the whistle and we would dash to the 10-yard line, turn around, whistle and dash back to the goal.  He would move to the 15-yard line and repeat, adding 5 yards to each repetition.  You get the picture: Not Fun.

But in the fourth quarter of a game, when strength and energy are failing, the conditioning of those wind sprints would pay off.  Those who had given themselves to the exercise, reaped the benefit.

So this video reminded me that there is a long-term benefit from facing challenging realities.  Tim Keller lays out three categories of questions for asking ourselves and those we have a relationship with that may not be fun or affirming in the short-term, but that can deepen and strengthen our conditioning in the Gospel of God’s Grace.

So watch the video and let the questions blow the whistle as you develop your depth.  Below are his questions gathered from a recent post on churchleaders.com spotlighting the video

Evidence of God’s presence in your life

  • How real has God been this week to your heart?
  • How clear and vivid is your assurance and certainty of God’s forgiveness and fatherly love. To what degree is that real to you right now?
  • Are you having any particular seasons of sweet delight in God? Do you really sense his presence in your life? Do you really sense him giving you his love?


Evidence of Scripture changing you

  • Have you been finding Scripture to be alive and active?
  • Are you finding certain biblical promises extremely precious and encouraging? Which ones?
  • Are you finding God’s calling you or challenging you to something through the word, in what ways?


Evidence of a growing appreciation for God’s mercy

  • Are you finding God’s grace more glorious and moving now than you have in the past?
  • Are you conscious of a growing sense of the evil of your heart, and in response, a growing dependence on and grasp of the preciousness of the mercy of God?

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Keep In Mind: Biblical Truth About the Holy Spirit - part 2

As I read the Bible, and in particular the New Testament, I’ve come to see the Holy Spirit at work in the life of believers in a two complementary and related – though distinct – manners.  Namely:

  • "The Spirit Moves UPON" believers to empower them for service.
  • "The Spirit Moves WITHIN" believer to transform character and produce fruit of the Spirit.


The Spirit Moves Upon - A short-term “anointing” of the Spirit with power for service.

This is how the Spirit works in the Old Testament.  Moses is anointed as a leader.  Isaiah has the anointing to speak as a prophet.  Another early reference to this activity of the Spirit is, interestingly enough, to Bezalel in Exodus 31 who is anointed with the Spirit and given the spiritual gift of craftsmanship.

In the New Testament, this work of “the Spirit upon” as an anointing with power for service is referred to as “spiritual gifts.”  Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 are central to this expanded view of anointing power that builds from the Old Testament but extends to every member of the Body of Christ.  There is a lot to look at here that I often do in an extended seminar setting.


The Spirit Moves Within - A long-term "saturation" of the Spirit that describes a "state of being."

As I see it, there is a new way that the Spirit works in the life of a believer in this time AFTER the cross and empty tomb.  Because Jesus has died and been resurrected, He gives the Spirit to “dwell within” for the work of sanctification: the transforming of our character.  This is the Spirit’s work of producing Fruit of the Spirit that Jesus promises in John 15 and Paul teaches about in Galatians 5:22-26.

Again, there is MUCH more to consider, study and pray about.  I love to do that in a seminar, retreat, sermon series or over coffee.  But in this blog setting, I’m aiming only to give this simple frame work of “the Spirit upon” and “the Spirit within.”


Metaphor: A Living, Lighted Tree

Picture if you like a “Living, Lighted Tree” like we often do to outside trees with Christmas lights.  The tree is “filled with lights” that bring holiday cheer as well as “filled with sap” that bring life to the tree.  We want to grow in the Spirit’s work in BOTH ways for our life.


Sorting Out the English Word “Filled”

As it turns out, there are three Greek words that are often translated by the single English word “filled.”  Two have nuances related to “the Spirit within” and one to “the Spirit upon.”

For example:

  • Acts 4:8 Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to speak – is about “the Spirit upon.”  Peter is empowered to speak in that time and place by the Holy Spirit.
  • Romans 15:13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace – is about “the Spirit within.”

