Advent & Immanuel, Redux

With the season of Advent coming into full bloom and the music of the season in the air I want to revisit one of the most popular songs of the season: O Come, O Come Immanuel.

It is a song rich with history, being originally traced back to the 8th century as a responsive reading, it is one of the oldest songs of advent we still sing in the modern Church. One of the reasons I believe it still holds a place so near and dear to most of us is its reliance on the biblical text to bring comfort, truth and grace through music to God’s children. This 1200 year old hymn points us straight back to Scripture and brings life and comfort to the weary soul.

Specifically I want to look at the opening verse of this amazing hymn.

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

This first verse has its origins back in  Isaiah 7 in the days of Ahaz king of Judah. In that day God offered the king a chance to ask of Him whatever he wished as proof of God’s love and protection for His people, but rather than accept this gift of God, Ahaz spurned the gift and God in the process. Rather than trust in God for deliverance and protection for the people, Ahaz turned to political allegiance and military strength to find peace. It is in this setting that God brings forth the prophecy that a virgin will bear a son and he will be named Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). This sign was meant to be a reminder that God was the only hope for His people, because before this even would come to pass His people would suffer at the hands of the very alliance the king had established.

However, The king’s disobedience and sin would make a way in time for God’s ultimate blessing. For God didn’t leave His people in exile and suffering but rather brought forth in time the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah to king Ahaz in the giving of His Son to the world. In the midst of the great fear of the ages and the new captivity of Israel to the people of Rome, God would now dwell with His people. Immanuel was to be born to a virgin in the city of David.

Now before the child would be born the Lord sent an angel to instruct her fiancé in the truth of what was to take place. We see this in Luke 1:18-23 with a picture of the angel’s interaction with Joseph. In this vision he is instructed to name the child Jesus, for He would save the people from their sins, but not only would He be named Jesus, He would be Immanuel. In this short passage of Scripture the name Immanuel became intricately connected to the name Jesus. In Jesus we see that God’s presence with His people is linked with His love for them and the desire to set them free from the lasting pain of sin. He takes on the name that echoed back to the very founding of the nation in the land of Canaan as Joshua lead his people to political freedom. Now the new Joshua (the Hebrew name that Jesus comes from) will set them free from a far greater danger, that of sin and death, and the only means by which he could do this is if he was the Immanuel, God himself residing with His people.

For us we are blessed to know that God did keep His promise to the people of Israel and we are the humble recipients of His grace and mercy. God came to us and set us free form our sin and set us on the path of righteousness, but He did not leave us on that path alone.

In both narratives we see God’s faithfulness to His people in the midst of uncertainty. So too in this advent season we know that God is still faithful to His people, though it took over 700 years for the true fulfillment of Immanuel to take place, He was faithful. In our day and age we have the blessing of seeing and experiencing the gift of the first Advent. As believers we experience the grace of God daily, all the more if you are not born Jewish, for in Christ He brought us gentiles into the family of God.

Today, while we experience the great blessings of Christ, may we also look forward to the eternal blessing of His second advent. One of the great blessings of God being with His people is that it is more than a metaphysical reality of the past, it is a real present experience, and a future hope in His final return.

So let us sing out with gladness not only because He has come and set free the first captive Israel from their sin, but that He shall return again to bring the true Israel to Himself for eternity.

2019 Conference Sermons & YouTube Channel

We are excited to announce that we have officially launched the Publican’s YouTube Channel. Currently on our channel you will find all seven sermons from The Publican’s Conference hosted last month on Doxology. Over the coming weeks and months we are planning on expanding the channel with additional content.

We are excited for this new opportunity to use technology to better serve the body of Christ, especially those in our local churches.

Below are links to each of the conference sermons, and again feel free to subscribe to our channel as we begin to roll out new content.

Thanks again for all your continued support.

