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.

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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!

Dead Come Alive

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

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

 

More information and videos can be found at Fullofeyes.com

“Dead Come Alive”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Need for Community

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

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

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

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

Acts 2:41-47

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

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

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

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

-Hebrews 10:23-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Life

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

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

We Were Dead

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

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

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

We Now Live

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

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

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

We Now must Walk

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

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

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

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

T4G and the Benefits of Pastoral Conferences

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

Pastoral Worship Through Song

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

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

Bonding & Burden Sharing

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

Being Challenged

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

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

The sermons and panels can be found at T4G.org

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

Christian Submission in a Broken World

 

When we look at the world around us it is easy to become angered and at times lash out either through the internet or through our everyday interactions, yet when we come to scripture this is the exact opposite of the reality of Biblical teaching, especially when it comes to human institutions. I think this is especially true in an American context were rebellion is in our blood, and independence and division reign. However for a believer this should not be the case, we are a people under the lordship of Christ and trust in him as our defender and ultimately as the one who judges the world and its leaders. This is exactly where Peter in His first epistle address fellows Christians.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17

This text is a challenging one as the Apostle began to deal with the reality of what it means to live a life that exemplifies the gospel. It is easy to say: “be holy as God is holy”, or to talk about how we should walk as Children of God, but the actual reality of what that looks like can get murky at times, or at least we sometime like to think it is. Peter here, while talking to 1st century Christians living under the oppressive rule of Rome, has some very real and challenging things to say about how we live out the faith in the midst of injustice. In particular he dealt with how Christians who are pursing God and proclaiming the true hope of the Gospel will respond to the governing authorities over them, especially those that they feel were unholy and wicked.

Unlike what we may think or even at times hope in our individualistic tendencies, Peter encourages us to be “subject to ever institution.” This comes from our understanding first and foremost that our Lord is God and everything that happens is governed and under his control, as such we know that our vindication is in the Lord’s hands. Therefore we should listen to and follow the rules of the governing authorities around us, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the proclamation of the gospel. The government’s job is to punish evil doers while proclaiming justice, we must be found to be the most excellent of citizens, especially in how we speak and how we act, from the way we treat local government ordinances and officials to the way we speak of all federal officials regardless of their affiliations. There is no one party that is specially ordained by God over another when they are in office. If under the reign of Nero or Tacitus these commands were true, then under both a Republican or Democratic these commands are true.

Secondly we are reminded that the reason we are able to be subject to human institutions is because our ultimate freedom is from God. We are not following blindly the course of this world or living blind lives to the reality around us. Rather, because of Christ, we are able to live our lives more boldly, even when following the law around us. We can live in such a way that it causes other to question our motivation, not in a negative way, but a positive one. The scriptures do give us reminders that our service will always be to God, just as Daniel in Babylon, but where the government isn’t forcing us to literally worship at the feat of Baal, let us serve God and those around us well, not giving into the temptations to slip back into the sinful nature that surrounds us. Let us not use our freedom in Christ to dive headlong into sinful ventures.

Finally this is all a lasting reminder to treat the people around us with honor, in such a way that they may see the greatness of the God we serve. Peter’s final exaltation brings us back to those foundational truths: Love God and Love your neighbor. Her he shows us that as believers we should show everyone the same honor and respect due them as image bearers of God. Everyone deserves to be honored as the greatest of our governing leaders are.

Only from honoring everyone at this base standard do you see the gift that the family of God is, for we take it to a whole new level inside the church. Here we don’t just show honor and respect we show a deep and abiding love that comes from being a family. A family committed to the Worship of God, who has set us free and given us a new home. So the highest form of adoration is for God alone.

We can submit to human institutions because we fear the Lord and lovingly worship His Son who gave himself freely under the hand of wicked men as a payment for our sins. We can suffer injustice because he suffered injustice. We can worship in the midst of pain because he worshiped in the midst of pain, and we pray that through our lives the world that hates us will see Him and like the soldier by the cross on the day of His crucifixion she that Truly Jesus is the Son of the Living God.

