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!

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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

The Fullness of Time & the Focal Point of All Things

“…Christians of all times and places have professed that Christ himself is the center of our preaching, our gospel, and our theology. Christianity is Christ…Our first allegiance is not to a set of eternal truths, as in Buddhism or Platonism, but to a person who lived in history to save us and who lives eternally as our heavenly High Priest.”[1]

Christianity is Christ. Every passage, every person, and every exploit from “Let there be light…”[2] to “And night will be no more…”[3] was either working toward this thirty-three-year window or pointing back to it. At least that is what the Apostle Paul believed when he penned “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[4]

The angel Gabriel’s announcement, in Luke 1:26-38, concerning the conception of the Christ has this same end in mind; namely, the baby to be born is the Christ promised from long ago, the Center of Things. The point of God’s announcement is not Mary, it’s not Christmas, but Christ. Packed into the announcement is God’s pronouncement that this child is the Christ as seen in 1) The timing of His birth, 2) The location of His birth, 3) The means of His birth, 4) The family tree of His birth, & 5) the method of His Conception

The Timing of His Birth

As provided for us in the passage preceding, there would be born before Him a forerunner who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (vs. 17). So, when Gabriel visits Mary to inform her of God’s intentions it should be no surprise that we find God declaring His intentions “In the sixth month…” (vs 26). Given the prophetic fulfillment of Malachi 3 & 4 concerning this forerunner, believers can take confidence in the timing of Jesus birth.

The Location of His Birth

A red-flag should rise when we hear that God sent Gabriel to virgin in Nazareth (Luke 1:26). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and this young teenage girl was almost 100 miles north of God’s designated place of birth for the Christ. Of course, having Luke 2 we read how God moved the desires, intentions, & plans of Rome’s emperor and by His divine hand the Christ from Nazareth would be born exactly where God required. God Almighty moves the heart of the kings and turns it as He wills; He needs not the king’s approval or cooperation.

The Mean of His Birth

In spite of liberal theologian’s attempts to discredit the virgin-birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, Luke, Matthew, and Mary herself confirm that God’s intended meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy was that the impossibility of virgin birth would meet the Omnipotent King of Creation. “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Mt. 1:22). If God declared it would be, of course, it would come to be for who could “thwart his plans?”

The Family Tree of His Birth

Gabriel announces that the virgin-born boy would be “the Son of the Most High” and the offspring of “his father David.” This multi-layered proclamation assures the Christian that this Messiah would be both God and man. That Jesus’ family tree would be of divine origin and yet still retaining true humanity. He would need to be both “God-with-us” (Immanuel) and “us” so that “He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”[5] God’s announcement given through his messenger Gabriel confirms, both, Christ’s deity and humanity, permitting Christ to become both the Just and the Justifier.

The Method of His Conception

Luke 1 provides for us a trinitarian movement in the conception and incarnation of Jesus the Christ. Believers can take great confidence as they see the Father’s plan (vs. 26), the Spirit’s power (vs. 35), and the Son’s presence (vs. 32,35) all working in perfect harmony bringing us to “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Reminiscent of God’s creative majesty in Genesis 1, the Spirit of God overshadows the emptiness of Mary’s womb, much like He hovered over the emptiness of a formless world, and from the Father’s eternal plan, the Eternal Son takes on material being. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). From creation ex nihilo to conception in a virgin from Divine origin, nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27).

God’s word to Mary, from Gabriel, is a repository of faith-strengthening truth that encouraged and emboldened both the original recipient, Mary, and generations of believers for 2000 years. May we feast upon God’s faithfulness and he strengthens our faith in His Truth, Jesus Christ.

Citations:

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology

[2] Genesis 1:3

[3] Revelation 22:5

[4] Galatians 4:4-5

[5] Hebrews 2:17

A New Life

This past Sunday was my final Sunday as the Interim Pastor of Riverside Baptist, the church that I have been serving on staff for the last five. It was a bitter sweet Sunday filled with computer problems, angry letters, amazing worship, wonderful prayers, and one last meal together around the Lord’s Table. It was a small and perfect encapsulation of my life at Riverside. However, the part that I want to focus on is the over arching text of my final Sermon: Ephesians 2:1-10. This was the same text I first preached at Riverside as an intern over 5 years earlier and is my favorite text of scripture.  In this text we are reminded of who we are apart from Christ, how amazing His grace and mercy is towards us, and finally how we are to live because of this amazing grace and mercy. It was this text that brought the whole day together in my time of ministry, for it is the reality of who I am as a believer and more importantly who my God is and what He has done in me.

So let us glance once more at this beautiful text and be reminded.

