Finding Contentment in His Calling

The notion of climbing a ladder, seeking the maximum achievement in your profession, and doing what you can to promote yourself expresses the common belief, practice, and mindset in American culture when it comes to your career. Certainly, one should not settle for mediocrity but the drive to succeed and be known among your peers becomes one of the dominate themes in many lives. None of us in ministry should ever think we are immune to such overtures. As soon as you think that you are not susceptible to the bright lights and fame of ministry, you best be aware that you are in the prime spot to fall into the trap.

As Paul finishes his first letter to Timothy, the apostle makes a profound statement. “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). In this section of 1 Timothy, Paul provides a connection between false teachers and motivations of greed consuming their lives. Naturally, our mind goes to those who promote the so-called “prosperity gospel” where the message given is that Jesus stands ready to give you all the carnal desires of your heart. Yet, if the only application or implication we draw from this text deal with Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and that sordid band of false prophets, then we are neglecting a needful truth.

Every minister of the gospel faces the onslaught of the “celebrity pastor” image especially as more technological advances are made. The temptation to view each church or ministry opportunity as a stepping stone to the next place (which is usually larger and/or more prestigious) is nothing new. Today, with social media, blogging, podcasts, etc., ministers confront an even greater enticement to be read, seen, heard, or watched. The writer of Hebrews gives a similar exhortation when he writes, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

What is the Spirit of God saying to those of us in ministry? By the Spirit’s power and divine grace, we must be content in His calling. What does it matter if we are called to minister in obscurity? I do not write these things from an ivory tower as someone who keeps this truth perfectly. I can confess that over the last few months, the Lord has taught me and shown me that pride had gripped my heart more than I realized. The temptation is real to not be content with what the Lord has called me to. As some dear brothers came around me, I began to see more and more how ego-driven I had become. This had led to lapses and shortcomings in private devotion and holiness as time in the Word and prayer diminished at times. When the feelings of insecurity would grow in my life, I had nothing to fall back on except my own whims and wisdom. All the while I might hear more compliments from people on my sermons and writings, I was hearing applause for me.

Brother pastors, fellow preachers, and co-laborers, our drive should be to live out our ministry in private integrity and public faithfulness even if that is in a modern “Nazareth” that is off the beaten path. My mind has gone back over and over the last two months to a statement I heard Dr. Steven J. Lawson make at an Expositors’ Conference in Mobile in 2013. He made the statement that the Last Day will reveal many faithful pastors who were off the main highways and plodding along in a Nazareth. I want that to be my testimony. The Lord called me to pastor the dear saints at New Testament Baptist Church in Biloxi, MS. We are off the beaten path. Despite my failures and shortcomings, the Lord continues to grow us in love for Christ and one another, as well as to bring new people and families into our midst. There is nothing spectacular from the vantage point of the “celebrity pastor” in what we do. The work we are doing is spectacular because it is driven by the Word of God seeking the Glory of God. The King calls me to be the pastor-theologian in this context, to care for the souls of this flock, and to be ready to give an account for them. This is more than enough to send me to my knees and keep my head in the book ploughing forward.

History is one of my passions and I have been working through the three-volume set entitled “The British Particular Baptists: 1638-1910” which is published by Particular Baptist Press out of Missouri. I highly recommend this publishing house for they offer a treasure trove of wealth when it comes to Particular Baptist theology and history. In the chapter on Benjamin Francis, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin provides a quote from British Baptist historian Raymond Brown concerning some of the British Particular Baptist pastors of the time. These words gripped my heart as to what really matters:

[These pastors] were content to serve their respective churches for forty and fifty years, pouring their entire working ministry into the pastoral care of rural congregations, faithful biblical preaching, the development of association life, the establishment of new causes and, in each case, the composition or publication of hymns.[1]

There is nothing here that gives room to concern for prestige, platform, or publicity. May to God we learn from and take such a heritage as our own! I am still learning, still growing, and still fighting. I do not write these words as if to say I have arrived. The allurement is still real. Pray for me that I would keep my head down and be busy for the Master regardless of who knows about it. Let us be content in His calling for us satisfied in the One who has called us.

 

[1]“Benjamin Francis” in Michael A.G. Haykin, ed.,  The British Particular Baptists 1638-1910 (Springfield, Missouri: Particular Baptist Press, 2000), II, 19.

A Birthday Reflection: Go Therefore

Go therefore…

Two of the most important words to us in Scripture: ‘Go therefore…’

What is so important about this phrase for many probably is not the words themselves but how often it has been preached and how often these two words have been addressed. As an alumnus of Southeastern Baptist in Wake Forest, I heard these words a lot. These words helped to shape my understanding of the gospel and the importance Christ put on our call not just to pastors and missionaries, but to all believers. We are called to go, or as can be derived from the text ‘to be going,’ and this past Sunday we concluded our series through Holiness with a reflection on the reality that the call to go for all believers is a call to teach a call to be a light to a dying and lost word, a call that points them to a Loving and generous savior

Now before I get too far ahead of myself there are some crucial things in Matthew 28:18-20 that we need to embrace. First while the verse does say go, there is a very important phrase before that, a phrase that makes it all possible, a phrase that shapes how, why, and to what end we go and it is this simple phrase: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Let us just stop right there. In Jesus’ final words to his disciples He wants them to understand the most important thing about what is to come and what is happening right now and that is: All authority is His, All power is His, All that can be and ever was to be is His. In these 11 words Jesus gave the disciples and us everything we ever need, not just to go but to live.

This authority is what gives the Gospel power, Jesus conquered the grave and in so doing revealed all authority to be His and has made it evident for all to see and know. And because of this authority He is now sending out His disciples on the most important task of their lives to make more disciples. Surprisingly to some, we see that Christ’s authority was not dependent on the disciples, but rather one who sent them. In this they are assured that it is not by their might or power that people come to know Him or grow but by the authority of Him alone.

However this should be a motivation for the pursuit of making disciples not an excuse, if for no other reason than the fact that this is commanded by God. As we continue in the text we see that the disciples are to teach every new believer the commands of the Lord and to follow after His teachings and the truth of the Gospel, which clearly means the one He is giving them here before He ascended. In the book of Matthew these are the last words of Christ to the 11 remaining disciples. His final words are to go, baptize, teach, and know that He is with them. And these words apply to us today as much as they did then. We are called to go. God has placed each of us in this specific place, in this specific time, with our specific jobs and neighborhoods not simply for our own well-being, but for the proclamation of the Gospel. We exist and are called to go and make disciples, some will go to far off countries, some will go across the street, some will go to a new city or job, but all will go and as we go we make disciples.

Now again we don’t make disciples by our power or authority but by His alone, and the disciples we make are not our own, but His. We don’t teach them to be Holy like we are Holy, but to be Holy as He is Holy. He teaches them obedience to the one who has bought them with His blood. We must

For most of you who read this you will say you have read this before. There is nothing new here, I will agree with you on that. For most of us this is one of the first things we learn when we come to faith. I mean we came to faith because someone told us, whether that be a relative or a friend someone told us, someone spent time with us, someone walked us through the basics of the faith, someone taught us about the work of the Spirit in us leading to holiness, someone taught us we needed to forgive others and seek forgiveness when we sin. Someone discipled us, whether that was one-on one or in a group. Someone followed Christs command to go and make disciples. How did they grow in holiness and understand the Lord more, they followed his commands to go and make disciples. You are the product of God’s work in their lives.