Joe Earle, Pastor of Riverside Baptist Church, NPR
Matt Noble, Youth Pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, NPR
Andrew Jaenichen, Administrative Pastor of SonRise Community Church, NPR
Aaron Currin, Pastor of BLDG 28, Clearwater
Tommy Shelton, Pastor of Live Oaks Bible Church, Palm Harbor
Adam Powers, Pastor of SonRise Community Church, NPR
Brian Walls, Pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, NPR

Publican’s 2019 Recap

The Publican’s 2019 has come and gone and what a Saturday it was as churches from all over the bay area were represented through our speakers and guest panelists. Specifically, this year we gathered with the purpose of displaying how, from every genre of the scriptures, God is worshiped, and how through seeing the Him worshiped in His word we learn how we too should worship. So for the purpose of today’s post I want to give you and overview of the Publican’s 2019, in the coming weeks video and audio will be posted so you may listen or watch each of our sessions.

Morning Sessions:

We began our morning walking through the Old testament Torah, Histories, and Poetry. Joe Earle Kicked us off by looking at Leviticus 10. In this text we unpacked what false worship looked like as Nadab and Abihu were consumed by the fire of the Lord for presenting a strange fire. From this we were called to ask ourselves to think deeply about the manner in which we come before a Holy God. As believers we must take the Worship of God seriously and not be flippant in our worship.

After the Torah Matt Noble led us into the Histories with 2 Kings 18:1-8 and the introduction of Hezekiah. In this sermon we were introduced to a King who feared the Lord and sought to Bring his love of God to his people. Hezekiah tore down all the graven images around Israel including the Bronze serpent that the Lord had used to save his people in the book of Numbers. Through the Life of Hezekiah, we saw the character of a man who loved the Lord first and foremost and how from that Love for god and His holiness he acted, he didn’t let the cares of his day distract him from serving God well. So too we need to trust the Lord and serve Him faithfully regardless of the world around us.

We concluded our Morning teaching segments from the Psalm 104. In this text I unpacked How God is glorified by His creation. We see in this text the magnificent beauty and wonder of all that God has done in creation, and that by observing his love and care for it, we see His character as a loving and caring God. We see His precision in creation. From looking at creation we see the call to praise the name of God for His wondrous deeds. We are called to reflect on Him as we see Him at work around us.

After our morning Speakers we had a round table discussion featuring Steve Best, President of Bible Basics International, Tim Miller, Senior Pastor of Lakeview Community Church, and Andrew Larsen, Senior Pastor of Safety Harbor community Church. Our round table discussion featured a conversation discussing how we can see worship played out in the life of the church and at home, specifically from each of our speakers backgrounds in ministry over the years and current life circumstances as husbands, fathers, and in one case grandfather.

Afternoon Sessions:

After our break for Lunch Aaron Currin wrapped up our journey through the Old Testament by looking at the role of worship in Hosea. Not a book most would go to in thinking about worship, but from this text we were able to see the passion of God towards his people in spite of their sinfulness and harlotry. We God wooing us back to himself with the truth of who He is, and through this we are broken of our sin and return to the God we love. It is an amazing picture of what we see in Christ who loving cares for His bride.

From the Old Testament we quickly turned to the New Testament with one of our newest Contributors, Tommy Shelton. Tommy walked us through John 4 reflecting on the women at the well and what it means that in Christ we will worship in spirit and in truth. We saw that the worship of God is a global event not limit to a specific town or mountain, but a gift through Christ to be seen on every mountain and in every valley. All the nations will praise God.

From the theme of Worship transforming all Nations, Adam Powers took us through the beauty and wonder of Paul’s doxology in Romans 11. In This text we beheld the mystery and glory of the God who saves and Christ our Savior. We saw how worship flows out an overflow of the knowledge of God especially his sovereign gift of grace and salvations seen in the gospel. He is worthy to be praised by all people at all times.

Which lead us finally to Brian Walls and the book of Revelation. Brian concluded our time in the Word in chapter 19 around the throne of God as the saint’s worship God for His salvation and His judgment. It was a hard text and yet a beautiful one as we see the justice of God put on display for His children to see and marvel at, we were reminded that we serve a loving God and a just God. He is both and must be worshiped for both.

