Book Review: Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash

If you have served in ministry, whether that is on the pastoral end or the nursery, you may have felt at time like Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” You have felt bogged down through a season, felt a little off every day, or just unseasonable irritable. These are some of the early warning signs of burnout, something that has become a more common occurrence in the church. That is why this little book (123 pgs) by Christopher is so important to the life of the church. In this book Ash begins to lay out for us some warning signs to look for and some ways in which we can be restored and revived in the midst of a hard season of life and ministry.

First, this book is not an academic study into the ins and outs of the physiological nature of burnout, rather it is a personal look at the lives that have been affected by burnout and how they got there. It takes us through the lives of different ministry leaders and works to reveal some of the warning signs that were missed and how they recovered after they stepped back and took stock of what was going on in their lives. Ash’s use of testimonials help to ground us in the reality of what he is talking about, and in some cases you may see your self reflected in them. Like Carrie who was a youth ministry worker who put in almost 14 hours a day in different youth related ministry activities until one day it began to physically break her body down, and she had to step back and look at what she was doing. She loved every aspect of what she was doing; the job was everything she ever wanted and she loved the impact she had on young women, but it took a hidden toll that she hadn’t calculated.[i]

Second, these testimonies are connected directly with practical and biblical advice on serving the Lord without losing your mind. Ash lays out for us 7 key principles that we need to be reminded of as we do lifelong ministry.

  1. We need sleep, God does not
  2. We need Sabbath Rest, God does not
  3. We need friends, God does not
  4. We need inward renewal, God does not

These opening four keys  remind us that we are human and not God and need to stop trying to be God and let him do His work. These are especially helpful as they remind us that in the work of the ministry there will always be more to do, but that in the end it is God who controls the means and way in which the work is to be done and that is through rest and faith in him and growing in fruitful communities that refresh and encourage our walks with God, not our busyness for Him.

The final three Keys force us to look at how we perceive our ministry and what our true goals are.

  1. We are warned not to seek Glory from man, but only that which comes from God
  2. An encouragement that the work is worth the sacrifice (not the burnout)
  3. Rejoice in the grace god has given to you not your giftedness

These three final bullets strike to the heart with what can begin to take root and bury us under our own ideals and pursuits. Sometimes we see our ministry through the giftedness God has given us, or the number of people being affected by our work, we forget that the reason we are sustained in ministry is that if all that were to fall away we would still be God’s children. His concluding focus on our nature as God’s and not our own was a healthy reminder to all of us that through the good and through the bad of ministry we are God’s, our identity in Him is the foundation of how we are to minister and how we are to move through the stress of sacrificial ministry.

Highly recommend this book to anyone struggling through ministry, or who are just starting out and what to run the race well.

Purchase: WTSBooks or Amazon

 

[i] Ash, Christopher. Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice. The Good Book Company, 2016.  Pg 54-55

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The Avalanche of Sin

“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman.” (2 Samuel 11:2-3a) (Read the entire chapter here). Things only went downhill for David from there.  Author and Pastor John Piper once said, “Avalanches of evil begin with a single pebble of sin.”  This truth could not be seen more clearly than in the story of David from the verses above.

According to the text late one afternoon, as David was presumably lounging around his palace all day, he decided to get up and take a walk out onto the king’s roof top. Once outside his eyes fell upon a beautiful woman as she was bathing.  Now in that moment, he could have decided to hide his eyes and turn away, but rather than leave it alone, he chose to indulge himself and inquire about the woman.  Once he found out who she was, he arranged for her to come over to his house.  Upon her arrival the text tells us that David slept with the woman.  You can see already how this situation has turned from bad to worse very quickly. It does not take much for sin avalanche.  Not only had David’s lust turned into premarital sex, but to make matters worse, both David and the woman he had slept with were married.  The snowball is increasing in size as this sin grows bigger and bigger.

Not long after David and Bathsheba’s affair, Bathsheba sends word to David that she is, in fact, pregnant with his child. This news seems to trouble David as he is now in fear of being caught in his sin.  So he attempts, unsuccessfully, to get Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, who is out in battle, to come home and to sleep with his wife so that no one would think anything of Bathsheba’s pregnancy.

However, when David’s first attempt at cover-up failed, he decided to have Uriah put in the front lines of battle so that his death was sure.  This was his second attempt at covering up his sin (and we find out later it failed as well 2 Samuel 12).  So what started with lust ended in adultery and murder.  Rather than nipping sin in the bud, David allowed his sin to grow, and it quickly grew out of control. And the same thing can be true for us. We can play with sin and play with sin and think we are doing just fine, but before we know it things can get out of hand and our sin has ruined us. Sin can ruin our reputation, ministry, even our lives. And if we continue in it without repentance it will lead us to hell.

There is no such thing as a “small” sin.  All sin is rebellion towards God and can lead to “avalanches of evil.”  We are to set our eyes on Christ and live for Him, leaving our sin behind.  John Owen once wrote, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  Let’s strive every day, by the grace of God, to treasure Christ above all else and to snuff out our sin before it burns out of control.

The good news for David is that his story didn’t end there. By God’s grace he realized his sin (2 Samuel 12:13) and asked God for forgiveness (Psalm 51) and although there were consequences to his sin (2 Samuel 12:7-14) ultimately David was forgiven.  David was well aware of God’s forgiveness for sin (Psalm 32:5) and we can be sure, by God’s grace, he was forgiven from all of it. What great news.

And the good news for David is also good news for us. There is forgiveness for sin. Complete forgiveness.  That does not mean that there are not consequences for sin and we should take it lightly – sin is dangerous – but by God’s grace all our sins can be forgiven when we admit our fault and turn to Jesus (Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:9 ). Praise God for His grace and mercy toward undeserving sinners like you and me.

Live in the Gospel!

1 Peter 3:13-22

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Why is the victorious resurrection of Jesus so important to our everyday lives? Have you ever asked yourself that question? When you step back and think about the totality of the gospel; is it simply something that was applied once to your life and then moved away from or is it something you see as integral to your everyday experience of life? For Peter it was the later, and in conclusion to the 3rd chapter of his epistle he makes it clear that the power of Christ’s resurrection should be the power and motivation for which we stand, speak, and live.

So to begin with this is not an easy passage in any way but the message it paints is quite remarkable, for in this we see Peter begin to wrap up his discussion on all the ways that as Christians we are to be subject to the authorities that are around us, even when that may lead to distress or suffering. Peter paints for us this concluding picture that the experiences of this temporal life are a means of experiencing the final victory in Christ, so the adversity that we experience here on earth is but momentary, and compared to the glory of the victorious Christ they have no eternal  effect on your soul. So Peter wants us to see that with the knowledge of the resurrection, the suffering of this world should be met with a spirit who is set on Christ, with words that proclaim the gift that he has given us and actions that reflect the forgiven life we now possess.

So firstly we see that when we come to the realization that this world cannot truly harm us in a spiritual sense, for we have been granted life and safety in the arms of our Father, our very nature is transformed. We begin to believe and echo the words of Isaiah 8:12 no longer fearing the things of this world but honoring Christ as supreme and the only one worthy of our fear. In this we see that we don’t need to fear the things this world fears like sickness, suffering, injustice, pain, or even death for in Christ’s victory all these things are swallowed up and no longer have a hold on our hearts. We now operate under the knowledge that our hope and security is in Christ, so when these things occur around us we can stand knowing that God has our back and in doing so the world will wonder how we endure, and when the world wonders and asks we must give a response for that hope. What is amazing to remember is the command to be prepared to give a defense wasn’t given to theological scholars or the most educated it was given to the early church which was made of a broad range of people, but as seen in the previous chapter was made up of some of the most beaten down by society. It is to this church that the command was given to know why you endure and share that hopeful gift with others.

