Security for the Insecure

Security is a critical element in life. Unfortunately, it’s also very elusive. Recent world events, terrorist attacks, financial collapses and all of the woes that come from a fallen planet really demonstrate how insecure our world is.

On a personal level, perhaps you live in insecurity because you have been the victim of a crime such as robbery or rape. Maybe your spouse has threatened divorce and thus, you lack marital security. Your children may be struggling with physical or emotional ailments that have deprived you of security. Perhaps you’ve lost your job and your retirement has plummeted leaving you feeling hopelessly insecure. Reflecting on your life, you realize that you have little or no security in those areas where you crave it most.

Fortunately for the believer, in the single area that truly matters most—your relationship with God almighty—you can have ultimate security.

The Bible boldly declares that God offers believers His unconditional love, acceptance and security.

Yet many Christians still struggle with this notion. As a pastor, I hurt for those of you who cannot grasp the beauty of eternal security and that’s why I want you to know that God’s love for you is perfect and everlasting. I grew up in a Pentecostal home where I thought God to be a distant deity who was willing to smite me every time I listened to secular music or sat in a movie theatre. I truly resonated with Martin Luther when he came to the place where he admitted that he hated God for his holy requirement of perfection from us. “This word is too high and too hard that anyone should fulfill it,” But here’s the Biblical truth: The Lord yearns for you to have complete assurance and security in Him. Despite your imperfections.

This confidence is critical if you are to experience the Christian life the way God intended and worship Him the way He intended. Proper theology leads to proper doxology.

Romans 8 is regarded to be one of the best chapters in all the bible. Verses 31-39 may be the most comforting and encouraging verses in the Word. (In my opinion of course) These verses definitively declare thateternal security belongs to the Lord.

Paul offers three hopeful assurances: There is no opposition, there is no condemnation, and there is no separation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

There is no opposition: 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[a]against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 

Friend, God is for you.

In the beginning portion of 8:31; Paul writes “What then shall we say to these things?” This is the first of seven questions in this passage. Throughout this passage, Paul’s goal is to exhaust any and every objection.

What things is Paul referring to here? If we go back a verse, it ends with “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. “

This is implicitly telling us that God’s very work is effectual in its processes. It’s not anything you and I can muster up to do, but it is the very working of God that we are even called to believe in Him. Since He gave us Jesus, (The Son) how will he not keep us until the day of redemption? Salvation is a very gift. Paul is making that case crystal clear here. HE graciously, gives us all things including persecution and death. ALL things are expected, because God uses ALL things for His glory. Now it makes sense when we read Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these thingswill be added to you.

In 8:32 Paul answers the question of 8:31 with a rhetorical question: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Paul argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has done the big thing, delivering up Jesus, will He not do the little thing?

For God to give up The Son to death and then abandon you on the highway to glorification would be like a rich man spending a vast sum on a car and then leaving it on the roadside because he couldn’t afford the gasoline to run it. How absurd! That is the idea behind Paul’s argument here. Since God gave up His Son to purchase and secure your eternal life, He will certainly give you whatever you need to live for Him now. But this phrase “all things” (panta) does not include Rolls-Royces, mansions, expensive jewelry, and elaborate wardrobes. The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel teaching is a false gospel which needs to be refuted immediately.

Paul’s assertion is designed to drive home the unshakable assurance that God will do whatever is necessary to guarantee your ultimate glorification.

And that there is good news for our souls!

There is no condemnation:   33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

The picture Paul paints here is one of a courtroom setting. He’s speaking in legal terms here. The imagery and thought process throughout is the idea that we are standing to be judged, but the accusations just don’t stick. It’s almost like having the perfect alibi during a courtroom questioning.

Let’s Look at the prophet Zachariah in chapter 3:1-4. This provides a great mental image:

Zechariah 3:1-4: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” 

Because of what Christ has accomplished in redemption, we no longer stand condemned. A proper name for our adversary satan should really be “the satan.” The Hebrew word satan means “the adversary, or the one who resists.” It is translated as “satan” eighteen times in the Old Testament, fourteen of those occurrences being in Job 1-2, the others in 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1-2. This gives us a good understanding on who it is we’re dealing with here.

But there’s something else I want you to focus on, it’s the word interceding. The Greek Paul used here for interceding is:en tyn chanei”  and it means “to light upon a person or a thing,

to go to, or meet a person, esp. for the purpose of conversation, consultation, or supplication. To pray, entreat, make intercession for any one”.

This helps us clearly see Christ’s intentional intercession on our behalf. He is for us, interceding that we would be freed from temptation and be sanctified in this life. He is on our side!

