Taste & See

“Taste and see that YHWH is good” (Psalm 34:8).

The presupposition is clear; YHWH is good. And, indeed, He is.

The psalmist, as well as all those in Christ, experienced the goodness of the One True Living God through deliverance (vs. 1-7) and he invites his reader to test his presupposition. Today, we call this ordinary mean of grace “Meditation.”

Meditate, taste and see, on the goodness of God and you will not leave empty or dissatisfied. Indeed, this is what the saints are doing in Glory today (and everyday) and this is what all those who die, or are alive at His coming, in the Lord will be doing for eternity. Those in Christ will, by sight, fixate upon the Lamb who was slain and glory in His presence in complete satisfaction for all eternity. O, how I long for that Day.

This, I believe, is what makes Lord’s Day worship so sweet for those who are in Christ. We get a small glimpse, even an small taste, of what the Eternal State will be like as we lift our voices to the King, lay our burdens down at His feet, and hear from His lips the words of everlasting life.

John Owen writes in The Glory of Christ, “For if our future blessedness shall consist in being where He is and beholding His glory, what better preparation can there be for it than a constant previous contemplation of that glory as revealed in the gospel, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory?”

But we need not wait until the Lord’s Day nor are we constrained to one particular time of day. Rather, the invitation of the psalmist to “taste and see that YHWH is good” is an open invitation, ongoingly. He is good at 6am and 2:17pm. He is good in sickness and in health. He is good in seasons of plenty and in seasons of want. He is good times of distress and serenity. He is good; taste and see.

I, with the Holy Spirit inspired psalmist, invite you Christian to taste the goodness of the Lord. Meditate on His glory. Remember His deliverance(s). Think upon not only what He has saved you from but what and who He has saved you to. He was good even before He saved you. Taste and see.

Owen encourages his reader to think deeply upon the glory of the Savior now, for that will be our sole occupation in eternity future, when he writes “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight hereafter who does not in some measure behold it here by faith.”

Set aside your temporal affairs, if only for a moment, today and fixate upon the Glorious One; taste and see that He is good!

Racism, BLM, & Justice: One Pastor’s Perspective

Let me start by sharing that this will not be brief or a bullet point presentation on better race relations. I do intend, however, for this to help the Christian reader think through these sensitive issues biblically and for this to help the Gospel-centered Christian respond in a way that honors the Lord, honors the hurting, and point us all to Christ. I welcome your comments, criticisms, and clarifications but if you intend to offer them, please read the post in its entirety before responding.

The Root of Racism is Hate, not Color

I have had the privilege of teaching/preaching in the bush of Africa, the jungles of Peru, the calm streets of suburbia, and rural America. I have found hate-filled hearts in every one of these nooks and crannies.

The Shinasha people, a lighter skinned Ethiopian tribe, at times, have actively oppressed their darker skinned Gumuz neighbors. The Hispanic Peruvian people have oppressed their gringo visitors and residents, at times, because the gringos are the minority and can do little to nothing about it. There’s still even a running joke around where I serve the Lord today about those who live or grew up “north of the creek” (and this is an almost all-white region). Sure, it’s a joke but that stereotype started somewhere and it wasn’t a joke or it wouldn’t have stuck; certainly, some still believe the stereotype today and its negative connotations are clear.

Christian, you need not look any further than Acts 7:58 for an example of hate that has nothing to do with race. The man who would soon be known around the world as “the Apostle Paul” stood in agreement over the mob-murder of a preacher belonging to the minority sect of Judaism called “the Way” (later to be called “Christians” in Acts 17). Saul would then go on a murderous, hate-filled rampage not because of race but because of his hatred of these Christians. This was Jewish on Jewish oppression, suppression, and murder.

Racism, sexism, discrimination, and oppression are the symptoms of much greater problem; the root is hate. And even further than “hate” is the core fundamental problem of the complete and utter societal rejection of Absolute Truth; namely, the First and Second Tables of the Law (also known as The 10 Commandments).

This why we are seeing black cops killed alongside of white cops (https://time.com/5849888/st-louis-captain-david-dorn-suspect-arrested/) and black-owned business being destroyed along with white-owned, hispanic-owned, and other minority-owned businesses (https://fee.org/articles/here-are-just-10-of-the-many-minority-owned-businesses-destroyed-in-the-riots/).

When God is not honored it should not be a surprise when the image of God, in humanity, is not honored. Hate overflows from a heart filled with hate and it empties itself upon any who oppose it or who may stand its way of filling its single greatest desire; namely, the satisfaction of self.

Justice: The Reflection of God upon Humanity

In my heart, I’ve been conflicted over both the statement “black lives matter” and the “BLM” movement. But, while reading last week I encountered a statement that made me look past the reservations (my reservations come from not wanting fuel racial divisions or support a harmful organization) and ask myself the question, “What is at the heart of the BLM movement on the individual level? What do those who support BLM want?” I believe the answer is “Justice.”

Who doesn’t want justice? Who doesn’t deserve justice? Who doesn’t want or deserve to be treated with love, compassion, and fairly? I know I do.

Certainly, there are bad actors in the BLM movement, the police force, and even in ministry; I know that to be true. So, if the justice of God is what God desires than I can get on board with that and speak out from there.

Jesus spoke about the love (First Table, the first four commandments) and justice of God (Second Table, the last six commandments) in Luke 11:42. In essence, Jesus condemned the outward practice of religion (tithing) because his hearers were lacking the inward renewal of the Holy Spirit (salvation) and it was evident; listen carefully to the Master Teacher—“Woe to you…For you tithe mint and rue, and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting others.” The outward reflection or their religion was evident but inwardly they lacked the two most fundamental aspects of Christ-centered living: The love of God (First Table) and the love of others (Second Table); aka, justice.

The never-changing supreme standard by which God judges mankind is the Law of God, both Tables. Praise be to God that Jesus fulfilled the Law, died in my place, paid my debt, rose victoriously that I might be justified before the Thrice Holy God, and promises the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who come to Him in faith and repentance. But I, and we (humanity) have not been set free from living within the Moral Law (10 Commandments) but have been empowered to now live in light of the Moral Law by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This love of Savior God (First Table) now manifests itself in the love of neighbor (Second Table). Or said from the negative position: The lack of justice/love of neighbor is the evidence that the love of God is also missing. The root of the Justice of God is buried deep into the soil of the Love of God and when a person/society loves God rightly it will be evident by how they treat/love one another.

The Cancer of Society’s Soul

Our society has almost rejected the “love of God” wholesale while still demanding that which  flows from it; namely, the justice of God or the love of man. Metaphorically, we’re treating the cancer of racism, sexism, oppression and suppression of all sorts with Nyquil.

