Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This week in 1973, an important supreme court decision legalized abortion nationwide. Since then, some sixty million babies have been aborted. While a mother’s womb was once the safest place for a child, it is now one of the most dangerous. But the issue that lies at the root of the abortion debate is whether or not there is life within the womb. Recently in the news, I saw the terrifying report about Chris Watts, the Colorado man who murdered his wife and two daughters. Then there was mention that he was being charged with four counts of murder because his wife was pregnant with their unborn child. Yet what is not explained is how our society can justify the taking of unborn life for millions of others. Since the rise of postmodernism, our culture affirms that each of us can come to our own conclusions in these matters and neither opinion is right or wrong. But the ultimate question that remains is whether or not there is life in the womb.

In Psalm 139, David is basking in the limitless expanse that is God. He marvels at God’s omniscience (perfect knowledge of all), omnipresence (existing fully everywhere), and omnipotence (infinite in power). In verses 13-18, David is particularly humbled by God’s intimate acquaintance with him while in the womb. He shares that God, perfectly knit us together, sovereignly planned our days, and graciously upholds us even now.

God perfectly knit us together

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” -Psalm 139:13-15

Our family has been given quilts and rugs after the birth of a child by sweet church ladies or other friends. These knitted hats and hand-woven quilts or scarves are greatly appreciated because of the amount of detailed work involved by the giver. We know that someone put a lot of thought and energy into these, though we didn’t know they were doing so at the time. They were knitting in secret and we were blessed with the finished product. God’s involvement in the birth of a every human life is not minimal. He is intimately involved in the womb and throughout the days of that child’s life. David uses a Hebrew word here that speaks specifically to the creation of one human life. It is the same word used in Job 10:11 which states, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.” David speaks of the most secret parts of human anatomy and declares that we are each, “intricately woven” by God. We ought to be humbled to know that there is no part of us that is hidden from the gaze of God. Nothing about us was accidental or haphazard, for it was none other than the Divine Creator who formed us. H. Hammond, a deceased commentator, remarks that our flesh, bones, skin, nerves, and arteries are so weaved together, “that no embroidery or carpet-work in the world can compare with it.” We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. But not only were our days in the womb planned, but everyday of our lives thereafter.

God sovereignly planned our days

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”- Psalm 139:16

Until our generation with the invention of the Ultrasound (sadly after Roe V. Wade), life in the womb was totally unseen and mysterious. It was reserved for God’s eyes only. Now we can see 4D images of babies in the womb, yet it is still a shadowy form we behold. The life in the womb remains for scientists a beautiful mystery that cannot be explained satisfactorily without mention of God. Yet this is merely the earliest stages of that life. God has a book which contains every day each of us will ever live, perfectly planned out to the nanosecond. Our God not only knits us together in the womb, he predetermines every passing moment of our entire lives before any of them even come to be. This is such an encouragement for us in the daily pressures of life. God is never shocked or surprised by our pain. Like a Master storyteller, He is orchestrating all these crazy events by Divine design. Ephesians 1 says God has been doing this from, “before the foundation of the world,” and that He, “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” In Ephesians 2:10 we’re informed that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This goes for not only everyday we will face, but the very one we call `today.`

God graciously upholds us even now

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” -Psalm 139:17-18

Every time our family goes to the beach, it seems we bring more sand back with us than is possible. David says if we could count God’s thoughts of us it would be more than all the sand on all the beaches in all the world. His thoughts toward us are best exemplified in the Gospel. His care for us led Him to send His only Son into this world as a baby who would bear the curse of our sin and drink God’s judgment for us on the cross. We will never get over the depth of God’s mercy and grace to us in Christ. It doesn’t make sense why God loves us sinners with such breadth and depth and height and length. And so may we spend eternity marveling that such a Creator is also our Redeemer.

Those Whom He Called He Also Sanctified

The call to holy living is made repeatedly throughout Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians. Though the church was already known for their work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope (1 Thess. 1:3), Paul nevertheless reminds them that the will of God is their sanctification (4:3). They had already been charged to walk in a manner worthy of the God who had called them into his own kingdom and glory (2:12), yet Paul writes to remind them that they had not been called “for impurity, but in holiness” (4:7). In typical Pauline fashion, he then concludes his letter with specific exhortations to holiness (4:1-5:22).

The unmistakable impression we are given—not just in this particular letter but throughout all Scripture—is that Christians are responsible for their progress in sanctification. We must strive for holiness (Heb. 12:14). Only those who endure to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13). But just before he finishes writing to this rather exemplary church, Paul includes a short prayer in verses 23-24 that seems to place the burden of sanctification elsewhere. Here, we discover the doctrine of the preservation of the saints: that those whom God calls and justifies, he also sanctifies.

May God Himself Sanctify You

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23).

Paul is praying that God himself would sanctify his people, his chosen saints, his called-out church. He’s praying that God would keep the entirety of their being blameless till the coming of Christ. So, who is responsible for the work of sanctification? The believer or God? The called or the Caller? The answer is a resounding “yes!” Of course, we understand that in justification our works have no place at all; it is a monergistic work. We also know that in sanctification our works are necessary; it is a synergistic work. By the power of Spirit we must kill sin, put off the old man, cast off the works of darkness, and walk in the light.

However, as Paul prayer here implies, it is ultimately our triune God who empowers us to do these things. It is only by his grace that we are enabled to walk in holiness. Sanctification is the work of God within us that is worked out by us. Paul makes this abundantly clear elsewhere when he writes: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Php. 2:12-13; see also 1 Cor. 15:9-10). Until the day when the Lord Jesus Christ returns, we are to walk worthy of our calling in complete reliance upon the grace of God that is at work within us. This verse, then, is a powerful and necessary prayer to pray!

But Paul is not simply expressing a mere wish that God would lend a helping hand with their sanctification. No; he is praying with the utmost confidence.

The Caller Is Faithful

He who calls you is faithful (1 Thess. 5:24a).

Paul grounds his prayer in the faithfulness of God. But before we consider the implications of this truth, notice first that God is referred to as the one “who calls you.”  But what “call” is Paul referring to here? While Jesus does mention that “many are called, but few are chosen”(Matt. 22:14), the word ‘call’ means more than just a general invitation. John Murray writes: “The terms for calling, when used specifically with reference to salvation, are almost uniformly applied, not to the universal call of the gospel, but to the call that ushers men into a state of salvation and is therefore effectual.”[i] This call is the call of God into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9), into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), and to eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12). It is the call of God that brings the dead to life and things into existence that do not exist (Rom. 4:17). It is the call we see in1 Timothy 1:9: “He saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

In other words, this is the effectual call of God by which he summons his people, drawing them to himself in repentance and faith. J. I. Packer gives a helpful description of the effectual call:

“Original sin renders all human beings naturally dead (unresponsive) to God, but in effectual calling God quickens the dead. As the outward call of God to faith in Christ is communicated through the reading, preaching, and explaining of the contents of the Bible, the Holy Spirit enlightens and renews the heart of elect sinners so that they understand the gospel and embrace it as truth from God, and God in Christ becomes to them an object of desire and affection. Being now regenerate and able by the use of their freed will to choose God and the good, they turn away from their former pattern of living to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to start a new life with him.”[ii]

This call is a crucial element in God’s unbreakable chain of salvation, which brings us back to the ground of Paul’s prayer in the faithfulness of God for the Thessalonians’ sanctification.

He Will Surely Do It

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24).

