Render to Caesar – Render to God

Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” 

Do you realize how startling this would have been to a Jewish audience? Jesus, in this one phrase, told Jews that it was ok to pay taxes to an idolatrous government with an idolatrous coin. This is more than just a clever answer saving Jesus from the trap set for Him. Many people think that in this phrase Jesus not only created but validated what we now call the separation of Church and State. I don’t disagree with that, I just think that there’s much more going on here than just the separation of Church and State. Not only is Jesus saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok, but by saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok He is also saying that the Roman government is a legitimate government. You know what that means? A pagan government that rejects the one true God, according to Jesus, is a legitimate government.

This means, at least, two things. 

First, Christians should be good citizens, and in order to be good citizens Christians are to give to the existing government what they are due. Government, according to the Bible is seen as a good thing ordained by God that Christians can and should be a part of while recognizing that it doesn’t have to be Christian in order to be good. So every government, pagan or Christian, reflects an innate authority based in God’s authority alone. Yet because of the fall of man in Genesis 3 we now know that all governments do not properly reflect authority, but rather tend to reflect the abuse of that authority. So even though authority is by nature a good thing, we recognize that not all authority is used for good. Within the words of Jesus here we find that even though all governments have been affected by the fall, rather than rejecting government and seeking to establish our own, we must work at government so that it more reflects proper justice and authority. This means Christians are to be law-abiding people, tax-paying people, and people who pray continually for those in working within governmental offices. This is how we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Second, Christians are not only to be good citizens, but we’re to be globally good citizens. Think about it. Jesus could have required that those who follow Him to only obey and pay taxes to earthly governments that recognize and submit to the one true God, but He didn’t. Rather because Jesus taught a submission to and the legitimacy of the pagan Roman government, this becomes a principle that is to be followed by every Christian in every nation. Think of how it was in Old Testament: one people, one nation, one God. It was a theocracy, where all citizens were expected to follow and love God. Now, Jesus says, for His followers it’s no longer this way. His followers are no longer to be looking to build one nation or one earthly kingdom but are to be good citizens of the earthly governments we find ourselves under. Why? Jesus’ “Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Because of this no earthly kingdom should ever be identified with God’s people.

Here me loud and clear: Americans are not God’s chosen people. Modern Israelites are not God’s chosen people. Modern day Jamaicans are not God’s chosen people. No, God’s people are a global people. Redeemed men and women who do life in every nation, language, people, and tongue as good citizens showing forth the good character of God in whatever nation they happen to live in.

Now, Jesus could’ve stopped here in His answer and would’ve successfully navigated the crafty question meant to trap Him. But He continued to make another point clear. Not only should we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but the second half of His answer in v17 is, “…render to God the things that are God’s.”

Notice what Jesus is saying. The Denarius He was holding had an inscription on one side that said Caesar was the ‘son of divine Augustus’ which was meant to convey that Caesar was a god. This is also held up in other historical literature where we read the phrase ‘Caesar Kurios’ (Caesar is lord) was a common motto in first century Greco-Roman culture. By saying ‘give to God what is God’s’ Jesus is contradicting the coin He’s holding. The coin said Caesar was a god, yet Jesus clearly makes a distinction between Caesar and God, which ultimately means Caesar is not god. Because Caesar is not god, and God is God, the extent of a government’s authority and the extent of God’s authority are different. Governments really do have authority in the lives of their citizens, but their authority is not a universal authority. It has borders and boundaries. Whose authority is universal? Whose authority transcends all of man’s limitations? God’s. So Christians are to obey the government, but Christians are never to worship the government or its leader. Our duty to earthly governmental authority is limited, because we have a greater allegiance to God, and whenever we find these two authorities (of God and government) clashing, we go with God every time…no compromise. This means when the government commands us to do something that is morally wrong, we as Christians, are called to disobey those authorities and obey God instead because God’s holds a higher authority over us.

These things are played out for us in Acts 4. The authorities in place told the apostles not to speak or preach in the name of Jesus Christ and it was Peter and John who responded in Acts 4:19-20 saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” So in their example we see obedience to authorities but we see a greater obedience to God. A more modern example is found in Washington D.C. Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a historic church in Washington D.C. When they were founded in 1878 they labored to put Jesus’ teaching about government into their statement of faith, and this is what the came up with, “We believe civil government is of divine appointment, for the interest and good order of human society, and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed, except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Today 138 years later they still hold to this paragraph. They did well, and we would do well to heed it still.

Before we finish note one final implication: because the ultimate allegiance of Christians belongs to God and no nation or government, it is therefore problematic to say that any one nation on earth is a Christian nation. For us, just because the principles of Christianity influenced the founders of our nation, and just because we have had some presidents who were Christians, this does not mean that most Americans are Christians, that most government employees are Christians, that the Christian worldview is the American worldview, or that one has to be an American to be a Christian. No, America is not God’s country. No earthly nation is God’s country. His country is our heavenly country that is already here but not yet fully here.

As Christians, we are dual citizens. We are citizens first and foremost of the city of God, and secondly we are citizens of the city of man. We enter into the city of God by faith in Christ’s work on our behalf, and we show our faith in Christ within the city of man by our good works done for our fellow man.

May those good gospel works flow forth into the politically chaotic 2020.

Why We Should Take Psalm 1 & 2 Together

Question: is there a connection between the Psalm 1 and Psalm 2?

Answer: Whether or not we believe book one of the Psalms begins with Psalm 1 or with Psalm 3, it is clearly seen and taught by many that Psalm 1 and 2 are intentionally placed at the beginning to form an introduction the Psalms as a whole. Many of the early Church fathers go further and state these two Psalms are actually one Psalm and because of that they shouldn’t be separated.

This leads to another question: if these first two Psalms form an introduction to the Psalter as a whole, how do they introduce it and what does that teach us about the Psalms as a whole?

Steve Lawson answers this by saying these two Psalms act as doorkeepers for all who enter the Psalms, requiring us to take refuge in the Lord from the moment we enter the Psalter. Mark Futato similarly says while “…Psalm 1 provides us with insight into the purpose of the book of Psalms, Psalm 2 provides us a window on the message of the Psalms.”