“The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy-head fever so you can rest and have a good morning medicine” helps suppress the symptoms of a cold but only masks the red-flags that cancer sends while it continues to ravage its victim internally. Clearly, our societal-bowels are being ravaged; not by racism, although it is present, but by the wholesale rejection of its Creator, Savior, & Sustainer.

Saul of Tarsus (Acts 7) ravaged the Church of Christ (Acts 8) until he had an encounter with the risen Jesus (Acts 9). And you know what happened next: The Apostle Paul was commissioned and sent out by the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1) after his heart was changed through the Gospel. Paul loved the Lord, even the point of death, and loved those he once oppressed and suppressed, even to the point of his own death, not because of a protest, a rally, a social-justice drive, or new laws being codified.

Paul’s cancerous hate was healed by the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ being applied to his dead, hate-filled heart, by the Holy Spirit through the lips of the resurrected Jesus. This, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the only way that the hate-filled heart is changed into a heart that overflows with love; love of God above all else (First Table) and the love of neighbor (Second Table), regardless of sex, color, or creed.

The Only Viable Solution

While atheism, agnosticism, idolatry, and Sabbath neglect rule our society (First Table neglect), our cancers of racism, sexism, and injustice (Second Table neglect) will eviscerate our families, neighborhoods, regions, and country. We will never have justice while the love of God is absent and celebrated.

Racism is annihilated in the heart that accepts the Truth that mankind is indeed one race; many shades of skin tone but one race.

Political Discrimination, Disinformation, and Character Assassination is eradicated in the heart that embraces the Truth that Christ’s Kingdom is (1) not of this world, (2) that this world is passing away, and (3) that the Lord steers the hearts of political leaders wherever He pleases.

Sexism is thrashed to shreds in the heart that holds tightly to the Truth that God created men and women to serve complimentary, Christ-exalting rolls and embracing God’s design, to the glory of God the Father.

Oppression  & Suppression perishes in the heart that accepts the Truth that it is far greater to give than to receive.

Hate is disemboweled in the heart that has been overtaken by the love of God in the person of Christ Jesus, having been made alive by the Spirit of God, through seeing Love on a Cross through the lens of an empty tomb.

We need the Gospel.

The United States of America needs another Great Awakening and that is a work that only God can do and has said He will do it through the faithful proclamation of the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, the Gospel is the power of God to salvation for those who believe.

Let me leave you with the words of Paul Tripp from his book War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles (pg. 112):

“God’s agenda in these moments is fundamentally spiritual. He knows that only when he owns our hearts unchallenged will we relate to the world in the way he has ordained. For this reason, God is focused not only on the momentary solution to our problems but on a long-term change of heart.”

REAPS (1,2,3): A Model for Prayer

Without a doubt, a faithful & fulfilling prayer-life is the singular greatest topic that Christians I encounter confess to struggling with in their walk with Christ. Why is that? You may have many opinions and thoughts on that (as most people do) but it is consistently at the top of the charts in studies and polls, as well.

Praise God, though, that the Twelve (Luke 11:1-13) were honest with the Lord about their struggles in prayer. For by their honesty and humility, we have the Greatest Teacher instructing on one of the greatest topics, and it has been given to and preserved for us.

The practice of prayer is, arguably, one of the two most important practices of a Christian’s life (see Don Whitney’s ‘Spiritual Disciplines for a Christian’s Life); and I believe that to be true. After having been saved by God through faith in Jesus Christ, you will never participate in anything more impactful than applying the words/instructions of our Savior in Luke 11:1-13. Everything in your Christian life flows and is fed from the unfathomable privilege and practice of prayer.

Your intimacy with the Lord, your hunger for His Word & Righteousness, your spiritual growth, evangelism, worship, your thought life & actions as a spouse, parent, covenant member of a Local Body, friend, employee, student are all radically changed by a healthy and robust prayer life.

On the contrary, however, when prayer is neglected or takes a back seat to “the really important and necessary tasks of the day, the Christian will find him/herself dry, disconnected, and often times desperately out of sync.

J.I. Packer:  “I ask whether you prayer, because diligence in prayer is the secret of eminent holiness. Without controversy there is a vast difference among true Christians…I believe the difference in 19 cases out of 20 arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.”

Drawing from what many, perhaps most, call the Lord’s Prayer I hope to provide you with a format or skeletal structure for prayer that the Lord teaches His Disciples. I recently taught our congregation this format using the acronym REAPS (1,2,3)

Recognition

“Our Father” recognizes two fundamental realities of profound blessing: (1) That we have been saved into a community of believers, a family. We are not in this alone. Indeed, God chose to save you but you are not an island. When you read the Lord’s Prayer notice the plural pronouns. We are a family and as a family we praise God together and petition the Lord for and with one another. (2) God has adopted each believer, both Jew and Gentile, into one family with He as our Father; as our Daddy (Romans 8:15). God the Father is not absent or aloof but rather present and intimate with His children. Consider the great expense at which God has made you, and your new family, His own!

Exaltation

Lest we become too familiar with the Incomprehensibly Glorious One, the Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that He is “in Heaven.” I am always reminded of the magnificent communication skills of RC Sproul who taught on the Imminence of God (His nearness to us) without ever compromising the Transcendence of God (His “otherness” if you will). “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts…” the seraphim cried out (Isaiah 6:3). Our culture, even our Christian culture would do well to remember to revere Him who sits enthroned above the heavens with the earth as His footstool. The Almighty is not your “homeboy” or the “little 6lb 5oz baby Jesus” but the King of Creation, The Eternally Existent and Self-sufficient One, who is worthy of our utmost reverence.

Adoration

The hallowing of God’s name goes beyond setting apart the name of YHWH in our speech. Al Mohler demonstrates the profound nature of this request when he writes, “By asking that the name of God be hallowed, Jesus is asking God to so move and act in the world that people value His glory, esteem His holiness, and treasure His character above all else. We must not miss this: Jesus’ first request is not that His personal needs be met, but that God’s glory and holiness be known and loved as it deserves. What a remarkably God-centered prayer.” In short, we adore the name, fame, and glory of God so highly that we ask God to move/act in history in such a way that the whole world sees His glory; regardless of personal costs associated with such a prayer. We would do well to focus first on His glory before our own desires!

