10 Reasons to Street Preach

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1. You access people who will likely never go into a church. Whether you are a hip church or not, or have a good reputation in the community or not, there are likely many people, in the community your church is located in, that will never set foot into your church. This is a very real solution to rather insisting on having them come to you on your turf for you to go to them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news (gospel).” (Romans 10:15; as quoted in Is. 52:7)

2. Provides for the church, gospel, and Jesus Christ to have a real public presence. It seems today you can pretty much find everything on the streets today minus the Gospel. You can sadly find: drugs, sex, violence, etc. but you would be hard-pressed to find any gospel witness there. This is a sad reality when you consider that Jesus’ Lordship was never to be contained within the four walls of a church facility. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Jesus).” (Matthew 28:18)

3. Provides teaching opportunities for the family. I recently took the gospel to the streets. In the process, both my 5 (boy) and 3 (girl) year old were filled with curiosity and questions concerning what exactly I was doing and hoping to accomplish. When I explained to them I could tell my eldest was filled a new profound respect and admiration for his “brave” dad. And my daughter learned more about  what kind of man she wants to marry. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk with them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deut. 6:7)

4. It is consistent with the practice of the historical and early church. Many today think that the early church did street preaching and only because it was the common practice to run around the streets and teach religion. This is an exaggeration and too broad a stroke to understand the ancient world of Rome. The reality is that it was a strange thing for common people not sent by a known and recognized ruler to preach and teach a new religion. Also, street preaching was not unique to the early church. Street preaching has been the practice in the midst of every known revival in church history from the reformation, great awakening, etc. “Go (or, as you are going) therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

5. It is sanctifying for those who participate. Every opportunity I have to truly speak the gospel out of my mouth to an unbeliever is a tremendously powerful event to my faith and always an encouragement to the heart. If you haven’t tried it, it is hard to understand this, I’m sure. But whenever I tell someone the gospel it seems more shocking. The fact that I believe there was a Jewish man who was and is truly God and that He was born of a virgin Mary, never sinned once and yet died for sins according to the Scriptures. That this crucified Jesus actually rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and took His seat upon His heavenly throne. And lastly, that this Jesus is bodily and visibly coming back from heaven to earth to raise His blood bought people with incorruptible sinless bodies and to judge everyone who rejects this message in an eternal lake of fire, is truly a remarkable truth that somehow loses its awe factor when stifled to remain only in the church and if your lucky the home. “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 6)

6. Protects the church from spiritual decline. When evangelism on the streets is neglected it either gets dropped altogether or replaces the worship time intended for the assembly of God’s people. In either case the church is in a spiritual decline. You either neglect a clear charge from our Savior and are therefore in sin or you end up unchurching the church in hopes of appealing to a lost crowd. It is a known fact that across all denominations doctrine and catechizing is on a decline within the body of believers. What do all denominations share in common, a neglected street preaching ministry.

7. Provides real life experiences to affirm Scriptures that seem distant to American Christianity. When Paul tells Timothy that “all who desire a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) many have a hard time understanding how that may be true in their life. When Jesus tells His disciples that the world will hate them for His name sake and that his followers will suffer for the gospel, many struggle with whether this is only true in other countries. You know, those entrenched Muslim ones. But the qualifications of “all” and “the world” remove those barriers used to excuse the apparent non-existent suffering of many in American Christians. Secondly, it reveals the true animosity that is present between the seed of woman and the seed of the serpent. (Genesis 3:15)

8. Provides clarity to where our confidence is. When “foolish” (1 Cor. 1:17-18) means are employed it exposes all the things we have been putting our trust in. Do we believe that “Salvation belongs to the LORD”(Jonah 2:9) or that salvation belongs to programs, great music, facilities, engaging speakers, etc.? “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in His steadfast love.” (Psalm 33:16-18; see also 147:10-11)

9. Gives opportunity for training and equipping aspiring elders. There are few training grounds more effective in my mind for equipping future elders than evangelism in the streets. Our churches in America are starving for brave, strong, courageous, men leading. Our culture has largely feminized manhood and that has transferred over into the office of the pastorate. It is a shame. Where are the; Luthers, Zwinglis, Calvins, Athanasius, Whitefields, Wesleys who are willing to do what God’s word says and not needing man’s praise to move forward in obedience? Having men meet confrontation in the face with boldness is a great training camp for refining future elders to lead Christ’ church into holiness. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

10. Church growth. Believe it or not but people get saved. I have met people in my life who have told me that they were saved through someone preaching the gospel in the streets. In an age where most churches experience church growth in numbers largely through the transfer of already existent sheep leaving one local church for another, when are people who were previously not going to church getting saved? This is real church growth isn’t it? When people who were formerly not part of the Church are now saved and have therefore joined a local church. I ask you, where are the people who don’t go to church at? That’s right, they are out and about on the streets. So where should we go with the gospel? Does it not make plain and simple sense that in order to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all creation we should be proclaiming His gospel in and outside the church? “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice so there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

May God grant and raise up a hundred fold more men to proclaim His great message through His church for every generation!

Blessings,

Stephen Willcox

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Jonah: God’s Sovereign, Unfailing Love (PART 4)

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It Is NOT Death to Die

INTRODUCTION

“It’s all relative” Is the motto of my generation.  And I tend to agree with this idea.  Everything finds its meaning by something outside itself.  I measure by comparison.  So in this sense, everything is relative, everything except God that is.  Like all good lies there’s half a truth in the claim. But you see, God is eternally existent.  He depends upon nothing to exist.  The old theologians called it the “aseity” of God. Creation, however, is not self-sufficient and so creation is dependent upon another.  That is what relative means.