If you couldn’t join us this past weekend we hope you will catch the videos on YouTube in the coming weeks, along with some other new additions to the Publican’s ministry that we will be unveiling.

Never Forget….

Every year on this day, we in the US are reminded to never forget. Throughout the day, we will see images that remind us of that fateful day 18 years ago when terrorism came to our home. It was no longer “over-there,” it was here, and it was real. Many people lost loved ones. A war that started soon after that cost us more lives and still continues to this day. We are often reminded that, around the world, evil still exists, and that the fall of man into sin at the beginning of time has not ceased to flourish in these days. So, today, I want to take a moment and think about what it is that we should never forget.

Never Forget that Sin is Real.

On this day, we are soberly reminded that sin and evil are ever-present realities. Deep down, we know it to be true every day. We watch the news, we see images of events around the world, we see missing persons posters, and, for a split second, it sinks in before we return to life as normal. Sometimes it takes great tragedies to shake us from our carefree fog and take seriously the world in which we live. Today reminds us of one of those tragedies. We reflect on the reality that sin is real and it rears its ugly head every day, but what is key to remember is that it’s not solely a problem in others; the problem is in ourselves.

Each one of us has the propensity toward great wickedness. We all have within us the same sinfulness that drives humanity into all sorts of evil; if you believe your sinfulness isn’t as bad as another’s, that doesn’t make it so. Nor does it make one any less culpable before God. Remember the words of Paul in Romans 3, “For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” On the days that we remember great acts of evil, let us not forget our own sinfulness and need of redemption. Let us not forget the hatred that brews within our souls and must be rooted out and nailed to the cross on which Christ died. Let us not forget that sin is real.

Never Forget the Sovereignty of God.

On days like this when we remember tragedies, we can be quick to forget the hand of God through it all. It’s hard for many to see the work of God in moments when evil is so present. We see the towers fall; friends and family die; and we can quickly lose hope. Yet nothing in this world is an accident; nothing  catches God by surprise, whether it be the wickedness seen on this day of remembrance, or in the hospital room of a child suffering from cancer, or the family and friends struggling through the loss of one to suicide. In those moments, we can think that God was not there, or wonder why such things should come to be, and yet we are reminded in the scriptures that God is ever present and ever sovereign. Nothing comes that is not known and used by Him.

If you are unconvinced, let me remind you of a much darker day when evil seemed to have triumphed over God: the day our God died. The day when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, member of the triune divinity died. The perfect lamb; the one who was without sin; the one whom, of all mankind, evil should not have befallen. The one whom all of life and glory was due was taken, falsely tried, beaten, and murdered by the very people he came to save. In the darkness of that day, the sun itself was shrouded, and He died. But God was not absent; He was upon the tree and above the tree. The Father himself, along with the Son and Spirit reigned sovereign over all these events. From  a human perspective, the messiah was defeated, but God was at work and the greatest victory had already begun.

So, let us remember the sovereignty of God and take comfort in the fact that while we may not know or understand the situations that surround us, He does, and He has not forgotten us.

Never Forget to be the Light of the Gospel Today

Lastly, let us never forget the truth that life is short, and we are not guaranteed tomorrow. September 10th, 2001 was a day like any other day, and most of us would be unable to remember the events that transpired that day. The same cannot be said about the 11th, a day which we can remember almost every moment. I remember getting up to leave my first period World History class and our teacher turning on the TV and seeing the World Trade Center on fire. I remember standing there with my best friend, not saying a word, just staring blankly. I remember going next door to my second period class, sitting on top of my desk for the next hour and 20 minutes, awestruck by the images as we watched in horror and disbelief as both towers fell. I remember trying to AIM a friend of mine to see if his day was ok; he was a Port Authority Officer. I remember the confusion in each class, the never-ending conversations around the lunch table, and the reality that life is momentary. I also remember the friends who reminded us that the truth of Christ is still the same and that we must remember to never take the gospel for granted with an expectation that we can talk about it tomorrow.