The connection we’re to glean between Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 then is one of instructing us in wisdom and pointing us to the King in whom wisdom is found and the King in whom we’re to take refuge. We could say Psalm 1 instructs us in wisdom by contrasting a wise and foolish man, while Psalm 2 shows us the King in whom such wisdom is personified. We could also say in Psalm 1 the blessed are those who trust the Lord and rest in His Law, while in Psalm 2 the blessed are those who trust the Lord to establish His righteous King who gives us His Law. Or we could say we find the theme of instruction in Psalm 1, while finding the content of this instruction in the Lord’s kingly reign in Psalm 2. Also, Psalm 1:1 begins with the theme ‘Blessed’ while Psalm 2:12 ends with the theme ‘Blessed.’ This blessedness isn’t found in ourselves but in God’s Law (Psalm 1) and in God’s anointed King (Psalm 2). Specifically in 2:12 this blessedness is found by not only our recognizing the Lord as King but in our taking refuge in the Lord as our King. Together this repetition of blessedness forms ‘bookends of wisdom’ which prepares us to see all that follows throughout the Psalter as instruction in wisdom for true blessedness, including both holiness and happiness with the former being the route to the latter.

But, while we may not experience the blessedness described in Psalm 1 fully in this life because of this fallen world, we know the happy and holy blessed life is one day guaranteed to come with God’s anointed King (shown in Psalm 2), who is ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ. The reality of the ‘already but not yet’ is present here in Christ the King, because while He has come and brought His blessed kingdom, one day in glory it will come in full measure. Then we shall experience the full realities of the blessedness told to us in both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2.

Beginning in this way we can not only see how the Psalms were purposefully and intentionally ordered, but we see how those who so ordered it deeply desired to show us a preview in Psalm 1 and 2 of all we’d see again and again throughout the entire five books of the Psalter as it moves slowly but surely toward the heights of praise in Psalm 146-150.

The Ministry of the Word

Enjoy this guest post from Rachel Noble:

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4)

The early church fascinates me. Here in Acts 6 the apostles are working relentlessly for the furthering of the gospel. However, there arose a complaint about the widows being neglected. If this complaint happened in today’s church I can see a lot of pastors feeling guilty, stopping whatever they are doing, and addressing this personally. This, of course, would come from a heart of compassion and a desire to make the widows feel loved and valued (which is honorable). However, this was NOT the response the apostles had. They were not about to put the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and prayer on the back-burner in order to “serve tables”. This may seem strange and perhaps arrogant, but if we look at this text, that’s what we see.

Of course, the apostles do take care of this issue, but in a way that did not neglect their primary duty which was the teaching of the Word. The apostles call for men of wisdom and good reputation to carry out this task of serving. The serving ministry is what we call the office of deacon as seen in 1 Timothy 3.

I once knew a pastor who was “faulted” with being “too theological.” This saddens me immensely because it’s literally impossible for a pastor to be “too” concerned with studying God and His Word! 
Today our culture (even within the church) finds theology boring, preaching irrelevant, and Biblical knowledge for those of some “higher level” of Christianity. Bible studies that include funny jokes, games, sports, or having coffee together have become more important than the true study of God’s Word. This should horrify us!

I recently spoke with a woman who told me that she had trouble finding a youth group for her children to attend. Her kids hated and were bored with every youth service they attended. At first, we would think it was the child’s fault, but the reason they hated it was because there was no actual Bible study going on. It was all fun and games, watching movies, and hanging out. There was about 5 minutes of Bible study taught by a youth leader who knew very little about the Bible himself. I’m afraid her experience was not just an isolated event but one that is becoming the norm. This should sadden us.

The study of God’s Word must be at the forefront of what we do as a local church. Our pastors (and any person who has a teaching or leading position) should devote themselves to the study of God’s Word and to prayer just as the apostles did in the early church.

I’m not saying that pastors shouldn’t serve or that various ministries of the church shouldn’t have fun and games, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the teaching and preaching ministry. Deacons were established in the early church with the primary responsibility of serving. Fun, games, and fellowship are important and should come as an outflow of a community of people who are centered around God’s Word and the gospel. The gospel holds us together. Enjoying the same games, watching the same movies, or having the same friends is not what binds us as Christians. The gospel binds us.

Let’s be the people of God who focus on the Word of God for the glory of God!

18 Prayers to Pray for Unbelievers

From Tim Challies:

A friend asked the question: How do I pray for unbelievers? How do I pray effectively? I trust that every Christian regularly prays for family or friends or colleagues or neighbors who do not yet know the Lord. And while we can and must pray for matters related to their lives and circumstances, the emphasis of our prayers must always be for their salvation. Here are some ways the Bible can guide our prayers.

Prayers for Salvation

We begin with prayers for salvation. Each of these prayers seeks the same thing, but in a different way or from a different angle or using different language. Each of them is grounded in a specific text of Scripture.

Pray that God would circumcise their hearts. Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of entering into God’s covenant, of being God’s people. To have a circumcised heart symbolizes having a heart that is fully joined to God, fully submissive to him. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Pray that God would give them a heart of flesh. The Bible contrasts a heart of flesh, a heart that is alive and responsive to God, to a heart of stone, a heart that is cold and unyielding. Pray that God would work within these unbelievers to change their hearts. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19).

Pray that God would put his Spirit within them. The great joy of salvation is being indwelled by God himself. Pray that God would grant this honor to those unbelievers, that he would choose to take up residence within them. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

Pray that they would come to Christ. If unbelievers are to come to salvation, there is just one way. They must come through Christ and Christ alone. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Remember, too, that he is the one who calls them to come and to be relieved of the burden of their sin (see Matthew 11:28-30).

Pray that God would open their hearts to believe the gospel. Once more, God must initiate and people must respond. So pray that God would open the hearts of these unbelievers so they can in turn believe, just as Lydia did. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).

Pray that God would free them from the slavery of sin. Unbelievers may believe they are free, but they are in fact enslaved. They are slaves of sin, bound by their sin and sinfulness. Pray that God would liberate them by his gospel. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).

Pray that God would remove Satan’s blinding influence . Unbelievers have been blinded by Satan and will only ever be able to see and appreciate the gospel if God works within them. So pray that God would give them sight—spiritual sight. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Pray that God would grant them repentance. Unbelievers cannot repent without the enabling grace of God. So pray that God would grant them repentance, that this repentance would lead them to a knowledge of the truth. Pray as well that they would come to their senses and that they would escape from the devil’s snare. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

Prayers For You

You have prayed for unbelievers using different words and approaching from different angles. But you should also pray for yourself.