We Were Dead

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Every believer must remember this important part of who we were before Christ: we were dead in Sin. Paul makes no caveats, he doesn’t say we were mostly dead, or that we were in a dire place, no he lays out the plain truth we were dead, no hope, no breath. Our Spiritual life was non existent, it was dead due to it’s natural place as a child of wrath seeking to live and serve the desires of the flesh and the natural progression of sin in the world. Paul is speaking to believers here, immediately following chapter one where he spoke of the sovereign and electing working of God towards those who would be His. Here its is plain that Paul doesn’t wish these believers to be unaware that though they were chosen and set apart, before the work of God in them they were on their own and they were dead.

It is an important aspect of the Christen life that we never forget that before faith became a reality, our only joy and direction in life was to live by the world’s rules, whether that be in abject sin or even a form of moralism, we followed the courses of this world and the philosophies that entangle it. We of our own accord and nature were not interested in God, even those who would come to faith, in their hearts hated God and were enemies with Him. Here Paul is also reminding us that when we look at those in the world around us we should not despise them, but rather have sympathy on them for their eyes are blind to the truth, just as we once were without Christ. Verses 1-3 of chapter two are a wake-up call to us when we get puffed up in ourselves as believers and lose sight of the reality of verse four, BUT GOD.

We Now Live

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Maybe the greatest pairings of words in all of scripture appears here in this text: But God. These two words set into context all of human history and in the case of Ephesians our salvation. Here Paul makes it plain we were dead, there was no life for us to achieve, we could not change our reality. We liked and enjoyed our reality. But God entered in and removed the veil of ignorance that had surrounded our eyes, and in that moment, He gave us eyes to see. By His mercy He transformed our souls from death to Life, In Christ. It is God who has granted us life, not ourselves. We deserved the exact opposite of the gift given to us. God showed mercy, favor despite human demerit, toward us.

Now the root of this mercy is clearly seen to be the work and person of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that this mercy becomes visible, it is in His life, death, resurrection and ascension that we see His power in an new and eye opening way. In Christ we have been raised, in Christ we have been seated, In Christ what was hopeless and dead, now breathes and lives. He did this to show the world who He is and to show those whom He has chosen His mercy for all to see, we are His. We were given life when death is what we deserved, we were given hope, when the pit was our bed, we were blessed beyond words, because our God is gracious and loving God, but this grace and mercy is not meant to now leave us in our sins, no it is rather transformative.

We Now must Walk

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The word of Christ that has set us free from sin and death and given us new life has done so with a purpose and that is to display to the world around us the great riches and mercy of God towards us. We were not set free from sin and death so that we would wallow all the more in it, nor were we set from the condemnation of the world to go and seek condemnable things. Now we have become the workmanship of God, we have become His new creation, His poem, His masterpieces. We have been transformed by the Grace of God through faith, which you did not contribute to, you were dead. He gave us faith, He joined us with Christ, He lavished mercy on us, He made us new, we are but the recipients of a lavish love that is beyond measure, and the biblical response and over flow of this love and new spiritual life is to walk in accordance with it.

Paul concludes this section of the book of Ephesians by reminding us of the very first argument he made in this section; when we were dead we walked according to this world, but now that we are alive God has laid before us a new path for us to walk. Paul focuses on the reality of walking in the faith and living out the reality of what that looks like. Through out the rest of the book he will highlight what the Christian faith looks like and how we are called to live this out day by day, because we were purchased with such a high a cost and forgiven more than we could ever imagine forgiving others of our own accord, because we serve a great and merciful God, we have not been saved by our works, but by Christ to do His works towards the world.

So why was text was so impactful for me on my last day of preaching ministry probably for a while. Because in this text I am reminded that we walk the course God sets before us to do the work He has instructed us to do. We did not save ourselves to live for ourselves or to seek our own advantage but to walk in God’s path and trust the one who saved us from the eternal grave that He will lead us rightly. So in every step we trust Him who gave us life.

The Old Has Gone – The New Has Come

I recently read that about 68% of Americans own pets. That’s a high number. I would assume that number drastically increases, however, if you were to ask what percentage of Americans have ever owned a pet. It seems that all of us have owned at least one pet at one time or another. For some of us it was a dog, for others it was a cat, while yet others had a hamster, lizard, or goldfish. The bad thing about owning a pet, though, is that those pets die (especially goldfish) far too soon. A pet’s life typically lasts 10 to 15 years, if you’re lucky, and then it’s over.  When your pet dies you might bury it in the backyard, go to the animal hospital to have disposed of, or in the case of a goldfish flush it down the toilet. These are normal things to do when your pet dies. What is not normal is to bring your pet back around to your house and take if for a walk, or feed it, or spend time playing with it after it has died. That would be abnormal.  In fact, that would be insanity. When a pet has died we treat as if it has died. We don’t take it back out for walks.