Prioritization

When praying “your kingdom come and your will be done,” Believers align themselves with an agenda far beyond their comprehension. Jesus also summarized this type of attitude when He taught on the Mount that His followers would “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). This prayer, when genuinely prayed, has catastrophic consequences for personal and political agendas. God’s Kingdom/Will is not a matter of earthly or materialistic advancement but “of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17); it’s about His reign and His design for life to be our earthly reality. Therefore, to pray for God’s Kingdom and God’s Will to be accomplished we should first ensure that when He consummates the Kingdom (the Second Coming) we personally are prepared, and secondly ensure that our hold on this world not be so tight that when the Lord brings the Kingdom to this world we wouldn’t find ourselves disappointed by some perceived loss. In other words, do your priorities in life lead you to an Eternal Kingdom or when the Eternal Kingdom is ushered in would you find your priorities leaving you empty handed?

Supplication (1,2,3)

Finally, the Lord gets to where many Christians begin; asking the Lord to supply our needs. But, pay special attention to these needs: (1) Give us, (2) Forgive us, and (3) Lead us. “Give us” points the believer to his/her dependence upon the Lord for their daily sustenance. In spite of the fact that our pantries and closets are full, we should still be confessing our dependence upon the One who gave it and we know could take it if it brought Him the greatest glory and us our greatest good (see Job). “Forgive us” points the believer to the spiritual reality of our dependence upon Him to take away that which we cannot undo; namely, our sin. We are desperately in need of the Father’s forgiveness daily and we can praise our Merciful Father that He is pleased to oblige through Calvary (Isaiah 53:10). Lastly, “Lead us” points the believer to our ongoing need for the Good Shepherd to “lead us beside still waters” and to “lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” How desperately we need the leading of the Good Shepherd and how lovely it is to hear His voice and follow Him (John 10) away from the Evil One. Our supplications cover our physical, spiritual, and shepherding needs!

I’ll leave you with one parting thought on prayer from the Prince of Preachers as he mulled over the promises of the Lord contained in “ask, seek, and knock” from Luke 11:1-13—“Ask, therefore, after a God-like fashion, for great things, for you are before a great throne…The right spirit in which to approach the throne of grace is that of unstaggering confidence… Shame on us if we are unbelieving before the throne of the King of Heaven & Earth. With our God before us in all His glory, sitting on the throne of grace, will our hearts dare to say we mistrust Him? Shall we imagine either that He cannot—or will not—keep His promise?” Far be it from us, brothers.

May the Lord be glorified as we learn to pray at the feet of the Master.

Longing Leads to Hope

COVID-19 is everywhere. Whether it’s in the news, on your news feed, through the Twitter-sphere, in your community or maybe even in your home, we just cannot escape COVID-19. It has even infiltrated the gathering of the Church. To be honest, I’m exhausted with it.

I praise God that I have not had to deal with it firsthand, as I know many have, but to see that there is yet “no end in sight” is rather disheartening. It has, however, created a longing in my heart that has proven to be unquenchable. I long to be with the Body of Christ like never before. Surely, I have taken for granted the freedom and ability to gather for worship and fellowship. But, I believe this longing is pointing me, and prayerfully you, to an even greater longing that will not be quenched until the Second Coming of Christ.

Romans 5:1-5 says that we not only “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…but we rejoice in our sufferings.” Not having the freedom and ability to gather for worhsip may not be persecution but it has unquestionably led to a level of suffering that I have never encountered as I have never been restrained from the Ordinary Means of Grace.

What is the Christian’s (therefore my) response? Rejoice.

Romans 5 continues, “rejoice…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

Endurance

Suffering is producing an endurance in me that leads me to recognize that I must go on because I am not in control of, well really, much of anything. I must accept and embrace that which God has brought to us/me while praising and trusting Him through it; even when I don’t understand.

Character

Endurance is producing character in me that leads me to trust the Lord no matter what comes; which is growing me in faith. The Holy Spirit reveals to us in Romans 5 that our faith-filled endurance and trust, produced through trials and suffering, make us “battle-hardened soldiers of faith.” One Greek-English lexicon records “character” in this manner: “the experience of going through a test with special reference to the result, standing a test, character…as a process of enduring something amounts to a test that promotes and validates the character of the one undergoing it.”[1] In essence, God uses our suffering to mold us and shape us into the image of our Savior (Romans 8:29). And in that, I can rejoice!

Hope

Character is producing hope in me that makes me long for the One upon whom I wait. I love how Paul Tripp defines hope in his book ‘The War of Words’: “Hope for the believer is not a dream of what could be, but a confident expectation of a  guaranteed result that shapes his life.” Read those words again and think through them“Hope is…a confident expectation of a guaranteed result that shapes his life.” Ultimately, this hope that Paul writes of in Romans 5 is the believer’s justification and I, indeed, rest in that Hope. But, I think I can find some application for today too.

My “suffering”, if you’ll allow me to call it that, in longing to be reunited with the Body of Christ is teaching me about where my hope, ultimately, needs to be redirected. The Body of Christ is a sweet grace of God in which His people are fed, nourished, cherished, and grow but it pales in comparison to Who awaits those same believers; namely, Jesus Christ! I do long to gather for worship and I often wonder and pray how much longer I am willing to not do so, but something greater than the Body awaits those in Christ, our Head Himself. How much sweeter will worship be when it is face-to-face before the Lamb upon His throne? This is my ultimate Hope: The sweet, rich, glorious, unfathomable gathering of God’s elect free from the presence of sin, engulfed in the unending, never-fading, incomprehensible glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!

This Hope, the hope that does not disappoint or put us to shame (Rom. 5:5), in the Second Coming of Jesus is, for the believer, a confident expectation of a guarunteed result that shapes his life (thank you Rev. Tripp). I’ve hedged my bets, reordered my life, surrendered my passions, my desires, my thoughts, words, and actions to the promise of the forgiveness of sins & salvation by faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection & Christ’s Second Coming where He will not “deal with sin but [will] save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28).

Eagerly, I stand with the Apostle John when he wrote, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20); fill the longing of my soul!

 

[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. 256). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gardening & Harvesting

I love to garden.

I love preparing the soil, planting the seed or plant, tending the soil around the the plant to produce healthy growth, pruning, harvesting, preserving the produce for the year to come, and of course eating it fresh off the vine. Believe it or not, I even enjoy weeding. Because no one enjoys weeding, it has become a place of quiet reflection for me. Everyone enjoys the harvest but it’s really gardening that has become a joy for me. 

It wasn’t until I was recently engaged in conversation about the Gospel that this metaphor of gardening and harvesting really came to life for me. I was asking questions of the person who was clearly disagreeing with the message of the Gospel when someone asked me if I had been reading “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions” by Greg Koukl. 

I had not been, but upon his recommendation I picked up a copy and began learning how to better engage with people who have a differing opinion than mine; especially in matters of faith. But it’s not so much the “tactics” that have stood out to me up to this point so much as Koukl’s approach to Gospel-conversation as a whole. He likened his approach of sharing his faith to gardening vs. harvesting. 

