Meet the Publicans: Don Carpenter

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Throughout the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce them to you. Today we begin with Don Carpenter.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Don: First, I am a sinner saved by God’s grace. Through the years, I have learned that my identity begins with Christ and everything flows from there. As a result of God’s grace, I am a husband to Angie, a father to Faith & Cole, a son to parents, a shepherd to His people in EBC, and a friend to far more than I deserve. We are from the St. Louis Metropolitan Area (Illinois side); a small rural community in the heart of corn-country.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Don: I serve the Lord in Eldred, Illinois at Eldred Baptist Church. We are a New Hampshire Confession church that focuses on living inside the covenant-community of faith while seeking to make disciples through evangelism and relational discipleship.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Don: I long to see a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit that manifests in (1) a profound love of God that leads to personal holiness in the lives of our covenant members, (2) our covenant members living an Acts 2:42-47 life devoted to Christ & His Church, and (3) the salvation of the lost in our community through the evangelistic efforts and Christ-like lives of our covenant members.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Don: My biggest joys are always connected to witnessing the salvation and sanctification of those entrusted to me by God. As John wrote, “There is no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). The Lord has proven this true time and time again in my life.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Don: Without question, my biggest obstacle in ministry is me. Sometimes, my obstacle is pride and self-sufficiency that keeps me from coming to the Throne of Grace where I may find the help I so desperately need. Other times, it is my tendency to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry (even if I hide it on the outside). Thank God my Great Shepherd is still guiding & correcting me with His rod & staff; His discipline is a comfort.

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Don: Success in ministry cannot be measured by growth and decline alone, although they can be helpful tools. Jesus is Lord of both and has given both to EBC at various times. Success in ministry is my learning to trust God with the results of the faithful proclamation of His Word. God’s Word always accomplishes His purposes; I need, simply, to trust Him.

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Don: I am far less certain about how to do what I know God’s Word commands me/us to do. The Lord has given me a strong personality and I think that it helps me hide my insecurities. Since coming into a Sr. Pastor’s role, I have learned the significant difference between knowledge & wisdom. God’s Word provides me/us with the knowledge of what to do but it is God’s Spirit that gives me/us the wisdom to apply that knowledge in my/our context. This has humbled me greatly and continues to do so. And for that, I am grateful.

Andrew: Random concluding question, if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Don: Luther. He was willing to stand alone, face-to-face, against the most powerful force of evil for the Truth of the Gospel. Not to mention, Luther would certainly have some incredibly hilarious insults to throw at his opponents along the way.

Don, we’re sure thankful to God for you and His work in us through your writing. May God continue to do that more and more, amen!

Taste & See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do You do Well to be Angry?”

No matter how often I read the account of Jonah, I always chuckle to myself when I read Jonah 4. The imagery of the prophet steaming, both physically and emotionally, on a hill overlooking Nineveh and waiting to see it destroyed. A prophet of the Lord broods looking down at this city that had just experienced revival and he is angry about it all. Twice in the final chapter of the book of Jonah, the Lord asks Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” The first time, Jonah is silent to God’s question. The second time, Jonah defiantly states that he has a right to be angry. While the picture might be humorous, it is more real than we might care to admit.

COVID-19 Anger

Let’s face it: a lot of people are angry these days. With social media, most people think they are an expert on everything now. We will form an opinion, find someone who agrees with us (YouTube, podcast, article), and then we see their affirmation as validation for our view. If anyone dares question or push back, we will lash out in anger. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as gasoline on the fire of “self-expertise.” Unfortunately, this serves as a breeding ground for anger. People are angry at the President, their state and local officials, the news media, the health care officials, the school boards, and I could continue to go on. Solutions are not sought. A scapegoat must be found. Someone must pay how our lives have been disrupted.

Jonah Anger

While it was not a health pandemic that “disrupted” Jonah’s life, everything that he would consider “normal” changed in an instant when the Lord summoned him to Nineveh. The call that came to him did not sit well with him. How could he, a Hebrew and an Israelite, go preach and extend a call to Gentile dogs like those in Nineveh? The story of Jonah is one of a continual descent; both physically and spiritually. We all know the story of how Jonah goes in the opposite direction, is swallowed by a large fish, prays and thanks God for deliverance, obeys the call the second time it comes, carries out his duty, and then simmers in the desert heat because God had the audacity to show mercy to Nineveh. The last words we hear from Jonah are him defiantly telling God that he, a mere creature, had a right to be angry with the Creator. Have you ever met someone like Jonah?

Personal Anger

I have. Jonah is the book that I began preaching through on May 24th. This was our first Sunday at NTBC to gather together corporately in over two months. By preaching through this book, I began to see how much of Jonah I found in me. This year has been the hardest for me in ministry. I imagine most, if not all, pastors would acknowledge that. Not only did the time of separation due to health recommendations greatly weigh on me, our church family wrestled with difficult counseling situations. I could hear in the voice of the flock how much the lack of being able to gather together affected them. I knew it was real because it had affected me too. As I arrived in chapter 4 and worked through the text, I began to see that Jonah was not the only one who had been angry with God. In my heart, I had been angry too.

