Every Monday, from 09/18/2017 to 12/24/2017, 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Reengage is a marriage enrichment program. Marriages in any condition can benefit, whether you are struggling to get along, your marriage is broken, or you simply want to...
Mount Pleasant just narrowly dodged a direct impact by a major hurricane. Texas, Florida and the Caribbean were not so lucky. For the next few weeks the images of devastation and destruction will pour in, many of us will give to the disaster relief efforts, and people in our culture will obsess and argue over the why of these intense hurricanes.
But a more important why question to answer is one that almost all humans will ask when faced with devastation, a question that we Christians particularly must face—how can a God whom we claim is 100% good and 100% able to prevent things like this from happening allow such suffering and devastation to happen to His creatures? And why is the destruction so seemingly senseless, blind, and unrelated to the moral lives of those who suffer so much through these events? In other words, how should a Christian understand and speak about a Category 5 hurricane devastating entire islands, causing unspeakable human suffering and loss, and doing so without any regard for the righteous and the unrighteous?
Before we answer the question “Why does God allow these things to happen?” we must carefully define what “these things” are. Hurricanes (along with all other natural disasters, diseases, accidents, etc.) are what theologians and philosophers have traditionally called natural evils—evils that are unrelated to the direct actions of moral beings. Moral evils, on the other hand, are ones done by humans (war, murder, slander etc.) Natural evils are natural phenomena, ones that, as far as we know, are not caused by specific human action, ones that cause human suffering, and ones that God could have miraculously prevented if He so chose.
Where did natural evils come from? They were a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. God created the world with none of these evils and with complete comfort and safety and eternal life for human beings. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and make themselves their own lords, disobeying God’s one commandment and choosing life apart from Him. In response, God cursed the life apart from Him that his people chose, telling Adam that the creation would no longer serve him, but bear thistles and be difficult to live in. The rest of Genesis shows us just how pervasive this curse was, with its constant famines, competition for resources, and even infertility.
Romans 8:20 says this clearly: “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it”. God subjected the world to futility, to physical breakdown, to natural disasters, to the “natural” processes that lead to human death and to every instance of natural evil from the inconvenient to the catastrophic—all in response to Adam and Eve’s sin.
One important side note before we move on to the most important question of “why?” is this: If all the natural evil we see in the world is judgment for Adam and Eve’s sin then individual instances of natural evil are not necessarily judgment for an individual’s sin. In other words, if you wake up with a terminal disease tomorrow or if a tornado from Irma’s aftermath destroyed your house and left all of your unrighteous neighbors safe and intact that does not mean that the Lord is punishing or judging you. More often than not, natural evil just happens because we live in a fallen world, under the curse and judgment of Adam and Eve’s sin.
So why hurricanes? Why so much natural evil and the suffering that comes from it? The first reason is simple: God cannot lie about the consequences of choosing life apart from Him. If God is to be true and not a liar, human beings who are sinners must live in a dangerous world where devastating things can happen to them at any time. Consider what would have happened if God had allowed Adam and Eve to sin and yet allowed the world to be perfect and not futile or dangerous. Would they have returned to Him, or ever sought Him? No. God would have been allowing them to go to eternal judgment comfortably if he had allowed life apart from Him to be easy and without danger. Peter Van Inwagen says that if God always miraculously protected people from natural disasters “He would be a deceiver…he would engender an illusion… [that] human beings can live successfully in separation from God”.
So natural evil is first a result of the fact that God must speak truth to humanity—that he must allow something as horrible as human sin to have the continuous horrible consequence of natural evil in the world. But Romans 8:20 also shows God’s mercy in this: God subjected creation to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”. God’s purpose is the return of God’s highest creation, mankind, to Him, to obtain the glory of the sons of God. The purpose of natural evils, as terrible as they can be, is to bring us into eternal life by being living parables—pictures of our danger as sinners and of the horribleness of human sin. The prodigal son did not “come to his senses” until he was knee deep in a pig trough suffering from hunger. The story almost seems to say—he looked around at the muck and felt the pain in his belly and said “I’ve done this to myself. In fact, this muck is me; it’s my disobedience and stupidity”. So too the natural evils in the world speak to us.
Natural evils are parables with a purpose, severe signposts to lead us back to the Lord. They are living and breathing pictures of the horror of sin and the devastating consequences of life apart from God. They are a severe mercy—a difficult but necessary object lesson about the immense danger and difficulty of life apart from God. Children don’t really understand the stovetop is dangerous until they touch it. Similarly, sinners won’t really understand how horrible sin is until they, with the Spirit’s help, see its horrible consequences played out before them in all of the natural evils in the world.
