The Call & The Called

Throughout my life I remember certain calls. I remember the first time I answered our home phone as a young boy with a timid ‘Hello?’ I remember getting into trouble and having to call my mother from the principal’s office in 1stgrade. I remember God calling me into pastoral ministry in December 2003. I remember the many calls Holly and I exchanged our senior year of college. I remember the Easter Sunday my mother called me to tell me Grandpa had died. I remember the day the elders of SonRise called me to inform me that I’d been chosen to be the next pastor. All of these calls, some hard and some exuberant, mean much to me. I’m sure you could give a list of similar calls that have happened in your life that are meaningful to you as well. But of all the calls we could mention one call matters more than any other – the effectual call of God.

It’s at this point where we encounter a paradox.

Because of God’s predestining love, many people in the world are truly the ‘elect of God’ but still remain dead in sin and without hope. God has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world, yet they live as unbelievers, apart from Christ, still rejecting the gospel. How is it then that God brings these chosen ones, how is it that God brings His elect to a saving knowledge of the truth?

The answer according to Scripture is the effectual call.

Or we could say it another way: God’s sovereign election is not the end of the story, it’s merely the beginning. God will lead all of those He has elected in Christ to salvation through Christ and the first step in this process is the effectual call. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called…’ So first comes the election of God then comes the call of God. And not just any call, but a call that we say is ‘effectual’ because the call itself creates what is not there: life from death, light from darkness, faith from unbelief, salvation from condemnation, and adoption from alienation.

1 Corinthians 1:22-24 says it like this, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In this passage three groups are present: Jews, Gentiles, and another group Paul refers to as ‘the called.’ Three groups with two very different responses to Christ. Jews demand signs/wonders and upon seeing/hearing of Jesus Christ they conclude Him to be a stumbling block. Greeks (who are Gentiles) were seen as more cultured people than the Jews so rather than seeking powerful signs they sought after wisdom and upon seeing/hearing of Jesus Christ they conclude Him to be folly. This response of unbelief does not surprise us because in the verses leading up to v22-24 we continually read that to the world the cross is foolishness (v18), that it pleased God the world through wisdom cannot find Him or know Him (v21a), but rather God saves those who believe a message which the world sees as foolishness (v21b).

Standing against the unbelief of Jews and Gentiles is the other group, ‘the called.’ We’re introduced to this group in v24 and when these people heard of Jesus Christ they did not think Him to be a stumbling block or folly, no, they held Him to be the very power and wisdom of God. A slow reflection of these three groups and their responses to the gospel prompts us to ask questions: what made the difference? How did the third group recognize Christ as God’s very wisdom and God’s very power while the Jews and Gentiles missed it? The Jews wanted their signs, the Gentiles wanted their wisdom, and ironically the very things that both of these groups were seeking are found together in Christ in the highest degree possible. He is the definition of the power of God…He is the definition of the wisdom of God. What made this last group embrace this and embrace the truth of the gospel while the others rejected it?

Answer: they were called of God.

We see this in the first few words of v24, ‘But to those who are called…’ That’s it. That’s the difference maker. ‘But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ This means the call of God is the very thing which removes our John 3:3 blinders. Anybody recall John 3:3? ‘Jesus said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.’’ Because of our sinful nature we cannot see the kingdom of God, we’re blind to the beauty of the gospel by birth, but those who are called, those whom God gives the new birth (that’s what ‘born again’ means) can see power and wisdom in the gospel! They don’t think of the gospel as a small thing that doesn’t have meaning for their life, they think it is life.

Do you? It was the call of God that made this third group in v24 see the truth of who Jesus really is while the rest of the world was blind to it. Thus, the call of God is an effectual call or is efficacious because it brings about the desired effect. The best evidence of true salvation is not having raised a hand or praying a prayer or signing a card or being baptized, attending church, or even serving that church to any capacity. The best evidence of true conversion is the presence of light, warmth, love, and joy in God found in the gospel of Christ saving sinners. This transforms a life, because once God effectually calls you to Himself, you will not remain the same.

Convictional and Compassionate: Being an All-Around Calvinist

What comes to your mind when you hear the term “Calvinist” or “Calvinism” mentioned? For some people, the term represents a theology and a people who are cold, selfish, eggheads, academics, not practical, and isolated. The caricature of Calvinism oozes forth from many people as if being a Calvinist and being a leper were synonymous with one another. As someone who gladly embraces the term (with qualifiers as a Baptist), along with unashamedly declaring the doctrines of grace from the pulpit, it raises a concern that perhaps our zeal apart from love contributes to the scarecrow straw-man constructed by those who oppose Calvinism. A Calvinist must be a man or woman who is a Calvinist all-around. This is play on C.H. Spurgeon’s work An All-Around Ministry where the Prince of Preachers guides young pastors into seeing the many elements that must be a part of ministry. I would suggest a few elements that are needed for us to be all-around Calvinists.

Experiential Religion

Some might get the impression (fairly and unfairly) that to be a Calvinist requires an oath to reject any type of feelings and emotions in regards to the Christian faith. If one reads just a few Puritan works, the conclusion will be made that this is not true. As I read The Valley of Vision (which you should too) prayers, my heart stirs within me considering the greatness of our God and His grace manifest in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Calvinism fuels true experiential religion built upon the Word of God. In his work The Practical Implications of Calvinism, Pastor Albert N. Martin makes a striking observation: “I submit that a man has no right to speak of being a Calvinist because he can repeat like a parrot phrases brought to him in the great heritage of Reformed literature. He must ask himself, Has the Holy Spirit brought be me to this profound sense of God that has worked in me at least in some measure the grace of humility.”[1] It is not enough for us to systemize if we do not internalize. The doctrines of grace are the marrow for experiential religion for they are anchored to the text of the Bible, beholding the majesty of God, humbling our prideful spirits, and taking us upward to behold the Lamb of God. Is your Calvinism causing you to be a man or woman of biblical, experiential religion? May God help us if our Calvinism causes us to be cold and indifferent! Such an experience would indict us of not truly knowing the doctrines of grace.