Sure, I felt anger towards the incompetence of federal officials, mixed signals from health officials, and longing for a return to “normalcy” in pastoral ministry. In reality, my anger was really towards the Lord of heaven and earth. As one childhood pastor used to put it, I had allowed my heart to enter a state of the “mulligrubs.” Why was this happening to me? I pastored a confessional Baptist church that sought to honor the Lord’s Day by meeting morning and evening, strove for an ordinary means of grace ministry, enjoyed weekly fellowship around the lunch table as a church, moved to monthly communion, and on and on I could go. I realized that I had allowed myself to succumb to a covenant of works mentality. “God, we are doing these things right especially in comparison to those around us. Why is this happening to us?” In the moments of sermon prep that week, I had to confess my sin and seek forgiveness. How foolish I had been!

Misguided Anger

Sinclair Ferguson’s book “Man Overboard” is a dynamite resource on Jonah, and it will punch you in the spiritual gut a few times too. Several times throughout the book, Ferguson notes the difference between theology we get write on paper and theology we actually believe. Jonah had theology proper and a doctrine of grace in his head but it was not in his heart. The same had happened to me. None of us deserves anything good from the hand of the Lord. In this time of frustration, we must be on guard not to allow ourselves to be trapped by misguided anger.

Before we begin to think that we have gotten a raw deal, let us remember that none of us have been burned at the stake like Hus. When we think of the difficulties we might experience in trying to gather together for worship, consider the Puritans ejected in 1662 and the laws passed subsequently that forced them to hold covert services in England. If we would begin to complain about our lot, reflect on men like John Bunyan, Thomas Grantham, James Marham, and Hercules Collins who were jailed because they were Nonconformists and Baptists in 17th century England. In the present, consider the thousands of believers in places like China, Nigeria, and elsewhere who are being incarcerated and slaughtered for the faith.

Conclusion

In no way am I minimizing the effects this past year have had on the church with respect to the COVID pandemic. However, since we confess the sovereignty of God over all things, should we not be asking what is the Lord teaching us through this? If the answer is simply for us to be angry and view ourselves as some type of Christian revolutionaries fighting against a tyrannical government, I fear we are missing the point. Instead of calls for revolution, we should be hearing the call of Jonah: repent. Instead of mimicking the anger of the prophet, we should be emulating the people of Nineveh who bowed before the Lord. A greater than Jonah stands before us and He is our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. May COVID-19 produce a greater affection in our hearts for Christ and let us not think it well if we are angry.

Standing Firm In Overwhelming Times

As we walk through 2020, it can feel at times as though things could not get worse in our society or our world. You may be experiencing this on an external level, depressed by the direction of our culture, the political battles, the pandemic, living in the midst of a partial societal shutdown. You may also be experiencing this internally – affected by grief, by the loss or restriction of interaction with friends and families, the removal of familiar routines and hobbies, the constant temptation and burden of your own sins, etc. It can be quite tempting to curl up into a ball and rock back and forth until such a time as the sun comes out from the clouds, the riots and election are past, and COVID is defanged.

Consider a snapshot from Middle Earth (if Lord of the Rings is not your pint of ale, as it were, feel free to skip this paragraph). One of the things I have most enjoyed about 2020 is reading through Lord of the Rings with my wife once our three little ones are asleep. We have finally made it to The Return of the King, which is one of my favorite books of all time. Early in the book there is a beautiful scene where Pippin, one of the pint-sized hobbits, has just arrived in the stronghold of Minas Tirith. He is gazing across the plains at the mountains of Mordor, wherein dwells the full strength of the evil Sauron. Pippin, overcome by the enormity of the battle before them and their long, long odds of success, cowers in fear. He remains so for some time before eventually regaining composure and encouraging himself with these words: “No, my heart will not yet despair. Gandalf fell and has returned and is with us. We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees.” Pippin’s hope rests not upon the strength of their armies, or the courage of their hearts – for he knew such things to not be sufficient – rather he finds hope in a transformed Gandalf, who has come back from the dead.

This scene struck me with regards to our Christian call to respond to the overwhelming circumstances of this life by looking beyond them to the crucified and risen Christ. Tolkien may not have been trying to write a Christian allegory, but in moments like this the Christian reader can no doubt draw important parallels to their own life circumstances. So long as we focus upon the circumstances and struggles of this life, despair is the best outlook, and we will sink like Peter as he noticed the waves (Matthew 14:30). We must draw our gaze away from these things and focus our attention to something even more powerful than the decay of society, the grip of sin, and the schemes of the devil. Pippin finds solace and strength to stand even in the face of evil because of a powerful being come back from the pit; we find solace and strength to stand because of a Savior who has died and rose again.

