Lewis On the Christian Life: A Review

As we do from time to time, we take a moment and reflect on the importance of Books and in such moments give a recommendation or review of one such book that we have read.  Specifically, this month I want to focus on Joe Rigney’s “Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God.” Now the Lewis Rigney has set out here to unpack before us is non-other than C.S. Lewis, the English giant, scholar, and apologist. The skeptic turned Christian has left behind a plethora of writings and is still one of the most-beloved Christian children’s authors, I would say to this day. Lewis is a man who loved to think of things in two worlds the world of the real and the world of the pretend. Rigney in this work helps us to see that at the core of how Lewis saw and understood the Christian life stood an understanding of the world that was far more complex than most would imagine, and from this view of humanity he applied the teachings of scripture and at times got it right and at other times, created a lot of confusion.

But alas, let’s begin with the good stuff. Rigney is an advent Lewis reader and supporter. He previously wrote a book called Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles in which he unpacked much of Lewis’ beliefs on how to live out the Christian life from the tales told in the Chronicles of Narnia. As such the Chronicles, for the most part, are left out of this book, so if you are a huge Chronicles fan I would suggest reading his first book, however If you enjoy the whole of Lewis works or are familiar with only a few then this book may open some more interesting explorations for you, as Rigney dives deep into some of his letters and writings to help pull out the depth of Lewis ideas. This process is exciting to see as you read how his views intermingle through his work.

Another thing that I appreciated, much like other books in the series, is that Rigney doesn’t shy away from Lewis’ more controversial issues such as the atonement and purgatory. He unpacks Lewis through His writings and walks the reader through how Lewis’ arrived at the places he did. Now I will say Rigney does spend a bit of time apologizing for Lewis but didn’t do it in such a way that he hides any of Lewis’ beliefs. As such, I found this to be a very positive aspect of the book as you are able to see through all of his writings how Lewis struggles with the notion of penal substitutionary atonement, and how through his struggle he clings to the aspects of the atonement that are more easy for him to grasp. If you want to see the outworking of Lewis’ thoughts on these subjects laid out in his own words that is what Rigney gives you and he does it in such a way that you walk away understanding Lewis, not necessarily agreeing with him, but understanding him.

I will say though this book is a journey, it is the longest so far written in the “On the Christian Life” series that crossway has put out and it covers a lot of different topics from practical Christian living to the four loves and thoughts on heaven and hell and all sorts of paths along the way. Now I don’t want it to sound like it is disorganized, it is not, however it covers a lot that at times can slow down the pace and feel out of sorts, so if you have read some of the other books in the series this one is a little more in depth and hefty at times into some of Lewis thoughts, which as I said can be both a great benefit and at times a hindrance.

Therefore, overall it was a thoughtful read, as it gives deeper clarity into the thinking of the apologetical legend C.S. Lewis himself. If you are a fan of Lewis’s body of work, you will enjoy seeing how Rigney dives deep into some of his works to get to the meat of Lewis thinking. If you have only read Narnia or Mere Christianity this will help open your eyes to a fuller spectrum of how Lewis viewed the world and how some of the things you read there are more fully fleshed out in other texts. So as with most Rigney works it is worth the time and effort.

Beyond Redemption?

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.[…] And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city. He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:10-16)

The story of Manasseh is one of the most interesting one to be found in the book of Chronicles, for in this text we see a more complete picture of the work of God in bringing salvation to sinners. Manasseh is one of the worst and most wicked of kings in the history of Israel. He is known for having murdered his own children, offered sacrifices to pagan deities and removed the true worship of God from Israel. He was a man filled with his own self-worth and truly existed in his own self-importance. He may not have been the worst of sinners in the world or the most tyrannical of rulers, but he is pretty darn close. In the line of David, it is hard to find one as evil ruling in Judah. He is the furthest thing from a man after God’s own heart

Now why do I bring us to this text today. Why focus on this specific man to bring us to see the fullness of the wonder of salvation?

First, because he is a man who we would say is the furthest from God. Unlike Paul who wrapped himself in religiosity and found himself outside of the truth, this King rejected the faith of his fathers and openly pursued wickedness. Manasseh is the proof that with God nothing is impossible, and no man is too far beyond the salvific work of our Lord. Just let it sink in for a moment. This king is far worse than the worst dictators in our current world, and yet the Lord transformed his heart. The Lord transformed a man who wanted nothing to do with Him into a man of repentance and faithfulness. Manasseh doesn’t simply give lip service in repentance, his life is transformed. He undoes the worst of his blasphemies against the Lord and makes every effort to return the people to the worship of God. In this we see the beauty that no one is too beyond the salvation of God.