 

The True Heart of a Disciple

1 Peter 3:8-12

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For  “Whoever desires to love life and see good days,  let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

In today’s post I wanted to take a moment and look at how Peter wrapped up His discussion on living life in a broken world, specifically by focusing on how we as a church should live together. In this way Peter instructs us again how we are to be treating each other in the family of God and our overarching motivation found in the blessing of God. To help us see this Peter encourages each of us to have attitudes, actions, and ambitions, that reflect the life we have been called to live.

In regards to our attitudes verse eight lays out five key attitudes, unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind, that should be easily seen and identified in the church. At the center of this list of attitudes lies the call to brotherly love. It is structurally from this point in the middle of the list that we see the other four turn and move together as one. For Peter the act of loving one another in the church is a key way in which we are able to be sustained in a world that may reject us. The church should be a safe haven for believer to be free from the persecution and hostilities that exist in the world around us. It should be a place where that familial love is common and put on display.

From this familial love we are able to have unified and humble minds. The purpose of these two show us that we as believers should be heading in the same direction with the same goals and theological understanding of who God is and what Christ has done. If we are moving in the same direction and are unified in mind then we will be humble in the means. We won’t expect each other to be clones of one another, but rather we will see each other as walking day by day in the grace of God growing in holiness, and we will seek to encourage and help one other along the way.  For from the mind we will engage our emotions showing both sympathy and tender heartedness. We won’t just mentally want one another to grow we will emotional invest in that growth. We will invest in each other’s victories and failures. We will open our lives to one another so that we may as one rejoice and mourn. For the attitude of believers towards one another involves our minds and hearts.

After looking deeply at our attitude Peter quickly turns to our actions. Unlike with our attitudes,Where peter focused on the positive encouragements, with our actions he begins with the negative steps that we fall into daily. Peter reminds us that as believers our actions are supposed to be mirrors of Christ (2:22-24), therefore when people turn on us and revile us we do not respond in kind, nor when evil is raised up against us do we fight back an eye for an eye. No, rather according to the Word of God we return evil with a blessing. Those who would speak evil against us we speak forgiveness over them. Those who would wish to bring evil upon us; we will joyfully seek that the good of God be poured out on them.  This is because when Christ was reviled, suffered and was killed, He did not seek their destruction; rather He called out for them to be forgiven. We are called to be a blessing to a dying world, not just through our thoughts but by our actions. Those who would seek us ill must be the primary recipients of the blessing we have received from God, for while we were enemies of His He died for us.

So from our attitudes and actions we see the ambition of a Christian is to love life and see good days, not by human means but by divine mercy. Peter closes this encouragement by quoting Psalm 34 which deals with how we may fear the Lord and grow in holiness. For Peter sees in this Psalm the very encouragement the broken and suffering people of God need to be reminded of, that God is with them and loves them. He has given them the means to walk in holiness and the spirit to accomplish the goal. Therefore, let us turn from evil (repent) and do good. Let us be a people who pursue the peace of God through our attitudes and actions and as we do let us rest faithfully in the knowledge that our prayers are heard and the Lord is with us.

Book Review: Augustine on the Christian Life

Continuing through our book review series we come to the next in the On the Christian Life Series put out by Crossway; Augustine. This edition is written by Gerald Bray a research professor at Beeson University who specializes in historical and theological studies. He spends a great deal of time working through Augustine’s life and theology attempting to connect us from the present backwards into an age and culture that is far removed from our present state. In this regard Bray sets the book up to first see Augustine; the Roman and from his Latin roots and citizenship in a dying Roman world allows us to better appreciate how he approaches the Christian faith. The results are mixed at times but overall eye opening. So let’s take some time and dive in to this text a little bit.

Augustine’s Life and World

Bray begins his work by laying the foundation of who Augustine was and how the culture around him shaped him. He explores the roots of Augustine classic text: Confessions. From here he is able to piece together the roots of Augustine’s history in the close 4th century North Africa and his many adventures searching for truth as a young adult. Bray doesn’t sugar coat Augustine’s history, but rather uses it to show how we are shaped by our past experiences when we come to Faith. Augustine’s past forays into random cults and philosophies greatly shaped his desire to write against such teachings and encourage those who he wrongly lead into those practices to abandon them for the truth of scripture and the hope of Christ. He reminds us in many ways not to forget who we were before Christ but that each of our past failures and journeys in sin is now an open door for us to clearly speak back through to those who are still there and by the grace of God show them the truth of God’s redemption.

