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.

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All I Have is Christ

All I have is Christ is one of my favorite worship songs of the last few decades, and this morning I wanted to encourage you with a visual reflection of the theological significance of this song by the Youtuber: Full of Eyes.

I pray that this quick reflection will encourage you, convict you, and spur you on in your walk with Christ this week.

More info, resources and videos can be found at Fullofeyes.com

Trinitarian Sanctification: The Spirit

The final member of the Godhead and often missing in most theological discussions (except for sanctification) is the Holy Spirit. Sanctification has been historically is the one area where the Holy Spirit is given room to be discussed. So much of what is said may not be new, but it should still be encouraging.

The Holy Spirit Secures Us

First It is the Holy Spirit who seals the saints as God’s own until the final days. The Holy Spirit is at work in every believer’s life guaranteeing their salvation and continual sanctification.[1] Ephesians 1:12–14 is key to understanding this role of the Spirit: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Paul reinforces the fact that it is the Spirit that will protect and secure all believers throughout their lives. Dietrich Bonheoffer did extensive work drawing out the work of the Spirit as the “sealer” of faith. He focuses first on the fact that this seal is proof of the salvation believers have received in Christ, and explains three distinct ways this sealing maintains a Christian’s faith. First, It will keep them separated from the world, Second, it will maintain their walk in a way worthy of their calling, and finally it will secure their faith in the life of Christ himself.[2]

Holy Spirit Grows Us       

Besides the sealing work of the Spirit in sanctification, The Holy Spirit also serves as the direct agent bringing about holiness in the lives of the saints. He gives man the ability to pursue holiness along with the desire to run hard after Him. Kenneth Boa points out that the role of the Holy Spirit is “bearing witness to Jesus Christ, applying Christ’s redemptive work in human hearts, and working personally and progressively to form Christ likeness in the lives of believers.”[3] .  It is left to the Spirit to complete the work orchestrated by the Father and begun by the Son. Scriptural evidence for this role of the Spirit can be seen in 1 Corinthians 6:11: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This passage clearly articulate that the Spirit is the one at work in active sanctification,

He Convicts Us

The working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers takes many different forms to produce holy lives in believers before the throne. The Holy Spirit’s work in sanctifying believers also takes on the role of convicting believers of their sins. John 16:8–11 reveals that “when he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”[4] The role of convicting believers of their sins, either active or passive, is an important one. Here the Spirit is able to correct actions before they become habits that are destructive to a believer’s life.[5] Believers, however, do have the ability to ignore this call of the Spirit. Ephesians warns believers not to quench the Spirit. Here it is important to see that sin does cause the Spirit to be grieved and believers should not shrug it off. To grieve the Spirit is a serious offense taken seriously.

He Teaches Us

Here it is seen that “Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit of truth would ‘guide you into all truth’ and ‘disclose to you what is to come’ (John 16:13). The divine anointing teaches us (1 John 2:27), and the Spirit glorifies the Son making Jesus’ words Known to us (John 16:14).”[6] The Spirit is working in the hearts of believers to teach them the truth of the Lord, and is connected with his role as convicting believers of their sin. The illumination of the scriptures themselves reflects this truth. As a believers read scripture it is the Spirit that illuminates the truth of who God is and how man is to respond to him and his calling on their lives.[7]

He is the Active Agent of Prayer

The final role of the Spirit is the role of prayer. Romans 8 26-27 focuses on the Spirit’s involvement in the prayer life of believers.[8] “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Paul teaches that the Spirit is active in bringing the needs of believers to the throne of the Father.

The Holy Spirit plays an important role as the active agent in the lives of believers that brings about a holy life before God. He serves as the one who teaches believers the meaning of righteousness convicting them when they go astray. In teaching and convicting He grows them to a deeper understanding of the truth. All of these are connected directly to His work of sealing believers to the Day of Judgment. In the end, all three members have a specific function in bringing about holiness in the lives of believers.

 

[1] Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York, Touchstone, 1959), 278

[2] Ibid. 279

[3] Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Zondervan 2001), 292.

[4] Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2009), 293

[5] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1998), 874.

[6 Boda, 293

[7] Erickson, 875

[8] Boa, 294

Trinitarian Sanctification: The SON

The second aspect of our Trinitarian understanding of Sanctification centers around the role of the Son in a believers life, for he is the example all believers are to follow. The Son has an important role in bringing believers to the Father. He also is their model for proper worship and life, teaching believers how to in holiness. According to Wayne Grudem it is evident that believer’s must understand Christ specifically as their grounding for sanctification.[1] So today we will briefly explore Christ’s role in the lives of believers; pushing them to new heights of understanding and obedience.

