From Passover to Lord’s Supper

The word sacrament comes from the Latin word ‘sacramentum’ meaning a solemn or sacred oath. Roman Catholics believe there to be seven sacraments, most Protestants only believe there to be two of them; baptism, given to us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the Lord’ Supper, given to us in Jesus’ teaching in the upper room (Matthew 26:26-29). In addition to the word sacrament is the word ordinance, which simply means a statute or command Jesus ordained for the Church. The difference between these two words comes down to what we believe is happening while engaging in these activities. To prefer the title ordinance over the title sacrament generally means one believes there is no grace communicated from God to those participating in the activities themselves. To prefer the title sacrament over the title ordinance generally means one believes there is grace communicated from God to those participating in the activities themselves. I prefer to call baptism and the Lord’s Supper sacraments because I believe God strengthens us in His grace through them, but I also do not mind the term ordinance either because these two practices truly have been ordained by God for the Church.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 92 asks, “What is a Sacrament? A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” Did you notice that both the word sacrament and ordinance are present in this definition? Though we find people rejecting one title in preference of the other, it’s good to use both in defining what they are.

We can also state generally that both sacraments function as signs and seals. Signs, in that what the preaching of the gospel is to our ears, the sacraments are to our eyes.This means they visibly signify or show the invisible truth of God to us. In a very real sense the sacraments are a dramatized display of the gospel. But they are also seals. Just as a ruler in ancient times would seal a document with his royal seal to communicate that the message was from him and carried his authority, so too, the sacraments are visible seals from God promising that all who receive them truly participate in the grace given through them. Paul makes this point well in Romans 4:11-12 saying, “Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

As with all sound doctrine we must look into the whole of Scripture to find the whole overview of any particular doctrine. And this is especially true when we come to the Lord’s Supper, because its roots take us all the way back to the Exodus. Recall that during and after God redeemed Israel out of slavery in Egypt He instituted the Passover. As the final plague was drawing near God warned His people (in Exodus 12) to prepare for this moment by putting the blood of an unblemished lamb on each doorpost of their homes. The people were then to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in haste with their belts on and sandals on their feet. As God passed through to strike down the first born of the land of Egypt He saw the blood and passed over all the homes who have done this. This hasty meal was to be a memorial day feast celebrating the beginning of Israel’s new year from this day forward and it was these things that each prophet of God called the people of God back to throughout the Old Covenant. Then there’s a change.

As Jesus’ hour was drawing near He gathered together with His disciples to celebrate this Passover one last time in Luke 22. At this meal in the Upper Room Jesus did something new. Rather than repeating what the Israelites had done for ages and ages, He changed things. Here is how Luke recounts the moment. “And when the hour came, He reclined at table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:14-21).

As God instituted the Passover long ago for the remembrance of what He did to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt and from the death of the first born, so too here Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper for the remembrance of what He was about to do to redeem God’s people from a greater slavery, sin, and a greater Pharaoh, Satan. And just as the Passover was to be a repeated event for Israel each year as they did life together in the land God brought them to, so too the Lord’s Supper is to be a repeated event for the Church as we do life together where God has placed us.

As often as the Church does this, her members see Christ’s death showed forth and are, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism question 96 says, “…not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of His body and blood, with all His benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.”

From Death to Life: How Salvation Works

Allen S. Nelson IV recently wrote and published “From Death to Life: How Salvation Works” through Free Grace Press. This book is written by a Baptist pastor form Arkansas as a primer to guide a reader into understanding biblically how salvation actually works. Nelson does not seek to present a technical soteriological work for the academic scholar. “From Death to Life” is written with the average church-goer or resident of the Bible Belt. As a Baptist pastor in Mississippi, I found myself either highlighting or nodding in agreement as I read each page.

I strongly endorse and recommend this book for several reasons:

Written from a Shepherds’ Heart

As you read this book, the shepherd’s heart within Allen comes across page after page. The Bible Belt contains many people who say they are saved, believe the gospel, yet they do not really have a biblical understanding of the gospel and salvation. This has been transferred into how the gospel is presented in many churches in the South. Allen rightly hits on the theme of how a misguided view of the gospel causes pastors, ministers, churches, and individuals to believe they must either water down the gospel or make the gospel more attractive. In one of the best statements in the book, Nelson writes: “The beautiful diamond of the gospel has been wrapped in toilet paper in the ridiculous attempt to make it more enticing” (10). As you read this book, it reads like a doctrinal exposition as Nelson moves from why we need to be saved, why we cannot save ourselves, why God must be the one who saves, what I must to do (repent and believe) to be saved, and how I live now that I am saved. Nelson writes in a way you can feel the emotion that would come forth from the preacher addressing the congregation.

Word-Centered in Content

This book contains in the body or the footnotes many Scripture references. Allen Nelson focuses in on the texts with precision explaining them in context. He does not isolate one verse out of context but rather makes the case with many passages to explain the great doctrines of the faith that are a part of the gospel message. The Bible is not a prop but provides the framework and substance for Allen’s arguments.

Demolishing Sacred Cows

As a pastor in the Deep South, I am all too familiar with the rotten fruit that comes forth from the altar call/sinner’s prayer methods of evangelism and conversion. Both at the beginning where Nelson presents a hypothetical man in the church (which is a real person in many places including my own extended family) to an appendix at the end, Nelson tackles forcefully, charitably, and admirably the sacred cows of the altar call and sinner’s prayer found in so many churches in the South. I urge anyone reading to consider the arguments presented by Nelson of how antithetical to the sovereign grace and sufficiency of the gospel these recent devices are. While Nelson deals with these issues straight-forward, he does so lovingly and with a heart for true conversions to take place.

Doctrinal Truth for the Layman

Nelson deals with systematic theology, historic theology, the doctrines of grace, and even some covenant theology all the while breaking it down for laymen and laywomen as well as the unconverted in a digestible fashion. This book does a fantastic job of presenting theology without using objectionable “buzzwords” that the reader can immediately dismiss. Nelson unpacks the rich truths concerning regeneration, effectual grace, and sovereign choice with references to the Scriptures and historic Baptist confessions of faith. This book is a must for pastors to use in teaching the people Soteriology 101 in a manner in which they will be able to comprehend systematic theology when it comes to how a dead sinner is made into a living saint.

There were only two negatives to me with this publication. First, there is no Scripture index in the back. Allen provides many Scripture references in the footnotes of each chapter. However, I think it would have been helpful to have a full index in the back. Second, along with the Scripture index, a resource page of books Allen would recommend in regards to different subjects like conversion, regeneration, church membership, etc. would be beneficial. Allen did recommend some resources within the book like Greg Gilbert’s “What is the Gospel?” but a resource page in the index could help both a pastor and layman.

Bottom line: you need to buy this book for yourself, church family, discipleship training, small group, and unconverted friends and family. I cannot strongly endorse this book enough especially if you are living and laboring in the context of cultural Christianity.

           

 

Dead Come Alive

I did this a few months back and wish to do so again as an encouragement on this Thursday afternoon.

Below is an inspiring visual and auditory reminder of the greatness of our God in Christ. I hope it is a blessing and an encouragement to each of us.