This hope also leads to a second lesson we see. That our actions in the midst of adversity affect the perception of the truth of the gospel we proclaim. We are to proclaim the truth of Christ to all who ask in a spirit of gentleness and respect. In this we see the motivation behind the command, we exemplify Christ when we give an answer to the faith, and especially should the question arise out of suffering or injustice. So what we say and what we do should line up with the reality of the identity we have as sojourners and strangers. Our lives should reflect our citizenship in heaven and our heavenly Father who called us out of the darkness and gave us hope, when hope was gone. In this way we reflect the gift of Christ to those around us, for blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake, but should the pain you experience in life be the product of our own sinfulness than that too is an opportunity to show what it means to repent and be restored in the family of God and in doing so show and unbelieving world what it means to experience forgiveness and grace and be transformed by it not excused by it.

Finally why can we do this: because Christ suffered and died for our sins, resurrecting on the third day. He didn’t have to, for he was the righteous one of God, and yet for our unrighteousness He took on the cross bearing the full wrath of the Father and in doing so made a way for us to be reconciled to God anew.  The text though doesn’t end there and while the conclusion may be complicated in its parts the picture as a whole is painted to show us that the trials of this life are nothing because Christ is victorious over them. In his death & resurrection He proclaimed victory over the spiritual forces who thought that they had power greater than His. In His death and resurrection we have passed through the wrath of God, through faith and baptism, for we have been placed into Christ who has absorbed the waves of God’s judgment keeping us secure, those whose faith is in Him, and in doing so He claimed victory.

 

The Knowledge of the Holy One: God is Sovereign

I remember all the buildup and hype very well. It was 20 years ago that Mike Tyson made a meal of both of Evander Holyfield’s ears in the boxing ring as he faced the man who just, one year earlier, dethroned him as the WBA World Heavyweight Champion. The “bites” were as strange as the fight was epic but even that monumental fight pales in comparison to the fight that often arises when the Sovereignty of God takes the ring against man’s desire to rule and reign over himself.

“That God is, and the God who is, is the God who reigns…this is the bedrock doctrine of all doctrines. This is the immovable mountain of God’s supreme authority and his right to exercise his rule; absolute, active, continual reign over heaven, earth, and even hell itself. It is His undisputed right to govern all that He has created, with unhindered, unrivaled majesty.”[1] This is God’s Sovereignty. This is what it means to be God; for no god is God unless he holds within Himself the authority and power to rule and reign over that which He presides.

We hear His sovereignty confessed, even from the unbelieving world, when it is so boldly proclaims “Who do you think you are? God?” Inherent in such a rhetorical question is the authority that God possesses to do as He pleases. A.W. Pink opens his writing on God’s Sovereignty by stating that “Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him.”[2]

Who, especially in orthodox Christianity, would take the ring against such an august confession of The Sovereign God of Creation? Sadly, many. But God’s, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient Word is replete with the testimony of the Absolute Sovereignty of the Most High:

Genesis 1:3 “God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Job 37:6-13 “To the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour…He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter His lighting. They turn around and around by His guidance, to accomplish all the He commands themHe causes it to happen.”

Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in the earth, in the seas and in all deeps.”

Daniel 4:35 “…He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitant of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”

Ephesians 1:11 God “works all things after the counsel of His will…”

Romans 11:36 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” (emphasis added)

And perhaps the most indisputable proof of His Sovereignty comes from His own mouth in Isaiah 14:24 & 46:10 when The Almighty, El Shaddai Himself, roars from His Throne Room,  “As I have planned so shall it be, and as I have purposed so shall it stand…My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…”

From the counsel of none other, the Triune God spoke and the heavens leapt into being (Gen. 1 & 2); they had no other choice but to obey. By the will of none other, the wind and the waves obeyed the command (Matt. 8:23-27) of the Holy One of Israel (Is. 41:14 & Luke 4:34) and peace immediately rested and stilled the tumult; they had no other choice but to obey. By the authority of none other, the demons were cast into the swine and fell headlong to their demise (Mark 5:13); they, too, had no choice but to obey. And from the voice of none other, spiritually dead men and women are raised to life and made right with their King, their Maker (John 6:37; Rom. 9:16-21; Eph. 1:5-6, 2:8-9); they had no other choice but to obey.

Space & time, the natural & spiritual realm, even humanity itself is subject to The One, True, and Sovereign, Almighty.

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon exhorts us all, even still today, when he said, “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all.”[3] What greater comfort could there be to God’s people? God has, by His sovereign will, decreed all things, ordained all things, orchestrated all things, brought all things, and caused all things to be in order, to bring you to this very moment, and has guaranteed that this event is working out for your greatest good and His greatest glory (Romans 8:28 & Isaiah 43:7)!

What kind of God could want something for you that He had not the power to carry out? What kind of God could decree something of you and not have the resources to accomplish that which He proclaimed? What kind of god would God be, if He must impotently, idly sit by hoping that what He commands, what He decrees, what He proclaims, what He wills must take second fiddle to the fickle, unstable, always changing will of His creation? This god is no God at all!

The God of the Bible, the God of Adam & Eve, the God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, the God of Elijah, the God of David, the God of the prophets, the God of the Twelve, the God of the Apostle Paul, and The Only Sovereign reigns supreme, asks permission of no one to act, and is restricted by no one or nor could be withstood even if everyone stood against Him…

Thus says God, Yahweh, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am Yahweh; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am Yahweh; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. -Isaiah 42:5-9

“So Yahweh controls the entire course of nature and history for his own glory and to accomplish his own purpose.” [4] Who else can make such claims and deliver? Who else holds the power within himself to consult with no one and act alone, guaranteeing the outcome? Who else but El Shaddai?

The Sovereignty of God is what makes God so attractive to the believer, so fearful to the unregenerate, so hated by idolaters, and so rejected by those who wish to be a god unto themselves.

Rest in His Sovereignty, God’s chosen, beloved by Yahweh, saved and kept by His sovereign grace in Christ. God is God; a truth that can never and will never change.

[1] Steven Lawson, The Attributes of God DVD Teaching Series

[2] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg 25

 

[3] Ibid. pg. 25

[4] John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 21

Gospel Fueled Change

In Peter’s first letter he spends a great deal of time setting down the foundation for why we as believers should live holy lives. He reminds the church of the need to grow up in the faith and not become stagnant. In the first ten verses of chapter two he helps reorient our focus to the reality of who we are and our relationship to Christ and one another. A couple weeks ago I walked us briefly through some of the direct application of living out the faith as sojourners in a land that is not our home, and how our lives should look different than those around us, and more importantly than our old lives. Today I want to briefly reminds us of the foundation of our Hope and the cause of our changed lives that comes only through the power of the Gospel not through human effort.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good

Peter opens with the reality that our lives are now marked by a change in desire. No longer do we desire the things of the world or do we mirror the attitudes of those around us, rather we desire the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. This is seen in the concluding passage of 1 Peter 1:25 where Peter reminds us that the gospel has set us free from sin and death and gave us the hope we have today. It is from this driving force that the desire to put away all malice and long for the joy of God’s word springs. From the Gospel hope we are now called to put away the old life with all of its vices and anger and strive hard after God, for it is only from growing in the faith that these things are possible. We know that healthy and physically maturing people don’t indulge constantly on Doritos and hot dogs, when someone sets it in their minds to grow healthy they long towards the things that will bring that to fruition, like a healthy diet and exercise. The same is true of spiritual life; we cannot indulge on the things of the flesh and expect that growth and maturity will simply take place. We are called through Christ’s power to yearn for the hope that brings spiritual maturity, the true spiritual milk.

