The Son’s Sobering Preservation

Jesus, anticipating what’s to come, says in John 16:1, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Then in 16:4 He similarly says, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” These form bookends to v1-4, because in both Jesus gives reasons behind why He tells them what He is telling them, and the main reason is preservation. The reason in v1 is so that they won’t fall away when trials come, and the reason in v4 is so that they won’t be surprised when trials come. Taking them together we can see the meaning in view. Jesus doesn’t want His disciples, and doesn’t want you and I, to encounter the hatred of the world and be so shocked or scandalized[i]by it that we abandon the faith.[ii]

No, He wants us to last, He wants us to be informed, and He wants us to be prepared for what’s to come.

So He continues on in v2-3 saying, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”

Sobering words from the Son intended to function as a means of preservation for His disciples. v2-3 repeat many of the same things we saw in 15:18-25 but here the tone is stronger. Back in chapter 15 the hatred in view was from the world in general, here in chapter 16 the hatred has a very specific origin. It’s from those who are very religious. Does that surprise you? That someone with deep religious zeal could be so blind and so violent? These religious zealots will first excommunicate them, which wouldn’t only remove them from the spiritual life of the society (they wouldn’t be able to attend sacrifices, feasts, etc.) but the social life of the society as well. This would’ve meant things like getting a job would now be difficult, it meant you’d likely lose business customers, and might ultimately lose your livelihood. Some of you have experienced these very things already and the trend of our world isn’t headed in a Godward direction.

May we not be caught unaware. 

As bad as these things are Jesus didn’t stop there, He also said here that they would be killed by those who fully believe they’re pleasing God. Only in a fallen world could such a monstrous reality be true. This pattern has played out throughout history ever since. Today we find it true that most of the vicious threats to the gospel are often by religiously motivated zealots, thinking their god is pleased with such violence and will reward them for doing so. But go back a bit further. Did you know Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer, was burned at the stake in 1556 by Roman Catholics as one of their priests was preaching a sermon? Did you know when Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic church and put a price on his head he said, “Arise O Lord, a wild boar has entered Thy vineyard.” Go back a bit further. Paul himself followed this pattern in his pre-Christian life. By persecuting the Church he believed God would be pleased with Him. It was Paul who chased down followers of The-Way and threw them in jail and it was Paul who looked on and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen in Acts 7. Thank God, that for Paul, his zealous pattern of violence was interrupted on the Damascus Road as he became a Christian and experienced an overwhelming irony going from persecutor to persecuted. We could speak of all the disciples here as they we’re executed or exiled at the hand of religious zealots but go back a bit further one more time.

This pattern was played out most vividly with Christ. The Jewish leaders, being very religious, claimed to know God but in v3 Jesus says they didn’t, and that their ignorance of who God truly was and who He truly was is actually the origin of their vile ways. These leaders believed God would be pleased for Christ to die, and that in doing so they would be glorifying God and keeping their religion pure and undefiled. The irony here is that they were right in a sense more true than they could know. Jesus seemed to be suffering defeat while He was accomplishing the greatest of all victories at the very moment the Jewish leaders seemed to be winning a victory while they were suffering the greatest of all defeats.[iii]In the most ironic moment of history the hour of their persecution mentioned in v4 was really the hour of the Son’s glorification[iv]where God was glorified and was very pleased for Christ to die as He bore the full wrath of God for sinners like us. And having been warned of it by Jesus, when these things fell on the disciples afterwards, the trials of persecution and death wouldn’t be an obstacle to their faith but a strengthener to their faith because they saw that everything plays out as Jesus says it will.

But remember what Jesus has already said. Between the hard words in 15:18-25 and 16:1-4 we find a marvelous description of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. From hearing about the Helper and the Spirit of Truth this morning in the midst of this fallen world full of hatred we must embrace a certain reality:

the Holy Spirit isn’t sent to be our Helper to aid us sail the seas of calm serenity, but is sent to be our Helper to aid us sail through the hard and difficult waters that lie ahead in this world. For the way of Christ is the way of hardship and difficulty.[v]

But, it is a way He walked before us, so we do not lose heart. As high as the waves become, the Ancient Mast of our soul – the Holy Spirit – reminds us of Him and thus we remain ever sturdy within. May you be sobered by the words of the Son, and may you be assured of the assistance of the Spirit.


[i]The Greek word ‘scandalizo’ is here translated as ‘falling away’ in v1.

[ii]D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 532. See Phillips page 329 also.

[iii]Carson, page 532.

[iv]Ibid., page 532.

[v]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 692.

Simple Church

For decades, even centuries, there is always the temptation, which usually turns into a reality, that the church must be reinvented to accommodate whatever is the present norm of a culture, society, and community. The local church on the corner becomes a market place whereby an assortment of programs and goodies are handed out to seek to persuade prospective customers to settle here. Other churches are family chapels whereby a collection of families gather together to keep up the tradition of attending. Church can be entertaining whether it is the dazzling musical talent of a soloist, the lights and smoke of the production on the stage, or the fire-breathing preacher who jumps on pews to drive home his point. Such “churches” are relegated to being outposts of a moralistic traditionalism that has more to do with the 1950s and less to do with the Bible or they are constantly reinventing themselves based on what is perceived to work. While many of these places call themselves a church, they have little if no resemblance upon what a New Testament local church is to look like.

In fact, the Bible presents to us what I would call the simple church model. Simple does not mean unintelligent or requires no thinking. Simple church is understanding that God uses the basic, ordinary means that He has sovereignly chosen and uses them in a profound way. Recently, someone posed this question: “Could you do what you do on Sunday without electricity?” If the answer is no, then you need to examine what your grasp of the church and worship on the Lord’s Day is. Consider with me 7 traits of the simple church:

A Simple Church is a Regenerate Church

A biblical church is a regenerate church. Notice Acts 2:41: those who received his word are those who were converted and then they were baptized. Consider Acts 2:47: The Lord added to their number those who were being saved. It is the Lord who sovereignly builds His church. Jesus declared in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His church. This belongs to Christ. Every biblical, simple church ministers and disciples from a foundation that this community of believers belongs to Jesus Christ. It is by His sovereign purpose that the church grows and He is the One you want to grow the church.

A local church is a visible community of brothers and sisters made alive in Christ and bonded together in love for Him and love for one another. A church represents the new creation of God both individually and corporately.  How many generations of churches have been built on decisional regeneration based on walking an aisle and repeating a prayer rather than divine regeneration which is the work of the Holy Spirit and Him alone! Simple church is a regenerate church. The regenerate church displays the glorious change of God’s grace. Still sinners but now saints: a life that has been transformed by the work of God. The simple church leaves the results to God. We understand that the growth of the church hinges on the new birth which is what the Spirit of God performs.

A Simple Church is a Gospel Church

In Acts 2:29-36, Peter proclaims the excellencies of Christ in the gospel with the OT promises as the foundation of his sermon. A simple church is a gospel church meaning that they never move away from the core message of the gospel. The doctrines of the gospel such as election, regeneration, justification, redemption, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are a part of the DNA of the simple church. The gospel is not a cliché or a tag on the end of some presentation or skit. The gospel is not merely a part of the Sunday morning sermon. The gospel is to inform all that we say and do. Mark Dever wrote a book entitled, “The Church: The Gospel made Visible.” In the local church, we testify to what the gospel has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. The gospel is the message we proclaim to see those in darkness brought into the light. The gospel is the message that nourishes believers, strengthens them for the battle, and reminds them of who they are in Christ to deepen their assurance.

A Simple Church is an Ordinary Church

When we speak of the ordinary means of grace, we are saying that these are the means or methods that God employs to grow His people in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. You see them in Acts 2: preaching of the Word, corporate worship, fellowship, the sacraments, prayers, and praise. These are all the ways in which God works in our lives to deepen our assurance and to behold the beauty of Jesus Christ. Further, these are the means by which He draws lost sinners to Christ. To the world, the ordinary means of grace look rather simple and uninspiring. Yet, these are the means by which God works in an extraordinary way!

Do you want to be counter-cultural? As a church there is nothing more counter-cultural than for us to see that God works in the ordinary, the simple. This is what was the heart of the Reformation. We are not looking for the gimmicks, the latest phenomenon to hit Lifeway or any other Christian bookstore. We are not going to take our cues from a Wall Street CEO, a President, or King. Nor are we going to take the advice of a moralism that pines for a specific decade in the past. The counter-cultural church will always be relevant because it is built on the simple and ordinary means of God rather than chasing after the latest fad. In my own life, coming to understand the ordinary means of grace totally transformed how I viewed corporate worship, pastoral ministry, and life. They caused me to delight in the ordinary and rejoice in the King who works through the ordinary to work in extraordinary ways.

A Simple Church is a Doctrinal Church

After their conversion, Acts 2 reveals that new converts were committed to the teaching or the doctrine of the apostles. Whether a person is a recent convert or a well-traveled pilgrim, they are in need of being equipped in the faith. We cannot live our lives individually nor corporately apart from being men and women of sound doctrine. We must know the theology of the Bible. We must know how to read the Scriptures for all they are worth. We must know systematic theology. We are to see how the covenants relate to our justification and redemption, how the grace of God is displayed both in predestination and preservation, how the people of God are always a called-out community whether in the OT or NT, and on we could go. This is one reason we employ creeds and confessions. These are good tools to teach doctrine because they are based upon the Bible and are historically tested.

A Simple Church is a Word-Driven Church

If the preaching of the Word of God is not central to a local church then it does not matter what else they have going for them. It does not matter what else they do if the preaching and teaching of the Word of God is relegated to some secondary status. It is the proclamation of the Word that God uses in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. It is the preaching of the Word of God by Ezekiel that God uses to bring life to the valley of bones in chapter 37 of that prophetic book. The word-driven church is the church that submits itself to the authority of God found in the Bible. It is not found in clergy, it is not found in a board, but it is found in the Word of God being proclaimed by the men raised up and gifted within the church to teach.

This calls our attention to what we call the regulative principle of worship. This term states that worship on the Lord’s Day is to be regulated by the Word of God and what we find in Scripture, is what we are to do during corporate worship. The word-driven church humbly submits to the King of kings as the ruler of His church.

