Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s response to Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at SBC annual meeting this week,
“I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”
I agree with him!
It’s one of those moments we wish we could have seen firsthand. It took place in the square before the Water Gate. At daybreak, Ezra brought out the law. He unrolled the scroll and began reading. He kept on until noon, and all the while the great crowd gave their rapt attention. The law was read, interpreted, and studied. Nehemiah 8, which records this event, also tells us that this Bible study session resulted in worship. The people were humbled, and their faces looked to the ground. They bowed before God as He revealed Himself in His holy Word.
This event from the Old Testament is a precedent-setting moment. God’s people gather, they hear God’s Word read, they hear God’s Word interpreted and taught, and they worship. This is how it’s supposed to be. As the decades pass and generations come and go, however, God’s Word sadly recedes from the center of His people’s lives and from prominence in His congregation. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a famine of the Word of God. As we look through the pages of the Bible and through church history, we find such times of famine. One of the severest of these times of famine came on the eve of the Reformation.
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From time to time over the centuries some Christians have taught, sometimes with tragic consequences, that a truly spiritual person never gets discouraged. To be cast down is, by definition, to be ‘unspiritual.’ Unless we are well-grounded in Scripture, it is very easy for us to be overwhelmed, confused, and even more discouraged by such teaching.
This teaching certainly seems logical: if the gospel saves us, it must save us from discouragement! It also appears to be wonderfully spiritual. After all, are we not ‘more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37)?
But this is not biblical logic, nor is it true spirituality. The gospel saves us from death, not by removing death, but by helping us to face it in the power of Christ’s victory and thus to overcome it. So, too, with sin. And similarly with discouragement. Faith in Christ does not remove all of the causes of discouragement; rather, it enables us to overcome them. We may experience discouragement; but we will not be defeated by it.
What does the church most need today? In answering this important but rather general question, Psalm 81 is uniquely important and helpful. This psalm obviously contains beautiful promises and clear directions to help the people of God. But careful study of this psalm will deepen our appreciation of it, increase its value for us, and show us how distinctive it is for helping the church.
As we study psalms, we soon learn that the central verse of a psalm is often significant as a key to its interpretation. The central line of Psalm 81 is the heart of that psalm, as the plaintive cry of God is heard: “O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” (v. 8b). The center of Psalm 81—indeed the whole psalm—is a reflection on the Shema.
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What kind of God does the prophet proclaim in Isaiah 42:18– 43:21? What must God be like if He promises to restore and renew despite the abject failure of His people?
What kind of God is our covenant Lord? The answer is that He is like no other!
I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isa. 43:11)
In a series of statements that open chapter 43, a sixfold depiction of God’s glory emerges.