Advent & Immanuel, Redux

With the season of Advent coming into full bloom and the music of the season in the air I want to revisit one of the most popular songs of the season: O Come, O Come Immanuel.

It is a song rich with history, being originally traced back to the 8th century as a responsive reading, it is one of the oldest songs of advent we still sing in the modern Church. One of the reasons I believe it still holds a place so near and dear to most of us is its reliance on the biblical text to bring comfort, truth and grace through music to God’s children. This 1200 year old hymn points us straight back to Scripture and brings life and comfort to the weary soul.

Specifically I want to look at the opening verse of this amazing hymn.

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

This first verse has its origins back in  Isaiah 7 in the days of Ahaz king of Judah. In that day God offered the king a chance to ask of Him whatever he wished as proof of God’s love and protection for His people, but rather than accept this gift of God, Ahaz spurned the gift and God in the process. Rather than trust in God for deliverance and protection for the people, Ahaz turned to political allegiance and military strength to find peace. It is in this setting that God brings forth the prophecy that a virgin will bear a son and he will be named Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). This sign was meant to be a reminder that God was the only hope for His people, because before this even would come to pass His people would suffer at the hands of the very alliance the king had established.

However, The king’s disobedience and sin would make a way in time for God’s ultimate blessing. For God didn’t leave His people in exile and suffering but rather brought forth in time the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah to king Ahaz in the giving of His Son to the world. In the midst of the great fear of the ages and the new captivity of Israel to the people of Rome, God would now dwell with His people. Immanuel was to be born to a virgin in the city of David.

Now before the child would be born the Lord sent an angel to instruct her fiancé in the truth of what was to take place. We see this in Luke 1:18-23 with a picture of the angel’s interaction with Joseph. In this vision he is instructed to name the child Jesus, for He would save the people from their sins, but not only would He be named Jesus, He would be Immanuel. In this short passage of Scripture the name Immanuel became intricately connected to the name Jesus. In Jesus we see that God’s presence with His people is linked with His love for them and the desire to set them free from the lasting pain of sin. He takes on the name that echoed back to the very founding of the nation in the land of Canaan as Joshua lead his people to political freedom. Now the new Joshua (the Hebrew name that Jesus comes from) will set them free from a far greater danger, that of sin and death, and the only means by which he could do this is if he was the Immanuel, God himself residing with His people.

For us we are blessed to know that God did keep His promise to the people of Israel and we are the humble recipients of His grace and mercy. God came to us and set us free form our sin and set us on the path of righteousness, but He did not leave us on that path alone.

In both narratives we see God’s faithfulness to His people in the midst of uncertainty. So too in this advent season we know that God is still faithful to His people, though it took over 700 years for the true fulfillment of Immanuel to take place, He was faithful. In our day and age we have the blessing of seeing and experiencing the gift of the first Advent. As believers we experience the grace of God daily, all the more if you are not born Jewish, for in Christ He brought us gentiles into the family of God.

Today, while we experience the great blessings of Christ, may we also look forward to the eternal blessing of His second advent. One of the great blessings of God being with His people is that it is more than a metaphysical reality of the past, it is a real present experience, and a future hope in His final return.

So let us sing out with gladness not only because He has come and set free the first captive Israel from their sin, but that He shall return again to bring the true Israel to Himself for eternity.

Salvation at Table

Recently, I had a pastor ask me what my thoughts were concerning church members who never bothered to show up to celebrate and commemorate the Lord’s Supper. It struck me when he asked me that question because it reminded me of what I saw growing up. Only once did we celebrate communion and only a handful of people bothered to show up on a Wednesday night when it was held. The two ordinances given to the church are not options. These are not means of salvific grace whereby we know justification through the waters of baptism or the meal at the Lord’s Table. Yet, there should be concern for someone who can profess to be a Christian yet has no desire to be obedient to the Word and to celebrate the means of grace that God has given to us.

When we come to the Lord’s table, we are enjoying a preview of what is to come! We have come to a banquet to feast upon the riches of the gospel. The bread and cup are tokens of the King of His love for us and what we enjoy in Him. Consider what we celebrate…

Justification

How can I be admitted to the table apart from the righteousness of Christ? The Lord’s Supper points me to the fact that the access I have to God is free, full, and open. The reason that I have that access is due to me being justified in Christ. I do not come to the table in hopes of being justified. This is not a part of my duties to perform whereby I hope to earn credit and merit before God.

When I come to the table, I am celebrating the fact that I come as one who is in Christ. I am justified due to Him and Him alone. The bread and the cup are symbols that remind me of what it cost in order for me to be righteous in Christ. The bread proclaims that God took on flesh. As the God-man, the second Adam, the Christ lived a life of full obedience to the law of God and was in submission to the Father. His active obedience is imputed to us. His passive obedience is seen in the cup whereby He pours Himself out as the sacrifice on our behalf.

Our hope is truly built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Our justification is based upon what He has done and what He has given us. By faith, we trust and rely upon His finished work. So, when we come to the table, we understand our admittance is rooted in the fact that we are clothed in the robes that Christ has given to us.

We come to the table still sinners but also justified. The supper does not mean that we are here perfectly righteous in that we have not sinned. It does mean that I am perfectly righteous in the sight of God and accepted in the beloved Son! We celebrate the wondrous truth of justification when we come to communion. Delight in this that you have a seat at the table because you are justified.

Adoption

Second, we celebrate our salvation at the table when we consider the truth of adoption. Notice, that for us to be given a seat at the table testifies to the fact that our status has changed. We were enemies of God, now we are adopted and made the children of God.

Do you understand that the doctrine of adoption is connected to the doctrine of election, the covenant of redemption, and our being called out of this world? We are a gift from the Father to the Son. Those who were opposed to Him now love Him. Adoption does not happen because we choose for it to happen or because we will it to happen. Nothing exists in us that would demand that God adopt us and bring us into His family.

Sanctification

Third, the Lord’s Table aids us in growing in sanctification. We refer to the table as one of the ordinary means of grace that the Lord gives to us. These are meant to strengthen our faith and assurance. We come to the table in order to be reminded of who we are and why we press forward. This is a time for us to rest and rejoice in the gospel of grace. This is to be wind under our sails in a lifelong pursuit of sanctification.

As we come to the table, we are being reminded of who we were and who we are now in Him. The meal causes us to see our dependence is upon His grace not just in justification and adoption but also in sanctification as well. This celebration of our sanctification is not only in the individual’s life but in our life corporately. As this is a new covenant meal, we are calling one another to pursue Christ, to run for Christ, and that we are doing so together. This is not a pilgrimage that we face alone but that we are unified together in Christ.

Let us delight in the ordinary means of grace the Lord gives to us. Let us not despise them but desire them more and more.

Glorification

In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus spoke of a future time when He would drink of the fruit of the vine in the kingdom. All that we enjoy about the table is a preview of what awaits us in the consummation. When Christ returns, we will be glorified and made perfectly like Him. At the table of the king, we will see and focus our attention not upon one another’s greatness but upon His greatness.

So, the supper serves to remind us that while this is an earthly meal, it bears great spiritual significance. It serves for us as a type of picture of what we will enjoy for all eternity with the King of kings and Lord of lords. Does that not excite you? Can you imagine what it is going to be like to be seated with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Cornelius, Apollos, and Timothy, Augustine, Athanasius, and Polycarp, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, Fuller, Carey, Spurgeon, Sproul, and Lloyd-Jones? As wonderful as that will be, our attention will not be on the apostles, the church fathers, the Reformers, or other great heroes we love to read. Our attention will be on the head, the king, the ruler: Christ!