Second, it shows us that God can uses many different means to bring the lost to Him. In the case of this king in Judah he uses a military defeat and capture. Manasseh finds himself in a distant land defeated and ruined, he is the prisoner of a foreign king with no hope of salvation. However, in the midst of defeat he finds the truly and lasting hope in God. He turns in this pit of destruction and there is the Lord God. God rescues him, transforms him, and brings him back to the land. The text is clear that all these events happened by the hand of God; from ruin to restoration God was at work bringing Manasseh to Himself. Breaking him of his wickedness and self-importance that he might see the true strength of his reign in the hand of God.

For many God has used the darkest days to shine brightly. He has used our sinfulness to show us His grace unending, His mercy that sustains us, and his strong hands which hold us firm. The wonder of this text is that Manasseh was actively running from God, but that never stopped God from working to bring Manasseh to himself. If you are in Christ, you know this reality to be true. God pursued us and won us. He broke down the dividing wall that stood between us and wooed us by his mercy, grace and love. He broke down our sins and gave us life. Through the storm of our sins, He brought life and hope. His divine power overcame us.

When we think of the life of Manasseh, King in Judah, we should be immediately struck by the reality of God’s work in saving sinners, and how that work shapes everything about our lives. While we may not be as bad as Manasseh, we were apart from Christ and as bad off as Manasseh. We didn’t have God, rather we openly accepted the world in whatever form brought us the most pleasure. We found satisfaction and worth in our jobs, religion, social circles, hobbies, lusts, physical pleasure, and material wealth, all of which left us empty and searching for more. We were all as bad off as Manasseh apart from God’s intervening work, and what a marvelous work it was. We must never forget the saving work of Christ, from His work on the cross to His intervention in our lives through the Holy Spirit we have been blessed beyond measure.

Therefore, let us life out the faith in earnestness as Manasseh did, let us reflect the great salvation we have received and call others to receive the same wonderful grace of our God.

Two life altering words.

But God………Two words that can bring live from death. Two words that in the midst of sorrow, weeping, and hurt we may find comfort. Two words that should shock us from our complacency. Two words that put everything into perspective. Just two words that change everything.

Over the course of my walk with God these two words have continually resonated in the back of my head. These words I first fully encountered in Ephesians 2:4 resonated that in the midst of my sinfulness and willfully life of sin, He entered into the picture and transformed me. He did a work I could not accomplish, He, in the midst of my depravity, brought new life, a heart of stone replaced by a heart of flesh. There is beauty in the realization that God is at work and it is He who can change the darkest of nights to the brightest of days. However, as we travel through the scriptures the reality is far greater and the work of God is far more than simply found in taking his own out of the dominion of darkness and bringing us home. There are many places throughout the scriptures that reflect on the But God nature of events. I wanted to explore the two ends of these today Judgment and salvation.

But God…..Will judge the Wicked

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?

The steadfast love of God endures all the day.

Your tongue plots destruction,

like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.

You love evil more than good,

and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah

You love all words that devour,

O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever;

he will snatch and tear you from your tent;

he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:1-5

One of the remarkable things about the Old Testament is its continually reminders that those who choose wickedness and pursue destruction will find God is not to be mocked and the life they have desired will find its completion in destruction. There is a warning here in the Psalter to check our hearts and lives. The steadfast love of God is evident and apparent, but do we respond to this or do we deep down spurn it, do we do as Paul warns us not to do and sin all the more so that grace may abound. God is not mocked. God’s loving kindness is steadfast, but He will judge.

These verses should wake us up when we slumber, not that we should not rest in the grace and love of our God, but that we should not pursue wickedness because of this grace. God is not to be mocked, scorned or presumed upon. Does our walk reflect the reality of our love for God? Is our speech reflective of one transformed by the gospel or is it filled with deceit and evil? But God……Will break you down forever. This is a truly humbling song one that should make us stop in our tracks and reflect back on our God, remember his steadfast love that endures and cling to Him.

But God….Will Save & Preserve

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Rom 5:6-11

From reflecting on the reality that sin deserves punishment from God, and that God is not blind to our facades, we see now the incredible mercy of God. In Romans, we are reminded of the price Christ paid to free us from the bonds of our sinfulness. Our wickedness deserved punishment. We were the ungodly walking in darkness forsaking God, deserving of the judgment stored up for us and our sin, yet the Lord in His steadfast love made a new and better way for His own. We were His enemies and the judgement and wrath was stored up against us because of our sin, yet now those whom Christ has transformed, the wrath has subsided against us for it has all been poured out on Christ. He has absorbed the wrath and in so doing given us new life, that those who are His no longer reflect the spirit found in Ps 52, they have been reconciled with God and no longer live in fear, but rather in repentance.