The Apostle John wanted to make this crystal clear in 1st john 2:1

1st John 2:1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous

John here calls him our advocate. Again, speaking in legal terms. We are his “Elect” or his “chosen ones” handpicked for such a time as this to be conformed to the image of Christ! An advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.”

This shows us that Christ is our advocate, supporting us, constantly recommending us, interceding on our behalf, praying that we stay the course and win this race with victory because of what he has done. And let me tell you, when the trinity is praying, these are effectual prayers! Read this slowly, Romans 8:26 says it like this: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Wow! This should bring comfort to the troubled soul. Paul writing to the Galatians in chapter 4:4-6 goes on to cement this truth;

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[a] Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[b] Father.”

Don’t ever forget that!  It may be difficult to comprehend how this all works out, but this is the very means God uses to “keep us” saved and secure in him, its these beautifully complicated processes.

Jesus says in John 6:37-39: 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And 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. (glorification)

Then he says in John 3:18;   17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

My friends, there is no condemnation!

There is no separation35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The verb “separate” (chorizo) bookends this section (8:35, 39), confirming that there is no separation in your relationship with God. Paul begins with the question that is potentially the most critical question a Christian can ask:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35) Of course, the answer is: No one can separate us from the love of Christ.

However, you may say, “But I don’t feel like I love Christ all the time.” No, you misread 8:35; It’s not who is going to separate us from our love for Christ, but who is going to separate us from Christ’s love for us. 

I don’t know about you, but my love for Christ can fluctuate between hot and cold. If my salvation depends upon the fervency of my love for Christ, I would have already been cast into hell. Thankfully, my salvation does not depend upon my love for Christ; rather, it depends upon Christ’s love for me. His life, death, resurrection, and intercession have secured my eternal destiny. The only reason that I will spend eternity with God is because of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on to quote Psalm 44:22 which reads: Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But I’ll quote a few verses beforehand to give you a better context.

20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God discover this?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22 Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

In other words, we can expect to be killed or destroyed by God if we turn to other gods and idols, but it says for your sake we are persecuted, we are hunted down to die, regarded as sheep to the slaughter!

God is more concerned with our sanctification, and our glorification, so yes we will face many troubles in this life, but what did Jesus say about that?

John 16:33 (ESV)

33 have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So the very threat of death is not really a threat to us, because it cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Persecution cannot do it. Famine can’t do it. Nakedness can’t do it. Peril, or sword can’t do it. Angels, ruler’s powers and principalities can’t do it! NOTHING means nothing in Greek, Latin, English, Spanish, Creole, Afrikaans, Dutch, and you get the gist.

Paul reaffirms this when he says in Philippians 1:6 And 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.

God’s love for his children in Christ is secure, effectual and everlasting. Take heart my friend. The Lord has gone great lengths to demonstrate that those who are in Him have no opposition, no condemnation and no separation.

Live by these truths. He is for you and will make sure that you are sanctified daily with the ultimate goal of salvation in mind: To be conformed to the image of Christ. Always remember: The father chooses, The son saves, The spirit preserves.

He offers security for the insecure. 

You are in His hand.

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Joy in the Ordinary

One of the greatest discoveries for me in learning about Reformed Theology came in discovering the concept of the ordinary means of grace. What exactly is that all about? The ordinary means of grace are a part of the warmth and joy that is found in Reformed Theology. Wrestling with the attributes of God, sovereign election, particular redemption, and covenant theology can be quite hard. Those deep theological matters cannot be reduced to a bumper-sticker with a catchy phrase or hashtag. The ordinary means of grace present another aspect of Reformed Theology: finding joy in that which is simple.

In the 2nd London Baptist Confession, Particular Baptists defined the ordinary means of grace this way: “The grace of faith, by which the elect are enabled to believe so that their souls are saved, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts. Faith is ordinarily produced by the ministry of the Word. By this same ministry and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed by God, faith is increased and strengthened.”[1] Notice that they identify the ministry of the Word, the sacraments or ordinances, and prayer as the ordinary means by which our faith is strengthened and assurance deepens. Other ordinary means of grace that can be identified, especially in a corporate worship gathering, are singing and fellowship. Reformed Baptist pastor Richard Barcellos offers this definition on the ordinary means of grace: “The delivery systems God has instituted to bring grace – that is, spiritual power, spiritual change, spiritual help, spiritual fortitude, spiritual blessings – to needy souls on earth.”[2]