Conclusion

The table does not save us. Rather it is a celebration of the wondrous salvation that has been wrought in our lives by the grace of God. Meditate each time you come to the table on your justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. Celebrate the amazing grace of God in this sacred and special meal!

 

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.

A Portrait of a Spirit-Filled Church

The phrase “Spirit-filled” is tossed around a lot today in evangelicalism. Most often, this label is used to describe a Christian or a church that emphasizes spiritual gifts, experiences authentic and emotional worship ‘encounters,’ and seeks to avoid “putting God in a box” when it comes to the expression of faith.

However, the phrase “Spirit-filled Christian” or “Spirit-filled church” is actually quite misleading (and often used in a divisive way, suggesting that someone or some church isn’t Spirit-filled). It’s like using the phrase “born-again Christian.” How are these phrases misleading? Because every true Christian is born again; there’s no such thing as a Christian who is not born again. Similarly, every true Christian has received the Holy Spirit, and thus every true Christian church is Spirit-filled. The church of Jesus Christ is the assembly of those called by God the Father into the fellowship of his Son by his Spirit (1 Cor. 1:9; see also 3:16-17; 12:13; Eph. 2:18-22).

Now of course, there are all kinds of ‘churches’ in all kinds of ‘Christian’ denominations today that are not true churches of the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore not Spirit-filled. However, the true church of Christ is the Spirit-filled, indwelt, baptized, empowered, illuminated, sanctified, and sealed assembly of the restored people of God under the saving rule of the risen Lord Jesus.

But, what does a true “Spirit-filled” church look like? There is no better place to answer this question than to look at the results of when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the new covenant church in fullness on the day of Pentecost.

The Restored People of God

In Acts 2:41, we read that those who received Peter’s word—who believed the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus—were baptized and were added to the church. Some 3,000 Jews in Jerusalem received the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s atoning death. They received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit from the ascended Christ. And then immediately, we are given a comprehensive portrait of the life of the early church.

In fact, the description of the church in Acts 2:42-47 is one of the clearest proofs that the Spirit of Jesus had indeed been poured out upon the restored people of God. This passage reveals that a true, “Spirit-filled” church will be one that is joyfully devoted to doctrine, to fellowship, and to prayer. Those who, by grace through faith, receive the gift salvation and the very Spirit of Jesus (i.e., Christians) are those who obey the word of their King, who love the people of their King, and who rely on the power of their King.

But before we look at each of these areas in more detail, it’s important to notice the way Luke describes how they did all of these activities: “they devoted themselves.” They continued steadfastly, passionately; they were persistently committed to the Christian faith. If Luke is painting a portrait of the church, he is painting with the boldest and most vibrant of colors. The life of the church was one of radical devotion to their risen Lord. These Christians began to live as though Jesus really was the king of the world, all because they had received the Holy Spirit.

A Spirit-Filled Church is Joyfully Devoted to Doctrine

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42).

The first thing Luke mentions is the church’s radical commitment to the teaching—the doctrine or message—of the apostles. And what was this teaching? It was what Peter had just preached in Acts 2: the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus. Their message was the good news of the kingdom of God under the saving rule of Christ! They taught that the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, was the fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises. He is the second Adam, the prophet like Moses, the Passover Lamb, the true Israel, the perfect redeemer, the greater Son of David. This Jesus offered up his own life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all who would believe in him and was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father for our justification.

Their doctrine included everything revealed in the Old Testament, everything spoken by Jesus during his earthly ministry, and the significance of his death and resurrection—all of which they would go on to explain in letters and sermons in what has become the New Testament. And the church was radically devoted to this gospel, the word of God. They not only heard it and studied it but proclaimed it and bore witness to Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

“With Signs and Wonders Confirming”

How did the people in Jerusalem know that the doctrine of the apostles was the truth? Luke tells us in verse 43: “Awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles” Just as God performed miracles through Jesus to validate his identity as the Son of God (Acts 2:22), the teaching of the apostles was also confirmed by signs and wonders! Jesus empowered his official representatives to lay the foundation of the church as the new leaders of the restored people of God.

But the church wasn’t devoted to these signs and wonders; they were devoted to doctrine! This is not to say that the early church didn’t believe God for miracles (as we’ll see in just a moment), but they weren’t seeking to perform signs; their focus was on the Person to which the signs of the apostles were pointing: King Jesus! Throughout the book of Acts, it is repeatedly stated that miracles, signs and wonders, were performed by the apostles and their associates. Why? Because the apostles were chosen and entrusted by the risen Lord Jesus to lay the foundation of the church; it was their word about Jesus was to be received and believed (2:41). Thus we read that “all who believed were together” (2:44).

Centered on the Word of the Risen Lord Jesus

Today, the doctrine of the apostles is found in what we know as the New Testament, along with the revelation of God that is the Old Testament. Being devoted to joyfully doctrine to doctrine means being joyfully devoted to Scripture—hearing, believing, obeying, and continuing steadfastly in the Bible! Simply put, a Spirit-filled church is centered on the Word of the risen Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth who guides the people of God into all truth (John 16:13). He bears witness about Jesus (15:25). We are sanctified in the truth, and God’s Word is truth (17:17). So, to receive the gift of the Spirit is to receive a passionate desire to be centered on the Word.

God’s Word is the instrument of our salvation: It is how we come to faith in Christ (Rom. 10:17); it is how we are born again (1 Pet. 1:23). But God’s Word is also sufficient for our sanctification: It is how we are trained in righteousness and grow in godliness, becoming complete and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We need gospel doctrine! A true church is a community of believers where God’s Word is loved, read, studied, and obeyed in its entirety. Bobby Jamieson writes: “Sound doctrine is the lifeblood of the church. It shapes and guides the church’s teaching. It nourishes holiness. It fosters love. It grounds an repairs unity. It calls forth worship. And it informs and motivates our witness to the gospel.”

So, for those who claim to be “Spirit-filled”: Are you devoted to doctrine? Do you consume God’s Word? Do you meditate upon it day and night, rehearsing the gospel to yourselves daily? Do you teach this doctrine to your children? Do you believe and obey it? Is your entire life centered on and nourished by the Word of Christ?

However, being devoted to doctrine does not stop at centering our lives on God’s Word. No, being devoted to the teaching of the apostles leads to transformation; doctrine leads to devotion.

A Spirit-Filled Church is Joyfully Devoted to Fellowship

And they devoted themselves to . . .  the fellowship, to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42).

There’s not just a body of doctrine that must be believed and obeyed; there is a body of believers that must be loved and encouraged. Sound doctrine teaches us that not only have we been saved from the King’s judgment, but that we have been saved to his kingdom and his people.

The word ‘fellowship’ is a beautiful and significant word that, all too often, gets thrown about carelessly. When we hear ‘fellowship,’ we usually think handshakes, hellos, and howdy-dos; we think fellowship halls, church lobbies, and potlucks; we think socializing and mingling. But this is not what Luke is describing. This is the Greek word koinonia, and it means “a close association involving mutual interests and sharing.” It’s translated as fellowship, communion, participation. (Outside the New Testament, it was used to express the marriage relationship.)

This is the word used to describe our union with Christ by faith! Listen to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:9: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Paul later explains that this fellowship with Christ is from the Holy Spirit we have all received (2 Cor. 13:14; Php. 2:1) John writes that “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Because we have fellowship with God in Christ by the Spirit—because we have been united to Christ by faith and are now members of his body—we also have fellowship with one another in Christ by the Spirit. By the Spirit of adoption, we have become the new creation family of God!