We must never forget that those with whom we spend each and every day are in need of the Gospel. They are in need of the soul-saving truth that has set us free from sin and death. They are in need of the only true hope. We are not guaranteed tomorrow on this earth, but we are guaranteed an eternity, yet where we spend that eternity is dependent upon the work of the Gospel. We are reminded in Hebrews that, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” let us strive to be faithful servants who have proclaimed the truth well while time remains.

On this day, let us never forget…

On this day, we remember, we mourn, and we live for the glory of God in the face of evil, knowing that He is sovereign, and that eternity is in His hands. We trust in a God who has never failed His own; for, out of the garden, He clothed and protected His children, in spite of their sin. It was by His mighty hand He delivered His people out of bondage through the sea, providing for them day and night in the wilderness. Through the Work of Christ, He has promised His children a future and a hope resting in Him. On a day of mourning let us remember the God who saves from sin, is sovereignly working all things for our good and his glory, and lastly who proclaimed the gospel to us and has saved us by His merciful grace.

 

Where We are Going….

The purpose for our annual Publican’s conference is to instruct and encourage the local church through the preaching of the Word, by members of the Publicans, on a particular biblical idea for the advancement of the Gospel and the edification of the body.

Last year we began a three-year endeavor to introduce and encourage the church to understand who God is in a manner that reflects the truth of scripture, and from that understanding of the truth we worship Him rightly and live for Him in all aspects of our lives.

Orthodoxy (2018)

In 2018 we began this task by looking at the historic faith found in the Apostle’s creed. Now we want to be clear here the Apostles creed is not canon, but within it we see the simplification of orthodox doctrine, and as such it is a good tool to direct us along the road we see in the scriptures. Therefore, each of our speakers dissected a different aspect of the creed and unpacked its truth as we saw it in the scriptures. We saw the truth of the Trinity and at the same time their distinctness. We saw the truth of the work of Christ in forgiving our sins and the need for the body of Christ. We saw all this and more flow from the truth of scripture and inform our understanding of the faith, and as such we built a our understand about God and faith on the foundation of Scripture.

It is of utmost importance that we begin our journey here, for the next two years must flow from a proper foundation. You cannot build a home without the foundation, so too you cannot build true worship or a Christian life apart from a biblical orthodox foundation. We must find our full satisfaction in the work of Christ and seek to know Him more as he has revealed himself in Scripture. We do not determine for ourselves what we want God to be, He has revealed himself to us, and as such we are blessed with the opportunity to know Him truly and from that knowledge, we will see the opportunity to worship and live for Him.

Doxology (2019)

Which leads us to this years topic: Doxology

It is vitally important that we see Doxology not as a once a week part of a gathered service but as an overflow of our life with God. So, while the words are sung, they must come from a place of understanding who God is and what He has done. When we come to the Word of God it should leave us in prayer and praise to our Lord. When we hear His Word, we come with an expectation to know Him more and from that knowledge flows Doxology.

Therefore, when we think of worship, we think of singing and in scripture we immediately are drawn to the Psalter. However, the truth is, song and verbal worship is seen throughout the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, and in each genre, we come face to face with not only the content of the words sung to God, but the posture and circumstances that surround that worship. Through seven different pastors we will discuss several specific ways worship is seen in the text of Scripture. Here we will examine the truth of God’s revelation and how that moves us to song, and the proclamation of His Glory.

Orthopraxy (2020)

Lord willing, this will all culminate next year as we then discuss the words of Peter in 2 Peter 3:11 “What sort of people we out to be in lives of holiness and godliness” This one small verse lies at the heart of Orthopraxy, right living. We are not only called to know God and praise Him; we are called to live rightly before Him. Therefore, we will endeavor to unpack the truth of what it means to live well before our God in pursuit of Him. We will seek to unpack the biblical ideas found in spiritual discipline and how these things are not to be confused with legalistic practices. We will seek through the Word to reveal and encourage believers to live well in lives of faith repentance and hope before our God.