Here is where the illustration breaks down. We should not simply say “Christ died and is with us therefore let us have hope.” Rather, we rest upon the sure and certain truth that by His death He has defeated our enemies – sin, death, and the Devil. While we may not feel the reality of it yet, the destruction of all these foes is certain. Yet unlike Gandalf, our Lord Jesus is not “with us” in His physical presence, rather He has ascended into Heaven. He left us, in order that He could send us His Spirit, which He declared as being an even better situation than if He were to still be with us physically (John 16:7)! Although absent physically, He is doing greater work on our behalf; He is our Great High Priest representing us to God while preparing for us that new and eternal City and glorious New Creation promised in His Word (John 14:2-3, Revelation 21-22).  

How then can we stand firm in the face of despair and amidst the difficult circumstances of this life? I do not write this from an ivory tower. My wife and I are little more than a week removed from a miscarriage, one which left us awash in a greater grief than either of us had ever known. For comfort, I have taken my cues from Scripture. Whatever your struggles may be, I invite you to look with me to Christ, remembering that since we are His disciples, we should expect nothing less than to walk the path that He walked (Matthew 10:24-25). His way was the way of suffering in this life, only then followed by eternal glory (Philippians 2:1-11). 

In closing, I take great encouragement from how Paul constantly points to this identification with Christ as he considers the suffering of this life, saying in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Perhaps this perspective is best summed up in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, which after Paul considered the trials he had endured concludes thus: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

So, when you are tempted to despair, when your situation looks bleak and it feels like sin and death have won out, gaze upon the crucified, risen, and triumphant Jesus, in view of whom all the difficulties of our lives are re-cast as transient “light and momentary troubles.” Remember that He is with you by His Spirit as you walk His path of suffering, a path whose end is to be with Christ in glory. This is the only way I know to stand firm in the midst of overwhelming times.

Recommended Reading from the Late J. I. Packer (1926-2020)

On July 17, 2020, one of the most influential theologians of the last century, J. I. Packer, finished his course. He went to be with Jesus at the age of 93.

Among many other notable achievements and publications, Packer served as executive editor of Christianity Today, general editor for the English Standard Version of the Bible, theological editor for the ESV Study Bible, and associate editor of the Reformation Study Bible. Yet despite his intellectual brilliance and theological mastery, he was a theologian, as Elisabeth Elliot remarked, “who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it.”

The following are two of books of his that I highly recommend, along with a suggested list for further reading.

Knowing God

For over 40 years, J. I. Packer’s classic has been an important resource for helping Christians around the world discover the wonder, the glory, and the joy of knowing God. In this book, Packer brings together two important facets of the Christian faith―knowing about God and knowing him personally through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

His chapter entitled “Sons of God” is one of the most beautiful presentations of the doctrine of adoption that I have ever read. Here are a couple examples from this chapter of his ability to capture profound biblical truth in clear, vivid, and compelling terms:

Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of law, and viewing God as judge. . . . Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater (207).

Many have struggled to understand the place of the law in the life of the Christian. But Packer finds a remarkable way of expressing this tension using the doctrines of justification and adoption:

While it is certainly true that justification frees one forever from the need to keep the law, or try to, as the means of earning life, it is equally true that adoption lays on one the abiding obligation to keep the law, as the means of pleasing one’s newfound Father. Law-keeping is the family likeness of God’s children; Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, and God calls us to do likewise. Adoption puts law-keeping on a new footing: as children of God, we acknowledge the law’s authority as a rule for our lives, because we know that this is what our Father wants (223).

Knowing God is a wonderful and refreshing study on the attributes of God, and a great starting point for those interested in reading Packer.

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

This study of what Packer calls “the permanent essentials of Christianity” distills theological truths in such a way that both scholar and layperson alike can grow to treasure the unchanging pillars of the Christian faith. Each of the ninety-four chapters (which are only a couple of pages long) explores a different doctrine in a way that is easy to understand and rooted in historic Reformed teaching. I really can’t improve upon Kevin Vanhoozer’s recommendation of this book: “Concise Theology is poetry to Christian ears: the best words in the best order about the best news there is―the gospel of grace poured out in Jesus Christ. Packer here sets forth with lucid brevity everything Christians need to know to become biblically literate and to grow in wisdom and understanding. Doctrine and doxology here walk hand in hand.”

In his preface, Packer explains the purpose of such a book on theology:

Theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness. It should therefore be presented in a way that brings awareness of the divine presence. Theology is at its healthiest when it is consciously under the eye of the God of whom it speaks, and when it is singing to his glory (xii).

Here’s an excerpt from his chapter on “Worship.” Notice how robust and exhaustive his sentences are, yet how comprehensible and simple they are at the same time:

Worship in the Bible is the due response of rational creatures to the self-revelation of their Creator. It is an honoring and glorifying of God by gratefully offering back to him all the good gifts, and all the knowledge of his greatness and graciousness, that he has given. It involves praising him for what he is, thanking him for what he has done, desiring him to get himself more glory by further acts of mercy, judgment, and power, and trusting him with our concern for our own and others’ future well-being. . . .