A Simple Church is an Accountable Church

Part of the terminology we use as a church is that we are covenanted group of believers. We have made a covenant towards the Lord and one another. We do not see ourselves as a collection of islands with our own agenda. We are one people who have been sovereignly joined together. In Acts 2:44, the church had unity in doctrine and unity in fellowship. It was not a one hour a week deal and then you move on your merry way. This was understanding that we are doing life and sojourning together. Accountability is a scary word because we are so programmed in our culture of the glories of individualism and self-autonomy.

The Bible states that we are blood-bought people and no longer belong to ourselves. As a church family, meaningful membership means accountability and church discipline. We have responsibility for one another. As elders, we will give an account for this flock entrusted to us. This does not mean that we are constantly looking for flaws for all of us have flaws and weaknesses. What it does mean is that we are not going to leave anyone behind. We are in this together. As a pastor or an elder, never forget that you are a member of the local church and you need this accountability. In my own life, I have experienced both the early pain of being held accountable and the wondrous joy that flows afterwards.

A Simple Church is a Hopeful Church

Regardless of what is happening, the church is hopeful because our Lord told us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We are going forth knowing that victory is already secure in Christ. There is not a reason for us to be anxious or fretful. The king of the church is king over all. Acts is filled with many testimonies to the greatness of God in the midst of persecution. The words of one of my favorite hymns says it well:

“Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.”

Conclusion

            C.H. Spurgeon put it well: “If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all; and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.” We have not been called to reinvent the local church. Our task is to delight in the simplicity of what Scripture has given to us. The calling is for us to be good stewards. Let us desire to be simple church churches pointing people to the Great Savior and be amazed at how He works through an army of ordinary people!

The Spirit’s Assuring Assistance

Ideas drive history. You ever thought about that?

Behind the all the Emperor’s, Generals, politicians, philosophers, thinkers, and theologians throughout history – stands one thing: ideas. Not small ideas or fleeting thoughts but grand ideas that fill out the meaning of their existence, becoming the narrative through which they interpret all of life, driving them to do what they do. One way ideas are very meaningfully driven home to us is through images. One particular idea/image that means a great deal to me is a ship at sail in a stormy sea. There is something about this image that draws me in. Perhaps this stands out to me because as long as I can remember the ocean in the has always seemed lovely and terrible to me. A thing beyond my little self in its immensity and yet stirring within me thoughts of adventure and exploration…daunting and dwarfing me yet beckoning me to come aboard the ship and brave the waters.

If you think on this image long enough I think you’ll begin to see much about the Christian life. The waters of the world we live in are stormy indeed. Sailing on such fallen waters, eventually forces us to ask a question. How are we going to last, how are we to make it through safe to other side? Not by our wisdom or ability or strength in sailing, no. God has graciously put Someone within our ship to keep us afloat in the Person of the Holy Spirit, and by holding fast to Him, to this Ancient Mast, we’ll make it through.

Right away in John 15:26 we learn the Holy Spirit is connected to the Father and the Son. Remember, again and again John’s gospel tells us how the Father is closely connected to the Son, so close in fact that to hear the words and see the works of the Son is to hear the words and see the works of the Father, and so close in fact that to reject the Son is to reject the Father. Learn again, the Godhead is not just comprised of Father and Son, but of Father, Son, and Spirit. That Jesus says He will send the Spirit from the Father, and that He says the Spirit proceeds from the Father is a reminder that the sending of the Spirit is an activity which concerns all three members of the Trinity[i]as well as a reminder that this Spirit is no ordinary Spirit, He is the Holy Spirit. Not a kind of force or quality or property, He is the third Person in the Godhead, “…not a gift of men but a pledge of divine grace”[ii]from God Himself.

That God would dwell among us in Christ is simply breathtaking, that God the Spirit would dwell within us is incredibly comforting. Our hearts then become His home. And now that the estate that is ourselves is under new ownership, a sacred renovation begins. Renovation that looks and feels like disorder yielding to order, darkness yielding to light, and fog yielding to sunshine.

That is all good and well but particularly in this context what does the Spirit do within us? Notice the two names He calls the Spirit in v26-27.

Helper: “But when the Helper comes…” Some do think v26-27 is a later addition to John’s gospel because to them it doesn’t fit well with the theme of the hatred of the world. Sadly, those who believe this miss the point of the text and therefore miss out on what could be a great encouragement. There is a very close connection between our passage today and the passage that comes before and after. Jesus has been speaking about the rebellion of the world against Him and His Church, that the world hates Him and will hate those who follow Him, and from hearing this it is easily understandable that the disciples (and we ourselves) would be fearful, anxious, and deeply uneasy about what a life with Jesus might very well bring in this world. How can one last as a follower of Jesus if the world will hate you for doing so? This fear, anxiety, and unease about Jesus’ words makes us desperate for one thing…help. So is it no surprise that here in this context with these things in view Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as what? The Helper, for help He brings. When Scripture perplexes us it is the Spirit who opens our eyes and understanding to what God has said. When sin tempts us to run after foul and forbidden things it is the Spirit who tugs and pulls us back. When we find ourselves dry, cold, and stony in heart, unmoved by the beauty and loveliness of God it is the Spirit who refreshes, warms, and softens us to be moved as we ought to. Do not despise the gift of God in giving us the help of God the Spirit!

Spirit of Truth: Next we see God the Spirit called the “Spirit of Truth” and perhaps we ask, ‘Out of all things why choose to call the Spirit the Spirit of Truth?’ Perhaps it’s for our encouragement. In view of the opposition of the world we might think the truth of God no longer has a place in our world today. That truth has become and must remain a private matter rather than a public topic of conversation or even debate. That truth has fallen in the street, as Isaiah 59:14 says, and is in need of resuscitation while people continue to walk on by not caring an ounce to revive it. That the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth ought to encourage us. The world hated Christ and His message endures. The world has hated us and our message endures! Despite the world’s efforts to stop, squash, or silence the truth of God it is the Spirit who maintains, upholds, promotes, and expands the truth of Christ in us and through us. If ourconsciences rest on this testimony, wewill never be shaken.[iii]The disciples, having been with Jesus from the beginning would’ve seen this and come to know this for themselves. And we too, from the beginning of our Christian lives have seen the same.

But how does the Spirit of Truth spread God’s truth in this fallen world? Answer: by bearing witness. Look at v26-27 again, “…He will bear witness about Me, and you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Present here is both the witness of the Spirit and the witness of believers. The Spirit has born witness to Christ before and during the ministry of Christ. Now that Christ has ascended is the Spirit done bearing witness? By no means! The result of the assuring assistance and help of the Spirit of Truth is not private advantage or personal revelation but public proclamation. The Spirit bore witness not of Himself but of Christ to us, and now the Spirit bears witness not of Himself but of Christ through us. The Apostles remember, received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and became His witnesses (Acts 1:8), first feeling the winds of the Spirit fill their sails to preach the gospel and write of the gospel, and now we continue in this Spirit driven apostolic calling not by claiming to be apostles ourselves, but by continuing to proclaim the same apostolic gospel message from the Spirit inspired apostolic Scriptures we now have. So the Spirit in His inspired Scripture bears witness to man, and in His powerful work within us He bears witness through man. 

See here that no one can ask the Spirit to move in power and then sit back waiting as if we can relax and leave everything up to the Spirit of God.[iv]No, the Spirit so moves within us that we, in His power, would bear witness of Christ to others.

Or we could say it like this, the Spirit’s work creates the Church’s work, and it is this work of bearing witness that is to remain the chief work of the Church.

But we easily get sidetracked don’t we?

Our witness for Christ isn’t to be about a certain kind of experience, or political opinion, or current fad, but a witness to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.[v] How great an encouragement is it that in these stormy seas God has given us an Ancient Mast we can lash our souls to in order to last amid this calling?


[i]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 683.

[ii]John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries – Vol. 7, The Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: AP&A, year unknown) page 857.

[iii]Ibid., Vol. 5, page 130.

[iv]Morris, page 684.

[v]Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2014) page 327.

3 Ways of Encouragement

I just celebrated my one year anniversary at my new job.  For my anniversary my co-workers got me a balloon, a cannoli cupcake (which was delicious), and a card.  The card was filled with kind words and thoughtful messages.  It was really encouraging to know that others cared about me and appreciated certain characteristics that the saw in me.

After receiving that card it got me thinking, “Are we as Christians as encouraging to each other as all the unbelievers in my office are to me?  The people who wrote me this encouraging card are not Christians.  They do not have the love of Christ in their hearts and yet they wrote and said such encouraging words.  Sometimes those outside the Christian faith can be more loving and encouraging than those inside of it.  And that should not be.  The world should not outdo us in love and encouragement. We have experienced the love of Christ and have been given new hearts and affections.  We should be noticeably loving and encouraging to those around us.

Commanded to Encourage 

The Bible commands that we encourage each other.   Paul tells the Thessalonians to “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) and then again he reminds them to, “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  The writer of Hebrews thought that encouragement was so important that he commanded his readers to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).  The book of Acts is filled with examples of the early church encouraging each other in the faith (Acts 13:15, Acts 16:40, Acts 18:27, Acts 20:1-2).  Encouraging those around you is commanded, but how can we do this?

How to Encourage

There are at least 3 forms of encouragement: compliment, good news, and motivating. Each of these are important ways we can encourage others.

  • Compliment and Appreciate – You can encourage someone by appreciating characteristics, abilities, and accomplishments that you have noticed in their life.  You might let them know that you are impressed by their athletic ability, proud of their work ethic, or that you love their sense of humor.  There are numerous ways that you can encourage others by complimenting them.
  • Share Good News – Good news can lift your spirits and encourage: You go to the doctor and find out that the cancer is gone.  Your boss calls you into his office and let’s you know he is going to give you a raise.  You get your report card and your grades are good.  This kind of news is encouraging.  Certainly, we are not always able to share this kind of dramatic news, but as opportunities arise we should seek to share good news with others.
  • Motivate and Support – You can encourage someone by pushing them to do their best.  When I have a workout partner, I am typically going to have a better workout than when I am alone.  I am motivated to try harder and lift more because I have someone spurring me on to do better.  I am encouraged to work harder in a way that I wouldn’t be if there was no one there pushing me.  We can encourage others in that same way in multiple areas of life.