Relative- considered in relation or in proportion to something else

Therefore, everything (that is created) is relative.  So the pertinent question at hand is, “relative to what?”  We tend to compare created things with other created things.  But that is an awful lot like trying to draw straight lines with a crooked ruler.  Everything is relative in its relationship to God.  God is self-existent.  He is not to be measured by anything but rather is the standard for everything.  This is what God is getting at when He disclosed himself to Moses on the Mountain as “I am that I am.” This is because God cannot be compared to anything.  He will not be likened anything in His creation. And so, He says, “I am that I am.”  This is the reason why we are not to make graven images of Him.  He cannot be measured.  Rather, everything is measured up in comparison to Him.

This is quite an intimidating thought when you consider it for a while.  I say that because, all of us are prone to measure ourselves against other created things.  And let’s be honest, comparing ourselves against another person rather than measuring ourselves in light of who God is a paradigm shift.  It isn’t wrong to per say to measure our progress or regress by how we compare to those whom we respect.  But it is wrong if we consider them to be the standard.  And this can happen quite subtly. But when we do allow the created things to be the standard, we are not only guilty of idolatry, we are also guilty of legalism.  That relationship will have to be unpacked in another post.  But the main idea here is that when we allow created things rather than the creator be the standard; we; by necessity, lower the standard.

In the book of Jonah, we see Jonah compared against several characters in the story and in each case, Jonah falls short.   First, we see how Jonah compares to the mariners on the ship to Tarshish. These men, have been raised pagan.  They know little if anything about the one true God.  But in storm at sea they all become fearers of God, make sacrifices to Him, and vows.  Jonah on the other hand, has to hit the bottom of the seabed before he calls out for help to the God he has known his whole life.  Second, we see Jonah in contrast to Nineveh, and more specifically, her king. God had to directly speak twice to Jonah (not mention everything else that took place in chapter 1-2) to get Jonah to repent and obey.  The king of Nineveh however, catches word secondhand on the judgment God is going to do to his kingdom and though he is given far less than Jonah, his repentance far exceeds that of Jonah’s.  All of this is to Jonah’s shame.  He doesn’t measure up even to the lowest of comparisons.  But it gets far worse.  In the last comparison, we see Jonah in comparison to the true and final standard; that is, God.  Jonah is measured up by God in several ways:

  1. What angers Jonah
  2. What brings Jonah happiness
  3. Jonah’s compassion
  4. Jonah’s desire to die

WHAT ANGERS JONAH

We see in verses 1-2; 4-5; and 9 the anger of Jonah on display.  And the reader has to ask, “what is it Jonah is angry about?” and even more important than that question is, “what ought to make Jonah angry?”  Well in the text, Jonah is “exceedingly angry” over God showing compassion.  More specifically, Jonah is boiling-hot, red, mad that God would show compassion to Israel’s enemies Nineveh.  As mentioned they had before, Nineveh and its kingdom were responsible for much calamity in Israel.  And we learn from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah had prophesied that God was going to expand the boundaries of Israel and restore them to their original state under King Jeroboam II, that is, in Jonah’s lifetime.  And the restoration of Nineveh would be a real threat to that promise.  And indeed it was.  In a couple generations, a new people would forget their deliverance from God and return to their wicked ways and in 722 B.C. Nineveh put the Northern Kingdom of Israel into exile and captivity.  In return however, in 622 B.C. God judged Nineveh and they were no more.

So Jonah was angry because Nineveh was being delivered was detrimental to Jonah and his homeland.  But what ought to anger Jonah?  In one word, sin.  Sin is what angers God.  Unrighteousness, disobedience, wickedness, rebellion, transgression, are what make god fiercely angry.  And we saw that in that last chapter.  God was absolutely angry because of the violence and wickedness of Nineveh.  But they turned from their ways and so God also turned away from his anger against them.  Jonah, however, was not mad about Nineveh’s opposition to God.  He was mad about their opposition to Israel.

You parents know what I’m talking about.  Ever been mad at your child for what they did because it was an offense against you without considering whether it was an offense against God?  Teachers, police officers, all those who hold a place of management or authority, what makes you angry?  Is it sin, or is it what inconveniences you?  Jonah was falling terribly short in comparison to God.  And I am afraid, we are no different in this way.

We know that Jonah was more concerned about Israel than he was righteousness because we are given a description of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and her king in II Kings 14:24-25 and we are told that the King Jeroboam II “did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat (his father), which he made Israel sin.”

Jonah wasn’t exceedingly angry about God expanding the borders of Israel under this wicked King and asking for death for the compassion He showed to them.  But when God showed compassion to a repentant people he loses it.  How about you, do you call out damnation on people while asking God to be merciful to you?  You see, we are self-righteous just like Jonah was.  But there is good news.

WHAT MAKES JONAH HAPPY

In verse 6 we get to see a different side to Jonah.  Because of God’s intervention, Jonah is delivered from his anger and his evil.  God ask Jonah if does him any good to be angry.  We don’t know if Jonah storms off mad because he is playing the angry teenager or if Jonah takes this as the possible promise from God that he still plans on judging Nineveh.  But in any case, Jonah sees no need to reply and heads out of the city from the East side and sets up camp on a hill in hopes to watch the fireworks.  While Jonah waits for God’s judgment on Nineveh God graciously provides a plant to grow miraculous quick to deliver Jonah both from the harsh sun and his hot temper.  Jonah, in his relief, becomes “exceedingly happy.”  The word exceedingly that was used to describe Jonah’s anger in vs. 1 is now being used to describe his happiness in verse 6.

This begs the question, “what makes Jonah happy?”  By all appearances we discern from the text that what makes Jonah happy is that which benefits him.  When Jonah is preserved, comforted, served, or help, he is happy.