Pray that you will develop relationship with them. For people to be saved they must first hear the good news of the gospel. For them to hear the good news of the gospel, they must first encounter Christians—Christians like you. Pray that you would develop deeper, more significant relationship with them so you can, in turn, speak truth. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

Pray for opportunities to minister to them. Many people come to faith after seeing Christ’s loved displayed through the ministry of Christians. Pray for opportunities to minister to unbelievers so that your ministry can have an evangelistic effect. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Pray for them faithfully and persistently. Our temptation is to grow discouraged in prayer, to pray for a while and, when we see no visible results, to give up. But God calls us to persevere in prayer. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). (See also the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8.)

Pray for a burden to plead for their souls. Paul was willing to tell the church at Rome of his great longing to see the salvation of the lost. Do you share this deep longing? Pray that God would give you a great burden for souls. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).

Pray for boldness in generating and taking opportunities to speak the gospel. Even Paul longed for this boldness and for the confidence that he was speaking the right and best words. Pray that God would give you the boldness and, that when you take the opportunities, that he would then guide your words. “[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19).

Pray for other believers to encounter them. God almost always uses a succession of people to share the gospel with people before they are saved. Pray, then, that God would lead other Christians into the lives of the unbelievers you love, that they too would provide an example of Christian living and that they too would speak the gospel. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Other Prayers

Here are a few more biblical emphases to guide your prayers.

Pray that God would use any circumstance to do his work in them. We pray to a God who is sovereign and who sovereignly works his good will. Often he saves people through difficult circumstances, through bringing them to the very end of themselves. Pray, then, that God would arrange circumstances, whether easy or difficult, to lead them to salvation. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67). As you pray for the unbelievers you love, always pray to God: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Pray that God would extend his mercy to them. God assures us that he wishes for all people to turn to him in repentance and faith. He receives no joy from seeing people perish. Pray, then, that God would be glorified in the salvation of these people. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Pray with confidence. Finally, pray with confidence. God expects we will pray, God invites us to pray, God commands us to pray. Why? Because God loves to hear us pray and God loves to respond to our prayers. So as you pray for unbelievers, pray with confidence that God hears your prayers. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

The Top 5 Commentaries on Revelation

The book of Revelation is not only hard to interpret, it’s highly debated because of its difficult nature. Because of this the majority of folks react to it in two ways. On one hand some simply avoid it, while on the other hand others embrace an interpretation of the book that resembles a shoulder shrug “I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter” kind of approach. Both of these are bad options that, in the end, don’t help anyone and doesn’t honor God. What then are we to do with it?

Face it, study it, and ask the Lord’s help in understanding it.

Alongside our other pastor at SonRise, I’ve been preaching through Revelation for the past year or so on Sunday evenings. At times the text has proved wondrously more straightforward than I thought it would be, while at other times the text has proven more intensely confusing than I would’ve imagined. What has helped us through it? What can help you through it?

Here is my list of the top 5 commentaries on the book of Revelation:

5) Revelation, Thomas Schreiner – this commentary came out in 2018, and I’ve found it very helpful and thorough. It is included within the ESV Expository Commentary set, specifically in volume 12 which covers Hebrews – Revelation. Overall it’s a good balance between scholarly and devotional, making it a great help to anyone leaning into John’s apocalypse.

4) Revelation, Richard D. Phillips found within the Reformed Expository Commentary set, this is a collection of 65 sermons covering every verse of Revelation. Because it’s sermons it proves to be very helpful not only for interpretation but for application as well. It’s easy to read and therefore is greatly accessible to all.

3) Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, G.K. Beale & David H. Campbell – this is the shorter commentary on Revelation from G.K. Beale, and while his larger one is very scholarly and technical, this shorter edition, while still the most technical in this list, proves it’s worth time and time again. Why? He explains how the symbolism and figurative language of Revelation comes from and is rooted in the Old Testament rather than our own opinions or speculation (which has been an issue historically). After each passage he also provides a devotional thought.

2) Revelation, Joel R. Beeke – this one and Beale’s commentary above could swap spots on this list, but Beeke just presses out Beale simply due to its easier readability. Beale, even in the shorter commentary, can be quite technical while Beeke’s commentary brings a balance between weighty scholarship and powerful pastoral care. For this, it’s my favorite commentary on Revelation, easily.

1) The Old Testament – does this surprise you? On one hand it might, this is mainly a list of commentaries. But on the other hand it shouldn’t. The golden rule of all interpretation stands fast: Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. Or we could say, the clearer passages of Scripture help us interpret the less clear. In the case of Revelation this is supremely important. Of all the books in the New Testament the book of Revelation contains the highest amount of quotations, images, symbols, and references to the Old Testament. Thus, an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament is the most important tool to have when reading it. The lack of this has led to a host of errors while the proper use of it has led to much faithfulness in reading and preaching.

I hope this helps you discover the wonders God has for us and intends to bring to us through the book of Revelation.

Itchy Ears & Conspiracy = Rebellion?

In 2 Timothy 4 Paul warns against those who won’t endure sound teaching, but instead from their “itching ears” they will “accumulate teachers to suit their own passions…turning away from the truth and wander off into myths.” Now, in context Paul is warning against false teachers who promote false doctrine, and false followers who will seek out these teachers to hear them instead of a faithful teacher.

I think there is a parallel application for us to see in our current pandemic. This past week my social media feed has been chock full of those promoting and spreading a variety of teachings and opinions about the ‘true nature’ of the government regulations surrounding the Coronavirus. These headlines range from the subtle, “WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT THESE REGULATIONS” to the more pointed, “THE REAL THREAT BEHIND COVID19”, even to the extreme, “WHY THE GOVERNMENT IS SHUTTING US DOWN”, or “THE CONSPIRACY IS REAL” and the like.

Can I ask a question?

Could it be that those of you sharing these things are feeling your own kind of stress, worry, and fear (maybe trauma?) from what’s going? And that from such feelings you’re seeking out ‘teachers’ that suit your stress induced opinions? And from hearing said ‘experts’ share your opinion you feel you must spread the word to spread the ‘truth’ behind what’s going? I could be wrong and of course I can’t make a blanket statement here, not everyone is doing this. But I do think this is occurring to a large degree.

