Are You Peacemaking or Punishing?

This is a lesson hard learned and this author is very much still learning it.  It is the lesson that is needed because we find ourselves leaning more toward punishing than peacemaking.

Punishment is the easy road because it is where our emotions tend to immediately drive.  When we are wronged, we think retribution.  The term theologians use for this is “Lex talionis.” It means that the punishment must fit the crime and anyone who has read Exodus 21:24 understands the phrase that there is an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth. We have a deep concern for justice, but mostly it is a special kind of justice – OUR justice.

While our sinful little hearts want to use Israel’s national judicial system as our own personal quest, we need to be very quick to correct ourselves.  Our peace is not obtained by seeing perpetrators suffering in our swiftly enforced retribution. Revenge is never as sweet as the movies say it is.  Just ask any bitter person living in the hollowness of their own hate.

As Christians we want to be biblical people, but in this area, it can be one where we so easily use the Scriptures as our own tool of retribution. A great indicator of whether you are jumping into punishment or peacemaking is to consider whether you are considering Scripture in the big context of its redemptive theme.  We can find any number of passages to fit our desire for judgment rather than redemption and reconciliation.  We can show people how their gossip and slander is wrong.  We can rebuke liars.  We can put people in the categories of evil doers, transgressors and sinners. We can even show Scriptures that rebuke God’s people for being indifferent, unjust, and divisive.  We can even remember the three-step process to get someone kicked out of the church. All the while forgetting every passage that reminds us of the mercy, forgiveness, and lavishings of grace that we have received in the cross. All the while forgetting that all those other scriptures also point to our own need for the cross.

When our first thought is the cross of Christ, we see all of these other passages in their redemptive context.  Yes, sadly sometimes the church has to discipline and sometimes we have to stand before each other and call a sin a sin.  But when our motivation is to imitate Christ, we seek peace through the cross rather than punishment at our hand.  We realize that but by the grace of God I would be walking toward an eternal hell and fully deserving of it.

One commentator has said “that we are always living in the midpoint between mercy received and mercy yet required.” That is so true. When the central theme of the cross of Christ is in our mind, we can think less of “Lex Talionis” and more of the sacrifice and mercy that we can make to bring reconciliation and peace. We think more of how we might imitate the mercy that has been shown to us.

When we are offended, our sinful hearts so easily want to forget the cross and our hands want to pick up the gavel of justice. Mercy replies, “Justice has been served on another.” Peace replies, “My own Son was treated as an enemy so that you might be reconciled.”

How will you reply?  How will I reply?

Colossians 1:20-22 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

My One Defense Is Not My Righteousness

When Matt Maher described his reason for writing the song “Lord, how I need you,” he talked of being inspired by the writings of C S Lewis.  Lewis wrote of a type of love for God that is completely born out of our very great need for God.  We see ourselves in our hopeless and helpless state and cry out for mercy and grace as we rely on God’s saving love to redeem us and reconcile us to himself through the cross.  Yes, we need God. We need the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are like me, then you love the sentiment in this song from Matt Maher even as it echoes that classic old hymn which compels us to “need Thee every hour.”

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
Where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

I have often sung these words in church and come to one line that I simply have not been able to sing as written.  The sentiment is there, but the words betray the sentiment. The song is saying that we do not have anything in us to save ourselves or to live in holiness.  The only hope we have is that we have a God who we need.  Agreed.  Even so, I have often found myself refusing to sing the line that would be totally out of place if we did not thoughtfully apply it to the intended context of the song.  “My one defense, MY righteousness.” If you think through the context of the song carefully, you do see that it is intended that it is Christ who is our one defense and it is Christ who is our righteousness.  In fact, in the final chorus, Matt Maher has even inserted the words, “You are” my one defense, my righteousness.  So, why do I struggle singing that one line at every other time? Right now, you are probably thinking that I am being very picky. But here is a test.  Just sing through the words of the song and ask yourself as you sing the words “my righteousness” if you are just a little bit tempted to think there is some good in yourself. This is why every time I have sung this song, I change the “my righteousness” to “Your righteousness.”

Righteousness is not an insignificant word.  The true definition of righteousness is something that can only be found in the very character of God.  His words are always true and right.  God has no capacity for lies and no ability for error (Psalm 19:8). When God judges, he does so only with a perfect standard and his justice is the very outpouring of his holy perfection in righteousness (Gen 18:25). God will never act outside of his righteousness and every action of his sovereign will is in righteousness (Deut 32:4).  God is right, only does right, and cannot do wrong.  This is the opposite of who I am and who you are.

Because of God’s grace, he has given all those who trust in Christ a righteousness that is not of their own.  Because of the great exchange in the cross we stand in the righteousness of the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Because of God’s saving grace, we are concerned to live in a righteousness that can only come from him. In faithful obedience to Christ, he works his righteousness out in our life and grows us more into his image day by day. Without Christ we are defenseless without any righteousness of our own. 

My one defense, YOUR righteousness, O Lord how I need you!

Do You Hate Sin Enough?

I can answer this question for you.  “No.” 

Honestly, how can any human on the face of the planet answer yes to this question?  If we could answer yes, we would be sinless, or we would be lying.  John tells us quite plainly that “if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:20).  Nobody is sinless. 

Through the illumination of the gospel and power of the Holy Spirit, we finally become somewhat aware of the sinfulness of sin.  As we grow in Christ and God’s holiness we become even more aware of the sinfulness of sin. This is because we become more aware of the awesome wonder of the Holy God who saved us.  God’s hatred for sin is often described in ways that hit us where it hurts. “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” (Psalm 5:5). If we call ourselves God’s children, then God’s sentiments must become our sentiments.  “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13). 