He Suffers

For us to truly understand Christ’ role we need to first know that he is the incarnate Word of God. His life is the example of God on earth; this is the most foundational aspects of Christ for believers to grasp. While the topic may be debated because Jesus was never sinful, he did suffer and remain faithful and true to the work of the Father, growing in obedience and truth as he lived and ministered here on earth.[2] In Luke’s gospel believers are told that He continued to grow in wisdom, and even for a moment acceptance with going to cross and accepting the will of the Father. However, Luke through these accounts shows us a picture of Christ as an example for proper living. Here it is evident that Christ as the Son is obedient to the Father’s will and seeks diligently to follow his commands, setting the pattern for all believers as adopted sons of God. 1 Peter 2:21 reveals that, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Even in suffering He is faithful and obedient to the Father. This models the response Christians must have towards God. As discussed in my previous post it is the Father who uses suffering to bring sanctification, and it is the Son who reveals how believers can suffer well in obedience to the Father.

Therefore, the example of Christ for believers is in his obedience to the Father’s will and His law. Christ’s life is a revelation of  proper worship; in that He sought hard after his Fathers will, not settling for the pleasures of the earthly realm. While believers are not God they are given the same ability to seek after the Father and his will, it is important to see that Christ modeled a holy life for all Christians.[3]

He Serves

Not only in Suffering is Christ an example but also in service, John’s Gospel explores the importance of Christ as an example for believers to emulate In the upper room John explores the washing of the disciples feet and the importance that they follow after Him in servanthood (13:13–14). Christ sets the stage for the disciple’s life after he ascends. They are called to resemble him and his ministry on earth to all people. As servants to the world they are to bestow grace and love in such a way that people see Christ through them. There is no one who is too lowly to be treated with grace and dignity. This is example displayed in the upper room. This model is one that is to be followed by all believers as a perpetual demand.[4]

He Teaches

Another aspect of Christ work of sanctification is as teacher; this evidenced throughout the Gospels teaching but for our sake we see it clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. Christ teaches believers what it means to live a sanctified holy life that is pleasing to God. Granted, there have been questions raised as to whether this is a description of life in the present Kingdom or future. I though feel the heart of this text points to a realized kingdom, and that these are to be the natural characteristics of those who are in Christ.  In this sermon, believers are told that life in the kingdom is one of subjugation to the work of the Father and a form of holiness that surpasses that known in their own time. Here it is evident that much like His Father in the giving of the law, Christ is expounding on it and, to a degree, adding heart felt submission. The life of Christ is one of a disciple maker, teaching believers to follower of God. [5] this is evident in His application of the Law in John14:15, 21 where he reveals that, ”If you love Me, you will keep My commandments… He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Christ again shows the importance of keeping the Law that the Father has given as a means of sanctification as it reveals a true love for him.

His Death

The final role of Christ in the believer’s sanctification is seen in the believer’s union in His death and the motivation the gives to believers that they are no longer controlled by the sins of the Flesh but have been freed to live a holy life. Here believers are connected to Christ’s burial and resurrection. All three facets of the final acts of Christ carry into how believers are to live. Christ’s death on the Cross granted salvation to all who believed, freeing them from the power and potency of sin. It is this death to sin that grants Christians the ability to live a holy life before God now freed from the bondage of sin. This does not guarantee that Christians will not sin or fail, but that they now have the old life removed.[6] The believers union with the Son is scripturally realized in Romans 6:6: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” In the greater context of Romans 6 it is evident that not only does the death of Christ bring victory over sin, but his resurrection secures the ability for man live holy lives. His death killed sin and his resurrection guaranteed life to all believers to become holy children of God not only in the future but in the present.[7]

In the end Christ’s role in sanctification is as multi-faceted as the Father’s. He serves as an example of right living in communion with God’s will and as the model of servanthood. He also functions as the teacher demonstrating a sanctified life. The final function connects these two realizations together in his death and resurrection empowering believers for godly lives.

Citations:

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Zondervan. 1994), 753.

[2]Paul Ellington, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1993), 291.

[3] Colin G Kruse, John, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 345.

[4] Scott Wilson, Trinity and Sanctification: A proposal for understanding the doctrine of sanctification according to a triune ordering, SEBTS Ph.D. dissertation, 142.

[5] Ibid., 120-122

[6] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1988), 251.

[7] Ibid., 129-130

Trinitarian Sanctification: The Father

The focus of Christianity is the continual and eternal worship of the Triune God. Unfortunately, the importance of the Triune nature of God is often overlooked when dealing with theology such as sanctification. Over the next few posts will explore the importance of focusing on each member of the Godhead in relation to sanctification. Each member has an important role to play in the lives of believers as he moves them to a greater state of holiness and communion with himself. This Week we begin by looking at the Fahter’s Role in our sanctification.

The Architect

The Father has multiple roles in maturing a believer, one of the key roles he plays in our sanctification is as the architect.  A house cannot be made if there is not an architect working every angle and dimension; this is a job that begins before construction and continues to its completion much like how the Father lays out the plan and works it to completion. Bruce Ware pens this best in his work on the Trinity:

“The Father is the Grand Architect, the Wise Designer of all that has occurred in

the created order. From initial creation through ultimate consummation and

everything that happens in between, it is God the Father who is the Architect, the

Designer, the one who stands behind all that occurs as the one who plans and

implements what he has chosen to do.” [1]

This understanding of God’s role is key to the rest of the work of the Godhead. The Father is the one who designed the plan for creation before the foundations of the world. In both Romans and Peter it is seen that the Apostles are connecting the work of sanctification to the Father’s work of electing his people and setting the path that they will walk, focusing on the Son and being moved by the Spirit. Ephesians 1 notes that God is at work among his people, for “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,”[2]

The Law Giver

Another important function of the work of the Father is as the Law Giver. He gives the law to Moses in the Exodus narrative which sets the foundation for how believers are meant to live. There has been much debate as to whether or not this law is still applicable to Christians living today and to what extent. For this discussion, the use of the Law is seen as the means of obeying the calling of God to “be Holy as I am Holy”[3] This giving of the Law and commands for their fulfillment is an important part of the Father’s work in sanctification and as architect of the work. The Law lays out the way a believer is to live and worship before God.

