The Table in Exile….

There has been a lot of talk over the last month about what makes a church. How do we define its actions and, most importantly, how are we supposed to act in this season of separation? The reality is, at this moment, we are not assembling. We are not physically gathering together, hearing the voices of our church family raised in song, passing the elements, hugging one another, or sharing life together. In the absence of our normal routines, it is understandable that we would begin to make compromises as an attempt to find what normalcy we can. However, I hope this post will encourage you to use this season as a time to allow your heart to feel the weight of that longing and grow your desire for the communion of saints without compromising the integrity of the things we hold dear. Specifically, I want to address the theology of the Lord’s Table, in absence of the gathered body.

“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.”

1 Cor. 11:33-34

One of the questions we have been asked is, “Why are we not doing a virtual communion during this season?” It’s a good question, and we acknowledge there are other church bodies who have been observing the Lord’s Table virtually, but we do not feel this is the most biblically accurate representation or purpose of the Table. Paul gives a hearty admonition to the Corinthian church to be prudent in how they come to the Table. It is not a trivial matter, but one that requires humility, reflection, and community. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul was clear that the Table should be a communal activity of the church. In chapter 11, he rebukes those who are seeking only to serve themselves through the Table at the exclusion of the rest of the church. They are not exercising proper judgement towards one another. Also, as we see in the text, there is far more at work than a simple meal. For he openly encourages them to eat at home if in need of food, then come to the Table to be with your family. For the Table is much more than food, it is a meal with the family of God, in communion with Christ, lived out in humility and forgiveness, expecting and practicing for the great wedding feast of the Lamb.

However, these are not the only things we can glean from Christ’s institution of the Table and Paul’s admonition. We also see that the fencing and admonition given at the Table have no bearing if we freely partake in our homes, as we are not engaged with other believers calling us to repentance or forgiveness. Christ gave the church the command to practice this together as we await His return, where we will eat it with Him in Paradise. It is in this waiting that we truly see the need to be assembled together at the Table. The Table reminds us of the price paid for our sins, the Savior who paid it, and that we are not alone in this salvation. When we come to the Table, we are not alone; we are together as God’s people, living in anticipation of the feast to come.

So, as we yearn for the great day of the Lord and the feast we will experience as His bride, so too in this season we wait and yearn for the feast we share together. Therefore, our hearts should reflect to a degree what Israel felt in exile: a yearning to return home, a desire to experience the wonder of the temple again, and sadness over what has been lost. Oh how sweet it will be when all is returned, when we feast again with our church family, when we hear the voice of our neighbors sing songs of victory in the midst of sadness, when we see the wonder of baptism and new life spring from the ashes of death, when we marvel at God’s work day by day around us.

May our weeping be turned to singing on the day we gather together once more at the table.

Selah: Points to Ponder in a Pandemic

Selah. Its a word that shows up 74 times in our Bibles. 71 of those are in the book of Psalms and 3 are found in the book of Habakkuk. The word was most likely a musical term and reveals to us that the psalms were indeed written down for the congregation of Israel to sing the words. Most Christians throughout history have said it refers to a pause in the music. Perhaps a call for silence from those singing. This pause is a call for people to reflect on the words just spoken. Each of our lives in one way or another have been put on pause during this season of the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore I think it would be a good use of our time to pause and reflect on God’s Word. The following are a selected number of phrases from the Psalms followed by the word Selah which contain weighty truths for us to consider in this uncertain season.

1. “Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah.” (3:8)

How easily we forget our complete dependence on God. When doctors are looking for a vaccine and businesses are looking to government aide and families are looking to stimulus checks, may God’s people look to Him for their salvation.

2. “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah.” (32:7. See also 85:2)

David may have been on the run from murderous king Saul, but he knew he was safe in God. He gives us a glorious picture of God shouting as a warrior who has just conquered his greatest foe. Indeed He has conquered Satan, sin, and death for the believer by means of the cross. Jesus is a true hiding place for us. Corrie Ten Boom knew this. When she could no longer hide from the Nazis, she was hidden in God. May we remember as God’s children that we are, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). We can be no safer! 

3. “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah.” (39:5. See also 9:16, 20; 89:48)

A handbreadth is the four fingers in your hand minus the thumb. It was one of the smallest units of measurement in Bible times. This pandemic should give us pause to reflect on our own mortality. Sickness and death have this positive effect on prideful humans and may we learn to use our moments for God’s glory. Instead of binging Netflix episodes or wasting time pursuing sinful pleasures, let us remember how frail we are.

4. “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.” (46:7, 11. see also 62:8)

Life in this stay-at-home, self-quarenteening season can stir up loneliness, especially for the single. But here is a glorious promise from our faithful God who calls us “friend” (James 2:23; John 15:14-15). It can be argued that God dwelling with man again is the point of the entire biblical narrative. Let us not forget that our Immanuel has come and now we abide in Him and He in us. He is a fortress for us, protecting us and preserving us.

5. “[He] rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations— let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah” (66:7)

Pandemics shouldn’t make believers panic. We must remember when all seems out of control, every tiny droplet of this virus is in God’s sovereign control, being guided according to His predetermined and perfect will for our good and His glory. As R.C. Sproul once said, “there is no such thing as a maverick molecule.” This is not a time for Christians to blush over, but to boast in God’s sovereignty. May we display the humility and submission to an invisible Sovereign even as the “rebellious” exalt themselves.

6. “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah” (67:4)

Be glad and sing for joy in a pandemic? Yes. As Paul has said, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Why? Because our God judges and guides the nations with equity. Right now, through this pandemic, God is accomplishing His worldwide purposes and believers from every nation will eternally praise Him for it one day. 

7. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah” (68:19)

May we remember that each day of this pandemic, Christ, “upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). He bears you up each day and is your true source of salvation. 

8. “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah” (75:3)

The earth is tottering from COVID-19. Riots in the streets, businesses crumbling, unemployment rising, economy failing. But in the midst of it all, there is God. He is like Atlas under the world, bearing us up.  If our faith is in Him, we are eternally and gloriously secure.

9. “You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah” (85:2)

Take this time to reflect on the sheer wonder of God forgiving all your sins…and at the cost of His Son’s precious blood! Every one of them. Forgiven. Cast into the bottomless sea (Mic. 7:19). Thrown behind His back (Is. 38:17). Forgotten forever (Is. 43:25). As far as the East from the West (Ps. 103:12). Borne away by our precious Redeemer (1 Pet. 2:24).

10. “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah” (89:48)

This question from the psalmist is rhetorical. The answer is obvious: no one. The wise Solomon has written, “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death” (Ecc. 8:8). Sober way to end, but a good reminder for us all. Since Jesus tasted death for us on the cross, we need not fear the grave (Heb. 2:9, 14). Take precautions and obey the governing authorities, but do not attempt to run from the day appointed for all of us. Embrace that your good and all-wise God knows the end for your earthly life and will sustain you until He calls you to Himself. 