The Harvest is easy to understand. You share the Gospel, God does a supernatural work in that person causing them to be born-again, they confess Christ, turn from their former way of life and follow Jesus. In essence, you’ve just harvested, you’ve picked the ripe fruit, and it seemed easy—some have called it “low hanging fruit” before. If you are a gospel-sharer, more than likely you have picked some low hanging fruit. You didn’t prepare the soil, plant the seed, tend the soil, weed the garder, prune or fertilize, someone else did; you simply plucked the juicy, sun-ripened, vibrantly red tomato from the vine. Rejoice! What a joy! 

The Gardening, however easy it is to understand, is not so easy to do. Gardening is hard. Sometimes the soil is hardened by a lack of rain and doesn’t easily work up. Sometimes the soil is soggy due to an oversaturation and is equally difficult to work. Still, someone needs to work the soil, plant the seed, weed out that which hinders growth and steals nutrients, and the labor is long & tiresome. It is necessary work and if there is to be a harvest in the future, often many gardeners have labored over this one “plant.” 

In these times, there is still no promise of a harvest at all. Perhaps the rains will drown out the whole garden. Perhaps drought or the neighborhood dog will decimate the well-teneded garden. Perhaps, locusts devour and destroy or plant disease comes through and depletes the health of the plant until all it can do is grow, never producing fruit. 

Gardening is hard work. And if we think of gardening and harvesting as a metaphor in evangelism, there is much more time invested in gardening than in harvesting. The harvest happens quickly and often times not by the gardener. Are you content with being God’s gardener? Are you “swinging for the fences” (how’s that for mixing metaphors) every time you talk with someone whether it’s forced & awkward or not? 

Koukl’s approach to gardening and harvesting is that most of the gospel conversations he will ever engage in are gardening conversations. After all, it is Jehovah who is “the Lord of the harvest”, is He not? Sometimes in “gardening,” well meaning Christians rush to the thrust of the Gospel hoping to reap a harvest when the “young plant” is still in its germination or even before the soil has been tilled. This is not to say, “You shouldn’t share Christ with people too quickly” but “We should inquisitively discover where this person is in the gardening process so as to have a better understanding of our role in God’s process.” 

I know I’m guilty of forcing the meat of the Gospel into a converstation where it doesn’t naturally fit in an effort to “do what I’m supposed to do.” If I’m honest, that’s never resulted in anyone converting or following up with “Hmmm, tell me more.” It almost always (and maybe always) ended the conversation. It’s like harvesting the bloom hoping the little yellow flower tastes like a well-tended, sun-ripened tomato. 

God is sovereign over salvation, I’m not suggesting otherwise. I also know that if I were more attentive & inquisitive, I could be of more use to Him as He draws those to Himself from whom He has chosen to reap a harvest.

The Joys of the Old

There’s something beautiful in barn-wood. The old, worn-out, seasoned and scarred-up wood from a barn tells a story without words. You know in that deeply grooved and distressed plank there has been life, death, tears, joy, confusion, and hard work. It has seen storms and sunshine, extreme cold and heat, winds that threatened destruction and a gentle breeze that brought relief to those inside and out. There is joy in the old.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s because my tastes and desires have changed. Maybe it’s because I have simply come to enjoy the complexity and longevity of time-developed enjoyments. Allow me a moment to explain.

This is where the Lord has me in my personal Bible reading, as well. To be honest, I’ve always labored through the Major Prophets because of the mystery in multiple prophecies, with people I don’t remember, names I can’t pronounce, and situations I’ve forgotten from I & II Kings and Chronicles. But this time through has been different.

I’ve been praying “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). And, the Lord has been faithful to that request. I can’t get enough of Isaiah. In times past, I’ve bogged down and struggle through “The Majors” but the Lord has slowed me, fed me, led me to meditate and take “small bites” and feast on His complexity, longevity, and His time-developed redemptive plan, and most importantly, His covenantal faithfulness to True Israel.

Take for example Isaiah 46. In verse 3 & 12 the Lord commands the attention of His covenant people when He says, “Listen to me…” He moves His people through the futility of idolatry, that the idols of the idolatrous follow them into slavery demonstrating their impotence. Yet, it was His covenant people “who have been borne by [YHWH] from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (46:3b-4). The LORD is not impotent. He has proclaimed this before it happened, then caused it to happen that His people might remember Him and stand firm. “…there is no other…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (46:9 & 11).

It was YHWH who knows His people even before they were born (Isaiah 46:3 & Ephesian 1:4), who carries them from out of the womb and through their lives (Isaiah 46: 3b-4a; Psalm 139:13-16 & Matthew 28:20), and will save those He has born and carries (Isaiah 46:4b & 13 & John 6:40). How can the student of Scripture, the disciple of Jesus, not see his Messiah in these “old words,” and in seeing not rejoice?

And yet this is only a passing scent, carried on the breeze, of the feast that awaits the student of the Old. The Sovereign God who sent His Son laid the ground-work in centuries past, that when His advent came His own would know Him. He is ours for the discovery, as well as the joy that awaits with it, in the Old.

I often wonder if this is how Cleopas and his fellow sojourner felt on their way to Emmaus while the resurrected Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets…interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Indeed, my heart burns within me while the Lord talks to me through the opened Scriptures (Luke 24:32).

There are joys in the Old. And, if you’re willing to set down the New (Testament), even if just for a season, and ask the Lord to open your eyes, that you may see wonderful things from His Law, I am confident that when you pick the New back up the Old will have enriched not only your understanding but also your love and appreciation for God’s time-developed plan of redemption; especially in the most obvious connection between the Old & New, the person Jesus of Nazareth, your Savior!

Just for the record: Jesus is better than barn-wood!

Christ & the Covenants

One of my first thoughts was, “This is an odd time of the year to be handling the covenants.” But on second thought, “The covenants are the purpose of the advent of Christ.” This time of the year exists because YHWH is a covenant-making & covenant-keeping God.

Our little country church is in the midst of amending our church covenant in the pursuit of recovering meaningful church membership. I know that “recovering meaningful church membership” is a popular catchphrase among Reformed circles but it caught on for a reason.

For many churches, like ours, membership has become “Your name on a page” or “Your right to vote” or “Family tradition.”

But membership, especially covenantal membership, is so much more. We are a covenantal people because God is a covenantal God. And most importantly, we are in a covenantal relationship with YHWH because Jesus Christ is our Covenant-keeping Federal Head.

