When Waters Rise

I live in the Illinois River Bottoms. Three hundred feet to the East stands a sweeping bluff of timber and steep draws that run for miles and miles North and South. Three miles straight West lies the Illinois River with another bluff face just West of it that reaches the Mississippi River. It really is a beautiful site.

However, if you’ve watched or read the news over the last several weeks you know that the River is not its customary three miles from my home. As a matter of fact, just out my window I can see her wind-tossed waves in my neighbors’ cornfield; only 500 feet away. This flood is second only to the Great Flood of 1993 which reached its crest on August 3. Lord willing, we reached ours on Friday, June 8.

I have worked with locals, people coming in from around the state, prisoners, and the National Guard to build makeshift walls and sandbag walls in an attempt to keep the waters of the Illinois, and her local tributaries, from spilling over into millions (and I mean millions upon millions) of acres of corn and unplanted fields. It really has been incredible; so many moving parts in the flood relief effort and so many people giving their time and money to help their neighbors.

To this very moment, the Lord has prevented mass flooding in our immediate area. Praise the Lord.

It’s not the levies holding, the makeshift walls, the tens of thousands of sandbags, the countless hours spent preparing & delivering hundreds and hundreds of meals out of our Fellowship Hall, or even the innumerable amount of manhours that has gone into the total effort that has been the most memorable. The most memorable moment took place yesterday morning in worship.

One of our farmers, unprompted and unplanned, stood to testify of God’s glory and God’s omnipotence in the flood. He reminded us of Job 38:8-11 where God declares to Job that it was Him who said to the sea “this far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed…” We didn’t stop the water, the Lord did.

This is a man whose immediate and extended family farms a considerable amount of ground in the Bottoms; a family who, if the waters rise any more, a levy fails, or our feeble attempt to hold back what is already higher than the levies bombs, stands to lose more than I can imagine. But he is also a man who knows his Creator and Sustainer, his Protector and his Provider. Unshaken by the potential loss, he was moved by his God’s glory and power in the flood and the opportunities the rising waters have provided for us to share the love of Christ and the Gospel of Christ with those involved in the relief effort.

Indeed, the floods come. Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27 that the rain falls, the floods come, the winds blow and beat against the houses (lives) that we have built. But those who build their lives on the Rock, the Solid Foundation of Jesus Christ, will not fall when waters rise. Why? Because He sustains them. Even amidst the rising waters, those whose Foundation will not sweep away in rushing waters rest…and even praise Him while waters rise.

When “waters rise” in your life, do you cower in fear of what you can lose or stand confidently upon your Foundation and praise Him that nothing comes without His Sovereign declaration or allowance; trusting Him knowing that it can only work out for your good?

I don’t know what the future holds for the waters around us, but I do know who holds that waters back and who releases them when & where He wills. And you know what? He is faithful and immutable; maybe the two attributes of God that give me the greatest comfort. When waters rise, may we “be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Mt. 7:24).

Psalm 61:2b-3a—“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge…”

Just a Cog

It seemed like day after day the Lord continued to remind me that I am but a cog in the machine of His incomprehensible plan. This was my most recent experience in the jungle of Peru; let me explain:

I have been afforded, by God’s grace, the greatest “job” in the entire world. Often times, my heart is torn between missions and pastoral ministry but recently our little country church has partnered with one American missionary and an evangelical seminary in Peru to plant a church in an under-reached region in the Amazonian high-jungle of Peru. This has given me the joy of proclaiming Christ both at home and abroad.

After an exploratory trip in July of 2018 where the Lord united us with a Peruvian church planter, pastor, and Bible translator, we began the work in September. It was February/March of 2019 when the Lord allowed me to see just a glimpse of what He is doing.

God Brought More to the Work, Even When We Thought We Were Alone

After inviting some churches in the States to join us in this endeavor, we received no response. Needless to say, we were disappointed but our Elders and congregation believed we had discerned the Lord’s will rightly and we pressed on. But it wasn’t until we arrived for our first night of services that the Lord allowed me to see just a glimpse of what He had been doing.

For a fledgling church of 16 believers (mostly new converts), 70-80 people at our first night of worship services was a little surprising. “Had the community come out in force to see what was going on? Had the Lord saw fit to grow their number since my last report? Where did all these people come from?”

In spite of my perceived failures in raising up an army of local churches from the U.S. to join us in this work, the Lord had already raised up an army of Peruvian churches. What a joy to worship Christ with brothers and sisters from five different Peruvian churches, some local and some from hundreds and hundreds of miles away,  who were all invested in making Christ known! We were not alone in the work; God was raising up churches in both North and South America to declare the glories of Christ!

God Provided, Even Where We Didn’t Know We Had Needs

It was incredible to see; really. The Lord provided medical staff, Spanish speakers, and evangelists for our team that we didn’t know we needed; both from the States and from Peru.

Through no effort on our part, the Lord provided additional medical support for our team that we thought would be a “bonus.” Turns out, we desperately needed the extra American and our medical mission would have treated, at least, 50% less people than we were able to were it not for her.

The Lord also provided an additional Peruvian pastor and his wife to help share the Gospel with the community and our patients that we didn’t know we would need. The community’s response to the medical campaign left us without adequate support in sharing the Gospel; the whole purpose of coming. But God knew what we did not and provided for our needs before we knew they were ever there.

And on top of that, a last minute addition to the team came by way of an OB who is a Peruvian national that had been praying for years that God would allow her to serve alongside of her husband, one of our translators, on the mission field. She added medical expertise without the need of a translator, inside help with pharmacies, and also a joy in the Lord that was irreplaceable helping to make our time serving the Lord that much sweeter. Turns out, we were an answer to her prayers and she was answer to ours. Isn’t God good?

God Has Healed, Even Where We Didn’t Know Healing Was Needed

It was here where I saw God’s supernatural work more than anywhere. Our national pastor and his wife (both of whom are in their 70’s) left their farm, their home, and their family to take the Gospel where it was not being proclaimed. With no home, no income, and no church they left everything to take the Good News to those who desperately need it.

This uncommon faith caused a fracture in their family. Some of their children supported and encouraged them and others thought it too risky and foolish at their age. Satan saw a foot-hold and seized the opportunity to sow division and strife in a family committed to the glory of God. They wept holding their faces in their hands and they poured their hearts out to us.