So I write this again today as a reminder to myself as well as those reading it not because it’s new or revolutionary, but because it is the most basic thing we are called to do and at times it is one of the easiest to forget. Today being my 33rd birthday I look back over the last year and think of the lives I’ve worked with men I have worked to disciple and men who have come along side me and helped me in my spiritual walk through a long sad and joyous year. In reflecting on this text I am more convinced than ever of the reality of this in my life and the need to trust in the authority of Christ given to go, live and disciple.

I pray for each of us that we will never forget, because we have the assurance that all authority is His and He is the one at work, so rest in Him and go make disciples.

 

When Love is Gone

“What do I do when love isn’t there?”

The inquiry came from a young man who approached me after I had pulled the pin and chucked the grenade of the “love chapter” during my Sunday sermon. The thought-provoking, soul-convicting body of 1 Corinthians 13 had apparently thumped a nerve with this gent prompting him to posit a question that I receive on multiple occasions – primarily from married folk: I know the Bible commands us to love according to the example and standard of Jesus…but what do I do when it just isn’t there? How do I love when I don’t feel it? Do I simply fake it ’til I make it? It would be easy to answer this query in triteness, but the reality is that the lack of genuine, God-glorifying, truth-clutching, soul-changing love has become a massive epidemic in evangelicalism and therefore must be addressed in candid prudence.

As I have surveyed the pages of Scripture, chatted this subject up with wise men and women, and consorted with those who excel in and fail to love, I have established four principles that must be followed if we are to love (our spouses, our children, our friends, and our Christian brothers and sisters) in the way that God commands.

1 :: Ask
It cannot be overstated – prayer is essential to loving as Christ has called us to love. The sacrificial devotion of 1 Corinthians 13 is so counter-cultural and self-denying that we must be unabashedly Spirit-dependent in order to “walk in brotherly affection.” Jesus calls His followers not to love moderately well but to love in Divine perfection – as He Himself loved (John 13:34). In a culture that prizes emotionalism, eroticism, and self-gratification this can sound practically impossible. Yet Jesus promised that His Father will give the Spirit to whoever petitions (Luke 11:13) and in the power of the Spirit we can do all things (Philippians 4:13). Therefore, let’s beg the Father to fill us with His Spirit and drive deep within us a Divine-like devotion that burns ever brighter.

2 :: Accept
When love seems to have escaped our lives it is imperative that we seek and accept godly counsel. Practical steps will assist us in walking in faithful devotion, so listen to sound advice and implement pragmatic guidelines from folks who consistently demonstrate and live in Christian love.

3 :: Act
In his brilliant work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” I agree with the British novelist. Expressions of love (actions) are not in themselves love but they can help in developing and maturing love. I am not calling for inauthenticity or fraudulent behavior. Rather I am calling for lives that choose to demonstrate devotion in the earnest hope of finding devotion. Purpose to act in love and there is little doubt that love for others will develop.

4 :: Adore
Never yet have I encountered a follower of Jesus who was enraptured with their Savior while living in apathy or even hostility toward brothers and sisters in the faith. Of course, the primary reason that we strive to see and savor Christ is that He is absolutely worth that adoration; but a bi-product of adoration for Christ is deep-seeded affection for His people. In fact, it is quite clear historically and Biblically that a lack of devotion to others is directly linked to a lack of devotion to Jesus Himself (John 13:35). Loving Christ flows forth in love for others. Therefore, seek to know and adore the Lover of our souls.

Semper Reformanda.

How Do You Pray?

Prayer is an important component of the Christians life. I recently read that Scripture records Jesus praying 25 times during His earthly ministry.  Paul discusses prayer 41 times in Scripture.  There are a total of 650 recorded prayers in the Bible. Clearly, God highly values prayer. It is regularly mentioned in the pages of Scripture and if God thinks that prayer is important, we should as well.
When you pray what do you typically pray for? If you are anything like me your prayer life can be heavily focused on the temporal and absent of the eternal. You pray for good health, financial stability, high scores on a test, and blessings for the food you are about to eat. These are our typically prayers. And certainly we should ask God for our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) and bring our many temporal requests before Him. We have needs and we are dependent on God.  Therefore, we go to Him for help.
However, temporal requests should not be the main purpose of our prayer life.  Even in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) our “daily bread” is sandwiched (no pun intended) between eternally significant matters.  Hallowing the name of God, asking for the kingdom of God to come, asking for forgiveness, and asking to be lead away from temptation come directly before and after the request for daily bread.  All throughout the Bible we see prayers that focus on eternal matters like glorifying Christ and seeking His kingdom.
Colossians 4:2-4 says:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
 
Paul is in prison as he pens this letter and his request for prayer could have easily been, “Please pray that I get out of here as soon as possible” or “that my time here be very comfortable”, or even “that God would avenge me and destroy my captors.”  However, that was not Paul’s focus.  His request for prayer was not personal and temporal, but on the eternally significant request that there would be opportunity for declaring the mystery of Christ.  He was asking that the Colossian Christians would pray for gospel-sharing opportunities (4:3) and for clarity in the proclamation of it (4:4). 
 
How often do we pray like this? How often do we pray for gospel advancement in our lives and in the lives of other Christians? 
 
As we regularly go to God in prayer, let’s not forget to pray for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, and the edification and growth of believers.  Don’t be afraid to pray bold prayers that can change the world for Christ.  We can have confidence that we have a God that hears our prayers and delights in answering them.
 
Pray prayers that have eternal significance.

Doubt & Faith???

“To me, he made a really big mistake when he was praying the prayer because he was inviting people to pray the prayer and he said, ‘If you want to give your heart to Christ today and know for sure that you have a relationship with Him, pray this: Lord Jesus, I believe that I’m a sinner in need of a Savior, and I believe without a doubt … and that’s the part he should’ve left out … That one parenthetical insert without a doubt, I told him never again when you stand in the pulpit”[1]

Now maybe some of you have read this statement this week in the discussion over whether or not doubt has a role in the Christian faith and to what degree faith and doubt function together. Now there are multiple ways to go in this discussion and there are multiple avenues within the scriptures that one may journey in the discovery of who God is and who we are not. Doubt usually arises from a sense of uncertainty and need to fully comprehend what is going on around us. Over the past few months on Sunday evenings we have been studying the life of Job and how the hardest thing to understand is Job’s steadfast desire to stand on His knowledge of God as good, as just, as righteous. He was determined to worship the God he knew when all around him his friends were all but saying that that God doesn’t exist. They spoke of a wrathful God who only destroys the wicked and blesses the righteous. They spoke of a God that could never allow the righteous to suffer. If there was ever a man to question and doubt God it would be Job, But he doesn’t lose faith and walk away, he clings all the more to the reality of what is at stake. His life is for God and God has ransomed him, the rest is just trusting in God and wrestling with the fallen world.

Now I say all that to get to a point that I think needs to be made; there is a place for doubt, if by doubt you mean wrestling with the reality of what scripture means and in the end believing that God is God and I am not. Now again the last part shouldn’t be a cope out to the things we don’t fully know, but rather a driving force that pushes us deeper into the study of all of scripture. In the article he asserts that he struggles with doubt over the reality that he is truly forgiven at times because he still sins; now here is a reality check that I think we can appreciate. The human condition in a fallen word falls backward into the fact that we were once dead and it is hard to see why we would be saved, or why God would still want us when sin creeps back in, but ultimately this doubt is not found in the scriptures for they overwhelmingly tell you He has and that He does. This is an internal doubt that needs to be turned over to God and worked through in a relationship with him. This falls into the idea that you may doubt your wife’s love when you do something stupid and hurt her, but has she given you any reason to doubt her love, or are you projecting the reality that you wouldn’t love this way if it was you. To what degree is this doubting self-centered and self-reflective.