For If you have tasted the joy of the Lord and savored His goodness why would you want anything else. Sometimes it seems we need to be reminded how good God is and how appetizing the Gospel’s message is to our soul. If you have tasted the goodness of God, like a nice porterhouse steak, (or some eggplant type dish thing vegans must enjoy), then you know how satisfying He is. How He fills your stomach with life and hope everlasting. Peter is then asking us the question why aren’t you longing for that every day. Why do you keep running back to the attitudes and hostilities of the world that will leave you empty and starving. If the Gospel has taken root, then eat the only thing hat will truly satisfy and grow you into maturity, Jesus Christ & His word.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Once we have evaluated our desires, we are asked by Peter to see ourselves through the lenses of Christ. Here Peter is encouraging us to see our growth in maturity in light of the fact that we are like Christ. He was the true living stone rejected by humanity, so too are we living stones who are rejected by humanity. The world rejected Jesus and we should not be surprised that it will reject those who look like Him. Therefore we should not be shocked when the world rejects us, but rather we should see all the more clearly that we are not alone in being rejected. Rather, we are a part of a living temple being built together, into Christ. The rejection of the world should build our spiritual unity as believers, and as our unity of spirit grows so too does our witness, and as we mature in Christ we will continue to turn our hearts over to him, preparing our minds for action and seeking to live our lives in a manner that seeks to glorify God and not our flesh.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Finally, we are grounded in the reality that we have a new identity as heirs with Christ. Just as you grew up physically and learned about who you were and where you came from, so too as we grow into Christ we learn who we are in Him and what that means for us.  We learn more and more about our identity and the family that we now have been given. We also begin to see that within our new family we have been given a new occupation as priests proclaiming the greatness of God who set us free from our own sinfulness. As such we call others to experience the greatness of our God who has changed us and given us a lasting home in his presence. We proclaim to the world the mercy of God, the hope of heaven, the living stone rejected by the men.

We have been Chosen, we have been set apart, we have been made Holy, and we have been given a home. These things were given to us we never earned them nor could we. God in his infinite grace bestowed them on those whom He called out of darkness and who through His grace have called upon the name of His Son. Before you can begin to evaluate how you are able to living in a dying and sinful word, you must first remember and know that you are His and that all that you are is found in Him. Before Peter begins a long discussion on living out the faith in a world that will mock, ridicule, and at times persecuted you, you have to know who you are and whose you are, so that you may live out the faith in response to this good news and in a way that reveals it to others.

 

Following the Model of True Hospitality

I love food. I love having people over to my home, I love cooking, I just really enjoy everything associated with hosting, participating, and serving those who enter my home.
Few acts are more expressive of companionship than a shared meal…Someone with whom we share food is likely to be our family, a close friend, or well on the way to becoming one.

In fact the word Companion comes from the word “Com” (coom) meaning together, and “panis (pa–nees) “Bread.” Just think about your own life, how many meaningful conversations, important decisions, fun, and even hard times have been experienced around a dinner table or shared meal?

I believe that the Bible portrays food as an amazing Gift that has potential to bless our families, neighbors and others in ways that nice words, greeting cards, and money cannot. Throughout human history and across cultures shared meals have been central to the family, community, and essentially all relationships regardless of gender, ethnicity, economic standing, or age.

But in our current historical moment, we all sense at something went wrong with our shared meals in America, we lament declining food quality, decreased patience for cooking, food snobbery, increased demand outside ourselves which often leads to a decreased time for shared meals with those closest to us. There seems to be a mountain of other factors leading to isolation during meals, underconsumption (due to being too busy to eat) and overconsumption. In fact, dealing with overconsumption. Americans spend over $50 billion per year on dieting, trying to solve the problem of food gone wrong. In fact, Tim Chester in Good News to the Poor points out that in recent years American Christians have spent more on dieting than on world missions. Meaning that we tend to spend more money on trying to cure our overconsumption than we do feeding the physically and spiritually needy of the world.

Don’t beat yourself up yet. This isn’t going to be a post or rant telling you to stop eating or drinking good food and drink (I hope you do it more!). Rather like with all things we ought to consider how we do even the mundane things for the Glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We ought to eat, drink, laugh, weep, play, invest, and challenge in people over a shared meal, but a Christian does so with a different purpose, we always ought to engage each area of our lives with a larger perspective than just the present. Because as C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” And like anything in our faith, the blueprint for our life should be Jesus. He always says “Follow Me”, which means “do what I do”, so I hope to serve up a series of posts to seek to explore what Jesus did around ordinary tables to eternally impact people.

Consider Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

The Bible not only says WHY Jesus came (Mk. 10:45, Lk. 19:10), but Luke also comments and gives picture to HOW Jesus came, “eating and drinking.” We would do well in our efforts to minister and reach family and friends with the Gospel of Jesus to access the lost art of Hospitality or setting out to not just welcoming those close to us, but receive those who may be very different from us.

In short, Jesus regularly taught, displayed, and received hospitality. So much so that those opposing him accused him of gluttony and drunkenness! It seems that sharing meals with people was central to the way in which Jesus reached people. Through his life he modeled for us that the act of loving our neighbor is an essential & non-negotiable Christian practice. Christian Hospitality itself is “offering a generous welcome to the least, without concern for the advantage or benefit of the host.”

Christine D. Pohl in her amazing book Making Room says that “Hospitality is not optional for Christians, nor is it limited to those who are specially gifted for it. It is, instead, a necessary practice in the community of faith.” But why is Hospitality such a necessary practice within the Christian Community? In short, it is because it enacts and embodies God’s Grace. God by himself is never in need, or anxious about provision. God is self-sufficient, simply by existing. The Bible repeatedly says the LORD is not dependent or in need of anything. (Psalm 50:10-12, Psalm 90:2) Likewise God cannot be repaid – Job 41:11. But out of his wholeness, he welcomes the needy, broken, and repentant.

We read that salvation is of Grace in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” This truth is central to the Christian faith and message. That God who is un-obligated to anyone, chooses to redeem people out of his love for his own. Likewise there is nothing worthwhile in people that deserves to be redeemed, but our God loving chooses to do so. And this redemption that God gives to his people results in full acceptance, and access to our creator and redeemer. Therefore Grace is amazing because it brings “Full acceptance to an undeserving person by an un-obligated giver”. It is the LORD’s determined love for people that don’t deserve it, yet by Grace through faith we are welcomed into the full rights and privileges of Christ. So if we desire to be truly hospitable, it will contradict our cultural understanding of who is valuable and “good to be with.”

True biblical hospitality from a worldly perspective is as unappealing as biblical Grace. Meaning that when we consider WHO the LORD has redeemed and the qualifications the possess, we often echo the pharisees and murmur “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman (person) this is who is touching him, for she (they) is/are a sinner” (Luke 7:39). God’s choice in redemption often leaves us scratching our heads, because it is not based on the outward performance of those chosen, rather it’s based solely on God’s outpouring of love in election (Eph. 1:5). This is the upside down way the kingdom of God works in order to demonstrate that all of life and salvation is nothing but a work of unmerited favor from God. If God chose those who the world would deem “worthy”, christianity would collapse into every other world religion and system. But Jesus demonstrates through his life and ministry that God does not conform to the world, rather he is faithfully shaping this present world to his coming kingdom.

So our efforts to show hospitality are not to only include close friends, family, and those who we deem worthy. Rather our hospitality should seek to model God’s grace by beginning to consider what it would mean at times to intentionally include those who “don’t deserve it.”