So if Jonah is made happy by what serves him and his goals the more crucial question we must ask again is, “What ought to make Jonah happy?”  God rejoices in righteousness, obedience, and the salvation of the repentant sinner.  We are told that heaven rejoices over the repentance and salvation of one person.  How much joy do you think was in heaven when all 120,000 plus people repented and believe and so were delivered from God’s fierce anger?  God is the first in-line to rejoice over the compassion given to His enemies.  God loves His enemies.  Did you know that?!  “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Everyone one of us was an enemy of God but for those who have believed, we have been shown compassion and God is happy in this.

Can I ask you, “What makes you happy?”  Do you rejoice and find great happiness in obedience towards God.  Do you sing for joy when your enemies are shown mercy?  Or is it that which serves you that brings you joy?  Again, I find it quite disturbing how much we are more like Jonah than we are like the true standard.  We fall miserably short don’t we?  But there is good news.

ON WHOM DOES JONAH SHOW COMPASSION

 In verse 10 we hear finally that Jonah shows compassion!  And on whom do we see Jonah show compassion?  Perhaps I should say “on what” because Jonah’s compassion is shown to a plant.

What provokes Jonah to such deep, rich, expressive compassion for this plant?  Jonah is moved to compassion for the plant sadly, not for the plants sake, but for his own sake.  The plant served his agenda, and the plants destruction is the destruction of Jonah’s comfort.

Sadly, the only compassion Jonah can muster up is selfish, self-serving compassion.  Jonah shows compassion to others should their judgment affect him. Although Jonah’s compassion seems to be directed toward the plant, ultimately his compassion is for himself.

Is this true with all compassion, that compassion is inherently self-serving? What ought to be the basis for Jonah’s compassion?  We see in God the true standard of compassion is sacrificial.  Compassion ought not to be self-serving but costly.  Compassion is to be rooted in love for the other.  We know from the Bible, love is not self-serving but sacrificial.  Compassion is the concern and pity for the sufferings of others.  God’s compassion is a loving, sacrificial concern for the suffering of others.  We see this is the life of Jesus.  He is saddened, angered, and sympathetic for the suffering of others. God doesn’t show compassion in a selfish way, but in a sacrificial way and so ought Jonah.

Who do you show compassion to?  What moves you to compassion?  Is your compassion more like Jonah’s?  Are you genuinely moved to sadness and compassion for another not because of the impact it has on you but because of the consequence it leaves with the one being pitied.  You know, if God were to replace the plant Jonah lost with another, I foresee Jonah’s compassion for the dead plant being eliminated.  If our compassion can be eliminated by replacement, it is a sure sign our compassion is not for the other but for ourselves.

I’ve heard of guilt being a strong motivation for people giving and helping the poor.  There is a sense in which we may feel privileged and so guilty for having it better than someone else.  So out of the guilt we feel we give.  This is a perfect example of selfish compassion.  Our giving and compassion should not be to alleviate our guilt, but out of a deep over-whelming flood of love for the other.  So it seems we continue to look more like the prophet we are disgusted with than the God we marvel at.  But there is good news.

JONAH’S DESIRE TO DIE

Jonah in verses 3; 8-9 is moved to such sorrow he longs to die.  He can no longer find the desire to live.  He wishes to die.  What is it that moves Jonah to plead and pray to God to take his life?  Jonah has been living under the ethic, “your life for mine.”  Jonah has in every case been self-serving.  Therefore, Jonah sees others prosperity as his loss.  Everyone is competition to him.  Competition that he must beat.  And if the competition is blessed than indicates to him he is losing.  Jonah cannot escape this mentality.

This mentality is the source of envy and greed. When Jonah saw Nineveh succeed and do well with God, this meant his team had to be losing.  And if that’s going to be the case, Jonah wants to take his ball and go home.  Notice the words, “better for me to die than live.” In others words, LORD if your plan is to use me to benefit others then I rather just die now.  We’ve see prophets of God ask for God to take their lives before, but never in the wake of success. Moses and Elijah ask the same thing, but it is in the wake of the audience they are sent to being unrepentance and rebellious to God.  They see no hope and want to throw in the towel.  Conversely, Jonah is being used of God and because it is the gain of others he no longer wants to live.  The only sacrifice and death Jonah is interested in is that which would be advantageous for him.

Can you relate to Jonah here?  Do you struggle with greed, envy, resulting in constant battle of competition?  Someone else getting the promotion means you didn’t get promoted.  Someone else getting to be captain on the team means you don’t get to be captain.  Someone else be appointed first chair in the orchestra means you get second.  Your wife getting to sleep in means you have to get up early to tend to the kids?  I could go on which examples we all wrestle with.  We don’t rejoice when someone is ahead of us in traffic.  We smile when we lead the highway.  I regular point out the behavior in people to Ashley-Nicole (my wife) regularly when driving that if someone sees someone passing them, their instinct is to speed up from the speed they were previously comfortable going. Why?  Because that car passing them appears to them as their loss.

I remember during the previous presidential campaign an event that will stick with me forever.  I was benching at the YMCA and I overheard two grown men discussing their pick in the presidential race between Romney and President Obama.  The news on the TVs in the weight room were discussing Romney’s income and assets.  One man said to the other, “man I will never vote for Romney because is so filthy rich.” The other responded, “I know right?!”  I was genuinely shocked by this. The basis for two grown men’s decision for who should lead the USA was not policy, character, principle, or beliefs.  The driving engine behind both of these men’s choices was greed and envy.  They saw Romney’s success as their loss.  His riches as their defeat.  And they wanted to “stick it to him.”  That’ll make it even, and we’ll get back at you rich man!  The point of this is not who we should vote for.  The point is that we think in these terms just like Jonah sadly.  We can all relate to one, many, or all of these examples.  But there is good news!