But through local, national, and international support God provided for the pastor and his wife. Today, the Lord has provided a home, a modest income, support in ministry and most importantly new life in Christ in the community. It is through God’s obvious provision and faithfulness that the family has been reconciled and the Lord has brought restoration and healing in a once fractured family.

In short, God is doing more than we thought. He’s doing more than we knew. But, in His grace, He has allowed us/me just a glimpse into what He’s doing and I cannot but stand back, admire His glory, and worship.

I’m just a cog in the machine of God’s glory but every once in a while the Maker opens up the machine, takes a peak inside, and shows this cog just how beautiful He is and it makes me want to “cog a little better.”

Pray for Peru. Pray for Lamas. Pray for Pastor Alfonso and Norma. Pray for Eldred Baptist Church. And finally, pray for me.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Solid Foundation of Submission

“No!”

For many, this little two-letter word is the within the first few words we learn how to say. Every study I researched (which didn’t need to be many) verified that “No” is in the first grouping of new vocabulary words for a toddler; along with, “da-da, ma-ma, tanku (thank you), and other similarly simple to say.

Is “No!” there because of its relative ease in speaking? To be fair, I’m sure that’s why our littles choose it over “I’m confident that I am not willing to conform to your standard or to submit to your authority.” That articulation comes much later in our rebellion; however, its essence is still a resounding, “NO!”

Submission is really what we’re rebelling against with most of our “No’s.” And ultimately, as I believe the Scriptures make clear, it is not a rebellion of submission to our parents, leaders, or authority figures in our lives but against God’s design, and ultimately against God Himself.

In reality, submission has not only recently come to be taboo. Genesis 3 and the Fall detail our rejection of God-ordained submission. From Genesis 3 through Revelation 20:15 we read of the consequences of our rebellion, the Divine plan and accomplishment of redemption from our rebellion (Gen. 3:15 and beyond), and until we reach the Story of Redemption we cannot find a single person who was not only completely submissive but who was joyfully submissive.

That Jesus was completely and joyfully submissive is the solid foundation of submission. Afterall, if submission was appropriate for Christ, the God-man, then why can’t we stomach it? But even Christ’s submission stretches beyond the reach of the Roman government, the ecclesiastical (if you will) constructions, the work-place, and even beyond the family unit. Jesus, the Son of God, was first submissive inside the co-eternal, co-equal, co-magnificent Godhead; as was the Holy Spirit. The solid foundation of submission for this generation, as well as any subsequent generations, is godliness.

Submission of the Son to the Father

Galatians 4:4—“But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”

John 12:49-50—Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak…I say as the Father has told me.”

John 10:37—Jesus said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father…”

Luke 22:22—“For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined…”

And ultimately, Luke 22:42—Jesus said, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done…”

Submission of the Spirit to the Father & the Son

John 14:26—“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name…”

John 15:26—Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

Luke 24:49—Jesus said, “…I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Acts 2:33—Peter said, “[Jesus] being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit…”

These are by no means exhaustive references to the eternal submission within the Godhead but a clear and definitive doctrine (and example) can be seen through the passages provided.

Why such a hesitation, then, for the Church to submit herself in her marriages (Ephesians 5:22-33), and children to the parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), and employees to their employers (Ephesians 6:5-9), and citizens to their government (Romans 13:1-7).

Could it be that our marital, parental, ecclesiastical & societal resounding “NO!” is the smoldering embers of sinful pride and self-exaltation that needs to be snuffed out by the deluge of Spirit-empowered self-mortification that we might bear and project God’s image rightly? I believe so. To be submissive is to be Christlike. What other foundation could be more stable?

Submission may be a nasty word in our culture but far be it from the Bride of Christ to declare the posture of Christ to be passé; lest we be found professors of Christ and not possessors.

The Jesusless Testimony

The title of this post is hard to type, let alone hear.

For a follower of Christ, having been born of the Spirit (John 3), having been given a new heart and new spirit—His Spirit—(Ezekiel 36), having been adopted as God’s son/daughter according to His gracious foreordination (Ephesians 1) through faith (Galatians 3), and having been secured by the faithfulness of an immutable God (2 Timothy 2), to share a testimony that is void of the One, namely Jesus Christ, who made this possible seems like an oxymoron and yet this has been my observation of late.

Even the above statement, full of bibliocentric, theological richness is neglectful of proclaiming the simplicity of the Gospel. Let’s begin with some basics…

What is a Testimony and What is Its Purpose?

The New Testament uses the word “testify” or “testimony” (or one of its derivations) thirty-five times (ESV). In everyone of those times the same Greek root, martus”, is used. It simply means “to confirm or attest to something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness.”[1] We would call the one who is testifying a “witness.”

So it should be no surprise to hear Jesus tell his disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my [martus]” (transliteration added).

Witnesses testify. Period.

But of what? Look at these examples of martus from the book of Acts:

Acts 10:42—Peter said, “And [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead.”

Acts 18:5—“…Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

Acts 23:11—“…the Lord stood by [Paul] and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify also in Rome.”

Acts 28:23—“…From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus…”

Jesus, his divine identity, his sinless perfection, his substitutionary, sacrificial, atoning death, his triumphant resurrection, and his promise to save from eternal death by giving eternal life to all who come to God through Him is the fundamental message of which we have been called to testify of as witnesses. Without this message there is no salvation from God’s wrath upon the sinner. This is the Good New of which we testify (Romans 10:17).

A Testimony of God’s Salvation through Jesus’ Life & Death

My desire, here, is to point out that one may testify of how terrible their life used to be (drugs, chaos, loneliness, hate, fear) before coming to church (as if these four walls are some sort of magical converter) and then testify about how wonderful their life is now (peace, contentment, joy, friends, freedom) and never share the Jesus who gave them life, righteousness, and peace with God.

What a tragedy it is to have a Jesusless Gospel and Jesusless Testimony because we can’t look past how Christ has changed our lives to see and share the real Treasure, Jesus himself!

Simplicity in Sharing a Jesus-filled Testimony

Mark Dever, in his book “The Deliberate Church”, simplifies the Gospel message into four easy-to-remember words that serves to prevent us from falling into simply sharing the benefits of our salvation and failing to share the Savior.