In my pursuit of faithfully “shepherding the flock of God…as one who will have to give an account” (1 Peter 5:2 & Hebrews 13:17), I discovered the importance of covenantal church membership. I would go so far as to say the centrality of covenantal church membership for the Christian life. Allow me to lead you from the God-head to the Body (quickly not comprehensively) in three sweeping movements: (1) The Covenant-making & Covenant-keeping God; (2) Christ, Our Covenant Fulfiller; and (3) The Body, Covenanted for His Glory & Our Good.

The Covenant-making & Covenant-keeping God

One cannot pick up the Bible, open its pages, and read a single word where they will not find God interacting with His creation outside of a covenant. Covenants are the divinely ordered mechanism by which God has entered into relationship with His creation.

From Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, Moses to David, and David to Golgotha (the New Covenant, see Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, and Luke 22:20) God has always and will always relate to humanity through his “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4).

This would encompass all of humanity; from the elect to the reprobate.

And YHWH has always fulfilled His end of His initiated covenants, without fail, whether that be in covenant blessing or covenant curses. From Numbers 23:19, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” to Titus 1:2, “…God, who never lies, promised…”, believers rejoice in the steadfast, immutable, faithfulness of God!

Christ, Our Covenant Fulfiller

My heart rejoices as my mind overflows from the incomprehensible wisdom of God displayed in Christ Jesus. His advent was for the purpose of fulfilling mankind’s obligation to God in all of the covenants of works, laying his life down as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice to pay the penalty of covenant-breakers chosen by God for redemption, and to conquer death for those who, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, would be given eternal life.

This, my friends, is the Hope to which you were saved.

Because of Christ, the covenant blessing of “I will be their God and they will be my people” has been fulfilled. Indeed, “It is finished,” which is why “all the promises of God find their Yes in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:20).

Jesus is the Second Adam, the Seed of the Woman, the Seed of Abraham, the Great Prophet, the Great High Priest, the Seed of David who reigns forever, and inaugurator of New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace, the Eternal Covenant.

In Christ, you have been given every blessing from every covenant for eternity to the praise of His glorious grace. Rejoice, brothers!

The Body, Covenanted for His Glory & Our Good

“Be imitator of God” (Ephesians 5:1). Having been made partakers of His divine nature, in Christ, be imitators of God. Because God is a covenant-making & covenant-keeping God so His people, from all time, have always been. And we need not find or make some random covenant.

Jesus summarized the covenant-keeping nature of His people when He commissioned His disciples at His ascension, “…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20).

Our church covenant is nothing more than a summary of the Lord’s descriptions of life in Him. The covenant we make is in Christ, with Christ & His Body, for God’s glory which is our greatest good.

Why would any Christian shy away from such thing? For me, early in my walk with Christ it was because of indifference brought about by ignorance; nothing more, nothing less. Today, I run to the Covenant knowing that God has given it to me for my good, others have bound themselves to it for my good, and that by doing so I imitate my covenant-making & covenant-keeping God.

May God be glorified as I, and I pray we, seek to honor Him together! Merry Christmas, friends!

Interruptible

Is your day packed with getting yourself & the kids ready and out the door, getting to work, getting to practice, getting home, getting to supper, getting to laundry, getting to homework, getting to bed so that you can get to sleep and “get getting” again tomorrow? Is your schedule packed so tight that you can’t see who or what is going on around you? Is your schedule made of concrete or Jell-O?

Are you interruptible?

This is the question I ran into as I was “getting at it” in sermon prep not too long ago. I was preparing to preach through “The Feeding of the 5,000” in Luke 9 and read this:

“And [Jesus took the Twelve] and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he…” (Luke 9:10-11)

The backstory goes like this: The disciples (apostles) were sent out to teach, preach, and heal all throughout Galilee and on their return, Jesus pulled them aside for a retreat to refresh and rejoice in all that God had done as they shared with Him and the others their experience. But as usual, the crowds caught wind of their direction and headed them off at the pass.

Jesus plans and executes a time of much needed sabbath for His apostles after their first “local mission trip” and the crowds sabotage it.

Luke’s Gospel, that I cut off earlier says “…the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.” He welcomed the crowds from whom He, literally, was trying to escape. Then, He served them; preaching of the Kingdom and healing their infirmities and eventually feeding, perhaps, 10,000 people.

Why? Why didn’t He shew them off? Why didn’t He see them coming and head the other way? Why, as He is the Omniscient Creator God, did He plan a retreat He knew would never happen?

Mark’s account gives us a little glimpse into Jesus’ why:

“…he saw [them], and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34).

Jesus had compassion on the crowds, on the lost, on the saved, on His creatures. These bore the Imago Dei and it was smeared, broken, fallen, and they were in desperate need and His schedule didn’t trump their need. Jesus was more sensitive to the needs of the people around him than His schedule or plans.

He was interruptible.

I had to ask myself, and I pray you will stop and ask yourself, “Am I interruptible? Am I aware of the needs of others? Am I aware that others are even around me? Or am I so consumed with my schedule that I miss what God has put in front of me?”

Let’s pretend for a moment that Jesus forced His planned retreat and sent the crowds packing:

First, the disciples learn that the needs of others come after our own current plans.

Second, thousands of people go home as desperate as they left home when Jesus turns them away; turned off by Jesus by being turned away when they were in need.

Third, the impossible situation of 5,000 (not including women & children) men not having food never takes place.

Lastly, the only miracle, not including the resurrection of Jesus, recorded in all four Gospels never happens. Jesus never feeds the 5,000; perhaps the most recognizable miracle of all.

Quick recap: thousands aren’t evangelized, thousands aren’t miraculously healed, thousands never experience, first hand, the compassion of Jesus, the disciples are left to think that they should place their own needs and schedule ahead of others, and the second greatest flannel-graph story in history never happens.

So, let’s ask ourselves one last series questions: What am I missing because my schedule is so tightly packed? Who is not witnessing the love of Christ or not hearing the Gospel of Christ because I am too busy to tell them as I show them? Am I aware that all those “good things” that have consumed me has become one great big “bad thing” called “my schedule?” Am I ready to drop my plans because God brings me a new schedule for the day? Am I willing?

Am I interruptible? If we are students becoming like our Master then we must answer “Yes, Lord, I am interruptible. Help me see and serve as you did.”

Lord, may we be found to be imitators of Jesus as we hold our plans in an open hand, ready and willing for you take our plans, give us yours, and use us to reflect your glory.

Kanye & Christianity

Just for the record, I know absolutely nothing about Kanye West except for some headlines from news sites over the last 15 years that made glad I knew nothing about Kanye West. I took the recent headlines about Kanye “finding Christ” with the same attitude.

