Just A Pastor?

Perhaps you are like me and you are the pastor of a smaller church.

The thoughts of feeling insignificant and with little influence compared to the conference speakers and prolific authors leaves you believing that it really does not matter at times. Should I really devote that much attention to the expository sermons I prepare? Do I need to really need to be reading these books on theology when I pastor such a small flock? I remember feeling down and out once about the ministry entrusted to me. When the question came as to what was my ministry calling, I replied, “I am just a pastor.” It then hit me that to be a pastor is not to be undervalued.

Far too often being a pastor is equated with being a CEO, gameshow host, stand up comic, charismatic orator, marketing guru, good ole boy, and the list could go on. I am a native Mississippian who grew up in church and I have seen many different men occupy the office of pastor but did not have the calling. Has God called you to be a pastor? As I survey Baptist life (since this is my denominational heritage) in the South, my heart is grieved for what seems to be a cycle on repeat for decades if not longer.

Too many churches are engulfed by conspiratorial dispensationalism believing every website talking about implanted chips and books on blood moons as the sign of the apocalypse drawing near. Charles Finney-inspired evangelism creates a view of worship being only successful if the altars are filled, decisions made, and doing everything between A and Z to set the mood right for conversion. Charismatic experientialism leads many in churches to say that they believe what God told them with no basis in the Bible but rather what feels right. They claim they have the Spirit and the Bible allowing them to create their own version of Christianity inside or outside the walls of a sanctuary. The Civil War still wages on with many succumbing to the “Noble Cause” historical revision giving cause for many to engage in racism whether subtly or overtly. Finally, superstition-driven family culturalism leads many in the church to say that blood is more important than holy living. This is what leads people to say things such as they feel dead relatives in the room and viewing this as their source of comfort. How did so many churches in the region I love and call home arrive here? What can we do to see a change?

Brothers, to just be a pastor means that you have the calling and opportunity to stand in the gap and be used by Christ to make a difference. You are God’s man appointed to shepherd and feed the people (1 Peter 5:2). Preach the Word to them! Take them verse by verse sequentially through the Bible. Be patient, dependent upon the Spirit, and watch the Word change the people. Your goal should be that the people in your congregation eventually read the great theologians of the church. Yet, remember that you are going to be the primary theologian they read and listen to. Read and fill yourself up with solid truth to dispense to the people answering their questions. As painful as it is to write about the scene in many areas of the Bible Belt, we should also be patient, merciful, and gracious to so many who have never heard anything else but these unbiblical alternatives. You need to remind your people that you are just as reliant upon the gospel as they are. They need to know from you that you are not superman even if you think that you are. Do not be hesitant to open up to them about your battles with sin, continual repentance in life, and your thankfulness for grace (Rom. 7:24-25; 1 Tim. 1:15).

Just a pastor? You are given the task of leading the people to Christ every week! Brother pastors, hear the words of Paul to Timothy: teach, invest, disciple, and train up faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2). By doing so, you are raising up biblical husbands, fathers, and leaders. Read with these men the Bible and solid books. This is a fight, a spiritual battle. You are not sufficient in yourself for the task. Yet, you have not been left alone for He is with you!

Brothers, I pray that we would be mighty in the Scriptures. May we be used of God to be the public theologians who shepherd the people with biblical, systematic, and historical theology. This is our calling. We are in the trenches together. So, if you are just a pastor, you have spoken a mouthful that only begins to scratch the surface of the high, glorious, and gracious calling that Christ has put in your life!

The Avalanche of Sin

“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman.” (2 Samuel 11:2-3a) (Read the entire chapter here). Things only went downhill for David from there.  Author and Pastor John Piper once said, “Avalanches of evil begin with a single pebble of sin.”  This truth could not be seen more clearly than in the story of David from the verses above.

According to the text late one afternoon, as David was presumably lounging around his palace all day, he decided to get up and take a walk out onto the king’s roof top. Once outside his eyes fell upon a beautiful woman as she was bathing.  Now in that moment, he could have decided to hide his eyes and turn away, but rather than leave it alone, he chose to indulge himself and inquire about the woman.  Once he found out who she was, he arranged for her to come over to his house.  Upon her arrival the text tells us that David slept with the woman.  You can see already how this situation has turned from bad to worse very quickly. It does not take much for sin avalanche.  Not only had David’s lust turned into premarital sex, but to make matters worse, both David and the woman he had slept with were married.  The snowball is increasing in size as this sin grows bigger and bigger.

Not long after David and Bathsheba’s affair, Bathsheba sends word to David that she is, in fact, pregnant with his child. This news seems to trouble David as he is now in fear of being caught in his sin.  So he attempts, unsuccessfully, to get Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, who is out in battle, to come home and to sleep with his wife so that no one would think anything of Bathsheba’s pregnancy.

However, when David’s first attempt at cover-up failed, he decided to have Uriah put in the front lines of battle so that his death was sure.  This was his second attempt at covering up his sin (and we find out later it failed as well 2 Samuel 12).  So what started with lust ended in adultery and murder.  Rather than nipping sin in the bud, David allowed his sin to grow, and it quickly grew out of control. And the same thing can be true for us. We can play with sin and play with sin and think we are doing just fine, but before we know it things can get out of hand and our sin has ruined us. Sin can ruin our reputation, ministry, even our lives. And if we continue in it without repentance it will lead us to hell.

There is no such thing as a “small” sin.  All sin is rebellion towards God and can lead to “avalanches of evil.”  We are to set our eyes on Christ and live for Him, leaving our sin behind.  John Owen once wrote, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  Let’s strive every day, by the grace of God, to treasure Christ above all else and to snuff out our sin before it burns out of control.

The good news for David is that his story didn’t end there. By God’s grace he realized his sin (2 Samuel 12:13) and asked God for forgiveness (Psalm 51) and although there were consequences to his sin (2 Samuel 12:7-14) ultimately David was forgiven.  David was well aware of God’s forgiveness for sin (Psalm 32:5) and we can be sure, by God’s grace, he was forgiven from all of it. What great news.

And the good news for David is also good news for us. There is forgiveness for sin. Complete forgiveness.  That does not mean that there are not consequences for sin and we should take it lightly – sin is dangerous – but by God’s grace all our sins can be forgiven when we admit our fault and turn to Jesus (Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:9 ). Praise God for His grace and mercy toward undeserving sinners like you and me.

Live in the Gospel!

1 Peter 3:13-22

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Why is the victorious resurrection of Jesus so important to our everyday lives? Have you ever asked yourself that question? When you step back and think about the totality of the gospel; is it simply something that was applied once to your life and then moved away from or is it something you see as integral to your everyday experience of life? For Peter it was the later, and in conclusion to the 3rd chapter of his epistle he makes it clear that the power of Christ’s resurrection should be the power and motivation for which we stand, speak, and live.

So to begin with this is not an easy passage in any way but the message it paints is quite remarkable, for in this we see Peter begin to wrap up his discussion on all the ways that as Christians we are to be subject to the authorities that are around us, even when that may lead to distress or suffering. Peter paints for us this concluding picture that the experiences of this temporal life are a means of experiencing the final victory in Christ, so the adversity that we experience here on earth is but momentary, and compared to the glory of the victorious Christ they have no eternal  effect on your soul. So Peter wants us to see that with the knowledge of the resurrection, the suffering of this world should be met with a spirit who is set on Christ, with words that proclaim the gift that he has given us and actions that reflect the forgiven life we now possess.

