Home Field Advantage

Many of us, if not all of us, have heard the expression, “Home Field advantage”. I have been to several Rays and Red Sox games at Tropicana field in the past, and for a while there, there seemed to be just as many Red Sox fans (if not more) than there were Rays fans.  It was more like little Feneway than it was Tropicana field. The Rays home field advantage seemed to be gone. They were at home, but they were not getting a lot of love.

Well, as we look at our Mark 6:1-6 we will see a similar scene. Jesus is at home, but He is not getting a lot of love:

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Notice in these verses that Jesus is in His hometown and He is teaching in the Synagogue. Up to this point in Mark there has been an emphasis on the teaching and preaching of Jesus. Everywhere Jesus goes He is preaching and teaching. If Jesus thought preaching and teaching was important (which He did), certainly we should think it is important also. It is through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word that we are brought to life spiritually and through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word that we grow spiritually. 

We are told in v. 2 that “many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him?'” Those in attendance were impressed by Jesus’ mighty works and the miracles He had performed, yet despite His astonishing words and powerful works; despite the testimony of what He had done up to this point, those in attendance were not convinced of anything. In fact, they began to talk among themselves and say, in v. 3:”Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” And the end of v. 3 tells us that “they took offense at him.”

The people were profoundly offended by Jesus. They were essentially saying, “who does this guy think He is? We have seen Him grown up and we know His family and we know what He does for a living. He is no one special. So, who does He think He is that He can come in here with His fancy theology and tell us about God? That’s just Jesus, we’re not listening to this.” Therefore, His teachings were not thought to be credible and no one in his home town took Him seriously; the stuff went in one ear and out the other.

We can see Jesus’ response in v. 6, “he marveled because of their unbelief.” It is as if Jesus were saying, “Wow guys, here I am, God of the Universe, Savior of the world, right in front of you, yet you still do not believe.” The people in this passage were people who grew up with Jesus and were around Him and interacted with Him and yet they did not believe in Him, and in fact, they were offended by Him, and this should come as a warning to all of us. There are two warnings here that I want you to see: 

1. Warning to Submit to Christ and His Word

Sometimes you and I, just like those in this passage, have a tendency to find God offensive, and we choose to ignore Him. Now you might be thinking, “If God were speaking directly to me, I would never ignore Him or take offense.” However, there may be verses in the Bible (God speaking directly to us) that you are ignoring and offended by even now.  

If and when we become offended by God’s Word we may be tempted to ignore what we read and live as if we had never seen those verses. However, rather than finding offense, we should humble and submit ourselves to the truth of Scripture.  I once heard it said, “When Scripture says something that we don’t like, the problem is not with the scripture, the problem is with us.” Pray that you would not take offense to the teaching of Christ, but that you would submit and obey His teaching. 

2. Around Jesus Our Entire Lives Yet Failing to Recognize Him as Lord and Savior

The people in Mark 6 watched Jesus grow up around them.They  heard His teaching and were aware of His miracles and yet they did not believe. We may grow up in Christian homes, go to Christian schools, and go to church our whole lives and yet still not be Christians. Association with Christianity does not make us Christian. Reading our Bible does not make us a Christian. Going to church does not make us a Christian. Having a Christian family does not make us Christian. We are Christians only when we trust in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives. It is only through faith alone in Christ alone that we are saved. As you are reading this you might ask yourself, “Do I truly trust in Christ as my Savior or have I just associated myself with Christianity, thinking I am Christian?”

It is an important question. There are those who have been around Jesus their whole lives and yet fail to recognize Him as Savior – don’t let that be you. Look to Jesus, and Jesus alone, as your only means of salvation. He alone can remove your sin and give you eternal life. 

God’s Love for Us

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:6-8

In 2012, Jaime Rohrs took his girlfriend, Patrcicia Legarreta, and their two children to see the midnight showing of the Dark Knight Rises in theaters. As they were sitting down enjoying the movie a man came storming into the theater and started shooting. Chaos ensued and shortly afterward the couple became separated.  Legarreta, with both children, was left inside the theater, while Rohrs managed to escape, hop into his car, and began driving, leaving his girlfriend and children behind. Legarreta was able to reach her boyfriend by cell phone and he returned to the theater and was eventually reunited with his family.  

The man in this story left his girlfriend and children alone, not knowing if they would live or die, while he drove off to safety. Crazy, isn’t it? A man won’t even risk his own life to save his family. As you can see Paul’s words here, in Romans 5:7, are very true, “one will scarcely die for a righteous person”. That is, hardly ever do people voluntarily give their life for someone else’s life, even if that person is a good person and certainly they are not dying for a bad person. 

