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!

Your Christmas Gift to the Gospel

Looking back over our last year, I can say that Hyde Park Baptist church has been blessed and the Lord has given me much cause for thankfulness in his goodness.

Here are some highlights:

- We have been blessed by going through the book of Matthew and especially the Sermon on the Mount.

- In our topical series we have learned about dealing with matters of conscience and have seen the beauty of the redemptive thread in our series, The Jesus of Genesis.

- We have worked our way through 44 chapters of Isaiah in Sunday School.

- We have discussed various practical topics on Wednesday nights including assurance of salvation, fear of man, and the love of God in our lives.

- Our counseling ministry is growing with two of our own training in biblical counseling. Many of our own fellowship, as well as some others from outside, have seen God’s grace and truth work in their lives work transforming power. We have seen marriages strengthened, anxiety conquered, doubt overcome, and sin defeated. Praise God.

- We have rejoiced in baptism and we have more coming in the beginning of 2019.

- We have seen some beautiful brothers and sisters join us and engage in our family.

- We have reached out to our community through various evangelistic events and have made ourselves more visible (especially on Sunday morning market days).

- We have dramatically increased the involvement of our men and ladies in discipleship and our men have now read a book each month for seven months. Readers are leaders.

- We have seen some change in style and process, but we have not lost love and unity.

- We have preached Christ, pleased Christ, and are becoming more like Christ.

Next year will see more members, baptisms, our nursery and children’s discipleship. God willing, we will also continue to seek further ministry opportunities to reach our family, friends, colleagues and community with the good news.

Brothers and Sisters, our ongoing efforts in gospel ministry need your help and as you consider the end of our financial year as well as our calendar year. Please consider giving some extra Christmas and end of year generosity to our local church. As a small church in a difficult area, our investment in the ministry of our Hyde Park Baptist Family is a ministry of eternal significance for all those who come into contact with us and walk through our doors.

And always remember… “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter, I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” 2 Corinthians 8:9-11

https://hpbaptist.org/give/

The Danger of Naming and Claiming

So often I hear the name of Jesus being used almost in the same way as magicians use abracadabra. The so-called ‘faith healer’ will walk up to a person in front of a crowd of spectators and say the magic words expecting there to be a miracle right in front of our eyes. Without any follow-up results from medical inspection, the crowd is mesmerized as the person throws their cane away. If I sound cynical, it is because in most instances with this kind of thing, I am. I am cynical because Benn Hinn is never found in a hospital until it is his own heart giving away. I am cynical because television hosts are willing to take people’s money and make promises without anyone even being able to check if the promises are fulfilled. The list goes on, but what makes me most cynical is that ‘name it and claim it healers’ are ignoring one of the most important biblical concepts that flavors Scripture. They are missing the absolute sovereignty of God that becomes evident in three little words, “if you will.”

When the leper came to Jesus in Matthew 8, he had no doubt of Jesus’ power. Perhaps, if I am generous, I might also afford the benefit of the doubt to faith healers that they sincerely believe that God’s power is great and that they are a vessel for it. The problem for me, apart from what has already been stated, is that so often it seems that these people place God under obligation. In the use of Jesus’ name, the claim is that you are healed – unless of course your faith is not strong enough. What these people completely overlook is a fact that the leper in front of Jesus, completely understood. Matthew tells us that the leper’s words to Jesus were, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” (8:2). The message we most often get from faith healers is that God can make you clean and if you don’t get healed you have a faith problem. The message we get from the leper who was actually healed, is that God can make you clean if he wills. Authentic healing and cleansing are a result of the will of God.

This tells us two important truths.

1. While God’s power is sometime manifest through human means, the presumption of naming and claiming bypasses the reality of God’s sovereign will.

2. While some people would cringe at a prayer using the words, “if you will,” the reality is that God’s free divine will is the ONLY way prayers are ever answered regardless of the actual answer.

Whether we are talking about healing, getting a new job, or even salvation, we are all lepers reliant on the sovereign will of God. Particularly when it comes to the matter of salvation, there are ongoing debates in the church about the actions of human and divine will. Preaching on this text, Charles Spurgeon made a profound statement. He said, “In the work of salvation, certain preachers are continually insisting upon the freedom of the human will; truly with these I raise no quarrel; but I would have them equally insist upon the freedom of the divine will.” What Spurgeon was noting was that we can say what we like about the freedom of human will, but ultimately the Divine will of the omnipotent God will have its way. He is God and we are not.

