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. 

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,



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.