Books Read in January

I’ve decided to take the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge… kind of.

My aim is for the 52 books of the Committed Reader path, but I’m not fully implementing the various categories this year, just reading a book a week.

So in an effort to give greater accountability, I plan to provide a list of the books I’ve read at the end of each month.

Here goes nothing.

incarnationOn the Incarnation by Athanasius

To be fair, I started this one at the end of December and finished it the first week of January. I’m still counting it though. It was great to finally read this classic book that has been sitting on sitting on my shelf for two-plus years.

Also, C. S. Lewis’ introduction about the reading of old books is a great read in and of itself.

grootGroot by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

Okay, I’ll admit it. Reading comics is kind of my guilty-pleasure pastime. I won’t be regularly listing them here, but this six-issue miniseries is so good that I needed to write something about it. The art is cartoony and fun. Groot is a fully-realized character, even while he only says three words. Surprising, hilarious, and heart-warming twists happen throughout, making it easily the most enjoyable comic book I’ve ever read.

witgcWhat Is the Great Commission? / Can I Trust the Bible? / What Is the Church? by R. C. Sproul

These short (and free!) ebooks have been helpful reads during my current sermon series. There are twenty-five books in the series, and my hope is to read most, if not all, of them this year.

 

gw

The Gospel’s Power and Message by Paul Washer

This is the first book in Washer’s Reclaiming the Gospel Series, and I have owned it for some years now, without having ever read it. Washer effectively presents the message, meaning, and necessity of the gospel. My heart certainly needed this thorough and passionate study of the good news of Jesus Christ.

lfLiving Forward (audiobook) by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

I love audiobooks. I typically listen to audiobooks or podcasts whenever I’m in the car or doing a task that does not require much mental focus. This book is all about developing a life plan, an idea that I already agree with. I very much enjoyed their thought of beginning your life plan by considering your own eulogy. We are not likely to seize the day without first understanding that we have a limited number of days to seize.

youandme

You and Me Forever (audiobook) by Francis & Lisa Chan

I listened to this on audiobook as well. While I certainly enjoyed Crazy Love, Forgotten God, and Erasing Hell, I’ve never been deeply impacted by any of them, but this book was different. Francis and Lisa Chan have brilliantly written a marriage book that is not about marriage; rather, it is about something far, far more important. You can read or listen to the book for free via the You and Me Forever smart phone app, but it’s worth buying.

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The First Commission (Making Disciples: part one)

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
Genesis 1:28 ESV

The Great Commission is important because it is Jesus’ final words to His disciples before He ascended into heaven. These are the words that Christ wanted to be ringing in our ears until He comes back. We would, therefore, do well to heed them.

But the beauty and weight of the Great Commission does not begin in Matthew but in Genesis.

Allow me to explain.

The first book of the Bible opens with the sweeping account of God creating everything. Within the span of six days, the heavens are formed, the seas are filled, and the earth is sculpted. All of creation was created and placed into order in less than a week by God the Creator.

And the capstone of His creation was Adam, the first human.

We are told that humans are unique from all other forms of creation because they alone were created in God’s image.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ (Gen. 1:26)

Because of their status as God’s image-bearers, the Creator also gave humans dominion over all the earth. Every animal that swam, flew, walked, or crawled fell under the authority of those who bore God’s likeness.

But He didn’t just give them dominion. He also gave them a mission: multiply.

Humanity’s primary job was to fill the whole earth with more humans.

That’s it.

Have you ever wondered why God would command Adam and his wife, Eve, to multiply and fill the earth?

God could have instantly created billions of humans, filling the earth as it is filled presently. Why then did He only create two humans and command them to fill the earth?

The answer goes back to humans bearing God’s image.

If the earth was filled with humans, it was also filled with God’s image.

By living in obedience to God, we were created to display and to fill the earth with His glory.

And God intentionally left the earth unfinished, only creating two humans, in order that they might serve as His instruments for filling the earth with His image. Being made in God’s likeness meant God inviting us to participate in His work.

Of course, we also know that things went downhill fast.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve disobeyed God, plunging humanity into a battle-to-the-death against sin.

Providentially, God was not ready to give up on His image-bearers just yet, and in part two, we will explore how the Great Commission propels the Church to fill the earth with God’s image in spite of sin.