CLICK HERE for a 9-page “concordance study” of these distinct word groupings.  You will find under each heading 1) a definition from Brad’s work, 2) a word definition from Strong’s Enhanced Concordance and 3) a verse listing of every use of that Greek word (by Strong’s number) in the New testament.  I call a study like this “grist for the meditation mill.”


As always, I'm happy to talk more about what I begin in blog posting like this.  Feel free to contact me through the Harderwyk Ministries church office and we can arrange a time and setting.  Perhaps you would like to help me plan and present more of this information in a small group or seminar?

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I’m indebted to my friend and college classmate Brad Long for helping me see this two-fold nature of the Spirit’s work.  If you can find it, Brad’s book Receiving the Power is very helpful The book is currently out of print.  The last time I purchased it, I got it through the website of Brad’s organization: PRMI.orgCLICK HERE for the book.  

Thursday, April 22, 2021

All My Heroes Are Sinners Too

Heroes in the Bible

Make no mistake.  The Bible is a story filled with many heroes.  Just don't forget or avoid this truth:  They are all sinners as well.

Abraham was the first "Man of Faith."  His willingness to leave his home and follow God's promise is a case study in "faith counted as righteousness."  (Genesis 15:6 & Romans 4:3)  But he also betrayed his own wife, not just once but twice (Genesis 10:13 & 20:3)  Hero of the Faith?  Sure!  Sinner, as well?  Obviously.

King David had faith enough to stand against Goliath when he was only a shepherd boy.  But he also committed murder and adultery as well as let sexual abuse go unpunished in his house.  Yikes!

The pattern carries in to the New Testament.  Peter would stand up and preach the "first Christian Sermon" in Acts 2:14-41.  Tradition has it that he would be crucified upside down.  But along the way, Paul would need to challenge him publicly for not "living in line with the Gospel."  (Galatians 2:14)

Every hero in the Bible is also a sinner.  Except for one.


Heroes in History

All this is true of characters that fill the history of the world and our nation.  All my heroes in American history are heroes that are sinners as well.

George Washington led his soldiers against tyranny in the face of long odds.  Even more, he stepped down after two terms as the president when he could have been made a king.  Sacrificial leadership based on humility is an inspiration to me.  But he also kept a plantation with enslaved people.

Martin Luther King, Jr was a Baptist preacher who called every American to make good on the promises and hope of our founding.  He also had a dark side that he himself recognized and discreetly referred to.  

Robert E. Lee was a brilliant general who wrote against slavery and succession from the Union.  And yet, he led the Confederate Army in the Civil War.

Every human hero you and I will ever have will always be both hero and sinner.  Those come together in one package the Gospel tells us, because every human is an image-bearer of the Great Creator-King who is broken in some way by sin.  That means heroes are all sinners.  It also means that even sinners can sometimes in some way be heroes.

Confusing?  Not really.  It just means that we all need to be rescued from our sin.


Don't Be Fooled About Your Heroes Or Your Own Sin

I'm a history nerd, so I must confess that seeing historical monuments being pulled down is unnerving to me.

I know each person represented by a statue being pulled down is both a sinner as well as - in some way to some people - a hero.  I think it is important and honest to be clear about the sin of those persons, but I also want to learn and be inspired by their heroism when it is there.  And sometimes - as with Robert E. Lee - ponder the irony and sadness of their decisions and life.  If I can be inspired by heroics, I can also learn from the mistakes of others.

Sooner or later, if I am unwilling to deal honestly with both the hero and the sinner in each person - canceling anyone for a single expression of sin - I will have to either falsely deny my own sin, or else live under the weight of my own canceling conscience.