While Jonah’s ethic has been, “your life for mine” God’s ethic revealed in Jesus Christ is “my life for yours.”  Jesus Christ as the King over all did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.  His life for ours.  He gave His life that we may have life.  He didn’t see others as competition but as opportunities to be a blessing.  He saw someone succeed and he rejoiced.  He gave His life that there may be gain for us.

This kind of dieing is compelling is it not?  This kind of ethic is superior is it not?  Jonah chose death if it meant relief from defeat.  Jesus Christ saw death as a means to bless others.  The apostle Paul states this truth in 2 Corinthians 4:11-12:

“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

Friends we have great gain in the death of Jesus Christ.  And we who join Him in His death get to experience the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My life verse is found in Philippians 1:21:

“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Do we believe this saints?  If we treasure the death of Christ let us also follow in His footsteps.  Let us not see the gift of grace and God’s compassion to be something to be selfishly clung to for our gain, but as a wonderful, boundless gift that is meant to be shared with all those around us.  Let us not see people as competition but as opportunities to die that there may be gain or life in them.  And in doing so, we will experience the power of the resurrection.  We will learn to it is not death to die.  It is gain!  IT IS GAIN TO DIE BELOVED!  Our loss is not our defeat!  Our dieing is not death!  Rather, we find our victory in the death of Christ and we join Him in it.  And in dieing with Him, we will also be raised up with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places!

“Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured.  For we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.  Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” –Hebrews 13:13-16

Blessings!

Jonah: God’s Sovereign, Unfailing Love (Part 3)

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Salvation in the Strangest of Places

Have you ever not articulated the gospel because you determined the person wouldn’t receive it?  My guess is that everyone could say yes to that.  Just this past week, I was talking with someone and I had gotten so caught up in all the damage sin had inflicted in this person’s life, and so discouraged, that I lost sight of the gospel.  I am ashamed to confess that I was more aware of sin than I was of grace.  In fact, I had, in the moment, completely lost sight of the hope of salvation.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” –Romans 1:16

If we do not guard the gospel in our hearts that will inevitably happen.  We will lose sight of the God who saves and more aware of the hopelessness of life.  In Jonah chapter 3 we find salvation in the most unexpected place.  The messenger has been largely reluctant.  The method quite meek.  And the audience by all appearances hostile. But as we learned in the last chapter, “salvation belongs to the LORD.”

The Messenger

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” –Jonah 3:1-2

This is now the second time God has directly spoken to Jonah concerning the task of going to Nineveh to “call out” against this city that is perceived by God to be “great.”  It is the second time because Jonah ran from this calling the first time as seen in Jonah 1:1-3.  Jonah would have rather “flee from the presence of the LORD” than to have done this.  But God had left Jonah no other real option.  Needless to say, Jonah is no George Whitefield here.  He is a reluctant preacher.

The Audience

“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.  Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city, three days’ journey in breadth.  Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey.  And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” -Jonah 3:3-4

The audience that Jonah is called to preach too is a superior adversary to this one man army.  Nineveh was a ruthless, violent, God mocking people.  They not only didn’t fear the Israelites or their God.  They had been largely victorious over them.  There would be no reason for anyone to think that Nineveh would concern themselves with Jonah or his modest message of coming judgement from the Jewish God.

The Method

The method that the LORD had given Jonah was quite meek and modest.  He simply instructed Jonah to “call out” to Nineveh.  And Jonah went and “called out” the message that God gave him.  Eight simple words.  Jonah was not given a well-crafted message.  Nor was Jonah given a slick and appealing method.  He was simply instructed to warn Nineveh of the wrath to come.  Jonah wasn’t even given a neat platform to give his message.  He solely went “into the city” and preached.  Jonah went into the streets of the city and preached.

This method by every modern convention was foolish.  Not to mention the message.  Today, we are told we that if we want to win people to Christ we need a pronounced facility, great music, excellent programs, charming speaker with vision, and all this wrapped in a largely entertaining service. Compare that with a foreigner who has recently been vomited out of a fish calling out in the street of his enemies that in 40 days your city is going to be destroyed.

 The Response

“And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” -Jonah 3:5

WHAT?!?!??!!  I can’t tell you how this amazes me every time I read it.  Jonah “calls out” in the street and the whole city believes God!  We later learn in Jonah that this city is made up of “more than 120,000 persons” and “from the greatest” of that 120,000 to the “least of them” they believed God’s word and repented.  Talk about revival!  Talk about a miracle! This is to remind us that “salvation belongs to the LORD!”  We aren’t to marvel at the: messenger, method, or even the audience here.  We are to marvel at the LORD here to whom salvation belongs and from whom salvation is granted!

“The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’” –Jonah 3:6-9

Notice with me how the writer attempts to shock us in several ways! Not only does the whole city believe in the message and repent from Jonah’s preaching.  By all appearances it seems that many if not most of the people repent before Jonah even gets to them.  Remember in verse 3 we are told that Nineveh’s breadth is a 3 days’ journey.  And in verse 4 we are told that Jonah goes one days’ journey.  Furthermore, the language in verse 6 seem to imply that it wasn’t Jonah that came to the King of Nineveh but rather “the word reached” him.  The language here gives the impression that the king is overhearing this message from others.  And from the distance Jonah had traveled it seems this was the case with most the city that they had already believed and repented before Jonah had gotten to them.

Second, notice the level of seriousness and soberness the king, nobles, and people take this warning of judgement from God.  In verse 6-8 we told that everyone including their animals fast from both food and water!  And as if that weren’t enough, they are all, including their animals, to “cover themselves in sackcloth” and call out “mightily” to God.  I have no doubts after the animals had been fasting from food and water they would have been a lot of crying out from them.  And so, the whole city, all 120,000 plus and animals didn’t eat or drink and pleaded with God to have mercy on them.