The basis of worship is the covenant relationship whereby God has bound himself to those whom he has saved and claimed. This was true of Old Testament worship as it is now of Christian worship. The spirit of covenant worship, as the Old Testament models it, is a blend of awe and joy at the privilege of drawing near to the mighty Creator with radical self-humbling and honest confession of sin, folly, and need. Since God is holy and we humans are faulty, it must ever be so in this world. (98-99)

There are many good systematic theologies out there, but in Concise Theology, Packer has provided a perfect summary of them all.


For further reading:

The Preacher’s Motives

Mondays are the one day of the week many in the secular world lament, because it means an end to the weekend and the beginning of another long work week. Ironically, I’ve talked to several pastors over the years who have shared that Mondays are their least favorite too, but for different reasons. I think these pastors dislike Mondays because of how Sunday turned out. In fact, I’ve heard older pastors advise me never to quit the ministry on a Monday because of this, and yet that is the one day pastors often feel the most discouraged.

So there I was feeling discouraged going into the next Monday morning and wanting to leave the ministry. I’d prayed, prepared, and preached my heart out only to feel like all my efforts were wasted. Then I read this by D.A. Carson and it pinned me to the wall:

“That is the ultimate test: it is the test of our motives. Some of us pursue what is excellent, even in the spiritual arena, simply because we find it hard to do anything else. Our perfectionist natures are upset when there is inferior discipline, inferior preaching, inferior witness, inferior praying, inferior teaching. If we are concerned over these things because we sense in them a church that has sunk into contentment with lukewarmness and spiritual mediocrity, if we try to change these things because in our heart of hearts we are zealous for the glory of Christ and the good of his people, that is one thing; if, however, our concern over these matters is driven primarily by our own high, perfectionist standards, we will be less inclined to help, and more inclined to belittle. Our own service will become a source of secret pride, precisely because it is more competent than much of what we see around us. And sadly, much of this ostensible concern for quality may be nothing more than self-worship, the ugliest idolatry of them all.”

I had been assuming that my discouragement and disillusionment with ministry was well-reasoned and pure. However, it was owing more to my own love of self than it was the glory of Christ and the good of my flock. Hidden beneath the surface was this internal motive that was truly deceptive and dangerous. So the takeaway for us preachers and teachers is that we must consistently check our motives before, during, and after the preaching/teaching event and stop assuming they are altogether pure. Sure your sermon may have been one huge 45 minute dud, but are you more concerned with a polished delivery or strengthening your weary flock? So maybe your congregation seems unmoved and unmotivated, but are you more frustrated at the weeds present or more thankful at the small buds of life that are sprouting up? One pastor friend of mine gave me a helpful piece of advice I’ve never forgotten from his own painful experience: “We aren’t called to beat the goats. We’ve been called to feed the sheep.” If you aren’t a preacher or teacher, jot down some ways you have grown spiritually under your pastor or Sunday school teacher’s ministry and write them a thank you note detailing this or tell them about it this Sunday. This Sunday a member approached me and just mentioned one thing they learned from a sermon I’d considered a dud that really helped them. This was so encouraging. Another two mentioned that they were reading their Bibles more than they ever have lately…smalls signs of God’s hand at work, yet huge encouragements to the one delivering God’s Word each week. They may appear to be fueled by proper motives, but you’d be surprised to discover they may be wanting to quit because they see their efforts as wasted. Satan has a fine way of inserting lies between the one speaking for God and the ones they are addressing. Go to war with his subtle tricks for the good of your church and the ministry of God’s Word as it goes forth week by week.

May the Lord help us all to have pure motives as we expound the glories of Christ through the preaching of God’s Word this Sunday.

ENDNOTES
  1. D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 119.

“Does the Church Still Matter?”

All of us will remember 2020. As I write this article, we are only halfway through the calendar year and yet it feels the past six months have contained enough events to fill up six years. At the top of the list of major events are the COVID-19 Pandemic and the social unrest that fills our nation. Questions involving racial justice, monuments, and civic responsibility swirl constantly demanding answers. How is the church to respond in this moment? One concern that fills my heart is that many no longer believe that the church really matters.