May you spend time to pause and reflect on these and many more of God’s precious promises in His Word. And may the Lord give us all a deeper gratefulness and trust in His good hand of providence in our current season. Selah.

 

Longing Leads to Hope

COVID-19 is everywhere. Whether it’s in the news, on your news feed, through the Twitter-sphere, in your community or maybe even in your home, we just cannot escape COVID-19. It has even infiltrated the gathering of the Church. To be honest, I’m exhausted with it.

I praise God that I have not had to deal with it firsthand, as I know many have, but to see that there is yet “no end in sight” is rather disheartening. It has, however, created a longing in my heart that has proven to be unquenchable. I long to be with the Body of Christ like never before. Surely, I have taken for granted the freedom and ability to gather for worship and fellowship. But, I believe this longing is pointing me, and prayerfully you, to an even greater longing that will not be quenched until the Second Coming of Christ.

Romans 5:1-5 says that we not only “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…but we rejoice in our sufferings.” Not having the freedom and ability to gather for worhsip may not be persecution but it has unquestionably led to a level of suffering that I have never encountered as I have never been restrained from the Ordinary Means of Grace.

What is the Christian’s (therefore my) response? Rejoice.

Romans 5 continues, “rejoice…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

Endurance

Suffering is producing an endurance in me that leads me to recognize that I must go on because I am not in control of, well really, much of anything. I must accept and embrace that which God has brought to us/me while praising and trusting Him through it; even when I don’t understand.

Character

Endurance is producing character in me that leads me to trust the Lord no matter what comes; which is growing me in faith. The Holy Spirit reveals to us in Romans 5 that our faith-filled endurance and trust, produced through trials and suffering, make us “battle-hardened soldiers of faith.” One Greek-English lexicon records “character” in this manner: “the experience of going through a test with special reference to the result, standing a test, character…as a process of enduring something amounts to a test that promotes and validates the character of the one undergoing it.”[1] In essence, God uses our suffering to mold us and shape us into the image of our Savior (Romans 8:29). And in that, I can rejoice!

Hope

Character is producing hope in me that makes me long for the One upon whom I wait. I love how Paul Tripp defines hope in his book ‘The War of Words’: “Hope for the believer is not a dream of what could be, but a confident expectation of a  guaranteed result that shapes his life.” Read those words again and think through them“Hope is…a confident expectation of a guaranteed result that shapes his life.” Ultimately, this hope that Paul writes of in Romans 5 is the believer’s justification and I, indeed, rest in that Hope. But, I think I can find some application for today too.

My “suffering”, if you’ll allow me to call it that, in longing to be reunited with the Body of Christ is teaching me about where my hope, ultimately, needs to be redirected. The Body of Christ is a sweet grace of God in which His people are fed, nourished, cherished, and grow but it pales in comparison to Who awaits those same believers; namely, Jesus Christ! I do long to gather for worship and I often wonder and pray how much longer I am willing to not do so, but something greater than the Body awaits those in Christ, our Head Himself. How much sweeter will worship be when it is face-to-face before the Lamb upon His throne? This is my ultimate Hope: The sweet, rich, glorious, unfathomable gathering of God’s elect free from the presence of sin, engulfed in the unending, never-fading, incomprehensible glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!

This Hope, the hope that does not disappoint or put us to shame (Rom. 5:5), in the Second Coming of Jesus is, for the believer, a confident expectation of a guarunteed result that shapes his life (thank you Rev. Tripp). I’ve hedged my bets, reordered my life, surrendered my passions, my desires, my thoughts, words, and actions to the promise of the forgiveness of sins & salvation by faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection & Christ’s Second Coming where He will not “deal with sin but [will] save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28).

Eagerly, I stand with the Apostle John when he wrote, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20); fill the longing of my soul!

 

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 256). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

He Could Not Save Himself

This sermon, “He Cannot Save Himself,” was preached on Good Friday, April 14, 2017 by Matt Bedzyk

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (Mark 15:29-32)

Jesus has been arrested, put on trial, brought before Pilate, Herod, then Pilate again. He has been beaten, spit upon, mocked, whipped, crowned with thorns, and now is nailed to a cross to die.

The story is a familiar one to most of us, and to most of the world at large. However, tonight I want to look at one particular event that took place during the crucifixion of Jesus. Here, we are given a clear picture of what the world demands of Jesus, the terrible cost of their demands, and ultimately a better understanding of the faithful work of Christ.

The Demands of this World

In this passage we have three groups of people reacting to the crucifixion of Christ: those passing by deride him; the religious elite mock him; and the two criminals insult him.

First, those who were passing by and saw Jesus hanging on the cross used the opportunity to ridicule and blaspheme him. “If you’re so powerful that you’d be able to destroy the entire temple and rebuild it in three days, prove it to us now by coming down from the cross!”

John’s gospel tells us that Jesus, having been asked for a sign, said: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” speaking of his death and resurrection, the temple of his body (Jn. 2:18-22). But here, as well as at his trial, his words were being twisted. The crowds had come to believe that Jesus was going to destroy their temple, which fueled their hatred of him. So, in hardened unbelief and hatred towards Jesus, they mock him and call for him to come down in order that he may get to work destroying their temple. “Save yourself, if you can!” (cf. Ps 22:7-8)

Second, the religious elite, the teachers of the law, those of all people who should have been first to recognize the Messiah and champion Jesus’ life and ministry, here mock him amongst themselves: “He saved others, but look—he can’t even save himself!”

Notice how they even admit here that Jesus did perform miracles, heal, and save many. They witnessed his ministry for three years yet still rejected him and his claims. Adding to the ridicule of the crowds passing by, they mock him further: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down that we may see and believe. You claimed to be the Christ, so now just prove it by saving yourself; come down from the cross, and we will see and believe!” Fully convinced that Jesus was simply a Messianic pretender, a false prophet, a failed revolutionary, they mock his inability to save himself. They know he’s done for, that he’s doomed to die a slow, painful death, so they ridicule and mock him with sarcasm.

And third, adding insult to injury, even the criminals begin to insult and curse him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Then prove it by saving yourself and us! The Messiah is supposed to be a national hero, a conquering king; if you’re really the promised Christ, then prove it!”

Each of these responses are essentially the exact same: In their minds, the real Messiah was coming to liberate Israel from her Roman occupiers and see the nation reestablished as God’s glorious people. He was coming as a king to conquer his enemies! Besides, he wouldn’t have confronted and called out the Pharisees, chief priests, and teachers of the Law; he would have applauded them! If Jesus was truly the Messiah, then he wouldn’t be here stripped, helpless, beaten, scourged, bleeding, and nailed to a cross, cursed and forsaken by God. But here was this so-called Christ, the Son of God, being crucified like a common criminal, dying as any blasphemer should. So, in their mockery, they call for him to come down, knowing that this carpenter’s son, this troublemaker from Nazareth, was unable to do so and was obviously a Messianic imposter.