 

More information and videos can be found at Fullofeyes.com

“Dead Come Alive”

I felt alone in the world on my own then You came to me
Hope flowing through my veins
I was lost in the black so far gone
Then You drank my shame letting sin flow through Your veins

Lord You are good oh God You’re so good
Lord You are good oh God You’re so good

You were there from the start before it all
Still You left Your throne love lowered down in the flesh
Born to serve born to heal and to lay your life
You’re the final offering cause up from the grave You rose

Oh the miracle You’re the miracle
That makes the dead come alive

Let me take a little second to tell you as we see a prophecy that came true
You see we need to believe that he literally bled through
the clothes on his back his sweat the day was just like crimson rain
crimson stains tide bounty and the devil can’t wash these stains away

Who’s he you ask he’s a friend of me
cause my inability he was sent from me
I hear birds and trees there all telling me
it’s a good thing he won Gethsemane
cause this enemy is to much for me
and this flesh and world is triple teaming me
it seems to be the very end I scream please oh please pass this cup from me!

The thing is it did pass
and it passes every day
he took my cup from me and gracefully he drank the grave
and I don’t mean to speak blasphemy when I say
but I am speaking of the day when my God passed away, Okay?

no wait wait wait no that’s not it no that’s not all
I don’t wanna leave you hanging
this stories banging
against my throat and against these walls
It cant be contained no it wont stay in here it will thrive
cause stories just don’t die when the dead come alive

Oh the miracle You’re the miracle
That makes the dead come alive
Written by Travis Whittaker & Tyler Joseph
Mixed at Earthwork Recording Studio. Mastered by Leon Zervos at 301Studios

Renewal of the Mind

“…to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Ephesians 4:23-24

“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.” – Romans 12:2

I’ve always been taught that the battlefield is in the mind. When it comes to the spiritual realm especially. This statement has proven itself to be true in my life. The question is how much control do we have of our minds, that we can be victorious as we fight the good fight of faith.

Piece by Piece

The move of action for a believer is surrender. Surrender in the sense that we relinquish control of our circumstances to the Lord, who alone is in the position to be sovereign over them in the first place. This surrender sometimes happens little by little. We give our entire lives to Christ as his followers, but there are desires, memories, and habits that we like to hold onto.

It’s important to realize how much your thought life influences you. Your thoughts create your mood. Being able to surrender our thought life to Christ so that our mind can be renewed is so vital for a believer.

God has given us the ability to have control over what we choose to accept into our mind and whether we let ourselves get to a place where we are being very reactive to what is happening to us. This requires self-control. Honing in on the ability to be very mindful and observant of the filter that you have ready to discern what is allowed in and out.

Obviously, the best way to develop a sound and solid filter is to spend time in the Word. It is living and active, and one of the many benefits to allowing your heart and mind to be saturated by it is that it shapes and molds you into the person who is able to discern what is good and right and pleasing to the Lord.

Strongholds

Strongholds are seen in Scripture as either being a place of refuge when our stronghold is God or something very destructive that can only be brought down by divine power. (2 Corinthians 10:4)

The definition of a stronghold is a place that has been fortified. In our minds, this is a thought pattern that has taken a place of power in how we think. You can relate a stronghold to a person that starts smoking. At first, the cigarette has no power. It’s just a pastime, but as it is given precedence in one’s life, it gains power over the person.

Strongholds are one of the most challenging things to overcome in our thought life for several reasons. One reason is that oftentimes, we don’t even realize that they are there. It takes prayer and serious introspection to even become aware of their existence let alone identify exactly what the stronghold is. Also, strongholds are not easily defeated. As was mentioned earlier, they can only be taken down by divine power. All too often, when we realize that something has a hold on us, we try to manage it ourselves. Get it right before we have the courage to come to God with it. But we need to see that only by his power are we able to conquer these strongholds in our minds.

Remember…We walk by faith and not by sight. And our battle is not against flesh and blood.

Faith and Trust

Two HUGE weapons that we have in our minds are faith and trust. Both having to do with our relationship and dependence on God in all circumstances.

In Screwtape Letters, one of my favorite chapters that C.S. Lewis wrote is on the concept of being in the present. In order to live by faith, it has to be an acceptance and trust of who God is and what he is doing in the present. Lewis describes how the present time is the only moment when eternity touches down. Living in the past might be kind of rooted in reality, since those things actually happened, but it isn’t where God is working now. And even worse is letting your mind wander and spend all of its time in the future, where there is no way for us to grasp reality. Only the Lord holds the future in his hands, but he doesn’t operate in a way that lets us see into or be a part of living in that future. Only in the present moment are we given a chance to partake in his work.

All that being said. Let’s desire a mindfulness that identifies when we start going down a dangerous path. Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Engage in this battle over your mind. Let it be renewed by Christ. Let it be surrendered to the washing of the Word. Commit not only your life but also your thought life to Jesus. Let him reign in your heart and mind. And be fully present in the moment because this is when God is choosing to invite you into the story of eternity.

Originally published @http://www.grace-nation.com/2018/05/08/renewal-of-the-mind-britney-ohara/

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 2

Two weeks ago we looked at the first scene showing us Job’s rare pearls (1:6-12). Today let’s look to scene 2.

Scene 2: Earth (1:13-22)

Here we move from heaven to earth, from the first specific day in v6 to a new specific day in v13. This day begins like any other day but ends up being a day he’ll never forget. Four messengers each with their own message come to him, they end up being, to him, more like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.[6]

v13-19 tells us the horrific details, “Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

v13 sets the stage and we see that all his children were together in the oldest brothers home having one of their festivities. v14-15 is the first intrusion where we see a messenger come with news that all of Job’s oxen and donkey’s have been taken and the servants caring for them have been killed. Before we can catch our breath another messenger comes in v16 with the second intrusion saying all of Job’s sheep were destroyed by fire from heaven (lighting) and the servants caring for them have been killed. Again, before we can catch our breath from these first two messages, in v17 we see another messenger come saying all of Job’s camels have been stolen and the servants caring for them have been killed. First was the oxen and donkeys with some servants, then the sheep with some servants, then the camels with the rest of the servants. As these three messages hit Job wave after wave he stands in a stunned silence, probably unable to believe he has been bankrupted and stripped of most of his wealth in one afternoon. He’s gone from riches to rags.

But poor Job[7]doesn’t have time to process these losses when the fourth and final messenger comes. And we as the reader dread what’s coming next. We’ve felt wave upon wave with Job, and as this fourth wave approaches we think back to v13 wondering why we were told that all his kids were together. Then the worst news comes, a great wind has blown down the house with all the children in it, and they are dead. If we dwell on these four waves long enough it is not hard to weep with Job. Two terrorist attacks and two natural disasters leave Job basically all alone.

We, again, remember: the glory of God is more important than our comfort. We know it’s true, and Job does too, but Job didn’t get our privilege of seeing behind the curtain into the details of God’s providential governance of all things. What will he do? Will he curse God and reveal that he only loved God for God’s gifts? Or will he reveal that He loves God still, for God alone, despite what has occurred? v20-21 show us, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

After all that has taken place what does he do? He acknowledges that one day he will die and leave it all behind, and he worships God confessing that God is God and that dark as his road may now be whatever God ordains for him is right. Job words have stood the test of time. Speaking of them Charles Spurgeon said, “Some of the rarest pearls have been found in the deepest waters, and some of the choicest utterances of believers have come when God’s waves and billows have been made to roll over them.”[8]

In v22 we see a wonderful conclusion to a truly horrible story, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

By remaining godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of Jesus Christ who remained faithful while walking a harder road for us.

