When You Have a Biblical Leadership, Help Them!

First, let’s admit that the honesty of the Scriptures shows us that some leaders just don’t cut it.

“…O My people, your guides mislead you, and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.” (Isaiah 3:12).

We have all seen our share of good and bad leadership. I hope many of us could also give an example of a leader they respect, and perhaps even someone who challenges us to grow by their own example. It seems though, for every good leader there is a bad leader - and bad leadership hurts. Our wounds seem that much more painful when bad leadership is exposed in the church.

Isaiah 3 gives us a good measure for identifying leadership problems. In Isaiah, the authorities that lead Israel astray are those who have shirked their responsibilities in order to feed their worldly self-interest. God ultimately asks these leaders a truly soul-searching question. “What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” (Isaiah 3:12).  It seems that tyrannical leadership thrives by taking advantage of the weak.  These people have devoured God’s people for their own temporary gain. There is a great lesson in Isaiah both for the leader and the follower. Church leaders must carefully consider where they may be focusing on self-interest over the needs of God’s sheep and if they ever use people for their own selfish ends. The Sheep should be careful to always follow God first and never follow false leaders into the pit.

God’s expectation for elders (who are leaders in the church) is found in one very profound verse even though the direction in this verse is primarily given to the church. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17). The implicit responsibility for elders is to deny self-interest in order to watch over the souls of the church. Elders are to be the opposite of those who use people for selfish gain. They are to follow Jesus in denying self in order to love, care and lead people to the glory of God. Eldership is a leadership structure designed for the church to joyfully follow. Elders should experience a joyful task. But is it?

The last sentence in Hebrews 13:17 seems to add a little flavor to this direction. “…Let them do this with joy and not groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”  Greek Scholar Ken Wuest suggests that the verse could be rewritten this way, “Obey them, then, that they may discharge their responsibility and perform these kindly offices for you joyfully and not with groaning, the groaning with which one resumes a thankless task, and with which he contemplates unappreciated and even opposed work.”

Eldership is a duty of reverence.  Elders are judged on a different standard and know the call of God to seriously care for “every soul” to which they are to give an account. While the leaders of Israel seemed to flagrantly shirk their responsibilities to God’s people for their own worldly pursuits, elders are called to be men who feel the weight of responsibility for every individual soul that they must care for.  They may not always do it perfectly, but whether they are able to do it with the full measure of joy has something to do with you.

I am not writing this week’s blog because I want you to give the elders of our church verbal affirmation or a pat on the back. We want you to know that we take our role seriously and we desire to love you with good teaching, discipleship and the loving care and protection of a shepherd. We want to see our church secure in gospel-centered truth and care. What we do want to ask you is whether you are fully on board in obedience and submission to making that a fully joyful task as the people of God who desire to be led to Christ. Do you truly value the high calling of your elders to give an account to God for your soul? It is no small consideration because we do not fulfill the great commission without unity.

This week we speak on the membership of the family. As we do, we will see how the responsibilities of the leadership and the church as a whole come together in a glorious partnership in the gospel. 

Pastor Steve.  

There Is No Sourness in Singleness!

If you were living in Israel in the time of the Old Testament, you would know how much value was placed in a name.  The name of your people, the name of tribes and clans, and even households were the representation of legacy and promise. Your name was everything. God had given Israel its name as the identity of His people.  The promise to Abraham was one that would come through his offspring and eventually twelve tribal names would pass down a rich religious heritage from father to son. The necessity of family succession was paramount. But what if you were single?

There is very little spoken about singleness in the Old Testament because the old covenant was made with a physical family that became a nation of families. Singleness in the old covenant had a negative stigma because the next generation of God’s people relied on marriage and procreation.  Inheritance was handed from father to son and wives were needed to bear the next generation. Barrenness was seen as a curse and the pressure on women to provide the next heir was enormous. This is why we see Sarah and Rachel weeping in their anxiety for children and Hannah singing in praise for the gift of a son. The Name must go on!

In the Church, we can be guilty of looking at our single brothers and sisters this way. We can so easily feel sorry for those who have decided not to marry or have not yet found a spouse as if they have less future richness. “These poor people will never leave a lasting legacy.  Their name will not go on.”

If you incline to such thinking, STOP IT!

There are so many reasons why the New Covenant changes everything for singleness. One major reason is that the pressure for heritage and legacy is obliterated in Christ.  Because the church is a New Covenant family of regenerate believers (Jer 31:31-34), the heritage that we have in Christ is most gloriously spiritual. The physical family name is no longer an indicator of God’s covenant with his people. This is precisely the expectation that Isaiah gives as he looks to the coming Messiah who will be the great servant of all. Because of the saving work of the Suffering Servant, there shall be “a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:13). The shocking twist in Isaiah comes when we see who benefits from this everlasting name. Isaiah says, “To the Eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:4-5).

I don’t know of a single Eunuch who has ever been able to produce an ongoing name by physical heritage. In the name of Jesus, our spiritual family heritage is for every single individual believer. The full blessing and inheritance of this family is given to every single member in full eternal proportion. Bottom line, if you want a heritage that lasts forever, take the name of Jesus. Anything associated with your own physical name here on earth just won’t go the distance (no matter how good it is).

Perhaps this is why those who conquer (every faithful believer) in the book of Revelation are given a new name (2:17,3:12). With the New Covenant comes a new name with a new everlasting promise that can never be broken. We take the name of Christ.

There is no sourness in singleness for those in Jesus. If you want to make singleness sweet, focus on the family name of Jesus rather than the one on your physical birth certificate. Whether married or single, whether with children or without, the only heritage that lasts is the one in the New Covenant.  

This doesn't mean that physical families are not a blessing and that everyone should remain single. The message is the same whether married or single. In the new covenant family, there are no lesser members. In the new covenant family, the heritage and name for everyone is Jesus.

When Does Your Family Name Get in the Way?

Before I make a single point please acknowledge that I love my family and am thankful that God’s providence placed me in the love and care of a Mr. and Mrs. Ham. I am thankful for the privilege of living in a home where the bible was taught and the gospel proclaimed.  Many people will never know such a privilege and I don’t take it lightly.

I highly esteem my surname and I have gone to great lengths in the past to protect its reputation. And here in lies the problem. At what point do we wrongly prioritize the esteem of our physical family name and heritage (even with godly parents)? Is it possible to think too much of our physical families? If you asked a Jew in the first century, the answer may have been, “no.”

Through Abraham, Isaac and then Jacob came twelve names that defined a nation called Israel. Israel camped around the tabernacle in those family groups.  Israel had laws that favored the Israelite family and made them distinct to ‘foreigners’ among them. The physical sign of circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant promise to this family name. To an Israelite in the first century, heritage was everything. The covenant God made with Israel was identifiable in the physical families of the nation.

Perhaps this is what makes Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus so shocking. In this very famous exchange of John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus about the only eternally enduring family.  It is not the family by physical birth but the family by spiritual birth.  If you are going to be part of the Kingdom of God, forget your surname, you need to be born into a new name, Jesus.

Where the Old Covenant was broken by the families of Israel, Jesus perfectly obeyed his Father and through his blood brought in a New Covenant for all who would be born, not of the flesh, but of the spirit. By spiritual birth into a spiritual family we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The fact that the church is a spiritual family causes some of us to relegate it to second place. We find it easy to view our physical family as our real family and the church as the spiritual family that is less literal and tangible. If we read the New Testament carefully, we see the opposite argument.  Our first and most tangible family is the one given eternal life and staying together beyond this temporary world. The spiritual IS literal. That is why Jesus told us that his true mothers and sisters and brothers were those who follow him. That is also why Jesus said that we must be prepared for our own physical families to hate us on his account. The Jews rejected Jesus and placed their own family heritage and reputations above their need for a new birth in him. The Jews rejected the spiritual family for their physical name.