Here is the hope, the assurance, the peace, and the security of the believer—the very power behind the perseverance of saints. The God who calls us to salvation is the ever-faithful, covenant-keeping, unchanging God. He is faithful not only to forgive us our sins but to sanctify us and keep us blameless until we are glorified at the second coming of Christ. Paul’s confidence here is also expressed in Philippians 1:6: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Perhaps the most powerful argument for the effectual call of God is found in Romans 8:30: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Our faithful God simply cannot fail to bring his people to himself. The God who called us by his grace has not left our sanctification up to chance; those whom he called he also sanctified. In fact, when we repent and place our faith in Jesus for “salvation,” we are essentially trusting in Jesus for full, eschatological salvation; we are believing the promise of God that he will “sustain us to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8)!

Trophies of God’s Preserving Grace

This brief discussion of 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is not intended to be an exhaustive defense of some Calvinistic doctrine; this is simply a restatement of a Pauline doctrine, which he first received from the risen Lord! Jesus himself declared: “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39); “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (10:28).  For Jesus to lose even one of those given to him by the Father to raise on the last day would mean a failure to accomplish the will of his Father.

Of course, this is a mysterious doctrine. That we are fully responsible for our sanctification, and that our sovereign God works irresistibly to that end as well, is plain in the Scriptures. But when the redeemed from every tribe, language, people, and nation are singing the song of the Lamb in his presence in the new creation, there will be no question as to who was ultimately responsible for their salvation. They will be an eternal testament to our loving and faithful God—a God who predestined, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified them—all “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6).


[i] John Murray, Redemption: Accomplish and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015), 91-92.

[ii] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, Il; Tyndale House, 1993), 153.

New Year’s Day Prayer

I have been praying that God would grow our local church; not so much numerically but spiritually as I believe that lasting numerical growth flows from authentic Spirit-led growth. I did not, however, see coming what the Lord was doing while I was away.

Our Advent season typically reaches its climax at our Christmas Eve service (when Christmas doesn’t fall on a Sunday) after which I retreat into a week of reflection, rest, and preparation as the current year comes to a close and the new year approaches.

This year I received a phone call from the Chairman of Elders informing me that at our monthly prayer meeting he and our newly hired Asst. Pastor formulated a plan for 24 hours of prayer on New Year’s Day. A sign-up sheet would be created with forty-eight, thirty-minute increments and made available to the congregation at December 30’s worship service.

Excitement, doubt, concern, thankfulness, and anticipation filled my heart.

I’d like to be super-spiritual and tell you I knew that our members would jump at the opportunity to pray for hours at a time for 24 hours on a day that is typically filled with sleeping in because of the late-night festivities that preceded it, but I’m not and I was concerned and doubtful.

However, God in His faithfulness saw fit to fill forty five of forty eight slots and my first day in the office of 2019 was filled with joy, hope, encouragement and excitement as I saw the revolving door of person after person and family after family fill our sanctuary on their knees, with the Word open in front of them, praying through our teachers, leadership, programs, missionaries, and a church plant in South America.

I learned three important lessons on the first day of 2019:

First, God is faithful. He answered my prayers to mature us in Christ and I don’t believe He’s done yet either. I’ve been praying earnestly that spiritual fruit of maturity would adorn the branches of this local tree, Christ’s Church in Eldred, Illinois. A devotion & dependence upon the Lord manifested in prayer is a hallmark of the local Church (Acts 2:42). I couldn’t be more grateful to the Lord!

Second, the Lord confirmed that the work being done here belongs to Him and not me. The Lord placed this on the hearts of our leadership in my absence. In the secular world that would be scary as it could be perceived that I am no longer needed. But for a Sr. pastor to see his church seeking Christ apart from his presence is overwhelmingly encouraging. Eldred Baptist needs more Christ and less Pastor Don (John 3:30). I am thankful for that reminder!

Lastly, I learned that I expect too little from the Lord. I am humbled and convicted by my skepticism as well as encouraged to call Christ’s Church to greater things in 2019. I am firmly convinced that pastors lower the bar too often to make Christianity more palatable for the culture; clearly that pastor is me, too. I have also been praying that God would reveal sin in me of which I was not aware. Again, He is good and faithful!

The same God who created light before He created the sun is creating in us an unquenchable thirst to know Him more fully, love Him more deeply, and be near Him more frequently. Surely, 2019 will bring more growth, more goodness, and more of God.

In 2019, may we all respond as the boy Samuel did when the Lord spoke to him, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9).

My 2019 Resolution

Since most of you are thinking through goals for 2019, I’d like to share mine. It’s the same each year, but each year I try and pursue it from a different angle.

Since I have been a Christian my resolution every new year has been the same. You may say that I am boring to do so, but let me explain. As December ends and January roles around I find one desire growing in me:  to know God better this year than last. I want to be able to say in December, that I know God better now than I did the past January. I want to be closer to Him, I want to talk to Him more and in a more real way, I want to know His Word better, I want to feel Him more, I want to be more like Him, and most of all I want to love Him more than I did in the previous year.

This is all well and good, but how will all this be accomplished? I could make a bunch of resolutions to do it. For example I could make resolutions to read more, to pray more, to fast more, to rebuke more, to evangelize more, etc. Those are not bad resolutions, but they are all “fruit” issues. My resolution gets at the “root” issue, namely, what I treasure. You see, if I treasure the gospel more this year than last, all of those things I listed will happen. If I do not treasure the gospel more this year than last, those things will likely decrease. So instead of going at specific “fruit” issues, I want more heart work being done, more “root” issues.

Where do I get this in the Bible?  Titus 2:11-12, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.

I will not be godly if I only concentrate on reading the Bible more. I will not be godly if I only make it my aim to share the gospel with every person I meet. I will not become more godly if I only try to “do” more things. The only way you and I will become more godly, is by reflecting on the gospel; because it is the gospel, as revealed in the Bible, which reveals the grace of God that has appeared. It is this grace that teaches us, or instructs us to live godly in this present age.

Titus 3 also shows this. In chapter 3 Paul gloriously describes the gospel in verses 3-7.  Then in verse 8 he says, “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.  These things are good and profitable for men.” When Paul says “these things” he means the gospel that he described in verses 3-7. What is it that causes believers to carefully engage in good deeds? What is it that is good and profitable for men? The gospel! When believers treasure the gospel, good deeds, Bible reading, and evangelism flows forth in abundance.

So my resolution this year is the same as last year and will most likely be the same as each new year comes that God wills to bring us. I want to treasure the gospel more, so that I grow more. When I grow more, I’ll know God more. When I know God more, I’ll love God more. When I love God more, I’ll be filled with infinite pleasure and delight. So really my desire this new year is for the increasing of my joy in Jesus, above all things, so that I would give glory to God by living in Him and for Him.

Will you join me this year in this glorious pursuit?

Pick Up and Read

As 2019 begins, many resolutions will be made and many goals will be set. Resolutions and goals come to pass only if discipline characterizes an individual’s life. When it comes to the spiritual disciplines of the believer, there is a fine line one must walk between mechanical, robotic actions and half-hearted devotion. Christians are to be a disciplined people with an acknowledgement of dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, all of the spiritual disciplines are to be seen as means by which worship of the Triune God takes place. One of the most important disciplines in the Christian life is reading. So, as the new year begins, let me offer you some encouragement as to what you should pick up and read.

The Bible

Above all other books, the Bible should be at the center of our daily reading habits. This is the special revelation of God that reveals to us the nature of God and the redemptive storyline. Every doctrine found within the pages of Scripture relates to one another and is marrow for life. The reason that the Bible is not read is that we do not understand what we hold in our hand. This year, take your Bible, read it, write about what you read, ask questions of the text, and discern how the gospel relates to this passage. Since we believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God, should we not seek to know it more and more? Is there anything else in our lives that should impact how we live apart from the Holy Scriptures? When I have grown cold and dulled to the Word, there is a great emptiness and misery that accommodates each day. When considering the Bible, you hold in your hands, remember the sacrifice of men like William Tyndale. Tyndale is a Christian martyr who was executed due to the fact that he desired that the common man be able to read the Scriptures for himself in the English language.

