A Reminder of How We May Learn Through Disagreements.

As we come to the close of 2020 I was reflecting back over some of the things I have written over the last several years, and the following article hit me square in the face. It is one I am personally striving to do and at times still easily falling, especially in a year where tribalism seems to be growing and divisions easily erected. We have ceased to listen. I hope it will encourage you and maybe convict you as it did me.

Sometimes it takes a younger you to remind you of these things.

*Originally published Dec, 2018

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 it is we love so much about Spurgeon’s preaching and teaching ministry, but it will also at times made 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 as heretics or worse 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 godly brothers and sisters in Christ who we can learn much from, whom we will equally disagree with on these tangential things. 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 at times point us to Christ and at times are 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 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, 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, and 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 who 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 or worse.

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 John 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.

Top 10 Podcasts of 2020

I like podcasts, a lot. They’re not only a great way to redeem the time whether you find yourself in the car, the gym, or anywhere really, but they’re so many good ones to choose from now! I’m glad they’re becoming more popular these days and that new ones pop up all the time. In a given week I usually listen to more than 10 podcasts regularly. So as this year is winding down I’ve compiled a list of the my favorite podcasts of the year. Be encouraged!

(note: these podcasts weren’t all new in 2020, but they’re the ones I’ve mainly listened to throughout 2020)

10) 5 Minutes in Church History – A brief 5 minute podcast that comes out with a weekly dose of Church history. It’s great, you’ll love it.

9) Ministry Network Podcast – From the folks at Westminster Seminary, looking at ministry from all angles with various guests. Brief, informative, encouraging.

8) Open Book – Brief snapshots of R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur’s favorite books, why they read them, and why they return to them.

7) Pastors Talk – Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman talking over all things current and historic from a pastor’s point of view. Helpful.

6) Simply Put – Doctrine, robust and substantial doctrine, handled in a brief summary form. Hard to do well, but this one does. Excellent listening.

5) The Prancing Pony Podcast – Did you really think there wouldn’t be a Tolkien podcast in this list? This is by far the best Tolkien podcast out there right now. Two regular guys who love the works of Tolkien, where they slowly read and talk through them. Love it.

4) Out of Oz – Hosted by my friends and fellow pastors along with some of their church members, talking through hard/controversial issues. Fun chats, can be quite cheeky at times.

3) Luther in Real Time – Historical reenactments of Martin Luther’s life before, during, and after the reformation. Simply gold!

2) Gospel Bound – A Gospel Coalition podcast hosted by Collin Hansen, covering all things theological, political, and cultural through the lens of the gospel. Hopeful listening.

1) Life and Books and Everything – My favorite podcast find of the year, hosted by Kevin DeYoung and friends, title says it all. This podcast alone has helped me think through the majority of issues that have faced us in 2020. Dive deep into this, you’ll be better for it.

I Will Not Be Celebrating this Year.

“I will not be celebrating Thanksgiving this year. Quite simply, there is nothing in 2020 deserving of my gratitude.” So, honest confession – I haven’t heard anyone utter these exact words; but the myriad of negative denouncements I have heard stirred with more than a spoonful of myopic lament has led me to conclude that this is the soul-sentiment of many a believer. Last weekend I seemingly shocked many in my congregation when I made the almost blasphemous proclamation that the past six months have been the most joyful in my eighteen years of ministry. A few chortled loudly at the declaration, perhaps convinced that I had to be jesting; but the statement was anything but a joke.

Most friends reading this understand that I do not live in a glossy globe of naivety. I am not ignoring reality or pretending that no ill has fallen on my family or our church this year. In fact, outside of 2017, 2020 has been the most grueling, life-altering, and future-clouding year of my life. Never would I have imagined a year of church shuttering; financial uncertainty; bitter infighting over masks, childcare, and – yes – kinds of hand sanitizer; lockdowns; racial divide; political toxicity; and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a global pandemic. Never would I have imagined former friends on both sides of the aisle labeling me a liberal and a racist in the same week. Never could I have foreseen my refusal to buy into cultural norms and corrupt ideologies publicly decried as sinful and privately used to spread disunity. I certainly could not have projected a scenario where my little girl, at the height of the pandemic, had to be rushed in for emergency heart surgery. On the surface, it’s been a horrendous year. But just under the surface, as I take time to peel away the obvious ugly, I see significant beauty.

I would highly encourage you, Christian, to do the same, but here are twenty realities that I am thankful for that would not be had 2020 gone according to script:

  1. The shutdown and continued societal impacts have enabled me to linger with my family longer. 
    Family has always been an absolute priority for me, but seasons of lockdown and new social norms have enabled me to hang with and invest in Danielle and my kids with increased regularity and purpose.
  2. New rhythms have forced me to slow down and adapt.
    For years I have worked hard to established healthy rhythms and accept necessary changes, but 2020 forced thoughtful reconsideration of many ministry norms.
  3. A reorientation of so many norms has pushed me to consider the things that truly matter.
    Under the bevy of opinions and friendly fire, with pastors dropping from the ranks, Christians fighting over nearly everything, and friends compromising theologically or practically, I have been driven to really seek for that which must be prioritized in my teaching and apologetic, while permitting secondary issues to be passionately held in open-handedness.
  4. Pressing cultural issues, and how they have rocked the church, have helped in expanding my understanding of many critical matters.
    I have, out of necessity, taken an even deeper dive into exploring how eschatology, prophecy, critical theory, intersectionality, cultural marxism, political ideologies, and political corruption directly affect the church and how Christians should respond.
  5. The necessity of a strong online presence and live-stream has gifted us the capacity to reach far more people with the message of the Gospel.
    As a church, we have been able to minister through the vehicle of media to thousands of folks from around the world. Every Sunday hundreds join us from various parts of the country for our live stream and already we have picked up listeners for our podcast from more than a dozen countries.
  6. The countless calamities have actually been used by God to purify His church.
    This always happens in times of crisis. Many fall away but the true church presses on in even greater devotion. That has certainly been the case in 2020.
  7. The reminder of the need for true community among the faithful has deepened the health of the church.
    Many Christians have taken the shutdown as an excuse to opt out of prior commitments, but countless others have felt the stinging need for true community which has increased their ardor to plug into the life of the church local.
  8. The myriad of controversies and viewpoints have birthed numerous robust and profitable conversations. 
    Yes, there have been toxic, unprofitable discussions across this annual timeline, but so many of the conversations I have taken part in, when seeded by all parties in kindness, care, and a desire to actually listen, have been incredibly helpful.
  9. The shutdown gave us the necessary time to create more space for worship and kids’ classrooms.
    Before COVID 19 rocked our country we had outgrown our worship space and our kids classrooms were overflowing. The past eight months have gifted us the time needed to expand our worship room while building out much larger classrooms.
  10. The chaos created an acute awareness and fostered deep conversations around eschatology.
    I have long stated that “eschatology is a gift to the church in times of chaos” and that proved to be the case this year. There was no small amount of fear-mongering that went down related to the supposed rapture, the anti-Christ, and the “One World Order,” but once more, for those who sought to listen and understand there was much Biblical comfort to be found.
  11. The relentless assault from multiple sides has strengthened my resolve to fear the derision and judgment of others far less.
    This might be my biggest take away from 2020. I understand that to go too far in this direction will result in cynicism, but the constant attacks have been used by the Lord to actually help me not to fear the criticism or hear the slander that used to wreck me.
  12. Needed personal repentance and the suffering of friends has instructed my heart to care much more deeply for others.
    I have not always been empathetic or filled with compassion. In fact, for many years these virtues were virtually absent. But God has graciously brought me to repentance again and again, cultivating within me a deeper awareness of and care for those who are truly suffering.
  13. The compromise of Christian leaders and churches has emboldened me to speak against destructive beliefs and policies.
    Much that has been heralded in 2020 is not only brazenly false but is also diabolically destructive to the Christian message. As a church we could have slid in with other believers and congregations who swallowed the cultural falsities; but instead, by God’s preservation, we have been graced to stand against the blatant mistruths.
  14. The constant attacks have presented an opportunity to be courageous.
    I’m learning to value attack for without it we will never actually exhibit courage. As Lewis said: “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” Thank God for the gift not only to be courageous but to show our kids what bravery looks like.
  15. The diversity of opinions on significant issues has taught me how to graciously disagree.
    “I believe you are wrong.” I have uttered those words almost on repeat this year, and I have heard them leveled from others against me. At times those words have been birthed from toxicity; but as the year has progressed, more often than not, those words have been bathed in grace. Christians must learn how to strongly yet kindly disagree.
  16. The need for community has deepened my friendships.
    We were never meant to walk alone. We were designed for community and friendship. God has gifted me, and hopefully you as well, with deep, abiding friendships that throughout the fray of the past nine months have served me well and strengthened my soul.
  17. The wide-spread exhaustion, frustration, and discouragement for others have provided me endless occasions to lend encouragement to those struggling.
    I’m very grateful for this as well. I am not naturally geared toward encouragement; but God has been rewiring me and cultivating within a true pleasure in bringing hope and joy to the lives of others. Though I still fail, by grace, I grow.
  18. The introduction and normalization of masks in society.
    This one is weird, I admit, and most who know me know that I am not typically a mask-wearer. But COVID 19 and the mask hysteria aside, it would seem that wearing a mask moving forward for anyone struggling with a slight ailment or marginal cold would be beneficial for those they come in contact with. We almost forget that all the other illness that existed before COVID still, in fact, exists.
  19. A deeper love for my church family. 
    Coming into this year I would have acknowledged that the members of BLDG 28 cared for my soul; but the endless tumult has created a backdrop upon which I have seen the true devotion and love that my church has for one another and for my family and this has stirred a deeper and stronger love within.
  20. The Divinely orchestrated beauty from disaster has been a refreshing reminder of how little I actually control.
    I don’t adapt well. I think there is certainly a place for and a benefit in organization and planning. But 2020 did not go according to script which more than almost anything else graciously reminded me that I may plans my path but the Lord directs my steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Throughout this holiday season I hope we will be reminded of all we have from the Lord to be thankful for; and I pray we will actually give thanks. It’s been a good year.

Semper Reformanda.

He Rules in the Realms of Frost

It’s cold today.

But despite the cold I rose early this morning and reached for my reading in Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, and my oh my, it was wonderful. It was so good and so soul warming, I’ve reposted it here below to encourage you. Be encouraged…

December 1, Morning

“Thou hast made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:17)

My soul begin this wintry month with thy God. The cold snows and the piercing winds all remind thee that He keeps His covenant with day and night, and tend to assure thee that He will also keep that glorious covenant which He has made with thee in the person of Christ Jesus. He who is true to His Word in the revolutions of the seasons of this poor sin-polluted world, will not prove unfaithful in His dealings with His own well-beloved Son.

Winter in the soul is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee just now it will be very painful to thee: but there is this comfort, namely, that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds of expectation: He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes over the once verdant meadows of our joy: He casteth forth His ice like morsels freezing the streams of our delight. He does it all, He is the great Winter King, and rules in the realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses, heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills, are of the Lord’s sending, and come to us with wise design. Frosts kill noxious insects, and put a bound to raging diseases; they break up the clods, and sweeten the soul. O that such good results would always follow our winters of affliction!

How we prize the fire just now! how pleasant is its cheerful glow! Let us in the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw nigh to Him, and in Him find joy and peace in believing. Let us wrap ourselves in the warm garments of His promises, and go forth to labours which befit the season, for it were ill to be as the sluggard who will not plough by reason of the cold; for he shall beg in summer and have nothing.”

Taken from Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, reading from the morning of December 1.

The Church, The Gospel, & Politics

It’s often been said, “There are two things you shouldn’t talk about in public: religion & politics.” Although many may give a hearty “Amen” to that statement when uttered, I don’t know anyone, really, who lives by that axiom. Just take a stroll through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, & Parler (whatever that is), and the masses are always opining about “The Two Taboos.”

But what about the Church? Should the Church be engaged in the political sphere? Should the Church be discussing politics in Sunday School, small groups, from the pulpit, or from the pastor’s office? Succinctly, absolutely “Yes” is the answer. However, as the Bereans, we should take a stroll through the Scriptures to discover our answer to any, and especially these, questions. What does the Word of God say in precept, principle, or model for us in practice?

God, Adam, Humanity, and Public Policy

From the beginning, God as King of Creation, Law-giver, and Judge (Genesis 1-3) was the clear standard for society; this has not changed. But, by what standard was Adam to “subdue the earth, and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28)? By what standard was Adam to “rule over” Eve (Genesis 3:16)? By what standard was soceity to relate to the first murderer, Cain, when expelled from the community of his family (Genesis 4)? By what standard was Noah to warn humanity of God’s impending judgement unless they repented from their sin and joined him in the ark (Genesis 6-7)? By what standard would future murderers be judged when they took the life of those with whom they lived (Genesis 9:6)?

I could go on, couldn’t I? What was the standard that Moses used to inform Pharaoh of his wicked policies? What was the standard Joshua used when he led the children of Israel into battle conquering the pagan nations that occupied God’s land for Israel? Esther to Xerxes?  Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus?