It is good to encourage one other in these ways, but as Christian it is even more important that we encourage each other in the faith.

Encourage in the Faith 

  • Compliment and Appreciate – Paul would regularly compliment his readers by appreciating their godly characteristics and ministry accomplishments.  He boasts of the Roman believers’ faith that was “proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8).  He spoke of the Ephesian Christians’ “love toward all the saints” (Ephesians 1:15).  He compliments the Philippian church because of their “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5).  When a church was doing something well, he let them know about.  He wanted them to be encouraged in their Christian growth and ministerial pursuits.  We too should compliment other Christians when we notice their godly character and ministry efforts.  We want them to be encouraged by the work God is doing in and through them.
  • Share Good News – In his first epistle to the Thessalonians Paul tells his readers that when a believer passes away they should not mourn like the world mourns “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).  The good news of the gospel is that death is not the end for the believer.  There is eternal life and unending joy in the presence of God. This is the hope of every believer.  After sharing these truths with the Thessalonians, Paul then tells them to “encourage one another with these words” (Thessalonians 4:18).  This good news is meant to be shared as a means of encouragement.  As believers we can encourage each other by sharing the good news of God’s Word with one another.
  • Motivate and Support – The Author of Hebrews commands his audience to consider how they can “stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  As a form of encouragement the Hebrew Christians were to stir each other on to love and good works.  They were to motivate each other in the Christian life.  We too are to consider ways that we can help other Christians grow in their walk with Jesus.  We might ask that they come with us to a Bible study, or read a theology book along side of us, or join us as we evangelize the lost.  There are endless ways that we can encourage other Christians to move forward in the faith, we just need to resolve that we will.

The Bible calls us to encourage one other in the faith.  Find someone who you might encourage today.

 

 

WHO AM I?????

Who Am I? This question rings in the minds of many people at different times in their lives. The question of identity is nothing new it’s been around for generations and isn’t going away soon. But when we take a second and are alone with our thoughts and dive deep into this question, we see many different ways to look at ourselves: maybe my identity is what I do? Maybe my identity is in the people I am around? Maybe my identity is found in who I am with? Maybe my identity is found in my children? Maybe it is simply how other people see me?

Growing up there were lots of things that I identified with; my academics, my friends, my work at the church, who I was dating, what I was going to do with my life, what other people thought about me, the respect of my peers, ect…

It is funny looking back at the reality of how temporal such a non-biblical approach to identity is for us. Each of the things we tend to find to Identify ourselves with are things that by nature are not guaranteed to last. No matter how smart we may be, our minds can fade, our intellect can be swallowed and destroyed by time and disease. Our professions are never assured especially in a day and age of ever-changing technology and economics. Even our families, which we love and cherish can equally be taken from us. So then why do we put so much stock in finding our identity and value in these things? To some degree it is how we have been thought to think about life, but on another level, we don’t think deeply enough about the lasting Identify we have in Christ it seems until one of the former identities comes crashing down.

For many our Identity in Christ is so other that we can barely grasp its reality? We don’t think much about what being found in Christ looks like, while the natural realities are easier to see and tangibly touch. However, the natural realities fail time and time again, while the reality of Christ is never changing. Who we are in Him is the same from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  The book of Ephesians spends a great deal of time wrapping our minds around the reality of our identity in Christ. For Paul this is not a passing issue, but central to our living out of the gospel through every trial and joy. In chapter one Paul grounds us in the truth that all three members of the Trinity have done a great work to secure and save each of His own, setting them apart and making them new. He wants us as believers to be grounded in the fact that God is the one that has worked in us, not ourselves. Now you may ask what this has to do with my identity and how I define myself, well Paul makes it clear in chapter two that it makes all the difference.

Here Paul begins by reminded us that before we were given our identity in Christ, we did have an identity, and it was anything but lasting; for our identity was that of children of wrath simply following the course of this world. It was by nature depraved and dead. The our identity was found in the whims of our desires, changing from day to day, and ultimately unsatisfying. We wonder so often why the world gets caught up in identity politics and defining people by any number of characteristics or sexual desires, and that is because it is the only thing the world knows, and it is the only course of identity available to it. For us however, this is not who we are, it is who we were. In verse four Paul explicitly points out that God has changed our identity. The Father has taken us out of the world and given us His name, His spirit, through His Son.

Paul’s aim in the remainder of chapter two of Ephesians is to ground us in the fact that our identity cannot be found in the things or desires of the world, for that is not who we are, nor can we look at our current state and yearn for that which was temporal and destined for destruction. He has done a mighty work out of love and grace to set us free from what was to establish us in what is and what will be, namely Christ. So, as we unpack this text, we are given over to the reality that all that Christ accomplished and is has been given to us. We have been made alive with Him, we have been raised as He was raised, we have been seated with Him in the heavenly places, for the Glory of His name and for the manifestation of the Kingdom through us. We have been bought with a price we are not our own. And in this we are again reminded that this was by His divine grace we did not earn it. Our identity is not based on anything we could accomplish, it is based solely on what God accomplished. It is He who gave us life, while we were dead, it was He who raised us and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ. We have done nothing to earn our new status in Christ, it was all the work of God for us, and because of this work He has given us a new identity.

Now maybe you are wondering why does this all really matter where I place my identity? What if how I identity myself makes me feel good or gives me purpose? That’s a good question, and my response would be how long will this last, if your identity is based solely on the temporal experiences and status of this phase of your life it will in time crumble as life changes around you. For one of the key things Paul points out is that our identity in Christ changes everything about our lives, it is a life shaping and defining identity. Because we are in Christ, we have a new life to live and a new task to be a light into the world. Our Identity comes with a job to do, a family to belong to, one not defined by the color of our skin or the place of our birth but on the transformation of Christ in us. We are no longer who we were and can find no lasting identity in the world or in its categories, for our lasting Identity is in Christ, and the call to live as Christ. Let us be reminded again by Paul of this reality from another of His epistles; Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ministry Can Be Dangerous

“Did you hear about all the pastors convicted of sexual abuse?”

My wife’s question left me with an ache in the pit of my stomach. As a Gospel minister who struggles daily to love Jesus and kill indwelling sin, I can’t say that I’m surprised. In fact, to be surprised would expose some bad theology on my part. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m reminded that I’m more sinful than I ever imagined and the Gospel is more glorious than I ever imagined. Still, news of sexual abuse must always be received with a heavy heart. The Houston Chronicle reported some 220 Gospel ministers convicted of sexual abuse, leaving about 700 victims affected. Many of the stories are well documented and put a chill in your spine as you read them. I broke down over footage I saw of a police officer questioning a four or five year old boy molested by his “church-man.” Other footage was of jailed pastors sharing how they compromised on their convictions. Each of these were truly disturbing and humbling. Then only a day or two later, Christian news turned to abuse of authority by leaders. I learned famous pastor James MacDonald was fired by his church for serious abuse of authority. Before MacDonald, there was Driscoll, Tchividian, and Mahaney; all men whose sermons have greatly impacted me, and all left with question marks over their character, yet who went on to preach and lead other churches. Not to mention Patterson and Pressler, men who stood on biblical convictions against a tide of liberalism in my demonination, and yet who fell over bad counseling methods and sexist comments and actions. Meanwhile, some Southern Baptist pastors with massive ministries flaunt massive pride in the pulpit and we put up with it.

In light of this, here are five essentials for avoiding moral failure in ministry. There are many others, but these are just a few we would all do well to heed…

Don’t be a glory thief (Jer. 45:5)

The biggest ministry problem out there is theft. By theft I don’t mean stealing possessions, but stealing praise. All of us can be glory thieves from time to time, but stealing God’s glory in ministry is especially dangerous. As one pastor has remarked, we must never intercept the bride’s affection for the Bridegroom. Jeremiah 45 is a short chapter in the book and yet it packs a heavy punch. In it, God uses Jeremiah to challenge his assistant Baruch with this: “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not…” I remember my first class at Southern Seminary was with Dr. Don Whitney and was called Personal Spiritual Disciplines. Dr. Whitney was about to share with us about Charles Spurgeon and he made a humbling remark to this effect: “If one of you were going to have an impact like Charles Spurgeon, we would all already know by now.” I was guilty of seeking great things for myself and this reminded me how foolish I had been. We must learn to pray with the Psalmist, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…” (Ps. 115:1). Better to be unknown and faithful than known and unfaithful. As those who love the phrase, Soli Deo Gloria, it would be quite ironic to minister as though it were about us. We must glory in the Gospel we preach, but never in the way we preach it. We are like Moses in with a glow about us from being in God’s presence, but we must always be turning people’s attention off us and onto Christ, the source.

Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16)

It is amazing how our eyes can play tricks on us. Years ago there was a video going around of basketball players dribbling and passing the ball back to each other and the viewer was asked to count the number of times the ball bounced. But when you watch the video and don’t focus on the ball, you notice a man dressed in a gorilla uniform casually walks out right in the middle of the screen and waves, before walking off. Lazer-like focus on one thing will eliminate even the most glaring distractions. Paul told Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Watching ourselves requires knowing the snares that tend to trip us up and avoiding them and staying in the Word and prayer. Watching our teaching requires caring about our words when communicating God’s Word. A ministry that fails to emphasize what God emphasizes is bound to mislead and fall short.

Be appropriately honest about your weakness (James 5:16)

All sheep are not shepherds, but all shepherds are sheep. Sometimes pastors fall into this weird mindset that they are not really sheep in need of the Chief Shepherd. We begin to live and believe as though we have to attain some standard not given the rest of God’s people. The truth is, however, that we are all weak and easily tempted. We must learn to share regularly with our people of our struggles, while not sharing too detailed of course. James 5:16 reminds us of this: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…” A church that thinks its pastor has to be above this is only adding to his burden. We need honesty and openness again about pastoral struggles.

Maintain healthy accountability (Prov. 18:1; 27:17)

Proverbs 18:1 always stands out to an introverted guy like me: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” It is very easy to isolate oneself in pastoral ministry. Most pastors are preparing three to five different messages a week, not to mention all the phone calls and visits necessary. Then there’s administration, hospital visitation, counseling, event planning, discipleship groups to lead, and a whole host of others. But pastors who isolate and insulate themselves from people looking into their personal lives are setting themselves up for disaster. We need godly men who will ask us the hard questions and still choose to love us and pray for us. This is why Proverbs 27:17 states, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” We must not let our own spiritual blade or that of our brothers grow dull.

