When it comes to the roles of men and women in the home and in the church, there are two broad positions: egalitarian and complementarian. Egalitarians hold that male and female are equal both as… More
The atonement of Christ on the cross is central to the message of Christianity. To atone for something is to make amends or to make satisfaction for a wrong. This is exactly what we see on the cross – it is through the blood of Christ that the holy God and sinful man are brought together peaceably. By nature we’re at odds with God because of sin, and at the center of our message we find blood. The blood of Christ, which is able to bring sinners like us who were once far away from God, near to Him. This is why Christianity is seen as a religion with a central message of redemption and reconciliation. By the blood of Christ we are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God. So we see at a very basic level that any representation of Christianity that diminishes the centrality of a wrath bearing atonement is a false form of Christianity.
Even from the earliest chapters and books of the Bible we see atonement as central to those who would do life with God. In Eden, after the fall of man, for the first time in history God made atonement for His people by shedding the blood of an animal and using it’s skin to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel offer sacrifices in Genesis 4, Noah offered sacrifices to God in Genesis 8, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all do the same thing each time God meets them or blesses them. We see many other offerings in Genesis, but when Israel gets into slavery in Egypt and when God calls Moses to go to Pharaoh and say ‘Let My people go’ in behalf of God it is here where we see the doctrine of atonement coming into view clearly.
After 9 plagues completely devastate the Egyptians, God brings a dreadful decree to close out His assault on Egypt. He tells Moses of His plans and Moses tells Pharaoh in Exodus 11:4-6, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die…there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.’ Moses leaves Pharaoh’s presence and God gives Him further directions in chapter 12, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months…On the 10th day of this month every man shall take a lamb for his household and on the 14th day of the month you shall kill the lamb at twilight. Then take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house…the blood shall be a sign for you…and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.’
It was the blood that saved Israel from death, it was the blood that secured their redemption from Egypt. Paul picks up this theme in 1 Cor. 5 where he calls Christ our Passover Lamb. The parallel is clear is it not? Just as the blood of the lamb secured Israel’s redemption from Pharaoh and Egypt and sent them on their way to the promise land, so too, it is now the blood of Christ, our Passover Lamb, that secures our redemption from Satan, sin, and death and sends us on our way to the greater Canaan. It was the blood of the lamb that atoned for Israel, it is the blood of the Lamb of God that atones for us.
From this point on, we see God instituting His Law, which has many prescriptions in it for various offerings and sacrifices intended to atone for the sin of the people. This Law is then what all of the Old Testament prophets courageously and consistently called God’s people back to. Therefore, atonement has always been central to the people of God, and when we come over into the New Testament we find that all the sacrificial atoning work of God culminating in one act of atonement, the cross of our Lord Jesus.
Now, just as the Old Testament atoning sacrifices were only applied to God’s people in the Old Testament, so too the greatest atoning sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of God’s Son, is only applied to God’s people in the New Testament.
6 points to show you this:
The Atonement is a Secured Redemption
Hebrews 9:11-12, ‘But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.’ This puts on display what we’ve seen already – in the Old Testament the high priest once a year would enter into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people once for all time, not by the blood of animals, but by His own blood. What was the result? The result was not that redemption was now possible, no, the result was that by doing this Jesus secured an eternal redemption. In 9:15-22 the author of Hebrews goes onto say that the only people who benefit from this atoning work are ‘those who are called.’
The Atonement was Accomplished
Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ In this passage Paul speaks of Christ’s work with such confidence that he uses the past tense for all of his main verbs, speaking that even glorification is already accomplished for God’s people through the work of God’s Son. This is why Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ in John 19:30.
The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep
Ephesians 5:25-27, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ In these verses who is it that Christ loved? Who is it that Christ gave Himself up for? Who is it that Jesus cleansed by the water of the Word? Who is it that He’ll one day present to Himself in splendor by His atoning work? His Church. He loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church, only the Church. John 10:11 also, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays His life down (for who??) the sheep.’ After saying this to the crowds Jesus a bit further on in 10:26 tells many who are listening to Him that they ‘are not among His sheep.’ Acts 20:28, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for (who?) the Church of God, which He obtained (how?) with His own blood.’
The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession
Titus 2:14 speaks of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ‘who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.’ Christ gave Himself to redeem a people, a particular people, for His own possession.John 11:51-52 speaks of this by saying the cross gathered into one people the children of God who were scattered abroad. Matthew 1:21 too, ‘Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ Here we see Jesus’ name is connected with His mission. Why did He come? To save His people, from their sins.
The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’
Matthew 20:26-28, ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’ Isaiah 53:11, ‘Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.’
The Atonement Purchased a Global People
Rev. 5:9-10, ‘And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed (purchased – NIV) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a Kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ See here again, the cross didn’t make salvation possible for people, a specific, a definite people were purchased on the cross.
I’ll end with one thought:
Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone. He did not die to merely open the door of salvation and sit back hoping that people will accept His gospel. If that were true His death on the cross didn’t accomplish anything, it only made salvation attainable, and we cannot attain it on our own. This is a false view of the atoning work of Christ. Rather, the Biblical view is this: Jesus died and shed His blood to purchase His sheep, to secure the salvation of His Church, and to redeem the elect of God from every corner of the globe. In this manner we can say the atoning work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect.
Charles Spurgeon said it well, ‘Some men cannot endure to hear the doctrine of election. I suppose they like to choose their own wives, but they are not willing that Christ should choose His own Bride, the Church.’
J.I. Packer said it too, ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people.’
So we conclude: Jesus chooses His Bride, and Jesus dies for His bride, securing everything needed for the salvation of His own.
“I have long considered your father to be the greatest theologian of the century” is the testimony C.H. Spurgeon bore concerning Andrew Fuller. In a letter Spurgeon wrote to Fuller’s son, one giant among the Particular Baptists bore witness of the impact another great Particular Baptist had made on his own life. What lessons are there for us to learn from Andrew Fuller in the 21st century? Since Spurgeon so commended Fuller, it would do us well to learn more from this great man. In his book, Ardent Love for Jesus, Dr. Michael Haykin provides three reasons why he appreciates Fuller and why we need to read and study him. I would like to incorporate those along with an additional two reasons on why Andrew Fuller is a figure from church history we need to become better acquainted with.
1) Theological Balance
Fuller battled against the extremes of hyper-Calvinism, strains of Arminianism, and a growing acceptance of heretical views such as Socinianism and Unitarianism. In the midst of all of this, Fuller never swerved away from a core commitment to the doctrines of grace. Fuller would also serve as the theologian behind the missionary movement that sent forth William Carey and others to India. Balance is such a key for pastoral ministry. Often, pastors are being pulled in one direction or another that can lead to extreme positions. In one of his final letters, Fuller wrote, “I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace, but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour.”
2) Gospel Friendships
The tendency to see one person as the key figure of a movement (think Luther, Calvin) fails to grasp how it is always a band of individuals working together. The apostle Paul lists men and women in most of his epistles testifying that the work of the kingdom is carried out by more than one person. The revival that God brought to the Particular Baptists at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century did not come in isolation. Fuller, along with men like William Carey, John Sutcliff, Samuel Pearce, John Ryland, Jr., and others, worked together and prayed together to see God save souls and revive the churches. Pastors need other pastors. The work of ministry cannot be done in the strength of one man.
3) Christian Piety
Living for the glory of the Triune God fueled Andrew Fuller. He was not interested in theology merely to have ammunition in order to argue with others. He wanted his thinking and living to be rooted in a deep commitment to the Word of God. Fuller longed for God to mold and conform his heart to the truths of Holy Scripture. He would write that to “glorify God, and recommend by our example the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, are the chief ends for which it is worthwhile to live.” Let us not be known only as defenders and proclaimers of orthodoxy but also as those who seek to practice the implications that come forth from biblical orthodoxy! Let us live grace-saturated, Christ-centered lives for the glory of God!