Bearing Burdens in Love

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:44-45).

Describing the togetherness of the early church, Matthew Henry writes: “Wherever you saw one disciple, you would see more.” Their communion with Christ and one another completely changed their priorities. They were family. And their newfound devotion to fellowship was seen in two ways. First, being devoted to fellowship meant bearing burdens in love. Every member of the church held his possessions at the disposal of others. Their shared fellowship with Christ, and the forgiveness they had all received led them to share even their possessions with each other.

Verses 44-45 are often misunderstood. This doesn’t mean everyone got rid of everything they owned; rather, the believers were ready and willing to help those in need. If this meant sharing or selling their possessions, they would do so eagerly, joyfully, and generously. This also doesn’t mean the church didn’t care about unbelievers or those outside the church. Luke is showing us just how radically devoted the church was to the fellowship of the saints.

Breaking Bread with Joy

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:46-47).

Second, being devoted to fellowship also meant breaking bread with joy. Not only were the believers meeting together daily in the temple courts to hear the apostles teach and have fellowship with one another, they were also gathering often for meals with one another.

In v.42, Luke wrote that they devoted themselves “to the breaking of bread.” This phrase refers both to the ordinary meals the believers shared as well as the Lord’s Supper, which they would commemorate at their regular meals, remembering their Lord and his sacrifice. It was while breaking bread that the believers would begin to get to know one another, learn about their needs, yet also pray and worship their Lord and Savior together. Just as Jesus came eating and drinking, and revealed himself to his followers “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35), the early church celebrated gospel fellowship the same way.

The main force of this sentence is the statement at the end of verse 46: “They received their food with glad and generous hearts.” ‘Glad’ here literally means extremely joyful, full of exaltation; and ‘generous’ means simple—they ate with humble, honest, and sincere hearts. The church was characterized by a spirit of rejoicing and generosity. Even their meals were occasions for praising God with great joy, with hearts full of thanksgiving. This was the joy of salvation—a true sense of gratitude, contentment, and delight given by the Holy Spirit.

Transformed by the Love of the Risen Lord Jesus

Beloved, the reason the early church was devoted to such deep, intimate fellowship was because they had received forgiveness of their sins and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This community wasn’t simply inspired by the love, forgiveness, patience, and generosity of the risen Lord Jesus; they had received the very Spirit and power of the risen Lord Jesus to actually walk in forgiveness, love, patience, and generosity!

In other words, a Spirit-filled church is transformed by the love of the risen Lord Jesus. Those who have had the love of God poured into their hearts by the promised Holy Spirit; those who have become new creations in Christ by the life-giving, regenerating power of the Spirit; those who have been called by grace into the fellowship of the blessed Trinity will be devoted to fellowship—both bearing burdens and breaking bread.

John pulls no punches when he writes: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. . . . By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:14, 16-18).

This is profound: John is saying “Do you want to know if you are a believer? Do you want to know if you have been born again, saved from death and given new life? Then answer me this: Do you love the church? Are you devoted to fellowship?” Say all you want that you are a Christian, that you love Bible doctrine, that you give, that you shovel your neighbor’s driveway. But if you can go about your whole life, day to day, week to week, completely separated from and uninvolved in the life of the church, your failure to show love and concern for the believers testifies against you.

This is why membership in a local church is of the utmost importance for living the Christian life. Membership gives definition and direction to the commands given to Christians. How can you bear the burdens of every Christian? How can you pray for every Christian? How can you show hospitality to every Christian? You can’t. But by joining a local church, you have a defined community of believers with whom you can be devoted to fellowship in these ways.

But what explains the growth of the church? What explains the awe, the reverence, and the favor of the unbelievers towards the church? This brings us to the final aspect of our portrait…

A Spirit-Filled Church is Joyfully Devoted to Prayer

And they devoted themselves to . . . the prayers (Acts 2:42).

The church in Acts was a praying church. The rest of the New Testament shows that the church is to be a praying church (Eph. 6:18-19; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:1). And just like Jesus, who spent much of his ministry praying to his heavenly Father, the church will be devoted to prayer because it has received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Rom. 8:15). These believers knew that in their own strength, they were helpless. They knew that on their own, they would fall into temptation and sin. They knew that if the world hated their King, it would surely hate them. But they also knew that they had been reconciled to God and brought into fellowship with him, and this fellowship was expressed in prayer.

The results? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). What a powerful and beautiful and assuring truth! The church bore witness to the risen Lord Jesus in the power of the Spirt, prayerfully preaching the word of God, and God brought about the miracle of salvation (talk about doing greater things!). It is the risen Lord Jesus alone who builds his church, but he has graciously given us the opportunity to participate with him through prayer. And a church that that truly depends upon God to change hearts of stone, to raise the dead to life, and to build up his church will pray. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and praise God he is still saving today!

We saw before that the early church wasn’t devoted to signs and wonders. Yet in one sense they were, because they were devoted to prayer. They knew that greatest miracle of all was the raising of a dead sinner to life by the resurrection power of God, and so they prayed. They knew that faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ, and so the prayed for boldness (leaving the demonstration of the miraculous up to God).

For example, in the face of persecution, they would later pray: “‘Grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29-31).

Dependent Upon the Power of the Risen Lord Jesus

In a true “Spirit-filled” church, devotion to doctrine is central; we must aim to be centered fully on the word of God. In a true “Spirit-filled” church, devotion to fellowship is a nonnegotiable; we must seek to be transformed continually by the love of Jesus. But the church will only grow when the power of God is acknowledged, sought after, and depended upon in passionate prayer; we must be devoted to prayer.

You can substitute doctrine for entertainment and your church might see numerical growth. You can substitute online services for fellowship and your church might see a form of growth. But authentic numerical growth due to the salvation of sinners is the result of prayer.

Conclusion

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on a cross, raised from the dead, and exalted to the right hand of God not only to provide forgiveness of sins and the gift of his Spirit by faith in his name, but to create a people for himself: the Spirit-filled, new-creation, born-again, restored people of God. And the true Spirit-filled church is a church joyfully devoted to doctrine, to fellowship, and to prayer.

Does such devotion characterize you? Can you say that you are centered on the word of the risen Lord Jesus, seen in a devotion to doctrine? Have you been transformed by the love of the risen Lord Jesus, seen in a devotion to fellowship? Are you dependent upon the power of the risen Lord Jesus, seen in a devotion to prayer? To profess to believe in the risen Lord Jesus and yet fail to be devoted to the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship of the saints and to prayer shows that you may never have received the forgiveness of sins and the promised Holy Spirit. Only the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus will fuel such devotion.

So whatever else the phrase “Spirit-filled” may mean today, let this portrait of a true, Spirit-filled church be true of our local churches today. May we all live as though Jesus really is the King of the world.