Making Disciples | Matthew 28:18-20

Week 1 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

The Great Commission is important because it is Jesus’ final words to His disciples before He ascended into heaven. These are the words that Christ wanted to be ringing in our ears until He comes back. We would, therefore, do well to heed them. Jesus’ Great Commission is the mission statement of the Church. His earthly ministry was primarily about bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth, which reached its culmination in His death and resurrection. Though Jesus is no longer physically here, God’s kingdom must continue to expand. This is where we come in.

Disciples are made through two simultaneous avenues: individually and communally. As individual Christians, we obey Christ’s command primarily by witnessing, evangelizing, and teaching other about Jesus. As a community, we make disciples through the proclaiming and holding to the Scriptures together, praying together, and growing into mature community together.

Through the Western Meadows Values Series, we will focus on why making disciples is the mission of the church and how disciples are made through Scripture, prayer, and community. As the church, our aim and mission is to make disciples to the glorification and exaltation of Jesus Christ. This mission comes directly from our Lord. Making disciples, therefore, is not optional. We can only either obey or disobey His command.

Read Genesis 1:28 and discuss the following.

  1. Why did God command humanity to multiply and fill the earth?

Read Matthew 28:18-20 and discuss the following.

  1. Why does Jesus command His disciples to go to all nations and make more disciples?
  2. How can each Christian obey the command of making disciples?
  3. How does the church as a community make disciples?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Are you intentional about making disciples, both individually and collectively? Think through how your life serves as a witness for Christ, how you have shared the gospel with someone, and/or how you have trained someone up in the faith. In what ways will you continue to do so?
  • Pray. Ask the Father for grace and strength to obey the commands of Christ.

a thought on Babel & the Great Commission

So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.Through the act of confusing their language, God dispersed everyone across the whole earth. (Genesis 11:8-9 ESV)

In the end, God’s sovereign will must be done, through either obedience or judgment. For the men at Babel, it came through judgment.

And the ramifications of this judgment are significant. Since only five or so generations from Noah had passed, there would have likely been a strong familial bond between the people of the city. Yet in one swift act of God, the relatives that each man had known for centuries were suddenly speaking gibberish. With no way of communicating with one another the people left Babel by families to form the nations and groups seen in the Table of Nations (Gen. 10).

The city was then called Babel because it sounds like the Hebrew verb for “to confuse.” However, throughout the Old Testament, Babel is the name used for the city of Babylon. Just as Babel is here associated with sin, so Babylon is known as a representation of wickedness.

Since the division of languages is a judgment of God, they stand today as a reminder of sin and its consequences. We are no longer able to communicate with everyone that we encounter because of the depravity of the human heart.

However, human sin does not have the final word.

Zephaniah 3:9-13 speaks of God reuniting the human tongue under one language:

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.

Furthermore, the speaking in tongues in Acts 2 seems to anticipate the undoing of the judgment at Babel.

Indeed, it is only in Christ that people are able to truly unite without the devastating effects of sin and pride. Jesus has bridged the linguistic and cultural divide, commanding us to reach every ethnicity.

As with the people of Babel, we cannot gather in one place, but the body of Christ unites as it multiplies.

The Church grows together as it disperses among the nations.

And just as their gathering at Babel was contradiction of the divine commission to all humans to fill the earth, so is a Christian who does not seek to fulfill the Great Commission.

The call to make disciples of every ethnicity is the great calling for every Christian.

There is no such thing as a Christian who does not fulfill the Great Commission. Whether it is inches or miles, every follower of Christ will go and make disciples.

It’s fundamental to the Christian identity, and it’s the undoing of Babel.

The Son of Man | Day 20

And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14 ESV)

Also ministering during the 70 years of captivity, Daniel lived a significant portion of his life in the foreign land of Babylon. As one of the most promising young men of Israel, he was taken to the king’s city in order to be groomed into a valuable citizen for the Babylonian Empire. Many will immediately recall some of the trials of Daniel and his friends (such as the lion’s den and the fiery furnace); however, as a prophet, Daniel also receive stunning visions from the LORD.