I say all that to say that we need to know God more and more and ourselves a little less.  This is especially true when we think about the Gospel, the main point of the opening quote that got most of us a little riled up. If there is one area where certainty should be absolute in the faith it is in the author and perfector of the faith, Jesus Christ. Doubt should not reside in our confession of sin or in the forgiving love of God towards us through His son, and when approaching someone with the gospel certainty in the gospel is paramount for:

Romans 10:9-13

 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Belief does require certainty in who Christ is and what he did, otherwise where are you placing your faith. When Thomas dismissed Jesus’ resurrection as hysteria Christ gently corrected him in the upper room, but he never commended him for his doubt. Rather Thomas was overwhelmed with guilt for having wavered and doubted that Christ was truly risen and working as he had said.

When it comes to the totality of it all the gospel should never be doubted by a believer, nor should a believer present it as something to be doubted. Now as we grow in our walk we will come across hard parts of scripture we will wrestle with God and with our finite understanding of how it all works, in this we acknowledge that we are not all knowing and there will be gaps in how it all fits together, but there must exist within us a knowledge that our God is in control and does have it all worked out. We may doubt ourselves and our understanding often, we may doubt our hearts, we may doubt who we are, but we do not doubt our God. Nor do we celebrate doubting God as an aspect of spiritual maturity; rather as we study we become stronger in truth and more like Christ, not less. We don’t get tossed back and forth over truth but rather become more stable in the apostles teaching on Christ and godliness.

Ephesians 4:11-16

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

[1] Blair, Leonard, “If You Don’t Doubt the Bible, You’re Not Reading It, Pastor Steven Furtick Says“. July 12, 2018, ChristianityToday.com,

7 Ways to Stoke the Fire and Avoid Burnout

There are a lot of people burning out these days; some for moral reasons, others because they tried to balance too much for too long. Many who haven’t “burned out” are not exactly following Paul’s charge to, “not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11a). So what can we do to keep the fire going and avoid burnout? Here are just a few ways we can practically thrive in our walk with Christ…

  • Meditation

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11

Steep your heart in the Word everyday. Don’t just read with your eyes. Turn it into a prayer. Pray the Word back to God. Meditate, then memorize, then meditate some more on what you’ve memorized. One way to do this is to carry around a tiny notepad and record what God has spoken in His Word that day to give you something to chew on all day and savor it completely. The late Jerry Bridges made this helpful point, “God’s Word must be so strongly fixed in our minds that it becomes the dominant influence in our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. One of the most effective ways of influencing our minds is through memorizing Scripture.”

  • Perspiration

“…bodily training is of some value…” 1 Timothy 4:8a

I know perspiration doesn’t sound as spiritual as meditation, but it is also important. Many of the problems we face could be solved with a little exercise and some healthy eating. One author has stated, “The cure for anything is salt water…sweat, tears, or the sea.” While that obviously takes things too far, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a good sweat. God created our beating hearts and sweat glands for a reason. As embodied spirits, we often aren’t aware of how connected our bodies and spirits are. Many have seen depression and discontentment lift after a period of regular exercise. Doctors say our hearts should beat at a rapid pace at least 30 minutes each day and we will do wise to heed them.    

  • Recreation

“…much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

While similar to perspiration, recreation focuses more on the creativity God gave us. Hobbies are good for the soul. Whether it’s carpentry, karate, racquetball, or cooking, we all need diversions from the demands on us. Some think the Bible’s call to sober-mindedness condemns this, but this is wrong. The truly sober-minded know that high levels of work and stress often lead to sin, so they insert recreation into life. Ancient watchman were given one watch of the night so they’d be fully alert during that watch. We’ve also got to mention the all important…sleep. God wired us so that we’d need this nightly recharge and for those who won’t humble themselves to get it, God will see to it that they are humbled for lack of it. In his little book Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash writes, “To neglect sleep, Sabbaths, friendships, and inward renewal is not heroism but hubris.”

  • Mortification

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

There is no sanctification without mortification. The great men of God in the Bible and church history were known for vigilance in this. John Piper calls this, “Holy sweat” and we can’t forget John Owen’s famous line that, “We must be killing sin or sin will be killing us.” There is no more sad creature in all the world than a believer cozying up to sin. Unbelievers live in sin, but they are blind to the glories of Christ. Believers, however, are at odds with their new union to Christ when they sin. They feel what David felt when he said, “My bones wasted away…my strength was dried up.” This is why Jesus said of indwelling sin, “kill it, gouge it out, pluck it out, and tear it from you.” Peter told us indwelling sin, “wage[s] war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Along with killing sin, we’ve also got to learn to say, “No” to extra demands on our time that keep us from what is most important. Even learning to discipline ourselves to put down the smartphone could help us keep a good pace.

  • Association

“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 10:25

No believer was created to be a lone ranger. We need fellowship with other believers, especially in a local body with which we have covenanted. The church who practices biblical church membership is built upon this deep fellowship in the body of Christ. But sitting in a pew once a week is not sufficient to stir up our souls. We need a one-on-one relationship of accountability in the body and we also need a small group in the church that will keep us lifted in prayer and provide us with the necessary encouragement. All the while, we must not forget that we are there to serve our brothers and sisters and not merely be served by them.

  • Proclamation

“…Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16b

The Dead Sea is a fitting example of the Christian who neglects evangelism. Like the Dead Sea, if we have no outlet of the Gospel into the lives of others, we will grow stagnant and dry. Evangelism always reminds me of the lostness of the world around me and the great wonder of God’s saving grace in my own life. When you rub shoulders with the lost and listen to them share their worldview, it may just remind you how blessed you are to be in Christ, in turn filling you with a passion to share the Gospel with unbelievers.

  • Continuation

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

All of the above will not matter if we fail to persevere. Jesus said it is those, “who endure to the end who will be saved.” While it is true that God preserves His people, it is also true that God’s people persevere. In the same short letter, the Apostle Jude referred to believers as those, “kept for Jesus Christ”, then commanded us: “Keep yourselves in the love of God”, only to conclude, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” May we not lose heart and give up, for there is nothing but destruction for those who do. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us to, “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…”

May we all run this marathon race of life with endurance, focus, and sustainable pace.

Sin is Like Pickles

Widely known for it’s licentiousness and loose living Corinth was one of the chief cities especially suited for sowing wild oats. So many oats were sown that Corinth reaped a widespread reputation for being the epicenter of vice in the 1stcentury. But sadly, within Corinth itself the Church had a worse reputation and to this very day whenever one speaks of the Corinthians the sin of chapter 5 quickly rises to the surface.[i]Why? Not solely because of sexual immorality. No, something worse was allowed to exist among them, something so atrocious that the pagans even blushed at it. Listen to Paul describe the specifics in 5:1, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.”

This man’s mother had most likely died and he was now living with his stepmother who may or may not have already divorced his father because of this sinful relationship.[ii]Whatever the details were there is no doubt about what’s happening here. 5:1 implies that this had been going on for sometime and was still going on at the time Paul wrote this letter to them. In such cases Paul is clear. The Church in Corinth must discipline the wayward man. Listen to 5:2-5, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

Yes this man’s sin needs rebuking, but see how Paul calls out the Church in Corinth for how they’ve tolerated this man’s sin and allowed it to exist? This sin should’ve humbled them, shamed them, and brought the Church to repentance but v2 says they were arrogant. Perhaps they justified this man’s sin away saying it was a unique circumstance that required some more thought before any action is taken. Perhaps they saw it as a matter of this man’s Christian liberty to do as he pleased. Perhaps because such stout early Church theologians had taught them they thought God would overlook such things. Notice what Paul’s instruction is. Does he say this man’s membership is to be suspended? Or that this man should be enter into a lengthy counseling program? Or even that this man should be sent off to a rehab center where he can heal and grow. No, none of that is in play here. Paul’s instruction is simple and straightforward. “Let him who has done this be removed from among you…you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh…” On this man Paul has already pronounced the judgment the Church wouldn’t. So, he says, the very next time they assemble together in the name of the Lord Jesus, to worship the Lord Jesus, they are to remove the man who refuses to obey the Lord Jesus. Why? For His own good. To destroy the unruly lusts of his sinful flesh for sure, but more “…so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” If he refuses to obey Christ, the Church can no longer affirm his profession of faith in Christ, which means he must be removed from the Church of Christ for the very purpose of rebuking him, humbling him, bringing him to repentance so that he’ll be saved, in the end, on the day of Christ.