Augustine as Person

Here is where Bray spends the majority of the book breaking Augustine down into three roles: believer, teacher, pastor. From each role Bray discusses the ways in which Augustine was influenced by the truth of scripture and as he grew in the knowledge of the Lord lived it out and encouraged others to do so as well. There were times throughout this section where things can seem repetitive as Bray will often bring back the same arguments and events from Augustine’s life to highlight new aspects of how he approached theology or family. This, however, is only a minor flaw and one that can be overcome as you see him put together a fuller picture of how these different aspects of Augustine’s life can fit together to help form a complete person, especially, in a day and age that we don’t completely comprehend.

One example of this comes in his continued reference to Augustine and his mistress. For many in our modern world we would have seen a clear solution to this problem in them getting married, since all evidence points to the fact that he had an overwhelming love for her. However, in their day and age this was out of the questions due to their different places in society, and as such we see Augustine throughout the text apply scripture to his situation and in the end choose a celibate life and ministry over the prospect of marriage to another. Now he does not make this a rule for anyone going into ministry as he will clearly articulate that many of his peers did get married. He will though repeatedly show how, in his life, the celibate life gave him more time to dedicate to the word of God and to the ministry of the Word. As such we are blessed to have a vast collection of his writings and a firm foundation on how he thought about life and godliness.

Thanks to his amazing collection of works Bray helps us to see some of the finer points of Augustine life and how they affect our own modern life. This is especially evident in his section on the preached Word.  Augustine preached sermons ranging in time from 20 minutes to over two hours at one point, continually pointing his listeners to hear the Word of the Lord and be transformed by it. He was a master at rhetoric a classic art form that is very rarely appreciated in today’s world, but one that was essential to preaching in the 5th century. His preaching was strictly biblical and meant to persuade his hears to trust in Christ. Bray stands out in this section as he makes Augustine’s art of preaching come alive and convicts us of our modern reliance on gimmicks rather than persuasion by the Words of God.

Conclusion

While not exhaustive of Augustine’s work, Bray does help to synthesize the importance of what Augustine can teach a modern audience on how best to live out the Christian life, and that ultimately this is found in obedience to scripture. Again, I commend Bray for not running away from Augustine’s faults, but rather helping to frame him as a man of his era, faults and all. This helps us in our own modern world to realize that we are not perfect nor were the great fathers who came before us, there is always room for us to grow and expand our understanding of the word of God, especially as we are challenged by outside forces to make a defense for it. With that in mind I believe this is another solid book in the On the Christian Life collection and one worth the read if you have the time to spare, especially if you are in pastoral ministry.

From the Archives: Books vs. The Bible

If there is one thing you may not know about me is my love of books.

If you saw my library you’d see I have lots of books, from many different generations, different styles, different genres, different authors, different denominations, and those don’t even cover the ones on my Logos collection. Beginning in my early days in college at an interdenominational school here in Florida we were taught to think outside the box and read from many different authors who challenge our presuppositions about ministry, theology, doctrine, and practice. I’m very grateful for those early days. It trained me to think outside of my own theological spectrum. Now, not only did my time there teach me to think outside of my boundaries, it also taught me to appreciate the value that books have in forming the Christian life.

In literature and books we have great wisdom from men and women that have gone before us. We have their application of Scripture and encouragement for times of sorrow and times of joy. We have their instruction on how to think through hard issues. We have their synthesis of Scripture to point us to a fuller understanding of the text of Scripture. However, it is important to understand those books should never take the place of Scripture in your spiritual life.

In too many cases it is easy to become overwhelmed by the knowledge of those who came after the apostles rather than the apostles, the prophets, and Jesus Himself. We must never overlook the importance of Scripture alone as the foundation for our spiritual health. You are grown most fundamentally through the Word of God. Therefore when it comes to reading apart from it, it is important that we choose books that will encourage and inform us on the truth of Scripture. Books that will encourage and push us forward in our spiritual journey. This is especially true when it comes to selecting devotionals.