You may object, “But, what of the New Testament?” Consider, John the Baptist to Herod or Paul to Felix, or perhaps Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples in Matthew 10:16-23 when the Master tells them that they “will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles…”. OT & NT alike, the people of God speak to the governors of man concerning God’s will for humanity.

The Word of God speaks to all humanity, revealing Himself to us, governing us, and guiding our policies. There is no subject or political office that is separated from God or His perfect governance. God, the King of all the Earth, governs all the earth with His Word.

The Church, The Gospel, & Policy (Politics)

By God’s design, the Church as an institution & God’s people as individuals have been the Divine Mechanism by which He guides, even commands, public policy. However, this is not at man’s whim or by man’s best thought. The Church and Her members are the prophetic voice guiding princes and their policies to God’s righteousness from God’s Word. From the Garden into eternity, God governs humanity by His Word.

Paul told the Galatians that the Gospel, the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ, took place at “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), leading his readers then and now to the reality that all of life (personal, familial, ecclesiastical, and political) center around the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t lead the Galatians to this point for the Church alone but for all of “time” which by necessity would include all that falls within the venue of “time.” Human government is just as much in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to govern its policies as individual men are.

The Gospel is sufficient. When did the Church relinquish the authority, clarity, sufficiency of the Word of God in the political sphere? And why? Surely, Peter would have lumped politics and policy in with what God has given when he said He gave us “all things that pertain to life & godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). Surely, Paul would have lumped politics and policy into how “All Scripture is…profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Church has been armed with Truth. In a world that is sinking under the mantra “there is no truth,” the Church must rise with Gospel on her lips and speak the Word of God into this escalating death trap.

Armed for Spiritual Warfare

To quell any fears, doubts, or suspicions that may be arising, I am not a Theonomist. I am, however, a Biblicist. The Lord & His Bride were greatly wounded through the Crusades and other foolish and murderous endeavors to force people into right worship; the first table of the Law is not the government’s to enforce, only encourage. We should never go back down that road.

The road we should travel, however, is the road where the Bride of Christ speaks Truth on political issues, to politicians, and in the public square. Some have accepted the false dichotomy of a “Sacred & Secular” divide. There is no such distinction from the King of Creation. The Church is a “city on a hill” with a Light to shine into the world around us. We do have an obligation to speak on policy, politics, and to people in authority and under authority. Don’t surrender God’s clear design to the wave of public opinion that says “Keep your religion out of the public square” for it is that public square that is in desperate need of the Gospel as well as its implications & imperatives for living.

The Democrats, Republicans, Independents, atheists, and idolaters are not the enemy. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…[but] against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:10-12). Therefore, fight these spiritual battles with the greatest spiritual weapon ever gifted to mankind, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For “it is the power of God to salvation for those who believe” (Rom. 1:16).

Church, take the Gospel into the political sphere and rejoice in effectual Word of God accomplishing His purposes through its proclamation (Isaiah 55:11).

Paul’s Aim in Ephesus: Preaching, Not Politics

In Acts 19 we read about Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus and how the preaching gospel was not only bearing fruit (19:1-20) but also threatening the livelihood of many who made money from the worship of Artemis (19:21-41). Paul and those who belonged to “the Way” were threatening everything these men held dear: their wealth and success, their goddess and their temple, and their pride in their great city, and they were all so enraged that they started a riot.

In the end, the risen Lord Jesus continued to build and protect his church, calming the chaos of the crowds just like he did the raging seas. The rioters stopped out of a fear of being squashed by Rome and the church was once again vindicated and was innocent. But what does all of this mean for us today?

Protests, Politics, or Preaching?

How did the Christians make such a noticeable and massive impact on the city that these men felt their way of life was being threatened? How did seek to abolish idolatry? It was simple: they faithfully proclaimed the gospel of King Jesus. As a result of the word of the Lord prevailing mightily, lives were being changed by his grace and idolatry was on the decline in a city that was world-renowned for it. There were Ephesians who didn’t look or act like normal, magic-practicing, Artemis-worshiping Ephesians.

But don’t miss this: It was not through marches or protests, force or violence, public policy or political involvement, complaining or slandering or insulting, but simply preaching Christ and portraying Christ! In fact, the town clerk himself admits in v.37: “You have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess.” This means that the Christians were not insulting Artemis worshipers, mocking them or their religion, or seeking to desecrate their temple. Paul was solely dedicated to boldly, lovingly, and persuasively preaching the gospel of Jesus.

As was his custom, he announced to the Ephesians that the God who made the world and everything in it is the one, true, and living God. He does not live in temples made by human hands and has all life in himself. Yet despite our sinful rebellion against this God—expressed in all manner of pride, idolatry, and immorality—he himself came into this world in the person of his Son, Jesus. He took on flesh to live among us, to suffer like us, and ultimately to die for us, as a sacrifice for our sin. But God raised him from the dead, proving to all the world that he truly is the Son of God, the King of the universe, and the Savior of the world. And as Paul preached this gospel, many came to repent of their sins and turn to the risen Lord Jesus in faith. Their eyes had been opened to behold the beauty of King Jesus—his excellencies, his supremacy, his glory.

Properly Ordering Your Allegiances

By grace, many Ephesians found in Jesus a majesty greater than that of Artemis (Acts 19:27). It was the very majesty of the true and living God! In fact, the word ‘magnificence’ here is only used in two other places in Scripture: of God’s majesty in Luke 9:43 and of Christ’s majesty in 2 Peter 1:16! As a result, the gospel was bearing fruit in the lives of all who believed. They had been filled with the Spirit of Jesus and were being transformed into his image daily. They had begun to live as those who had died to sin, put off their corrupt old selves, and had been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (cf. Eph. 4:22-24). I love how one pastor describes the church’s impact on the city:

Unbelievers in Ephesus perceived in the Christian community . . . a way of life that was different and a direction that was diametric to that of the majority. It was a different road than most traveled. It revealed a pattern of self-denial and cross-bearing. It was utterly focused on Jesus Christ. . . . And the worldly despised it. . . . As God’s Word had saturated their lives, day after day, [the church] threatened a way of life held dear, a culture thought to define the nature of Ephesus”

(Derek Thomas, Acts, Reformed Expository Commentary, 553-554).

Don’t misunderstand me. There is certainly a time and place for political engagement and public policy. We are to seek the welfare of our cities and this very often involves politics. But as Christians, our allegiance is first to Jesus Christ and his kingdom. We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. His purposes are to be our greatest priority. This happens as we, in faith, devote ourselves to prayer, to being immersed in Scripture and fluent in the gospel, and to spiritual formation through Christian worship and fellowship.