By doing so we may show a watching world that our faith is not an exclusive club for those who “have it together” but a place where Christ begins to be our uniting factor, not race, economic standing, cultural relevance, or anything else. Therefore biblical hospitality is set on modeling God and his character through meals, provision,and relationships. Just as God’s Grace continually builds the Kingdom of God by his sovereign decree, may our hospitality serve as a instrument in the redeemers hand to model his character and love in order to see many grafted into the family.

So by way of introduction to a Biblical Theology of Meals, Hospitality and Food consider who you could welcome into your home, schedule, family, office, life. And in so doing, follow the ministry model Jesus set for us.

Let’s DO this!

1 Peter 2:11-12

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Peter and James are two of the most holy driven books in the new testament, by this I mean that both men encourage believers to live out their faith with boldness and with a perspective that what they do matters, not just to God but to those around them. Now we would be foolish though to think that these calls to Holiness and Righteous lives are devoid of any Spiritual understanding. Rather both James and Peter root their calls for Holiness in the truth of Christ and the reality of our new birth through Him. Today I want to briefly remind us of Peter’s encouragement to us as to why and how we live out the faith in Holiness.

First Peter reminds us that we sojourners and exiles. The importance in this reminder is that he uses a combination of these two words in a way that harkens the reader backwards into biblical history. It connects us to another important figure who spent his life living among people that were not his own, as one called out and set apart for a new life, a life filled with promises that would not be fully realized in his own time. That man was Abraham. In reminding us of Abraham’s own words we are reminded of how God provided for Him and loved Him. We are reminded of a man, who though he made mistakes, was never forgotten by God or lost sight of the promised future. God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled, and so too will the promises made to us God’s children. We are being transformed into the image of the living God and as such he will now encourage us to live in light of that reality.

Not only does this reminder connect us back to the blessing and provision of God towards Abraham, but also the reality that He was a man called out and chosen by God, just as we are. In the opening chapter of Peter’s Epistle he continually reinforces the truth that we are called to the new life we live. We are not here by accident, and nothing that occurs to us or around us is a mistake or accident. God has called us into a new and lasting Kingdom, and as such He has given us the blessing of knowing that our future is assured and our life is His. When we begin to realize that our lives are secure in Christ and that He has set us free from the burdens of the world we can then better appreciate the call He gives us to be Holy as God is Holy.

So then secondly, we are now being greatly urged to abstain from the passion of the flesh. Again because we are a new creation and God has given us new life in the life and death of Christ, our lives will be different. Our lives are no longer simply a passive experience, but rather a battle against the forces of this world and our own innate passions. Scripture gives us several examples of passions we do battle with:

1 Peter 2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.

1 Peter 4:3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

Gal 5:19-21  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are but an overarching theme of what Peter is encouraging us to remember: if we are beloved by God and growing in the faith these will be the things that will try to creep in and destroy that faith, but as believers in Christ we can overcome. Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that there are no temptations in this life that cannot be overcome through Christ. The call to abstain from the passion of the flesh is not an impossible one, but it is one that requires us to be mindful of our choices and to think more clearly about each step we take. We live our lives in an active state before a watching world, as such we are also called to maintain Good Conduct.

Peter encourages the believers over the reminder of Chapter 2 and into chapter 3 to ensure that the way they act and live isn’t simply free from the passions of the flesh, but that it is active in its obedience to Christ and the maintaining of good conduct around those who would question the faith or even seek to destroy it. Peters words remind us of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:14-16)  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

So the Christian life is more than simply abstaining from sin, it is a willful pursuit of Christ that leads to a maintaining of good conduct. It is becoming Holy as He is Holy. 

However, what is so interesting about this passage is how Peter connects our desire to follow God in righteousness with the proclamation of the Gospel. Peter encourages us to live in righteousness that the world and those who would stand against us would see the Jesus, and as such create an opportunity to come to faith. Here our way of life is a representation of God to the people. Every word we say, every action we take, everything thing we post online, is a representation of Christ to the World, and a declaration of who He is and how He has changed us. Our lives should show that we are different from the world not a nicer dressed version of it. Our conduct should show them more and more of the true life found in Christ, not a false faith of our own making.

The Publican’s Conference 2017

With our second annual conference just a day away we wanted to take a moment and just give everyone an update on what to expect and how excited we are for tomorrow.

First, this years conference will feature several pastors from around the bay area as well as contributors from Georgia. Each of the men speaking this week labors inside a local church week in and week out and will be speaking from the heart of a pastor to all who attend. This is a great opportunity to see the church in a fuller sense, beyond the four walls we individually call home, along with hearing from some great men of God who love the Lord and His saints. The Publican’s conference Tomorrow, will attest to the glory of the reformation as it continues today. However, we no longer allow some doctrinal distinctions in our reformed camps to force us to stand apart, but rather as one we proclaim the glory of God, the centrality of Christ, the truth of Scripture, the need of faith, and the blessed work of Grace in our lives.

Second, we will be celebrating one of the key events in the history of the church, and why this event, and its aftermath, should not be forgotten from the Christian church today. Recent studies and surveys show that more than half of evangelicals could not identify who Martin Luther was or why he was important to the church. As the Church drifts more and more into the “me” centered , moment by moment experience for living, we lose sight of the those who labored for the gospel and how their lives have directly changed our own. We study great men in the history of the church, not to venerate them as some kind of untouchable saint, but to appreciate the work they did laboring over the Word of God and calling all men and women to do the same. We know that every player in the reformation was not without error or perfect. Their doctrines in many cases didn’t line up perfectly, nor did they even seem to fully like each other, but their call to return to Scripture is the hallmark of the Church today, and the overall focus of what you can expect tomorrow.

I can’t wait to see many of you with us tomorrow. Also you don’t’ want to miss out on the opportunity to possibly get some book in our annual giveaway.

Doors open at 8, and the conference will kick off at 9.

9:10 – Session 1: Andrew Jaenichen: The Hammer Heard Round the World: The Events that Led to the Reformation

9:55 – Session 2: Aaron Currin: The Great Recovery: Justification by Faith Alone

10:40 – Session 3: Matt Noble: Who’s Our Priest? The Pope & Jesus Christ

11:25 – Morning book giveaways

11:30 – Break for Lunch

AFTERNOON

12:40 – Session 4: Adam Powers: A Celestial Theater of Grace: Calvin On Corporate Worship

1:25 – Session 5: Austin Wynn: The Legacy of the Reformation, Christ Will Build His Church

2:10 – Session 6: Tanner Cline: Always Reforming: Where Do We Go From Here?

2:50 – Afternoon book giveaways

3:00 – Closing Song: A Mighty Fortress

Location: Riverside Baptist Church, 6219 River Road, New Port Richey, FL 34652

Why No Altar Call

Halloween is nearly upon us and candy is flying off store shelves as kids and adults alike search for the perfect costume. Some costumes will be humorous, others whimsical, while others will be down right disturbing. If I can be straight up, I’ll admit that a nightmarish H-day costume for me would be of a King Jimmy toting, three piece suit wearing tent-revival preacher who, with cherry-red face and sweat-soaked brow implores the listeners to “come to the altar” as the calypso eerily plays just one more stanza of “Just As I Am.” Ok, so that would be more frightening scene than holiday outfit, but either way, that haunting nostalgia would freak me out.

For those who did not grow up in the church – particularly the white-knuckling, Bible-thumping, altar-calling church of the southeast United States – the above setting would bore but not bother you. However, for those, like myself, who were subjected to this environment (not at the hands of my parents, thank God, but in some churches/camps of my youth) you know the emotionalism, coercion, and manipulation that at times cascaded from oversized pulpits. Fear-mongering and even bullying was common place during “invitations.” To this day, if I am at a concert, a youth camp, or a worship gathering and someone wraps down their talk with “now, bow your heads and close yours eyes…no one looking around…raise your hand…walk this aisle…” I instinctively cringe. So, to say I have a tainted history surrounding what some would label an “altar call” would perhaps be an understatement.