An Informed Worldview

            Calvinism extends far beyond TULIP and the latest conferences. Biblical and historic Calvinism provides a guide for how to view all of life. A person’s theology better be more than what takes them to corporate worship for an hour on Sunday. In fact, this is one of the great problems of the day. A ritualistic morality is a poor and cheap substitute for biblical Christianity. The great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield defined a Calvinist in the following way:

He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling and willing – in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, and spiritual – throughout all his individual social and religious relations, is, by force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.[2]

Warfield expands the playing field when it comes to Calvinism as being more than a theological acrostic. Theology can never be impractical due to the fact that doctrine fuels our lives. Each day decisions are made based upon a worldview, a grid for life. Calvinism will influence how you parent, how you relate to your spouse, the way you view your job, politics, and so forth. If Calvinism only comes into play when TULIP is spoken of, then it is not Calvinism but a sort of pragmatism that reigns in the heart and mind of an individual. J.I. Packer beautifully summarizes this in his introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible – the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.[3]

A Gracious Outlook

            Confessing a theology known as the doctrines of grace must impact us in being gracious to others. Sometimes I cringe reading Twitter and seeing how men who I am persuaded are true believers, who call themselves Calvinists, and yet speak to each other in ways that lack any type of grace and charity. Keyboard Calvinism is as dangerous as pragmatism. Calvinism is not a badge to wear for admittance into the cool kids’ club nor is it a club to beat people over the head with. When one gets a true sense of the grace that God has shown, how can that not humble us and guide us in our dealings with others? One of the great concerns I have is that many Facebook and Twitter Calvinists are pragmatists when it comes to their ecclesiology. If you choose where you attend church and are a member at based on pragmatic values, then it does not matter how well you can articulate the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace. One of the greatest changes in my life when I came to understand the doctrines of grace involved how I viewed the local church. If you want to destroy the caricature of cold Calvinism, band together with like-minded believers. The beauty of Calvinism should be seen in gracious cooperation: serve the community like ministering at a children’s home or a nursing home, show grace to one another knowing all of us are feeble human beings who need Christ, and remember that the pilgrimage to Zion is not a road of isolation.

Steadfast Convictions

The false dichotomy that states being gracious and compassionate means the absence of convictions and beliefs must be rejected. Our Lord is all-gracious and compassionate yet He is dogmatic and narrow as He declares that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Calvinism must be compassionate and convictional. Our theology does matter. Our beliefs do matter. For someone to say that it is not a big deal what one believes concerning God’s sovereignty, man’s depravity, and Christ’s sufficiency moves closer and closer to a false gospel. Further reformation is needed today when it comes to the regulative principle of worship, the perpetuity of the moral law of God, confessionalism, and covenant theology. However, a person can be fervently committed to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith without being obnoxious about it. In my opinion, no one combined the doctrinal fidelity of Calvinism with experiential religion, powerful evangelism, compassionate ministry, and selfless service like C.H. Spurgeon. Yet, Spurgeon was no ecumenical in the sense of watering down doctrine and theological railing.[4]

Conclusion

Beliefs do matter. Practice does matter. They go hand-in-hand. Calvinism must be convictional and compassionate. I urge you to explore ministries like Ligonier Ministries, Reformation21 of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Founders Ministries, and Banner of Truth as examples of how Calvinism serves for all of life. I will close with a word from Mr. Spurgeon:

A knowledge of doctrine will tend very much to confirm your faith. Try to understand God’s Word, get a sensible, spiritual idea of it. Get, if you can, a system of divinity out of God’s Bible. Put the doctrines together. Get real, theological knowledge founded upon the infallible Word. Get a knowledge of that science which is most despised, but which is the most necessary of all, the science of Christ and of him crucified, and of the great doctrines of grace…The church needs the doctrines of grace to-day as much as when Paul, or Auguste, or Calvin preached them; the Church needs justification by faith, the substitutionary atonement, and regeneration, and divine sovereignty to be preached from her pulpits as much as in days of yore, and by God’s grace she shall have them, too.[5]

[1] Albert N. Martin, The Practical Implications of Calvinism. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 10.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] See https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/packer_intro.html for the full essay.

[4] See https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2001/are-you-sure-you-like-spurgeon/

[5] Tom Nettles, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 167.

Why the Reformation? Because of Misplaced Authority

The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.

What happened changed the world.

500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Jonathan Leeman is right when he says there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. So in looking to the past to gain wisdom for today, why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.

The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.

Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.

Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.

Now, why does the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) still matter today?

Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line?

We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel.

And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”

Clearly, we need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin?

It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

How Do You Train?

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

 

I recently read that Olympian Michael Phelps, when competing, would train for 5 -6 hours a day, 6 days a week. He put a lot of time and effort into his Olympic training. It certainly paid off. He has won numerous gold medals and is arguably the greatest Olympian of all time.

 

We may not be at the level of Michael Phelps, but we regularly train ourselves. We have training at work. We have training at school. We take courses that train us to be financially stable. We go to the gym to train. We go to the soccer field or the basketball court to train. We spend a lot of time training ourselves to better in many areas. These things are good. You will notice that Paul, in the passage above says that, “bodily training is of some value” (v8).  There is value to our training. It is good to improve ourselves at work, school, and the soccer field. It is good to go to the gym every now and then. We are called to hard work and to do things well and training is a part of that.

 

Although Paul says that “bodily training is of some value” you will notice that he says, “godliness if of value in every way” (v8) and therefore he says to “train yourself for godliness” (7). We spend a lot of time training ourselves in many ways, but how often do we train ourselves in godliness? Is this something we even consider?

 

As a people who have trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been changed from the inside out our thoughts ought to be on the eternal rather than the temporal (Colossians 3:1). Our desire to be more like Christ should be stronger than our desire to be successful, athletic, good looking, etc. The goal in the life of the believer should not be physical, financial, or mental fitness, but spiritual.

 

Here are some ways, by the grace of God, that the we can train ourselves in godliness:

 

  • Pray – Jesus told his disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38) and “Pray then like this… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13). There is a real correlation between praying and fighting sin. To train in godliness to pray regularly.

 

  • Bible Reading – Paul told Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). If we are not regularly reading the Bible, then we are not equipped as for godliness as we could be. To train in godliness is to read God’s Word often.

 

  • Christian Community – The Author of Hebrews writes, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). There is a way that we can be encouraged and stirred on in the Christian life though Christian community that we cannot achieve on our own. To train in godliness is to surround yourself with Christian community.

 

Of all the hours and ways, we train, let’s be sure that we work in a heavy dose of training in godliness.