So firstly we see that when we come to the realization that this world cannot truly harm us in a spiritual sense, for we have been granted life and safety in the arms of our Father, our very nature is transformed. We begin to believe and echo the words of Isaiah 8:12 no longer fearing the things of this world but honoring Christ as supreme and the only one worthy of our fear. In this we see that we don’t need to fear the things this world fears like sickness, suffering, injustice, pain, or even death for in Christ’s victory all these things are swallowed up and no longer have a hold on our hearts. We now operate under the knowledge that our hope and security is in Christ, so when these things occur around us we can stand knowing that God has our back and in doing so the world will wonder how we endure, and when the world wonders and asks we must give a response for that hope. What is amazing to remember is the command to be prepared to give a defense wasn’t given to theological scholars or the most educated it was given to the early church which was made of a broad range of people, but as seen in the previous chapter was made up of some of the most beaten down by society. It is to this church that the command was given to know why you endure and share that hopeful gift with others.

This hope also leads to a second lesson we see. That our actions in the midst of adversity affect the perception of the truth of the gospel we proclaim. We are to proclaim the truth of Christ to all who ask in a spirit of gentleness and respect. In this we see the motivation behind the command, we exemplify Christ when we give an answer to the faith, and especially should the question arise out of suffering or injustice. So what we say and what we do should line up with the reality of the identity we have as sojourners and strangers. Our lives should reflect our citizenship in heaven and our heavenly Father who called us out of the darkness and gave us hope, when hope was gone. In this way we reflect the gift of Christ to those around us, for blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake, but should the pain you experience in life be the product of our own sinfulness than that too is an opportunity to show what it means to repent and be restored in the family of God and in doing so show and unbelieving world what it means to experience forgiveness and grace and be transformed by it not excused by it.

Finally why can we do this: because Christ suffered and died for our sins, resurrecting on the third day. He didn’t have to, for he was the righteous one of God, and yet for our unrighteousness He took on the cross bearing the full wrath of the Father and in doing so made a way for us to be reconciled to God anew.  The text though doesn’t end there and while the conclusion may be complicated in its parts the picture as a whole is painted to show us that the trials of this life are nothing because Christ is victorious over them. In his death & resurrection He proclaimed victory over the spiritual forces who thought that they had power greater than His. In His death and resurrection we have passed through the wrath of God, through faith and baptism, for we have been placed into Christ who has absorbed the waves of God’s judgment keeping us secure, those whose faith is in Him, and in doing so He claimed victory.

 

Why True Converts Are True

Last Monday I discussed why false converts are false. Today I want to look at conversion from another angle, asking why true converts are true. John 6:60-66 showed how many of the disciples of Jesus were repelled by His teaching, after this in 6:67-71 comes the big test. “What will the twelve do?”

This is exactly the question Jesus poses to the twelve in v67, “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” That Jesus asked this to the twelve does not show any weakness or worry on Jesus’ part. He’s asking this to push them to one way or another, and displaying for them just how costly it is to truly follow Him. I think as much as the previous section of this passage challenged us, there is as much in this last passage to encourage us. Are some of you prone to doubt, prone to be rash, prone to be hotheaded, impatient, slow to understand, weak, small, insignificant, or foolish? All of these attributes are present in the twelve and more, and yet here they are in v67-71; probably feeling as much of the hardness of Jesus’ teaching as those before, but rather than leave like the rest they’re staying.

There’s only one question that comes to mind when we see them stay: why?

Why would they continue to follow someone whose teaching is so hard that it decreases His influence? Why stay when everyone else is leaving? Why stay when it costs this much to do so? Well, could we not ask similar questions of one another today? Being a Christ follower today doesn’t make one popular, if anything, it puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to advancement in most arenas within our current culture. Why do we stay? Why do we come to worship this One who is thought to be so out of touch with modern society? Why are we a part of this thing called Christianity?

That Peter answers Jesus’ question is no surprise to anyone familiar with Peter’s actions in the gospels. He is often the one who, for better or for worse, immediately says what he is thinking. There are places this did not help him, but what we see in v68-69 of him is beautiful. It is not only the answer Peter gives for himself and the twelve, it is also the answer we must give to the same questions in our present secular age. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” This confession of Peter shows that Peter, though not fully getting it, knows a few things really well, so well that he seems to be mastered by them. Peter knows that there is no one else worth going to. Peter knows what Jesus Himself said back in v63, that His words are spirit and life that give eternal life. And Peter knows what He believes, that this Jesus is the Christ He claims to be. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have moments in them where they record a similarly great confession from Peter. This is John’s. And in all four gospels, it’s after Peter’s confession that things begin to get very hard for Jesus and those following Him.

These words put Peter and the rest of the twelve at odds with the rest of the society around them because they publicly display that they are with the Jesus. In contrast to the false disciples who defected from Christ, Peter and the twelve stood out as true disciples who were devoted to Christ. And yes, if we claim the name of Christ this great confession must be our confession too even if what these words did for them they also do now for us; separating us from the world because they publicly display to the world that we are with Christ.

This is all good and true, but let’s come at this from another angle to peer deeper into this. What was it that separated Peter and the twelve from the false converts of their day? And, what is it that separates you and I from the false converts of our day? Answer: while Peter did not deny that the teaching of Christ was hard, he acknowledged that Jesus’ words were words of life. Do you? This was the one thing the separated the twelve from all those who left. They heard the teaching of Christ, felt the difficult weight and reality of what He was saying, and trusted Him anyway. Do you do this when the teaching of Christ doesn’t mesh with you? Or, when the Bible disagrees with you, do you understand that you’re the one in error and not it?

Did you see how Jesus ends the passage in v70-71? “Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for He, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” They have just been through a trial where they had to choose to follow Jesus even if that decision brought very public and unpopular consequences. Now Jesus, by ending this way, prepares His disciples for an even greater trial. John Calvin says it’s as if Jesus’ saying, “You twelve now remain out of what was once a large following. If your faith hasn’t been shaken by the unbelief of many, get ready for something harder. For our number, though small, includes one who is a devil.”

John Piper makes a good point here on this text. He points out that Jesus may confuse us at times. He may perplex us and may even provoke us with things He says. And yet, do you see enough beauty in Jesus, do you see enough worthy of your trust in Jesus to say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…No one ever spoke like you. No one ever acted like you. No was ever so strong and meek, authoritative and gentle, profound and simple, powerful and yet willing to be killed, just and yet willing to be treated unjustly, worthy of honor and yet willing to be dishonored, deserving of immediate obedience and yet patient with people like us, able to answer every question and yet willing to remain silent under abuse, capable of coming down from the cross in flaming judgment and yet committed not to use that power…no one is like You Lord, You are the Holy One of God.”

True converts are true because they see these things and love them.

The Knowledge of the Holy One: God is Sovereign

I remember all the buildup and hype very well. It was 20 years ago that Mike Tyson made a meal of both of Evander Holyfield’s ears in the boxing ring as he faced the man who just, one year earlier, dethroned him as the WBA World Heavyweight Champion. The “bites” were as strange as the fight was epic but even that monumental fight pales in comparison to the fight that often arises when the Sovereignty of God takes the ring against man’s desire to rule and reign over himself.

“That God is, and the God who is, is the God who reigns…this is the bedrock doctrine of all doctrines. This is the immovable mountain of God’s supreme authority and his right to exercise his rule; absolute, active, continual reign over heaven, earth, and even hell itself. It is His undisputed right to govern all that He has created, with unhindered, unrivaled majesty.”[1] This is God’s Sovereignty. This is what it means to be God; for no god is God unless he holds within Himself the authority and power to rule and reign over that which He presides.