But God is so merciful and so loving that He sent His Son Jesus into the world to die for us. And Jesus did not die for good people, but He died for bad people like you and me.  

Ungodly, Weak, Sinner

And you might think, “now wait a minute I am not a bad person.” But notice how you and I are described in these verses. We are described in three ways: weak (5:6), ungodly(5:6), and sinners(5:8). 

The word “ungodly” means a lack of interest in the things of God and behavior that reflects that. So, to be ungodly is to not care about God or care about how He commands us to live. Then in verse 8 we are called “sinners” and the word “sinner” means “to miss the mark”. Think of someone shooting an arrow at a target and missing the bull-eye completely. That is missing the mark. And we have missed the mark that God has called us to. The target is perfect obedience to Christ and all of us have woefully missed that mark. We are sinners. Finally, in verse 6 notice that we are described as “weak”, some Bible translations  might say “without strength”. This weakness or lack of strength, that is described here, is not physical strength, but spiritual strength. What Paul is saying is that we are completely unable to save ourselves. We are weak spiritually. We don’t have the strength. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. 

The picture that Paul paints here for us is a bleak one. We are a people who do not care about the things of God nor are we a people who obey God. The result of our apathy and rebellion toward God is condemnation. All of us, apart from Christ, deserve and will receive the wrath of God. And Romans makes it clear here that on our own there is nothing we can do to fix this. We are weak, unable to make things right with God on our own. This is a troubling situation. 

Good News

Thankfully, in God’s grace, we are not left to ourselves. Look at what Christ does for us: We are told that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Out of His great love for you and me God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place. He took our punishment in our place, so that all of those who, by grace, trust in Jesus as Savior will have eternal life.

 Jesus is our only hope of salvation. Trust Him today. If you have trusted in Christ alone for your salvation what joy and gratitude should fill your heart. Thank Him today for all He has done for you. 

How to Live in God’s Word

Understand It

As we open up God’s Word it can be difficult to understand. There are certain books or passages in the Bible that we may glance over or avoid altogether because we don’t understand them. But these passages have lots of value and God has given them to us as a gift. We shouldn’t avoid difficult passages, but instead seek God through prayer to help us better understand. Seek the counsel of others to help us understand. Seek commentaries or study tools to help us understand. We have so many resources at our hands to help us understand God’s Word. Instead of neglecting the difficult passages, let’s embrace them and take them seriously.

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

Delight in It

Psalm 119 tells us that the Word of God is sweeter than honey. It is something to cherish and delight in. We taste honey and enjoy it’s sweet flavor. We see a sunset and enjoy its beauty. We enjoy the laughter that we have with friends. All these things are wonderful delights that God has given to us by grace. His Word is said to be sweeter than these things. Knowing and understanding God’s Word will help us to delight in it. Through delighting in His word we delight in Him.

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

Obey It

When we know and delight in God’s Word it will cause us to obey. True obedience is the overflow of our relational knowledge of God. Being told to obey (“follow rules”) is not what makes people follow rules. Knowing God’s Word is what produces true obedience to God. Obeying God’s Word can only flow from a proper understanding of it. We shouldn’t look at God’s law as a rule to follow begrudgingly, but as something we are pleased to obey.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” (Psalm 119:33-34)

Pray For Your Pastors/Elders

In Hebrews 13 we are told that pastors must give an account for those they watch over (Hebrew 13:7). We see this again in the epistle of James where we are told that pastors/elders will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1) as they have tremendous influence over the church. Pastors/elders have been given a very weighty task – to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28). This is an enormous responsibility that at times can be daunting. Certainly there is great joy in pastoral ministry. It is a tremendous privilege and blessing to shepherd God’s people. However, at the same time, the toll of ministry can truly cause pastors/elders to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and even burnt out. It is so important that we lift our pastors/elders up in prayer regularly, asking God to guide their every step.

Here are a few ways we can do this:

Pray For Their Walk with Jesus

It is important that we pray for our pastor’s spiritual growth. We want them to be the men are walking closely with Jesus and who are striving to be more and more like Him everyday. Over the years the church has had it’s fair share of pastors who have fallen in moral failure. Certainly we do not want this to be true of our pastors. However, sin and temptation are never far away (Genesis 4:7). Therefore, it ought to be our prayer that God would guard our pastor’s hearts from sin. The Bible calls for our pastors to be men who are above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6 ) and that needs to be our regular prayer for them. This includes all areas of their lives – family relationships, work relationship, personal friendships, and ultimately their walk with Jesus.