 

For those who are unfamiliar with what I am addressing, you are likely bored by this point, but if you are still reading allow me to summarize. An “altar call” is a tradition in some denominations or churches within evangelicalism in which those who wish to make a new spiritual commitment to Jesus are invited to come forward publicly, gather at the “altar,” and pray. Though some churches would hold this tradition to be a sacred necessity of genuine Christianity, it is in actuality a recent historic practice. In the late 18th century God began to stir once again throughout the newly formed United States. This movement of theological accuracy and mass soul transformation came to be known as The Second Great Awakening. In an effort to corral believers and report conversions, preachers came up with a system that required devotees to make public professions in crusades or church services. Other early names for the “altar call” were the “the anxious seat” or the “mourner’s box.” The most famous (or I would say “infamous”) revivalist of the 19th century was a former lawyer by the name of Charles Grandison Finney. Finny is championed by some current evangelicals, but in actuality promulgated much false doctrine including a denial of substitutionary atonement, original sin, and imputed righteousness. He preached moral rectitude and meritorious righteousness, as evidenced by his systematic theology. He believed in sinless perfection for the believer, and therefore each time a Christian transgressed he or she fell from grace and was in need of salvation once more. It was Finney who popularized the altar call as a means of roping people back into “believing again.” The tradition gained steam in the late 19th century with the preaching of D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday and accelerated under the ministry of Billy Graham in the 20th century.

Over the course of the past 5 years I have received at least a dozen inquiries into why we at BLDG 28 do not employ an altar call, with the most recent coming just last week. It is not because we believe that altar calls are from the pit of Hades or woefully outdated. Rather, there are legitimate concerns that give us considerable reason to shelf this tradition:

We do not want folks to be confused over “the means” of the Gospel. 

It is faith that unites us to Christ, not strolling down an aisle or gathering at an altar (Romans 3:24).

We do not want folks to place their faith in a decision, a movement, or a prayer, but rather in Christ Jesus.

I am not a Christian because I repeated a trite prayer or raised my hand in church. I am a Christian because King Jesus lived, died, and lives again to gift me saving faith and reconcile me to Himself. When asked how we know we are truly Christian, our response should be that we are trusting Him (Acts 16:30).

We want to avoid any hint of manipulation. 

I don’t want someone begrudgingly “taking” Jesus just because I was overly coercive or wouldn’t shut up. I want them to trust Jesus because the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, by sound preaching has opened up their hearts to actually love God.

We do not want to grant false assurance. 

There are countless people, particularly in the Bible-belt southeast that would ardently claim that they have Jesus because they have done one or all of the action items I’ve spelled out above. Their assurance is tethered to something they did for God rather than something God has done for them. We can have assurance of salvation and it is a beautiful thing. But that assurance is found in the sovereignty of God, the conviction of the Spirit, the denial of self, the submission to the Scriptures, and the merits of Jesus – not in my religious practice.

While I would never condemn a church or preacher for utilizing an altar call, I would advise such a church/minister to do so cautiously and without manipulation. As for us at BLDG 28, we have been privileged – through the unadulterated Gospel – to see legitimate conversions take place regularly over the past five years, and will continue to rest in the Spirit, to take His Word, regenerate hearts, and use our impassioned pleadings surrounding Jesus to bring rebels home.

Semper Reformanda

Peter and the Life of a Sojourner

In the Book of First Peter the apostle deals with the overarching idea of finding meaning in the Christian life,especially in the reality of being called to live out this life as Sojourners. In the first chapter of the Book he lays the ground work by grounding the reader in the fact that we have a special identity, one that was given to us by God at our new birth. This new identity entails not just a new home, but a new way of life. A life no longer grounded in the passions of the flesh leading to destruction but one grounded in the pursuit of the Lord.

In the middle of the first chapter (13-21) Peter begins to lay out a series of exhortations for how we are to be prepared to live out the Christian life. Each one of these exhortations helps us to see the way forward in living out the christian life especially in a world that is broken by sin. 1) Our Hope must be fully set on the Grace of God, 2) we are called to pursue holiness as a part of the journey, 3) we must remember that the Grace of God didn’t come cheaply, and 4) we do not travel alone.

Our Hope

To truly understand and experience the Grace of God we are called to place our full Hope in it, not a wishful hope but a fully ground and expectant hope. We do this by preparing ourselves for action. The Christian life is not a passive life but an active one. It sees the world for what it truly is and is prepared to endure trials and tribulations knowing that in it righteousness is grown and others come to faith. So we cannot be indulging in the worlds passions and at the same time be prepared for the assault that comes, nor as the text reminds us can we become intoxicated by the world and lose sight of the home for which we journey. To have your hope fully secured in the Grace of God is to be ready for action and sober of mind.

Holiness of God

It is only from a state of hope that we can truly understand what it means to love God and experience the abiding joy that obedience will bring. Therefore, with our minds sober and ready for action we can now clearly understand Peter’s words as he calls us to live out our lives in Holiness. This holiness is connected to the fact that we are the Children of God and as such we mirror Him to the world around us, just as we are images of your earthly parents and all those who have born our names in this world. We are His children who have been reborn out of the ignorance of the world. He has given us new minds and a new heart so that we may live out the faith in holiness, grounded in the grace of God. The call to holiness is a call to forgive and be forgiven, it’s a call to walk in the knowledge of God not the ignorance of the World, and it is hope not despair.

We as believers are being called into a new life reflecting on the grace of God and committed to the holiness that it produces in us. Too often this is where we begin to go sideways, We somehow think the Holiness of God is something we now produce, but in the text it is a result of the new birth. It is who you are. Therefore we are called to walk according to the character we now posses and stop living like who we were. We are the Children of the Living God, and with our Hope firmly secured in the grace of Christ we know we are Holy before God, therefore let us walk in holiness before the world, that they may Know the God we serve.

The Cost of Holy Grace

So why do we set our hope in the grace of God and live our lives in Holiness, because we have been purchased by the Blood of Christ. Peter Reminds us once again that it was the Blood of Christ given without respect for persons that set us free. We were bought not with money, but with blood, but not just any blood. We were paid for by the blood of the living God, who judges impartially and who loves us as well. So with a holy and hopeful fear we are called to live out the Gospel hope, knowing that it is He who has set us free, and it is to Him who we live our lives; no longer seeking the pleasures of this world, but living for the life to come as Chosen Sojourners, who by resting in the grace of God that paid for our sins are able to walk in Holiness, being always prepared for the trials that will come, knowing fully that it is God who sustains us.

Knowledge of the Holy One

Certainly, spiritual well-being ebbs & flows for the saints this side of eternity; at least for this one it does. It was in an ebb that the Lord revealed to me that the biggest part of my problem was that I had focused on everything in life around me, except Him. Undoubtedly, this reality was not only a contributing factor…it was the chief.

Created with a hunger and thirst implanted in me at regeneration (Ezekiel 36:27), I began a personal study into the attributes of God (again) trusting that as I gazed upon the Creator, arrayed in all His glory, I could not but be pulled from my spiritual slumber. And that I was, and still am. How could one fix their eyes upon the Beautiful, the Majestic, “the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:16) and not be in awe, not be changed, stirred, and moved? Certainly, Isaiah was in awe, changed, and moved as he cried out “Woe is me! For I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

I asked, and am still asking, questions as simple as “Who is God? What is God like? and What is my appropriate response?” What a privilege and joy that God has, in his infinite, eternal, and unchangeable wisdom, chosen to make Himself known to us. This is the essence of worship, is it not? Revelation & Response: As God reveals Himself, all men respond either in worship of Him or of some lowly, unworthy created being or substance. Consider for a moment, the utter pointlessness of our existence if we could not know God and worship Him rightly.

