7 Steps to the Pulpit

Many times I’ve sat on the front pew just prior to the sermon time looking at the steps to the pulpit. In these moments each Sunday morning I’m reminded of the great task with which I have been entrusted and my own weakness to perform it. 

After hours of painstaking study and prayerful preparation, I still stare at those steps and feel under qualified, knowing I’ve only scratched the surface of the message. There is a certain holy trembling a preacher feels before climbing those steps to proclaim God’s eternal Word. In centuries past, preachers like Charles Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to climb winding staircases to reach the “sacred desk”, but many pulpits today are just a few steps above the floor. Whether you have many steps or none at all, it is an other-worldly task we have been given. The following are a few practical steps preachers can take before climbing the real ones on Sunday morning…

Get in the Word

We must immerse ourselves in the text at the outset of all sermon prep, otherwise we will start with our own flawed opinions instead of the rock solid truth of God’s Word. 

Read the text multiple times, letting its arguments and warnings and promises inform and shape your thinking. Know the context of the passage and how it fits in the chapter, the book of the Bible it is in, and the grand scope of redemptive history. Beware of relying on your own history with the text, but don’t forget how it has affected you in the past. Familiarity with famous passages often requires we do a lot of un-learning before we can really understand it. This is the step in which to consult the original languages and discover the many nuances and word plays happening. Its also a good time to ask lots of questions of the text and consult commentaries to iron out the logic. Get the tone of the text in your head as well, so that you don’t carry the wrong tone into the pulpit. Since the tone of Psalm 23 is much different than that of Psalm 10, our preaching tone ought to reflect this. Breaking the text down into truths for the Christian life is best at this stage as well.

Let the Word get in you

This second step follows closely behind the first. You may know the Word well and have consulted the Greek and several scholarly commentaries, but you are not yet ready to preach it until you have let it get into you. 

Have you been humbled or encouraged or corrected by its teaching yet? What about it are you disobeying right now? Spend time thinking over these questions. I give myself an entire day for this stage. Before we preach the gospel from this text to others, we must first preach it to our own hearts. This is the step where study Bibles and devotional commentaries can be helpful. Such tools as the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible help to take the text and apply it with gospel force to our lives. It is also helpful at this stage to open oneself up to the scalpel of the Puritans, as their applications are heart-searching. A work like Banner of Truth’s Voices from the Past can assist you here as it has texts listed in the back to easily look up.

Pray the Word back to God…a lot

We ought to be praying at all times anyway, but especially over the text we’re to preach on Sunday. I have found that the more time I spend praying the text back to God, the more He reveals about it. 

If I’m preaching on the Great Commission this Sunday, I’ll be much more likely to share the gospel that week if I’ve been praying it to God multiple times. This also gives us a deeper conviction about its necessity before preaching it to others. After reading Tim Keller’s book entitled Prayer, I have since followed Martin Luther’s prayer method, which involves thanksgiving, confession, and supplication (p. 90). I first thank God for the text at hand and how it relates to the gospel. I then confess my failure to obey that particular text. Lastly, I pray for God’s grace to obey the text this week.

Get with the people to see how they need the Word

Your sermon will always need tweaking and will never be fully complete, but the people God has entrusted under your charge need you. One secret to preach better sermons is to get to know the people to which you’ll preach it. Sometimes I’ll realize a powerful application of a text only after visiting a family undergoing some turmoil. Trust me on this: getting to know your members will be some of your best sermon prep in the week.

Illustrate the Word in a fresh way to engage their minds

This stage takes the most effort from me personally, yet can cost me dearly if I skip it.

Sermon illustrations serve a number of uses: mental break, artful explanation, real-life scenario, and many more. The best sermon illustrations, however, are those which take the congregation on a two minute journey outside of the building and four walls to help bring home the message of the text in real life. You can even use church history here to bring a truth home. Jesus was the master teacher because he used current events, everyday objects, and simple stories to add further weight to the message. Beware of using too many illustrations, but have some on hand when the need arises.

Apply the Word to the people

You can’t personally apply the text to every scenario in the life of the congregation, but you should give more application than, “Just do this”.

We can tell others the gospel is amazing all day long, but if we don’t show them it matters for their work attitude or their family relationships or how they run their errands this weekend, we’re doing a disservice to God’s Word. If you struggle with application, Mark Dever has a helpful idea known as the application grid. He basically asks questions of how the text relates to various groups in the church body (age groups, believer/unbeliever, married/single, father/mother to children and vice versa, work, etc.) and then address a few of those in your message each week.

Preach the Word from the heart

The final step in sermon prep is the preaching of it.

Familiarity with the text and your sermon manuscript/outline is vital. I try to look over my sermon manuscript at least four times before preaching it. I want to make sure I know the points and how to transition to them in a way that does justice to the text. But make sure you always leave some on the cutting room floor. If you try to say every single thing you prepared, you’ll only sound wooden, distant, and possibly rushed. Sometimes pausing for a few seconds after a truth has been communicated conveys you care more about bringing the message home than regurgitating a manuscript.

There are multiple other aspects to sermon prep which I didn’t even cover, but these are just a few to help my fellow pastors deliver the Word.

God’s grace to you as you ascend the steps of the pulpit this week to proclaim His Word.

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When Tragedy Strikes

On Sunday night, the most deadly shooting in American history by a single gunman occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada. As of now, the death toll is nearing 60, with over 500 others injured. Before I begin addressing this tragedy from God’s Word, I must share that our prayers are with those affected by this horrific event. God’s grace be with you all.

The question on many people’s minds after Sunday night’s shooting is, “Why?”

Scripture warns us against putting our own interpretation on tragic events like this and attempting to fill in the blanks that only God knows. But Scripture does not leave us totally in the dark during times like this. While we may never have Christ’s perfect knowledge and know the infinite number of reasons any one event occurs, we can have a biblical worldview with which to make sense of these things.

Why would someone commit such acts of evil?

One of the first things investigators delve into after a shooting tragedy is the issue of the gunman’s motive. Ironically, we cannot even discern at times the motives for why we do the things we do, let alone someone else. The world is full of people who often do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Yet Scripture does tell us that our sinful actions stem from a sinful nature. James says it this way: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Scripture doesn’t even stop at that, but gives us a deeper reason into the insanity of our own sinful actions. This sin nature, which we have from birth, is an inherited one. Adam and Eve freely chose to doubt God’s goodness in the garden and believe the lie of the devil over the truth of God’s Word. God’s just curse on His good creation would touch every facet of life, from the microscopic viruses that attack us, to the life destroying storms of nature, to the ferocity of wild animals, even down to the twisted cravings that cause a toddler to yell, “Mine!”

I’ve heard it put this way: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” Yet we can in no way blame God for our sinful desires anymore than a child can blame his parents for leaving the cookies out on the table and making him eat them. James says elsewhere, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Were there no God to stop us, there would be no limit to the evil our hearts could create. This is why it was good for God to interrupt the plans of the people building the Tower of Babel, and this is why it is good God has given us the common grace of conscience, law enforcement, and fellow citizens who know some things are truly evil and aim to stop them.

Why would God allow such evil to occur?

When asked His thoughts on a terrible evil of His day, Jesus gave a surprising response in Luke 13 that we would do well to consider. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:1-5). 

Jesus basically says what we should take away from tragic events such as this is the awareness that our lives are a vapor, we will soon face God’s judgment, and therefore we must repent before our lives are cut short. It is not our place to draw false assumptions. It is our place to pray and check our spiritual pulse to make sure we’re ready to stand before God’s judgment throne.

Someone once said, “If God is God, He can’t be good and if God is good, He can’t be God.” But this leaves the definition of “good” in the creature’s hands instead of in God’s. The presence of evil does not negate the presence of God or prove God’s guilt. Rather, the presence of evil exposes our belief in ultimate “right” and “wrong”, in something called justice and righteousness, and clues us into the fact that God’s “ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Or listen to the way the psalmist lays it out: “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). We cannot know why God allows evil, but we can know that God does all things for the glory and honor of His name. In the midst of the plagues God sent on Egypt, He told the evil Pharoah, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Even Satan himself is just another creature which God will bring into judgment. Martin Luther once said, “The devil is God’s devil” and another quote attributed to him has him say, “Satan is on a leash, whose length is determined by God.” This should reassure us all that no evil will finally stand a chance to God’s righteous wrath.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

The Las Vegas gunman’s brother was reported as saying, he never saw this coming. He said his brother had no history of mental illness whatsoever and said it was like an asteroid that came out of nowhere.