To “Grow” Your Church

beautiful-branches-daylight-109645.jpgMost churches are small. That statement is not meant to be an indictment on bad pastoral leadership or a comment on the health of its members. It is also not meant to be fatalistic, saying we’re beyond hope and might as well accept defeat. It is merely a fact of life and yet it produces a fair amount of angst and anxiety in both members and pastors. There is a subtle lie in our culture that has crept into our churches. It comes packaged in different ways, but at its root the lie is that size equals success. Bigger is better. A leader without lots of followers isn’t cut out for leadership. This lie has led many depressed and exhausted pastors to go the route of the church growth experts and many members to push their pastors in this direction as well. They’ve “tried” God’s way lined out in the pages of Scripture and it hasn’t produced the visible results they wanted or expected (revealing a worldly mindset), so they then do things the world’s way. They frantically start branding their church or creating a fancier website or dressing trendier in the pulpit or hiring a talented “worship leader” in hopes that these things will grow the church. Some even try softening the hard edge of the Gospel in an attempt to make their preaching more “relevant” or seeker-sensitive. But even those who don’t go the route of tickling ears in the pulpit can still be duped by the lie of success. They start believing that a healthy church is measured solely or primarily by what one pastor calls, “nickles and noses” or “budgets and backsides.” Sadly, these pastors have chosen to exchange God’s measure of success for that which the world, the flesh, and the devil call success. They are falling prey to pragmatism and don’t even realize it. But Scripture says success isn’t measured by what “works”, neither is failure by what doesn’t “work”. 

Before I go any further, let me say: I have a heart for these pastors and members because I am one of them.  I’ve fallen prey to pragmatic thinking time and time again. Part of the reason I’m writing this is to remind myself to trust God’s Word over man’s approval. I admit that many times my passion in preaching has been far too affected by the size of the crowd that morning. When I find my heart either sinking or soaring based upon the presence or absence of bodies in pews, I know this reveals heart idols that I must put to death. The best way to do this is to go back to God’s Word.

What is God’s idea of success in ministry? What is God’s recipe for a healthy church? What is God’s consideration of a good pastor? What is God’s idea of growth and how can we experience it? Paul actually wrote the pastoral epistles to address these issues. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus make up only 13 chapters in our Bibles, but they have profound significance for how we view church life. In the pastoral epistles we are given a glimpse into healthy church life and leadership. What we discover there is that church growth, health, and success in God’s estimation isn’t about numbers at all; it’s about biblical faithfulness. 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 is perhaps the clearest passage in the pastoral epistles displaying God’s design for a church’s growth, health, and success. 

Paul writes, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Notice how there is no mention of the “size” of Timothy’s church or how big the church budget is. Rather, what we have is a clear and weighty charge that Timothy be faithful to preach the Word of God. Why?

THE WORD ALONE SAVES

Paul says the “sacred writings” that Timothy had learned from childhood are the very means of salvation. In Romans 1:16, he calls it, “…the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” James 1:18 states that God, “…brought us forth by the word of truth…” 1 Peter 1:23-25 says, “…you have been born again…through the living and abiding word of God…and this word is the good news that was preached to you.” When God sent Ezekiel to prophesy to dry bones, it was the very preached Word that turned the bones of the people of Israel into a living army. It was the Word of Christ spoken that brought the dead Lazarus to life and it was the Word of God that created all things in existence. 

These days people have latched onto the phrase “church revitalization,” but only the Word preached in the power of the Spirit revitalizes or gives life. David writes in Psalm 19:7, “The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul…” Don’t get me wrong; there are many helpful steps churches can and should take to improve their membership process and impact the city in which they live, but none of these have the power to save one soul…God’s Word alone does. 

THE WORD ALONE IS GOD-BREATHED

Paul combines two words here to create a new word (something he loves doing). He combines the word God and breath to define the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Breath is used often in the Bible to refer to the Holy Spirit. So Paul is saying that the Bible is God exhaling and revealing Himself in speech. As I’ve heard it said before, “Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.” This is why Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Scripture is scalpel of the Spirit, or as Paul calls it in Ephesians 6:17, “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” As preachers, we have no authority on which to stand other than the Bible. Therefore the pulpit is no place for theological hobby horses or politics or one’s thoughts on a subject. Our ministry will only be as effective as we are faithful to expose our people to the search light of God’s Word. This is why people often tell the preacher after the service that they felt like the sermon was directed at them. We cannot have this internal and eternal impact on the souls of the people in our charge unless we preach the word. We must do as Paul did and as he charged the Ephesian elders to do in Acts 20 and, “not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God.” David was right when he wrote in Psalm 12:6-7, “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O Lord will keep them…” When we helplessly search for authority with the people while failing to rely on the preaching of God’s Word in the power of the Spirit, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. 

THE WORD ALONE GROWS THE CHURCH

Paul told young Timothy that God’s Word is profitable for everything necessary to grow the man and the church. The Word is successful to teach them. The Word is successful to reprove and correct them. The Word is successful to train them in righteousness so they’ll be, “equipped for every good work.” Paul also said to the Ephesian elders, “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Jesus said in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” 

You may be preaching or your pastor may be preaching God’s Word in the power of the Spirit (meaning your life and ministry are aligned with the Holy Spirit) and yet seeing little visible results of your labors. Don’t run too quickly to the world’s methods of growing the church. Trust that God’s Word alone is what will do the trick. Look around your church and consider the faithful members: is the Word teaching them, reproving and correcting them, training them in righteousness, equipping them? Then your church IS growing. As for the growth in numbers, God can take care of that part as He wills, but certainly don’t try to force His hand by soft-peddling God’s Word. As one who grew up in a mega-church, I can tell you that we had a mega amount of very surface-level, nominal Christians who didn’t understand the Gospel. Thankfully now the pastor at my home church is faithfully preaching the Word and the church is growing like never before, though there numbers are only a tenth of what they were. Jesus took 12 men and changed the world and a faithful pastor can take 12 believers growing under God’s Word and see God do great things as well. When Martin Luther saw the impact of the protestant reformation, he stated, “I did nothing. The word did it all.” Never underestimate the power of the Word! 

I conclude my thoughts by referencing it. Isaiah 55:10-11 has been my rockbed in ministry. It states, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” 

Why Pray If God Is Sovereign?

Why pray if God is sovereign? Does prayer change anything? Doesn’t God already know what I’m going to say (Ps. 139:4)? And isn’t it true that God declared the end from the beginning, saying “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isa. 46:9-11)? If so, then why pray?

Many of us have wrestled with these difficult questions at some point in our lives. If we’re not asking them ourselves, someone is usually asking us! Any time the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility comes up—anytime the finite approaches the infinite—we find ourselves only able to look up at the pavement under God’s feet; like Isaiah, we can only look at the hem of his robe.

Nevertheless, here are five simple reasons for why we should pray fervently, “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18), knowing that God is absolutely sovereign:

1. Prayer is commanded in God’s Word

Jesus taught his disciples that “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:10). In the garden of Gethsemane, he told them to “watch and pray” (Matt. 26:41). Paul makes it simple: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17); “be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). The issue isn’t whether we think prayer does anything or not; the issue is one of our obedience. God commands us to pray; case closed.

2. Prayer is a mark of a true child of God

Those who are counted righteous by faith in God’s promises and belong to the family of God, “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). This means that true Christians will be characterized by prayer. I love how J. C. Ryle explains this: “Just as the first sign of life in an infant when born into the world is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again is praying.” How can we not talk to our heavenly Father?

3. Prayer changes us more than it “changes” God

God does not change; he is immutable! Yet prayer is how we admit and confess our need for grace. Prayer is how we can praise God and glorify him for his attributes. It’s how we learn to daily align and recalibrate ourselves with God’s will and ask for what he has promised us. It’s how we experience and nourish the fellowship we have with God in Christ. He speaks to us in his Word; we reply in prayer. John Calvin puts it this way: Those who argue that prayer is useless because God is sovereign “do not observe to what end the Lord instructed his people to pray, for he ordained it not so much for his own sake as for ours.”