We hear His sovereignty confessed, even from the unbelieving world, when it is so boldly proclaims “Who do you think you are? God?” Inherent in such a rhetorical question is the authority that God possesses to do as He pleases. A.W. Pink opens his writing on God’s Sovereignty by stating that “Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him.”[2]

Who, especially in orthodox Christianity, would take the ring against such an august confession of The Sovereign God of Creation? Sadly, many. But God’s, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient Word is replete with the testimony of the Absolute Sovereignty of the Most High:

Genesis 1:3 “God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Job 37:6-13 “To the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour…He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter His lighting. They turn around and around by His guidance, to accomplish all the He commands themHe causes it to happen.”

Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in the earth, in the seas and in all deeps.”

Daniel 4:35 “…He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitant of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”

Ephesians 1:11 God “works all things after the counsel of His will…”

Romans 11:36 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” (emphasis added)

And perhaps the most indisputable proof of His Sovereignty comes from His own mouth in Isaiah 14:24 & 46:10 when The Almighty, El Shaddai Himself, roars from His Throne Room,  “As I have planned so shall it be, and as I have purposed so shall it stand…My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…”

From the counsel of none other, the Triune God spoke and the heavens leapt into being (Gen. 1 & 2); they had no other choice but to obey. By the will of none other, the wind and the waves obeyed the command (Matt. 8:23-27) of the Holy One of Israel (Is. 41:14 & Luke 4:34) and peace immediately rested and stilled the tumult; they had no other choice but to obey. By the authority of none other, the demons were cast into the swine and fell headlong to their demise (Mark 5:13); they, too, had no choice but to obey. And from the voice of none other, spiritually dead men and women are raised to life and made right with their King, their Maker (John 6:37; Rom. 9:16-21; Eph. 1:5-6, 2:8-9); they had no other choice but to obey.

Space & time, the natural & spiritual realm, even humanity itself is subject to The One, True, and Sovereign, Almighty.

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon exhorts us all, even still today, when he said, “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all.”[3] What greater comfort could there be to God’s people? God has, by His sovereign will, decreed all things, ordained all things, orchestrated all things, brought all things, and caused all things to be in order, to bring you to this very moment, and has guaranteed that this event is working out for your greatest good and His greatest glory (Romans 8:28 & Isaiah 43:7)!

What kind of God could want something for you that He had not the power to carry out? What kind of God could decree something of you and not have the resources to accomplish that which He proclaimed? What kind of god would God be, if He must impotently, idly sit by hoping that what He commands, what He decrees, what He proclaims, what He wills must take second fiddle to the fickle, unstable, always changing will of His creation? This god is no God at all!

The God of the Bible, the God of Adam & Eve, the God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, the God of Elijah, the God of David, the God of the prophets, the God of the Twelve, the God of the Apostle Paul, and The Only Sovereign reigns supreme, asks permission of no one to act, and is restricted by no one or nor could be withstood even if everyone stood against Him…

Thus says God, Yahweh, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am Yahweh; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am Yahweh; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. -Isaiah 42:5-9

“So Yahweh controls the entire course of nature and history for his own glory and to accomplish his own purpose.” [4] Who else can make such claims and deliver? Who else holds the power within himself to consult with no one and act alone, guaranteeing the outcome? Who else but El Shaddai?

The Sovereignty of God is what makes God so attractive to the believer, so fearful to the unregenerate, so hated by idolaters, and so rejected by those who wish to be a god unto themselves.

Rest in His Sovereignty, God’s chosen, beloved by Yahweh, saved and kept by His sovereign grace in Christ. God is God; a truth that can never and will never change.

[1] Steven Lawson, The Attributes of God DVD Teaching Series

[2] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg 25

 

[3] Ibid. pg. 25

[4] John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 21

Why False Converts Are False

During the first part of Jesus’ ministry many people were attracted to Him. Some indeed wholeheartedly but certainly some only loosely. As John 6 progresses we see Jesus put this crowd following Him to the test. His claims about who He is and what He has come to do are becoming clearer, they are rising to the surface, and because of it we see a sifting taking place between those who are true and those who are false. In John 6:60 we read, “When many of His disciples heard it, they said ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” After hearing their question we should ask our own. What did they hear from Jesus that was so hard? Answer: all Christ had to say to them in chapter 6.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude, right after the miracle and for sometime after, seeks to make Him king because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs, or to merely meet materialistic expectations, or to be the political leader they wanted Him to be. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever. He takes time to explain this to the crowds clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. In v27 He called them to labor for the food that endures to eternal life. He spoke about this heavenly food in v33 saying the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven. Then in blazing clarity Jesus says in v35, “I am the Bread of life.” Again in v41, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” After some grumbling Jesus makes a statement in v44 about God’s sovereign grace saying the only ones who’ll sink the teeth of their souls into the Bread of life are those whom the Father draws. In v50 Jesus remarks those who eat this bread will not die. In v51 we see another moment of blazing clarity in when Jesus says, “The Bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Upon coming to v52 we see a shift in the crowd. They had quietly grumbled about His teaching earlier in v41, now they are openly disputing about it in v52. And by the time v60 comes around it is no longer just the crowd who is having trouble with Jesus’ teaching, it’s His very own disciples.

That they said “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand these things Jesus had just taught. They got it that Jesus was speaking metaphorically and not literally about Him being the true manna from heaven, and eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They understood these to be claims of divinity. They understood the necessity of sovereign grace to reveal divine truth to sinful man. Most commentators say that by saying these were hard words they meant they were severe words, offensive words even, words that they found hard to accept, words that were more than they could endure. In his commentary on John’s gospel John Calvin comments here saying, “The hardness wasn’t in the teaching of Christ, but the hearts of those who heard it.”

So, Jesus knowing these things said in v61-65, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Jesus doesn’t say anything here to help ease their grumbling or soften His teaching. If anything His words here call them out and therefore probably increase their grumbling. He says if they had seen His ascension to glory, where He was before He came to walk among them, they would believe and wouldn’t grumble. Why then do they grumble at His teaching? The answer is simple but it is difficult for us to hear: they grumbled in v60 because His Word isn’t enough. This then is why Jesus in v63-65 says only the Spirit, not the flesh, can give life. The words He has spoken are that very life-filled vocabulary and because they respond to it with unbelief shows that, though they have followed Him for a time, they are false. This doesn’t surprise Jesus, as v64-65 remind us, He knows the hearts of men. Then we see a sad scene after this rebuke in v66. “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”

I wonder how v60-66 hits you.

When many others would have changed or altered their message to make it less offensive, Jesus doesn’t. Here we see false converts, those who followed for a time but turned back and left Him in the end. They had been interested in Jesus not for who He is or for what He teaches but for how they thought they could use Jesus for their own purposes. They’re false because when Jesus’ teaching doesn’t fit with their preconceived ideas and agendas they leave Jesus.

This sounds an awful lot like today doesn’t it? Perhaps this sounds an awful lot like you. I meet with a group of pastors once a month for fellowship, prayer, and study and at our last meeting one of them told us he had been preaching through the book of Romans and found that his congregation responded in a way that saddened him. During the series he said there were two times when people left the church. He said they left when he covered the sinfulness of man in chapter 1, and he said even more left when he covered the sovereignty of God in chapter 9. What happened? Why did they leave? The clear teaching of the Word of God didn’t fit into their predetermined box. Rather than submitting to what the Word says and living underneath it these people left and found another church that didn’t preach things foreign to what they already believed to be true.

Be challenged, most of you will say v60-66 doesn’t describe you, but ask: are you deceiving yourself? What this crowd in John 6 wanted Jesus would not give. What Jesus offered they would not receive. Does that describe you? If so, you have every reason to fear the wrath of God because regardless what you say you are, you’re lost and you too are a false convert. Or perhaps you truly do believe in Jesus but have come to the point where you’re frustrated with the teaching of Jesus, or have become frustrated with the Christian life because it isn’t as easy as you thought. If this is you, may I ask you a question? When did Jesus ever promise a life of ease in following Him? When did Jesus ever say His teaching was simple? Too many Christians in our day are coddled by the church and not encouraged to grow up and press on toward maturity. Too many of us are content and comfortable in our faith, and because of this we shy away from anything or anyone who’ll rock the boat too much.