We cannot see the depths of evil that lie deep in our hearts sometimes until they are exposed by our sinful actions. Everyone of us have been surprised by our own evil choices at times. We think or say or do something that shocks even us, and all we can do is honestly repent before God and those we’ve offended. For those who resist the guide of their conscience continually, it becomes incapable of pricking and is so hardened that more intensified acts of evil carry less and less guilt (1 Tim. 4:2). Serial killer Ted Bundy confessed this of himself when interviewed about his actions. Bundy said his sinful trajectory began with lust, was fed by more and more aggressive pornography, and eventually led him to feel little guilt over the horrible murders of his victims. There are many more evil perpetrators out there who have yet to act out their intentions. We may never see them before it is too late, for they look just like us. As we look ourselves in the mirror, we must not think to highly of our own goodness to think we’re beyond evil ourselves.

What hope is there for our broken world?

Thankfully God has inserted Himself into the picture. Astoundingly God didn’t come here and remain untouched by our evil. He didn’t create a bubble around Himself and come to teach a bunch of pithy platitudes. He personally allowed the evil and brokenness of this world to kiss Him in the face as it were. To punch Him in the face. To spit on Him. To mock Him. To beat Him to a bloody pulp. And to pin His naked body to a cross. Jesus asked, “Why?” from the cross, though He knew the answer. God was punishing our sins on His own beloved Son so that all who turn in faith to Him can have life. At the resurrection, the work of Christ was proven successful and His victory over the grave was obvious. But the gospel isn’t just about our personal beliefs. It is also about cosmic redemption (Romans 8:19-25). By taking the curse on Himself, Jesus was reversing the curse and promised that this ultimate reversal would come at His return (Gal. 3:13). All the marred results of life in this world will be burned away when Jesus returns and the creation will once again sing and dance before Him (Isaiah 55:12). After the consummation, there will be no more hurricanes or hospitals, no more shootings or shots, no more wars or wild animals. All will once again be at peace. Christ’s church must continually say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” But for those who aren’t ready for His return, this is a call for repentance and faith in Christ. 

One day, we will all know the answer to the question, “Why?”, but until then, we must only remember who is truly in control of this chaos.

Why the World Needs the Church

We live in a time of growing polarization on many levels. People are divided politically and culturally in this nation. The long-held ways of the past are constantly clashing with the new way of openness and diversity. Because of this, many in the church believe we should downplay our differences and speak only of our similarities with the world around us. After all, we’ve been out of touch with society in the past. But God’s Word has a completely different solution to the problem we face. Instead of minimizing our differences with the world, Scripture elevates them. In fact, the Bible teaches that it is our very separateness with the world that will most effectively impact it.

The World Needs our Gospel-Shaped Living

In Philippians 3:17-4:1, the Apostle Paul describes the difference between the world and the church. Here he gives us at least five reasons we are different from the unbelieving world in which we live.

We have a different enemy – The world is at enmity with the gospel itself. Paul says they, “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). The Person and work of Christ has always and will always face opposition in the public arena. This is because the gospel message is a call to repent and surrender all allegiance of self to God’s commands, something the world cannot bring itself to do. Many people do not understand why they hate the gospel, they just do. Jesus said they hate “without a cause” (John 15:25). As the church, our enmity is not with sinners, but with sin and Satan. Although the world can’t understand how we can hate sin and love sinners, we must maintain this distinction.

We have a different future – In Philippians 3:19, Paul says, “their end is destruction.” The trajectory of the world’s manner of living is eternal torment in hell. Whereas, Paul says in verse 20, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” It can’t get any more different than that.

We have a different authority – We are told, “their god is their belly.” Sinful desires rule the lives of unbelievers and determine why they do what they do and how they do it. The church is dominated by the higher authority of God’s Word and is even commanded to, “put to death” our sinful desires.

We have a different source of confidence – Unbelievers are said to, “glory in their shame.” What ought to make them blush actually can be their greatest source of pride. This is why they call it “Gay Pride” instead of shame. But this applies to all worldly people, whether gay or straight. Men pride themselves on their sexual escapades or their extravagant lifestyles. Women pride themselves on the shape of their bodies or their fashion instinct. Yet as the church, our only source of boasting is to be the cross of Christ. Paul tells the church at Galatia, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

We have a different mindset – Also, we’re told at the end of verse 19, the world has, “minds set on earthly things.” In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul contrasted the mind set on the things of the flesh with the mind set on the things of the Spirit.

In these ways, it is pretty obvious how different we are from the world around us, yet that is exactly what the world needs the most. When Christ saves us, He transforms us so that the world will see more clearly it’s need for transformation.

The World Needs our Evangelistic Love 

Paul couldn’t speak of the unregenerate without tears in his eyes and we shouldn’t be able to either. In Philippians 3:18, he mentions his “tears” over those who turn aside from the gospel. I have had the chance to counsel a few parents who weep over the lost condition of their unbelieving children, yet who feel this annoys their children. But I encouraged these parents that their spiritual concern can weigh heavy on a child’s soul over time. Think about all the lost around the world with no one truly pleading for their spiritual well-being. Now think of those you know who are lost and how you’re concerned about them. The mere fact that God has placed these lost people around his redeemed people could mean he intends to save them. May our hearts break over the unbelievers around us.

The World Needs our Heavenward Longing 

When the world sees a group of people longing for a multi-cultural home of love and peace and joy outside this world, it makes them wonder. The world has been aiming for a utopia experience with shared love between all races and backgrounds and yet has never been able to achieve it due to sin. Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21a, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” We not only long for heaven itself, but for heaven’s King and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We also long for the new and glorified bodies we will be given at Christ’s return. As C.S. Lewis has so rightly put it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” The world chases its pleasures and always comes up short; then they discover that their bodies are fading away too and can’t find any reason for hope beyond this life. Meanwhile, the church seems to have a serious certainty, even joyful eagerness to see this world come to an end and the next begin.

So embrace the difference Christ has made in your life, for it is an excellent evangelism tool for those around you. Let them see you living before them differently, loving them in an other-worldly kind of way, and longing for the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. 

After all, maybe God will use it bring the hope of the gospel to bear in their lives.

6 Ways to Stay Humble

An old country song goes like this: “Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Most of us would not put it so bluntly, but we all find it hard to be humble. The problem with us is that we forget who we are in the grand scheme of things. We must remember that we are but dust created in the image of God and made to display His worth. One particular passage of Scripture is thoroughly helpful in turning our eyes off our own navels and onto God’s glory: Philippians 2:5-11. By meditating on the gospel in this text, even the most prideful among us will be leveled low.

To stay in a humbled position…

Feast your eyes on the matchless glory of Christ (vv. 5-6)

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…”

Paul ascends to breathe the air of Mount Everest in this ancient hymn of the church. He speaks of Jesus’ divinity and equal status as God with the Father and Spirit. By bringing us to heaven, Paul reveals the amazing condescension of Christ coming to earth and the cross. Getting a fresh look at the majesty of Christ always has the effect of humbling the believer’s pride. When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on His throne, he cried out, “Woe to me!…I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). When Peter saw Jesus’ glory in the fishing boat, he fell on his knees before him and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Make it a practice everyday to behold Christ’s glory in His Word and carry it with you. This will put a check on your prideful moments during the day and remind you who you really are apart from Him. Before you open your Bible, pray with Moses, “Show me your glory, Lord” or with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things from your law.”