Question: When does our family name get in the way? Answer: When we prioritize our physical family or family name over the name and family of Jesus Christ. In other words, when you love the temporary family of the world more than the eternal family of Christ. The heritage of our physical family name makes zero difference in eternity.  The only heritage that is a lasting one is the heritage found in our spiritual children who come to eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. The family that matters most to Jesus is the one he called out of death into life. Which family do you love the most? I hope it is the one given birth in one name, Jesus. It is the family of God. 

Sometimes its called the Church. 

Are You Focused on Center Stage?

The exodus from Egypt has to be a top five, feature in world history. For any Israelite, this event was a defining point in history for an entire nation. It was an event that brought freedom from slavery, victory over oppression, and most of all confirmed the faithfulness, love and compassion of God toward his people. If you were a part of the people of the exodus, you were a testimony of God’s sovereign grace as he transformed a nation of exiled slaves into his own special people in the promised land.

As we read through the book of Matthew, we are forced to contemplate the fulfillment of this event. In Matthew 2:13-23 we are reminded that the great exodus in Moses day is but a shadow of the exodus yet to come through Jesus Christ. By giving his people the exodus, God saved Israel from slavery and brought them to the land of promise. Matthew tells us that after his birth, Jesus was taken into Egypt and returned to Israel. “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” The former exodus from slavery brought God’s people from Egypt into the land of Canaan. The new exodus found in Jesus transforms the very identity of God’s people and brings them out of the slavery of sin and into the eternal glory of reconciliation with God.

The magnitude of Christ is seen in that all events in world history are understood in his light. This is not something for us to simply skip over as if the word “fulfillment” is just a theological term for Seminary Professors. The themes in the Old Testament are orchestrated by God who wove them into real history. Even so, they are warm-up acts of his progressive revelation as the spotlight moves toward the main stage. They tell us something about how the imperfect temporary points to the perfect eternal. The exodus is one great example of how we should see this.  Israel were unable to keep God’s covenant.  They may have experienced an exodus from Egypt but because of rebelliousness they still found themselves exiled back into the hands of new enemies.  As we look at this history we come to realize that the biggest enemy of Israel was not found in any of the surrounding nations but in their own sin. The surrounding nations simply became a tool of God’s judgment.  The Old Testament is continually progressing God’s revelation toward a permanent eternal solution in a setting of constant human failure.

One of the things I love most about Matthew is that I am always seeing the hope of true fulfillment. The fulfillment of God’s failed people is found in one successful person. The fulfillment of humans to reflect the image of God is found in the perfect image bearer. The fulfillment of Kings that fall short is found in the King who now reigns over all forever. The fulfillment of priests who constantly sin is found in the Great High Priest who became our perfect sacrifice. The fulfillment of a promised land surrounded by enemies is found in the one who blesses the meek with the whole earth. And we could go on and on…..

The more you center your eyes on Christ as you read the Old Testament, the more you see the wonder of his fulfillment. The more you get excited about that fulfillment, the more you are filled with the certainty of hope. Fulfillment in Christ is the determining factor for our future. In Christ, his perfect completion becomes ours. This world lacks the power of permanency, but Christ has given us all eternal hope in the certainty of his fulfillment.  Get excited people! Jesus is Center stage! If your spotlight is pointing anywhere else, you’re missing the main act.

An Open Letter to Our Church Family

Dear Hyde Park Baptist,

I am doing my best in the capacity God has granted me and I do want to be a faithful pastor.  Outside the pulpit I sometimes use phrases or say things without really thinking them through. Generally, I am intentional about my comments but I know sometimes my speech goes before my mind and reveals my heart. Sometimes I am not thoughtful enough about your situations and don’t even think to ask the right questions.  Sometimes I miss opportunities to serve you and sometimes I stand before you in my own sinfulness as if it is not even there. In fact, I wonder if I have even unknowingly already caused any of you to sin. I wonder if I have been passive in concern for your souls when I should have been more proactive to seek you out. And yet, in the midst of these thoughts I want to say, thank you. Thank you for seeing past this pastor’s imperfections and giving me so much grace, patience and love while I grow. So far in our six months together you are doing it well!

Don’t worry, I am not about to drop any horrible bombshell, and I am not about to cause some great controversy. It’s not that letter.  But it is a letter of pastoral contemplation as I think about the sermon ahead.  One little statement grabbed my attention this week and I just knew it was worth searching through some Scriptures to consider it more deeply.  This little statement within Matthew 2:6 is that the Messiah expected from Bethlehem, “will shepherd my people, Israel.” As I searched the O.T. Scriptures for the expectancy of a Shepherd I was drawn to serious reflection over the text of Ezekiel 34. In the beginning of this chapter the Lord sees fault in the shepherds (leaders) of Judah (vs. 1-9). They are pastoring the flock for their own benefit, they have not cared for the sick, they have not sought out the strays, they have not protected the people, and they have acted with harshness and force. God says, that he will rescue his sheep from their mouths (vs.10). They are careless pastors who have let God and his people down.

What does God do when his shepherds don’t step up to the plate? “…I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” (vs.11-12).  How will God pursue us? How will the transcendent Creator of the universe shepherd the creatures that he made out of dirt? What does he do for failing shepherds? How does a proactive God seek out lost and straying sheep?  He does it this way…. “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.” (vs. 23-24). Or as it is written in Matthew 2, from Bethlehem “shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel.”

There will be a greater David who will be set up as the one ruling shepherd over all his flock. This greater David is named Jesus. He will save his people from their sins. He will save his sheep. The proactive way that God seeks out his straying sheep is to give up his place on the throne and become one of them….to die for them in order to rise, rule, and shepherd them.

I don't ever want to be like the shepherds of Ezekiel 34, but neither can I attain the perfect pursuit of the one great Shepherd of all. I will never be a pastor like Jesus. Therefore, my dear church family, as I see it I have but one job I can faithfully pursue.  If you don't mind, I am just going to keep pointing you (and myself) to him who has all the power to rule as King and the perfect love to shepherd his flock. I am going to point to Christ relentlessly because if you are looking at me or any of our elders, you are inevitably going to be disappointed. The role of a shepherd in the church is to point you to the Shepherd of the church.

While Ephesians 4 still maintains the role of shepherd/pastor in a local church setting, it’s important that I ask for you to pray for the elders of our church. We will be doing our job best when we are pointing to the great Shepherd most.

May the Lord bless you as you follow the Good Shepherd.  He loves you more than any man and he has ultimate power to keep you in his heavenly flock. Please think about Jesus as your great Shepherd this week.

In the Shepherd King,

Steve.

 

When Naming a Baby Exposes Your Problem

It’s Christmas 2017.

Bells are ringing, lights are flashing, people are singing, bellies are expanding and kids are getting very excited. Yet, while all of this is happening, the current events in our world continue almost unaffected by the festivities.

This Christmas we turn on our televisions and find that politicians and celebrities are being accused of all sorts of illegal indiscretions. Australia has just voted to legalize homosexual marriage and now the freedom of speech debate is escalating. A cake maker is being sued for discriminating against the LGBT community and a donut shop is under similar pressure. Racial tensions are higher than they have been in many years and much of the world’s academia continues to portray Christians as uneducated bigots.