I think we would all agree that a person who digs up a dead dog and begins to play with it or take it for a walk has lost their mind. Well, every time we sin, we are essentially digging up our dead sinful self and dragging it around with us.

The Bible teaches us that if we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, it is because a drastic change has taken place inside of us. So drastic, in fact, that the Bible says that we have died and been raised to new life in Christ (Colossians 3:1,3; Romans 6:2-11). By the grace of God, we are new creatures with new desires, “the old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If the old has passed away, we are to bury it. We are to put away that sinful behavior (Colossians 3:8) and live for God (Romans 6:11).

There is a new King of our heart and a new commission on our life.

We are to set our “minds on the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1) and “put to death, therefore, what is earthly (sinful) in us” (Colossians 3:5). By grace we have been saved from the enslavement of sin, and by grace we are to put away the sin that remains – burying it far away.

As grotesque as is the image of a man walking (literally dragging) his dead dog down the road, it is far more horrendous that a Christian would dig his old sinful self out of the grave and begin dragging him around, and yet that is what we are doing when we sin.

Thankfully, Romans 6 tells us that we have been raised with Christ by the glory of the Father so that we can walk in newness of life. This new life is in Christ and it far outshadows the old life. When we fill our minds with Christ and seek Him, the old self becomes less alluring.

Let’s attune our hearts to King Jesus and walk with Him while we leave the old self behind.

T4G and the Benefits of Pastoral Conferences

Now over the last few years there has been a growing cry in some evangelical circles against what has been called “a celebrity culture” that drives pastoral conferences, and to a degree I will admit this is true, but I would ultimately challenge the assumption that it is the names on the preaching schedule that make these pastoral conferences so challenging and reinvigorating. Over the last few years I have been to a variety of conferences and workshop for both the purpose of honing the crafting aspects of pastoral ministry and being engaged by brothers and sisters serving around the world for edification. This Past week myself and a few other members of the Publican’s spent the week at Together for the Gospel (T4G) and I want to take a moment and highlight how this gathering is far more than celebrity worship culture in the church, and more a tool for equipping and encouraging the Saints.

Pastoral Worship Through Song

It may surprise a lot of people but on any given Sunday pastors can get distracted during the singing of the word. Now we know this should not be the case but each week there can be any number of fires to put out or the Holy Spirit for some reasons wants to hit you over the head with your sermon points again right in the middle of a Mighty Fortress is our God. So we get a lot of our vocalized undivided attention to singing probably when no one else is around. Here this is not the case. At T4G there was the undistracted singing of some of the great songs of the faith and new by 12,000 brothers and sisters in Christ. In these moments the soul is refreshed, and new life given to words that have maybe become more repetition in our minds than the power declaration of the good and great God we serve. Reminding us again of His great love for those we serve, allowing us to be reminded of how much more powerful these songs can be when sung again with our local brothers and sisters.

So don’t hear me wrong this is nothing compared to the reality of a local body singing to the Lord. In the Local body when the words to songs like Blessed by Your name are sung by believers who know are going through great trials, it reminds you on a deeper level of the work of our Lord, or to see a family sing out in Joy to the Lord following the Birth of their child, can’t be repeated in a 12,000 person gathering, but from that 12,000 person gathering I appreciate those in my local church more.

Bonding & Burden Sharing

On a similar note, one of the great things about this event is the opportunity to build on relationships with other pastors. This is more than simple networking, these are relationships where we pray for one another and year after year connect to see, in person, how one another is doing. Thanks to the advent of our technological age there is a reality that we can do this every day, and for many of us we do. However there is still just something about sitting down at a coffee shop with a brother you have prayed for and talked to over the years and actually be able to throw and arm around  them encourage them and then be equally encouraged or at time rebuked in return. For some in pastoral ministry it can be a lonely place especially those who serve in more rural areas of the country or in neighborhoods where there are not many other ministers to be encouraged by the Lord’s work. Opportunities like these give an opportunity for them to meet and partner with others whom they may have never come across and be encouraged and build up to continue running the race, and loving their flock.