 

 

Citations:

[6] Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 48.

[7] Ash, page 48.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Study Bible, page 642.

How’s Your Diet?

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature.” (Hebrews 5:11-14a)

Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death (Story by Kenneth Berding).

Here is a woman who had plenty of opportunity to eat the way she needed to be healthy and strong, but she opted to eat primarily chicken nuggets neglecting the very nutrients she so desperately required. When we read this story we may think to ourselves, “How foolish can someone be? Why wouldn’t she simply mix in some fruits and veggies for a well-rounded diet? Why would she neglect her health in that way?”  But before we criticize her let’s take a look at our own lives. We may not be guilty of neglecting the physical nutrients we need, but are we guilty of neglecting ourselves of the spiritual nutrients we need?

In the above verses the author of Hebrews is scolding his readers for their spiritual diet. He is telling them that, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” His readers ought to be growing in their knowledge of God and in their spiritual maturity. But rather they have neglected the Word of God, becoming spiritually unhealthy.

And if we are not careful, the same could happen to us. We have plenty of opportunity to read God’s Word, go to Bible studies, and to hear sermon’s preached, but so often we neglect these things, becoming spiritually weak. And when we do this we hurt ourselves. We need the nourishment found in God’s Word to grow and thrive in the Christian life.

Paul in Colossians 3 tells the Colossian Christians that they are to “let the word of Christ dwell” in them “richly” and the Psalmist, in Psalm 119, declares that he has “stored up God’s Word in his heart.” And we too, need to be a people who regularly soak up the Word of God. It should be on our minds and in our hearts with regularity. God uses His Word to show us Himself and He uses His Word to transform our hearts and minds. Without it we will not grow, but rather we will be weak and immature in the faith.

Let’s not neglect that which is good for us, but rather let us regularly consume God’s Word for greater enjoyment of Him and greater growth in our Christian walk.

The Need for Community

As our world becomes more and more knitted together there seems to be a growing disconnection from within. Every passing day we talk about the new inter-connectivity and growing world wide community, while in actuality the world seems to be growing further and further apart. Depression and suicide rates continue to grow, the counseling industry is on the rise, there is a need for community and yet the need seems to be harder and harder to fulfill as we become more and more isolated in our new found “connectivity.” This has become true even when we think about the Christian church, the place that was founded on the unification of believers from multiple languages and people through the power of the Holy Spirit producing faith in the hope of Jesus Christ on Pentecost. In 2018, Christians have begun to adopted the very practices that have isolated the world, when turn to YouTube for our Sunday morning worship, we listen to twitter for interacting on important theological issues, we use Instagram to feel connected to others,  when in reality we need to cling to the very real and messy community of saints and the hard but joyful experience of life together.

So, Let me begin by saying that we know that there is no perfect community of saints, not since the upper room of Pentecost have we seen a gathering of believers wholly committed to one another and to the faith, we see throughout the book of Acts an ongoing discussion of how we live life together through the direction of the Holy Spirit. They had to face hardships from within and from without, but as we see them labor for the truth of the Gospel we see the Holy Spirit leading the work, lives being transformed and the church growing. I believe this is because they church had a love for God that lead them to love each other, through all the ups and downs of life.

When we are first introduced to the church in Acts 2:41-47 following the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the salvation of 3000 in a single day, we see the growth not of individuals but of a community. In this we see a few characteristics that make the Church as a community of saints essential to the Christian life and to our commitment to Christ.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:41-47

A prominent theme the book of Acts draws on when speaking about the church was their devotion. Upon repenting and believing in the work of Christ for salvation the people then turned towards one another in love and devotion. As one they dedicated themselves to learning the truth of scripture from the Apostles, they dedicated themselves to a life of fellowship (which is far more than a meal), worship, and to prayer. The life of the church is not a one day event it is and always was a life style. It was an everyday occurrence of learning more about Christ, eating meals together, sharing in one another’s personal struggles and ultimately pouring out our hearts as one before God, who sustains us and grows us.

As modern day believers do we share this same devotion, do we seek to be there for one another in their struggles? Do we seek to study the Word of God together? Do we seek to pray together for the burdens of each other and for the will of God to be done in us and through us? Do we long for a community of faith that reflects this, and if we do are we only yearning or are we acting on that desire.

The church is made up of broken sinners who have been redeemed through the blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and yet who still struggle in life and sanctification.  As a church our endeavor should be for the body of Christ, which is often the very thing this world will try to pull us away from. It is in the body of Christ that we find help in the midst of sin, in the midst of anxiety, in the midst of hardship, in the midst of pain, for it is within the body of Christ that we are encouraged to hold fast the faith.

 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

-Hebrews 10:23-25

In a world where the reality that I can find any spiritual answer in a split second or even hear the perfect sermon for my issues with the click of a mouse, we have lost the reality that it is the bride of Christ assembled, every day in every home that weeps with us in the storm, that prays with us through our brokenness, that listen to our hurts and points us back to God, that we need. We need the community of Faith more than we realize, and it’s because of this need we fear it. Hebrews warned of the very real heart of forsaking the gathering, of running from those who care most about you, of seeking to do it on your own. Christ died for His church that they may be one, that we may seek him and through him one another.

If you are struggling with sin, go to Christ and the His Bride

If you are struggling with doubt, go to Christ and the His Bride

If you are struggling with sadness, go to Christ and the His Bride

If you are struggling with life, go to Christ and the His Bride

If all seems free from struggle, go to Christ and the His Bride

The Pastor’s Wife

Let me begin by saying that what compels me to write this is not personal frustration with church members, but a pure desire to consider this great woman in the life of our church and point us to a more biblical view of the pastor’s wife.

There is perhaps no greater calling in the world than that of the pastor’s wife.

That being said, there is perhaps no more difficult calling in the world than hers. While the pastor gets the accolades, his wife often gets the odd looks and questions. While the church loves a pastor they can call on 24/7, his wife must get accustomed to saying goodbye to him at the drop of a hat. While the pastor is busy sharing the eternal gospel, leading sinners to Christ, and counseling struggling Christians, his wife’s ministry is behind-the-scenes and often considered less important. Some even take the liberty to say things to their pastor’s wife they wouldn’t dare say to the pastor, but for some reason they think she needs to hear it. Because of this, I think it would be helpful for us to consider a few questions together about this woman in our church…

Who is my pastor’s wife?

I must sadly admit that I never gave much attention to my own pastor’s wife growing up. In my mind, she didn’t even exist until the pastor called attention to her. Thankfully, I had a pastor who didn’t call negative attention to his wife as I’ve heard some heavily influential pastors do. Yet my pastor’s wife was never an individual soul, but always scrutinized through the lens of her husband. She wasn’t Ellen in my mind; she was Pastor Larry’s wife. As a matter of fact, I was kind of disappointed when I did see her occasionally (it was a mega church) for some odd reason, and I think it was because she didn’t meet my expectations of a pastor’s wife (and I didn’t even think I had any!). After talking to many church members, pastors, and pastor’s wives, I don’t think I’m alone here. Over the years of my life, I’ve lived in various places for college, seminary, and ministry, and have learned an important lesson: No two pastor’s wives are alike. One may be a type-A personality who is gifted in teaching the Bible to women or hosting events each month for the church; another may be introverted and quiet, more interested in one-on-one discipleship. But who is your pastor’s wife? I think the best thing we can do is first consider her to be another church member before we attach some label to her.