4. Prayer is a means

Prayer is one of the foreordained means by which God brings his sovereign will to pass. From all eternity, God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass by the infinitely wise and holy counsel of his will. However, God not only ordains the ends but the means to those ends. Simply put, God has determined to act in response to the prayers of his saints just like he has determined to act in response to the preaching of the gospel. In this sense, while prayer doesn’t change God, our prayers most assuredly work to change things!

5. Prayer is an amazing privilege

God, in his mercy, has invited us to participate in his plans and share in the blessings of his saving purposes. While God alone receives the glory, we receive the benefits! Listen to R. C. Sproul on this: “Prayer, like everything else in the Christian life, is for God’s glory and for our benefit, in that order. Everything that God does, everything that God allows and ordains, is in the supreme sense for His glory. It is also true that while God seeks His own glory supremely, man benefits when God is glorified. We pray to glorify God, but we also pray in order to receive the benefits of prayer from His hand.”

Reframing the Question

In his remarkable chapter on prayer in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin explains the necessity of prayer for the Christian life:

Words fail to explain how necessary prayer is, and in how many ways the exercise of prayer is profitable… By so doing we invoke the presence both of his providence, through which he watches over and guards our affairs, and of his power, through which he sustains us, weak as we are and well-nigh overcome, and of his goodness, through which he receives us, miserably burdened with sins, unto grace; and, in short, it is by prayer that we call him to reveal himself as wholly present to us. Hence comes an extraordinary peace and repose to our consciences. For having disclosed to the Lord the necessity that was pressing upon us, we even rest fully in the thought that none of our ills is hid from him who, we are convinced, has both the will and the power to take the best care of us (3.20.2)

Since our Heavenly Father is sovereign, powerful, good, and faithful, the question needs to be reframed accordingly. The question is not, “Why pray if God is sovereign?” Instead, we should be asking:

Why not pray if God is sovereign?!

Interruptible

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

Are you interruptible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was interruptible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Conference Sermons & YouTube Channel

We are excited to announce that we have officially launched the Publican’s YouTube Channel. Currently on our channel you will find all seven sermons from The Publican’s Conference hosted last month on Doxology. Over the coming weeks and months we are planning on expanding the channel with additional content.

We are excited for this new opportunity to use technology to better serve the body of Christ, especially those in our local churches.

Below are links to each of the conference sermons, and again feel free to subscribe to our channel as we begin to roll out new content.

Thanks again for all your continued support.

Joe Earle, Pastor of Riverside Baptist Church, NPR
Matt Noble, Youth Pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, NPR
Andrew Jaenichen, Administrative Pastor of SonRise Community Church, NPR
Aaron Currin, Pastor of BLDG 28, Clearwater
Tommy Shelton, Pastor of Live Oaks Bible Church, Palm Harbor
Adam Powers, Pastor of SonRise Community Church, NPR
Brian Walls, Pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, NPR

A Baptist Warning Concerning Tribalism

No one would confuse Andrew Fuller for being anything but a firm Calvinistic Baptist who wrote extensively to defend the doctrines of grace from a Particular Baptist point of view. If you read Fuller’s writings in the realm of ecclesiology and polity, you will find a man who was a thorough Baptist. However, even in his own day, Andrew Fuller saw the danger that exists in giving one’s self over to extreme sectarianism. Are we interested in seeing people come to Christ or that they become a part of our denominational or theological heritage? By all means, if we consider ourselves a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or a Congregationalist, then we should be able to defend our convictions and views. I am a Particular Baptist because I am thoroughly convinced that is the theological tradition most faithful to the Bible. Even so, I should be filled with nothing but joy and gladness when I see a faithful Presbyterian church receive new members due to souls being converted by the grace of God. The counsel that Andrew Fuller provides us in this piece is much needed in our day when tribalism, fueled by cultural changes and social media, continues to grow more and more within the church.

I first became aware of this short piece by Andrew Fuller on David Prince’s website which hosts “Andrew Fuller Fridays.” Here is the link: http://www.davidprince.com/2018/06/08/pursuing-lesser-things-to-the-neglect-of-the-greater-andrew-fuller-being-dead-still-speaks-to-sbc18/.

Below is an excerpted portion of Andrew Fuller’s article “The Necessity of Seeking those Things First which are of the First Importance” (The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Miscellaneous—Fugitive Pieces, Andrew F. Fuller, Ed., Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007:984-985).

A great part of the evil which prevails in the world consists in an entire neglect of what God commands, or in doing what he has expressly forbidden; but not the whole of it. There may be an attachment to many things which in themselves are right, and yet the whole may be rendered worse than void by the want of order, or a regard to things according to their importance.

Our Lord did not censure the Pharisees for attending to the lesser matters of the law, but for attending to them “to the neglect of the greater.” If we pursue things as primary which ought to occupy only a secondary or subordinate place in the system, we subvert the whole, and employ ourselves in doing what is worse than nothing.

I think I see the operation of this principle among us, and that to a wide extent. I see it among the unconverted, among the converted, and among different parties or denominations of Christians.

First, It is by this that great numbers who lay their accounts with obtaining the kingdom of heaven will be found to have deceived themselves.

It may be too much to say of them that they do not seek the kingdom of God; but they seek it not as a first or primary object. The world is their chief good, and the kingdom of God only occupies a secondary place in their affections. They wish to attend to their everlasting concerns, but they cannot spare time. Now we can commonly spare time for that which we love best.

Secondly, It is owing to this, among other causes, that many Christians go from year to year in doubt, with respect to their interest in Christ and spiritual blessings.

It is very desirable to have clear and satisfactory views on this subject. To live in suspense on a matter of such importance must, if we be not sunk in insensibility, be miserable. How is it that so much of this prevails among us; when, if we look into the New Testament, we shall scarcely see an instance of it among the primitive Christians? Shall we cast off all such characters as unbelievers?

Some have done so, alleging that it is impossible for a person to be a believer without being conscious of it. Surely this is too much; for if the grace of God within us, whatever be its degree, must needs be self-evident to us, why are we directed to keep his commandments as the means of “knowing that we know him?” The primitive Christians, however, had but little of this fear; and the reason of it was, they had more of that perfect love to Christ, to the gospel, and to the success of it, than we have, which tended to “cast out fear.”

If we make our personal comfort the first object of our pursuit, (and many attend the means of grace as if they did,) God will make it the last of his; for it is a general principle in the Divine administration, “Him that honoureth me I will honour; but he that despiseth me shall be lightly esteemed.” If we seek the honour of God, we shall find our own peace and comfort in it; but if we make light of him he will make light of us, and leave us to pass our days in darkness and suspense.

Thirdly, It is owing, if I mistake not, to the same cause that various denominations of Christians, who at some period have been greatly blessed of God, have declined as to their spiritual prosperity.

Several of our religious denominations have arisen from a conscientious desire to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. From this motive acted, I believe, the greater part of the Reformers, the Puritans, the nonconformists, and the Baptists. I do not know that any one of these denominations were censurable for the separations which they made from other professing Christians. It may be alleged that they have torn the church of Christ into parties, and so occasioned much evil; yet some of them did not separate from the church of Christ, but from a worldly community calling itself by that name; and those who did, pretended not to be the only people of God in the world, but considered themselves merely as “withdrawing from brethren who walked disorderly.”

It is a melancholy fact, however, that no sooner have a people formed themselves into a new denomination than they are in the utmost danger of concentrating almost all their strength, influence, zeal, prayers, and endeavours for its support; not as a part of Christ’s visible kingdom, wishing all good to other parts in so far as they follow Christ, but as though it were the whole of it, and as though all true religion were circumscribed within its hallowed pale. This is the essence of a sectarian spirit, and the bane of Christianity.