Being Challenged

Lastly what I especially found helpful in this years conference was the preaching that challenged us to lives of holiness and a pursuit of that with all of our hearts. Did I enjoy every sermon equally, no, but I did find every sermon encouraging, challenging or thought provoking. Each man who brought the word of God brought with it a conviction that it is the word of God that changes lives and it is through the indwelling of the spirit that we are changed to pursue holiness in every aspect of our lives. Those who followed the conference online or through twitter may have even seen some of the “controversial sermons.” I personally loved them and maybe that’s because they forced me to think even for a moment differently that what I thought before. It asked me to look to Scripture for my worldview and just assume for a moment that I have been subconsciously shaped by the culture more than I would like to admit. What made these sermons stand out above that was the immediate backlash, which reminded me that even we shepherds are still sheep in the end, we do like to bit when we don’t like what we are hearing, but if we as pastors are not being challenged in our biblical thinking and being taught to disagree well, no wonder the church feels no pangs about being as equally angry a mob as the world. I hope at the end of the Day I seek to understand and in understanding not give an inch on the Gospel while showing the hope and joy of Christ to my neighbors.

As an aside: For those without a denominational home this is in many ways one of the best type of denominational meetings you could attend. While I personally love a good day filed with point of orders, motions and out of orders, I prefer the Word of God given through song, deed and word, and that is what I experienced this past week and hope that others did as well.

The sermons and panels can be found at T4G.org

The previous year’s Music can be streamed from Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/6fvhku1FBjF21nCu7c6aBP?si=VpPAh_h1QpSgAzP0JZ-eeQ

Only One Prophet-Priest-King

Let’s face it. Not every pastor is gifted in the same way. Some pastors are extraordinarily gifted preachers, delivering mainly “home runs” each week. Other pastors will only preach a “home run” sermon once a month, yet may be strong in the area of pastoral care and counseling. Meanwhile, a third category of pastor may not be the best preacher or the most caring and compassionate with his people, but he may excel in leading the body of Christ forward like none other. We can probably see in our own pastors one of these qualities rise above the others.

Every church wants a pastor who excels in all three areas: preaching, pastoral care, and leading. A problem arises, however, when church’s assume their pastor will fill out in these areas equally. The reality is, many churches expect more from their pastors than they would from any other human being in their lives. While pastors are called to be living examples to the flock and set apart from this world, they are still fellow sheep smack dab in the middle of their own sanctification. When churches expect their pastors to be golden-mouthed pulpiteers, Mr. Rogers-like companions, and dynamic vision-casters, they are looking for something in a man that can only be found in the Son of Man. Only Jesus is the perfect preacher (Prophet), shepherd (Priest), and leader (King). We see this in Matthew 12.

In Matthew 12, Jesus highlights the fact that He alone perfectly fulfills each of these roles. In order to tell us who He is and what He came to do, Jesus ties together the three offices which held the entire Old Testament together: that of the prophet, the priest, and the king. Each of these three offices was instituted by God and serves as a representative of God to His people. Yet Jesus explains that he came not to fulfill only one of them, but all three.

“Something greater than the temple is here”- Jesus is the Great High Priest who makes atonement for our sins

Jesus begins in verse 6 by staring down Israel’s flawed religious leadership. When the Scribes and Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for leading His disciples to break the Sabbath, He called Himself the, “Lord of the Sabbath” and even said, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus knew that the temple was the place where God dwelt and the place where blood sacrifices for sin were made. By saying, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus was showing them that a new day in salvation history had come and that God’s people could now approach Him solely on the basis of Christ’s person and work.

This means Jesus and Jesus alone is our Great High Priest who has made atonement for our sins. We have no need to make sacrifices and approach a certain man to enter God’s presence once a year and hope this atones for our sins. The once-for-all time sacrifice of Christ has been offered and we are cleansed of all sin through faith in Him. This frees us up as Christ’s people to rest in His priestly office instead of expecting it’s total fulfillment in our local pastor. Your pastor may not be as personable as you’d like, but that’s okay, as long as he is aiming for more Christ-likeness in that area.

“Something greater than Jonah is here”- Jesus is the Prophet who speaks God’s Word to us

In verse 41, Jesus returns to this theme of His fulfillment of the three Old Testament offices. He moves from a focus on the office of priest to that of prophet. Jesus amazingly connects Jonah’s experience to His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection. Then, Jesus says that a new day has come regarding the office of prophet. Jonah was a prophet with many sins, and Jesus uses Him to point out that this office of prophet had never found a perfect officeholder. But now the perfect Office-holder was here and that means Jesus perfectly delivers God’s Word to His people. Jesus not only is the perfect preacher and, “The prophet who is to come” (Deut. 18:15), but He is also, “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Throughout the gospel accounts, people were constantly remarking that Christ taught, “As one who had authority” (Mark 1:22, Matthew 7:29). After appearing to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the men remarked: “He opened to us the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:32), then in verse 45 we’re told, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

This means that Jesus speaks God’s Word to us clearly and accurately, so we can trust His every word. This also means it should be our ambition to know nothing except, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). When we know Jesus is the, “Word of Life”, we will heed Him when He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, italics mine). We will then not be discouraged if week after week, our local pastor only delivers a “base hit” with an occasional “home run.” We can be content sitting under our pastor’s preaching so long as this broken mouthpiece delivers the Word of God to us.