We all see that which is closest to our situations.  These problems described are a small selection of things that dominate media in the western world.  As we look more carefully and also take a wider scope we see other problems like starvation, abuse, tyranny, corruption and a never-ending list which increases in a global context.

We might lobby the government for more friendly legislation toward freedom of religion and speech.  We might speak with a rallying cry for moral reform. We might even look beyond our own backyard and seek better policies for human aide.

And what if we were successful?

We might solve all the problems and still never solve the problem. We might have victory over all of our human enemies and forget the enemy of all humans.

I am not saying that we should be silent about these issues or that we shouldn't care at all. But if you are speaking against human enemies more than your concern about the enemy of all humans, you have a serious misunderstanding of the real problem. I have noticed that in the west it is a particular temptation for Christians to call out those who are against them with great disproportion to proclaiming the answer to that which is against us all (particularly on social media). The definition of both the real problem and answer is found in the name of a Baby born in Bethlehem.

“…and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Sin is our problem and Jesus is our answer. Those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation can be saved from sin and reconciled to God. The moment we prioritize any other problem, cause, or person over every single person’s problem of sin, we miss the mark on the solution. We miss the target of the gospel. We miss the center of Christmas.

Christmas time is the time to start by looking at the sin in our own life and our need for Jesus.  Christmas time is the time to stop looking at the crowd as our enemy and start speaking to people about the one enemy of us all. And then use the name of the one who came to "save his people from their sin." This is what his name actually means. The name of Jesus. 

The Naming of THIS baby, pinpointed our problem and provided our solution! 

Are You Misunderstanding the Kingdom of Christ?

Please don’t underestimate the importance of this question.  This question determines your purpose, your passion, your allegiance, your focus, your speech, your priorities, your boldness, your urgency, your satisfaction and peace, and your very identity. This is no small question.

The essence of Christmas is the announcement of THE King! The announcements to an unwed couple are the preludes to the royal inauguration ceremony of the universe. It was held in a lowly stable, in an insignificant town, under the rule of a foreign empire and proclaimed to humble shepherds. As lowly as this sounds, a mysterious and divinely ordained light would shine as a marker in the sky for Wise Men to encounter the wisdom of a new King.  Even Caesar could not command his own star to mark the occasion of his ascendance to Rome’s chair. This infant King in Bethlehem was no Caesar and he never came to be one. The first Christmas is the beginning of the inauguration of a heavenly kingdom far beyond the limitations of any earthly power. There is no mere geo-political, human pomp and procession in the Christmas narrative. True omnipotence need no such thing. The birth of Christ depicts the insignificant seed of a mustard tree that promises the majesty and glory of universal ascendancy over every power and principality. The birth of Christ demands that we re-evaluate our understanding of the concept of the Kingdom.

You may ask how I can make such a claim. What does Christmas have to do with the idea of a Kingdom?

The answer is simple.  The baby in that manger made the reality of his kingdom the epitome of his ministry. The gospels, especially Matthew, make this point very clear. At the very beginning of his ministry Jesus called for repentance because ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Mt 4:17). The drive of his message about his kingdom is not rallying for political change or fighting against governmental oppression or standing for rights. It is the humility of recognizing sin and repenting in faith in the one true King.

Matthew makes it very clear that Jesus was consistently differentiating his kingdom from earthly rule and it is a very big reason why Matthew refers to Jesus’ kingdom as the kingdom of heaven.’ Jesus’ kingdom parables pointed to facts about his kingdom that confused and confounded the Jewish expectation of a messiah who they hoped would make national Israel great again (sorry). The parables teach that the kingdom is not what they (or we) expect. It is like a small insignificant seed that grows beyond measure. It is like a pearl of great price that we give up all to obtain. It is given by the generosity of the owner of the vineyard. It is proclaimed throughout different soils but only grown on prepared ground. It is wheat that is harvested from among tares. It is a priceless resource that must be expanded rather than buried. It is a wedding invitation that is rejected by family only to bring about a whole new definition of family. It is a kingdom not of this world.

The kingdom parables are only some examples of Jesus’ focus on the priority of his kingdom.  Matthew points out, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” (Mt. 9:35). Notice that the gospel and the kingdom are not separated. Jesus taught the gospel OF the kingdom. The gospel is the good news of the kingdom and the only entry into being true citizens of the kingdom. The conquering victory of Jesus’ kingdom is not found in the re-establishment of Old Testament law or Judeo-Christian morality in Government. Neither is it found in a re-establishment of a national identity. It is found in the cross alone! It is found in the eternal purpose for the coming of Christ – His glory in saving his people.

Jesus also connects the teaching of his kingdom with the great commission. The famous verses in Matthew 28 are also echoed in Acts 1:8. We are to be witnesses of Christ’s gospel to every tribe tongue and nation, from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria and the ends of the earth. Before his ascension and the call to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, Jesus spent 40 days during which time he taught his apostles who would be his means of establishing and growing his church. “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3).

Here are the facts. Jesus was born in the royal line of David as the true King of Israel. The recipients of the announcements, the place and circumstances of his birth, the humility of his parents, his job as a carpenter, his homeless existence in ministry, his association with sinners and tax collectors, his band of fishermen and men of low renown, and his death on a roman cross all point to the fact that his kingdom is something far from expected in this world. This kingdom was the epitome of his teaching before his crucifixion and the focus of the preparation for his apostles before his ascension. The central element of his kingdom completely revolves around his death and resurrection by which we might be saved and become loyal and loving subjects of the one true King.

Christmas is the announcement of the King and, at least in part, a kind of inauguration ceremony for a new kingdom that revolves completely around a new covenant. The new covenant was established in the King’s blood.

So, if you understand his kingdom by associating it with any measure of human power of governance, you have misunderstood the kingdom of heaven. When we come to Christ in faith and repentance, believing and trusting in his death and resurrection as our complete substitute, we are saved OUT of this world to be heavenly citizens. We may for a time live in this world, but it is not our home.

This Christmas is your opportunity to renew your allegiance to King Jesus! If you don’t know this King, look to the cross where you will find free citizenship. He paid for it.

 

Is Apologetics Helpful or Necessary in Evangelism?

Christians are commissioned to go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ. How do we help those people see his truth? What about the atheists who are convinced that there is no god? What about the agnostics who are convinced that there is no way to know if there is a god? In one sense, Christians have been commissioned to take an unbelievable message to an unbelieving humanity. Some might say it is the impossible task, but the Apostle Paul did not think so.

Paul did not place his confidence in his methodology, nor his persuasive rhetoric or the intellectual capacity of the recipient. Paul answers with one profoundly simple statement. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”(Romans 1:16) Paul’s answer? The Gospel!

I propose that this answer is as complete as it needs to be. Those who see this answer as too simplistic may do so because they see the skeptical nature of our opponents. People need an answer to their skeptical questions otherwise how might they know that the gospel is true?

While apologetic and evangelistic methods are important and helpful, the bible does not attribute the success of the gospel to human rhetoric or strategy. The biblical authors clearly outline that the barrier to the gospel is the human condition and the answer to overcoming that barrier is found in the doctrine of divine illumination effected through gospel proclamation. Illumination is an act of the Holy Spirit in which he enlightens the recipient to the glory and truth of the gospel message.