If the first “but God” causes us to stop, reflect, repent and seek God, the second should lead us to praise and proclaim the goodness of our God. If in hearing the first warning of God’s wrath to come, your heart is hardened and inclined towards sin all the more that should be a warning that the second reality may not have taken place. A heart set free from sin is one that owns its forgiveness. It is broken by its sin, it is grateful for its savior, and awestruck that the one and perfect God would sacrifice himself for a wretched sinner. The second realization doesn’t lead to perfection, but it leads to praise of who God is, a striving after him daily in love for all He has done, and a desire to proclaim that truth to others.

The term “but God” appears throughout scripture showing us and reminding us that what appears on the outside as one thing is not always the true reality. It reminds us that God is the one who is sovereign and in control. It is He who judges, it is He who sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike, it is His design and order that is at work even when we don’t understand, and ultimately it is from that design and order we have experienced newness of life. We live because of the “but God”s of scripture. We have breath because of God’s goodness and mercy, and for those in Him we have reconciliation because of His work and His alone.

Learning from Old Dead Guys

Over the past three months we at SonRise have been studying the history of the early church during our Sunday evening gatherings. So far, over almost 12 weeks, we have covered almost 400 years of the early church and explored key figures such as Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Athanasius, The Cappadocians, and many others both heretic and hero. One question though that arose during our discussions is why is this important? Why should we in the 21st century pay much attention to the thoughts and work of the early church? Now these are fair questions and in this brief post I would like to lay out some of the reasons why the history of the Church is important to every believer.

It is Our Story

When we think of the history of the church, we come face to face with our own past, warts and all. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own current church issues, whether that be on a local level or a global one, but when we look back over the totality of our history, we see that people are still people and God is still God. Now what I mean by that is that by studying our history we see the loving perseverance of God, in spite of our own failings. We see God preserving a people in spite of themselves, for His glory and our good.  In every era of church history we see people who use the church for their own selfish gains and twist the meaning of Christ’s work and word to bring about their own personal fame. We see men abuse their flock and seek to destroy the church, not from without but from within. We see the warnings of Paul played out time and time again to love the people of God and protect the church from false teaching. Unfortunately, we also see this truth twisted to man’s own evil ends, just as we do today. However, in each generation we also see men and women of faith seeking God faithfully, loving their community with the gospel and seeking to grow in the grace of God day by day. We see men and women stand firm on the truth of God in the face of sever opposition and pain. So, when I begin by saying church history is our story I mean it reflects the very things we experience today. Ecclesiastes reminds us that at the end of the day there is nothing new under the sun, and the challenges of the church remain the same: to love the Lord with all our hearts and to live out the faith in Love towards our neighbors, all the more as those who profess Christ seem to act in the exact opposite of his teachings, twisting His truths for their own gains. Thankfully, when seen in the scope of history and the reveled truth of God’s word we know that our story shows us that God has faithful preserved His church through every generation.

It’s our Theology

The first generation of saints had the apostles’ teachings and the truth of scripture and from there the Spirit of God instructed them in the truth and lead them in grace. As we look back into the history of that time, we see people wrestling with the truth of scriptures and working out the reality of its teaching in their lives and practice. Over the first 500 years of the church many theological heresies would arise within the church that required a diligent study of the scriptures to lead to an answer, serious theological issues such as the full divinity of the Holy Spirit or about the questions of whether Jesus was truly divine or on the other hand truly human. Questions arose about how one comes to faith, and can one fall away from faith, how does evil exist if God is good? Many questions were asked and answered, some well some not so well, but as we know many of these same questions still come up today, and in looking back we see how the earliest of Christians thought through the scriptures to come to their conclusions. We see how many of the questions and charges that we wrestle with answering have been answered in generations past, and not simply in our creeds but in the writings that influenced the creeds, and in the depth of scriptural wisdom these men had leading to their arguments. When we avoid the past, we are forced to re litigate the central tenants of the faith over and over again, because we are continual ignoring those who have fought these battles long ago, and at times because of this we have adopted heresies that were long ago proven to be in error when seen in the totality of scripture.

We get it wrong

This maybe an interesting third option to put in the study of church history, but it is a reality that we see in church history and that is that sometimes, godly people living godly lives who love the Lord, get things wrong, both in our day and theirs. While I just spent a paragraph praising the church fathers for their advancement of the truth of scripture there were still plenty of times, when they went beyond the realms of scripture and speculated on God and the church and came up with some crazy things, that rather than being relegated to opinions or culture applications, were treated as binding theology. Many an issue arose not over interpretations of scriptures but over power and authority and innovation. Most of the things that are now regarded as tradition and essential in many churches, were innovations and controversial in their days. For instance, in the 16th century the Vulgate was seen as a relic of the past that kept the people away from the scriptures, in the 5th century it was seen as an innovation ripping away the scriptures from their original foundations, and giving it to the people who could not understand Greek. So in praising innovation we must also realize from history that innovation can become a false idol just as quickly. And that in spite of innovation the greatest traditions of the church can be seen in the early church and the works of the apostles; the dedication to the people reading and learning the scriptures together, the truth reveled and celebrated at the table, and church’s hospitality found in the loving community transformed by the Work of Christ.

