Dean’s Update

Summer camp at MMR is an opportunity for our School of Discipleship students to practice the leadership and discipleship skills they have learned throughout the year. The School of Discipleship students served in a variety of ministry areas and were a blessing to the ministry of MMR. In mid-August, we celebrated the completion of their year at a graduation ceremony where we rejoiced in many testimonies of all God had done in their lives.

In early September, we welcomed 28 first-year and 10 second-year students into the School of Discipleship. These young men and women have committed their year to deepening their walk with the Lord and learning more about Him. They have just finished the first phase of their training. As staff we are enjoying getting to know them all and watching them gain an understanding of how God desires to work in their lives. Please keep them in prayer–that they would have learner’s hearts and that God would be glorified throughout their lives.

Over the last several years, we have enjoyed the opportunity to revise some of the classes and projects used in the School of Discipleship. Our goal has been to help each student know God in a deeper way by studying the attributes of God and doing in-depth studies on the truth of God’s Word. They then have opportunity to apply those truths to their lives as they allow the Lord to do His work in their hearts.

Miracle Mountain Ranch’s School of Discipleship is a biblically-based, Christian discipleship and leadership program designed for high school graduates who are committed to developing Christ-like character and spiritual maturity through mentoring and godly disciplines, with the goal of becoming a person of influence for Jesus Christ.

Do you know a high school graduate who might benefit from this program? To request an information packet and to apply, fill out our Request Information form online or call our office at (814) 664-7673.

Bible Reading: Joseph’s Resurrection

Those of you who are following along with us on our Bible reading plan for the year will know that we are in the middle of Joseph’s story right now, Genesis 37-50. This morning we read Genesis 43-45, which continues the in the episode of Joseph’s reunion with his family after years of captivity, slavery, and leadership in Egypt.

After our time of Bible-reading this morning, I asked the students to imagine what this reunion would be like from the point of view of the brothers. So imagine: imagine that you, because of your wickedness, have betrayed your brother– betrayed him unto death. Imagine that years after committing this crime, you find yourself in great need, and so you go for help to the most powerful man in the world. Imagine that this man turns out to be your brother, come back from the dead. Imagine that, rather than pouring out wrath on you, he forgives you. Not only so, but he invites you to share in his wealth. Imagine that he redeems you and your family from poverty and famine and death, to share in his honor. What would that be like? What would it produce in you? How would such a thing affect the course of your life?

Amazingly, there is no need to imagine, is there? “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Bible-Reading Plan

With this year’s class graduating tomorrow and a new class commencing in a few weeks, we’ve been making some changes to the curriculum at the School of Discipleship. With every change and adjustment, we believe that rather than departing from the calling God has given us, we’re leaning into our charge– to make disciples of the Lord Jesus.

BibleOne addition to the program which we’re particularly excited about is a Bible-reading plan. This year, our students will read through the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms during the 8-month academic year. This averages out to about four chapters a day. Many of us on staff are planning to accompany the students in this reading plan, and we’d like you to join us as well. Family and friends of students, we encourage you to partner with your student in reading through the Bible from September to May. Alumni, you may also find benefit by reading through the Bible with us this year. Many of us find it difficult to stay the course in the Word of God, and reading with us and with our students may give you the encouragement and the accountability you need to stick it out.

So come join us! Click here for the file, print it out, fold it up and stick it in your Bible. We’d love to know how you’re benefiting from reading the Word of God with us in the next 8 months, so be sure to visit our Facebook page to let us know!

Solid Grace

One thing we want our students to come away from the School of Discipleship with is the solid conviction that Paul displays in Titus 2, that God’s grace is real. For Paul, the grace of God is a divine activity which has a real presence in our world. It can be seen and felt. It is causal– it has the power to produce an effect.

In the beginning of Titus 2, Paul urges Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). What follows is what is sometimes called the ‘household code–’ a set of instructions given to the various members of the family on how they are to treat each other. At the end of this household code, Paul says that bondservants should “in everything adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” On both sides of this very practical, very ethical instruction Paul appeals to sound doctrine, the doctrine of God our Savior. Somehow this is to be a ground and a motivation for these commands concerning older men and women, younger men and women, and slaves.