The Apostle Paul knew this from his own experience.  He writes in Romans 7:24, What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

This is the life-giving beauty of the Gospel of God's Grace:  though all our heroes are sinners, there is One who is both Hero and Sinless Savior: A rescuer for every image-bearer broken by sin.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Keep In Mind: Biblical Truth About the Holy Spirit - part 1

 Keep In Mind: Biblical Truth About the Holy Spirit

 In my experience, many folks are not quite sure what to make of the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.  This goes for church-going people as well as those who rarely “darken the door.”  We will be doing a lot of learning and reflecting on the Holy Spirit as we begin a new sermon series at Harderwyk for the summer because we will be working through the Book of Acts and the Holy Spirit is a BIG character in that story.

With this in mind, I hope to add some resources on an occasional basis through this series, that “stake-out” the boundaries of biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit.  They grow out of years of study, personal reflection and conversations with people that I shepherd.  So with thanks to all those people who have been part of my journey, let’s get started.

I. The Holy Spirit Is There From the Beginning! – Genesis 1:2 to be exact!  There we read,

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  Don’t let yourself think that the Spirit somehow appeared for the first time on God’s stage at Pentecost.  The Spirit is as eternal as God, since the Spirit is God.  Co-equal and co-eternal are two of the “summary terms” for that Bible’s teaching on this.

II. Spiritual Gifts?  Part of the Whole Story As Well! – Growing up, I had the mistaken impression that “gifts of the Spirit” became part of God’s story at the first Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.  Reading the Bible showed me how wrong I was.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze. - Exodus 31:1–4

That is a great description of the spiritual gift of craftsmanship, which by the way, one might expect from a God Who is Himself a Creative Creator!  So don’t think spiritual gifts – more on those in the future – were not happening among God’s people until Pentecost.  David had the gift of leadership.  Isaiah the gift of prophecy.  I could go on, and will later in the series.

For now: Think of the continuity of the person and work of the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament to the New Testament as we start the Book of Acts.

III. The Holy Spirit Is A Person, Not Simply Some Impersonal "Force" or "Influence" - Let me say it again: The Holy Spirit is a "person," not an impersonal force.  The Spirit is a spiritual person, but a person all the same.  Throughout the Scripture, the Spirit has all the characteristics of personality - will, relationship, quenchable, etc.

Still my favorite presentation of this is the first chapter of "The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit" by 19th century evangelist R.A. Torrey called "The Personality of the Spirit."  It is clear, succinct and full of biblical references for further study.  Here's a taste:

It is also of the highest importance from the practical standpoint that we decide whether the Holy Spirit is merely some mysterious and wonderful power that we in our weakness and ignorance are somehow to get hold of and use, or whether the Holy Spirit is a real Person, infinitely holy, infinitely wise, infinitely mighty and infinitely tender who is to get hold of and use us. (p. 3)

By the way, you can have access to this book and MANY other classics for no or little cost .  Simple download the FREE Kindle app for your computer, tablet, iPad or phone and pull them in from the Kindle option on their Amazon.com listing.  CLICK HERE for this book by Torrey, currently at 99 cents.  CLICK HERE for my favorite Andrew Murray book for free.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

What Do You Mean By “Gospel-Centered” Preaching?

Several decades ago, while “mid-career,” I underwent a paradigm shift of life and ministry that I often refer to as a “Gospel Renaissance.”  Neither my doctrine nor my personality changed appreciably, but the effect of my beliefs on my life were – at least in my mind – dramatic.  A key place that people have noticed it was in my preaching.  Since then, I’ve studied, reflected and practiced a lot on what I now call “Gospel-Centered Preaching.” (GCP) Some of that follows, in answer to the question: What do you mean by “Gospel-Centered Preaching?” 

NOT A Particular Style of Delivery – I certainly DO NOT mean some sort of stereotypical “tent-revival with hell-fire and brimstone altar calls.”  The Gospel of God’s Grace is first of all Good News.  It is the announcement of what God has done to redeem His broken creation through the death and resurrection of God the Son, not a style of emotional abuse or manipulation.  GCP is about the motivation and direction of the message, not the style of its delivery.