We are encouraged

Hebrews 13-7-9

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.  

In the end, let me end with the author of Hebrews as he encourages the church to look to those who have gone before them, those who have run the race and kept the faith. This text comes after the encourages them with a resounding list of the OT saints in chapter 11 and its implications in 12. When we put this text in the course of history, we are reminded that the lives of the saints from the days of Christ to now are models for us. They show us how to live in times of peace and times of persecution. They show us the struggles that men and women dealt with living in a world surrounded by believers and one depleted of them. In each and every way we have a whole history to draw from and be encouraged by, for we have not run this race alone, and we will not eat the great feast alone on that last day, but with all those who have run it before us. Therefore, let us learn from them and be encouraged by their faith and in turn let us turn all the more to the word of God and growing in His saving grace.

WHO AM I?????

Who Am I? This question rings in the minds of many people at different times in their lives. The question of identity is nothing new it’s been around for generations and isn’t going away soon. But when we take a second and are alone with our thoughts and dive deep into this question, we see many different ways to look at ourselves: maybe my identity is what I do? Maybe my identity is in the people I am around? Maybe my identity is found in who I am with? Maybe my identity is found in my children? Maybe it is simply how other people see me?

Growing up there were lots of things that I identified with; my academics, my friends, my work at the church, who I was dating, what I was going to do with my life, what other people thought about me, the respect of my peers, ect…

It is funny looking back at the reality of how temporal such a non-biblical approach to identity is for us. Each of the things we tend to find to Identify ourselves with are things that by nature are not guaranteed to last. No matter how smart we may be, our minds can fade, our intellect can be swallowed and destroyed by time and disease. Our professions are never assured especially in a day and age of ever-changing technology and economics. Even our families, which we love and cherish can equally be taken from us. So then why do we put so much stock in finding our identity and value in these things? To some degree it is how we have been thought to think about life, but on another level, we don’t think deeply enough about the lasting Identify we have in Christ it seems until one of the former identities comes crashing down.

For many our Identity in Christ is so other that we can barely grasp its reality? We don’t think much about what being found in Christ looks like, while the natural realities are easier to see and tangibly touch. However, the natural realities fail time and time again, while the reality of Christ is never changing. Who we are in Him is the same from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  The book of Ephesians spends a great deal of time wrapping our minds around the reality of our identity in Christ. For Paul this is not a passing issue, but central to our living out of the gospel through every trial and joy. In chapter one Paul grounds us in the truth that all three members of the Trinity have done a great work to secure and save each of His own, setting them apart and making them new. He wants us as believers to be grounded in the fact that God is the one that has worked in us, not ourselves. Now you may ask what this has to do with my identity and how I define myself, well Paul makes it clear in chapter two that it makes all the difference.

Here Paul begins by reminded us that before we were given our identity in Christ, we did have an identity, and it was anything but lasting; for our identity was that of children of wrath simply following the course of this world. It was by nature depraved and dead. The our identity was found in the whims of our desires, changing from day to day, and ultimately unsatisfying. We wonder so often why the world gets caught up in identity politics and defining people by any number of characteristics or sexual desires, and that is because it is the only thing the world knows, and it is the only course of identity available to it. For us however, this is not who we are, it is who we were. In verse four Paul explicitly points out that God has changed our identity. The Father has taken us out of the world and given us His name, His spirit, through His Son.

Paul’s aim in the remainder of chapter two of Ephesians is to ground us in the fact that our identity cannot be found in the things or desires of the world, for that is not who we are, nor can we look at our current state and yearn for that which was temporal and destined for destruction. He has done a mighty work out of love and grace to set us free from what was to establish us in what is and what will be, namely Christ. So, as we unpack this text, we are given over to the reality that all that Christ accomplished and is has been given to us. We have been made alive with Him, we have been raised as He was raised, we have been seated with Him in the heavenly places, for the Glory of His name and for the manifestation of the Kingdom through us. We have been bought with a price we are not our own. And in this we are again reminded that this was by His divine grace we did not earn it. Our identity is not based on anything we could accomplish, it is based solely on what God accomplished. It is He who gave us life, while we were dead, it was He who raised us and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ. We have done nothing to earn our new status in Christ, it was all the work of God for us, and because of this work He has given us a new identity.