This also means, very practically that if for the past few months you have spent more time consuming news or media than God’s Word; if you know more political facts than sound doctrine; if you spend more time persuading people to vote a certain way instead of preaching the gospel; if you’re more upset when someone speaks ill of your party or presidential candidate than when someone speaks ill of Christ; if your greatest hope for America is Trump or a court, your priorities are wrong and your allegiances are not properly ordered.

Preaching and Portraying Christ

When it comes to God’s will for our lives as Christians living in America, as citizens of heaven living as exiles in this world, it’s simple: Be like Jesus. Follow King Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life. Tell others about his saving reign made evident in your life. Rinse and repeat.

The hope that our loved ones need, the peace that our city needs, the reconciliation that our world needs is found only in Christ alone. He alone is our salvation. He is our strength, and our song. His majesty alone—his manifold perfections—will satisfy our restless hearts. The church impacts the world most effectively through lives changed by the gospel we proclaim. As we live like we belong to this King, and tell others about his grace, not only will hearts be changed, but our communities will too, and our city will be impacted by the gospel.


This is an excerpt from the sermon: A City Impacted by the Gospel. It has been lightly edited and modified for this website.

Learning Paul’s Mission

A few weeks ago I began a series of posts introducing us to the Apostle Paul. In the first post we met Paul, in the second post we learned his message, and in this final post we’ll learn his mission.

Romans 1:5-7, “…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here we learn this message from God (v2-4) propels him out on a mission for God (v5-7). What is that mission? He begins with his apostolic calling again. His mission is to be what God has called him to be, an apostle. But see how he views it? He views it as something he’s received from Jesus and calls it grace. Grace! Here again is the first mention of another word which will dominate the landscape of Romans, grace. Paul didn’t become an apostle because he chose it as a career among a large list of possible careers, no. God called him into this work, God set him apart to this work, by His grace. This grace of God will, of course, be expanded on later, but here we see the beginnings of Paul’s thought on it. He believes he is what he is by the grace of God alone. Do you agree with him? Or do you believe you are what you are because of what you have done? In this we glimpse the heart of a true believer. Paul works, toils, labors, writes, plants churches, pastors churches, suffers a great deal of pain, agony, and turmoil on account of it, and ultimately dies because of it. Yet, when Paul thinks of all he’s done he doesn’t sit back and congratulate himself on his great and glorious accomplishments, no. He gives all the glory to God and confesses, ‘It was all of grace.’

After laying a foundation of the grace of God on his ministry, Paul unfolds the what, the why, and the where of his mission in v5.[1]

The what is “…to bring about the obedience of faith…” This phrase ‘bring about’ tells us God is going to do something through Paul in the lives of those he ministers to. What will God do? He’ll bring about the ‘obedience of faith.’ Curious phrase isn’t it? On one hand we can say these two words go together. Obedience always involves faith and faith always involves obedience, they belong together like lightning and thunder.[2] But on the other hand there is a sure order to these words we would do well to note. Just as lightning comes before thunder, so too faith always comes before and produces true obedience. So, when put together as “the obedience of faith” we learn the Jesus we have faith in is also the Lord we obey. Yes, faith alone saves, but when faith is true faith is never alone, works always follow. Or we could put it like this: the Christian isn’t one who just believes certain things, the Christian is one who lives a certain way because we believe certain things. Our whole life is a result of what we believe.[3] That’s the what of his mission.

Now look at the why, “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake His name…” Paul isn’t undertaking all of this gospel endeavor for personal profit or financial gain, he is no peddler of God’s Word who can’t trusted. Paul’s grand motivation for all things is “for the sake of His name” or for His glory. This is also God’s purpose in all things, the great glory of His name. In this Paul shows himself very healthy and spiritually alive, his heart beats with the same aim as God’s heart. Does yours? It ought to. If you’re ‘why’ is anything else you’re not just off base or unhealthy or in need of an adjustment, you’re an idolater. There is no one like God and there is no God but God. He, therefore, deserves all our love, all our affection, all our praise, all our hard work, and all our obedience. His glory is our great end in all things.

Lastly, Paul’s where. Finish out v5, “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake His name…(where?)…among all the nations…” Not just Israel any longer, but the nations. Paul knows further on in this letter he’ll describe how God is now sovereignly working throughout all history to bring a new people together, from all nations, through the gospel. So here he begins with that in mind as he gives us the where of his mission. And as robust as this is, as grand and all encompassing as this is, to these Romans it would’ve been very personal. Why? See what he says next in v6, “…including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” The nations God has called Paul to includes those in Rome.

And so, after meeting the apostle, learning his message, and learning his mission Paul concludes his greeting with sweet words in v7. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

This is our message. This is our mission.


[1] Robert W. Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 37.

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans – NICNT, 50–51.

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – vol. 1, 169.

Watch Your Step! (A Step-by-Step Guide)

We’ve all had that miserable experience of stumping your toe on the way to the bathroom in the dark. It is no fun and yet it reveals the importance of watching our step and having the necessary light to see where we’re going. The Christian life in the New Testament is often referred to as our ‘walk.’ Also, early Christians were known as, ‘The Way’ (Acts 9:2). On top of that Jesus referred to Himself as, ‘The Way’ and called us to, “enter by the narrow path” and not the broad one that leads to destruction. He said, “the way is hard that leads to life” (John 14:6; Matthew 7:13ff). This is important. We must remember that true believers are really the only group going against the tide of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are walking on God’s path, and yet how easy it is to stumble and lose our way. Thankfully, we have a Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep and we have fellow believers who help rescue the wandering among us (Matthew 18:12; James 5:19-20). I’ve heard it said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The trouble is, we are often like the wandering Israelites on this journey; stumbling here and there along the way, refusing to go when God says and often foolishly wanting to go back at times. So what are some practical things we can do as God’s redeemed people to, “run with endurance the race that is set before us”? The following is a list of verses predominantly from the wisdom books of the Bible (with other passages mixed in) which I’ve divided into a step-by-step guide for us. This list assumes that we’ve been born again by the Spirit and are on the path of the righteous. It is also implied that we are, “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.” Each of the verses are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible. It is my prayer that this guide helps you in your Christian walk.