In this way, natural evils actually function like natural glories. The good wonders of creation speak to us of God’s reality and glory (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), and the good gifts and provisions of life teach us of God’s steadfast love (Psalm 36:7-8). The same way that a glorious sunset, a good cup of coffee or a friendship that lasts decades give us a living glimpse of the goodness and glory of God, so a catastrophic hurricane, debilitating disease or senseless and random accident teaches us of the horrible nature and dreadful consequences of sin.
I participated gladly in Charleston’s collective sigh of relief when the “cone of uncertainty” turned west and the worst of Hurricane Irma missed us (and I was shocked at how bad the storm and flooding still was for parts of the city!). But in the last few days it has been incredible to me how quickly we can go from collective panic to life as usual. So here’s my encouragement to you after all of this: don’t let this near disaster be lost on your soul. Don’t let the storm pass with only a sigh of relief.
After you’ve done the obvious and necessary things like praying for people who’ve been devastated and giving money or even our time for relief, sit at the feet of our Lord and take up this severe lesson for your soul. Think about how you felt when Irma was poised for a direct hit on Charleston as a Category 3 or 4 (the nervousness, the obsession with being prepared, the desire to escape Charleston five days before landfall just to be sure) and ask yourself—“have I taken half as much care for my soul or the souls of others when I know full well there is a day coming that will make the worst devastation from the worst hurricane look like nothing for those who don’t know Jesus?” When you see those tragic pictures of people next to the rubble that used to be their lives, first pray for them, then consider giving to help them, but then say to yourself “this is just a tiny parable of the loss and devastation my sin deserves. Praise God I will escape it through Jesus”.
This is a difficult teaching, a mercy very severe. But the glory of the Gospel is that our God isn’t just up in Heaven dictating these consequences to us and speaking so painfully to us, He is with us in our pain, He subjected Himself to the consequences of sin in Jesus, out of love for us; to one day free us forever from them. We can seek to understand the evil of the world as people who will be one day forever free from it.
About a year ago our Young Adults Pastor, Leland Brown, wrote a great article titled “8 Reasons to Start Memorizing Scripture Today.” This past Sunday, Buster challenged our church to memorize several verses between now and the end of the year. Additionally, if you've read the Bible for any length of time you've probably encountered verses that allude to the value of memorizing God’s Word. Joshua 1:8 tells us to meditate on Scripture day and night. The Psalms begin by pointing out that the man who delights and meditates on the law of the Lord is blessed. In Psalm 119 (which is a sort of homage to God’s Word), the psalmist explains “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v.11). In 2 Timothy 3:16 we’re told that Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Hopefully by this point you don't need any convincing that memorizing Scripture is a worthwhile endeavor. Hopefully by now you get that being able to recall verses from memory would be helpful to your walk with the Lord. But maybe you’re still wondering how to best go about it. Tony Reinke said that our smartphones are “windows into the worthless and the worthy, the artificial and the authentic.” A way to leverage your smartphone’s technology in a way that is worthy and authentic is to use it to memorize Scripture. Here are a few good options…
Fighter Verse originated out of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, MN during a church-wide Scripture memory emphasis. The app provides a collection of Fighter Verses that are broken into five sets. Each set has 52 verses so (in theory) you can follow along and memorize a verse a week. There is also a collection of Foundational Verses for Kids that are accompanied by some helpful audio and visuals. Some other great features include being able review verses by playing some fill in the blank and matching type quizzes as well as being able to search and save verses by topic and reference. Fighter Verse is available for both Android and Apple devices for $2.99.
A ministry that has been historically known for their emphasis on Scripture memory is the Navigators. To help believers memorize key verses, they developed the Topical Memory System (TMS). For years the TMS has been available in a physical format (containing dozens of verses on small cards that could be carried around in a provided vinyl wallet) but has recently become available in an app format. The TMS app arranges verses by topics such as “Live the New Life” and “Growing in Christlikness” and provides different activities to help you memorize. Although you can’t add additional verses, the TMS provides a treasure trove of verses worth memorizing. The NavsTMS app is available for $4.99 in the Apple App Store.
Although this app isn’t primarily intended for Scripture memory, I like it for a couple of reasons. Flashcards is completely customizable so you can type in whichever verses you like in whatever format you like. One method that has been very helpful for me is to have the verse I'm trying to memorize on one side with the initials of each word on the other. So for example, if I was trying to memorize Ephesians 2:8, the front side of my flashcard would say “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” and the back would say “F B G Y H B S T F A T I N Y O D I I T G O G.” Flashcards definitely requires more work to set up but I enjoy being able to personalize what I'm memorizing. The app also allows you to send and share your sets of cards with friends.The app is available for free on both Apple and Android devices. You can also click here to download the verses Buster has challenged us to memorize between now and December.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what app you download. It doesn't matter what method you choose. What does matter is figuring out what works for you. And when you do figure out how you best memorize Scripture, remember one more thing: “The goal is not to see how many verses we can memorize, the goal is Godliness. The goal is to memorize the Word of God so that it can transform our minds and our lives.”1
1 Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (p. 47)
Dear Church Family,
This week the Nashville Statement was released regarding a biblical view of sexuality. The statement was well crafted, biblical, and irenic. I would ask you to read it and pray, that we would stand with grace, dignity, and love during this time, when to quote the preamble of the Nashville Statement, “evangelicals find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being...” May we affirm the wonder and glory of being made in the image of God and understand that being a male or female is part of the goodness of God’s creation.