The Wrong Preoccupation

The lack of attention given to a healthy ecclesiology over time manifested itself in how many churches responded to the recommendations and guidelines from the civil authorities on not meeting corporately. Now, I respect the autonomy of local churches and am a firm believer in liberty of conscience. Space should be given for some differences and charity should dominate our heart. However, pandemics or wars give us no license to redefine what a church is, how a church worships, or how the sacraments are celebrated. For example, some of the ideas promoted for conducting “virtual communion” reveal a mindset that says pragmatism reigns when it comes to “how we do church.” In April, I listened to a prominent Baptist pastor encourage his flock to use sweet tea and crackers as a substitute for the fruit of the vine and the bread with a big smile on his face. This is just one example of some of the strange ideas that popped up during the pandemic. Ian Malcolm’s quotation on the scientists cloning dinosaurs in Jurassic Park aptly fits with some of the ecclesiological actions taken this year: “[You] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

The mindset of pragmatism stands in direct opposition to the pattern exhibited by men like William Carey. Carey pastored two different churches in England before setting sail for India. Carey though would not celebrate the Lord’s Supper for two years before a church was organized in India. Based on the spirit of the day, some would have told Carey that he could do it with his family or that he could have done it “virtually” by celebrating in India when he knew the church back in England was celebrating. For Carey and others, such a mindset would violate the Word of God. The Scriptures are clear on the elements for the Supper and that the Supper is supposed to be celebrated by a local church. Perhaps, we would not have found ourselves in such a place of suggesting sweet tea in your home as a worthy substitute if we had rejected requests for couples to partake of communion during their marriage ceremonies. As long as churches are preoccupied with pragmatic ecclesiology, the ordinary means prescribed in the Bible will continue to fall by the wayside.

Will Someone Bring the Book?

The battle is always over the Bible. Is the Bible inspired, infallible, inerrant, and sufficient? I grew up in a context where a mere biblicism reigned that said, “No creed but Christ.” There is such a need for believers to know historical theology expressed through creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Two books that show this very well are The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman and Baptists and the Christian Tradition edited by Matthew Emerson, Christopher Emersion, and Lucas Stamps. Yet, we must never get away from the foundational truth that Christians believe: God reveals Himself redemptively through His Word. Who will bring the book? As our nation undergoes a lot of turmoil as a result of the pandemic and questions surround social injustice, where will the church stand? Do we still matter? If the church seeks to adopt strategies, programs, and actions that mimic the world, we dilute our witness. Christ calls us to be salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-16). Those two descriptions mean that the church stands out as unique in this world. If the church is not guarded, the pragmatism that says sweet tea for the Lord’s Supper is fine and that we must win the lost at any cost will springboard to a new legalism that calls for perpetual penance with no grace and no forgiveness.

Lord, Revive Your Work

These are confusing and challenging times. I would never want to minimize the seriousness of the pandemic or the social strife in our nation that is a result of real injustices. However, “preach the gospel” does not need to be mocked or belittled. True, there is a lot more involved in that than just a 40 minute sermon on a Sunday. Yet, I fear that we can easily forget that revival comes through the Spirit’s extraordinary usage of the ordinary means of grace (to paraphrase Iain Murray). Do we believe that the Lord still uses His church entrusted with the gospel to change lives? Will revival come in our land if we tear down enough statues or will it come if the people of God get serious about God again? The church is not in need of a political program but a spiritual reinvigoration from on high.

True revival and transformation will come by way of the church reading, praying, singing, preaching, and seeing the Word. The ordinary means of grace are enough for our lives and they are the channels by which life is brought where death reigned. The church needs to rediscover faithful preaching of the law and the gospel as well as understanding how we function as spiritual exiles who seek to be good citizens. Much of this sounds simple and that is where the problem often lies with us. We wonder how God can use the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Let us search the Scriptures anew and trace the stories of church history out: they testify to the amazing grace of God at work in an army of ordinary people!

Conclusion

The church still matters! Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His bride! As we continue to sojourn through this trying year, may our hearts remember that nations come and go but the church of Jesus Christ remains. Let us give ourselves to being faithful members in a local church feasting upon the ordinary means of grace. May pastors equip the flock to go out into their communities and serve as faithful ambassadors of the King. Our families, friends, and neighbors do not need more political commentary and COVID analysis: they need gospel truth. This is why the church still matters! May the Spirit give us spiritual clarity not to forget that!

Feed, Tend, and Follow

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” … “Feed my lambs.” … “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” … “Tend my sheep.” … Simon, son of John, do you love me?” …  “Feed my sheep”… “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved … When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

John 21:15-23

The conclusion of John’s gospel should be a great encouragement to us when we think about Gospel ministry. In His final interaction with Peter, Jesus not only restores him to ministry but gives him a direction and an encouragement to persevere in ministry despite what transpires around him. He is reminded to keep his eyes focused on Christ and his heart set on those whom Christ puts under his care. This two-fold commission is the task for of each of us in the church and it is amazing how easy it is to lose sight of these simple tasks every day for the distractions and aspiration of the world.

In each of the opening questions put before Peter, Jesus is asking him does he Love him. Not long before we saw Peter turn away and deny Christ and now, we see Christ restoring him and preparing him for ministry by revealing his heart. Peter never stopped loving the Lord he allowed fear to turn his eyes away from following Christ and in that moment, he lost sight of the goal. Now, Jesus lays before him the reality that the love he has for Christ comes with a mission to follow Him while feeding & tending the sheep the Lord places before him.  Peter is being commissioned to be an ambassador of Christ and proclaim the good news and build up the church.

This is the task that remains for us now in ministry. We too are called to tend and feed the sheep that the Lord has placed under our care. Every day we labor in the Word and prayer for the good of others. We see the task that Peter is being given is a heavy one, and a beautiful one, not flowing from selfish ambition, but from a love for Christ. This is paramount to our task in ministry. If our goal is ever to make much of us and not to love Christ, we have lost the very heart of our purpose as shepherds. Our first and primary role flows from a love for Christ and in that love a love for those we are given to care for daily in word and prayer.

The second aspect of our love for Christ is seen in our call to follow Him. We are not called to feed and tend the flock of God by our own wisdom or creativity, but by following the word of Christ alone. He has given us all we need to tend to and love those whom He has placed under our care. He has given us the Word which reveals all we need for life and godliness. In the Word we are shown how to love them well and pray for them, and from this love and knowledge we seek to minister to them in their brokenness leading them back to Christ day by day as he leads us back to himself day by day. We cannot divert our eyes from following Him, for as we do we begin to lose track of the one who saved us and the one who sustains us, we can quickly begin to build a new foundation based on ourselves. When we stop following Christ in how we lead we will lead wrongly, we will feed and tend to the flock no longer out of love for Christ, but out of a misplaced love for ourselves and our name. This is why I think we see Peter corrected in the end one last time as he points to John and asks what the Lord’s plans are for him. In this moment, Christ quickly points out that it is not his to worry about. His task is to follow Christ wherever that leads and to care for those he is given along the way, and the Lord will lead John and given to him those to tend and feed of whom he will give an answer.

This final admonition is one we need to be reminded of, especially in ministry. The Lord has a plan and task for each and everyone of us. He has people whom he will place among us to love and minister to daily. It is these whom we will give an answer for and it is these whom he has called us to give of ourselves to feed and tend as we seek him. This knowledge should free us from jealousy of other people’s ministry, it should free us from the burden to seek within ourselves some new and creative gimmick and it should alleviate the stress of performance anxiety. This should lead us to lovingly care for those before us and pray for our brothers in Christ as they labor for those under their care.

Racism and Riots: A Lament for Our Nation

Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

Our nation is divided. We are hostile and we are fearful. We are confused and we are broken. We are hurting.

We lament the fact that the sin of racism is far more prevalent than we would like to believe. The lack of righteousness and justice in our world is appalling. We acknowledge “all lives matter” with our lips, yet our hearts remain far from those who differ from us in any number of ways. Father, you are a just God who shows no partiality; yet even we, your children, are often guilty of the evils of discrimination. We are prone to look only to our own interests and not those of others. We fail to put on the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience of Christ our Savior.

We lament the fact that bitterness, slander, quarreling, and hatred are among the hallmarks of this age. It grieves us that these sins show up even among those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord! While we understand the anger and frustration over such horrifying acts of injustice, we lament the fact that these tragedies often only lead to more chaos and wrongdoing. How quick we are to take matters into our own vindictive hands. Heavenly Father, we confess that our anger has given great opportunity to the devil. We are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger—an anger that has not produced the righteousness of God.

Lord, you tell us in your Word that because man does not see fit to acknowledge God, you have given us up to worthless desires. As a result, we are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, and deceit. We are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. By nature, our feet are swift to shed blood; in our paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace we have not known. Why? Because there is no fear of God before our eyes.

O God, have mercy on us; forgive us for our sins. Cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Grant the gift of repentance and faith to even the vilest offenders. Forgive us for our failure to treat others as fellow image-bearers, and for our lack of concern to seek justice and uphold righteousness. Bring healing and rest to the black community. Revive us, we pray.

Apart from you, O Lord, we will never know peace. Apart from your grace, sin only reigns in chaos and death. And so, unless the power of sin that enslaves hearts is broken and the reign of death is ended, we will never know the blessing of true and lasting reconciliation. The only way there will ever be peace between neighbors and enemies, communities and nations, is if there is first peace with you. But this is exactly what you came to do for us when, in love, you gave us your only Son!

We thank you, Jesus, that you humbled yourself, took on flesh, and entered our divided, hostile, fearful, confused, broken, and hurting world. You showed compassion on all those who were sinful, hurting, and oppressed. We praise you that you laid down your sinless life to bear the penalty for our sin, and rose victorious from the dead for our justification. Now, through faith in your mighty name, we can be forgiven and reconciled to God in one body through your cross. Truly, you are the Prince of Peace. And it is only as proud, selfish sinners, such as ourselves, are reconciled to God through faith in Christ that the nations will be glad.

Spirit of the Living God, help us to remember your marvelous mercies that we might show our world a better Way. Help us to listen to, to learn from, and to love our neighbors in the humility of Christ—regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic class, or political party. Help us to search our hearts and put to death the sin of partiality and racism that rears its ugly head in both obvious and subtle ways. Help us to keep your commandments by seeking to protect and preserve the lives of others. Help us to not only proclaim the glories of the gospel we believe, but to adorn this gospel by living lives worthy of Christ our King.

Give strength and comfort to our black brothers and sisters, especially those who belong to our local church family. Fill us with the loving compassion of Jesus so that we might learn to mourn with those who mourn. Give us the wisdom to know how we can seek the peace and welfare of the city in which you have planted us as exiles. Grant us both the desire and ability to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you.

May your kingdom come, and your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Amen.

The Fear of God is for Christians Too

“It will put the fear of God in you.”

This phrase is often stated by someone as a warning to another before they try some fiery hot sauce, watch a scary movie, or ride a looping roller coaster. Parents have even said it to their wayward children to warn of future discipline if they disobey. Outside of these uses, we don’t often hear much of the fear of God these days, but the Bible talks a lot about it. The fear of God is a theme taught throughout the pages of Scripture and which shows up hundreds of times in our Bibles. 

Some may consider the fear of the LORD to be something for non-believers and they say true Christians shouldn’t fear God. They may even quote 1 John 4:18, which states, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” But we must never build a system of theology on one verse, but instead let the whole of revealed Scripture illuminate a matter. The verse from 1 John reveals not that we shouldn’t fear God, but that our fear of God is different now that we’re in Christ. 

The great protestant reformer Martin Luther is known for distinguishing between servile fear (that of a child facing an abusive bully at school each day) and filial fear (that same child’s deep respect for his loving father and the desire to only do what pleases him). This is illustrated well in one of my favorite books on the topic: The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges. In his book, Bridges uses the illustration of a soldier who trains under a strict drill sergeant and is terror-stricken around him. But as the soldier gradually moves up in rank and begins to have a deeper respect for this officer over him, his fear of him changes. Eventually, the soldier and his commanding officer are both in an IED attack and the soldier is injured badly. While in an army hospital, the soldier’s commanding officer visits regularly to check on him and the soldier’s fear grows even deeper towards such a loving and yet authoritative man. Sinclair Ferguson has defined the fear of God as, “that indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy, and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what he has done for us.” 

So how does Scripture address us with this concept of the fear of God?

1. The fear of the LORD compels…our proclamation

Sharing Christ with another person can be scary work. Our minds so quickly and unconsciously present us with a multitude of possible negative outcomes: “What if they think I’m a weird religious fanatic? What if they never want to talk to me again? What if they insult me or make fun of me in front of others?” Jesus told his disciples, “…proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell…So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:28, 32, 33). Jesus often answered our unhealthy fear of persecution or lack of provision with a healthy fear of Him. Paul likewise told the church at Corinth, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:10-11a). In both Jesus’ words and Paul’s, we get a sense that our evangelism and witness are to be driven by the fear of God. Our proclamation of the Gospel should be bold even in the face of opposition because both we and our hearers will answer to God in the end.  

2. The fear of the LORD compels…our worship

There are so many factors that can negatively affect our worship of God: impure motives, unrepentant sin, prayerlessness, wasting our time. Yet we must remember just who this God is that we’re to worship and how He alone is worthy of our whole-hearted worship. The author of Hebrews tells us, “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28b-29). Unacceptable worship is any worship that fails to rightly acknowledge the awesome majesty of the God before whom we come. So we must approach Him as those who deserve His just wrath and yet enjoy His smile because of the wonder of Christ’s propitiation. Our prayers must be humble and serious, our Scripture reading must be disciplined and meditative, and our service must be zealous and grateful as sinners redeemed by the blood of God’s Son.

3. The fear of the LORD compels…our holy living 

The pursuit of holiness is hard work because we are fighting against ourselves for ourselves. One of the reasons we struggle with practical holiness is that we forget how it is to be motivated by our fear of God. Anytime we divorce holiness from a healthy reverence for God, we turn it into a self-wrought work or a set of morals. Paul told the church at Corinth, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). We see this also in the Old Testament: “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28). Here God equates fear of Him with personal holiness. One who is not growing in holiness is not living with a fear of God. God told the prophet Isaiah, “For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Is. 8:11-13). How do we not walk in the way of “this people” who don’t know God? By a letting God be our fear and dread. 

4. The fear of the LORD compels…our bold obedience 

This is similar to the others and yet distinct. A fear of God produces a boldness that chooses to obey Him no matter the cost. Among the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 are two women who protected the Hebrew baby boys from evil Pharaoh in Moses’ day. Where did they get such boldness in the face of such evil and opposition? You guessed it: the fear of God. Moses records their names for us and informs us, “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” He later tells the people of God wandering through the wilderness, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12).