  1. Acknowledge your tendency to slip, wander, and drift
    • “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” -Psalm 73:2
    • “…their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” -Galatians 2:14
    • “she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.” -Proverbs 5:6
    • “passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house” -Proverbs 7:8
    • “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”- Hebrews 2:1
  2. Pray for steady steps to walk in God’s way
    • “Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.” -Psalm 119:133
    • “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” -Psalm 86:11
    • “…see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” -Psalm 139:24
    • “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” -Psalm 25:4
    • “Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”- Jeremiah 6:16
  3. Consider the only two paths available 
    • “The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous.’ -Isaiah 26:7
    • “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”- Proverbs 12:28
    • “I will ponder the way that is blameless..” -Psalm 101:2a
    • “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” -Proverbs 4:18-19
    • “the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” -Psalm 1:6
    • “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” -Proverbs 3:6
    • “in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” -Ephesians 2:2-3
    • “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!” -Ephesians 4:17-20
  4. Let His Word be your guide
    • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” -Psalm 119:105
    • “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies” -Psalm 119:59
    • “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” -Psalm 119:35
  5. Watch where you’re going
    • “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” -Proverbs 4:25-27
    • “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” -Proverbs 14:15
    • “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths,” -Proverbs 7:25
    • “do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths,” -Proverbs 1:15
    • “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” -Proverbs 4:14-15
    • “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” -Ecclesiastes 5:1a
    • “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” -Psalm 119:9-10
    • “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.” -Psalm 119:101
    • “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,” -Ephesians 5:15
  6. Follow in His steps
    • “My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside.” -Job 23:11
    • “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” -Psalm 17:5
    • “So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.” -Proverbs 2:20
    • “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” -1 Peter 2:21b
    • “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” -Galatians 5:25
    • “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” -Galatians 5:16
    • “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” -Romans 13:13
    • “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” -Ephesians 4:1
    • “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” -Colossians 1:10
    • “…sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away” -Colossians 3:5b-8a

Election 2020: Where Is Our Hope?

“When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” (John 6:14-15)

Election Day is a week away and many of us will be going to the polls to vote for the person we hope will be our next president. This is an important issue that requires much thought and prayer. However, it is not the most important issue.

We can see this in the Gospel of John.

In John 6 (go ahead and read it) Jesus is sitting on a mountain side with His disciples when a large crowd approaches Him. The crowd was following Jesus because of the miracles He had performed for the sick (v2). Much to their delight, Jesus performs another miracle by feeding the crowd. He takes five loaves of bread and two fish and provides enough food to feed five thousand men, in addition to any women and children who were also present (v9-12), and still had plenty left over (v13). Jesus had taken a meager meal and made it into a feast for thousands with plenty to spare. It was a remarkable feat that no mere man could have accomplished. Of course, no mere man had accomplished it, but the God-Man, Jesus Christ, had accomplished it. Then v14-15 tells us, “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ And “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.”

The thousands that Jesus fed rightly perceived that He was the long-awaited Prophet, one like Moses, who had finally come. However, they wrongly perceived why He had come. They were seeking a political ruler, a king, one who could liberate them from the Roman Empire. They saw that Jesus had the power to heal the sick and provide endless amounts of food; certainly He could liberate Israel and reign as their king! They wanted Jesus to help them politically and materially. They were not looking to Him as a Savior from their sin; they were looking to Him as a king for their earthly benefit. But Jesus did not come to be a political ruler. He did not come to be an earthly king. He came to save His people from their sin. He came to seek and save the lost and give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was not interested in political leadership – He was interested in spiritual transformation. He was not the Bread of the Temporal, He was the Bread of Life (v35).

There are a couple of takeaways for us as we head into Election Day.

First, we need to realize, unlike many of those in John 6, that man’s most essential need is not a government or material needs or a presidential candidate that aligns with all our values and beliefs. Our most essential need is a Savior who can save us from our sin. Don Carson put it this way: “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, He would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, He would have sent us a politician. If He had perceived that our greatest need was health, He would have sent us a doctor. But He perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from Him, our profound rebellion, our death; and He sent us a Savior.” 

 We are a people who have offended a holy God by our sin and as a result we deserve infinite punishment. On our own we cannot make this right. No political policy or candidate can make this right. Only Jesus can make this right. Only He can fix our severed relationship with God the Father. He does this through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection – not political leadership. Politics are important. We should vote and vote wisely with Biblical principles in mind. However, we should not act as if all is lost if our candidate does not reach office. A president is not our Savior, Jesus is.

Second, we need to look to Jesus as our Savior and our Treasure. The crowds in John 6 looked to Jesus as the means (powerful king) to an end (liberation, provision, power). We too have the tendency to look to Jesus in the same way. We hope Jesus will bring us a better life now here on earth – better America, better career, better finances, and so on. But Jesus did not come to give us a better life now; He came to give us eternal life. We should not look to Him as a means to an end:

He is the end. 

He is everything. 

He is our Treasure.

As we go and vote let’s vote knowing that regardless of the outcome Jesus is our Savior; He is our King, and He is our Treasure. If the election goes how we want or not, we have Jesus, and to have Him is to have everything. Jesus in John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall not thirst.”

This government, this world, may not be what we want it to be, but let’s remember that our hope is not in government or the world around us, our hope is Jesus and He is all we need.

Learning Paul’s Message

Romans 1:2-4, “…the gospel of God…which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”

A few weeks ago I began a series of posts introducing us to the Apostle Paul. In that first post we met Paul, today in this post we’ll learn his message.

In Romans 1:2-4 we come to next great matter Paul introduces to the Romans. That this gospel of God which God has set him apart for isn’t new. Rather the gospel is of old, it’s something God promised long ago. I think too many make too sharp a division between the Old and New Testaments, as if there were no gospel in the Old Testament and no Law in the New Testament.[1] In our daily living as Christians this usually looks like us simply not giving much attention to the Old Testament because we think we’re New Testament people and should just stick to the New Testament. To which I respond, ‘We are indeed no longer in the shadow lands, we are living in the realities, gloriously so! But where do we think the foundation of the New Covenant was laid? Nowhere else than the Old Covenant.’ Or as Augustine once said, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.” This is what Paul’s getting at here in v2. His message, the gospel of God, wasn’t invented by him. No, it goes all the way back to the Garden where God spoke the first words of light into the dark fallen hearts of Adam and Eve. ‘One day’, God told them in Gen. 3:15, ‘the serpent will strike one of your Descendants on the heel, but He will crush its head.’ All the prophets of old spoke of this Descendant of Eve, of His coming, of His entrance into our world, of His life, His death, His resurrection, and His ultimate victory. This means Paul’s eager to tell them and to show them that in these “holy Scriptures” God has made many promises, and in Jesus Christ we come to see how God has kept them all.