Contemplate Christ’s humbling Himself in the incarnation (v. 7)

“…but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…”

The steps toward humility are not upward, but downward. Christ stepped down into this world, humbling Himself greatly for us. We must follow Him if we wish to be properly humble. We would be wrong to assume that in the incarnation, Christ was subtracting certain aspects of His divinity in order to save us. It isn’t subtraction going on here, but addition. Stephen Wellum, in his book, God the Son Incarnate, helps us see this when he writes, “Paul’s point then, is not that Christ exchanged the ‘form of God’ for the ‘form of a servant’ but that he manifests the ‘form of God’ in the ‘form of a servant.’ The text says nothing about Christ emptying his divine attributes. Rather, he empties himself by adding to himself a complete human nature and a willingness to undergo the agony of death for our sake and for our salvation.” Wellum quotes theologian Donald Macleod, who also informs us by writing how Christ, “had glory with the Father before the world began (Jn. 17:5)…He possessed all the majesty of deity, performed all its functions and enjoyed all its prerogatives. He was adored by his Father and worshipped by angels. He was invulnerable to pain, frustration, and embarrassment. He existed in unclouded serenity. His supremacy was total, his satisfaction complete, his blessedness perfect. Such a condition was not something he had secured by effort. It was the way things were, and had always been; and there was no reason why they should change. But change they did, and they changed because…Christ did not insist on his rights.”

The thought that this glorious a subject would choose to undergo birth as a human baby with all the limitations of life in this fallen world is truly astounding and ought to keep us ever humbled.

Think over the servant-hearted nature of Christ (vv. 7-8a)

“...taking on the form of a servant…”

It was this divine Sovereign who dwelt from eternity past in perfect fellowship with the Godhead who stooped to wash the filthy feet of the disciples. God’s Agent of creation who lit the fire of a million blazing suns with His powerful words washed a mixture of sweat, dirt, and animal feces off the feet of fishermen. In one of the key passages in John Mark’s account of the gospel, Jesus defines His mission in this way: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)

Behold the wonder of Christ crucified for sinners (v. 8)

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The lowest step was not the manger. It was the cross of Calvary. Keith and Kristyn Getty, ponder the wonder of the cross in their song Gethsemane, when they write:

“What took Him to this wretched place,

What kept Him on this road?

His love for Adam’s cursed race,

For every broken soul.

No sin too slight to overlook,

No crime too great to carry,

All mingled in this poisoned cup ‚

And yet He drank it all,

The Saviour drank it all,

The Saviour drank it all.”

The first place we all must look in our struggle with pride is the cross. As low and despised as the cross was, John presents it as the place where Jesus reigns in the fullest extent of His glory. We see at the cross so many things: the ugliness of sin that it would crucify God’s Son, the wrath of God against sin, and the love of God in Christ for sinners that He would go to such an extent to save us.

Worship the now exalted and glorified Christ on bended knee (vv. 9-11)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Once we come to this point, we are properly humbled. We realize we are nothing and Christ is worthy of all the glory. Now that we are on our spiritual knees where we belong, Paul reminds us that Christ’s pre-incarnate glory has been restored and he promises us that one Day every soul will acknowledge it. Paul’s phrase comes from Isaiah 45:23 where we see this One to receive all glory is none other than the only God Himself. We must make it our aim each moment of the day to keep our spiritual knees bent. Christ will receive all the glory and we must give it to Him through our daily lives.

Get busy serving others in the name of Christ

It would be easy at this point to be so eclipsed and engulfed in this glorious gospel that we forget that it carries with it everyday ramifications. The gospel is never given to us so that we can simply bask in its light and forget the world outside. Christ didn’t die to simply make us worshipers, but to make worshipers of His glory through us. Christ humbled Himself to serve us so that we would follow His lead and humble ourselves to serve others too. Look for humbling and lowly acts of service Christ may be leading you toward. It may mean doing something uncomfortable for you and yet the very doing of it will help you flesh out this gospel theology. There are widows around us who don’t see God’s love in action. There are neighbors around us who wonder if there is such a thing as authentic love. Whether it be a mission trip, a chance to work in the nursery, or the opportunity to bring food to a hurting family, only we will give an account to God for how we practically live out this gospel. But whatever we do, we must carry the humbling gospel message with us and serve out of this glorious news.

The Gospel Never Retreats

There sat the world’s most outspoken Christian evangelist, chained to two Roman guards behind a locked jail cell. If most of us found ourselves in Paul’s shoes, we’d have thought for sure this was a sad day for the Gospel. “Poor Gospel”, we’d think. “Your days of victorious spreading have now come to a screeching halt. I guess I might as well just retreat to the cold recesses of this cell and silently go over some memory verses to reassure me. There’s no point trying to preach now.” Yet the Apostle Paul knew better than all this. He wrote to the church of Philippi, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Php. 1:12-14).

We may be tempted to see such circumstances as hindrances to the gospel spreading, but Paul saw them as opportunities which served to advance the Gospel. Paul knew that God often allows the troubling trials into our lives for His own divine purposes. Paul knew after watching Stephen’s martyrdom that persecution has a way of lighting a fire under God’s people to spread the Gospel elsewhere. It was Paul’s travel companion Luke, who wrote, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:1b, 4). So God could even use the terrible stoning of one of His own children to get the gospel beyond the confines of Jerusalem. An early Christian named Tertullian was right when he stated, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

What does this have to do with me, you may wonder. While you may not face much persecution for your faith at the moment, you probably do encounter “trials of various kinds.” In order for us to “rejoice” with Paul or “count it all joy” with James, we must understand that God allows all this to advance His Gospel, not send it in retreat. His Gospel knows no such thing as retreat. We must see every screaming toddler, every financial burden, every unexpected doctor’s call, and every natural disaster as events guided by the hand of our sovereign God to advance His Gospel. We must learn to behold the invisible King of glory as He sits on the throne of heaven, guiding all things according to His perfect counsel. All human authorities from ages past to today and into the future cannot stop or silence His gospel. North Korea’s emperor says, “No evangelism allowed!”, and South Koreans send thousands of Bibles into their territory via giant balloons. China says, “No other churches authorized!”, and hundreds of millions of Christians gather with greater earnestness in underground churches and in houses. As Paul said to young Timothy, “I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9). No chains can hold back the gospel from going forth.

What should this mean for us?

Rejoice when you encounter obstacles that seem to stand in the way of Gospel advancement.

Rejoice not in the obstacles themselves, but in the God who secretly works through them and despite them to accomplish His purpose of spreading His glory.

Rejoice as you consider that God is currently making a way in your personal life and in the Church universal to extend His Gospel to those He will redeem.

Rejoice as you consider the words of Christ when he said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd…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 10:16, 27-28). Rejoice as you believe the promise, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

May we keep our mind’s eye on the multitudes John saw around the throne praising the Lamb who purchased them with His blood (Revelation 7:9). Then, let us put on the armor of God and commit to advance Christ’s Gospel, come what may. Since the Gospel never retreats, may we never retreat in declaring it until the trumpet sounds and our King comes to rescue us. 

 

The Gospel is for Christians Too

Many of us have been taught that the gospel is the ABC’s of Christianity; the building blocks of the Christian life so to speak. But is this really the case? Is the gospel only the entryway into the Christian life? We may say that understanding the gospel is useful, but only for the purpose of evangelism, but God’s Word sees things quite differently.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes the argument that the gospel is not only the entryway, but the very lifeblood and heartbeat of the Christian faith. In fact, Paul reminds fellow believers in the church at Corinth that the gospel is, “of first importance.” He writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

Remember That You Received the Gospel

When we reflect on our initial reception of the gospel it does a few things: it reminds us of our former lost condition, it stirs up Godward gratitude in us, and it instills within us a desire to plant the gospel seed everywhere we go. Do you remember the day you were converted? You don’t need to know the exact point you were given a new heart in Christ, but you do need to reflect on the fact that God did give you a new heart. In the Puritan prayer book The Valley of Vision, one prayer entitled, “The Dark Guest” states it this way: “The memory of my great sins, my many temptations, my falls, bring afresh into my mind the remembrance of thy great help, of thy support from heaven, of the great grace that saved such a wretch as I am.”