Why do I view her so differently?

I think if we’re all honest, we view the wife of our pastor differently than that of another church member’s wife. There are good and bad reasons we do this. Some expect that the pastor’s wife is to have similar spiritual gifts as her husband, but this is nowhere taught in Scripture. Others view the pastor’s wife as another overseer in the church, but this also is unbiblical. Still others have a biblical understanding of the pastor’s wife and yet still treat her as an employee of the church. Now that I’ve been married and in ministry for the last five years, I’ve seen this weird dynamic of a pastor’s wife from firsthand experience, and even I’ve struggled to understand her role at times. Mostly well-meaning people have told my wife things about how she can do a better job raising her children, how she needs to serve in the church more, on down to how she needs to wear her makeup. All of these statements to my own wife over the years have revealed that people expect their pastor’s wife to be someone more than God calls her to be. From comments like, “Hey, the toilet is overflowing in the women’s restroom!” to, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here last week. I’ll try to do better,” pastor’s wives are often put in awkward positions.

So then what are the biblical expectations of the pastor’s wife?

Are you ready for it? Okay, here it goes:

They are simply the same as that of every other believing wife in the New Testament, and praise the Lord for that.

God places on each of us no greater burden than that of faith in Jesus and the lifestyle that aligns with such faith. In the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul doesn’t address the pastor’s wife in his qualifications for overseers, and what he says about deacon’s wives is nothing monumental. Paul says deacon’s wives, “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11). I think it is safe to say these qualifications are expected of every Christian, not just those serving in church ministry. Why does Paul pinpoint deacon’s wives? Perhaps because he knows the position of their husbands means others will see their lives in a more public way. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t expect anything more from our pastor’s wife than we would from any other godly woman in our church. She is to love and submit to her husband’s leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-24), nurture and disciple her children (Titus 2:4-5), love and serve her church family with her unique gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-7), and be a godly example in this lost world (Titus 2:3-5).  

What can I do to be an encouragement to her?

This is perhaps the most important question for us. The pastor’s wife and family live in one is commonly called a “fish-bowl.” Since the wife of your pastor is viewed differently, you and I should make it our priority to be an encouragement to her as much as possible. One seasoned pastor’s wife in a church in our town shared how a church member had greatly encouraged her at the beginning of their ministry with one small statement. This statement was so uplifting that this pastor’s wife held it dear for decades, and it was this: “I want you to know that you are free to be Randy’s wife.” Now that may not sound like much to you, but it meant the world to this pastor’s wife. Have you ever spoken into your pastor’s wife’s life with a word of genuine appreciation like this? It could change her world or even the future direction of your church.

But perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your pastor’s wife is to pray regularly for her. What should you pray? The same thing you would for any other godly woman: to abide in Christ, to love her husband and children, to shine for Christ in this world.

Besides encouraging her and praying for her, you can also consider ways to serve her. I spoke with another pastor friend today who said his wife hasn’t been able to enjoy a church service in weeks because no one volunteers to help her children. This was really sad for me to hear, but sad to say I wasn’t surprised. One woman in our church noticed my wife had to take our toddler-aged children out of the sanctuary one Sunday when children’s church was canceled and she simply offered to watch the children. This is one simple way to truly encourage your pastor’s wife. You could even get her a small gift or write a note to her that expresses how much she means to you and your church. On top of all this, you could simply befriend her. Many pastor’s wives feels isolated from the regular ministry of the church, so you could just get to know her as a friend and sit with her during church services. Who doesn’t want a friend who cares about them like this?

A word to the pastor’s wife…

I know there are pastor’s wives who read these blogs. If you happen to be one, let me encourage you. Don’t let the current spiritual health of the members in your church discourage you. Don’t let your husband’s endless demands on his time discourage you. Don’t let the awkward position that you’re in each week discourage you. When the kids are climbing the walls of your house like chimpanzees and your husband has to leave five minutes after he walked in the door to make a hospital visit and when the only things you hear from other members are ways you can do better, don’t get discouraged. How? Keep drinking from the enriching milk of God’s Word. Keep your soul saturated in the life that is yours in Christ. Keep your eyes fixed on the certain and sure hope of heaven that awaits all God’s suffering saints. Keep finding your life in Christ and Christ alone. Only then will you be the woman God has called you to be instead of trying to be the woman others sinfully expect you to be.

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 1

In the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayer’s, a prayer named Man’s Great End begins with the following words, “Lord of all being, there is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires, that is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made – to glorify You who have given me my being…truly, life is not worth having if it be not improved for this noble purpose.”[1]In other words, our lives only matter if they serve the great purpose of the glory of God. Therefore it would be right to say that the glory of God is more important than our comfort. Right? Isn’t this a statement one we would all agree with? Of course we would. But, are there not some consequences to this statement that make us a bit uncomfortable? Yes the glory of God is the most important reality in all of life, but would we still believe that if God saw fit to glorify Himself by allowing suffering to come into our lives? We want to say “Yes!” but an honest assessment of our hearts may reveal a different answer and bring us to our knees in repentance.

In Job 1:1-5 we we’re introduced to a world where everything has a shiny veneer, a world where everything runs as it ought to run, where the great are also the godly and the good. But as v6 begins we see that this well ordered world is about to given to a very real and uncomfortable level of disorder. But in the disorder we’ll see one thing clearly. In God’s world there is a godly man who is great and, wonder upon wonder, when all of his greatness is taken away he continues to be a godly man.[2]This shows us that, to Job, God is worthy of worship because of who He is apart from anything He’s done for us. By remaining to be godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of another man who would walk this road of suffering for us, Jesus Christ.

In 1:6-2:13 there are four scenes to witness:

Scene 1: Heaven (1:6-12)

v6 begins “Now there was a day…” and what a day it was! The events of this day would change Job’s life forever, and the ironic thing about it is that throughout the book of Job we never read of Job being made aware of the events of this day (which is itself a reason why Job couldn’t have written this book himself). We read that the sons of God, meaning the heavenly court or the divine council, came to stand before God. That they came to present themselves before God and stood before God shows us that these supernatural beings, though higher than men, are lower than God. Only God is on the throne and that these beings come when summoned shows us as much. It also prohibits us from believing this scene is something similar to a sort of Mt. Olympus scene where gods of equal power converse about how to run this world. This scene is nothing like that. Here only God is God, only God is in rules, and only God wields authoritative power in this gathering. All those present are the ones through whom God governs the world. No doubt, this is a meeting that makes any earthly governing body look puny in comparison.

Now, we do not know the guest list for this meeting but we are told in v6 of one individual who was present, Satan. We also do not know if he was a regular attender at these meetings or a regular member of the divine council, or if he was something of an uninvited guest or a kind of meeting crasher here. Whatever the case is, God speaks to him saying in v7, “From where have you come?” Remember God is God. He will not learn anything that He does not already know in Satan’s answer. In this sense God’s question to Satan here is similar to God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3:9 where God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” This was meant to reveal to Adam the weight of his own folly and sin, that he was hiding from the God who made him. The question was not meant to tell God something that he didn’t already know. So, that God asks Satan this question shows us that God already knows his reply and already knows that Satan is up to no good.