But…I couldn’t resist. I clicked and got sucked into that vortex where time stands still, the Internet, and before I knew it, I was watching Kim Kardashian on the View. (These are all words I never even dreamed I would be saying/writing/thinking…)

If you know me at all (I know, most of you don’t), you are probably as surprised at reading this as I am writing it…Me, Kanye, Christian, Watching the View, and anything Kim Kardashian don’t fit in the same sentence.

I’m a 40 year old pastor in a farming community of 200 in the middle of a rural county in Illinois with the population of a little over 13,000. What do I know about Kanye, Kim Kardashian, the View, Hip-hop, or celebrity culture? Nothing.

But I do know Jesus Christ. I know Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying preaching. And this is exactly what fell on my overwhelmingly surprised ears as I listened to the message that was preached at Kanye’s “Sunday Service” in Detroit on Sept. 30. To be honest, I prefer a different style of preaching. I prefer more Scripture. I prefer solid, exegetical, sequential expositional preaching that engages the intellect and the heart. I prefer John MacArthur, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Steven Lawson, and others like them. I prefer to read old, dead, Puritanesk, Reformed theologians that make much of Christ and lead me into worship as I reflect upon the glories of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But that’s not how Dr. Adam Tyson, professor of Biblical Counseling at Master’s Seminary, did it.

Pastor Adam just preached the Gospel (“just”); simply, profoundly, and completely. The Gospel.

Praise God! I took these quotes from foxnews.com (https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/kanye-west-sunday-service-california-pastor) before I watched him deliver the Gospel:

“My message is that God is holy, but we are all sinners and therefore deserve God’s judgment. God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised from the dead on the third day. The good news is that through repentance of your sin and faith in the risen Christ you can have true joy and happiness which is found only in Jesus.”

“It feels like half the crowd comes because they are Kanye fans, but we want them to leave knowing Jesus Christ,” Tyson said. “We want them to know that there is something better than what the world offers. The answer is found in Jesus, in knowing Him, loving Him, and walking in obedience to Him.”

You may be as skeptical as I was (am) about what’s going on with “Sunday Service” and Kanye, but take 12 minutes out of your day and listen to Pastor Adam for yourself. You can click the link above and being listening at 35:15 and he finishes his Gospel presentation at the 47:35 mark.

Pastor Adam’s (a local church pastor in LA who has been leading Kanye in Bible study) faithful proclamation of the Gospel includes both Law & Gospel, both faith & repentance, and it all hinges upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Praise God!

Has Kanye West been regenerated? Is he a joint-heir with Jesus? Is he genuinely converted or is this all just a publicity stunt? I don’t know; I sure hope so! Kanye is waaaaaaaay outside of my circle of influence and I’m not writing or rejoicing in Kanye. I’m rejoicing in the fact that “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16) is being faithfully proclaimed in the moment and countless thousands, maybe millions, of people are hearing it like I did on the internet; to the praise of God’s glory!

Indeed, God is redeeming a people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” and as it appears, he’s using Kanye West to do it. Again, words I never even dreamed of stringing together in a coherent sentence but here we are and God has done it.

I know absolutely nothing about Kanye, his heart, his motives, his marriage, his family, his faith, or his “Sunday Service” but I know that “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

Clean: Part 2, For Better or For Worse

Don’s story took me back, way back. It’s amazing what the memory files away when the heart chooses to forgive. However, those files are still there and I still remember those days, but my version is the spouse’s perspective. Sixteen years ago was a tender and difficult time in my life as a wife and mother. I experienced what it’s like to feel lost and alone. I experienced what it’s like to live in fear that my dreams of a strong and happy marriage were crumbling right before my eyes. I also experienced what it was like to have pain so deep that my only prayer for weeks was that of silence as I folded my hands and wept before the Lord—at a loss for words, I was broken.

Don and I met through a mutual friend and had a whirlwind romance, if you will. We met in October of 2000 and married in May 2001. By October of 2001, we had our first child. In less than a year we had made vows to love each other for better or for worse and brought life into the world. It happened quickly, but I was so happy. Around our daughter’s first birthday we found out that baby #2 was due in July 2003. Our family was growing and life was good.

We moved into a new home that had more room for our expanding family. Shortly after we moved, I started noticing some changes in our relationship that were perplexing me. Don’s social circle changed. It started with drinks after work with the guys; guys that had a bad rap in the community. This was strange because we didn’t do the “bar scene” anymore. We gave that up when we got married and started a family.  He began coming home late at night without calling. He never did stuff like that before. We were the couple that updated each other throughout the day, at least 3 times a day. His demeanor towards me began to change and he wasn’t as kind.  He was quick and to the point in conversations and it felt cold and guarded. “Guarded for what?” was my question. We began arguing over the most random things and I would leave the argument thinking, “What on earth was that all about?” Our conversations became few and affections and intimacy slowed down drastically until they were almost nonexistent. I felt the wedge of distance and my heart ached for the relationship that I once had with my husband—one of thoughtfulness, respect, and lots of love and affection.

Foolishly, I thought for a moment that my pregnancy and the weight I had gained was disgusting to him. Maybe he just didn’t find me attractive anymore or maybe he just didn’t enjoy my company.  The most dangerous of my thoughts was leaning toward that idea that perhaps he had met someone else. Whatever was going on was not good, but I just couldn’t figure it out. My heart was breaking and the pregnancy hormones were not helping matters.

One beautiful summer morning I decide to go fishing with my dad to get my mind off things, but first I needed to make a quick stop at the bait store.  While at the bait store something peculiar happed, my card was declined. I knew something was off, because we were doing great financially. Kindly, I asked the attendant to run my card once more and once more the card was declined. Lucky for me, our bank was just around the corner. I left the store a bit embarrassed and waddled my pregnant self and my one year old into the bank looking for an explanation. The explanation was not what I expected; my account was overdrawn by over $800. As if that were not alarming enough, our savings account had been wiped clean as well. Fighting back the tears, I took the bank records and left the bank—my head spinning with confusion.

Once I got to my parents, I went through the bank records and saw check upon check written to men in our community that I knew were drug dealers. I sobbed uncontrollably and couldn’t comprehend how I could be fooled like this by the man that I love? I shared what was going on with my parents and they had a long, hard, heart to heart talk with me. They shared that they had their suspicions of drug usage for months, but didn’t want to say anything until after the baby was born, in fear that it would cause too much stress on the pregnancy. When I arrived home that evening, I confronted Don with the events of the day and the conversation with my parents. He had an explanation for all of it and assured me that he would handle everything at the bank and that my parents were just conspiracy theorists. He was charming and I was smitten, but I wasn’t blind and continued to keep my guard up.