Now we aren’t told how long the fast was to be, but the text seems to imply 40 days.  I gather this from the purpose of the fast.  The king declares, “Who knows?”  In other words, Jonah’s message didn’t contain any explicit promise or instruction on how to respond.  It merely stated what God was intending to do in 40 days. The king and the people hear this and believe God and His word and repent.  But they do not know whether God will “turn and relent” from His “fierce anger” against them.  It is not recorded that Jonah tells the people that God has done so in light of their belief and repentance.  In fact, Jonah 4:5 implies not even Jonah knew for sure what was to become of this great city.  Therefore, the only way Nineveh could have known that God had turned and relented would have been when the 40 days had passed.  And I observe it to be strange should the Ninevites to have fasted and end their fast before knowing if God had turned and relented from his intense wrath against Nineveh.

Lastly, consider how the repentance was not merely a humbleness of posture but a turning aware from their actual wickedness.  The king had proclaimed for everyone to turn away from their “evil (raah) way” and “from the violence that is in his hands.”  This is what it means to repent.  To change your mind and therefore your behavior.  The Ninevites had wicked anger and violence but the LORD had righteous “anger” against them and therefore was going to bring “disaster (raah)” on them.  This word “raah” has a large semantic range and the writer plays with that range in this book.  In other words, the king hoped that if they turned from “raah” against their neighbor that God would also turn from “raah” against Nineveh.

In summary, the response of the Ninevites is astounding.  These people humble themselves before God and literally give up everything from their comfortable clothes to their food and drink for an impossible period of time and put all their hope on the mercy of God.  Though, they have no promise to even hold on to, they assume that if God had sent a messenger laced in that message was a implication to turn and be saved.  And so they do and wait.

The Salvation

“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” –Jonah 3:10

God didn’t have to you know?  God could have punished Nineveh.  The word “overthrown” that is used in Jonah’s message to speak of the judgement God was to do to Nineveh is the same word used to describe what God had done to Sodom and Gomorrah.  And the King of Nineveh was right to say, “Who knows?”  This is the same phrase King David used in 2 Samuel 12:22 when he fasted in hopes that God would relent of the punishment he was told to come to pass.  And that punishment did come to pass despite all of David’s repenting, praying, and waiting.  Nineveh deserved to be overthrown. But God relented from the disaster he said he would do.

You know, just as Nineveh deserved the “fierce anger” of God so do you and I.  That’s what everyone deserves.  We have received the same warning as Nineveh has received from a much greater prophet from Galilee and his name is Jesus.  Here’s what He said:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” –John 3:16-18

Have you believed in Jesus?  Have you turned from your evil way?  Have you repented in hopes that God will show mercy?  All those who have not are even now “condemned.”  If Nineveh would repent from a mere eight words from a foreign enemy because they were the words of God, how much more so should we? Let us repent!  Let us even now, turn from our evil ways and put our hope in the mercy of God.  So long as the day of judgement is suspended let us continue to believe and continue to turn away from our evil deeds.  For it is those who persevere to the end who are saved!

The Application

In Jonah 3 we see salvation come to a place we never expected it.  More than that, we see salvation come to a place we would never expect, through a person and method that we would never expected.  And in the process we are once again reminded that “salvation belongs to the LORD!”  Salvation does not belong to the LORD plus strategy, or style, or impression, or etc.  Salvation comes to whom God chooses to show mercy (Romans 9:18).  And isn’t up to us to discern or decide who receives that mercy.  That responsibility hasn’t been entrusted to us.  But what has been entrusted to us is the message of the gospel.  And it is the message that we are to indiscriminately give.

Can I ask you, “Do you put your hope in word of God plus something for its effectiveness?”  What do you believe gets results? The calling that Jonah received from the LORD isn’t all that different from what we the church have received from Jesus our LORD in Matthew 28:18-20:

“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.’”

And by all impressions it seems that the behavior of the church in Acts seems to have interpreted that command to means something very similar to what Jonah did.  To go every which way and proclaim everywhere the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many today knock street preaching.  But I question their Biblical basis for their criticism.  For sure, there are wrong ways to do street preaching.  But the wrong ways of doing do not discredit the general practice of it.  And again, if our only confidence is the word of God then so long as we proclaim that Word, we ought to have confidence enough to do what Jonah reluctantly did.  And more so, because, we are given the promise from Jesus that He will be “with you always.”  The Sovereign King of the universe who has emphatically proclaimed; that He will build His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her has, has promised to be with us in this venture.

But perhaps you think that you need to heed your civil authorities and cultural norms.  And so we need to get permission to do such.  Let us remember how Jesus prefaced this commission to the church.  He states, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  In other words, the one who has the authority has already granted you permission to do such.  In fact, he hasn’t merely given us permission but a command.  And so if the church neglects this endeavor she is disobeying her authority.

Saints, in light of God’s sovereign, unfailing love, let us go and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ!  That Jesus, Son of God, who is fully man and fully God and who has never sinned, died for sins in accordance to the Scripture.  And that He was buried and rose again in accordance with the Scriptures!  And this same Jesus after 40 days ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father and given all authority in heaven and on the earth.  Even now, He is reigning and putting all His enemies under His feet.  And the last enemy to be destroyed is death, which He will destroy at His coming.  When He will separate us from the unbeliever and unrepentant and take us to be with Him forever!

Blessings!