God—A holy creator and righteous judge who created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever

Man—A rebellious creature who rejected God and sinned against His holy character and law

Christ—Fully God, fully man, sent to die the death we deserved so God might both punish our sin in Christ and forgive it in us

Response—Repent & believe. Sinful man must turn from his sinful ways toward God and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins already committed.[2]

Could it really be that simple; God-Man-Christ-Response? Do all the details of God’s gracious election, my sin-filled past, Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death & victorious resurrection, and what is now required of me and given to me in Christ when I repent and believe fit into this four-word reminder?

Yes. And notice: God is the beginning, Christ is the hero, and the glorious ending brings me back to God. My only contribution to my, now, wonderful victorious life was the sin that made it necessary. Thank you Jesus!

These four little words are ready to be unpacked in their entirety as you share the glories of Christ before a large audience or piece-by-piece as you, over a cup of coffee as the weeks and years pass by, point your listener(s) back to the Christ who saved you! Jesus is the not just the source of your salvation but he is also the subject of your salvation. As J.I. Packer so aptly and succinctly stated, “God saves sinners.” God is the instigator and that actor in our salvation. The only thing we bring is our sin. Jesus is, and must remain, the star of our story!

Christian-When you’re asked to share your testimony make sure that you do more, far more, than testify of how great your life is now; testify of how great your Savior is!

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 617). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Dever, Mark; Alexander, Paul (2005). The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. Wheaton, Il. Crossway.

New Year’s Day Prayer

I have been praying that God would grow our local church; not so much numerically but spiritually as I believe that lasting numerical growth flows from authentic Spirit-led growth. I did not, however, see coming what the Lord was doing while I was away.

Our Advent season typically reaches its climax at our Christmas Eve service (when Christmas doesn’t fall on a Sunday) after which I retreat into a week of reflection, rest, and preparation as the current year comes to a close and the new year approaches.

This year I received a phone call from the Chairman of Elders informing me that at our monthly prayer meeting he and our newly hired Asst. Pastor formulated a plan for 24 hours of prayer on New Year’s Day. A sign-up sheet would be created with forty-eight, thirty-minute increments and made available to the congregation at December 30’s worship service.

Excitement, doubt, concern, thankfulness, and anticipation filled my heart.

I’d like to be super-spiritual and tell you I knew that our members would jump at the opportunity to pray for hours at a time for 24 hours on a day that is typically filled with sleeping in because of the late-night festivities that preceded it, but I’m not and I was concerned and doubtful.

However, God in His faithfulness saw fit to fill forty five of forty eight slots and my first day in the office of 2019 was filled with joy, hope, encouragement and excitement as I saw the revolving door of person after person and family after family fill our sanctuary on their knees, with the Word open in front of them, praying through our teachers, leadership, programs, missionaries, and a church plant in South America.

I learned three important lessons on the first day of 2019:

First, God is faithful. He answered my prayers to mature us in Christ and I don’t believe He’s done yet either. I’ve been praying earnestly that spiritual fruit of maturity would adorn the branches of this local tree, Christ’s Church in Eldred, Illinois. A devotion & dependence upon the Lord manifested in prayer is a hallmark of the local Church (Acts 2:42). I couldn’t be more grateful to the Lord!

Second, the Lord confirmed that the work being done here belongs to Him and not me. The Lord placed this on the hearts of our leadership in my absence. In the secular world that would be scary as it could be perceived that I am no longer needed. But for a Sr. pastor to see his church seeking Christ apart from his presence is overwhelmingly encouraging. Eldred Baptist needs more Christ and less Pastor Don (John 3:30). I am thankful for that reminder!

Lastly, I learned that I expect too little from the Lord. I am humbled and convicted by my skepticism as well as encouraged to call Christ’s Church to greater things in 2019. I am firmly convinced that pastors lower the bar too often to make Christianity more palatable for the culture; clearly that pastor is me, too. I have also been praying that God would reveal sin in me of which I was not aware. Again, He is good and faithful!

The same God who created light before He created the sun is creating in us an unquenchable thirst to know Him more fully, love Him more deeply, and be near Him more frequently. Surely, 2019 will bring more growth, more goodness, and more of God.

In 2019, may we all respond as the boy Samuel did when the Lord spoke to him, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9).

More Love

“I am a meaningless noise; I am nothing; I gain nothing.” You won’t find these words in the latest version of any best-selling, self-help masterpiece. But, you will find them (not verbatim) in the Wisdom of God, through the pen of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

God has moved me to this reality using two primary mechanisms in the last several months: (1) Through the study and prayerful pursuit of spiritual gifts, and (2) Through discipling two men whom God placed in my life for discipleship who are not connected to my church.

First, a couple of times per year I teach a new members/new believers class in our local church. There are a few Sunday’s where I teach on spiritual gifts and their exercise for the edification of the Body. This practice, regularly, has me searching through the Scriptures in preparation.

As I learn to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31), I couldn’t help but be drawn to Paul’s immediate follow-up in that same verse, “And I will show you still a more excellent way” (emphasis added). Can I prayerfully pursue the higher gifts and disregard (or make second place even) the “more excellent way,” which clearly is love (1 Cor. 13)?

After all, I, without love, as defined by God, am “meaningless noise…nothing…and I gain nothing.” When read, considered, and meditated upon, this is a pretty harsh reality to accept. This means the gifts He has given and the kingdom work (not to even mention the gifts I am prayerfully pursuing) done, when lacking the single greatest ingredient, is of no value and gain nothing. None? Really?

Yes, really.

The Lord has shifted my focus from spiritual gifts to love, the “still more excellent way.” Praise God!

Second, often times I use Don Whitney’s “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” when I am beginning a discipleship relationship in order to teach men how to live the Christian life. In the opening discipline of Bible Intake Whitney says this:

“No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply in no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.”

In his two chapters on Bible Intake, Whitney points his readers to the supernatural workings of God through hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word. While working on committing 1 Corinthians 13 to memory, the Lord has shown me that what is lacking in not more gifts in my spiritual armory. It’s love. Love is the muscle behind the ministry; and not just any love but love as defined by God, in Christ!

In short, God used the exercising the gifts He’s already given me (namely, teaching & discipling) to show me that it wasn’t more gifts I needed (although they are to be earnestly desired) but love that was missing. Without it, I am just noise, I’m nothing, & I gain nothing. Nothing.

Isn’t God good? I went looking for more and He’s teaching me a more excellent way to utilize that which He’s already provided.

More love. Who doesn’t need to grow in love? Surely, I do. Surely, you do. And by His grace, surely, we will! After all, in His grace you were “predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29 who is Love personified.

