Is Your View of Christ Big Enough?

In a recent sermon, I suggested that we should exchange the term “worldview” for “Christ-view.” When we think of the worldview, we know that we are thinking about the framework by which we assess the world around us. It is the philosophy of life by which we respond to the world around us and live our life. It contains how we interpret physical evidence but also how we evaluate ethical dilemmas and plan for our future. This is why Christians so often talk about the importance of having the right authority in our worldview. The authority for our worldview needs to have an all-encompassing supremacy to ensure that we know we are seeing the world through reality and not simply our own fallible ideas. To be confident about our worldview we must be confident about our source of authority.

The Apostle Paul argues that the person of Jesus Christ is our most sufficient way of being confident about our worldview. This may sound somewhat strange to say that a person is the basis of our worldview, but we must see if everything we need to drive our worldview is manifest in that person.

Writing to the Colossians, Paul describes Jesus in six verses. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20).

If you look carefully at these verses, you will see a number of facts about Jesus that give us a comprehensive framework for understanding the world. He is God. He is Creator. He is supreme in time and rank and power. All things are subject to him. Every operation of the world is held by him. His church is specially connected to him as the authority. He is the proof and hope of resurrection life. He is the overcomer of death, sin and every evil force. He is the dwelling presence of God. He is the one who has brought and will finally consummate cosmic reconciliation of creation. He has sealed everything through a fully paid sacrifice of his own blood. All power, authority, truth, cosmic operational dependency, life, hope, and security is in and through Jesus Christ. There is nothing to fear, revere, or hold in greater authority or supremacy over Jesus Christ. Everything is in, through and for Jesus Christ for all of eternity. He IS our worldview.

If we have a doubt there is one thing that is outside the domain of Jesus Christ, just look at the descriptions of totality that Paul uses in these verses: All creation, all things, heaven and earth, Visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities, everything, all the fullness, whether on earth or in heaven. In particular, the phrase “all things” is used 5 times.

Unfortunately, many of us seem to view other humans as more fearful that Jesus Christ. We tend to buckle under the pressure of perceived human power. But Paul made it clear that his worldview is not subject to human fallibility but in the personal reliability of Jesus. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

We should do the same!

Was Bill Hybels All Wrong?

I don’t believe Bill Hybels was all wrong in his teaching about evangelism. However, if there is a term I have not really agreed with, it’s the term “Seeker Sensitive.” I cannot agree that the bible gives any strong teaching about there being any such thing as a seeker. In fact, Paul very explicitly quotes that “no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12).

In saying this, I would also suggest that Bill Hybels highlighted something that was an extremely helpful observation for the church as we seek to reach people with the gospel. Hybels recognized that the Scriptures give examples of many different styles of evangelism. Matthew brings his known friends into his home and introduces them to Jesus in a social situation. Peter stands in front of an attentive crowd and confronts them with the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul moves into the circle of philosophers and engages in intellectual arguments for God and the gospel. The woman at the well invites the people of her town to come and hear the amazing message of Jesus. The blind man gave a testimony to everyone of what Jesus did in his life.

Bill Hybels helped us understand that evangelism happens in all avenues of real life. It can be an intellectual argument to the academic elite, but it can be a loving hospitality to ordinary everyday friends. It can be achieved in a one on one conversation, but it can also be done with the help of inviting someone to sit under gospel instruction. We can stand in front of a group of unknown people or help a hurting friend know how the hope of Jesus is greater than the despair of her cancer.

Sometimes, as conservative, bible-teaching evangelicals, we are quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, I am not a Hybels fan. I completely disagree with his church growth strategies that miss the greater sense of intensive discipleship. At the same time, I am very thankful that he emphasized our need to see that none of us have an excuse. We all have opportunity to use our strengths and abilities for the sake of Christ and his good news. If we don’t have what it takes to stand in front of a group, we have friends. If we don’t know how to answer the tough questions, we can all use our own testimonies as a personal example of the regenerating power of Jesus. Whatever approach we use, the common denominator in all of them is the clear and verbal explanation of the gospel - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sin to rescue us from this present evil age.

Where Do I Get the Courage to Evangelize?

Imagine two men willing to stand before officials that ban them from talking about Jesus. Imagine being so bold that no matter the consequences, you open your mouth to tell others that everything they thought about the way of salvation was wrong. Imagine if you are looking in the eyes of people to tell them that the Jesus that they crucified is the risen Lord who offers them salvation in him alone.

Where did Peter and John get such boldness to stand like this before the Jewish council? We might say that they were bold because they were overcome with compassion for their fellow Jewish people who were lost. No doubt we do see this in the actions of the apostles, but they still have to overcome that little voice inside that may taunt them about their own physical safety.

In the first part of Acts 4:13 we read, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.” If you and I are amazed at the courage of these men, we are not alone. Peter was courageously standing before the Jewish council no matter what the cost. Once before in his life he had cowered in denial before a servant girl, but now he stands before men who are ready to condemn him. What could possibly give Peter such boldness?

The second half of verse 13 simply states, “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Peter and John had sat with Jesus and heard his teaching. They had heard him tell them not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather to fear him who can kill both body and soul in hell. They had seen Jesus cast out demons with great authority and calm the seas. Most of all, they had seen the resurrected Lord. They had been taught by a man who had walked out of a tomb and showed them how all of the Scriptures had pointed to his work on the cross this whole time. They watched him ascend in triumphant glory to take his seat at the Fathers right hand. They had heard his promise to return. There was nothing that could possibly overcome their renewed drive to speak of their Lord of salvation. Nothing.

When you are truly impacted by spending time with Jesus, he fills you with the riches of his glory and emboldens you to pronounce his truth. We are not Peter or John. We are not the apostles who were direct witnesses of the resurrected Lord, but we are people who have equally experienced the saving power of our resurrected King in our lives. We can see his glory in his Word and in the experience of knowing him in our life. The more we look at Jesus the more emboldened we are to stand before councils and kings just like the Apostles. How much are you soaking in the glory of Christ and allowing Jesus to embolden you in his truth?

Matthew 10 Reasons to Overcome the Fear of Evangelism.

In Matthew 10, Jesus names and sends his disciples out on mission. The first ten verses might be thoroughly inviting to any prospective missionary, but when you get to verse eleven you start reading about the first signs of rejection. Sometimes the disciples are going to have to shake the dust off their feet and move to another town. If the thought of being rejected didn’t lose you, then Jesus describes the mission field as that which is full of wolves that devour his sheep. They will deliver you over to the courts, drag you before governors and kings, your own family will betray you, and you may be put to death and hated by all. That is truly enough to make anyone at least a little “sheepish” (pun intended) about evangelism and mission.

When we read these verses in Matthew 10:11-23, the hostility we see may all too easily override the overwhelming reasons that make evangelism worth it.  So, let’s recap Jesus’ encouragements for his disciples, and for us starting in the introductory verses from Matthew 9:35.

 

Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus has compassion for lost and hurting people.

The harvest is actually plentiful. There are lost sheep just waiting to be saved.

Matthew 10:1-5

The apostles were ordinary men and unlikely candidates for mission just like us.