One such vision is found in chapter 7. In verses 9-10, Daniel envisions the throne room of the Ancient of Days (the LORD), and it is glorious. But another person enters in verses 13-14. Daniel sees a person “like a son of man” approach God and receives “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” Even though son of man is often used (especially in Ezekiel) as a phrase for humans, this Son of Man seems to be far more than merely human.

It is no accident that Jesus often called Himself the Son of Man. As the offspring of Abraham and David who would both rule and bless the nations, He fulfills the role of being given an eternal dominion so that all nations and tongues would serve Him. Jesus’ kingdom of disciples is an everlasting kingdom that cannot be destroyed (Matt. 16:18) and that encompasses people from every nation on earth (Rev. 7:9).


As a disciple in Jesus’ kingdom, do you intentionally seek to make disciples of all nations? What are specific things that keep you from devoting yourself to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20)?


 

Should Christians Pray Against Satan Directly?

This past weekend I watched the newest Christian movie, War Room. To be honest, I am absolutely one of the worst people to see one of these kinds of films. As a person who deeply loves well-crafted narratives, such typically cheese-filled productions usually leave my gut wrenching. However, I found War Room to be surprisingly pleasant. No, it was not a masterpiece of cinema, but as a film that urged believers to toil daily in prayer, I actually enjoyed it. I would even go so far as to say that I recommend it.

However, the aim of this discussion is upon an aspect of the film that I did not appreciate. Allow me to set the scene. Our protagonist has finally resolved to fight in prayer for her husband and her marriage. Her prayer begins in her closet (one of the film’s war rooms), but she proceeds to walk throughout the house as her prayer becomes more fervent. Soon she begins to speak to Satan directly, declaring that he has no authority over her or her family. The music swells throughout, and all in all, the scene is the turning point of the film. The prayer works, and her husband is miraculously kept from committing adultery that very evening.

My issue with this scene is not the passionate, emotional prayer. Most of our prayers likely need a good dose of fervor. I also have no problem with the protagonist praying for her husband and marriage. Biblically, we are called to intercede in prayer for all people, so we should certainly do so for our loved ones.[1] Rather, I do take issue with the notion of praying directly against Satan. Let us, therefore, discuss why I find this thought to be unbiblical.

To Rebuke or Not to Rebuke?

First, consider the nature of Satan. Though he has legions of demonic forces at his disposal, Satan is nothing like God. He is not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. This means that Satan cannot hear our thoughts, and he cannot be in more than one place at a time. Ephesians 6 and 1 Peter 5 clearly affirm demonic hostility throughout our walk with Christ, yet it is quite unrealistic to continually assume that Satan is directly antagonizing us. Therefore, if we speak directly to Satan himself, most likely we are merely speaking to the open air or to demonic cohorts.

Next, note how Michael rebukes Satan in the book of Jude. The half-brother of Jesus writes in verse nine about Michael the archangel battling Satan for the body of Moses. Since Michael is the only angel that we know to be designated as an archangel, we could assume that if any heavenly being had the power to confront Satan directly, it would be him. However, Jude tells us that Michael “did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’”[2] The archangel, when battling Satan, relied upon the Lord to rebuke the devil. In fact, Jude’s reason for mentioning this event is because there were false teachers in his day that were blaspheming “all that they do not understand.”[3] The lesson being that we must not throw around weighty pronouncements against beings that we do not fully comprehend.

The sons of Sceva are a great examples of this thought. In Acts 19:11-20, the author, Luke, tells us about seven sons of Sceva encountering a demon-possessed man. These men were itinerant exorcists who heard of the great miracles that the apostles were doing by the name of Jesus. Because of this, they decided to invoke Jesus’ name as well, saying, “I adjure by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”[4] After saying this to one demon-possessed man, the evil spirit said back to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”[5] They are then beaten by the demon-possessed man and run away naked. This shows that the name of Jesus is not a magical mantra by which demons are forced to obey, and that we must not treat spiritual matters flippantly. Without knowing Jesus in a relationship, speaking His name will do us no good, and of course, the only way to grow in knowing Jesus is through the Scriptures and prayer.