Paul encourages the believers in the church at Corinth to remember the circumstances surrounding their reception of the gospel. Paul had evangelized Corinth around the mid 50’s A.D with the support of fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila, and the continued efforts of Apollos. After a church was formed in Corinth, there were a number of serious problems Paul had to address, yet despite all these, he turns his attention to the most important thing to which they should focus: the gospel. When an unbeliever repents and receives this gospel, it is nothing short of a miracle of the grace of God. We all would do well to remember with reverence and gratitude to God the fact that we received this gospel in the first place. We can adopt Paul’s words in Romans 6:17-18, “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Remember That You Stand In and Are Being Saved by the Gospel 

The gospel is not only the message we first received upon conversion, but also the very foundation “in which” we “stand.” We don’t simply get into good standing with God through faith in the gospel. We stay in good standing with God through faith in the gospel. We get saved, stay saved, and will persevere to end time salvation through faith in the gospel alone. If our standing before God is based on our performance, we are standing on a shaky platform indeed, and such a platform will soon give way to God’s judgment. The professing believer who moves on from the gospel to moralism is not moving closer to God but further from him, and is in danger of missing the gospel altogether. As believers, we must understand that our only hope as sinners before a holy God is faith in the gospel. The gospel must be the daily foundation of our hope and joy and peace before God. Because the gospel is to be our mainstay and our lifesource and our confidence, we must preach it to our hearts each day. We must let it’s glorious truths sweep over our souls time and time again until our lives are one long, continuous expression of faith in it alone. There is no salvation outside of gospel salvation, therefore we need to live in and breath in the gospel each day.

Remember That the Gospel is of First Importance

Paul says the gospel is “of first importance.” There are a lot of important things about the Christian life that the Apostles mention throughout the New Testament writings: holiness, missions, prayer, obedience, good deeds, service to God and worship of God. Yet we must not confuse the fruit of the Christian life with the root of it. Without the gospel having its primary place at the foundation and as the lifeblood pumping throughout the church, nothing else matters. A Christian or a church which elevates the fruit of the Christian life above the root is in serious danger, just as a man choosing to live in a house without a proper foundation. To remove the gospel from the center of our everyday lives individually and corporately is as foolish as a doctor removing all the blood from his patient and expecting that patient to keep living.

So then, what is the content of this gospel?

Paul gives it to us: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Yet one can believe that Christ lived, died, was buried, and rose again without believing the gospel. The gospel isn’t just the statements alone, but faith in the work behind the statements. To believe the gospel is not to believe that Jesus died for sinners. To believe the gospel is to believe that on the cross, Christ became my substitute dying in place of my sins and to believe that His work on the cross is sufficient to save me. To believe that Christ was buried and rose again is not to believe the gospel. To believe the gospel is to believe that Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave means He will raise me from the grave after I die.

The issue is not whether we have ever believed this gospel at some moment in the past, but whether or not we are currently living by faith in this gospel alone for our salvation. After all, outside the gospel, all other ground is sinking sand.

What That Verse Really Means – Philippians 4:13

Growing up, one of the only verses I had memorized was Philippians 4:13, which states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” What boy doesn’t want to feel like he can do “all things”? Its a big world out there and there are lots of things which can intimidate us. Knowing that Christ helps us do anything we set out to do makes us feel good. Its almost like Jesus is our life cheerleader, standing on the sidelines shouting, “Way to go! You can do it! You got this!”

What It Doesn’t Mean

One famous UFC wrestler ran out to the ring under Philippians 4:13, on his way to beat someone to a bloody pulp. Defensive linemen in football write Phil. 4:13 in white letters under their eyes to motivate them to tackle the other team’s quarterback. But the Apostle Paul never intended his words in Philippians 4:13 to motivate us in these ways. Paul’s words weren’t meant as a pep talk for those going out into the world to achieve great feats. Rather, his words were meant to motivate us in a much deeper and long-lasting way.

What It Does Mean

Lets take a look at Philippians 4:11b-13, which read, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Here was the apostle Paul sitting in chains in a prison cell for preaching the gospel of Christ, probably chained to a guard on his left and right. He was no ivory tower theologian who enjoyed writing treatises from the comfort of his own home. He was a battle-worn soldier of Christ who had endured much persecution and hardship for the sake of the Gospel. We only need to read of Paul’s persecutions and sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 to find out that the apostle Paul had suffered much for Christ. Yet in spite of all this, he had come to discover “the secret” of true contentment in any and every circumstance in life. He had gone without food, without sleep, and in fear of death often; and now here he sits in prison writing of his contentment. So when he comes to verse 13 and says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, what he meant was: “I can endure any hardships necessary as I live for Christ, because Christ lives in me.”

In his book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones has pointed out, “The Christian is not just a moral man; the life of God has entered into him, there is an energy, a power, a life in him and it is that that makes him peculiarly and specifically Christian, and that is exactly what Paul is telling us here…the Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all through Christ.'”

What it means for us

Instead of giving us an ego boost or a peptalk to go on to do great things in our own power and for our own name, Philippians 4:13 assures us that Christ will empower us for every trial we must face.

This means the worst of life circumstances are not too much for the child of God because Christ gives them strength. Just imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen in your life: the death of a child, the loss of a spouse, a diagnosis of cancer, financial bankruptcy, a debilitating illness; If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, He will give you the strength to endure all of these.

I often hear people say, “God will never put on you more than you can handle”, but that just is not true. I agree with another friend who has said: God will put on you more than you can handle, but not more than He can handle through you. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul describes one particular instance of this in his own life. He and his team were, “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

So the next time you face a trial that seems too much for you to handle, remember Philippians 4:13 and know that Christ will give you the strength to get through this so long as you rely on Him and not yourself. If you seek contentment in your personal comforts, you are doomed to a life of disappointment and discontentment. But if you seek your contentment in Christ alone, nothing will be able to truly disappoint you and no trial will destroy your joy in Christ. You can endure it all, so long as you remember that the strength is found not in you, but in your union with Christ.

What That Verse Really Means – Matthew 18:20

There are a number of Bible verses that well-meaning people often quote at different times which twist Scripture into saying things it never intended to say. Some of us have probably heard or been guilty of using the phrase, “Where two or more are gathered, there am I among them.” This statement of Jesus from Matthew 18:20 is usually quoted when there is low attendance at some church function. Basically, we want to tell each other, “Hey guys, there may only be a handful of us here, but Jesus is with us.” It is true that Christ is among a small group of church members, but Matthew 18:20 isn’t saying it in that way.

Many people would be surprised to discover that Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 deal with church discipline. I’ve always heard it said that a text without a context is just a pretext. So let’s look at the context. Context is best found by reading the verses and chapters before and after. To discover what Jesus means in verse 20, we only need to read verses 15 through 20. Jesus says there,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The concept of church discipline is foreign to many churches today because we live in a society that embraces inclusion and we don’t want anyone to feel left out. Also, we may have seen this practiced in an unbiblical way and thrown out the baby with the bathwater. But due to our throwing out church discipline, we have an even more serious problem: unregenerate church membership, or worse, unregenerate church leadership. 

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has pointed out that Southern Baptists, America’s largest denomination, haven’t included a statement on church discipline in their doctrinal beliefs (The Baptist Faith and Message) since prior to 1925. Yet there is no avoiding it here; Jesus is talking very plainly and clearly about church discipline.

We can’t say with Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” When a person becomes a believer, they join a family, and families love one another. What compels families to hold interventions for an alcoholic parent? Love. As church members, we’ve got to ask ourselves, “Is it really love that motivates me to keep quiet when a brother’s foul language ruins his witness or when a sister’s addiction to pain pills enslaves her?” We may say it is love that silences us, but it is really fear. Love compels us to confront brothers or sisters caught in sin. Fear stands idly by and watches while someone’s life implodes, while love acts to rescue them. This is why we have a Good Samaritan’s Law which criminalizes onlookers who don’t help a person in danger. Real love is concern in action; a heart attached to hands, feet, and a yes, even a mouth.