John Frame in his work on the Christian life does an extensive study on the use of the Law to mold believers into faithful followers. Each law has many facets revealing an important character of God and his demand for holiness. The Father, in establishing the Law, displays the measure by which faithfulness will be judged in sanctification, not salvation. Frame shows his readers that God gave the Law so that believers may know how to live on earth (not to find salvation)[4]. Sanctification here is the working out of a believer’s salvation not an effort to achieve it. This is an important distinction in any discussion about the use of the Law in Christian life. The Law allows believers to measure their lives against the Holiness of God. The Father’s giving of the law was an act of grace allowing his children to know the way they are to live before him. The giving of the law would allow His people to stand out among all people revealing Himself to the nations through His people. [5]

With the giving of the Law, as a measure by which believers are to follow, comes the discipline for not seeking after it. This is an important role of the Father in molding his children, similar to the way earthly fathers teach their children by correcting their failings. Therefore discipline for failing is not done out of vengeance, but rather gentle correction teaching them how they are to live.[6] Biblically this is tied to Deuteronomy 6 and the second giving of the Law. After giving the law Moses states that” As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.” It is the Father’s role in sanctification to discipline those he loves guiding through correction with divine love. The purpose is that by disciplining his children they may see their errors and return to the holiness for which they were called. Discipline helps us to grow in Christlikeness.  Therefore, every instance of life’s failings and suffering can and will be used by the Father to bring his children into a greater sense of Holiness, conforming them to his will and truths.[7]

Another means of sanctification is through suffering. This is different from discipline that is a result of moral failings. Suffering can be seen as natural occurrences such as, sickness, natural disasters, or loss. In Scripture this type of sanctification is seen in the life of Job most clearly. Job has not sinned, but rather is being tested leading to a greater understanding of the nature of God.[8]  In John Piper’s work on suffering he reveals that God uses suffering to deepen the faith of believers by eliminating self-reliance. He points to Paul’s struggle in 2 Corinthians with a thorn in the flesh. While Paul does plead for it to be removed from him, he also knows that it is being used by the Father to produce a greater faith.[9] It is evident that the Father will use suffering and pain apart from discipline as a means to create deeper faith and reliance on himself for all of life’s challenges.

The Sender

The final two key features of the Father’s work are as the sender of His Son and the Spirit to the world. He sends the Son and the Spirit as agents to complete the work that He set in motion. Each of these members will be discussed, but it is the Fathers sending that must be evaluated first. Both the Son and Spirit are sent to the world revealing the imminent nature of the Godhead in sanctification. This sending of the two is connected directly to God as architect. It is clear from scripture that God’s purpose from eternity was to bring the Son to Earth, for providing salvation, and then the Spirit to secure it for eternity. [10] This connection is seen throughout the gospel of John and exemplified in 12:49 where Jesus states “The Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” It is the Father at work in Christ’s ministry on earth. The Father sent the Son for a specific time and function to bring about salvation and with salvation the need to become holy laid out in the process of sanctification. This means the very work of Christ in bringing about salvation and the sanctification of believer is directly connected to the sending of the Father.[11]

Similar to the sending of the Son the sending of the Spirit is equally important to the work of the Father’s plan for His people. The Spirit is sent by the Father to make the work of sanctification real in the lives of believers. The rejection of the Spirits work in Thessalonians is directly connected to the work of Father in sending Him to the people. Paul solidifies this notion in Titus 3:5—7 when he states that “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” This reveals that it is the mission of the Father for the Spirit to work and bring about righteousness in his people[12]

In summation, the role of the Father in sanctification is as the architect of the whole doctrine. He is the one who elects believers for salvation and by proxy sanctification. The Father devised the system for sanctification by giving the Law to Moses and Israel in Exodus, then by sending his Son and His Spirit afterwards. The Father is also responsible for using the sufferings of this age, such as diseases and natural disaster to grow believers in faith. Finally, He disciplines His saints; pushing those who fall away to return to the family of God and to himself.

[1] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) 51.

[2] Scott Wilson, Trinity and Sanctification: A proposal for understanding the doctrine of sanctification according to a triune ordering. (Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007), 76.

[3]Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York, Touchstone, 1959), 278.

[4] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Christian Life (New Jersey, P&R Publishing 2008), 912.

[5] Stanley Gundry, Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987), 88.

[6], Allan Coppedge, Portraits of God (Downers Grove Intervarsity, 2007), 281.