Fast forward 6 weeks later. We have a 3-week-old new baby and he’s perfect. Things between Don and I are still rough and suspicions were increasing, but my children were healthy and I enjoyed them so much that I welcomed their delightful distraction from the chaos of my life. One day Don came home and told me about a woman he worked with that had been murdered in her home. He said that there was to be an investigation at his place of employment. That sounded reasonable to me, except he wasn’t telling me everything and deep down I knew it.

Two weeks later and many trips to the investigator’s office, I was tired of the run around and gave an ultimatum; either he was going to tell me the truth or I was going to leave. On what seemed like the most unreal night of my married life, my husband confessed his drug usage, drug dealing, and drug addiction. He was visibly scared—scared of seeing life with drugs and scared of seeing life without them. This was his rock bottom and he was terrified. At this point, I was lacking compassion and understanding, but I did have one emotion, anger. Never in my life had I felt so much anger permeate through my body. It was ugly.

One afternoon, I called my sister-in-law and asked her to come over and watch the kids so that I could go for a drive and clear my head. I remember telling myself that I didn’t want a marriage like the one I had and that I hadn’t signed up for all this trouble. On that drive I sobbed and told God that I was going to leave Don. I didn’t know how I was going to make it on my own with two little kids, but I was leaving. I remember having to pull over on the side of the road because the stream of tears coming from my eyes were making it impossible to see clearly. In those next moments I had memories of our wedding day. I flashed back to the marriage vow ceremony where I promised to love him and keep him for better or for worse. These vows gave me pause and God spoke to my heart. Sixteen years later, I believe with all my heart that God reminded me through that flashback that I made a promise, not just to Don, but to Him. I couldn’t break my promise. By the time I pulled back into my driveway I had made a decision to stay.

I didn’t know how I was ever going to trust Don again or if he was even going to stay clean from drugs, but I knew I had to keep my promise. I had to love him for better or for worse and this was the “for worse” part. I wish I could tell you how holy and righteous I handled this situation, but that would be a blatant lie. I was so angry. I was out of control with my speech and withheld forgiveness for nearly 2 years. I also reminded Don regularly how badly he failed me. I sought to hurt him because he hurt me. However, I knew in the depth of my soul that my behavior was not that of a kind and loving woman. I needed help.

I was given the best source of help when I was 20 years old. It was a leather back bible that my parents gave me as a birthday gift. As I began to read through the scriptures, I was rescued when I cried out for help (Psalm 18:6). In time, as my heart changed, my relationship with Don changed too.  God took my cold stony heart and softened it (Ezekiel 36:26.) My problem was that I was treating Don like he was the enemy of my soul, but that was just a lie.

The truth was that my battles, and yours, are not against one another—they are spiritual battles and there is a real enemy of my/your soul (Ephesians 6:12). There was a war raging in my heart, a war to hate my husband –which is not from the Lord (John 15:12). God was calling me to love my husband as Christ has loved me—to see beyond Don’s sin and pardon him even though he didn’t deserve it. God reminded me that he saw beyond my sin even though I didn’t deserve it. He was calling me to true forgiveness. God saw my sin, yet covered it with the blood of Christ and declared me pardoned from all the wrong I have and will commit. God forgave me! He took my filth and cast it away (Micah 7:19).

I have spent the last 16 years trying to imitate that kind of love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace in my marriage. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what saved my marriage and it continues to save it, mend it, and keep it today. I have truly forgiven my husband and I treasure him for the gift that he is to me.

Today, I am thankful for this trial because, through it, God produced in me real spiritual fruit that I may have never obtained without it.

Clean

On August 1, 2003 I used cocaine and abused drugs for the last time. The Lord rescued me from a miserable life substance abuse, despair, confusion, and an unstable state of uncertainty.

This is probably the most personal blog post I’ve written to date. I’ve spoken extensively on God rescuing me from despair, counseled many people still lost in addiction and substance abuse, and by God’s grace discipled some out of that destruction and into new life in Jesus Christ. But I’ve never written on the subject. It’s not because of shame, although I lived in shame for a long time, nor is it out of fear, although some use my past as ammo for their own agenda. I pray that God uses His story of redemption to point you to Christ and so that you can rejoice in His goodness with me.

The Way it Used to Be

Having been raised in a God-fearing home, I knew better. Really, I did. And for years I wrestled with “Could I have been saved when I was a little boy if I struggled in this sin for years?”

As a little boy, I heard the Gospel, believed the Gospel, and today I can say that I believe God saved me. That may sound strange to some evangelical ears but I lived in regular state of conviction and shame over my sin and had periods of repentance and commitment to Christ where I genuinely sought to honor Him (1 John 3:6-10). Today, I praise God that He is The Faithful Shepherd who always pursues His own, even when they wander on their own!

So how did this happen? There are many details that I can point outside of myself that contributed to my decision making but those details are irrelevant. To sin is always a decision for the one who is in Christ (Galatians 5:16-17). Simply, I neglected the ordinary means of grace and Christian disciplines (the Word, prayer, fellowship, discipleship, worship, & Communion) and when I did I isolated, starved spiritually, became weak and fell to my own evil desires rising up within in me (James 1:14).

What did that look like? Well, at first it started small. I began pretending to drink to impress my friends in 8th grade (I’m sure they were impressed). I started looking at porn regularly. I smoked weed for the first time at 15. Drinking to oblivion immediately followed. Shrooms and LSD were right behind that with prescription pain killers, anxiety meds, muscle relaxers, and ecstasy to follow. By the time I graduated from high school (barely with a 1.79 GPA), substance abuse was an everyday part of my life. I was either using, recovering from the previous destructive oblivion I lived in, or plotting my next one.

The Way God Awakened Me

Outside of some pockets of sobriety and rejoicing in God’s mercy and grace (some short, some lengthy), I wouldn’t find the end of this miserable duplicity until I was 24 years old.

Married to a wonderful wife, with a beautiful daughter, and a little boy about to be born I tried cocaine for the first time in March of 2003. Only six short months later, by August of 2003 I was thousands and thousands of dollars in debt to family and drug dealers, losing a home to foreclosure, on the cusp of being fired from my job, hiding my family, and running for my life (or so I thought), a disgrace to my family, and on the verge of divorce.

By August of 2003, I was the guy on my hands and knees pulling rocks, drywall, and dirt out of carpet with the hopes that it was just a little cocaine that I had previously dropped. I was broken, desperate, and couldn’t imagine living this way for the rest of my life but couldn’t imagine not having enough money to use tomorrow either. Shame, fear, remorse, and despair were my constant companions. Sadly, it was tragedy that God used to open my eyes and call me out of this destruction.