Do we choose resources that encourage and inflame our love for the Scriptures? Do we choose resources that encourage and push us back to know more about what the Word of God says, or do we select devotionals that point us back to ourselves and what we think about things?

Do not be deceived by false teachers that would put their words above God’s Word. In our day and age it’s very easy to be misled by false teachers through the books that we read, especially from books sold in Christian bookstores. Just because a Christian bookstore sells it does not make it Christian or Biblical in its application of Scripture or its understanding of God’s word. But I guess the question remains what do we read?

First and foremost read the Bible.

It is the only thing that gives us hope, that truly reveals an understanding of who God is. This is not to dissuade you from reading, but rather to make sure that our foundation is set first and foremost on our understanding of God. We must read with an aim to know and see God in His Word and in the words of others.

Second, read books that will encourage you in your walk with the Christ

Now these are books that can range from daily devotionals to theological works.  Most of us since early days in our Christian faith were encouraged to do a daily devotional. Throughout Church history many great men have written their own devotionals, such as Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, which are still used by many even today. Aside from devotionals though you’d also find great spiritual encouragement through theological works such as J. C. Ryle’s classic Holiness, or even something slightly newer like Knowing God by J. I. Packer.

On our own homepage we list the four theological works that each of us are currently reading. As you can see from the list currently both Adam and myself are reading books by Michael Horton. Adam, reading one of his newer works, Ordinary. This book encourages us to see that our lives, even though they may appear ordinary, are really the supernatural work of God. Myself, on the other hand, am reading a book that he wrote several years ago on our call to be disciple makers. Horton does this by walking us through the importance of the great commission and our job as believers to follow through with that call. You can see each of these books seek to further our knowledge of God and a reliance on Him through the Scriptures.

Third, Read a good biography

For many of you this third category seems obvious. Biographies are very common in our day and age so much so that their use to actually be a television channel dedicated to them. That should be no shock to you that we as believers should be encouraged to read good biographies especially about the lives of the saints of God who lived before us. You’d be amazed at the things that believers went through and how through the power of God they overcame their trials and temptation and found joy and contentment in Christ alone. Biographies are great blessing to the Christian as we see time and time again the work of the Lord in His saints. Now I am not saying to go out and buy the two volume George Whitefield biography collection by Arnold Dallimore, though it is a fantastic book series, but there are some great short biographies put out by Ligonier ministries, also John Piper on his website Desiring God wrote some short biographies on some great saints such as David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards that can bring great encouragement to your Christian walk. Mostly, biographies help us to know that we are not alone in our journey, we are not the first to experience the things that we’ve experienced, just as the Lord was faithful to them so too we can trust that he will be faithful to us.

Finally, (though not least in importance) enjoy a good work of fiction.

Now this being the last category that I’ll discuss for many of us it may be our favorite category. A good fictional novel  can range from some of the great works of the past like To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist or The Lord of the Rings to some of the newer works of fiction such as the works of Stephen King, Ken Follett, George R. R. Martin or maybe J. K. Rowling. Fictional works help to expand our imaginations. They can help us to see the world in a different light, especially for ministers, fictional novels help us to think differently about the world around us. Fictional novels can open our imaginations, broaden our visual vocabulary, and allow us to get a look into the way our culture thinks and acts by the way they write about the world.

In conclusion this is an encouragement to those of us who love books, who love our libraries, who love great authors and theologians, so much so that we spend great deals of time with them, to not lose sight of the truth of God in the midst of the words of others. And to those who don’t read as often, to see, in works of theology, works of Christian growth, stories of brothers and sisters who have walked the path before, an opportunity for you to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures and to grow in your understanding of the work of God through the lives of others.

Above all else again the Bible must be central to our understanding. While we can learn from great men and women through their writings as they have experienced the work of God in them, through them, and through their knowledge of Him, they are still but mortals. Their words are but temporary while the Word of the Lord is eternal.