Pray, pray, pray…and did I mention pray? (1 Thess. 5:17)

When your eyes are on Jesus, it is nearly impossible to look for hope elsewhere. Puritan George Swinnock has said it well: “A Christian’s prayer may have an intermission, but never a cessation. There is no duty given to a Christian for his constant attention so much as prayer; pray always, pray continually, pray without ceasing, pray with perseverance, and pray forevermore. To pray without ceasing means: 1)To be in a praying frame all the time….2)No important business is undertaken without prayer…3)Set a regular time aside every day for prayer.” Prayerfulness is dependency and so the opposite of praying is living independently of God, which should terrify us. In his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller has pointed out, “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.”

So may we all study, live, and pray in such a way that we avoid shipwreck and we pursue the safe haven for our souls and those who hear us.

 

That’s Not Fair!

That’s not fair! — How often have you heard this cry in your life? If you’re a parent, odds are you’ve heard it more times than you can count from your children. “Why does he get to do that and I don’t? That’s not fair!” “Why does my friend get to stay out until 11 and I don’t? That’s not fair!” But it’s not just children that cry foul in the arena of fairness in life, is it? We adults do it too. We’re just a little better at hiding it, or at least knowing how to keep our thoughts in our heads and not let them come out of our mouths like children.

Perhaps you’ve looked around and seen a family member or a neighbor receive material blessings in this life that you haven’t received, and you think to yourself, “That’s just not fair!” Perhaps you work and work and work, barely scraping by, all the while your friend does the bare minimum and gets the big end-of-year bonus and you cry out, “That’s not fair!”

Or perhaps you are striving to live a godly life, submitting yourself to the Lord and seeking to live for him, and it just seems that there’s one hurdle after another, one storm after another, and you can’t seem to get above board. All the while, you look around in the world around you and see the wicked, the godless, the unrighteous, who care nothing about the things of God, who are living for themselves, their own pleasure, and their own glory, and they’re wealthy, healthy, and carefree, and the cry of your heart is “THAT’S NOT FAIR!”

My suspicion is that each and every one of us has been in that very spot at one time or another in our life. Perhaps at many times. Perhaps even right now. It’s a temptation that is common to man because of the sinful jealousy and envy within our heart. And it is a temptation that is not only common to man today, but is an age-old temptation, dating all the way back to the garden when Satan convinced Eve that God was withholding something good from her.

Psalm 73

One of my favorite Psalms in God’s Word is Psalm 73 because it addresses this very struggle in our hearts. In this Psalm, we see Asaph — the Israelite worship leader and psalm composer — chronicle his descent to the depth of envy, the transition of how he saw clearly and gained a new perspective, and then the ascent back up whereby he regained a proper, heavenly, eternal, and Godward perspective on the fate of the wicked and the blessings of God. And he does so in a gritty, soul-bearing, telling-it-like-it-is honesty. John Calvin describes Asaph’s approach in this Psalm in the following way:

“The Psalmist does not ascend into the chair to dispute after the manner of the Philosophers, and to deliver his discourse in a style of studied oratory; but, as if he had escaped from hell, he proclaims with a loud voice, and with impassioned feeling, that he had obtained the victory” (Quoted in William S. Plumer, Psalms, 79).

Why Are We Envious Of The Wicked?

Simply put, I think that the root of our problem, and the root of Asaph’s problem, is that our focus is off. Our focus is on the wrong people, and our focus in on the wrong timeframe. 

The first mistake we make is that our focus is on them. Notice the pronouns in the first section of Psalm 73. In 9 verses (verses 4-12) we see the pronoun “they” or “them” used 17 times. And what is it that Asaph notices about them. He notices that they seem to live such easy lives (v.4-5), such prosperous lives (v.6-7), and such carefree lives (v.8-12). Like Asaph, we can often be tempted to jealousy and envy as we look around at the godless, wicked men and women around us, whether in our town or on TV, and be tempted to think “That’s not fair!”

The second mistake we make is that our focus is on us. Notice the shift in pronounce in verses 13-15. No longer is the focus on them, but now it is on me and I (7 times in these 3 verses). After turning the spotlight to ourselves in light of the the lives of the wicked, we begin to see our righteousness as pointless (v.13) and our hardships as preeminent (v.14). Such is the descent into the heart of envy and jealousy for each of us. Our focus is off.

How do we address our envy?

Just like Asaph’s clear transition in verses 16-17, we too need to “enter the sanctuary of God” by coming to His Word through prayer, depending on the sanctifying power and presence of the Spirit through the Word. Like Asaph, we need a new perspective. A paradigm shift. If we are going to correctly and biblically address our envy, we must immerse ourselves in the perfect, inerrant, sufficient Word of God, gaining a biblical, Godward perspective on reality rather than trusting our own faulty, skewed, and sin-filtered lens through which we view the world.

So what are the three areas that Asaph, and we, need a new perspective on?

We need a new perspective on eternal judgment

As Asaph came to the Word of God and gained a heavenly perspective, we see in verses 18-20 that he was able to see with clearer eyes the ultimate reality and ultimate fate of the wicked. Yes, they may be living easy, prosperous, carefree lives right now, but right now is just a small mist compared to eternity. And the eternal realities that await them are something none of us would envy.

We need a new perspective on ourselves

Like Asaph did in verses 21-22, we need to understand who we are apart from the grace and mercy of Christ. Nowhere is the Scriptural account of human nature a flattering one. Rather, we are described as dead, ignorant, and blind. When we fail to let God’s Word be the lens through which we see the world and through which we view reality, we are, like Asaph, brutish, ignorant, and acting like animals. As we seek to deal with the envy that creeps up in our heart toward the prosperity of the wicked, let us run to God’s Word, bathe ourselves in prayer, and immerse ourselves in His perfect Word to give us His perspective on our own sinfulness.

We need a new perspective on God’s presence and eternal blessings

As we gain a new perspective on God’s presence and eternal blessings from God’s Word, as Asaph did in verses 23-28, God reminds us of the fact that He is always with us, holding us fast through life’s struggles, doubts, and trials (Jude 24-25). And He reminds us that He, Himself, is enough. That He is the ultimate treasure for which we are redeemed. That He is not the means to another end, like the health, wealth, and prosperity of the wicked, but that He Himself is the end.

Be Satisfied In God

If you are tempted to envy, if you are tempted toward jealousy, if you are doubting the goodness and justice of God because of the prosperity of the godless all around you, let me encourage you to immerse yourself in God’s word, bathe yourself in prayer, rest in Christ’s righteousness granted to you through the Gospel, clothe yourself with holiness, and be content and fulfilled with God in Christ as your ultimate treasure. Pursue His Word to gain a proper, biblical perspective on the end of the wicked, on the sinfulness of your own heart, and on the presence and goodness and blessings of God — blessings most ultimately and most fully seen in the gift of Himself, through His Son, by His Spirit.

The Jesusless Testimony

The title of this post is hard to type, let alone hear.

For a follower of Christ, having been born of the Spirit (John 3), having been given a new heart and new spirit—His Spirit—(Ezekiel 36), having been adopted as God’s son/daughter according to His gracious foreordination (Ephesians 1) through faith (Galatians 3), and having been secured by the faithfulness of an immutable God (2 Timothy 2), to share a testimony that is void of the One, namely Jesus Christ, who made this possible seems like an oxymoron and yet this has been my observation of late.

Even the above statement, full of bibliocentric, theological richness is neglectful of proclaiming the simplicity of the Gospel. Let’s begin with some basics…

What is a Testimony and What is Its Purpose?

The New Testament uses the word “testify” or “testimony” (or one of its derivations) thirty-five times (ESV). In everyone of those times the same Greek root, martus”, is used. It simply means “to confirm or attest to something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness.”[1] We would call the one who is testifying a “witness.”

So it should be no surprise to hear Jesus tell his disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my [martus]” (transliteration added).

Witnesses testify. Period.

But of what? Look at these examples of martus from the book of Acts:

Acts 10:42—Peter said, “And [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead.”

Acts 18:5—“…Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

Acts 23:11—“…the Lord stood by [Paul] and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify also in Rome.”

Acts 28:23—“…From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus…”

Jesus, his divine identity, his sinless perfection, his substitutionary, sacrificial, atoning death, his triumphant resurrection, and his promise to save from eternal death by giving eternal life to all who come to God through Him is the fundamental message of which we have been called to testify of as witnesses. Without this message there is no salvation from God’s wrath upon the sinner. This is the Good New of which we testify (Romans 10:17).

A Testimony of God’s Salvation through Jesus’ Life & Death

My desire, here, is to point out that one may testify of how terrible their life used to be (drugs, chaos, loneliness, hate, fear) before coming to church (as if these four walls are some sort of magical converter) and then testify about how wonderful their life is now (peace, contentment, joy, friends, freedom) and never share the Jesus who gave them life, righteousness, and peace with God.

What a tragedy it is to have a Jesusless Gospel and Jesusless Testimony because we can’t look past how Christ has changed our lives to see and share the real Treasure, Jesus himself!

Simplicity in Sharing a Jesus-filled Testimony

Mark Dever, in his book “The Deliberate Church”, simplifies the Gospel message into four easy-to-remember words that serves to prevent us from falling into simply sharing the benefits of our salvation and failing to share the Savior.

God—A holy creator and righteous judge who created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever

Man—A rebellious creature who rejected God and sinned against His holy character and law

Christ—Fully God, fully man, sent to die the death we deserved so God might both punish our sin in Christ and forgive it in us

Response—Repent & believe. Sinful man must turn from his sinful ways toward God and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins already committed.[2]

Could it really be that simple; God-Man-Christ-Response? Do all the details of God’s gracious election, my sin-filled past, Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death & victorious resurrection, and what is now required of me and given to me in Christ when I repent and believe fit into this four-word reminder?

Yes. And notice: God is the beginning, Christ is the hero, and the glorious ending brings me back to God. My only contribution to my, now, wonderful victorious life was the sin that made it necessary. Thank you Jesus!