Jonah: God’s Sovereign, Unfailing Love (PART 2)

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Empty Hopes and a Sovereign Savior 

Diagnosing the Problem 

I can’t discern which comes first, discontentment or idolatry. It seems like the two feed upon one another. When I am discontent I am so tempted and prone to turn to things that are not God for comfort, encouragement, hope to save me from pain, melancholy, and despair. Simply put, I turn to created things to give me life. And Yet I also know the product from me turning to created things to give me what they were never intended to give me is discontentment, pain, melancholy, and despair. These are the confessions of a Christian who finds himself fundamentally guilty of the same sins as the polytheist.

Martin Luther taught that the reason the first commandment was against idolatry was because it was impossible to break the other nine without first committing idolatry. The monk turned protestant was certainly on to something. And I agree with him. John Calvin, a contemporary to Luther, stated, “The human heart is a factory of idols.”

So what is idolatry? Whenever anything or anyone captures our heart, mind, and/or affections more than God we are guilty of idolatry. And Hopelessness is a sure sign symptom that someone has a bad-case of idolatry. The more devoted the worshipper the harder the crash or despair.

The danger is idolatry is that we rarely make idols out of straight up evil things. In fact our idols never are. Idolatry fundamentally takes the good things God made and perverts and twist them.

“To the pure all things are pure. But to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” (Titus 1:15 ESV)

Did you see the connection between unbelief and defiling? When we fail to believe in God, we defile or profane good things. Idolatry seeks to turn a created thing into a god. It pursues a created thing to yield what only God can give. To profane something is to treat something with irreverence or disrespect. And when we put the responsibility of our happiness on a cheeseburger we are doing just that. But why do we do this? Why do we put our hope, happiness, comfort, encouragement, joy, and ultimately our lives in the hands of created things?

Wrong Thinking Leads to Wrong Worship

Today we live in a functionally polytheistic culture (poly- many; theo- god). Allow me to explain. To argue this, I must begin with the truth and then we can identify the perversion of it known as Polytheism.

First, The Christian Worldview believes that there is only One God who exist eternally in three distinct but not separate persons (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit). Second, This God created everything. He made the heavens and the earth. He made that which is seen and unseen. He made angels and men. He made plants and animals. He made the sea and dry land. There is nothing that was made that He did not make. Third, God not only made everything but also sustains everything. In other words, everything is dependent upon Him. Fourth, God is separate and distinct from that which is created. Though everything points to His glory and is a manifestation of His attributes, it must also be remembered that God is wholly other than that which is created. Fifth, therefore everything receives its: value, purpose, function, ability (power), and results from God and apart from God; everything and everyone have none of these attributes intrinsically.

Polytheism fundamentally does not believe in two forms of existence. It denies there is one God who is supreme over everything and everyone. Instead all things are on the same plane. Some things will have more value, power, or influence. But there is no supreme wholly other source from which everything comes. Rather Polytheism believes that persons and things in and of itself possess their own intrinsic value, power, function, etc. Therefore, polytheist (those who believe in polytheism) will give themselves to money, sex, relationships, causes, work, and etc. This is because polytheist believe there is something to be gained from created things in and of themselves. They believe those created things are a source of themselves.

When we fail to recognize that all created things are mere windows for us to look through in order that we may behold the Glory of God we are thinking and acting like a polytheist. When we fail to recognize that no created thing is meant to be a path to itself but rather a path that leads us to the true end; worship of the Supreme Sovereign Creator. Then we are guilty of polytheism. When we fight wars over whose god is more important or more powerful to bring unity, peace, happiness, and life to all things. We are playing the polytheist. And when we do this, we fail to see that no god or combinations of gods (a created thing with limitations) is big enough to do this. Polytheist are bound for disappointment. Because Polytheist give themselves to so many things and none of those things can deliver.

Sadly, because there are endless possible gods in a polytheist world, they never run out of possible new options to chase after. “Perhaps,” the polytheist thinks, “that I had the wrong combination of gods. I need to exchange the god of career for a god of family. And maybe I should put a little more effort into the god of fitness and a little less worship into the god of chocolate.”

Jonah 2:8 (ESV) says, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.”

Created things have limitations. And so they can only offer you what God has assigned or ordained for them to offer you. No god will be able to give you “steadfast love.” And so, everyone who chooses the polytheistic path also chooses to turn away from the only One who can give “steadfast love.” This is why God’s call to repentance is a call of love. He is calling us away from destruction and to life everlasting.

Salvation Belongs to the LORD!

There is only one God. And that God in and of Himself is intrinsically: all-powerful; all-knowing, all-present; infinite in beauty; and is the designer; creator; and sustainer of all things. This God is infinite in love. He is the source of all good things! Therefore this God is worthy of ALL our hope, faith, love, and devotion. In fact, God rightfully demands it from us. However, in this case, its good news that He calls us to this kind of devotion. Jonah 2:9 explains why.

“But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

We learned in the last post that Jonah foolishly tried to run from God who made the heavens and the earth; the sea and dry land. But God was prepared to move heaven and earth to make sure nothing stood between Him and Jonah. Not even Jonah’s rebellious heart could come between God and Jonah. God humbled and broke Jonah and brought him to nothing so that Jonah would recognize his “vain” hope was no different than that of the “vain idols” of the sailors. And after God had humbled Jonah and brought Him to nothing then God showed Jonah that He alone gives life and He alone saves. Here’s how Jonah 2:6 says it,

“I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet You brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”

God hurled a great wind into the sea. Then God hurled Jonah into the deeps of the sea. And when Jonah had finally hit rock bottom (pun intended) God called a great fish to do His bidding and save Jonah. Jonah’s participation in his deliverance was NOTHING. Even Jonah’s prayer is a prayer of “thanksgiving” “from the belly of the fish” after he had been saved. And all of this was to demonstrate to Jonah and to us today that “salvation belongs to the LORD!” And to demonstrate to us that “those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.”