Now maybe you are wondering why does this all really matter where I place my identity? What if how I identity myself makes me feel good or gives me purpose? That’s a good question, and my response would be how long will this last, if your identity is based solely on the temporal experiences and status of this phase of your life it will in time crumble as life changes around you. For one of the key things Paul points out is that our identity in Christ changes everything about our lives, it is a life shaping and defining identity. Because we are in Christ, we have a new life to live and a new task to be a light into the world. Our Identity comes with a job to do, a family to belong to, one not defined by the color of our skin or the place of our birth but on the transformation of Christ in us. We are no longer who we were and can find no lasting identity in the world or in its categories, for our lasting Identity is in Christ, and the call to live as Christ. Let us be reminded again by Paul of this reality from another of His epistles; Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

A Word on New Beginnings

One year ago this week I posted a blog on the Meaning of an Ending. In it I reflected on the last day of Moses leading the people towards the promise land but being restricted by God from entering the land himself. This post was a reflection not only on my New Year’s Eve sermon but also on that previous Sunday where I announced that I would no longer be pursuing the Pastorate of the church where I had served as interim pastor for the previous 2 years and where I had start ministry several years before that. 3 months later on April 28th I would say good bye to that wonderful congregation and begin a new journey at a new church with new responsibilities; leaving the weekly preaching behind to focus on handling the day to day organization and administration of another local body. The final Sunday of 2018 was the first time I was once again behind the pulpit on a Sunday morning preaching in 8 months and today I want to highlight the main aspects of what I learned along the way looking at New Beginnings.

Look to Christ Alone

First, It is easy to get distracted in our everyday lives by everything that we believe we know is coming: work, spouses, kids, bosses, etc, but at the back of our minds we know that none of those things will be completely predictable. Sicknesses creep up on us out of nowhere, jobs are lost with little or no warning, cars breakdown, kids have new troubles, life is unpredictable. 2018 may have started as a year you were excited for with many opportunities, but by the end of the road you couldn’t wait to get it over with and pass it by. The reality is that every day has challenges of its own that cannot be seen or predicted by our own eyes. But the one thing we do know is that our savior is unchanging. He is who He has always been and will be who He has always been.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28

As Christians we are called to cling to Christ take up our crosses and follow him. In every endeavor it is to Christ we look, we must rest in the reality that as his sheep we are being kept and look after, even if the results or situation isn’t what we would like them to appear. When the Israelites came to the river Jordan (Josh. 2-3) and stood upon the banks of the flooding river it was hard for them to imagine that this task was going to be an easy one, but what this generation did know is that their God was in control, and when he gave them instructions to follow the ark and in so doing trust him walking forward into the waters, they did it with eyes focused on the ark that went before them, just as God had instructed.

The Israelite’s followed God through the Jordan, the Disciples followed Christ to the ends of the earth, we must as well trust in Christ alone moment by moment through the good and through the evils of this world, knowing that he will hold us fast. When I announced I was leaving previous position there were moments leading up to that where I didn’t know what would be next, the job i currently have was not in any way a sure thing, but the one thing I knew was that God was in control no matter what happens. Now there were plenty of times over those months where i wrestled with this truth, and with my own flesh and selfish desires, and fears. It is easy to say our eyes are fixed on Christ but some times the waters do look insurmountable, and that’s because for us they are, but for God nothing is.

Trust in His Word Alone

Second as we look to Christ we must also be looking with ears open to the truth of His word and with a heart set on following His word for us. When we look forward into the unknown, we are not left to figure it out on our own, for God has given us His word and instruction for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). When the Israelites were looking at the Ark in the Jordan, they were not left to figure out how to enter the land, the Lord had given them instructions on how to walk and pursue Him. They were instructed to consecrate themselves and to follow his lead, and to follow His word and presences. Truly our eyes cannot be fully set on Christ if our hearts are refusing to head his words.  In Peter’s second epistle he reminds the church to seek in growing in their affection for the Lord by walking in the truth of His word, to grow up into the faith that they have been called. As we look forward are we striving to know Him more and become more like him according to His word, or according to our own devices?

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:1-8)

As I came to the end of my tenure the Words of Paul to the Philippian church were especially encouraging, for in these words we find the mindset Christ has called us to have; a mindset that by its very nature is unlike the world. here we seek to do what is best for those in the family of faith not ourselves. We sacrifice for their good and for the growth of their faith. It is so easy to yearn for our own way and our own glory, but that is not the way of Christ.

Give Glory to Him Alone

Third, through all that comes our way let us give glory to God alone. Now this may seem like a no brainer, but there are many a time that we lose sight of who it was that brought us through the River. How often do we get through trials and tribulations in this life and forget all the ways God got us through, especially when a new trial comes our way. It is easy in a moment to thank the Lord for his work on our behalf, but how often is that moment fleeting or not passed on. For the Israelites at the Jordan they were instructed to construct a memorial of stones representing the Lord work in preserving each tribe and fulfilling His promises, so that every generation would be encouraged to pass this truth on to the next that God delivered His people, by his work alone, not of their own doing. When God does a mighty work in our lives how do we remember it; how do we pass it on; who do we instruct with it? Sitting here in 2019 in ministry it is amazing to see how God put everything together to bring me here today. How a Interim pastorate that was only to last 90 days turned into 2+ years and in that time the relationships the Lord brought along my path lead me to the church I now serve at today. The Lord orchestrated all of these events according to His glory. And I am but the recipient of his kindness.