There is a way of life which is fits this doctrine, which flows from it. Paul, as he so often does, first mentions this central theme in the introduction of his letter: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which leads to godliness–” (Titus 1:1). So there this concept of fittingness, that the knowledge of the truth– the sound doctrine referred to later, the doctrine of God our Savior– is somehow part and parcel with an outflow of godliness in our own lives.

And what is the doctrine of God our Savior? Paul tells us in Titus 2:11. “For the grace of God has appeared–” God’s saving grace has appeared, has shone upon all people. The word used is one from which we get our word ‘epiphany–’ revelation, manifestation, appearing. Paul is talking about Jesus here. He is the Light which has shone upon the people in darkness, the communication of God’s divine fullness, the exact imprint of the Father’s nature. He is the one bringing salvation for all people, come to ransom sinners. It is this grace, this saving grace of God, the Son of God who has appeared, teaching us to say no to ungodliness and live an upright life while we wait for his return.

How does this happen? How does the appearing of Jesus teach us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and live this life soberly and uprightly? In Christ’s giving of himself. “Who gave himself for us” (2:14)– in fulfilling the old covenant law, Jesus is both the priest who offers up the sacrifice as well as the sacrifice being offered. As the sacrifice, he takes our sin away completely. As the priest who offers up the sacrifice, he continually intercedes for us. This is a real, dynamic grace which invades our lives and changes us from the inside. As we behold the One who appeared and will appear again, we will be changed into the same likeness “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And that is great grace.

Timothy’s Charge

Paul wrote 1 Timothy in order to encourage his young protégé in guarding good doctrine. In 1:3, he tell Timothy that he left him in Ephesus “so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” The aim of this charge, this charge to guard right doctrine, is love (1:5). Paul, as an older man coming to the end of his life and ministry, tells Timothy that he has entrusted him with this charge (1:18). This “charge” to guard and teach correct doctrine permeates the first chapter of 1 Timothy, and is the theme of the entire book.

Beginning in chapter 2, Paul tells Timothy “first of all, then…” (1 Timothy 2:1). Paul is about to tell Timothy what comes first in this charge to guard right doctrine. Of all the elements that we might think are important in guarding right doctrine, what does Paul commend? “First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” Paul begins with prayer. “If you want to get your doctrine right, Timothy, then pray. Intercede. Give thanks.”

This is a challenge to me. On any given day, I get asked about a dozen questions on some point of theology or on some verse of Scripture, and a good few of those turn into longer discussions. I want to be the kind of man, the kind of teacher, the kind of Christian who asks God to bless and guide me as I enter into these conversations.

Imagine with me what would happen if you and your conversation partner stopped to pray each time your talk turned to the Bible or theology. Wouldn’t you be less prone to argue? Wouldn’t you endeavor more closely to understand an opposing point of view? Wouldn’t you want to build your brother or sister up more than you want to be right?

I think the reason that Paul exhorts Timothy in this way is that prayer, unless it is offered insincerely, is a necessarily humbling task. When we pray, we admit that we don’t have what we need. When we pray, we admit that we aren’t the solution to all our problems. A person cannot rightly pray to God and remain proud. This humility, then, infects our theological discussion.

At the School of Discipleship, we take seriously our charge to guard right doctrine. By the mercy of God, our students will leave at the end of this summer equipped not only to defend their faith, but to model it with humility and grace.

On Our Knees

 

In Daniel chapter 9, Daniel prays for the people of Israel. It is a prayer of repentance, a prayer of confession, and a prayer for deliverance. This makes sense, given where Daniel is– exiled in Babylon, along with all of Judah. The nation of Israel has fallen far from where it was under David. No longer united as one nation, no longer in the land,  and no longer able to worship God in his temple, Israel has all but lost her identity as a people. And so of course Daniel confesses and repents, asks God to deliver.

There is, however, one problem. Daniel didn’t commit any of the sins he confesses. He was taken as a young man from his home, and he was a righteous man. How can Daniel repent of something that he personally did not do?