Why bring this up? Because one of the results of itchy ears looking for conspiracies is rebellion against governmental authorities. From the subtle to the more extreme opinions being shared today, most of them desire to persuade their hearers to one conclusion, “YOU CAN’T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT.” Which of course is just another way of saying “You don’t have to obey what they’re asking, do what you want.”

Again, can I ask a question?

Where does such an argument leave you? More fear. More stress. More worry. And also, when did God promise we could trust government? He didn’t. What God does say is that we’re to submit to the governing authorities over us because He’s placed them there as ministers for our safety and our good. So insofar as they aren’t causing us to sin against God, we’re to submit to them.

In one sense this doesn’t surprise me. The United States was born in rebellion, so naturally the shoe fits, probably a little too well. But in another sense it saddens me to see these itchy ears among Christians because Romans 13 is still in our Bibles. Perhaps we need a reminder that God cares very deeply how you and I interact with the government. In fact He cares so much about it that in Romans 12-15, where He tells us how we’re to live worshipful lives before Him, one of the things He brings up is how to rightly do life with those in authority over us. What’s His conclusion? Submission. There is great blessing for those who obey this command and glorify God, while there is also great warning to those who disobey this command and dishonor God.

In light of all of this here are six reminders for Christians to put into practice today (and always):

1) Be reminded: in all of life is to be lived ‘Coram Deo’, before the face of God. This is why Romans 13 is in the section beginning with the all-encompassing vision of the Christian life found in Romans 12:1-2.

2) Be reminded: I don’t care what political party you affiliate with, our view of government shouldn’t be informed by party lines but by Scripture.

3) Be reminded: in Scripture we are brought face to face with the God who is Lord of the State just as much as He is Lord of the Church.

4) Be reminded: when the government stops doing what God ordained it to do (promoting good and punishing those who disrupt that good) it is the Church who calls the government back to what it should be. In doing this we’re not going against the separation of Church and State, we’re merely calling the government to function in the manner God intends them to.

5) Be reminded: the gospel is more political than we realize. It declares that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, that He sits in the ultimate seat of authority. He subdues us to Himself. He rules and defends us. He restrains and conquers all His and our enemies. During His humiliation we see His Kingly authority in His ministry, and right now in His exaltation He still carries out His Kingly authority by being Lord over all things.

6) Therefore: all governing authorities, though they may be over many, are still under King Jesus, and will one day give an account to Him for how they exercised their rule. And Christians, 99% of the time, are to be the example to the world of what submission looks like.

All in all, don’t make room for itchy ears, cynicism, or rebellion. Don’t lose this opportunity to shine gospel light by our obedience to Christ’s commands.

Gardening & Harvesting

I love to garden.

I love preparing the soil, planting the seed or plant, tending the soil around the the plant to produce healthy growth, pruning, harvesting, preserving the produce for the year to come, and of course eating it fresh off the vine. Believe it or not, I even enjoy weeding. Because no one enjoys weeding, it has become a place of quiet reflection for me. Everyone enjoys the harvest but it’s really gardening that has become a joy for me. 

It wasn’t until I was recently engaged in conversation about the Gospel that this metaphor of gardening and harvesting really came to life for me. I was asking questions of the person who was clearly disagreeing with the message of the Gospel when someone asked me if I had been reading “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions” by Greg Koukl. 

I had not been, but upon his recommendation I picked up a copy and began learning how to better engage with people who have a differing opinion than mine; especially in matters of faith. But it’s not so much the “tactics” that have stood out to me up to this point so much as Koukl’s approach to Gospel-conversation as a whole. He likened his approach of sharing his faith to gardening vs. harvesting. 

The Harvest is easy to understand. You share the Gospel, God does a supernatural work in that person causing them to be born-again, they confess Christ, turn from their former way of life and follow Jesus. In essence, you’ve just harvested, you’ve picked the ripe fruit, and it seemed easy—some have called it “low hanging fruit” before. If you are a gospel-sharer, more than likely you have picked some low hanging fruit. You didn’t prepare the soil, plant the seed, tend the soil, weed the garder, prune or fertilize, someone else did; you simply plucked the juicy, sun-ripened, vibrantly red tomato from the vine. Rejoice! What a joy! 

The Gardening, however easy it is to understand, is not so easy to do. Gardening is hard. Sometimes the soil is hardened by a lack of rain and doesn’t easily work up. Sometimes the soil is soggy due to an oversaturation and is equally difficult to work. Still, someone needs to work the soil, plant the seed, weed out that which hinders growth and steals nutrients, and the labor is long & tiresome. It is necessary work and if there is to be a harvest in the future, often many gardeners have labored over this one “plant.” 

In these times, there is still no promise of a harvest at all. Perhaps the rains will drown out the whole garden. Perhaps drought or the neighborhood dog will decimate the well-teneded garden. Perhaps, locusts devour and destroy or plant disease comes through and depletes the health of the plant until all it can do is grow, never producing fruit. 

Gardening is hard work. And if we think of gardening and harvesting as a metaphor in evangelism, there is much more time invested in gardening than in harvesting. The harvest happens quickly and often times not by the gardener. Are you content with being God’s gardener? Are you “swinging for the fences” (how’s that for mixing metaphors) every time you talk with someone whether it’s forced & awkward or not? 

Koukl’s approach to gardening and harvesting is that most of the gospel conversations he will ever engage in are gardening conversations. After all, it is Jehovah who is “the Lord of the harvest”, is He not? Sometimes in “gardening,” well meaning Christians rush to the thrust of the Gospel hoping to reap a harvest when the “young plant” is still in its germination or even before the soil has been tilled. This is not to say, “You shouldn’t share Christ with people too quickly” but “We should inquisitively discover where this person is in the gardening process so as to have a better understanding of our role in God’s process.” 

I know I’m guilty of forcing the meat of the Gospel into a converstation where it doesn’t naturally fit in an effort to “do what I’m supposed to do.” If I’m honest, that’s never resulted in anyone converting or following up with “Hmmm, tell me more.” It almost always (and maybe always) ended the conversation. It’s like harvesting the bloom hoping the little yellow flower tastes like a well-tended, sun-ripened tomato. 

God is sovereign over salvation, I’m not suggesting otherwise. I also know that if I were more attentive & inquisitive, I could be of more use to Him as He draws those to Himself from whom He has chosen to reap a harvest.