A Bible-reading plan is a solid means of structure and discipline in searching the Scriptures during the year. Reading with an accountability partner is an excellent means to keep you on track. If you miss a day, do not stop and wait for the next January 1st to roll around. Take up the next day and begin again to search the Scriptures. In 2018, I utilized the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan (https://www.mcheyne.info/calendar.pdf). This year, I will follow a chronological Bible reading plan (http://static.esvmedia.org/assets/pdfs/rp.chronological.pdf). Here are some other Bible reading plans that you can benefit from: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/. May 2019 be a year of the Bible in your life by which you are left in more awe of the God who creates, redeems, sustains, and keeps!

Reading the Classics

My fellow Publican, Zack Ford, and I are planning to begin a 4 year journey through these Christian classics (http://www.longing4truth.com/mark-devers-christian-classics-reading-challenge/). Mark Dever organized this listing that covers the early church, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Sibbes, Spurgeon, and others! As Zack shows, this is a very intense and ambitious reading plan. I would not recommend someone do this on their own (I have tried!!) but read this with others. Not only is this another means of accountability but this will provide excellent opportunities to engage and learn with others regarding what you are reading. Furthermore, you might be prone to read only one person or era in church history. This is an excellent way to become more familiar with figures from each epoch of church history.

Puritan Paperbacks

I was overwhelmed when my church family at NTBC presented me with The Banner of Truth’s “Puritan Paperback” series for Christmas! What a goldmine! The Puritans can be difficult to read at times but it is profitable to the soul. “The Bruised Reed” by Richard Sibbes is an excellent place to start! Why not form a group in your church that is dedicated to reading one of these books a month and discussing it? You will find your life enriched and solid wisdom given to pass on to others! https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/series/puritan-paperbacks-1/

Biographies

While I am a history nerd, I realize that not everyone else cares for history like me. Still, I would argue that we suffer greatly when we fail to know history and live as if time began with us. One of the best means to acquaint yourself with history is by reading biographies. This is true whether we are dealing with figures like George Washing and Winston Churchill or John Owen and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Steve Lawson’s series “A Long Line of Godly Men” is an excellent introduction to biographical reading of some of the great men in the history of the church. These volumes are manageable to read. While these are not exhaustive or even typical biographies, this collection of books will introduce you to some of the heroes of the faith showing how their lives still speak to us today. If any one person strikes up your interest more, there are many resources cited in the book that will guide you in further reading. I highly recommend these books! https://www.ligonier.org/store/collection/long-line-godly-men/

Conclusion

Above all, read in 2019! You will be amazed at how much you can cover and learn if you set 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour each day to read. In you reading, heed the words of C.H. Spurgeon, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”

The Reason for the Season

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:8-21).

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. We decorate our houses. We give and receive gifts. We spend time with family and friends. And we eat many festive meals. I really enjoy this season as I am sure many of you do as well.  But so often we fail to miss the reason for the season. We fail to focus on Christ. We celebrate Santa more than we celebrate Jesus and this shouldn’t be.

Jesus brings much more than a red sack of small toys, He brings salvation to the world (10-11). It’s the best news that brings the greatest joy: the enemies of God become the friends of God, all because of the work of God on their behalf. Jesus steps into His creation. He puts on flesh and dwells among us. He lives a life of perfect obedience in our place, dies a sacrificial death for us, three days later He rises from the dead defeating sin and death. Now all who repent and believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This is the reason for the season. This is cause for celebration and great joy.

Notice the reaction of the angels, shepherds, and Mary in our passage above as they ponder the news of Jesus. In verse 14 we are told that a multitude of angels all proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest.” In verse 20 we read, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” And in v. 19 we see that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The news of Jesus was not dull, unimportant, or casual to the people in our passage and it should be to us either.

The news of Jesus’ incarnation should bring great joy that leads to worship and adoration. As you spend time with family and friends today do not forget the reason for the season. Make Jesus the center of the celebration.

Stop Praying Safe Prayers

One thing that I’ve noticed about the Reformed crowd that I am a part of is that we often pray safe prayers. Sure, we pray. Sure, we implore God. Sure, we boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. But we often end (or begin) our prayers with phrases that let God “off the hook” or make His not answering easier for us to swallow. Phrases like, “If this is your will, please …” Or, “Please do so and so, but I recognize it may not be in your will to do so.” I don’t know if this is you or not, but I know it has been me in recent times. And the Lord has been using His Word to challenge me to stop praying safe prayers.

I was recently reading through the Gospels and came across statement after statement from Jesus that just didn’t quite square up with the safe prayers I was praying. 

  • Matthew 21:22 – “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” 
  • Mark 11:24 — “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” 
  • Luke 11:9 — “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
  • John 14:13 – “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” 

And it isn’t just Jesus in the Gospels saying things like this. Later in the New Testament Epistles we see things like:

  • James 1:5-6 — “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
  • 1 John 5:14 — “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”

Now to be fair, many of us have experienced the gross and outlandish misinterpretation and misapplication of these passages of Scripture, and so our default position is one of caution. We rightly caution that Jesus is not giving us a carte blanche to get whatever we want in life. We rightly caution that we are not to be presumptuous in our prayers, expecting that God is our magic genie in the bottle, there to fulfill our every wish. We rightly caution that it is not the measure of our faith that causes God to act, but His Sovereign will based on His eternal decree. All of these are good and healthy cautions, and ones that we must keep in the back of our minds and warn new believers of as they may be lured away by the false teachings of our day.

But brothers and sisters, even after all of these right cautions, let us not miss out on the incredible promise given to us by Jesus and the other writers of the New Testament, and the amazing privilege afforded to us to commune with and entreat the God of the universe in prayer. Let us not make the cautions our main focus. Those of us who rightly emphasize the meticulous sovereignty of God in all things must be careful not to downplay, or worse disregard, the words of Jesus concerning prayer. As one preacher put it, we are often guilty of putting the back-of-our-mind cautions (“God may not answer this prayer because it may not be His will”) at the forefront of our mind (“God I’m going to ask you to do this, but I know you probably won’t because it probably isn’t your will.”)

With the utmost focus on the sovereignty of God, and careful attention not to presume upon Him, let us be men and women who pray God-sized prayers. Let us implore Him to move and act in a way that only He can, in a way that is only explainable by the fact that the God of the universe has intervened and acted on our behalf. Let us model the bold prayer of John Knox: “Give me Scotland, or I die.” As Burk Parsons says of Knox’s prayer,

“Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church. As is evident from his preaching and prayer, Knox believed neither in the power of his preaching nor in the power of his prayer, but in the power of the gospel and the power of God, who sovereignly ordains preaching and prayer as secondary means in the salvation of His people.”

As we prepare to enter into the New Year of 2019, what are the mountains in your life waiting to be moved, by God’s sovereign decree, through the means of your faith-filled prayer? What is your Scotland, for which you earnestly implore the Lord to the point that you would rather die than not see that prayer come to pass. 

We aren’t talking here about asking the Lord for health, wealth, and prosperity. We are talking about those things that we know, by virtue of His perfect, sufficient, and inerrant Word, are in accordance with His Will and bring Him honor and glory. We are talking about asking Him for wisdom in a decision that we need to make or in a situation we need to handle, wisdom that would result in our good and His glory. We are talking about asking Him to overcome the hardness of heart in the lives of your neighbors and to enable you to have an inroad to faithfully and boldly proclaim the Gospel in a winsome way. We are talking about imploring Him to work in your marriage to enable you to be a sacrificial husband or a loving, honoring wife, to the end that your marriage would be a beacon to the world of the beauty and truth of the Gospel.