These four little words are ready to be unpacked in their entirety as you share the glories of Christ before a large audience or piece-by-piece as you, over a cup of coffee as the weeks and years pass by, point your listener(s) back to the Christ who saved you! Jesus is the not just the source of your salvation but he is also the subject of your salvation. As J.I. Packer so aptly and succinctly stated, “God saves sinners.” God is the instigator and that actor in our salvation. The only thing we bring is our sin. Jesus is, and must remain, the star of our story!

Christian-When you’re asked to share your testimony make sure that you do more, far more, than testify of how great your life is now; testify of how great your Savior is!

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 617). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Dever, Mark; Alexander, Paul (2005). The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. Wheaton, Il. Crossway.

Paul in Ephesus: A Biblical Model of Pastoral Ministry

Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-38) takes place at the end of his third missionary journey. On his way back to Jerusalem, Paul summons them while at Miletus in order that he might encourage them in the faith and charge them to continue the work of caring for the church of God. As Alexander Strauch has noted, this speech is a virtual pastoral manual. Paul begins by first reminding the elders of his time spent among them, how he ministered the gospel to them. Yet before he begins his actual commands to the elders in verse 28, his opening remarks provide us with a model of ministry worthy of emulation. Here, we learn that the pastoral ministry consists of both demonstration and declaration of the gospel.

Pastoral Ministry as Demonstration

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:18-19).

First, Paul’s practice was public. Before Paul mentions the message which he taught them, he reminds them of the message that he lived before them. Here, Paul calls them to remember his practice—his character, his conduct, his work, his way of life. The Ephesian church could all testify to how Paul lived because they all knew him intimately! He had lived among them, in the same environment as the church. He was their brother, their friend, their pastor, and their fellow worker in the gospel. He didn’t live in isolation and wasn’t unapproachable. Like a good shepherd, he smelled like his sheep; he had dirt on his coat and fleece on his sleeves.

Second, Paul’s practice was above approach. He was confident that they could reflect on any portion of the three years that he had spent with them, from the very moment he stepped foot onto Asian soil, and his life would hold up to their scrutiny. They had witnessed firsthand his pastoral ministry, his godly character, and his courage in the face of persecution. But how exactly had Paul lived and ministered among them? This he goes on to clarify in verse 19.

Third, Paul ministered as a slave of Christ.  The word “serving” here means to act or conduct oneself as a slave, as one who is in total service to another. It is to be characterized by undivided allegiance to one’s master. Paul was controlled by the love of Christ and gratefully labored in the service of his good and gracious King. Paul also ministered with all humility. This is the same word found in Philippians 2:3-4, where Paul calls the church, based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This is humility which takes the form of unselfishness and self-forgetfulness; it’s not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less! Finally, Paul ministered with tears and trials. Paul was personally and emotionally invested in the Ephesians. He not only cared for them deeply but continued to serve his Lord despite the profound anguish he felt because of Jewish opposition.

These verses serve to highlight a crucial aspect of pastoral ministry: shepherding is deeply relational and inescapably personal. It’s not simply preaching a sermon or teaching a Sunday School lesson; it’s imparting a way of life, investing in and setting an example before the flock. We are to lay down our lives for the sheep in humble, grateful, and joyful service to our Lord and Savior. We are to walk worthy of our calling and model the gospel before them in joy and in sorrow, in peace and in trial.

Pastoral Ministry as Declaration

“…how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21).

As Paul continues, he reminds them not only of the godly life which he demonstrated before them, but of the gospel message which he faithfully declared to them. He calls them to remember his preaching—his words, his message, his teaching, his witness. First, Paul’s preaching was bold. This phrase, to “shrink back,” means to avoid doing something out of fear. It’s same word in Galatians 2:12, where Peter “drew back” and separated himself from eating with Gentiles, fearing the Jews. Here, Paul reminds them that he did not keep silent during his time with them, but boldly declared the message of the gospel.

Second, Paul’s preaching was comprehensive. Notice the terms he uses to describe his gospel declaration. He proclaimed to them everything that was profitable; in verse 27, Paul will explain this as being the whole counsel of God, since it is Scripture alone that is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He taught them doctrine, which means that he provided a structured explanation of the gospel for the purposes of retention and better understanding its content. And Paul testified to the truth of the gospel. He “bore witness,” which means he was eager to make a solemn declaration about the truth of the message he proclaimed.

Third, Paul’s preaching was both public and private. He was not only involved in public gatherings and preaching sermons before large crowds, but he was personally invested in teaching sound doctrine to individuals and families! In other words, Paul was devoted to the work of Christian discipleship. This is an often-neglected component of pastoral ministry. We fail to realize that while Sunday sermons are necessary, they are not sufficient (for more on this topic, I highly recommend The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne). Simply put, individual instruction is complementary to public proclamation. We are to apply the whole counsel of God in specific, Spirit-directed ways to the needs of our sheep.

Fourth, Paul’s preaching was for all people. The good news of Jesus Christ is to be preached to all without distinction; the ground is level at the foot of the cross. As Paul told Titus, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (2:11; cf. 1 Timothy 2:4-6). What’s profound about this statement is not just that Gentiles are indeed included in the people of God (the “mystery of Christ” in Ephesians 3:1-12), but that Paul continued to preach to the Jews who persecuted him and rejected him! Paul showed no partiality in his pastoral ministry and gospel declaration.

And fifth, Paul’s preaching was all about repentance toward God and faith in Jesus. This is a beautiful summary of the gospel that all elders are called by God to declare. Repentance is necessary because all, both Jews and Greeks, have sinned and face God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-3:23). However, by grace through faith in the risen Lord Jesus, everyone who trusts in him will be saved from God’s righteous judgment (Rom. 3:24-8:39). This phrase portrays repentance as an integral component of saving faith; both must be boldly declared if we are to be faithful ministers of God’s gospel.

Watch Yourself and the Teaching

Paul’s model of pastoral ministry as both demonstration and declaration is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament. In fact, this model of ministry also applies to the sheep as well. However, Paul’s emphasis is particularly found in the instruction given to pastors and leaders of the church. Paul commands Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:12-16). Pastors must pay careful attention to both their practice and their preaching to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This is our calling as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastor, what kind of farewell could you deliver to your church?

Give Me the Old Paths

If you grew up in Baptist churches in the South, chances are you heard either a preacher, a church, or a ministry through a sermon or church sign declare a need to get back to “old paths.” I can remember many times hearing preachers talk about all that was wrong in churches today and then cry out, “Give me the old paths!” This phrase “old paths” is taken from Jeremiah 6:16. Yet, as I think back on these “old paths,” the problem with meaning behind this jargon for many is that their paths are not really old. The “old paths” they were referring to were beliefs, methods, and practices that can only be dated back to originating between 1900 and 1950. The “old paths” of altar calls for salvation, KJV-onlyism, dispensational eschatology of the Scofield/Hagee variety, join the church but attend rarely if at all, and Heavenly Highway hymnals are not the real “old paths” in evangelicalism. All of those items are a blend of Finneyism and Pelagianism that makes man the center of salvation. They feature revivalism techniques popularized by men like Billy Sunday, Frank Norris, and Jack Hyles such as making decisions, walking an aisle, and repeating a prayer, and a populistic theology that equated the United States with Israel as God’s choice people. Are these the real “old paths” that marked evangelicals, specifically Baptists? Give me the old paths, the real old paths! Consider the following “old paths” that need to be recovered in Baptist churches:

Christ-Centered Exposition

The history of Baptist preaching contains some great expositors who preached sermons rich in doctrine, pastoral application, and pointed chiefly to Christ! Consider the great sermons by Benjamin Keach on the parables as he unfolds the gospel witness in the discourses our Lord gave. The eminent John Gill faithfully preached line-upon-line and precept-upon-precept in the many volumes of his sequential exposition of the Bible. Andrew Fuller’s sermons through Genesis contain beautiful jewels of how the gospel is to be seen in the Old Testament. The great Southern Baptist preacher, John A. Broadus, taught preachers that, “We cannot understand the Old Testament, except we read it in its bearing upon Christ, as fulfilled in him.”[1] How can one not read the sermons of C.H. Spurgeon and be stirred in their hearts by the beauty of the gospel! Many today think that shallow sermons must be preached else our hearers be bored, lost, or unable to comprehend! Listen to Mr. Spurgeon’s counsel:

Some preachers seem to be afraid lest their sermons should be too rich in doctrine, and so injure the spiritual digestions of their hearers. The fear is superfluous. . . . This is not a theological age, and therefore it rails at sound doctrinal teaching, on the principle that ignorance despises wisdom. The glorious giants of the Puritan age fed on something better than the whipped creams and pastries which are now so much in vogue.[2]

Baptist pulpits need to be marked more than ever by faithful expository preaching that goes through books of the Bible with Christ as chief! The manner in which you preach is going to be the model your flock imitate when it comes to Bible study: what are you showing them?

Sovereign Grace Theology

It is quite a strange phenomenon that those who claim to hold to the “old paths” in Baptist life reject Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace/Reformed theology as heresy! Would they anathematize all of these men: John Bunyan, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, Samuel Pearce, Obadiah Holmes, James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, and C.H. Spurgeon? All of these men were well grounded in the doctrines of grace. Reformed theology laid the foundation and served as the grid for how Baptists understood the world. The great institutions and movements that many Baptists proudly point to were built upon a theology of sovereign grace as found in Reformed theology. The doctrines of grace fuel and guide in how to think biblically about evangelism, missions, and discipleship. For material on how the doctrines of grace and Baptist heritage are interwoven, check out: https://founders.org/. We need a recovery of these precious doctrines! Mark Dever describes the preaching that historically marked Baptist pulpits: “The dominant preaching and teaching of the earlier part of the [19th] century was clear and unapologetic on the points of human depravity and divine election, of irresistible grace and perseverance – doctrines which tell little of what I must do, and much of what God has done.”[3] Reformed theology will not bring only the doctrines of what we call the TULIP but they will bring the proper understand of the law and the gospel, the providence of God in every part of our lives, and covenant theology.