Daniel can pray this prayer of confession and repentance because he realizes that he is not just an individual, but a member of the community. True, it is individuals who sin, and “the soul who sins shall die,” (Ezekiel 18:20), but the Scripture teaches that we are responsible for one another, and that it is the community which is to hold sinners accountable. When sin breaks out in a nation, it is not only those who sin who are responsible, but all who allowed sin to continue unchecked.

It does no good for Christians in America to cross our arms and say “I told you so,” now that our cultural degeneration has entered free-fall. We may not have engaged in gross immorality or wickedness, but we who worship Christ are those who ought to have prophetically stood against godless culture from the beginning, and we have not. We cannot afford to mock and joke at sin, and to buoy ourselves up on our own moral superiority. Rather, we must go before God in repentance and confession, knowing that “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Our eternal fate is not tied to the city in which we live, but we have been called to work for the good of the city. For us today, this begins with repentance.

The Price of Forgiveness

No one forgives naturally. One of the things we’ve found to be the case in teaching classes such as Conflict Resolution and Anger Transformation is that our students (just like their sinful instructors) often deal with issues of anger and bitterness because they have not forgiven people who have hurt them. They have been told (we’ve all be told this, haven’t we?) that the solution to their sense of being wronged is to “forgive and forget.” Forgive and forget, just like words such as sick and tired, or fell and swoop, seem to come prepackaged together. Yet anyone who has been the victim of serious injustice has found that forgetting the transgression committed in such a case is impossible– and therefore, forgiving the transgressor becomes impossible too.

James McClendon says something about this in his book Ethics:

This brings up the recurrent belief that forgiving means forgetting. And indeed, Scripture says that God tells Israel he “will remember your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25 NEB). Yet this cannot be understood with literal simplicity, for in the following verse (26) the forgiving God recounts those very forgiven sins Israel has committed. In this passage, then, to forget must mean to cease to harbor resentment, must mean to hold their sins against them no longer. Indeed, it might be more truly said of forgiveness that it is a special kind of remembrance. One who forgives knows the other’s offense to be offense; forgiveness takes its rise, begins, as Butler has shown, from natural resentment, else there is nothing to forgive. Then the forgiving one takes that offense up into his or her own life, makes the other’s story part of his or her own story, and by owning it destroys its power to divide forgiver and forgiven. In this sense, to forgive is truly to love one’s offending neighbor as oneself. Forgiving is not forgetting, for we can repress the memory and still be at enmity with one another; for Christians, forgiving is rather remembering under the aspect of membership in the body of Christ: it is knowing that he who is our body and we, forgiven and forgiver, are all one.

One of those lines in particular deserves repeating: “Then the forgiving one takes that offense up into his or her own life, makes the other’s story part of his or her own story, and by owning it destroys its power to divide forgiver and forgiven.” Forgiving in this way will not only make us more like Christ, who took our offense up into his own life and died for it; it will also show us more and more the precious price our Savior paid to forgive.

By the mercy of God

In his book Reading the Word of God in the Presence of God, Vern Poythress discusses reading the Scripture from three perspectives: the normative, the situational, and the existential. He recommends this way of approaching the Bible for a number of reasons, but the one I find most compelling is that it brings us back to the mercy of God:

When we encounter God, we are never in charge. We never master a passage…The use of a “method,” even as simple a method as three steps of questions, can tempt us to think that we have a guarantee: we tell ourselves that, if we use the method properly, we will achieve our goal. And the goal in this case is to know the meaning of the passage. We think we can master meaning, if we succeed in staying loyal to the method.

Over against this reliance on “method,” I propose reliance on God and his mercy. In this, I aim to call us forward toward a fuller rather than a lesser engagement of our minds–with our hearts and souls. Using our minds fully includes recognizing the unfathomable mysteries in interpretation, rather than thoughtlessly (mindlessly!) establishing a false confidence in our ability to master meaning without the help of God’s presence and mercy.