But how is church discipline to be exercised? Are we to go around pointing out each other’s sins every time we see one another? Of course not. Jesus gives us some very clear steps to take and each imply some covenant relationship between both parties. These steps are to be carried out among members of a local church who have covenanted to care for one another spiritually. We’re not the spiritual police for the planet, but we are responsible to our fellow members.

Step One

According to Jesus, step one involves going to the sinning brother or sister on a personal level. Paul explains the spirit we should have in step one this way: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 5:26-6:2). The aim in every step is restoration, yet loving confrontations enables this. If they do not “listen” and refuse to express any change of mind (repentance) about their sin, we move on to step two. 

Step Two

This involves bringing one or two others. Why? They can be extra witnesses, they add seriousness to the need for repentance, and this allows others a chance to persuade them. If repentance occurs, the process stops and restoration begins. If they refuse to listen even to these two or three gathered in Christ’s name, then the church body as a whole is to be notified. 

Step Three

And by “tell it to the church”, Jesus doesn’t mean the universal church! So sin that was once a matter between two members, due to ongoing unrepentance, has now become a matter for every member of that church who has covenanted to care for one another spiritually. This process probably goes on for a period of months and involves many prayers and tears first individually, then among the two or three, then as a unified church body. If however, this individual is so entrenched in sin that they refuse to repent even before the church body, the church is to respond by no longer treating them as a fellow member, but as an unbeliever in need of salvation. Paul uses the language of handing them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that their spirit might be saved in the end (1 Cor. 5:5). Even biblical ex-communication aims for eternal salvation!

So what does it mean when Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”? It means that if two or three believers go to an unrepentant brother or sister on behalf of the church, that individual should know they come with the authority and presence of Christ himself. We are all sinners, but we are all repentant sinners. Unrepentant church members must know that their sin not only brings them out of fellowship with fellow believers in their church, but out of fellowship with Christ himself. So in the event that you find yourself among the two or three going to confront another brother or sister living in sin, take Matthew 18:20 with you…and pray for the miracle of restoration.

Pastors & Spiderman

The other night my wife and I decided to watch one of the Spiderman movies we owned at the house. During the movie, I felt an odd connection with Peter Parker and his Spiderman persona. It was then that I started thinking about all the ways pastors and Spiderman have a very similar calling.

First, like Spiderman, pastors are urged to serve because of the serious need they see around them and the unique calling given them.

Whereas Peter Parker is urged by the screams of people who are in danger, we are urged by the lostness around us. When Paul was at Athens, his spirit was provoked when he saw the idols they worshiped (Acts 17:16ff). As pastors, we must never stop seeing the spiritual desperation in people’s lives. All believers are called to serve others for the sake of Christ, but pastors have a unique calling to shepherd their souls as well.

Second, both pastors and Spiderman share the struggle of their calling with one woman (our wives, except in the case of Peter Parker).

Peter Parker’s girlfriend Mary Jane left her fiancé waiting on the altar to express her desire to spend her life with him. But just as the sparks were flying, Spiderman was called to save someone else in another part of the city. The look on Mary Jane’s face is the same look I’ve seen on my wife before. It’s that sort of look that conveys understanding for the nature of a pastor’s calling and yet discouragement that his calling often interrupts family time. The difference is, unlike Spiderman, we know God is the one doing the saving, and that frees us up to say “no” to some situations that can be handled later. Our families must never bear the brunt of our over-eager concerns for being well-liked by our congregants.

Third, pastors are like Spiderman in that they save people from very real threats, albeit spiritual ones.

In fact, Spiderman can save people from burning buildings, but he cannot save people from burning in hell forever. The salvation we preach and minister is one that calls them to die to this life so that they can live forever with Christ. The evil characters that threaten Spiderman’s city are make-believe, while the demonic realm that holds people captive to sin is more real than anything we see with our eyes (2 Tim. 2:26, Eph. 6:10-12). Jesus told Paul at his conversion that he was sending him to turn people from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18). Our gospel truly saves people from super-human evil forces.

Fourth, like Spider-man, pastors are sometimes elevated too highly, but are just as much in need of salvation as those they seek to save.

At one point in the movie, we saw Spiderman’s pride puffed up because of all the people who praised and admired him for his kindness and sacrificial service. The man Peter Parker then began confusing his calling for his identity and it caused serious problems. Pastors must beware of perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: pride. We pour ourselves out for others and often don’t see much physical fruit of our labors, but when that fruit seems to abound, we can easily believe it came from us. We must resist the selfish pride which puts us at the center of God’s saving action in the lives of others instead of Christ. We must also not confuse our calling with our identity. We ought not draw our identity from our calling as pastors, but from our union with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. When Peter Parker was at his lowest and had learned the folly of self-reliance, Mary Jane came to him and said that even Spiderman needed a savior sometimes. As pastors, we understand the gospel so well and can preach it to anyone at anytime; yet when we think for a second that the salvation we hold out for others isn’t also meant for us, we’re in trouble. We must beware of a Messiah complex that always presents us before others as some perfect version of ourselves.

So pastors, take heart. You are specially called by God to bring the message of salvation to God’s image-bearers who are currently enslaved to spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Yet you pastor are not the message, for you yourself are in need of the same Savior. As you hold out the Word of life to this lost and dying world, remember that only Jesus is the true Savior. And whatever you do, don’t sacrifice your marriage and family on the altar of ministry. Since you aren’t the Savior, don’t attempt to be. Simply preach and minister the powerful message of salvation and watch God do with it what He always does…change lives.

If Christ Be Not Raised…

Imagine if you woke up in the morning to discover this breaking news on your social media feed and across every major news network.: “the body of Jesus Christ has been discovered in a tomb near Jerusalem.”

If somehow this news could be verified, it would mean the end of the Christian faith and a complete repudiation of the Bible’s claim to divine inspiration. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul examines the ramifications of this if it were to be true. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul defends the doctrine of the future, bodily resurrection of believers from the vantage point of Christ’s bodily resurrection. The ESV Study Bible informs us, “Many people in the ancient Greco-Roman world believed that death extinguished life completely or led to a permanent but shadowy and insubstantial existence in the underworld. The concept of a physical, embodied existence after death was known mainly from popular fables and was thought laughable by the educated.”

These Corinthian believers wanted to deny the future, bodily resurrection of believers while still accepting the bodily resurrection of Jesus, because it wasn’t popular in their culture. Paul helps them connect the dots of their faulty reasoning. In order to bring home the necessity of a future, bodily resurrection of believers, Paul imagines out loud what it would mean if Jesus had never physically rose from the grave.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 reads, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

If Christ be not raised…

Gospel preaching is a waste of breath

The first result of no Easter Sunday would spell the demise of all gospel-centered preaching. The gospel is hardly good news if the Messiah was crucified as an Enemy of the State and his lifeless remains are rotting in a tomb today. Who would boldly herald that kind of a morbid message? And who would gather Sunday after Sunday to hear someone preach about a Messiah that once lived long ago but is now long dead. This reveals the problem with a church service where preaching is not the central event or where the preaching has been degenerated to a load of moral principles simply because its untenable to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Such church’s will perpetually dwindle because after all, who wants to go to church every Sunday to hear that?

The faith of believers has no grounding in reality

So with preaching forever gone, authentic faith would also be gone. The object of our faith as Christian’s is the event of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. If Christ lived an outstanding life, then died never to rise again, it would prove he was only a man and would make all faith in him a foolish endeavor. We cannot eliminate the resurrection of Christ without eliminating the very basis of saving faith. If Christ be not raised, then he did not accomplish what he claimed to accomplish at the cross and he was not who he claimed to be.

The Prophets and Apostles are a bunch of liars

Not only would preaching and faith be rendered pointless without Christ’s resurrection, but also the Bible itself. Paul includes himself when he says, “We are even found to be misrepresenting God.” Those aware of the New Testament’s explosive copying and distribution in the early centuries of the church know this all hinges on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The main reason the message of the New Testament spread like wildfire throughout the known world was because there was sufficient evidence to believe the body of Jesus had physically risen from the dead. There is a kind of preaching and living that is not possible apart from an authentic and life-altering event as the resurrection of Christ. Men who would tirelessly preach a lie about Christ’s resurrection in the face of relentless persecution and go to their bloody deaths with that message still on their lips are a mystery indeed. Maybe one or two men would devote themselves to such a wasted life of preaching this false message if they themselves thought it were so but the evidence was minimal, but not all the Apostles would have joined such a band.