Distinctively Baptist Federalism

While there are many dispensationalist brothers that I have learned from and respect, there is much I find wrong with that system and hermeneutic. Furthermore, one either speaks from pure ignorance or blatant error if they claim that “the old paths” in Baptist life are anything but a well-grounded federal or covenant theology. If you read 17th century Baptists like Spilsbury, Keach, Bunyan, and Coxe, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. if you read 18th century Baptists like Abraham Boothe, John Gill, and John Ryland, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. If you read 19th century Baptists like James P. Boyce, John Dagg, Robert Howell and C.H. Spurgeon, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. Why do Baptists need to recover a Baptist covenantal understanding? Consider this summary from Spurgeon:

THE doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace.[4]

For more information about Baptist covenant theology see: www.1689federalism.com

Robust Confessionalism

Many Baptists today parrot the Campbellite movement that said away with creeds and confessions. This is not the Baptist position. Baptists have historically used creeds and confessions as a doctrinal basis for pastors and preachers, for church membership, for teaching members the core tenets of the faith, and for associational membership. Baptists wrote confessions of faith from the beginning as found in the 1st London Confession in the 1640s and the 2nd London Confession in the 1670s/80s. Baptists in America adopted confessions from the north in New Hampshire, the mid-Atlantic in Philadelphia, and the south in Charleston. When the first Baptists came to my home state of MS, the first church organized did so around a confession. That confession would later become the confession of the first association of Baptist churches in Mississippi.[5] Baptists did not use these documents as something to cast a quick glance at but as real documents with theological teeth in them. They were tools to explain the Bible. Only those who rejected orthodoxy rejected the usage of confessions and creeds. Dr. Greg Wills writes:

Baptist churches and associations in America had adopted confessions of faith with few exceptions…It was against this uniform practice that Alexander Campbell aimed his efforts to reform Baptist churches. He attacked the Baptists for their use of creeds and for the Calvinistic doctrine contained in them. He drew many Baptists to his views until Baptist churches and associations expelled Campbell and his followers in the 1830s. Campbell’s followers became known as the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. Baptists reasserted the scriptural grounds for their adoption of confessions of faith.[6]

Churches need today to declare what they believe, why they believe, and how they will use what they believe to further the kingdom of Christ in this world! The Baptist way is a way of putting on paper, supported by the Bible, and testified to by church history what we believe!

Biblical Polity

I cannot recommend highly enough two books: 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever and Democratic Religion by Greg Wills. These two books show the biblical and historical pattern of Baptist churches. Local church membership was covenant membership. A church covenant was more than an ornament hanging on the wall. Members publicly affirmed and wrote their signature to covenant with one another in a local church. A healthy congregationalism led by faithful elders was the polity. The ordinary means of grace, the regulative principle, and a healthy understanding of the Lord’s Day all drove Baptists in their polity and celebration of the ordinances. The “old paths” knows nothing of a drove of “carnal Christians” who comprise membership roll books in so many churches. The “old paths” are found in the covenant understanding of what it means to be a local church.

Conclusion

So, what are the “old paths” that we should be longing for in Baptist life and in evangelical life? These are the paths, in many ways, of not only Baptists but the Puritans, the Reformers, and even Augustine. It goes back though to the apostle Paul and to our Lord Himself. Let me give Spurgeon the last word as to what we should be preaching and teaching:

The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.[7]

These “old paths” were not only thundered in Scotland and England but were championed throughout the United States, especially among Baptists in the South. Let us resolve to once again commit ourselves to these biblical marks that form the faithful heritage passed down to us!

 

[1] Sermons and Addresses, 160-161.

[2] https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-charles-spurgeon/

[3] Polity, 13.

[4] https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/did-spurgeon-hold-to-1689-federalism/

[5] http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/1806msbc.htm

[6] History of SBTS, 1859-2009, 20-21.

[7] http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/calvinis.htm

Blessing or Barbarism? An Answer to the Issue of Abortion

I hope you’ll understand my reason for penning this post with the grit, brutality, and rank candor that I employ. While a sensitive issue, this is not an issue that we can afford to tip-toe around. Children are being slaughtered and the church must be bold and brave to speak up. I only hope that my voice and pen will rise above the fray to inform souls and save lives…

+++++++

I remember the day well. It was late April of 2016. I had just returned from a conference and my beautiful wife had just returned from her 20 week ultrasound. As I sunk into the couch in our living room and stared into Danielle’s distraught face, I prepared myself for what I was sure would be life-altering news. The news came. Our baby, who we – surrounded by friends – had discovered was a little girl less than a week prior, had massive congenital heart defects that threatened her life and assured us that she would undergo open-heart surgery shortly after birth. My shock transformed to rage when Danielle then informed me that having made this discovery, the doctors had reminded her that a fetus with AVSD (the heart defect our baby would suffer from) often carried chromosomal imperfections as well and that chromosomal testing should be done so that we could “make an informed decision.” You may not understand my vexation. You may think I overreacted. You may assume that I am an ardent right-wing bigot with low mental acumen and zero compassion for the expectant mother. So whatever your perspective of me or position surrounding this debate may be, please allow me to explain my disgust.

The choice before us was brutally straightforward. On the one hand we could choose a difficult pregnancy, extremely high medical bills, countless days in the NICU and then CVICU, routine cardiology appointments, physical limitations for our child, and possibly chromosomal abnormalities. That seemed overwhelming (and quite literally has been). Or we could choose to “terminate the pregnancy.” This would mean that on a specified date Danielle and I would make our way to the hospital where a skilled and careful surgeon would insert a suction catheter into my wife’s uterus sucking out the amniotic fluid surrounding our child. The doctor would then ask for the Sopher clamp – a 13 inch long instrument, made of stainless steel and designed with razor sharp teeth on the end. Pressing the clamp into the uterus, the physician would blindly search for something upon which to clasp those steel teeth. He would then take hold of, forcibly twist, and jerk the clamp back. Emerging from Danielle would be a four inch leg that had been kicking her mommy from the inside for the past 7 weeks. Then would come little arms, a developed spine, operational intestines, and a heart that had been beating since day 18. All the while we would know that our baby, who could react to pain since week 8, was feeling every act of violence against her person. Having extracted most of the tiny body, the surgeon would then insert the Sopher clamp one last time to search for something roughly the size of a large plum – namely the baby’s skull. He would know his job was a success when white material oozed from the cervix, the material being a tiny brain that had been channeling waves since week 6. In the end, perhaps a little face would have come back – as is sometimes the case – staring now lifelessly our way. Throughout this whole procedure, all of the extracted baby parts would be placed on a tray and reassembled so the doctor could make sure that the entire baby was accounted for and that there were no parts left behind. There would lay our lifeless, dismembered baby girl.

Dr. Warren Hern, a Boulder, Colorado abortionist who has performed a number of second trimester abortions, says these operations can be troubling to a clinic staff including the doctors themselves. He states, “There is no possibility of denial of an act of destruction by the operator. It is before one’s eyes. The sensation of dismemberment flows through the forceps like an electric current.”

Abortionist Lisa Harris once wrote of her experience aborting babies while herself pregnant: “With my first pass of the forceps, I grasped an extremity and began to pull it down. I could see a small foot hanging from the teeth of my forceps. With a quick tug, I separated the leg. Precisely at that moment, I felt a kick – a fluttery ‘thump, thump’ in my own uterus. It was one of the first times I felt fetal movement. There was a leg and foot in my forceps, and a ‘thump, thump’ in my abdomen.”

These were our options. The blessing of life or the barbarism of death. It was not a choice in our minds. It should not be a choice for anyone. Our little girl would live.

For decades the argument for abortion centered around the false assertion that a fetus was not human. Potential mothers had the right to decide to terminate their pregnancies, most often for the sake of comfort and convenience, because they, after all, were human and the fetus was merely a collection of tissue. However, recent science has so disproven this ridiculous theory that intellectual pro-choice advocates must in fact acknowledge that abortion is the killing of human life. In an article entitled “So What if Abortion Ends Life?” written by Mary Elizabeth Williams, a staunch pro-choice activist, she declares this fact and her position: “Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies I never wavered in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that is what a fetus is: a human life. And that does not make me one iota less pro-choice.”

This is diabolical selfishness of the most depraved order. Additionally it is intellectually inconsistent. If someone assaults a pregnant woman and intentionally or unintentionally ends the life of her unborn baby, the assailant is charged with first degree homicide. However, that same mother can willfully choose to end the life of that child, at minimal expense, and it is merely a discarding of undesired cells. If a mother is excited for her baby then that baby is in fact a child; but if that same mother is unprepared for or inconvenienced by the baby then it is just a ball of material.

This week a notable politician, following the celebrated triumph of making full-term abortions legal in New York state, tweeted the following: “Forty-six years after Roe v. Wade, we affirm what will always be true: Women have an unalienable right to make their own decisions about their health care. Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” My response – and common sense, science, and conscience back this: Baby rights are human rights (since we know that unborn children are in fact human life). A baby, as a person – flesh, blood (often of a different type than his or her mother), body, and soul – have an unalienable right to live. And to take it one step further I would ask of the tweet, “always be true to whom?” If it is merely true to you – because it’s what makes you feel fuzzy, or it’s what “seems right to you” – then you have zero authority to dictate that this must be true to anyone else. If it is not just true for you, but is universal truth then there must be a standard of universal truth to which you are appealing. There must be Truth outside of and beyond you that you are calling others to submit and adhere to.

Though science and our souls rise up to validate the treachery of the murder of unborn humanity, there is a higher authority, an absolute truth to which we make our first and final appeal (and before the cacophony of protests swell accusing me of appealing to authority I would simply ask: to what final authority do you submit?) If there isn’t one then you have no absolute right to claim that civilizations that legalize infanticide are evil or wrong. That is merely, your opinion that you cannot press with conviction upon anyone else. Contrasting individual judgment is sacred Scripture – the highest authority. Scripture declares that all humanity is fashioned in the image of God and is therefore inherently, unavoidably, and equally valuable. Scripture states that murder – the willful, unjust taking of life – is evil. Therefore, abortion in any form or at any stage of pregnancy is a diabolical atrocity against the Creator and His most masterful creation.

My sincere and earnest hope is that the church of Jesus Christ will not retreat to uncomfortable silence on this issue. My hope is that babies will be saved, mothers will be loved, and truth will reign. My hope is that not-yet-ready mothers will be supported by the church and will place their little ones in homes of parents who will love and care for them – as our own birth mother did for our first and third child. My hope is that foster care and adoption will blossom within Christianity and that infanticide in the womb will end in our nation. My hope is that those who have administered abortions or endured abortions will know the forgiveness that is found in our Savior and be freed from crippling guilt. Life is precious, valuable, and beautiful. Let’s do all we can to fight for it.