Beholding the Glory of Christ

This week in my Bible reading plan, I was struck by the repeated references to beholding the glory of God in Christ. I saw unbelievers like Pilate say, “Behold your King!” as he presented Jesus for crucifixion and I saw scenes where Moses beheld God’s glory on burning Mt. Sinai. I saw Zechariah prophesy of Christ’s coming, “Behold your King…how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” and I saw David praying, “our eyes look to the Lord our God.” But what stood out the most to me were Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where I read, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” All this language of beholding made me take a step back to see what Scripture teaches on this. I discovered 5 steps in the Bible’s argument on this, which may be helpful to you as well…

We were created to behold the glory of God

God says in Isaiah 43:7 that we were created for His glory. But what does it mean to behold God’s glory? It obviously means more than merely seeing it with our eyes. After all, Scripture says we’ll never fully see God’s glory because he is invisible and, “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16b). Jonathan Edwards says to behold God’s glory is to delight in Him above all else. He says this in his Miscellanies: “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in…[W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it.” This was the condition Adam and Eve had in the garden. They enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God. Until that dreadful day when they broke fellowship with God and started beholding the glory of lesser things. This brings us to the next step in the argument…

Sin and Satan have blinded us to God’s glory

Jesus says that we are born spiritually blind because of our sin nature (Jn. 9:39-41). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan compounds this blindness by actively blinding unbelievers from beholding the light of God’s glory in the Gospel. So not only can they not see God’s glory, but Satan is working to ensure they don’t ever see it. Thankfully, this is where the bad news ends and the good news begins…

God by His Spirit gives us eyes to behold His glory on the cross

The only possible way for the blind to see is by the miraculous touch of the Great Physician. They can’t and don’t want to behold God as glorious until then. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20). So then, what needs to happen must be nothing short of Divine intervention. God must impart spiritual eyesight. But how does He do this? Through the preaching of the Gospel. This is precisely what Jesus sent the apostles…and us to do. Paul says Jesus sent him, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). But wait, I thought we already saw how Satan blinds them from seeing the Gospel when it is preached. Yes, but God in His grace, overcomes this blindness through the very Gospel that is preached. Paul says that what God does in the new birth is similar to what He did in creation: He says, “Let there be light” and He shines the Gospel into our darkened hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). So now that we see Christ’s glory and realize He alone is truly valuable, what do we do from here?

We grow more like Christ as we behold His glory in the Gospel

2 Corinthians 3:18, once again says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Becoming requires beholding. Beholding enables becoming. If we want to be more like Christ, we need to behold Christ more. The reason we sin is because we are beholding something else as glorious and not Christ. Paul David Tripp has pointed out, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” How do we do this? Bible study, prayer, fellowship, humility, meditating on the Gospel. All the various means of grace are avenues God created for us to better behold His glory in the Gospel. If we seek God’s glory in these we will grow in Christlikeness as we behold Him. So then what is next?

One day, we will eternally behold His glory

John Piper puts it this way in his book, God is the Gospel: “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.” God, through the preaching of the Gospel, has broken into your blindness to give you a sight of His glory and He now calls you to to an eternity of beholding Him which begins now. If you now see the crucified and risen Jesus as the most satisfying and glorious One of all, then God has given you this. Keep beholding Him in your daily life and be urged on by the future Day when you will behold Christ fully and finally with new eyes. We’ll end with some words from a Sovereign Grace hymn entitled When We See Your Face. Let these words spur you on as you behold Christ in your daily life:

“We will see, we will know

Like we’ve never known before

We’ll be found, we’ll be home

We’ll be Yours forevermore.”

 

The Anxiety free life.

*Anxiety Disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54). – National Institute of Mental Health 

*Of those 40 million people, almost 7 million of them suffer from GAD, with 15 million suffering from social anxiety disorder, 14.8 million suffering from major depressive disorder, and 7.7 million affected by post-traumatic stress disorder- National institute for mental health.

Worries. Pain. Fear. Frustration. Doubt. Stress. Faithlessness. Exhaustion.

All of these words paint vivid pictures of the complexities associated with “anxiety.”

If you are reading this right now, then no doubt you have experienced your fair share of anxiety from time to time. You may have even rented a room in the “Distress District” as of late, due to your workload.

We often feel anxious about our finances: How can we make this month’s bills? How will I be able to fix my aging car if it breaks down? What if I lose my job? How will we put the kids through college? How can we meet our medical bills? How will we ever save enough for retirement? What if the economy fails?

We feel anxious about our health, especially as we grow older: What if I get cancer or Alzheimer’s? What if I’m disabled or have to go into a nursing home? If we’re younger, we may have these same anxieties concerning our aging parents.

We’re anxious about our children: Will they turn out okay? Will they avoid drugs and sexual immorality? Will they be safe in this crime-ridden world? Will they be able to get into college and then get a decent-paying job? Will they marry a godly person and have a happy home? What kind of world will their children have to live in?

The lists could go on and on. Maybe you’re getting anxious just reading this as I give different reasons for anxiety! Sometimes we can’t identify any specific reason for our anxiety, but it’s there, nagging away at our insides. If we don’t learn to deal with it properly, it can cause all sorts of health problems, which in turn feed our anxieties. Few of us are strangers to anxiety. It creeps in over big and little things, gnawing away at our insides.

Someone graphically described anxiety as “a thin stream of fear trickling the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other things are drained” – (Arthur Roche)

Anxiety in the Greek is the word mermina” which translates as “care or worry,” which comes from the Greek root word, merminao which literally means dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts.”

There’s no wonder that worry and anxiety make us feel like we are literally falling apart.

Anxiety kills faith. Anxiety kills hope. Anxiety limits our devotion to God. Anxiety bogs down our prayer life. Anxiety places a wall between the factual, and the supernatural. Anxiety weakens. Anxiety distorts. Anxiety clouds. Anxiety is not from God. Anxiety is a swift attack on the mind, which then affects the heart, and ultimately affects the body. Anxiety must be understood, dealt with and removed in order to have deep and personal fellowship the Lord.  

I love how Dr. Tony Evans puts it: Worrying is interest paid before the trouble is due.

No one in scripture dealt with the reality of worry and anxiety more than the apostle Paul. He is arguably one of the most central figures in the growth of the early church, and an excellent example of how to proclaim the gospel with authority, conviction, passion, zeal and respect. Paul addresses the church in Phillipi while arrested after an incident we’ll read about in acts 16:20.

Acts 16:20-24

20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”

Here we see Paul suffering at the hands of roman soldiers for what had happened a few verses earlier, driving a demon out of a girl who could for-see the future with demonic possession. Once the magistrates got word that this was taking place, they flogged both him and Silas and put them both in prison.

Paul had worries. I’m sure Paul felt a great deal of anxiety as a church planter, missionary and pastor.

Paul had much to worry about if he were to solely deal with the facts of his constant sufferings, but in the middle of a dark & dungy prison, Paul pens one of the most encouraging letters to believers. The letter to the Philippians. Paul uses what the enemy intended for evil and destruction to encourage believers to seek Christ’s joy in the midst of their most difficult times.

To those who follow Him, Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). He spoke those comforting words on the most difficult night He faced on this earth, the night before His crucifixion. Seven times in the New Testament our God is called either the God or Lord of peace. That peace can be the constant experience of every Christian, even in the midst of trials

I want to focus our attention to the passage in Philippians 4:4-13 and draw 4 simple points to live an anxiety free life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Rejoice in the LORD.