Now let us approach the matter of spiritual warfare. If we are strongly exhorted by Jude to be careful in our accusations against the Accuser (which is the meaning of “Satan”), how then should we fight? After all, Paul does clearly tell us that we are wrestling against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In Ephesians 6:13-20, the apostle describes our battle armor; however, Paul emphasizes that our armor’s primary usage is being “able to withstand” and “to stand firm.”[6] He speaks far more of defense than offense, and James seems to agree with him: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”[7]

How to Fight Spiritually… Biblically

I am not, however, suggesting that spiritual warfare is all defense; instead, it seems that Paul speaks primarily of three offensive tactics for combating the “spiritual forces of evil” in Ephesians 6.[8]

1. Study the Word

The only offensive weapon in the armor of God is the sword, which Paul states is the Word of God. Our primary action for fighting the devil and/or sin should be going to the Scriptures. If we doubt the importance of the Bible in battling Satan, we need to look no further than Jesus. In Matthew 4, we read about Jesus being tempted by the devil after fasting for forty days and forty nights. Satan tried three times to cause Jesus to sin.[9] Each time, Jesus answer Satan by citing Scripture. It is interesting that even Jesus never enters into a lengthy dialogue with the devil; rather, He simply falls upon the Word of God. We must understand that the Bible is sufficient for resisting the devil. Too often Jesus’ words to the Sadducees could also be said of us: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”[10]  Therefore, let us be quick to read, study, memorize, and meditate upon the Word of God.

2. Pray in the Spirit

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul urges us to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” In resisting the devil, we must be a people of prayer. But what does Paul mean by praying in the Spirit at all times? To reach an answer, we must understand the Holy Spirit’s role when we pray. Prayer is naturally trinitarian. The entire Godhead is involved in our prayers. We pray to the Father, through our only mediator, Jesus. But what about the Spirit? Romans 8 tells us that “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”[11] The role of the Holy Spirit is to intercede on our behalf, aligning us with the will of the Father. Furthermore, we are told that the Spirit “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”[12] Thus, all of our prayers should be in the Spirit because He teaches us how to pray the will of God and affirms that we are God’s children. Praying to the Father, through Jesus, with the Spirit, is one of the greatest blessings that we have as followers of Christ. Because the Spirit allows us to come to God as our Father, why would we ever waste time trying to speak directly with Satan instead of praying to the omnipotent God who calls us His children?

3. Proclaim the Gospel Boldly

Paul gives us the third weapon of warfare in Ephesians 6:19-20: proclaiming the gospel. The apostle requests that the Ephesians pray for him to boldly declare the “mystery of the gospel.” Because the gospel is the centerpiece of the entire Bible, this one should not come as a surprise, yet sadly, it probably does. Jesus came into the world, not to cast out demons or even heal the sick, but to proclaim the gospel. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”[13] The only way to truly press back against “this present darkness” is by expanding the kingdom of God. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus left us with very clear instructions to follow until He returns: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[14] Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach, that is the game plan for every Christian, and we can only do so through proclaiming the gospel. Far more important than denouncing Satan in prayer is proclaiming and exalting Jesus to others. That is how the kingdom of God will increase and the kingdom of darkness decrease.

The End of the Matter

Once again, let me reiterate: I really enjoyed War Room. It challenges Christians to go spend more time in prayer, which is, for me, a win. However, the notion of directly praying against or rebuking Satan simply is not biblical. Instead of fighting Satan by declaring our victory over him again and again, let’s actually expand the kingdom of God by diving into the Scriptures, praying to the Father, and proclaiming the gospel to anyone that will listen. At least to me, that just sounds like a better plan.

[1] 1 Timothy 2:1

[2] Jude 9

[3] Jude 10

[4] Acts 19:13

[5] Acts 19:15

[6] Ephesians 6:13

[7] James 4:7

[8] I anticipate some people arguing that because Jesus and the apostles directly engaged demons that we should understand this as a call to do likewise. However, we are never commanded to deal with evil spirits like Jesus or the apostles did, but we are called numerous times to resist the devil, to hold fast to and proclaim the Word of God, and to prayer to the Father. I submit, therefore, that this is how spiritual warfare ought to be fought.

[9] By the way, it is worth noting that the only real power that Satan has over us is through our sin. He cannot directly cause anyone to be thrown in hell; rather, Satan can only lure us toward sin, hoping to capture us in its snare.

[10] Matthew 22:29

[11] Romans 8:27

[12] Romans 8:16

[13] Mark 1:15

[14] Matthew 28:19-20a