Grow us, Lord, in love; make us, I pray, like Christ.

“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

The Holy Spirit’s Role in the Life of Christ and Christians

The ordinary often gives way to the sensational and if we’re not careful the ordinary is lost by being overlooked. Take for example the “ordinary” gifts of the Spirit. Who prays diligently for the gift of administration or helping (1 Corinthians 12:28)? Who “earnestly desires” (1 Cor. 12:31) the gifts of service, exhortation, generosity, and acts of mercy (Romans 12:6-8)?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you, personally, do not pray for and pursue these gifts but as a whole it has been my experience, both personally and professionally, that if a conversation arises concerning the gifts of the Spirit, tongues, prophecy, healing, and miracles take center stage. Perhaps, and I believe so, this is because they are far more sensation than the ordinary.

Take Luke 4:1-15, the temptation of Jesus, in this same mindset. What may be perceived as ordinary can give way to what may be seen as sensational if we’re not careful. In so doing, we may very well lose sight of one of the most empowering and important aspects of Jesus’ life that is applicable to our own in tremendous measure.

Let me explain:

Three, easily overlooked, ordinary words, describe the extraordinary, some might even say sensational, life of Jesus Christ: “…full…led…power…” (Luke 4:1 & 14; ESV). All three words describe the relationship that Jesus had with the Holy Spirit. Before we evaluate the sensational temptations of Jesus and His perfect victory over sin and Satan, we must understand these three components.

Full:

Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. This adjective describes the ongoing state of being in which Jesus lived His daily life. He did so, and was so, because He always lived in obedience to the Father. Notice the last place we see Jesus before Luke makes this statement (Luke 3:21-22) is identifying with sinful humanity in John’s baptism of repentance even though He had nothing to repent from or to. Why? Matthew tells us exactly why from Jesus own mouth, “…it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15). No sin meant no need for repentance. No repentance meant no need for baptism…except that this was by the Father’s design that the Second Adam would identify with the First Adam, and all his offspring, that He might become a suitable sacrifice in their (my) stead.

Jesus lived His life full of the Spirit, living with the fulness of the Spirit, because He was always submitted to the will of the Father in active obedience.

Led:

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. This verb is the grammatical demonstration of the Divine-Human participation in the carrying out God’s will from those who are full of the Spirit. Both Matthew & Mark give us this account/word in its passive form highlighting that Jesus was “thrust or compelled or driven” into the wilderness. Whereas Luke provides this verb in its active form implying voluntary cooperation “to bring, or to carry.”

I believe an accurate word picture could be describe this way: As the Spirit of God drove the Son of God, Jesus yielded voluntarily and cooperated fully. Being full of the Spirit, Jesus yielded voluntarily and cooperated fully to the Father’s will by Spirit’s leading.

Power:

Jesus lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Take note of the connection, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…and Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit…” (Luke 4:1, 14). A life full of the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, will result in living in the power of the Spirit. Where did this power come from? The Spirit. How did Jesus get this power? By a yielded, cooperative, temptation & sin-defeating life through overcoming temptation by the Spirit-inspired Word of God. Jesus wielded spiritual weapons for the spiritual battle (Eph. 6).

Jesus knew God’s Word, God’s plan, God’s Spirit, and never deviated from living for God’s glory.

Christian, we often desire the power of the Spirit. We long for the sensational and overlook the ordinary (especially the ordinary means of grace). A life not full of the Spirit will never be led by the Spirit and will never live in the power of the Spirit.

Perhaps, Satan’s temptation is not “the sensational” in this account. Perhaps, the defeat of Satan and his cunning deceit is the ordinary result of a life completely, and sensationally, surrendered to the Spirit of God. I believe it is. I know I’ve not yet come to live in this state of being, but praise God He’s brought me closer today than five years ago. And I believe five years from now I will be even closer still as the Vinedresser continues to prune me that I might bear more fruit.

I am confident of this: That He who began this good work in me will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Oh Father, fill me your Spirit that I might follow His leading and live in His power, to the praise of your glory!

Hell-fire & Brimstone

Camel hair, wild honey, Hell-fire and brimstone…If you’re reading this post then you know exactly who I’m referencing; John the Baptist.

Pastor’s today, including me, could (and should) learn a lot from this wilderness preacher. Granted, his office and calling are different than ours given that his coming was prophesied of hundreds of years in advance, his conception was miraculous, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth but it is from his ministry and preaching that we can learn and grow.

One Hit Wonder

John had one message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). It’s not that this is the only line he preached but that this was the central message every time he addressed the crowds. This was John’s task “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:17). This was it…He had no other material; like Deep Blue Something singing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, John only had one tool in his tool-belt.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Offensive Preacher

We don’t really have much, by design, about exactly what John said when he preached but what we do have wouldn’t fit very well into the “Church Growth Model”, the “Seeker Sensitive Model”, or a “Felt Needs” emphasis. He didn’t mince words or try to be crafty, indirect, or politically correct. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come” (Lk. 3:7)? is not exactly the “Softly and Tenderly” approach we most often see today.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Pointed Preacher

John’s preaching was personal. He addressed not only specific people groups and occupations but specific sins that needed to go. John’s preaching was political. He addressed the rulers of his day and called them to repentance, publicly, for their specific sins (without fear of losing his 501c3). And John’s message was always pointed at holiness.

First, his preaching was pointed at the Holy One, himself, Jesus Christ. From “I am not worthy to untie” (Lk. 3:16) his sandals to “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). John was not concerned with how he was viewed in the public eye but that his hearers knew who the Christ was and that He alone could save them.

Second, his preaching was pointed at personal holiness as the evidence of regeneration. In short, if repentance from sin meant that your life would be marked by godliness, holiness, or Christ-likeness as we might say today, then if that was missing John warned clearly of the “unquenchable fire” that awaited you. Apart from a life marked by holiness, there was no evidence of salvation and it was not words that would convince John but your walk.

But did you notice that people flocked to John?

Our Pulpits Today

Why did people flock to John? Plainly, because they can have their ears tickled anywhere, and they actually do everywhere. Inherently, humanity knows we need to make right the wrongs, serve up justice, and that we’re going to be judged by God. People can have their ears tickled during TV commercials, what they need is to know the Truth; and we know it!

In spite of John’s singular message, as offensive as it was, and as unpopular as it was to those who were not concerned with living for YHWH, it was effective! It was effective! It was effective!