Did you notice the words of the religious crowd: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe”? Even though they were completely insincere, it’s important to understand that even if Jesus did exactly what they wanted, they still wouldn’t see and believe! Why? Because they were blind; they had suppressed the truth. The religious Jews were always asking for signs, and though Jesus was working miracles in their midst, they still would find problems and bring other accusations against him; Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the Jews went and made plans to kill him!

Remember the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus? In hell, the Rich Man tells Abraham to have Lazarus go and warn his brothers. But he replied: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Even after Jesus rose from the dead, and he gave the “evil and adulterous generation” a sign they were looking for, they still didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

Aren’t these demands similar to the demands of the world today? The unbelieving world says: “If your God was really God, then he wouldn’t have let such and such happen.” Or, “Your God is a God of hate; my God is a God of love and acceptance.” Or, “I would believe in Jesus if I just had some more proof; if he would just give me a sign.” Yet when confronted with powerful evidence, logical arguments, the very created world around them, or when it seems as if their prayers are answered, they don’t believe in God but just find more excuses not to believe! They’ll hear of Jesus life and death and say “No thanks.”

Ultimately, what the world wants is a god made in their image; one that suits them, their beliefs, and their desires. When the world hears the gospel, when unbelievers are confronted with Jesus, they suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness. They don’t want to be told that they are selfish, proud, evil sinners. They don’t want to submit to the Lordship of Christ and fall on their knees in obedience to God; we want to be our own gods! They don’t want to listen and submit to what he says; they want Jesus to do what they want.

So we have Jesus crucified, being blasphemed, mocked, and insulted, with the chief priests and teachers of the law saying to one another, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.” But church, could Christ have come down from the cross and saved himself? Of course he could have! He could have put an end to it all in the garden! “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). He truly was the Son of God, who walked on water and raised the dead to life—he could have miraculously come down from the cross, putting an end to their mockery. Besides, he was sinless! He was the one human being born in the entire history of the world who was totally undeserving of death, since he lived a life of perfect obedience to the demands of the Law of God. He shouldn’t be subjected to death, let alone a shameful death by crucifixion!

In fact, wouldn’t it be extremely satisfying if Jesus did come down?! After reading of how beautiful, tender, compassionate, powerful, loving, and awesome Jesus was to a broken humanity, and then to see how he was being treated here—being rejected, beaten, humiliated, crucified, and now ruthlessly mocked—wouldn’t it just be so satisfying to see Jesus actually come down from the cross and just destroy all his enemies? To hear Jesus say, “You want me to prove my power? You want me to prove I’m God?! Then so be it!”  (e.g. Count of Monte Cristo)

Church, he could have and they would have been totally deserving of his just wrath. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t save himself. He doesn’t give in to their demands. He instead chooses to remain nailed to that cross—bleeding, gasping, broken, crushed, and dying.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Why? Why does he stay there? Why doesn’t the sinless Son of God come down and judge his enemies? Why doesn’t he give into the demands of the world? Because they come with a cost…

The Cost of Their Demands

These people were calling for him to prove his Messiahship, his claims of deity, by saving himself; if he would just come down, then they’d know and believe that he was truly the Christ, God’s promised anointed one, the rescuer of Israel. But what these men failed to understand was that if Jesus was to come down from the cross, he would have proven himself to not be the Messiah, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10) and “give his life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).

The crowds wanted him to prove to be the Son of Man by ceasing to be the Son of Man! He had clothed himself with human flesh, and came into the world, so that, by his sacrificial death, he might reconcile men to God the Father. So, in order for him to prove himself to be the Son of Man, it was necessary that he should hang upon the cross. If he had come down, he would have failed to fully obey the command of his Father, and having failed to make atonement for the sins of his people, he would have deprived himself of the office assigned to him by his Father (cf. Jn 10:17-18).

Because of this, their demands would come at an even great and more devastating cost: If Jesus came down from the cross, we would have no forgiveness for sin. Scripture is clear: the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). Even under the law, animal sacrifices in and of themselves were insufficient, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins(Heb. 10:4). No animal can atone for man’s sin. Only man can atone for man’s sin.

Jesus came that he might be the atoning sacrifice for sin, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. God sent his Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins. As Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, he came to be crushed under the wrath of God, to bear our iniquities, to pour out his soul to death, to be counted among sinners and intercede for them. If Jesus had come down from the cross and saved himself from death, he would have failed to carry out his divine mission of redemption.

If Jesus came down from the cross, we would still be under the curse and Law, enslaved to sin, held by the power of death, and separated from God, deserving wrath for our sin against him.

But it gets worse. If Jesus came down from the cross, God would have proven to be unrighteous! Romans 3:25 says that Christ’s death was to demonstrate God’s righteousness, to demonstrate God’s moral excellencies and perfect justice. How? Because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. All of the many times forgiveness was extended to Israel in the OT was not because of their sacrifices but because of God’s ultimate provision of Christ, his Son.

If Jesus had come down and not died on the cross that day, under the divine judgment of God for the sins man, then God’s holiness and righteousness would have been compromised. All sin that God had mercifully passed over in anticipation of his Son’s sacrificial death would not have been fully and finally atoned for! God would be guilty of excusing sin—cosmic injustice!

And if Jesus came down from the cross, God would have also proven himself to be a liar. All his promises made to his people throughout the ages—from the very beginning in Genesis 3:15 where the Seed of Woman was promised to one day crush the serpent’s head—would have fallen through.

Church, do not miss what’s really going on in this passage here: these demands given to Jesus to come down from the cross are ultimately Satan’s last ditch effort to tempt Jesus into abandoning his God-given mission of redemption. This was Satan’s attempt to destroy our hope for forgiveness, to keep humanity enslaved to sin and death, to prove God to be an unrighteous liar, to steal his glory. Just as Satan had tempted Jesus in the wilderness to abandon his mission as the Son of God, here—when Jesus is at his weakest, experiencing the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering of his crucifixion—Satan entices him to end it all. But Jesus refuses to give in.

Though he was certainly powerful enough to come down from the cross, Jesus refuses to give in to the demands of the world and the temptations of Satan. He had come to die.

He Cannot Save Himself

But do you see what this means? While it is true that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, the God-Man, was in some sense capable of saving himself, in a very real and profound sense he could not save himself. In an ironic twist, the words of the Pharisees were actually true— it was precisely because he came to save others that he could not save himself!