Jesus told us that those who mourn over sin will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Sometimes it’s easy to read over such statements, especially the pithy little statements in the beatitudes, and not think seriously through their meaning.  What sin should I mourn? How should I mourn? The more I think about this statement, the more I realize that it is a lifelong activity that looks toward an eternal comfort.  Even though we can take great comfort in the forgiveness that is given to us in Christ right now, our groaning in this sin cursed world has Christians yearning for ultimate comfort at Christ’s return. Until that day, we mourn sin actively in our own lives, in the lives of others, in our churches, and in our world in general. 

Here are just some of the ways that Scripture talks about mourning sin. 

We mourn our own sinfulness: Psalm 51:9-12.  Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.

We mourn over sin in God’s People: Ezra 10:6  Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles.

We mourn over sin blatantly overlooked. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 

We mourn for lack of repentance of sin. 2 Corinthians 12:21  I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

We mourn sin that drives the world toward God’s judgment. Galatians 5:19-21  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

We mourn friends who will not recognize their sin and need for salvation. Philippians 3:18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

This list could continue for quite some time, but I hope you get the idea.  The wide-ranging devastation of sin is in us and all around us.  Sin is a comprehensive problem for all humanity and if we are numb to any aspect of sin we offend the perfect holy God who judges us by his perfect holy standard. Sin has ruined us, but much more than that, sin has made an impassable canyon between humanity and our Creator. “…but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2). 

But as all-inclusive as that devastation is, we have hope in the only human to ever live without a sin nature and without committing one single sin. If there were no Jesus, there would be no comfort.  Our comfort is in his great discomfort. He took the eternal wrath of the Father for us so we might be declared righteous. God looks at those who trust Christ and see the spotless lamb in their place. We are eternally comforted in the cross.

Can we possibly hate sin enough? No.  But let’s try.  Out of sorrow for displeasing our Creator, let’s try.  Out of gratitude for the sacrifice of our Savior, let’s try. Out of compassion for the lost, let’s try. Out of a desire to see the church look like Jesus, let’s try. And…knowing that with mourning sin comes the promise of eternal comfort through the cross of Christ, let’s utterly hate sin in all its forms. 

Sometimes Those Red Letters Do Serve a Purpose

The most famous sermon in all of history was preached 2000 years ago by God who put on human flesh, being born of a virgin, living a sinless life, fully God and yet fully man, who walked up a mountain and opened his mouth

Matthew gives us this small phrase seemingly of no major consequence.  “He opened his mouth.” The special revelation of God in the flesh opened his mouth to preach a sermon of which we have at least the recorded highlights in the special revelation of the Word of God.  The Word gave us the Word via the preaching of a sermon as a fellow human being. If this is not astounding to you, then the wonder of revelation has not sunk in

If you have the same high view of revelation as I have, then you would agree that there is not a word in the bible that is not from Jesus. He who is God has revealed himself to us in the entirety of Scripture from the first verse of Genesis to the last word of Revelation.  When I am reading the law in Leviticus it is no less the words of the Son of God than the words preached in Jesus’ great sermon. In this way, sometimes I find the red letters in bibles to be somewhat unhelpful. Yet, they are often very helpful

If you are reading Matthew chapter 4 in a red-letter bible, you will see that the red letters highlight the ministry of Christ.  He preaches, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and he calls to his disciples, “follow Me.”  These two statements are then the epitome of all of the color red saturating the pages in the following three chapters. The One who calls his disciples teaches his disciples about the gospel of the kingdom. God, who spoke the whole universe into existence, breathed out through human vocal chords a message that helps us understand who we are, who he is, and how to authentically follow him

Just think about it for a moment. Yes, those red letters are just as much a part of Scripture as any other section.  But they do remind us that God actually revealed himself to us with such humility that he became one of us, lived with us, and spoke to us through an open mouth. We certainly read of other instances in Scripture where someone opens their mouth to say something important. Even so, are you not amazed that God did it right in front of us in the flesh? Perhaps you reply, but it’s equally amazing that we have his Word through Paul and Peter and Moses and others.  Yes! And yet when Jesus speaks in those red letters it is the Word of God TO us from the Word of God WITH us. Are you grateful that God delivered this one in person? I am

For the next couple of months, our sermon series and these blogs will highlight the beauty of our Savior’s sermon. I hope you can take the time to meditate on the glorious beauty of the words spoken as Jesus opened his mouth and uttered that first phrase, 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In timelessness and wisdom full,
The counsel of The Triune God,
Determined for His glorious good,
To be with man on earth to trod.
Revealed to us, created ones,
A grace too great for minds to hold.
The Unique Son is God with us, 
His Kingdom come as once foretold. 

Matthew 5:1-2
He sat upon the great ascend,
Amidst the crowd He gathered some.
To those who knew Him to be true,
He taught them of this Kingdom come.
Embody now contented joy,
To hear from lips, anointed truth.
Oh blessedness to us employ,
The sense of our eternal youth.

For Christ is King, and Kingdom sure,
His blessings far too much to count.
He teaches life beneath His throne,
In this great sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:3
Oh joy and bliss to start this word,
That comes from depths of great despair.
For sin revealed in perfect light,
Is more than mortal man can bear.
One vision of the King with crown,
Will bring a sinful man to grief.
But cross and empty tomb exchange,
The curse of death for true relief.
 

Why I no Longer Identify as a Fundamentalist.

If fundamentalism were simply about holding to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, I would happily use this term for self-categorization. Sadly, the meanings of words have morphed with the development of movements. We have fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, reformed Protestantism, and many more including the broad category of evangelicalism. It’s very difficult to determine what somebody is saying today when they call themselves an evangelical. “Evangelical” Christianity has so many facets that it is impossible to detect what an evangelical really is. For that matter, I highly recommend the little book by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “What is an Evangelical?” In his book, Lloyd-Jones wrote six major essential and fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith that must be held for someone to claim that they are indeed an evangelical believer. His six doctrines explained were, 1 The authority of Scripture, 2. The Trinity, 3. Creation, 4. Sin and Judgment, 5. Jesus and one way of salvation, and 6. The second coming. It would do well for evangelicals to again grab on to these fundamentals so eloquently described by the great doctor.