Biblical – GCP grows out of the text of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  It recognizes the authority for “faith and practice” that resides there, and the preacher’s dependence on the Holy Spirit to understand and communicate those texts with transforming power for the hearers.  But GCP is more than just academically sound or doctrinally pure exposition of ancient books, it is communicating a timeless message from these ancient texts so a needful world can hear and respond.

Christ-Centered or Christocentric – Jesus Himself gave us the hermeneutical key to understanding all 66 books of the Bible: it was Him.  Listen to what He says in 

  • Luke 24:27 (NIV) - 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 
  • Luke 24:44 (NIV) - 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 
  • John 5:39–40 (NIV) - 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 

Understanding the identity of Jesus as well as his life, death and resurrection is the meta-narrative that draws every verse of the Bible together.  CLICK HERE for an artful 2-minute video of Tim Keller demonstrating this through the Old Testament. 

God/Jesus/Spirit Is the Ultimate Hero of Each Story – There are stories in the Bible that have human heroes: David conquers Goliath (I Samuel 17), Daniel is faithful in prayer and survives the lions’ den (Daniel 6), Esther risks her life for God’s people and all are saved.  While these human heroes may be models of a Spirit-empowered life that can inspire us to faithfulness in our own setting, they are also humans, impacted by their own sin and shortcomings.  More importantly, they are intended to point us beyond themselves to the “True-and-Perfect” Hero of the greater story.  If we focus exclusively on them as human heroes, we are prone to moralism and miss the Gospel which is actually the power of God to transform our hearts.  

For example: If David is no more than an example of human bravery born of trusting God, then we exhort people to “be brave,” and hope no one asks about Bathsheba.  But if David is a brave deliverer that God has raised up to rescue Israel, then we see in him a “shadow” of the Great Rescuer who will conquer the giant of our sin – as well as David’s - at the cross.

So be inspired by David, Daniel and Esther.  See what it looks like to live trusting in God no matter what we face.  But in each of them, let your focus be on the True-and-Perfect One that they point to – the person of Jesus.

“In The Shadow of the Cross” – If the Gospel of God’s Grace is the central, meta-narrative of the Bible itself, then the cross is at the center of the Gospel – and of GCP.  Everything leads up to that ultimate moment, and then everything flows from it as well.  The Apostle Paul demonstrated this focus for his own ministry, writing in I Corinthians 2:2: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  What happened on Golgotha has impact for all humanity and all human endeavors.  GCP aims to make that connection and impact clear for the church and the world.

Heart-Focused – The behaviors and words of a person flow from their motivational center – what the Bible calls “the heart.” (Luke 6:45, Mark 7:20, Matthew 12:35).  This means that the fundamental human problem is not behaviors that can be trained, educated or shamed away by preaching.  It is the heart that needs transformation.  When that happens by the power of the Gospel, then the behaviors and words that flow from that Gospel-transformed heart become different.  GCP understands the fruitlessness of behavior-based, moralistic preaching, depending instead on the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel of Grace proclaimed to effect a change of heart in the hearer.

Questions to Ask – There are a variety of questions that I ask myself as I prepare that help me keep a Gospel focus to my preaching.  They include:

  • Have I helped my listener see Jesus as the ultimate hero of this text?  
  • Who is the main or active character in the sermon?  The listener?  Me?  Or God?
  • Did Jesus need to die and be raised for anything that was said in this sermon?
  • If Jesus had not been crucified, would it change anything I said in this sermon?


Resources

  • The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones
    • A priceless book for all ages.  Each story is told for children with this Gospel-Centered perspective.
  • Preaching: Communicating Faith In An Age of Skepticism by Timothy J Keller
    • Keller is a prime practitioner of GCP in our time.  This gives you a look at his practice of it.
  • Preaching Christ From The Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus
    • An academic work that is very accessible by a CRC pastor and Calvin Seminary professor



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Best Sermon EVER! This Past Sunday

Yesterday – Sunday, January 24 – we had to cancel Celebration's worship service on short notice, but I still heard one of the best sermons EVER!  CLICK HERE if you want to hear it as well.  I strongly encourage you to find 40 minutes and listen.  It is gold and worth your attention.