Now some may want to take exception to such a statement to begin with. Some believe that the burden of proof lies with the existence of God not His attributes. But common sense dispels such objections as childish, at best.

Our mere existence points to an Existence greater than ourselves because we can know beyond doubt that something never came from nothing; it’s an impossibility, a scientific impossibility even. Calvin penned in the very first words of his Institutes, “Our wisdom insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: The knowledge of God and of ourselves.” If we exist at all, then surely there is One who existed before us all, before everything, before anything! Before the tangible or intangible, before time, matter, or space, before a human thought was ever conceived, there was God; existing in perfect satisfaction within Himself and fully satisfied by His own existence.

It is this God that we need to know.

As A.W. Pink believed, “A spiritual and saving knowledge of God is the greatest need of every human creature.” It is with this prayerful intention that I embark to walk alongside the Publicans readership as we, together, mine the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable depths of The Holy One. Our journey will never be complete, could always go deeper, and will never exhaust the vast riches of the glories of our Triune God but I invite you to come along with me. It is my aim in the coming weeks to provide for you one attribute on which to meditate, grow, and praise the God who is.

Will you join me?

Will you take this journey with me?

I pray that you will; I know you’ll be blessed just as I have been blessed by a good God who gives good gifts! “[God’s] 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 Peter 1:3). Oh, that God would grant to us high and lofty thoughts of Him that stir us to love and “good works which he prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10b).

Does the Nashville Statement matter?

Over the last few weeks within Christian circles a new document was posted online and began to be circulated and talked about on blog posts among pastors and other students of theology. Many big named pastors and scholars signed there names to it and have decreed it almost an anathema not to sign. With such strong endorsements and even partial condemnations against those who are reluctant to sign (many for very biblical and spiritual reasons) this document seems to be one of the most important reflections of Christian orthodoxy, exploring the depths of Scripture to come up with a true reflection of the state of who God is and a defense of orthodoxy, right?

Unfortunately, No.

Now today I don’t wish to bash this statement. It is on its face value a solid statement, dealing with human sexuality and the position of the church. However I would like to ask some questions about it.

First the teaching here is not new so is not necessary.

The Baptist Faith and message deals with these topics to a fair enough degree and is the standard for Southern Baptist Churches. The Westminster standards, the set rule of guidance for theology in conservative Presbyterian church, also address these issues to a degree and both these guiding documents root their discussion and application within Scripture. Throughout history we have guiding documents like these written by great men who in studying the Scriptures point us to these very truths from the Word of God, so that we may study the text they derived their theology from and see for ourselves the nature of their decisions. The Nashville Statement itself bears no Scriptural markers (in that there is neither proof text nor discussion to aid in its application).

Second on whose authority are we submitting to in signing this document?

With the last two references above we see standards of theology that are accepted in two of the major conservative portions of the evangelical world: Southern Baptists and conservative Presbyterians, and many of those baptist churches may even submit to the second London or even New Hampshire confessions. In either case, by submitting to those guiding documents of faith and practice, we place ourselves under their authority in so much as they point us to Scripture and to a proper understanding of God as revealed. These documents address these issues at least in principle as part of a robust theology, not a 14 point over arching rule. The Baptist Faith and Message and the Westminster standards were labored over by appointed and trusted leaders to study the Scripture and speak on behalf of their respected churches. As much as I respect a lot of the men and women who are apart of the CBMW they are a para church organization, with no theological authority or need to answer to anyone, as was seen in the debate over the ESS. It would be as if the Publicans posted a statement of faith and other evangelicals demanded that you sign it to be a true orthodox Christian. As much as I love these guys and trust them, we have churches and Elders who job that is at its core.

Third who is this statement for, the church or the world?

While reading the statement I was struck by the question “Who are they writing to in this statement?” When the Chicago statement on inerrancy came out in the early 20th century it was part of an extremely long debate within the church about the Bible and its authority. It was a discussion of what it meant to be part of the church, and it was intended to be a standard about how the Bible speaks of itself and how we respond to it. However with the Nashville Statement I am no so sure as to its audience. Is this written for the church to examine its members and deal with theses issues as sin that needs to be dealt with like Paul did with the sexual Immorality in Corinth (1 Cor. 5). If that is the case then again this seems a bit out of place in its direction as historically orthodox churches will continue to repudiate these things, in so far as repentance is lacking, within the church. Or is this for the world to be reminded once again they are sinful, at which point I would also appeal to Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 who tells us that he doesn’t attack the world for their sin, because God has already done so, and they know it. Is this just another way for us as Christians to keep seeing other people as no longer made in the image of God and in need of a savior. Everyone needs Jesus the only one who changes souls not us continually making them seem less than human. We all walked according to the desire of the flesh before we knew God, let us not forget that. This final point is why I am most concerned about who the audience is for this statement. The final three points seem to be reminders of the need of the Gospel for salvation rather than a reminder to believers of their identity in Christ and the hope that the gospel grounds them in a reality that is already theirs in Christ.

Now again as I said the substance of the statement is fine at face value, but as with anything that comes out claiming to speak for all of Conservative Christendom we must be discerning and question, not to cause problems but to understand, and a website that opens to a giant ‘Sign Here’ button above the statement rather than after, also tends to lend itself to a bit of a pause as to the full nature and purpose for this new document. At the end of the day whether you sign it or not, I hope your congregations and brothers and sisters in Christ know where you stand on the truth of the Gospel and the reality that sexual immorality in the church needs to be dealt with pastorally. As pastors we deal with real people everyday whose lives matter and who struggle with sinful lust and desires. We experience life with people who need to be told the truth of Scripture and pointed to the cross and their identity in Him. Let us be Ministers of the Gospel.

So whatever you do let your life in Christ be an example of Holiness and repentance. Let your words echo the gospel and orthodoxy, and as such look for the same in your fellow ministers who labor alongside you calling men and women to repentance and a life of faith in the salvific work of Christ.

Why the World Needs the Church

We live in a time of growing polarization on many levels. People are divided politically and culturally in this nation. The long-held ways of the past are constantly clashing with the new way of openness and diversity. Because of this, many in the church believe we should downplay our differences and speak only of our similarities with the world around us. After all, we’ve been out of touch with society in the past. But God’s Word has a completely different solution to the problem we face. Instead of minimizing our differences with the world, Scripture elevates them. In fact, the Bible teaches that it is our very separateness with the world that will most effectively impact it.

The World Needs our Gospel-Shaped Living

In Philippians 3:17-4:1, the Apostle Paul describes the difference between the world and the church. Here he gives us at least five reasons we are different from the unbelieving world in which we live.

We have a different enemy – The world is at enmity with the gospel itself. Paul says they, “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). The Person and work of Christ has always and will always face opposition in the public arena. This is because the gospel message is a call to repent and surrender all allegiance of self to God’s commands, something the world cannot bring itself to do. Many people do not understand why they hate the gospel, they just do. Jesus said they hate “without a cause” (John 15:25). As the church, our enmity is not with sinners, but with sin and Satan. Although the world can’t understand how we can hate sin and love sinners, we must maintain this distinction.

We have a different future – In Philippians 3:19, Paul says, “their end is destruction.” The trajectory of the world’s manner of living is eternal torment in hell. Whereas, Paul says in verse 20, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” It can’t get any more different than that.

We have a different authority – We are told, “their god is their belly.” Sinful desires rule the lives of unbelievers and determine why they do what they do and how they do it. The church is dominated by the higher authority of God’s Word and is even commanded to, “put to death” our sinful desires.