[7] Gundry, 68

[8] Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2009), 393.

[9] John Piper and Justin Taylor. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton, Crossway. 2006), 92.

[10] Andreas Kostenberger, The Mission of Jesus & The disciples according to the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1998), 96.

[11] Wilson, 82

[12] David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Downers Grove, Intervarsity. 1995), 127

The Meaning of an Ending

This past Sunday I announced that I was stepping down as a possible candidate to become the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist, the church that I have been serving as the Interim for the past two years and on staff for the last five. It was a hard Sunday morning that capped off a hard month since being informed that someone else was also being brought into candidate, and as such I withdrew my name. But in the course of this time the Lord gave me a profound blessing and that was the continuance of His word as I prepared each week’s sermon that I had planned months in advance. For today’s post I wanted to share the over-arching theme of the sermon I preached to close out the year and reflect on how important faithfully preaching the word of God is, and on a side note how God can use the natural means of grace such as sermon planning to enrich the soul.

To close out 2017 I preached on the final day of Moses in Deuteronomy 33 & 34. In this text we see Moses giving his final farewell, calling the people to find meaning in the blessings of God as they concluded the journey. One of the things that all too often happens as we come to the end of an event, or in this case a ministry, we tend to only look at the bad and miss out on all the blessings of God that brought us to where we are today. When I look back over five years of ministry I can see the blessings of those who I baptized, the couples who I was blessed to perform their marriages, the babies we saw born, and the miracles of lives transformed through the preaching of God’s word and the faithfulness of His people. I reflect on those who have joined the church or have come back to church over that span, and seeing a renewed vitality in their Christian walk. With Moses’ Final moments he reminds us that God is good and faithful through the hardships of life, and even in the midst of an ending.

For many of you maybe 2017 brought an end to something in your life, maybe you said goodbye to a family member or lost a job. Maybe your finances took a dramatic turn that you didn’t’ expect or one of your children started school and moved away. Whatever the case is, we experience endings far more frequently than we think, and most of the time we let them slip by, but maybe this time take a second and see the blessings God gave to you which led to that moment, that lead to that goodbye. The journey reveals a God who is growing us into the image of his son, and sometimes that comes through the sun shining and sometimes through the cold bitter nights. So when you come to the end of a moment, look back and rather than look at the hardships and the brokenness, see the bright spots along the way, and joyfully sing God’s praise for he has brought you through those Cold dark nights so that you can see the bright spots (even if they be few).

The second aspect that we see, when finding meaning in our ending, is that God has a plan. After blessing the people in chapter 34 Moses ascends Mount Nebo as instructed by the Lord. When he arrives at the top God shows him all the land that will be his people’s and in that moment pours out a blessing of assurance on Moses that his work was hardly in vain. He revealed to Moses once again, one last time, that he was a faithful God and that His word was true and he would see the mission through. In this moment he helps Moses to see the beauty and splendor of His plan, and allows him to bask in the glow of it, knowing once again that the plan of God is not about him, but about God alone.

So for each of us this text reminds us that when we come to the end of a ministry, or our time serving a church, we can look back and know that God is faithful, that it is God who rules His church, it is God who directs the path of the saints, and it is in the plan of God that we trust. We get the great privilege and blessing to be a part of it as long as we are. If you would have told the 14 year old me back in 1999 when I first felt the desire to go into ministry that one day God would place me back in my home church as the interim pastor I would have thought you mad. If you would have told me when I left for seminary in 2008 that I would come back to my sending church after all the ups and downs of college and ministry I would have probably laughed, but that is exactly what God did, and I am all the more blessed for it. As it comes to and end over the next few months I want to thank God that I got to be a part of His plan in proclaiming the gospel to the People of New Port Richey, and that in some small way I got to be a part of Riverside’s 141 year legacy, and in the end, like Moses, pass the baton to the next man to carry the banner of the gospel.

The conclusion of the text involves the passing of the baton to Joshua who will run the race and keep the faith, being used by God to lead the people into the land. In my case I can sympathize with Moses, they’re had to be a part of him that wanted to keep going, that wanted to see it through, but at the same time he knew God had other plans, and he trusted God. At the end of any situation we ask ourselves, do we trust God with the next step? Do we trust God with what He is doing? We serve a faithful God and through it all He is in control, no matter what comes through the ups and downs of the remainder of the Old testament, long after Moses had died, God was still God and he was still at work, and in the fullness of time Moses entered the promise land, though now he came to comfort Christ the Son of God as he prepared for his final ministry to the people. Moses may not have experienced the promise land in this life, but he experienced the power and promises of God in his soul and into eternity, and in the end that is the experience that truly gives meaning to our endings.

 

Share The Importance of What We Do in Secret by Derek Thomas

While reading today in preparation for this upcoming Sunday morning, I came across this article by Derek Thomas that spoke deeply to the reality of our true selves being revealed in the absence of others. I hope you are equally as convicted and encouraged by His words this weekend.

Share The Importance of What We Do in Secret by Derek Thomas

According to Jesus, it is what we do in secret that matters most. Jesus is not suggesting that the outward is unimportant—far from it. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).