Satan’s response confirms this, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” This is a slippery answer, similar to the answer a teenager would give his parents when they ask what they’ve been doing all day. “Nothing, just stuff.”[3]The answer reveals that there’s more to the story that the individual in question doesn’t want to share. Clearly then Satan is up to something but God is aware his slipperiness and aware of his plans to attack one of His own. So He states in v8, “Have you considered My servant Job?” God then repeats in v8 what we’ve already seen in v1. He is blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning from evil. Commenting on v8 Christopher Ash says, “These fateful words, singling out Job as conspicuously genuine and godly, are to prove devastating in their consequences for Job.” Just as Jesus heard about His friend Lazarus being sick and waited two days for him to die before coming to help, so too, God, being very pleased by the life of Job, is the One who points Satan in the direction of Job.

But Satan believes something different about Job. That he’s not as holy as he may appear to be. In v9-10 Satan accuses Job before God saying he’s godly and upright because God has hedged him in so tightly, blessed the work of his hands so greatly, and increased his possessions so vastly. This is why Job is really godly, not because of who God is but because of what Job can get from God in return.[4]More so, Satan says in v11 that the only way to publicly establish if Job truly loves God or not is to take away this hedge, remove his greatness, and eliminate all his prosperity. Satan’s intentions here are horrible for sure, but do not miss that they’re correct. Now, God already knows what Job would do if all he has were removed, but no one else does. So its true that the only way to publicly prove to the watching world that Job loves God for God and not just for what he can get from God is to take away all he has. Flip the story around for a moment. If Job were a holy poor man, wouldn’t it be similar logic to give him riches to be sure that his holiness wasn’t just the result of his poverty? Indeed it would.[5]Either way, rich Job becoming poor Job or poor Job becoming rich Job, the root of Job’s love toward God will be exposed and all will see if it’s genuine. So, in v12 God gives the terrible instruction and permission, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Pause here. We do not like the idea of God permitting Satan to attack Job, but that is what happens. For all his hatred Satan is doing something here for the glory of God.

Do you see it?

In a deep way it is necessary for it to be publicly seen by the watching world that God is worthy of worship apart from His gifts and blessings given to men. So ironically God uses Satan to play a role in this. It’s a role of opposition to be sure, hostile and hateful, but a role nonetheless that God wields for His own glory. Do not think Satan is God’s equal and the two of them are now locked in an epic chess game over the true affections of Job. No, God is God. He knows the end from beginning, and more so, He ordains all things that come to pass.

All of this teaches us that Satan is nothing more than ‘God’s Satan’ as Martin Luther was fond of saying. He’s only able to go where God allows him to go. So when, in the governance of all things, God sees fit to glorify Himself through the devil, He does so, and we perhaps remember our first thought again – God’s glory is more important than our comfort. Job got a first hand lesson in this, Christ got a first hand lesson in this, and we ourselves (though I’d say in a vastly lesser manner) must remember this every time we suffer in any way, shape, or form. That more is happening than meets the eye, and that God is always leading us well.

 

Citations:

[1]Valley of Vision, page 13.

[2]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 37.

[3]Ash, page 42.

[4]Ash, page 43.

[5]Ash, page 44.

The Fullness of Time & the Focal Point of All Things

“…Christians of all times and places have professed that Christ himself is the center of our preaching, our gospel, and our theology. Christianity is Christ…Our first allegiance is not to a set of eternal truths, as in Buddhism or Platonism, but to a person who lived in history to save us and who lives eternally as our heavenly High Priest.”[1]

Christianity is Christ. Every passage, every person, and every exploit from “Let there be light…”[2] to “And night will be no more…”[3] was either working toward this thirty-three-year window or pointing back to it. At least that is what the Apostle Paul believed when he penned “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[4]

The angel Gabriel’s announcement, in Luke 1:26-38, concerning the conception of the Christ has this same end in mind; namely, the baby to be born is the Christ promised from long ago, the Center of Things. The point of God’s announcement is not Mary, it’s not Christmas, but Christ. Packed into the announcement is God’s pronouncement that this child is the Christ as seen in 1) The timing of His birth, 2) The location of His birth, 3) The means of His birth, 4) The family tree of His birth, & 5) the method of His Conception

The Timing of His Birth

As provided for us in the passage preceding, there would be born before Him a forerunner who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (vs. 17). So, when Gabriel visits Mary to inform her of God’s intentions it should be no surprise that we find God declaring His intentions “In the sixth month…” (vs 26). Given the prophetic fulfillment of Malachi 3 & 4 concerning this forerunner, believers can take confidence in the timing of Jesus birth.

The Location of His Birth

A red-flag should rise when we hear that God sent Gabriel to virgin in Nazareth (Luke 1:26). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and this young teenage girl was almost 100 miles north of God’s designated place of birth for the Christ. Of course, having Luke 2 we read how God moved the desires, intentions, & plans of Rome’s emperor and by His divine hand the Christ from Nazareth would be born exactly where God required. God Almighty moves the heart of the kings and turns it as He wills; He needs not the king’s approval or cooperation.

The Mean of His Birth

In spite of liberal theologian’s attempts to discredit the virgin-birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, Luke, Matthew, and Mary herself confirm that God’s intended meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy was that the impossibility of virgin birth would meet the Omnipotent King of Creation. “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Mt. 1:22). If God declared it would be, of course, it would come to be for who could “thwart his plans?”

The Family Tree of His Birth

Gabriel announces that the virgin-born boy would be “the Son of the Most High” and the offspring of “his father David.” This multi-layered proclamation assures the Christian that this Messiah would be both God and man. That Jesus’ family tree would be of divine origin and yet still retaining true humanity. He would need to be both “God-with-us” (Immanuel) and “us” so that “He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”[5] God’s announcement given through his messenger Gabriel confirms, both, Christ’s deity and humanity, permitting Christ to become both the Just and the Justifier.

The Method of His Conception

Luke 1 provides for us a trinitarian movement in the conception and incarnation of Jesus the Christ. Believers can take great confidence as they see the Father’s plan (vs. 26), the Spirit’s power (vs. 35), and the Son’s presence (vs. 32,35) all working in perfect harmony bringing us to “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Reminiscent of God’s creative majesty in Genesis 1, the Spirit of God overshadows the emptiness of Mary’s womb, much like He hovered over the emptiness of a formless world, and from the Father’s eternal plan, the Eternal Son takes on material being. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). From creation ex nihilo to conception in a virgin from Divine origin, nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27).

God’s word to Mary, from Gabriel, is a repository of faith-strengthening truth that encouraged and emboldened both the original recipient, Mary, and generations of believers for 2000 years. May we feast upon God’s faithfulness and he strengthens our faith in His Truth, Jesus Christ.

Citations:

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology

[2] Genesis 1:3

[3] Revelation 22:5

[4] Galatians 4:4-5

[5] Hebrews 2:17

A New Life

This past Sunday was my final Sunday as the Interim Pastor of Riverside Baptist, the church that I have been serving on staff for the last five. It was a bitter sweet Sunday filled with computer problems, angry letters, amazing worship, wonderful prayers, and one last meal together around the Lord’s Table. It was a small and perfect encapsulation of my life at Riverside. However, the part that I want to focus on is the over arching text of my final Sermon: Ephesians 2:1-10. This was the same text I first preached at Riverside as an intern over 5 years earlier and is my favorite text of scripture.  In this text we are reminded of who we are apart from Christ, how amazing His grace and mercy is towards us, and finally how we are to live because of this amazing grace and mercy. It was this text that brought the whole day together in my time of ministry, for it is the reality of who I am as a believer and more importantly who my God is and what He has done in me.