If the Apostles were lying about the resurrection of Christ, then the Old Testament prophets were as well. Who would study a Bible claiming divine inspiration if the supposed God who inspired it was not faithful to keep the very promises he made throughout it?

We are dead in our sins

Perhaps the saddest truth of all is to consider that if Christ be not raised, we are still dead in sins. Not only would our Sunday mornings be different and our Bibles be gone from the shelves and our faith be vain if Jesus’ lifeless body lay in a tomb, but we would have no life in our souls either. Easter means not only that Jesus is physically alive from the dead, but that all who trust in Jesus are spiritually alive from the dead. If Christ is dead, so are we. If this were true, then every glorious text in the Bible that gives the “before” and “after” of our salvation would stop at the “before.” Titus 3:3 would read not, “For we ourselves were once foolish…”, but, “For we ourselves are still now foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Ephesians 2:1-3 would not say, “you were dead in the…sins in which you once walked”, but rather, “And you are still now dead in the trespasses and sins in which you still walk, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all still live in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.”

Deceased believers are gone forever

Every Christian funeral would be sapped of all hope if the body of Jesus itself also lay in a tomb still. The words of comfort believers give one another when their loved ones who are in Christ have died would be eliminated. We wouldn’t be able to comfort the grieving spouse by saying, “Well, at least we know your godly and believing husband is now gone forever and you’ll never see him again. Praying for you to come to terms with this.” Such a statement would go unsaid because it contains no hope. While we are not to envision heaven being just a great, big family reunion of the redeemed, if there were no saints going there it would not be heaven. Also, who would follow a faith that honestly believed this life was the only good to be enjoyed. If every Christian’s life ended at the tomb, we would be better off living for the maximum worldly pleasure in this short and vain life we are given.

Christians are a hopeless and pitiable group

Lastly, Paul reasons that no Easter morning would mean Christians would win the award for being the world’s most hopeless and pitiable group. There is no hope if there is no bodily resurrection. There is only pity. We feel sorry for people who give their lives to a faith that we know is based upon lies. Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and even Jews who don’t see Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament are pitied by us now and so we try to reach them with the glorious news of Christ. But imagine if Christ be not raised, Christians would be the first on that list as a group of people to be pitied.

Imagine life without a risen Savior. It would be a hopeless waste of existence with no silver lining on the dark clouds of suffering because of no hope beyond our coming expiration. Yet I praise God that we do have a hope on which we can cling. In the very next verse, the Apostle Paul says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20a). Paul abruptly puts an end to this morbid and yet important pondering to declare the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Because Jesus has risen from the dead and reigns in glory at the Father’s right hand, gospel preaching is no longer a waste of breath, but is perhaps the most fruitful thing we can do in this life.

Because Jesus is alive, our faith is not ungrounded, but has a sure footing in this historical event.

Because Christ has risen, the prophets and Apostles were not lying, but were declaring the pure truth of God and our Bibles are to be cherished.

Because Jesus’ body has been lifted up to glory, we are no longer dead in sins, but our souls have been raised with Christ and our bodies will at His return.

Because Jesus is alive forevermore, our loved ones in Christ who have gone before are not truly dead, but are now reigning with Christ in glory.

Because Jesus died and rose again, Christians are not a hopeless and pitiable group, but a hope-filled people who live as authentic and bold witnesses to the only hope there is in this world…the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Do you have this hope reader? If not, turn from your sins and trust in this Jesus, who alone gives eternal life. If your hope is set on the risen Christ, let it be expressed in the way you live. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

10 Reasons I Got Teary-eyed Over Deuteronomy

The title of this blog may seem a little surprising. 

When most people think of reading Deuteronomy they probably picture it being as moving as watching the grass grow, but for those people I feel very sorry. Relatively recently in my Christian walk I have discovered the treasure of reading through books of the Bible in one sitting; usually those books I’ve read through in one sitting have been New Testament books which consist of only 2-3 pages. 

A friend of mine created a Bible reading plan that allows you to fall behind a little and still stay on track with reading the Bible through in a year; the catch is that he has you read certain OT books in one sitting. I was intrigued by the idea of reading through an OT book in one sitting, but knew the challenge that it would involve. Today, I read through this quarter’s OT book of Deuteronomy in one sitting. It took me about and hour and forty-five minutes, and my eyes were a little red afterwards; but let me just say, my eyes were not red primarily because of staring at a page that long (though that may be part of the reason). They were red primarily because I was overwhelmed with God and the way he dealt with his chosen people Israel. What led me to be teary-eyed over Deuteronomy specifically? Here are ten glorious truths that stood out to me about God (fitting, as it goes along with the Ten Commandments):

1. God alone is totally sovereign over all that he has made. There are no others gods really. God himself testifies that all other gods are no more than the work of men’s hands and cannot truly deliver the people who follow them.

2. God deserves the worship of all peoples, yet all peoples have rejected him. Sometimes we forget that the people of Israel were once not a people at all, but rather entailed only Abram, who was himself a worshiper of false gods and lived in the region that would later become a symbol of enmity against God.

3. God chose, of his own grace and purpose, to set his love on a people. God’s choice of Abram was not because of anything in Abram. I love Deuteronomy 7:7-8, which reads, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Abram wasn’t looking for God. God wasn’t sitting around in heaven on some recliner waiting for man to respond. God sought out Abram. Why? His grace! Glorious grace!

4. God graciously delivers these people he has chosen from slavery and destroys their enemies. The repeated theme of Deuteronomy is a call for the people of Israel to remember that they were slaves for 430 years in Egypt and God delivered them by his almighty power.

5. God lavishes these people he has chosen with rich blessings. God chooses to lead these people out of their slavery and through the wilderness for forty years, yet they never starve or have to change clothes or shoes. God not only provides for them, but leads them to defeat all their enemies during that wilderness wandering and promises to bring them into a land with seven nations mightier than they, assuring them he will destroy those peoples and give them the glorious land of Canaan.

6. God calls these people to a radical lifestyle of worship to him that acknowledges his saving them. Moses repeatedly reminds these people to live their lives within the framework of a rebellious people who were once enslaved and serving their enemies, whom God has graciously redeemed and set free. Moses calls them to constantly remind themselves of their once slavery and so to treat others with the grace they have been given, except when those others will turn their hearts away from the God who alone has saved them and who alone is worthy of their praise. Moses even calls them to teach their children they were saved by nothing but God’s grace.

7. God calls these people away from pride by calling them to remember his gracious salvation. God knew these people he had chosen, graciously redeemed, and blessed would turn away from him after they entered the promised land; all because they would think they did it by their own power and efforts. We are still so prone to think we have earned the grace of God by our efforts, but we must guard against such ridiculous lies, for they minimize the true power of God.

8. God disciplines the people he has chosen when they rebel. God is not content to let his chosen people be destroyed by their own sins, so he disciplines them and reminds them whose they are.

9. God graciously forgives these people he has chosen when they repent. The result of God’s hand of discipline always achieves from his people a repentant heart, which is why he disciplines them in the first place. Our God is not angry with his people, but disciplines those he loves, so they will come back close to him.

10. God promises to one day set a people free from slavery to their own sinful desires so they can worship him from the heart

But perhaps the sweetest truth from Deuteronomy was the way the people of Israel were so rebellious and never seemed to learn these lessons fully, yet God promises: “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). 