The Human Barrier

It is the human barrier that highlights our need for illumination. Reading through the New Testament we constantly face statements about the devastating effects of sin on the human condition and especially our ability to see the truth of Christ. We are described as having a blindness to the glorious reality of the gospel, or we see it as utter foolishness and despise it.

            We are blind to glory

In Acts 26 Paul testifies before Agrippa that Jesus called him to take the gospel to the gentiles.  In verse 18 Jesus said to Paul that he was sending him, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” This darkness in which man lives, has made him spiritually blind.  In Ephesians 4:17-19 Paul describes unbelieving gentiles as those who are darkened in understanding, ignorant, futile in mind, hardened in heart, callous, and given over to every kind of impurity. He describes to the Corinthian church that the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God (1 cor 2:14). In his second letter to Corinth Paul makes the very well-known statement that the “god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

Clearly Paul believes that it is the glory and light of the gospel message that is beyond understanding for the unbeliever. Even if an unbeliever can understand the historicity or scientific reliability of the bible or the gospel message, it does not mean that they have embraced its divine glory.  John Piper states it this way as he describes the view of the great American preacher, Jonathon Edwards; “the object of our faith is not merely the factuality of the gospel, but also the ‘holy beauty and amiableness (loveliness) that is in divine things.’ It is the glory of God’s moral perfections. It is the beauty, or glory, of these perfections that are the proper object of our conviction. It is the ‘supreme and holy excellency and beauty of those things.’”[1]

            We see truth as foolishness

Paul also says that the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18) and then talks of it being a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks (vs.22-23). In the gospel of John, Jesus says that men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).  This would suggest that men have seen something of the truth of Jesus but find it reprehensible. They prefer to walk in darkness.

We have seen many instances where atheists have articulated an understanding of Christian truth and yet they despise it preferring to dismiss the thought of God claiming faith in God to be foolishness. They can smell the fragrance of the truth of the gospel and find it putrid (2 Cor 2:14-16).

With darkened and ignorant minds to the glory of Christ and a despising attitude toward truth, human beings cannot know the reality of the gospel without a divine awakening.

The Spirit of Illumination

Even though the thought of illumination echoes throughout Paul’s letters (Eph1:13-16,1 Thes 1”5,2:13), 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 provides an articulate explanation of the process of illumination. In verses 12-13 Paul says that the Christian person (the spiritual person) understands spiritual things because they have been freely given by God and taught by the Spirit. These spiritual truths do not appear in a vacuum in the mind of the believer but they have been “imparted by words.” This tells us that the Spirit communicates the light and glory of the proclamation of the gospel to the believer. Without both the word of the gospel and the Spirit of God, there would be no illumination to the glory of Christ.

Illumination is directly linked to Inspiration.  In earlier verses in this same passage Paul tells us that these are words that are the wisdom of God.  They are true words about God because they originate from the Spirit of God. Peter tells us that the Word of God, even though written through human authors, did not originate from them but they “were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pt. 1:20-21).

This then means that God’s Spirit has breathed out his word through human authors to bring us the good news of Jesus Christ.  This news, imparted by words and proclaimed by mouths, is taught and brought to light in the life of the believer by that same Spirit of God. It is effected through repentance and faith as a gift of God’s grace (Eph 2:8-9). We know truth by Spirit and word.

 Helpful or Necessary

Scripture clearly places our evangelistic confidence solely in the work of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of His gospel. This does not negate the importance of apologetic methods, but it does help us to have the right priority. We understand that the greatest human problem is separation from God through sin and the only solution is the gospel. The only way reconciliation with God is achieved is through proclamation of the good news of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Apologetics can and should be a very helpful tool in leading to this proclamation but it is the gospel proclamation that is necessary. Therefore Paul says that it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation.  Simple and profound.

If you are not an expert apologist, never fear, you have the necessity of the gospel.  That doesn't mean you should not make every effort to learn that which is helpful. It just means that in this process you already can have absolute confidence in that which is necessary.

[1] John Piper, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016).p137

Do You Pass The Generosity Test?

“Yet it was kind of you to share in my trouble” (Phil 4:14).

Sometimes we hear of someone not doing so well and we look for a few spare dollars to help out.  After we have been well cared for, it really is not too much to ask to find a little extra resource to help someone in need. Praise God that this happens.

Even when this happens, in our best moments of serving another in need, often the Scripture still calls us to a higher standard.  It’s not just giving out of your excess but its sharing in the suffering. It's not just giving that which you don't really need, but going without to help another. It’s not that we are giving something of our own, but we are handing over that which always belonged to God in the first place. And, it’s not a duty, but in the knowledge of our sole contentment in Christ, we are able to part with our resources cheerfully. For the Christian, generosity toward the gospel flows out of a heart of contentment. It comes from a basic understanding that our Kingdom is not of this world and in Christ we have everything.

This type of giving is one of the joys that Paul expresses with great fondness about the Philippian Church.  They are the only ones to partner with him so generously in supplying material gifts from the very beginning.  While Paul tells the Corinthian church not to give because of their ungodly attitudes, the Philippian gifts have come as a sweet aroma and sacrifice to the Lord (2 Cor 11:7-9). They were kind not just because they gave to him while he was in trouble but because they shared in suffering. They gave during their own hardships (Phil 1:29-30). They gave when it hurt to give. They gave knowing that they are just Pilgrims passing through a land not their own. They gave knowing that anything they have comes first from God.

These are the attitudes that are the breeding ground for biblical generosity. These attitudes are based on gratitude to God and love for his gospel and its work in others. Generosity is not only about money. The Corinthians had become judgmental in their attitudes and boasting in their own achievements to the degree of finding fault in Paul. They had an ungenerous spirit. How does Paul respond? 1Co 4:7 “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” This tough love from the apostle poses one little question that we should continually ask ourselves about everything we have whether money, abilities and talents, opportunities or any kind of benefits that come our way. “What do you have that you did not receive?” Let’s put it another way. It’s not ours to start with – so be generous with it and let’s start with our attitude.  

Are we a Corinthian or a Philippian? The Philippians have the joy of giving out of a confidence that only those in Christ can ever know. Phil 4:19 “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory forever and ever. Amen.”  The reality of our inheritance in Christ helps us to realize that even in our lowest moments when we only know earthly need, we have an overflowing abundance.  Most of us in America don't know what it is really like to go without and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. But what might happen in our churches if we all took one step closer towards it?

The Philippian 4:8 Virtues of the Cross

This week we ponder six virtues that Paul has called the Philippians to meditate upon and live out in their lives as they share the world with the Roman Empire. While we will look most at how we are to think upon these virtues in our modern setting, I wonder if we might, just for a moment, contemplate these virtues as we see them in the cross of Christ.

Whatever is True: If the cross were not an actual historical event, we would believe a myth. As we think upon the cross we can know that it comes with legitimate historical witness. We have a church that has been birthed in the testimony of the death and resurrection of Christ.  We have 2000 years of martyrs, some of whom in the very beginning were willing to die not only for a truth but because they actually witnessed the authenticity of the Son of God before their very eyes. Those who have heard the gospel of Christ have the testimony of the Holy Spirit who has opened our hearts and minds to the truth. We have a more sure word in the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. In these we have the testimony of the God of the Universe who does not lie. The cross is an historical event and the defining factor of eternity for all humanity. 

Whatever is Honorable: What can be more honorable than the Son of Man who has committed no sin taking the burden of sin and punishment for another? Jesus is the epitome of honor and in Him we have the very definition of honor.  He did this in honor of the Father who in turn glorifies the Son. We should not ask simply what is honorable but WHO is honorable.