Fundamentalism and evangelicalism are so difficult to categorize today by simply knowing someone who uses these terms to describe themselves.  We tend to see the visibility of movements as we see these words in practice in group settings.  We see fundamentalist churches and start describing the visible elements.  We might observe conservative style, hymn book worship.  The wearing of suits and ties and long length dresses only on ladies. Some stand staunchly on the KJV as the preferred or even only bible for use. They tend to be known by the do’s and don'ts of their faith. I have even seen signs in front of a few buildings that say something like, “We are fundamentalist, KJV only, Premillennial, Pre-tribulation, Dispensational….All Welcome.” Yes, as long as you hold to these non-essential doctrines that have become essential to us.

By way of fairness, I should also point out that there are those who are fighting well for the fundamentalist name to retain its original purpose rather than how the current movement is redefining it in practice. Fundamentalism was originally birthed out of a need to fight liberal theologians who denied supernatural and authoritative claims of Scripture such as the virgin birth, the resurrection or miracles in general. Those attempting to hold to the origins of fundamentalism now categorize the distortions in the modern fundamentalist movement as, “Hyper-fundamentalism.”  Dr. Kevin Bauder is one of these men and has described eight potential hyper-fundamentalist attributes (one does not necessarily need all eight to be in such a category). They are, 1. Loyalty to an organization, movement or leader. 2. Militant stance on extra-biblical (or even anti-biblical) teaching. 3. Guilt by association 4. Inability to receive criticism. 5. Anti-intellectualism. 6.Turning non-essentials into tests of orthodoxy. 7. Militant political involvement. 8. Double standard for personal ethics.*

So why does this affect us? If you, like me, used to take pride in the fundamentalist name, it is worth knowing the difference between the movement and the original purpose, and that most people today define this by way of the movement. The problem for me is how these stereotypes affect the advancement of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 8-10 Paul was dealing with issues in the church in Corinth where by some brothers had extra-biblical rules that eating meat once sacrificed to idols was a sin. This was a legitimate concern for these people who desired to honor God in their life.  We should say this is also true of our modern fundamentalist brothers and sisters. We should be careful to think the best that they desire to honor God in their life. On the other hand, those who knew meat to be simply meat and idols to be a fallacy were warned to be careful not to push their non-meat-eating brothers to sin against conscience. Paul was concerned for unity in the church but also for the advancement of the gospel.  So, when it came to matters of food or drink he said, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10:31-33).”

The more we, like Paul, align our consciences to the truth of Scripture rather than our own rules or external source of authority, the more we will be able to know biblical flexibility for the sake of the gospel that some might be saved. I am not anti-fundamentalist. I would be only too happy to put on a suit and tie and preach the gospel in a modern fundamentalist setting.  In fact, I have done so. But, neither will I enforce those standards on others for the sake of Christ. It is not one group or another that guides my flexibility or inflexibility for the sake of the gospel.  It is the Scriptures.  In that way, I aim to say with Paul that I desire to be all things to all people that I might win some. And…in this way I do not desire to be categorized as anything that brings unnecessary restrictions or barriers upon the advancement of the gospel of Christ.

*Kevin Bauder’s chapter from the book, Four Views of the Spectrum of Evangelicalism.

 

 

When Common Sense Is Not so Common

If the term “common sense” doesn’t give you nostalgic sentiments about your childhood, then you did not have similar parents to mine. The term “common sense” was a common phrase in my childhood home.  If, as a child, I was doing something that was dangerous or careless, my parents would quickly retort, “Don’t do that!” Of course, the question that most logically responded from my childhood mind was, “Why?” And the response from my parents that I was soon able to predict with great precision was, “Because it’s just common sense.” Common sense is properly defined as a widely held expected practice of good judgment. It’s just common sense. 

As I grew into my teenage years the “common sense” discussion with my parents changed as my circle of influence broadened. Every teenager goes through the same stage of appealing to their parents for approval to do something because, “All my other friends are doing it.” At these times the response expanded to, “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff would you do it? No! It’s just common sense.” If sense is common, then wouldn’t following a group be a good thing? Wouldn’t the commonality of friend’s good judgment be more secure in bigger numbers? I’m sure the reply would be something like, “Your friends don’t know common sense yet.” It is certainly true that good judgment has to be learned and guided.

As we look around our world, we see that common sense is actually not so common.  In fact, when it comes to good judgment, the believer and the non-believer are often separated in our sense of judgment. Why? Because Christians have one consistent authority that guides our judgement and decisions in all matters of conscience, preference, and absolute right and wrong. The world’s sense of morality and good judgment is continually changing on the basis of human philosophy and humanistic autonomous reasoning. The more Christians conform to the absolute truths and guidance in God’s Word, the less common our judgments become in this fallen world. The only true common sense is where there is a common authority to guide it.  It is only when we place our trust and attention to God’s Word in careful study and meditation that our common unity of good judgment strengthens in the light of absolute truth and righteousness. 

As the defining authority for common sense changes in our world, this presents the church with an amazing opportunity. The light of Scripture stands out as an unchanging guide in the darkness.  The bible points us in to one path with a clear understanding of future direction. While the church walks on a straight and narrow path heading toward a certain future, the world is meandering in the darkness trying to establish a common sense of judgment in a sea of confusing voices. We have a way in that darkness and can shine that light of the gospel authority and clarity for those who may respond out of the confusion.

Do you have a contention with an issue of preference? The bible says that in honor we are to give preference to one another (Rom 12:9-11).  Do you have a contention with conscience? The bible says that the work of the cross purifies our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9:14).  Are you concerned about which direction to take? The bible says that through God’s divine power he has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3). In the gospel of Christ, we are enlightened to the superior guiding truth in all of the universe.