The message of the Gospel is a one hit wonder, it is an offensive message, it is personal, & it, always and only, points one to Christ with the assured result of holiness. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation…I think I’ve read that somewhere.

Our pulpits don’t need new and exciting, fresh and relevant, contemporary additions to draw in the new age. Our pulpits need the Gospel; unadulterated, unfiltered, strong, and without apology.

May we, pastors and laity alike, be found by God to be more like John, committed to the One who gave us the message and unconcerned with making the message palatable for those who need that same message that saved us!

The Response of Grateful Hearts

At Eldred Baptist Church, we preach expositionally and since we started a new series preaching through Luke/Acts that means we are currently finishing the birth narratives of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Since March of this year, our congregation has been engulfed in the revelation of the Sovereign’s Intervention in the lives of His creation with the purpose of lavishing us with His grace.

There have been several theme’s that God has woven through the first two chapters of Luke but one has been a constant and borne fruit unexpected in our little country church, the fruit of joy.

We saw it first in Luke’s purpose of writing to Theophilus (1:3, 4). Next, in Gabriel’s proclamation to Zechariah (1:13), then, subsequently, in Elizabeth’s response to her conception of the Baptist (1:25). Joy manifested itself again in the womb of Elizabeth as the yet unborn Baptist leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice, surely in response to the Spirit’s revelation of the presence of his Savior in utero (1:41 & 44). Joy, again, exudes from the young, teenage virgin in Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-47). And in fulfillment of prophecy, Zechariah & Elizabeth’s family & friends rejoiced when the Lord blessed them with John (1:58) and Zechariah, now relieved of God’s curse from his disbelief overflows, blessing God from a joyful heart concerning the soon arrival of God’s Salvation and his newborn son’s involvement in the redemptive plan of God (1:64-79).

And all this joy comes before the Christ was born…

In chapter two, everyone, natural & supernatural beings alike, respond in joyful adoration of the arrival of God the Son; the angelic messenger to shepherds (2:10), the multitude of the heavenly hosts (2:14), the shepherds upon their arrival (2:16-20), Mary & Joseph (2:18-19), Simeon, Anna, and “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:25-38).

I don’t know if you’re keeping count or not but that’s twelve obvious, joy-filled responses to either the news of Christ’s Advent or the Advent of the Christ! Clearly, the response of those who are filled with gratefulness concerning the Christ is joy; unmistakable, uncontainable, unfiltered, joy. And shouldn’t it be?

I mentioned that this series has borne some unexpected fruit earlier. Let me explain.

This theme of God’s people responding in joy as He reveals Himself has become contagious. Launching from the opening line of Mary’s Magnificat, EBC has begun a monthly “Testimony of Praise” that is presented by covenanted member during the worship service on the second Sunday of each month. For three months now, a member has come forward to present a testimony of praise to God for who He is and what He’s been doing in & through their lives.

This has become a Sunday that I, as well as others, are enthusiastically looking forward to. We’ve heard of God’s graciousness in bringing reconciliation to a marriage after they both were saved. We’ve heard of His goodness in restoring brokenness in families separated by years of the scars left behind by sin, supernatural peace amidst trials and anxiousness, a trust in His promises because He is ever-faithful and unchanging, supernatural growth in holiness through ordinary means long neglected, a new-found hunger and thirst for more of God and more personal holiness, and so much more. Truly, my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior as I hear of His faithfulness in this covenanted community’s life. Praise God!

In God’s grace, through the exposition of His Word, He has revealed to this little church another ordinary mean of grace that is overflowing our already full hearts! Let me challenge you, Pastors/Elders, to disciple your congregation to fill in these blanks—“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has _______________  ____________  ______________…” and then ask them to share God’s praise with Christ’s Church; He is worthy!

Your people will be edified, your speaker will be sanctified, & God will be glorified!

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).

Arrows in the Hand of a Warrior

Today is a special day. Fifteen years ago today, God blessed my wife Angie and I with our second child and only son. I was twenty-four years stupid (praise God for His forgiveness and patience) and the blessing that I had received had not yet become a reality to me. I had no idea the joys of fatherhood, the challenges of fatherhood, or the sanctification that God works through fatherhood. The Psalmist knew this well when he wrote, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…” (Psalm 127:3-5).

The Joys of Fatherhood

It has been my joy to watch God grow our children into young adults who love & serve Him. There is no greater joy than to know that, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, God has saved our children and now they are “walking in truth, just as we were commanded by the Father” (2 John 4).

But their relationship with Christ is not the only joy; as a matter of fact, that may the greatest joy but there are almost innumerable others. For instance, the joy of their absolute, unconditional, overwhelming affection for their parents is, indeed, a heart-filler! I remember, so vividly, the smiles from ear-to-ear when I would return home from work, the wrestling on the living room floor with their disregard for their own safety as they would jump from anything, and any height, so long as they could land on daddy, and the cuddling as we read together, or watched movies together, and on, and on, and on. One of the greatest joys I’ve ever known is being daddy. Truly, “children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

The Challenges of Fatherhood

I don’t know that I’ve ever done anything or been given a title that has been as challenging as being a father. Chip Ingram said, “Your most exhilarating joys and agonizing sorrows will likely come from the same source…your children. As parents we understand that raising children is a high stakes adventure.” God has entrusted to parents the life and welfare of another human being and no one in your child’s life will have as great or lasting of an impact as you, even an eternal one. God is clear as to a parent’s task when he clearly expresses that what He wants from your union with your wife is “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). What a task! Who is capable of such a feat on their own?

The Psalmist likens our children to “arrows in a quiver.” Let’s explore that word picture. Arrows are crafted intentionally and precisely. Today’s arrows are crafted from carbon-fiber and weighed down to the grains-per-inch (that’s 1grain=1/7000 of one pound); that’s precision. But why; why are manufacturers so precise? Because those arrows are crafted with a purpose, to hit their mark every time they are released from the hand of the archer. Hasn’t God given us our children for the same purpose? Aren’t we, through the Word and by the Spirit, to intentionally and precisely mold and shape our children in preparation for their release?

In the not so recent past I was reminded by good friends of ours that we are raising our kids for Heaven, not Harvard. The world may claim that “success” is defined by what sports team, college, employment, or paycheck our children end up with but God is concerned with who their heart belongs to and that our children lay up treasure in Heaven where moth and rust do not destroy (Mattew 6:19-20). Our objective as parents is to produce “godly offspring” and the mechanism by which we do that is clearly laid out for us in Deuteronomy 6:4-9; I encourage you to stop reading this blog and read God’s instructions for how to intentionally and precisely craft your arrows for release.