But what does he say next in v3-4? He gets more specific, saying this gospel of God promised beforehand in the holy Scriptures is about one thing. It concerns “…God’s Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”

Now we see it. The gospel of God is not about a set of principles or about a certain spiritual program, it’s about a Person.[2] The Person of Jesus Christ. Try as many may, there simply is no Christianity without Jesus Christ. Put anything else before Him or leave Him out entirely and you’ve left Christianity, regardless what one calls themselves. And notice, how Paul’s explanation of the gospel of God doesn’t begin with man, with man’s problems, or with man’s value or worth. No, it begins with Jesus.[3] And more so notice, Paul isn’t content to leave Jesus simply stated and undefined. He tells us what we should know about this Person Jesus Christ. Some today might already begin having issues with Paul. Arguing with him saying he’s getting too deep and going into things he shouldn’t. ‘We just want Jesus, Paul, don’t go into all this doctrine. Doctrine divides.’ Paul sees it differently. I’d argue Paul sees it rightly and clearly. Sure, doctrine may divide, but can we see that when handled properly doctrine divides between what is true and what is false? Or see it like this: Jesus is Paul’s Master, and Paul earnestly desires and labors to make his Master’s glories plain to the Romans, and to us. Let’s see what he says about Jesus.

First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh. We know what this means. Not only was Jesus to be the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), not only was Jesus to be a Descendant of Abraham that would bless the nations (Gen. 12), not only was Jesus to be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49), He was to be of a particular line, the line of David. Remember 2 Samuel 7? David desires to build God a house but God interrupts these desires and makes David a grand promise and says He’ll be the One doing the house building. Specifically, God will build David a great house, or kingdom and He’ll place one of David’s sons on the throne establishing David’s throne and kingdom forever and ever. This long-anticipated Son of David is Jesus. He was the true divine eternal Son of God before in eternity past, but at a certain point in time this Son of God willingly became something that He was not before as He entered into our world, true Man.

Paul doesn’t leave it at that but goes on with more detail about the nature of Jesus. First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh, that’s v3. See what comes second in v4, He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead…” Some read this as teaching us that Jesus was simply human before the resurrection and then became the Son of God after the resurrection. I disagree. That’s not what Paul is saying.[4] The Son of God has always been the Son of God. The point he’s making here is that there are stages of Christ’s work to see. He – the true, the divine, the eternal Son of God – took on flesh, and in His earthly ministry His glory was largely veiled. He was King of kings while on He walked among us but He went ‘incognito’ if you will. Then something happened that changed everything. What happened? The resurrection. In the resurrection, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power, meaning His glory is veiled no longer. He has been inaugurated, He has been enthroned, above all and overall to His rightful place. Paul is saying the resurrection is not only where we see Jesus as the Son of God, but the resurrection is where we see Jesus as the Son of God in power.[5] Which is why Paul concludes recognizing Jesus to be what He truly is, “Jesus Christ our Lord.” This theme will be the grand foundation for everything Paul says later on in chapter 6 about how we’re to view ourselves as those who’ve been redeemed and how that resurrected power changes our daily life.

So follow Paul here in v1-4. What is the gospel of God promised long ago in the holy Scriptures all about? It concerns Jesus. Eternal Son of God, Seed of David, Messiah, and Lord.[6] This is what Paul was set apart for. This is his message.


[1] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 18.

[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 12.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 2 102.

[4] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 7.

[5] Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 13.

[6] Douglas Moo, NICNT – Romans, 48–49.

How to Walk Worthy of the Lord

The year 2020 has undoubtedly been the strangest year of my life. Suffering, confusion, hostility, fear, conspiracy, politics, controversy, disasters, injustice, social media, and tribalism are tearing our country apart. In particular, pastors find themselves in uncharted waters, surrounded by a multitude of opinions on every side. And with our presidential elections coming up in November, and no end in sight to the both the pandemic and all the divisive arguments that come with it, the future looks dark.

But this is what you inevitably find within the domain of darkness.

Yet while we are in this world, we are not of it. The Apostle Paul tells us that God the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). We are God’s people, a holy nation, citizens of heaven, called out of darkness into the light of Christ (1 Peter 2:9).

Our allegiance belongs to the risen Savior. We have been redeemed from the power of sin and delivered from the fear of death. We have a new nature, a living hope, and a glorious inheritance. As Paul says in Ephesians 5: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:8-11).

Walk Worthy of the Gospel You Have Received

For the church of Christ, this means that our words, our actions, our work ethic, our character, our relationships, our lives should reflect the glory of King Jesus. Our whole outlook on life should be drastically different from those around us, who have not experienced the freedom of forgiveness found in the gospel. And so, Paul prays “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col. 1:9-10).

He asks that the church might be fully acquainted with our God and his glorious purposes for the world. He wants them to have spiritual wisdom. Why? So that they might walk worthy of the gospel they have received, fully pleasing to the risen Lord who rescued them out of darkness into the light. Those who belong to Christ by grace through faith are to continue in that grace and live lives that are fitting for citizens of the light.

But how do we do this? This is what Paul then goes on to pray for, highlighting four ways in which we are to walk worthy of the risen Lord Jesus.

Bearing Fruit in Every Good Work

First, we walk worthy of the Lord by bearing fruit in every good work (Col. 1:10). Good works are anything done in faith for the good of others and the glory of God. It’s serving our neighbors with the humility and love of Christ. It’s treating them with the gentleness of Christ. In fact, this is why we were chosen and appointed by God: to bear much fruit and love one another (Jn. 15:16-17). But if the world around us doesn’t see the gospel we proclaim demonstrated by genuine converted lives and authentic Christian community then how will they know this to be true?

This is why Jesus commands: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16; 1 Peter 2:12). We walk worthy of the name of Jesus as we abound in love and good works towards everyone, especially the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).

Increasing in the Knowledge of God

Second, we walk worthy of the Lord by increasing in the knowledge of God (v.10). We do this by centering our lives on the Word of God—the all-sufficient, life-giving Word that equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The problem is that in times of crisis we often end up centering our lives—our thought, emotions, and affections—on the world rather than the Word. As a result, we find ourselves listening to and following voices of anxiety, fear, doubt, and self.

One author writes: “A church’s worship habits may occupy two hours of a Christian’s week. But podcasts, radio shows, cable news, social media, streaming entertainment, and other forms of media account for upwards of 90 hours of their week.” And the media we consume is shaping us.

Now, more than ever, we need to be devoting ourselves to the preaching, reading, studying, singing, and memorizing of God’s Word. We need to be disciplined when it comes to our media habits and the means of grace. We need to remind one another of who our God is, what he has done in Christ, and recalibrate our minds and affections according to his goodness, truth, and love.

Persevering with Patience and Joy

Third, we walk worthy by being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might (v.11) As we rely upon the Lord, and come to his throne of grace, we will find the mercy and help we need. As we devote ourselves to good works, to the word and prayer, to the fellowship of the church, God will strengthen us by the same power and authority by which he raised Christ from the dead!

For what are we being strengthened? “For all endurance and patience with joy.” This is exactly what we need as sojourners and exiles in this dark world. We need patient, joyful endurance. We need the power to bear up in difficulty, to remain full of peace, hope, and joy as we wait (Rom. 12:12). And praise God his grace is sufficient for our needs!