To be fair to my parents, their use of the term “common sense” was never outside of the context of the authority of the Bible.  My parents may have used that phrase a lot, but they also clearly taught me that the wisdom of the world was folly and that God’s truth brings absolute confidence while this world is hurtling toward destruction. As I matured, I came to know that in the world there is actually not a common sense, but a common nonsense. In Christ and His Word there is a true common sense under a common authority for all those who are committed to study His Word and feed on His truth. 
 

Your Guilt IS Your Problem!

Part of being created in the image of God means that we share common attributes with our Creator. God is loving, just, merciful, wrathful, forgiving, gracious, and the list goes on. We as humans share these attributes but we do not have the infinite unlimited capacity that God has. Ever since sin came into the world we have corrupted these attributes in our fallen state. Everything in humanity has been corrupted by sin, even our sense of morality.

In Romans 1 Paul tells us that ever since the fall, we have been given over to our human depravity and by the end of the chapter, Paul states that we even celebrate as good that which God calls evil. We see this in our society as the moral brokenness of humanity is celebrated when a cake maker is famously deemed immoral because he does not conform to the moral compass of the culture.

At the same time millions of people are sick with depression and worry because they are stricken with guilt. Particularly in western cultures where laws and principles have been somewhat influenced by a Christian ethic, the chasm between the cultural change and the traditional values are transparent in the psychologist’s offices. This cultural change has given rise to guilt-ridden, anxious humans who are arguing against their parent’s values to live the way their sinful hearts lead. The psychologists have an answer for this.  It is not your sin that is the problem it is your guilt. Get rid of your guilt. Fight your Freudian Super-ego and embrace your Id. Don’t let your guilt get you down but overcome it with healthy measures of self-esteem.

How do Christians act with this dilemma in our societies? Unfortunately, many Christians have embraced the psychological principles of our day to merge biblical truth with the self-esteem doctrines of the world.  The dilemma of sin is not as much of a problem as the way you feel about yourself.  But the Scriptures give us an answer for our culture’s dilemma of conscience. It is in a simple verse that says that our guilt leads us to an ultimate cure for conscience that the world will never teach.

Hebrews 10:22-23 “…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Our consciences can be washed clean through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. We can appeal to the moral dilemmas of our unbelieving friends and family and say, “Your guilt is not such a bad thing. It is saying you have a problem that only the cross of Christ can fix.  You don't need self-esteem, you need forgiveness.”

The cross is the true cure for conscience.

You Want Us to Do WHAT?

“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

If the Jewish fishermen hearing this from Jesus really thought about this statement, they may soon reflect on some unpleasant history.

At the time of Assyrian ascendancy, Amos warned the Northern Kingdom of Israel that their arrogance would result in their demise. In his warning he said, “The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that behold, the days are coming upon you when they shall take you away with hooks even the last of you with fishhooks” (Amos 4:2).  Because Israel had ignored and dishonored God, they were going to be dragged like fish resisting a hook through its lip. Many scholars believe that this was a literal practice for the barbaric Assyrians.

In the time of the Babylonian conquerors, Habakkuk was already reeling under the brutality of these oppressors. He pleads for God’s mercy upon Judah who are being treated as if they were lowly fish on the end of Babylon’s hook. “You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. He brings them all up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so, he rejoices and is glad” (Hab 1:14-15).

Careful consideration of these images may have greatly disturbed Andrew, Simon Peter, John and James, but standing in front of them was no Assyrian dictator and no Babylonian emperor. It was Jesus.

When Jesus calls us to make fishers of men, he is asking us to bring a message that takes people captive. But these captives are caught, not as those who remain in bondage, but those who are freed from sin and the brutality of this dark world. Jesus hooks us with his illuminating, regenerating Spirit as we are gloriously made into slaves of the King of the Universe who is fully trustworthy and perfectly righteous. As we throw out the gospel message, most men will not even bite. Those who do will not be caught up into their demise from a self-absorbed earthly ruler, but they will be captives who are also sons and brothers and joint heirs in an everlasting kingdom. While the oppressive kings of this world treat humans as if mere animals, Jesus catches us to take us from acting like animals to know what it means to be truly human.

This is the glorious mission of the gospel and it is secure in the fact that the greatest Fisher of Men is faithful, true, merciful, forgiving, and unlimited in his love. We delight in being caught in his net. Not only this, but Jesus will never allow his captives to see demise because he already paid that ultimate cost on our behalf.

When being a fisher of men should be a troublesome and fearful thought, in Christ it becomes a delight because his catch will never want to be thrown back into the sea…..and they never will.

It is such a delight that should have the same response as Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John.  “Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.”  Immediately! Discipleship is not just a learning process, it's a capturing process.  Let’s get to it. Immediately!

Should We Really Call it "Good Friday?"

One of the most famous excerpts from a modern day sermon comes from S M Lockridge who was the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in the 1950’s. You may know this sermon by the title, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin!” Lockridge focused on what may have seemed to be the most dismal of days for the disciples as they watched their Master hang on a cross, die, and get placed in a tomb. They had heard Jesus say that the temple would be raised in three days but they were not aware of the reality of his resurrection until it actually happened.  Friday was in some ways a horrible day, but Sunday was coming.

While I agree that Lockridge likely portrayed the outlook of the disciples with some accuracy, we need to be careful not to look at Easter Friday as if it is Bad Friday.  Sunday is absolutely a day of victory, but do we look at Friday as if it is somehow a day of defeat? Before the foundation of the world God had determined that Jesus would take the full brunt of righteous judgment for sin upon his own shoulders as a once and for all sacrifice. Jesus paid it all for us on Friday. Friday is the day that our redeemer redeemed us with his blood. I am not in any way undermining the importance of Sunday, but we should see the whole work of the cross from atonement to resurrection as victory.  We should find our hope in Christ’s redeeming blood every bit as much as his resurrection life. We should glory in our substitute for wrath every bit as much as an empty tomb. So, let’s remember that Friday is coming so that we can remember that Sunday is coming.  