“Something greater than Solomon is here”- Jesus is the King who reigns in our hearts forever

Then, in the very next verse, in Matthew 12:42, Jesus mentions Israel’s wisest king, Solomon, and shockingly says, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” It is surprising enough that Jesus claims prominence over the temple as the true Priest, and supremacy over the prophets as the true Prophet; but to say that He is, “greater” than the greatest of Israel’s kings is huge. Jesus is claiming that His rule and reign and His wisdom excel that of every other human to walk the face of the earth. No mere man holds a candle to the perfection that shines forth from Christ.

This means that Jesus and Jesus alone is worthy of our soul’s total allegiance. We are freed up from looking for flawless leadership in our local pastor when we have bowed our hearts to the King of kings. Since Jesus is leading us to the Promised Land of Glory and has “prepared the way” for us by means of His cross and resurrection, we are content when our local pastor does his best to lead us. We don’t need to reject our pastor’s leading when he obviously has sought God’s best for us and is aiming to lead us forward in holiness. We can submit to our pastor’s leadership because we know he is merely trying to get us to follow Christ.

I am not saying pastors should not strive for excellence in preaching, shepherding, and leading. I believe the strongest pastor is the one that humbly repents of his shortcomings and sins and seeks to grow in grace in each of these three areas. My point is, Christ’s sheep should not seek for something in a man when they should find it in the God-Man. When church members find Christ to be their true Prophet, Priest, and King, they don’t get upset when others fail to fill these positions. Rather than finding fault in their flawed leaders, these church members rejoice as they see the light of Christ shining through the “jar of clay” that stands before them each Lord’s Day. Your pastor may never be a C.H. Spurgeon or a John MacArthur, but they are another instrument God has raised from the dust to sound forth for His glory.

May we all as Christ’s sheep follow our Good Shepherd, even as we submit to His flawed under-shepherds. And one day, all sheep and under-shepherds, will bow at the feet of, “The great Shepherd of the sheep”, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20b).  

Christian Submission in a Broken World

 

When we look at the world around us it is easy to become angered and at times lash out either through the internet or through our everyday interactions, yet when we come to scripture this is the exact opposite of the reality of Biblical teaching, especially when it comes to human institutions. I think this is especially true in an American context were rebellion is in our blood, and independence and division reign. However for a believer this should not be the case, we are a people under the lordship of Christ and trust in him as our defender and ultimately as the one who judges the world and its leaders. This is exactly where Peter in His first epistle address fellows Christians.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17

This text is a challenging one as the Apostle began to deal with the reality of what it means to live a life that exemplifies the gospel. It is easy to say: “be holy as God is holy”, or to talk about how we should walk as Children of God, but the actual reality of what that looks like can get murky at times, or at least we sometime like to think it is. Peter here, while talking to 1st century Christians living under the oppressive rule of Rome, has some very real and challenging things to say about how we live out the faith in the midst of injustice. In particular he dealt with how Christians who are pursing God and proclaiming the true hope of the Gospel will respond to the governing authorities over them, especially those that they feel were unholy and wicked.

Unlike what we may think or even at times hope in our individualistic tendencies, Peter encourages us to be “subject to ever institution.” This comes from our understanding first and foremost that our Lord is God and everything that happens is governed and under his control, as such we know that our vindication is in the Lord’s hands. Therefore we should listen to and follow the rules of the governing authorities around us, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the proclamation of the gospel. The government’s job is to punish evil doers while proclaiming justice, we must be found to be the most excellent of citizens, especially in how we speak and how we act, from the way we treat local government ordinances and officials to the way we speak of all federal officials regardless of their affiliations. There is no one party that is specially ordained by God over another when they are in office. If under the reign of Nero or Tacitus these commands were true, then under both a Republican or Democratic these commands are true.

Secondly we are reminded that the reason we are able to be subject to human institutions is because our ultimate freedom is from God. We are not following blindly the course of this world or living blind lives to the reality around us. Rather, because of Christ, we are able to live our lives more boldly, even when following the law around us. We can live in such a way that it causes other to question our motivation, not in a negative way, but a positive one. The scriptures do give us reminders that our service will always be to God, just as Daniel in Babylon, but where the government isn’t forcing us to literally worship at the feat of Baal, let us serve God and those around us well, not giving into the temptations to slip back into the sinful nature that surrounds us. Let us not use our freedom in Christ to dive headlong into sinful ventures.