The Names of Christ

It doesn’t take a long time reading the Bible to discover that names mean a great deal. Names of people, names of places, and names of events often describe much more than names do today. There may be sentiment or tradition behind the names we give things, but that’s usually where it stops. In the Bible we find something different. We find the character of a person, place, or event wrapped up in its name. This is certainly true when it comes to names of human beings we meet in the Bible, but one thing most of us overlook is that it’s also true of God and the names He is called throughout Scripture.

If I were to go over every name God has or is called by in the Bible this would be a long post. We could speak of: Elohim, Elyon, Yahweh, Adonai, the Holy One of Israel, the Fear of Isaac, I AM, or the Lord of Glory. But in regard to Christ the most important names we have in Scripture are Christ, Lord, and Son of Man.

Christ

It’s so common to call the Son of God Jesus Christ that many people think Christ is Jesus’ last name. But it’s not. His name is simply Jesus, Christ is a title given to Him. It’s actually the title given to Jesus more often than any other in Scripture. It’s used so often throughout the Bible sometimes we find it reversed and we read of ‘Christ Jesus.’ The word Christ is the Greek word christos which comes straight from the Hebrew word Messiah, or, the Anointed One.

Jesus’ first sermon is recorded for us in Luke 4:18-21 where we see Him walk up to the front of the gathering, take the scroll of Isaiah, open it to chapter 61 and read the following, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” After reading that passage from Isaiah Jesus said to those at the temple, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” By doing this Jesus was proclaiming to the world that He was the One Isaiah was speaking of. He was the Messiah, the anointed One. He was saying He was the Christ.

But if Jesus was to be the Christ according to Isaiah’s standards, He had to be more than what was reflected in Isaiah 61. Isaiah spoke of the Christ many times throughout his prophetic ministry. He said the Christ would be a shepherd, a king, a lamb, and a suffering servant. The odds were astronomical for all these things to culminate in one person, but nothing is impossible with God. In fact, once Jesus comes on the scene in redemptive history at His first coming it is breathtaking to see all the different strands of prophecy come together into harmony in the Person and work of Jesus. He was the long awaited Christ, the Messiah, but spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep in John 10. He spoke of His Kingdom being at hand in Mark 1, and if He has a Kingdom He must be a King. This is why the Babylonian astrologers, the magi, traveled an astounding distance to see the boy Jesus and give Him gifts, because He was a King. John the Baptist spoke of Christ being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in John 1. That He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world shows us that Jesus is also the Suffering Servant who suffers and dies for His people. All of these things and more culminate in the one Person of Jesus. This means Jesus is the Christ. This is most famously stated by Peter in Matthew 16 when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Lord

After the title Christ the second most used name or title given to Jesus is the title Lord. Actually the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the first creed or confession of the early Church. This was not only the first creed of the early Church, the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the confession that put the early Church in serious conflict with the Roman Empire because Caesar was known as Lord. For the Church of that day to claim another Lord then Caesar was no small offense, it was considered high treason. This is why so many Christians were killed in the early Church, because they would no longer say ‘Caesar is Lord’ but would boldly proclaim the truth before their executioners ‘Jesus is Lord.’

You should be aware though, that the Greek word for Lord, kurios, is not always used in royal language. It had three common uses. First, the word was used as a polite address, like the word ‘sir.’ Second, the word was used as a greeting for wealthy landowners who owned and employed slaves. Third and lastly, the word was used as an imperial title. This is where the usage of Caesar is Lord comes into play. The Caesar chose the loftiest title to accompany his name, so Augustus was not merely called Augustus or even Emperor Augustus. Being Caesar, Augustus demanded to be called kurios. This last usage is the usage being employed when we say Jesus is Lord. We do not intend to communicate politeness or even that Jesus is a person of means, no, we intend that Jesus is majestic, that He is truly Lord over all.

Perhaps the most famous use of this title is found in Philippians 2:5-11 where Paul writes some of the most memorable words in Scripture. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In this passage you really can make the argument that the name that is above all names, the name at which every name will bow isn’t the name Jesus, but the name Lord.

Son of Man

To end our discussion on the names of Jesus we come to the third most frequently used name of Jesus in the Bible, the Son of Man. Many critics of Jesus claim that His divine reputation came from the opinions of those around Jesus rather than Jesus Himself. Yet, this is misleading because while this is the third most frequent name or title attributed to Jesus in the Bible after Christ and Lord, Son of Man is the name Jesus uses the most when speaking of Himself. Still others think the name Son of Man refers to a humble or creaturely image Jesus wanted to portray, as if Jesus preferred Himself to be thought of as just a son of another man. This also is not the case. We see this in the pinnacle text of Daniel 7:13-14 where we find the majestic and exalted definition of the name Son of Man. Daniel 7:13-14 says, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

See the glory of this text. The Son of Man is one who comes to the Father, called here the Ancient of Days, and receives dominion, glory, and a kingdom, for the express purpose that all peoples and nations would serve (i.e. worship) Him. The Son of Man is not only given all these things, but it says after this that His kingdom shall be everlasting, it shall not pass away, and shall not be destroyed. This is no humble or creaturely designation is it? No, it’s a supreme and sovereign title.

So see in the names of Jesus, more than just names. See His character. Jesus is the Christ, Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is the Son of Man.


Adapted from 7Summits of Systematic Theology, by Adam Powers

Singing the Heretics?

“Should we listen to or sing the songs of bands with porous theology?” 

It’s a legitimate question and one that came to me, in similar form, this past week. From the dancing Israelites on the eastern shore of the Red Sea in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, I had drawn a lesson on worship for the church at our weekend gatherings: ‘what we sing to or say about God should be Biblically-informed.’ With so much of modern “Christian music” bordering on doctrinal disdain or flirting with Biblical neglect, a question such as the one above lesson. So, here is my answer to the inquiry…

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This is a terrific question. I am all too aware of the hollowed out anthems of “modern worship;” or the erroneous, if not heretical, teaching that exists in several of the churches behind the most popular of Christian artists. I’ll offer my response as succinctly as possible.