Is this the kind of faith you’ve bought into?

Let’s be real for a moment – the idol of comfort is one of the great sins of the American church. We love to be comfortable. If we thought about it long enough, we would see that we’ve unloaded all of this into our spiritual lives and have come to believe that Jesus exists to make us more comfortable in this life. That He exists for us rather than we for Him. Passages like this, where Jesus intentionally disrupts the comforts of others and does nothing to alleviate discomfort make me want to say – if the Jesus you’re following never makes your life uncomfortable, you’re not following this Jesus in John 6.

Jesus doesn’t give participation trophies, He gives a crown of life to those who persevere by sovereign grace! May you do just that.

Gospel Fueled Change

In Peter’s first letter he spends a great deal of time setting down the foundation for why we as believers should live holy lives. He reminds the church of the need to grow up in the faith and not become stagnant. In the first ten verses of chapter two he helps reorient our focus to the reality of who we are and our relationship to Christ and one another. A couple weeks ago I walked us briefly through some of the direct application of living out the faith as sojourners in a land that is not our home, and how our lives should look different than those around us, and more importantly than our old lives. Today I want to briefly reminds us of the foundation of our Hope and the cause of our changed lives that comes only through the power of the Gospel not through human effort.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good

Peter opens with the reality that our lives are now marked by a change in desire. No longer do we desire the things of the world or do we mirror the attitudes of those around us, rather we desire the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. This is seen in the concluding passage of 1 Peter 1:25 where Peter reminds us that the gospel has set us free from sin and death and gave us the hope we have today. It is from this driving force that the desire to put away all malice and long for the joy of God’s word springs. From the Gospel hope we are now called to put away the old life with all of its vices and anger and strive hard after God, for it is only from growing in the faith that these things are possible. We know that healthy and physically maturing people don’t indulge constantly on Doritos and hot dogs, when someone sets it in their minds to grow healthy they long towards the things that will bring that to fruition, like a healthy diet and exercise. The same is true of spiritual life; we cannot indulge on the things of the flesh and expect that growth and maturity will simply take place. We are called through Christ’s power to yearn for the hope that brings spiritual maturity, the true spiritual milk.

For If you have tasted the joy of the Lord and savored His goodness why would you want anything else. Sometimes it seems we need to be reminded how good God is and how appetizing the Gospel’s message is to our soul. If you have tasted the goodness of God, like a nice porterhouse steak, (or some eggplant type dish thing vegans must enjoy), then you know how satisfying He is. How He fills your stomach with life and hope everlasting. Peter is then asking us the question why aren’t you longing for that every day. Why do you keep running back to the attitudes and hostilities of the world that will leave you empty and starving. If the Gospel has taken root, then eat the only thing hat will truly satisfy and grow you into maturity, Jesus Christ & His word.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Once we have evaluated our desires, we are asked by Peter to see ourselves through the lenses of Christ. Here Peter is encouraging us to see our growth in maturity in light of the fact that we are like Christ. He was the true living stone rejected by humanity, so too are we living stones who are rejected by humanity. The world rejected Jesus and we should not be surprised that it will reject those who look like Him. Therefore we should not be shocked when the world rejects us, but rather we should see all the more clearly that we are not alone in being rejected. Rather, we are a part of a living temple being built together, into Christ. The rejection of the world should build our spiritual unity as believers, and as our unity of spirit grows so too does our witness, and as we mature in Christ we will continue to turn our hearts over to him, preparing our minds for action and seeking to live our lives in a manner that seeks to glorify God and not our flesh.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Finally, we are grounded in the reality that we have a new identity as heirs with Christ. Just as you grew up physically and learned about who you were and where you came from, so too as we grow into Christ we learn who we are in Him and what that means for us.  We learn more and more about our identity and the family that we now have been given. We also begin to see that within our new family we have been given a new occupation as priests proclaiming the greatness of God who set us free from our own sinfulness. As such we call others to experience the greatness of our God who has changed us and given us a lasting home in his presence. We proclaim to the world the mercy of God, the hope of heaven, the living stone rejected by the men.

We have been Chosen, we have been set apart, we have been made Holy, and we have been given a home. These things were given to us we never earned them nor could we. God in his infinite grace bestowed them on those whom He called out of darkness and who through His grace have called upon the name of His Son. Before you can begin to evaluate how you are able to living in a dying and sinful word, you must first remember and know that you are His and that all that you are is found in Him. Before Peter begins a long discussion on living out the faith in a world that will mock, ridicule, and at times persecuted you, you have to know who you are and whose you are, so that you may live out the faith in response to this good news and in a way that reveals it to others.

 

Jesus Chose & Died for His Bride

The atonement of Christ on the cross is central to the message of Christianity.

To atone for something is to make amends or to make satisfaction for a wrong. This is exactly what we see on the cross – it is through the blood of Christ that the holy God and sinful man are brought together peaceably. By nature we’re at odds with God because of sin, and at the center of our message we find blood. The blood of Christ, which is able to bring sinners like us who were once far away from God, near to Him. This is why Christianity is seen as a religion with a central message of redemption and reconciliation. By the blood of Christ we are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God. So we see at a very basic level that any representation of Christianity that diminishes the centrality of the atonement is a false form of Christianity.

What I’ll labor to show you now is that just as the Old Testament atoning sacrifices were only applied to God’s people then, so too the greatest atoning sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of God’s Son, was for and only applied to God’s people in the New Testament.

Six points to show this:

The Atonement is a Secured Redemption

Hebrews 9:11-12, ‘But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.’ This puts on display what we’ve seen already – in the Old Testament the high priest once a year would enter into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people once for all time, not by the blood of animals, but by His own blood. What was the result? The result was not that redemption was now possible, no, the result was that by doing this Jesus secured an eternal redemption. In 9:15-22 the author of Hebrews goes onto say that the only people who benefit from this atoning work are ‘those who are called.’

The Atonement was Accomplished

Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ In this passage Paul speaks of Christ’s work with such confidence that he uses the past tense for all of his main verbs, speaking that even glorification is already accomplished for God’s people through the work of God’s Son. This is why Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ in John 19:30.

The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep

Ephesians 5:25-27, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ In these verses who is it that Christ loved? Who is it that Christ gave Himself up for? Who is it that Jesus cleansed by the water of the Word? Who is it that He’ll one day present to Himself in splendor by His atoning work? His Church. He loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church, only the Church. John 10:11 also, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays His life down (for who?) the sheep.’ After saying this to the crowds Jesus a bit further on in 10:26 tells many who are listening to Him that they ‘are not among His sheep.’ Acts 20:28, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for (who?) the Church of God, which He obtained (how?) with His own blood.’

The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession

Titus 2:14 speaks of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ‘who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.’ Christ gave Himself to redeem a people, a particular people, for His own possession. John 11:51-52 speaks of this by saying the cross gathered into one people the children of God who were scattered abroad. Matthew 1:21 too, ‘Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ Here we see Jesus’ name is connected with His mission. Why did He come? To save His people, from their sins.

The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’

Matthew 20:26-28, ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’ Isaiah 53:11, ‘Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.’

The Atonement Purchased a Global People

Rev. 5:9-10, ‘And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed (purchased – NIV) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a Kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ See here again, the cross didn’t make salvation possible for people, a specific, a definite people were purchased on the cross.