Finally this is all a lasting reminder to treat the people around us with honor, in such a way that they may see the greatness of the God we serve. Peter’s final exaltation brings us back to those foundational truths: Love God and Love your neighbor. Her he shows us that as believers we should show everyone the same honor and respect due them as image bearers of God. Everyone deserves to be honored as the greatest of our governing leaders are.

Only from honoring everyone at this base standard do you see the gift that the family of God is, for we take it to a whole new level inside the church. Here we don’t just show honor and respect we show a deep and abiding love that comes from being a family. A family committed to the Worship of God, who has set us free and given us a new home. So the highest form of adoration is for God alone.

We can submit to human institutions because we fear the Lord and lovingly worship His Son who gave himself freely under the hand of wicked men as a payment for our sins. We can suffer injustice because he suffered injustice. We can worship in the midst of pain because he worshiped in the midst of pain, and we pray that through our lives the world that hates us will see Him and like the soldier by the cross on the day of His crucifixion she that Truly Jesus is the Son of the Living God.

 

The True Heart of a Disciple

1 Peter 3:8-12

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For  “Whoever desires to love life and see good days,  let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

In today’s post I wanted to take a moment and look at how Peter wrapped up His discussion on living life in a broken world, specifically by focusing on how we as a church should live together. In this way Peter instructs us again how we are to be treating each other in the family of God and our overarching motivation found in the blessing of God. To help us see this Peter encourages each of us to have attitudes, actions, and ambitions, that reflect the life we have been called to live.

In regards to our attitudes verse eight lays out five key attitudes, unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind, that should be easily seen and identified in the church. At the center of this list of attitudes lies the call to brotherly love. It is structurally from this point in the middle of the list that we see the other four turn and move together as one. For Peter the act of loving one another in the church is a key way in which we are able to be sustained in a world that may reject us. The church should be a safe haven for believer to be free from the persecution and hostilities that exist in the world around us. It should be a place where that familial love is common and put on display.

From this familial love we are able to have unified and humble minds. The purpose of these two show us that we as believers should be heading in the same direction with the same goals and theological understanding of who God is and what Christ has done. If we are moving in the same direction and are unified in mind then we will be humble in the means. We won’t expect each other to be clones of one another, but rather we will see each other as walking day by day in the grace of God growing in holiness, and we will seek to encourage and help one other along the way.  For from the mind we will engage our emotions showing both sympathy and tender heartedness. We won’t just mentally want one another to grow we will emotional invest in that growth. We will invest in each other’s victories and failures. We will open our lives to one another so that we may as one rejoice and mourn. For the attitude of believers towards one another involves our minds and hearts.

After looking deeply at our attitude Peter quickly turns to our actions. Unlike with our attitudes,Where peter focused on the positive encouragements, with our actions he begins with the negative steps that we fall into daily. Peter reminds us that as believers our actions are supposed to be mirrors of Christ (2:22-24), therefore when people turn on us and revile us we do not respond in kind, nor when evil is raised up against us do we fight back an eye for an eye. No, rather according to the Word of God we return evil with a blessing. Those who would speak evil against us we speak forgiveness over them. Those who would wish to bring evil upon us; we will joyfully seek that the good of God be poured out on them.  This is because when Christ was reviled, suffered and was killed, He did not seek their destruction; rather He called out for them to be forgiven. We are called to be a blessing to a dying world, not just through our thoughts but by our actions. Those who would seek us ill must be the primary recipients of the blessing we have received from God, for while we were enemies of His He died for us.

So from our attitudes and actions we see the ambition of a Christian is to love life and see good days, not by human means but by divine mercy. Peter closes this encouragement by quoting Psalm 34 which deals with how we may fear the Lord and grow in holiness. For Peter sees in this Psalm the very encouragement the broken and suffering people of God need to be reminded of, that God is with them and loves them. He has given them the means to walk in holiness and the spirit to accomplish the goal. Therefore, let us turn from evil (repent) and do good. Let us be a people who pursue the peace of God through our attitudes and actions and as we do let us rest faithfully in the knowledge that our prayers are heard and the Lord is with us.

Luke: The Faith-growing Gospel

Greetings, salutations, introductions, and openers are generally overlooked, ignored, and discounted. They are often viewed as the “lets get this out of the way because the content of what is written is what’s important.” But for the student of Scripture, the one who genuinely believes that all Scripture is breathed out by God, even the introduction is given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in righteousness. Luke’s introduction is just that; praise God!