God was not a fool. He knew that the people of Israel would not obey the 10 Commandments. In fact, Paul tells us much of the reason God gave these commands to rebellious people like Israel was to remind them how they were in desperate need of a Savior to live them on their behalf. In the New Covenant, God has graciously cut away the wickedness of our hearts through the new birth and has stamped his law on our hearts. Jesus has obeyed where we have rebelled and by faith in his finished work and victorious resurrection, God credits his righteousness to our account. This doesn’t mean believers obey all the time from the heart, but it does mean that believers are no longer bound by their sins, but have the power of the Spirit of God within them to kill their sin…more radically than the people of Israel had to destroy all that tempted them to turn away from God.

I have pages of Scripture from Deuteronomy I have underlined and may include more of it here, but for now I’m content to let these glorious truths of our gracious saving God keep me ever close to him, rejoicing in his grace towards me in Christ, and in the company of those he has redeemed to himself. May your eyes ever be teary and red from our God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible, The Constitution, & Neil Gorsuch

We’ve all been in those Bible studies where a Scripture is read, then everyone takes their turn giving it’s interpretation in their own opinion. The only interpretation outlawed in these settings is one that says someone else’s interpretation is wrong and theirs is right. The idea is that the Bible comes to each of us differently, therefore there is any myriad of possibilities for each text (within reason). The only problem is that Scripture presents itself to us as a meta-narrative (one big story), not as a series of small stories or good little promises. It is the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation, and the central figure of it all is Christ. As Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible, “Every story whispers His name.”

Textual criticism and interpretation sounds like an art form reserved for ivory tower theologians, but it has shown up in recent news in a most unlikely place: the supreme court nomination hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch. The question has been posed whether or not this supreme court justice will interpret the text of the U.S. Constitution as a “living document” and it has caught the attention of millions of Americans. News flash for you pastors and teachers out there: even people in the 21st Century are still concerned with the manner in which ancient texts are interpreted. Why the sudden interest from the public in something as seemingly dull as this? Because people want to be in authority.

To interpret the text of the U.S. Constitution as a “living document” is to place oneself in judgment over the text. It is to embrace the freedom to interpret words and phrases in light of one’s own personal opinion. Textual interpretation like this has a total disregard for the original intent of its authors. No attempt is made to discern what the words or phrases could have possibly meant to the founding fathers, those who crafted the very sentences themselves. In those who hold to such an interpretive theory of the text, there seems to be a fear of authorial intent which does not appease everyone’s wishes. So why worry with the original intentions of the authors when you can twist the text to say whatever the current cultural trends are saying?

As frightening as it sounds to stand in judgment over a text one didn’t write because one doesn’t like the obvious intention of its author, this is precisely what people do with the Bible. People say that there are various interpretations that people take on Scripture, but I think this is an over-generalization. As Mark Twain once put it: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” The task of every Christian is to discern the author’s intent in the writing of any biblical text and to then apply that to their lives. The task of every pastor and teacher is to communicate the author’s original intent to the original recipients in such a way that the 21st Century hearers are comforted, corrected, and edified.

While the Bible does refer to itself as “living” we ought not to consider it to be a living document in the sense that we can interpret it how we wish. It is only living in the sense that its words are the very words of God Himself, which have the power to bring life to the spiritually dead. The first Bible twister was Satan in the Garden of Eden, who sat in judgment on God’s Word when he asked, “Did God really say?” and then, “You will not surely die!” We must always strive to let God’s Word be our judge and never attempt to be its judge.

I heard the story once of a preacher who was asked if he stands on the Word of God and his response was basically, “No. I let the Word of God stand in authority over me.” May we all do the same.

The Gospel for All: A Lunchtime Confrontation 

All-inclusive.

Who doesn’t love to see those words when you’re booking a cruise or going to a vacation resort? When my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Jamaica, we found out how amazing those two words can be. We could eat at all the Sandals restaurants and order whatever we wanted without paying the bill (except for that little bill I paid before we left the States). But then we encountered multiple people on staff at this all-inclusive resort who wanted a tip: the men who put our bags on the bus, the bus driver from the airport to the resort, the bag boy who brought our bags to our room, etc. All the sudden that “all-inclusive” feel was out the window. I felt a little cheated.

What is my point?

In our interactions with those around us, I’m afraid many of us who claim to believe an all-inclusive gospel for all sinners actually cheat some out of it. We freely and joyfully hold out the living water to those who are like us, while avoiding or withholding it from those who are not like us. Sometimes we even expect something more from them than we do from others before they can receive its benefits.

In Galatians 2, we encounter a rare scene where one Apostle publicly rebukes another for conduct that was, “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). What sort of heinous and ungodly actions were committed that warranted such a public rebuke? Sexual immorality? Drunkenness? Blasphemy? Nope. Switching lunch tables. 

Well at least that’s what it would look like from our perspective. What was so wrong with Peter’s decision to switch lunch tables? Can’t a guy eat with whoever he wants to at mealtime? And isn’t Paul’s open rebuke for something so trivial a little overboard? Maybe this reminds you of school fights in the lunchroom over the most ridiculous things. But Paul isn’t one to make a fuss over trivial matters, especially when it involves rebuking another Apostle. The truth is, Peter’s actions that day were far from innocent.

Jesus had called Simon to be his disciple and renamed him Peter (“rock”). Once a headstrong man with a foot-shaped mouth, Peter became a rock-like leader at Pentecost. Yet here, in a moment of personal weakness, Peter caved to the fear of man (Gal. 2:12b). Of all people, Peter knew the universal scope of the gospel. God had personally given Peter a vision of his intentions to save Jews and Gentiles through faith in Christ, and even sent Peter on the first apostolic mission into Gentile territory where the Spirit fell on those in Cornelius’ household (Acts 10). The issue of salvation for Gentiles became such a big deal that the leaders in Jerusalem called a council to clarify the matter (Acts 15). What was at stake in this council was the gospel itself. Was there hope for anyone outside Judaism? Is there any way possible for Gentiles to be accepted by God or are they all destined to hell forever? Thankfully, the council recognized the Spirit’s regenerating of both Jews and Gentiles and from there on the gospel message was freely offered to both.

Problem solved. Catastrophe diverted. But not quite. Peter knew the gospel was a message of free grace to all who will turn in faith to Christ, but like us, he struggled with national pride. He sometimes acted in ways that communicated another gospel. Not one of grace for all sinners, but one of judgment for those who don’t meet the mark through law-keeping.

Our scene plays out with Peter happily enjoying a meal with his new brothers in Christ from Gentile lands. Smiles and laughter fill the table as food is passed back and forth. Unity abounds and the Spirit is working. Then a door opens and everyone looks. In walk a group of angry-looking Jewish men adorned with their long robes and bushy beards. They look at Peter in disgust and glance with hate at the Gentile believers sitting beside him. The Gentiles move their eyes from these angry men to Peter’s reaction. And they see it. Peter’s demeanor has completely changed.

The once welcoming and happy Peter now looked fearful and serious. The encouraging conversation they were just having was cut short. Peter rose from the table as if he was a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He walked away from these Gentile believers like they all the sudden had contracted a contagious virus. No more eye contact, no more physical contact, no more friendliness. Then, to their dismay, Barnabas also followed suit. Then all the Jewish believers as well. The Gentiles all the sudden felt unclean all over again. The unity they once shared with Jewish believers was severed. Perhaps they thought to themselves, “I thought the blood of Jesus could cleanse all sinners. What about the gospel? Is it all too good to be true after all? If this Apostle and all his Jewish brothers now avoid us like the plague, then are we really forgiven and accepted by God?”

This simple scene of switching tables was presenting a serious threat to the gospel. Someone had to do something and fast. But who? It would have to be someone with the authority of an Apostle.

Enter the Apostle Paul.

The once diehard Jew who persecuted Christians, couldn’t sit still at this scene. He didn’t get up from the table when Peter did. When Paul saw this, he stood only to raise his voice so that all present could hear him. The echo of Paul’s voice through the dining area left everyone stunned in silence. “Peter! If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?” We can only imagine what was going on in Peter’s mind at this point. Perhaps Peter was rushed back to the scene where he had denied Christ for fear of a little girl and the rooster had crowed three times. He had done it again and he knew it. The pain of his foolish actions struck his heart like a sharp arrow and he probably felt he could run away and weep his eyes out all over again. Paul was determined to not only spare his brother Peter from a life dominated by fear, but he also was determined to reassure all Gentile believers that the gospel really is good news for them.