I am a Dissenter, and a Baptist. If I confine my remarks to the faults of these denominations, it is not because I consider them as greater sinners in this way than all others, but because I wish more especially to correct the evils of my own connexions. If we wish to promote the dissenting interest, it must not be by expending our principal zeal in endeavouring to make men Dissenters, but in making Dissenters and others Christians. The principles of dissent, however just and important, are not to be compared with the glorious gospel of the blessed God; and if inculcated at the expense of it, it is no better than tithing mint and cumin, to the omitting of the weightier matters of the law. Such endeavours will be blasted, and made to defeat, their own end.

If we wish to see the Baptist denomination prosper, we must not expend our zeal so much in endeavouring to make men Baptists, as in labouring to make Baptists and other Christians. If we lay out ourselves in the common cause of Christianity, the Lord will bless and increase us. By rejoicing in the prosperity of every other denomination, in so far as they accord with the mind of Christ, we shall promote the best interests of our own. But if we be more concerned to make proselytes to a party than converts to Christ, we shall defeat our own end; and however just our sentiments may be with respect to the subjects and mode of baptism, we shall be found symbolizing with the Pharisees, who were employed in tithing mint and cumin, to the neglect of judgment, mercy, and the love of God.

 

The Roles of Elders, Deacons, and Members

In order for the church to be more faithful to Scripture and obedient to our Lord in the area of polity (i.e., church government) we must ultimately be an elder-led congregational church—a church that is ruled by Christ, governed by the congregation, led by elders, and served by deacons. This means we must be well-informed and understand the roles and responsibilities of elders, deacons, and members.

The Role of Elders

When we come to the New Testament, the evidence indicates that every church had a plurality of elders. Merkle writes, “There is no example in the New Testament of one elder or pastor leading a congregation as the sole or primary leader”i (see Acts 11:30; 20:17; Php. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5). But what do elders do?

First, elders pray (Acts 6:4; Jas. 5:14). Elders plead for the flock of God under their care. They pray for the souls over whom they keep watch and for whom they will have to give an account. We see this commitment to pray in the decision of the Apostles in the early church, who appointed others to serve the needs of the growing church so that they might devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (see Acts 6:1-7). For them, prayer was a time-consuming labor that inevitably caused other duties to be set aside.ii In order for a pastor to be effective in his ministry, he must be faithful to pray. He must be fully reliant upon the power of God, who alone “gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). “Intercessory prayer is perhaps the most basic ministry of the elder. In order to speak to men for God, elders must speak to God for men. They must be away of the futility of all their actions apart from the life-giving work of God’s Spirit.”iii

Second, elders preach and teach (Acts 6:4; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). Elders serve the word to the sheep under their care. Since God rules his people by his Word, elders must be faithful to proclaim the Word to God’s people. As the Apostles devoted themselves to prayer, they also devoted themselves to the ministry of the word (6:4). Because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), because we are born again through the word of God (1 Pet. 1:23), because all Scripture is profitable to make the man of God “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17), this is an indispensable component of pastoral ministry.

Elders are called to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) and declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27); therefore, they must be devoted to knowing God’s Word. Pastors proclaim Christ, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom” in order that they may present the sheep under their care “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). It’s crucial to remember that “the Bible alone is absolutely authoritative in a church’s life. . . . Elders bear authority over Jesus’s church only to the extent that they teach, obey, and enforce Jesus’s word.”iv Elders lead by standing before their congregation on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaiming his rule, his truth, and his commands.

Third, elders shepherd (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Elders are intimately involved with their sheep in order to see them grow in Christian maturity. They should, as one pastor puts it, smell like sheep. Peter exhorts elders: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). The Apostle Paul encouraged the Ephesians elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Elders shepherd God’s flock! Shepherding involves such responsibilities as providing godly counsel and biblical instruction, helping resolve conflicts peacefully, protecting the flock from wolves, caring for struggling sheep, and providing oversight of the spiritual well-being of the flock. (This is also why church membership matters: Elders need to know who their flock is!)

Fourth, elders lead by example (Heb. 13:7; Titus 2:7). Elders not only lead by teaching the Word but by obeying Christ and modeling Christian maturity. They are to not only keep a close watch on their doctrine but also on themselves and their families (1 Tim. 3:2-7; 4:12, 16; Titus 1:6-9). As elders teach the congregation to trust God and grow in godliness, loving and persuading them to obey Christ, Hebrews 13:17 calls believers to “obey your leaders an submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your soul.” (Again, membership matters!). But earlier, in Hebrews 13:7, believers are commanded: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Elders lead not only by teaching sound doctrine but by imitating Christ! Jeremy Rinne writes:

God has called elders to be men worth imitating. . . . When a church appoints a man to be an overseer, it is formally saying, ‘Here is an official, church-recognized example of a mature follower of Jesus.’ He is not the only example, not a perfect example, and not necessarily the best example in that congregation for every single Christian virtue. But an elder is a duly designated model nonetheless.v

Fifth, elders raise up elders (2 Tim. 1:14; 2:2). Elders disciple and train specific individuals to carry on the work of gospel ministry. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:2: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” As God’s stewards (Titus 1:7), pastors are entrusted with oversight of both the household and the truth of God. Not only must they seek to preserve the truths of the gospel for their own generation, but they must see to it that the faith once for all delivered to the saints be carried into the next generation of sheep.

The Role of Deacons

When it comes to the role of deacons in the local church, the Scriptures are surprisingly quiet. In fact, “We have no description in the New Testament of deacons acting as deacons, with the single exception of Acts 6, which, while controverted, is still widely used as a model for the ministry of deacons. Aside from that episode, we have no example of deacons at work.”vi Writing to the Philippians, Paul addresses “all the saints in Christ Jesus . . . with the overseers and deacons” (Php. 1:1). We find the qualifications of deacons following those of elders in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. In these passages, the Greek word diakonos refers to an office. But the word is often used in a more general sense to mean simply ‘servant’ or ‘minister.’ Even in Romans 16:1, when Paul commends “Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,” who was “a patron of man and of [Paul] as well,” it’s debated whether she was an official deacon of that church or simply a faithful servant of the church. All Christians are diakonoi!

However, the Bible is clear that the office of deacon is indeed one of the two scriptural offices to be found in a local church, and it is an indispensable office for gospel ministry. Deacons care for the physical, logistical, and practical needs of the church in order to support the ministry of the elders and to maintain unity in the body (Acts 6:1-7). “They are not the spiritual leaders of the church. Instead, based on the pattern established in Acts 6 with the apostles and the Seven, it seems best to view the deacons as servants who do whatever is necessary to allow the elders to accomplish their God-given calling of shepherding and teaching the church.”vii

Deacons support the elders’ ministry of the Word by being responsible for tasks not related to shepherding and teaching. Under the oversight of the elders, deacons may be responsible for the practical details of church life: facilities, finances, benevolence, meals, guest services (such as ushers and greeters) security, media and technology, the Lord’s Supper, and so on. “Perhaps one reason why, in the providence of God, we are not given an explicit job description for deacons is to allow them the flexibility to serve in a variety of roles.”viii As for the number of deacons needed in a church, there should not be a set number or limit. (Acts 6 is narrative more than normative). Rather, the number of deacons should be determined by (1) the needs of that particular church and (2) the number of qualified deacon candidates.