Pray For Their Preaching

Every week our pastors stand before their congregations and preach God’s Word (hopefully). This is one of the most important, if not the most important, things they do. God’s Word is spiritual nourishment to God’s people. It helps them to grow into mature, healthy believers. Therefore, it is important that the church is served a hearty portion of God’s Word each week. Pray then, that God would guide our pastors each week in their sermon preparation and study. Pray that they would rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) each time they step into the pulpit. And most importantly, pray that God would be magnified and that we would grow through the preaching of God’s Word.

Pray For Their Leadership

There are many decisions to be made, people to counsel, and problems to solve as elders in pastoral leadership. In each instance we want our pastors to lead wisely and in a way that honors God. We want them to be moving in the direction that God would have them go. This requires prayer. We need to pray that God would grant great wisdom to our pastors as they lead the church (James 1:5), meet with individuals, and plans for the future. We want each step our pastors make to be guided by God.

Prayer is a crucial component to the Christian life and your pastors/elders need to be included in your regular prayers. Don’t just think of your pastors/elders as the ones who should be praying for and helping you – they are just as much in need of prayer as any person. Never stop praying for your pastors/elders. they covet your prayers, needs your prayers, and your prayers will have an impact.

Four Ways to Love Your Neighbor During Covid-19

Pray for Your Neighbor

– Pray that God will use this time to show believers and unbelievers alike of their frailty and of their great need for Christ (Psalm 103:14-15).
– Pray that God will open a door for you to be able share Christ with your unbelieving neighbor (Colossians 4:3-4).
– Pray for those affected physically by the virus.
– Pray for businesses and families affected financially by the virus.

Encourage Your Neighbor

– Many people are anxious and afraid amidst this pandemic. A word of encouragement will go a long way (Proverbs 12:25).
– It is easy to be short-tempered, annoyed, and unkind in times of uncertainty, but use this time to be patience with other even if they are not kind or patient with you (1 Corinthians 13:4).
– Encourage others by sharing Scripture with them (Colossians 2:2) through text, email, or social media.

Serve Your Neighbor

– Some people will experience great financial burden as a result of a layoff or lack of business due to the coronavirus. We can serve them by helping cover their rent, paying for their groceries, or assisting them in finding a new job.
– We can serve others by looking to their needs above our own by not buying and hoarding all of the supplies at the grocery store (Philippians 2:3-11).

Protect Your Neighbor

– Many of us are in good health and have no concern of falling ill. But there are others among us who are of far greater risk. We should do what we can do be courteous of these people. This might mean staying home when you want to go out. This might mean picking up items at the store for an elderly neighbor.

There are so many ways that we can encourage and honor those around us. We can be an encouragement just by making ourselves available to others. Your hope should be that your life leading up to this point has showed others that you are a person that is available to pray, encourage, serve, and protect others. Make yourself available to others as the Lord would lead you.

Bi-Vocational Ministry

I have been a bi-vocational pastor for the last decade.  When it comes to bi-vocational ministry there are many unique challenges and benefits.  Over the years I have gotten to know several godly men who are in bi-vocational ministry.  Recently, I had the opportunity to ask each of them two questions: “What is your greatest prayer request as a bi-vocational pastor and what is the greatest benefit to being in bi-vocational ministry.”

The following is a summary of their answers:

Dr. Joe Allotta – Crossroads Church

Pastor Joe believes that one of the greatest benefits of being a bi-vocational pastor is the freedom to make decisions. Since his income is not solely based on the church, he is able to make choices based on what he believes is right and good for the church without fear that he might lose his job and not be able to provide for his family.

A great prayer need for Joe is that God would allow him to use his time wisely and that he would be putting in the appropriate time for each area of his life (family, ministry, and career).

Pastor Jake Collins – Northwest Community Church

Pastor Jake believes that being used by God in the workplace is one of the greatest benefits of bi-vocational ministry.  Jake stated, “I work with autistic kids and their families so God often has me in a place of chaos where I can be light and encouragement to those I work with and be used by God outside the church setting.”

Jake’s greatest prayer need is time management and the zeal and energy to do both ministry and secular work well for the glory of God.