When we go on mission, we go with the authority of Christ and not our own.

Matthew 10:5-15

Jesus prepares us and helps us to know how to deal with rejection.

Mission is a direct representation of Christ’s compassion.

To represent Christ is to receive the response to Christ. This is a great privilege.

Matthew 10:16-23

Jesus prepares us for mission, not self-preservation.

Jesus prepares with a mix of God-given biblical wisdom mixed with humble, gentle, innocence.

God never leaves us and gives us the Holy Spirit to help us with his words.

There is an eternal prize worth enduring for.

A rejection in one place never stops you from going to another.

When we face hostility, we get to be just like our Master.

Matthew 10:24-32

We can overcome fear in the knowledge of God’s infinitely good character.

God is omniscient and righteous in judgment of man.

Biblical Fear of God motivates us to witness to those who may even hate us.

Rather than living with fear, we live according to God’s providence now and his reward later.

Matthew 10:33-39

Allegiance to Christ turns the world’s badge of disgrace into a heavenly badge of honor.

Matthew 10:40-42

When we represent Jesus we have the opportunity to give God to people who really need him.

When people receive us, they receive Jesus.

Even the lowly childlike disciple can be received by people who will gain and never lose eternal reward. 

So, don’t read chapter ten and be fearful about the possible hostility in mission.  Read it thoughtfully and see Christ’s glorious preparation and encouragement for all those will accept his commission to take the gospel to every family member, neighbor, colleague, official, tribe, tongue, and nation. There is every reason for unlikely people like us to proclaim Christ to all.

 

A Culture Sympathetic to Christians is Abnormal

One thing I really appreciate about the Scriptures is that whenever I read them, I get reality. Jesus is compassionate toward his disciples, but he is also transparently honest about reality, especially when it comes to sending them on mission. When some American Christians read Jesus’ descriptions about what happens on the mission field, they struggle to find a like comparison to our present day. Jesus says that the disciples will be handed over to councils and governors and kings. They will be flogged. They will be given to death by their own family and they will be hated by all (Matthew 10:16-25).

Can we really describe our American suburban reality this way? We seem to have a very peaceful existence. Very few American (or western) Christians I know have been handed to authorities or beaten and certainly not killed. In the book of Acts, we read that all of Jesus’ predictions for his disciples become reality in the history of the birth of the church. We certainly see a glorious work of God in the salvation of souls and the establishment and spread of the church. We also see a constant flow of opposition as apostles stand before councils, receive beatings and floggings, are killed and even sent to Rome, the highest authority in the world at that time. Within a very short time, church history shows that Christianity is outlawed and becomes a capital offence. It gets in the way of profit, ambitions, desires, and the desire for man to be his own god.

There are periods of time where Christians have influenced to the degree that governments have legislated in favor of a peaceable existence for the church. Eventually, though, as authentic Christians have become more unpopular, persecution has increased. Christians such as Huss, Luther, Wycliffe and Tyndale, and many others where even persecuted by governments who claimed to be “Christian.” This tells us two things. Christian doesn't always mean Christian. And, when the truth of Christ gets in the way of the desires and ambitions of man, persecution abounds. Sadly, the reality is that the truth of Christ will eventually always get more in the way of the desires and ambitions of man. This is a problem that has abounded ever since Genesis 3 and the first murderous persecution of a believer started with a brother killing his own brother in Genesis 4. True believers have never been in the world’s favor. This is a biblical standard.

Within Jesus’ descriptions of what will happen to the disciples on mission, he gives a couple of general realities. Jesus tells them to “beware of men,” (10:17) and that they will “be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (10:22). These statements are encompassing statements that describe the general situation of humanity and the ongoing nature of the mission field for all Christians. Beware of men. Why? Because mankind is sinful. Mankind cannot be trusted and will generally be against the God they have rejected. This is the norm.

When we see a general peace in society toward Christians, we should be thankful that God has given this time for us to more openly serve him and reach others. Generally, in the world, this is not the case. If we are seeing some signs of the tide turning in America, it is because humans are doing what Jesus has already told us what humans will do. Beware of men. The problem is a human problem. We are all men. We need Christ. The problem is a human problem. The problem is a sin problem. The problem is our problem.

The descriptions that Jesus is giving his disciples for mission are the descriptions that he is giving for his whole church. America has some restrictions against Christian persecution that remain from a time when there was sympathy to a population that leaned more toward Christian teaching and morality. As time progresses, we should expect a culture to move more toward the norm. The norm is that we are to beware of men as Christ is hated by all.

Is there a solution? Yes. The solution is that people desperately need to be saved into a new kingdom. One that is not of this world. One where the King is the Christ who Christians follow. One where sins are forgiven, hearts regenerated, and men and women are sanctified in Christ. The Bible never promises the abnormal times of peace in the world, but it does promise an eternity of peace in the free gift of salvation that comes from Jesus alone. While there is not one single bible verse that gives the New Testament church a mandate to change or reform a culture, Christians are to take hope in the fact that our kingdom and the kingdom we offer is not of this world. We have something greater to live for. We have something greater to offer.

God Knows How to Rescue Us

2 Peter 2:9 “…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”

So many of us find it difficult to face the opposition associated with evangelism. The unknown factor always comes down to response and reaction. Some people are very open to discuss Christ and some people are very offended, even to the point of physical violence. We live in a country where we do not often see a physically violent response to evangelism, but there are countries in the world where proclaiming the name of Christ means jail or possibly even death.

When Jesus sent his apostles out on mission, he gave them instructions to go through the area of Galilee and preach his Kingdom. It seems that there would be mixed response. Some would reject them. Some would accuse them, refuse them, disown them, and persecute them. These apostles would be vulnerable for the sake of Christ.

While it may not initially seem like an encouragement, Jesus tells his apostles that it will be worse for those Jews who reject his kingdom than for Sodom and Gomorrah. Why on earth should this information be helpful for apostles facing the difficulties of ministry? It is helpful because it says that they represent a power greater than themselves. They also represent a power greater than those who will reject them. I believe that Jesus wants them to know that even if they are rejected for the sake of his name, truth and authority is on their side. They are in the hands of the supreme King and Judge of the universe. He is the one with power to save and bring peace to anyone who accepts his good news. He is the one with power to eternally judge anyone who rejects his good news. We represent him!

The example of Sodom and Gomorrah is one that is used throughout the New Testament. Jesus uses this example a few times regarding the Jewish rejection of him as Messiah. Peter uses this example to encourage Christians that seem to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of false teachers and debauchery all around them. Often it seems like we are so alone. It seems as though evil is so much more powerful than us. The truth is, it’s not. In Peter’s example, Lot was one man within a whole city. God saved Lot from that city and brought destruction upon those who had rejected him. Peter says it this way, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.

No matter what happens to us, if we are in union with Christ, God has given us an example in Sodom and Gomorrah to remember. No matter the circumstances, God knows how to save his own. If we are able to keep this in mind, doesn’t this then help us to be more emboldened to go out without counting personal cost? Can’t we believe and remind ourselves that whatever man might do, we are in God’s hands for all of eternity. God is using Christians as his means to go into an evil world and preach his salvation. For some people, this will mean salvation and peace with God. For others it will be a sealing of their judgment. No matter what the response or situation, God knows how to rescue us. We not only trust a greater power. We are in the hands of the Omnipotent – everyone is. That’s either terrifying or wonderfully comforting. What is it for you?