So let us glance once more at this beautiful text and be reminded.

We Were Dead

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Every believer must remember this important part of who we were before Christ: we were dead in Sin. Paul makes no caveats, he doesn’t say we were mostly dead, or that we were in a dire place, no he lays out the plain truth we were dead, no hope, no breath. Our Spiritual life was non existent, it was dead due to it’s natural place as a child of wrath seeking to live and serve the desires of the flesh and the natural progression of sin in the world. Paul is speaking to believers here, immediately following chapter one where he spoke of the sovereign and electing working of God towards those who would be His. Here its is plain that Paul doesn’t wish these believers to be unaware that though they were chosen and set apart, before the work of God in them they were on their own and they were dead.

It is an important aspect of the Christen life that we never forget that before faith became a reality, our only joy and direction in life was to live by the world’s rules, whether that be in abject sin or even a form of moralism, we followed the courses of this world and the philosophies that entangle it. We of our own accord and nature were not interested in God, even those who would come to faith, in their hearts hated God and were enemies with Him. Here Paul is also reminding us that when we look at those in the world around us we should not despise them, but rather have sympathy on them for their eyes are blind to the truth, just as we once were without Christ. Verses 1-3 of chapter two are a wake-up call to us when we get puffed up in ourselves as believers and lose sight of the reality of verse four, BUT GOD.

We Now Live

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Maybe the greatest pairings of words in all of scripture appears here in this text: But God. These two words set into context all of human history and in the case of Ephesians our salvation. Here Paul makes it plain we were dead, there was no life for us to achieve, we could not change our reality. We liked and enjoyed our reality. But God entered in and removed the veil of ignorance that had surrounded our eyes, and in that moment, He gave us eyes to see. By His mercy He transformed our souls from death to Life, In Christ. It is God who has granted us life, not ourselves. We deserved the exact opposite of the gift given to us. God showed mercy, favor despite human demerit, toward us.

Now the root of this mercy is clearly seen to be the work and person of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that this mercy becomes visible, it is in His life, death, resurrection and ascension that we see His power in an new and eye opening way. In Christ we have been raised, in Christ we have been seated, In Christ what was hopeless and dead, now breathes and lives. He did this to show the world who He is and to show those whom He has chosen His mercy for all to see, we are His. We were given life when death is what we deserved, we were given hope, when the pit was our bed, we were blessed beyond words, because our God is gracious and loving God, but this grace and mercy is not meant to now leave us in our sins, no it is rather transformative.

We Now must Walk

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The word of Christ that has set us free from sin and death and given us new life has done so with a purpose and that is to display to the world around us the great riches and mercy of God towards us. We were not set free from sin and death so that we would wallow all the more in it, nor were we set from the condemnation of the world to go and seek condemnable things. Now we have become the workmanship of God, we have become His new creation, His poem, His masterpieces. We have been transformed by the Grace of God through faith, which you did not contribute to, you were dead. He gave us faith, He joined us with Christ, He lavished mercy on us, He made us new, we are but the recipients of a lavish love that is beyond measure, and the biblical response and over flow of this love and new spiritual life is to walk in accordance with it.

Paul concludes this section of the book of Ephesians by reminding us of the very first argument he made in this section; when we were dead we walked according to this world, but now that we are alive God has laid before us a new path for us to walk. Paul focuses on the reality of walking in the faith and living out the reality of what that looks like. Through out the rest of the book he will highlight what the Christian faith looks like and how we are called to live this out day by day, because we were purchased with such a high a cost and forgiven more than we could ever imagine forgiving others of our own accord, because we serve a great and merciful God, we have not been saved by our works, but by Christ to do His works towards the world.

So why was text was so impactful for me on my last day of preaching ministry probably for a while. Because in this text I am reminded that we walk the course God sets before us to do the work He has instructed us to do. We did not save ourselves to live for ourselves or to seek our own advantage but to walk in God’s path and trust the one who saved us from the eternal grave that He will lead us rightly. So in every step we trust Him who gave us life.

Reflections on Matthew

On June 8, 2014, I preached an overview sermon on the book of Matthew to launch our series of preaching through this book. After 166 sermons, this past Sunday, April 29, 2018, marked the completion of that journey. There are many wonderful lessons I learned over the course of preaching this first Gospel in the New Testament. Consider these reflections with me:

Length of a sermon series does not equate faithful preaching

I want to be clear that just because it took me nearly 4 years to preach through Matthew does not mean that I would say that a book series must be multiple years. Some churches will not be accustomed to a lengthy series and some pastors might not feel comfortable going that slow through a book. In Matthew, I slowed down in chapters 5-7 as I explored “The Sermon on the Mount” while sometimes preaching two miracle narratives together. The pastor must learn his congregation. Yet, he should hope that the congregation’s appetite for expository preaching will increase.

The people at New Testament Baptist Church are awesome!

There is no way that I could have preached Matthew the way I have were it not for the support, patience, and endurance of the flock I pastor. Their hunger for expositional preaching deepened the further we journeyed into this book. I am so thankful for the way in which I saw their appetite for the Word developed.

King Jesus

Matthew starts and finishes with a resounding theme blasting in our ears: “Jesus is the Son of David, Son of Abraham meaning He is the Christ, the Covenant Promise, the Son of God, the King!” Immanuel came to us and He still is with us! In days of unbelievable turmoil politically and culturally, the church must fasten itself closer to the reality of who our King is. Paraphrasing John Piper, kings and presidents will be dust and forgotten in eternity while King Jesus rules and reigns. Let us not be hopeless! He is ever with us! All authority is given to Him and He sends us with His authority to our neighborhoods and to the nations! He is building His kingdom and He will accomplish His purpose. “It is all about Jesus” dare not be a meaningless cliché but the marrow that gives us life!

The NT teaches us how to read the OT

By God’s providence, the first book in the New Testament provides Christians an excellent blueprint and grid for how we read the OT. As Christians, we do not read the OT as if we are Intertestamental Jews in the years of silence. We are New Covenant citizens! Matthew 2 teaches us how a passage like Hosea 11:1 finds fulfillment in Christ for Christ is the True Israel. Matthew 12 shows how Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy. Matthew cites or alludes to numerous OT passages teaching the early church and us that we read the OT with Christ always in mind and the gospel of redemption to be the tapestry with different threads making it up.

Hope for the Pagans

Matthew is considered to be the most “Jewish” of the 4 Gospels but the hope for the Gentiles is a constant theme. The genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1 contains Gentile women who were a part of Jesus’ ancestry demonstrating redemptive hope. Matthew 8 tells the story of the Roman centurion who comes to Jesus. What a blessed promise when Jesus says the Gentiles will come and sit with the Hebrew patriarchs in the Father’s kingdom! The Great Commission closes Matthew with the gospel to be carried out to every corner. In the most “Jewish” Gospel, the promise of grace to pagans is found over and over. The New Covenant Jesus inaugurates by His blood and sacrifice purchases and forms a kingdom not just of ethnic Israel but the True Israel: Jews and Gentiles in union with Jesus Christ.