Pastor Spencer Sowers – First Baptist Church of Wesley Chapel

Pastor Spencer believes that the greatest benefit to working in bi-vocational ministry is the ability to regularly work with people outside of the church. This is a unique opportunity that many full-time pastoral staff members simply don’t have, but it allows for different kinds of ministry opportunities.

Spencer’s greatest prayer request is for time management, especially when it comes to his family.

Pastor Yeriel Dominguez, The House of Restoration

Pastor Yeriel believes the greatest benefit of being a bi-vocational pastor is that is does not put a huge financial burden on the church. It allows the tithes and offering that come in to be used for ministry rather than for the pastor’s salary.

Yeriel’s greatest prayer request is that he would not have to be bi-vocational anymore. He would love to be able to focus all his attention on the work of leading and shepherding the people God has given him.

Drew Regan, Riverside Baptist Church

Drew believes that the greatest benefit of being in bi-vocational ministry is being able to see the true culture that we live in. Before he entered bi-vocational work, he was typically only around other believers, but now that he is bi-vocational he has been able to branch out and minister to those outside of the church as well as those within. This has given him a new perspective as he ministers to those around him.

Drew’s greatest prayer request is that he would have a Kingdom mindset regardless of where he is or what he is doing.

Pastor Jason Lowe, Crossroads Church

Pastor Jason believes that the greatest benefit of being bi-vocational is being aware of what life is like outside of church.  Jason believes that seeing people outside the church gives him an opportunity to stay connected to people and their difficulties.  When he sees the struggles that others face it makes it easier for him to serve people as he understands where they may be coming from.

Jason’s greatest prayer request is for balance in ministry, work, and family.  He is often being pulled in numerous directions and if he doesn’t give the appropriate attention to one area of his life, it is possible that the others could come crashing down as well.

Remember to pray regularly for the bi-vocational pastors (and all the others too) in your life. We need your prayers.

When You Least Expect It

Certainly you have heard by now that former NBA star and Los Angels Laker icon Kobe Bryant was killed in a tragic helicopter accident early Sunday morning. He played 20 seasons in the NBA, was a 5 time NBA champion, and an 18 time all-star. He is considered one of the greatest NBA players of all time. His death is a great loss and he will certainly be missed.

Nobody woke up Sunday morning thinking that it would be Kobe’s last day on earth, certainly he didn’t wake up thinking that. The majority of us do not wake up thinking “today could be my last”, but the truth is it could be. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Life is fragile and it could be over in an instant. I don’t mean to be morbid, but it is important that we consider these things from time to time: none of us will live forever and death could come suddenly. Certainly, it did for Kobe Bryant.

As we mourn the loss of Kobe and the others who were aboard the helicopter Sunday morning let’s consider two things…

Life is a Vapor 

The Bible tells us that life is a vapor (James 4:14). Here today and gone tomorrow and it can be over in an instant even without any warning. The Bible tells us that we should number our days (Psalm 90:12) and live wisely (Ephesians 5:16) knowing that we may not have tomorrow. But how often do we live this way? The majority of us assume that we have years to live and as a result we do not make the most of our time. We don’t invest in people’s lives as frequently as we should, we don’t give of our time, talent, or treasure for the Kingdom of God as often as we could, and we are not striving to share the gospel or make disciples with any real urgency. As Christians we should go to bed each night knowing that we did something that day (no matter how great or small) of eternal significance.

We serve a great Savior who can do great things through us, let’s live that way. 

Life Will Come to an End

Not only should we know that life can end suddenly for some, but we should also know that life will end with certainty for all. It doesn’t matter how successful, healthy, famous, or financially stable you are – you can’t stop death. As it’s been said, “There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.” All of us (unless Christ returns first) will die. The author of Hebrews makes it clear, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement” (Hebrews 9:27). And when death comes you will either stand in judgement on your own and be found guilty resulting in eternity in hell or you will stand with Christ and be found righteous resulting in eternal bliss. The difference is faith. Do not neglect so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3), but turn in faith to Jesus today. He alone can forgive your sin and save your soul.

May we live in light of this every day He gives us.

It Is CHRISTmas 

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:8-21).

 

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. We decorate our houses. We give and receive gifts. We spend time with family and friends. And we eat many festive meals. I really enjoy this season as I am sure many of you do as well. However, we often fail to celebrate the true reason for the season. We fail to focus on Christ. We celebrate Santa more than we celebrate Jesus and this shouldn’t be.