I pray that as you look backwards over the last year that you can easily see the aspects of God’s sovereign work moving you to where you are today. Hopefully in that you can see how he kept you focused on Him and his words, and how when you strayed, he refocused your eyes back on Him. Should this not be your case, I would plead with you to take a moment and look to Christ, hear his word, be convicted of the truth and walk humbly before him in joy, knowing that he is sovereign over all of our joys and trials, leading us home to himself.

 

 

 

 

 

Learning through our Disagreements

Over the last few weeks in the office we have been reading the book: Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves. It is a wonderful read and one that will make you think deeply about what we love so much about his preaching and teaching, but it will also at times make us step back and disagree with Spurgeon’s views on several things such as preaching books of the bible, liturgies, the New Birth, and scripted prayer.

Today’s post isn’t a review of the book but rather what the book helped me to see and think more deeply about. I’ve posted on it before, but I think it bears reminding that some of the very people our heroes ranged against and called out are us. As a Baptist I love the reformation and appreciate all that Luther did and at the same time know he would have considered me as much a heretic as the Pope in Rome. Augustine was the father of much of what we find distasteful in the Catholic church such as Baptism for the remission of sins in Infants, Purgatory, Limbo, and a host of others, yet he also helped to solidify theologically the truth of Monergism and a full appreciation for the Sovereignty of God. Bavinck and Kuyper in Holland could not reconcile the role of the church and state, especially in the training of ministers, and in the process their partnership as ministers of the gospel was frayed.

Now I say all this for two reasons. First, there is always a chance we are wrong, not about the gospel but at times on its application when scripture is less than clear. Second, there are good and Holy brothers and sisters in Christ who we can learn much from, whom we will equally disagree with. Both of these things we need to remember because at the end of the day we live to imitate Christ and become more like him, not necessarily other Christians. They point us to Christ and at times our worthy of admiration, but ultimately it is Christ whom we pursue.

 We Might Be Wrong

No one likes to be wrong. Let’s just face it, red marks on a test don’t tend to bring out our most excited moments (though many of us can agree we learned a lot from those red marks). Being corrected for our attitude or unrighteous behavior isn’t a fun day, though necessary. I’ve spent the last 6 years in full time ministry before that I spent 7 years in Bible college and seminary, along the way I read a lot of the Bible a lot and equally a lot of theology texts. My office is filled with commentaries on the word of God and books discussing how we should live out these truths. In Seminary specifically I focused my studies on Christian ethics (Or the Practical outworking of theology in everyday life).  This time taught me a lot about what it means to be wrong and to be gracious in doing so, but it also showed me areas of my theology that should have been peripheral that had become central, things that being wrong about didn’t change who I was in Christ. Such as how does the Spirit gift individuals and what does that look like, what should the church sing, how do we practice church discipline, in what ways can baptism be performed, how often should we take communion, what role does Communion, the Word, and singing play in weekly and personal worship?

I could ask these questions to a whole host of pastors and theologians and get a wide variety of answers and in that way, it taught me that it was okay to accept that possibility of being wrong in some areas of the Christian life, but not to settle for being wrong. It is important that we acknowledge that there are mysteries too marvelous for us to full comprehend or articulate. We must accept that there are areas of the outworking of the gospel that take effort to dive deeply into, and we should. The point of accepting that you could be wrong is not to be lazy in the process but to push harder into Christ and to trust in Him, to dive deeply into His Word and allow it to be the guide of who we are and how we then shall live. He gives us His Word to know Him and His family and to live out the truth of who has been revealed.

Now I know there are a lot of traps with what I am saying, and I’ll admit that as well. Hebrews encourages us to continually be on guard against falsehoods and to not be led astray into disobedience but to fight all the more for the faith and to rest in Christ our great High Priest who gave all for us, and for the Glory of His father. So, while it is good to accept, we may be wrong on the peripheral we must not give ground on the reality of who Jesus is, what salvation is, the work of the Holy spirit producing righteousness, the call to repentance, the work of God through all of scripture. These are the areas of the faith first and foremost to be wrong is to be outside of the faith. These are questions while they may be answered with different words will have the same substance, will reflect the same gospel truth, Spurgeon, Luther, Augustine, Bavinck, Kuyper, Piper, MacArthur, R.C., Gurnall, Athanasius, Polycarp, John and Paul would reflect the same gospel reality.