When lifting our voices in adulation to the Lord the most critical component is not the origin of a song, or even our intent to worship through the song, but is rather the content of the song. The lyrics themselves must, without fail, acknowledge our Sovereign for who He is and what He has done – without compromise. This does not mean that every anthem must completely explain intricate Gospel depths or unpack weighty Divine attributes. Instead, what this does mean is that however many or few lyrics are contained in the song, these lyrics must convey a Biblical expression of salvation, glory, brokenness, redemption, dependence, and the list rolls ever onward and upward. Anthems, should recount the excellencies of our Savior far more than the experiences of the subordinates. The question then is really quite simple: does the song in question – not the band who sings it, or the artist who wrote it, or the teacher who shaped it – agree with the testimony of Scripture? If the answer is “yes” then, I believe, we are completely at liberty to sing.

With that said, our affirmation of a song must, at times, come with mature and honest instruction and dialogue. Caveats and clarification are hardly a bad thing in a day of relativism, secularism, and fanaticism. There are remarkable anthems at times produced by musicians who are Biblically compromised. We certainly need to protect fellow believers, and even those scoping out the faith, from the egregious nature of much modern Christian doctrine – or lack thereof – communicated through music.

The easy conclusion is always elimination – of liberties, music, delights, or anything that has even the slightest potential to offend; but that is not, I believe, to what we are called. Instead, we are called to discernment, humility, wisdom, discussion, and tough decisions.

Semper Reformanda

Are We Still Protesting? Yes.

The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.

What happened changed the world.

500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting?

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes.

Though there is a true danger in idolizing the past, there is also a great danger in forgetting or ignoring the past as well. So we look back to gain wisdom for today, and ask a question: why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.

The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.

Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.

Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.

Now, why does the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) still matter today?

Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we often do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line?

We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel.

And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”

Clearly, we need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin?

It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

God’s Presence & Our Pleasure in Worship

2 Samuel 6 is one of those chapters that reminds us of the divinely inspired nature of Scripture.[1] Go ahead, read it, I’ll wait.

The whole chapter goes against the grain of human preference. Commentator Dale Ralph Davis says it like this, “No one would’ve invented a story like this, let alone a ‘god’ like this. Not if we were trying to win converts and influence people. The God of this chapter isn’t very marketable.” Death from God’s holiness, dancing and delighting in God’s pleasure, and disgust for worshipping in so unproper a manner. The Bible is a perfect balance of truth. Both great terror and great joy are here. Tremble before this God and dance with all your might! The world cannot comprehend a God like this, but you know who can? The redeemed get it. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ understands that a thing can be both dreadfully terrible and deeply wonderful at the same time.

Allow me to put forward two takeaways from 2 Samuel 6:

First, Emotional Pleasure in Worship.[2] 

When someone today describes another as an ‘emotional type’ are they giving that person a compliment? No. For some reason we think expressing emotions is a sign of immaturity, while keeping your emotions in check is a sign of maturity. I think that mindset more fits with Michal than David in our this chapter. Look at David. A heart full of joy in the Lord cannot be contained without vigorous dancing in the presence of the Lord. Now I get that to a degree varying temperaments express joy in different ways. Too many though, use that as an excuse for remaining emotionally frigid. If your voice resounds and your hands reach to the heavens when ‘your team’ scores a touchdown and they don’t go up in worship, something’s off. Worldly delights are delights, but they shouldn’t have or receive the majority of our emotional expression. No, God should. Therefore it ought to be our great and earnest endeavor to cultivate a deep joy in God. Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; and at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, and gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.” Psalm 36:7-8, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They feast on the abundance of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your delights.”

Emotional maturity then means, not avoiding feeling in worship, but feeling what we ought to feel in worship. The grandeur of the glory of God, the gravity of our sin, and the gladness of redemption. God wants all of you. Mind and heart. When the mind is renewed, the heart is enflamed, and when the heart is enflamed the body cannot be still. It either bows low in reverential humility, or sings – sways – dances in reverential satisfaction. But…let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. When David brought up the ark at first and worshiped and rejoiced according to his own ways and wisdom the result was death. But when David brought up the ark again and worshiped and rejoiced according to God’s ways and wisdom the result was national celebration. Lesson? Right order in worship isn’t intended to stifle deep emotion, but to allow Godward emotions to run wild.

Second, Divine Presence in Worship.

It is important to see why the events of chapter 6 come after the events of chapter 5. Back in chapter 5 we saw king David lead out the armies of Israel not only to defeat the Jebusites and capture Jerusalem, we saw him lead out the armies again and defeat the Philistines twice. These were certainly great victories. Then in chapter 6 we have the narrative of the ark coming to dwell in the city among the people where it belongs. Lesson? God’s people are not sustained first and foremost by great victories against their enemies. God’s people are not sustained first and foremost by expanding their borders, no. Victory is good, expanding and growth is good but God’s people are sustained first and foremost by seeking God’s very face, His presence.

I think at times we can easily lose sight of this. We too easily get caught up in the latest moral outrage, social cause, ethical dilemma, and political battles of our time. And while these things can be good in themselves and while they may move us to action and cause us to be mindful or aware of our current cultural climate, are these the things that sustain the life of the Church? No. Think back to the ark. It was the symbol God’s presence among His people, and in this way this box, this sacred furniture looks forward to Jesus Christ who is the “…image of the invisible God…” in whom “…all the fullness of the deity dwells bodily…” and is “…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” (Col. 1:15, 2:9, Heb. 1:3).

How do we keep our focus on God personally and corporately? By turning our eyes and hearts to Jesus, His Person (truly and fully God / truly and fully Man), His work (perfect law-keeping life, wrath bearing and atoning death, victorious resurrection, and mighty ascension), and looking full in wonderful His face.[3]

Our worship of Him must be and ever remain to be at the center of our life together.


[1] Dale Ralph Davis, Out of Every Adversity – 2 Samuel, 75, 77–78.

[2] Zac Hicks, The Worship Pastor, 143-155.

[3] Davis, 74.

Who is Sufficient For These Things?

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul speaks about how gospel ministry spreads the fragrance of Christ. This fragrance is either an aroma of life or it is an aroma of death. This is quite a visual that the apostle presents before us. He then asks a question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Recently, this passage and that question have pierced my heart. This is a season of pastoral ministry where I am acutely aware of my insufficiencies as a pastor. In the life of our church, we have seen a dear sister diagnosed with cancer, relationships in need of biblical counsel, and various physical/spiritual needs in the body. Who is sufficient for these things? I am not. Thankfully, this is the posture a pastor needs to be in. For when we confess our insufficiency, we are brought to remember what is sufficient for such trials in the life of a church. The Lord graciously brings back to my remembrance what I am to lean upon daily in the face of my insufficiency. I want to call your attention to see the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures.