Thank you for your kindness and fidelity to the standards of Christ.
East Cooper Baptist is starting an exciting and wonderful new initiative called EquipU—a new approach to Sunday Morning Bible Class centered around intentional equipping in three basic tracks—one centered on understanding individual books and genres of the Bible, one centered on biblical and systematic theology, and one on life principles. It has potential to be a game-changing, generation-impacting initiative in our church’s life.
But it will require every member of East Cooper Baptist to buy into giving our Sundays to the Lord by being at church for both service hours, from 9am-12pm, every Sunday. And for many of us this might seem like a big ask: life is crazy, Sundays are precious rest days/family time, and three hours can seriously jack up some schedules if you have little children. However, we give up rest time and jack up our families’ schedules all the time for things that we think are worth it.
What I want to do in this blog post is to attempt to convince you (if you’re someone who is currently only involved in one service hour) that you need equip•u, and that equip•u, and the knowledge and growth you’ll gain from it, is worth you giving your Sundays to the Lord. I’m going to provide three simple examples of how equip•u and the knowledge you’ll gain from it, can be game-changing in many aspects of your walk with the Lord.
One of the equip•u tracks focuses on interpreting and studying individual books of the Bible according to their literary style. Literary style is simply the type of communication something is and the particular communication styles in that come with it. For example, individual romantic comedies, though all unique in their own way, contain common features and communicate in similar ways—ways very different than physiological thrillers or war movies. In other words, it would be foolish to come to How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days with the same expectations as you would for Band of Brothers. We generally understand this instinctively with movies and media.
But often times we approach individual books of the Bible ignoring the genre in which they were written. Consider this example: You’re reading paragraphs of Mark each day and your devotionals lead you to Mark 14:66-72—Peter’s denial of Jesus. The rock of the church is faced with a servant girl, and what does he do? Denies his Lord. What’s Mark getting at here, and what does it mean for us? Should we walk away into our day with “I shouldn’t deny Jesus today like Peter did (I had better do some evangelism!)” or “Even the best Christians fail (so no worries if I fail today!),” as many have interpreted and applied this passage?
Here’s where understanding the biblical genres is a game-changer. The Gospel of Mark is a narrative (a story) and as a narrative it employs all sorts of intentional narrative devices to communicate its meaning like plot and character development (and many more!). This particular passage is a wonderful example of one of these literary devices—a foil—in which one character contrasts another character (usually the main one) in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character. If we go back to verse 53, we see that Mark has placed Peter’s denial of Jesus immediately after Jesus’ faithful testimony before the Council. Jesus is before men who (seemingly) have the power of life or death over him and He is utterly faithful, refusing to defend Himself and get out of his fate. Peter is before a servant girl and he denies his Lord and even invokes a curse on himself—all out of the fear of death.
So what’s Mark getting at here? Arranging his account so that Peter is a foil to Jesus. He’s highlighting Jesus’ faithfulness through Peter’s failure. The whole point of this story is that Jesus alone is the Faithful One of God’s people, so set on His Father’s will, so fearless, that he refused even to rightfully defend himself, that he was faithful unto death—and that he did so for his failed and fearful people. Suddenly, the gospel of grace is all over Peter’s denial of Jesus!
All of this is shared to say the following: if you try to read Mark without understanding the literary genre of narrative, you’re going to miss much of its beauty and meaning. Obviously, the Holy Spirit can still work, but in this particular instance you would be walking away from your devotional with an unbearable burden (you had better not deny Jesus today!) instead of wonderful, life-freeing truth (Jesus alone is the Faithful One of God’s people, and he died for my lack of faithfulness). The genre track of equip•u will give you essential tools to seeing the beauty of Christ throughout the Bible.
If the literary styles track hones in on individual books of the Bible, the surveys track zooms out to the broad teachings of Scripture, connecting the books, themes, and doctrines of the Bible together. There are numerous wonderfully helpful things about this kind of study: finally understanding what in the world Leviticus is about and how it fits into the Bible’s story, being able to understand how the New Testament applies the Old Testament (what should I do when a NT author quotes the OT?), getting a grip on the Trinity, just to name a few.