Seven Reasons Not to Fear Evil

To many of us look around this world and see the ascendancy of evil men and evil schemes and become overwhelmed. If we live our lives by what we see on the news through the internet and TV, it can intimidate us into shrinking away from our great commission responsibilities. It seems as if this world is out to eat us alive. Perhaps this is why Jesus described mission to his disciples as going out as sheep among wolves. It’s certainly often the way I feel, and I live in America. Imagine if you were in a country where Christianity was outlawed, like first and second century Rome.

When Jesus sent his apostles on mission, he sent them out with a whole discourse of instruction and encouragement. As I see it, there are at least seven good reasons not to fear evil as we think of our responsibility in the great commission.

1. We go with the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 9:35). The gospel writers consistently show that the Kingdom of Christ has broken into this world as the all-conquering kingdom. When we are a part of this kingdom, we are a part of a kingdom that has overcome all evil, sent Satan hurtling from heaven, and defeated the god of this world. The good news of the kingdom is that people can come into right relationship with God and be on the winning side. While we await the final consummation, we can know that every Christian already has the victory that Jesus has won in establishing his kingdom on earth and sealing that victory in the work of the cross.

2. If we think that this world is too much for the gospel to overcome, we need to believe God when he says that he actually has a harvest out there. Jesus says to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more workers for the expansion of his kingdom (9:37-38). From this we can take away that there are no forces that can withhold God from his saving power and reaping his harvest. We can also know that if Christ commands us to pray for more laborers in this harvest, he would not ask for something that God would refuse to supply. So, pray.

3. Jesus has established his church by his unlimited authority. The authority of Christ spans beyond humanity, to creation itself, and the very forces of the spiritual realm. It is a comprehensive scope of authority. The authoritative power of Christ was given to his apostles on mission as they were given power over demons and diseases. These men then gave us the gospels and the New Testament (10:1). We don’t have the same specific outworking of this authority that was displayed in the apostles as they founded the church, but this authority has been vested in the gospels and New Testament letters that they wrote. When we go out with the gospel, we go out with the very authority of Christ.

4. We are never meant to think we can overcome every person with the gospel. That’s not how it works. Not everyone will respond to the gospel but only those that God calls to respond in repentance and faith. The apostles were told to go in and out of houses in Galilee and preach indiscriminately to all. If they met refusal and opposition they were to leave and move on knowing that unless these people repent, they would most certainly face ultimate judgment that is God’s alone to bring. (10:14-15). God seeks us to be obedient to his call and is ultimately concerned about our faithfulness. The result is his alone and therefore we need not worry about evil winning.

5. Yes, the opposition is fierce, but as the Christian perseveres through it, there is much greater reward for us. We are to keep going as we remind ourselves that persevering faith is saving faith (10:22).

6. Even if we were to lose our very life, we can be assured that our King is in charge of our eternity. For this reason, we are told not to fear those who can kill the body but fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell (10:28). Even in death, when we are persevering in Christ, we are overcomers with the eternal God who judges all.

7. Finally, you are in the hands of a God who knows you more intimately than you know yourself. He can number the very hairs on your head (10:30). If we are going to trust anyone with our life, surely it needs to be the One who intimately knows and cares for us. The God who has power over evil is immanently caring for you.

All of this makes a great point. We have good reason to proclaim the gospel and persevere in a world filled with evil. Ultimately, every Christian has nothing to lose including their life. Even if we lose that, in Christ we gain it. In Christ, we have no reason to fear evil.

Who's the Real Seeker?

During my early church years, the “seeker sensitive” movement was spreading like a wildfire in Australia. A great many churches were tailoring their styling and messaging toward a sincere desire to show hospitality to “seekers.” There has been much debate about the methods and strategies of the seeker sensitive movement. Some people believe that tailoring to “seekers” has resulted in a watering down of truth. Others have complained that the result of seeker sensitive strategies has simply made the church more like the world. On the other hand, some seeker-based churches may simply point to their growing attendances and claim success.

The biggest problem I have with a seeker-based approach is not necessarily on the basis of styling, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see a watering down of the truth of Scripture. The issue that I have is on the basis of where we place our confidence for the success of the gospel. Is it in our strategies or is it in the sovereign work of a saving God through the proclamation of the gospel? When we understand God’s work in the gospel, we understand who the real seeker is.

As I read Scripture, I find it difficult to find a biblical definition of a human seeker. God has often spoken about the human heart in the opposite way. In sin we are desperately wicked and full of evil (Jeremiah 17:9). We are dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1-3). Paul spends three chapters in Romans coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t even matter if you are a Jew or Greek. Romans 3:9-12 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one, no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

It seems that everywhere I seek in the Scriptures, I only end up finding one seeker.

God consistently reminds Israel that he is the God who called them (Isaiah 48:12). Even though God called Israel and formed them as his chosen people, they rejected him and broke his covenant with them. Isaiah warned that national Israel’s rejection of God would bring about an inclusion from the Gentiles who do not seek him. Isaiah 65:1 “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am," to a nation that was not called by my name.” Paul makes it clear to the Romans that we have now seen this gentile inclusion through Christ. Romans 10:20-21 “Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me." But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."

So, what do we make of this? Israel did not call out to God, but God called out and formed Israel. The Gentiles had no thought of God, but God sought out the Gentiles who were not seeking him. Once we include both Jews and Gentiles in the list of non-seekers, who else is there to include? In the whole world, God is the seeker. The reason that Jesus came into this world was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Where does our confidence lie for the lost in this world? 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Regardless of what you think of the methodologies of the seeker movement, the Bible says that God is the seeker and that when he calls, he is always successful. John 10:27-29 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”

Where does that leave us? Our call is to faithfully and indiscriminately proclaim the gospel so that God might call and save his lost sheep. Our call is not to methodologies and strategies, but to a message. This is a message that is often proclaimed to people who don’t want to hear it. These are the very ones that God so often saves because when he calls, the weakness of his message is stronger than mankind’s obstinance.

It's Good To Be Needy

All of us have had situations in our lives where we have deemed a certain person to be needy.  We might use terms like “high maintenance,” or call a needy girl a ‘princess.”  When we think of neediness like this, we consider it in a negative light.  Either we don’t like to be put out or someone really is just that needy that they are a constant source of requests and a consistent drain on time. So…. how can someone say that it is good to be needy?

If we are honest, we will understand that every single person in the world is needy.  Truly needy people are those who have no ability of their own to solve their problem.  Truly needy people are those who are also able to evaluate what is ultimately a true need.  In his book, When People are Big and God is Small, Ed Welch describes the situation in which so many people misinterpret our true needs.  We categorize our needs into emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual baskets. At the end of the day, when our needs become greater than God, we are making people big and God small. Man’s greatest and ultimate need is reconciliation with our Creator through Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.