The Whole Story

Boy, was I disappointed yesterday when we were not able to meet or even livestream our worship services because of COVID exposures and positives among my co-workers.  It was a good decision for health reasons, and I am fully supportive.  But you folks of Celebration know me:  I love being together, worshipping in whatever setting is safe and preaching the Gospel of God’s Grace!

So, Mary Lynn and I were there at home with the snow on Sunday morning considering how best to honor God on His sabbath.  Long story short: among several things, we listened together to a sermon by Tim Keller called “Meditation.”  It was the beginning in a series about Spiritual Formation called Psalms: Disciplines of Grace that he preached on April 7, 2002.  Yes – that’s “2002.”  But God used it to alter my “2020!”

So  .  .  .

CLICK HERE to hear the entire 40-minute sermon.

CLICK HERE it watch a recent 8-minute YouTube video made during the COVID lockdown in New York City where he summarizes a portion of the sermon material.  Bonus: you will get to hear from his wife Kathy on this video as well.

CLICK HERE for a letter from Martin Luther – yes, the 16th century reformer – to his barber about prayer.  Dr. Keller refers to this in his sermon.

CLICK HERE for a blog post by an author I do not know, but who helpfully lays out with pictures the process for meditation that Dr. Keller mentions learning from Martin Luther.

CLICK HERE to email and let me know if you have other questions or ideas.

For Next Sunday, January 31: Because we have more time for planning and preparation, Harderwyk will indeed have an online worship option.  We are waiting for a number of test results to figure out how to do that most safely and what form that will take.  But I look forward to seeing you again next Sunday, either onsite or online as we determine later in the week.

In the meantime, join me and hear one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.  We all need this one.

Grace Abounding,

Pastor Bill

Thursday, January 21, 2021

"So What Do You Mean By 'Evangelical'?"

I am ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, so when people use the term “evangelical” I listen up and get a bit particular.  Depending on the circles you run in, the word “evangelical” can have a variety of associations and meanings.  Let’s dig into that a bit.

National Association of Evangelicals

Who should know better what “evangelical” means than the National Association of Evangelicals?  CLICK HERE for their website.  This organization, founded in 1942, now represents 45,000 local churches in the United States from nearly 40 different denomination, including the Christian Reformed Church of North America to which Harderwyk belongs, and the EPC where I am ordained.

From the NAE website:

Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

For more information:

CLICK HERE for a 2 minute NAE video

CLICK HERE for the NAE webpage “What Is An Evangelical?”

Historically, these convictions can be seen as a distinct segment within in many denominations and traditions through centuries: Charles Spurgeon – a 19th century English Baptist, John Newton, William Wilberforce and the Wesley brothers in the 18th century.

Our Current Confusion

I call them “Political Evangelicals.”  As it turns out, there are people who identify their religious conviction as “evangelical” when they are surveyed in an exit poll during an election.  Unfortunately, it is well-known though rarely talked about that upwards of 40-60% - actual research is fairly rare and varies in findings – of people who choose “evangelical” in an exit poll have not been to a church gathering of any sort in over one year – and this is pre-COVID!  If pressed to respond to Bebbington’s “Four Points,” these people will not hold to one OR MORE of those core convictions.  

Suffice it to say that conclusions about “evangelicals” based on exit polls are worth doubting if you want to know what people who regularly worship in churches with those four convictions are thinking.

There is A LOT of background on this question of "political evangelicals" and the confusion with exit polls.  As always, I'm happy to talk more with anyone about this.  Simple contact me through Harderwyk Ministries and we can make arrangements.  As a start, here are three resources:

  • "What Is An Evangelical?" - Christianity Today, Nov 2015 - CLICK HERE
  • "Defining Evangelical" - The Atlantic, Nov 2015 - CLICK HERE
  • "Where is Trump's Evangelical Base?  Not in Church" - The Washington Post, March 2016 - CLICK HERE

Look at the dates and sources and you will see why said this question has been around for a while.  It continues.