So…

Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone. He did not die to merely open the door of salvation and sit back hoping that people will accept His gospel. If that were true His death on the cross didn’t accomplish anything, it only made salvation possible. This is a false view of the atoning work of Christ. Rather, the Biblical view is this: Jesus died and shed His blood to purchase His sheep, to secure the salvation of His Church, and to redeem the elect of God from every corner of the globe.

In this manner we can say the atoning work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect. Charles Spurgeon said it well, ‘Some men cannot endure to hear the doctrine of election. I suppose they like to choose their own wives, but they are not willing that Christ should choose His own Bride, the Church.’ J.I. Packer said it too, ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people.’

Here we see it: Jesus chooses His Bride, and Jesus dies for His bride, securing everything needed for the salvation of His own.

When Gunmen Enter Churches

Chills. Shock. Terror. Anger.

These feelings partnered with a hosts of others coursed through my body this past week. I sat before my laptop aghast at the barbarism and treachery so evidently displayed in the mass shooting at a church in Texas. I could barely stomach the reports. Twenty-six dead, among them an 18-month old child. I could only clutch my family ever more tightly and plead with the God of all comfort.

Within an hour texts and emails began to stream across my phone. Friends were rightfully outraged. Parents were understandably shaken. Questions flooded my mind and were echoed by our churchgoers. Why does this continue to occur in our country? Where is God during these attacks? Is it safe to come to church anymore? What steps should we take now…?

The famed Prince of Preachers once declared, “Half our fears arise from neglect of the Word.” He was not stating that every terror is produced from failing to live in Scripture, but rather that proper doctrinal instruction and the testimony of the Holy Spirit calms our souls during seasons of grief and moments of tragedy. Paul declares to Timothy that God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). In the face of extreme loss and horrific violence the apostle is ensuring us that the Spirit of God does not lead us to play into trepidation, but rather to face fear in the strength Christ has provided, with loving action and godly wisdom. Of course, the prospect of something like what happened in Sutherland Springs happening in our own church is beyond frightening, but godly concern should never give way to non-sensical, God-doubting terror. As feeble servants of a steadfast Sovereign, we should remind ourselves of the Spirit-inspired words of Paul and seek to walk in what the Spirit provides.

Power

As Christ followers clinging to the truth of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the reality of His sweet providential working through suffering, we have a very unique position and perspective in this world. We understand these truths, can rest in them, and can encourage others to do the same because of the power of the Holy Spirit residing within. During moments of devastating loss and crippling fear, we should, armed with the Word and filled with the Spirit, speak the truth to troubled hearts (including our own).

Love

This is not the time to press forward our political position concerning firearms on social media. Twenty-six individuals were murdered. Twenty others lie in hospital beds. Families are mourning. A town is reeling. What these victims, these families, and this community needs is love. We exercise Gospel-affection for them through prayer. Don’t simply nod your head and agree with this sentiment. Instead, stop right now and pray. We don’t need more Christians who “believe” in the power of prayer; rather we need Christians who pray.

Self-discipline

This is not the time to freak out. However, neither should we just ignore the alarming events and senseless violence that continues to plague our world. We live in a fractured, sin-riddled, self-serving society and until Jesus returns we will continue to see rampant wickedness – at times in the form of violent outbursts. Therefore, we as believers can ill-afford to bury our heads in the warm suburban sand while the world around burns. Instead, we should, with the Spirit gifted self-discipline we possess, prepare. Prepare in the Word for the legitimate questions that will undoubtedly come from believers, unbelievers, and even our own fledging hearts when pain assaults. Prepare to protect our families and our churches from senseless acts of violence. Prepare to serve those who will suffer under the injustice of a sin-filled world. Self-discipline means that we will not be reactive to atrocities and loss, but proactive in speaking out against injustice and intentionally pursuing Gospel peace.

As the blood-bought bride of the resurrected and sovereign King, eternally loved by His Father, and infused by His Spirit with power, love, and self-discipline, let’s resolve, in the face of darkness, to live as people of hope.

Semper Reformanda.

Prayer and Reverence

Prayer requires reverence.

Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe. “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God. All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.” William Temple

In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus teaches his Disciples how to pray, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Let me give some context.

The reason for Jesus’ teaching on prayer was because of inappropriate prayer. Jesus wanted to correct abuses so He provided a model prayer for His disciples. The disciples of Jesus didn’t know how to pray. They say, “Lord, teach us to pray”. The hypocrites that are being referred to would stand up in public, they would draw attention to themselves, and they would seek the attention and praise and adoration of man from their prayers.  An apostate form of Judaism led by religious hypocrites had replaced the true religion, and faith of the Old Testament. Prayer had been reduced to rituals, and vain repetition.  This was all they knew, were recited, heartless, and almost mindless prayers.

And here He shifts and talks about the act of prayer as the Gentiles commonly practiced it.  Jesus denounces the Gentile prayers for their empty phrases and for their empty words, their meaningless words. Hypocrisy was the reason that Jesus’ is teaching on prayer. Jesus denounced the prayers of the “hypocrites”. The text says that these hypocrites pray, “in order to be seen by men”. Hypocrites pray to be noticed and pray to impress. This is the type of prayer that Jesus warns about.

Contrast this with Luke 11, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Notice how Jesus instructs us in the Lords prayer. The very first thing Jesus instructs us to do in Luke 11 is “Father, hallowed be your name” and in Matthew 6 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Prayer is first and foremost recognition of God’s majestic glory and it is an act of submission to that glory. The word “hallow” means sanctify. The Greek word for hallow is Hagiazō. It means to separate or to set apart. Jesus tells us to pray, “Let your name be sanctified.” Sanctify can mean make holy or treat as holy. When God sanctifies us, it means that he makes us holy. But when we sanctify God, it means that we treat him as Holy.

He is to be revered.

 

John Oswalt, a commentator, expands on this, “For Isaiah the announcement of God’s holiness meant that he was in the presence of One distinct from – other than – himself. The function of the threefold holy is the strongest form of the superlative in Hebrew. Its use here indicates that Israel’s God is the most “godly” of all the gods.”

Next in Luke 11 Jesus instructs us to say, “Your kingdom come, and in Matthew 6 he says ‘Your will be done” On earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus commands us to seek God’s kingdom first rather than seeking food and clothing. In other words, we are to seek to let God be the Ruler and King in our lives now. His kingdom is a present reality wherever he rules as King. So when we pray, “Father, let your kingdom come,” we should mean, “Father, rule in my life. Be my king. When we pray to God we have a kingdom mindset but its not always the right kingdom it’s “My kingdom”, “My life”, and “My wants.” Our prayers need to be “upward” before they can be “outward.”

God is vastly beyond us and above us. He is Majestic and transcendent. The glory of God, the hallowing of His great and wondrous name, is the foundation of all prayers. When you and I cherish the desire for God to be glorified, and God to be honored, we will then ask only for those things, which God will see as the means to that end. Hallowing His name means I have set the Lord always before me. Which means: dear God, before I ever talk about my food, my needs, my sin, my life, know this, I desire your glory to be displayed.

When we focus on praise and adoration it reorders our loves. Because of sin the things we love and identify with take supremacy. The supreme source of our enjoyment and delight is God himself. Do we really know that the culmination of all our joy in God will be attained when his name is hallowed in all the earth? Our sinful hearts lead us to be “spiritually self-sufficient.” We are always bent on being in control. Like it says in Romans 1 we still “suppress the truth.” We do not always “honor him as God or give him thanks to him.” We have “foolish hearts.” Tim Keller is spot on when he comments on our condition saying, “The ultimate reason for our misery, however, is that we do not love God supremely.”

Church, love God supremely, reverently, and fearfully. And find that by doing so, we’ll be drawn into a deeper life of prayer.