Let’s try a practical example that will almost certainly happen to you at some point in time: Two Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on your door and want to talk with you about spiritual things from the Scriptures. Literally, an evangelistic opportunity has been handed to you. The catch: Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus and have set (wrong) answers for the several New Testament texts that “straight up” say that Jesus is God (like John 1:1 or Titus 2:13). Is there any way to help these people see the errors they’ve been taught? And more importantly, is our belief in something as HUGE as the deity of Jesus based on only 4 or 5 Bible verses???
Enter biblical theology (connecting the Scriptures together). One key thing that the New Testament does is apply what the Old Testament says about God to Jesus. This is happening throughout the Gospels and in many passages from the Epistles—our belief in the deity of Jesus isn’t just in a few clear verses, but in the multitude of ways that the New Testament attributes deity to Jesus through his actions that, according to the rest of Scripture, only God can do. In a particularly clear one, when Jesus calms the storm in Mark 4:25-41, the disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” The answer from Psalm 89:8-9 is clear: “O Lord God of hosts, who is might as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” Jesus does what God alone does—throughout the New Testament.
All of a sudden, if you’re equipped to understand the depth and breadth of the Word, you’ve got a lot of ammo to lovingly help these people as the Lord leads (and to be rock-solid confident in a doctrine as essential and difficult as the deity of Jesus!) But you won’t have that unless you get equipped in the doctrines and surveys of the Scriptures.
The final track offered in equip•u is the principles track—which takes the teachings of God’s Word and applies them to cultural and every-day life issues. I will spend a little less time here because I hope that it is blatantly obvious that in our day, and with the multitude of issues we face, that this track is eminently valuable.
Think about some of the questions that we must answer to simply live day-in and day-out in our culture: Does God’s Word have anything to say about your relationship with social media, or about how much time you should spend on your smartphone each day? Does God’s Word speak to how you spend your time each week and how you use your weekends? Does it offer you help or a path forward when your church does something you seriously disagree with? Does it help you when those parenting techniques that used to work wonderfully are now terribly ineffective with your 12-year-old?
Most of us would answer those questions with—yes, of course it does. But we haven’t taken time to deeply explore these issues and understand how the Scriptures apply to them. The principles track does just that—it takes God’s Word and applies it to issues like your relationship with the local church, your work and stewardship, and cultural issues like the Christian and technology.
You have a wonderful opportunity this year to be equipped with skills and knowledge that will certainly bless your walk with the Lord. It is worth an extra hour and a half each Sunday.
In 2012, The Gospel Coalition and Redeemer Presbyterian Church partnered together to release a series of 52 questions and answers and called it the New City Catechism. Historically, catechisms have played a central role in church life and been used to maintain gospel integrity, succinctly define biblical truths, and help the believer be “transformed by the renewal of their mind” (Romans 12:1). If you’ve attended ECBC for any length of time, chances are you’ve probably heard Buster quote or make reference to the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) or the Westminster Catechism (1649). These have been invaluable resources for Christians seeking to understanding and promote the truth of the gospel for centuries and the aim of the New City Catechism was to honor that tradition through an updated and relevant format. Tim Keller explains that “...we decided to adapt Calvin's Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.”
The word catechism comes from the Greek word katechein which means “to teach orally or instruct by word of mouth.” In the early church, Christian converts wanting to be baptized and join a local church body went through a period of teaching and training (ie. discipleship) before being admitted. They were known as catechumens. The New City Catechism offers something similar for us today. Each question is designed to help us gain traction on a theological truth and each answer is worded with precision and care, helping us to accurately articulate an answer to questions like “What is prayer?” Accompanying each question is a verse or passage of Scripture that correlates with the topic. Additionally, the New City Catechism has commentary that goes along with each question. One old, one new. So when you get to question 4 about the Trinity, you get to read some thoughts from guys like Richard Baxter (1615-1691) and Kevin DeYoung (born 1977).
One of my favorite things about the New City Catechism is how approachable it is. Crossway has recently published a devotional book you could go through on either a daily or weekly basis, during an individual time of prayer and study or as part of a group discussion. Additionally, the New City Catechism can be obtained through a mobile app (available on smartphones, tablets, etc.) that is designed well and easy to use. The app has everything the devotional book does with one added special feature. By enabling “Children’s Mode” you can hear sing-along versions of all 52 questions and answers that are a great means to helping kids get excited about memorizing the catechism.
Right now, the staff of East Cooper Baptist Church is reading and reflecting on a different question of the New City Catechism each week. It only takes a few minutes each week, but it gives us a regular glimpse of the gospel and helps to stir our affections for Christ. Regardless of your age, stage of life, or how long you’ve been a Christian, the New City Catechism will prove a fruitful and invaluable resource to you as you seek to grow in your understanding of the Lord and what He has done for us through the cross.
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