The answer is emphatically no. Still, it is also possible to have outward works but no inner reality. In this instance, religion is a pretense. Six times in the Sermon on the Mount, alluding to three distinct exercises, Jesus employs the term secret:

  • Give “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).
  • Pray “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6).
  • Fast “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 18).

The Sermon on the Mount is addressing the issue of authenticity. Just how genuine is our relationship with the Lord Jesus? It is altogether possible to practice an outward display of piety—to “talk the talk”—without demonstrating any inner reality of godliness. This is true of every professing Christian, and it is especially true of those engaged in Christian ministry. Authentic Christianity requires an outward and discernible “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11). But it also requires genuine godly affections and an inner discipline of the heart.

There is a manner of ministry that is more about self-service than self-sacrifice, self-indulgence than self-discipline, and self-promotion than self-denial. There is also giving that is designed for recognition—plaques on walls intended to be read by generations to come, or press releases informing the world of “generous donations”; prayers in pristine Cranmerlike language of the sixteenth century suggesting depths of personal piety; fasting that is shown via open-necked T-shirts revealing a ribbed torso.

But all these outward demonstrations of piety may be no more than mere hypocrisy. The Greek word translated “hypocrites” (Matt. 6:2, 5) refers to the masks worn by ancient actors as symbols of pretense and show. Thus, give with fanfare; pray with pride; fast with notice. This ministry is inauthentic. It is a sham.

Inauthentic ministry was a charge leveled against Paul. The Corinthians said that there was discrepancy between the way he wrote his letters and the way he was in person: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor. 10:10). It is a serious charge, and in his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul spends almost the entire time defending himself. The critique came from jealousy and therefore bore no legitimacy. But the fact is, the charge can be true—not of Paul, but of us. Leadership calls for genuineness, authenticity and transparency.

True, there’s something of a cliché about the word authentic when applied to Christian ministry (add contemporary, intentional, relevant, and community to that list). If we really need to add the description authentic, we are probably trying too hard and therefore not being authentic at all. Nevertheless, hypocrisy lurks everywhere, not least in Christian ministry, and we ignore it at our peril.

Godliness must be found in the heart if it is to be genuine. The one who prays more in public than in private, or only gives at special events when likely to be thanked for it, or practices spiritual disciplines and lets everyone know just how difficult a spiritual routine he keeps, is more concerned about the outward appearance than a heart-relationship with Jesus.

Jonathan Edwards observed the pattern of the hypocrite with respect to prayer:

Perhaps they attend it on Sabbath days, and sometimes on other days. But they have ceased to make it a constant practice daily to retire to worship God alone, and to seek his face in secret places. They sometimes do a little to quiet conscience, and just to keep alive their old hope; because it would be shocking to them, even after all their subtle dealing with their consciences to call themselves converts, and yet totally to live without prayer. Yet the practice of secret prayer they have in a great measure left off.

There has been a rise in the use of “written prayers” in Presbyterian worship in the last decade. In part, it is a reflection of the desire to elevate worship. Liturgical, written, prepared prayers are certainly preferable to the (otherwise) paucity and emptiness of some extemporary prayers. But written prayers (drawn from The Valley of Vision, for example) may simply mask the emptiness of the heart.

And Thomas Cranmer seemed to understand the danger of wearing a mask of hypocrisy when he included the Collect of Purity in the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church. Cranmer placed it just before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord.

This is a prayer for all seasons.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. and reposted on the Ligonier Webpage: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/importance-what-we-do-secret/

Bavinck on the Christian Life

Bavinck on the Christian Life: Following Jesus in Faithful Service by John Bolt

For the upcoming year I will be reading through the “On the Christian Life series.” If you have never heard of this series I would highly recommend you check it out as we begin 2018. Unlike many biographies these books deal more with the direct influences and theology of prominent figures in the history of the Church, rather than their life story. As such I will be taking time, hopefully, each month to highlight another one of these great texts and reflect on some of the important contribution they have made to life and theology.

The first book in the series which I picked up, was on one of probably the least likely to be read and that was John Bolt’s study on the life of Herman Bavinck and his theological impact on the 20th century.  Now Bavinck, for most, probably isn’t a household name like many others in the series such as Luther, Owen, or Calvin, but his contribution to the life of the church and especially the reformed branch in Holland and Europe was as shinning light of Christian orthodoxy in a world that was quickly being absorbed by liberalism and political accompaniments.

Bavinck was a scholar born in Holland and was best known by many for writing the massive text: Reformed Dogmatic and being the right-hand man to Abraham Kuyper, but as you journey through the book you begin to see that he is so much more. He is a staunch defender of both the church and academics, putting out early on the that these two should not be seen as competitors but as companions. He believed that pastors are raised up both in the church and in the schools, both are necessary to form a godly leader framed by the best of theological knowledge and pastoral love for the flock. If you drift in either direction too far(especially in the 19th and 20th century) you create and imbalanced man. This is a battle that still rages on in the modern church as the drive to “free” it from academic’s theology has in some church created pastor who love the flock, but have no knowledge of the totality scripture, while on the other hand we can create seminarians who can parse the original text and explain some deep mysterious of the gospel, but lack care and compassion for the widow and the orphan. It is from this frame work that I feel the book does some of its best work instructing us on the importance of living the Christian life, but also engaging the brain in the why. So, for ministers and churchman the goals are to know the scriptures deeply and apply them to all aspect of our lives.