As I ponder some things going on my own life, I am speaking to myself as much as, if not more, than anyone reading this. While this is by no means an exhaustive treatment on the topic of prayer, I want to challenge you, as I challenge myself, to enter into the New Year committed to praying God-sized, unsafe prayers — committed to stop saying safe prayers. May we be men and women who come before the throne of grace with bold faith and expectant hearts, asking God to do what only God can do, that He may receive all praise, honor, and glory.

Three Benedictions for Christmas

Hectic. Busy. Frantic. Rushed. These are just a few words that describe the Christmas season for most. What we could all use is a little endurance, encouragement, hope, and peace. The good news for us is that our God is all about giving us these very gifts, but not in a detached sort of way. God gives us something far better than hope or peace…He gives us Himself, the God of hope and peace.

The book of Romans is the Bible’s theological tour-de-force. Paul paints for us a picture of God’s impeccable holiness, our utter depravity, and the splendor of the Gospel to save such wretches. But there is a threefold benediction that is easy to miss in the last pages of this epistle. In Romans 15, Paul prays three benedictions over the church and each of these highlight a different aspect of God’s gift of Himself to His people.

Join me as we behold our great God…

The God of Endurance and Encouragement…

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Romans 15:5-6

Paul had just mentioned these two words in the previous verse. He told the church in Rome that the Old Testament was, “Written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Then Paul turns his focus from God’s revealed Word, to God the Revealer. He literally stops mid-sentence and prays this over them. But Paul doesn’t just pray for us to endure and have encouragement. His prayer hinges upon God, the source of endurance and encouragement for His people. Endurance and encouragement are two things God knows a little something about. Our God alone has endured from the beginning and has always been the source of encouragement to His people. But why does Paul pray this aspect of God’s nature over Christ’s church? It is not for their individual benefit, but their corporate unity and worship as a church. Endurance and encouragement are things that show up in relationships among fellow church members. Even as we celebrate the peace of Christmas together, we can be at odds with each other. We easily give up on one another and get discouraged by these relationships. Spouses in the church throw in the towel on their marriage too quickly. Once strong friendships in the church dissolve over harsh words said in a meeting or outside the worship gathering. This is why we need God’s endurance and encouragement. All that we need to relate well with one another in harmony and love is found in our God Himself. He will empower us to love as we have been loved. After all, God has shown much long-suffering in dealing with our sins, so we should in dealing with the sins of others. Along with endurance and encouragement, we need hope…

The God of Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

Paul had already said the Old Testament was written so that, “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Then Paul said of Christ that, “in Him will the Gentiles hope” (Rom. 15:12). Now he once again turns this into a benediction for the church. Our God is not only the enduring One and the source of all encouragement. He is also the source of hope for His people. Verse 13 is packed with significance for us as it mentions hope, joy, and peace; these are realities Christ came to give us. Paul prays for God to fill us with all joy and peace, which comes through believing the truth of God’s Word. He is praying that through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might abound in joy, peace, and hope. There is no greater hope than that which was accomplished through Christ for the believer. We who once were in a hopeless predicament because of our sin have been given the greatest hope of all. I love how the author of Hebrews describes it: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19). The hope of the Christian is not wishful thinking, but a fixed reality that awaits consummation. People say all the time they hope this or that will happen, but the believer’s hope is as secure as the ground under their feet and as certain as God’s faithfulness. God is the enduring source of encouragement for His people and gives them abounding hope, but these would not help us if there was no peace…

The God of Peace

“May the God of peace be with you all. Amen…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” – Romans 15:33, 16:20

Octavius Caesar or Caesar Augustus was known for his “reign of peace”, but it was more fear than anything. In his commentary on Luke 2, R. Kent Hughes points out, “There was “peace,” but it was a dark peace—a Hitler’s peace—and no man or woman or boy or girl could say a word against it without fearfully looking over their shoulder.” The true reign of peace was announced by the angels at the birth of King Jesus. He was the Prince of Peace Isaiah had foretold who would also rule the nations. Our God is the God of peace because He has never known a rival. His reign is one of endless peace because there is nothing outside of His power and everything is dependent on Him for life. Another instance where Paul refers to “the God of peace” is found in Philippians 4. Paul says, “the peace of God…surpasses all understanding” and “will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Php. 4:7). He also says this peace is granted to us through prayer (Php. 4:6). But you can’t enjoy the peace of God until you are at peace with God. How? Jesus was God’s peace treaty to man. God in Christ was reconciling a world of enemies to Himself and doing so by means of Jesus. Christ endured the wrath of God so that the children of God might be at peace with God for all eternity. This is the peace that was foretold back in Genesis 3:15. God warned the snake that a son born of woman would crush his head even as the serpent bruised his heel. At the cross, God made peace with His people by taking their punishment on the cross and defeating Satan’s power of accusation. Now, we await the day when the enemy of our peace is decisively defeated. But we do so with the certain hope that this peace is ours by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and all to the glory of God alone.

May the God of endurance and encouragement, the God of hope, and the God of peace grant you to enjoy His gifts as you enjoy Him in the person of His Son Jesus.

The Announcement of Advent: Repent and Believe

He had come up from the wilderness of His temptation and testing faithful, obedient, and fully prepared for His ministry, tempted in all ways we are yet without sin. John the Baptist had been arrested, and when Jesus came into Galilee Mark 1:15 records the message He preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Since this is the sum and substance of the message Jesus Christ came to preach, let us therefore, give heed to this advent announcement. It is four things.

First, an Authoritative Command

When He says, “Repent and believe in the gospel” He isn’t suggesting, He is commanding. “Repent” is as much a command as “You shall not murder” and “Believe in the gospel” is as much a command as “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Jesus didn’t come to present the world with another option of spirituality. No. The same God who thundered and shook Mt. Sinai, the same God who will sound the trumpet from the heavens at the end of all things, is now commanding the whole world to “Repent and believe.”

I am aware that the words ‘command’ and ‘authority’ sound jarring, severe, abrasive, and harsh to the modern ear. But one of the glorious things about the Bible is that, unlike ourselves, it’s not subject to any generation’s cultural anathemas. We are modern people, and we may truly feel that authority and those who have it are inherently suspect because authority has so often been abused. So naturally when Jesus comes into our modern sight many see a skewed view of Him thinking that He is little more than a soft-spoken, lovey-dovey, Galilean hippie who preached a message of grace and love. We have a need to be corrected. When we come to the Jesus of the Bible we do not find a Jesus who is safe, but a Jesus who’s authority is unlimited.

This is a sweet severity of Jesus. Let it jar you. Let it bother you, feel the abrasiveness of His command, only let it jar and bother you out of your modern sensibilities and lead you to obey this command and not run from it.

Second, this is a Two-Fold Command

When Jesus said “Repent and believe in the gospel” he gave us a two-fold command. But upon hearing this two-fold command people of various dispositions and personalities run off in two equally unhelpful directions. On the one hand we find people spreading a message centered on repentance, and on the other hand we find people spreading a message centered on faith. The former will cry out all day long at sinners to repent from their sins and speak boldly of the judgment to come, while the latter will cry out all day long to sinners promising that all sorts of wonderful things will flow forth into the soul of man from believing. The former can seem somewhat threatening and overly pessimistic, while the latter can seem somewhat shallow and overly optimistic. The former try to harden the gospel by avoiding the reality of belief, while the latter try to soften the gospel by avoiding the reality of repentance. Both of these directions are equally unhelpful because they ignore each other. Jesus did not come to only say ‘Repent!’, and He did not come to only say ‘Believe!’ He came with a two-fold command, “Repent and believe.”

So wherever the gospel is preached the core of the message must proclaim this two-fold message that Jesus came to say.