The Sufficiency of the Shepherd   

In shepherding, pastors feel often overwhelmed with the responsibilities and burdens they feel in caring for the flock of Christ. This needs to drive us to see our dependency upon the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 23 must be a text that comes to our hearts over and over! He is our Shepherd! He purchased us with His own blood! He brings us to His table and calls for pastors to come and dine. Pastor, you must not be one who only thinks about the gospel when he is in the pulpit. For your own soul, you need to return over and over to the precious truths of gospel of grace in Christ. Meditate over Ephesians 1 and see how by union with Christ, you know election, adoption, redemption, holiness, and an eternal inheritance. The work of the Shepherd is not only sufficient for your conversion but for every part of your life and ministry. Brother pastor, your labor is not in vain! After giving instructions on how to shepherd, Peter writes these words, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Rest in that promise that while you are not the perfect shepherd, you are trusting in the One who is and pointing your people to Him! The Good Shepherd is sufficient not only for justification but for every need in the life of your congregation! He is sufficient for your own heart and soul! Behold again the beauty of the Shepherd!

The Sufficiency of the Spirit

In shepherding, there are many problems and we want to fix all of them. It is our tendency to see an issue, a conflict, or a tense situation before us and immediately begin to think about how we can resolve it and overcome every obstacle. Yet, so much is before us that is way beyond us and our abilities. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal condition, we do not have the capacity to heal. When someone continues in unrepentant sin and rejecting the gospel, we cannot change their hearts and make them new. This drives us to depend upon the work of the Spirit of God. Do you rest in the sufficiency of the Spirit? The Spirit brings real change and brings real comfort. As Jesus describes the work and ministry of the Spirit in John 14-16, our hearts need to bow and submit to His power and authority. This is not a passive path that the pastor takes in depending upon the sufficiency of the Spirit. It is a great comfort because you will be driven into the ground and despondent if you think that you are capable and sufficient to change all of the people and circumstances that exist in your local church. The Chief Shepherd put you there as His man. He gave you the Spirit who will bring forth fruit in due season. Yes, you are insufficient to change that man or woman. Yes, the Spirit is fully sufficient and able to raise the dead in sin to life in Christ! He is the source of our strength to persevere!

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

“Preach the Word.” The mandate is clear and plain. Do you believe that the Scriptures are sufficient and meet the needs of your people? No, I am not talking about a mere biblicism that just goes looking for a proof text and treats the Bible as a collection of sayings and clichés. I am talking about the commitment to the beauty and flow of redemptive promise and accomplishment found from Genesis to Revelation. What will you give yourself to as the pastor serving your flock? The Scriptures point to the Shepherd and were written by the Spirit. What will you bring to your people week in and week out? You might confess that you believe in the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. However, if you are not committed to sequential exposition that is rooted in the centrality of Christ, your view of the Bible might not be more than lip service. Give your people the Word.

Conclusion

I say none of these things as one that perfectly relies upon the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures. I confess that there have been moments lately where I felt real fear in seeking to process how I would navigate through the waters of trials and tests in the life of our church. The question “Is it worth it?” can creep around in the deep recesses of the heart. I can tell you that it does. A lady in our church recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer thanked me and my fellow elder this past Sunday. What was she thanking us for? She thanked us for preparing her for this trial due to our commitment to the ordinary means of grace. By biblical exposition, seeing the gospel as connected to every part of life, and rejoicing in the Spirit connecting us as a church family, she felt an inner peace and joy in the face of this trial. Those words brought me back to the question Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Certainly, Jake Stone is not. I rejoice to know that there is One who is!

Faithful Giving as an Act of Worship

Money is an interesting topic, isn’t it?

We love to sing about it, we love to use it, and we love to have it. Whether it’s Pink Floyd or the O’Jays singing about money in the 70’s, Notorious BIG singing about more money and more problems in the 90s, Bruno Mars singing about how bad he wants to be a billionaire, or Ariana Grande letting us all know how much money she has by the fact that she sees it, likes it, wants it, or got it, throughout the decades we’re familiar with our pop-culture fixation on money and the things that it can buy.

As long as we’re talking about money in an abstract or glamorous way, everyone’s fine with it. But start talking about our specific use of money, start talking about our giving, let alone start preaching on giving, and it’s a taboo topic on par with the “who’d you vote for” question at Thanksgiving Dinner.

Though the topic of our money and giving can often be an uncomfortable and touchy matter, it is one that Scripture speaks clearly and often on. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that 1 out of every 10 verses in the Gospels is Jesus teaching on money, possessions, or giving. As we zoom out and look at the whole Bible, there are around 500 verses on the topic of prayer, less than 500 verses on the topic of faith, and almost 2,500 verses on the topic of money and possessions.

Because of our draw to possessions and our temptation to idolatry, discontentment, and covetousness, God taught often and clearly on this topic. We’re told to avoid the love of money (1 Tim 6:6-10) and to choose God over money (Luke 16:13), so that we can be generous and ready to given (Matthew 6:2-16) and put our trust in God, not riches (1 Tim 6:17-19). We’re also encouraged to plan and save (Prov 21:20) and to look after the news of our families and others (1 Tim 5:8; Heb 13:16), just to name a few of the things God’s says in His Word about this topic.

As I’ve thought on this topic recently, I want to share with you 7 principles for faithful, godly giving that I think we see in God’s Word.

#1 God sees the topic of our money and our giving as a spiritual matter, an issue relating to our heart, and an issue directly relating to our worship of Him.

One of the key passages to look at to see our money and our giving as a spiritual matter and heart issue are Matthew 6:1-4, 19-21, and 24. In these verses we see Jesus teach on the topic of giving and how we are to give, as well as establishing the principle that we cannot love both God and money. It was this very topic of giving and money that led the rich young ruler not to place his faith in Jesus (Matthew 19). And in Matthew 13, we see Jesus give the parable of the sower, After sowing seeds among 4 different soils, with only the last soil representing the heart that truly comes to Christ and bears fruit in keeping with repentance, we see in verse 22 Jesus commenting on what caused the seed thrown among the thorns to wither and die — The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.

The fact is, you simply cannot read the Bible’s teaching on money, giving, and possessions without recognizing that our money and our giving is a spiritual matter relating to our heart.