Its Thursday: God is offended at the rebellion of every human being without exception and the fury of His wrath will be without escape and without end – but Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and ever since his deception in the garden, Satan has been deceiving and blinding whole nations from seeing God’s glory – BUT Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and the descendants of Adam and Eve still await the coming of an offspring who will crush Satan’s head…. BUT Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and all Israel have failed at keeping the covenant God gave them to be His holy people …. BUT Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and the continual animal blood sacrifice in the temple is a constant display to Israel that there is no one single comprehensive atonement for sin….But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and Israel’s scribes study and debate the types and shadows of the past arguing about the times and places of their fulfillment…But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and a curtain separates access to the Holy of Holies.  The very heart of the presence of God with His people…..but Friday is coming.

Its Thursday…and every year high priest of Israel enters the holy of holies taking the blood of the sacrifice for his own sin so that he may also seek atonement for Israel….But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and Israel are confused about the true identity of their Messiah and how he will establish His kingdom….But Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and twelve disciples of Jesus are confused about the teachings of their master …..But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and Herod is dillusional about his lust for power having beheaded his most annoying enemy, John the Baptist…..But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and Caesar, the conqueror and ruler of the greatest empire in the world, sits as he claims the title son of God….But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and satan sets himself to enter Judas and finalize his strategy to strike at God….But Friday is coming

Its Thursday: Judas Iscariot, unnoticed but the other disciples, poses himself as a true follower of Jesus…..But Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and once called the son of God, Israel has lost sight of what it means to be truly Israel….But Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and Jews see no present hope that there will be another David to establish the prophesied everlasting kingdom…..But Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and the whole creation groans in pain yearning for any sign of hope that it will once again be restored to its original perfection….But Friday’s coming.

And lest anyone doubts in any of the accomplishments that are achieved on Friday…….Sunday is coming.

Why Jump From a Perfectly Good Roof?

When Satan was tempting Jesus in the wilderness he attempted to use Psalm 91 to lure Jesus into testing the faithfulness of God.  Satan wanted Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple to force God to prove his faithful love and care for his Son. Jesus answered Satan by declaring that he would not put the Lord God to the test.

Psalm 91:11-12 does indeed say, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Surely if this is in the text, we can rely on it happening.  Surely God would not make a promise he does not intend to keep, or perhaps Satan is simply the king of proof-texting. As we take a quick tour of Psalm 91 we find that Satan truly is a deceiver and God’s faithfulness is our greatest comfort.

The first verse sets the tone for the entire Psalm.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Eight verses later we also read, “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, the Most High, who is my refuge.” Our confidence, hope, comfort and security are firmly in place as we seek to dwell in the shelter of God. These are beautiful thoughts indeed.  Between these two verses we are told what those who faithfully abide in God can face.  The terror of the night and the arrows of the day (vs. 5). The pestilence that stalks in darkness and the destruction that wastes at noonday (vs.6). Thousands and ten thousands falling all around you (vs. 7).

And then vs. 8-9, “You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, the Most High, who is my refuge.” No matter what we go through in this world, the faithful children of God will never be separated from his love and care. The last verses of the psalm show that those who hold fast to God, who know his name, and call to him, will find answers and honor and salvation. Not once does this Psalm say that the faithful can only be faithful if God proves himself to them. The very essence of being faithful is to trust God in every situation in which you find yourself. This is what it means to dwell in Him.  We can trust that the God of the universe has the power and will to protect those who call upon his name and live in faith. Further to this, no matter what happens, God will rightly judge the wicked.

In reality, we could lose everything including our mortal lives and still be protected by the eternal God.  This is what Paul tells us when he says that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In Christ, God’s children are eternally protected and guarded, and Satan is powerless to break it. Jesus was already enjoying the faithful care of the Father right there on the roof of the temple.  He did not need to jump in a faithless act to prove it. Satan however is a wicked, proof-texting liar and Jesus has directly looked into his eyes knowing his eternal recompense.  Perhaps it is very fitting that Psalm 91:13 states that one of two creatures being trampled is a serpent. Satan’s use of this Psalm is pointed back at him.

For us in Christ it always means this: God is faithful! You can take that to the eternal bank! You can tell the Tempter to go and throw himself from the roof. He will have no salvation. Your salvation, however, is firmly in the one who endured this test to take your place on a cross.

We Are Fully Human.....Yes....and No.

If you will allow me to begin by stating the obvious, “We are Human.” I haven’t yet met an animal that can read, so if you are reading and understanding this, odds are, you are human. You are not an animal. But… How human are you? You may answer that you are fully human, and again, you would be right. Even so, there is a quality of being human that is more human than our present condition and it has to do with failure and success.

In one sense, we have failed at being human even though we are fully human. All humans have the essential human quality of being created in the image of God. To be a successful human we would need to live up to that quality which requires us to reflect the perfect character of God as we worship him as his creation and in his creation. Adam was our original human representative as head of the line to all humanity. As that representative head, Adam would determine success or failure for all his descendants.  He failed.

In Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3) we see a line of ancestry from Jesus to Adam.  When the line finally arrives at the first man, Adam, we find that Adam has no earthly father.  He is called, Adam, the son of God. As God’s perfect image bearer, Adam was to live in the fullness of humanity that God intended for us.  When Adam rebelled against God, we lost that fullness.  In fact, we devastated that fullness. Since the fall we have all been failing sons. As failing sons, we are failing humans.

This term ‘Son of God’ is found in many places in Scripture in both the Old and New Testament. As we have already stated, Adam was son of God.  When God chose another man, Abram, from among the gentiles, he established him as a nation.  That future nation was called Israel.  They were to be God’s shining light as his chosen children.  In Exodus 4:22-23 God tells Moses to go to Pharaoah and demand the release of Israel when they were in captivity. He said, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”” God saw Israel as his son. Israel were supposed to show the other nations what it meant to be the son of God. In obedience to God they could display true humanity. When they entered the wilderness they also rebelled against God to make their own idols and to grumble about him. In the Promised land they did what was right in their own eyes. They became like everyone else in the world. They failed.