The word “rejoice” means to be conscious and glad for God’s grace. To take it a step further, it literally means to “Hail” or bow down to God as a means to surrender any contrary feeling and subject it to the overwhelming reality of Gods goodness. Experience his joy & goodness and anxiety won’t take much part in our thinking. Notice how paul begins his letter in the fourth chapter, in prison. He says in simple terms: “First of all, you need to rejoice. Start with a spirit of thanksgiving and acknowledge Gods goodness”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it clear that anxiety stems from a lack of faith and from a wrong focus on the things of this world instead of on the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:25-34, especially verses 30 & 33). If we excuse our anxieties by saying, “Well, it’s only human,” or, “Anybody would feel anxious in this situation,” we will not overcome it because we are not confronting the root cause of it, namely, our sin of not believing God and of not seeking first His kingdom and righteousness.

Pray constantly, and consistently. Phil. 4:6-7  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul says do not be anxious about anything. This shows us that the very act of worry and living in worry are sins! He’s not making a pledge here, or 5 steps to a better life. No. What he’s implying is that the key to even begin to rejoice in the Lord is found in the secret room of your prayer life.

Proverbs 15:8 says: The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
  It literally pleases the Lord when we take part in continual prayer, it is our very fuel for the journey.  Fuel your spirit with constant communication with the Lord! Constant! The promise is that HIS peace will be with you! This means that when it comes to the matter of dealing with our anxiety, we must, at the outset, confront our motives for even wanting to have peace. If our reason for wanting to be free from anxiety is so that we can live a peaceful, pleasant life, our focus is self-centered and therefore wrong. There are many people who come to Christ because they are anxious and they want the peace He offers. But if they do not confront the fact that they are living to please themselves rather than God, they will simply settle into a self-centered life where they “use God” for their own peace and comfort. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35). The peace Christ offers is the by-product of enthroning Christ as Lord and living for His kingdom. Saints, we must pray constantly & consistently.

When Paul says to make our requests known “to God,” the Greek word means “face to face with God,” to come directly before Him. This means that when we pray, we must stop to remember that we are coming into the very presence of the holy God, where even the holy angels cover their faces and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:3). Yes, He welcomes us into His presence as a father welcomes his children. Through our High Priest, the Lord Jesus, God invites us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). But we must remember that it is to the throne of the universe, to the Sovereign, Eternal God that we come.

This means, of course, that we must always examine our hearts and confess and forsake all sin when we come to God in prayer. The psalmist says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” my prayers (Ps. 66:18). But we also have the assurance that if we confess our sins, the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cleanse us (1 John 1:7, 9).

Meditate on The Word.  Phil. 4:8-9  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you”  

The God of peace will be with us when we truly learn to meditate on his word. (Ps. 119:9-16) This is an ongoing issue in the church. We are hearers of the word, but not many of us are doers. The issue lies with our lack of meditation in the Word. I personally know many people who can spit out Bible verses left and right but live their lives in constant worry, fear and anxiety. Sound like an oxymoron? That’s because it is! The bible is not a book of useful historical information. You and I are not historians merely scrounging around the texts trying to fit geographical/ historical issues together. You and I should recognize the bible for what it is; the unique story of redemption where we are united to a Holy God through the finished work of Christ. It is in his word that we get the nourishment for our souls, how to pray to our loving Father, how to appreciate and worship our redeemer how to live in holiness and oneness with God, and how to live a life full of spiritual victory over the powers and principalities of the airs! If you are living in worry and defeat, the bible is here to remind you to STOP!

Remember whom you serve: .Phil.4:11-13  11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Note that this peace stands guard like a sentry over our inner person, our hearts (the comprehensive term for our whole person) and minds (specifically, our thoughts which threaten to trouble us) in Christ Jesus. We are in intimate, permanent union with Him, and to get to us, anxiety must go through Christ Jesus!

So what God promises isn’t just a quick fix, where prayer is a technique that will bring you calm until you get through the crisis. Paul is talking about an ongoing, deepening, intimate relationship with the God of peace, where you seek to please Him with all your thoughts, words, and deeds. In a time of trial, you draw near to the God of peace, you focus on His grace to you in Christ Jesus, you pour out your heart to Him, and the result is, His peace stands guard over your heart and mind. Remember whom you serve! Do you know God’s peace in the midst of situations that the world gets anxious about? If not, examine yourself: Is your faith in Him and your focus on His kingdom, rather than on selfish pursuits? Have you drawn near to God in reverent, specific, thankful prayer? You can put your full weight down on Him, and He will bear you up and give you His indescribable peace. It makes the flight so much more enjoyable!

Words from Jesus:

Matthew 6:27-34

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Hell-fire & Brimstone

Camel hair, wild honey, Hell-fire and brimstone…If you’re reading this post then you know exactly who I’m referencing; John the Baptist.

Pastor’s today, including me, could (and should) learn a lot from this wilderness preacher. Granted, his office and calling are different than ours given that his coming was prophesied of hundreds of years in advance, his conception was miraculous, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth but it is from his ministry and preaching that we can learn and grow.

One Hit Wonder

John had one message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). It’s not that this is the only line he preached but that this was the central message every time he addressed the crowds. This was John’s task “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:17). This was it…He had no other material; like Deep Blue Something singing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, John only had one tool in his tool-belt.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Offensive Preacher

We don’t really have much, by design, about exactly what John said when he preached but what we do have wouldn’t fit very well into the “Church Growth Model”, the “Seeker Sensitive Model”, or a “Felt Needs” emphasis. He didn’t mince words or try to be crafty, indirect, or politically correct. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come” (Lk. 3:7)? is not exactly the “Softly and Tenderly” approach we most often see today.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Pointed Preacher

John’s preaching was personal. He addressed not only specific people groups and occupations but specific sins that needed to go. John’s preaching was political. He addressed the rulers of his day and called them to repentance, publicly, for their specific sins (without fear of losing his 501c3). And John’s message was always pointed at holiness.

First, his preaching was pointed at the Holy One, himself, Jesus Christ. From “I am not worthy to untie” (Lk. 3:16) his sandals to “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). John was not concerned with how he was viewed in the public eye but that his hearers knew who the Christ was and that He alone could save them.

Second, his preaching was pointed at personal holiness as the evidence of regeneration. In short, if repentance from sin meant that your life would be marked by godliness, holiness, or Christ-likeness as we might say today, then if that was missing John warned clearly of the “unquenchable fire” that awaited you. Apart from a life marked by holiness, there was no evidence of salvation and it was not words that would convince John but your walk.

But did you notice that people flocked to John?

Our Pulpits Today

Why did people flock to John? Plainly, because they can have their ears tickled anywhere, and they actually do everywhere. Inherently, humanity knows we need to make right the wrongs, serve up justice, and that we’re going to be judged by God. People can have their ears tickled during TV commercials, what they need is to know the Truth; and we know it!