4) Faithful Churchman
Like the Particular Baptists before him, Andrew Fuller knew a deep love for the church of Jesus Christ. Fuller never apologized for the biblical convictions he held to when it came to Baptist polity and ecclesiology. However, Fuller did know that Baptist views on the church had caused some to grow too introspective and neglect evangelism. Fuller proclaimed, “The true churches of Jesus Christ travail for the salvation of men. They are the armies of the Lamb, the grand object of whose existence is to extend the Redeemer’s kingdom.” In preaching ordination sermons for pastors, writing polemically in dealing with theological error, and serving as the first secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, Fuller’s heart burned with a love for the church. A holy zeal for the local church, not for a platform, needs to burn within pastors!
5) Evangelical Unity
While not hesitant to confess and defend Baptist distinctives, Fuller and his fellow Particular Baptists desired unity with like-minded evangelical defenders of the faith. John Sutcliff, Particular Baptist pastor in Olney, forged a friendship with John Newton. John Ryland’s friendship with John Erskine, Scottish Presbyterian minister, would provide the means for the great Particular Baptist prayer call for revival in 1784. Erskine sent Ryland a treatise written by Jonathan Edwards concerning prayer and revival. The Northamptonshire Association issued a call to the pastors and churches of the association to meet together to pray for revival. In this prayer call, the Baptists would pray not only for their churches to be revived but for other evangelical churches and denominations. As Michael Haykin notes, these men understood the kingdom was greater and larger than just the Particular Baptists! Let us be faithful to our convictions but let us also grow in charity towards those we would share so much with doctrinally and practically!
When William Carey was informed that Andrew Fuller had died, he spoke these three simple words: “I loved him” Andrew Fuller was only a clay pot carrying forth the treasure of the gospel! What a faithful vessel of the gospel he was! A new generation needs to learn from the pastor of Kettering! The pastor-theologian faithfully plodding in the work of the kingdom is of far greater worth than all the jewels of this earth! He is a jewel in the crown of Christ! Press on!
 Haykin, 90.
 Ibid., 91.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 66.
 Ibid., 89.
Our church has experienced a wonderful revitalization over the past few years. By God’s grace, we have endeavored to become a more Word-centered, gospel-driven, and Christ-exalting church, seeking to always be reformed according to Scripture. One of the more recent subjects we addressed was concerning our Lord’s Day worship and children’s ministry programming. Formerly, children were dismissed part way through the service for Kids Church. Now, rather than being dismissed along with the toddlers (ages 2-3) and preschoolers (ages 4-5), our elementary students (grades 1-5) continue to participate in the worship service with the rest of the congregation.
There is obviously a tremendous benefit in age-specific education. In fact, our toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary students currently use The Gospel Project curriculum either during the Sunday Classes hour or during the Kids Church portion of our Sunday morning service. We want them to be working through the Scriptures, seeing Jesus on every page, and becoming fluent in the gospel. However, there are several reasons that compelled us to keep our elementary students in the worship gathering for its entirety.
The Pattern and Power of Scripture
First, the pattern of Scripture supports keeping kids in the service. In the Old Testament, it appears that children were included in the corporate worship of the covenant community to hear the word of the Lord (Ex. 12:24-27; Deut. 31:9-13; Josh. 8:30-35; Neh. 8:1-8ff.; 12:43). The reason? Deuteronomy 31:12: “…that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law.”
Second, in the letters written to the Ephesian and Colossian churches, Paul directly addresses wives and husbands, parents and children, bondservants and masters (Eph. 6:1-9; Col. 3:18-4:2). This suggests that children were present in the congregations where these letters were being read (cf. Col. 4:16)!
Third, if we truly believe that God’s Word is living and active, that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, that the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring illumination, conviction, and repentance, then we must pray that the Word of God will reach the hearts of our children in ways that they may not even recognize. In Acts 2:39 Peter proclaims that the promise of forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, “is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Yes, they may be thinking, reasoning, speaking, and acting like children; but as Albert Mohler reminds us, “the Word of God can reach where we cannot go.”
The Formative Power of the Worship Service
Parents are to be the primary disciple-makers of their children (Deut. 6:4-9; Ps. 78:5-7; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). The corporate worship service—where God’s word is publicly read, sung, prayed, preached, and seen in the sacraments—is a powerful and formative tool for discipling our children. Part of how kids learn is through observation and imitation. Sitting through a worship service teaches them how to worship by listening to God’s Word read and preached. The content of the prayers, songs, sermon also gives parents an opportunity to teach their children; they can help them follow along, and afterwards ask questions and explain things to them.
Parents have the great responsibility (and opportunity!) to teach to their children, by their own example, the meaning and value of worship—not just personal but corporate. If we don’t value and prioritize the local church, we shouldn’t be surprised if our kids don’t either.
John Piper explains: “The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is parents who don’t cherish doing that worship, [who] don’t love it. Children can feel the difference between duty and delight. They know if dad [or mom or grandma] loves being here. The aim is that the children catch the passion for worshiping God by watching mom and dad enjoy God week after week.”
Our kids should want to be in church in part because they see that their parents want to be there. Imagine the cumulative effect on a child who sees his parents praying fervently, confessing their sins, singing joyfully, reading the Word reverently, listening to the sermon intently, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper week after week, year after year!
Raising Generations Today
Children also benefit from being in the presence of Christians of various ages because they are able to see that the faith of their parents is not a faith that they own alone; they see a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. Keeping kids in the worship service helps cultivate inter-generational discipleship. When our children see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word, praying, confessing, and singing together it reinforces what mom and dad are modeling and teaching at home. It gives them a taste of the eternal—God’s saints celebrating him together.
One pastor writes: “[They] must see, know, and learn that the singing of the great hymns of the faith, the preaching of the Word, reading of confessions, corporate prayers, etc. is anything but boring. It is the gathered life of the community of faith. It is our weekly rhythm—appointed by God, designed by Him, established for the ages—this is what we want them to know, because we want them to know and worship Him.”
If our children grow up totally separated from the church of their parents and grandparents, in their own “church” which constantly caters to their age, desires, and interests, it shouldn’t surprise us to see these children grow up feeling disconnected from church, bored with church, and ill-equipped to become active members of a church when they are on their own. We want our kids to know that church is for them as well.
Parents, Prepare Your Children for Worship
Much of the success of this change depends on the parents. Despite common objections, there are several things a parent can do to help prepare their children for corporate worship on Sunday Morning. Noël Piper and Jeremy Walker have both written excellent practical suggestions for helping your kids sit through “big church.” These include:
- Worship with your family throughout the week. Set aside time during the week to sing, pray, read the Scriptures. Family worship not only helps you disciple your children, but it also helps Sunday morning corporate worship to not be such a shock to their systems.
- Start preparing Saturday night. Ensure that your family gets plenty of rest the night before in order to have enough time Sunday morning to prepare and arrive on time for church.
- Arrive early enough to get drinks, use the bathroom, and accomplish other tasks before the service. This can help to limit the amount of trips in and out of the sanctuary.
- Worship with your children. Encourage them to read along, sing along, take notes, listen carefully. Helping them learn at a young age to listen well, sit still, and pay attention will serve them far beyond two hours on a Sunday morning.
- If necessary, provide them with “quiet” activities, such as crayons or pencils for drawing or coloring. Our church makes these items available for parents to borrow, along with a kid-friendly paper designed for taking notes throughout the service.
Let the Children Come
The most common objection, of course, is: “They won’t understand the sermon! It’ll be over their heads!” But listen to how Piper excellently responds to this sentiment: “Of course, it is over their head. It is supposed to be over their head! They are beginners. The English language is over their head as soon as they come out of the womb. But we don’t say: Well, let’s put them with other children in their own situations and limitations so they can understand a word or two. No. We immerse them in the English language every day—that they don’t understand 90% of—in the hope and expectation that they grow up into joyful use of the English language. Long before children understand fully what is going on in worship and what is sung and what is said, they are absorbing tremendous amounts of what is valuable.”