The beauty and richness of the ordinary means of grace comes shining forth when we consider how God uses the ordinary to bless us in an extraordinary way. Are we comprehending just how nourishing the proclamation of the Word is when the Bible is read, explained, and applied to our hearts? This is why Jesus told Simon Peter in John 21 to feed and nourish the flock of Christ. The ministry of the Word is not just the means of the Spirit’s effectual call and regenerating work among the unconverted; it is also the means by which the saints are nourished and strengthened. Growing up in a more fundamentalist Baptist background, the memorial view of the Lord’s Supper was so ingrained that understanding of Christ’s spiritual presence at the Table seemed almost Romish to me. However, as I have learned more, I have come to realize not just the historic Baptist view of the Supper as both a memorial and spiritual nourishment but that the Scriptures teach this as well. [3]

As one might deduce, the ordinary means of grace are connected to the fellowship and assembly of the local church. How magnificent is our Lord to remind us through these means of how we are a covenant people together in need of encouragement, strength, and reminders of who we are in Christ. I often tell people that if you believe Reformed Theology is found only in T-U-L-I-P then you are missing out on what the real meaning of doctrines of grace is. Reformed theology changes your outlook on everything. It changed my outlook on preaching as I come to more and more find rest and solace in the sovereignty of the Spirit in the Word. Reformed Theology’s teaching on the ordinary means of grace deepens my appreciation for the Christian Sabbath and gathering on the Lord’s Day. Every Scripture reading, prayer, hymn, ordinance, reading of creeds/confessions/catechisms, and time together fellowshipping over the Word are the channels by which the Spirit refreshes, matures, corrects, and settles my weary heart as a pilgrim. So, when you gather this coming Lord’s Day, do not think that simple worship means ineffective or backwards. Rather, meditate upon the extraordinary power of God unleashed in the ordinary means of grace!

 

[1] See: https://founders.org/library/1689-confession/chapter-14-saving-faith/

[2] See: https://founders.org/reviews/the-lords-supper-as-a-means-of-grace/

[3] See: https://vimeo.com/287451369 for a recent sermon I preached on this topic.

Living Faith is not Lazy

 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” Lk 13:24

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, 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. Phil. 2:12-13

Now these are some weighty passages that growing up in a reformed Baptist church the idea of holiness in relation to work was not something often spoken about. We would speak a lot on the grace of God and how overwhelming the grace of God was towards us. This informed us that there was nothing that we could do to earn our salvation, it is only Christ that set us free from sin and death, it is only Christ who gave us new life, it is only Christ who teaches us, and all of this is true and then some. We can not earn our salvation, but this teaching left a lingering question after salvation: “how then shall I now live.”   Texts like the two presented here that hit home in relation to living the Christian life. but being raised in a church were any talking of working out the salvation as deemed legalistic, it left little encouragement to change. Ultimately it became a sense that if God was going to change you he would otherwise rest on his grace in the midst of your sin. This is where I want to challenge us today as I myself have been challenged, we have been saved by Grace to walk in newness of life, by the Spirit for Holiness, but this does not take place through some spiritual osmosis while you sleep, it comes through self-discipline, confession, community, and growing in Faith. We agree that it is all by God’s grace and mercy we are saved we added nothing to it, and can do nothing of our own to spurn the loving grace of God, but with salvation is a call to live it our and these things are the evidences of a growing faith.

Self-Discipline:

So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul encourages the church to model his way of life. He didn’t receive the gift of God and then hang out in bars getting drunk hoping the Lord would use him. He didn’t continue in sinfulness hoping that one day this Jesus thing takes over. He was transformed and by being transformed he lived out the life, endeavoring all the more to be found in Him. He speaks often about disciplining himself in the faith, running the race and being prepared to see God. Do we take such an approach to our Christian lives? It’s humbling to read the words scattered throughout the New Testament that call us to such things, but they are there to remind us we serve a Holy God who has made us holy positionally before Him in Christ, but who also calls us to live out the life in the same holiness.

How else does one strive for Holiness than in faith in Christ and living out the faith. Think of it in terms like Paul does running a race, or exercising. If you want to get in better shape you don’t sit around the house eating Doritos and ice cream, waiting for the day it all comes together. You get up off your butt and do a sit up, may be just a few, then you discover weights, and planks, plyo and pilates, maybe you join a gym, you change the meals you eat…..You become disciplined in your endeavor.  The Christian faith requires us to take the life we live that seriously, and it is convicting and it should be. It should hit us between the eyes, not leading us to guilt that we fail, but to humility that we need God to work in us and through us. We trust the Lord and walk in Holiness.

Confession:

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Col 3:12-13

The Christian life is also not lived alone, it is lived together and an aspect of that togetherness is confession and forgiveness. As God’s Children we have been forgiven much, we have been forgiven the sins that have entangled us, do entangle us, and will entangle us. However, part of being forgiven involves the reality of confessing and walking in that forgiveness. The Lord called us to repent and believe, His apostles remind us that we must confess our faults before God and we were saved.  We are also reminded though that while we are saved and set free from sin, the roots go deep and evil remains surrounding us, so we must make a habit of identifying the evil that remains, confessing it to God and seeking the forgiveness of those we have wronged, and as though being wronged we must also be open with a hand of forgiveness, not just 7 times, but in to eternity, for God grace towards us is such in measure.