In spite of John’s singular message, as offensive as it was, and as unpopular as it was to those who were not concerned with living for YHWH, it was effective! It was effective! It was effective!

The message of the Gospel is a one hit wonder, it is an offensive message, it is personal, & it, always and only, points one to Christ with the assured result of holiness. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation…I think I’ve read that somewhere.

Our pulpits don’t need new and exciting, fresh and relevant, contemporary additions to draw in the new age. Our pulpits need the Gospel; unadulterated, unfiltered, strong, and without apology.

May we, pastors and laity alike, be found by God to be more like John, committed to the One who gave us the message and unconcerned with making the message palatable for those who need that same message that saved us!

Psalms for the Journey

In College I once had an Honor Seminar on the classics of Literature throughout time and culture. In one of these classes I was introduced to Bonaventure’s The Journey of the Mind to God first published in the 13th century. In this text we began to unpack the reality of the medieval churches fathers and the thoughts they had on experiencing God and experience God along Life’s journey. For Bonaventure he understood himself to be a sinner unworthy of God’s glory and grace first and foremost, and because he was a sinner he began first to see God in the world around him and in the mercy that was seen in his own life. Thus, from seeing the mercy of God on his own life he then move forward into creation and into all that was around him, which lead him to ponder greater things about who God was and what God was doing in this Journey and as such he came to a greater understanding of God. Over the course of seven quick chapters Bonaventure takes us on a journey from the world around us to the depths of Scripture, to God’s name, to God’s gracious gifts, to the reality of His love for his saints and most importantly for His Son. Alas this text is far from perfect but I wanted to begin with this quick thought for it reminded me of another great journey to knowing and experiencing God provided in the scriptures, specifically in the Psalter.

For the past few years the men of SonRise have been working through the book of Psalms and as we came back off summer break we once again reengaged in this text, specifically teaching through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). For many of you maybe you’ve never even realized that this book within a book was there. The Psalms were meticulously ordered, compiled, and placed in this beautiful hymnbook for us through the work of the Spirit and throughout the history of the faith to be an encouragement, a rebuke, and a challenge to be led deeper into the reality of knowing and worshiping God. So as we journeyed through the Psalms we came upon these 15 Psalms grouped together to lead us on a journey from exile to our Home Praise God.

So with that in mind I wanted to draw our attention to three specific ways these Psalms remind us of our journey home.

  1. It reminds us of our beginning

In Psalm 120 the author speaks of the yearning to be with the people of God. He speaks about his longing for the peace of God for all around him he is surrounded by words of war. He is surrounded by arrows and violence, but he knows that there is hope before him in God. Thus, the Psalms of Ascent begin with the yearning for the peace of God. It is a cry in a parched desert for water, and prayer that we quickly see realized as the page turns and we quickly come to the hills of Jerusalem in Psalm 121. Here we see that God lifts up our eyes and leads us to cry “where does my help come from” my help comes from; the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Here the opening two Psalms draw our attention to the reality of our salvation. They remind us that we were once far off in war and in misery surrounded by the flesh and yet when the Lord interceded he lifted up our eyes and we saw from where our help and comfort came from, it did not come from ourselves but it came from the Lord. We must never forget where our journey began. It began in the muck in the mire of sin, and was not are doing that drew us out of the pain that surrounded us, it was not our strength that drew forth our feet from the mud, it was Christ who pulled us out, it was the mercy of God that set us free. So to truly understand our journey to God we must begin by understanding that it is He who set us on the journey, it is He who made it possible, it is He who paved the way, for Paul reminds us in Ephesians that is he who prepared the works that we are to walk in. We are but the beneficiaries of his good gift, for it is He who lifted up our eyes in the desert lands to see his beauty.

  1. It reminds us of our present situation

The second reality these Psalms reveal to us is that it is not just the Lord who saved us, but it is the Lord who sustains us. The continuation of the Journey reminds us daily of the mercy of God as we cry to Him. We are reminded that are present state is not free from sin but that in our cries for Mercy he is merciful. The Lord will be gracious to us in our sin for it is only He who brings us victory over sin and death. It is He who protected us and guided us we have done nothing to earn or deserve such gifts. Therefore, when we see the mighty hand of God sustaining our lives we can say as Psalm 125 says “Those who trust the Lord are like Mount Zion which cannot be moved.” When we see the Lord for what He has done, and what He is doing our faith should be strengthened and reinforced knowing that it is He who has done great things and it is He who will continue to do great things on the journey home. So whether our present situation be joy or distress we know that God is good and will be glorified through it. So for those who are in joy they may sing the first stanza of Psalm 126 “the Lord has done great things,” and for you who mourn you may sing the second stanza “knowing that he who goes out weeping bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy bringing his sheaves with him.” For both situations we know that it is God who is building the house through joy and through suffering. He is building us into the image bearers of His Son.

  1. It reminds us of our future blessing

Lastly, the concluding sections remind us of our future blessing. Here we are reminded of the Lord’s steadfast covenant love for His people. Our “soul will wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.” Our souls will yearn for the Lord who has not marked our iniquities against us, but has given us grace in His Son, and in His Son a family. As the Psalms of Ascent wind to an end, they remind us of not only the blessings of the grace of God, but in the family he has brought us into; for we sing here of how majestic it is that brothers dwell in unity. We are reminded of the wonder and majesty of the church now assembled in part and yet in future assembled as one before the throne of God. Here it is brought to a dramatic conclusion as we enter into the beautiful picture of the saints lifting their hands to the holy place, singing the name of the Lord by day and by night for He has made heaven and earth, He drew us out of the desert and gave us a home, gave us a people, gave us a name, and he alone gave us true life. All of which we did not deserve. All of which is by His merciful hand and so from understanding our future blessing we are reminded of our broken beginning and the God who put it all in motion and sustains us until the end.