Paul shared this experience with the Galatian believers because he discovered that the old cronies who influenced Peter were trying to influence them to forget the gospel as well. Paul went on to explain to this church, “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:16, 21b).

What about you reader? You’d probably affirm that Christ came to save sinners from all walks of life and we should share the gospel equally with all people. But how does that play out in your life? Are there some that you avoid sharing this message with?

Christianity is an exclusive faith in that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Yet Christianity is inclusive of all who would come to Christ, no matter race, ethnicity, or past lifestyle choices. Do all groups of people from all walks of life equally feel the same warmth of the gospel pulsating from your life towards them? Those who have engaged in homosexual lifestyles? Those of a Middle Eastern descent? Those of a darker complexion? Those who live on the “other side of the railroad tracks”? Or are you communicating a message to them that says, “You don’t measure up because you’re not the right ethnicity or you’re sins are too grievous or you’re too different”?

Revelation 7:9 tells us that God’s future kingdom in heaven is made up of people from all walks of life who are washed in the blood of Jesus. Let’s make sure we’re expressing the same gospel to those different from us as to those like us.

Fighting Fear with Fear

When a forest fire rages out of control, sometimes firefighters must fight fire with fire. By burning the area around the fire, they leave nowhere for the fire to go. When it comes to the fear of man, we must fight fire with fire, by cultivating a healthy fear of God.

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

I am a pansy. 

There, I said it. I’m far too concerned with what people think of me over what God thinks of me. If you’re like me, you are regularly frustrated at how often your decisions in life are based more on the fear of man than the fear of God. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t care about sounding offensive in many situations. I’ve been cussed at, threatened, and insulted by non-believers for sharing the gospel with them and not lost one minute of sleep over it. But when it comes to people I am close with, I hold their opinions often too highly and care more about offending them than God. Why is this?

In this text, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the world’s hatred of them. He had just shared with them that persecution is to be the Christian’s constant companion in this sin-cursed and broken world, but now he tells them how they should respond emotionally to it. Jesus compares the true bite behind people’s bark with the bite behind the bark of his holy Word, and there is no comparison. People can kill the body (which is going to die anyway), but God can cast the soul into eternal, conscious torment in hell. To live with an unhealthy fear of people, however, is to live with an unhealthy fear of God. It makes perfect sense to fear the God to whom we all must give an account. It makes no sense whatsoever to fear people who cannot shake your soul’s security. Perhaps this is why Isaiah put it so rightly when he said, “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22).

But how do you know when you have crossed the line between Christian kindness and fear of man? How do you know when you’re living in the fear of man instead of the fear of God? I think the answer from our text is that anytime we’re okay with being silent about Christ for fear of what others may think of us, we’ve crossed that line. I’ve always heard it said that good Christian leaders have learned to develop a tough skin and a soft heart. On the one hand, we must so fear God that we’re not swayed by people’s opinions, while on the other hand, we must so love God’s image-bearers that we spend time getting to know them and doing the hard work it takes to reach them with the gospel.

But we must not forget that the source of all our God-fearing boldness stems not from us, but from Christ. Jesus’ deep reverence for his Father led him to endure the shame of the cross, despite the great cost. His willingness to be betrayed and deserted by his own disciples, rejected by the ones he came to save, and forsaken by his Father to endure our wrath is astounding. Yet Jesus embraced such a hard life to save us and now he calls us to fearless obedience to God from hearts full of reverence for him. 

The late Jerry Bridges has noted that the fear of God refers to reverential awe. Because we revere and stand in awe of the Lord God, we can overcome this unhealthy fear of man in our lives. After all, they can only kill us…and we’re invincible anyway!

The Cure for Spiritual Amnesia

Amnesia is a terrible disease usually brought on by some sort of blunt force trauma to the brain. I recently heard the story of a woman who got amnesia when she happily lifted her baby in her arms only to accidentally hit the ceiling fan. While the baby was okay, the motion knocked the fan blade off balance and hit her on the top of her head, leaving her with amnesia. She had to relearn who she was, who her husband was and how she met him, and even who her baby was. 

Physical amnesia is terrible, but spiritual amnesia is far worse. 

Those who suffer from spiritual amnesia have forgotten who they are and whose they are, and as a result are incapable of carrying out the mission God has for them. Truth be told, every believer struggles on a regular basis with spiritual amnesia. It happens when we begin to listen to ourselves more than we preach the Gospel to ourselves. It happens when we gradually begin believing the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil over the truth of God’s Word. And before we know it, we’ve forgotten who we are and what God has done in Christ to redeem us. There is a reason the Apostle Peter said, “I intend always to remind you…though you know…I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder…I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15).

So if you struggle with spiritual amnesia, what can you do to overcome it? Just as those who struggle with physical amnesia must relearn their identity and calling, so we must relearn our spiritual identity and calling through regular exposure of our hearts to sound Gospel truth. 

In his excellent book How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home, Derek Thomas explains, “If we forget who we are, we will fail to be what we should be. And that is our biggest error—a failure to remember who we are in Christ.” In an attempt to help those of us with spiritual memory loss, the Apostle Paul pulls out a few pictures to jog our memory. In Titus 1:1-4, Paul helps us understand our true identity, salvation, and task. He writes, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in His word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; to Titus, my true child in a common faith: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

Our True Identity: We Are Servants Sent Out to Save Some

Before being an apostle, Paul sees himself as God’s servant or slave. Being a servant means putting your life on the altar every day and letting God decide what His plan is for it. Paul says in 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 live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” If the Apostle Paul considered this his primary identity, we must see it as ours too.

But Paul served God as an apostle, or “sent out one.” While there were only thirteen apostles, every believer has been sent out by Christ to be on mission. Like Paul, we must see our identity as missionaries. We are on mission everywhere we go. It’s not about where we go on a map, but who we are when we get there. In his book, MARCS of a Disciple, Pastor Robby Gallaty explains it like this: “The most overlooked mission fields are the ones we spend the most time in: our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and in the presence of our family members…there is no reason a believer should have to carry a passport, pack luggage, and hop on a plane in order to be missional. The trick is thinking like a missionary in our everyday lives.”

Paul was sent out to save some. His mission entailed bringing God’s elect to faith in Christ and a saving knowledge of the truth of the Gospel. God has a people He will redeem and it is our task to bring the Gospel to all peoples so that He might save some. We do not get to choose to whom we should preach Christ. We proclaim Him to all peoples and let God have mercy on whom He will have mercy.

Our Salvation: We Enjoy Grace, Godliness, and Future Glory

If those who believe and know the truth of the Gospel are called God’s elect, then our salvation is all of grace. Christian rapper Shai Linne says it this way: “The Father chooses us, the Son gets bruised for us, and the Spirit renews and produces fruit in us.” While we must personally receive Christ by faith and repent of sins, this also is a gift of grace.

But those God has redeemed to Himself always produce lives of godliness. The faith that claims Christ and yet cannot produce a real and recognizable love for Him and submission to His Word is, as James says, a dead faith.

We must also remind ourselves when we forget that our salvation is eternally secure. The God who never lies promised before times eternal that we would reign with Him in glory and nothing can break the faithfulness of God. His Word is unbreakable..

Our Task: We Are Entrusted, Commanded, and Given Grace to Preach the Gospel

Paul tells us in Titus’ introduction that he was given a sacred trust when God commissioned him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. As with Paul, so also with us, we are entrusted with the only message that saves. We entrust things to people all the time: keys to our home when we go on vacation, our vehicles, our clothing, our books. God has entrusted us with the preaching of His Gospel. But we cannot decide not to evangelize. We are commanded by a higher authority to do so. If we do not feel qualified for the task of evangelism, God promises us grace and peace as we do so.

As we regularly remind ourselves of our identity, our salvation, and our task, we will then be able to effectively minister the glorious Gospel of God’s grace in the face of  spiritual amnesia.