Jesus came into this world to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10); he came to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8); he came to be made sin, who himself knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God ((2 Cor. 5:21); he came to be the propitiation for our sins by his blood (Rom 3:25). Isaiah tells us that “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5)

“To descend from the cross was not indeed a physical impossibility, but it was a moral and spiritual impossibility for the Messiah. If he did so, he would cease to be God’s Christ, treading God’s path of Messiahship; instead, he would become a mere human Christ, and such a Christ could never save the world. The only path by which to save others was to refuse to save himself” (Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC, 325).

Scripture is abundantly clear that it was necessary, and even predetermined before the foundation of the world that God, in Jesus, would die for sinners (cf. Mk. 8:31; Lk. 24:26-27; Acts 2:22-23; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Rev 13:8).

He Did Not Save Himself so He Could Save You

“He saved others; he cannot save himself.” As we cast our minds this evening to Calvary, and behold our Savior—suffering, bleeding, gasping, and dying on the tree—we see the eternal, steadfast, covenant love of God on glorious display. The cross is the greatest proof of the love of God. (1 Jn 4:9-10)

It is on the cross that we behold the justice of God as the sins of man are punished and crushed under the weight of his burning wrath. Yet it is there on the cross that we also behold the mercy of God, that he would provide a substitute for all who would believe upon him in faith.

If you do not know this Christ, you must understand that you need a Savior! You need someone who can take the punishment that you rightfully deserve for your sins against God, and you need someone who can cleanse you and make you righteous before God. The good news is that by believing in the person and work of Christ, you can be saved. You can be forgiven and counted righteous. Don’t trust in your efforts or your good deeds, but confess your sinfulness before God and place your faith in the finished work of Christ. Don’t call for Jesus to come down from the cross, making yourself to be god; believe in God and the One whom he has sent.

Christian, it is only by beholding the glory of Christ that we are transformed into his same image. This glory, the beauty and majesty of Christ, is most clearly seen in the gospel of grace. It is only by believing, understanding, and remembering the gospel that you will find the ability to serve God with joy, obey him with gladness, share in his sufferings, and hold fast to our confession of faith (Gal. 2:20)

Longing for the Rhythm

Like most (if not all) of you, the past few weeks are days which I will never forget. COVID-19 will be regarded as one of those events in history that will change what is considered “normal” going forward. Human beings are creatures of habit and most people do not like their schedules being turned upside down. However, this pandemic serves as a stark reminder of how quickly “normal” can be uprooted. As a pastor, the inability to gather corporately with my church family on Sunday grieves me. As much as I am longing for the return back to normalcy, I am thankful for the Lord teaching me anew of why He instituted a rhythm for the people of God when it comes to corporate worship and life.

At times, we can resent the rhythm that the Lord mandates and governs when it comes to church. In pastoral ministry, Sundays are a long day for me that include two sermons, answering questions, fellowship, counseling, and other activities. Sundays require a lot of energy and focus. The burdens of our flocks are our burdens as well as our own personal burdens that we carry. It can seem overwhelming at times! For all of that though, the rhythm of the Lord’s Day is a gift to us. Often, we think that we know better than the Lord. These are days for us to learn anew that the Lord indeed knows what He is doing.

The imperative of Hebrews 10:25 concerning the forsaking of the assembly feels more meaningful during these days when we cannot assemble. The Lord knows what He is doing in commanding us to gather with brothers and sisters. Christians need the communion of the saints. The local church serves as many things: refuge, family, protection, and correction. We thank God for the technology that allows us to “virtually” connect but it does nothing to substitute for hearing and seeing one another on the Lord’s Day. Those words of Paul repeated in 1 Corinthians 11 about “when the church comes together” carry more significance. The sacraments were not given to be celebrated individually but corporately. We dare not substitute anything else for the rhythm Christ gave to His church.

Are you longing for the rhythm again? We can despise the rhythm at times and wonder if it is not a little old-fashioned, puritanical, and demanding or even a bit monotonous. The Lord knows what He is doing and He is teaching us just how much we need the rhythm. There is a reason the Lord instituted one day in seven to be consecrated for physical rest, corporate worship, and spiritual refreshment. Perhaps, before we go about criticizing the Puritans for their excessiveness regarding the observance of the Sabbath, we will cherish more deeply the gift Sunday truly is. Hopefully, a renewed understanding of simple worship regulated by the Scriptures will come forth out of this. The people of God do not need “pizazz” and “pop” when it comes to worship. The saints need the ordinary means of grace publicly ministered to them by their pastors and made effectual in their hearts by the Spirit.

I am a pastor who subscribes to the Second London Confession and am more of an ordinary means of grace Sabbatarian than most pastors in my area. However, I confess that my heart did not cherish the rhythm as I should have. In the course of this pandemic and time of quarantine, a dear sister in our church reminded me of how I would speak about the possibility of us one day losing the ability to gather on Sundays as we did normally. I challenged the congregation to think about how they would respond to such a situation. Well, in God’s providence, we are experiencing such days. None of us except the Sovereign King know when this season will end. One thing is for sure: we need a return to and embrace of the rhythm given to us by Christ.

Rejoicing in the Lord

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

It’s easy to become anxious more and more each day as the news reminds us of the uncertainty of the times we are now living in, and yet this is hardly the first time the world has encountered such epidemics. The Spanish Flu in the early 1900’s reeked havoc across the world, and throughout the middle ages viruses would flourish and destroy many lives. I certainly don’t want this to sound callous or unfeeling, because that’s hardly the case. However, the reality of this not being a new endeavor reminds us that, as the book of Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun. The Lord is the Sovereign one over all that happens around us including the plagues that seem to tear the world apart. Because of this there lies within those who believe a deep sense of peace in these uncertain times.

Looking at Paul’s admonition to the Philippians we are struck by the fact that in that moment Paul was in jail for Christ, there was no evidence he would be freed and a chance he would lose his life. His times were far from certain but his hope in Christ was unwavering, and because of that security he could pray. Paul here is very clear on the hope found in Christ in uncertain times. These closing words to the book should bring us a sense of peace in our current day.

Let’s stop and reflect on Paul’s encouragement.

Rejoice over Worry

Paul’s thoughts here begin with a good reminder that no matter the situation there is room to rejoice for those who are in Christ Jesus. Think about all that we have in this moment, especially compared to many around us. We face a massive hurdle ahead, yet we have homes, food, running water, technology that allows me to write this today, and even the ability to see and pray with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The Lord has blessed us in many ways. Also think of how much time we have to slow down and reflect on the goodness of God, to see His mercies even in suffering. We learn that life is a vapor, but the hope of Christ is eternal, in that there is much to rejoice in. There is also a reminder that we are to take each day as the Lord has granted it to us. We should rejoice with each breath He has given to us because our days are not guaranteed and as we see now are a very high commodity. We can’t control the outcome, but we can control how we face it. So let us face uncertainty with rejoicing in our God.