Following the Model of True Hospitality

I love food. I love having people over to my home, I love cooking, I just really enjoy everything associated with hosting, participating, and serving those who enter my home.
Few acts are more expressive of companionship than a shared meal…Someone with whom we share food is likely to be our family, a close friend, or well on the way to becoming one.

In fact the word Companion comes from the word “Com” (coom) meaning together, and “panis (pa–nees) “Bread.” Just think about your own life, how many meaningful conversations, important decisions, fun, and even hard times have been experienced around a dinner table or shared meal?

I believe that the Bible portrays food as an amazing Gift that has potential to bless our families, neighbors and others in ways that nice words, greeting cards, and money cannot. Throughout human history and across cultures shared meals have been central to the family, community, and essentially all relationships regardless of gender, ethnicity, economic standing, or age.

But in our current historical moment, we all sense at something went wrong with our shared meals in America, we lament declining food quality, decreased patience for cooking, food snobbery, increased demand outside ourselves which often leads to a decreased time for shared meals with those closest to us. There seems to be a mountain of other factors leading to isolation during meals, underconsumption (due to being too busy to eat) and overconsumption. In fact, dealing with overconsumption. Americans spend over $50 billion per year on dieting, trying to solve the problem of food gone wrong. In fact, Tim Chester in Good News to the Poor points out that in recent years American Christians have spent more on dieting than on world missions. Meaning that we tend to spend more money on trying to cure our overconsumption than we do feeding the physically and spiritually needy of the world.

Don’t beat yourself up yet. This isn’t going to be a post or rant telling you to stop eating or drinking good food and drink (I hope you do it more!). Rather like with all things we ought to consider how we do even the mundane things for the Glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We ought to eat, drink, laugh, weep, play, invest, and challenge in people over a shared meal, but a Christian does so with a different purpose, we always ought to engage each area of our lives with a larger perspective than just the present. Because as C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” And like anything in our faith, the blueprint for our life should be Jesus. He always says “Follow Me”, which means “do what I do”, so I hope to serve up a series of posts to seek to explore what Jesus did around ordinary tables to eternally impact people.

Consider Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

The Bible not only says WHY Jesus came (Mk. 10:45, Lk. 19:10), but Luke also comments and gives picture to HOW Jesus came, “eating and drinking.” We would do well in our efforts to minister and reach family and friends with the Gospel of Jesus to access the lost art of Hospitality or setting out to not just welcoming those close to us, but receive those who may be very different from us.

In short, Jesus regularly taught, displayed, and received hospitality. So much so that those opposing him accused him of gluttony and drunkenness! It seems that sharing meals with people was central to the way in which Jesus reached people. Through his life he modeled for us that the act of loving our neighbor is an essential & non-negotiable Christian practice. Christian Hospitality itself is “offering a generous welcome to the least, without concern for the advantage or benefit of the host.”

Christine D. Pohl in her amazing book Making Room says that “Hospitality is not optional for Christians, nor is it limited to those who are specially gifted for it. It is, instead, a necessary practice in the community of faith.” But why is Hospitality such a necessary practice within the Christian Community? In short, it is because it enacts and embodies God’s Grace. God by himself is never in need, or anxious about provision. God is self-sufficient, simply by existing. The Bible repeatedly says the LORD is not dependent or in need of anything. (Psalm 50:10-12, Psalm 90:2) Likewise God cannot be repaid – Job 41:11. But out of his wholeness, he welcomes the needy, broken, and repentant.

We read that salvation is of Grace in Ephesians 2:8-9 “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.” This truth is central to the Christian faith and message. That God who is un-obligated to anyone, chooses to redeem people out of his love for his own. Likewise there is nothing worthwhile in people that deserves to be redeemed, but our God loving chooses to do so. And this redemption that God gives to his people results in full acceptance, and access to our creator and redeemer. Therefore Grace is amazing because it brings “Full acceptance to an undeserving person by an un-obligated giver”. It is the LORD’s determined love for people that don’t deserve it, yet by Grace through faith we are welcomed into the full rights and privileges of Christ. So if we desire to be truly hospitable, it will contradict our cultural understanding of who is valuable and “good to be with.”

True biblical hospitality from a worldly perspective is as unappealing as biblical Grace. Meaning that when we consider WHO the LORD has redeemed and the qualifications the possess, we often echo the pharisees and murmur “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman (person) this is who is touching him, for she (they) is/are a sinner” (Luke 7:39). God’s choice in redemption often leaves us scratching our heads, because it is not based on the outward performance of those chosen, rather it’s based solely on God’s outpouring of love in election (Eph. 1:5). This is the upside down way the kingdom of God works in order to demonstrate that all of life and salvation is nothing but a work of unmerited favor from God. If God chose those who the world would deem “worthy”, christianity would collapse into every other world religion and system. But Jesus demonstrates through his life and ministry that God does not conform to the world, rather he is faithfully shaping this present world to his coming kingdom.

So our efforts to show hospitality are not to only include close friends, family, and those who we deem worthy. Rather our hospitality should seek to model God’s grace by beginning to consider what it would mean at times to intentionally include those who “don’t deserve it.”

By doing so we may show a watching world that our faith is not an exclusive club for those who “have it together” but a place where Christ begins to be our uniting factor, not race, economic standing, cultural relevance, or anything else. Therefore biblical hospitality is set on modeling God and his character through meals, provision,and relationships. Just as God’s Grace continually builds the Kingdom of God by his sovereign decree, may our hospitality serve as a instrument in the redeemers hand to model his character and love in order to see many grafted into the family.

So by way of introduction to a Biblical Theology of Meals, Hospitality and Food consider who you could welcome into your home, schedule, family, office, life. And in so doing, follow the ministry model Jesus set for us.

Why Solus Christus? Because He is Everything

Why did the doctrine of Solus Christus matter so much during the reformation, and why does it still matter today? We’ve talked much about Luther’s life these past weeks. Let me describe one more moment from his life to answer this question.

Once Luther began seeing the power of gospel grace and the powerlessness of our own works to save, he heard reports of a preacher who had just come to Wittenberg. This preacher’s name was John Tetzel. Tetzel came into the town square and said, “Good people of Wittenberg, have you not at one time or another burned your hand in the fire? And felt it torment you day and night? How greatly you ought to fear, then, the fires of hell, which are able to burn and torment your soul for all eternity. Your Pope, Leo X, offers you grace for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tonight and only tonight you can snatch any loved one or rescue yourself from the fires of hell for a few coins. “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The technical term for this is called an indulgence. And Tetzel just happened to be the most famous indulgence preachers around.

Luther heard this and was vexed in his soul! Why? Because Tetzel’s message was clear: give money to the Pope, and you will be saved. In response to Tetzel Luther wrote his 95 theses and numerous other books against the wicked doctrines of the Popes, past and present. For writing what he did, Pope Leo X sent Luther warning letter, called a Papal Bull, telling him to repent or else. Luther refused to repent and responded instead by publicly burning a copy of the letter. A few weeks later he preached about this in one of his Sunday sermons saying, “Yes you have heard, it’s true. I’ve been summoned to Rome. While I’m gone remember, we obsess with indulgences…God isn’t an angry God who only wants your money. Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly…If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon his friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this, ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’”

Christ’s work alone saves, not ours. This was what vexed Luther.

Now why do these things matter today? You may think the preaching of indulgences was a thing of the past, but you’d be mistaken. The Roman Catholic Church not only still uses and offers indulgences, but Pope Francis has been known to use them often. Remember, when an indulgence is offered, what is being communicated is that if you do this, if you go here, or if you give this amount of money, you’ll be saved from the fires and torment of hell. There seems to be no place for the truths of Christ standing forth in majestic wonder as the true Prophet, true Priest, and true King, alone in His exclusive identity, and alone in His sufficiency to save. The center of Tetzel’s preaching was that man could buy His way into heaven, Luther heard it and it vexed his soul because Christ’s work to save was being thrust aside!