We pray these conferences will continue to be a blessing to the local church and to all who join us each year to be encouraged and instructed in the Word of God. We are thankful for all the Pastors who make it a priority to preach here each year. This year our speakers will be from four different local churches along with our good friend from Mississippi, and our morning round table discussion will feature an additional set of ministers from local congregations and mission agencies.

More Info can be found in the Conference tab and our Facebook page.

A Conviction from Fiction

Fantine, Cosette, Javert, Val Jean, Marius, Eponine, are a few of the most famous characters from Victor Hugos’ classic: Les Miserables. Last week I picked up this old classic, that I haven’t read since early in college, and was struck once more by how much it impacted me back then and how it shaped my views on what ministry and the faith should look like when lived out. The main influential force of the book comes from one of my favorite literary characters, who takes up less than 100 pages of this 1200-page tome: The Bishop Myriel or as he was called by the villagers under his care: Monseigneur Bienvenu or M. Welcome. As a minister there is something to be said by such a name attached to so lofty a title, In the text he points out it is the because of the second that he would accept the first. In an era where the church was known for its lavishness and pride, Hugo painted a picture of a man who believed the things he read in Scripture. A priest who didn’t wear the cloth out of a desire to become someone, but rather as a means to serve and be the light of Christ to the worst and the greatest in the villages under his care.

In a day and age where more people are concerned with being right about their doctrine there has seemed to grow all the more potent a lack of care about one’s practice. In these short pages came the conviction that we must hold both and in doing so fear God not man. The radical hospitality of M. Bienvenu is revolutionary not just in his day but in our own. Recently, our elders have begun The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosario Butterfield. The timing of which is perfect as she describes in a modern context the reality of what is exhibited in this work of fiction. We as Christian tend to be more fearful of what the world may think of us or of how it may attack us that we build walls around ourselves, judge people accordingly, and cease to offer the loving table of Christ and the message of repentance and faith. We have become afraid to be real with a people who are lost and dying.

I think deep down it is the power that fiction has on us to paint with beauty and depth, a portrait of what could be, and in doing so strike at the heart of what has become reality. Hugo painted the picture of a shepherd who loves the flock of God (in a day and age where everyone was considered such) regardless of where they came from or who they were. This again lived in a stark contrast to a world were Bishops were about prestige, luxurious homes, and the finest of foods. When robbed he claimed those things stolen as gifts, when offered financial gifts he gave them freely to the poor, when offered a great home he gifted it to a hospital and took their small lodgings for his own. He was described as a man who loved God and loved His creation. Hugo painted a picture of what could be, and in painting this picture he seemed to ask us to become it, to be people who take our faith seriously. Who take what we believe and put it into action? Now I am no literary critic and while this is one of my favorite books, I am not an expert, but the impact that this one man of God has on a story where he is barely featured is immense. Everything that happens in the life of the protagonist Val Jean flows from the Christ like love of this one man, a man he knew for all of 12 hours and in that time experienced grace, forgiveness, hospitality, patience, and mercy. How many of us leave such legacies.

The picture of this man should encourage us all the more in looking at the marks of an Elder and overseer of the church.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

-1 Tim. 3:1-7

The qualification laid down through the inspiration of the Spirit are easy to read and to a degree we may even check off the boxes pretty quickly, but when they are seen in the lives of others we are challenged all the more to pursue God and apply His words, picked in our hearts to become Christ to the world, and moved to love Him more and as such love our neighbors.

Now of course a fictional character is not a real person, but that doesn’t mean this reality doesn’t exist, again a lot of the characteristics of this Bishop are seen in Rosario and her Husband Kent’s Life. They do ministry life the way M. Bienvenu did his, a reflection on the ministry of Christ in the Gospels. It is in hospitality, a qualification we often pass by, that we see people who are cast off by society brought into experience the kingdom of God. In this characteristic of a bishop we see the personal and familial side of Christ, who preached the truth without fear and broke bread with all sorts of people.

May we learn what it means to be hospitable people, May I learn what this means…….

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.