We have a different source of confidence – Unbelievers are said to, “glory in their shame.” What ought to make them blush actually can be their greatest source of pride. This is why they call it “Gay Pride” instead of shame. But this applies to all worldly people, whether gay or straight. Men pride themselves on their sexual escapades or their extravagant lifestyles. Women pride themselves on the shape of their bodies or their fashion instinct. Yet as the church, our only source of boasting is to be the cross of Christ. Paul tells the church at Galatia, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

We have a different mindset – Also, we’re told at the end of verse 19, the world has, “minds set on earthly things.” In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul contrasted the mind set on the things of the flesh with the mind set on the things of the Spirit.

In these ways, it is pretty obvious how different we are from the world around us, yet that is exactly what the world needs the most. When Christ saves us, He transforms us so that the world will see more clearly it’s need for transformation.

The World Needs our Evangelistic Love 

Paul couldn’t speak of the unregenerate without tears in his eyes and we shouldn’t be able to either. In Philippians 3:18, he mentions his “tears” over those who turn aside from the gospel. I have had the chance to counsel a few parents who weep over the lost condition of their unbelieving children, yet who feel this annoys their children. But I encouraged these parents that their spiritual concern can weigh heavy on a child’s soul over time. Think about all the lost around the world with no one truly pleading for their spiritual well-being. Now think of those you know who are lost and how you’re concerned about them. The mere fact that God has placed these lost people around his redeemed people could mean he intends to save them. May our hearts break over the unbelievers around us.

The World Needs our Heavenward Longing 

When the world sees a group of people longing for a multi-cultural home of love and peace and joy outside this world, it makes them wonder. The world has been aiming for a utopia experience with shared love between all races and backgrounds and yet has never been able to achieve it due to sin. Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21a, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” We not only long for heaven itself, but for heaven’s King and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We also long for the new and glorified bodies we will be given at Christ’s return. As C.S. Lewis has so rightly put it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” The world chases its pleasures and always comes up short; then they discover that their bodies are fading away too and can’t find any reason for hope beyond this life. Meanwhile, the church seems to have a serious certainty, even joyful eagerness to see this world come to an end and the next begin.

So embrace the difference Christ has made in your life, for it is an excellent evangelism tool for those around you. Let them see you living before them differently, loving them in an other-worldly kind of way, and longing for the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. 

After all, maybe God will use it bring the hope of the gospel to bear in their lives.

On Life & Theology With Costi Hinn

I recently had the privilege to sit down with Costi Hinn for a rare Publicans Blog interview. It was a pleasure to get to know the man and hear his heart for the Truth. He has been through a lot in his journey from heresy to faithfulness and we can learn much from him. He is not only a godly man, he’s a husband, father, and faithful pastor seeking to honor Christ in all he does. Our interview is below, enjoy!

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Adam: Thank you for joining me for this interview. I don’t think many of our readers will know who you are, even though they may recognize your last name. Could you briefly share about yourself and how God has brought you where you are now?

Costi: Thanks for inviting me to join you Adam. From what I’ve read and seen thus far, “The Publicans” is a blessing to a lot of people.

My name is Costi, but what sticks out to most people is my last name – Hinn. I grew up in the Word of Faith and Prosperity gospel movements and was born and bred to be a tongue-speaking, name-it-and-claim-it, healthy and wealthy charismatic Christian. Some people may have heard of Benny Hinn. He’s my uncle. I grew up traveling globally with him and my father (his brother), and even worked with him when I was 18. My job was to be a “catcher” at the healing crusades. In other words, I was supposed to catch people when they were “slain in the spirit” by uncle Benny’s hand, breath, or infamous white jacket. Though I had questions about the integrity of his ministry, and the legitimacy of the manifestations and healings occurring at the crusades, the pleasures of the prosperity lifestyle were enough to keep those questions at bay for a time. Luxurious accommodations, private air travel, and the finest things in life were, after all, the blessings of God for our faithful “ministry” work. I often justified any concerns with that belief. Furthermore, any confusing teachings or things that my uncle said in contradiction to the Bible were never to be challenged. We are taught strictly that one is never to “touch the Lord’s anointed.” That meant no speaking out against or challenging any preacher – no matter what shady things they did behind closed doors or said in error from the pulpit. I was completely blind to the truth and didn’t dare challenge the system. Eventually God saved me from my life of deception and suddenly the Bible that I had been reading most of my life made sense more than ever before! I experienced illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in a remarkable way. It was as though a light bulb just flipped on and it was obvious that I had been preaching, serving, and believing in a false version of Jesus Christ. Like many believers who have left false beliefs behind, it was a series of providential events in my life and exposure to faithful Bible teachers that led to my conversion. I’ll never forget the day I wept bitterly over the life of hypocrisy that I had lived. I repented of my sin, and walked away from my false beliefs forever. it was at that time that I committed to being discipled by the pastor who had been used to show me my errors, and reading voraciously to grow in sound doctrine. Shortly after, I enrolled in seminary. By God’s grace today I am fully committed to preaching the true gospel, and serving God’s people as a faithful under-shepherd for the rest of my life. I currently am on staff as an Associate Pastor at Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California. Our teaching pastor is my brother in the Lord and close friend, Anthony Wood. He’s the one who discipled me closely during my conversion.

Adam: Praise God! It’s encouraging to hear this. God has taken you through a complete theological renovation hasn’t He? I can only imagine the high cost you’ve experienced in turning away from what your family has taught you for so long. I’m guessing that you once rejected suffering as a lack of faith in God? If so, are you now encouraged by the numerous passages of Scripture teaching us that conflict and suffering will be a normal part of the Christian life?

Costi: Yes it’s been a total transformation of my desires, beliefs, and teachings. Only God could do such a thing. I wake up thankful every day that He graciously saved me. As far as my view on suffering in the past, it certainly was tied to Word of Faith theology. For example, if there is conflict in a person’s life the culprit could be the “spirit of strife” or they could be causing the conflict with negative confessions, negative thoughts, or lack of faith. The solution is (normally) to rebuke the devil, pray in the spirit (meaning tongues), speak positive confessions, or even sow a seed into a ministry that is seen as good soil. This couldn’t be further from the biblical view on suffering but I was honestly clueless. Since my conversion, a passage that has greatly encouraged me during conflict and temporal suffering has been Matthew 10:26-39. Jesus really is the dividing line – and serving Him faithfully is not going to lead to a cake-walk through this life. Since taking a public stand for the true gospel, I’ve been received death threats, threats of physical violence, cursed for “touching the Lord’s anointed”, been called a heretic, and more. I count it a privilege to experience barely a fraction of what better men of women have gone through long before I was saved. Ultimately, we are all standing on the shoulders of faithful generations who have stood for Christ before we did. I never intended to be divided with my family over doctrine, but I refuse to compromise the gospel or turn a blind eye when a false Christ is being preached.

Adam: Amen and well said. There is a lot of deep and good stuff here to chew on. It all seems to come down to right theology and the importance of it before, in, and after seasons of suffering. Having been corrected by God theologically you have found deeper and truer wells of joy, even in the midst of difficulty. What would you say to someone who thinks theology is too controversial or too divisive and therefore avoids it trying to have a simple faith, perhaps saying, ‘I don’t do theology, I just want to love Jesus’?