Many think this kind of excommunication is arrogant judgment within the Church that’s inconsistent with love, but it’s in fact the opposite. Love cannot be true where there is no discipline. Hebrews 12:6 tells us “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines…” Remember, as the Father let his prodigal son wander off with his inheritance to allow the bitter consequences of what he’d chosen be experienced, so too this man in Corinth was to be removed so he’d experience the consequences of his sin.[iii]To not obey the Lord in removing this man who’s not obeying the Lord is also sin against the Lord. The Corinthians apparently weren’t willing to do it, so Paul commanded them to do it, for this man’s own good, in effect saying, ‘Love him in this way.’

Paul goes further. He says the wayward man in view shouldn’t only be removed for his own good, but should be removed for the good of the Church as well. We see this in 5:6-13 where Paul warns them of the effects sin can have when left undealt with.

It’s like pickles…follow me here.

Pickles are to some people what make the sandwich or burger complete, providing that last little garnish that elevates the flavors to their highest potential. These people are wrong and they are not to be trusted. Why take a perfectly good cucumber (or anything for that matter) and drop it into vinegar to make it better? I hate pickles. Not only do they taste awful, they leave a residue that is impossible to remove. For example…once at Chick-Fil-A I ordered a spicy chicken sandwich without pickles. Accidently someone put pickles on it, it was brought to the table, I picked it up and opened it to see if pickles were left off or not (as has become my custom)…and to my dismay they were still there! I knew what was going to happen. As quick as I could I reached down and took them off, cleaned my hands off, and looked back at the bun and saw those two little green circles where the pickle juice had soaked into the bun. It was all over. I ate the sandwich, don’t hear me wrong, but the instant I bit near those circles you could taste and smell the green ooze of pickle juice…it had invaded this perfectly good sandwich.

Lesson?

Sin left undealt with is like pickles, it invades everything in a church.

Paul uses another image, one from the Passover. Like leaven that easily and quickly goes through the whole dough, sin left alone in the congregation eventually effects and impacts the whole congregation. Or to say it another way, sin no one deals with eventually becomes sin that everyone deals with.[iv]What can they do to become pure once again? They must remove the old leaven so they would become a new lump. This is, after all, why Christ the true Passover Lamb was sacrificed – to make His people pure and holy. As Israel was set free from Egypt as a result of the Passover and made a clean break from them, so too the Christian from the work of Christ the Passover Lamb has been set free from the world, the flesh, and devil and because of Christ’s work we are now to make a clean break from the sin that entangles us.[v]If the Corinthians continue in their sinful arrogance they show themselves to be soaked through with the leaven of malice and evil, when they were bought and redeemed and filled with the Spirit of God in order to soak them through with the gospel leaven of sincerity and truth.

 

Citations:

[i]F.W. Grosheide, 1 Corinthians – NICNT, page 119.

[ii]John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, page 122.

[iii]Mark Dever, Twelve Challenges Churches Face, page 52.

[iv]Dever, page 53.

[v]MacArthur, page 129.

Arrows in the Hand of a Warrior

Today is a special day. Fifteen years ago today, God blessed my wife Angie and I with our second child and only son. I was twenty-four years stupid (praise God for His forgiveness and patience) and the blessing that I had received had not yet become a reality to me. I had no idea the joys of fatherhood, the challenges of fatherhood, or the sanctification that God works through fatherhood. The Psalmist knew this well when he wrote, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…” (Psalm 127:3-5).

The Joys of Fatherhood

It has been my joy to watch God grow our children into young adults who love & serve Him. There is no greater joy than to know that, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, God has saved our children and now they are “walking in truth, just as we were commanded by the Father” (2 John 4).

But their relationship with Christ is not the only joy; as a matter of fact, that may the greatest joy but there are almost innumerable others. For instance, the joy of their absolute, unconditional, overwhelming affection for their parents is, indeed, a heart-filler! I remember, so vividly, the smiles from ear-to-ear when I would return home from work, the wrestling on the living room floor with their disregard for their own safety as they would jump from anything, and any height, so long as they could land on daddy, and the cuddling as we read together, or watched movies together, and on, and on, and on. One of the greatest joys I’ve ever known is being daddy. Truly, “children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

The Challenges of Fatherhood

I don’t know that I’ve ever done anything or been given a title that has been as challenging as being a father. Chip Ingram said, “Your most exhilarating joys and agonizing sorrows will likely come from the same source…your children. As parents we understand that raising children is a high stakes adventure.” God has entrusted to parents the life and welfare of another human being and no one in your child’s life will have as great or lasting of an impact as you, even an eternal one. God is clear as to a parent’s task when he clearly expresses that what He wants from your union with your wife is “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). What a task! Who is capable of such a feat on their own?

The Psalmist likens our children to “arrows in a quiver.” Let’s explore that word picture. Arrows are crafted intentionally and precisely. Today’s arrows are crafted from carbon-fiber and weighed down to the grains-per-inch (that’s 1grain=1/7000 of one pound); that’s precision. But why; why are manufacturers so precise? Because those arrows are crafted with a purpose, to hit their mark every time they are released from the hand of the archer. Hasn’t God given us our children for the same purpose? Aren’t we, through the Word and by the Spirit, to intentionally and precisely mold and shape our children in preparation for their release?

In the not so recent past I was reminded by good friends of ours that we are raising our kids for Heaven, not Harvard. The world may claim that “success” is defined by what sports team, college, employment, or paycheck our children end up with but God is concerned with who their heart belongs to and that our children lay up treasure in Heaven where moth and rust do not destroy (Mattew 6:19-20). Our objective as parents is to produce “godly offspring” and the mechanism by which we do that is clearly laid out for us in Deuteronomy 6:4-9; I encourage you to stop reading this blog and read God’s instructions for how to intentionally and precisely craft your arrows for release.

The Sanctification that Comes from Fatherhood

Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, said this concerning marriage but I believe it applies to parenting as well: “Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value…What marriage has done for me is hold up a mirror to my sin. It forces me to face myself honestly and consider my character flaws, selfishness, and anti-Christian attitudes, encouraging me to be sanctified and cleansed, and grow in godliness.” This is true for marriage and I believe it is true for parenting. Let me explain.

It’s not just your child’s unwavering faith that God uses to convict us of our own lack of faith (Matthew 18:3) but they are also the mirror reflecting to the world who you really are instead of who you want the world to believe you are (by “you” I mean “me”).  You see, children are little “mini-me’s.” Do you remember that mid-90’s comedy that had the “mini-me?” Mini-me dressed like his “father”, carried the same mannerisms, pursued the same goals, and basically mimicked his “father’s” every move. Our children are the same, really. I have seen my love for Christ come through in my children and for that I’m grateful but I’ve also see my sin manifest itself through them as well. God, in His grace, shows me who I am and how I sound and what I portray to the world when I see some of my “bad-habits” surface in my children. God uses my children to show me my sin, convict me of my guilt, and then leads me to confession and repentance both with Him and with them. God uses my “mini-me’s” to sanctify me so that I become more like His “Mini-me”, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3). The Father makes me more like Christ through the blessing of being a father myself; what a privilege and blessing my children are!