The Role of Members

While the Christian church recognizes the offices of elders and deacons, it is also appropriate (and biblically warranted) to understand church membership as an office as well. Members, possessing the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:13-19; 18:15-20), are obligated to perform certain duties. Jonathan Leeman, who has written extensively about church membership, provides a helpful list of job responsibilities for church members: (1) Attend church regularly; (2) Help preserve the gospel; (3) Help affirm gospel citizens; (4) Attend members’ meetings; (5) Disciple other church members; (6) Share the gospel with outsiders; (7) Follow your leaders.ix

The Bible makes the role of members undeniable, unmistakable, and unavoidable: discipleship. Discipleship is simply God’s people helping God’s people to do all that Jesus commands. We have been given the task of preaching the gospel, making disciples, and being ambassadors of reconciliation (Matt. 28:18–20; 2 Cor. 5:18–20). We are called to protect the gospel (1 Tim 5:19-20; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. Gal 1:6) and put the gospel on display by living a life of holiness, love, and grace. Leeman writes, ” Our work is to share and protect the gospel, and it’s to affirm and oversee gospel professors—church members. . . . The job here is bigger than showing up at members’ meetings and voting on new members. The church member’s job lasts all seven days. Ours is the work of representing Jesus and protecting his gospel in each other’s lives every day.”x

Church’s practicing meaningful membership tend to have a church covenant. This covenant summarizes the commands of the Lord Jesus given to those who belong to him and his church. Obedience to these commands proves our profession of faith and baptism to be genuine. In fact, church membership is what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus; a disciple is a healthy church member.

Conclusion

Church polity is inevitable. Every church has a particular understanding of and implementation of church government. The question is whether or not your understanding and practice of church government is biblical and pleasing to God. While church polity can seem like a trivial matter, understanding the offices in the church is vital for being faithful to what God commands in Scripture and for having a healthy church.

So, to sum it all up: Elders equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Deacons serve the church by supporting the work of the elders. And members of the body of Christ make disciples by being key-wielding citizens of heaven through membership in a local church.


  1. Benjamin L. Merkle, “The Biblical Role of Elders,” in Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 285.
  2. John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 76.
  3. Mark Dever, Understanding Church Leadership, Church Basics series (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 24.
  4. Jeramie Rinne, Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus, Building Healthy Churches series (Wheaton, IL; Crossway, 2014), 81.
  5. Rinne, Church Elders, 101.
  6. John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2005), 193.
  7. Benjamin L. Merkle, “The Office of Deacon,” in Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 319-20.
  8. Hammett, Biblical Foundations, 195.
  9. Jonathan Leeman, “Your 7 Job Responsibilities as a Church Member
  10. Jonathan Leeman, “Church Membership Is an Office and a Job”

Boasting in Our Weaknesses

Weakness. It is something each of us has an abundance of and yet none of us want to admit it. Even the word weakness conjures up a negative mental image of someone we never want to become: I think of that Norman Rockwell painting of the scrawny teenage boy with glasses looking at a picture of a bodybuilder while curling some light dumbbells. Why is weakness such a terrible concept in our minds? Why do we try to avoid it at all costs or choose the route of masquerading as though we’re strong? I think it is because at the root, we are all far too man-centered. Our sin nature and the confused culture around us deceive us into thinking that true strength resides somewhere deep within. Because we assume strength is found somewhere in us, the only solution for tapping into that strength is self-esteem or self-discovery or self-expression. This is the lie we are spoon-fed to believe in 21st Century Western civilization. Isn’t it odd how we’ve even projected that facade of self strength into the way we respond to terminal illness? When diagnosed with cancer, people say, “I’m going to beat this.” Now don’t get me wrong: it is good to have a positive outlook on life, but that should stem from a source more trustworthy than us. Even in our strongest moments, a microscopic virus or bacteria can wipe us out. At the end of the day, we just don’t want to be weak because weakness is seen as the enemy of all true progress; but that is just dead wrong.

What if God hard-wired weakness into us for some grander purpose? What if our weakness and frailty and vulnerability in life were all sovereignly intended to point us to the source of true strength, outside of ourselves? This is what Paul discovered. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is writing to defend his ministry against those denying his credibility as an apostle. They said, “his bodily appearance is weak” along with his speaking skills (2 Cor. 10:10). Although Paul goes on to defend his ministry and authority as an apostle, he never denies their claims concerning his weakness. As a matter of fact, he seems to wear this weakness as a badge of honor. Paul writes tongue in cheek about all the things he could boast in such as his beatings and shipwrecks and hunger and poverty. He then goes on to say, “If I must boast, I will boast of all the things that show my weakness…I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses…I am content with weaknesses…I am nothing” (11:30; 12:5; 12:9; 12:10; 12:11).  Wow. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “Hey everybody, I’m really good and not being good enough! Watch me as I dominate not dominating anything.” Why would Paul be so backwards from the culture and boast in his weakness? It wasn’t just because he was jaded and fed up with the church. It was another reason altogether. It was because God taught Paul that the very weakness that made life miserable for him at times was part of God’s plan to point him to true strength.

We see this in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. Paul was given a “messenger of Satan” to torment him, which he also calls a “thorn” in his flesh. Theologians have debated for two millenia about what exactly this is (many say an eye disease perhaps received after being blinded by the vision of Christ; others some opponent to his ministry), but the point is the same nonetheless. He writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we don’t see our prayers answered the way we want, we can be encouraged to know God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer the way he wanted here (and Jesus’ prayer in the garden either for that matter). God was teaching Paul and us something marvelous about His purposes: weakness reveals to us our insufficiency, but it can also remind us of the sufficiency of God’s grace for every trial. Paul’s ailment lead to his repeated pleading, which led to the promise of God’s all-sufficient grace. There are moments in each person’s life where God gives us a nice reminder of our own weakness. Sometimes it is in the form of an illness; sometimes in the form of a sudden brush with death; sometimes in the form of the loss of a loved one. Yet there is that moment when our frailty is exposed and we can sing with the band Kansas, “All we are is dust in the wind.” If we could just learn to keep that mentality we would be less quick to pretend we’re strong and more prone to abide in Christ, our refuge and strength.

In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul expresses this: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” The statement, “God will never put on you more than you can handle” is false. He will and often does. But He has a purpose in doing so: to drive you to rely on His strength. Pastor Matt Chandler has pointed out that when skeptics call Christianity a crutch they are correct, for we are all crippled and it is far better to acknowledge that than to hobble around on our broken femurs declaring we’re fine.

Years ago, my wife and I gathered the family for pictures outside our home. It was a beautiful Easter day and we were all in our “church clothes” looking good. There was a stunning array of azalea bushes we used as a backdrop. However, as many parents can testify, toddlers and babies don’t always do great at picture time. The picture we finally ended up with was priceless: both kids were screaming as my wife and I were holding them in a death grip with exhausted smiles on our faces. When we posted it on social media, it was interesting the response. People loved it because for once they felt they could identify and weren’t seeing just another picture of someone who appears to have it all together. It sure is easy to present a nicer image of ourselves than is reality…not only in social media, but in real life too. In our churches we can shy away from real community when we don’t open up about struggles in our sanctification. If we don’t embrace our weaknesses, then this Gospel we preach and believe can easily appear unnecessary for us who clearly aren’t that bad off. There is a reason why James 5:16a calls us to, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.”

So instead of hiding behind the mask of our sufficiency, may we all learn to embrace our weaknesses and run to the strength God provides in Christ. The next time you’re out of energy and feeling the only way out is sin, remember His grace is sufficient in that moment. When you just want to give up hope because things just seem too hard, remember: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). May we say with Paul, “I am content with weaknesses”, knowing His power is perfected in weakness. After all, how else is the world going to see the power of the Gospel if not in the midst of our own weakness and clinging to His strength? 