This transition hasn’t been an easy one for our families. It has taken much work and patience. But we strongly believe that the long-term benefits outweigh the additional noise and fidgeting. Children are a blessing from God and a gift to the church. Yes, it’s a noisy gift; it’s a squirming and fidgeting gift; it’s a messy gift; but it is a beautiful gift. Children are serve as a visual reminder of those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. Our Lord welcomed them with open arms, and we should do likewise.
Every Christian is a student of God’s Word. Some are good students and some are bad students. But we are all called to study God, read God’s Word, know God, deal with the difficult passages about God, so that we truly get to know Him. Not doing so, is sin for the Christian.
Without knowing God, our moral efforts mean nothing. God is not pleased with piousness that doesn’t reflect the gospel. Just look at the Pharisees. They were pious, “moral,” and they followed the rules etc. But to what end? Without the redeeming love of Jesus as reflected in the gospel, our works mean nothing.
Good morals are the overflow of our relational knowledge of God. Being told to obey God or “follow rules” is not what makes people follow rules, knowing God’s Word is what produces obedience to God. Good works should be spilling out of us if we continually learning about Him. We are to love God with all of our MIND (Luke 10:27). Not just our emotions or affections are involved in loving Jesus, but our minds as well. God gave us minds so that we can use them to think about Him, to learn about Him, to grow in our knowledge of Him.
What makes us want to obey God? What fuels a desire to follow Jesus? Knowing Him! Growing up in church and getting formal Biblical training through going to Bible college has made me realize that the more I learn about Jesus, the Bible, and theology the more I want to follow Him. The more in depth I know His Word and learn about Him, the more it pushes me to live for Him.
I’ve heard it said that we are to try to live a moral life that pleases God, then once we master that, if we have time, we can study theology. This could not be further from the truth! In fact, the opposite is true.
Learning theology leads to Godly living.
Learning about the cross leads to Godly living.
Learning about the Levitical system leads to Godly living.
Learning about the life of Paul leads to Godly living.
Learning God’s Word leads to Godly living.
Learning about the miracles of Jesus leads to Godly living.
Learning about the book of Amos leads to Godly living.
No matter what book of the Bible I read, no matter what theological topic I study, learning and studying it stirs in me a longing for God and a desire to spread the gospel.
Life is about the gospel and living it out is what happens when you truly study theology. If you are struggling to “do the things you want” and not do the “things you hate” (Romans 7:15-16) then these are the things that have helped me:
1.) Study God’s Word – don’t just read it, study it. Use commentaries, lexicons, etc. Actually study it as if you were in Bible college. 🙂
Live for Jesus – it’s the only way to truly live.
The purpose for our annual Publican’s conference is to instruct and encourage the local church through the preaching of the Word, by members of the Publicans, on a particular biblical idea for the advancement of the Gospel and the edification of the body.
Last year we began a three-year endeavor to introduce and encourage the church to understand who God is in a manner that reflects the truth of scripture, and from that understanding of the truth we worship Him rightly and live for Him in all aspects of our lives.
In 2018 we began this task by looking at the historic faith found in the Apostle’s creed. Now we want to be clear here the Apostles creed is not canon, but within it we see the simplification of orthodox doctrine, and as such it is a good tool to direct us along the road we see in the scriptures. Therefore, each of our speakers dissected a different aspect of the creed and unpacked its truth as we saw it in the scriptures. We saw the truth of the Trinity and at the same time their distinctness. We saw the truth of the work of Christ in forgiving our sins and the need for the body of Christ. We saw all this and more flow from the truth of scripture and inform our understanding of the faith, and as such we built a our understand about God and faith on the foundation of Scripture.
It is of utmost importance that we begin our journey here, for the next two years must flow from a proper foundation. You cannot build a home without the foundation, so too you cannot build true worship or a Christian life apart from a biblical orthodox foundation. We must find our full satisfaction in the work of Christ and seek to know Him more as he has revealed himself in Scripture. We do not determine for ourselves what we want God to be, He has revealed himself to us, and as such we are blessed with the opportunity to know Him truly and from that knowledge, we will see the opportunity to worship and live for Him.
Which leads us to this years topic: Doxology
It is vitally important that we see Doxology not as a once a week part of a gathered service but as an overflow of our life with God. So, while the words are sung, they must come from a place of understanding who God is and what He has done. When we come to the Word of God it should leave us in prayer and praise to our Lord. When we hear His Word, we come with an expectation to know Him more and from that knowledge flows Doxology.
Therefore, when we think of worship, we think of singing and in scripture we immediately are drawn to the Psalter. However, the truth is, song and verbal worship is seen throughout the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, and in each genre, we come face to face with not only the content of the words sung to God, but the posture and circumstances that surround that worship. Through seven different pastors we will discuss several specific ways worship is seen in the text of Scripture. Here we will examine the truth of God’s revelation and how that moves us to song, and the proclamation of His Glory.
Lord willing, this will all culminate next year as we then discuss the words of Peter in 2 Peter 3:11 “What sort of people we out to be in lives of holiness and godliness” This one small verse lies at the heart of Orthopraxy, right living. We are not only called to know God and praise Him; we are called to live rightly before Him. Therefore, we will endeavor to unpack the truth of what it means to live well before our God in pursuit of Him. We will seek to unpack the biblical ideas found in spiritual discipline and how these things are not to be confused with legalistic practices. We will seek through the Word to reveal and encourage believers to live well in lives of faith repentance and hope before our God.
We pray these conferences will continue to be a blessing to the local church and to all who join us each year to be encouraged and instructed in the Word of God. We are thankful for all the Pastors who make it a priority to preach here each year. This year our speakers will be from four different local churches along with our good friend from Mississippi, and our morning round table discussion will feature an additional set of ministers from local congregations and mission agencies.
More Info can be found in the Conference tab and our Facebook page.
As I took off my headphones, I told my wife, “I think I just heard the best sermon I’ve ever heard. I need to listen to more from this guy!” I told this to my wife about a famous preacher last year and was surprised to discover recently that he had fallen to sexual immorality and left the ministry. In recent years, others have fallen also, some of which were once stellar preachers and theologians. Names like Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson remind us that apostasy is not some ancient phenomenon to the church. 1 John 2:19 reminds us that news like this will be the case until Jesus comes back and for that reason, we need not be surprised. But when news like this comes to our attention as believers, it should sober us. We need to be reminded from time to time that no amount of homiletical skill, theological astuteness, or ministry fruitfulness protects us from making shipwreck of our faith and leading others astray. But in light of this, what can pastors and elders do to stay the course? Paul charges the church leaders to keep watch. First on ourselves, then on our teaching, and finally on the flock entrusted to our care.
1. Keep a close watch on yourself
“Keep a close watch on yourself...”-1 Tim. 4:16a
“Pay careful attention to yourselves…”- Acts 20:28a
Just after announcing in verse 1, “in later times some will depart from the faith,” Paul urges Timothy: “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:1, 7b-8). Godliness is not a helpful add-on to ministry effectiveness. It is not the sprinkles on the cake; it is the eggs and flour that make up the cake. It is a vital ingredient we cannot afford to do without. Let us remember that God will hold us accountable just as He will the rest of His people.
In the Acts passage, Paul had gathered the Ephesian elders together and shared that from among their own selves would arise false teachers. He charged them to “stay alert.” This charge to, “keep watch” and “stay alert” is found throughout Scripture, but Paul takes it a step further. He calls the church leaders among us to an even more careful scrutiny of our lives: “Keep a close watch on yourself…pay careful attention to yourselves.” This is cautious and careful watchfulness that refuses to rest the eyes of the soul. This is the kind of watchfulness a man has when looking for his lost wedding band in the parking lot or the kind of watchfulness a soldier exhibits when walking into a field full of mines. It is the kind of watchfulness the Wallenda family exercised recently while walking a tightrope over Times Square amid the chaos of flashing lights, city sounds, and strong wind gusts. If even First Century pastors who knew Paul could become false teachers and apostates, we must beware in our Twenty-First Century age.
But how? Puritan Thomas Brooks was right when he closed his book on Satan’s temptations stating that this world is full of snares. How does one maintain such careful and cautious watchfulness while living in such a self-centered culture?