Third, this is a Sensible Command

Some people, perhaps even some of you, think it is entirely inappropriate for Jesus (and anyone else for that matter) to call someone else to ‘repent and believe.’ Because by doing so Jesus would be stating that the one being called to repent and believe is currently living and believing wrongly. This, they say, is the height of arrogance. When Jesus says someone else is doing religion wrong He is thought to be narrow-minded, unreasonable, and intolerant. But I think all men would betray themselves if they got punched in the face. Think of it like this: let’s say you and I were talking about current events around the world and because of something you said I grew angry and out of my anger I then punched you in the face. How would you feel? You can bet that you won’t be feeling warm fuzzy inside! 100% of you would become angry in response. And before ever letting me back into your good graces wouldn’t you demand an apology from me? Not only so, wouldn’t you only be satisfied with a sincere apology? One where I fully and clearly acknowledged the error of my ways, understanding how deeply I hurt you, and recognizing the need to make up for it anyway I can? Wouldn’t you require this of me? Of course you would! You wouldn’t be satisfied with a surface level apology, you’d want me to have genuine sorrow over what I had done to you.

All men, without exception, would react this way. And because all men would react this way, it shows what we really believe, and since we believe this way why do we then reject the same reality when it’s applied to God’s dealings with man and say it’s arrogant for Jesus to call us to ‘repent and believe?’ Charles Spurgeon once urged this point and said, “Do you expect to be saved while you’re in your sins? Are you to be allowed to love your iniquities, and yet to go to heaven? What, you think to have poison in your veins, and yet be healthy? Be stained, and yet be thought spotless? Harbor the disease the yet be in health? Ridiculous!”

Though many today say the gospel call to repent and believe is against or contrary to reason. I say it is above reason, and if we we’re reasonable people we would repent and believe in the gospel. No, the command to repent and believe the gospel is a sensible command, and all men know it.

Fourth, this is an Urgent Command

Do not be tricked. One of the greatest deceptions the devil has ever done is not keeping us from repenting and believing in the gospel, but tricking us into believing we can repent and believe in the gospel tomorrow. As the frog slowly and comfortably boils to death in a pot of warming water, so too, modern man reclines in the water of worldliness unaware that he too is submerged and slowly warming to death in sin. Perhaps we sit so comfortably in the church during sermons that call us to repent and believe in the gospel because we’ve become numb to the things of God. We don’t tremble when we approach the throne, we don’t fear the God we’re coming before even though He is a consuming fire in His holiness. We are far too casual.

Do not be tricked, give up your intentions, and put yourselves to action, not tomorrow, not January 1st, but today!

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

More Love

“I am a meaningless noise; I am nothing; I gain nothing.” You won’t find these words in the latest version of any best-selling, self-help masterpiece. But, you will find them (not verbatim) in the Wisdom of God, through the pen of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

God has moved me to this reality using two primary mechanisms in the last several months: (1) Through the study and prayerful pursuit of spiritual gifts, and (2) Through discipling two men whom God placed in my life for discipleship who are not connected to my church.

First, a couple of times per year I teach a new members/new believers class in our local church. There are a few Sunday’s where I teach on spiritual gifts and their exercise for the edification of the Body. This practice, regularly, has me searching through the Scriptures in preparation.

As I learn to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31), I couldn’t help but be drawn to Paul’s immediate follow-up in that same verse, “And I will show you still a more excellent way” (emphasis added). Can I prayerfully pursue the higher gifts and disregard (or make second place even) the “more excellent way,” which clearly is love (1 Cor. 13)?

After all, I, without love, as defined by God, am “meaningless noise…nothing…and I gain nothing.” When read, considered, and meditated upon, this is a pretty harsh reality to accept. This means the gifts He has given and the kingdom work (not to even mention the gifts I am prayerfully pursuing) done, when lacking the single greatest ingredient, is of no value and gain nothing. None? Really?

Yes, really.

The Lord has shifted my focus from spiritual gifts to love, the “still more excellent way.” Praise God!

Second, often times I use Don Whitney’s “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” when I am beginning a discipleship relationship in order to teach men how to live the Christian life. In the opening discipline of Bible Intake Whitney says this:

“No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply in no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.”

In his two chapters on Bible Intake, Whitney points his readers to the supernatural workings of God through hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word. While working on committing 1 Corinthians 13 to memory, the Lord has shown me that what is lacking in not more gifts in my spiritual armory. It’s love. Love is the muscle behind the ministry; and not just any love but love as defined by God, in Christ!

In short, God used the exercising the gifts He’s already given me (namely, teaching & discipling) to show me that it wasn’t more gifts I needed (although they are to be earnestly desired) but love that was missing. Without it, I am just noise, I’m nothing, & I gain nothing. Nothing.

Isn’t God good? I went looking for more and He’s teaching me a more excellent way to utilize that which He’s already provided.

More love. Who doesn’t need to grow in love? Surely, I do. Surely, you do. And by His grace, surely, we will! After all, in His grace you were “predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29 who is Love personified.

Grow us, Lord, in love; make us, I pray, like Christ.

“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Learning through our Disagreements

Over the last few weeks in the office we have been reading the book: Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves. It is a wonderful read and one that will make you think deeply about what we love so much about his preaching and teaching, but it will also at times make us step back and disagree with Spurgeon’s views on several things such as preaching books of the bible, liturgies, the New Birth, and scripted prayer.

Today’s post isn’t a review of the book but rather what the book helped me to see and think more deeply about. I’ve posted on it before, but I think it bears reminding that some of the very people our heroes ranged against and called out are us. As a Baptist I love the reformation and appreciate all that Luther did and at the same time know he would have considered me as much a heretic as the Pope in Rome. Augustine was the father of much of what we find distasteful in the Catholic church such as Baptism for the remission of sins in Infants, Purgatory, Limbo, and a host of others, yet he also helped to solidify theologically the truth of Monergism and a full appreciation for the Sovereignty of God. Bavinck and Kuyper in Holland could not reconcile the role of the church and state, especially in the training of ministers, and in the process their partnership as ministers of the gospel was frayed.

Now I say all this for two reasons. First, there is always a chance we are wrong, not about the gospel but at times on its application when scripture is less than clear. Second, there are good and Holy brothers and sisters in Christ who we can learn much from, whom we will equally disagree with. Both of these things we need to remember because at the end of the day we live to imitate Christ and become more like him, not necessarily other Christians. They point us to Christ and at times our worthy of admiration, but ultimately it is Christ whom we pursue.

 We Might Be Wrong

No one likes to be wrong. Let’s just face it, red marks on a test don’t tend to bring out our most excited moments (though many of us can agree we learned a lot from those red marks). Being corrected for our attitude or unrighteous behavior isn’t a fun day, though necessary. I’ve spent the last 6 years in full time ministry before that I spent 7 years in Bible college and seminary, along the way I read a lot of the Bible a lot and equally a lot of theology texts. My office is filled with commentaries on the word of God and books discussing how we should live out these truths. In Seminary specifically I focused my studies on Christian ethics (Or the Practical outworking of theology in everyday life).  This time taught me a lot about what it means to be wrong and to be gracious in doing so, but it also showed me areas of my theology that should have been peripheral that had become central, things that being wrong about didn’t change who I was in Christ. Such as how does the Spirit gift individuals and what does that look like, what should the church sing, how do we practice church discipline, in what ways can baptism be performed, how often should we take communion, what role does Communion, the Word, and singing play in weekly and personal worship?

I could ask these questions to a whole host of pastors and theologians and get a wide variety of answers and in that way, it taught me that it was okay to accept that possibility of being wrong in some areas of the Christian life, but not to settle for being wrong. It is important that we acknowledge that there are mysteries too marvelous for us to full comprehend or articulate. We must accept that there are areas of the outworking of the gospel that take effort to dive deeply into, and we should. The point of accepting that you could be wrong is not to be lazy in the process but to push harder into Christ and to trust in Him, to dive deeply into His Word and allow it to be the guide of who we are and how we then shall live. He gives us His Word to know Him and His family and to live out the truth of who has been revealed.