Prayer over Self

Not only are we called to rejoice and give thanks we are called to pray. This is a key aspect of our need to rejoice in the face of uncertainty: the Lord is at hand. As the old hymn use to say: “I can face uncertain days, because I know my savior lives.” Here is the hope of our prayers, the Lord lives and hears us. He is the one who controls the future. He is the one who has ordained our days. He is the very real help in the midst of peril, and He is the source of our peace. This doesn’t mean we are foolish in how we live, but we live in wisdom (following good health and safety habits) and thankfulness trusting in the Lord. Here we are being encouraged to turn to the One who gives true peace; peace that is not fleeting and far more secure. All the more we should continue to pray for the Lord grace and mercy to those serving the broken and sick in this season. Those who by God’s providence are putting themselves in danger to help those around us.

Good over Evil

Paul concludes with a reminder of the things that we should set our attention on. For here, Paul’s calls us to look at the good things the Lord is doing and has done. We are not to get distracted and fearful, we are to be focused and thankful. Our focus is on the good work of the Lord in the midst of chaos, the certainty of His kingdom in the midst of upheaval, the hope of a future in the midst of our anxious tomorrow.

Let us look to the good things and trust the Lord through the evil. Let us pray with fervent hearts to the one who hears us, and through it all let us be people who rejoice and sing for our hope is unfailing.

Come, Let us Sing the 46th!

With COVID-19 running around the globe these days we can easily find ourselves growing anxious and unsettled. We therefore have a great need to be settled in heart. How can we ground ourselves again amid such a time? We sing the 46th (!) and remember and return to what is true, that our God is a Mighty Fortress! Below is a sermon I preached last year on Psalm 46, it is fit for such a time as this. Listen in, be encouraged, and read below about how we can gain the confidence to sing the 46th!

How do we bring this Psalm home to us today?

Having already seen the Psalm in its meaning to the original audience, we now must see the fullest and richest meaning the text allows us to bring forth.[1] Twice this Psalm calls us to pause and consider one grand reality. In v7 and v11 we read, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” As encouraging as the Lord’s very presence was to His people of old, how much more encouraging is it to us who have seen and welcomed by faith Immanuel, God with us, the Lord Jesus Christ. His presence with us His Church is the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 46. It is Christ, who calms the chaos of all threats that come to us His people. As His disciples were terrified, with just a word He calmed the stormy sea. As He was being arrested in the garden, with just a word He knocked down 200 Roman soldiers. And then He, the very Word of God, took our place, bore our curse, and allowed Himself to descend into chaos in His death on the cross. But He didn’t stay dead, He rose (!) and decisively defeated the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Now we today, are attacked on all sides by the spiritual powers of darkness in this present world. And as our enemies come and make their threats, we often tremble and shake and fear. What is the ruling and reigning Christ doing as His bride is attacked? He sits in the heavens and laughs at the demons who mock our redemption, as though the besetting sins we struggle so hard with could really lessen His commitment to see our salvation through.[2]

In Christ we have a mighty fortress and for this reason we must “Be still…” As fierce as the threat may be, as chaotic as it may become, we’re to be still, knowing that Christ is God, and trust that however dark the situation looks, however severe the threat may be…what? That Christ will be exalted in us and in all the earth! Or to say it another way: the certainty of knowing that Christ will, however bleak it looks, be glorified in and over all things, is what brings our restless hearts to rest. In such triumph and stillness we ought to pause and meditate on a truth too often forgotten, a precious privilege which cannot be too often considered.[3]

“Christ is with us; Christ is our fortress. Selah”

So Church, as Luther said to Melancthon many years ago, I say to you today, “Come, let us sing the 46th, and let our enemies do their worst! The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever!”


[1] Plumer, page 524.

[2] Kidd, page 45-46.

[3] Spurgeon, page 343.

The Horse & His Boy: God is Sovereign – God is Good

It’s a good week to breath some Narnian air.

Though The Horse and His Boy is not the most well known work of Lewis’ it remain’s an astounding work of fiction that, in my opinion, applies to all people no matter what age. Shasta, the main character, has always thought of himself as an unfortunate boy, especially in light of his past events where he seemed to get left out. The scene I want to address finds Shasta as low as one can be, feeling so sorry for himself and his circumstances, that tears began rolling down his face.

What happened next put this to a direct stop.

Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly feel any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed the breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.[1]

After going through all sorts of possibilities of what this large Thing could be Shasta could not bear it any longer. He mustered up the courage to talk to It and ask It what it was. The Thing replied and told Shasta that It was not a giant or something dead, and asked Shasta to tell It his sorrows. Without noticing that the Thing had not answered the question but redirected the entire conversation, Shasta began to tell the Thing his entire pitiful life story. After detailing his unfortunate experiences the Thing turned to Shasta and said:

‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice. ‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta. ‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice. ‘What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –’ ‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘I was that lion.’ And Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.’…‘Who are you?’ Shasta asked. ‘Myself,’ said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, ‘Myself,’ loud and clear and gay: and then the third time ‘Myself,’ whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.[2]

Shasta was no longer afraid of the Voice, or the Lion walking beside him. Rather he felt a terrible gladsome trembling in Its presence. All of the sudden Shasta realized that as the Lion had been talking a light began to grow around Him, so much so that he had to blink over and over because it was almost as bright as the sun. Then he turned toward the light and saw it. There stood a Lion, walking beside him that was taller than his horse, soft and strong at the same time. He caught a glimpse of His face, and jumped out of his saddle and fell on his face before It, without saying a word. Their eyes met, and the Lion and all His glory around Him vanished leaving Shasta and his horse alone on the mountain path. A few days later, Shasta was walking on a hillside far away where all the landscape could be seen around them. Shasta noticed the path he walked on the other night where the Lion met him and was astonished to behold that the path they walked on was a cliff with jagged edges dropping far beneath on the left side. Shasta warmly thought to himself, “I was quite safe. That is why the Lion kept on my left. He was between me and the edge all the time.”[3]

Thus we see Lewis’ purpose in The Horse and His Boy.

His aim throughout the whole story with almost every character was one and the same: to expand and display the reality present in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good, to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Aslan, as you have seen, has this kind of encounter with Shasta and many other characters. All of the characters, even Bree the horse, seem to be down and out when Aslan comes to them with sovereign encouragement one by one.

This story is amazingly helpful because it teaches the reader that those awful circumstances in your own life which you think were the lowest of lows, were precisely the ones that God came to your aid, whether you were aware of Him or not, working them together for your good. And not only your good, but God worked them the best possible way to get to your best possible good. Aslan had been shaping, crafting, and carving out Shasta’s life from the very beginning, and when Shasta realized this he was infinitely humbled because such a glorious King such as Aslan was intimately involved with someone like him. The same is true for all Christian and non-Christian readers. Thus, I think this story has been, is, and will be used of God to bring many people to Himself throughout the past, present, and future simply because watching Shasta deal with real, hard life, and watching Aslan reveal Himself to Shasta gives the reader a window into God’s heart that is rarely seen in this generation.