In Luke’s introduction (Luke 1:1-4) a few gems sparkle brighter than the rest. Luke informs “most excellent Theophilus” (Friend of God) that the purpose of his writing this Gospel is to (1) provide an orderly account, a logically flowing narrative of the Christ’s life, ministry, death, burial, & resurrection & (2) that Luke was offering it to him “that [he] may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught” (Lk 1:4). What a joy this must have been for Theophilus, the gentile convert, to have an orderly, logical account intended to solidify his already laid down faith. Just as concrete laid, in time, grows to profound strength, so too Luke’s Gospel will take the faith already laid and harden it into a firm foundation in our souls.

An Orderly Account

One need not “check his brain at the door” of Luke’s Gospel account. Luke was man of immense intellect, an historian, and a passionate pursuer of Truth. This becomes clear as one opens up and explores his introduction; even the manner in which it was written. His usage of the Greek language of his day, his balance in the structure of his writing, and his word choice all demonstrate that Luke intended to provide for his reader a record worthy of trust, both theologically and historically. The doctor was concerned greatly with sharing Christ with orderliness, multiple eye-witness testimonies, and even his personal witness so that Theophilus could be sure of what he had been taught. And in God’s providence, the gentile author providing this account to a gentile audience has left us, a greater gentile audience, with a repository of Truth solidifying our faith, factually, historically, and theologically. Praise God!

Certainty of Our Faith

Theophilus had been taught the Gospel, had believed the Gospel, and now was being given a thorough, written account of the Gospel that his faith might be firmly rooted, concreted, having certainty that what he had believed was legitimate, solid, and trustworthy. Luke’s Gospel account contained several “proofs” that would bring Theophilus, and consequently us, this certainty of faith: Proof from Prophecy, Proof from Miracles, and Proof from Growth.

Proof from Prophecy

When taking Luke/Acts as a continuous unit, as Luke intended, one theologian counted 47 references & allusions to how the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled the O.T. Scriptures. Imagine what 47 pieces of written evidence, backed up by eye-witness testimonies, in a courtroom would render; certainly, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What a comfort to know that the God who said “this” would happen also made it happen and left us the proof of his happenings!

Proof from Miracles

For Luke, the proof was in the pudding. In Acts 2:22, Luke records that God confirmed Jesus identity by the “mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst…” The miracles that the people remembered seeing Jesus do was God’s proof that Christ’s message was legitimate. This was Jesus claim as well in Luke 7:18-22 when He confirmed that he was the long-promised and awaited Messiah and the proof of His identity was in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead living, and the poor receiving the good news, all by His divine hand; and this, too, was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. The miracles of Christ were proof that the message of Christ was authentic!

Proof from Growth

Even a casual stroll through Luke’s account of the early church, Acts, radiates certainty as the masses were coming to faith in Christ they could not see. At first there were only 120, and then 3000, with more being added daily, and then 5000, followed by rapid expansion of the Word of God regionally (Judea, Galilee, & Samaria) that caused massive spiritual growth across geographical boundaries to such that they could no longer be numbered (Acts 2-12). Finally, as if to place an exclamation point, the missionary journeys of Paul, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, caused explosive multi-continental growth of Christianity fulfilling the prophetic word given by Gamiliel in Acts 5:33-39 “…if [the Gospel of Jesus Christ] is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The Gospel of Luke is sure faith-builder. It was written as such and intended to be just that for Theophilus and continues to stand as such today! May God increase our faith as we joyfully feast upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)…even the introductions.

Not in Vain

In God’s grace, I have been blessed recently to witness the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power in the lives of some men, as well as His supernatural sanctifying power in the lives of men I’ve known for a long time. God, truly, is good!

But with this new life in Christ and this new growth in Christ there have been some steep costs. God never calls us to Christ to leave us as we are but He calls us to salvation, by grace, through faith, and then works in us repentance. Faith & repentance always carries a cost with it.

The cost is always high and the change is always dramatic. When ones eyes are opened to sin and righteousness and when the heart is given new life, we cannot but change and change is costly: relationships, employment, leisure, entertainment, interaction with family, indeed, every facet of life.

The Twelve knew this very well. They left their homes, traveled with this preaching miracle worker and it cost them deeply. They were essentially homeless, separated from family, unemployed with no prospect or thought of returning, living entirely off of God’s provision through other people’s generosity. Their cost was high, but the promise of reward was even higher. Surely, the cost of following Christ weighed heavily upon them at times and undoubtedly they wrestled with, “Can I endure? Is it worth it?” In one of those moments God, in His mercy, gives us this account from Peter as He sought the soothing balm of assurance that the road he was traveling was not in vain.