Now I know there are a lot of traps with what I am saying, and I’ll admit that as well. Hebrews encourages us to continually be on guard against falsehoods and to not be led astray into disobedience but to fight all the more for the faith and to rest in Christ our great High Priest who gave all for us, and for the Glory of His father. So, while it is good to accept, we may be wrong on the peripheral we must not give ground on the reality of who Jesus is, what salvation is, the work of the Holy spirit producing righteousness, the call to repentance, the work of God through all of scripture. These are the areas of the faith first and foremost to be wrong is to be outside of the faith. These are questions while they may be answered with different words will have the same substance, will reflect the same gospel truth, Spurgeon, Luther, Augustine, Bavinck, Kuyper, Piper, MacArthur, R.C., Gurnall, Athanasius, Polycarp, John and Paul would reflect the same gospel reality.

Learning from Others

Now that was a long way to highlight the importance of learning from those, we may at times disagree with on peripheral issues. Again, this is not a call to start picking up Osteen and Bell books, no need to take down that old Brian McLaren book on the 19 different Jesus’. No this is more about the importance of getting outside of our tribal instinct and studying the truth of scripture and seeing how other godly people have applied the text and lived it out. When I was in college, I went to an interdenominational school made up of a host of different theological backgrounds all studying the scriptures together and having lively and gracious discussions on the outworking of that faith. I learned a lot about loving my brothers and sisters well in disagreement from brothers whom truly reflected and lived out the gospel. I didn’t agree with everything they thought but I agreed with how they lived, for they lived it out far greater than I. Especially while those in my same camp seemed to move farther and farther way from the actual practice of the faith, while condemning these brothers as legalists.

It is an amazing thought that we read men whom we openly would disagree with if they were around today, but the measure of their lives proved that they ran the race, they kept the faith, and in Christ have been rewarded greatly. In a day and age where we have become more tribal than ever, I fear we have stopped listening to those we disagree with, and in some ways, we have stopped learning.  If you are afraid to pick up a book by Charles Wesley because of his views on Holiness, you will miss his great care for the preaching of the Word and Deep reverence he had for God. There was a reason Whitefield and Wesley were great friends, and they learned a lot form each other even while disagreeing over aspects of doctrine. If Spurgeon’s view of preaching topically drives you to forsake his preaching you will miss his rich exposition on the Psalms or the beautiful encouragement, he gives to suffering saints through the preached word, while simultaneously presenting the hope of the Gospel to the lost.

Ultimately, we need to be people committed to the cause of Christ, learning the truth of Scripture, defending the faith well, and growing in our love and dedication for the Saints.

Preaching is Strange

When it comes to the event called preaching, there might not be anything more exhilarating, more puzzling, more exhaustive, more challenging, and more rewarding then the man standing behind the sacred desk expounding the Word of God. Truly, preaching is strange because it an event that requires human discipline and preparation, while at the same time can only accomplish good by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

Why is preaching strange?

Discipline in the Study

As those who are commissioned to preach the Word of God, there can be no substitute for diligent study and preparation. Our time must be well-spent in working through the text, understanding the passage in the context of the redemptive narrative of the Bible, as well as gleaning the doctrines from the text through the lens of systematic, biblical, and historical theology. Meditating upon the text and chewing on the text are essential for us as we think about the congregation, we will be feeding the Word to. None of this can be neglected. Yet, discipline in the study is not only a process of reading, thinking, and writing. The preacher’s time in the study must be one of cultivating spiritual disciplines in his own life. I will confess, more times than I care to admit, that my time in the study was an exercise in writing a sermon rather than seeking to be personally fed and changed. In our time in the study, we must come desiring first to be changed and to be conformed into the image of Christ. It is not enough for me to know what my people need to hear from the text. I need to hear from the text. I need the conviction of the Word to pierce my own heart.

Preaching is a public act of worship. How dangerous it can be for us to substitute that public act for private adoration, worship, and sanctification. Let us commit to pray for ourselves and for other ministers of the Word that we not neglect personal holiness for the public platform that comes with preaching. As one writer puts it, “The biographies of the finest Christians illustrate for us, the bedrock of the truly devoted life is a daily discipline of private prayer and meditation on the Word of God. No matter how far along the Christian way we travel, our need of these things will never diminish. As has often been said, there are no shortcuts to holiness.”[1]

The Power of the Spirit

            Paul was a model theologian-preacher. The apostle faithfully expounded the Word, connecting Christ to the themes of the OT, and rightly setting forth the word of truth. Yet, as the apostle argues in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, the power lies not in the preacher but the Holy Spirit. For all of our preparation and study, there can be no substitute for our reliance upon the Spirit of God. Ezekiel 37 summons us to join with Ezekiel in understanding that the breath of God is what brings life to the valley of dry bones. There is no more humbling truth for the preacher to know and live by then that his role as a herald means that he is not the main attraction. When the preacher begins to think he is the star of a production, then he has forgotten all he claims to be. The preacher is the messenger sent forth to declare the glories of God and the mighty power of the kingdom. If we do not rely upon the Spirit of God, if our confidence be in our own abilities, then we will resort to tricks, emotional manipulation, and seeking to always be “fresh” and “relevant” by the standards of contemporary culture.

As we step into the pulpit, realizing how we are totally dependent upon the Spirit of God brings a peace and rest to our souls. This does not give space for laziness in the time of preparation. However, it will cause us to be aware that the people need not hear from me but from the God of heaven. Spurgeon said it well, “It is better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Spirit, than preach seventy sermons without the spirt.”[2] When Martyn Lloyd-Jones described preaching as “theology coming through man who is on fire,” the great pastor pointed to the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why we need Him during our time in private study and prayer. May God help us all to realize how desperately we need the Spirit as we preach!

What About Feelings?

            What about those Sundays when I step out of the pulpit and feel like a failure? I imagine that all preachers feel this way at some time. Personally, the Lord has blessed me where I preached and everything seemed to go almost perfectly. When I stepped out of the pulpit, I felt like Whitefield or Spurgeon, like I just hit a grand-slam, and any other image you can think of from sports. That type of “buzz” can become an idol. Not every Sunday feels that way. What do we do then? Some Sundays we can feel like hypocrites because we know that we are sinners and fall short in so many areas. Brother preachers, you are not supermen. You are sinners who have been transformed into saints, clothed in robes of Christ’s righteousness, heralds of divine grace, and stewards of the Word of God. Each time we preach, we are involved in a spiritual battle. As I was recently reminded, preaching is about us being faithful and not about attaining a feeling.

Conclusion

Preaching is no easy task. Sometimes the reward comes a time after we are finished preaching that sermon. Regardless of where Christ has put you, remember that you are His herald. That’s a solemn, weighty task but also a joyful, glorious labor! Preaching is strange. Just as soon as you think you have figured it out, you receive a divine reminder that you really have not. That sermon you think you fell flat on your face in the pulpit is the one that God uses to change a life. Is it because of the preacher? No, it is because of the Spirit of God who happens to use clay pots like you and me. Let us rejoice in that as Sunday approaches! May our preaching be that which glorifies God!

[1] John Cheesemen, The Priority of Preaching. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 24.

[2] Ibid., 27.

Behold the King!

You have probably had the experience that I have often had, where you are looking for something in the closet or garage, but you couldn’t find it because you had the wrong concept of what you were looking for. You thought that it was in a square brown box, but it really was in an oblong yellow box.

So you stared right at it, and perhaps even moved it out of the way, but you missed it because your mental picture of it was wrong.

Most Jews in Jesus’ day missed Him as their Messiah and King because they were expecting a different kind of Savior.