Jesus brings much more than a red sack of small toys, He brings salvation to the world (10-11). It’s the best news that brings the greatest joy: the enemies of God become the friends of God, all because of the work of God on their behalf. Jesus steps into His creation. He puts on flesh and dwells among us. He lives a life of perfect obedience in our place, dies a sacrificial death for us, three days later He rises from the dead defeating sin and death. Now all who repent and believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This is the reason for the season. This is cause for celebration and great joy.

Notice the reaction of the angels, shepherds, and Mary in our passage above as they ponder the news of Jesus. In verse 14 we are told that a multitude of angels all proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest.” In verse 20 we read, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” And in v. 19 we see that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The news of Jesus was not dull, unimportant, or casual to the people in our passage and it should be to us either.

The news of Jesus’ incarnation should bring great joy that leads to worship and adoration. As you spend time with family and friends over the next few days do not forget the reason for the season. Make Jesus the center of the celebration.

When Difficulties Arise

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

 

The Christian life is not easy life. At times we face difficulty, suffering or even persecution as we strive to live for Christ. And as these troubles arise, we may be tempted to walk away from the faith, but when those temptations come, we must remind ourselves of the verses above.

In these verses from Hebrews, you’ll notice, the author of Hebrews is writing to a group of Christians who had and who were likely continuing to face persecution as a result of their faith in Christ. After just having warned them severely about walking away from the faith the author now seeks to encourage them by reminding them of when they first believed and what it is they believed in.

In v. 32 and 33 he tells them, “after you were enlightened” (that is after your eyes were opened to the truth of the gospel and you believed), “you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. He goes on, in v. 34, to say, “you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

He is essentially telling them: “Listen you have dealt with difficulty before. You have experienced suffering and persecution before, and you got through it because you knew that the sufferings of this life do not compare to the glory of the life to come with Jesus. So, you can get through difficulties again knowing that your future with Christ is far greater than any comfort, possession, or freedom you might have here. And so, if you lose those things, even if you lose your life, you’ve lost nothing because you still have Jesus and to have Jesus is exceedingly greater than to have any other thing.”

And this is the truth that the author of Hebrews was reminding his readers of in light of the difficulties that they were experiencing or were about to experience. And this is the truth that you and I need to be reminded of as well: Jesus is exceedingly greater than any other thing this world has to offer. And when difficulty, suffering, or even persecution arises we can know that these are temporary afflictions that don’t even remotely compare to the joy that we will have with Jesus for all of eternity.

2 Corinthians 4:17 tells us, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” It is this hope, this promise, this truth that propels us through the Christian life in all of its ups and downs. And just as the author of Hebrews was reminding his readers of this truth so we too need to remind ourselves and others of this truth regularly: We have a far better and abiding possession in Christ (v.34), than any other thing this world has to offer. As difficulties, heartache or even persecution arises in your life remember this truth regularly: Jesus is better.

Five Words to Build Your Life on!

Many of us don’t like big words. They can be confusing, hard to say, and difficult to understand. However, at times, big words help bring complex ideas under one heading. We will see that to be true as we look at the words in the blog.  Here are five words that all Christians should know.

Regeneration

Regeneration is the gracious act of God whereby He brings to life the spiritually dead and causes them to turn in faith to Him (Ephesians 2:1-9). Each and every one of us is born spiritually dead – which means there is no desire, or even ability, within us to follow after God on our own (Romans 3:10; 8:7-8). We are dead in sin and cannot initiate a relationship with God. Therefore, it takes the miraculous work of God for us to be brought into a saving relationship with Him. He must first replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19) before we will turn in faith to Him. If it were not for God’s gracious work of regeneration, sinners would remain in their state of deadness forever. It is only by God’s grace that unbelievers come to life spiritually and turn in faith to Christ.

Justification

Justification is a judicial term that has huge theological significance. To be justified is to be declared righteous. It’s as if you were sitting before the judge in a court room and he declared you not guilty, although you were guilty. This is what has taken place in the believer’s life. By grace through faith in Jesus, the believer has been declared righteous (not guilty) before God (Romans 3:24-25). This declaration was not a result of self-works or effort, but of Christ’s work on behalf of the believer (Galatians 2:16). Therefore, when God the Father looks down on the Christian He does not see the sinners that we are but He sees His Son’s righteousness in us (Romans 5:18-19).

