Saturday, October 04, 2008

Surviving John MacArthur's How To Survive In A World Of Unbelievers

Grace & Peace in abundance to you all, through the knowledge of our God, Jesus Christ our Lord!

It's been quite a while since the last weblog entry and I must apologise for not having been able to update the weblog more regularly.

The Care Group has just wrapped up a very interesting and engaging 6-month (?) series of (fortnightly) lessons based on John MacArthur's book entitled, "How to Survive In a World of Unbelievers." (Many thanks to Kuya Glenn and Ate Dodie C of the Padstow Care Group for helping us obtain copies of this rare book, which has been out-of-print here in Australia for quite some time.)

Sadly, I have been unsuccessful in obtaining permission to reproduce excerpts of the book from publishers Thomas Nelson. However, most of the chapters from the book are freely available online at Pastor John MacArthur's Grace To You Ministry website and at The Bible Bulletin Board website for your review. (Please right-click on the links for the option to open it in a new window.)

If I am not mistaken, each chapter was originally a sermon message by Pastor John at Grace Community Church, in Sun Valley California. These were then compiled and edited to produce the book. A study guide was then developed to accompany it, to help facilitate group discussions.

Here's a very humble basic/bare-bones summary of what we've discussed:

"How To Survive in a World of Unbelievers" by John MacArthur is a series of lessons based on Christ’s most intimate teachings to his handpicked disciples, during the Last Supper. This was just a few short hours before Jesus knew that He would be betrayed and be given over to the Sanhedrin. These were Christ’s heart-felt instructions on how His true disciples should act under His authority and how they were to faithfully represent Him in this unbelieving world.

In the Introductory discussion prepared and led by Elder Rob V, we learned that the Last Supper occurred during the Jewish festival of Passover. Passover was one of many Jewish feasts (see Leviticus chapter 23) which included Pentecost and Tabernacles/Tents, that trace their beginnings to Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. In their Exodus from Egypt, God revealed Himself as the unfailing rescuer of His chosen people: no matter how undeserving they were, God was faithful to His promise to cleanse and save a people unto Himself. And this same God is still His people's faithful, unfailing Saviour today.

In Chapter 1, “The Humility of Love,” we learned how during the Last Supper (in Luke 22), after Christ’s triumphant entry to Jerusalem, a dispute arose among the disciples about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom. Jesus settled this dispute by declaring, “the one who is the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules, like the one who serves.” Christ graphically demonstrated the kind of humility that He was talking about, by washing the disciples feet. The important point in this was not the washing of the feet per se, but rather the incredible humility (the utter absence of self-pride or self-interest) that it took to wash the disciples' dirty, dusty, smelly feet. It is this kind of humility (a word that shares the same root as the word humiliation) that results in selfless loving service to God and to others. It is this kind of humility that characterizes The One who is The Greatest in The Kingdom. In Luke 22:27b, Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.” Christ’s love and humility are inseparable (John MacArthur p5). May Christ's humility be seen more and more in us, as God continues to work in our lives.

In Chapter 2, “Unmasking the Betrayer,” we learned how shocked the disciples were to hear how one of them (one handpicked by Christ Himself) would betray Jesus that very night. None of them would have had a clue, hadn't Jesus revealed this to them. Yet Jesus reassures them that all of these things have been foreshadowed in the Old Testament (David’s Psalms 41 & 55 and Zechariah 11), in effect saying that all of these were going exactly according to God's plan (not Satan's, nor Judas' nor the Sanhedrin's, but God's plan). As Jesus said in John 13:18-19, “...I know those I have chosen... this is to fulfill the scripture… I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.” (The word “He” in this passage is often italicised in many English Bible translations because it does not actually appear in the original Greek manuscripts. Thus, a much better way to read verse 19 would be, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I AM.”) May the chapter, “Unmasking the Betrayer” cause us to focus not so much on the betrayer, but rather to focus more on the Unmasker--the Great I AM.

In Chapter 3, “The Marks of a Committed Christian,” John MacArthur lists 3 vital distinguishing characteristics that should identify every genuine believer (based on John 13:31-38): an Unending Preoccupation with God’s Glory; an Unfailing Love for the Children of God; and an Unswerving Loyalty to Jesus Christ. Each one is the mark of an active personal God, working in the individual lives of His true followers as they represent Him in this world.

In Chapter 4, “The Solution to a Troubled Heart,” we learned how upset the disciples were, since Jesus would soon be betrayed into His enemies' hands and because Jesus would be leaving them in just a while. Jesus thus taught the disciples that they were to trust in His Presence (even when He does not seem to be there); to trust in His Promises (even when everything seems to be going wrong); and to trust in His Person (even when we don’t seem to understand Him).