Semper Reformanda

Walk It Out

Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

These are some of the most important and strategic words ever penned in human history. 

They serve as a halftime address—a coach’s “chalk talk.” Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2are capable of leading God’s people to victory. But please don’t let your familiarity with these verses lead to passivity. Let’s Study them anew and afresh. If you do, God will transform you from the inside out. 

After devoting eleven chapters to heavy-duty theology, Paul transitions in chapter 12 from doctrine to duty, from creed to conduct, and from belief to behavior. 

He says, “In light of what God has done, here is how we should live.”

To put it another way, the apostle encourages us to turn our theology into “walkology.” 

In other words, we are to live out our beliefs. Paul uses the imperative thirteen times in the first eleven chapters of Romans; he uses it eleven times in chapter 12 alone!

In fact, this chapter has more commands in it than any other chapter of the New Testament. It is a chapter of action! Paul’s thesis is: Beliefs should impact behavior.

Present Your Body (12:1) I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship

This verse is one of the most important in the entire Bible and contains more key theological terms and truths for its size than perhaps any other verse of Scripture.

Verse 1 gives the “what” that we are to do in response to God. Paul opens this new unit with the word “Therefore” (oun).

What is the word “therefore” there for? “Therefore” looks back to all the doctrine that Paul has covered in chapters 1-11.

Paul believes that you haven’t really learned the Word until you live the Word. 

How well have you learned the Word? Have you been applying the truths of Romans? When you study the Bible on your own, do you bring it to bear on your life? Are you just a hearer of the Word or are you a doer of the Word?

Only when you become a doer of the Word, have you truly learned the Word.

Paul writes, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Instead of a command or a demand, Paul urges, or better yet, exhorts his readers

Paul functions as a Christian coach who challenges and encourages us to reach a particular goal.  Paul speaks as a Christian brother to other Christian brothers and sisters. 

This is a family affair! The apostle exhorts us to respond to “the mercies of God.” 

Paul informs us that God’s love for His people is unconditional. Is God merciful? You better believe it! 

God chose us, called us, saved us, released us, and will one day take us home to heaven. Indeed, God’s mercies are past finding out!

That is why I’m convinced that the best motivation to live for Christ is a good memory of all the mercies He has blessed us with. 

Long-lasting change only occurs when gratitude for God’s mercies is the chief motivation. The Bible’s way of preaching holiness begins by reminding Christians who they are, what they are, and what they have. 

Who are we? We are the children of God with all of the power of God working on our behalf? 

Where are we? We are in the kingdom of God and have died to the dominion of sin. 

What do we have? We have the Holy Spirit, we have Jesus’ intercession working for us, and we have the power of God ready to come to our aid. 

The best way to motivate people is to show them what God has done for them and let them rise to the challenge of responding to that love appropriately.

In response to God’s mercies, Paul challenges us “to present” our bodies. 

Please note that Paul does not say “yield” or “surrender” your bodies but “present” them. Yield and surrender are biblical terms, but they imply a measure of reluctance or hesitancy. 

Present, on the other hand, implies a glad, happy, willing offering of oneself. If I yield or surrender a gift to my wife, she will not be impressed by my efforts. I mean, who does that?

Our presentation of our bodies to God as a sacrifice for His use, just like my presentation of a gift to my wife, is to be a joyous and spontaneous act. 

God is not asking you to dedicate your gifts, abilities, money, time, ideas, creativity, or any such thing. He is asking you to sacrifice yourself. 

Remember the clear words of our Lord in Matthew 16:24: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

This is an appeal to those who have been set free by grace to live under grace by presenting all that they are to God. 

Paul states that you are to present your body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.”

The words “living,” “holy,” and “acceptable” all follow the noun “sacrifice.” 

There are three qualities of our sacrifice: 

(1) Living: In the Old Testament believers were called to “make” a sacrifice from a dead sacrifice. In the New Testament believers are called to “be” a sacrifice from a living sacrifice. The point is: God wants you to live to die. Most believers could take a bullet for Christ in a moment of courage, but every believer struggles to die to self and live for Christ on a daily basis. 

(2) Holy: We are to be wholly dedicated, “set apart” from the world and belonging to God. The term speaks of being fully abandoned to God. This means that as individual Christians and as a corporate church, we must do all that we can to ensure that holiness is promoted. That is why we must exercise church discipline. That is why we must speak the truth in love. That is why we must disciple new believers. We are commanded to be holy as God is holy. 

(3) Acceptable: The term “acceptable” builds on the Old and New Testament concept of the sacrifice as pleasing God. When you present your body as a sacrifice that is living and holy God is pleased.

Paul states that when you present your body as a sacrifice you have fulfilled your “spiritual service of worship.” 

The Greek adjective translated “spiritual” is logikos, from which we derive the English word “logical.” 

Logikos pertains to reason or the mind, and therefore does not really mean “spiritual.” It is better translated “reasonable” or “rational” 

I think what Paul is saying is: “If you consider all that God has done for you—a sinful being—the only reasonable response is to offer Him your life.”

After all, this is the only logical response! Why would freed slaves continue to serve their old master?

Presenting your body to serve the interests of your new Master, on the other hand, is completely logical—very much in keeping with good sense.

 A response of sacrificial worship expresses a heart of gratitude. It puts feet to our faith. 

Beliefs should impact behavior.

Renew Your Mind (12:2)  Do not be conformed to this world,[c]but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.[d]

The world’s philosophy is pretty simple: If you want something, go get it (partners, possessions, and power).

In the worlds eyes, people are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them. 

Nowadays the publics opinion defines the truth.

Popularity is more important than holiness. 

Faith and everyday living are unrelated. 

Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences…. 

You are the center of your universe; don’t let anyone push you around! 

Our world also screams tolerance (religions are the same; accept and affirm same sex marriage) and truth is not absolute (what’s good for you is good for you). 

Listen, you cannot not be shaped by these influences. You have to fight hard against the tide of sin, self, and Satan. 

Ask yourself, How much television do you watch in the course of a week?

How many movies do you watch in the course of a year? What type of music do you listen to? What magazines, books, and websites do you read? 

How much time are you devoting to social networking? Who are your friends? What type of influence do they have on you? What are your hobbies? How do you send your discretionary time?

Even though Paul is writing to the church, we are a group of individuals. These verses are speaking specifically to YOU. 

Will one diseased fish affect the whole tank? Will one mad cow infect the whole herd? 

Will one person conformed to the world have an effect on our church? 

YES! BUT I dare you to be different. Stand up for Christ. Don’t go with the flow; go against the grain. Rebel against the status quo—become a disciple of Christ. Your life will be an adventure!

Turning from the negative to the positive, Paul goes on to say, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

The term “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphoo, which forms the root for the English word “metamorphosis.”When a tadpole is changed into a frog or when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, we speak of it as a metamorphosis. 

That is what God wants for each of His children. At what stage are you in this Christian transformation? Are you staying in the larva stage? Caterpillar? Baby butterfly? Full-grown butterfly? Where are you on the conformity to Christ growth chart? 

Listen, Before you were saved, you were so accustomed to sin that you wore a groove into your heart and mind, like a river cutting a gorge through rock. 

What you now need to do is make some new grooves. That’s why Paul says you must be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

God wants your body and your mind; He wants all of you. Is there anything or anyone that you are withholding from God? Is your marriage and family yielded to Him? Is your vocation His? What about your finances or hobbies? Will you present yourself to Him today and every day hereafter? If you will, your life will never be the same. 

Walk out that robust theology you know oh so well.

His Word = His Joy

“But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).

Being almost out of the world and back in the presence of His Father but still in the world for now Jesus says that He has spoken what He has for His disciples joy. Not joy in general, but that His own joy would be fulfilled in them. Jesus could have said “…these things I speak in the world, that they may have joy.” But He didn’t. He said He spoke His words to them so that His joy would be in them. So, why has Jesus taught His disciples? Why has Jesus said certain things to His disciples? Why has Jesus spoken His word to them? One reason is given here…that His joy would be their joy.

How are we supposed to respond to Jesus’ request to the Father to give us His joy? Five ways.

First, we must see the connection being made between His Word and His joy. He spoke His words to them so that His joy would be in them. Jesus’ words lead to Jesus’ joy. That’s what He’s saying, we cannot miss this. This is the foundation of understanding v13.

Second, because His Word is the means of His joy being in us we should make it the aim of our lives to not only learn His truth but feel the joy of His truth.[1]There are two pitfalls to avoid here. On one hand there are those with a heartless head, where the truth of God is consumed but a love for God is never cultivated. On the other hand there are those with a headless heart, where God is loved vastly but is never studied deeply. Both are wrong and both should be avoided. Instead of falling off into these two ditches our lives must be those that seek a head for truth and a heart for God. Or as John Owen has said “…we must be those who enjoy a vast communion with God in the deep doctrine of God we contend for.”[2]

Third, in order to have His joy must do far more than just see His truth in His words. We must see God in His truth and savor the God standing forth in it. Here are a few ways to say this. You could say…doctrine matters, immensely so! But the goal isn’t merely right doctrine, it’s a right doctrine of God fueling a robust delight in God. Or you could say…don’t just admire the shape and position and cleanness of the window, gaze at the mountains you see through it![3]Or you could say…see the words of Jesus, indeed to see the whole of Scripture, as the way God plucks every string in the harp of our soul.[4]So, we see in order to savor, we seek insight in order to enjoy, we seek knowledge in order to love, the labor of the mind serves the affections of the heart.[5]

Fourth, Jesus did not intend that His joy would be somewhat present in us, kind of present in us, or even very present in us. No, He intends that His joy would be fulfilled in us, or would fill us, complete us, satisfy us, gush forth and overflow in and through us. All of these options are possible meanings from the Greek word present here in our English word ‘fulfilled.’ See that v13 is teaching that the aim of His words is the fullness of His joy, and I wonder if you see the implication of this fullness? When something is full there isn’t any room for anything else.[6]

Fifth, this is how the disciples then, and we today, fight sin. Whatever sins you’re battling don’t believe the lie that your desires are too strong. That it’s desire overpowering will and your sin problems would be corrected if you just overcome your unruly desires with a stronger will. I’m afraid it doesn’t really work like that. Our desires aren’t too strong they’re too weak, in that by giving into this or that sin, you’re settling for lesser pleasures when you could feast on what infinitely satisfies and fills the soul. This is the ultimate battle of the Christian life, fighting to be so filled and so satisfied in Christ that there is no room for sin. This is what Jesus prays for His disciples to have in v13, and this is what we can have in Him as well.