Community

 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph 2:19-22

Not only is growing in Holiness seen in self-discipline & confession, but in our lives as a community of faith. Christ’s church is not a lone ranger experience, it is a corporate one. We were not saved to be alone, but to be together. Our faith is lived out with others, for others, and for ourselves as we together grow in self-discipline and confession. Using the illustration of working out, we don’t do it alone, in the faith we have trainers and others besides us working, encouraging, falling, and getting back up. We work together, but what is even more important is the realization that this community is a family. We are brothers and sisters joined together by the blood of Christ under His Lordship and the Love of the Father. As a family we wish to see none of our brothers or sisters fall away, but be encouraged. We strive together for a true church strives as one, being built up by Christ into the temple which displays His majesty to the world. His majesty is a Holy Majesty and as such we are again to be Holy as He is Holy.

Growing in Faith

 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:5-7

The last avenue, when we think about striving and working out the faith, is in the reality of growing in our faith, Peter here encourages us to work hard at the faith and grow up in it. There is an element in his proposal for us all to take the faith seriously and to advance in it, through faith and work. Now again this is not salvation but the working out of that salvation, the striving after the Lord if you will. Peter warns us not to take the faith lightly but for those who are saved and being saved to make our lives living examples of the grace and mercy of God, putting off the things that have so entangled us and grow up in the faith, seeking to earnestly grow in the faith, means to earnestly endeavor in the faith.

Ultimately, we need not be afraid of the idea of working out our salvation, this is not legalism, its discipline and biblical. It’s a matter of Growing into who you already are, it’s seeing sin and putting it to death through prayer and action. It’s seeing deficiencies in your life and correcting them according to the word of God and the spirit of God. It’s making every effort to walking in Holiness through faithfulness, confession, prayer, and forgiveness in the community of God’s family

Three Reasons to Preach Through the Bible

God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow. Below are three reasons why this truth changes how we preach.

  1. Preach the Whole Counsel of God

If you are like me, then your preaching tends to lean towards your favorite Biblical themes. For me it often ends up being the gospel message or God’s sovereignty in salvation. For you it could be eschatology or church membership or a million other things. Typically, we are bent to our preferred Biblical themes in preaching. If we just chose our favorite things to preach on, those few things would be all that our congregation hears. However, when we preach verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, we are going to preach on things that we may never think to preach on our own. This is a healthier form of preaching because it allows the church to be exposed to the whole counsel of God rather than preaching only the portion that the preacher is inclined toward. God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow.  This makes for a more mature church body.

  1. Keep Scripture in Context

When you are preaching topically, it can be easier to take a verse out of context, even if it’s accidental. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible will force you to study the context surrounding the passage. You will be doing an in-depth study of that particular passage. Since you are chronologically going through it and the context is there for everyone to see, it will be more difficult to err because of lack of study within context. Whereas, if you were to just grab a verse that seems to fit your topic and place it in your message, you may not be preaching it in the context that it was intended. Therefore, you are at risk of misrepresenting God’s Word. We don’t want to be guilty of that.

  1. Get the Full Story

The Bible was written as letters, songs, stories, etc. When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, I don’t think he intended them to read the first 2 verses and then read 2 verses from Exodus, and then one verse from Proverbs. When he wrote his letters, he intended them to be read as a whole unit, in context. Because the Bible was written in this form, I think it’s a good idea to preach through all that Paul intended his readers to hear. This will also help the hearer to remember last week’s sermon and put the pieces of Scripture together to flow as a unit. Preaching through books of the Bible helps this to take place.

Whether you’re preaching or hearing, may God bless you and may the whole counsel of His Word run swift into our hearts.

Elihu: Righteous Prophet or Arrogant Fool?

When one arrives at Job 32 they arrive at a particular difficulty. Why? Because in Job 32 we meet Elihu.

The speeches of Elihu perplex many theologians for many reasons. He seems to come out of nowhere in the text, and when he bursts onto the scene he really does burst. Four times in the first five verses of Job 32 we read that Elihu was burning with anger. Out of his burning anger he speaks to Job’s friends and to Job, but neither Job’s friends nor Job respond to him once he’s done, and more so, God never responds to his words or mentions him at all in the end of the book when He rebukes Job’s friends and restores Job. Because of all of these things most people are perplexed with what to do with him.

There are three commonly held views on him.