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.

Publican’s 2019 Recap

The Publican’s 2019 has come and gone and what a Saturday it was as churches from all over the bay area were represented through our speakers and guest panelists. Specifically, this year we gathered with the purpose of displaying how, from every genre of the scriptures, God is worshiped, and how through seeing the Him worshiped in His word we learn how we too should worship. So for the purpose of today’s post I want to give you and overview of the Publican’s 2019, in the coming weeks video and audio will be posted so you may listen or watch each of our sessions.

Morning Sessions:

We began our morning walking through the Old testament Torah, Histories, and Poetry. Joe Earle Kicked us off by looking at Leviticus 10. In this text we unpacked what false worship looked like as Nadab and Abihu were consumed by the fire of the Lord for presenting a strange fire. From this we were called to ask ourselves to think deeply about the manner in which we come before a Holy God. As believers we must take the Worship of God seriously and not be flippant in our worship.

After the Torah Matt Noble led us into the Histories with 2 Kings 18:1-8 and the introduction of Hezekiah. In this sermon we were introduced to a King who feared the Lord and sought to Bring his love of God to his people. Hezekiah tore down all the graven images around Israel including the Bronze serpent that the Lord had used to save his people in the book of Numbers. Through the Life of Hezekiah, we saw the character of a man who loved the Lord first and foremost and how from that Love for god and His holiness he acted, he didn’t let the cares of his day distract him from serving God well. So too we need to trust the Lord and serve Him faithfully regardless of the world around us.

We concluded our Morning teaching segments from the Psalm 104. In this text I unpacked How God is glorified by His creation. We see in this text the magnificent beauty and wonder of all that God has done in creation, and that by observing his love and care for it, we see His character as a loving and caring God. We see His precision in creation. From looking at creation we see the call to praise the name of God for His wondrous deeds. We are called to reflect on Him as we see Him at work around us.

After our morning Speakers we had a round table discussion featuring Steve Best, President of Bible Basics International, Tim Miller, Senior Pastor of Lakeview Community Church, and Andrew Larsen, Senior Pastor of Safety Harbor community Church. Our round table discussion featured a conversation discussing how we can see worship played out in the life of the church and at home, specifically from each of our speakers backgrounds in ministry over the years and current life circumstances as husbands, fathers, and in one case grandfather.

Afternoon Sessions:

After our break for Lunch Aaron Currin wrapped up our journey through the Old Testament by looking at the role of worship in Hosea. Not a book most would go to in thinking about worship, but from this text we were able to see the passion of God towards his people in spite of their sinfulness and harlotry. We God wooing us back to himself with the truth of who He is, and through this we are broken of our sin and return to the God we love. It is an amazing picture of what we see in Christ who loving cares for His bride.

From the Old Testament we quickly turned to the New Testament with one of our newest Contributors, Tommy Shelton. Tommy walked us through John 4 reflecting on the women at the well and what it means that in Christ we will worship in spirit and in truth. We saw that the worship of God is a global event not limit to a specific town or mountain, but a gift through Christ to be seen on every mountain and in every valley. All the nations will praise God.

From the theme of Worship transforming all Nations, Adam Powers took us through the beauty and wonder of Paul’s doxology in Romans 11. In This text we beheld the mystery and glory of the God who saves and Christ our Savior. We saw how worship flows out an overflow of the knowledge of God especially his sovereign gift of grace and salvations seen in the gospel. He is worthy to be praised by all people at all times.

Which lead us finally to Brian Walls and the book of Revelation. Brian concluded our time in the Word in chapter 19 around the throne of God as the saint’s worship God for His salvation and His judgment. It was a hard text and yet a beautiful one as we see the justice of God put on display for His children to see and marvel at, we were reminded that we serve a loving God and a just God. He is both and must be worshiped for both.

If you couldn’t join us this past weekend we hope you will catch the videos on YouTube in the coming weeks, along with some other new additions to the Publican’s ministry that we will be unveiling.

What Is The Best News You’ve Ever Heard?

What is the best news that you’ve ever heard? Maybe it was the news that you were going to have a baby. Maybe it was your acceptance into your dream college, or the news that you got your dream job. When you heard this news, how hard was it for you to keep it to yourself? Almost impossible, wasn’t it? Our natural response to life-changing news is to shout it from the rooftop, post it on every form of social media, call or text everyone we know and want them, also, to share in the joy and excitement that we ourselves are currently experiencing.

As I’ve been studying and preaching through the Book of Philippians recently, there is something that has struck me afresh regarding the Apostle Paul — He was a man that was incredibly joyful because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and supremely committed to sharing it with everyone.

You see, for Paul, there was no greater news in the world than the fact that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners like himself. And not only was this the greatest news for him personally, he also knew that it was the greatest news that anyone could ever hear, and so he devoted his life to the spreading of this Good News and helping brothers and sisters in Christ further contemplate and comprehend its impact into every aspect of their lives.

As we enter into this Fall season and the holidays that will quickly be upon us — a season filled with giving, joy, and thankfulness — I want you to think with me for a moment about the love, joy, and thankfulness that Paul has for the Gospel in the book of Philippians.

Every aspect of Paul’s life was lived in light of and because of the Good News of what God has done to reconcile sinners with Himself. In Philippians 2:5-11 we see the epitome of the humility shown by Jesus and the sacrifice He made on behalf of sinners. And why was it that Jesus had to go through such a sacrificial, substitutionary death? It was because all men, ever since Adam and Eve, are born in sin — we are all sinners both by nature and by choice. And our sin is not just against each other, though it is that. Our sin is not merely against some arbitrary laws or some made up morality of right and wrong. Rather, our sin is against a holy and righteous God — the one, true God of the universe that has created every single one of us for His glory. Yet each of us have committed acts of divine treason through our sin, and because of that, we stand guilty before God and fully deserving of His wrath to be poured out upon our sin. 

But here’s the Good News — the Good News that sustained and ignited Paul throughout his life. God himself made a way of salvation by sending the eternal second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, to take on the form of a man in the incarnation, to live a perfect life that we could never live, to die the death that we should have died, to take the sins of His people upon Himself as their substitute, to satisfy the wrath of God on their behalf as a propitiation, to rise from the dead and defeat sin, death and Satan, and to ascend to the right hand of the Father, where He now rules and reigns and intercedes for His people until He comes again.

What INCREDIBLE news that is! We all have excellent and exciting things that we experience in this life — good gifts given to us by our good and gracious God. But every single one of them pales in comparison with the good news of what Jesus has done to save sinners! Paul knew this. Paul lived his life for this. Paul ended up giving his life for this. Paul’s love for the Gospel was such that he could say in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In this passage, Paul is contemplating the possible outcomes of his current imprisonment. He may be set free. He may be put to death. Whichever happens, he’s confident that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by life or by death. What does he mean that for him to live is Christ? Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century British preacher, summarized it by saying that Paul’s life is characterized by this fourfold pursuit — to know Christ more, to imitate Christ more, to preach Christ more, and to enjoy Christ more.

We see a more detailed picture of what this looked like in Paul’s life in Philippians 3:7-8, when he says:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

For Paul, the Good News of what Jesus has done to save sinners was the best news he had ever heard — so good that he gave his life to share it, teach it, and proclaim it to all who would listen.

What about you? What is the best news that you have ever heard? May we, like Paul, be thankful for the good gifts that God gives us in this life. But may we, also like Paul, see the supreme and preeminent value of Christ and the Gospel over all things.

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).