Through life, Lewis learned one stunning truth that led his own heart to trust God like no other, namely, that God is sovereign and good. This is the helpful, not hurtful, message of The Horse and His Boy.

May you breath this Narnian air deeply amid these times.


[1] Lewis, 280.

[2] Lewis, 281.

[3] Lewis, 290.

Four Ways to Love Your Neighbor During Covid-19

Pray for Your Neighbor

– Pray that God will use this time to show believers and unbelievers alike of their frailty and of their great need for Christ (Psalm 103:14-15).
– Pray that God will open a door for you to be able share Christ with your unbelieving neighbor (Colossians 4:3-4).
– Pray for those affected physically by the virus.
– Pray for businesses and families affected financially by the virus.

Encourage Your Neighbor

– Many people are anxious and afraid amidst this pandemic. A word of encouragement will go a long way (Proverbs 12:25).
– It is easy to be short-tempered, annoyed, and unkind in times of uncertainty, but use this time to be patience with other even if they are not kind or patient with you (1 Corinthians 13:4).
– Encourage others by sharing Scripture with them (Colossians 2:2) through text, email, or social media.

Serve Your Neighbor

– Some people will experience great financial burden as a result of a layoff or lack of business due to the coronavirus. We can serve them by helping cover their rent, paying for their groceries, or assisting them in finding a new job.
– We can serve others by looking to their needs above our own by not buying and hoarding all of the supplies at the grocery store (Philippians 2:3-11).

Protect Your Neighbor

– Many of us are in good health and have no concern of falling ill. But there are others among us who are of far greater risk. We should do what we can do be courteous of these people. This might mean staying home when you want to go out. This might mean picking up items at the store for an elderly neighbor.

There are so many ways that we can encourage and honor those around us. We can be an encouragement just by making ourselves available to others. Your hope should be that your life leading up to this point has showed others that you are a person that is available to pray, encourage, serve, and protect others. Make yourself available to others as the Lord would lead you.

Certainty in Uncertain Times

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:34

There is great wisdom in the truth that for the people of God there is nothing in this world that we should fear, for we serve a loving and sovereign God who controls all things. There is nothing in this life that can separate His own from His loving hands. This is especially true today as we turn on the television or browse the internet and see a world captivated by a health crisis. One of the things we know for certain is there is nothing new under the sun, all that has been will be again. However, with that in mind there are few encouragements I would like us to remember today:

  1. God is God I am not. He is ultimately in control of what will transpire over the coming weeks and months. Our trust must be fully in Him and not ourselves. This doesn’t mean we become lazy in our day to day affairs or careless in how we act during this time, but that we know the ultimate source of our hope is not how much we can hoard, but how much we pray and trust the Lord.
  2. Love your neighbor. This is where taking care of yourself and following prescribed guidelines come in to play. Yes, most of us won’t experience the virus, and of those of us who do many will experience little to no known affects, however for a percentage of our population, the elderly and immune deficient, they may have a very different experience. As followers of Christ we should care for those in our community who are most likely to experience the worst effects of this virus and be most vigilant in our love for them. This doesn’t mean to leave them in isolation, but to be aware of what you are doing and how best to care for them in this time.
  3. Be a witness of the true hope. In the midst of the apparent chaos and uncertainty of the future the world once again reflects on their own mortality. These are wake-up call moments that as believers we should not shy away from. We have the true hope that transcends the experiences of this world. We know of the truth that there is a much greater threat that lurks inside everyone that is far deadlier than any earthly virus. We know the reality of sin and the wrath to come for those apart from Christ. We must be a light in the darkness of uncertainty, offering the true and lasting hope of Christ and the blood that covers our sins.

Through the months ahead let us love God, love our neighbor and be the light of the Gospel the world needs. Let us be examples of godliness and wisdom. Let us pursue the Lord with all vigilance. Let us not lose our heads while the world around us rages on. Christ is our victory, He is our hope, He is our sovereign Lord who watches over His sheep. Let us trust the Lord.

The Heresy of Modernity

In “The Whole Christ,” Sinclair Ferguson describes how many modern evangelical Bible teachers and commentators reject concepts like the three-fold division (or dimension) of the law (moral, civil, and ceremonial). Ferguson points out that the rejection of this concept flows forth out of a mindset that sees anything “traditional” as being too rigid, extra-biblical, out of step with the times. Citing C.S. Lewis, Ferguson notes that many students of the Bible come in at eleven o’clock without realizing that a conversation actually began at eight o’clock. Each generation faces the temptation of succumbing to “the heresy of modernity.” This “heresy” teaches that, for the most part, it is our generation that needs to be listened to and a scornful gaze is cast on those who have gone before us.

Each day brings fresh reminders of how prone believers are to being ensnared by this error. For instance, our cultural moment relishes the quick answers, pithy statements, and theological clichés to solve all of the theological issues and debates. Social media platforms, like Twitter, become the places where believers “do theology” which means that the space and time are short. Whatever a person says about an issue, the limit is 280 characters so nuance and explanation cannot be entertained. The flashy retorts and the witty responses rule the day regardless of whether any substantive really took place.

In recent days, questions and discussions regarding theonomy, the place of the law in civil society, the nature of the church and the state, and liberty of conscience are being discussed with a renewed focus. Theological discussions are a good thing. The church needs robust exchanges and study concerning biblical doctrine. However, it is apparent that too many believers fail to put in the hard work of study. It is quite easy to listen to the hottest podcast, watch the most provocative YouTube videos, and read the wittiest blogger than it is to dig into the primary sources of theology. With all due respect, there is more to learn and understand about the law and the gospel in the writings of 17th century Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists than in most of the current material being sold in the virtual marketplace.

While it is easy to claim a heritage, it is harder to actually study and know the complexities of that heritage. If one claims to be a subscriber to the 2LBCF (1689), it would behoove him to actually read Abraham Booth’s essay on the kingdom of Christ and Isaac Backus’ treaties on liberty of conscience concerning the issues that distinguish us from those who advocate for a state church. Why would such a person take their cues on the function of the law in society from one who supports a state church? Ask yourself this question: am I really shaped by the historic foundations of the faith or the cultural moment that I live?

Carl Trueman provides much wisdom, “The Christian mind is not only doctrinal; it is also marked by a certain attitude to the past. And church practice, as well as church teaching, plays an important role in the cultivation of this.”[1] So, what would describe your practice right now? Do you do theology within the context of a local church shaped and guided by the historic creeds, confessions, and catechisms that have been passed down to us? The Christian views history differently than the world for Christianity understands that all of history is written by God. Beware the heresy of modernity that ignores the Spirit working through the people of God who have gone before us. May this generation faithfully contend for the faith passed down!