The first view, and probably the least likely to be accepted among Christians, is the view that the six chapters given to Elihu (32-37) are not original to the book of Job. Instead these chapters are a later addition to it that is something of a foreign intrusion into the text. There are largely two reasons given for this view. First, the Hebrew is different in these chapters. It doesn’t match with the rest of the book, thus it doesn’t belong with the rest of the book. Second, the reason Job, Job’s friends, and God don’t respond to Elihu after he’s done is because he wasn’t physically present with them when these events occurred. This is why we don’t see any response to him. As I said just a moment ago, this view isn’t commonly held within the Church, it is mostly found in nonbelieving commentators and textual critics. Therefore we can move onto the next view.

While the last view is the least likely to be accepted among Christians, the second view is probably the majority view among Christians. This majority view believes Elihu to be an arrogant young man who speaks hastily and harshly about things that he is largely unaware of. The reasons for this view are as follows. First, Elihu overestimates his own importance and does truly show himself to be an arrogant young man. Second, while anger isn’t a sin Elihu has sinfully given too much room to his anger and vents it in the direction of these men. Third, Elihu doesn’t contribute anything new to the ongoing conversation between Job and his friends but merely restates what has already been said after rebuking Job and his friends. Like Job’s miserable comforters Elihu also does say some true things but applies them wrongly and draws the wrong conclusions. Fourth, Elihu’s chapters do build suspense within the book of Job but only do so by delaying the judgment of God at the end. Fifth, the reason Elihu is ignored by everyone at the end of the book is because he does prove himself to be something of an irrelevant intruder into an already lengthy conversation. This view is probably the majority view within the Church. You’ll find it in most commentaries, the ESV Study Bible, and the Gospel Transformation Study Bible.

While the second view is the majority view among Christians, the third view is probably best described as the minority view among Christians. This minority view believes Elihu to a good character and even something of a preview of the very things God will say to Job and his friends at the end of the book. The reasons for this view are also many. First, Elihu finds both Job and his friends wanting in the debate. Second, after rebuking the friends Elihu focuses on Job’s words throughout the debate, quoting Job many times without accusing Job of living a wicked life like the friends have done. Rather he moves the conversation toward a proposal that suffering does indeed have a redemptive role. Third, because of these things Elihu’s words anticipate the stance God Himself will take in chapters 38-42. Some who hold this view, at this point, make the claim that Elihu was a prophet sent by God to prepare Job and his friends for God’s words stronger words about to come. Fourth, though not being the answer to Job’s problems, Elihu points in the right direction by functioning, in small measure, as the ‘arbiter’ or ‘mediator’ Job has been longing for. Fifth, this is the reason why no one responds to Elihu in the end, because he was a voice preparing the way for the greater voice to come. This view is the minority view within the Church. You’ll find it explained and embraced in the Reformation Study Bible, and given a ‘nod’ though not embraced in the ESV Study Bible. This is also the view held by Christopher Ash in his commentary on Job that we’ve been using a guide through our series in Job.

Taken these three views into account, we can easily reject the first view which believes Elihu and his speeches to be a foreign intrusion into the text of Job. As for the remaining two views we find believers lining up in both of them. Personally through studying this text I have come to believe the third view, that Elihu is a good character who prepares the way for God’s voice to come. But honesty would demand I also say that while I believe this third view is the best option I also believe I could be wrong about this.

So, I do not hold my view, and I would encourage you to not hold your view on Elihu with a closed fist, but with an open hand willing to adjust as the text demands of us. But for now think of Elihu like this.

So far in Job we come through 30 chapters of thick back and forth conversation about Job’s innocence, and whether or not Job has been right to say what he has about himself and about God. I think the author of Job knows what he has put together here in his work can easily exasperate the reader and is now giving us a bit of a break, or a change in tempo, with the wisdom hymn of chapter 28 and the speeches of Elihu in chapters 32-37.[1] And more so, that these chapters are present between Job’s final plea and Job’s meeting with God show us that Job might be in need of a bit of a break as well. Remember, God isn’t forced to reply to Job right away or quickly even though Job’s final plea in chapter 29-31 is intense. No, God acts in His own time and Elihu’s speeches reinforce this by causing Job to wait a bit longer for his inner angst to be resolved. Yes we have felt deeply for Job as we have watched him suffer and work through the hard realities and questions of why God does what He does. But we also, again and again, have had to almost gasp at Job’s audacity in accusing God of being a wrongdoer and unjust.[2]

Maybe, just maybe, some of what Elihu has to say will be the very things Job needs to hear in order to be prepared to meet God before the end in chapters 38-42.[3]

 

Citations:

[i]David Atkinson, The Message of Job – The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991) page 116-117.