They thought that Messiah would be a mighty political deliverer, who would lead Israel to military victory over Rome. They were not looking for a lowly Savior, riding on the foal of a donkey. They could not conceive of a suffering Savior, who offered Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. And so, tragically, they missed the coming of their King.

Many people still miss Jesus because of wrong expectations. They’re looking for a Savior like Aladdin’s Genie, who will grant their every wish, but it hasn’t happened.

They want a Savior who will instantly solve their deepest problems, but those problems have not gone away. Or, they expect a church where everyone always loves one another. But a church member treated them wrongly, so they dropped out in bitter disappointment.

In order joyously to welcome Jesus as our King, we need to understand properly who He is. Our text is one of the great Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Even most Jewish commentators down through the centuries have agreed that this is a prophecy about the Messiah.

Zechariah 9:9-10 teaches us that…

Because Jesus Christ is King and He is coming to reign, we who are subject to Him should rejoice greatly.

The news that a king is coming is not necessarily a cause for great joy. The first part of this chapter predicts the coming of Alexander the Great, who ruthlessly conquered Israel’s neighbors.

The news of his coming would have struck terror into the hearts of those in his path. He often slaughtered all the men in a city and sold the women and children into slavery. He was not concerned about the well-being of his subjects, but only about his own power and dominion.

It is also difficult to accept the news of a coming king because there is a sense in which all of us want to rule our own lives. We can accept governmental interference to a limited degree, as long as it doesn’t get too close.

But if a king started trying to control every aspect of our lives—how we do business, how we relate to others, including our families, and even how we speak and think—we resist the very thought! We certainly would not rejoice at the news of the coming of that kind of king!

But that is precisely the kind of King that Jesus is! He is rightfully Lord of all people and of all aspects of all people’s lives. Regarding this King, Zechariah exhorts, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you.”The rest of verses 9 & 10 describe this King and explain why His coming gives cause for great joy. If we understand who this King is and what His coming will mean for all the earth, we will rejoice greatly at the news of His coming.

Jesus Christ is King.

The phrase translated, “your king is coming to you” can also be translated, “your king is coming for you,” that is, “for your benefit”. To receive the benefits that this King brings, we need to recognize our need. Israel was under the domination of powerful foreign rulers. They were incapable of freeing themselves. But this King had the power to deliver them and He had their best interests at heart. Spiritually, we must admit that we are under the domination of sin that will destroy us and that we are unable to free ourselves. Then we will welcome the promised King and the benefits that He offers. He comes for you! But who is he?

JESUS CHRIST IS KING OF AUTHORITY.

Authority is bound up with the idea of kings, at least in the ancient world.

Today, some monarchs, such as the Queen of England, have almost no authority. They function as official state dignitaries. Their wishes may have some weight with those who run the government. But they don’t have much authority.

But even in His first coming when He came as the humble, suffering Servant, Jesus Christ possessed a quiet but total authority over all people and events. Although the Jewish leaders hated Him because He threatened their authority, they could not lay hands on Him until His time had come (John 7:30; 8:20).

The chief priests and the Sanhedrin had given orders that if anyone knew where Jesus was, they should inform them so that He could be arrested (John 11:57). Jesus’ bold action of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, to the cries of “Hosanna” led to His arrest and crucifixion at the very moment that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in Jerusalem, in fulfillment of Scripture.

The uniform picture of all four gospels is that Jesus was firmly in charge of all these events. Jesus was not a helpless victim. No one took His life from Him. He laid it down on His own initiative (John 10:17-18). The point is, Jesus was clearly in charge of the events surrounding His death, including the triumphal entry, the betrayal by Judas and the death plots of the Jewish leaders. None of it took Him by surprise. He is the King of authority who controls all things according to His purpose, even the events of His death (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

Before we move on, we need to personalize it: Is Jesus the King your King? Does He rule in your heart and life? The idea that you can choose Jesus as your Savior now and consider whether you want Him to be your lord later if you wish, is nonsense!While submitting to His lordship is a lifelong process, it begins at salvation, and if it has not begun in your life, you have reason to question whether you are truly saved.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF JUSTICE.

Zechariah says that Israel’s king is just (some translate “righteous,” but the sense is justice).

The primary reference in this context is to a king who administers justice in his kingdom. He is not corrupt, like so many world rulers. I recently read a news article of a former president of a Central American country who siphoned off over $100 million into personal and family bank accounts. That story could probably be repeated in dozens of countries. Much of the poverty and suffering around the globe stems from corrupt leaders who have no regard for justice.But Jesus Christ will be just in the administration of His kingdom because He is righteous in His person.

He is not out to take advantage of His subjects for personal gain. He has their best interests at heart.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF SALVATION.

He is “endowed with salvation” (NASB). Jesus came to bring salvation to His people. For the Jews, the salvation that Messiah would bring had national political overtones.

For centuries, the Jews have been threatened by hostile nations that have sought to annihilate or enslave them (Ps. 129). Thus when God promised them a deliverer, they thought of one who would reign on David’s throne and bring “salvation from all our enemies, and from the hand of those who hate us” (see Luke 1:69-71). Yet at the same time, salvation for the Jew also had a personal dimension related to the individual’s deliverance from God’s judgment on his sins. Thus the father of John the Baptist prophesied that he would go before the Lord’s coming “to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). Or, as the angel told Joseph, “you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Zechariah 9:10 refers to Messiah’s second coming, when He will fulfill the national sense of salvation by ruling over all the nations.

But the New Testament makes clear (in conjunction with several OT prophecies) that in His first coming, Messiah came to bring spiritual salvation by offering Himself as the sacrifice to satisfy God’s justice against sinners. If God dismissed our sin without the penalty being imposed, He would not be just. God has declared that the penalty for sin is death, not only physical death, but also spiritual death, eternal separation from the holy God (Rom. 6:23). Through Jesus’ death as the perfect substitute, He paid the penalty we deserved, which allows God to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

There are two wrong notions that will keep many people out of heaven, and they usually go together. First, people wrongly believe that God is too loving to send decent, moral people to hell. But that kind of thinking grossly underestimates the serious nature of our sin. A single sin in thought, word, or deed is enough to condemn a person to hell! And it compromises God’s justice in favor of His love, which compromises His holiness. The second wrong notion is that most of us are good enough to qualify for heaven. Sure, we all have our faults, but we’re not like murderers, terrorists, and child molesters.

So we figure that the scales will tip our way when we stand before God because we were sincere and we meant well. Many Jews made this mistake. They thought that since they were descendants of Abraham, they observed the ritual law as prescribed by Moses, and they were better than the Gentiles, that God would not judge them. But their error was that it requires perfect righteousness to get into heaven.

That’s where Christ and the cross come in. On the cross, the perfect Son of God offered Himself as the substitute for sinners. He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Some day you will stand before God either clothed in your own goodness, which will condemn you, or clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. God credits that righteousness to you the instant you renounce all trust in your own righteousness and put your trust in Jesus as your sin-bearer (see Rom. 3 & 4).

Jesus came the first time bringing salvation, but He will come the second time as the judge of all the earth. If you have trusted Him as your personal Savior, then you can rejoice at the thought of His coming as the judge, because He has borne your sins.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF HUMILITY.

“King of humility” sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Perhaps we should say that He is the humble King. In contrast to the proud Alexander on his war horse, Jesus came as a servant on not only a donkey, but the foal of a donkey. The donkey was a lowly animal, used for peaceable purposes by those who were of no rank or position. By riding the foal of a donkey, Jesus was showing Himself to be the King, in fulfillment of our text, but not the exalted political king that the people expected. In His first coming, Jesus was the suffering Messiah who offered salvation and peace with God through His death.