The Sanctification that Comes from Fatherhood

Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, said this concerning marriage but I believe it applies to parenting as well: “Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value…What marriage has done for me is hold up a mirror to my sin. It forces me to face myself honestly and consider my character flaws, selfishness, and anti-Christian attitudes, encouraging me to be sanctified and cleansed, and grow in godliness.” This is true for marriage and I believe it is true for parenting. Let me explain.

It’s not just your child’s unwavering faith that God uses to convict us of our own lack of faith (Matthew 18:3) but they are also the mirror reflecting to the world who you really are instead of who you want the world to believe you are (by “you” I mean “me”).  You see, children are little “mini-me’s.” Do you remember that mid-90’s comedy that had the “mini-me?” Mini-me dressed like his “father”, carried the same mannerisms, pursued the same goals, and basically mimicked his “father’s” every move. Our children are the same, really. I have seen my love for Christ come through in my children and for that I’m grateful but I’ve also see my sin manifest itself through them as well. God, in His grace, shows me who I am and how I sound and what I portray to the world when I see some of my “bad-habits” surface in my children. God uses my children to show me my sin, convict me of my guilt, and then leads me to confession and repentance both with Him and with them. God uses my “mini-me’s” to sanctify me so that I become more like His “Mini-me”, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3). The Father makes me more like Christ through the blessing of being a father myself; what a privilege and blessing my children are!

Today, July 10th 2018, is not only my son’s birthday but it is also the day before he and I depart for Peru where we will, Lord willing, teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, together. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49). I am blessed and although my quiver may not be “full” my heart is! Today is a special day. Thank you Jesus!

Happy birthday, son. I love you more than you’ll ever know until the Lord makes you a daddy too!

The Magnificat

Mary’s song of praise is typically a passage read, studied, and preached during the Advent season. However, for those who are committed to expositional preaching the Magnificat is glorious trove to be mined in the course of preaching Luke, regardless of the time of year. In it we find invaluable nuggets of timeless Truth concerning the nature and character of God, the soul’s response when God’s glory is revealed, and even a panoramic presentation of historical redemption. Mary, I believe, deposits a model of praise for believers in all times as she identifies the Person of her praise and fills the air God-honoring exaltation.

The Person of Mary’s Praise

Mary’s heart erupts in elation toward the One in whom she trusts, namely, the Lord God her Savior. As a young Jewish girl, Mary clearly knew the Scriptures and recognized that she not only needed a Savior to redeem her but also that the only Deliverer who could ever accomplish such a task would be none other than Yahweh, Himself. God identifies Himself, in Isaiah 43, as Yahweh, the only God, Israel’s Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator, their King, and the only Savior.

After having received the overwhelming news from God’s messenger, Gabriel, that she would be carrying the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who “would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), Mary’s heart burst with joy, adoration, and praise toward the One who was fulfilling what was promised to her people. Notice that the focal point of Mary’s praise was directed to where it belongs, upon God alone. In the ESV the phrase “he has” is either clearly stated or directly implied nine times in six verses. Mary sought no attention for herself, no honor for her role, nor did she see herself as anything other than a recipient of the grace of God as a vessel to accomplish His plan of salvation.

The Person of Mary’s praise was none other than the One, True, Living God, the Only God, the Savior of Mankind. The God of Heaven came to man, taking on flesh & infirmities; the Omnipotent Creator was a defenseless baby, in utero, dependent for sustenance upon this teenage girl who carried Him & praised Him for His coming salvation.

Believers today would find themselves in great company if our praise were to focus on God alone. But that is not always the case.

Too often, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an add-on to our busy conversations that center around us, our feelings, and our responses to the Gospel. Clearly, everyone responds to the Gospel and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water but wouldn’t our praise be more appropriate if there was less conversation about “me” and more conversation/praise directed toward Him?

Can you tell me about your conversion without telling me what you do now that you’ve been saved? Can you tell me about God, your Savior, without telling me about when you were baptized, how often you attend worship, or what your Bible reading and prayer life look like? Can you tell me of His glory in creating you? Tell me of His mercy when He didn’t destroy you in your sin? Tell me of His grace in sending His Son? Tell me of the preservation of His Word that you might know who Jesus is? Tell me of Christ’s perfection and beauty and splendor in obeying God’s Law? Tell me of His substitutionary atoning sacrifice? Tell me of His resurrection, His saving you, sanctifying you, and promise to complete this work?

In other words, is your testimony of God’s work in your life more about your work in your life or more like Mary’s hymn of praise for the One who sees His people’s need, does great things for them and to them and through them, and who humbles the proud but exalts the humble through His Arm, His Servant, His Offspring? Oh that Christ would be preeminent in our praise!

May we, as Mary was, be found with our lips full of His praise as we “Praise Him, praise Him, tell of His excellent greatness…” (Fanny Crosby).

The Fullness of Time & the Focal Point of All Things

“…Christians of all times and places have professed that Christ himself is the center of our preaching, our gospel, and our theology. Christianity is Christ…Our first allegiance is not to a set of eternal truths, as in Buddhism or Platonism, but to a person who lived in history to save us and who lives eternally as our heavenly High Priest.”[1]

Christianity is Christ. Every passage, every person, and every exploit from “Let there be light…”[2] to “And night will be no more…”[3] was either working toward this thirty-three-year window or pointing back to it. At least that is what the Apostle Paul believed when he penned “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[4]

The angel Gabriel’s announcement, in Luke 1:26-38, concerning the conception of the Christ has this same end in mind; namely, the baby to be born is the Christ promised from long ago, the Center of Things. The point of God’s announcement is not Mary, it’s not Christmas, but Christ. Packed into the announcement is God’s pronouncement that this child is the Christ as seen in 1) The timing of His birth, 2) The location of His birth, 3) The means of His birth, 4) The family tree of His birth, & 5) the method of His Conception

The Timing of His Birth

As provided for us in the passage preceding, there would be born before Him a forerunner who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (vs. 17). So, when Gabriel visits Mary to inform her of God’s intentions it should be no surprise that we find God declaring His intentions “In the sixth month…” (vs 26). Given the prophetic fulfillment of Malachi 3 & 4 concerning this forerunner, believers can take confidence in the timing of Jesus birth.