Costi: First off, to avoid theology because it’s hard, controversial, or divisive, in favor of just “loving Jesus” and keeping faith simple, is like keeping your marriage superficial and shallow for fear of ever having conflict. It doesn’t make for true relationship and is not a true relationship. Jesus can’t be loved without conflict of some kind. We will either be offending someone, or conflicting with our own sinful nature that doesn’t want to submit to Him. He said He would divide people (Matthew 10:34-36), He said if you love Him you’ll obey Him (John 14:23), and He said He was the only way to heaven (John 14:6) – which means all other roads lead to hell. You literally can’t love Jesus without controversy of some sort. Second, we all need to “do theology.” By definition theology simply refers to the study of knowing God and His nature. What better way to have a relationship and thrive in true worship of God than to know Him deeply! Theology also provides an amazing platform for growing in our faith. Wrestling with doctrines, being sharpened by sound teaching, and having our man-centered pride crushed by the notion that we exist for God’s glory is sanctifying for the Christian. Lastly, some people have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to theology because of bad experiences. One of my seminary professors told us a story of how in his day, all seminary students tended to do was debate over non-essentials and forget about the Great Commission. I think there is a lesson there. Still, theology is the furthest thing from mere head knowledge that puffs up. To quote R.C. Sproul, “The purpose of theology is not to tickle our intellects but to instruct us in the ways of God, so that we can grow up into maturity and fullness of obedience to Him. That is why we engage in theology.”

Adam: I love these three things you state here, they’re absolutely necessary to keep them in view in order to do life glorifying God. Regarding your third statement here, what are the theological essentials we must never compromise on and what are the theological non-essentials we can afford to be a bit more open handed with?

Costi: Essentials are things like the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the Trinity, the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, the resurrection of Christ, the return of Christ, and you could certainly add several more to this list under those headings but you get the picture. As far as non-essentials, that list may look like the cessation or continuation of certain gifts, eschatology, ecclesiology, and church government structures. Again, several more could be added to this list but in general, these aren’t hills we should be dying on or spending our entire ministry solely focused on. I would clarify this list by saying that many of these non-essentials can easily become essential issues when they infringe upon the deity of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sufficiency of Scripture or other excesses being witnessed in the church today. In other words, there is a huge difference between Wayne Grudem and Bill Johnson, though they both would be considered “continuationists.” One is a biblically sound theologian, the other is a false teacher.

Adam: Knowing the difference between what hills to die on and what hills to not die on is indeed extremely helpful. Thank you so much for your time with me and answering my questions. One last question: if you were stranded on an island and were allowed to have 5 books with you, what 5 would you take and why?

Costi: Thank you Adam. I’d take 1) My Bible for obvious reasons. 2) A Bible handbook because I enjoy background and context 3) J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain Murray because Ryle is one of my heroes and I’d be stranded alone on an island 4) The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink for those days when I’d question why God allowed me to end up stranded on an island 5) Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley because I never get bored of reading about where we’ve come from as Christians. We are just standing on the shoulders of faithful men and women who stood boldly for Christ long before us.

Adam: Well said sir, I praise God for the testimony of His grace in your life and will continue to pray for you and your ministry. May the Lord bless, increase, and spread His fame through you in the years to come. Thank you for taking time to spend with us Publicans 🙂

Costi: It was fun Adam – I enjoyed it! Keep up the great work at The Publicans.

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You can find more from Costi Hinn on his blog Equip the Saint, you can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/costiwhinn/, and follow him on twitter @costiwhinn.

Are you a Sojourner?

For most of us we may hear the word Sojourner and think about taking a long journey or maybe back-packing around Europe like a well off 20 something with lots of time on their hands, but in reality the idea of being a sojourner is one that strikes at the heart of the Christian faith. When we look around us each day and see the lives that we have built: our cars, our houses, our children, our friends, our family it is very easy to fall into the trap that this is what really matters. That this is our home, and that this is what we are striving to attain. However, biblically speaking, for those who are in Christ this is the furthest from reality, for those who are in Christ where we lay our heads down every night is not our home, but a temporary settlement. 

So today let us look at some facets of this reality that we must remember about the fact that we are sojourners in this life.

Our Citizenship is not of this world

Our lives are  on a journey from this Life to the next, but we are not traveling to a new kingdom or awaiting a change from national identities to our spiritual Christian identities.  We already have been changed. Our citizenship and eternal concerns are not with the decisions made here and now in these earthly kingdoms but with what is being done for the eternal kingdom. Too often the Christian Church seems more concerned with gaining political or temporary authority in this world, then with seeing lives transformed and shaped by the gospel, an event that has eternal rewards rather than the temporary gains of the kingdoms of this world.

We must remember that we serve an eternal kingdom that will not end, and kingdom that cannot be overthrown by any military force or weapon. Should the greatest armies of the world rise up against Christ and His bride their destruction is assured, for His Kingdom has no end. That is the Kingdom we belong too. Once there were citizens of Rome, no longer, there existed the great citizens of Constantinople the pinnacle of art and wealth, no longer, there once was a day where to live in almost any corner of the world you would find citizens of the British crown, no longer, the citizenships and kingdoms of this world are in flux, you may move tomorrow to New Zealand and find it so overwhelming amazing that you take up citizenship there forsaking your previous home. But our citizenship is not so fickle; our citizenship belongs to an eternal Kingdom, and includes believers from all generations who once sojourned in the countries and cities that now lie in waste. We don’t belong to the temporary establishments of this world, but to an eternal kingdom which changes who we are fundamentally.

Our Mission is not the World’s Mission

With the mission of God being so antithetical to the world it makes complete sense than that His children would share the same mission and engage in the same discipline. In the book of 1 Peter this is the essential theme that Peter wishes to strike with his audience that our mission is not of this world, nor is our mission a matter of happenstance. Peter opens by pointing out the reality that we have been called out by God for this mission, we are elect sojourners, and we are people who have our hope set on the Father, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, with full assurance in Christ’s blood which moves us towards obedience. This is an important thing to see that you didn’t stumble into your citizenship, this is not a mistake, you have been chosen and called to a new life, a new mission, once not looking for the things of this world to bring lasting joy and pleasure, but to God who brings eternal peace and joy in Christ.

With this in mind we see that our mission begins with our lives, we are being sanctified for obedience. Discipline is essential in any mission, it is the means by which we accomplish the goal set before us. In the case of our lives as sojourners it is found in living our lives in pursuit of God and his righteousness. It is acting and speaking in ways that reflect the truth of God’s work in us. We aren’t being conformed any longer to the passion that rage in us, but rather are being conformed to the Image of Christ who calls us to preach the truth and love our neighbors. While the world tells you to do whatever feels right to you, or will make you happy, God calls us to seek the good of those around us above ourselves, the mission involves sacrifice for the purpose of Christ and the hope that others may come to faith and be transformed.

Our Lives won’t be easy

Lastly, Peter continually reminds us that the life we live as sojourners here reflects the fact that this is not our home. When you think of home, where ever that may be for you, it brings to mind images of safety, comfort, peace, maybe a bed to lay down at night, or the old cliché “home is where the heart is.” For us our true home awaits us, and as such we are reminded that in this life easy is not a guarantee, rather Peter will show us that because we don’t belong here we will be treated as such. We will suffer for doing the God honoring thing, we will be persecuted for speaking the truth in love. Suffering is not an exemption for a believer but rather the expectation, so we are encouraged all the more that our persecution leads other to see the truth of God’s goodness and love.

Peter informs us that when we are persecuted especially, that our response should mere that of Christ and not the world. Our response to the trials and tribulations of this world is to be a light and a glimpse in the nature of Christ, not a proof that we are in the end just as selfish and egotistical as the world. We don’t punch back harder; when we get punched; our lives should show that it was unjustified to be punched in the first place. We should not fall into shame, but our lives should reflect the glory of God in such a way that we can be continually proclaim the gospel or as the martyrs of old sing the psalms while being put to the torch.