Today, July 10th 2018, is not only my son’s birthday but it is also the day before he and I depart for Peru where we will, Lord willing, teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, together. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49). I am blessed and although my quiver may not be “full” my heart is! Today is a special day. Thank you Jesus!

Happy birthday, son. I love you more than you’ll ever know until the Lord makes you a daddy too!

Grace and Peace to You

As I recently began preaching Philemon, Paul’s words in verse 3 struck me with a great gospel blow! “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Certainly Philemon 3 is not the only verse in the Pauline epistles that contain a variation of that statement. Most all of the letters written by Paul open up with “grace and peace to you” in the greeting. Since this is a familiar greeting, one can easily over look the profound significance of what Paul is saying. Whether a person has been a believer for one year or for 25 years, the blessing of divine grace and peace should never get old to them. Far too often in my own life, I must confess that I can read a verse like Philemon 3 and move on to what I might think is more exciting, challenging, or profound. This truth is deep enough, profound enough, and exciting enough to meditate upon!

Later in this epistle, Paul asks Philemon to show grace to Onesimus; to forgive this runaway slave who stole from his master. Onesimus, by God’s providential hand, connects with Paul and is converted to the faith. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter urging Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. Paul reminds Philemon of the grace and peace that Philemon knows because of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is Paul stressing this? In the fast-paced life that most of us are engaged in, we must intentionally stop and consider what God has shown us in salvation. The thrice holy God shows us grace by forgiving our sins, making peace with sinful rebels (which is what we are), and all of this is due to the Son of God bearing the wrath of God on behalf of His people.

Ephesians 2:1-3 paints a bleak picture of our natural condition. Spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses, in bondage to the corrupt world system of evil run by Satan, walking spiritual zombies with a passion to only satisfy our wicked desires: this is the condition of all of humanity before God. Eph. 2:4 says “But God who is rich in mercy” and 2:8 says “By grace you have been saved”. This holy God shows grace and mercy to wretched sinners. This wonderful grace manifests itself at the cross. The only way in which any sinner knows forgiveness is by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 2 Cor. 5:21 declares that the perfect One (Christ) became sin (took on His shoulders our sin curse, sin debt, and sin judgment) so that the sinner’s status changes from condemned to justified due to the righteousness of Christ. Do you see why Paul stresses on the grace that God shows to sinners? How can we say there is something more profound than that my sins have been forgiven, judged on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ clothes me? Just as Philemon needed to remember to show grace to another due to the grace shown to him, we stand in need of such exhortations. How often are we tempted to not show grace to another because of the way we feel slighted or mistreated? Beloved, if you and I know grace from Almighty God, there is no room for us to ever withhold grace. If we confess the doctrines of grace expounded upon in documents such as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faithand the Westminster Confession of Faith, then let us not be intellectual Calvinists but practical Calvinists as well.

Paul speaks to the peace that Philemon knows along with grace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This peace is the peace that Philemon now enjoys with God. Romans 5:1-11 describes justification by faith alone in Christ alone producing peace with God. Jesus Christ died for enemies of God. Fallen sinners are at enmity with God. The unconverted hate God for His holiness and sovereignty, hate Christ since He perfectly kept the Law of God as the God-man being the standard of righteousness by which all are judged, and hate the Spirit for convicting the world of sin. Christ dies for the ungodly! Those who were standing under the wrath of God are completely transformed! Peace with God comes from God seeing not my sin and wretchedness but the righteousness of Christ. I have been radically changed going from a warring sinner in a futile, vain quest against the King to now being adopted by the King, clothed by the King, and seated at the table of the King! Grace to you and peace! What marvelous tidings of great joy these are! Is it any wonder Paul puts this in the greetings of his letters?

Finally, notice that Paul says this grace and peace come from both the Father and the Son. Paul declares the divine equality and unity within the Trinity. Our salvation is rooted in the covenant of redemption whereby the Father, Son, and Spirit in complete harmony accomplish the salvation of a people for the glory of God. If you are struggling in a dark night of the soul, brother or sister, remember that the Trinity showed you and continues to show you grace and peace. There is a covenant surety attached to your salvation that nothing of hell can null and void. If you are reading this and do not know this grace and peace, do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. You cannot earn or merit this grace and peace. It is wrought by the Spirit, accomplished by the Son, and given by the Father! Renounce yourself and rest in Christ who beckons to you to come and know Him!

Sing what we Mean, Mean what we sing? Redux

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

There’s an old saying that goes ‘many people will lie in the first 30 minutes of Sunday morning worship more than they will all week.’ This has always been an interesting quote to me, especially when thinking about weekly congregational worship.

This week, in particular, at SonRise we are working through a series on Holiness and this weeks text lands on Amos 5. In this text we see God rebuking the people for their lofty songs that are not reflective of rightful hearts. The people have turned to evil wickedness and to open oppression of the poor and broken for their own profit. They are simply going through the motions of worshiping God, but have not been impacted by the reality of the God they worship. Their songs may speak words of High praise to God but their actions and hearts are not so inclined to believe the words they sing.

This discussion led my mind to go back to that old saying and wonder how much do we really believe the songs that we sing.

Do we ever think about it on Sunday mornings? While in that moment we may be caught up with an emotion or excitement, are we really engaging with the words that we are singing? Do they truly reflect our hearts intention, and our outward life?

I want this brief blog post to be an encouragement to all of us as we go into worship this weekend. I hope that we will be encouraged to think through the words that we are singing. I want us to really focus in on the depth of these truths and how they affect our souls. We truly must think of the songs we sing as an outpouring of our hearts towards God and an encouragement one another. I hope the words of Colossians 3:16 become a reality to us all. So specifically we will look at two types of songs that seem to be the most often sung but overlooked in their meanings.  These are songs of lament and songs of dedication. In one, we sing of our trust in God in the midst the pain and sorrow showing that he is our only hope through it all and in the other we sing of our dedication to God in all things, crying out for our lives to be a reflection of His love for us.

The Song of Lament

For many of us songs of lament probably aren’t all that common in our congregations, even though their meaning and use is probably one of the most real parts of the Christian life. The Psalms are filled with hearts broken and beaten by the world, but whose ultimate faith is in the Lord alone. In our congregations we may not sing them very often but when (not ‘if’) we do we should take a moment and reflect on what they mean. When we sing the words of Blessed be your name and echo the bridge “you give and take away, blessed be your name” do we truly think through what that song is saying? Do we really look at our situations and see all that we may have gained and all that we may have lost and truly be able to cry out “Blessed be your name?” When we are stuck in the wilderness of life do we truly cry out “Blessed be your name?” Songs of lament can be one the greatest salves to hurting heart. They give voice to the destitute, but as we struggle do we truly believe these words. Do we truly yearn for these words to reflect our hearts towards God?

So for those of us who are in pain may we sing these songs with a heart that reflects a trust in God. And to those of us who are not in the midst of trials and struggles, let us sing these songs with two things in mind:

First, the times we have been brought through the fire. When we sing these songs let us reflect on what God has done for us. Let us not sit by passively or sing absent-mindedly, but let us sing reflecting on how God has brought us through.

Second, let us remember our brothers and sister who are sitting around us in our service who are struggling. Let our singing be an encouragement to them of how God is worthy in the midst of our struggles, but also let these songs be a reminder that we all suffer and walk through the deserts.