[ii]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014) page 329.

[iii]Atkinson., page 122.

Why Must I Grow in Holiness?

Sanctification.

It is a big, five-syllable word that may not be used much, but remains vitally important. Most mornings while our three children are munching down their cereal, we listen to the New City Catechism in song form. This morning, the song was focused on answering the question, “What do justification and sanctification mean?” My six year old daughter said, “Sanctification? What’s that?” Sadly, many adults who have been raised in the church don’t know the answer either. Yet the doctrine of sanctification is so important and so monumentally vital to the Christian life that Scripture says we cannot see the Lord without it (Heb. 12:14).

So what is it? Sanctification refers to that gradual process of upward spiritual growth in the Christian’s life whereby we are conformed more and more to the image of our Savior. The process of sanctification begins at conversion and ends in final glorification when we die or Christ returns. While our justification is all a work of God in grace toward us, our sanctification involves our spiritual effort and the Spirit’s enabling and empowerment. But one question that seems to be on the minds of churchgoers in our generation is this: “Does it really matter if I am growing spiritually? After all, aren’t we saved by faith alone in Christ alone?”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, the Apostle Paul addresses the importance of spiritual growth to a church in a similar scenario as ours. The believers in Thessalonica had been converted from idolatry and were living in a culture of rampant sexual promiscuity, to say the least. Cult prostitutes were even used in their temple worship. Various forms of sexual perversion were state-sanctioned activities to raise funds for government buildings and such. We may not be facing as much blatant sexual immorality in our society as the Thessalonian believers were in theirs, but I think it’s safe to say it is a big problem. There are now a variety of new snares Satan has devised to trip us up. By means of great technological advancements, nearly 80% of all Americans own a smartphone. These devices have instant access to visual, moving internet pornography and most people have no filter set up in place to guard them from it. Along with smartphones, we have laptops, smart TV’s, tablets, and such. Just recently my family was at my parents’ home while my dad was trying out his new Echo Dot. Within a few minutes, my children learned to call out the title of a song and expect it to play it for them on demand, only that it misunderstood them and played sexually explicit music for the next couple minutes. This is just one example of how pervasive the problem of sexual immorality is in our culture.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, the Apostle Paul answers some crucial questions for us about spiritual growth…

Does it really matter if I am growing spiritually? Yes, it’s God’s will.

Paul says in verse 1 that we, “ought to…please God…more and more.” Spiritual stagnation is not only a waste of our potential, it is flat out dangerous. Obviously this does not mean we should expect to see some dramatic gains in our devotional lives each progressive week. If we could draw a line graph of our own lifelong spiritual progress, it would have a lot of ups and downs, yet there should be an upward slant to the whole thing. There should be a marked spiritual growth from who we were five years ago and who we are today. Not only that, but Paul also says, “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” Every high school students wants to know what God’s will is for their life and they listen for that still, small voice, but it is right here in black and white before us. God’s will for our lives is that we grow in holiness. Spoken negatively, it is not God’s will that our holiness be at a plateau.

What does this spiritual growth look like? At least sexual purity.

Paul uses an appositive statement to connect their sanctification with sexual purity. He says, “your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” In our pornographic society, this sexual purity is at least what it means to grow in Christlikeness and in holiness. One cannot say they are growing in holiness while they are indulging in any form of sexual immorality. Paul uses the word porneas, a broad word referring to any sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage. To be growing at all means we cannot sit complacent in any sin that perverts God’s good design in marriage. Holiness and honor should be words that characterize our sexual purity.

Why is our sexual purity that big of a deal? Because God called us out for this.

There are several answers to this question which Paul gives. One answer Paul gives is that the Gentiles who practice these things don’t know God and we do. Our knowledge of God sets us apart not only spiritually, but also sexually from the worldview of this age. Also, we are told to remember that God punishes all who love sin more than Him.  Finally, our sexual purity is a big deal because of the way God first called us. God did not come to call us to live as we were. You call a person because you want them to turn their attention away from what it is on so that it is then on you. When God calls sinners, He calls us to a whole new way of life. Jesus was known for saying to sinners, “Go and sin no more.”  Paul says to disregard the clear teaching of Scripture here is to disregard the very God who gives the Holy Spirit. None of us can ever hope to be holy without the aid of the Holy Spirit.

May our lives be marked by this growth in holiness as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit each day. It is only when our world sees Christ’s church as set apart and holy that they will know what a different Christ has made in us.

A New Podcast

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

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

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

Feel free to click here and listen to our Podcast.

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

Why this Pastor Loves Atheists

Yes, I do in fact legitimately love atheists.