This is only possible by the Spirit’s enabling. Therefore, we must strive to maintain a position of weakness and dependency upon God. One of the sins in ministry that lead to other sins is pride or spiritual independence. As pastors, we are prone to being people-pleasers and know-it-alls. People look to us for spiritual guidance and biblical wisdom, and it can be easy to forget Paul’s warning: “What do you have that you did not receive?” We must stay humble. None of us are indispensable. God doesn’t need a hero. He is it. When the most meek man, Moses failed to uphold God as holy before the people, God put him on the shelf. Let’s stay humble.
I feel it important to point out also that we and our spouses know us best, so we know what else we must keep watch on. Perhaps you are prone to make ministry a mistress in your life and need to show more affection to your family and prioritize your schedule to aide this. Perhaps you often give into envy of other “successful” pastors or churches and slip into unhealthy discouragement or competitive relationships with other church staff. We must know ourselves and then keep watch on the sins to which we are prone. One helpful thing to do is to take your wife or a close friend out for coffee and ask them to share some helpful feedback on your life and specific areas in which you could improve. This is humbling, but it can be part of careful watchfulness. We must keep a close watch on our devotional lives, our marriages, our family. We must know what causes us to stumble and actively resist these and rest in Christ.
2. Keep a close watch on the teaching
“Keep a close watch…on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”-1 Tim. 4:16b
In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul often emphasizes the importance of sound teaching or doctrine. James warned that teachers will be judged with greater strictness (3:1). Jesus said we will give account for every careless word we speak. This should cause us to think more carefully over the words we let roll out of our mouths and strive to teach in a way that aligns with God’s infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word. Indeed, since God’s Word alone has the power to save and stands alone in its authority, our preaching/teaching/writing must never stand apart from it. We are even promised that if we are careful to watch our lives and teaching, God will save us and our hearers. What use is preaching if it fails to save? Therefore, let us live and preach in a way that will help the grace of salvation be displayed and not hinder it. I believe the best way to preach and teach in a way that keeps such a close watch is to preach expository messages where the preaching is merely exposing what God has said clearly in His Word. This way the preacher doesn’t have to constantly wonder if his words are valid, for they will merely be the unfolding of God’s Word.
The last thing we must keep watch on is the sheep under our charge…
3. Pay careful attention to all the flock
“Pay careful attention…to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.”-Acts 20:28b
It is entirely possible to watch our own souls and our teaching, while neglecting the souls of those to whom we preach. But we certainly don’t want to be the kind of shepherd described in Ezekiel 34 who fails to feed the flock. We want to take Jesus’ charge to Peter seriously and to, “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Or as Peter put it, “Shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet. 5:2). We must strive to know our people and be involved in their lives to the point that they feel comfortable opening up to us. As one pastor told me recently, we must smell like the sheep. Paul had just previously told the Ephesian elders that he went “from house to house”, and we would do well to follow his example. Pastors who know their people discover that living rooms, hospital rooms, job sites, and ball games are often great places to speak the truth of the gospel into the lives of their members. We must also invest in discipling other men, not content to let the pulpit be the only preaching they hear from us. Paul charged Timothy to entrust the gospel to faithful men who will then teach it to others (2 Tim. 2:2). All these things require time outside of the office and pulpit. Whenever we feel ourselves isolating ourselves from our people, we are forgetting they are the entire point of our ministry. In his book, Praying with Paul, Don Carson writes, “There are preachers who so loudly declare their love of preaching that it is unclear whether it is their own performance and their love of power that has captured them or their desire to minister to the men and women who listen to them.” Let’s not be preachers who are seldom seen but in the pulpit. Let’s pay careful attention to God’s flock entrusted to us.
So if we wish to experience God’s blessing on our ministry, we must not neglect any of these three important areas of which to keep watch.
Frequently I receive questions from those seeking out truth. A while ago, I received the following query from a young pastor…
“The one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the idea that God only loves some. I feel like I love people more than that and that confuses me. How would you explain this declared reality?”
So I believe it is extremely clear according to Scripture that God loves all people. Of course websites online that want to bash Grace Theology or Calvinistic belief would like to claim otherwise but Reformed folks certainly believe that God loves all people. John 3:16 speaks clearly to this matter as you have pointed out. There are two issues that all Christians must face though.
(1) The first issue to face is the reality that God loves different people in differing ways. No doubt you and your wife love all children in the world generally; but you love your own kidos far more than you love other children and out of the depth of that love you sacrifice, serve, and live in relationship with your kids in ways you would not do for other children. That normal human behavior is an echo of the love of the Divine for us. God loves all people in a benevolent or general sense, showing common kindness to all by gifting them life, breath, and a legitimate opportunity to trust in Jesus. However, he has a far deeper love for his children, whom he lives in relationship with, sacrifices for, and serves in ways that he does not do for those who are not His children. This would be called his special or familial love. 1 John 3:1, Zephaniah 3:17, Romans 8:37-39, Ephesians 2:4-5, and 1 John 4:19 all testify to this reality.
(2) Second, God loves differently than we love, both in a benevolent and in a familial sense. God loves in a benevolent sense but he permits horrible things to occur that He has the sovereign power over and knowledge to stop. With a word of His mouth He could put to flight all infanticide, famine, sexual assault, and on the despicable list rolls. Yet all of these things continue to exist. Biblically we understand that God has a purpose for all suffering and all wickedness but that does not alter the reality that if we could be God for a day then we would vanquish all blatant transgression off the face of the earth forever. He doesn’t do that which simply means that He loves differently and from a different vantage point and position of power and plan than we do.
My little girl had open heart surgery when she was six months old. Her heart would not recover so they had to perform a second surgery on her and insert a life-preserving device. It was a miserable and draining 15 days in the hospital. I met several families in the CVICU whose children were dying. I can unashamedly declare that if I were God, loving as I do, I would heal every single one of those little ones. Yet He doesn’t. Now that reality can and will produce one of two responses in people. First, people will cry foul at God’s allowing suffering or even wickedness to continue, become angry with Him, and ultimately turn away from Him. Or alternatively, they can understand rationally and Biblically that God loves differently than we do and allows suffering and wickedness as a part of human will and ultimately His eternal plan of redemption.
These realities are stated in Scripture, supported throughout church history, and affirmed in various confessions of faith. I hope this helps.
Money is an interesting topic, isn’t it?
We love to sing about it, we love to use it, and we love to have it. Whether it’s Pink Floyd or the O’Jays singing about money in the 70’s, Notorious BIG singing about more money and more problems in the 90s, Bruno Mars singing about how bad he wants to be a billionaire, or Ariana Grande letting us all know how much money she has by the fact that she sees it, likes it, wants it, or got it, throughout the decades we’re familiar with our pop-culture fixation on money and the things that it can buy.
As long as we’re talking about money in an abstract or glamorous way, everyone’s fine with it. But start talking about our specific use of money, start talking about our giving, let alone start preaching on giving, and it’s a taboo topic on par with the “who’d you vote for” question at Thanksgiving Dinner.
Though the topic of our money and giving can often be an uncomfortable and touchy matter, it is one that Scripture speaks clearly and often on. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that 1 out of every 10 verses in the Gospels is Jesus teaching on money, possessions, or giving. As we zoom out and look at the whole Bible, there are around 500 verses on the topic of prayer, less than 500 verses on the topic of faith, and almost 2,500 verses on the topic of money and possessions.
Because of our draw to possessions and our temptation to idolatry, discontentment, and covetousness, God taught often and clearly on this topic. We’re told to avoid the love of money (1 Tim 6:6-10) and to choose God over money (Luke 16:13), so that we can be generous and ready to given (Matthew 6:2-16) and put our trust in God, not riches (1 Tim 6:17-19). We’re also encouraged to plan and save (Prov 21:20) and to look after the news of our families and others (1 Tim 5:8; Heb 13:16), just to name a few of the things God’s says in His Word about this topic.
As I’ve thought on this topic recently, I want to share with you 7 principles for faithful, godly giving that I think we see in God’s Word.