We get the sense that from Adam to God’s chosen people, we have failed at being God’s children and therefore failed at being the humans that God had created us to be. Israel were supposed to be the display of God’s glory to the rest of humanity.  They were supposed to be the example of what God created humans to be as they live for him and reflect his character. Regardless of Israel’s failure, God remained faithful and promised a Son of God who would succeed where they could not. 2 Samuel 7:13-14, “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son….” The promise is for a Son who will have an everlasting kingdom.  This is Jesus who came in the line of King David.

Jesus succeeds where both Adam and Israel failed.  He truly reflects the very character of God in all perfection.  Jesus shows us what it truly means to be human.  He is the better and true Adam.  He is the better and true Israel.  He is the better and true Son of God. At least one of the elements making the term “Son of God” so significant is that Jesus really is the successful Son. He was born perfect, lived a perfect life and through his sacrifice he conquered the consequences of our sinful failure. He takes our failure and gives us his success. Do you want to know what it is like to truly be human? We can know something of it in Jesus Christ now even while waiting for the day when the final consummation will bring full realization.

Of course, we are not evolved ape-like creatures.  Of course, we are not animals. But even as humans we need to learn how to be human.  For that, look to the true Human – The Lord Jesus!

Could John Piper Be Wrong?

Answer: Yes.  Of course.  We are all human and all open to error.

If you have known anything about Dr. Piper’s ministry you have heard the term, “Christian Hedonism.”  If there is anything that makes me cringe just a little, it is that the word hedonism, which is largely associated with the saturation of fleshly pleasure, could be associated with the word “Christian.” Sometimes I wish Dr. Piper used a different term for what he was trying to convey in his book, Desiring God. Regardless of this term, how could I possibly disagree with the underlying statement that he uses to define it? “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  

To Christians, the word “pleasure” seems to have become a dirty word.  When we think of pleasure we most often think of fleshly humanistic pursuits of lust or entertainment that distract us from lives of holiness. But this is not the case.  God actually wants us to enjoy the greatest pleasure that he himself enjoys. We find God’s pleasure announced in the anointing of Jesus for ministry at his baptism (Matt 3:17).  The Father said, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” The pleasure that God wants us to have is so essentially beautiful that God wants us to grip it with full intention to enjoy.  That pleasure is Christ.

God is essentially pleased with himself and so he should be.  He is the perfect, unlimited, glorious God of the universe.  His self-existent and eternal glory shines forth his complete satisfaction that he has in himself.  As God revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ, his perfect pleasure in his triune nature is pronounced upon his perfect Son. God is pleased with Jesus for good reason. He is perfect, sinless, obedient, true and every other description of goodness we could possibly muster. This tells us that true pleasure has a standard.  We are pleased in what we determine to be good. The objects of our pleasure tell us something about how we determine what is good. So, when we are assessing what we take pleasure in, we should be careful to ask what our standard of goodness really is.  Why does this please us? How does this show the good and glorious pleasure that the Father takes in the Son?

Pleasure is ultimately caused by the engagement or stimulation of the affections of our heart. This is why pleasure has become such a precarious subject for a humanity with essentially sinful hearts. What we take most pleasure in will expose the state of our heart. The less we look at the beautiful perfection of Christ, the more warped our idea of pleasure becomes. We are not pleased by what repulses us, only by that which attracts us.

Surely, we don’t find Christ repulsive. Do we?

Let’s look for a moment at what pleases God. “(God) was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles..” (Gal 1:16). “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Cor 1:21). “For in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Col 1:19).

At the end of the day, we can conclude that God takes pleasure in the saving work and person of Christ. If Christ is the object of God’s pleasure, how much more should it be ours? This is our great question. Does our pleasure primarily flow from our affection for Jesus or self?

We can debate about whether or not John Piper should have used the word ‘hedonism’ in his teaching. Ultimately, his defining statement is far from wrong.  God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied (pleased) in him. Particularly, when we are pleased in Christ.

2 Cor 5:9 – Whether at home or away, we make it our aim to please him! As we finish with this verse I cannot help but wonder how we could possibly do anything other than please him if Christ is our true pleasure.

 

Is Your Good News Good Enough?

That sense of relief you get when you hear something good is the differentiating factor between news and good news. When I hear my daughter is taking a test a college, it is simply news.  When I hear she passes her test at college, it becomes good news.  There is relief and joy knowing that she was successful. There is a huge difference between news and good news.

Good news is part of the DNA of the Christian Church.  Without the message of good news, the church has nothing to offer.  We preach relief. All over the world pulpits are proclaiming to larger groups and individuals are witnessing to friends and family.  These proclamations are about giving lost people hope as we show how Jesus brings relief. But the nature of that relief determines the extent of the good news.  What exactly is the relief we are proclaiming?

After 4000 years of human history, a prophet called John came to prepare God’s people for the ultimate sense of relief. Here is John’s message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 3:2). Doesn’t sound like relief to you? John’s role was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus, The Messiah.  Perhaps John was just getting people’s attention so that they might get the real message of relief from him. What did Jesus proclaim when he started preaching? Matthew records, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”” (Matt 4:17).

To understand how ultimate relief is displayed in a message of repentance, we must understand the dominating power of the Kingdom of Heaven. Both John and Jesus were preaching a message about how Jesus would bring full and final victory over sin and death and every power of darkness in the created realm. Jesus’ Kingdom is an eternally reigning kingdom that brings eternal reconciliation with God to all who turn from being faithless enemies to faithful citizens. Those who remain as enemies and deny the Lordship of Christ remain under the eternal wrath of the all-conquering King. Jesus paid the ultimate price for his Kingdom’s victory.  He took the full brunt of God’s wrath on human sin by dying on the cross in place of all who would turn from sin and believe in him. He rose as Savior and Lord and took his place on the throne as the conquering eternal King. Relief in the message of John and Jesus comes from being delivered from eternal condemnation to eternal restoration and a sure hope of glory. Relief comes through repentance from sin as we turn in faith to Jesus Christ our Savior.