Songs of Dedication

Songs that cry out for dedication and sing of our allegiance to God are some of the most often taken for granted songs in Christian worship. With one voice we can echo the words “Jesus I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee, destitute, despised forsaken, and thou from hence my all shalt be,” and yet it is not less than a day and back we are to the same pattern following our own desires and ambitions, with little or no thought for the will and direction of God. Another example from the same beautiful hymn “Go then earthly fame and treasure, come disaster scorn and pain, in thy service pain is pleasure, with thy favor loss is gain.” These simple lines echo the call of Christ to follow Him in the gospel, and connect us to the mission of His disciples for all generations; To give up everything of this world and be solely devoted to him. In these songs we declare with one voice yes and amen, we will follow Him without a second guess, yet again we quickly turn back.

Worship through song is formative in many ways, for worship gives voice to who we know we should be, and when we take it seriously we begin to think thoughtfully about whether or not we truly believe the words that we say. It is easy to nod our head at the words of the sermon, but it’s a whole other thing to put those words into action in our daily lives. However, in worship through song we sing those truths one to another and back to God. So the songs we sing on Sunday should never simply be another song in the list of songs that you’ve learned, that flow as easily from, our lips as the newest pop song.

The songs we sing should be an outflowing of the truth of God in Scripture and in our lives.

The songs we sing should build us up with joy for the greatness of who our God is. We should be able to sing in reflection for all that he has done. We should sing with joy to exclaim his greatness to our brothers and sisters. And we should sing the truth of Scripture to those who do not know that they may hear and believe the word of God presented through song.

May our worship through song never be a lie.

May we think deeply of the things of God and sing in response to the greatness of our God. May we not simply check out on a Sunday morning and go through the motions of singing words that we’ve heard time and time again. But may we engage our mind and our heart to understand what God is saying in his word and through the worship of his people.

So when we join with our brothers and sisters this Sunday and sing with one voice may we engage with the words that we’re singing. Let the words truly be a reflection of our hearts, let the words that we sing become formative for our lives as they reflect the truth of Scripture and the truth of our Savior.

 

Seven Ways to Father Well

For the first couple years of being a dad my running mantra to other fathers was: “Here’s what I think…but then again I’ve been a father for about 5 minutes.” My advice, however solid, foolish, or naive, always came with it a disclaimer. I had forever chuckled at parental advice from those without children, and had therefore been reticent, before my own kiddos arrived, to hand out child-training tips. Even with the arrival of Spurgeon (my first born) I was reluctant to advise for a couple of years. However, having consumed a half-dozen books on the topic, perused countless blogs, seen the good and bad of fatherhood from friends and acquaintances, and recently enjoyed my fourth Father’s Day as a pop, I figured I would jot down lessons I am learning in my pursuit of being a strong, godly father. Most of these principles have substantial Biblical backing and in none of these principles have I achieved perfection. I am learning, struggling, and pressing through but I already see a ton of fruit in the lives of my kids through the faithful implementation of these principles.

1 :: Husband Faithfully 

The statistics are alarming. Many men who end up addicted to pornography and with a skewed sense of love are products of affection-less parents. Kids need to see their father spend time with, date, hug, affirm, and prize their mother. This is the best example for them of how men are to treat women, and women men. I will admit, I am far more cerebral than emotional so open affection and flowery romance does not come naturally for me – and I know it doesn’t for many men. But if we desire to father well it all begins with how we love our bride.

2 :: Work Diligently

Laziness seems to be an increasing epidemic in this generation. The pithy mottos of “everyone is a winner” and “you can have anything you want just ‘cause you want it” have come back to bite. Fathers should be teaching their sons – particularly through example – how to work hard. Diligence is almost always rewarded and our kids should see us, particularly at home, laboring feverishly to meet the needs of family and the demands of the home.

3 :: Laugh Frequently

Life is cumbersome with many deadlines, dilemmas, and disappointments. In spite of these things, God gives us ample opportunity to enjoy life and laugh often and we should – with our children – take full advantage. Don’t confuse why you work: work to live, not the other way around. Punch out after putting in a solid day of diligent labor. Come home to actually be with and enjoy your family. Put the phone away, the remote down, and relish the Divine gifts of laughter and amusement. For the past three years Dink and I have encountered heartache and loss, yet we are endeavoring to press through those trials and savor the fleeting moments with our kiddos.

4 :: Discipline Consistently

This is tough. Many parents either allow their kids to run roughshod with little correction (to the bewilderment of those in their church, school, or community) or incarcerate their children in a tiny prison of perfection and robotic behavior. Neither is healthy or right. Consistent discipline, not punishment, is what is best and what is Biblical. Punishment is paying back my kid for bad behavior; discipline is instructing my child toward right behavior. Whatever your form of discipline may be, I would strongly encourage you to be consistent, be calm (don’t get angry or hostile), be informative (let them know why they are being corrected), and be loving.

5 :: Hug Routinely

More than any other, this principle should go without saying, but in the hustle and bustle of life we often forget to actually exhibit the love that we have for our children. Kids need tangible expressions of affection. Hand-holding, hugging, cuddling, and kissing your kiddos is proven to increase their health (mentally and physically) and happiness.

6 :: Teach Regularly

The world around us will not cease in attempting to catechize our children. Allow this vicious instructor to stand at the head of the classroom and your children will learn idolatry, discontent, and disrespect. Instead, silence the voice of a godless culture, and rise up to regularly educate your kids. God has gifted us unending instructional opportunities and as fathers we should snatch up these opportunities. Through Scripture, literature, history, narrative, and experience, teach your children life skills, respectful behavior, sports, crafts, art, truth, and the list rolls onward. Disciple them to know, love, and serve God. Don’t allow a day to pass without some type or form of direction taking place. It’s what their little minds and souls need.

7 :: Live Authentically 

Hypocrisy has driven more children from their parents and the church than any other vice. To be clear, hypocrisy is not failing to live up to your established values, but rather is putting on a mask and projecting yourself as something that you are not. While fathers can fool the crowds, they cannot fool their kiddos. Children will see the mask for what it is and grow increasingly repulsed by it. Living authentically means that I am striving to live according to what I know and declare to be right, acknowledging and apologizing when I fail, and reminding myself and my kids of the enormity and undeservedness of God’s remarkable grace.

I truly hope to see men take seriously the gift that is fatherhood and strive forward to lead and love their children well.

Semper Reformanda

The Grand Symphony – The Doctrine of Christ

John 1:1-18 form what has come to be known as ‘The Prologue.’ Only John gives us an introduction like this. Matthew and Luke begin with birth narratives while Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism. John begins with an 18 verse introduction intended to answer basic questions about Jesus. Questions like: Who is He? Why did He come? Where is He from? As John answers these questions we cannot help but find ourselves simply astounded. Concerning this prologue the study notes in the Gospel Transformation study Bible say this, “The prologue of John’s gospel is like the opening movement of a grand symphony. It is meant to grab our attention and draw us into the story – the story of all stories.”[i]R.C. Sproul in his commentary on John likewise states, “No portion of the New Testament captured the imagination and the attention of the Christian intellectual community for the first three centuries more than this brief section.”[ii]

As it captured them, may God now capture us.

“In the beginning…” These first three words are words we should all be familiar with. John isn’t the only one to begin his writing with them, Moses begins Genesis with them as well. That John uses the same words here is intended to teach us that just as God did His work of creation then, God is now doing His work of new creation here. How does God intend to carry out His work of new creation? v1-3 continues, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Think back to Genesis again. In Genesis we see God creating all things by speaking them into existence saying each time “Let there be…” and there was. Now in this work of new creation it’s clear that God’s bringing it about by something John calls “the Word.” This Word is not only present in beginning of all things, John says the Word is God and the Word is with God. When John says the Word is God shows that the Word is Deity. When John says the Word is with God he shows that the Word is distinct or distinguished from God. Both full-blown Deity and divine distinction are present in this ‘Word.’