Giving Thanks to God

And fourth, we walk worthy of the Lord by giving thanks to the Father (v.12). Thanksgiving is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us, in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). And notice the grounds for this command: “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Knowing the living hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we can always be grateful.

Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Phil. 2:14-16). Grumbling and disputing obscure our identity as children of God, as citizens of heaven, as lights in the world. When we complain and argue, about anything and everything, we look like the world! Christians who grumble and dispute are blatantly taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness.

Friends, think about how often we are guilty of complaining and arguing: about quarantine, guidelines, and politics; about our neighbors, jobs, and kids; and even about our brothers and sisters in Christ in the church! And from the way many Christians use social media, our light is all but blown out. But as we hold fast to the word of life, we see God’s faithfulness, his wisdom, his goodness, his love, and his sovereignty. So, when we are tempted to grumble about our life circumstances, we can give thanks always. We remember his undeserved mercy towards us and remain steadfast in our joy.

So, beloved, let us walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Let us shine as lights in this world as we abound in love and good works; as we devote ourselves to the word and to prayer and to fellowship; and as we give thanks in all circumstances. And may others see our good works and give glory to our risen Savior King.

Don’t Be A Fool

When I hear the word fool, I can’t help but picture Mr. T with mohawk, gold chains, and a cut-off T-shirt saying, “I pity the fool!” Whether or not you watched the A-Team, the truth is, we all can play the fool from time to time. So it is good that God’s Word gave us an entire book to warn against folly and encourage us toward godly wisdom. In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon lovingly pleads with his teenage son to walk in the way of wisdom. One of the best ways to guide us toward wisdom is to expose folly. Solomon describes the fool (or simple), the sluggard, the scoffer, and the wicked (or sinner) in similar ways: those whose life choices are governed more by self than the Lord and others. So when are we acting a fool according to God’s Word, and how can we turn from it? 

  1. We’re being fools when we resist negative criticism and always assume we’re right (Proverbs 1:7; 5:12-13; 9:7-9; 10:1, 17; 12:1, 15, 16; 15:5, 20; 17:10, 21, 25; 18:2; 19:13; 26:5, 12; 29:9)   

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (12:1).

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (12:15).

  1. We’re being fools when we ignore the clear warnings of God’s Word and other Christians (Proverbs 7:7ff; 10:23; 14:16; 15:21; 22:3)

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (14:16).

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (22:3).

  1. We’re being fools when we are careless with our words (Proverbs 10:13-14, 19; 13:16; 14:3, 7; 15:2, 7, 14; 18:2, 6-7)

Whoever restrains his lips has knowledge…even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent…a fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (17:27a, 28, 18:2).

A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul” (18:6-7).

  1. We’re being fools when we are easily annoyed (Proverbs 14:29; 17:27; 19:11; 20:3; 29:11)

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14:29).

He who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (17:27b).

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (29:11). 

  1. We’re being fools when we return to our folly and don’t learn from it (Proverbs 26:11; 27:22)

Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (26:11).

Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him” (27:22).

How can we avoid being fools? 

Keep the Gospel front and center

The Bible is pretty clear that becoming occurs through beholding. Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “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” (2 Corinthians 3:18). There is nothing that will keep you humble and gracious like reflecting on Calvary. When you’re presently aware you’ve been given marvelous and unfathomable grace by the God who should have judged you, suddenly it is okay when others think you’re in the wrong. Years ago a prominent Christian man was being interviewed by a liberal news media reporter. The reporter criticized him for his biblical views and the Christian simply said, “Well, I’m a much more horrible person than even you think, but my hope is in the Gospel.” This remark surprised the reporter, who quickly shifted gears in the conversation. When we’re aware of the ugliness of our sins and keep holding ourselves up against the backdrop of God’s holiness, we’re able to more readily own our faults and repent of them. Our failure to behold the Great Exchange by our Great Substitute is why we play the fool.

Be diligent with the means of grace

James described God’s law as a mirror, so we must daily let Scripture show us our faults and help us look away from ourselves and look to Christ’s righteousness for us. Also, the more we pray, the more we’ll avoid folly. Struggle with your words? Pray with David, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Keep ignoring God’s warnings? Pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Also by maintaining corporate worship and close, open-hearted fellowship with our church family, we open ourselves up to more of God’s leading in our lives and are better able to avoid folly, or at least turn from it before we go too far into it.   

Live Coram Deo

Those who loved R.C. Sproul will know this phrase as he often repeated it. Coram Deo means, “before the face of God.” We live all of life before God’s presence, but we often don’t live like it! This is what David meant when he wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1a). David was primarily warning against practical atheism. Christians can sometimes be practical atheists, denying by their lifestyle the doctrines they claim to believe. Brother Andrew was famous for saying we must, “Practice the presence of God.” In our fallen state, humans do not do this naturally. Even as believers, we live outside the garden, so we must constantly remind our hearts that, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). 

Repent and believe…rinse and repeat!

The first of Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses that sparked the Protestant Reformation was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” I think Luther would probably say the entire life of believers should be one of faith as well. We don’t merely repent and believe at the start of our Christian life, but everyday we live as Christians. As we turn from our old manner of life and turn toward the Gospel and God’s will for our lives, we are then able to avoid folly and walk in wisdom. So let’s keep on repenting and keep on believing until our faith becomes sight.

May we all examine our hearts for folly and strive after the wisdom that pleases our great God.

Worship in Spirit & in Truth via Liturgy (Part 2)

Jesus declared in John 4:23-24 that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In my last article, I showed how using liturgy in worship enables us to worship in God “in truth,” as the language of the prayers and liturgy of the best Prayer Books in the Anglican tradition are steeped in and drawn from Scripture (click here for the full post). Let us now turn to the question of whether liturgy can facilitate worshipping God “in spirit.”

Much debate has occurred over what exactly Jesus meant by “in spirit and truth.” At a bare minimum, his charge implies that worship cannot simply be mental assent to things which are true, with no involvement of the heart. This type of heartless religious observance often characterized Israel’s worship of God; He had instructed them at Sinai as to the ins and outs of the sacrificial system, while calling them to love Him with their whole hearts. As time progressed, the sacrifices kept being offered physically, even long after the hearts of the Israelites had strayed to other gods. This empty worship earned them the rebuke of the prophets. Isaiah, for instance, critiqued the Israelites as a people who honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him (Isaiah 29:13).