Is your good news good enough? The answer comes by asking yourself about the relief you are proclaiming. If the message of Jesus is simply your deliverance from a life of drug abuse – it’s not good enough. If it is simply victory in your life at home or work – it’s not good enough.  If it is simply fixing your broken marriage – it’s not good enough. If it is making our society safer or more moral – it’s not good enough. If it is gaining political victories – it’s not good enough. If it is bringing you some sense of satisfaction in your daily life – it’s not good enough. If it teaches you how to prosper in this world – it’s not good enough.

If it is taking you from eternal condemnation to eternal reconciliation with the all-powerful God of Creation, then you have heard the only truly good news that correlates with the words of John and Jesus. The gospel is more than a menial temporal benefit.  It brings an eternal transformation to the glory of the infinite God of eternity. When the gospel lacks the message of sin and repentance, it lacks everything that makes the death and resurrection of Jesus the very substance of good news. When we preach repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope as sinners, we preach the only way to eternal salvation and authentic eternal relief.

Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!

 

 

 

 

Confusion About the Kingdom Leads to Confusion About the Savior

James and John wanted to take their seat beside Jesus as partners in kingdom victory. The gospels give us a view of this confusion revealed in a wide spectrum of people. The King, Herod, desires to kill Jesus as a baby because he is jealous for the protection of his own throne in Jerusalem. Pilate surely cannot understand the scope of his question when he asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews. Nicodemus comes to Jesus asking questions about his great power hoping for the revelation of a Messiah who will bring national Israel back to its former independence and glory. The crowds of over 5000 people who were fed by Jesus want to take him by force and make him their King. A disappointed crowd see a beaten and battered man and realize that such a pitiable sight could never defeat Rome.  They yell out, “Crucify him.” The rest of the disciples with James and John are indignant that they would ask for seats next to Jesus when they too wish for this privilege ‘in the kingdom.’

All of the confusion above rises from a central belief that the Messiah would come as a King and bring in his kingdom. The confusion is not that the Messiah would be a King of a greater kingdom, but that the kingdom would be a geo-political entity that gains ascendancy as a conquering political power. But the Kingdom of Christ is so much greater than this. Jesus has gained ascendancy not just over earthly political kingdoms but over the power of death and sin and hell and over every higher principality and power. The kingdom of Christ has crushed the god of this world, Satan. The cross, not military or political victory over Herod or Caesar, is the defining authority of the Kingdom of Christ. The cross is the clearest view of the King’s glory.

The question today is: Are we making the same mistake that happens repeatedly in the gospels? Do we also seek a kingdom victory that has more to do with kingdoms in this world than the glory of the cross revealing the King of the universe? For James and John, it resulted in an idea of self-glorification. It is as if they could have a helping hand in Jesus over-taking a political throne for them to sit in his court as co-contributors at his side. This is nothing short of pride.

Just like the Jews in the first century, our view of the kingdom will affect our vision of the coming Savior.  We too can look for Jesus’ kingdom in such an earthly, geo-political, physical sense that we miss that the victory of the Kingdom of Christ. We miss that the victory has already taken place 2000 years ago and has nothing to do with a better government or a national people but a conquering King who has brought life to all who will believe. When we look for a wrong kingdom, we view a wrong kind of savior.  We seek a diminished savior with geographical or earthly boundaries rather than the Timeless Victor over all that he created.

This week, let us not make the same mistake of those who have gone before.  Salvation in Jesus Christ has a greater glory than any temporary, earthly or political victories you can ever imagine. It is a glory that fills every thinkable domain of creation and ascendancy over every thinkable principality and power.  This is the right view of Jesus and the greatest view of victory in the cross.

The Glorious Cure for Introversion

“I can’t really do that, I’m an introvert.”

Dictionaries basically define introverts as “shy” or “reticent” people. Those who prefer some silence and solitude rather than the company of others. On the other side, extroverts seem to live in frustration any time they are forced into being alone. Extremes on both sides can be problematic.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair. Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”

If you are on the side of the introvert, sometimes it can seem like an insurmountable task to meet new people, contribute to a group, or speak in a public setting. You come to church and you hear the Pastor quote the Matthew 28 Great Commission. You wonder how you can ever pluck up the courage to proclaim the gospel to a stranger or even to a friend. You are the last person to stand up and say, “Send me!” If this is you, take heart. God has a marvelous way of motivating the Christian introvert past public fear.

Many of us have gone to evangelism courses and learned techniques to open conversations, transition to the gospel, look for barriers and walls, and consider answers that may help someone consider the gospel.  Sometimes we are taught about having compassion for the lost and being more concerned about our faithfulness than for the success that belongs to God. All of these points and practices can be (and are) very helpful to build confidence in evangelism. But that is not the focus here.  There is something even more foundational than this and it starts in the solitude of your own heart, but it does not start by looking inward. 

Isaiah was given a vision of the throne room of heaven (Isaiah 6).  The Self-existent, Self-sufficient God was sitting in the glory of his heavenly temple surrounded by creatures of praise in a room shaking from the noise of praise.  The creatures cover themselves in the presence of the Almighty King and the smoke rises in the honor of his glory. The words we read can only help us to imagine the magnitude of standing in the presence of God.  The picture we get is that the holiness of God is more than we can ever bear. As we stand before him, we expect to be obliterated as our sinfulness engages with the perfection of his holiness.

This is exactly how it was for Isaiah.  He solemnly admits, “Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips.” The infinite grace of God is overwhelming. Isaiah is not incinerated in the presence of holiness, but God’s grace brings a purifying fire upon Isaiah as a great picture of the result of his atoning sacrifice. Isaiah experiences the immeasurable depth of love that comes from infinite mercy covering deserved, infinite wrath.