Whatever is Just: In the cross, we see the ultimate picture of righteousness as God brings justice and wrath upon sin.  It is not that sinners get off without any justice being delivered.  God has shown his justice and righteousness in that he poured his wrath upon his own Son, The Lord Jesus Christ. There is not one essence of our sin that has gone unpunished.  For those who believe, the righteousness of God has been fully satisfied in Christ.

Whatever is Pure: Here not only is the sin punished as it is placed upon Christ but it was the sinless One who suffered on our behalf.  Here is the picture of purity.  Because of the cross, Christ is a refining fire and he has eliminated the impurity of our sin. The sinless became sin and bore the full extent of its punishment.  The pure became a defilement in our place.  If it was not for Christ’s purity, we would not have a Savior.  But Christ’s sinless life gave us a sinless sacrifice.  Christ in view of the cross is purity on display and he sheds light on the impurity of every man and woman.

Whatever is Lovely: How can we even reach the depths of loveliness in the work of Christ. Because of the cross, the Christian has open eyes and an open heart to the glory of God. The work of the cross has not come without the work of the Spirit who has breathed life into the lifeless and placed the glory of God on display. In the cross, we find the beauty of mercy and grace.  We find the stunning beauty of humility and the utmost beauty of God who is purposed to save. God is glorious and beautiful. His message is lovely and attractive and only held in contempt by those who have no idea about what is beautiful because they do not believe.

Whatever is Commendable: It is so apt that the last virtue is to see that the cross is commendable.  It is something that is a good report and this is the very nature of the gospel.  We must commend this message of Christ to everyone.  In fact, it is the most commendable of all that is in the world. The message of the cross is so commendable that it is a tragedy if we do not proclaim it. In fact, it is a sin if we do not proclaim it. It is the only message by which any human being can be saved.

So, what do we find in the cross? We find that which is pure excellence and most worthy of the highest praise. As a Christian, the cross is our standard of virtue. As you prepare for our sermon this week, please think upon all that is excellent in the message of the gospel and how these virtues might play out in our life as we live in a world groaning in the pain of sin and hopelessness. God forbid that I should boast save in the cross of Christ my Lord who crucified me unto the world and the world unto me! 

Exchange your frustration for joy!

Where is your Joy?

Are you frustrated that we are living in a country that seems to be progressing in antagonistic attitudes against Christians? Are you frustrated with the seemingly obvious lack of common sense being used in the expression of over 200 sexual identities? Do you feel the urge to complain about every infraction of God’s morality that you see in the media? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, these words are for you.

How do you live in an anti-Christian environment and live out the command of Philippians 4:4 to Rejoice always? Put aside the blogs and read Paul’s final instructions to a church in the midst of the Christ-hating Roman colony of Philippi.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say it, rejoice.”

Before you start pointing the finger at the Apostle Paul and accuse him of having a shallow, happy, happy, joy, joy, message devoid of any real backbone, consider one point. He is writing to a persecuted church from a prison cell with scars on his skin from the beatings he has taken for the sake of Christ – and he is rejoicing. The key to the Apostle’s statement is where our joy is to be found, “In the Lord.” As we study the Scriptures we realize that since Genesis 3 this world has been hurtling toward the destination of destruction. Humanity is corrupted, and sin is an all-encompassing plague of depravity. Christ is the only solution for every individual who will trust in His cross-bearing victory over sin and death. In Christ, we have been reconciled with the Sovereign God of the universe and adopted into his family.  We are loved by the God who controls all.  We are loved by the God who wins. And we are loved by the God who rejoices in those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ.

Am I shocked that a sin cursed culture continues to spiral in the progression of its immorality? The answer is, No. Am I frustrated by our seemingly declining culture and motivated to speak out against every immorality and anti-God law? The answer is still, No. The culture is unsalvageable. Babylon is doomed and it is part of God’s victory in which I find great joy.  The Roman empire was never priority on the agenda for Paul, or Jesus.  Paul’s joy, rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, was found in those who had been saved out of a doomed culture and into the Kingdom of Christ. It is because of Christ I can live in a sin ridden culture with hope and joy and even speak to the issues with gospel priority to people who need a Savior.

The Philippians lived in the face of fierce opposition. If their joy could only be obtained by their surroundings becoming friendlier, they would be in for a long, hard, frustrating road. In the face of a world of opposition the Philippian church were called to a never-ending source of joy that would keep them strong in fulfilling the great commission regardless of persecution. Their joy was in Christ and in spreading that joy to Roman citizens who needed Jesus.

We don’t have to walk around sounding angry at the world. In fact, if we do, we are not showing the joy of Christ that the world most needs to see and hear. We don't have to be grumblers at every infringement of God’s holy standard. We don't have to sound like the frustrated cultural commentators of our day. We can be calm, hopeful, joy filled Christians delighting in the confidence we have in Christ and can share with anyone who will listen.  And if it means persecution, have joy. This applies to every hardship we could endure as Christians, whether cultural oppression, sickness, loss of loved ones, financial difficulties or even in the wake of this week's very sad shooting in a Texas Church (pray for them please). This world is a bankrupt source of joy and there is no hope of making it better, but Jesus and his gospel is our eternal source in all circumstances and the best is yet to come. Paul’s message to the Philippians is just as applicable to us today!

Where is your Joy?   Allow me to answer a question with a question: Where is your focus?

How Do You Get The Most Out of The Reformation?

Some people are going all out to get the most out of the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to celebrate this event.  I myself will be doing that and even attending a reformation party. But one thing I have noticed is that even in the wake of such an important epoch of Christian history, the reformation theme can take on its own cultural milieu. In some ways, even the name “reformed” has become its own kind of cool. Some young men drawn by the allure of the reformed culture have grown beards and attempt to display their reformation liberty and style in theological debate over an ale. Others are satisfied to celebrate the day and discuss the great names of the past as they recite the Five Solas.

I am all for honoring the men of the past who have been instruments in God’s sovereign plan for his gospel. Yes, I thank God for Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndall, John Calvin and other men who had the God given tenacity to stand on the authority of God’s Word and proclaim the main thing as the main thing. Church history is important. So much so that I took time to teach a little about Martin Luther from the Sunday pulpit.

But that is still not the point. Ask any of the reformers where they desire every person to find their hope. Ask them to refine their gaze to its most central point of focus. Ask them how we might, today, get the most out of the reformation. They will say to put your eyes on Jesus Christ. If we want to get the most out of the reformation, we need to understand that the stance against indulgences, transubstantiation, penance, relics, merit of saints, the magisterium and the papacy was to show that the church had lost the only hope of eternal blessing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Five Solas (Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, God’s Glory Alone), all point to one source of hope and blessing for every human being – Jesus Christ. Without denying the irreducible importance of any of the other Solas, we must consider that they all find their pin-pointed focus on the cross of Christ.

In Ephesians 1:3-6 the apostle Paul gives us the way we might find the most out of celebrating the reformation. He says it a little differently. He says that it is the way we might know every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. It’s better than getting the most out of the reformation. It’s finding every spiritual blessing in the same source of blessing found by the reformers. We have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus who chose us before the foundation of the world, adopted us into his family according to his purpose, and don't forget that it is to the praise of his glory. Paul goes on to say that in him we have redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of our sins. And we could continue reading in Ephesians 1 of all that gives us ultimate hope and joy in Jesus.