Much more could be said but I encourage you to read Matthew! Read it in one setting and be prepared to be amazed by King Jesus! Fellow pastors, I exhort you to preach through this book soon! You will find yourself amazed by the precious jewels that you uncover week after week!

Sola Scriptura! Soli Deo Gloria!

A Well Run World

Victorian author Thomas Carlyle once said, “Job is the grandest book ever written with pen.”[i]In the introduction to Job the recently published Systematic Theology Study Bible says, “Job is a literary and theological masterpiece. It combines surprising narratives and heated conversations that test the mettle of its main characters. The book’s goal is wisdom, which here and other OT books amount to balanced living based on a proper understanding of God and people.”[ii]And lastly, in the introduction to Job the also recently published Spurgeon Study Bible says, “The book of Job teaches that suffering comes to everyone, the righteous and unrighteous alike. God does not always keep the righteous from danger or suffering. Ultimately God controls all of life’s situations, including limiting the power of Satan. God’s comfort and strength are always available to the trusting soul.”[iii]

Before getting into Job 1:1-5 allow me to make two introductory comments.[iv]

First, Job is a very long book, forty-two chapters to be exact. And while we are very familiar with the beginning and end of the story, most of us have no idea what to do with the middle. But ask a question here at the start, ‘Why is Job so long?’ Perhaps the answer is that God wants to take us on a journey. A journey that will take some time. Through this journey God intends to make you into a different person. How? By entering into, becoming familiar with, and being unsettled by the suffering of Job. And learning that when suffering is in view, there is no easy answer. There is no quick fix. So rightly handled, Job cannot be distilled to a few sermons and general application. You must enter it and listen carefully. But not only is Job’s suffering in view, Christ’s suffering is also in view. Indeed without Christ’s suffering coming into view in Job’s suffering Job would only be a record of unanswered agony.[v]

Second, Job is poetry. Other than chapter 1, 2, and 42 all the rest of Job is poetic and we must remember that. Poetry always has a personal take on something, aiming not just at the head but at the heart of the reader. Because of this on one hand poetry is well suited to speak to the needs of the whole person. But on the other hand we must recognize that poetry doesn’t often sum things up in neat and clearly defined categories. Rather it tends to slowly work on us, revealing deeper and deeper layers as we dive deeper into it again and again. Christopher Ash on this very point says, “You cannot ‘do’ Job as a one-day tourist might ‘do’ Florence.”[vi]

As you can imagine there have been many commentaries, books, sermons, and songs produced from these forty-two chapters. A glaring omission in most all of them is Christ. How are we to see Christ in Job’s suffering? To see this, I’ve chosen Christopher Ash’s commentary to be our guide. It is careful, compelling, and Christ-centered. I encourage you get a copy of it and read it devotionally at some time in your life. I promise, you’ll find it very worth your time.

So without further ado, let’s look into Job 1:1-5.

If I were to ask you ‘What kind of world would you like to live in?’ what would you say? We’d eventually all come around to similar answers I think. We’d like to live in a world where that isn’t fallen, a world where the wicked don’t prosper and the good aren’t trampled on. Our friends across the pond in the U.K. have a saying to describe a gathering or meeting of important people. When talking about it they say ‘the great and the good were there.’ Isn’t that the kind of world what we want? Where the great men and women leading our world always do good, governing with justly and humbly? This well run world is what we find as Job begins.

v1-5 tell us four things about this prominent man from Uz.[vii]

His Place

Job lived “…in the land of Uz…” We don’t know much of Uz in Scripture. We read of it in Lamentations 4:21 which says, “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz…” So from all we can gather it seems Uz was a city in Edom, a pagan land east of the promise land. Notice here not mainly where Uz is but where it is not. It isn’t in Israel and Job’s story never really comes into anything having to do with Israel at all. Most think Job was a contemporary of Abraham so remember the Jewish people hadn’t become a people yet, they weren’t enslaved in Egypt yet, God hadn’t given His Law yet, and He hadn’t brought them into the promis land yet. Before all these things, here is a man named Job who should’ve known almost nothing of God, yet truly does know God, trusted in God, and worshipped God.

His Godliness

Of all the things we hear of Job in v1-5 one of the most important things we hear of is his godliness. v1 says it, Job was, “…blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” This same word that shows up here as blameless is used elsewhere in Scripture. In Joshua 24:14 it is translated as sincerity. In Judges 9:16 it is translated as integrity. God calls Abraham to walk in this blameless way in Genesis 17:1, and in Psalm 119:1 we find that blessing will come to those whose way is blameless. So when Job is in view, what you see is what you get. This is the opposite of hypocrisy, a pretending to be something outwardly while knowing it’s a different story inwardly. Centuries later Paul had to counsel Timothy on how to pastor those who “…had the appearance of godliness but denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Job is refreshing for us to see, for he has the appearance of godliness because there was real godliness about him.

He feared God and turned away from evil meaning verticallyhe had a true devotion/love for God. He was an upright man meaning horizontallyhe was honest and moral in his dealings with others. Job was a man you could trust to give you counsel and a man you could trust to do business with. Job was a man with true piety, and is certainly an exemplary model for Christians in all ages.

His Greatness

In v2-3 we learn Job has seven sons, three daughters, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants. From these things there is only one conclusion we can arrive at, Job “…was the greatest man of all the people of the east.”

Seven sons was seen as something of a goal to aim at. Naomi’s friends describe Ruth as “…being more to you than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). When the formerly barren Hannah has children she praises God saying in 1 Samuel 2:15, “The barren has born seven!” The number seven symbolizes a complete number, and in this culture sons were not only a help with daily work but were also a promise of an extended family lineage. What more could you want then seven sons? Well, how about daughters? Three of them to be exact, which is also seen as a number of completion. Job’s quiver is full and his life is blessed for it. And in addition to his children we see him having an enormous amount of possessions. When you combine all his animals and servants that manage his entire estate we come to see that Job is a man of great wealth and power. So great and so powerful that there is no one like this man in all the east.

On this point Christopher Ash says of Job in his commentary, “Job was, on a regional or local scale, what Adam was meant to be on a global scale – a great, rich, and powerful ruler.”[viii]Pause on this and note. Job was enormously blessed by God, and Job was immensely faithful. But we also notice that there’s another thing about Job we see in v4-5 that shows us more of the story.

His Anxiety

In v4-5 we see that each time his sons and daughters got together for one of their birthdays, a festivity, or a feast day Job grew anxious. He would call each of them to his house for a ceremony. Rising early in the morning he prepare a burnt offering for each one of them. As God’s people would come into being, be rescued from Egypt, and be given God’s Law, they were commanded to do burnt offerings as well. This offering was an expensive ceremony, where a whole animal was burned up in fire. The fire symbolized God’s anger toward sin, the animal symbolized the sinner, and that the fire would then consume the animal entirely symbolized what God would do to sinners for their sin unless redemption occurs. As Job did this for each one of his children, perhaps he pointed to it and said, ‘This one is for you’ until all his children would be represented in their own offering. Seeing this we can rightfully ask, ‘Why go to all this trouble and expense to do this after each family get together?’ v5 tells us, Job would think, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Job had a deep integrity that is clear, but he isn’t so certain about his children. This, Job did continually.