Propitiation

Propitiation has in mind the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath.  As a result of our sin we have offended a holy God. We deserve punishment. That punishment is the wrath of God being poured out on us for all of eternity (Romans 6:23). God is just and therefore must punish sin. His wrath must be satisfied or else He wouldn’t be just. However, at the same time God is also merciful. In His mercy He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world (John 3:16) to satisfy His justice by absorbing the wrath that we deserve in our place (1 John 2:2). Jesus took our punishment in our place. At the cross of Christ we see both the justice of God (sin being punished) and the grace of God (Jesus taking that punishment for sinners) being poured out. Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfies (propitiates) God’s wrath for those who trust in Him.

Redemption

To redeem something is to buy it back. It is, as one person put it, “to transfer ownership to the one paying the price demanded” (Bob Burridge). Unbelievers are slaves to sin (Romans 6:20) and it’s consequence (Romans 6:23). We have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and therefore we are all slaves to sin and death. We owe an eternal debt for the offense (sin) that we have committed against God. We cannot pay our way out of this debt. Left to ourselves the weight of our sin debt will crush us and rightfully so. However, by the grace of God Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He came to purchase His people by His blood. Ephesians tells us that, “In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…” (Ephesians 1:7). Also Revelation 5 says, “…You [Christ] were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Jesus has paid our sin debt by His blood and freed us from our bondage to sin and death. We are free to live for Christ and free from sin’s penalty only because Jesus paid our penalty. He redeemed His people.

Sanctification

To sanctify means to set apart. Sanctification is the work of God to set a special people apart for Himself and the work of Christians to grow in their in godliness. Those who by grace have come to faith in Christ are those who have been forever set apart by God as His special people (Acts 26:18, 1 Corinthians 6:11). This aspect of sanctification is God’s work. Christians, however, are also involved in sanctification. From the day that they come to faith in Christ to the day that they die, they are to be progressing in the faith. Although the believer is involved in this work he is not alone in it. God is at work within him. The book of Philippians makes this clear. Paul writes, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13). Here we can see the believer’s responsibility to grow in the faith. He is called to work out his own salvation – prove it to be true by living righteously – but He is not called to do it alone. He is enabled by God’s power within him. The same grace that justified him sanctifies him. The Christian has been set apart from this world by God and is now on a life long journey to mature in the faith.

Five, simple yet profound, words to build your lives on.

Who Has the Final Say?

When it comes to your beliefs, morals, and practices who has the final say?  There are at least three choices – your heart, the culture, or God.  If we are Christians, we may instinctively say, “God” of course.  But your life and actions will reveal the true source of your standards.

YOUR HEART

We’ve all heard “be true to yourself,” “follow you heart,” “do what feels right to you,” “do what makes you happy.”  These are all well-intentioned sayings, but if we truly did was what “right” to our hearts, the results could have major consequences.  Jeremiah 17:9 says “the heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked, who can know it.”  Our hearts are prone to wonder.  Our hearts can deceive us.  Our hearts can mislead us.

Your heart cannot have the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6

CULTURE

Sometimes it’s easy to look at popular public opinion, political views, or celebrity endorsements to see the moral landscape of our cultural.  It’s easy to understand and accept these viewpoints as we are always inundated by them.  It’s easy to go along with what our friends believe, what our family thinks, what our peers suggest.  When we let the culture have the final say on what to believe or practice, we will find that our beliefs and practices will constantly be changing because there is no grounding, no truth, no standard on which these belief systems are based off upon.

Our culture cannot have the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“See to it that no one takes you capture by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”  Colossians 2:8

GOD’S WORD

The Word of God is our standard for truth, morality, and beliefs.  There is no other standard outside of God and His Word.  When we disagree with what the Word of God says, the problem is always with us – our hearts, our culture.  There is an ultimate standard for truth, and it’s found in God’s Word.  If you want to know what to believe or how to live, you shouldn’t look to the world, but to God’s Word.  This can only happen through regularly immersing ourselves in God’s Word.  This takes effort.  You will not drift into a biblical worldview, you must pursue it by reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, meeting together with other believers, and sitting under the preaching of God’s Word.  We cannot spend our time reading the opinions of others and being engrossed in what our culture tells us and then expect a biblical worldview to happen because we claim Christianity.  God’s Word needs to be in our minds daily as we battle though all the other truth claims that our world or our own hearts may throw our way.

God’s Word has the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

“Your word is truth.” John 17:17b

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16

Learning Leads to Living

This week I want to share with you an excerpt that I read from my wife’s, Rachel Noble’s blog. I hope it encourages you as much as it encourages me:
It’s funny how Paul begins most of his letters with such rich theology and then only after he has displayed these sometimes difficult theological topics, that he then says “therefore – live this way.”  I think this pattern teaches us that LEARNING is what is suppose to LEAD us to Godly LIVING.