Does God look at neediness in the same way as most humans do? Absolutely not.  God actually desires for us to be needy. He calls us to come.  He desires that we are not only reliant upon Him but in desperate need for Him every day.  Often when needy people come to us for help, they may come with a little embarrassment and concern.  God does not tell us to come to Him this way.  In every instance we are to know that God is eager, willing and able to hear our needs in Him and answer in the best way possible according to our good as He conforms us to His image.

Let’s take note from the author of Hebrews in how we are invited to approach God as His people in complete and utter need of Him.

1.     Our need is plain to God.  He sees us like nobody else does and everything about us is already exposed to Him.

Hebrews 4:13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

2.     Our need is not only plain to God but intimately known by God.

Hebrews 4:14-15A Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,

3.     Our need is not only plain, and intimately known, but Christ has overcome what we could not.  He has resisted what was too much for us.

Hebrews 4:15B but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

4.     Therefore, God beckons us to draw near to His throne in confidence to find mercy and grace that only He can give.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God does not see need like we do.  He knows our true need and He Himself is our solution.  When we see the Grace of God in Christ and how we can approach our God as needy people, it helps us to have more compassion and love for the ‘neediness’ of others. 

Bottom line – When it comes to our human sin and frailty, we are all high maintenance princesses before the Lord.  Isn’t it good to know that this is exactly who God calls to approach Him? God actually desires the needy to come to Him. 

Is God Your Policeman or Your Delight?

What is your motivation for following Jesus?

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11.

When we read the gospels and the epistles in the New Testament, we continually face that the gospel comes to sinners. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 9:9-13 that he came not for the righteous but for sinners. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Paul says that we were dead in our trespasses and sin and by nature we were children of wrath. In the same passage, Paul also says that God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He has loved us, made us alive together with Christ (Romans 2:1-5). Paul is essentially saying that while there was nothing in us worthy of salvation, God saved us. Christ came for sinners.

While it is important to note that we come to salvation through faith, and a faith that is repentant of sin, God does not save us because he first sees any faith or repentance or righteousness in us. He doesn't save us because we are good law keepers. In fact, His law only proves that we aren’t (Romans 7). Salvation is all of grace given to sinners who have no righteousness of their own. The appeal of the gospel is not to get right with the Law Keeper and come to Christ, but to come to Christ so that He might give you His righteousness in exchange for your lawlessness.

Why is this important? It’s important because just as many have misunderstood that Christ himself is the prime motivation for the gospel in salvation, many Christians have overlooked that Christ himself is the prime motivation for holiness in the Christian life. A distorted view of the Christian life often comes from a distorted view of God. When we view God as a big policeman, he simply becomes a forbidding God – a God of do’s and don’ts. If we live our life this way, we live with the constant idea that God is always depriving. It doesn’t help us to understand why God’s commands are actually beautiful in their keeping.

The Psalmist says that God’s paths are the paths of light and that in His presence there is fulness of Joy. God is not a big policeman in the sky, He is the Holy God of limitless grace and His grace is stunningly beautiful. If God has given statutes and commands (and He has), then those statutes and commands are given that we might know how to be in loving communion with a God who delights in us. That was the purpose for the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, it was the purpose of the law for the nation of Israel and it is also the purpose of the law of Christ, the law of love, in the New Testament.

When we are enamored by the beauty and grace of Christ, we are so much more likely to live according to His beautiful holiness. We can see that in Him is fullness of Joy and pleasures forevermore. In the beauty of Christ’s grace, all the things that we can’t have are ugly in comparison. When we live under a policeman, the things we can’t have are things that we believe God is depriving us of. Law doesn’t change our hearts, grace does - Christ does. He is more beautiful than all the things we can’t have. He is the reason not to have them. He is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. He is not our policeman, He is our delight!

(Note: Thankful for the work of Sinclair Ferguson in his book, The Whole Christ: The thoughts in this blog are thoroughly explained in his book which is highly recommended.)

Are You Guilty of Gospel Profiling?

We love five-star ratings. If a movie has a five-star rating, we want to see it. If a restaurant has a five-star rating, we want to eat at it. If a product has a five-star rating, we want to buy it. If a hotel has a five-star rating, we want to stay in it.

Unfortunately, sometimes we look at evangelism in the same way as we look at purchases and services. Sometimes we are reticent to share the gospel with people if we judge that they don’t seem to want to hear it. We rate their readiness to hear or even receive the good news. Perhaps that clean living neighbor who loves her children and never cusses has a high rating. Perhaps it’s worth stepping out and talking with her. Perhaps she’s worth the investment. Perhaps that work colleague who always seems angry with the world and treats you like dirt has a low enough rating for you to simply avoid whenever you can.

When we look at people this way, we inadvertently place conditions on the gospel. At least in practice we can unconsciously judge a person’s worthiness to hear the good news. This type of unconscious profiling plagues so many of us and it is not a new phenomenon. We see this type of behavior all through the gospels displayed in the words and actions of the Pharisees who opposed Jesus (Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 15). They could not understand why Jesus would associate with the very sinners that they would avoid.

Understanding the nature of grace is one of the most important concepts for any Christian as we look at every other human being in this world. Grace promotes an indiscriminate attitude toward others. When we understand that we have been saved by grace, we have to place ourselves in the category of the underserving. God had no need of a rating survey to see anything worthy of his investment of shed blood for us. In fact, we all have an infinitely negative-star rating. There is no reason for God to watch our movie, eat at our restaurant, stay in our hotel or by our product. When Christ bled and died for us, he did so for those who had absolutely no merit of their own. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8).

If Christ has saved you, he has saved the undeserving. How can we possibly look at any other human being in this world and require God to expect more in them than he did in us? Grace is the very factor that removes discrimination in evangelism. Let’s therefore do exactly as Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15).

Is Your Selfishness Hurting Your Church?

There is a well-known saying that I often use for people who are Church hunting. “If you find the perfect Church, don’t go there because you’ll ruin it.” For people who haven’t heard this statement before, they will give me a look of shock. For people who have, they realize that the statement really means that there is no such thing as a perfect church. If there was such a thing as a perfect church, we could only add to it by bringing imperfection.

If you are brave enough to read this blog after reading the title, it probably means that you are willing to acknowledge that you are one of the people who make your Church imperfect. We all are. Hopefully Christians gather together to help strengthen each other as we seek to honor Christ and become more like him. But….in this world, none of us have arrived. Too often it is possible in our fleshly struggles to allow our desire for self to have its effect among our brothers and sisters. A great description of the effect of selfishness on the Church is found in Paul’s first letter to Corinth.

Corinth presented a great many problems. I always find it fascinating that Paul introduces this letter by talking about this Church as those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and appealing to them as beloved brethren. Immediately after Paul’s introduction, he seems to be answering all sorts of questions about all sorts of selfishly motivated sins happening in the life of this church.