[1] Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 182.

Is Robust Theology for Blue-Collar Christians?

I pastor a predominantly blue collar church. Many in my congregation don’t have a bachelor’s degree. These are the kind of people I love. I grew up in a blue collar home and loved my childhood (my dad is a carpenter and my mom is an RN). That being said, the Bible is chock-full of rich theological concepts and terminology that often require serious study. One doesn’t have to read very far into the New Testament to encounter words like propitiation, predestination, regeneration, and justification. These and many other five syllable words shouldn’t be glossed over and are central to understanding our salvation. Then you’ve also got issues like the difference between Israel and the church and the struggle between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Do blue collar Christians who work in the trades and spend their lives around common people really need this sort of robust theology? Should their pastors be more mission-driven and less doctrine-driven? Here are a few reasons why I think robust theology is indeed vital for all believers, including the blue-collar working class.

Paul was a blue collar worker himself

Oftentimes when we think of biblical texts that are doctrine-heavy, we think of Paul’s epistles. Even Peter said this of Paul’s writings: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). But we have to remember that Paul and the other New Testament authors were not theologians sitting in some ivory tower. They were blue collar workers. Paul was not just some talking head. He traveled throughout the known world preaching, planting churches, and getting persecuted. Sure Paul spent decades of his early life studying the text of Scripture in the tradition of the Pharisees, but his life was totally transformed the day Christ met him. He went from persecuting Christians to preaching their Christ. He even took up a common job that would help him carry this amazing Gospel to everyday people around the world. He worked with his hands, plying the trade of a tent maker (Acts 18:1-3). He spent much of his time gathering leather and other materials to sew and construct livable dwellings. He instructed fellow pastors like this: “I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…” (Acts 20:35). When he discovered idle church members at Thessalonica, he wrote this: “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).

Also, we all need the theology of God’s Word because…

Paul’s letters were written for blue collar church members

Some may say, “Okay so maybe Paul was a hard working man, but 21st Century, working class Christians don’t need to understand all he wrote. They just need to love Jesus and live for Him.” Such reasoning sounds logical, but it is actually very arrogant and even dangerous. If we claim that Christians don’t need to understand Paul’s writings, we’re rejecting the Bible’s authority. Why? Because 2 Timothy 3:16 informs us (also Paul’s writings) that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” God’s Word (and Paul) says that every word contained within is vital for our well-being. Most of the New Testament was written to actual churches and people, and most of them were for the blue collar type. Some argue for biblical illiteracy by saying they don’t know how to read at all, but I find this argument also has its flaws. God has revealed Himself in a book and books require the ability to read. A person who is truly born-again by God will so long to know God that if they don’t know how to read, they will get educated to do so. One godly man I know came to Christ while working on the railroad. He only had a third grade education and never even learned to read. Steve so longed to know the God who spoke in His Word that he humbled himself and had his wife teach him how to read. He told me this was so hard, but it was well worth it. His Bible is now marked up and underlined as he wakes each morning to study it.

Another reason the Bible’s rich theology is for blue collar people is that…

Theology drives mission

I recently listened to a podcast where a pastor in my home state discussed how he revitalized his church. I was intrigued until I heard his story a little more. He said this blue collar church was in serious decline and said the former pastor’s theological ministry stunted the church’s “growth.” He then went on to say that numbers are now high since he has shifted the church’s focus to reaching outsiders. His church is now very doctrine light and I wonder if his sheep will truly grow or if they’ll survive on a meager diet under him. On the one hand, I am grateful this pastor is leading his people to reach the lost, as sadly many churches do not evangelize as they ought. But it is a major mistake to say mission must take a backseat to theology. Doctrine drives worship and mission, not the other way around. Any church that isn’t doing mission well is probably confused on their theology anyway. Our understanding of man’s total depravity, for instance, will shape how we reach out to them. Passing out water bottles is great, but if faith comes by hearing, we must share Christ with them. Our understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation also directly affects our witness. If we believe our evangelistic fervor is what saves, we’ll become boastful or discouraged or even negligent when we don’t see many saved. Also our understanding of the Gospel has a huge impact on our witness. If we get the Gospel message wrong and have a man-centered gospel, we won’t truly be ambassadors for God and people won’t truly be reconciled to Him through our message. 

So may none of us shy away from the hard, but glorious truths in our Bibles. May we not boast in our ignorance. God gave us a brain and He gave us words and truths to study. He did not waste a single word and so we as God’s people, blue collar and white collar, must be diligent to study it to better know and love Him.

Bi-Vocational Ministry

I have been a bi-vocational pastor for the last decade.  When it comes to bi-vocational ministry there are many unique challenges and benefits.  Over the years I have gotten to know several godly men who are in bi-vocational ministry.  Recently, I had the opportunity to ask each of them two questions: “What is your greatest prayer request as a bi-vocational pastor and what is the greatest benefit to being in bi-vocational ministry.”

The following is a summary of their answers:

Dr. Joe Allotta – Crossroads Church

Pastor Joe believes that one of the greatest benefits of being a bi-vocational pastor is the freedom to make decisions. Since his income is not solely based on the church, he is able to make choices based on what he believes is right and good for the church without fear that he might lose his job and not be able to provide for his family.

A great prayer need for Joe is that God would allow him to use his time wisely and that he would be putting in the appropriate time for each area of his life (family, ministry, and career).

Pastor Jake Collins – Northwest Community Church

Pastor Jake believes that being used by God in the workplace is one of the greatest benefits of bi-vocational ministry.  Jake stated, “I work with autistic kids and their families so God often has me in a place of chaos where I can be light and encouragement to those I work with and be used by God outside the church setting.”

Jake’s greatest prayer need is time management and the zeal and energy to do both ministry and secular work well for the glory of God.

Pastor Spencer Sowers – First Baptist Church of Wesley Chapel

Pastor Spencer believes that the greatest benefit to working in bi-vocational ministry is the ability to regularly work with people outside of the church. This is a unique opportunity that many full-time pastoral staff members simply don’t have, but it allows for different kinds of ministry opportunities.

Spencer’s greatest prayer request is for time management, especially when it comes to his family.

Pastor Yeriel Dominguez, The House of Restoration

Pastor Yeriel believes the greatest benefit of being a bi-vocational pastor is that is does not put a huge financial burden on the church. It allows the tithes and offering that come in to be used for ministry rather than for the pastor’s salary.

Yeriel’s greatest prayer request is that he would not have to be bi-vocational anymore. He would love to be able to focus all his attention on the work of leading and shepherding the people God has given him.

Drew Regan, Riverside Baptist Church

Drew believes that the greatest benefit of being in bi-vocational ministry is being able to see the true culture that we live in. Before he entered bi-vocational work, he was typically only around other believers, but now that he is bi-vocational he has been able to branch out and minister to those outside of the church as well as those within. This has given him a new perspective as he ministers to those around him.