So, in v1-5 the stage set for what is to come. In v1-3 we meet the man himself and in v4-5 we see what he did continually. “This sets a happy scene with one shadow. The happiness consists in a good man being good, a pious man being a prosperous man. It is a picture of the world being as the world ought to be, a world where the righteous lead. It is ironically a world where the prosperity seems to be true.”[ix]The shadow is that even in this seemingly perfect setting something dark lurks beneath the surface. Job is anxious about it after every family gathering. Even in this perfect scene we learn two great truths. First, in the best and most materially abundant of environments the possibility still exists for men and women to curse God in their hearts. Second, only sacrifice – bloody, gory, wrathful, substitutionary, atoning, sacrifice – can cover such sinful hearts.

 

Citations:

[i]Quoted in Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 15.

[ii]Systematic Theology Study Bible, page 567.

[iii]Spurgeon Study Bible, page 640.

[iv]Ash, page 22.

[v]Ash, page 15.

[vi]Ash, page 23.

[vii]Ash, page 30-36.

[viii]Ash, page 34.

[ix]Ash, page 35.

The Old Has Gone – The New Has Come

I recently read that about 68% of Americans own pets. That’s a high number. I would assume that number drastically increases, however, if you were to ask what percentage of Americans have ever owned a pet. It seems that all of us have owned at least one pet at one time or another. For some of us it was a dog, for others it was a cat, while yet others had a hamster, lizard, or goldfish. The bad thing about owning a pet, though, is that those pets die (especially goldfish) far too soon. A pet’s life typically lasts 10 to 15 years, if you’re lucky, and then it’s over.  When your pet dies you might bury it in the backyard, go to the animal hospital to have disposed of, or in the case of a goldfish flush it down the toilet. These are normal things to do when your pet dies. What is not normal is to bring your pet back around to your house and take if for a walk, or feed it, or spend time playing with it after it has died. That would be abnormal.  In fact, that would be insanity. When a pet has died we treat as if it has died. We don’t take it back out for walks.

I think we would all agree that a person who digs up a dead dog and begins to play with it or take it for a walk has lost their mind. Well, every time we sin, we are essentially digging up our dead sinful self and dragging it around with us.

The Bible teaches us that if we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, it is because a drastic change has taken place inside of us. So drastic, in fact, that the Bible says that we have died and been raised to new life in Christ (Colossians 3:1,3; Romans 6:2-11). By the grace of God, we are new creatures with new desires, “the old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If the old has passed away, we are to bury it. We are to put away that sinful behavior (Colossians 3:8) and live for God (Romans 6:11).

There is a new King of our heart and a new commission on our life.

We are to set our “minds on the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1) and “put to death, therefore, what is earthly (sinful) in us” (Colossians 3:5). By grace we have been saved from the enslavement of sin, and by grace we are to put away the sin that remains – burying it far away.

As grotesque as is the image of a man walking (literally dragging) his dead dog down the road, it is far more horrendous that a Christian would dig his old sinful self out of the grave and begin dragging him around, and yet that is what we are doing when we sin.

Thankfully, Romans 6 tells us that we have been raised with Christ by the glory of the Father so that we can walk in newness of life. This new life is in Christ and it far outshadows the old life. When we fill our minds with Christ and seek Him, the old self becomes less alluring.

Let’s attune our hearts to King Jesus and walk with Him while we leave the old self behind.

T4G and the Benefits of Pastoral Conferences

Now over the last few years there has been a growing cry in some evangelical circles against what has been called “a celebrity culture” that drives pastoral conferences, and to a degree I will admit this is true, but I would ultimately challenge the assumption that it is the names on the preaching schedule that make these pastoral conferences so challenging and reinvigorating. Over the last few years I have been to a variety of conferences and workshop for both the purpose of honing the crafting aspects of pastoral ministry and being engaged by brothers and sisters serving around the world for edification. This Past week myself and a few other members of the Publican’s spent the week at Together for the Gospel (T4G) and I want to take a moment and highlight how this gathering is far more than celebrity worship culture in the church, and more a tool for equipping and encouraging the Saints.

Pastoral Worship Through Song

It may surprise a lot of people but on any given Sunday pastors can get distracted during the singing of the word. Now we know this should not be the case but each week there can be any number of fires to put out or the Holy Spirit for some reasons wants to hit you over the head with your sermon points again right in the middle of a Mighty Fortress is our God. So we get a lot of our vocalized undivided attention to singing probably when no one else is around. Here this is not the case. At T4G there was the undistracted singing of some of the great songs of the faith and new by 12,000 brothers and sisters in Christ. In these moments the soul is refreshed, and new life given to words that have maybe become more repetition in our minds than the power declaration of the good and great God we serve. Reminding us again of His great love for those we serve, allowing us to be reminded of how much more powerful these songs can be when sung again with our local brothers and sisters.

So don’t hear me wrong this is nothing compared to the reality of a local body singing to the Lord. In the Local body when the words to songs like Blessed by Your name are sung by believers who know are going through great trials, it reminds you on a deeper level of the work of our Lord, or to see a family sing out in Joy to the Lord following the Birth of their child, can’t be repeated in a 12,000 person gathering, but from that 12,000 person gathering I appreciate those in my local church more.

Bonding & Burden Sharing

On a similar note, one of the great things about this event is the opportunity to build on relationships with other pastors. This is more than simple networking, these are relationships where we pray for one another and year after year connect to see, in person, how one another is doing. Thanks to the advent of our technological age there is a reality that we can do this every day, and for many of us we do. However there is still just something about sitting down at a coffee shop with a brother you have prayed for and talked to over the years and actually be able to throw and arm around  them encourage them and then be equally encouraged or at time rebuked in return. For some in pastoral ministry it can be a lonely place especially those who serve in more rural areas of the country or in neighborhoods where there are not many other ministers to be encouraged by the Lord’s work. Opportunities like these give an opportunity for them to meet and partner with others whom they may have never come across and be encouraged and build up to continue running the race, and loving their flock.

Being Challenged

Lastly what I especially found helpful in this years conference was the preaching that challenged us to lives of holiness and a pursuit of that with all of our hearts. Did I enjoy every sermon equally, no, but I did find every sermon encouraging, challenging or thought provoking. Each man who brought the word of God brought with it a conviction that it is the word of God that changes lives and it is through the indwelling of the spirit that we are changed to pursue holiness in every aspect of our lives. Those who followed the conference online or through twitter may have even seen some of the “controversial sermons.” I personally loved them and maybe that’s because they forced me to think even for a moment differently that what I thought before. It asked me to look to Scripture for my worldview and just assume for a moment that I have been subconsciously shaped by the culture more than I would like to admit. What made these sermons stand out above that was the immediate backlash, which reminded me that even we shepherds are still sheep in the end, we do like to bit when we don’t like what we are hearing, but if we as pastors are not being challenged in our biblical thinking and being taught to disagree well, no wonder the church feels no pangs about being as equally angry a mob as the world. I hope at the end of the Day I seek to understand and in understanding not give an inch on the Gospel while showing the hope and joy of Christ to my neighbors.

As an aside: For those without a denominational home this is in many ways one of the best type of denominational meetings you could attend. While I personally love a good day filed with point of orders, motions and out of orders, I prefer the Word of God given through song, deed and word, and that is what I experienced this past week and hope that others did as well.

The sermons and panels can be found at T4G.org

The previous year’s Music can be streamed from Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/6fvhku1FBjF21nCu7c6aBP?si=VpPAh_h1QpSgAzP0JZ-eeQ