#1 God sees the topic of our money and our giving as a spiritual matter, an issue relating to our heart, and an issue directly relating to our worship of Him.
One of the key passages to look at to see our money and our giving as a spiritual matter and heart issue are Matthew 6:1-4, 19-21, and 24. In these verses we see Jesus teach on the topic of giving and how we are to give, as well as establishing the principle that we cannot love both God and money. It was this very topic of giving and money that led the rich young ruler not to place his faith in Jesus (Matthew 19). And in Matthew 13, we see Jesus give the parable of the sower, After sowing seeds among 4 different soils, with only the last soil representing the heart that truly comes to Christ and bears fruit in keeping with repentance, we see in verse 22 Jesus commenting on what caused the seed thrown among the thorns to wither and die — The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.
The fact is, you simply cannot read the Bible’s teaching on money, giving, and possessions without recognizing that our money and our giving is a spiritual matter relating to our heart.
#2 God expects and commands us to give
There are numerous commands throughout Scripture that command us as God’s children to be faithful and generous givers. In fact, in Matthew 6, it’s interesting how Jesus begins his teaching on giving there. He begins in Matthew 6:2 by saying, “Thus, WHEN you give.” Not “if” you give, but “when” you give. You see, there was an exception as Jesus is teaching his disciples that of course they’re giving. To think of a non-giving disciple wasn’t even on the radar; it was an oxymoron. His intent, then, was to teach them how to give. Throughout God’s Word, he both expects and commands us to be faithful and generous givers.
#3 God wants us to give for the right reasons
There are numerous wrong reasons that people could give. In Matthew 6:1-4 we see Jesus address the wrong reasons of giving for people’s praise and adoration and simply to boost ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we see Paul address the wrong reasons of giving reluctantly and under compulsion. We must make sure, as we think about our use of money and our giving, that we are avoiding the wrong reasons for giving and instead give for the right reasons — with a heart focused on worshipping God in glad, faithful obedience and generosity in our giving.
#4 God reminds us that our giving is ultimately to our all-seeing Heavenly Father
Jesus is clear on this in Matthew 6:3-4. As we give to the local church and as we give to our brothers and sisters in need, our aim and goal should be one thing and one thing only — worshipping God through that sacrificial giving. If that is not our goal, we will give ourselves to sounding the trumpet before us and building ourselves up in the eyes of others. But true Christian giving is content with not a single soul ever knowing how much we gave, because our focus is ultimately on God, and we are content that our all-seeing heavenly Father sees our giving — and that is perfectly sufficient for us.
#5 God teaches that our giving should be done in light of the Incarnation
2 Corinthians 8:8-15 is key here. In these verses, Paul ties our giving to the incarnation and what Jesus did for our sake in taking on human flesh and accomplishing the salvation of His people. Just as our humility should be modeled after the incarnation (Phil 2), so our giving should be done in light of the incarnation — in light of the fact that God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, gave up everything that was highly His, became poor for our sake, so that through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we might receive the greatest gift of all through faith and repentance — His righteousness and the right to become children of God.
#6 God teaches that our giving should be in accordance with our means
God has called us to care for ourselves and to care for our families. We simply cannot give everything away and neglect those responsibilities. Nor can we give what we do not have. Rather, we give in accordance with our means. Some have been blessed greatly financially and should praise the Lord for that. Others struggle greatly financially. Whether the rich or the poor widow with two coins, we are to give generously and sacrificially according to our means.
#7 God teaches that Christian giving must be done willingly, freely, and cheerfully
2 Corinthians 9:7 is key here. The Christian should not be browbeaten or guilt into giving to the Lord reluctantly or under compulsion. Rather…
…the Lord loves a cheerful giver, which is what we must be.
…the Lord loves a cheerful giver who sees all that God has blessed him or her with and wants to give back to the Lord out of that abundance.
…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees the great sacrifice of Christ and wants to honor and emulate that sacrifice in his or her giving.
…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees our giving as a heart issue and wants to examine his or her heart and examine his or her checkbook to see if the use of money corresponds to what they know to be true and biblical.
And…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees our giving as an act of worship, whereby we please and honor the Lord by gladly, freely, delightfully, and cheerfully giving to the local church and to others because that is what is honoring to the Lord and what He has called us to do.
May we, as men and women of God, strive to be faithful in our giving as an act of worship of our Great God!
Catchy title huh? Ha! In our current world of social media saturation we usually only click on links if they grab our attention. I’m aware of this. But I’m also aware that most of that is just ‘click bait’, a kind of deception trying to lure you in with a cleverly phrased title. I’m not trying to do that here, clearly. Rather than trying to trick you, I’m seeking to introduce you to a word that you’ve probably never heard before but have certainly felt the effects of. What is this word? Parallelism. So, if you’re reading this, I’m glad you clicked, and you’ll be glad for having read this.
In Hebrew poetry there are many ways to place emphasis, but one way in particular stands out as important to how we interpret Hebrew poetry in general, as well as the Psalms in particular. Parallelism in Hebrew poetry has been defined by many as simply ‘saying the same thing twice.’ For example, in Psalm 1 we read of those who delight in the Law of the LORD and meditate on it day and night. 1:3 then says, “He is like a tree planted by streams of living water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.” If parallelism is simply saying the same thing twice we would interpret v3 to be describing the character of the one who does v2. But I’m convinced parallelism is more than this. Rather than saying the same thing twice, Dr. Mark Futato has said Hebrew parallelism is “the art of saying something similar in both cloa but with a difference (whether small or great) added in the second cola.” Wait, what is a cola? It’s not a soda, no. It’s a Hebrew line of poetry, that’s all. So if this is true, which I think it is, we interpret Psalm 1 differently. Rather than merely describing the godly character of the one who meditates on the Law of the LORD with similar repetition, each new line, or cola, adds to and expands on the lines that come before it, giving us a progressively increasing view of all that meditation does within the heart of man.
Confused? Let me show you this in one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 46. Go ahead and open up there and follow along verse by verse:
v1 – The first cola presents God as being two things for His people, a refuge and strength. This on its own is encouraging but the second cola heightens the ideas of refuge and strength by adding how these realities of God meet God’s people day to day. In other words, the second cola explains why the first cola matters so much.
v2 – The first cola of v2 brings about the first implication of v1, that God’s people shouldn’t fear because of what v1 has taught. This remains true even if the earth itself gives way. The second cola then, expands on the earth giving way by actually giving us the means by which the earth gives way, namely, the mountains falling into the heart of the sea.
v3 – The first cola of v3 describes why the mountains of v2 fall into the sea, because the waters roar and foam. The second cola raises this image to a higher level by speaking of the mountains fearing the waters because the waters are raging with a swelling pride or majestic terrible haughtiness (this comes out clearer in the NASB).
v4 – The first cola describes the image of water changing from causing chaos to serving the gladness of God’s people in the city of God. The second cola expands on the reality of the city of God by adding another name to it, the holy habitation of the Most High. Which means then, this is no ordinary city. God’s very presence is there dwelling with His people.
v5 – The first cola in v5 expands on the reality v4 taught. Because God dwells in the city it shall not be moved or shaken. The second cola than adds to this reality of God helping by speaking of His help coming as morning dawns, which brings a fuller understanding of why the city won’t ever be shaken. When the inhabitants of this city wake, God is already at work to help. This is a figurative way of saying the Lord’s help is ever near and brightest to God’s people after the dark of the night.
v6 – Likely the most pronounced and powerful parallelism in the whole Psalm, the first cola of v6 describes the earth shaking when the kings of the earth make their threats. As fearful as that shaking is, the second cola raises the bar to an infinite degree when it says the earth doesn’t merely shake, but melts, when the Lord opens His mouth. The conclusion is that the Lord truly is what v7 will say He is.
v7 – The first cola presents God as the LORD of hosts, Yahweh, God Almighty who is with His people. The second cola adds that this LORD of hosts is also the God of Jacob who wrestles down His enemies and sometimes even His people to make His power known. The first cola is a general statement, while the second cola expands on how this God is with and for His people.
v8 – The first cola of v8 is an invitation to God’s people to come out of the city and witness God’s works while the second cola slightly expands on what that work is in context: desolation.
v9 – The first cola is a general statement of God making war cease on earth. How does He do that? The second and third cola of v9 explain how by adding details of God piling up the weapons of His enemies in a heap that He then sets of fire. These three cola give the sense of a progressing rise in the Lord’s triumphant victory.
v10 – The first cola of v10 states what the whole Psalm means for God’s people, they should be still and know that He is God. But the second and third cola of v10 add the reason why His people should do so. Specifically His people should be still because He will be exalted, not just over the nations but over the whole earth. Which taken together forms a powerful summary statement of the whole Psalm. Both the threats of nature (v1-3) and the threats of the nations (v4-7) will ultimately come to nothing before God.
v11 – A repetition of the cola present in v7. But that we hear this again after the new information brought forward in v8-10, both cola of v11 form a fitting conclusion to the Psalm as a whole.