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

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

  1. They are thinkers.

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

  1. They care for those suffering in this world.

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

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

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

  1. They are unashamed of the doctrine they embrace. 

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

  1. They are image bearers of the Divine.

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

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

Semper Reformanda. 

Conversion: The Renovation of the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Contentment in His Calling

The notion of climbing a ladder, seeking the maximum achievement in your profession, and doing what you can to promote yourself expresses the common belief, practice, and mindset in American culture when it comes to your career. Certainly, one should not settle for mediocrity but the drive to succeed and be known among your peers becomes one of the dominate themes in many lives. None of us in ministry should ever think we are immune to such overtures. As soon as you think that you are not susceptible to the bright lights and fame of ministry, you best be aware that you are in the prime spot to fall into the trap.

As Paul finishes his first letter to Timothy, the apostle makes a profound statement. “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). In this section of 1 Timothy, Paul provides a connection between false teachers and motivations of greed consuming their lives. Naturally, our mind goes to those who promote the so-called “prosperity gospel” where the message given is that Jesus stands ready to give you all the carnal desires of your heart. Yet, if the only application or implication we draw from this text deal with Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and that sordid band of false prophets, then we are neglecting a needful truth.

Every minister of the gospel faces the onslaught of the “celebrity pastor” image especially as more technological advances are made. The temptation to view each church or ministry opportunity as a stepping stone to the next place (which is usually larger and/or more prestigious) is nothing new. Today, with social media, blogging, podcasts, etc., ministers confront an even greater enticement to be read, seen, heard, or watched. The writer of Hebrews gives a similar exhortation when he writes, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

What is the Spirit of God saying to those of us in ministry? By the Spirit’s power and divine grace, we must be content in His calling. What does it matter if we are called to minister in obscurity? I do not write these things from an ivory tower as someone who keeps this truth perfectly. I can confess that over the last few months, the Lord has taught me and shown me that pride had gripped my heart more than I realized. The temptation is real to not be content with what the Lord has called me to. As some dear brothers came around me, I began to see more and more how ego-driven I had become. This had led to lapses and shortcomings in private devotion and holiness as time in the Word and prayer diminished at times. When the feelings of insecurity would grow in my life, I had nothing to fall back on except my own whims and wisdom. All the while I might hear more compliments from people on my sermons and writings, I was hearing applause for me.

Brother pastors, fellow preachers, and co-laborers, our drive should be to live out our ministry in private integrity and public faithfulness even if that is in a modern “Nazareth” that is off the beaten path. My mind has gone back over and over the last two months to a statement I heard Dr. Steven J. Lawson make at an Expositors’ Conference in Mobile in 2013. He made the statement that the Last Day will reveal many faithful pastors who were off the main highways and plodding along in a Nazareth. I want that to be my testimony. The Lord called me to pastor the dear saints at New Testament Baptist Church in Biloxi, MS. We are off the beaten path. Despite my failures and shortcomings, the Lord continues to grow us in love for Christ and one another, as well as to bring new people and families into our midst. There is nothing spectacular from the vantage point of the “celebrity pastor” in what we do. The work we are doing is spectacular because it is driven by the Word of God seeking the Glory of God. The King calls me to be the pastor-theologian in this context, to care for the souls of this flock, and to be ready to give an account for them. This is more than enough to send me to my knees and keep my head in the book ploughing forward.

History is one of my passions and I have been working through the three-volume set entitled “The British Particular Baptists: 1638-1910” which is published by Particular Baptist Press out of Missouri. I highly recommend this publishing house for they offer a treasure trove of wealth when it comes to Particular Baptist theology and history. In the chapter on Benjamin Francis, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin provides a quote from British Baptist historian Raymond Brown concerning some of the British Particular Baptist pastors of the time. These words gripped my heart as to what really matters:

[These pastors] were content to serve their respective churches for forty and fifty years, pouring their entire working ministry into the pastoral care of rural congregations, faithful biblical preaching, the development of association life, the establishment of new causes and, in each case, the composition or publication of hymns.[1]

There is nothing here that gives room to concern for prestige, platform, or publicity. May to God we learn from and take such a heritage as our own! I am still learning, still growing, and still fighting. I do not write these words as if to say I have arrived. The allurement is still real. Pray for me that I would keep my head down and be busy for the Master regardless of who knows about it. Let us be content in His calling for us satisfied in the One who has called us.

 

[1]“Benjamin Francis” in Michael A.G. Haykin, ed.,  The British Particular Baptists 1638-1910 (Springfield, Missouri: Particular Baptist Press, 2000), II, 19.

A Birthday Reflection: Go Therefore

Go therefore…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When Love is Gone

“What do I do when love isn’t there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda.

How Do You Pray?