In chapters 1 -3, Paul appeals to them to stop following their favorite personality. It is not about your preferred teacher, it’s about Christ. You don’t judge what is wise according to your own human philosophy, but true wisdom is found in the gospel. In chapter 4 Paul has to remind Corinth of what it means to be a faithful servant. In chapter 5 they seem to allow self-rule when it comes to sexual pursuits. In chapter 6 they are greedy for their own rights and taking each other to court. In chapters 11-14 the selfishness of the Corinthian church was impacting their time of gathering. Some were selfishly hoarding food in the meal that they were supposed to be having together to remember Christ’s sacrifice. It also seems that some were seeking to use gifts to show themselves as having greater standing with God through having a more powerful manifestation in giftedness. They were being selfish with the use of tongues to the degree that their ability to speak another language was flaunted in a way that it had no concern for the edification of others.

When we bring selfishness to a Church, we bring an attitude of being first and seek to be recognized as superior or more deserving than others. This is completely opposite to who Christ has called us to be. Jesus is the great Servant who has called us to serve and his example is the cross. In chapters 11-14 Paul consistently repeats that the purpose of meeting together. It is so we might serve each other in building each other up. Often our selfishness takes us in the direction that we desire to be built up by others and assess our Church by what we get.

In our time, we might look at a Church like Corinth and be tempted to say that we are glad that we are not like them. Well, we might not have a letter from an Apostle outlining every major aspect of selfishness in our congregation, but I would suggest that we could name a lot of selfish motivations that are hurting the Church even when they are not about sexual immorality, drunkenness, or taking each other to court.

Do you…

seek recognition for yourself?

let insufficient reasons stop you from turning up to edify your brothers and sisters in Christ?

leave your Church family because of secondary issues?

come to Church to be served rather than to serve?

complain when you don’t think the Church is meeting your standard?

judge Churches on the basis of what you get rather than what you give?

We could keep building a big list here, but I think you get the point. Really, we are all tempted to point our finger at Corinth. In God’s eyes, selfishness is selfishness, and selfishness hurts the Church. Let’s all consider ways in which we are selfish to examine how we might be who God has really called us to be as a Church – vital members of a vibrantly functioning body!

Mission: Local Church or Parachurch

Our church supports missionaries who work both in local churches and in parachurch organizations. I often use parachurch organizations for help on particular issues, but some Christians have resisted any acknowledgement of parachurch organizations deeming them unbiblical. Some Christians have loved parachurch organizations so much that they have used them to replace the church. Is the differentiation between parachurch and local church important? The answer is a resounding, “yes.”

Perhaps we should start with definitions. 

Parachurch – Organizations that exist to support the church in particular areas, and particularly as the church attempts to fulfill the great commission.

Local Church – the local visible manifestation of the church that gathers as a family of regenerate believers to work as members of one body as they represent Christ in this world and seek to fulfill his great commission.

There is much to be said about the local church and perhaps a one sentence definition is not sufficient.  Even so, it should be said that all through the New Testament we find explanation of the church in its local representation.  We do not find discussion of parachurch.  Does this mean that parachurch should not exist at all?  I would submit that this would be an argument from silence and an unnecessary viewpoint. We should, however, recognize that it is the local church that is given responsibility to uphold doctrine and to fulfill local and global mission. The bible gives clear responsibility to each local church (and particularly the elders) to be responsible for any instruction to the church body (Heb 13:17, 1 Pt. 5:1-4).  If a parachurch ministry ever steps foot inside a local church, they must acquiesce to the authority of the elders in that church. 

In our day, parachurch organizations have become more prominent as technology has opened the doors of communication on an immediate and global scale. We live in the age of Christian radio, podcasts, television, blogs, movies…and the list goes on.  Celebrity preachers and teachers fill our screens and parachurch organizations are continually vying for your attention and support. It is all too easy for some organizations to side step the authority of local church elders to directly impact people in their pews. We must all respect the God ordained structure of the church even when we think the leadership is wrong. Some parachurch organizations have insisted on their staff being members of local churches so to respect local church authority. This is a great start and this respect for local church authority should also been seen and heard in the rhetoric and actions of parachurch ministries.

Like I said previously, our church does support some parachurch ministries.  We think they can be helpful in strengthening and supporting the local church in specialist areas.  We support parachurch ministries when they know that they can only ever have a support role. We support them when they hold a high view of the local church as they offer support as an act of love for Christ’s bride. A good example of one parachurch ministry that we support is a bible college in Africa who help to equip potential pastors as they minister the word in local congregations.  This bible college even teaches these potential pastors that God’s mission to the world is fulfilled in Christ and spread through the means of local churches seeking to build more local churches. A great biblical example of this is found in Acts 13 and 14.  At the beginning of Acts 13, we see a local church in Antioch sending missionaries for the sake of the great commission.  At the end of Acts 14 we see that the fulfillment in this mission was found in elders appointed in the local churches that were formed as a result of the original sending from a local church.  Clearly, God has given the local church the responsibility for mission that results in more local churches. If he hasn’t, then evangelism and mission may result in a disembodied church. This is never God’s plan.

As you see how the bible holds a very high view of the local church in mission and discipleship, it may be time for you to consider your own view of the local church.  If we say we love Jesus, we must passionately love the church (Eph 5:25). We are to see the church through the eyes of God who looks at the church through a beautiful Savior. We understand that the church is messy and this side of heaven it is filled with redeemed sinners. Like it or not, God has given churches the responsibility to uphold Scriptural truth (1 Tim 3:15), maintain holiness (Matthew 18:15-20), and fulfill the great commission by making disciples (Matthew 28:18-21, Acts 13-14). Therefore, this is the way we need to assess that mission and discipleship are the chief domain of the local church.  If parachurch seeks to take the reins of evangelism and mission, we must reject it.  Sometimes parachurch organizations overstep their boundaries and claim an authority not their own. We must reject it. At the same time, I can be immensely thankful that there are some organizations to help us in areas of expertise we don’t have. We must always remember that God is building his church (Matthew 16:17-19). My confidence remains in a God who is on mission through his people.

We all need to put things in the right perspective.  Our main focus for serving God in mission must happen in and through the local church.  Therefore, this is the priority for our time, resources and focus.  If along the way we want to support another organization helping us in a certain aspect of our mission, great.  Let’s keep in mind that the best parachurch organizations are the ones that acknowledge their support role and who show their main aim is one to help and serve the church to fulfill its God given role and responsibility. Let’s keep in mind that local churches send missionaries who go and make disciples, appoint elders, and plant local churches.

 

 

 

 

Without Absolute Sovereignty There Is No Forgiveness of Sins

When the paralytic was brought to Jesus (Matthew 9:1-8), he experienced something he may not have expected. He was forgiven of his sins. When Jesus said these words, “Your sins are forgiven,” the Scribes were outraged that Jesus would say this. Only God can forgive sins.

Christians would agree that only God can forgive sins, but I wonder if we give much thought to why this is the case? It would be correct to say that God alone can forgive sins because when we sin, we always sin against God. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:4). Who else could truly forgive sins other than the One we have sinned against?

The fact that we have sinned against God in every sin committed says something about God. It says that God is the ultimate standard and that there is no standard above God. Even when we sin against each other, in doing so we ultimately sin by not living up to God’s perfect standard. We miss the mark of God’s standard in our nature and in the standards he has set out for us in His Word. Only God can forgive because God has always been sinned against. Only God is God.