To further add to this did you notice there’s an addition in v3 that’s not in v1-2? v3 refers to the Word as “Him.” This prohibits us from speaking of the Word as an impersonal force or some kind of vague power. That John refers to the Word as ‘Him’ means the Word is a Person, indeed one of the three Persons in the Trinity. To further add again, when taking into account the Greek translation of Word, which is ‘logos’, leads us to even more. The ‘logos’ was a Greek philosophical concept used to convey an abstract force that brought harmony, order, and reason into the universe. So in order for the Greeks to be wise or on the right path to wisdom they had to be in touch with the logos. Well John uses this loaded Greek term here in the beginning of his gospel to teach us the true meaning of ‘logos.’ It’s not an impersonal force that brings harmony, order, and reason into the universe, no, the ‘logos’ is none other than God’s divine self-expression. Hebrews 1:1-3 confirms this saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom He also created the world. He (the Son) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” This Word of John 1:1-3 is none other than the Word God spoke to create the world in Genesis 1. But it’s more than just language, the Word is God wrapped in skin, or to say it another way God’s very Son.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, that’s normal. John is a very simple writer, but the way he combines simplicity and profundity often leaves us wondering if we’ve understood all his intends us to. Try to think of it like this. If I want to know who a person is, I listen to what they say because a person’s words reveal what they are thinking. Well, do you want to know who God is? Do you want to know what God’s thoughts are? Praise the Lord God is and He is not silent! God has revealed Himself by speaking, and His Word to us is His very Son!

Historically this prologue is significant. Throughout the history of the Church many have rejected these very things, taught other things, been tried by Church councils, and condemned as heretics for teaching false doctrine about Christ. Men such as Arius, Apollinarius, Eutychus, and Nestorius are some examples of men who denied the truths taught in John 1 and instead believed Jesus is something less. Arius, using his term homoiousios, denied the full deity of Christ and put forth the idea that Christ was the first or greatest ‘created’ being who was of a different nature than God. This was denied by the Council of Nicea (325 AD) but it was Athanasius who led the charge arguing for homoousios, namely, that Christ was of the exact same nature as the Father. These things made up the following Nicene Creed produced from this council.

Later, Apollinarius believed the divine logos took the place of a rational human soul in Christ and therefore made Christ not fully human. This was denied by the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) where a full deity and full humanity were both upheld. Later Nestorius taught that the two natures of Christ were so distinct from each other that Christ was a combination of two separate persons. Around the same time Eutychus taught that the two persons of Christ were so unified that almost all distinctions between them disappeared. Both of these were denied by the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) and the following Chalcedonian Creed produced from it. The creed makes an argument using the Greek word hypostasis (which is where the phrase ‘hypostatic union’ comes from) meaning that Christ’s divine and human natures are united in one being. Or to say it another way, Christ’s work as Savior involved both His natures and if He were without one of these natures, or if these natures were mixed or confused, there would be no salvation for us.

From all of these false teachers and false teaching the early Church came to embrace four specific things about Christ. First, Jesus Christ is fully divine. Second, Jesus Christ is fully human. Third, the divine and human natures of Christ are distinct. And fourth, the divine and human nature of Christ are united in one Person. Anything less than this is a departure from true Christology.

In more modern times the Jehovah’s Witnesses have altered the translation of John 1:1 because they reject Jesus’ deity. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, also altered the translation of John 1:1 for the same reason. Sincere as these people may be, to deny the truth of Jesus’ deity is to reject Christianity. Remember what I said earlier, as this small flathead was fundamental to my work in the shop, the truths taught in John 1 (and many other places) is fundamental to Christian belief. To move away from it will still leave you with many beliefs, but those beliefs will not be Christian to any degree.

When we move ahead to John 1:4-5 we see John bring up themes that are all found in abundance within Genesis: life, light, and darkness. Not surprisingly these are some of the major themes of John’s gospel. Specifically in v4-5 we see that while God spoke the world into being and shattered the dark void during creation, so too God sent His Word into the world and the Word’s life and light shatter the dark void of this sinful world during new creation. The Word of v1-3 in v4-5 is the source of life and this life is the source of all light in the world and in men. No wonder why John includes the time when Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). It is true, light and darkness are opposites. It’s also true that some speak of the Christian life as a battle between these opposites. Though this is true to a degree, do not believe the lie that they are opposites of equal power. The light of the Word, the light of Christ overcomes all darkness.

This is why John would later write this in 1 John 2:8, “…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” So through the Word life and light come into the darkness, and even though some may mock at the song or phrase, when one comes to faith in Christ one truly has ‘seen the light.’

 

Citations:

[i]The Gospel Transformation Study Bible, notes on John 1:1-18, page 1407.

[ii]R.C. Sproul, John – Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary , page 2.

Jesus’ Questions for an Anxious Heart

Anxiety is something many of us face on a regular basis. From the womb to the tomb, we encounter a multitude of events that can lead us to doubt God’s good plans for our lives. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus questions our sinful tendency to worry. Jesus was a master of answering questions with deeper questions, thus causing us to consider life from an eternal perspective. In Matthew 6:31, Jesus portrays our anxiety as worrisome questioning and fretful concern which wonders, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?” Yet Jesus’ answer to these questions comes in the form of more questions. Aside from commanding us three times, “Do not be anxious,” Jesus leads us to consider the foolishness of our fearful anxiety.

Is not life more…? (v. 25)

The first question Jesus uses to counter our fretfulness zooms out to view the full scope of our lives in light of what is currently worrying us. Ironically, Jesus identifies the most extreme causes of worry, implying that all other less-important causes are covered as well. Our Western mindsets worry primarily about much less significant things like financial stability, social likeability, and that inner feeling of success in life. But life is more than food, clothes, friends, account numbers, titles, and degrees. So when we begin to worry about something, we must learn to ask ourselves, “Isn’t life more than [insert your worry here]?” The rhetorical yes answer will remind us to live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Are you not of more value than they? (v. 26)

Jesus’ second question turns our attention to what theologians call the imago Dei. As humans, we have been created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27-28 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Jesus had just called the people to consider the birds flying about over their heads there near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This reminds me of when God, “took Job to the zoo” (Mahaney) in Job 38-41, but the focus is different. Here Jesus wants us to consider our heavenly Father’s care for His creation. If God cares for the little animals under Adam’s dominion, then most assuredly He cares for Adam’s race. This side of the cross, we know God’s special love for those made in His image has been proven. Romans 8:32 reminds us, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (v. 27)

Worry and fretfulness not only cannot add time to our earth clock, but has been proven to take away from it. Not only do we waste time when we stress and worry over things, but we put our health in danger. So the next time you find yourself doubting God’s faithfulness in your life circumstances, consider the time you are wasting.

Will God not much more clothe you? (vv. 28-30)

From worries over food to worries over clothing, Jesus encourages us to consider God’s loving concern for His people. Earlier Jesus said to look up at the birds for a reminder of God’s provision and now He calls us to look down at the grass for it. We serve a God who provides the richest of clothing for the most lowly of His creation, so we should take heart. God will give His children what they need to glorify Him.