How do you get the most out of the reformation? Don’t glory in an event of church history! Be thankful for it, celebrate it, but don’t glory in it. That's not even what the reformers would have you do. Glory in a Person.  Glory in a Savior.  Glory in Christ! Spend some time today thinking through how Jesus might be the one aim and focus of your life and how you might spread the news of his single source of hope – the gospel.

Remind yourself, the reformation is not as much about Luther as it is about Jesus.

 

A Mighty Fortress is our God

Be Still and Know that I am God! Psalm 46:10

How many times have we reminded ourselves of this verse? Mostly we associate it with being at peace knowing that God is in control. In the midst of our tumultuous and busy lives we sit back at the end of the day and say, “Be still and know that I am God.” We see it on wall hangings with scenes of quiet streams and beautiful mountains. 

The Psalmist, however, had other reasons for writing these words. He was part of a nation that was surrounded by enemies.  Israel was in a land that God gave them out of the hands of its previous occupants.  The surrounding nations were constantly at war with Israel and hated the people who had the God who brought them out of Egypt.  Through God’s display of power through his people, the other nations were witness of his glory. Hearing a message like “Be still and know that I am God” would not have been terribly comforting to the other nations.  It was not a message for them.  It was a message for God’s people alone. Israel’s wall hanging was a picture of enemies who wanted to kill them.

Essentially God was saying that his people are to be in awesome reverence before him because he is the supreme ruler as creator of the entire universe.  While the nations rage, God utters his voice and the earth melts (46:6). He has made desolations of arrogant cities and caused armies to go down in flames (46:7-8). His work is a work of salvation and judgment according to his holiness and to the praise of his glory.  His people should look at all his works and know that our God is the one who will be exalted over all the nations (46:10). He is our mighty fortress between us and our enemies (46:11). When we are in Christ, there is nothing in this world that has ultimate victory over us.

Be still and know that he is God.  His enemies will be defeated and this statement will be to you a statement of reverent hope or cause you to hide under a rock in fear. God’s people can stand resolute in the power of his mighty salvation. We alone have reverent hope in a God in whom we stand still and know….and love…and worship.

Now imagine being Martin Luther, standing before the Holy Roman Emperor and the state Princes.  He is accused of heresies against the Roman Church and is unable by matter of conscience to recant. He says, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” He is resolute in the salvation of God and the truth of his word.  He knows that the enemies of God will not endure or have victory over the cross of Christ.  Martin Luther’s statement of “Here I Stand” comes from the same confidence portrayed in God’s words to the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God!” Rome wasn’t built in a day, but God can destroy it in a second.

On the basis of Psalm 46, Luther wrote his most famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God.  We are singing it on Sunday as we thank God for the reformation. Prepare yourself to sing this hymn on Sunday with hearts of praise.  We are God’s people and through Christ we share in his victory. 

 

The Book of Life

The home stretch has arrived.  We embark on the last chapter of Philippians this week and as our first series together I hope you, like me, have marveled at the glorious doctrines of Christ, his church and his glorious return. 

One item of significance for me has been the flavor of eschatology in Philippians. Philippians tends to have an extra measure of direction toward the exalted and returning Christ and our glory in the consummation of all things.  Sometimes it is very prominent such as Paul talking about his eagerness to obtain the resurrection from among the dead and ultimate perfection (3:10-12). Sometimes it is a simple statement such as found in 4:3 that the fellow workers in the gospel are written in the “Book of Life.”

If we were to stop and think about the book of life we might realize why these three little words give such heart-warming encouragement. This book has one author who is God.  He knows every name and if our name is found in his list, it is a permanent ink of sure hope in a glorious future of restoration and perfection. There is a shared prize for all those who are written in the book. If we share a prize for all eternity, certainly we can look past our differences in this temporary world.

God knows who is in his book but in our finite human position we can only guess at the names of those we know by their confession and fruit of faith in Christ. The book of life is the universal church. Have you ever thought about that? The church known as the invisible or universal church is spread throughout the world as those who are pilgrims in this foreign land.  The local church that we are more familiar with is completely visible to us. The universal church is no less the church but we don't see it in front of our face. God has those names in the book of life and they are gathering in their local settings all across the earth. Every regenerate believer is in the book of life and it signifies our eternal salvation and reward in Christ. The book has no fake Christians in it.  It is a book that records only the names and every single name of those who will live in the new heavens and earth.  If your name is there, it will always be there. There is nothing better.  

Sometimes even good things can make us think less of our presence in the book of life. Jesus reminded the 72 witnesses of this when they returned from mission. In Luke 10:20 Jesus reminded them that even though they witnessed manifestation of power in their mission (demons obeying them), physical displays of power should be nothing to them today compared to simply knowing that their names are in the book of life. Jesus makes it very clear that there is no priority even close to whether or not we are written in that book. There is no earthly concern even close to knowing whether or not someone has come to repentance and faith in Christ for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. The gospel is the key to the book of life and that life is eternal. This one priority allows all other difficulties and differences in this world to pale into insignificance.  Just ask Euodia and Syntache (4:1-3).

See you Sunday.

A Priceless Imitation

In Philippians 3:12-16 Paul has just given us an understanding of what Christian maturity entails. It is seen in someone who is very aware that they have not yet arrived at the final state of completion in Christ.  The mature Christian presses on toward the goal and the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul places himself in this category which certainly removes any of our temptation to say that we could be any better. I am no Apostle. 

In verses 17-21 Paul begins by saying that the Philippians should imitate him and take note of any who are like him in the way that they exhibit Christian maturity. Some might think Paul to be a little proud to expect people to imitate him. When we understand the context, we understand that all pride is removed.  We imitate Paul when we pursue Christ with a relentless passion.  Paul doesn’t want worship, he wants to be a human pointer toward worshipping Christ. We are to imitate the way Paul loves Jesus.  Paul uses this same call two times in his first letter to the Corinthians (4:16, 11:1). His request for the church in Corinth to imitate him comes after him already telling them not to follow humans such as himself, Peter, or Apollos, but to only follow Christ.  Only imitate a human who is running after Jesus as his prize. 

Why is imitating a mature Christian such a good thing to do? Because “imitate” is a “do” word. When we see a Christian pouring over the Scriptures, adoring Jesus, loving others, praying without ceasing, enduring suffering, boldly witnessing, dying with dignity, finding satisfaction in Christ, and displaying the fruit of the Spirit, we are compelled to put these things into practice in our own life.  We are not merely called to read that Paul does these things and say, “That’s nice.” We are called to imitate. My father in-law is a man who shows tender grace and gentleness to people.  In him I see a wonderful godly attribute that I recognize in my Savior.  I am attempting to imitate him as he imitates Jesus. This is something that is growing in me and I have by no means arrived, but this man gives me a godly attribute to follow.  I see the way he practices it and the words he uses and how his actions align with what the bible says.  I am thankful for him and God has used him to help me grow in this area as I practice and discipline myself. 

When we are at our best, we are living in the light of Christ and helping each other to grow in being more like Him. Those who do not care to imitate the godly lives of others may also be those who have no desire to call themselves into action in practicing holiness and living out life in our Redeemer. When we do not care to be discipled by another, we are really saying that we have already arrived, there is nothing more anyone else can add to me. Even worse, some of us may even be guilty of desiring to only be a discipler, rather than ever being discipled. Are you one who is always looking for opportunity to disciple others but never seeking to be discipled yourself? This is dangerous. Let me remind us again and again - We Have Not Arrived!  We press on together helping each other in the upward call of God in Christ and we await eagerly the day of His return in passionate activity as we imitate godliness. 