While the Scribes would be well aware of this fact, they would also be well aware that eternal forgiveness of sins requires absolute sovereign authority. The paralytic had done nothing to Jesus. He was just brought on a stretcher and yet Jesus told him his sins were forgiven. Can Jesus even do that? How can Jesus pardon a man for all eternity if he does not have the power to hold it in place? Forgiveness of sins means an eternal pardon in a court that holds sway over every power. If there is not absolute sovereignty in this situation, then the possibility of a higher power revoking this pardon is a reality. Any Scribe worth his salt would understand that forgiveness of this nature is of the highest possible claim. The Scribes would have to remember the countless Old Testament verses that show that the only unquestioned authority to forgive in the universe is God.

Perhaps one of the countless Scriptures brought to mind might be that of Isaiah 45:7. “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” The type of sovereignty that Jesus is claiming is one that has no equal and is comprehensive. When God, through Isaiah, tells exiles in Babylon that he is the God who forgives and saves, he explains that there is not a single power, element or occurrence in this world that is outside of His sovereign will. Between light and darkness, fortune and misfortune, nature and history, there is not one single aspect that is outside of God’s sovereign will. Even King Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon, was simply an instrument in God’s hands. If Israelite exiles in Babylon were to find comfort in the hope of salvation, it could only be that the kings and their so-called gods in this world are all subservient to the ultimate God of all. Who has the power to pardon Israel? Answer: God alone.

When we come to Jesus in repentance of our sin, we come in realization that we have offended our Creator and are rightly under his judgment. We come to the One who has been sinned against and we come claiming no right or passage of our own. We come to the mercy seat of God. We place ourselves at the absolute mercy of God. The eternal judgment passed on us can only be overturned through an absolute act of sovereign power that changes an eternal death sentence into eternal life. If there is one single element outside of God’s control, it becomes a single element of doubt that God can eternally pardon. Praise God there is not. Forgiveness truly is forgiveness and the cross of Christ is the very place where we see the sovereign power of God pouring out eternal judgment so that this forgiveness might flow. In sovereign power only Jesus could withstand a holy justice upon sin and display absolute authority over the grave.

So, when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” he really means that there is no power in any perceivable realm that can overturn your pardon. Unless God is absolutely sovereign, there is no certain hope of eternal forgiveness. But…..God IS Sovereign.

Is Your Testimony A Christian Testimony?

I am encouraged by the strong resurgence of biblical preaching in the Church. I am thankful for going to a seminary (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) that prepared me so well for faithfully preaching the gospel in all of the Scriptures. Preaching is vital to the life of the church. In his directive to Timothy who seems to be a lead elder/pastor in the church of Ephesus, Paul encourages Timothy to devote himself to the duty of reading, exhorting and teaching of Scriptures (1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 4:2). Paul himself went to the church of Corinth with the purpose of preaching (1 Cor. 1:17-21). There are many other verses that uphold the central place of preaching in the body of Christ as a priority of our gatherings and for the building of the church.

While that is the case, we also see in the Scriptures that the use of testimony is a powerful weapon of the gospel as we take Christ to the world. When Jesus healed a demon possessed man, he told this man to return to his home and declare what God had done for him (Lk. 8:39). The Psalmist says, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” (Ps. 66:16). Paul also urges Timothy not to be ashamed about the testimony of Jesus or about Paul’s own personal testimony (2 Tim. 1:8-9). The fact that Paul has a testimony that he shares from a prison cell, is nothing to be ashamed of. It shows the power of God in a man who is not living for this world. Paul’s testimony should embolden Christians to see that this truth that we have is worth the cost and everything in this world is small in comparison. In Hebrews 12 we are told to lay aside sin and endure to the end in following Christ. This whole chapter comes directly after a list of testimony of the lives of saints who have gone before us in doing this. Therefore, chapter 12 starts with the words, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”

Personal testimonies are the recounting of our own personal experiences, but they can also be problematic. Our experiences are not the authority for others to believe in Christ. The Apostle Peter recognized this. Peter had stood as an eye-witness to the transfiguration. Can you imagine seeing Jesus standing before you right next to Moses and Elijah over 1000 years after their death? Peter could have easily used such an amazing experience as the reason people should turn to Christ, but Peter said that his experience was only a manifestation of something more reliable, namely, the Word of God (2 Peter 1:16-21). Peter was a fallible human being and even though his experience was authentic, the only way he could possibly understand that experience with the right interpretation was to understand it in the light of infallible truth. Peter calls it a word more sure. Peter’s experience is not truth itself, but it is understood in light of the truth. Our Christian experiences are not truth in themselves but are the manifestation of gospel truth in our lives. If those experiences don’t match the all sufficient gospel that we read in Scripture, they cannot be categorized as Christian experiences and are not to be used as Christian testimony.

When this is acknowledged, Christian testimonies are useable, edifying, and powerful ways of giving living examples of the effect of God’s grace in someone’s life as a result of his gospel truth. A testimony becomes a Christian testimony when it declares a biblical understanding of God’s holiness, our sin, Christ’s death and resurrection, and the effect on our life through repentance and faith. We don’t all come to know the gospel in the same way. Some have come through an intellectual pursuit or debate, while others have come through friendship and caregiving and other sources and events. We are all different and God has worked the same unchanging gospel of truth in each of us through our varying journeys. When we hear them, it is always testimony of a loving God who is actively at work in saving his sheep through the good news of Jesus alone. Christian testimonies inspire us to evangelize, they encourage us to boldness, and they strengthen our faith. Most of all, they should fill us with adoration of our saving God.

In our church we are about to hear two amazing testimonies in the weeks ahead. This week we hear of a man who was snatched by Christ out of the seemingly unbreakable grasp of Islam. Next week we will hear a young lady who found true relief in the forgiveness of Christ compared to the anxieties of this world. Both will have the same gospel. Both will be to the Glory of God who has a mission to make his name known throughout all the world.

Why Are We Discipling Kids?

Dear Church Family,

This week end, and then in February, our church starts a new phase of our discipleship program. For many years we have had no nursery and no Sunday School for children and no discipleship specifically driven for youth. That doesn’t mean that we have not loved our children and youth but building on a good base of discipleship in our church, we now hope to put some clear biblical instruction specifically catered to help our young ones have an even better grasp on the truths in God’s Word.

As we move our discipleship in this direction, it’s important that we explain both how a move like this does not disrupt the physical family but is actually both better for the church family and for individual physical families in our congregation.

The Family.

God’s Word is clear that God’s people are no longer a family of families situated around the centrality of the temple. While Israel camped in family groups around the temple, the idea of generations of God’s people was the idea of physical descendants. We also find in the Old Testament that while there was a physical seed of Abraham, this did not make you a spiritual seed of Abraham. All through the Scripture we know that God’s true seed are those who come to him by faith. Jeremiah was looking for the day that everyone in God’s family would know him (31:34). In Galatians, Paul shows Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the seed and all those in Christ are Abraham’s seed. All those in Christ are all who truly know God.