The other key point that jumped out was the overarching commitment, by the author John Bolt, to frame Bavinck in his original time and place, he didn’t sugar coat all his theology or make it palatable purely to our modern sensibilities but wrestled with the early 20th century views on things like the role of women in the world. He highlights the disagreement that arose between Bavinck and Kuyper over women’s suffrage, the role of women in the home and workplace, as well as issue surrounding families choosing not to have children. Issue’ swe would have seen as long since settled yet was a reality of the early 20th century. This situation highlighted how Bavinck spent much of his time writing about practical theology. He took theology out of pure academics and applied it to real life.

His ethical applications of the scripture can be seen in his teachings on the centrality of the family, and within that family the equality of it’s members. The Trinity becomes an overarching theme for him and as such the husband taking on the figure of the Father and the wife humbling submitting to her husband as Christ submits to he Father, and the children deriving from them both and loving doing their will as the overflow of who they are to be. From these trinitarian ideas he presents the function of each member and the responsibility of each member to lovingly care for the needs and purpose of the whole. He will point out the importance of children to the life of a married couple as a further extension of shinning Gods light to the world as His image becomes more clearly seen and experienced. He points to the role of the home as a center for instruction in the truth of God.

Bavinck may not be the most well-known of theologians, but he was an essential character in the life of the church, and this book helps to put him in a context that allows us to better appreciate his work and apply some of his work to our modern context. He deals with issues such as the role of Christianity in the state, how do we deal with the breakdown of sexual norms and ethics, where is the place for the family in the whole of civil life, and how do we as believers ultimately live faithful as aliens and strangers in this world, striving for the next.

Book Review: Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash

If you have served in ministry, whether that is on the pastoral end or the nursery, you may have felt at time like Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” You have felt bogged down through a season, felt a little off every day, or just unseasonable irritable. These are some of the early warning signs of burnout, something that has become a more common occurrence in the church. That is why this little book (123 pgs) by Christopher is so important to the life of the church. In this book Ash begins to lay out for us some warning signs to look for and some ways in which we can be restored and revived in the midst of a hard season of life and ministry.

First, this book is not an academic study into the ins and outs of the physiological nature of burnout, rather it is a personal look at the lives that have been affected by burnout and how they got there. It takes us through the lives of different ministry leaders and works to reveal some of the warning signs that were missed and how they recovered after they stepped back and took stock of what was going on in their lives. Ash’s use of testimonials help to ground us in the reality of what he is talking about, and in some cases you may see your self reflected in them. Like Carrie who was a youth ministry worker who put in almost 14 hours a day in different youth related ministry activities until one day it began to physically break her body down, and she had to step back and look at what she was doing. She loved every aspect of what she was doing; the job was everything she ever wanted and she loved the impact she had on young women, but it took a hidden toll that she hadn’t calculated.[i]

Second, these testimonies are connected directly with practical and biblical advice on serving the Lord without losing your mind. Ash lays out for us 7 key principles that we need to be reminded of as we do lifelong ministry.

  1. We need sleep, God does not
  2. We need Sabbath Rest, God does not
  3. We need friends, God does not
  4. We need inward renewal, God does not

These opening four keys  remind us that we are human and not God and need to stop trying to be God and let him do His work. These are especially helpful as they remind us that in the work of the ministry there will always be more to do, but that in the end it is God who controls the means and way in which the work is to be done and that is through rest and faith in him and growing in fruitful communities that refresh and encourage our walks with God, not our busyness for Him.

The final three Keys force us to look at how we perceive our ministry and what our true goals are.

  1. We are warned not to seek Glory from man, but only that which comes from God
  2. An encouragement that the work is worth the sacrifice (not the burnout)
  3. Rejoice in the grace god has given to you not your giftedness

These three final bullets strike to the heart with what can begin to take root and bury us under our own ideals and pursuits. Sometimes we see our ministry through the giftedness God has given us, or the number of people being affected by our work, we forget that the reason we are sustained in ministry is that if all that were to fall away we would still be God’s children. His concluding focus on our nature as God’s and not our own was a healthy reminder to all of us that through the good and through the bad of ministry we are God’s, our identity in Him is the foundation of how we are to minister and how we are to move through the stress of sacrificial ministry.

Highly recommend this book to anyone struggling through ministry, or who are just starting out and what to run the race well.

Purchase: WTSBooks or Amazon

 

[i] Ash, Christopher. Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice. The Good Book Company, 2016.  Pg 54-55

Live in the Gospel!

1 Peter 3:13-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gospel Fueled Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s DO this!

1 Peter 2:11-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Publican’s Conference 2017

With our second annual conference just a day away we wanted to take a moment and just give everyone an update on what to expect and how excited we are for tomorrow.

