Monday, January 21, 2008

Truth & life conference, sessions 4-5

Here's a recap of the final two main sessions of the 2008 Truth & Life Conference at The Master's College:

Session 4
Speaker: James MacDonald
Topic: The Compassionate Nature of Discipleship
Text: Hebrews 12:5-17
If I am Christ's disciple, then God loves me and is passionately committed to changing me into the image of Jesus Christ. This training sometimes takes the form of discipline, which is "for our good, so that we may share in His holiness." In other words, the goal of discipline is holiness (separateness, pure joy in Christ). But unfortunately, we don't get the benefit of discipline if we're not "trained by it" (v. 11). To those who continually reject - rather than embrace - the loving discipline of God, there is a dangerous downward spiral:
1. The Lord's discipline can lead to discouragement (vv. 12-13). We can become sorry for ourselves and refuse to be sanctified by denying our sin, pointing the finger at someone else's "bigger sin," or blame-shifting our shortcomings on others.
2. Discouragement leads to dislocation (vv. 13b-14). To those who refuse to listen, God could intensify the discipline by putting you out of joint, which is a very painful process! This is serious stuff, because without sanctification, no one will enter heaven. Holiness is the evidence of our faith, and the increasing preoccupation of every genuine disciple.
3. Dislocation leads to bitterness (v. 15). We can either lack joy, or find God's grace to take us through the trial. Rather than going it alone and becoming bitter, we should pray, surround ourselves with caring Christian friends, meditate on God's Word and journal our thoughts and lessons God is teaching us. Cf. Deut. 29:18-19. The root of bitterness starts in secret, but gradually defiles us and destroys many churches.
4. Bitterness leads to profane living (v. 16). The things of God didn't mean anything to Esau's life. Immorality doesn't happen in ten minutes. It is a set of small choices and values that slowly turn us away from God.
5. Profane living leads to disqualification (v. 17). In the end, if we continue to reject God's discipline, we will be disqualified. Cf. Romans 1:28; 1 Cor. 9:27. The proof of our profession is our endurance.
Personal Reflection:
This was a powerful reminder that the purpose of God's discipline is my holiness. I pray that I will be a quick learner under discipline and avoid this frightening downward spiral toward disqualification. I want to be trained by every trial, so that I can become more and more like Jesus Christ.

Session 5
Speaker: David Wells
Topic: The Character of Authentic Discipleship
Text: Titus 2:11-14
Our society treats moral norms merely as "suggestions." But how do we determine what is right and pleasing to God? We will first look at our postmodern culture for a few minutes, and then consider God's standard for holy living.

1. There are four signposts that we're moving out of a moral world. We've moved...

a. From thinking about virtues to thinking about values. People now does what's "right for them" rather than what is morally good and based on the unchangeable character of God.
b. From thinking about character to thinking about personality. Honor, duty, and ethics have been replaced by likability and how you appear.
c. From thinking about nature to thinking about self. While we used to focus on what we had in common as human beings, we are now preoccupied with what makes us unique: gifts, gender, insights, feelings, etc. that we each have in a unique package.
d. From thinking about guilt to thinking about shame. The vertical dimension of accountability to God no longer exists. Now, people only think of the horizontal dimension of what other people will think of them. Ultimate "liberation" is to become completely shameless.
Why, then should we do what is right?
a. Christ's first appearance was an appearance in grace (Titus 2:11). His grace teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and live righteously. We have lost an appreciation for God's grace.
b. Christ's second appearance will be an appearance in glory (2:13). At the incarnation, He temporarily concealed His divine brilliance into a flickering lantern. But He will come again in power, glory, and truth, and He desires us to shine in His glory. Knowing that God is the "Great Rememberer" of all our deeds (Matt. 25:31-46) gives meaning and dignity to all that we do.
Personal Reflection:
I appreciated how Wells connected discipleship and righteous living to the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. While his main point was great, the message was confusing at times, and seemed too dry and academic for a college Bible conference setting. It felt rather anti-climactic after the dynamic morning session by James MacDonald. Nevertheless, I always enjoy Wells' focus upon Jesus Christ as the remedy to our cultural disintigration, and do hope that students will interact with some of his books, which are probably his forte and his greatest contribution to today's church. I read No Place for Truth several years ago, and just recently ordered Above All Earthly Pow'rs, which I am looking forward to reading sometime this year.

Natalie and I were very blessed and refreshed by the entire conference. We were fed spiritually and got to catch up with many old friends. The college did a great job putting the whole event together. It reminded us once again how much we appreciate The Master's College, and how thankful we are to be alumni!

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