The Hebrew word for “humble”can also mean poor or needy in an economic sense, and that was also true of Jesus, who had no earthly wealth or possessions (Luke 9:58). The word also includes the meaning of a righteous man afflicted by evil men. Jesus willingly laid aside His rights and took the form of a servant, becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8). Charles Spurgeon pointed out that no false Messiah has ever copied Jesus in this taking the low place of a servant (Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia [Baker], 3:129). But our Savior commanded us to follow Him in this regard. After He took the towel and basin and washed the disciples’ feet, He said, “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you”(John 13:15).

There are numerous commands in Scripture warning us not to think too highly of ourselves and to think more lowly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3, 16Phil. 2:3). I cannot find any verses that tell us to build our self-esteem. So we should learn humility from our Savior. He is the King of authority, justice, salvation, and humility. Finally,

 JESUS CHRIST IS KING OF CREATION.

This is evident from the fact that He rode into Jerusalem on an unbroken colt. I am no expert on horses, but I know enough not to climb onto an unbroken colt! Jesus’ riding on this colt shows His miraculous power over the creation that He spoke into existence by the word of His power. There was also a spiritual significance in the fact that the colt was unbroken. In the Old Testament, when an animal was put to sacred use, it had to be one which had not already been used for common purposes (Num. 19:2Deut. 21:3). Since this animal was now to be used for the Messiah, it had to be an animal that had never been ridden by man.

Only the Lord of creation could do what Jesus did.

If Jesus is the Creator, then certainly we should obey Him. This colt, like Balaam’s donkey, was smarter than people are. The colt received Jesus on its back without bucking, but He came unto His own people, and they cast Him off. If we see Jesus correctly for who He is, we will submit to Him as the Almighty Creator.

If Jesus Christ is the King of authority, justice, salvation, humility, and creation, then it makes sense that He is coming to reign.

Church, behold your King.

Are You Suffering?

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Last week I got the news that someone in my small group had a stroke and they are still in the hospital recovering. Today, while at small group I found out that another member of my small group had an unexpected death in the family. There are other members of my church who have lost loved ones recently, or battled serious illness, or suffered other difficulties. I know of a church in the panhandle (certainly there are others) that was badly damaged during hurricane Michal this past October. I have a friend who just received the news that he has brain cancer and there is not much he can do for it.

Many Christians face difficult circumstances in life. This has always been the case. Job lost his possessions and family (Job 1:13-22). John the Baptist was imprisoned than beheaded (Mark 6:16-17). The author of Hebrews tells us some believers suffered “mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38).

The apostle Paul speaks at length of some of the difficulties he experienced in this life in his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

Perhaps you are reading this today and you have recently received bad news from the doctor, or learned that a loved one has passed away, or have been told that you are going to be laid off from work, or that you had a miscarriage, or that your child is not walking with Jesus and you are suffering deeply. Remember Paul’s words here to the Church at Rome. He tells them, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

The worst suffering that any Christian has ever experienced does not even remotely compare to the joy that they will have in heaven with Jesus for all of eternity. The Psalmist speaking of Christ writes “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Our joy will be full and never ending one day in the presence of Jesus. That is our hope as believers. Remind yourself of this regularly.

When We Pray

Prayer. From the outside, it can look like little more than resting one’s eyes. And to the fast-paced, microwave culture in which we live, prayer to the God of the Bible seems like an extravagant waste of time. Yet we know as believers that there is more to prayer than what meets the eye. Prayer is warfare and prayer is worship. Prayer is confession and prayer is communion. Prayer is beholding and prayer is becoming. Prayer is one of the means by which God advances His kingdom in this world and a means by which He advances us spiritually.

We know prayer is more than what meets the eye and yet our behavior doesn’t always align with our belief here. We sleep in that extra 30 minutes we had planned to spend in prayer because, after all, we reassure ourselves, we don’t need to be so legalistic. We turn on Netflix when we had planned to pray with our spouse because, it’s been a long day and we need a break. We run around frantic all day from the house to work to school to our kid’s ball game and crash in bed at night without realizing what perpetual prayerlessness is doing to us and our family. What we need is a good, strong, biblical reminder about how and why to pray when we don’t always see prayer’s immediate fruitfulness for us.

In Colossians 4, the Apostle Paul gives us a small theology of prayer. He concludes his letter to the church at Colossae with commands that we pray and requests that we pray. He even gives us a glimpse of the warfare that is prayer when he highlights one of the first prayer warriors. In these verses, we’ll see six things to keep in mind when we pray…

 

  • Be steadfast in prayer

“Continue steadfastly in prayer…”

One of the hardest things about prayer is this reality that it requires persistence. Our God loves us too much to give us what we want right when we ask. We all know that a child whose every wish is granted the moment he requests it becomes spoiled. But in prayer, God is more concerned with a relationship than a simple request that will come and go. When we expect our prayers to be answered in the way we want every time, we are forgetting God’s sovereignty and treating Him as our servant. Great prayer warrior George Muller once said, “It is not enough to begin to pray…nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray…we must pray patiently, believing, continue in prayer until we attain an answer.” He lived this out himself. Mueller wrote in his diary, “In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land, on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day, I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remained unconverted.” Thirty-six years later he wrote that the other two, sons of one of Mueller’s friends, were still not converted. He wrote, “But I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.” Believe it or not, 52 years after he began praying for them, and even after his own death, the final two friends were converted.

 

  • Be watchful in prayer

“…being watchful in [prayer]…”

Spiritual alertness is vital to a faithful prayer life. We must pray with a certain expectation that God is going to answer, even though He may not answer as we would have it. Another side of this watchfulness is the realization that distractions come very easily in praying. We can be distracted from praying for something through a sudden trial or through a random thought in the midst of praying. To help with this, we can actually pray that God help us not get distracted from prayer.

 

  • Be thankful in prayer

“…[pray] with thanksgiving.”

In his book A Praying Life, Paul E. Miller writes, “Thankfulness isn’t a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would be like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it really is.” Gratitude is at the heart of prayer itself. The mere fact we sinners can approach God, and at the price of Christ’s blood on the cross should make our every prayer one of gratitude. I’ve been to several countries and heard believers pray in their languages, but the one word I always can identify is their word for thanks. May we never “enter His courts” without thanksgiving in our hearts.

 

  • Be evangelistic in prayer

“…pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there is a scene where Luke Skywalker is able to teleport his body somewhere else and defeat the enemy while actually being somewhere else. Prayer is actually very similar to Skywalker’s teleportation in that when we pray for the Gospel to advance in another place, we are actually assisting it’s spread while not being there ourselves. We ought to pray for open doors, but also clear words so that the Word will spread effectively. One practice we’ve begun to do is to pray, along with about 1,000 others for an unreached people group of the day using the Joshua Project. We can also pray daily for sister churches in our area and for missionaries we know sharing Christ abroad. Our prayers are what early Baptist Andrew Fuller called “holding the rope” for these missionaries, as he held the rope for William Carey serving in India.  

 

  • Be serious in prayer

“Epaphras [is]…always struggling on your behalf in his prayers…”

This is what I meant by saying prayer is warfare. In prayer, we struggle. We wrestle with God as Jacob did. We must not view prayer as some casual thing and approach it very nonchalant and lackadaisical. We must pray with vigilance. Jesus spoke of those who would enter the kingdom as those who “force their way into it.” Without this element of striving and straining, prayer becomes just another lifeless ritual. We must learn to pray as those who are speaking to a sovereign who is all-powerful over the universe and who has promised to hear us when we pray.

 

  • Be intercessory in prayer

“…on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Epaphras’ prayer warfare had the purpose of seeing Christ’s church grow to maturity. So often church prayer meetings are nothing more than what one friend called “organ lists” where we ask God to heal this person and that person. But in his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller points out something remarkable: “In all of his writings, Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances.” Paul and Epaphras give us a model here to pray for the spiritual growth and progress of our church and its members more than merely physical improvement.

These are just a few ways we can pray more effectively and I pray they prove helpful.