Reflections on ‘Knowing God’

This week brings our men’s study of “Knowing God” to a conclusion at New Testament Baptist Church. One year ago, we set out to explore a book heralded as one of the modern Christian classics. Some books are acclaimed in such a way as being a “must-read” only to prove boring, inconsequential, and lifeless. “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer rightfully belongs among the books that one should reread every year along with “Pilgrim’s Progress”, “Lectures to My Students”, and a few other classics. Our study of “Knowing God’ produced a deeper bond among us as brothers in Christ exploring great truths concerning theology proper examining the attributes and words of God. Why should you read this book either for the first time or tenth time? Consider the following reasons why “Knowing God” is such a treasure:

  1. Deep Theology Simplified: Packer does not shy away from handling complex truths and deep theology. For example, Packer spends time unpacking the immutability of God, the wrath of God, predestination, incarnation of Christ, and so forth. He handles these subjects in a reverent manner but also writes for the layman who has no seminary education. Packer rightfully makes an argument up front about why all of us should desire to know more theology. “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”[1] Not only does Packer bring the cookie jar off the shelf but he explains to you why it matters that he does so.
  2. Theology is Practical: All theology is practical. There is no way to get around it. Evangelicalism suffers tremendously today because many believers have no well-informed worldview flowing out of a biblically-based, historically-informed theology. When one is lacking in his or her understanding of who God is and what He is like, they set themselves on a path of sin. “To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshiper – the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination.”[2] Therefore, in order to live a life of joy and that is well-pleasing to God one must know God and this is only done by studying the theology of God found in Scripture.
  3. Reformed Theology for the Beginner: Only a couple of times does J.I. Packer use the terms Calvinist or Reformed to describe the position that he is taking. It is certainly not because he is ashamed of the labels. I commend Packers’ introductory essay in the reprint of John Owen’s Death of Death for a great summary of what Calvinism is. This is a book that introduces a person to classic Reformed theology without the buzzwords or phrases that cause many to stumble over the doctrines of grace. If someone can read chapter after chapter and say they agree with the truths contained in this book, then they are a Calvinist. Packer wonderfully brings forth the Bible over and over to show where he is finding the truths he does concerning grace, law, the gospel, and salvation. If you want to introduce someone to the riches of Calvinism, this is a book that does a wonderful job in many ways of setting forth those theological truths.
  4. Utilizing Other Resources: This might sound like an odd reason to read a book but, hear me out. One of the facets of “Knowing God” that we have enjoyed much in our men’s study is the various hymns that Packer incorporates in the chapter. Many times, Packer will end a chapter with a hymn that explains in a poetic way the theological truths he just unpacked. Some of the sweetest memories of our men’s study for me is hearing all of us read the stanzas in unison or taking turns reading. Packer also does not shy away from pointing you to other great men of the faith. Chapter 1 immediately opens with a paragraph from a sermon preached by C.H. Spurgeon. If a book opens with Spurgeon, then you know it will be a good one! I jest (somewhat) but Packer shows that he comes to these views not in isolation but with a great cloud of witnesses.

There are many more reasons why you should read J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God.” This is a brief article but one that I hope will cause you to make this a book you will pick up soon. What does it mean to know God? How would you answer that? Consider Packer’s words:

We must say that knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.[3]

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 19.

[2] Ibid., 48.

[3] Ibid., 37.

Gospel Propositions = Self Deprecation = Hard Work

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul is eager to remind his readers that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But again I ask, what gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:

Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins

That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here. Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man.

Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. I’m afraid this is a point many people leave out of the gospel because it is so unwelcome to the heart of man. If the bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved.

Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ died for sin. Which means He absorbed the wrath of God due to us, in His body, in our place, as our substitute. The wages of sin is death, and because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, we can have the free gift of eternal life.

Proposition 2: Christ was Buried

The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died on the cross for us, but that He was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it. It shows us the truth that because He truly expired we can now truly be born anew. He embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.

Proposition 3: Christ was Raised

Wonder of wonders, when Jesus died, did He stay dead? No! He rose! He rose! This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. Think of all other religious teachers what you will, there has only been and will ever only be One who rose from the dead. Where is Moses? Where is Mohammed? Where is Buddha? Where is Confucius? Where is Gandhi? Where is Mother Teresa? In the grave. Where is Jesus? Ruling at right hand of His Father, interceding for and building His Church. As they did of His death, so too, the Old Testament Scriptures told us Jesus would rise.

Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many

After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.

These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us. But let’s ask a question…

What kind of personal impact did this gospel have on Paul? What kind of personal impact does Paul want this gospel to have on the Corinthians? And lastly, what kind of personal impact does God want this gospel to have on you today? The answer is a twofold impact in which self is dethroned and God in His grace takes center place. Some people, well intending, argue against the kind of self-deprecation in view in 1 Cor. 15:8-11 and think of it as something unhealthy. But I want to plead with you this morning to embrace it and to begin cultivating a holy self-deprecation yourself.

Paul knew himself, that he didn’t deserve the grace shown to him. In fact, he knew himself so well that he confessed everything good thing in his life was solely due to God’s grace. v10, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” You need to be able to say this yourself, and you can’t truly say this as long as you believe that who you are or what you’ve done through work, effort, or ability is the reason why your life is the way it is.

This gospel is not a call to improve yourself, it’s a call to come to the end of yourself and become someone entirely new.

So reader, gain an appreciation for a holy self-deprecation, renounce all self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem! For grace to be central, self must be die, and you must rest in the work of Christ for you. Some would have you believe that this kind of grace heavy religion will only lead to laziness or licentious living. ‘If the gospel truly is all of grace, than we can just do whatever we desire…right?’ Wrong. v10 again, “By the grace of God I am what I am. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

A true understanding and embracing of God’s grace – that He gives us grace not because of who we are but because of who He is and despite who we are – this grace leads to a life overflowing with a passion to work hard for the kingdom. Paul renounces self, embraces grace, and works harder than anyone.

Do you?

Sure, some of you are busy. Some of your schedules are already filled to the brim, but I fear our schedules betray us, revealing our hearts true affections because busy as we may be, what kind of busy-ness devours us? Worldly endeavors, worldly lifestyles, worldly accomplishments. At the end of his life Paul said he felt like he had been poured out like a drink offering…while most of our lives are aimed at increasing comfort. Rest in gospel grace, yes, but if you’re not wearing out for the kingdom you haven’t got grace.

The Doctrines of Grace in Five Minutes

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few years ago at my former church and at the end of the study a man approached me and said that this was the first time he had heard the doctrines of grace taught in years. Unfortunately, his experience is not a unique one. Growing up and attending church my entire life I can’t recall a time that I was ever taught these truths. It wasn’t until I attended Bible College at Trinity College of Florida that I was introduced to the rich truths of the doctrines of grace. I believe a great deal of people attend church regularly and are never taught these amazing truths.

Allow me to briefly share the doctrines of grace with you.

We must start with God because He is where it all begins. God is sovereign in salvation. That is, salvation belongs to Him (Jonah 2:9) He controls it. The Bible makes it clear that God chose those whom He would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). This election was not a result of any merit within us, but was solely by the grace of God (Romans 9:11-13).

If God were not to initiate a relationship with us we would never come to Him on our own (John 6:44). In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we were dead in our sin and utterly unable to move toward God in our sinfulness (Ephesians 2:1). God had to remove our dead heart and give us a heart that beats for Him (Ezekiel 36:26) or else it would never happen. To come to a saving faith in Christ is all the work of God. He chooses, He calls, He justifies, and He glorifies (Romans 8:30). By His amazing grace, and by His grace alone, sinners are made right with God.