The Church is God’s family by regeneration through faith in Christ. The New Testament family of God are only identified as believers. When we think of God’s family in the New Covenant, we must consider it with New Covenant thinking and see it with New Covenant eyes. The Christian family is the church. The word “Christian” is an appropriate adjective only when there is regeneration. Does this make physical families unimportant now? By no means. Throughout the New Testament there is a call for Husbands and Wives to imitate Christ and the church. Parents are to love and not provoke their children to anger. Fathers who cannot keep an orderly household cannot be elders in the church. We should also understand that God has no age limits of who he saves. Little children can legitimately come to faith in Christ, even a simple faith, and be our brothers and sisters.

What does children’s discipleship do? Discipling our younger ones develops a sense of church family that is essential if we are to act as the new covenant people that we are meant to be in Christ. In passages such as Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 5 we are reminded that the church acts like a family as the older encourage and train the younger (in the church family) as they grow in the Lord. The apostles often use the terms of fathers and children, brothers and sisters, in the faith. As we have a dedicated discipleship in our church, we are helping our young ones see that the church is a family. We care about our children and want to see them know and grow in the Lord. Therefore, just like Christian parents desire to train their children in the Lord and specifically apply Scripture (geared to their understanding) to their lives, spiritual parents in the church show that the church is indeed God’s family where children can be trained in him just like this. If our children, especially those in the faith, are not taking part in this, it will be harder for them to understand what Jesus meant when he said that his mother and brother and sisters were those who believe in him. We want our kids to know that when they trust Jesus, the church is actually a family. Under the leadership of the elders, we trust each other to help each other. Even parenting comes under the authority of the church as the elders seek to equip parents in their role. It truly takes a church to disciple a child.

How does this help our physical families? As we grow our church family to care for the discipleship of all people in our family, part of that discipleship is to help parents fulfill their very important God given task in raring their children unto the Lord. Keeping Moms and Dads together in our gatherings under the teaching of God’s Word helps them to be equipped to impart these truths together to their family during the week. Allowing others to serve in a nursery helps tired Moms and Dads to refresh under the word of God. It is an act of love that, let’s face it, Moms really need. It allows us to humble ourselves to be served in a safe environment.

One other thing that we will be doing in our nursery is training our children to advance to church. Our nursery will be from 6mths – 4 years old. Each week in the nursery we will be teaching our children respect and gentleness. We will be having a little worship time with singing and music. We will have some time where a Scriptural truth is read. The teachers in nursery will help our children with disciplines that get them ready for sitting with Mom and Dad in Church when they are able to understand. Our discipleship program for young ones is actually both about developing togetherness in our families and promoting the beauty of the family of Christ. Our rotation system for nursery will also ensure that most ladies will only be serving around once every two months in this capacity so the regularity of being in church is a maintained priority.

During our Sunday School hour, we are holding our Kid’s discipleship from the ages of 4-12 starting in February. This will be teaching from God’s Word applied in a way that can specifically help our kids to grasp the truth of Christ in their lives. We thought long and hard about a curriculum that would most align with the preaching of our church and help our kids see how all of the historical reality of Scripture points to Christ. We have chosen “The Gospel Project” curriculum. Our Sunday School is not during our main service time because we also desire all those who are able to comprehend truth from our main time of teaching and fellowship to be involved. We even want our service to look like a family. Each week our Sunday School teachers are going to ask a simple question about the sermon or worship time from the last week. Over time we believe our kids will learn to be more engaged in our main Church service through Sunday School.

This week end, our nursery begins. We are excited for the training of our little ones to know and love the idea of what Church is. We are excited to serve Moms and Dads as they are refreshed and equipped as parents for the week ahead. If you have little ones between the ages of 6mths – 4 years old, please consider allowing your sisters in Christ (who have all been background checked and well known in character to our leadership) to serve you.

We are a discipling church. We are a family!

Are You Embracing God's Forgiveness?

Why do we do it? Why do we keep our sin to ourselves?

In Romans 4:7-8, Paul quotes a Psalm of David when he writes, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

In chapter four of Paul’s letter, his main point is about justification by faith. One of Paul’s arguments is to quote David. David wrote of his great relief in living in the forgiveness of God. It came from no work of his own. In confession of his sin to God, he found forgiveness in the grace of God. In talking about this, David defines forgiveness as sin being covered and sin not being counted against him. He’s totally aware that he is guilty of sin and talks in a way that he describes God’s forgiveness as blessedness. This means that David is living with a contented joy in his life because forgiveness has removed all concern that sin will be counted against him when he stands before God on his final day. Paul’s point is that if this is something we have to work to achieve, we will never cut it. Forgiveness of sin is something that can only be given as a free gift by the one who has been sinned against.

Forgiveness is something that only the guilty can receive. If a man is wrongly condemned and then it is rectified, we would call that justice. When it comes to the human position before God, if we are to receive justice, our guilt demands the eternal consequences of our sin. John tells us that in the confession of sin that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This actually means that God is faithful to forgive because he has promised to do so for all who come to him in faith. It also means he is just to forgive because the sin has not gone unpunished. Instead of us receiving the eternal consequence of our sin, Christ has borne the punishment in our place and The Father has accepted his substitutionary sacrifice. Forgiveness has to be the greatest possible relief that any of us can possibly experience. Sin has not gone unpunished and we are free from its debt.

In the Psalm that Paul quoted, David also recounts his position when the guilt of sin was continually contributing to his spiraling depression. He says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4). I can imagine that before the prophet Nathan confronted David about his sin with Bathseba and killing Uriah, David was a walking example of the terror of guilt. The best gift David could have received was to be confronted with his sin and to come to repentance finding the forgiveness of God. Guilt is a gift from God, never to be suppressed, but to lead us to a confession of sin.

Having given account of his position prior to confession and repentance of sin, David then gives an account of having confessed his sin and receiving God’s forgiveness. He then describes what God’s forgiveness becomes for him. “Therefore, let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from my trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.” (32:6-7).

So, why do we do it? Why do we keep our sin to ourselves? Why do so many of us harbor sin day in and day out without running to our refuge and deliverance? Why would we resist from confessing our sin to our God who has both ability and desire to forgive? Why would we groan all day long under the fear of his holy wrath rather than being delivered into his preserving love?

Why would any of us not daily confess unto the Lord as we live in the daily reminder of his infinite mercy? Search me Lord, and see if there be any wicked way in me.

Should Christians Be Scared of Demons?

So many things affect the way we think about Satan and demons. Some people think differently according to their views on spiritual warfare and administration of spiritual gifts. If the apostolic gifts are still applicable to Christians today, many believe that this includes the ability to command the demonic forces. Others are swayed by their views of end times and particularly whether Satan is or not hindered in his operation until the return of Christ. Regardless of the issues that divide denominations and doctrines, there are some very simple reasons why anyone with saving faith in Jesus Christ should not be scared of demonic forces.

It is true that angels, whether faithful or fallen, have extraordinary powers and abilities. From the very first chapters of Genesis it seems that Satan had the ability to project speech through a snake in the Garden of Eden. Isaiah tells us that God used an angel to wipe out an entire Assyrian army surrounding Jerusalem in the time of Hezekiah. Daniel talks of men fearing in the presence of an angel they could not see and then it seems that a battle of the spiritual forces caused a three-week delay in an angel coming to give a message to Daniel. In Psalm 103:20 the angels are called mighty ones and in 2 Peter 2:11 Peter tells us that angels are greater in power and might than humans. Angels and demons are simply superior to humans in the categories of power and ability.