In Chapter 5, “Jesus Is God,” we learned how Jesus could not have been merely a good teacher or just another prophet. Anyone who made the divine claims that Jesus made was either telling the truth or he was a liar (liars do not make very good teachers). Jesus Christ is God the Son, uniquely one with, but distinct from God the Father. Jesus Christ is God incarnate, God in the flesh. This is all too much for the human mind to truly comprehend, as the disciples themselves showed how lacking their understanding of Christ’s deity was. Only God's Divine work in a person's life will cause that individual to acknowledge Jesus Christ as God the Son. This is why we need the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit…

In Chapter 6, "The Ministry of the Holy Spirit," we learned how the Bible's imperatives (the laws & commands, all our responsibilities) are ever rooted in the Bible's indicatives (the declarations, proclamations and promises of our sovereign, gracious, eternally faithful, holy God actively accomplishing His work, in His people's lives). The Biblical imperatives and indicatives (law & gospel) should never ever be seen or taught as divorced from each other. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to actively, particularly/personally and consistently cause God's saints (former sinners, former rebels, former objects of God's righteous wrath) to become obedient to God. Nothing else and nothing less than the Holy Spirit's gracious and effectual sovereign work in our lives will result in us becoming truly Godly: truly Christ-like. All the glory belongs to God!

In Chapter 7, "The Gift Of Peace (aka The Peace of Christ)," we learned how the peace that comes from Christ is different from the "peace" that the world has in mind. The world's idea of peace is the absence of trouble or conflict. The peace that comes from Christ is a quiet blessed assurance that not only isn't affected by whatever trouble or conflict that the world throws its way, but rather even turns around the troubles and conflicts that it comes across for the glory of Christ. It is the peace that surpasses all human understanding. It is the peace that comes only from God because it is the peace of God. And this peace of God can only be experienced by those who have peace with God. And peace with God is only attainable through Jesus Christ. It is this peace of Christ that the disciples direly needed to rule in their hearts, as their Master Jesus prepared them for His date with the cross.

In Chapter 8, "What Jesus' Death Meant to Him," as the time of Jesus' betrayal drew closer and as Jesus made it clearer to the disciples that He would be leaving soon, we learned how hard it would have been for the disciples to comprehend how God could accomplish anything good from everything that's now happening. The disciples left their families, careers and belongings to follow Jesus. They hoped Jesus would soon march into Jerusalem to kick out their Roman occupiers and reestablish David's Kingdom, perhaps making them very high ranking officials. Instead, Jesus reveals how everything that has been going on, will soon result in Him being betrayed and nailed to a Roman cross. Jesus thus needed to reassure them that everything was going exactly according to plan--Christ's predictions of what will be happening were not guesses based on probabilities, but were revelations based on certainties. Believe it or not, acknowledge it or not: Only God can take upon Himself the ugliest, most brutal, most torturous and humiliating death penalty ever instituted by a world power... and use it to secure eternal victory, all according to His plan.

In Chapter 9, "The Vine & The Branches," we learned that while Jesus would be physically away from His disciples, they can rest in the fact that Christ would be their Eternal Vine, in whom every true disciple (past, present and future) had been supernaturally grafted into. We are His branches and apart from Christ, we can do nothing. He is central to everything that we are. Those who do not remain or abide in the vine are cast out by the Vine Dresser, God the Father. All true believers remain or abide in the Vine (keeping the Vine central to everything in their lives) and will bear much fruit. Some may bear more fruit than others, sooner than others, or more evident than others. But Christ's precious nourishing through the Holy Spirit and God the Father's careful pruning (as painful as it may be at the time), all assure that the genuine branches will bear fruit.

In Chapter 10, "The Benefits of Life in Christ (aka Abiding in Christ," we learned how the gracious Lord Jesus further encouraged His now confused, fearful, down-hearted disciples. Apart from the divine promise of bearing eternal fruit (in the previous chapter), Christ assured His chosen disciples of answers to their Godly prayers, abundant lives that overflow with God's "uncontainable" glory, joy and their eternal security in Him... only in Him. (In the end, Christ Himself is every true disciple's greatest encouragement. Christ Himself is our greatest benefit.)

(The last 2 chapters were unavailable on the Internet at the time of this posting, but their outlines with discussion questions can be enjoyed by clicking on the links below. Please right-click on the links if you would like the option to open them in new windows. Many thanks!)

Chapter 11, "How to be a Friend of Jesus"

Chapter 12, "Hated Without a Cause" Part 1 and Part 2.

No comments: