A New Podcast

So a few months ago Adam and I began a Podcast called A2. Each week we cover a specific topic, book or subject dealing with a wide range of issues and conversations that take place in the life of the church.

So why podcasting you might ask, well in short it is a quick and honest way to discuss the realities of the Christian faith and allow our church to hear our perspective on life and godliness.

We also felt this would be a way for those who may not have time to sit a read a blog like this to listen to the thoughts of their pastor and staff members on the christian life. We know this is not a new en devour but hope that you will find it as encouraging to listen to as it is for us to record.

Feel free to click here and listen to our Podcast.

You can also find it on the SonRise ITunes page here.

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Why this Pastor Loves Atheists

Yes, I do in fact legitimately love atheists.

In a culture that has produced and promoted many lies in the name or for the sake of love, perhaps the most glaring is that to love someone is to accept all that he or she is, including beliefs and practices. This is the height of absurdity. I love my 2 year old, but I don’t let her walk into the pool, however ardently she may desire to do so, because I know it would most likely produce catastrophic results. We don’t allow an addict to continue in their damaging behavior because we are fully aware that what they crave is harmful not only to themselves but to those who love them.

In fact, genuine love both philosophically and Biblically always seeks what is ultimately best for the one loved, even if that contradicts methods practiced or positions espoused. The love that I have for the unbelieving in no way condones or excuses poor behavior or erroneous beliefs. At the same time, my declaration of love for atheists (as well as agnostics, skeptics and cynics) is in no way an exaggeration or falsehood. While acknowledging our rank differences, here are 5 reasons why I truly love the anti-theistic crowd:

  1. They are thinkers.

I hate generalizations. Herding massive amounts of individuals into a one-size-fits-all-of-this-type categorization is nauseating. I understand that there are rude atheists and polite atheists, just as there are rude believers and polite believers. I also understand that not all atheists think deeply and not all Christians are emotionally charged, weak-minded flakes (though the list of best selling Christian resources on Amazon might beg to differ). Admittedly, I do not have a natural fondness for those who base their conjectures primarily (or even solely) on feelings, and this would include both the religious and the non-religious crowds. So one of the things I have loved about many agnostic/atheistic writers/debaters/friends is that they are truly attempting to explore and understand the most haunting questions of our existence. They do not fear to wade into deep philosophical waters. They are legitimately on the hunt for truth – if such a winged beast or demi-god even exists – and in this pursuit they have my admiration and my camaraderie.

  1. They care for those suffering in this world.

The primary gripe of atheists with the God they deny but simultaneously love to hate, is that he is capricious. He is a detached Dictator. The perpetual pain and prolific suffering in the world testify to this reality. While the logical progression behind this argument is, I believe, flawed – which I’ll explore in week three of our upcoming sermon series – it reveals to me that there are many non-believers who are full of compassion for those hurting across our planet. While our motives for caring (myself and the non-believer) are drastically different, I can see and am moved by the expression of their concern nonetheless.

  1. They have caused me to examine deeply my own beliefs.

Some of the most meaningful conversations of my life have taken place across from a fellow who has postulated positions antithetical to my own. Some of the most mind-jarring, soul-searching books or blogs I have ever read were penned by a devout Divine antagonist. I find myself drawn to the works of Hitch, and feel as though he and I – had we ever met – could have been good friends and I would have seen my faith in Christ deepen through his faithlessness. Though I wouldn’t encourage most Christians to read the works of Hitchens, Dawkins, Singer, or Harris, I have been challenged by their writing and led by the Truth (as arrogant as they would say that sounds) into a deeper and more robust understanding of God’s glory and grace.

  1. They are unashamed of the doctrine they embrace. 

If only this could be truly stated of American evangelicals: “they are unashamed of the doctrine (the Gospel of Jesus) that they embrace.” As I study anti-theism I am baffled by the devotion of its adherents to a hopeless fatalism almost as much as I am baffled by the dearth of devotion within Christianity to a hope-delivering Savior. How can folks who are so wrong in their admittedly dark and maddening worldview be so staunch is declaring and defending it? Theologically and even anthropologically there exist answers to this question; but whatever those answers may be, the depth of their resolve is both admirable and convicting.

  1. They are image bearers of the Divine.

While denying the very One who gave them the breath and the voice to deny Him, the anti-theists, atheists, agnostics, and cynics are in no way any less bearers of the Divine Image. They were made – mind, soul, and body – in the very likeness of the God they choose to suppress. My worldview, my doctrine, and the work of the Holy Spirit in my soul have convinced me that all of life – even the life of one who would defame or deny the existence of the King – is a precious, irreplaceable gift. As a unique expression of the Creator’s design, who the Lord of life died to save, I truly do love unbelievers and from that love will battle and dialogue to see truth triumph in these beautiful lives.

This Sunday I’ll begin a new sermon series at BLDG 28 entitled “Your God is Too…” I will offer a defense, in kindness and genuine love, of the Hope that lives within me. I look forward to the conversations this series will spawn between believing and non-believing friends and hope that through those conversations, the questions that will be raised, and the answers that will be given, genuine Love will prevail, pushing back darkness and ushering in light.

Semper Reformanda. 

Conversion: The Renovation of the Soul

In his book Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural David Wells says, “Conversions of all kinds are commonplace in our world today. An alcoholic turns from drink to sobriety. Westerners afflicted with boredom renounce their way of life and seek meaning from Eastern gurus. One person joins a cult and closes the door on his or her prior way of life; another looks for the power hidden within and turns away from institutional religion. Although these ‘conversions’ may be triggered by dramatic crises and result in changed behaviors, they are not conversions in any Christian sense. If they do not have Christ as their cause and object and His service as their result…If they do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian.”

Perhaps you feel the disdain our culture thinks of this? Conversion in our day conveys a negative image or a moment of forced decision, as if someone were strong-arming you into making a decision you don’t want to make. But I submit that this notion is largely an unfair view of conversion. For example if we were to look in a thesaurus we would find the following synonyms for the word conversion: change, adaptation, alteration, renovation, transfiguration, exchange, and even transformation. Interesting isn’t it? That our cultures view of the word conversion is so negative while the synonyms bring nothing but positive pictures into view. I suppose the negative idea of conversion has crept in from Church history; specifically those moments on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant side of the aisle when conversion was done by coercion. When it was forced either by trial, by inquisition, or by war. These are stains on the history of Christianity and are evidence that the Church is full of fallen men and women. Events like these have long lingered in the mind of man giving us our modern distaste for the idea of conversion.

When we come to the Bible we see an entirely refreshing and positive view of conversion. Rather than being seen as coercion we see it as the great work of the Holy Spirit in beginning the Christian life by raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is the moment of transformation, when we become, by the work of the Spirit, something we never thought we would ever be. Conversion in the Christian sense of the word, in the biblical sense of the word is nothing less than a complete renovation of the soul. Throughout the Scriptures there is one word rises to the top when we discuss conversion. This word in Greek is metamorphous, which as you can probably guess is where we get the English word metamorphosis. When this Greek word shows up in the New Testament it is usually translated into English as ‘transformation.’

See this in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 which says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Here Paul is comparing the glory of the Old and New Covenants.

To illustrate this comparison he speaks firstly of Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites wouldn’t be terrorized by the glory of God. Paul says even in his day when the Law is read there is still a veil over the hearts of the Israelites. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16). More so, Paul seems to interrupt his argument with a statement about the freedom that comes into the heart when the Holy Spirit removes the veils and takes up residence within us. But upon further examination Paul isn’t interrupting anything. Paul makes this statement about the Spirit in v17 in order to tell us that the One who does the work of removing this veil over our hearts is the Holy Spirit Himself, and because the Spirit does this, we now have freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the Law, freedom from the veil over our eyes, freedom from the veil over our hearts. Freedom from the shadowy nature of the old covenant. Freedom in the crystal clear nature of the new covenant. Freedom to see the glory of God with nothing hindering our sight. Freedom to finally draw near to God without sheer and utter terror.

Then, in what has to be one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Paul summarizes by detailing this Spirit produced metamorphosis and transformation saying that in the New Covenant all those who come to Christ by faith, now, with an unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. And from beholding God’s glory we are literally transformed by that glory into another kind of person. Initially this is the moment of conversion, or resurrection, of the new birth. But notice that once God transforms us, that transformation doesn’t end, it continues on progressively from one degree of glory to another. This progressive work of transformation is called sanctification, where God, by exposing us to more of His glory, makes us into His holy image. So the initial moment of transformation in view here is a one time act of God’s free grace on us, and the progressive transformation in view here is the continual work of God’s free grace in us. If there is any doubt in the reader as to who is responsible for this unveiling, transforming, metamorphosing work, Paul makes it clear in v18, “This (all of this grace!) comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Be reminded: we learn here that conversion is a transformation, where the Holy Spirit does the work of removing the veil over our hearts so that we can truly behold the glory of God. And from beholding the glory of God, what happens? We are transformed…initially and marvelously and throughout our lives God the Spirit continues to transform us to greater and greater degrees. Notice the end of v18 again, “For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is why Paul is able to call believers letters written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God in 3:3.

Change is needed, change is possible, and in Christ by faith that change is the epitome of renovation!

A Birthday Reflection: Go Therefore

Go therefore…

Two of the most important words to us in Scripture: ‘Go therefore…’

What is so important about this phrase for many probably is not the words themselves but how often it has been preached and how often these two words have been addressed. As an alumnus of Southeastern Baptist in Wake Forest, I heard these words a lot. These words helped to shape my understanding of the gospel and the importance Christ put on our call not just to pastors and missionaries, but to all believers. We are called to go, or as can be derived from the text ‘to be going,’ and this past Sunday we concluded our series through Holiness with a reflection on the reality that the call to go for all believers is a call to teach a call to be a light to a dying and lost word, a call that points them to a Loving and generous savior

Now before I get too far ahead of myself there are some crucial things in Matthew 28:18-20 that we need to embrace. First while the verse does say go, there is a very important phrase before that, a phrase that makes it all possible, a phrase that shapes how, why, and to what end we go and it is this simple phrase: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Let us just stop right there. In Jesus’ final words to his disciples He wants them to understand the most important thing about what is to come and what is happening right now and that is: All authority is His, All power is His, All that can be and ever was to be is His. In these 11 words Jesus gave the disciples and us everything we ever need, not just to go but to live.

This authority is what gives the Gospel power, Jesus conquered the grave and in so doing revealed all authority to be His and has made it evident for all to see and know. And because of this authority He is now sending out His disciples on the most important task of their lives to make more disciples. Surprisingly to some, we see that Christ’s authority was not dependent on the disciples, but rather one who sent them. In this they are assured that it is not by their might or power that people come to know Him or grow but by the authority of Him alone.

However this should be a motivation for the pursuit of making disciples not an excuse, if for no other reason than the fact that this is commanded by God. As we continue in the text we see that the disciples are to teach every new believer the commands of the Lord and to follow after His teachings and the truth of the Gospel, which clearly means the one He is giving them here before He ascended. In the book of Matthew these are the last words of Christ to the 11 remaining disciples. His final words are to go, baptize, teach, and know that He is with them. And these words apply to us today as much as they did then. We are called to go. God has placed each of us in this specific place, in this specific time, with our specific jobs and neighborhoods not simply for our own well-being, but for the proclamation of the Gospel. We exist and are called to go and make disciples, some will go to far off countries, some will go across the street, some will go to a new city or job, but all will go and as we go we make disciples.

Now again we don’t make disciples by our power or authority but by His alone, and the disciples we make are not our own, but His. We don’t teach them to be Holy like we are Holy, but to be Holy as He is Holy. He teaches them obedience to the one who has bought them with His blood. We must

For most of you who read this you will say you have read this before. There is nothing new here, I will agree with you on that. For most of us this is one of the first things we learn when we come to faith. I mean we came to faith because someone told us, whether that be a relative or a friend someone told us, someone spent time with us, someone walked us through the basics of the faith, someone taught us about the work of the Spirit in us leading to holiness, someone taught us we needed to forgive others and seek forgiveness when we sin. Someone discipled us, whether that was one-on one or in a group. Someone followed Christs command to go and make disciples. How did they grow in holiness and understand the Lord more, they followed his commands to go and make disciples. You are the product of God’s work in their lives.

So I write this again today as a reminder to myself as well as those reading it not because it’s new or revolutionary, but because it is the most basic thing we are called to do and at times it is one of the easiest to forget. Today being my 33rd birthday I look back over the last year and think of the lives I’ve worked with men I have worked to disciple and men who have come along side me and helped me in my spiritual walk through a long sad and joyous year. In reflecting on this text I am more convinced than ever of the reality of this in my life and the need to trust in the authority of Christ given to go, live and disciple.

I pray for each of us that we will never forget, because we have the assurance that all authority is His and He is the one at work, so rest in Him and go make disciples.

 

When Love is Gone

“What do I do when love isn’t there?”

The inquiry came from a young man who approached me after I had pulled the pin and chucked the grenade of the “love chapter” during my Sunday sermon. The thought-provoking, soul-convicting body of 1 Corinthians 13 had apparently thumped a nerve with this gent prompting him to posit a question that I receive on multiple occasions – primarily from married folk: I know the Bible commands us to love according to the example and standard of Jesus…but what do I do when it just isn’t there? How do I love when I don’t feel it? Do I simply fake it ’til I make it? It would be easy to answer this query in triteness, but the reality is that the lack of genuine, God-glorifying, truth-clutching, soul-changing love has become a massive epidemic in evangelicalism and therefore must be addressed in candid prudence.

As I have surveyed the pages of Scripture, chatted this subject up with wise men and women, and consorted with those who excel in and fail to love, I have established four principles that must be followed if we are to love (our spouses, our children, our friends, and our Christian brothers and sisters) in the way that God commands.

1 :: Ask
It cannot be overstated – prayer is essential to loving as Christ has called us to love. The sacrificial devotion of 1 Corinthians 13 is so counter-cultural and self-denying that we must be unabashedly Spirit-dependent in order to “walk in brotherly affection.” Jesus calls His followers not to love moderately well but to love in Divine perfection – as He Himself loved (John 13:34). In a culture that prizes emotionalism, eroticism, and self-gratification this can sound practically impossible. Yet Jesus promised that His Father will give the Spirit to whoever petitions (Luke 11:13) and in the power of the Spirit we can do all things (Philippians 4:13). Therefore, let’s beg the Father to fill us with His Spirit and drive deep within us a Divine-like devotion that burns ever brighter.

2 :: Accept
When love seems to have escaped our lives it is imperative that we seek and accept godly counsel. Practical steps will assist us in walking in faithful devotion, so listen to sound advice and implement pragmatic guidelines from folks who consistently demonstrate and live in Christian love.

3 :: Act
In his brilliant work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” I agree with the British novelist. Expressions of love (actions) are not in themselves love but they can help in developing and maturing love. I am not calling for inauthenticity or fraudulent behavior. Rather I am calling for lives that choose to demonstrate devotion in the earnest hope of finding devotion. Purpose to act in love and there is little doubt that love for others will develop.

4 :: Adore
Never yet have I encountered a follower of Jesus who was enraptured with their Savior while living in apathy or even hostility toward brothers and sisters in the faith. Of course, the primary reason that we strive to see and savor Christ is that He is absolutely worth that adoration; but a bi-product of adoration for Christ is deep-seeded affection for His people. In fact, it is quite clear historically and Biblically that a lack of devotion to others is directly linked to a lack of devotion to Jesus Himself (John 13:35). Loving Christ flows forth in love for others. Therefore, seek to know and adore the Lover of our souls.

Semper Reformanda.

How Do You Pray?

Prayer is an important component of the Christians life. I recently read that Scripture records Jesus praying 25 times during His earthly ministry.  Paul discusses prayer 41 times in Scripture.  There are a total of 650 recorded prayers in the Bible. Clearly, God highly values prayer. It is regularly mentioned in the pages of Scripture and if God thinks that prayer is important, we should as well.
When you pray what do you typically pray for? If you are anything like me your prayer life can be heavily focused on the temporal and absent of the eternal. You pray for good health, financial stability, high scores on a test, and blessings for the food you are about to eat. These are our typically prayers. And certainly we should ask God for our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) and bring our many temporal requests before Him. We have needs and we are dependent on God.  Therefore, we go to Him for help.
However, temporal requests should not be the main purpose of our prayer life.  Even in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) our “daily bread” is sandwiched (no pun intended) between eternally significant matters.  Hallowing the name of God, asking for the kingdom of God to come, asking for forgiveness, and asking to be lead away from temptation come directly before and after the request for daily bread.  All throughout the Bible we see prayers that focus on eternal matters like glorifying Christ and seeking His kingdom.
Colossians 4:2-4 says:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
 
Paul is in prison as he pens this letter and his request for prayer could have easily been, “Please pray that I get out of here as soon as possible” or “that my time here be very comfortable”, or even “that God would avenge me and destroy my captors.”  However, that was not Paul’s focus.  His request for prayer was not personal and temporal, but on the eternally significant request that there would be opportunity for declaring the mystery of Christ.  He was asking that the Colossian Christians would pray for gospel-sharing opportunities (4:3) and for clarity in the proclamation of it (4:4). 
 
How often do we pray like this? How often do we pray for gospel advancement in our lives and in the lives of other Christians? 
 
As we regularly go to God in prayer, let’s not forget to pray for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, and the edification and growth of believers.  Don’t be afraid to pray bold prayers that can change the world for Christ.  We can have confidence that we have a God that hears our prayers and delights in answering them.
 
Pray prayers that have eternal significance.

Doubt & Faith???

“To me, he made a really big mistake when he was praying the prayer because he was inviting people to pray the prayer and he said, ‘If you want to give your heart to Christ today and know for sure that you have a relationship with Him, pray this: Lord Jesus, I believe that I’m a sinner in need of a Savior, and I believe without a doubt … and that’s the part he should’ve left out … That one parenthetical insert without a doubt, I told him never again when you stand in the pulpit”[1]

Now maybe some of you have read this statement this week in the discussion over whether or not doubt has a role in the Christian faith and to what degree faith and doubt function together. Now there are multiple ways to go in this discussion and there are multiple avenues within the scriptures that one may journey in the discovery of who God is and who we are not. Doubt usually arises from a sense of uncertainty and need to fully comprehend what is going on around us. Over the past few months on Sunday evenings we have been studying the life of Job and how the hardest thing to understand is Job’s steadfast desire to stand on His knowledge of God as good, as just, as righteous. He was determined to worship the God he knew when all around him his friends were all but saying that that God doesn’t exist. They spoke of a wrathful God who only destroys the wicked and blesses the righteous. They spoke of a God that could never allow the righteous to suffer. If there was ever a man to question and doubt God it would be Job, But he doesn’t lose faith and walk away, he clings all the more to the reality of what is at stake. His life is for God and God has ransomed him, the rest is just trusting in God and wrestling with the fallen world.

Now I say all that to get to a point that I think needs to be made; there is a place for doubt, if by doubt you mean wrestling with the reality of what scripture means and in the end believing that God is God and I am not. Now again the last part shouldn’t be a cope out to the things we don’t fully know, but rather a driving force that pushes us deeper into the study of all of scripture. In the article he asserts that he struggles with doubt over the reality that he is truly forgiven at times because he still sins; now here is a reality check that I think we can appreciate. The human condition in a fallen word falls backward into the fact that we were once dead and it is hard to see why we would be saved, or why God would still want us when sin creeps back in, but ultimately this doubt is not found in the scriptures for they overwhelmingly tell you He has and that He does. This is an internal doubt that needs to be turned over to God and worked through in a relationship with him. This falls into the idea that you may doubt your wife’s love when you do something stupid and hurt her, but has she given you any reason to doubt her love, or are you projecting the reality that you wouldn’t love this way if it was you. To what degree is this doubting self-centered and self-reflective.

I say all that to say that we need to know God more and more and ourselves a little less.  This is especially true when we think about the Gospel, the main point of the opening quote that got most of us a little riled up. If there is one area where certainty should be absolute in the faith it is in the author and perfector of the faith, Jesus Christ. Doubt should not reside in our confession of sin or in the forgiving love of God towards us through His son, and when approaching someone with the gospel certainty in the gospel is paramount for:

Romans 10:9-13

 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Belief does require certainty in who Christ is and what he did, otherwise where are you placing your faith. When Thomas dismissed Jesus’ resurrection as hysteria Christ gently corrected him in the upper room, but he never commended him for his doubt. Rather Thomas was overwhelmed with guilt for having wavered and doubted that Christ was truly risen and working as he had said.

When it comes to the totality of it all the gospel should never be doubted by a believer, nor should a believer present it as something to be doubted. Now as we grow in our walk we will come across hard parts of scripture we will wrestle with God and with our finite understanding of how it all works, in this we acknowledge that we are not all knowing and there will be gaps in how it all fits together, but there must exist within us a knowledge that our God is in control and does have it all worked out. We may doubt ourselves and our understanding often, we may doubt our hearts, we may doubt who we are, but we do not doubt our God. Nor do we celebrate doubting God as an aspect of spiritual maturity; rather as we study we become stronger in truth and more like Christ, not less. We don’t get tossed back and forth over truth but rather become more stable in the apostles teaching on Christ and godliness.

Ephesians 4:11-16

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

[1] Blair, Leonard, “If You Don’t Doubt the Bible, You’re Not Reading It, Pastor Steven Furtick Says“. July 12, 2018, ChristianityToday.com,

Grace and Peace to You

As I recently began preaching Philemon, Paul’s words in verse 3 struck me with a great gospel blow! “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Certainly Philemon 3 is not the only verse in the Pauline epistles that contain a variation of that statement. Most all of the letters written by Paul open up with “grace and peace to you” in the greeting. Since this is a familiar greeting, one can easily over look the profound significance of what Paul is saying. Whether a person has been a believer for one year or for 25 years, the blessing of divine grace and peace should never get old to them. Far too often in my own life, I must confess that I can read a verse like Philemon 3 and move on to what I might think is more exciting, challenging, or profound. This truth is deep enough, profound enough, and exciting enough to meditate upon!

Later in this epistle, Paul asks Philemon to show grace to Onesimus; to forgive this runaway slave who stole from his master. Onesimus, by God’s providential hand, connects with Paul and is converted to the faith. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter urging Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. Paul reminds Philemon of the grace and peace that Philemon knows because of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is Paul stressing this? In the fast-paced life that most of us are engaged in, we must intentionally stop and consider what God has shown us in salvation. The thrice holy God shows us grace by forgiving our sins, making peace with sinful rebels (which is what we are), and all of this is due to the Son of God bearing the wrath of God on behalf of His people.

Ephesians 2:1-3 paints a bleak picture of our natural condition. Spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses, in bondage to the corrupt world system of evil run by Satan, walking spiritual zombies with a passion to only satisfy our wicked desires: this is the condition of all of humanity before God. Eph. 2:4 says “But God who is rich in mercy” and 2:8 says “By grace you have been saved”. This holy God shows grace and mercy to wretched sinners. This wonderful grace manifests itself at the cross. The only way in which any sinner knows forgiveness is by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 2 Cor. 5:21 declares that the perfect One (Christ) became sin (took on His shoulders our sin curse, sin debt, and sin judgment) so that the sinner’s status changes from condemned to justified due to the righteousness of Christ. Do you see why Paul stresses on the grace that God shows to sinners? How can we say there is something more profound than that my sins have been forgiven, judged on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ clothes me? Just as Philemon needed to remember to show grace to another due to the grace shown to him, we stand in need of such exhortations. How often are we tempted to not show grace to another because of the way we feel slighted or mistreated? Beloved, if you and I know grace from Almighty God, there is no room for us to ever withhold grace. If we confess the doctrines of grace expounded upon in documents such as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faithand the Westminster Confession of Faith, then let us not be intellectual Calvinists but practical Calvinists as well.

Paul speaks to the peace that Philemon knows along with grace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This peace is the peace that Philemon now enjoys with God. Romans 5:1-11 describes justification by faith alone in Christ alone producing peace with God. Jesus Christ died for enemies of God. Fallen sinners are at enmity with God. The unconverted hate God for His holiness and sovereignty, hate Christ since He perfectly kept the Law of God as the God-man being the standard of righteousness by which all are judged, and hate the Spirit for convicting the world of sin. Christ dies for the ungodly! Those who were standing under the wrath of God are completely transformed! Peace with God comes from God seeing not my sin and wretchedness but the righteousness of Christ. I have been radically changed going from a warring sinner in a futile, vain quest against the King to now being adopted by the King, clothed by the King, and seated at the table of the King! Grace to you and peace! What marvelous tidings of great joy these are! Is it any wonder Paul puts this in the greetings of his letters?

Finally, notice that Paul says this grace and peace come from both the Father and the Son. Paul declares the divine equality and unity within the Trinity. Our salvation is rooted in the covenant of redemption whereby the Father, Son, and Spirit in complete harmony accomplish the salvation of a people for the glory of God. If you are struggling in a dark night of the soul, brother or sister, remember that the Trinity showed you and continues to show you grace and peace. There is a covenant surety attached to your salvation that nothing of hell can null and void. If you are reading this and do not know this grace and peace, do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. You cannot earn or merit this grace and peace. It is wrought by the Spirit, accomplished by the Son, and given by the Father! Renounce yourself and rest in Christ who beckons to you to come and know Him!

Sing what we Mean, Mean what we sing? Redux

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

There’s an old saying that goes ‘many people will lie in the first 30 minutes of Sunday morning worship more than they will all week.’ This has always been an interesting quote to me, especially when thinking about weekly congregational worship.

This week, in particular, at SonRise we are working through a series on Holiness and this weeks text lands on Amos 5. In this text we see God rebuking the people for their lofty songs that are not reflective of rightful hearts. The people have turned to evil wickedness and to open oppression of the poor and broken for their own profit. They are simply going through the motions of worshiping God, but have not been impacted by the reality of the God they worship. Their songs may speak words of High praise to God but their actions and hearts are not so inclined to believe the words they sing.

This discussion led my mind to go back to that old saying and wonder how much do we really believe the songs that we sing.

Do we ever think about it on Sunday mornings? While in that moment we may be caught up with an emotion or excitement, are we really engaging with the words that we are singing? Do they truly reflect our hearts intention, and our outward life?

I want this brief blog post to be an encouragement to all of us as we go into worship this weekend. I hope that we will be encouraged to think through the words that we are singing. I want us to really focus in on the depth of these truths and how they affect our souls. We truly must think of the songs we sing as an outpouring of our hearts towards God and an encouragement one another. I hope the words of Colossians 3:16 become a reality to us all. So specifically we will look at two types of songs that seem to be the most often sung but overlooked in their meanings.  These are songs of lament and songs of dedication. In one, we sing of our trust in God in the midst the pain and sorrow showing that he is our only hope through it all and in the other we sing of our dedication to God in all things, crying out for our lives to be a reflection of His love for us.

The Song of Lament

For many of us songs of lament probably aren’t all that common in our congregations, even though their meaning and use is probably one of the most real parts of the Christian life. The Psalms are filled with hearts broken and beaten by the world, but whose ultimate faith is in the Lord alone. In our congregations we may not sing them very often but when (not ‘if’) we do we should take a moment and reflect on what they mean. When we sing the words of Blessed be your name and echo the bridge “you give and take away, blessed be your name” do we truly think through what that song is saying? Do we really look at our situations and see all that we may have gained and all that we may have lost and truly be able to cry out “Blessed be your name?” When we are stuck in the wilderness of life do we truly cry out “Blessed be your name?” Songs of lament can be one the greatest salves to hurting heart. They give voice to the destitute, but as we struggle do we truly believe these words. Do we truly yearn for these words to reflect our hearts towards God?

So for those of us who are in pain may we sing these songs with a heart that reflects a trust in God. And to those of us who are not in the midst of trials and struggles, let us sing these songs with two things in mind:

First, the times we have been brought through the fire. When we sing these songs let us reflect on what God has done for us. Let us not sit by passively or sing absent-mindedly, but let us sing reflecting on how God has brought us through.

Second, let us remember our brothers and sister who are sitting around us in our service who are struggling. Let our singing be an encouragement to them of how God is worthy in the midst of our struggles, but also let these songs be a reminder that we all suffer and walk through the deserts.

Songs of Dedication

Songs that cry out for dedication and sing of our allegiance to God are some of the most often taken for granted songs in Christian worship. With one voice we can echo the words “Jesus I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee, destitute, despised forsaken, and thou from hence my all shalt be,” and yet it is not less than a day and back we are to the same pattern following our own desires and ambitions, with little or no thought for the will and direction of God. Another example from the same beautiful hymn “Go then earthly fame and treasure, come disaster scorn and pain, in thy service pain is pleasure, with thy favor loss is gain.” These simple lines echo the call of Christ to follow Him in the gospel, and connect us to the mission of His disciples for all generations; To give up everything of this world and be solely devoted to him. In these songs we declare with one voice yes and amen, we will follow Him without a second guess, yet again we quickly turn back.

Worship through song is formative in many ways, for worship gives voice to who we know we should be, and when we take it seriously we begin to think thoughtfully about whether or not we truly believe the words that we say. It is easy to nod our head at the words of the sermon, but it’s a whole other thing to put those words into action in our daily lives. However, in worship through song we sing those truths one to another and back to God. So the songs we sing on Sunday should never simply be another song in the list of songs that you’ve learned, that flow as easily from, our lips as the newest pop song.

The songs we sing should be an outflowing of the truth of God in Scripture and in our lives.

The songs we sing should build us up with joy for the greatness of who our God is. We should be able to sing in reflection for all that he has done. We should sing with joy to exclaim his greatness to our brothers and sisters. And we should sing the truth of Scripture to those who do not know that they may hear and believe the word of God presented through song.

May our worship through song never be a lie.

May we think deeply of the things of God and sing in response to the greatness of our God. May we not simply check out on a Sunday morning and go through the motions of singing words that we’ve heard time and time again. But may we engage our mind and our heart to understand what God is saying in his word and through the worship of his people.

So when we join with our brothers and sisters this Sunday and sing with one voice may we engage with the words that we’re singing. Let the words truly be a reflection of our hearts, let the words that we sing become formative for our lives as they reflect the truth of Scripture and the truth of our Savior.

 

Seven Ways to Father Well

For the first couple years of being a dad my running mantra to other fathers was: “Here’s what I think…but then again I’ve been a father for about 5 minutes.” My advice, however solid, foolish, or naive, always came with it a disclaimer. I had forever chuckled at parental advice from those without children, and had therefore been reticent, before my own kiddos arrived, to hand out child-training tips. Even with the arrival of Spurgeon (my first born) I was reluctant to advise for a couple of years. However, having consumed a half-dozen books on the topic, perused countless blogs, seen the good and bad of fatherhood from friends and acquaintances, and recently enjoyed my fourth Father’s Day as a pop, I figured I would jot down lessons I am learning in my pursuit of being a strong, godly father. Most of these principles have substantial Biblical backing and in none of these principles have I achieved perfection. I am learning, struggling, and pressing through but I already see a ton of fruit in the lives of my kids through the faithful implementation of these principles.

1 :: Husband Faithfully 

The statistics are alarming. Many men who end up addicted to pornography and with a skewed sense of love are products of affection-less parents. Kids need to see their father spend time with, date, hug, affirm, and prize their mother. This is the best example for them of how men are to treat women, and women men. I will admit, I am far more cerebral than emotional so open affection and flowery romance does not come naturally for me – and I know it doesn’t for many men. But if we desire to father well it all begins with how we love our bride.

2 :: Work Diligently

Laziness seems to be an increasing epidemic in this generation. The pithy mottos of “everyone is a winner” and “you can have anything you want just ‘cause you want it” have come back to bite. Fathers should be teaching their sons – particularly through example – how to work hard. Diligence is almost always rewarded and our kids should see us, particularly at home, laboring feverishly to meet the needs of family and the demands of the home.

3 :: Laugh Frequently

Life is cumbersome with many deadlines, dilemmas, and disappointments. In spite of these things, God gives us ample opportunity to enjoy life and laugh often and we should – with our children – take full advantage. Don’t confuse why you work: work to live, not the other way around. Punch out after putting in a solid day of diligent labor. Come home to actually be with and enjoy your family. Put the phone away, the remote down, and relish the Divine gifts of laughter and amusement. For the past three years Dink and I have encountered heartache and loss, yet we are endeavoring to press through those trials and savor the fleeting moments with our kiddos.

4 :: Discipline Consistently

This is tough. Many parents either allow their kids to run roughshod with little correction (to the bewilderment of those in their church, school, or community) or incarcerate their children in a tiny prison of perfection and robotic behavior. Neither is healthy or right. Consistent discipline, not punishment, is what is best and what is Biblical. Punishment is paying back my kid for bad behavior; discipline is instructing my child toward right behavior. Whatever your form of discipline may be, I would strongly encourage you to be consistent, be calm (don’t get angry or hostile), be informative (let them know why they are being corrected), and be loving.

5 :: Hug Routinely

More than any other, this principle should go without saying, but in the hustle and bustle of life we often forget to actually exhibit the love that we have for our children. Kids need tangible expressions of affection. Hand-holding, hugging, cuddling, and kissing your kiddos is proven to increase their health (mentally and physically) and happiness.

6 :: Teach Regularly

The world around us will not cease in attempting to catechize our children. Allow this vicious instructor to stand at the head of the classroom and your children will learn idolatry, discontent, and disrespect. Instead, silence the voice of a godless culture, and rise up to regularly educate your kids. God has gifted us unending instructional opportunities and as fathers we should snatch up these opportunities. Through Scripture, literature, history, narrative, and experience, teach your children life skills, respectful behavior, sports, crafts, art, truth, and the list rolls onward. Disciple them to know, love, and serve God. Don’t allow a day to pass without some type or form of direction taking place. It’s what their little minds and souls need.

7 :: Live Authentically 

Hypocrisy has driven more children from their parents and the church than any other vice. To be clear, hypocrisy is not failing to live up to your established values, but rather is putting on a mask and projecting yourself as something that you are not. While fathers can fool the crowds, they cannot fool their kiddos. Children will see the mask for what it is and grow increasingly repulsed by it. Living authentically means that I am striving to live according to what I know and declare to be right, acknowledging and apologizing when I fail, and reminding myself and my kids of the enormity and undeservedness of God’s remarkable grace.

I truly hope to see men take seriously the gift that is fatherhood and strive forward to lead and love their children well.

Semper Reformanda

Holiness Empowered Mission

In the recent weeks our church has begun a series, both in morning worship and in our weekly groups, talking about the reality of God’s holiness and our response to it. Each week building on the Idea that as we see God in his full splendor and majesty we being to see ourselves for who we truly are as sinners in need of a savior, while simultaneously seeing His majestic holiness as a gifted that transforms us as sinners into saints. God’s holiness is both extremely terrifying and yet extremely comforting.

This past week we kicked everything off by looking at the first half of Isaiah 6. Where Isaiah comes face to face with the living God and is overcome by his own sinfulness in the presences of God. Yet as the opening 7 verses concludes we see God sending forth an angel to heal and redeem Isaiah, cleansing his lips of all unrighteousness and atoning for him. This is an amazing picture of the work of God for Isaiah; one he did not deserve, but was freely given through the grace of God, and it is in light of this amazing encounter that the rest of the chapter concludes.

Isa. 6:8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

In the midst of being cleansed from his sins God calls out who will go to His people and declare His great name. Who will declare the great name of the Lord, and Isaiah is immediately overcome with a sense that it must be him. He is the one who will go because he has been cleansed of His iniquity; he has been freed by the holiness of God to be remade. This new and remade Isaiah has experienced something that he knows must be spoken about, it must be taken to the people that they too may know the great and glorious nature of God who saves.

When we look at verse 8 we hopefully should be able in that moment to see ourselves standing before God who saved us, standing in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ who set us free from sin and death, not simply atoning for our sins with a coal but with his own shed blood. He paid the price for our sins and in doing so He not only revealed his holiness to us but bestowed it on us. We have experienced far more than even Isaiah, while he saw the holiness of God; we have been given that Holiness. It is why He can so confidently and boldly call us in the book of Matthew to go to the ends of the earth teaching and making disciples, because it is His power and authority that sustains us and goes before us.

Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves I want to highlight one other aspect of what God had called Isaiah to do. We love verse 8 for it is a call to missions and the call of God. Of course I’ll go, give me the chance I want to see soul’s transformed just like He has transformed mine. However, what we see in the commissioning of Isaiah is not one of joyous victory and big tent revivals where the masses will come to faith. He is not commissioned to be the light that brings forth a might movement of the spirit to save souls. Rather as the text concludes he is sent out to tell of the holiness and grandeur of God to deaf ears and blinded eyes, who rather than rejoicing in the gift of God will spurn it and reject Isaiah and God.

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Make the heart of this people dull,

and their ears heavy,

and blind their eyes;

lest they see with their eyes,

and hear with their ears,

and understand with their hearts,

and turn and be healed.”

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

And he said:

“Until cities lie waste

without inhabitant,

and houses without people,

and the land is a desolate waste,

and the Lord removes people far away,

and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

 And though a tenth remain in it,

it will be burned again,

like a terebinth or an oak,

whose stump remains

when it is felled.”

The holy seed is its stump. (Isaiah 6:9-13)

This is not the most enjoyable of calls. Did Isaiah know what he was getting into when God asked? Do you think Isaiah had a second thoughts after hearing the Word of God? Do you think Isaiah wished the message would be more hopeful and less wrathful?

I don’t

I think based on how the remainder of the book plays out Isaiah wouldn’t have changed a thing. He experienced the holiness and salvation of God. God whose majesty and glory overwhelmed him, who stripped him of his very being, and yet called him and saved him. He transformed him. Isaiah knew his life was not his own nor was his mission. It was not his job to change lives, for he could not even change his own. It was the work of God to bring sight out of blindness. It was the job of His servant who had been changed to do His will.

We again have experienced the reality of God’s grace and holiness, and the call and message remains the same. We don’t know the hearts of those we go to tell the good news, but we know the God we serve. We know that God’s word does not return void, and should we suffer for the message we preach we share in the suffering of the prophets and Christ himself. We preach an unashamed Gospel and should be sustained in doing so by the reality of God who has changes us and sent us out.

His Holiness Informs us, His Holiness Transforms us, for it is His Holiness that will sustain us. So let us Go!

Dead Come Alive

I did this a few months back and wish to do so again as an encouragement on this Thursday afternoon.

Below is an inspiring visual and auditory reminder of the greatness of our God in Christ. I hope it is a blessing and an encouragement to each of us.

 

More information and videos can be found at Fullofeyes.com

“Dead Come Alive”

I felt alone in the world on my own then You came to me
Hope flowing through my veins
I was lost in the black so far gone
Then You drank my shame letting sin flow through Your veins

Lord You are good oh God You’re so good
Lord You are good oh God You’re so good

You were there from the start before it all
Still You left Your throne love lowered down in the flesh
Born to serve born to heal and to lay your life
You’re the final offering cause up from the grave You rose

Oh the miracle You’re the miracle
That makes the dead come alive

Let me take a little second to tell you as we see a prophecy that came true
You see we need to believe that he literally bled through
the clothes on his back his sweat the day was just like crimson rain
crimson stains tide bounty and the devil can’t wash these stains away

Who’s he you ask he’s a friend of me
cause my inability he was sent from me
I hear birds and trees there all telling me
it’s a good thing he won Gethsemane
cause this enemy is to much for me
and this flesh and world is triple teaming me
it seems to be the very end I scream please oh please pass this cup from me!

The thing is it did pass
and it passes every day
he took my cup from me and gracefully he drank the grave
and I don’t mean to speak blasphemy when I say
but I am speaking of the day when my God passed away, Okay?

no wait wait wait no that’s not it no that’s not all
I don’t wanna leave you hanging
this stories banging
against my throat and against these walls
It cant be contained no it wont stay in here it will thrive
cause stories just don’t die when the dead come alive

Oh the miracle You’re the miracle
That makes the dead come alive
Written by Travis Whittaker & Tyler Joseph
Mixed at Earthwork Recording Studio. Mastered by Leon Zervos at 301Studios

Renewal of the Mind

“…to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Ephesians 4:23-24

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

I’ve always been taught that the battlefield is in the mind. When it comes to the spiritual realm especially. This statement has proven itself to be true in my life. The question is how much control do we have of our minds, that we can be victorious as we fight the good fight of faith.

Piece by Piece

The move of action for a believer is surrender. Surrender in the sense that we relinquish control of our circumstances to the Lord, who alone is in the position to be sovereign over them in the first place. This surrender sometimes happens little by little. We give our entire lives to Christ as his followers, but there are desires, memories, and habits that we like to hold onto.

It’s important to realize how much your thought life influences you. Your thoughts create your mood. Being able to surrender our thought life to Christ so that our mind can be renewed is so vital for a believer.

God has given us the ability to have control over what we choose to accept into our mind and whether we let ourselves get to a place where we are being very reactive to what is happening to us. This requires self-control. Honing in on the ability to be very mindful and observant of the filter that you have ready to discern what is allowed in and out.

Obviously, the best way to develop a sound and solid filter is to spend time in the Word. It is living and active, and one of the many benefits to allowing your heart and mind to be saturated by it is that it shapes and molds you into the person who is able to discern what is good and right and pleasing to the Lord.

Strongholds

Strongholds are seen in Scripture as either being a place of refuge when our stronghold is God or something very destructive that can only be brought down by divine power. (2 Corinthians 10:4)

The definition of a stronghold is a place that has been fortified. In our minds, this is a thought pattern that has taken a place of power in how we think. You can relate a stronghold to a person that starts smoking. At first, the cigarette has no power. It’s just a pastime, but as it is given precedence in one’s life, it gains power over the person.

Strongholds are one of the most challenging things to overcome in our thought life for several reasons. One reason is that oftentimes, we don’t even realize that they are there. It takes prayer and serious introspection to even become aware of their existence let alone identify exactly what the stronghold is. Also, strongholds are not easily defeated. As was mentioned earlier, they can only be taken down by divine power. All too often, when we realize that something has a hold on us, we try to manage it ourselves. Get it right before we have the courage to come to God with it. But we need to see that only by his power are we able to conquer these strongholds in our minds.

Remember…We walk by faith and not by sight. And our battle is not against flesh and blood.

Faith and Trust

Two HUGE weapons that we have in our minds are faith and trust. Both having to do with our relationship and dependence on God in all circumstances.