I came into work one morning to the news that a lady I worked with had been murdered the day before; the same day in which she called me looking for more dope. In my selfish destruction, it was my own welfare that was the first thought to run through my mind as I knew I would soon be face to face with law-enforcement. My heart still breaks over my sin and selfishness and grieves for that young lady’s family.

Things went downhill quickly. My family, knowing that something was terribly wrong with me but unsure of what it was, had been dragged into a murder investigation, the paranoia of multiple drug users and dealers, and a broken husband, daddy, son, and son-in-law that didn’t know how to stop. Needless to say, God’s grace and strength was sufficient for me and He delivered me to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph. 1).

It was a long and difficult road of learning how to live clean & sober but looking back I can see the overwhelming mercy, patience, and grace of God. Having come clean with my family, God sent men into my life who would take me under their wing, point me to Christ, and teach me how to live without a substance to alter my reality, even if only for today. In His strength, those “todays” have accumulated.

As of August 2nd, by God’s grace, He has given me 5,843 days of freedom in Christ. Glory to God in highest!

The Way He Pruning Me Today

There are so many details I have to leave out and the road has not always been smooth, but the purpose of this post is to point to the reality God is faithful and He delivered me and set my feet on the Rock!

Today, it’s the ordinary means of grace by which the Lord sustains me, feeds me, convicts me, encourages me, strengthens me, and sanctifies me. This has always been His way of growing His children into the image of Christ and it will always be this way until He completes the good work He began in all those He has saved. I praise God for the ordinary means of grace! I didn’t know what that meant then but today the funnel by which God lavishes His grace on me is an indispensable part of my mornings, afternoons, and evenings.

By His grace, my desire to live in an altered state of mind has been relieved; completely taken from me. By His grace, my life, marriage, and family have been saved. By His grace, He has partnered me with an extraordinary group of men to under-shepherd Christ’s Church in Eldred. By His grace, it is intimacy with my Creator, Savior, and Sustainer that my heart longs for. By His grace, I desire Christ more than anything.

Strangely enough, some years August 2nd rolls around and I don’t think anything of it and some years, like this one, I’m overwhelmed with God’s goodness toward me; His unearned, unmerited kindness demonstrated toward a wretch like me; while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.

In the words of Edward Mote, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Chris,t the Solid Rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Clean; from my sin and substance abuse, for my Savior and His glory!

If you or someone you know wants help, find me on Facebook or email me at doncarp@hotmail.com and I’d be thrilled to point you to the One for whom, through whom and to whom are all things (Romans 11:36). Jesus is enough!

The Perils of Preaching

Preaching: Google defines it as “the delivery of a sermon or religious address to an assembled group of people, typically in church.” BDAG defines it as “an official announcement, proclamation, of the content of a herald’s proclamation.” I define it as “perilous.”

Seriously. Outside of being a husband and a father preaching has unquestionably become the most difficult and dangerous task I have ever undertaken. Let me explain.

The Work of Interpretation

If you’re a pastor, or regularly exegete Scripture for a study of some sort, you understand not only the real labor that goes into properly interpreting the Word for the consumption of another but also the reverent fear that accompanies misinterpretation.

Let’s face it, anyone can take a verse, paragraph, or passage and mangle it like a playful cat with its recently caught mouse. But, to take into consideration the Testament, Genre, Author, Audience, Purpose of the Book, Cultural, Historical, Grammatical, Christological, Theological, and Applicational (of course, this list is not meant to be exhaustive) context of a passage is work; it’s hard work. To misinterpret could very well led to misapplication and I don’t have to remind you (but I will) of Jesus’ words about the “millstone, river, and causing sin in a little one” (Matthew 18 & Luke 17).

Careful work in the office with the Scriptures is an absolute necessity for the work of interpretation and to neglect that is dangerous.

The Struggle of Application

First, let me say that I don’t mean that the struggle of application is that I struggle with telling YOU how to apply what the passage says. The struggle of application begins with me. It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into as a preacher and I don’t think I’m alone. Here’s how it goes:

My personal devotional reading begins to turn into some version of sermon-prep, the books I am reading begins turning into some version of quotes and illustrations for the sermon I’m preparing, and the notes in the margins of my Bible begin to look like “You cannot…” “We cannot…” “No one should…” and “If you…” instead of “I cannot…I should…If I…”

Somehow, somewhere, sometimes, I stop reading and learning and pursuing Christ and I start prepping all the time, ceasing personally applying the glories of the Gospel to my own needy soul. Needless to say, that descent leads down a perilous road.

The Pain of Mortification

Maybe I’m alone in this one (although I doubt it) but killing sin week after week after week is painful. Sure, I want to be “pruned that I might bear more fruit” just like the next Jesus-lover but I’m just being honest; pruning is painful.

Between Sunday sermons, Sunday School, New Believers & New Members Class, Sunday Night Men’s Group, Monday AM study, and personal discipleship with others through the week I find myself engulfed in the Word of God. That’s a good thing! What an honor and, truthfully, a joy to have been called to serve the Lord and His Church in this capacity. But (and this is a big “But”), do you know what I find in every single page of Scripture? Sin in me. I don’t measure up. I am constantly under the conviction of the Holy Spirit as I study and as I teach/preach.

Now, before you rise and take the stones of “That’s too much Law, Don, and not enough Grace” to bury me with I want to agree with you. The Law is meant to reveal sin but also to drive us to Calvary and sometimes in the laborious and perilous task of killing sin I stop too soon at the revelation of sin, wallow in fear and pity, then walk away feeling discouraged that I’ll never measure up.

But Jesus did.

The Joy of the Gospel

It’s true, I’ll never measure up but I know the One who not only measured up but voluntarily gave up His place of glory, sacrificially took my place of shame, and victoriously defeated death that I might be given His righteousness and not be shackled by my hideously damning unrighteousness; His name is Jesus Christ.

Paul David Trip said, “If you are not resting in the one true gospel, preaching it to yourself over and over again, you will look to another gospel to meet the needs of your unsettled heart” (Dangerous Calling, pg. 36). I couldn’t agree more and have yet to find anything outside of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can settle my heart. The Gospel is the salve of the soul and the right interpretation & application of the Scriptures, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is just as necessary for you (us, me) as it is for your (our, my) people.

Pastors, preachers, evangelists, and teachers, don’t stop at the Work of Interpretation, the Struggle of Application, or the Pain of Mortification take yourself to the Joy of the Gospel. Revel in the glories of the Christ who loves you and gave himself for you too (not just your hearers). The perils of preaching are overcome in the protections afforded even you (I mean me) at Calvary “to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1). Amen

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.