So as you can see, noticing the Hebrew parallelism, lingering on each cola, and seeking to notice what each new cola adds to or expands on what’s before it brings out the meaning of the Psalm in powerful ways.
Bottom line: since there is so much of it throughout the Psalms, Hebrew parallelism ought matter to you.
Even though I have been in church my entire life, there still is no sweeter sound to me than hearing the voices of many blend into unison as a biblical hymn is sung on the Lord’s Day. Individually, many might not possess musical talent or a grand singing voice. Yet, collectively together, the voices become one in praising the Triune God. One hymn that is special to me is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” In this hymn, the writer makes this observation about the tendency of believers, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” In those few words, every Christian acknowledges what we wrestle with. We are prone to wander, forget, and turn away from the riches of God given to us in Christ.
With our tendency to wander and forget, it is no mystery to why the Bible emphasizes the importance of remembering. The twelve stone memorial erected by Israel after crossing the Jordan River in Joshua 4, the commemorating of Israel’s history in Psalm 78, and Peter’s statement that his two letters were written to stir up the minds of his audience by way of remembrance; the Bible declares that we need to go back and remember truths. In coming to the Lord’s Table to partake of communion, our Lord’s words are repeated during the service: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the Lord’s kindness, He provides us with a meal in which our celebration centers upon remembrance. Each time a church celebrates communion, Paul states that we are proclaiming the gospel. Can we ever hear the gospel too many times? Is it possible for us to preach the gospel too many times? So, it is not a bad thing for us to repeat ourselves in preaching and teaching the Bible. True, we do not need to say the same thing the same way over and over! However, the truths of the gospel are to be repeated because we are prone to wander and forget. How often do we practically live and view justification as dependent upon what I do for the Lord today?
Whether Christians are living in the first century or the twenty-first century, we have a propensity to still function as if we are under a covenant of works when it comes to sanctification rather than see that we are justified and sanctified by the covenant of grace. The centrality of Christ must never be seen as too simple by us. The 2LBCF beautifully expresses our utter dependence upon Christ for every part of salvation this way: “The principle acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.” There is no part of our lives as believers that is to be seen detached from the person and work of Christ. Both justification and sanctification flow from union with Christ.
As we make our way through this pilgrimage, we are reminded of our sin and our susceptibility to the snares of the devil. We continue fighting and resisting the overtures of Satan, the world, and carnal impulses from within. When the battle gets hard, those are the moment that we are most vulnerable to wander and forget. Remember that supremacy of Christ and all that He has done! In Christ, you have been made perfect in Him forever. Nothing can undo the divine declaration that you are righteous in the sight of God due to being in Christ! Go back to Calvary and the covenant: the believer’s posture is one of resting in Christ! When the battle against sin seems to overwhelm us, remember this stanza from “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and rest in the hope of Christ!
O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in the blood-washed linen How I’ll sing Thy sov’reign grace.
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry Me to realms of endless day.
 2LBCF 14.2
On August 1, 2003 I used cocaine and abused drugs for the last time. The Lord rescued me from a miserable life substance abuse, despair, confusion, and an unstable state of uncertainty.
This is probably the most personal blog post I’ve written to date. I’ve spoken extensively on God rescuing me from despair, counseled many people still lost in addiction and substance abuse, and by God’s grace discipled some out of that destruction and into new life in Jesus Christ. But I’ve never written on the subject. It’s not because of shame, although I lived in shame for a long time, nor is it out of fear, although some use my past as ammo for their own agenda. I pray that God uses His story of redemption to point you to Christ and so that you can rejoice in His goodness with me.
The Way it Used to Be
Having been raised in a God-fearing home, I knew better. Really, I did. And for years I wrestled with “Could I have been saved when I was a little boy if I struggled in this sin for years?”
As a little boy, I heard the Gospel, believed the Gospel, and today I can say that I believe God saved me. That may sound strange to some evangelical ears but I lived in regular state of conviction and shame over my sin and had periods of repentance and commitment to Christ where I genuinely sought to honor Him (1 John 3:6-10). Today, I praise God that He is The Faithful Shepherd who always pursues His own, even when they wander on their own!
So how did this happen? There are many details that I can point outside of myself that contributed to my decision making but those details are irrelevant. To sin is always a decision for the one who is in Christ (Galatians 5:16-17). Simply, I neglected the ordinary means of grace and Christian disciplines (the Word, prayer, fellowship, discipleship, worship, & Communion) and when I did I isolated, starved spiritually, became weak and fell to my own evil desires rising up within in me (James 1:14).
What did that look like? Well, at first it started small. I began pretending to drink to impress my friends in 8th grade (I’m sure they were impressed). I started looking at porn regularly. I smoked weed for the first time at 15. Drinking to oblivion immediately followed. Shrooms and LSD were right behind that with prescription pain killers, anxiety meds, muscle relaxers, and ecstasy to follow. By the time I graduated from high school (barely with a 1.79 GPA), substance abuse was an everyday part of my life. I was either using, recovering from the previous destructive oblivion I lived in, or plotting my next one.
The Way God Awakened Me
Outside of some pockets of sobriety and rejoicing in God’s mercy and grace (some short, some lengthy), I wouldn’t find the end of this miserable duplicity until I was 24 years old.
Married to a wonderful wife, with a beautiful daughter, and a little boy about to be born I tried cocaine for the first time in March of 2003. Only six short months later, by August of 2003 I was thousands and thousands of dollars in debt to family and drug dealers, losing a home to foreclosure, on the cusp of being fired from my job, hiding my family, and running for my life (or so I thought), a disgrace to my family, and on the verge of divorce.
By August of 2003, I was the guy on my hands and knees pulling rocks, drywall, and dirt out of carpet with the hopes that it was just a little cocaine that I had previously dropped. I was broken, desperate, and couldn’t imagine living this way for the rest of my life but couldn’t imagine not having enough money to use tomorrow either. Shame, fear, remorse, and despair were my constant companions. Sadly, it was tragedy that God used to open my eyes and call me out of this destruction.
I came into work one morning to the news that a lady I worked with had been murdered the day before; the same day in which she called me looking for more dope. In my selfish destruction, it was my own welfare that was the first thought to run through my mind as I knew I would soon be face to face with law-enforcement. My heart still breaks over my sin and selfishness and grieves for that young lady’s family.
Things went downhill quickly. My family, knowing that something was terribly wrong with me but unsure of what it was, had been dragged into a murder investigation, the paranoia of multiple drug users and dealers, and a broken husband, daddy, son, and son-in-law that didn’t know how to stop. Needless to say, God’s grace and strength was sufficient for me and He delivered me to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph. 1).
It was a long and difficult road of learning how to live clean & sober but looking back I can see the overwhelming mercy, patience, and grace of God. Having come clean with my family, God sent men into my life who would take me under their wing, point me to Christ, and teach me how to live without a substance to alter my reality, even if only for today. In His strength, those “todays” have accumulated.
As of August 2nd, by God’s grace, He has given me 5,843 days of freedom in Christ. Glory to God in highest!