God saved Jonah by hurling all of Jonah’s idols into the sea. And when Jonah found there was nothing left to rest his foot upon, he found himself in the sea sinking down…down…down. And it was there that Jonah found his feet rest upon the sure foundation and rock the LORD. Perhaps if Jonah knew the hymn he would have sang, “On Christ the Solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground in sinking sand.”

God saves us the same way from our idols today. God turns us over to our idols, allows them to crush us, disappoint us, disillusion us, afflict us, and abandon us. And when we have found we have nowhere else to turn. We see Christ as that sure rock and foundation. We find Him as the source of ALL life.

Simon Peter answered Him (Jesus), “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 ESV)

How foolish it would have been for Jonah after being saved to worship the great fish rather than the God who sent it. That would be polytheism. Indeed, this is the very god the Ninevites worshipped. Dagon, the god of the fish. But Jonah, by God’s grace, believed in the One to whom the great fish pointed to. Let us not be people so foolish and wicked to run from the “steadfast love” of the LORD. Let us run from all our “vain idols” and into the sovereign unfailing love of God our Savior!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

–Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:3 ESV)

Jonah: God’s Sovereign, Unfailing Love (PART 1)

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Part 1: Running from the Presence of God

     When I was in High School I went through a stage of rebellion a couple of years after being a Christian. I was still actively reading my Bible daily. I was still going to church on my own accord (though my parents rightfully didn’t give me the choice). I was still seeking opportunities to speak to others about Christ and his gospel. However, there was one area that particularly stands out to me that saddens me. One area I had fought hard to justify. One area I knew I was running from God.

What was it you ask?

Music

Music wasn’t the problem. I am not even drawing a line concerning so-called “Christian” and “secular” music. What made the music particularly wrong to listen to was that the artist sung about loving the things that God hates. The artist mocked, ridiculed, and belittled the things that God honored and valued. And I was choosing to entertain myself with it. Each time I would try to block out what the vocalist was singing about so that I could enjoy the catchy and engaging tune. But I knew I was wrong in listening to it. The Holy Spirit reminded me of it regularly. But I fought and labored to convince myself that it wasn’t wrong. However, the LORD chastises the ones He loves. And He would not let me remain in my rebellion even in the smallest areas of my life like what song I listened to on the way to work.

Can you relate? No I don’t mean particularly concerning music. I’m referring to the “running from God” part. Have you ever run from God? Are you running from God right now? In some ways it is a silly question right? Of course we can’t run from God. The psalmist says,

Where shall I go from your Spirit?     Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there!     If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning     and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me,     and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,     and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you;     the night is bright as the day,     for darkness is as light with you.

 You get the idea right? There is absolutely nowhere you could go to escape God’s presence. And Yet we have this statement in Jonah 1:3 and 1:10:

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

In what sense could Jonah, a prophet from Galilee, be “fleeing from the presence of the LORD?” Since God is present in all places and at all times, in what way is it possible for any of us to flee from God’s presence.

Well in the context, God had commanded Jonah to do one thing and he did precisely the opposite. So we see the writer equating obeying God to enjoying the presence of God and disobeying God is equating with running from God’s presence. Could it be that you are running from the very presence of the thing you claim is your ultimate joy and hope in life? When we disobey God, we are doing that very thing.

What could God possibly ask Jonah to do that would drive a prophet to such crystal clear rebellion? God sent him to preach behind enemy lines. Not just any enemies’ line. Assyria and more specifically that “great city Nineveh.” These were the very people who had oppressed Jonah and his people. Jonah loved and valued his country, his people, his comforts, more than he did the command of God and certainly more than he did some “wicked,” “violent,” pagans.

     You see Jonah was given a unique calling to speak the truth in a foreign hostile land but all of us have been called to speak the truth to our neighbors. Allow me to ask the question again, “Have you been running from the presence of God?” We see that Jonah refuses to go and speak the message God has entrusted him with because he is indifferent to Nineveh’s impending judgment from God. Jonah’s silence and separation were his way running from God’s presence.

     Sadly, Jonah’s behavior is ironically similar to what many Christians advocate today to be commendable.  That may sound shocking as first glance. But I think for far too long, many Christians have been duped or deceived into thinking the most loving thing we can do is “be nice” to our neighbor and for the most part “mind our own business” in hopes that someday they may interrogate us with how they can be saved. After all they say, “Jesus says, ‘judge not that you be not judged.’” This is true, and it behooves us to understand what Jesus meant there being that that same Jesus in the same text tells his disciples, “Do not give to dogs what is holy…” or again later in that same sermon and chapter even, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” In fact, Jesus in that same book gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven to the church. In order that, they may bind and loosen on earth what is in heaven.

Even still many Christians have become far more concerned with offending their neighbor than they have been with speaking the truth in obedience to the command of God our Savior. And this is a great travesty. It is not Christian’s “niceness” that marks us apart. It is the message that marks us apart. And if we fail to bring attention to that main thing that separates us, then we will fail entirely. I have often heard that the reason they don’t share the gospel is because they think they will not receive the message yet. And they would hate for them to reject the message. But they fail to realize that if that is true then the rejection has already taken place in their hearts. Indeed, we already know this is the case with every man. It is not man’s heart that readies the effectiveness of the Word. But rather, God’s Word that readies the man’s heart. And if we withhold the Word, we withhold from our lost neighbor grace (On a side note, this is particularly instructive for parents parenting teenagers).