The Location of His Birth

A red-flag should rise when we hear that God sent Gabriel to virgin in Nazareth (Luke 1:26). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and this young teenage girl was almost 100 miles north of God’s designated place of birth for the Christ. Of course, having Luke 2 we read how God moved the desires, intentions, & plans of Rome’s emperor and by His divine hand the Christ from Nazareth would be born exactly where God required. God Almighty moves the heart of the kings and turns it as He wills; He needs not the king’s approval or cooperation.

The Mean of His Birth

In spite of liberal theologian’s attempts to discredit the virgin-birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, Luke, Matthew, and Mary herself confirm that God’s intended meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy was that the impossibility of virgin birth would meet the Omnipotent King of Creation. “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Mt. 1:22). If God declared it would be, of course, it would come to be for who could “thwart his plans?”

The Family Tree of His Birth

Gabriel announces that the virgin-born boy would be “the Son of the Most High” and the offspring of “his father David.” This multi-layered proclamation assures the Christian that this Messiah would be both God and man. That Jesus’ family tree would be of divine origin and yet still retaining true humanity. He would need to be both “God-with-us” (Immanuel) and “us” so that “He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”[5] God’s announcement given through his messenger Gabriel confirms, both, Christ’s deity and humanity, permitting Christ to become both the Just and the Justifier.

The Method of His Conception

Luke 1 provides for us a trinitarian movement in the conception and incarnation of Jesus the Christ. Believers can take great confidence as they see the Father’s plan (vs. 26), the Spirit’s power (vs. 35), and the Son’s presence (vs. 32,35) all working in perfect harmony bringing us to “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Reminiscent of God’s creative majesty in Genesis 1, the Spirit of God overshadows the emptiness of Mary’s womb, much like He hovered over the emptiness of a formless world, and from the Father’s eternal plan, the Eternal Son takes on material being. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). From creation ex nihilo to conception in a virgin from Divine origin, nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27).

God’s word to Mary, from Gabriel, is a repository of faith-strengthening truth that encouraged and emboldened both the original recipient, Mary, and generations of believers for 2000 years. May we feast upon God’s faithfulness and he strengthens our faith in His Truth, Jesus Christ.

Citations:

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology

[2] Genesis 1:3

[3] Revelation 22:5

[4] Galatians 4:4-5

[5] Hebrews 2:17

The Faithful Family

The family unit in America is clearly devolving to state a meaninglessness and despair. Marriage, parenting, the discipline of children both formative and corrective, and the flow and function of the family unit are deteriorating and leaving the masses questioning, “What’s happening to society.” Sadly, this is true inside the visible church as well. Author and theologian Douglas Wilson penned these appropriate words concerning the signs of our time:

“A short walk through the marriage and family section of the local Christian bookstore easily demonstrates that modern Christians have a tremendous interest in the subject of marriage and family. But this booming marriage business (books, conferences, seminars, marriage counseling) is really a sign of disease and not health…We are like terminal cancer patients, fervently researching alternative treatments, hoping against hope that something can be done. Desperate for happiness in our relationships and discontent with what God has given us, we are imploring the experts to show us the way out…The foundation of a godly [family] is the same foundation for all godly living—in everything we are to seek the glory of God.” [1]

This is a sobering assessment of the state of the family; even inside Christ’s Church.

Luke’s inspired description of Zechariah & Elizabeth, the faithful parents of Christ’s Forerunner, I believe, paints for us today a model of the faithful family. Clearly, God will use anyone for any purpose that He has ordained. But wouldn’t it be wise of us to place ourselves in the path of God, prepared in advance with the willingness and availability for His use? Of course. Just how did Zechariah and Elizabeth do this and how can I follow their example left for me?

Both Righteous Before God, Walking Blamelessly

Any serious student of Scripture understands that any righteousness that a naturally fallen man or woman has in their fallen state is righteousness not their own. As Martin Luther would come to describe it later, Zechariah & Elizabeth held an “alien righteousness.” These two had been justified by God, declared to be in right standing positionally, by His grace through faith. Notice that this “righteousness” was not a superficial righteousness or a perceived righteousness but they were righteous “before God.” What joy the faithful family can have knowing they “before God,” in Christ, they stand pardoned, relieved of their guilt! If a family is to enjoy intimacy with God, while being used by God, it starts here.

Notice that the faithful family is a family that goes beyond a mere profession of faith but lives out that faith daily. The family Zechariah & Elizabeth’s began when they said “I do” was a family marked by “I do” toward God’s Word and placement in their lives. They were said to have been “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statures of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). This was a family committed to the daily maintenance of faith combined with daily repentance from sin toward God.

To find Zechariah & Elizabeth being used by God for a great work should be no surprise. The faithful family unit has been ordained by God to be one of the primary mechanisms through which He works. Take for example, Adam & Eve and the protoevangelium entrusted to them; or Noah & his family, their work and God’s salvation through them; or Abraham with Sarah (not Hagar), Isaac (not Ishmael), and Jacob (not Esau); and the list could go on and on. God establishes faith in families, strengthens faith within families, and then works from that faith of families; to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). However, God has invited us to participate in this process with Him. Just how do we do that? By following in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s footsteps.

Marry Within the Bounds God Provides

Zechariah, the son of Aaron, married Elizabeth, a daughter of Aaron. Simply stated: Believers are not permitted to marry outside the bounds of the believing community. This command is clear from the Old Testament commands of God to the people of Israel not to intermarry with the pagans around them to the New Testament command not to be unequally yoked. Dads, this is primarily your responsibility in rearing up your children. Moms, your role is to support and reinforce your husband’s leading of the children as ,together, you steer your children’s decisions in relationships. That sounds crazy in our culture, but then again most biblical principles will. Pastors, your job is steer mom and dad, preaching the whole counsel of God and shepherding mom and dad as they shepherd their children. This is the foundation of the faithful family, for if one spouse is not in the faith there can be no foundation for covenantal continuity.

Live Within the Bounds God Provides

Zechariah and Elizabeth were walking blamelessly, daily pursing Christ righteousness and kingdom. They were able to do this because the knew Word, lived the Word, and gave their lives to serving the Lord. If the Word of God is not the centerpiece upon which your family is built, currently standing, and to where you turn for direction you cannot expect 1) God to hear your prayers (Luke 1:13), 2) Expect God to use us for great works (Luke 1:15), or 3) Expect our children and their future families to stand firm or follow the Lord (Luke 1:15-17). The faithful family will live within the bounds God has provided.