The one thing that the bible makes clear is that Christ is superior to all. Angels and demons obey the commands of Christ without question. If we are in Christ, we are not only in a greater power but in the greatest power. This really should be quite enough to settle any fear for any Christian, but there are some other basic facts that Christians can know.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:37-39 that nothing can separate Christians from the love of God. Within the list of things powerless to make such a separation are angels, rulers, powers and anything else in all of creation. Both Jude 6 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6 tell us that fallen angels are restrained (or chained). They are at least limited in what they are able to do. James 2:19 tells us that it is actually the demons who shudder with fear at their coming day of final judgment. Judges 9 and the whole book of Job show us that demons are only able to operate within the framework of the sovereign will of God.

The bottom line is that demons are completely subject to sovereign will of the almighty God and they fear and completely obey the commands of The Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 8:28-34). If this is the case, a Christian only need to remind themselves of one truth. God’s will is for Christians to grow in sanctification as we conform to the image of Christ. His will is for our good and he will never destroy or harm us. Also, in Romans 8:28-31 we read “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

No matter what any human or demon may do to us in this world, God is sovereign and uses all things, never for our ultimate harm, but only for our good. The answer to fearing demons is to trust Christ and give him all your allegiance no matter what. He is good. He cares. He only does good and is doing a work in us to make us like him. No demon can stop it. Nothing can stop his work in us or separate us from our sovereign God.

Why Does Jesus Keep Calling Himself the Son of Man?

There was no denying it. In writing an accurate account of the life of Christ, the gospel writers could not avoid Jesus’ favorite self-reference. He could have simply referred to himself in the first person by using the pronoun, “I.” But Jesus had a more profound statement to make. He often referred to himself in the third person by using the term, “Son of Man.” This reference is used 80 times in the gospels and 30 of them are in Matthew’s gospel alone.

The first time Matthew recounts Jesus’ use of this term is in Matthew 8:20. A Jewish Scribe steps out from the crowd to express a desire to follow Jesus wherever he is about to go. Jesus’ response is to say that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Is it possible that a Scribe, who should have intimate knowledge of this Old Testament term, Son of Man, would see the significance of its use on the lips of Christ? We would hope that he would at least think it through, but Matthew makes no mention of the Scribes reaction. Even the reader of Matthew’s gospel would be a little confused by this designation at its first reference.

As one continues to read the Gospel of Matthew, each use of this self-reference of Christ brings us a little close to the fuller revelation of it’s meaning. We start with a view of the overwhelming humility of the Son of Man who has less of a place to lay his head than birds and foxes. We also find that the Son of Man: has authority to forgive sins (9:6), eats and drinks as one of us (11:19), is Lord of the Sabbath (12:8), will be buried in the earth for three days (16:27), will be raised from the dead (17:9), will be delivered over (19:28), came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (20:28), and will bring final judgment and come in glory (12:40, 24:30).

By the time we get to Matthew’s 30th use of “Son of Man,” Jesus is standing before Caiaphas and the council of Scribes and Elders. The council was looking for a reason to be able to put Jesus to death. Jesus remained silent during their attempt to trap him, but there was a question that Jesus was prepared to answer directly. “But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.” (Matthew 26:63-65).

Jesus referenced himself as the Son of Man by making a direct reference to Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man comes in conquering victory to establish his eternal kingdom and is in authority with God in heaven. The council rightly interpreted this as Jesus placing himself on the same level as God.

The exercise of that authority was not the overthrow of an empire that the council was expecting. Jesus’ victory was to come through humility and suffering. The very same Son of Man explicitly announced to Caiaphas and the council was the Son of Man earlier described to a Scribe as one who has no place to lay his head.

The Scribe in Matthew 8 found no reason to accuse Jesus of blasphemy and tear his clothes at his self-reference to being the Son of Man. There was no thought that Jesus’ statement of humble homelessness had anything to do with a Messiah King coming on the clouds in glory and judgment.

Readers of Matthew get to read the whole gospel and have a bird’s eye view of everything that is associated with Jesus calling himself the Son of Man. We get to see that it is all connected as a progressive revelation of who the coming Son of Man, the Messiah, actually is. When we see it in its fuller perspective, we are able to go back and read Jesus’ conversation with the Scribe at Lake Galilee with wonder. Jesus is the Son of Man from Daniel 7, and he is the all-conquering victor and King of the eternal kingdom sitting at the right hand of the Father in equal authority as God. Yet….the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

The Messiah did not come in arrogance, pomp and pride. He came as a suffering servant and he came not to make a home of this world, but to save people out of it. This is our humble, victorious King. If he can give up a home in this world to conquer death and sin on our behalf, surely we can be willing to give up anything in this world to follow him.

Can God Get Bigger?

Surely it would seem that if God is the unlimited ever-present God, he cannot grow bigger. Why would I ask such a ridiculous question? I ask it because of the words Mary uses after she was told that she would give birth to the Savior. Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Luke 1:46.

In Greek, the word for magnify (megalunō) means to greatly increase or to make large or to expand. In essence, Mary is saying that her soul makes God bigger. While Mary says her soul makes God bigger, the Psalmist says “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:7-12).

There is no place we can go where God is not present. The presence of God is ‘omni’ – all/universal. God himself cannot grow bigger and therefore we must realize that magnifying God is not something we are doing to God. In reality, magnifying God is something that God is doing in us. Mary’s glorious response to the angel’s news is a declaration that her heart has grown bigger in her adoration of God. With this in mind we are invited to walk in Mary’s shoes.

Mary says that her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. This young virgin lived every day in a world ruined by sin. She had seen the violence and hatred of mankind and experienced the constant battle with sin in the human heart. Even as a young girl, Mary understood the reality of the curse. Now imagine getting news delivered in person by an angel of God that she, a virgin, would conceive and give birth to the Savior of the world. God had not forgotten his world, his people, or Mary. This message is not only the greatest message of hope that Mary would receive, but also is confirmed to be a reality in that God would bring hope in such a miraculous way. The reality of the miracle of a virgin’s conception erases all doubt that God will do all according to his promise. There is a God who does not forget us. There is a God who saves. There is a God whom I can call MY Savior and that God is able to do all things.

There is no insufficiency in God that he would need to grow. The limitless scope of his power, presence and knowledge will always be beyond the boundaries of human comprehension. As we glimpse more of his glory in his character and work, the adoration of his majesty grows in us.

This Christmas, we celebrate a virgin giving birth to the Savior of the world. We celebrate something we can only describe as a miracle. To many people, miracles are beyond belief and they reject the reality of the incarnation, and indeed, the Christian gospel. To us who have been illuminated to the truth of Christ, miracles are a source of wonder that point to certain hope for all eternity. Miracles like the virgin birth grow God in our hearts. The virgin birth and incarnation of Christ increases our adoration of God and we cry out with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” In that way, in us, God gets bigger!