Who will God send to tell Judah of their need to repent in faith? Isaiah responds to his experience of God’s glory by saying, “Send me.”

If you struggle with motivation for being sent with the message of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus, let me encourage you to look at what you have received in place of what you deserve.  Let me encourage you to look at Who has given it to you

When we say, “I can’t” we may want to go back and contemplate the passages that make us look at the glory of God.  We may want to remind ourselves of the magnitude of his grace that reconciles a rebellious creature of dirt with the omnipotent, holy God. We may even need to admit to ourselves that often we are not saying “I can’t,” but “I won’t.” Who are we saying that to? I am not saying that we all have to be gifted evangelists handing out tracts and street preaching every Saturday morning. While not all of us will have the particular gift of an evangelist, we are all still individually and collectively responsible for the great commission.

Do you seriously want a cure for introversion as a barrier to the great commission? Allow me to recommend some passages for you to meditate upon and pray through.  Perhaps after doing so, you might consider getting on your knees in the presence of God’s glory and saying, “Send Me!”

Exodus 19:18, Isaiah 6:1-8, Ezekiel 1-2, Revelation 4-5, 15:8.

How glorious would it be for God to use an introvert like you to save an extrovert? That seems to be the way God’s glorious economy works

Don't Let Your Spiritual Gift Become a Spiritual Grief!

When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he was writing to a church that was overloaded with disunity and lack of discipline. It seemed as if Corinth was a body of individuals rather than individuals operating as a united body. It is in this context that Paul starts informing Corinth about the nature and use of spiritual gifts.

It seems that individualism destroys the power of a united body of individuals.  While we don’t ever deny that each of us have individual responsibility before the Lord and are individual members of the local church, we cannot divorce this from the fact that each of the individual members contribute to the whole body. This really is the essence of Paul’s analogy of how parts of the human body work together so that the whole body can operate (1 Cor. 12:14-20). The big idea in Paul’s appeal to Corinth is found in verse 7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  This means that God has given gifts, abilities and talents to individual people for the benefit of a common people. But who are the common people?

At the very beginning of this discussion, Paul differentiates the church from the world. He says that it is never in the Spirit of God that someone can say “Jesus is accursed.”  It is only in the Spirit of God that someone can say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:2-30). The common people have a common confession. They are known by their outward confession of the Lordship of Christ.  This is something that would also then be displayed in their life as they submit to him as King. This confession controls the unity and purpose of the Family of God.

When we ignore this common confession, individualism distorts the very nature of a spiritual gift and brings division rather than unity.  This is because we can become much more concerned about the power and use of our own gift than having a concern for the common good or the common confession.  We can lust after that which feeds our individual egos than that which builds up another member of the body. We seek after the power and manifestation of a gift of the spirit and forget about the confession of Christ that underlines its very purpose. Paul said that, “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit” (12:3). The Spirit’s role is to testify of Christ (John 15:26). If we seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit for our own benefit rather than the testimony of Christ for the common good of the body, we are turning our gifts into grief.  If we attempt to gain an individualistic, self-absorbed manifestation of the Spirit’s power, the testimony of Christ is not evident and the Spirit himself is not in it.

God has gifted each member of the church to serve each other as one common body, in one Spirit empowered confession of Christ. Our gifts are essentially all about the one confession that brought us all together in the first place, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the center of all that we do in the church is not the confession of Christ, the Spirit is not with us. But if we confess Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, the body functions in united purpose, and God is glorified. When it comes to spiritual gifts, let’s say “no” to individualism and say “yes” to a common confession for the common good.

  

Why Accountability Belongs to the Local Church

Church discipline is an “in-house” discussion. This is why the context of Church discipline and Church membership are often subjects that intertwine. How can we discipline someone out of the church if we didn’t know that they were first in? But it is so much more than being able to identify the local body so that we can add and cross names off a list.  The body acts toward each other.  We serve each other.  We care for each other. We disciple each other. We teach each other. We pray with each other. We take the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper together so we can unite in remembering why we are one family of believers. We are ambassadors of Christ when we interact with the world.  We help each other fight sin and to uphold a calling to be holy because God is holy. The church is much more than a society of members, it is a living breathing family of God as regenerate believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of this screams the importance of thinking through the authority that Christ gave the church, and especially in the visibility of the local church, to maintain the biblical care and protection of the church.  It is the church who are the pillars and buttress of truth in the way that we ensure that we do not stray from the authoritative teaching of the Scripture and the central focus of the gospel (1 Tim 3:15). Paul said this to Timothy about how his church should conduct themselves in his absence. Known believers with true gospel confessions committed to the word of God can unite in upholding its truth. This is often why we have statements of faith. In Matthew 18:15-18 we are told that the church has the authority to speak to the unrepentant sinner among them with one united voice and if necessary to exclude them from the fellowship.

The working of the church, the moral integrity of the church, the upholding of truth in the church, all works in the context of a church that gathers together and knows each other. We are not perfect, so there is always sin amongst us. As saved sinners who know each other, the local church has ability to come along side each other as brother to brother and sister to sister to patiently disciple each other in identifying sin and repenting in the forgiveness of our Savior.  From gently guiding or admonishing someone privately to even excluding someone from the fellowship publicly, the context of the local church is where it happens within the relational intimacy of a regenerate family. It is in this context that discipline happens with a view to joyful restoration.  It’s the only way it can happen with the love and grace of a winsome attitude from a family who are mourning the loss of a member because of an unrepentant heart.

If the local church is doing it wrongly, they answer to Christ. This is the beauty of my church family. When it comes to the spiritual integrity of the church in morality and truth, Christ has not set up any other accountability body or person. It happens in the beautiful environment of a body of people whose knowledge of each other is based on the confession of Christ as our Savior and King.  It is only in the intimate workings of a church family that authority for discipline is given and can work in both grace and truth.

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.