Jonah’s way of hating and judging the Ninevites was to remain silent. In fact, that was the most unloving thing Jonah could do. The principle remains true today saints. One of the ways we judge and hate people is by not warning them of the wrath to come. The reason why our silence in the face of such wickedness is really quite clear. Sin is opposed to God and so sin is destructive. And our silence in the face of such things displays our indifference. If a doctor were to withhold the sad information of cancer from a patient in hopes of not “ruining their day” or “their relationship” we would consider that doctor to be a monster. Saints, how can we remain silent in the face of such a horror as sin and their impending judgment of the eternal conscious suffering of the wrath of God? We must NOT be silent. Patient in our interactions? YES. Loving? YES. Gracious? YES. Kind? YES. But not silent.

Jonah’s silence was not just in the face of one person though. Jonah was silent in the face of a whole city and nation’s wickedness. A wickedness that had ascended to the heavens. A wickedness that had arisen to the throne room of God. This is the very reason God sent Jonah in the first place. Jonah 1:2 says, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” This reminds us that God is not only concerned about Israel. God is concerned about the nations. It is the nations which are to be His Son’s inheritance. And it is the nations which His Son shall receive. The teaching of Nineveh’s wickedness coming before God is not unique to Nineveh. God rewards all nations that would seek to honor and obey Him. And He judges all nations that rebel against His moral law. Proverbs 14:34 makes this clear, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Notice how indiscriminate the statement is, “a nation” and “any people.” Sweden, Brazil, Iran, America, Russia and China all fall under that category. And so it true today that if our nation pursues and lives out righteousness then God will exalt us nationally. But should we continue in unrepentant sin and wickedness, then it will be a reproach to us. We will be disgraced by God and an object of scorn and contempt. Therefore, our message must go not only to the individual but also to the nation. For the message pertains to both. And Christ Jesus has purchased both. And He shall inherit both.

Jonah was more concerned with his safety, comfort, and self than he was concerned with the command of God. Friend, can I ask you, “are you prophetically speaking the truth in love and warning others that God will judge, or are you more concerned about yourself and your comfort?” This is the question that has been haunting me this week. I read about Jonah and became disgusted with his lack of character and then Holy Spirit held the mirror of God’s Word in my face and I began to mourn over my own sin and rebellion. Scholar and Pastor James R. White points out a wonderful nugget of truth concerning this.   He comments on the fact that if we are Christ’s then we are hidden with Him in God and are safe. Our eternity is secure. So then, what power over my life does the world have over us? White’s states only what power we render to it. For I can only give the world power over my life in as much as I love the things in the world. If we love our liberties or tax breaks or reputation or home or car more than God then we will inevitably surrender our allegiance to the world over God.

     And so we see this is really an issue of loyalties. Jonah; when caught in a massive storm at sea that the LORD God had sent, claimed: “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land.” But his life was saying otherwise. Jonah recognizes there is no escape from God and instructs the mariners to hurl him into the sea the same way God hurled the great wind upon the sea. I wonder where our loyalties lie in our life. Where do yours lie? Do you confess Jesus with your mouth while your heart is far from Him?

What is most staggering to me though in this story is at what lengths God pursues Jonah. He won’t let him go. He hounds Jonah until he returns to Him. Proverbs 3:11-12 state:

11 My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Jonah is running as far as humanly possible from God and yet He as a loving Father still loves Jonah and so disciplines him. We are not to see the behavior of God in this story as punitive because of Jonah’s despicable behavior. We are to see the LORD’s behavior such as a loving father who takes his son into a room for instruction and discipline because he loves his son too much to let him go wild. Let’s be clear, Jonah has done NOTHING to earn this kind of love. His behavior has shamed God and insulted Him. Yet the steadfast love of the LORD endures forever. God’s Sovereign, Unfailing Love will not let Jonah go his way. This love that God has for His people is the same today. If you are like me, then you are feeling like your character more resembles that of Jonah than it does the sailors. But the good news is, God shows both of them grace! God’s love never gives up on us. Do you believe that friend? God will never leave you nor forsake you. God will pursue you and hound you and move the seas and the winds to bring you into His presence. God will do whatever it takes to make you more like His Son Jesus Christ.

     That’s because Jesus Christ is the final prophet who also came from Galilee. He left His home in heaven and He did obey His Father’s orders to go into enemy territories and preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And His the response He received was not favorable in the least. No. In fact, He was despised and rejected by man. He was acquainted with sorrows. The punishment that brought us peace fell upon Him. That’s because the Father called Him not only to preach but to die in our place. He took all of our running from God and bore it on His shoulders while the Father punished those sins in Christ.

He did it, so that we could be forgiven. He did it, so that we could have life. He did it, so that we could enjoy the presence of the LORD. And He did it, so that we would call others to repentance and into the presence of the marvelous Light of the World, Jesus Christ!

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” –Ps. 36:9

Blessings!

A Conversation on: How Should We Live in Light of the SCOTUS Ruling on Marriage? (PART 2)

A couple of week ago we discussed the ruling by SCOTUS concerning marriage and how we ought to think about this issue.  In part 2 of this segment we discuss more practical concerns on how one ought to live in light of this ruling.  How does this affect our persona, family, work, and church life?  This is the focus of this conversation.  May this round table discussion serve you well.

Blessings!

What Is the Relationship and Role of the Old Testament Law in the Life of A New Covenant Christian?

Well the Black Sheep Fellowship was at it again friends.  The church I pastor at hosted another Colloquium only this time to discuss the role and relationship of the OT Law on the NT believer.

I presented Theonomic position (though I myself am not quite convinced of this perspective) and my dear friend Ryan Franchuk presented the New Covenant perspective.  We had someone present the Traditional Reformed perspective however, he was not given time to prepare and so he requested for it not to be recorded.  All in all the discussion and fellowship was rich, intense, edifying, and even fun.  I hope you enjoy these videos as much as we enjoyed the event.

The Theonomic Perspective

The New Covenant Perspective

Blessings!