Today it’s really no different. By and large the center of protestant preaching is that man can use God to gain self-esteem, purpose, and worth, and even though Christ crucified is thrust aside and absent from this message…we hear it and our souls aren’t vexed at all! Where is Christ???? Where is His Prophetic, Priestly, and Kingly work for us? Sadly, though we say we reject Catholicism our message is eerily similar to Tetzel’s message. Sure, we may not say that we can buy our way into heaven, but we do say we can use heaven to buy whatever we want.

Church. We need to repent and return to Christ. When we turn to this particular Sola we turn to the linchpin, the hub, the apex, and the center of all reformation theology, indeed, of all biblical theology. Christ is the glory of Sola Scriptura, for He alone is the Word made flesh and He alone is the interpretive end of all Scripture. Christ is the glory of Sola Gratia, for He alone is the grace of God personified. Christ is the glory of Sola Fide, for He alone is the object of saving faith. And Christ is the glory of Soli Deo Gloria, for He alone is the radiance of the glory of God.[i]

Far be it from us to think the reformation or any theology coming from it that boasts the label of ‘reformed’ centers on men like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or any other famous man or woman in the history of the Church. Far be it from us to think God exists to make much of us! May you be vexed at the man centeredness of the Christian world around us, and rid your soul of such narcissism. We have no need for any other prophet to provide us with new revelation, we have no need for any other priest to mediate between us and God, and we have no need for any other king to rule God’s Church.[ii]

Christ alone stands at the center of God’s eternal purposes, so, Christ and Christ alone must stand at the center of all our life and doctrine.[iii]

 

 

Citations:

[i] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 14.

[ii] Ibid., page 13.

[iii] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 13.

Let’s DO this!

1 Peter 2:11-12

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Peter and James are two of the most holy driven books in the new testament, by this I mean that both men encourage believers to live out their faith with boldness and with a perspective that what they do matters, not just to God but to those around them. Now we would be foolish though to think that these calls to Holiness and Righteous lives are devoid of any Spiritual understanding. Rather both James and Peter root their calls for Holiness in the truth of Christ and the reality of our new birth through Him. Today I want to briefly remind us of Peter’s encouragement to us as to why and how we live out the faith in Holiness.

First Peter reminds us that we sojourners and exiles. The importance in this reminder is that he uses a combination of these two words in a way that harkens the reader backwards into biblical history. It connects us to another important figure who spent his life living among people that were not his own, as one called out and set apart for a new life, a life filled with promises that would not be fully realized in his own time. That man was Abraham. In reminding us of Abraham’s own words we are reminded of how God provided for Him and loved Him. We are reminded of a man, who though he made mistakes, was never forgotten by God or lost sight of the promised future. God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled, and so too will the promises made to us God’s children. We are being transformed into the image of the living God and as such he will now encourage us to live in light of that reality.

Not only does this reminder connect us back to the blessing and provision of God towards Abraham, but also the reality that He was a man called out and chosen by God, just as we are. In the opening chapter of Peter’s Epistle he continually reinforces the truth that we are called to the new life we live. We are not here by accident, and nothing that occurs to us or around us is a mistake or accident. God has called us into a new and lasting Kingdom, and as such He has given us the blessing of knowing that our future is assured and our life is His. When we begin to realize that our lives are secure in Christ and that He has set us free from the burdens of the world we can then better appreciate the call He gives us to be Holy as God is Holy.

So then secondly, we are now being greatly urged to abstain from the passion of the flesh. Again because we are a new creation and God has given us new life in the life and death of Christ, our lives will be different. Our lives are no longer simply a passive experience, but rather a battle against the forces of this world and our own innate passions. Scripture gives us several examples of passions we do battle with:

1 Peter 2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.

1 Peter 4:3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

Gal 5:19-21  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are but an overarching theme of what Peter is encouraging us to remember: if we are beloved by God and growing in the faith these will be the things that will try to creep in and destroy that faith, but as believers in Christ we can overcome. Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that there are no temptations in this life that cannot be overcome through Christ. The call to abstain from the passion of the flesh is not an impossible one, but it is one that requires us to be mindful of our choices and to think more clearly about each step we take. We live our lives in an active state before a watching world, as such we are also called to maintain Good Conduct.

Peter encourages the believers over the reminder of Chapter 2 and into chapter 3 to ensure that the way they act and live isn’t simply free from the passions of the flesh, but that it is active in its obedience to Christ and the maintaining of good conduct around those who would question the faith or even seek to destroy it. Peters words remind us of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:14-16)  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

So the Christian life is more than simply abstaining from sin, it is a willful pursuit of Christ that leads to a maintaining of good conduct. It is becoming Holy as He is Holy. 

However, what is so interesting about this passage is how Peter connects our desire to follow God in righteousness with the proclamation of the Gospel. Peter encourages us to live in righteousness that the world and those who would stand against us would see the Jesus, and as such create an opportunity to come to faith. Here our way of life is a representation of God to the people. Every word we say, every action we take, everything thing we post online, is a representation of Christ to the World, and a declaration of who He is and how He has changed us. Our lives should show that we are different from the world not a nicer dressed version of it. Our conduct should show them more and more of the true life found in Christ, not a false faith of our own making.

Prayer: Starting and Ending With Grace

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 98 asks ‘What is Prayer?’ The answer is simple and profound, ‘Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.’

When we pray do we often think about what prayer requires? Is there a right way to pray? I would like to persuade you that yes there is a right way to pray and that prayer requires three things: grace, fear, and helplessness.

Today I want to write on the first of these, prayer requires grace.

Prayer is “in Jesus’ name,” based on the gospel. When we pray in Jesus’ name it is to know the reason we are being heard is because of the costly grace in which we stand. Because of Christ’s blood bought atoning work who reconciled us to God. There is “Free Forgiveness” at an “Infinite Cost.” Grace is not based on you being perfect. Grace is the unmerited favor of God abounding in each of our lives because Jesus was perfect.

All Christians pray in Jesus’s name, and only in Jesus’ name, in that we approach God under the authority of Jesus and ultimately by his permission and because of his effort on our behalf. We come before God’s throne of grace, not in our own merit, but in the merit of Jesus. Praying in Jesus name is trusting in Christ’s work that he is our salvation. Jesus is the mediator who makes it possible for us to approach God in prayer. A mediator is a “go between” who facilitates peace and reconciliation between two parties. Jesus is our mediator, but He goes the extra step and also advocates for us; that is, He comes in on “our side”, so to speak, and pleads our cause.

We pray “through Him” because His authority enables us to be heard. Because of our sins, we could never approach God. We need a “go-between” to reconcile us to God so we can communicate with Him. Because Jesus died as our sacrifice, He is the only one who can authorize us to approach God in prayer. As Tim Keller says “Our prayers must be in full, grateful awareness that our access to God as Father is a free gift won by the costly sacrifice of Jesus the True Son, and then enacted in us by the Holy Spirit, who helps us know inwardly that we are his children.”

Jesus is the mediator between us and God “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Tim 2:5) Or as Hebrews puts it, But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises...and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 8:26 and 12:24) Because of Jesus we have access to the Father as Paul says because of Christ he reconciled “us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

If we remember the freeness of forgiveness it should shape our confessions and repentance. Grace leads to repentance. Remembering the saving work of Christ and rehearsing the gospel to ourselves can help us from having prayers that are legalistic and self-merited as well as trying to earn Gods mercy. We must have a right attitude towards God and sin itself. We must admit our Sin Like David did in Psalm 51, but also he says “Against you, you only, have I sinned”.