Learning from Others

Now that was a long way to highlight the importance of learning from those, we may at times disagree with on peripheral issues. Again, this is not a call to start picking up Osteen and Bell books, no need to take down that old Brian McLaren book on the 19 different Jesus’. No this is more about the importance of getting outside of our tribal instinct and studying the truth of scripture and seeing how other godly people have applied the text and lived it out. When I was in college, I went to an interdenominational school made up of a host of different theological backgrounds all studying the scriptures together and having lively and gracious discussions on the outworking of that faith. I learned a lot about loving my brothers and sisters well in disagreement from brothers whom truly reflected and lived out the gospel. I didn’t agree with everything they thought but I agreed with how they lived, for they lived it out far greater than I. Especially while those in my same camp seemed to move farther and farther way from the actual practice of the faith, while condemning these brothers as legalists.

It is an amazing thought that we read men whom we openly would disagree with if they were around today, but the measure of their lives proved that they ran the race, they kept the faith, and in Christ have been rewarded greatly. In a day and age where we have become more tribal than ever, I fear we have stopped listening to those we disagree with, and in some ways, we have stopped learning.  If you are afraid to pick up a book by Charles Wesley because of his views on Holiness, you will miss his great care for the preaching of the Word and Deep reverence he had for God. There was a reason Whitefield and Wesley were great friends, and they learned a lot form each other even while disagreeing over aspects of doctrine. If Spurgeon’s view of preaching topically drives you to forsake his preaching you will miss his rich exposition on the Psalms or the beautiful encouragement, he gives to suffering saints through the preached word, while simultaneously presenting the hope of the Gospel to the lost.

Ultimately, we need to be people committed to the cause of Christ, learning the truth of Scripture, defending the faith well, and growing in our love and dedication for the Saints.

Afraid? Of What?

Afraid? Of What?

by H. Hamilton

Afraid? Of What?

To feel the Spirit’s glad release?

To pass from pain to perfect peace?

The strife and stain of life to cease?

Afraid-of that?

Afraid? Of What?

Afraid to see the Savior’s face

To hear His welcome, and to trace

The glory gleam from wounds of grace?

Afraid-of that?

Afraid? Of What?

A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;

Darkness, light, O’ Heaven’s art!

A wound of His a counter part!

Afraid-of that?

Afraid? Of What?

To do by death what life could not-

Baptize with blood a stony plot,

Till souls shall blossom from the spot?

Afraid-of THAT?

In memory of Jack Vinson, Martyr in China, 1931

 

Truly afraid of what.

These words encapsulate so perfectly the beauty of the Hope of the Christian life. The strengthen that it takes to stand before the guns of man and declare the hope of Christ. The strength to stand when others fall away. It is not our own doing. The strength of the martyrs is the strength of Christ.

I wish to encourage you today with these words as a reflection on the reality that fear truly has no victory in the Christian life. For that which we fear is temporary while the hope of Christ is eternal

What is it we fear so greatly in this life, look to Jesus.

What is it that has us so broken down that we cannot lift our face,

He is the one who lifts up the broken

Our strife and strains are but a blink in the blessed eternity of our savior

The Darkness that seems to surround us will soon in time pass into the beauty of the Son.

 

For those who have gone before they experience the full blessing of this reality today, and for us in our trials we can look forward to the glory that is to be revealed in that day.

Remember the words of Christ: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

-John 16:33

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.

Living Faith is not Lazy

 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” Lk 13:24

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil. 2:12-13

Now these are some weighty passages that growing up in a reformed Baptist church the idea of holiness in relation to work was not something often spoken about. We would speak a lot on the grace of God and how overwhelming the grace of God was towards us. This informed us that there was nothing that we could do to earn our salvation, it is only Christ that set us free from sin and death, it is only Christ who gave us new life, it is only Christ who teaches us, and all of this is true and then some. We can not earn our salvation, but this teaching left a lingering question after salvation: “how then shall I now live.”   Texts like the two presented here that hit home in relation to living the Christian life. but being raised in a church were any talking of working out the salvation as deemed legalistic, it left little encouragement to change. Ultimately it became a sense that if God was going to change you he would otherwise rest on his grace in the midst of your sin. This is where I want to challenge us today as I myself have been challenged, we have been saved by Grace to walk in newness of life, by the Spirit for Holiness, but this does not take place through some spiritual osmosis while you sleep, it comes through self-discipline, confession, community, and growing in Faith. We agree that it is all by God’s grace and mercy we are saved we added nothing to it, and can do nothing of our own to spurn the loving grace of God, but with salvation is a call to live it our and these things are the evidences of a growing faith.

Self-Discipline:

So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul encourages the church to model his way of life. He didn’t receive the gift of God and then hang out in bars getting drunk hoping the Lord would use him. He didn’t continue in sinfulness hoping that one day this Jesus thing takes over. He was transformed and by being transformed he lived out the life, endeavoring all the more to be found in Him. He speaks often about disciplining himself in the faith, running the race and being prepared to see God. Do we take such an approach to our Christian lives? It’s humbling to read the words scattered throughout the New Testament that call us to such things, but they are there to remind us we serve a Holy God who has made us holy positionally before Him in Christ, but who also calls us to live out the life in the same holiness.