Every Christian is a student of God’s Word.  Some are good students and some are bad students.  But we are all called to study God, read God’s Word, know God, deal with the difficult passages about God, so that we truly get to know Him.  Not doing so, is sin for the Christian.

Without knowing God, our moral efforts mean nothing.  God is not pleased with piousness that doesn’t reflect the gospel.  Just look at the Pharisees.  They were pious, “moral,” and they followed the rules etc.  But to what end?  Without the redeeming love of Jesus as reflected in the gospel, our works mean nothing.

Good morals are the overflow of our relational knowledge of God.  Being told to obey God or “follow rules” is not what makes people follow rules, knowing God’s Word is what produces obedience to God.  Good works should be spilling out of us if we continually learning about Him.  We are to love God with all of our MIND (Luke 10:27).  Not just our emotions or affections are involved in loving Jesus, but our minds as well.  God gave us minds so that we can use them to think about Him, to learn about Him, to grow in our knowledge of Him.

What makes us want to obey God?  What fuels a desire to follow Jesus?  Knowing Him!  Growing up in church and getting formal Biblical training through going to Bible college has made me realize that the more I learn about Jesus, the Bible, and theology the more I want to follow Him.  The more in depth I know His Word and learn about Him, the more it pushes me to live for Him.

I’ve heard it said that we are to try to live a moral life that pleases God, then once we master that, if we have time, we can study theology.  This could not be further from the truth!  In fact, the opposite is true.

Learning theology leads to Godly living.
Learning about the cross leads to Godly living.
Learning about the Levitical system leads to Godly living.
Learning about the life of Paul leads to Godly living.
Learning God’s Word leads to Godly living.
Learning about the miracles of Jesus leads to Godly living.
Learning about the book of Amos leads to Godly living.

No matter what book of the Bible I read, no matter what theological topic I study, learning and studying it stirs in me a longing for God and a desire to spread the gospel.

Life is about the gospel and living  it out is what happens when you truly study theology.  If you are struggling to “do the things you want” and not do the “things you hate” (Romans 7:15-16) then these are the things that have helped me:

1.)  Study God’s Word – don’t just read it, study it.  Use commentaries, lexicons, etc.  Actually study it as if you were in Bible college.  🙂

2.)  Read Theology Books – Piper, Sproul, MacAurthur, Chan, Platt, Grudem, Carson, Chandler (and so many others)
3.)  Engage in Church – don’t just sit in the pew then go home.  Talk with your fellow believers and pastors.  Engage in real relationships with them.  They will teach you.  

Live for Jesus – it’s the only way to truly live.

3 Ways to Pray For Your Student This School Year

Can you believe it, in just a few weeks school starts again. Vacations, beach trips, and sleepy summer days are coming to an end and will soon be replaced by hectic schedules, extracurricular activities, and early mornings. As the business of life returns here are three ways you can pray for the students in your life:

1.They Grow in their Knowledge of Christ

The school year brings new classes, new teachers, new material, homework, papers, exams and lots of opportunity for learning. An increase in knowledge is a certainty for each student this semester. And for many parents and students a like an emphasis will be placed on good grades, and rightfully so, but of all the knowledge to be gained this school year, let it be your prayer that the students in your life would gain knowledge in Christ above all else. In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul prays that the church of Colossae would increase in their knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10). Our prayer for our students should be no different.

We ought to pray that our students would have a love for God’s Word and a discipline to study it well. We should pray that they would have a desire and commitment to regular church and youth group attendance where they will be taught the Word of God faithfully week in and week out.

We all want our children to do well in the classroom and to increase in their academic knowledge, but let it be our prayer that they would increase in their knowledge of Christ first and foremost.

2. Grow in Sharing Christ

In elementary school many students are required to share something from home with their class for show and tell. Middle and high school students are often required to share a class project or book report with their peers. Many students share germs, lunches, and telephone numbers. Lots of sharing takes place at school, but let it be your prayer that of all the things your students are sharing that they would be faithful to share Christ with those around them.

One of Paul’s requests to the Colossian church is that they would pray for God to open doors for him to share the gospel (Colossians 4:3). This is a great way for us to pray for our students.