The remedy: Trust your Father and Make Him Known (vv. 31-34)

Once we have questioned our anxieties through Jesus’ approach, we have no reason for them remaining. We’ve discovered that life is more than what bothers us, God has a special love for those in His image, life is too short to worry, and we will have all we need to serve Him. But now what do we do with our lives? Jesus says we should live by faith in God and live for the fame of God. Those who seek to know God and make Him known will have all they need to further know and make Him known. Instead of filling our lives with doubts and concerns, we must fill them with faith that is active in the world for the glory of God. Faith in God fuels living for God’s fame. Since our heavenly Father loves us enough to send His Son to Calvary’s cross in our stead, we can now spread His kingdom in this world. And the good news is, we don’t even have to worry about His kingdom spreading, for He promised to build His church.

Holiness Empowered Mission

In the recent weeks our church has begun a series, both in morning worship and in our weekly groups, talking about the reality of God’s holiness and our response to it. Each week building on the Idea that as we see God in his full splendor and majesty we being to see ourselves for who we truly are as sinners in need of a savior, while simultaneously seeing His majestic holiness as a gifted that transforms us as sinners into saints. God’s holiness is both extremely terrifying and yet extremely comforting.

This past week we kicked everything off by looking at the first half of Isaiah 6. Where Isaiah comes face to face with the living God and is overcome by his own sinfulness in the presences of God. Yet as the opening 7 verses concludes we see God sending forth an angel to heal and redeem Isaiah, cleansing his lips of all unrighteousness and atoning for him. This is an amazing picture of the work of God for Isaiah; one he did not deserve, but was freely given through the grace of God, and it is in light of this amazing encounter that the rest of the chapter concludes.

Isa. 6:8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

In the midst of being cleansed from his sins God calls out who will go to His people and declare His great name. Who will declare the great name of the Lord, and Isaiah is immediately overcome with a sense that it must be him. He is the one who will go because he has been cleansed of His iniquity; he has been freed by the holiness of God to be remade. This new and remade Isaiah has experienced something that he knows must be spoken about, it must be taken to the people that they too may know the great and glorious nature of God who saves.

When we look at verse 8 we hopefully should be able in that moment to see ourselves standing before God who saved us, standing in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ who set us free from sin and death, not simply atoning for our sins with a coal but with his own shed blood. He paid the price for our sins and in doing so He not only revealed his holiness to us but bestowed it on us. We have experienced far more than even Isaiah, while he saw the holiness of God; we have been given that Holiness. It is why He can so confidently and boldly call us in the book of Matthew to go to the ends of the earth teaching and making disciples, because it is His power and authority that sustains us and goes before us.

Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves I want to highlight one other aspect of what God had called Isaiah to do. We love verse 8 for it is a call to missions and the call of God. Of course I’ll go, give me the chance I want to see soul’s transformed just like He has transformed mine. However, what we see in the commissioning of Isaiah is not one of joyous victory and big tent revivals where the masses will come to faith. He is not commissioned to be the light that brings forth a might movement of the spirit to save souls. Rather as the text concludes he is sent out to tell of the holiness and grandeur of God to deaf ears and blinded eyes, who rather than rejoicing in the gift of God will spurn it and reject Isaiah and God.

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Make the heart of this people dull,

and their ears heavy,

and blind their eyes;

lest they see with their eyes,

and hear with their ears,

and understand with their hearts,

and turn and be healed.”

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

And he said:

“Until cities lie waste

without inhabitant,

and houses without people,

and the land is a desolate waste,

and the Lord removes people far away,

and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

 And though a tenth remain in it,

it will be burned again,

like a terebinth or an oak,

whose stump remains

when it is felled.”

The holy seed is its stump. (Isaiah 6:9-13)

This is not the most enjoyable of calls. Did Isaiah know what he was getting into when God asked? Do you think Isaiah had a second thoughts after hearing the Word of God? Do you think Isaiah wished the message would be more hopeful and less wrathful?

I don’t

I think based on how the remainder of the book plays out Isaiah wouldn’t have changed a thing. He experienced the holiness and salvation of God. God whose majesty and glory overwhelmed him, who stripped him of his very being, and yet called him and saved him. He transformed him. Isaiah knew his life was not his own nor was his mission. It was not his job to change lives, for he could not even change his own. It was the work of God to bring sight out of blindness. It was the job of His servant who had been changed to do His will.

We again have experienced the reality of God’s grace and holiness, and the call and message remains the same. We don’t know the hearts of those we go to tell the good news, but we know the God we serve. We know that God’s word does not return void, and should we suffer for the message we preach we share in the suffering of the prophets and Christ himself. We preach an unashamed Gospel and should be sustained in doing so by the reality of God who has changes us and sent us out.

His Holiness Informs us, His Holiness Transforms us, for it is His Holiness that will sustain us. So let us Go!

The Magnificat

Mary’s song of praise is typically a passage read, studied, and preached during the Advent season. However, for those who are committed to expositional preaching the Magnificat is glorious trove to be mined in the course of preaching Luke, regardless of the time of year. In it we find invaluable nuggets of timeless Truth concerning the nature and character of God, the soul’s response when God’s glory is revealed, and even a panoramic presentation of historical redemption. Mary, I believe, deposits a model of praise for believers in all times as she identifies the Person of her praise and fills the air God-honoring exaltation.

The Person of Mary’s Praise

Mary’s heart erupts in elation toward the One in whom she trusts, namely, the Lord God her Savior. As a young Jewish girl, Mary clearly knew the Scriptures and recognized that she not only needed a Savior to redeem her but also that the only Deliverer who could ever accomplish such a task would be none other than Yahweh, Himself. God identifies Himself, in Isaiah 43, as Yahweh, the only God, Israel’s Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator, their King, and the only Savior.

After having received the overwhelming news from God’s messenger, Gabriel, that she would be carrying the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who “would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), Mary’s heart burst with joy, adoration, and praise toward the One who was fulfilling what was promised to her people. Notice that the focal point of Mary’s praise was directed to where it belongs, upon God alone. In the ESV the phrase “he has” is either clearly stated or directly implied nine times in six verses. Mary sought no attention for herself, no honor for her role, nor did she see herself as anything other than a recipient of the grace of God as a vessel to accomplish His plan of salvation.

The Person of Mary’s praise was none other than the One, True, Living God, the Only God, the Savior of Mankind. The God of Heaven came to man, taking on flesh & infirmities; the Omnipotent Creator was a defenseless baby, in utero, dependent for sustenance upon this teenage girl who carried Him & praised Him for His coming salvation.

Believers today would find themselves in great company if our praise were to focus on God alone. But that is not always the case.

Too often, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an add-on to our busy conversations that center around us, our feelings, and our responses to the Gospel. Clearly, everyone responds to the Gospel and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water but wouldn’t our praise be more appropriate if there was less conversation about “me” and more conversation/praise directed toward Him?

Can you tell me about your conversion without telling me what you do now that you’ve been saved? Can you tell me about God, your Savior, without telling me about when you were baptized, how often you attend worship, or what your Bible reading and prayer life look like? Can you tell me of His glory in creating you? Tell me of His mercy when He didn’t destroy you in your sin? Tell me of His grace in sending His Son? Tell me of the preservation of His Word that you might know who Jesus is? Tell me of Christ’s perfection and beauty and splendor in obeying God’s Law? Tell me of His substitutionary atoning sacrifice? Tell me of His resurrection, His saving you, sanctifying you, and promise to complete this work?

In other words, is your testimony of God’s work in your life more about your work in your life or more like Mary’s hymn of praise for the One who sees His people’s need, does great things for them and to them and through them, and who humbles the proud but exalts the humble through His Arm, His Servant, His Offspring? Oh that Christ would be preeminent in our praise!

May we, as Mary was, be found with our lips full of His praise as we “Praise Him, praise Him, tell of His excellent greatness…” (Fanny Crosby).