The Way He Pruning Me Today
There are so many details I have to leave out and the road has not always been smooth, but the purpose of this post is to point to the reality God is faithful and He delivered me and set my feet on the Rock!
Today, it’s the ordinary means of grace by which the Lord sustains me, feeds me, convicts me, encourages me, strengthens me, and sanctifies me. This has always been His way of growing His children into the image of Christ and it will always be this way until He completes the good work He began in all those He has saved. I praise God for the ordinary means of grace! I didn’t know what that meant then but today the funnel by which God lavishes His grace on me is an indispensable part of my mornings, afternoons, and evenings.
By His grace, my desire to live in an altered state of mind has been relieved; completely taken from me. By His grace, my life, marriage, and family have been saved. By His grace, He has partnered me with an extraordinary group of men to under-shepherd Christ’s Church in Eldred. By His grace, it is intimacy with my Creator, Savior, and Sustainer that my heart longs for. By His grace, I desire Christ more than anything.
Strangely enough, some years August 2nd rolls around and I don’t think anything of it and some years, like this one, I’m overwhelmed with God’s goodness toward me; His unearned, unmerited kindness demonstrated toward a wretch like me; while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.
In the words of Edward Mote, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Chris,t the Solid Rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Clean; from my sin and substance abuse, for my Savior and His glory!
If you or someone you know wants help, find me on Facebook or email me at email@example.com and I’d be thrilled to point you to the One for whom, through whom and to whom are all things (Romans 11:36). Jesus is enough!
Fantine, Cosette, Javert, Val Jean, Marius, Eponine, are a few of the most famous characters from Victor Hugos’ classic: Les Miserables. Last week I picked up this old classic, that I haven’t read since early in college, and was struck once more by how much it impacted me back then and how it shaped my views on what ministry and the faith should look like when lived out. The main influential force of the book comes from one of my favorite literary characters, who takes up less than 100 pages of this 1200-page tome: The Bishop Myriel or as he was called by the villagers under his care: Monseigneur Bienvenu or M. Welcome. As a minister there is something to be said by such a name attached to so lofty a title, In the text he points out it is the because of the second that he would accept the first. In an era where the church was known for its lavishness and pride, Hugo painted a picture of a man who believed the things he read in Scripture. A priest who didn’t wear the cloth out of a desire to become someone, but rather as a means to serve and be the light of Christ to the worst and the greatest in the villages under his care.
In a day and age where more people are concerned with being right about their doctrine there has seemed to grow all the more potent a lack of care about one’s practice. In these short pages came the conviction that we must hold both and in doing so fear God not man. The radical hospitality of M. Bienvenu is revolutionary not just in his day but in our own. Recently, our elders have begun The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosario Butterfield. The timing of which is perfect as she describes in a modern context the reality of what is exhibited in this work of fiction. We as Christian tend to be more fearful of what the world may think of us or of how it may attack us that we build walls around ourselves, judge people accordingly, and cease to offer the loving table of Christ and the message of repentance and faith. We have become afraid to be real with a people who are lost and dying.
I think deep down it is the power that fiction has on us to paint with beauty and depth, a portrait of what could be, and in doing so strike at the heart of what has become reality. Hugo painted the picture of a shepherd who loves the flock of God (in a day and age where everyone was considered such) regardless of where they came from or who they were. This again lived in a stark contrast to a world were Bishops were about prestige, luxurious homes, and the finest of foods. When robbed he claimed those things stolen as gifts, when offered financial gifts he gave them freely to the poor, when offered a great home he gifted it to a hospital and took their small lodgings for his own. He was described as a man who loved God and loved His creation. Hugo painted a picture of what could be, and in painting this picture he seemed to ask us to become it, to be people who take our faith seriously. Who take what we believe and put it into action? Now I am no literary critic and while this is one of my favorite books, I am not an expert, but the impact that this one man of God has on a story where he is barely featured is immense. Everything that happens in the life of the protagonist Val Jean flows from the Christ like love of this one man, a man he knew for all of 12 hours and in that time experienced grace, forgiveness, hospitality, patience, and mercy. How many of us leave such legacies.
The picture of this man should encourage us all the more in looking at the marks of an Elder and overseer of the church.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
-1 Tim. 3:1-7
The qualification laid down through the inspiration of the Spirit are easy to read and to a degree we may even check off the boxes pretty quickly, but when they are seen in the lives of others we are challenged all the more to pursue God and apply His words, picked in our hearts to become Christ to the world, and moved to love Him more and as such love our neighbors.
Now of course a fictional character is not a real person, but that doesn’t mean this reality doesn’t exist, again a lot of the characteristics of this Bishop are seen in Rosario and her Husband Kent’s Life. They do ministry life the way M. Bienvenu did his, a reflection on the ministry of Christ in the Gospels. It is in hospitality, a qualification we often pass by, that we see people who are cast off by society brought into experience the kingdom of God. In this characteristic of a bishop we see the personal and familial side of Christ, who preached the truth without fear and broke bread with all sorts of people.
May we learn what it means to be hospitable people, May I learn what this means…….
Can you believe it, in just a few weeks school starts again. Vacations, beach trips, and sleepy summer days are coming to an end and will soon be replaced by hectic schedules, extracurricular activities, and early mornings. As the business of life returns here are three ways you can pray for the students in your life:
1.They Grow in their Knowledge of Christ
The school year brings new classes, new teachers, new material, homework, papers, exams and lots of opportunity for learning. An increase in knowledge is a certainty for each student this semester. And for many parents and students a like an emphasis will be placed on good grades, and rightfully so, but of all the knowledge to be gained this school year, let it be your prayer that the students in your life would gain knowledge in Christ above all else. In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul prays that the church of Colossae would increase in their knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10). Our prayer for our students should be no different.
We ought to pray that our students would have a love for God’s Word and a discipline to study it well. We should pray that they would have a desire and commitment to regular church and youth group attendance where they will be taught the Word of God faithfully week in and week out.
We all want our children to do well in the classroom and to increase in their academic knowledge, but let it be our prayer that they would increase in their knowledge of Christ first and foremost.
2. Grow in Sharing Christ
In elementary school many students are required to share something from home with their class for show and tell. Middle and high school students are often required to share a class project or book report with their peers. Many students share germs, lunches, and telephone numbers. Lots of sharing takes place at school, but let it be your prayer that of all the things your students are sharing that they would be faithful to share Christ with those around them.
One of Paul’s requests to the Colossian church is that they would pray for God to open doors for him to share the gospel (Colossians 4:3). This is a great way for us to pray for our students.
3. Be a Light in the Dark
We live in a dark world filled with evil and our classrooms are no different. Our students have a great opportunity to share the light of Christ with those around them (Matthew 5:16), but it is no easy task. There is opposition and there is temptation at every corner. We need to pray, as Paul does in Colossians 1:10, that our children would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work.”
There are many things to pray for this school year but be sure to pray these three prayers for your students regularly.
How many of you have ever been out of the country? I have, and every time I go abroad I always look forward to one moment: walking out of the airport in the new country for the first time. Any of you know what I mean? It’s a different country, with different sights, different sounds, different smells, and an overall different feel. On one hand it feels a bit alien and strange to walk into such an unknown place, but on the other hand there’s an adventurous feel when you walk into a foreign and mysterious culture. It can be a bit of sensory overload and can feel risky at times, but I quite enjoy it.
Well, we’re about to feel the same kind of excitement and uneasiness because today I am blogging about the book of Revelation. You may feel a bit of sensory overload and it may even feel risky at times, but I assure you the book of Revelation is in the Bible to encourage us and I would even add that this book shows us the glory of Christ more than any other in the Bible.
The book of Revelation feels foreign to us mainly because it is filled with symbolism, figurative language, and prophetic apocalyptic imagery that most of us don’t really know what to do with. Now, to feel this way is ok, but to avoid Revelation because we don’t understand it is to fall into error. As a good guide would do, today I want to give you a roadmap or a foundational principle that will help you navigate through this book. This basic foundational principle comes to us from rightly answering the question: how do we approach the book of Revelation?