3. Be a Light in the Dark

We live in a dark world filled with evil and our classrooms are no different. Our students have a great opportunity to share the light of Christ with those around them (Matthew 5:16), but it is no easy task. There is opposition and there is temptation at every corner. We need to pray, as Paul does in Colossians 1:10, that our children would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work.”

There are many things to pray for this school year but be sure to pray these three prayers for your students regularly.

Confess Even If You’re Not Wrong

There is a prayer in Nehemiah chapter 1. This prayer is a response to Nehemiah hearing that tragedy has hit his homeland, Jerusalem. This prayer of Nehemiah is filled with praise, petition, and confession. Part of his prayer goes like this: “I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.  We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:6b-7).

Nehemiah acknowledged that he and the people of Israel had sinned against God. It’s interesting to notice that Nehemiah says “we” as he confesses sin. He doesn’t just look introspectively and confess his own personal sins. He confesses the sins of Israel corporately. He confesses the sins of his people as a unit.

Confession of sin is something we should be doing regularly. Most of the time when we do this, we are looking inwardly as to what we need confess, what we need to work on, what we need to improve. The thought of confessing to God the sins of others may seem like a foreign concept. But we are all a part of a larger body. We are all part of a family, church, city, and nation. The sins of each of those communities are sins we need to confess to God. How often do we think of ourselves in terms of family, church, or nation, and not just an individual when it comes to confession of sin? When Nehemiah confesses some of these sins, these are things that he, individually, may or may not have done, but nevertheless, he is part of Israel, so he confesses them to God. Nehemiah lumps himself in with Israel and confessed their sin corporately. If we live in community with our family or our church family, this community mindset should be seen in our prayer and confession as well.

We may or may not be guilty of certain sins that our family, church, or nation are guilty of, but we are a part of that community and as community members we go to God and confess the community’s shortcomings.

Imagine you are having a family get-together at a public park and one of your family members gets into an altercation with a stranger over who saw an open picnic table first,  and after they have argued for a few minutes, you notice that your family member has now shoved this stranger to the ground. You run in to stop the fight. You send your family member away and you begin to apologize to the stranger for what has happened even though you had nothing to do with it.

Why? Because you are a part of the community that has harmed this person and you feel a sense of guilt and responsibility. The same is to be true in the communities in which we belong. We are to realize when the community that we belong to has failed God and confess those failures to Him.

Confession of sin, both corporate and individual, should be a regular habit in our lives. When we confess our sin to God, we are acknowledging that we are wrong, and we are showing God our great dependence on Him.

For the unbeliever who confesses his sin and turns in faith to Jesus, he is acknowledging his wrongdoing and his great dependence on God for salvation. He is acknowledging that he is a sinner and that he cannot save himself. He is completely and utterly dependent on the work of Christ on his behalf for salvation. For the believer, confession of sin shows his great need of sanctification. He is acknowledging that although he is redeemed and his salvation is secure, he is not where he needs to be.

Confess sin regularly.

Pray the Bible

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther

“Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life”. – Jonathan Edwards

“Prayer can never be in excess.” – C. H. Spurgeon

Certainly, prayer is a critical part of the Christian life. However, if you’re like me, you tend to struggle in couple areas of prayer:

First, we often pray only for temporal things rather than eternal ones. We pray for safe travel, food to nourish our bodies, exams to be passed, and for illness to go away. There is nothing wrong with praying for these things. But in addition to these, we should also pray for spiritual matters. We should pray for unbelievers to come to faith, discipleship opportunities, spiritual growth in our lives and in the lives of those around us, These things, and more, should be our primary focus in prayer, but so often we spend more time on temporal prayer requests then we do eternal ones. This should not be.

Second, we get distracted in prayer. We start to pray, we don’t necessarily have a direction that we’re headed, then we lose concentration and begin to think about other things derailing us from quality time with God.

How do we combat these two areas of struggle regarding prayer? One great way to combat these things is to pray the Bible. The Bible is filled with wonderful prayers. We have the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, we have numerous prayers from the apostle Paul in his epistles, we have Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9, we have Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, the Psalms are filled with prayers. All throughout the Bible we find prayer. We would do well to use these prayers as a guide for our own prayers.

Praying the Bible is critical. In fact, John Piper put this way. He says:

“Praying the Scriptures is so important in the Christian life. If we don’t form the habit of praying the Scriptures, our prayers will almost certainly degenerate into vain repetitions that eventually revolve entirely around our immediate private concerns, rather than God’s larger purposes.” – John Piper

It is important that we make a regular habit of praying the Bible. It will help us both with the content of our prayers and our focus while praying.