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

Doubt & Faith???

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

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

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

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

Romans 10:9-13

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

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

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

Ephesians 4:11-16

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

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

7 Ways to Stoke the Fire and Avoid Burnout

There are a lot of people burning out these days; some for moral reasons, others because they tried to balance too much for too long. Many who haven’t “burned out” are not exactly following Paul’s charge to, “not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11a). So what can we do to keep the fire going and avoid burnout? Here are just a few ways we can practically thrive in our walk with Christ…

  • Meditation

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11

Steep your heart in the Word everyday. Don’t just read with your eyes. Turn it into a prayer. Pray the Word back to God. Meditate, then memorize, then meditate some more on what you’ve memorized. One way to do this is to carry around a tiny notepad and record what God has spoken in His Word that day to give you something to chew on all day and savor it completely. The late Jerry Bridges made this helpful point, “God’s Word must be so strongly fixed in our minds that it becomes the dominant influence in our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. One of the most effective ways of influencing our minds is through memorizing Scripture.”

  • Perspiration

“…bodily training is of some value…” 1 Timothy 4:8a

I know perspiration doesn’t sound as spiritual as meditation, but it is also important. Many of the problems we face could be solved with a little exercise and some healthy eating. One author has stated, “The cure for anything is salt water…sweat, tears, or the sea.” While that obviously takes things too far, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a good sweat. God created our beating hearts and sweat glands for a reason. As embodied spirits, we often aren’t aware of how connected our bodies and spirits are. Many have seen depression and discontentment lift after a period of regular exercise. Doctors say our hearts should beat at a rapid pace at least 30 minutes each day and we will do wise to heed them.    

  • Recreation

“…much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

While similar to perspiration, recreation focuses more on the creativity God gave us. Hobbies are good for the soul. Whether it’s carpentry, karate, racquetball, or cooking, we all need diversions from the demands on us. Some think the Bible’s call to sober-mindedness condemns this, but this is wrong. The truly sober-minded know that high levels of work and stress often lead to sin, so they insert recreation into life. Ancient watchman were given one watch of the night so they’d be fully alert during that watch. We’ve also got to mention the all important…sleep. God wired us so that we’d need this nightly recharge and for those who won’t humble themselves to get it, God will see to it that they are humbled for lack of it. In his little book Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash writes, “To neglect sleep, Sabbaths, friendships, and inward renewal is not heroism but hubris.”

  • Mortification

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

There is no sanctification without mortification. The great men of God in the Bible and church history were known for vigilance in this. John Piper calls this, “Holy sweat” and we can’t forget John Owen’s famous line that, “We must be killing sin or sin will be killing us.” There is no more sad creature in all the world than a believer cozying up to sin. Unbelievers live in sin, but they are blind to the glories of Christ. Believers, however, are at odds with their new union to Christ when they sin. They feel what David felt when he said, “My bones wasted away…my strength was dried up.” This is why Jesus said of indwelling sin, “kill it, gouge it out, pluck it out, and tear it from you.” Peter told us indwelling sin, “wage[s] war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Along with killing sin, we’ve also got to learn to say, “No” to extra demands on our time that keep us from what is most important. Even learning to discipline ourselves to put down the smartphone could help us keep a good pace.

  • Association

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

No believer was created to be a lone ranger. We need fellowship with other believers, especially in a local body with which we have covenanted. The church who practices biblical church membership is built upon this deep fellowship in the body of Christ. But sitting in a pew once a week is not sufficient to stir up our souls. We need a one-on-one relationship of accountability in the body and we also need a small group in the church that will keep us lifted in prayer and provide us with the necessary encouragement. All the while, we must not forget that we are there to serve our brothers and sisters and not merely be served by them.

  • Proclamation

“…Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16b

The Dead Sea is a fitting example of the Christian who neglects evangelism. Like the Dead Sea, if we have no outlet of the Gospel into the lives of others, we will grow stagnant and dry. Evangelism always reminds me of the lostness of the world around me and the great wonder of God’s saving grace in my own life. When you rub shoulders with the lost and listen to them share their worldview, it may just remind you how blessed you are to be in Christ, in turn filling you with a passion to share the Gospel with unbelievers.

  • Continuation

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

All of the above will not matter if we fail to persevere. Jesus said it is those, “who endure to the end who will be saved.” While it is true that God preserves His people, it is also true that God’s people persevere. In the same short letter, the Apostle Jude referred to believers as those, “kept for Jesus Christ”, then commanded us: “Keep yourselves in the love of God”, only to conclude, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” May we not lose heart and give up, for there is nothing but destruction for those who do. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us to, “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…”

May we all run this marathon race of life with endurance, focus, and sustainable pace.