Who are you looking at? What attributes do you see in them that you would like to develop in yourself? How do they show you Christ in action as you read the Scriptures? What are they doing and saying that you can imitate in pleasing Christ? Have you asked them some questions? Have you asked them to help you?

When Paul commends the Thessalonians for imitating him in suffering (1 Thes 1:6), he encourages them in the power of the Holy Spirit also to be an example to the believers in Macedonia (where Philippi is located). Let’s imitate so that we can be one who others can imitate. Imitate me, only in as far as I imitate Christ and pursue Him alone! 

Enjoying Good Things God's Way

This week we consider Christian maturity as we look at Paul’s one-track devotion to living for Christ. 

Paul says, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

As I was looking into this text I started thinking of anything that I need to put behind so to look forward.  It amounts to pretty much everything.  When we hear that, it is all to easy to jump to a wrong conclusion.  Does it mean I need to abolish every activity in my life other than the Christian disciplines of studying the bible and prayer and serving in my church community, etc? No…. But please do those things.  

When we have what Paul calls “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” we have a platform by which to approach every part of our life here on earth.  Of course, we can enjoy many different things in this world.  There are many wonderful and good things that can be enjoyed right here and now.  The mature Christian is one who can enjoy those things without being distracted and diverted by them to take our eyes off Christ.  In fact, the mature Christian is able to consider how we might do and enjoy all things to the glory of God.  Of course, this means saying no to temptation and sin and I am definitely not promoting the engagement of sinful use of pleasures. Even so, many of those pleasure (eg. sex, food, arts) are enjoyed by those who love Christ to the glory of God within the confines of what he has ordained for their use.  

Perhaps you have heard of the word “asceticism.” It is defined as “severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” (Paul seems to address the issues of asceticism in his letter to the Colossians.) When Paul tells us to forget what is behind, he does not mean for us to abandon living in the world and enjoying the resources and gifts that God has provided for us. It is the way that we enjoy God’s good things that is important.  In 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 Paul says that “we make it our aim to please him, for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for the things done in the body according to what we have done whether good or bad.” The mature Christian enjoys all good things to the glory of God to please Christ in all that we do.  That in itself is a lifelong ambition. None of us do this perfectly, but then, none of us have yet arrived in the New Creation. 

What did you do today to make each of your duties glorifying and pleasing to Christ? In each of your activities and enjoyments, what did you do to make it a point of worship? How did they help you to become more like Jesus? How did they help you love God more? This is the one-track mind of the mature Christian.  Perhaps you could just take one thing at a time over the next day or so and consciously ask yourselves these questions before doing or enjoying. 

Stop Kicking Against the Goads!

This week we will be considering the power of the resurrection of Christ in our life.  For the Christian, the resurrection is of vital importance.  Paul makes it very clear in his letter to the Corinthians that if the resurrection did not happen, then everything in the Christian life is in vain.  There is only hope for us in the future if there is indeed a risen Christ. We should also consider, however, that the resurrection is not just something that gives us hope for the future, but it gives us great power in our life today. In a sense, there are two resurrections for the Christian.  We are raised from spiritual death and we will be raised physically on the final day.  Our resurrection is not something that we simply look forward to but we also live a resurrected life right now.  We have already in Christ gone from death to life (romans 6:4).  This is exactly what baptism indicates when believers visibly state that they have been crucified, buried and raised with Jesus.  We have gone from death to life and in baptism we are identifying visibly with all those who have also come to the saving knowledge of Christ through his death, burial and resurrection. We are new creations and belong to a new family.  

Paul had exactly this experience on the road to Damascus.  He was the Jew of Jews and the Hebrew of Hebrews. In his mind, he was an avid defender of the faith and a relentless observer of God’s law. But Paul was dead. He was a lifeless corpse as one who had rejected the resurrected Lord Jesus.  In his condition before Christ he had seen Christians proclaiming Jesus as the one who had vacated his tomb and ascended in triumphant victory over death and sin.  He hated every word of it and was happy to see Stephen lose his life for testifying of such blasphemy. I am sure that Paul was ever frustrated that the so-called dilemma of the empty tomb was never answered. At least not for him and at least not until he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. 

I don’t know about you, but when I hear or see something that I do not like hearing or seeing, it’s like getting pricked with a sharp object - it stings.  We never go out of our way to stand in a pile of thistles. Hearing about the resurrected Lord was to Paul like being poked with a sharp object.  It was an annoyance to the degree that it must be eradicated.  Yet there is one more aspect to Paul’s annoyance.  He was the one in error. Therefore, every time Paul heard about the resurrection of Christ he was fighting a losing battle.  The sharp pricking objects were not going away and his wounds from them were only hurting more and more all the time.  He was in a spiral of destructive, and self-abusive error. We can all be like this. The longer we build up sin and anger the more it spirals into our own self harm and hopelessness. 

In Acts 26:14, Paul testified before Agrippa about his conversion experience.  He accounts that Jesus called out to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Jesus used a common saying that refers to oxen that kick against the sharp implements that are used to keep them in line. The more the oxen kick against them, the more it will hurt them until they comply. What an absolutely accurate picture of what sin does to us. It reminds me of the verse in Proverbs 13:15, “The way of the transgressor is hard.” It takes a resurrected new life to get out of such a deathly rut. 

That day on the road to Damascus the resurrected Christ raised Saul from the dead and gave him new life.  He got a new name, became a new creation, and had a new vocation as a preacher of the gospel.  This is something that happens to every single Christian.  We encounter the resurrected Lord. We trust in him alone, and we are crucified to this world and risen to new eternal life.  Even so, we all eagerly await the final resurrection when we will see him face to face and be given new bodies and live in perfection in a new creation. 

This has two messages for us.  Christians should live lives of utter gratitude, praise and obedience to the one who gave us life.  Christians should also be people who have utter compassion for a world that is kicking against the goads. We should desire to introduce people to the resurrected Christ. 

Jesus, Our Contentment.

With last week’s passage still resounding in my mind, this week we turn to a passage where we find Paul considering the very best of his former life as absolute rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ (Phil 3:4-11).  Surely this leads us to a question.  How much do we value Christ? Is he everything? Is he our sole source of contentment? I spent some considerable time today thinking through contentment as a complementary subject for this week’s sermon.  Paul is content to give up everything for the sake of Christ. His contentment is totally bound in the work of the cross and the love of his savior. 

What is the nature of contentment? Being satisfied in Christ is what happens when our joy is found in Him alone.  God is holy and our transformation in Christ into his image is everything. Being satisfied in Christ is actually the greatest riches one could ever consider. It is the gain in my life that keeps me seeking in full satisfaction at every moment along the way.  Christ always satisfies and I am never left empty in him - Not now and not in the future. This means that contentment in Christ actually destroys worldly want. In Christ I am not left unsatisfied.  I am not left without rest and peace now or in the future. Contentment spans time.  We cannot say we are satisfied now but left wanting in the future.  No.  In Christ I can have satisfaction right now and I look forward to an eternal ever increasing satisfaction. If not for an eternal focus, we would end up dissatisfied and without joy. Contentment even in this sad sin cursed world also brings joy.  Even in the sorrow we can have joy because Christ is our everything and has solved our greatest need for all eternity. We are never contented in misery but Christ turns us from misery into joy. Christ loves me and rescued me when nobody else could. To be content I must look to the object of my contentment.  The more I see Christ, the more I see that I am not content in anything else.  Only Christ. 