Answer, we should approach it literally.
Some of you just took a sigh of relief. But wait. When I mean we should approach Revelation literally I mean we should approach Revelation according to its genre of literature. Let me explain.
We should NOT approach Revelation in the same manner we approach Genesis and Exodus. Genesis and Exodus both are included in the genre of historical narrative, which means these books give us a sequential timeline or chronological account of historical events. I think many people approach Revelation in the same manner, and though Revelation shouldn’t be thought of as history, it is commonly approached as a sequential timeline or chronological account of events that are going to take place in the future. We can’t do this because Revelation isn’t narrative, it’s in the apocalyptic genre. Just as there are different ways to interpret the genre of poetry and historical narrative in the Bible, there are different ways to interpret apocalyptic literature. The same rules do not apply.
So if we’re not to approach the book of Revelation as a future chain of sequential or chronological events, how then should we approach it?
Understanding that apocalyptic literature doesn’t play by the same rules, we should approach Revelation expecting it to be filled with symbolic imagery, metaphor, and figurative language because those things are characteristic of the apocalyptic genre in the Bible. Something fascinating in this regard is that out of all the books in the New Testament, the one book with most OT allusions, quotes, references, and imagery is the book of Revelation. This means it is filled with symbolic fulfillment that goes all the way back to Genesis 1. We should also approach Revelation expecting it to have relevance and deep meaning for BOTH the present audience of the apostle John, and the universal Church throughout all of history.
So you can see the cards in my hand, my view on Revelation is that throughout its 22 chapters, the apostle John re-tells the same story 7 different times with increasing intensity every time. You can call this a progressive parallelism, or a progressive recapitulation. G.K. Beale calls is the Historical-Redemptive Approach, while others call it the ‘Iterest’ approach.
“God, what are you doing?” is a question many of us are dying to have answered from time to time. We see the evil on our news feeds and in our neighborhoods and wonder how bad things will have to get before God intervenes. Thankfully we have an entire book of the Bible devoted to this issue. Habakkuk saw the problem of evil around him and could not understand how it could coexist with a good and sovereign God. Yet we discover in the book that evil does not present a problem to God at all.
Habakkuk is one of the twelve minor prophets (minor referring to their size, not their substance). The minor prophets contain colorful and majestic statements about God’s character and ways. They are a kaleidoscope of God’s glory for God’s people. Each minor prophet presents the same faithful God in very unique ways. In Hosea, God is the faithful Husband to harlot Israel. In Joel, God wields an army of locusts. In Amos, God roars like a lion. In Obadiah, God brings down eagle-like Edom from his nest. In Jonah, God runs down the runaways. In Micah, God is a witness in court against His people. In Nahum, God comes like a storm, earthquake, fire, and flood. In Habakkuk, God enters into a dialogue with man. In Zephaniah, God sings. In Haggai, God shakes the nations. In Zechariah, God sends a fountain to cleanse the filthy. In Malachi, God rises like a sun and has wings like a bird. It is a shame if this part of our Bibles still have the shiny gilded-edge pages. The minor prophets contain a rich supply of promises as well; many are fulfilled, reminding us of God’s faithfulness, while others remain unfulfilled and call us to expectant faith in the future reign of Christ over the nations. So if you are pastor reading this, I encourage you to consider preaching through the minor prophets. I’m currently in the middle of a series which gives an overview sermon for each book and have found it thoroughly enriching to my devotional life and very practical for leading Christ’s sheep to live by faith.
We must engage with God over the concerns on our hearts
What sets Habakkuk apart among the twelve is how it presents us with a conversation in prayer between the prophet and God over the problem of evil. Critics of Christianity often cite the problem of evil as the reason God cannot exist. Greek philosopher Epicurus developed what he considered an air-tight argument proving God’s non-existence. David Hume summarized it this way: “Epicurus’s old questions are still unanswered: Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? then whence evil?” (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume). At first glance, this seems reasonable. After all, you don’t have to look far to see evil abounding. But this logic is faulty because it is founded upon a false assumption: that a good God cannot possibly use evil without being evil. Yet this is the very truth we are given in the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk discovers that God uses evil and yet promises to judge evil.
Habakkuk was written a few decades before Judah fell to Babylon. It had been about a hundred years since God sent Assyria to conquer the northern kingdom, yet Judah in the south was still comfortable. Habakkuk complains to God about the evil and injustice of the southern kingdom and questions when God is going to act. He doesn’t bottle up his concerns, but pours them out like water before the Lord. He casts his cares on God because he knows God cares for him. He casts his burden on the Lord. He worries about nothing, but prays about everything. As one commentator put it: “It is a wise man who takes his questions about God to God for answers” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel-Malachi, section on Habakkuk by Armerding). Waylon Bailey points out, “One of the wonders of Habakkuk’s message is the engagement of God with His people. He answered Habakkuk” (The New American Commentary: Micah-Zephaniah, section on Habakkuk by Waylon Bailey). How many concerns do we have that we never express in prayer? May we learn to engage with God over every concern that strikes us in the day.
God’s response to Habakkuk reveals the depth of His wisdom: “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation…” (Hab. 1:5b-6a). This verse is not meant to be used for vision-casting Sunday, but is intended to communicate the depth of God’s wisdom. When we have unbelievable news to announce, we say: “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” God is here preparing Habakkuk for news that his finite mind won’t comprehend. Judah will fall to the Chaldeans (Babylon) and it is God who will send them. This of course demands another question from Habakkuk: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?…Is he then to keep on…mercilessly killing nations forever?” (Hab. 1:13, 17a). He wonders why God would use worse sinners to judge His own sinful people. Then, Habakkuk eagerly awaits God’s response.
We must learn to wait in faith on God’s promises
God puts his finger on Habakkuk’s pulse and says, “Write the vision…for still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay…but the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:2a, 3, 4b). He tells Habakkuk first to learn one important lesson: wait in faith on God’s promises to be revealed. Waiting and trusting are two of the hardest disciplines in our walk with God, yet they are vital. We must maintain a deep well of faith that trusts the person and promises of God over what our eyes can see. The Apostle Paul quotes Habakkuk to say that the justified live by this faith (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). How do we learn to trust God more than our eyesight? By looking backward at God’s faithfulness and forward in faith. This is the kind of faith that keeps you preaching when you see little fruit and the kind of faith that keeps you praying when you see no answer and keeps you hungry for God in the desert seasons.
God then pronounces the woes to come upon the Chaldeans. So God will use evil Chaldea to judge His people, but will then judge them for it. Some may wonder, “How can God use evil in His purposes and then judge those He uses to commit the evil?” This is a profound question and one we cannot and dare not avoid. The answer is found in the cross of Christ. Was God sovereign over the death of His Son? Yes. Did God hold those responsible who killed His Son? Yes. Acts 4:27-28 give it to us clearly: “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” We see this also with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. At times, God is said to harden his heart and at times Pharaoh is said to harden his heart. The answer is both. God guides the evil without compromising His justice. In the midst of God’s answer to Habakkuk’s second complaint is one of those profound promises of end time salvation for His people. Habakkuk 2:14 states, “for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The end result of God’s mysterious ways is God’s greater glory.
We must root our joy in God, not better circumstances
At the end of this dialogue with God, we find a different man than at the start. He began perplexed by God and he ends praising God. He began confused by God’s ways and he ends comforted by God’s wisdom. God called Habakkuk to a deep faith and he now displays it. Habakkuk ends his prayer with praise: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab. 3:17-19). Habakkuk rooted his joy in a sovereign and good God, not better circumstances. This deep joy in God is the key to a living faith. Missionary pastor Samuel Pearce once wrote, “I felt that were the universe destroyed, and I the only being in it besides God, HE is fully adequate to my complete happiness; and had I been in an African wood, surrounded with venomous serpents, devouring beasts, and savage men, in such a frame I should be the subject of perfect peace and exalted joy” (A Heart for Missions by Andrew Fuller).
May we praise our God along with Habakkuk. And may we learn to sing with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).