In Screwtape Letters, one of my favorite chapters that C.S. Lewis wrote is on the concept of being in the present. In order to live by faith, it has to be an acceptance and trust of who God is and what he is doing in the present. Lewis describes how the present time is the only moment when eternity touches down. Living in the past might be kind of rooted in reality, since those things actually happened, but it isn’t where God is working now. And even worse is letting your mind wander and spend all of its time in the future, where there is no way for us to grasp reality. Only the Lord holds the future in his hands, but he doesn’t operate in a way that lets us see into or be a part of living in that future. Only in the present moment are we given a chance to partake in his work.

All that being said. Let’s desire a mindfulness that identifies when we start going down a dangerous path. Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Engage in this battle over your mind. Let it be renewed by Christ. Let it be surrendered to the washing of the Word. Commit not only your life but also your thought life to Jesus. Let him reign in your heart and mind. And be fully present in the moment because this is when God is choosing to invite you into the story of eternity.

Originally published @http://www.grace-nation.com/2018/05/08/renewal-of-the-mind-britney-ohara/

How’s Your Diet?

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature.” (Hebrews 5:11-14a)

Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death (Story by Kenneth Berding).

Here is a woman who had plenty of opportunity to eat the way she needed to be healthy and strong, but she opted to eat primarily chicken nuggets neglecting the very nutrients she so desperately required. When we read this story we may think to ourselves, “How foolish can someone be? Why wouldn’t she simply mix in some fruits and veggies for a well-rounded diet? Why would she neglect her health in that way?”  But before we criticize her let’s take a look at our own lives. We may not be guilty of neglecting the physical nutrients we need, but are we guilty of neglecting ourselves of the spiritual nutrients we need?

In the above verses the author of Hebrews is scolding his readers for their spiritual diet. He is telling them that, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” His readers ought to be growing in their knowledge of God and in their spiritual maturity. But rather they have neglected the Word of God, becoming spiritually unhealthy.

And if we are not careful, the same could happen to us. We have plenty of opportunity to read God’s Word, go to Bible studies, and to hear sermon’s preached, but so often we neglect these things, becoming spiritually weak. And when we do this we hurt ourselves. We need the nourishment found in God’s Word to grow and thrive in the Christian life.

Paul in Colossians 3 tells the Colossian Christians that they are to “let the word of Christ dwell” in them “richly” and the Psalmist, in Psalm 119, declares that he has “stored up God’s Word in his heart.” And we too, need to be a people who regularly soak up the Word of God. It should be on our minds and in our hearts with regularity. God uses His Word to show us Himself and He uses His Word to transform our hearts and minds. Without it we will not grow, but rather we will be weak and immature in the faith.

Let’s not neglect that which is good for us, but rather let us regularly consume God’s Word for greater enjoyment of Him and greater growth in our Christian walk.

The Need for Community

As our world becomes more and more knitted together there seems to be a growing disconnection from within. Every passing day we talk about the new inter-connectivity and growing world wide community, while in actuality the world seems to be growing further and further apart. Depression and suicide rates continue to grow, the counseling industry is on the rise, there is a need for community and yet the need seems to be harder and harder to fulfill as we become more and more isolated in our new found “connectivity.” This has become true even when we think about the Christian church, the place that was founded on the unification of believers from multiple languages and people through the power of the Holy Spirit producing faith in the hope of Jesus Christ on Pentecost. In 2018, Christians have begun to adopted the very practices that have isolated the world, when turn to YouTube for our Sunday morning worship, we listen to twitter for interacting on important theological issues, we use Instagram to feel connected to others,  when in reality we need to cling to the very real and messy community of saints and the hard but joyful experience of life together.

So, Let me begin by saying that we know that there is no perfect community of saints, not since the upper room of Pentecost have we seen a gathering of believers wholly committed to one another and to the faith, we see throughout the book of Acts an ongoing discussion of how we live life together through the direction of the Holy Spirit. They had to face hardships from within and from without, but as we see them labor for the truth of the Gospel we see the Holy Spirit leading the work, lives being transformed and the church growing. I believe this is because they church had a love for God that lead them to love each other, through all the ups and downs of life.

When we are first introduced to the church in Acts 2:41-47 following the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the salvation of 3000 in a single day, we see the growth not of individuals but of a community. In this we see a few characteristics that make the Church as a community of saints essential to the Christian life and to our commitment to Christ.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:41-47

A prominent theme the book of Acts draws on when speaking about the church was their devotion. Upon repenting and believing in the work of Christ for salvation the people then turned towards one another in love and devotion. As one they dedicated themselves to learning the truth of scripture from the Apostles, they dedicated themselves to a life of fellowship (which is far more than a meal), worship, and to prayer. The life of the church is not a one day event it is and always was a life style. It was an everyday occurrence of learning more about Christ, eating meals together, sharing in one another’s personal struggles and ultimately pouring out our hearts as one before God, who sustains us and grows us.

As modern day believers do we share this same devotion, do we seek to be there for one another in their struggles? Do we seek to study the Word of God together? Do we seek to pray together for the burdens of each other and for the will of God to be done in us and through us? Do we long for a community of faith that reflects this, and if we do are we only yearning or are we acting on that desire.

The church is made up of broken sinners who have been redeemed through the blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and yet who still struggle in life and sanctification.  As a church our endeavor should be for the body of Christ, which is often the very thing this world will try to pull us away from. It is in the body of Christ that we find help in the midst of sin, in the midst of anxiety, in the midst of hardship, in the midst of pain, for it is within the body of Christ that we are encouraged to hold fast the faith.

 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

-Hebrews 10:23-25

In a world where the reality that I can find any spiritual answer in a split second or even hear the perfect sermon for my issues with the click of a mouse, we have lost the reality that it is the bride of Christ assembled, every day in every home that weeps with us in the storm, that prays with us through our brokenness, that listen to our hurts and points us back to God, that we need. We need the community of Faith more than we realize, and it’s because of this need we fear it. Hebrews warned of the very real heart of forsaking the gathering, of running from those who care most about you, of seeking to do it on your own. Christ died for His church that they may be one, that we may seek him and through him one another.

If you are struggling with sin, go to Christ and the His Bride

If you are struggling with doubt, go to Christ and the His Bride

If you are struggling with sadness, go to Christ and the His Bride

If you are struggling with life, go to Christ and the His Bride

If all seems free from struggle, go to Christ and the His Bride