Live With a Repentant Heart

Zechariah was not a perfect man. Even having been delivered a message directly from the throne room of God Most High (Luke 1:19) he still doubted. And he had reason to doubt if was looking to himself. God promised an old man and an old woman, well past child-producing or child-bearing years, a son. However, after being disciplined by the Lord for his doubting (Luke 1:20), Zechariah was quick to repent when naming his promised, miracle baby boy (Luke 1:57-66), and just as quick to praise the God who gives for His great mercy.

This gives me great hope for me and my family. Zechariah, the righteous, blameless, servant, doubter, who God used to advance Christ’s Kingdom. May the Lord find me and my family fit for His service as well.

 

Citation:

[1] Reforming Marriage, pg. 13, 14

Luke: The Faith-growing Gospel

Greetings, salutations, introductions, and openers are generally overlooked, ignored, and discounted. They are often viewed as the “lets get this out of the way because the content of what is written is what’s important.” But for the student of Scripture, the one who genuinely believes that all Scripture is breathed out by God, even the introduction is given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in righteousness. Luke’s introduction is just that; praise God!

In Luke’s introduction (Luke 1:1-4) a few gems sparkle brighter than the rest. Luke informs “most excellent Theophilus” (Friend of God) that the purpose of his writing this Gospel is to (1) provide an orderly account, a logically flowing narrative of the Christ’s life, ministry, death, burial, & resurrection & (2) that Luke was offering it to him “that [he] may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught” (Lk 1:4). What a joy this must have been for Theophilus, the gentile convert, to have an orderly, logical account intended to solidify his already laid down faith. Just as concrete laid, in time, grows to profound strength, so too Luke’s Gospel will take the faith already laid and harden it into a firm foundation in our souls.

An Orderly Account

One need not “check his brain at the door” of Luke’s Gospel account. Luke was man of immense intellect, an historian, and a passionate pursuer of Truth. This becomes clear as one opens up and explores his introduction; even the manner in which it was written. His usage of the Greek language of his day, his balance in the structure of his writing, and his word choice all demonstrate that Luke intended to provide for his reader a record worthy of trust, both theologically and historically. The doctor was concerned greatly with sharing Christ with orderliness, multiple eye-witness testimonies, and even his personal witness so that Theophilus could be sure of what he had been taught. And in God’s providence, the gentile author providing this account to a gentile audience has left us, a greater gentile audience, with a repository of Truth solidifying our faith, factually, historically, and theologically. Praise God!

Certainty of Our Faith

Theophilus had been taught the Gospel, had believed the Gospel, and now was being given a thorough, written account of the Gospel that his faith might be firmly rooted, concreted, having certainty that what he had believed was legitimate, solid, and trustworthy. Luke’s Gospel account contained several “proofs” that would bring Theophilus, and consequently us, this certainty of faith: Proof from Prophecy, Proof from Miracles, and Proof from Growth.

Proof from Prophecy

When taking Luke/Acts as a continuous unit, as Luke intended, one theologian counted 47 references & allusions to how the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled the O.T. Scriptures. Imagine what 47 pieces of written evidence, backed up by eye-witness testimonies, in a courtroom would render; certainly, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What a comfort to know that the God who said “this” would happen also made it happen and left us the proof of his happenings!

Proof from Miracles

For Luke, the proof was in the pudding. In Acts 2:22, Luke records that God confirmed Jesus identity by the “mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst…” The miracles that the people remembered seeing Jesus do was God’s proof that Christ’s message was legitimate. This was Jesus claim as well in Luke 7:18-22 when He confirmed that he was the long-promised and awaited Messiah and the proof of His identity was in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead living, and the poor receiving the good news, all by His divine hand; and this, too, was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. The miracles of Christ were proof that the message of Christ was authentic!

Proof from Growth

Even a casual stroll through Luke’s account of the early church, Acts, radiates certainty as the masses were coming to faith in Christ they could not see. At first there were only 120, and then 3000, with more being added daily, and then 5000, followed by rapid expansion of the Word of God regionally (Judea, Galilee, & Samaria) that caused massive spiritual growth across geographical boundaries to such that they could no longer be numbered (Acts 2-12). Finally, as if to place an exclamation point, the missionary journeys of Paul, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, caused explosive multi-continental growth of Christianity fulfilling the prophetic word given by Gamiliel in Acts 5:33-39 “…if [the Gospel of Jesus Christ] is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The Gospel of Luke is sure faith-builder. It was written as such and intended to be just that for Theophilus and continues to stand as such today! May God increase our faith as we joyfully feast upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)…even the introductions.

Not in Vain

In God’s grace, I have been blessed recently to witness the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power in the lives of some men, as well as His supernatural sanctifying power in the lives of men I’ve known for a long time. God, truly, is good!

But with this new life in Christ and this new growth in Christ there have been some steep costs. God never calls us to Christ to leave us as we are but He calls us to salvation, by grace, through faith, and then works in us repentance. Faith & repentance always carries a cost with it.

The cost is always high and the change is always dramatic. When ones eyes are opened to sin and righteousness and when the heart is given new life, we cannot but change and change is costly: relationships, employment, leisure, entertainment, interaction with family, indeed, every facet of life.

The Twelve knew this very well. They left their homes, traveled with this preaching miracle worker and it cost them deeply. They were essentially homeless, separated from family, unemployed with no prospect or thought of returning, living entirely off of God’s provision through other people’s generosity. Their cost was high, but the promise of reward was even higher. Surely, the cost of following Christ weighed heavily upon them at times and undoubtedly they wrestled with, “Can I endure? Is it worth it?” In one of those moments God, in His mercy, gives us this account from Peter as He sought the soothing balm of assurance that the road he was traveling was not in vain.

“Peter said, ‘See, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life'” (Luke 18:28-30).

Some of you have left your homes to follow Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have lost your spouses when you followed Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have left behind your extended family to love, serve, and pursue the advancement of the kingdom of God with reckless abandon; this was not in vain!

The road is not always smooth but be encouraged, dear Christian, you will receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life, because God called you to this life. And He’s not called you to walk it alone. Even though you walk through dark valley’s, because of His presence you don’t have to fear. Even though the cost is high, the rewards are higher, in this life and in the age to come!

Rest in His assurance, Christian. And what a rest He is!