How else does one strive for Holiness than in faith in Christ and living out the faith. Think of it in terms like Paul does running a race, or exercising. If you want to get in better shape you don’t sit around the house eating Doritos and ice cream, waiting for the day it all comes together. You get up off your butt and do a sit up, may be just a few, then you discover weights, and planks, plyo and pilates, maybe you join a gym, you change the meals you eat…..You become disciplined in your endeavor.  The Christian faith requires us to take the life we live that seriously, and it is convicting and it should be. It should hit us between the eyes, not leading us to guilt that we fail, but to humility that we need God to work in us and through us. We trust the Lord and walk in Holiness.

Confession:

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Col 3:12-13

The Christian life is also not lived alone, it is lived together and an aspect of that togetherness is confession and forgiveness. As God’s Children we have been forgiven much, we have been forgiven the sins that have entangled us, do entangle us, and will entangle us. However, part of being forgiven involves the reality of confessing and walking in that forgiveness. The Lord called us to repent and believe, His apostles remind us that we must confess our faults before God and we were saved.  We are also reminded though that while we are saved and set free from sin, the roots go deep and evil remains surrounding us, so we must make a habit of identifying the evil that remains, confessing it to God and seeking the forgiveness of those we have wronged, and as though being wronged we must also be open with a hand of forgiveness, not just 7 times, but in to eternity, for God grace towards us is such in measure.

Community

 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph 2:19-22

Not only is growing in Holiness seen in self-discipline & confession, but in our lives as a community of faith. Christ’s church is not a lone ranger experience, it is a corporate one. We were not saved to be alone, but to be together. Our faith is lived out with others, for others, and for ourselves as we together grow in self-discipline and confession. Using the illustration of working out, we don’t do it alone, in the faith we have trainers and others besides us working, encouraging, falling, and getting back up. We work together, but what is even more important is the realization that this community is a family. We are brothers and sisters joined together by the blood of Christ under His Lordship and the Love of the Father. As a family we wish to see none of our brothers or sisters fall away, but be encouraged. We strive together for a true church strives as one, being built up by Christ into the temple which displays His majesty to the world. His majesty is a Holy Majesty and as such we are again to be Holy as He is Holy.

Growing in Faith

 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:5-7

The last avenue, when we think about striving and working out the faith, is in the reality of growing in our faith, Peter here encourages us to work hard at the faith and grow up in it. There is an element in his proposal for us all to take the faith seriously and to advance in it, through faith and work. Now again this is not salvation but the working out of that salvation, the striving after the Lord if you will. Peter warns us not to take the faith lightly but for those who are saved and being saved to make our lives living examples of the grace and mercy of God, putting off the things that have so entangled us and grow up in the faith, seeking to earnestly grow in the faith, means to earnestly endeavor in the faith.

Ultimately, we need not be afraid of the idea of working out our salvation, this is not legalism, its discipline and biblical. It’s a matter of Growing into who you already are, it’s seeing sin and putting it to death through prayer and action. It’s seeing deficiencies in your life and correcting them according to the word of God and the spirit of God. It’s making every effort to walking in Holiness through faithfulness, confession, prayer, and forgiveness in the community of God’s family

A New Podcast

So a few months ago Adam and I began a Podcast called A2. Each week we cover a specific topic, book or subject dealing with a wide range of issues and conversations that take place in the life of the church.

So why podcasting you might ask, well in short it is a quick and honest way to discuss the realities of the Christian faith and allow our church to hear our perspective on life and godliness.

We also felt this would be a way for those who may not have time to sit a read a blog like this to listen to the thoughts of their pastor and staff members on the christian life. We know this is not a new en devour but hope that you will find it as encouraging to listen to as it is for us to record.

Feel free to click here and listen to our Podcast.

You can also find it on the SonRise ITunes page here.

A Birthday Reflection: Go Therefore

Go therefore…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Doubt & Faith???

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

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

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

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

Romans 10:9-13

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

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

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

Ephesians 4:11-16

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

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

Sing what we Mean, Mean what we sing? Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Song of Lament

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

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

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

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

Songs of Dedication

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

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

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

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

May our worship through song never be a lie.

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

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

 

Holiness Empowered Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Make the heart of this people dull,

and their ears heavy,

and blind their eyes;

lest they see with their eyes,

and hear with their ears,

and understand with their hearts,

and turn and be healed.”

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

And he said:

“Until cities lie waste

without inhabitant,

and houses without people,

and the land is a desolate waste,

and the Lord removes people far away,

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

 And though a tenth remain in it,

it will be burned again,

like a terebinth or an oak,

whose stump remains

when it is felled.”

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

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

I don’t

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

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

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