Drew’s greatest prayer request is that he would have a Kingdom mindset regardless of where he is or what he is doing.

Pastor Jason Lowe, Crossroads Church

Pastor Jason believes that the greatest benefit of being bi-vocational is being aware of what life is like outside of church.  Jason believes that seeing people outside the church gives him an opportunity to stay connected to people and their difficulties.  When he sees the struggles that others face it makes it easier for him to serve people as he understands where they may be coming from.

Jason’s greatest prayer request is for balance in ministry, work, and family.  He is often being pulled in numerous directions and if he doesn’t give the appropriate attention to one area of his life, it is possible that the others could come crashing down as well.

Remember to pray regularly for the bi-vocational pastors (and all the others too) in your life. We need your prayers.

The Joys of the Old

There’s something beautiful in barn-wood. The old, worn-out, seasoned and scarred-up wood from a barn tells a story without words. You know in that deeply grooved and distressed plank there has been life, death, tears, joy, confusion, and hard work. It has seen storms and sunshine, extreme cold and heat, winds that threatened destruction and a gentle breeze that brought relief to those inside and out. There is joy in the old.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s because my tastes and desires have changed. Maybe it’s because I have simply come to enjoy the complexity and longevity of time-developed enjoyments. Allow me a moment to explain.

This is where the Lord has me in my personal Bible reading, as well. To be honest, I’ve always labored through the Major Prophets because of the mystery in multiple prophecies, with people I don’t remember, names I can’t pronounce, and situations I’ve forgotten from I & II Kings and Chronicles. But this time through has been different.

I’ve been praying “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). And, the Lord has been faithful to that request. I can’t get enough of Isaiah. In times past, I’ve bogged down and struggle through “The Majors” but the Lord has slowed me, fed me, led me to meditate and take “small bites” and feast on His complexity, longevity, and His time-developed redemptive plan, and most importantly, His covenantal faithfulness to True Israel.

Take for example Isaiah 46. In verse 3 & 12 the Lord commands the attention of His covenant people when He says, “Listen to me…” He moves His people through the futility of idolatry, that the idols of the idolatrous follow them into slavery demonstrating their impotence. Yet, it was His covenant people “who have been borne by [YHWH] from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (46:3b-4). The LORD is not impotent. He has proclaimed this before it happened, then caused it to happen that His people might remember Him and stand firm. “…there is no other…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (46:9 & 11).

It was YHWH who knows His people even before they were born (Isaiah 46:3 & Ephesian 1:4), who carries them from out of the womb and through their lives (Isaiah 46: 3b-4a; Psalm 139:13-16 & Matthew 28:20), and will save those He has born and carries (Isaiah 46:4b & 13 & John 6:40). How can the student of Scripture, the disciple of Jesus, not see his Messiah in these “old words,” and in seeing not rejoice?

And yet this is only a passing scent, carried on the breeze, of the feast that awaits the student of the Old. The Sovereign God who sent His Son laid the ground-work in centuries past, that when His advent came His own would know Him. He is ours for the discovery, as well as the joy that awaits with it, in the Old.

I often wonder if this is how Cleopas and his fellow sojourner felt on their way to Emmaus while the resurrected Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets…interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Indeed, my heart burns within me while the Lord talks to me through the opened Scriptures (Luke 24:32).

There are joys in the Old. And, if you’re willing to set down the New (Testament), even if just for a season, and ask the Lord to open your eyes, that you may see wonderful things from His Law, I am confident that when you pick the New back up the Old will have enriched not only your understanding but also your love and appreciation for God’s time-developed plan of redemption; especially in the most obvious connection between the Old & New, the person Jesus of Nazareth, your Savior!

Just for the record: Jesus is better than barn-wood!

The Voice of Christ

All of us desire to be noticed. Whether a person wants to admit or not, we do crave attention, affirmation, and acceptance. The sense of being “special” really makes us feel unique. The notion of uniqueness and being special can be overplayed especially in a society that values individualism in an unhealthy way. The temptation to pride, however, knows no historical limitations. There is no question that John the Baptist did occupy a unique place in redemptive history. He is only man set apart to be the forerunner to the Messiah. With that unique calling, John seeks to remove attention from himself and point to Christ. As ministers of the gospel today, we find ourselves in a very “unique” spot where boasting in our talents comes naturally. None of us are John the Baptist though when it comes to his office. His mindset and ministry demonstrate what should be the desire of all who teach and share the word of God: hear the voice of Christ.

In his excellent work, Expository Thoughts on Mark, J.C. Ryle notes that large numbers and popular preachers can become the measurement of spirituality for man. People can equate a crowd or popularity as a stamp of God’s approval upon a person, ministry, or church. J.C. Ryle notes that there were many who came out to hear John for a season. He was a popular preacher in his day. Men and women walked miles to come to the Jordan River and hear him preach. I have never had anyone walk miles to attend a service I was preaching! Yet, for all of the crowds that came to hear him, how many were truly converted? Did they come to hear John and be entertained by this funny looking man heralding the kingdom in the wilderness? This is not a statement that small numbers equal godliness. However, just because a large number go to this place or that place does not mean the presence of God is there.

J.C. Ryle then makes a weighty statement: “It is not enough to hear and admire popular preachers. It is no proof of our conversion that we always worship in a place where there is a crowd. Let us take care that we hear the voice of Christ himself, and follow him.” In our corporate worship, do we desire to hear the voice of Christ? When worship is guided by principles of pragmatism then hearing Christ is diminished as a priority. The worship leader’s talents and the speaker’s charisma become the driving force of the service. Men and women fill buildings week after week hearing a voice but it is not the voice of Christ.

John the Baptist exhibits that which is faithful and better in his continual efforts to move the spotlight off himself and onto the Messiah who was coming. John receives attention and possesses a unique calling and office. How does John respond to these factors? John points to Christ and yearns for the people to not look to him but to look to the Lamb who came to take away the sin of the world. For all of the crowds and for the temporary popularity, John’s focus remains upon Christ. The forerunner’s voice comes at a critical moment. However, there is another voice that John desires the people to hear.

What will be the verdict upon our preaching, our teaching, our discipleship, and our catechizing? Was our aim continually upon the voice of Christ being heard? Do we find ourselves being consumed by fleeting popularity, podcast downloads, and attendance? Beloved, let us hear the words of John: Christ must increase and I must decrease! Our voices cannot raise spiritually dead men to life, bring comfort to the broken, and heal the afflicted soul, but the voice of Christ does make the dead alive, comfort brokenness, and heal affliction. Let us then give ourselves to being people who point others to Christ, the pre-eminent One. Let us join with John the Baptist in saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”