First, this years conference will feature several pastors from around the bay area as well as contributors from Georgia. Each of the men speaking this week labors inside a local church week in and week out and will be speaking from the heart of a pastor to all who attend. This is a great opportunity to see the church in a fuller sense, beyond the four walls we individually call home, along with hearing from some great men of God who love the Lord and His saints. The Publican’s conference Tomorrow, will attest to the glory of the reformation as it continues today. However, we no longer allow some doctrinal distinctions in our reformed camps to force us to stand apart, but rather as one we proclaim the glory of God, the centrality of Christ, the truth of Scripture, the need of faith, and the blessed work of Grace in our lives.

Second, we will be celebrating one of the key events in the history of the church, and why this event, and its aftermath, should not be forgotten from the Christian church today. Recent studies and surveys show that more than half of evangelicals could not identify who Martin Luther was or why he was important to the church. As the Church drifts more and more into the “me” centered , moment by moment experience for living, we lose sight of the those who labored for the gospel and how their lives have directly changed our own. We study great men in the history of the church, not to venerate them as some kind of untouchable saint, but to appreciate the work they did laboring over the Word of God and calling all men and women to do the same. We know that every player in the reformation was not without error or perfect. Their doctrines in many cases didn’t line up perfectly, nor did they even seem to fully like each other, but their call to return to Scripture is the hallmark of the Church today, and the overall focus of what you can expect tomorrow.

I can’t wait to see many of you with us tomorrow. Also you don’t’ want to miss out on the opportunity to possibly get some book in our annual giveaway.

Doors open at 8, and the conference will kick off at 9.

9:10 – Session 1: Andrew Jaenichen: The Hammer Heard Round the World: The Events that Led to the Reformation

9:55 – Session 2: Aaron Currin: The Great Recovery: Justification by Faith Alone

10:40 – Session 3: Matt Noble: Who’s Our Priest? The Pope & Jesus Christ

11:25 – Morning book giveaways

11:30 – Break for Lunch

AFTERNOON

12:40 – Session 4: Adam Powers: A Celestial Theater of Grace: Calvin On Corporate Worship

1:25 – Session 5: Austin Wynn: The Legacy of the Reformation, Christ Will Build His Church

2:10 – Session 6: Tanner Cline: Always Reforming: Where Do We Go From Here?

2:50 – Afternoon book giveaways

3:00 – Closing Song: A Mighty Fortress

Location: Riverside Baptist Church, 6219 River Road, New Port Richey, FL 34652

Peter and the Life of a Sojourner

In the Book of First Peter the apostle deals with the overarching idea of finding meaning in the Christian life,especially in the reality of being called to live out this life as Sojourners. In the first chapter of the Book he lays the ground work by grounding the reader in the fact that we have a special identity, one that was given to us by God at our new birth. This new identity entails not just a new home, but a new way of life. A life no longer grounded in the passions of the flesh leading to destruction but one grounded in the pursuit of the Lord.

In the middle of the first chapter (13-21) Peter begins to lay out a series of exhortations for how we are to be prepared to live out the Christian life. Each one of these exhortations helps us to see the way forward in living out the christian life especially in a world that is broken by sin. 1) Our Hope must be fully set on the Grace of God, 2) we are called to pursue holiness as a part of the journey, 3) we must remember that the Grace of God didn’t come cheaply, and 4) we do not travel alone.

Our Hope

To truly understand and experience the Grace of God we are called to place our full Hope in it, not a wishful hope but a fully ground and expectant hope. We do this by preparing ourselves for action. The Christian life is not a passive life but an active one. It sees the world for what it truly is and is prepared to endure trials and tribulations knowing that in it righteousness is grown and others come to faith. So we cannot be indulging in the worlds passions and at the same time be prepared for the assault that comes, nor as the text reminds us can we become intoxicated by the world and lose sight of the home for which we journey. To have your hope fully secured in the Grace of God is to be ready for action and sober of mind.

Holiness of God

It is only from a state of hope that we can truly understand what it means to love God and experience the abiding joy that obedience will bring. Therefore, with our minds sober and ready for action we can now clearly understand Peter’s words as he calls us to live out our lives in Holiness. This holiness is connected to the fact that we are the Children of God and as such we mirror Him to the world around us, just as we are images of your earthly parents and all those who have born our names in this world. We are His children who have been reborn out of the ignorance of the world. He has given us new minds and a new heart so that we may live out the faith in holiness, grounded in the grace of God. The call to holiness is a call to forgive and be forgiven, it’s a call to walk in the knowledge of God not the ignorance of the World, and it is hope not despair.

We as believers are being called into a new life reflecting on the grace of God and committed to the holiness that it produces in us. Too often this is where we begin to go sideways, We somehow think the Holiness of God is something we now produce, but in the text it is a result of the new birth. It is who you are. Therefore we are called to walk according to the character we now posses and stop living like who we were. We are the Children of the Living God, and with our Hope firmly secured in the grace of Christ we know we are Holy before God, therefore let us walk in holiness before the world, that they may Know the God we serve.