Humans all across this world are looking for contentment and not finding it.  The atheists think they are content in their belief that when they die there is nothing.  The Buddhists believe they will find contentment in nirvana which is achieving the state of nothingness.  How can there be contentment in nothingness? This can only be an absence of discontentment (and in their error will find the greatest discontentment for all eternity).  To be contented you have to be consciously that way.  You cannot be unconsciously content. You have to be content in an object that is the very source of eternal joy and actually know it. Only the Christian knows a source of eternal joy and blessedness. Only we in Christ can know an everlasting spring of living water bubbling up to eternal glory. Contentment produces a realm of gratitude in us for the esteemed privilege of being elect. As I think upon my contentment in Christ it only causes me to enjoy that contentment more as I desire him more. So if today you are discontent, contentment is right in front of you - its name is Jesus. Think about the qualities of contentment in Christ - joy, love, comfort, peace, holiness, glory, inheritance, needing nothing, possessing everything, a clear conscience, forgiveness, and eradication of worry, and worldly dissatisfaction. 

There is no comparison for true contentment because there is no claim for eternal satisfaction in this world outside of Christ. The object in which we have contentment can only be that which is truly and eternally complete.  And here is Christ.  He has done it.  He has fulfilled all that we could not fulfill. He is ruling and reigning.  Yet there is still a day coming in which our contentment will be fully satisfied for all eternity in the removal of death and the distraction of sin. But even that is a certainty we can be content in today. We are content now, and not yet. This is why Christian martyrs were so willing to go to their death. Stephen was stoned in total contentment. Paul was beaten and imprisoned in utter contentment.  The Philippians were encouraged to face their Roman and Jewish oppressors in utter contentment.  And today, we can face our burdens, our sicknesses, our difficulties, our rejections and our haunting past in utter contentment.  Jesus has saved to the uttermost.  He is our all in all. 

Jesus Plus Nothing

As you prepare yourself for the week ahead, this week we move into the first few verses of Philippians ch.3. In these verses Paul introduces us to dogs, evildoers and mutilators. These seem to be Jewish false teachers who were requiring circumcision and works of the law for right standing before God. These Jewish influencers are possibly similar to the “Circumcision Party” who even intimidated the Apostle Peter. There seems to be good reason for Paul to warn the Philippians about them.

In Acts 10:9-16, Peter had a specific vision from God teaching that the things he once deemed unclean as a Jew were now made clean.  The vision showed many different animals that would cause offense for a Jew to eat. The vision that Peter saw does not simply mean that it was now ok for him to eat a non-kosher hot dog. It meant that salvation in Christ for the Jew was also the same salvation in Christ for the gentiles. "Peter, I am making the Gentiles clean in Christ.” The very next event was the salvation of Cornelius. We might assume that Peter’s world got a little bit bigger that day.  Everyone is the same at the foot of the cross. There is no Jew, there is no Gentile, there is simply saved and unsaved. Christ is everything (Gal 3:27-29). 

What would you then say if you found Peter fearful of eating with Gentile believers on account that he might be persecuted by Jews known as the “Circumcision Party?" Would you call him a hypocrite? In Galatians 2:11-19 this is exactly what Paul found his dear friend and brother doing. Peter had backed away from his Gentile brothers in fear of oppression from those who deemed Gentiles unclean. Paul then delivered some tough love because he saw Peter’s conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Paul then made it very clear to Peter exactly what his actions were teaching.  Paul said “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal 2:15-16) In his letter to the Galatians Paul also explained that works of the law are essentially works of the flesh. Anyone putting their confidence in their own righteous acts are turning to the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.” (Gal 4:8-11). Peter did not believe that we are saved by works of the law, but he was acting hypocritically in fearing those who do (Gal 2:13). Peter learned a valuable lesson that day.  He already knew that salvation is a narrow road by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  His hypocrisy was evident in that he seemed to be more concerned that the Circumcision Party might associate him with those unclean Gentiles who have nothing but Jesus. Wrong?….Yes!  Peter was more worried about his appearance than having confidence in Christ. But let’s not be too quick to judge lest some of those fingers are pointing right back at us. I am sure that Peter himself was also horrified and repentant of his unfaithful actions. 

As we approach this Sunday I wonder if we could meditate on a lesson we must never tire of speaking or hearing.  Don’t put your trust in anything other than Christ.  Don’t let any pressure take you away from living out your confidence in Christ alone for salvation. No “good work" will ever pay the cost of our sin. Let’s not even give the appearance that we would think that. There is nothing we can add to Christ. Let’s live in the confidence portrayed in the words of this song…."Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.” In Christ there is no Jew. In Christ there is no gentile. In Christ there is only Christians; forgiven, hope filled, confident Christians who know only one Person in whom to place all our trust.  And he is enough!

The Practical Example of Christ

As a church, we were five weeks in the passage of Scripture between Philippians 1:27 and 2:18.  This is an important section of Paul’s letter because it is one whole piece that starts and finishes a major theme in his letter.  It is about living out our heavenly citizenship in one mind and putting aside self to serve each other as we stand fast in a world of opposition to the gospel.  

Paul warned the Philippian Church to be careful about disputes and the potential for division among them. If they were to stand fast in an antagonistic Roman culture, they needed to be united.  They needed to be less about self and much about the interest of others. They need to be united in their thinking and action. Anything less would weaken their ability to stand strong as they faced a real threat of persecution. In pride they fall but in humble unity they stand. Their greatest example for strength in humility is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5-11).  Jesus exemplifies how humility ultimately wins.  In humility Jesus saves us by becoming one of us and dying on the cross for us.  Because Jesus displays and enacts the very nature of God in humility, the Father exalts Jesus to the highest place and he is proclaimed as Lord. In the example of Jesus’ humility the church has everything we need to dispel our disputes and stand firm together in the world. Someone might object that there are no real practical directions to deal with disputes in the example of Christ.  In the letter of James, however, we find many practical directions for dealing with quarrels and divisions.  His directions seem to exactly correlate with the very nature of Jesus’ example. 

James deals with fights and quarrels in chapter 4 of his letter.  In James 4:1-3 we find that quarrels and fights come from the desires and passions within us.  The first point James makes is that we are led by our wicked hearts rather than principles that lead to reconciliation and unity. Our selfish desires cause fights. When we look at the example of Jesus in Philippians 2, Paul tells us to have this mind among us that is also in Christ Jesus.  What we see in Jesus is supposed to instruct our mind with principles to bring about humility and unity to keep us from quarreling and fighting. Our hearts will cause division because we are selfish but in Christ we see a selflessness that brings reconciliation. This is a selflessness that is to instruct our mind to emulate the humility required for unity. As a result of Jesus’ humility in reconciling us to God, Paul tells us that Jesus was exalted to the highest place.  James says “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.” (4:6). James also says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” (4:10). James 4 shows us that resisting our selfish desires to draw near to the humility of Christ is the answer to divisions among us. 

The book of James is known to be an intensely practical book for Christians, but we should understand that there is nothing new in the practical exhortations of James that we cannot also see in the example of Jesus and his work on the cross. More than this, Jesus not only gives us practical applications from his example, but through faith in Christ we are saved and being transformed into his image. The practicalities of the book of James are only possible because of the example of Jesus and it is only possible for us to live out those practicalities because of what Jesus has done for us and in us. 

The example of Jesus is simply spectacular and this week we get to see it one more time as we look at Timothy and Epaphroditus who act a lot like their Savior.