John Owen makes it clear when he says “If we aim to move beyond seeing only the danger of sin its consequences and find ways to convince our hearts of the grievousness of sin how it dishonors and grieves the one to whom we owe everything.”

Prayer must always start and end with grace.

The Knowledge of the Holy One: Holy, Holy, Holy

MJ or Kobe? The Shark or Tiger? Montana or Brady? Rivera or Hoffman? Howe or Gretzky? However you choose, you’re sure to find someone, somewhere who can explain one over the other and possibly begin to sway you toward someone not even in consideration. And such is the case when considering the attributes of God.

As the World Trade Centers once dominated the New York City skyline, the holiness of God is argued by some as the supreme attribute that towers above the others. This, of course, is figurative language since, as RC Sproul contends, “…all of God is all of his attributes in their entirety. God’s holiness is immutable, omnipotent, eternal, and omnipresent. In like manner his immutability is holy, omniscient, and eternal…Every attribute we ascribe to him applies to the whole of God. His attributes all exist mutually in a kind of reciprocity of attributes.”[1]

As was once true of NYC and the WTC, one cannot cast their gaze toward the face of God without the holiness of God gleaming against the night sky with brilliance and clarity. But what does “holy” mean, anyway?

Defining Holy

John Frame, in his excellent work [2] defines holiness in this way: “Holiness, then, is God’s capacity and right to arouse our reverent awe and wonder. It is his uniqueness (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2), his transcendence as our Creator. It is his majesty, for the holy God is like a great king, whom we dare not treat like other persons.” But this, if I may be so bold, describes God’s holiness from a reactive position. It’s almost sounds like God’s holiness would be lacking if humanity were not here to react to it/Him. Surely, that is not Frame’s position, in spite of how it may sound.

Pink, deriving at his definition from Revelation 15:4, 1 John 1:5 & Habakkuk 1:13, explains holiness as “the very antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement.”[3] Although I agree with the Holy Scriptures and Pink’s assessment, moral purity doesn’t quite go far enough, does it?

Tozer tackles the 400lb gorilla of God’s holiness with meekness, humility, and obscurity, when defaults to “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is the standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is.”[4] And I can’t say that I blame him for retreating here! After all, this peasant has sought an audience with the King that I might know Him, and as my acquaintance grows my understanding becomes overwhelmed in the Sea of His Resplendence and I, too, come away in awe, incapable articulating what my heart screams about my interaction with Him.

It was one of our modern treasures from God that helped this beggar digest the meat of God’s glorious holiness. “When the Bible calls God holy, it primarily means that God is transcendently separate.”[5] What Sproul is saying is that God holiness means that he is completely distinct from all things (holy/sanctified: to be set apart), He is transcendent over all things (to be set above all), and His moral purity is the backdrop against which all things are measured (He is unstained by any imperfection).

He is Transcendentally Separate in His essence, being, and nature and all that God does is a natural outflow of who He is. Therefore, the Holy One’s activities are by necessity holy, separate, and above; even above our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9). It was Rudolph Otto who made a strong case God’s “Complete Otherness;” a point which I can concede so long as this proposition isn’t taken to mean that God is completely unknowable; only that he is entirely unknowable.

“Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory”(Yahweh in place of LORD added)![6] Transcendentally Separate, Transcendentally Separate, Transcendentally Separate, in essence and action is the God of Heaven, the Only, True, Living God. His glory is observable in all that is, ever was, and ever will be!

How Should We Respond to the Holiness of God?

Very simply: We adore, sing praises, marvel, stand in awe, fall prostrate, gawk, stand and point with our jaws gapping wide…silent because of his effulgence (it’s ok, stop what you’re doing and look up effulgence…it’s worth the extra 30 seconds if you’ve read this far already), if that were possible.

Worship.

It’s the only appropriate response to the Majesty that is the Holiness of God; a single word sentence full a beauty, complexity, and profundity that makes the heart of your Creator explode with joy as you experience Him! But this can only be done rightly in Spirit and in Truth, having been made holy by Him who is Holy.

Isaiah was purged of his filth and stood on his feet by a Divine act in the presence of the Holy One (Isaiah 6:7). And how did he respond? Paraphrasing, “Whatever you want, whatever you ask, wherever you send, pick me!” Like a 10 year old with his hand raised high, stretching his little fingers ever so higher, straining for even an additional millimeter so as to be noticed by “the big kids” while picking teams for sandlot kickball…”Pick me, pick me. I’ll do it for you! I’ll do a good job, I promise!” Isaiah responded in fear, terror, dread, and brokenness until the Holy One washed him clean, stood him upright, and gave the sinner the confidence needed to draw near to the throne of the Holy (Hebrews 4:16).

True Israel, the Church, is commanded to respond in faith, trust, and dependence upon Him. In Isaiah 43:3, God identifies Himself as “…the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” But just before He does, He issues this command in verse 1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” The source of our trust and dependence upon Him stems from the utter incomprehensible truth that He saved us, redeemed us, and that by the His own blood at Calvary. If a holy God was willing to purchase our freedom from sin’s grip and its just sentence of death, what could we not trust and depend upon Him for? What is there to fear if the terror of The Holy One’s judgement has been replaced by the peace afforded to us by our position in His Son? This was the glory of Paul’s closing argument in Romans 8:31-39, “If God is for us, who can be against us…Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect…Who is to condemn…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or danger, or sword?..No…For I am sure…[nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Faith.

It’s the only appropriate response to the Majesty that is the Holiness of God; a single word sentence full of beauty, complexity, and profundity that makes the heart of your Creator explode with joy as you experience Him! And yes, I am aware that I just copied a sentence from above. But, faith in the Holy One of Israel, Israel Himself, Jesus Christ, is the first acceptable act of worship stemming from the heart of flesh given rebellious man at regeneration. Listen to the words of Jesus from the disciple whom Jesus loved, “‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ Then [the people said to Jesus], ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[7]

The Holiness of God on Display

Did you see it? The Gospel, that is. We respond rightly to the holiness of God by responding rightly to the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Sproul[8] agrees with Pink[9] when they write that God’s holiness is most visible in the cross of Christ (as well as perhaps all other attributes). Sproul writes, “The cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. It was the most just and the most gracious act in history. God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken on Himself the sins of the world. Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then he became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin he carried, he became utterly repugnant to the Father. God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. Herein was God’s holy justice perfectly manifest. Yet it was done for us. He took what justice demanded from us. This ‘for us’ aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace. At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy. It is too astonishing to fathom.” 

Indeed, it is.

Faith fueled worship empowered by God’s Spirit, from God’s Truth. That’s how God’s chosen from all ages have always responded to God’s Holiness.

How Then Shall We Live? 

The great puritan pastor and theologian Stephen Charnock accurately summarizes the new life in Christ afforded to those who have been birthed to holiness by Holiness, “As [holiness] is the splendor of all the Divine attributes, so it is the flower of all a Christian’s graces, the crown of all religion.”[10] We would do well to wear such a crown in obedience to our Lord as he charges all men everywhere, especially Believers, “…be holy, for I am Holy…”[11] (emphasis added).

May God grant us the grace necessary us to be so.

[1] RC Sproul, Truths We Confess, pg. 36-37

[2] John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 276-279

[3] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 33

[4] AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg.105

[5] RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, pg. 46

[6] Holy Bible, ESV, Isaiah 6:3

[7] Ibid. John 6:27-29

[8] RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, pg. 147

[9] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 34-35

[10] Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes, pg. 529

[11] Holy Bible, ESV, Leviticus 11:44