#2 God expects and commands us to give

There are numerous commands throughout Scripture that command us as God’s children to be faithful and generous givers. In fact, in Matthew 6, it’s interesting how Jesus begins his teaching on giving there. He begins in Matthew 6:2 by saying, “Thus, WHEN you give.” Not “if” you give, but “when” you give. You see, there was an exception as Jesus is teaching his disciples that of course they’re giving. To think of a non-giving disciple wasn’t even on the radar; it was an oxymoron. His intent, then, was to teach them how to give. Throughout God’s Word, he both expects and commands us to be faithful and generous givers.

#3 God wants us to give for the right reasons

There are numerous wrong reasons that people could give. In Matthew 6:1-4 we see Jesus address the wrong reasons of giving for people’s praise and adoration and simply to boost ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we see Paul address the wrong reasons of giving reluctantly and under compulsion. We must make sure, as we think about our use of money and our giving, that we are avoiding the wrong reasons for giving and instead give for the right reasons — with a heart focused on worshipping God in glad, faithful obedience and generosity in our giving.

#4 God reminds us that our giving is ultimately to our all-seeing Heavenly Father

Jesus is clear on this in Matthew 6:3-4. As we give to the local church and as we give to our brothers and sisters in need, our aim and goal should be one thing and one thing only — worshipping God through that sacrificial giving. If that is not our goal, we will give ourselves to sounding the trumpet before us and building ourselves up in the eyes of others. But true Christian giving is content with not a single soul ever knowing how much we gave, because our focus is ultimately on God, and we are content that our all-seeing heavenly Father sees our giving — and that is perfectly sufficient for us.

#5 God teaches that our giving should be done in light of the Incarnation

2 Corinthians 8:8-15 is key here. In these verses, Paul ties our giving to the incarnation and what Jesus did for our sake in taking on human flesh and accomplishing the salvation of His people. Just as our humility should be modeled after the incarnation (Phil 2), so our giving should be done in light of the incarnation — in light of the fact that God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, gave up everything that was highly His, became poor for our sake, so that through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we might receive the greatest gift of all through faith and repentance — His righteousness and the right to become children of God.

#6 God teaches that our giving should be in accordance with our means

God has called us to care for ourselves and to care for our families. We simply cannot give everything away and neglect those responsibilities. Nor can we give what we do not have. Rather, we give in accordance with our means. Some have been blessed greatly financially and should praise the Lord for that. Others struggle greatly financially. Whether the rich or the poor widow with two coins, we are to give generously and sacrificially according to our means.

#7 God teaches that Christian giving must be done willingly, freely, and cheerfully

2 Corinthians 9:7 is key here. The Christian should not be browbeaten or guilt into giving to the Lord reluctantly or under compulsion. Rather…

…the Lord loves a cheerful giver, which is what we must be.

…the Lord loves a cheerful giver who sees all that God has blessed him or her with and wants to give back to the Lord out of that abundance.

…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees the great sacrifice of Christ and wants to honor and emulate that sacrifice in his or her giving.

…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees our giving as a heart issue and wants to examine his or her heart and examine his or her checkbook to see if the use of money corresponds to what they know to be true and biblical.

And…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees our giving as an act of worship, whereby we please and honor the Lord by gladly, freely, delightfully, and cheerfully giving to the local church and to others because that is what is honoring to the Lord and what He has called us to do.

May we, as men and women of God, strive to be faithful in our giving as an act of worship of our Great God!

From the Archives: How Should We Interpret the Book of Revelation?

How many of you have ever been out of the country? I have, and every time I go abroad I always look forward to one moment: walking out of the airport in the new country for the first time. Any of you know what I mean? It’s a different country, with different sights, different sounds, different smells, and an overall different feel. On one hand it feels a bit alien and strange to walk into such an unknown place, but on the other hand there’s an adventurous feel when you walk into a foreign and mysterious culture. It can be a bit of sensory overload and can feel risky at times, but I quite enjoy it.

Well, we’re about to feel the same kind of excitement and uneasiness because today I am blogging about the book of Revelation.  You may feel a bit of sensory overload and it may even feel risky at times, but I assure you the book of Revelation is in the Bible to encourage us and I would even add that this book shows us the glory of Christ more than any other in the Bible.

The book of Revelation feels foreign to us mainly because it is filled with symbolism, figurative language, and prophetic apocalyptic imagery that most of us don’t really know what to do with. Now, to feel this way is ok, but to avoid Revelation because we don’t understand it is to fall into error.  As a good guide would do, today I want to give you a roadmap or a foundational principle that will help you navigate through this book. This basic foundational principle comes to us from rightly answering the question: how do we approach the book of Revelation?

Answer, we should approach it literally.

Some of you just took a sigh of relief.  But wait.  When I mean we should approach Revelation literally I mean we should approach Revelation according to its genre of literature. Let me explain.

We should NOT approach Revelation in the same manner we approach Genesis and Exodus. Genesis and Exodus both are included in the genre of historical narrative, which means these books give us a sequential timeline or chronological account of historical events. I think many people approach Revelation in the same manner, and though Revelation shouldn’t be thought of as history, it is commonly approached as a sequential timeline or chronological account of events that are going to take place in the future. We can’t do this because Revelation isn’t narrative, it’s in the apocalyptic genre. Just as there are different ways to interpret the genre of poetry and historical narrative in the Bible, there are different ways to interpret apocalyptic literature. The same rules do not apply.

So if we’re not to approach the book of Revelation as a future chain of sequential or chronological events, how then should we approach it?

Understanding that apocalyptic literature doesn’t play by the same rules, we should approach Revelation expecting it to be filled with symbolic imagery, metaphor, and figurative language because those things are characteristic of the apocalyptic genre in the Bible. Something fascinating in this regard is that out of all the books in the New Testament, the one book with most OT allusions, quotes, references, and imagery is the book of Revelation. This means it is filled with symbolic fulfillment that goes all the way back to Genesis 1. We should also approach Revelation expecting it to have relevance and deep meaning for BOTH the present audience of the apostle John, and the universal Church throughout all of history.

So you can see the cards in my hand, my view on Revelation is that throughout its 22 chapters, the apostle John re-tells the same story 7 different times with increasing intensity every time. You can call this a progressive parallelism, or a progressive recapitulation.  G.K. Beale calls is the Historical-Redemptive Approach, while others call it the ‘Iterest’ approach.