5. The fear of the LORD compels…our fellowship with God 

If we want close communion with God, we cannot have it without a fear of Him. David writes, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Ps. 25:14). In other psalms, we are informed: “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,” and, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Ps. 33:18a; 34:7). In each of these psalms, David shows us that a right fear of God leads to the blessing of His friendship. Some may think they’d never want to be friends with a God who demands we fear Him, but any lesser god isn’t worthy of our friendship. Think of the wonder of these verses! The God of all creation is inviting us to be His friends! We ought to enter in with joy-filled reverence before such a God. Why wouldn’t we want such a friend on our side and for us?

6. The fear of the LORD compels…our safety 

Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm” (Prov. 19:23). Yes many who feared God have died martyrs for Christ, but they’ve never truly been, “visited by harm.” Listen to Jesus’ words to his disciples: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Lk. 21:16-19). Read over that again. He is literally saying, “They are going to hate you and beat you and arrest you and kill you…but you will live.” I was speaking with a pastor friend about this one day and he said something that really struck me: “In reality, nothing bad ever happens to the Christian.” Sure you may get COVID-19 or pancreatic cancer or you might be killed by a drunk driver or die at the hands of some vigilante, but this is all part of God’s sovereign plan. Isn’t that glorious! How liberating the fear of God is for us!

7. The fear of the LORD compels…our prayers 

We are told in Jeremiah 26:19b of King Hezekiah, “Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them?” Want a more earnest and passionate prayer life? Then before you pray, contemplate who it is you are approaching. A good fear of God will make for good prayers.

8. The fear of the LORD compels…our church health 

One of the major errors of the church growth movement was a failure to stand on the truths that highlight the fear of God. Doctor Luke informs us that it is this fear of God which grew the early church. “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31). A healthy and multiplying church isn’t one whose mere numbers grow, but whose members grow in the fear of God. Even when God’s hand of discipline fell on wayward members, we’re told, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:11-14). A church that fears God will be marked by holiness among its members and will eventually grow numerically as outsiders see Christ among them.

9. The fear of the LORD compels…our labors 

Paul told the church at Colossae, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Col. 3:22). Here the Bible’s reference to earthly masters and bonderservants has been compared to more of an employer-employee relationship and not so much the American system of slavery with which we’re familiar. Paul addressed those in the congregation who were bondservants because God cared about their daily lives just as He did the others in the flock. He commends a fear of God which lends itself to honest and diligent work. Find a man or woman who fears God and you’ll find someone who refuses to cut corners at work or steal time from the clock. They don’t hold back from these things because they’re afraid of God, but because they wouldn’t dare offend such a gracious and good God who has given them His only Son’s life.

10. The fear of the LORD compels…our leadership 

Every organization needs good leadership and yet the best leaders aren’t those who’ve built great empires, but those who fear a great God. When Moses’ father-in-law recommended a plurality of leadership to help he and the struggling flock of Israel, he wisely instructed him to look for men of both caliber and competence. “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” (Ex. 18:21). David’s last words even highlight the beauty of God-fearing leadership. We read in 2 Samuel 23:3-4, “The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.” Leaders who fear God are a true blessing to those under their leadership. 

May we all learn to live with this fear of God and let it pour down into every aspect of our daily lives so that all may see the glory of our great and awesome God.

Old Path’s Still True

Heidelberg Catechism

Q & A 105

Q. What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?

A. I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor— not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds— and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.

I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

In our day and age we must not forget the simple things the Scriptures and these faithful catechisms teach us. Here before you is the 105th question of the Heidelberg catechism used to instruct children and adults in the truth of godliness for hundreds of years. What is so important in this little paragraph for us today is the depths to which the sixth commandment addresses murder. Murder is far more involved than the simple matter of ending someones physical life and has far more repercussions than we think.

Our country is in a state of upheaval at the moment over the death of George Floyd and the discussion over the nature of race relations. On Tuesday, Don wrote a great article highlighting the reality behind much of what we see as hate. There exist in our world a systemic issue, sin and along with it comes hate. What is worse is this is not only in the world but in the church. If you venture onto social media you will find some of the most vile and contemptuous words and accusations coming from Christians at one another. In many ways the church has adapted the culture’s propensity towards division and hatred.

So therefore, let us remember every day as we speak to one another and post online, that we represent Christ to a lost and dying world. As we speak the Lord calls us to be an encouragement to the body. The commandment before us calls us not just to not raise arms to kill one anther but not to speak in such ways, nor think it. Let us think well of each other, giving the benefit of the doubt and seeking to hear, love and encourage one another with the truth of the gospel.

As believers we hold the only true hope for the world and it is not in this world, but in Christ, and His Kingdom.

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

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

The Root of Racism is Hate, not Color

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice: The Reflection of God upon Humanity

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

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

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

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

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

The Cancer of Society’s Soul

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

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

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

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

The Only Viable Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need the Gospel.

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

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

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

From the Archive: 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.

How to Live in God’s Word

Understand It

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

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

Delight in It

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

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

Obey It

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

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