The contention that liturgical worship leads to same place as Israelite worship is where many opponents of liturgical worship take their stand, as I myself once did. Such worship, they contend, results in a dead faith. It is not without reason that the nickname “the frozen chosen” has been put upon those within the Episcopal tradition! Reliance upon written prayers and pre-formed service orders can result in the mindless reading of prayers and creeds. This can be as true for the clergy as for the people, with nary a heart engaged in the proceedings. While this critique can be valid, it need not be so. To see a prescription for this malady, let us look at one point of revival in Israel’s history, found during the ministry of Ezra.

In Nehemiah 8, the people of God had returned to the land after being in exile, and were gathered together in Jerusalem. There Ezra read to them from the Torah. Nehemiah 8:8-9 recounts that after the reading, the Levites “helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” This text is often used as a reference to the role and importance of preaching, and rightly so! But consider also that a portion of the Law, Genesis-Deuteronomy, contains the liturgies for Israel’s worship of God. They heard the stories of Creation and Fall, God’s preserving Noah through the Flood, His choosing of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, His mighty deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and His preservation of His people through the wilderness. They heard also of all the moral laws given with the covenant at Sinai. And they heard about all of the different sacrifices and rituals they were commanded to offer up and partake in for their right worship of God. The explanation of the Levites would have needed to cover all these things. So, it was not just the explanation of doctrines and recounting of narrative, but a meaningful explanation of worship practices and liturgies as well.

Personally, I have found such explanations to be vital for worshipping God in a liturgical setting. As I have better understood the flow of the liturgy, the underlying purpose of each prayer and how each part flows together into the whole, it has greatly strengthened my heart’s personal engagement with liturgical worship. Understanding how the opening prayers and responses of a Holy Communion service, for example, repeatedly emphasize the need for the human heart to be shaped to desire God, His Word, and His ways, has helped me to pray with a heart that is engaged (for the full liturgy on this section, click here). The more I have learned the origins and purpose of each part of the liturgy, the more I am able to be engaged in worship in both spirit and in truth.

For the final, and more important corrective to dead ritual, let us return to John 4. Jesus’ words do not merely speak of engaging our hearts and minds in worship, but that above all our worship must be empowered by God’s Spirit. In regards to this text, Craig Keener notes that “only religion born from the Spirit, utterly dependent on God’s empowerment, can please God.”[i] Our hearts can only engage in true worship when they are enlivened by the Holy Spirit. After all, in John 15:5 Jesus said that apart from Him we can do nothing, which must include offering pleasing worship to God! Without the Spirit’s indwelling our prayers and praises, they are empty, regardless of their beauty and source. Education on the purposes, meaning, and flow of the liturgy is important, but it is useless without a lively faith and the Spirit’s movement.

Whenever you approach God in worship, I commend to you the following prayer, known as the Collect for Purity, which we use in our Holy Communion services at the very beginning of the service. Its words are beautiful, but more than this, it acknowledges our need for God to cleanse and direct our hearts and desires before we can offer Him true worship:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Help us, O Lord, to worship the Father in spirit and in truth.


[i] Keener, Craig. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Volume 1, 618.

Worthy

In Reformed circles the emphasis of the worthiness of Christ and the utter unworthiness of man is heavy; rightly so. There is none worthy but the Worthy One, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

However, the Holy Spirit-inspired author of the letter to Christ’s Church at Ephesus had no reservations in calling those “in Christ” (see Ephesians 1-3) to live lives “worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). We may not be worthy but we have been called to live a worthy life. Often, the Holy Spirit commands those under the Headship of Christ, from the apostle’s pen, to this worthy walk:

Philippians 1:27 “…let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…”

Colossians 1:10 “…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him…”

1 Thessalonians  2:12 “…walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory…”

But how? To know “what” is entirely different than “how.” God, in His grace, through Paul provides us with five “how’s” that are enough to keep us striving until our Gracious God finishes the work He began in us when He justified us by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. You can find the “how’s” in Ephesians 4:2-3, immediately following the call to “walk worthy” in 4:1.

With All Humility

Simply stated, humility is not thinking lowly of oneself but, as Christ demonstrated, the voluntary surrender of that which one is due. The King of Creation, the Son of God, did not count equality with the Father something He would require others to respond appropriately to. Instead, in humility, He served his enemies for their good and for His Father’s glory. Walk worthy, friend, in a voluntary surrendering of that which is due you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

With All Gentleness

Gentleness is the quality of character that walks in humility with the attitude of Christ. Absent the Humble Son of God was the passive-aggressive attitude that often comes with false-humility. One can, in the flesh, set aside what they are owed with an attitude that does not reflect the character of Christ, but gentleness is the character that serves at one’s own expense for the benefit of another lovingly. Jesus never surrendered the Truth but never begrudgingly paraded His humility to invoke a sense of guilt. As a the Great Shepherd, He gently served His Father by serving His sheep. Walk a worthy life of gentle service, in spite of personal expense, in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

With All Patience

Patience is also a quality of character that waits, full of faith, in the process(es) and timing of God’s Sovereign Will. It is easy to fall into thinking that our timing and our methods are clearly the best. However, a life worthy of the Lord is a life that waits on the Lord, the sovereignly Providential One. The Lord is patient with us as He works in and through us to accomplish His will; the one walking worthy of the Lord is reflecting that patience toward those people and circumstances the Lord brings in our paths.

Bearing with One Another

At first glance, this sounds a lot like patience. But this quality of character exemplifies patience in the face of adversity. Bearing with one another is “patience under attack.” Think of the Stephen as he was being stoned to death by those he was evangelizing. Remember, he asked the Lord to forgive them for doing what they did not understand, mirroring the Lord’s request of those who crucified their God. Walking worthy of the Gospel is a loving non-retaliation, in the face of offense, that your attacker might see Christ in you.

Eager Maintenance of the Unity of the Spirit

If ever there was work to be done, it is found here. The worthy life is one that is committed to the long-term, ongoing, upkeep of unity in the Body of Christ. This is no easy task. Put a group of sinful people together, even those redeemed, and what you’ll soon find is sin—shocking, I know. A worthy life is one that is rooted in maintaining peace among brothers and sisters in Christ. Walking worthy is bringing gossip to a halt; speaking highly of others who aren’t around; leading others to thinking highly of  those in the Church; praising others work in the Lord instead of looking for miniscule specks of inconsistency of a poor choice of words theologically. Walk worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ and remind the brothers and sisters of peace of God, in Christ, and in His Church.

Even as I write today, I see much room for growth in my life which means much sin from which I need to repent. But as I see my sin, I cannot but see the extravagant grace of my Lord Jesus Christ. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more!

Glory! Hallelujah! Jesus is worthy!

May we be found, at His coming, the same; walking worthy.

Render to Caesar – Render to God

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

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

This means, at least, two things. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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