This salvation is extended to many, but not all (Mark 10:45). Christ died for His elect (John 10:11). His blood does not cover universally the sin of all, or else all would be saved, but rather His blood covers only a particular people. These are God’s elect, given to the Son for salvation and they will respond in faith (John 6:37). Those who respond in genuine faith toward Christ will persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

The doctrines of grace ultimately point us to a greater worship of God for what He has done for us through Christ.  We can take absolutely no credit for our salvation. It is completely the work of God on our behalf.  All glory to Him.  All praise is to Him.  All honor is for Him.

Lifestyle Evangelism?

 

Many professing Christians think godly living is all the evangelism others need from us. They misquote St. Francis of Assisi, saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” In actuality St. Francis never said this. The sad reality is that many are quick to find spiritualized statements like this to justify their disobedience to Christ’s command. St. Francis of Assisi actually did comment on this issue though. His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, quoted him saying: “The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.”

That seems more in line with God’s Word.

Scripture is clear that salvation is always connected to the preached Word. James says God, “brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter says we are, “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). In the parable of the four souls, Jesus taught the impossibility of growth apart from sowing the seed of God’s Word (Mark 4). But the clearest Scripture on this is perhaps Paul’s argument in Romans 10. He states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17). Paul’s quadruple “How” question clearly is rhetorical. Paul is saying that without gospel proclamation there can be no justification.”

Godly living is vital, but is insufficient to save a soul from God’s just wrath against sin. Only faith in the message of the Gospel can save. The only hope for the lost is that the saved share the Gospel with them: his sinless life, his substitutionary death, and his victorious resurrection. Those who try to avoid Gospel evangelism are trying to separate the inseparable. The very Greek word euangelion or Gospel is in our word evangelism. Tell people the only message that can save them, and don’t assume people understand it if you don’t share it with them.

The Good Samaritan

We have all either read or heard about the Good Samaritan.

It was a parable told by Jesus in response to a man hoping to be able to justify himself. This particular man was a lawyer who seemingly knew all the right answers, especially those regarding acquiring right relationship with God. In fact, when he asked the Lord what it would take to inherit eternal life, and Jesus turned the question on him, he responded with the correct answer. However, we find in Luke 10 that, in this man’s heart, he is trying to put the Lord to the test. The question that Jesus prompts him with in response is this, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” As is taught throughout Scripture, and as this man correctly answers, the whole Law can be summed up in this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.

Although he answered correctly and Jesus encouraged him to do just that in order to have life, the lawyer still sought to justify himself. Usually the heart behind seeking to be justified is to remove all guilt. This man wanted to be seen as innocent in the eyes of those who held power in their position. That is why this led to the man asking his next weighty question, “And who is my neighbor?”

This then brings us to the parable told by Jesus of the Good Samaritan.

Over the summer, I had the privilege to work at Pine Cove, a Christ-centered family camp that lasts for ten weeks. During one of our sessions leading up to the start of camp, at which point we would be asked to serve and love on 250 families, the director of the camp spoke on this parable in a way that I had never heard before. He was urging us to not find strength in ourselves to make it through the difficult days that would soon be ahead. It was such a beautiful reminder of the gospel and gave so much empowerment to “go and do likewise.”

As followers of Christ, we are called to love the Lord and love our neighbor as ourselves. Oftentimes, when we listen to a sermon on this passage, we are encouraged to be like the Good Samaritan who selflessly loves the man left for dead as opposed to those who were religious yet cold hearted. It’s so easy for us to want to place ourselves in the story as the hero. Take for instance the way that we often like to apply passages like 1 Samuel 17 to our lives. In this Scripture we find the well known story of David and Goliath. After reading this empowering passage, it is the role of David, who placed his faith in God and defeated the giant, that we like to identify with. However, David is being portrayed here as the Savior who accomplished what the army of Israelites could not. It is a foreshadowing of what Christ would come to earth to accomplish.

Here’s the beauty of it: instead of placing ourselves in the shoes of the Good Samaritan, imagining ourselves to be people who are more than willing to go above and beyond for those who are in need, we need to first place ourselves in the shoes of the man left on the side of the road.

One of the gospel truths is this: we love because He first loved us. We will never be able to effectively be a conduit of God’s grace, love, or forgiveness until we have first experienced it for ourselves. Therein lies the beauty of this parable, in it we see Christ and the love that he has for us, the length that he is willing to go, and we receive the instruction to go and do likewise. As

Jen Wilkin puts this concept in her book In His Image, “Withholding mercy from others reveals that we do not recognize what we ourselves have received.”

The Bible teaches us that we once were dead in our trespasses and sins, until God made us alive in Christ. That is why it is so important to first see ourselves in this parable as the man who was attacked and left for dead as he was traveling.

Completely hopeless.

That is when the Good Samaritan enters into the narrative.

Instead of walking by in avoidance, as those who had gone before him had done, he stops and has compassion on the sufferer. And not only does he stop to see what he can do to help in the moment, he goes to the extreme of taking responsibility for making sure that the man is restored to good health.

The Good Samaritan cares for and binds the wounds, places the man on his donkey, then takes him to an inn where he continued to care for the badly injured man. He then pays in full with his own money whatever the tab would cost for the man to stay at the inn and be well taken care of.

This is a picture of the gospel. When we have the eyes to see it, our hearts are moved to an even greater appreciation for the length Christ went to save us and the love that he has shown for us. Jesus came to earth as a man, knowing that we were helpless on our own, left for dead, he came with compassion. Meeting us where we were, he knelt down and bound up our wounds, taken upon himself the full weight of our sin. He cries out for us, “Paid in full.”

With hearts fully set on Christ, we then have the ability to go and do likewise as Jesus has beseeched us to do. As we truly love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbor as ourself, we become in our own lives a reflection of the gospel.

The Response of Grateful Hearts

At Eldred Baptist Church, we preach expositionally and since we started a new series preaching through Luke/Acts that means we are currently finishing the birth narratives of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Since March of this year, our congregation has been engulfed in the revelation of the Sovereign’s Intervention in the lives of His creation with the purpose of lavishing us with His grace.

There have been several theme’s that God has woven through the first two chapters of Luke but one has been a constant and borne fruit unexpected in our little country church, the fruit of joy.

