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.

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).