Conclusion:

In John 17:6-13 we see revelation, preservation, and jubilation. These three items top the prayer list of Christ for His own. I would encourage you to put them atop your prayer lists as well. For both those who know Christ and for those who don’t know Christ. We all need these things. Everyone needs to see and be stunned by God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Everyone needs God to keep us throughout the stormy waters of this life because we can’t make it on our own. And that there are a million different things tempting us with ‘joy’, we need to know that only One Person can ultimately and truly satisfy the human heart: Jesus Christ Himself.


[1]John Piper, Reading the Bible Supernaturally (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2017) page 121-123.

[2]John Owen, quoted in Ibid., page 101.

[3]Ibid., page 121.

[4]Ibid., page 104.

[5]Ibid., page 102…my twist on it.

[6]Ibid., page 123.

3 Reasons to Attend Church Regularly

In 2016 it was recorded that 73% of Americans claimed to be Christian. However, when the same group was asked if their faith was very important to them or if they attended church at least once a month the percentage dropped from 73% to 31% (The State of the Church 2016 – Barna). Less than half of the people who claim to be Christians attend church regularly. And regular attendance for them could be just once a month (12 times a year). So, the percentage of those who attend church weekly is less than 31%.

But the Bible commands that Christians are to be faithful to their church. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they are not to neglect meeting with one another, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:25). And then again to his readers he commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). How can a person obey and submit to their leaders if they are not faithful attenders of their local church? It’s not going to happen. The implication here is that we need to be regular church attenders. Then Luke, in the book of Acts, tells us that Christians in the early church met regularly, day by day, to fellowship and attend church together (Acts 2:46). We can see a pattern of believers meeting together often in a church setting. This is what Christians do; they meet regularly to worship the Lord.

But why is this so important? What benefit is it to be at church regularly? Let me give you three reasons why it is so important:

SERVE & BE SERVED

First, it is important to attend church faithfully so that you can both serve and be served. One of the ways the Bible defines the church is as a body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head and believers comprise the rest. And each member of the body plays a big part. Just as a human body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing a leg or an arm so a church body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing members. Each member of the church body plays a vital role in the church. It is important that you regularly attend your local church so that others in the body of Christ can serve you in ways that you cannot serve yourself. You need people who will disciple, encourage, admonish, and correct you. You need people who can serve you through the gifts God has given them. You can only get that when you gather together with other Christians. You also need to attend church regularly so that you can serve others. There are those in your church who need your encouragement, discipleship, and correction. God has given you gifts that He wants you to use for the benefit of the body as a whole. You cannot serve others if you are not around them. Therefore, it is of great importance that you strive to faithfully gather together with other Christians weekly at your local church.

HEAR THE WORD

Second, it is important to attend church faithfully to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The book of Acts tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and we are to do the same. We do not have “apostles” today in the Biblical sense, but we do have gifted preachers and teachers who rightly share the Word of God every week from the pulpit (Steve Lawson). These men are sharing the very apostles’ teaching (the Bible) that Acts 2 speaks of and we would do well to devote ourselves to their teaching. We do that by regularly attending the services and Bible studies at our local church.

It is through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that sinners are saved, sanctified, and equipped for ministry work. We can see this clearly from the teaching of Paul in his epistles. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds him that it was the Word of God that made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). In the same passage Paul also instructs Timothy to continue to learn the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14) as it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Timothy that the word is profitable and then he tells him to preach that word (2 Timothy 4:2). The preaching of God’s Word is one of the primary ways Christians grow in godliness. It is crucial that Christians regularly attend a Bible-believing church so that they can get a steady dose of Biblical preaching that will help grow them in the faith.

In addition, Paul tells the Ephesian church that God gave “the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Not only does the preaching of God’s Word bring sinners to salvation and help Christians in their walk with God, but it equips them for ministry. Regularly sitting under the preaching and teaching of your local church will prepare you to do ministry work. You will be able to share the gospel, disciple others, and lead a Bible study, or small group. It is important that Christians are faithful to their local church and regularly sit under their pastor’s preaching so that they might grow in godliness and be equipped to do ministry.

OBEY THE LORD

Third, it is important to attend church faithfully because God commands it (Hebrews 10:25) and that is reason enough! If God commands us to do something it is in our best interest to do it. He is infinitely wise and knows what is best for you and me. The book of Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is infinitely wiser than us and He knows better than we do what is best for us. Therefore, when God commands us to be regular church attenders we should joyfully comply.  It is in our best interest.

God created and implemented the church for His glory and our good. It is His desire that we meet regularly as Christians to sing, pray, study the Bible, and encourage each other in the faith. Make it a priority to regularly attend your local church for your good and God’s glory.

A Word on New Beginnings

One year ago this week I posted a blog on the Meaning of an Ending. In it I reflected on the last day of Moses leading the people towards the promise land but being restricted by God from entering the land himself. This post was a reflection not only on my New Year’s Eve sermon but also on that previous Sunday where I announced that I would no longer be pursuing the Pastorate of the church where I had served as interim pastor for the previous 2 years and where I had start ministry several years before that. 3 months later on April 28th I would say good bye to that wonderful congregation and begin a new journey at a new church with new responsibilities; leaving the weekly preaching behind to focus on handling the day to day organization and administration of another local body. The final Sunday of 2018 was the first time I was once again behind the pulpit on a Sunday morning preaching in 8 months and today I want to highlight the main aspects of what I learned along the way looking at New Beginnings.

Look to Christ Alone

First, It is easy to get distracted in our everyday lives by everything that we believe we know is coming: work, spouses, kids, bosses, etc, but at the back of our minds we know that none of those things will be completely predictable. Sicknesses creep up on us out of nowhere, jobs are lost with little or no warning, cars breakdown, kids have new troubles, life is unpredictable. 2018 may have started as a year you were excited for with many opportunities, but by the end of the road you couldn’t wait to get it over with and pass it by. The reality is that every day has challenges of its own that cannot be seen or predicted by our own eyes. But the one thing we do know is that our savior is unchanging. He is who He has always been and will be who He has always been.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28

As Christians we are called to cling to Christ take up our crosses and follow him. In every endeavor it is to Christ we look, we must rest in the reality that as his sheep we are being kept and look after, even if the results or situation isn’t what we would like them to appear. When the Israelites came to the river Jordan (Josh. 2-3) and stood upon the banks of the flooding river it was hard for them to imagine that this task was going to be an easy one, but what this generation did know is that their God was in control, and when he gave them instructions to follow the ark and in so doing trust him walking forward into the waters, they did it with eyes focused on the ark that went before them, just as God had instructed.

The Israelite’s followed God through the Jordan, the Disciples followed Christ to the ends of the earth, we must as well trust in Christ alone moment by moment through the good and through the evils of this world, knowing that he will hold us fast. When I announced I was leaving previous position there were moments leading up to that where I didn’t know what would be next, the job i currently have was not in any way a sure thing, but the one thing I knew was that God was in control no matter what happens. Now there were plenty of times over those months where i wrestled with this truth, and with my own flesh and selfish desires, and fears. It is easy to say our eyes are fixed on Christ but some times the waters do look insurmountable, and that’s because for us they are, but for God nothing is.

Trust in His Word Alone

Second as we look to Christ we must also be looking with ears open to the truth of His word and with a heart set on following His word for us. When we look forward into the unknown, we are not left to figure it out on our own, for God has given us His word and instruction for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). When the Israelites were looking at the Ark in the Jordan, they were not left to figure out how to enter the land, the Lord had given them instructions on how to walk and pursue Him. They were instructed to consecrate themselves and to follow his lead, and to follow His word and presences. Truly our eyes cannot be fully set on Christ if our hearts are refusing to head his words.  In Peter’s second epistle he reminds the church to seek in growing in their affection for the Lord by walking in the truth of His word, to grow up into the faith that they have been called. As we look forward are we striving to know Him more and become more like him according to His word, or according to our own devices?

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:1-8)

As I came to the end of my tenure the Words of Paul to the Philippian church were especially encouraging, for in these words we find the mindset Christ has called us to have; a mindset that by its very nature is unlike the world. here we seek to do what is best for those in the family of faith not ourselves. We sacrifice for their good and for the growth of their faith. It is so easy to yearn for our own way and our own glory, but that is not the way of Christ.

Give Glory to Him Alone

Third, through all that comes our way let us give glory to God alone. Now this may seem like a no brainer, but there are many a time that we lose sight of who it was that brought us through the River. How often do we get through trials and tribulations in this life and forget all the ways God got us through, especially when a new trial comes our way. It is easy in a moment to thank the Lord for his work on our behalf, but how often is that moment fleeting or not passed on. For the Israelites at the Jordan they were instructed to construct a memorial of stones representing the Lord work in preserving each tribe and fulfilling His promises, so that every generation would be encouraged to pass this truth on to the next that God delivered His people, by his work alone, not of their own doing. When God does a mighty work in our lives how do we remember it; how do we pass it on; who do we instruct with it? Sitting here in 2019 in ministry it is amazing to see how God put everything together to bring me here today. How a Interim pastorate that was only to last 90 days turned into 2+ years and in that time the relationships the Lord brought along my path lead me to the church I now serve at today. The Lord orchestrated all of these events according to His glory. And I am but the recipient of his kindness.

I pray that as you look backwards over the last year that you can easily see the aspects of God’s sovereign work moving you to where you are today. Hopefully in that you can see how he kept you focused on Him and his words, and how when you strayed, he refocused your eyes back on Him. Should this not be your case, I would plead with you to take a moment and look to Christ, hear his word, be convicted of the truth and walk humbly before him in joy, knowing that he is sovereign over all of our joys and trials, leading us home to himself.