We saw it first in Luke’s purpose of writing to Theophilus (1:3, 4). Next, in Gabriel’s proclamation to Zechariah (1:13), then, subsequently, in Elizabeth’s response to her conception of the Baptist (1:25). Joy manifested itself again in the womb of Elizabeth as the yet unborn Baptist leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice, surely in response to the Spirit’s revelation of the presence of his Savior in utero (1:41 & 44). Joy, again, exudes from the young, teenage virgin in Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-47). And in fulfillment of prophecy, Zechariah & Elizabeth’s family & friends rejoiced when the Lord blessed them with John (1:58) and Zechariah, now relieved of God’s curse from his disbelief overflows, blessing God from a joyful heart concerning the soon arrival of God’s Salvation and his newborn son’s involvement in the redemptive plan of God (1:64-79).

And all this joy comes before the Christ was born…

In chapter two, everyone, natural & supernatural beings alike, respond in joyful adoration of the arrival of God the Son; the angelic messenger to shepherds (2:10), the multitude of the heavenly hosts (2:14), the shepherds upon their arrival (2:16-20), Mary & Joseph (2:18-19), Simeon, Anna, and “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:25-38).

I don’t know if you’re keeping count or not but that’s twelve obvious, joy-filled responses to either the news of Christ’s Advent or the Advent of the Christ! Clearly, the response of those who are filled with gratefulness concerning the Christ is joy; unmistakable, uncontainable, unfiltered, joy. And shouldn’t it be?

I mentioned that this series has borne some unexpected fruit earlier. Let me explain.

This theme of God’s people responding in joy as He reveals Himself has become contagious. Launching from the opening line of Mary’s Magnificat, EBC has begun a monthly “Testimony of Praise” that is presented by covenanted member during the worship service on the second Sunday of each month. For three months now, a member has come forward to present a testimony of praise to God for who He is and what He’s been doing in & through their lives.

This has become a Sunday that I, as well as others, are enthusiastically looking forward to. We’ve heard of God’s graciousness in bringing reconciliation to a marriage after they both were saved. We’ve heard of His goodness in restoring brokenness in families separated by years of the scars left behind by sin, supernatural peace amidst trials and anxiousness, a trust in His promises because He is ever-faithful and unchanging, supernatural growth in holiness through ordinary means long neglected, a new-found hunger and thirst for more of God and more personal holiness, and so much more. Truly, my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior as I hear of His faithfulness in this covenanted community’s life. Praise God!

In God’s grace, through the exposition of His Word, He has revealed to this little church another ordinary mean of grace that is overflowing our already full hearts! Let me challenge you, Pastors/Elders, to disciple your congregation to fill in these blanks—“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has _______________  ____________  ______________…” and then ask them to share God’s praise with Christ’s Church; He is worthy!

Your people will be edified, your speaker will be sanctified, & God will be glorified!

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).

9/11 and Job – Suffering With God

It is fitting to talk about suffering on this day rather than others, because today is the 17th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. Many people suffered on that day and many people still suffer on this day who lost loved ones. It was a tragic day, and it feel’s like yesterday to most. But did you notice what most people were asking when they were suffering great pain and heartache? “Why?” The question of “why” teaches us something about people’s suffering. It teaches us that in the midst of suffering people want to know the reason they have to go through this. They want to know the design or purpose this suffering has come into their lives. Isn’t this interesting that in the midst of utter darkness people don’t cry out over the pain first they cry out to a higher being and ask “Why?”

This points us to Job 3 where we see Job asking the same thing.

Job is mourning and grieving all the suffering that’s come upon him. Yet, he’s also protesting because Job is angry and wants to know the answer to one question, ‘Why?’ Job isn’t addressing his friends and he’s not even addressing God either, no, Job is a tea pot of suffering that’s reached the boiling point of sorrow and he bursts out in steaming anguish. It’s as if Job is trying to bring his faith and his experience together into something that makes sense to him in this present suffering.

The Lament (v3-10)

“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it. Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none, nor see the eyelids of the morning, because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hide trouble from my eyes.”

We’ve seen a few special and specific days before in Job 1-2, now in chapter 3 Job has brings up two more specific days in view. Specifically, in v4-5 we see the day he was born and in v6-10 we see the day (or night) he was conceived. In light of his current state Job, in v3, looks back and curses these days desiring that he had never been born. He now wishes the sun had never risen that day and that darkness would’ve reigned instead of light. In an ironic reversal of creation and redemption where God speaks into and redeem the dark with His light, Job wishes the opposite would’ve happened. Yet, all Job’s lamenting is fantasy. The past is the past and nothing desired in the present will change what has already occurred. This poetic lament is powerful then, not because his desires will happen, but because they truly reflect the darkness of his heart.

The Protest (v11-26)

The futility of these laments probably hit Job hard after v10 because in v11 there is a clear shift in language. He began expressing desires, desires that won’t ever come to pass, and thus, Job begins his protest asking five questions, all around the word ‘Why?’

Question 1: v11, “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?”

Question 2: v12-15, “Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver.”

Question 3: v16-19, “Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.”

Question 4: v20-22, “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?

Question 5: v23, “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?”

Moving from the womb, to the knees, and then to the breast to nurse is usually a pattern of health, of loving nurture, and a sustained life. But for Job all this pattern did for him was launch him out into a sea with waves too high for him to stay afloat. These things fill out the first three questions of his protest and each time the answer seems to be that while life is now horror and misery to him death would be rest and peace to him. In the evening we usually lay down to rest, we are quiet, and we are in peace. This is what Job wants most. His daytime is nothing but terror, so he wants to escape his preset. Or switch his analogy around a bit and perhaps see it like this. There are times of suffering so deep and so vast that an evening’s sleep is a break from the nightmare of the day.

This is Job’s current experience here in chapter 3. Because of all these things when we come to v24-26 it feels like a climax to all his pain. “For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groaning’s are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”

Suffer With God

What are we to make of this chapter? One principle: sometimes those who walk with God can walk in such darkness that death seems to be the only source of relief. Jesus even experienced this as He was walking near the cross where He would make full, final, and forever atonement for all who believe in Him. But in His suffering He knew His Father’s will was best for Him, even if that meant His own death. And ironically it’s in His suffering where our suffering comes to an end. How? His suffering absorbed the Fathers wrath for all who believe so any suffering believers now experience isn’t punitive but purifying. Which brings hope in the dark.

Christians then, can have seasons and even years and years of life just like Job 3. And when we see others in seasons like this we would not serve them well if we made them feel as if their suffering were sinful or faithless. Job 3 is dark, for sure, but even in Job’s protest see a ray of hope. All throughout this chapter we see him energized to find out why God has done this to him (v20 indicates he’s dealing with God here who gives life or light to men, think also of 1:20-22). This shows us that Job, even here, wants to struggle with God rather than without Him and that ought to give us hope and leave us an example in our own suffering.

May all those who have, are still, and will continue to suffer from the events of 9/11 do the same and suffer with God rather than without Him.