Whether or not we understand the slightly confusing language of Poythress’ multi-perspectival approach, his dependence upon the mercy of God in understanding Scripture is something we can–and should– appropriate. Each of us comes to God only because God is merciful, and each of us knows God only because God has revealed himself. When I read the Scripture and come away encouraged, challenged, convicted, or sanctified, it is because God is at work, not because I have brought anything to the table.

This is our aim at the School of Discipleship. Not that we would give up on thinking through what we read, but that all our thinking and striving to understand and apply the text of Scripture rests ultimately where it should– on the free and unconstrained mercy of God. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

 

Wisdom Grants Perspective

“If we cannot believe God when circumstances seem be against us, we do not believe Him at all.”
-Charles Spurgeon

Circumstances have a way of caging our spirit with fear, despair, and self-pity. How are we to gain an eternal perspective concerning the raging political scene, the moral decay of America, the increase of Sharia law (the law of Islam), and terrorist acts of barbarism that are so prevalent in the world today? Wisdom demands that we look beyond the temporal to the eternal. Let us now ask God for wisdom, which He offers freely to his people (Jas. 1:5) in order that we may look beyond current circumstances to see the sovereign hand of God at work.

Consider the fact that in 2 Corinthians 1:8 Paul gives a strikingly honest testimony concerning the tremendous amount of despair that both he and Timothy were burdened with. “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8 NKJV). Why is it, do you think, that it was important for the believers within the church of Corinth not to be ignorant of their suffering? The answer is clearly found within the following verse. “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead (1:9, emphasis mine). Paul is applying an eternal framework to temporary circumstances, resulting in proper perspective.

“That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.”
-Jerry Bridges

Anything that causes you to lose faith in yourself and increases your faith in God who raises the dead is nothing short of a glorious blessing!

In closing, it is important to note that although Paul was granted tremendous gifts and abilities from God in order that he may bring the gospel to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:15-16), he was no less human than you or I. That being said, Paul was able to endure tremendous hardships (cf. 2 Cor. 11:24-29) with joy in the spreading of the gospel because he learned to look beyond his current circumstance to see the sovereign hand of God at work.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“Sir, we would see Jesus.”

I’ve always been vaguely puzzled by John 12:20-26. Here Jesus has come to Jerusalem in triumphal entry and is preparing for the feast of Passover. Some Greeks approach Phillip and make this request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). Phillip and Andrew relay this message to Jesus, and he responds with the following: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:23-26). This is, you might notice, not a response in any way to the request made by the poor Greeks. At least, it doesn’t seem to be.

The words of Jesus are interesting here, though. He’s talking about his cross. In John, whenever Jesus mentions his hour or his being glorified, he’s talking about the cross. The next statement, this aphorism about a grain of wheat, also sounds like it could be about Jesus’ death, but it’s less specific to Jesus. He becomes more general still with the next line: “Whoever loves his life loses it–” now Jesus isn’t talking about himself alone, but seems to be laying out a principle. He finishes by talking not about himself at all, but about those who will serve and follow him. Do you see the trajectory? A statement about Jesus alone, two statements about those who will die faithfully, a final statement about those who will serve and follow Jesus. The implication is clear: Those who follow Jesus will need to lay down their lives, as he will shortly lay down his own life. Jesus died for the life of the world; his followers die to deliver his gospel to the world. Jesus died for sin; his followers die to the power of sin in their lives. If we are to follow him, we will need to do as he does.

How is any of this an answer to the Greek supplicants? I think Jesus does answer them, and his answer is profound. He’s saying that if these Greeks want to see him, want to see the fullest, truest picture of him, then they must look to the cross. There is a lesson here for us. If you want to see Jesus, then look to the cross. Jesus’ miracles are not a true reflection of who he is outside of the cross. His teaching is not a true reflection of who he is outside of the cross. Do you want to see Jesus? Do you want to see his mercy, his justice, his love, his obedience to the Father, his humility, his holiness? There are many places you can look to see these qualities, but only one place you must look: look to the cross. There is salvation nowhere else, and nowhere else will you become the kind of man or woman who will lay down your life for Jesus.