The Cost of Holy Grace

So why do we set our hope in the grace of God and live our lives in Holiness, because we have been purchased by the Blood of Christ. Peter Reminds us once again that it was the Blood of Christ given without respect for persons that set us free. We were bought not with money, but with blood, but not just any blood. We were paid for by the blood of the living God, who judges impartially and who loves us as well. So with a holy and hopeful fear we are called to live out the Gospel hope, knowing that it is He who has set us free, and it is to Him who we live our lives; no longer seeking the pleasures of this world, but living for the life to come as Chosen Sojourners, who by resting in the grace of God that paid for our sins are able to walk in Holiness, being always prepared for the trials that will come, knowing fully that it is God who sustains us.

Does the Nashville Statement matter?

Over the last few weeks within Christian circles a new document was posted online and began to be circulated and talked about on blog posts among pastors and other students of theology. Many big named pastors and scholars signed there names to it and have decreed it almost an anathema not to sign. With such strong endorsements and even partial condemnations against those who are reluctant to sign (many for very biblical and spiritual reasons) this document seems to be one of the most important reflections of Christian orthodoxy, exploring the depths of Scripture to come up with a true reflection of the state of who God is and a defense of orthodoxy, right?

Unfortunately, No.

Now today I don’t wish to bash this statement. It is on its face value a solid statement, dealing with human sexuality and the position of the church. However I would like to ask some questions about it.

First the teaching here is not new so is not necessary.

The Baptist Faith and message deals with these topics to a fair enough degree and is the standard for Southern Baptist Churches. The Westminster standards, the set rule of guidance for theology in conservative Presbyterian church, also address these issues to a degree and both these guiding documents root their discussion and application within Scripture. Throughout history we have guiding documents like these written by great men who in studying the Scriptures point us to these very truths from the Word of God, so that we may study the text they derived their theology from and see for ourselves the nature of their decisions. The Nashville Statement itself bears no Scriptural markers (in that there is neither proof text nor discussion to aid in its application).

Second on whose authority are we submitting to in signing this document?

With the last two references above we see standards of theology that are accepted in two of the major conservative portions of the evangelical world: Southern Baptists and conservative Presbyterians, and many of those baptist churches may even submit to the second London or even New Hampshire confessions. In either case, by submitting to those guiding documents of faith and practice, we place ourselves under their authority in so much as they point us to Scripture and to a proper understanding of God as revealed. These documents address these issues at least in principle as part of a robust theology, not a 14 point over arching rule. The Baptist Faith and Message and the Westminster standards were labored over by appointed and trusted leaders to study the Scripture and speak on behalf of their respected churches. As much as I respect a lot of the men and women who are apart of the CBMW they are a para church organization, with no theological authority or need to answer to anyone, as was seen in the debate over the ESS. It would be as if the Publicans posted a statement of faith and other evangelicals demanded that you sign it to be a true orthodox Christian. As much as I love these guys and trust them, we have churches and Elders who job that is at its core.

Third who is this statement for, the church or the world?

While reading the statement I was struck by the question “Who are they writing to in this statement?” When the Chicago statement on inerrancy came out in the early 20th century it was part of an extremely long debate within the church about the Bible and its authority. It was a discussion of what it meant to be part of the church, and it was intended to be a standard about how the Bible speaks of itself and how we respond to it. However with the Nashville Statement I am no so sure as to its audience. Is this written for the church to examine its members and deal with theses issues as sin that needs to be dealt with like Paul did with the sexual Immorality in Corinth (1 Cor. 5). If that is the case then again this seems a bit out of place in its direction as historically orthodox churches will continue to repudiate these things, in so far as repentance is lacking, within the church. Or is this for the world to be reminded once again they are sinful, at which point I would also appeal to Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 who tells us that he doesn’t attack the world for their sin, because God has already done so, and they know it. Is this just another way for us as Christians to keep seeing other people as no longer made in the image of God and in need of a savior. Everyone needs Jesus the only one who changes souls not us continually making them seem less than human. We all walked according to the desire of the flesh before we knew God, let us not forget that. This final point is why I am most concerned about who the audience is for this statement. The final three points seem to be reminders of the need of the Gospel for salvation rather than a reminder to believers of their identity in Christ and the hope that the gospel grounds them in a reality that is already theirs in Christ.

Now again as I said the substance of the statement is fine at face value, but as with anything that comes out claiming to speak for all of Conservative Christendom we must be discerning and question, not to cause problems but to understand, and a website that opens to a giant ‘Sign Here’ button above the statement rather than after, also tends to lend itself to a bit of a pause as to the full nature and purpose for this new document. At the end of the day whether you sign it or not, I hope your congregations and brothers and sisters in Christ know where you stand on the truth of the Gospel and the reality that sexual immorality in the church needs to be dealt with pastorally. As pastors we deal with real people everyday whose lives matter and who struggle with sinful lust and desires. We experience life with people who need to be told the truth of Scripture and pointed to the cross and their identity in Him. Let us be Ministers of the Gospel.

So whatever you do let your life in Christ be an example of Holiness and repentance. Let your words echo the gospel and orthodoxy, and as such look for the same in your fellow ministers who labor alongside you calling men and women to repentance and a life of faith in the salvific work of Christ.