“Peter said, ‘See, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life'” (Luke 18:28-30).

Some of you have left your homes to follow Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have lost your spouses when you followed Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have left behind your extended family to love, serve, and pursue the advancement of the kingdom of God with reckless abandon; this was not in vain!

The road is not always smooth but be encouraged, dear Christian, you will receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life, because God called you to this life. And He’s not called you to walk it alone. Even though you walk through dark valley’s, because of His presence you don’t have to fear. Even though the cost is high, the rewards are higher, in this life and in the age to come!

Rest in His assurance, Christian. And what a rest He is!

Book Review: Augustine on the Christian Life

Continuing through our book review series we come to the next in the On the Christian Life Series put out by Crossway; Augustine. This edition is written by Gerald Bray a research professor at Beeson University who specializes in historical and theological studies. He spends a great deal of time working through Augustine’s life and theology attempting to connect us from the present backwards into an age and culture that is far removed from our present state. In this regard Bray sets the book up to first see Augustine; the Roman and from his Latin roots and citizenship in a dying Roman world allows us to better appreciate how he approaches the Christian faith. The results are mixed at times but overall eye opening. So let’s take some time and dive in to this text a little bit.

Augustine’s Life and World

Bray begins his work by laying the foundation of who Augustine was and how the culture around him shaped him. He explores the roots of Augustine classic text: Confessions. From here he is able to piece together the roots of Augustine’s history in the close 4th century North Africa and his many adventures searching for truth as a young adult. Bray doesn’t sugar coat Augustine’s history, but rather uses it to show how we are shaped by our past experiences when we come to Faith. Augustine’s past forays into random cults and philosophies greatly shaped his desire to write against such teachings and encourage those who he wrongly lead into those practices to abandon them for the truth of scripture and the hope of Christ. He reminds us in many ways not to forget who we were before Christ but that each of our past failures and journeys in sin is now an open door for us to clearly speak back through to those who are still there and by the grace of God show them the truth of God’s redemption.

Augustine as Person

Here is where Bray spends the majority of the book breaking Augustine down into three roles: believer, teacher, pastor. From each role Bray discusses the ways in which Augustine was influenced by the truth of scripture and as he grew in the knowledge of the Lord lived it out and encouraged others to do so as well. There were times throughout this section where things can seem repetitive as Bray will often bring back the same arguments and events from Augustine’s life to highlight new aspects of how he approached theology or family. This, however, is only a minor flaw and one that can be overcome as you see him put together a fuller picture of how these different aspects of Augustine’s life can fit together to help form a complete person, especially, in a day and age that we don’t completely comprehend.

One example of this comes in his continued reference to Augustine and his mistress. For many in our modern world we would have seen a clear solution to this problem in them getting married, since all evidence points to the fact that he had an overwhelming love for her. However, in their day and age this was out of the questions due to their different places in society, and as such we see Augustine throughout the text apply scripture to his situation and in the end choose a celibate life and ministry over the prospect of marriage to another. Now he does not make this a rule for anyone going into ministry as he will clearly articulate that many of his peers did get married. He will though repeatedly show how, in his life, the celibate life gave him more time to dedicate to the word of God and to the ministry of the Word. As such we are blessed to have a vast collection of his writings and a firm foundation on how he thought about life and godliness.

Thanks to his amazing collection of works Bray helps us to see some of the finer points of Augustine life and how they affect our own modern life. This is especially evident in his section on the preached Word.  Augustine preached sermons ranging in time from 20 minutes to over two hours at one point, continually pointing his listeners to hear the Word of the Lord and be transformed by it. He was a master at rhetoric a classic art form that is very rarely appreciated in today’s world, but one that was essential to preaching in the 5th century. His preaching was strictly biblical and meant to persuade his hears to trust in Christ. Bray stands out in this section as he makes Augustine’s art of preaching come alive and convicts us of our modern reliance on gimmicks rather than persuasion by the Words of God.

Conclusion

While not exhaustive of Augustine’s work, Bray does help to synthesize the importance of what Augustine can teach a modern audience on how best to live out the Christian life, and that ultimately this is found in obedience to scripture. Again, I commend Bray for not running away from Augustine’s faults, but rather helping to frame him as a man of his era, faults and all. This helps us in our own modern world to realize that we are not perfect nor were the great fathers who came before us, there is always room for us to grow and expand our understanding of the word of God, especially as we are challenged by outside forces to make a defense for it. With that in mind I believe this is another solid book in the On the Christian Life collection and one worth the read if you have the time to spare, especially if you are in pastoral ministry.