No, I am not part of the ‘Word of Faith’ or ‘Name It and Claim It’ movement. I am part of the “If you will” movement. My confidence for cleansing comes not in a human’s ability to harness or receive the power of God. My confidence is in the God who wills. Having confidence in the will of God also allows me to know that my confidence is in the God who knows best and will always do what is right no matter the result. Therefore, “Lord, if you will, you can……”

Why Do We Wear Clothes? (PG)

In America, it’s getting closer to winter and as we approach it, I am already freezing. I definitely have a good reason for wearing clothes right now. It’s cold outside, but what if we lived in the southern hemisphere where you might want to ditch every piece of clothing and jump in some cool water? Weather can’t be the only reason for clothing.

If you know anything about the bible, you are aware that Genesis 3 is the Bible’s first introduction of clothing. It starts with insufficient fig leaves being replaced by animal skins. Clothing in the bible has something to do with covering our shame that is depicted in nakedness. The biblical answer to why we have a need for clothes has something to do with the shame of sin. Ever since Genesis three, for the most part, human beings have worn clothes and it seems to be a matter of conscience to do so. We know there would be something wrong if a person walked through our local shopping mall in their birthday suit. In our country, at least for the time being, they would be arrested. Some people would stare in shock while others might quickly hide their eyes and hustle their kids to a position where they cannot see. Our actions show that we believe there is a shame attached to public nudity.

The bible also talks about our conscience in a way that helps us to understand that as we ignore God, we tend to train our consciences to accept shameful things as good or normal things. In our society there are many people who believe that same sex romantic relationships should be a normal and moral practice in society. Others believe that it is right and good for mothers to abort their babies. Others believe it is right and good to choose your gender on the basis of your feelings. In the same way, some cultures have accepted nudity has a natural part of life and many tribes in the world still live this way. In our western culture some people have set up their own community groups to celebrate their uncovered bodies. Since Genesis 3 we find that our consciences cannot be trusted outside the direction of God’s Word. In his letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.” (1 Timothy 4:2).

For the most part, and particularly where the light of the gospel has had some influence, people wear clothes in an attempt to cover the shame of nakedness. This is something that our first parents realized the moment they became aware of their sin. Adam and Eve had no need to be ashamed of their nakedness because they were created as a couple in marriage union. Even so, when Adam and Eve saw their nakedness with eyes knowing both good and evil, their nakedness was a direct depiction of sin exposed. Instead of all the wonder that seemed to be promised by the serpent, they saw the tragedy of sin and were ashamed.

Bottom line, our sin needs a covering and it needs something better than we can provide. Every time we put on our clothes to go out in public, we should remind ourselves that we have lost the innocence of purity and are no longer in the garden. Our clothes cover our body but that is only a shadow of the truth we really need to understand. We need a covering for sin. We can thank God that right there in the garden in Genesis 3 he steps us toward our answer in the provision of coverings for our first parents.

Why Winning Matters

I always enjoyed watching my kids play sports. If they did something good, we would get that little pump of excitement and joy and cheer them on all the more. Of course, we had to be careful to be encouraging to everyone including the players on the other team. After all, the big statement at children’s sporting events is, “it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun.” I know that this is what all the parents and coaches say, but I also know that sport is a little futile if you are not playing to win. Why can’t we teach our kids to be kind and gracious in both victory and defeat? Why does sportsmanship have to contradict zeal for the win? Can’t we teach discipline and zeal right alongside grace and kindness?

Ultimately, when people don’t play with a win in mind, they play with a half-hearted passion and have less stamina to play through difficulty. Winning is not something that Christians often consider as part of our lives, but we should. Even in our eschatological differences, Christians should agree that victory is necessary for hope and encouragement in our life in this world. The whole book of Revelation is given to a persecuted church. It was written to encourage them to persevere in a difficult world as they look forward to participating in the victory already obtained by Christ. The difference for the Christian is that our victory with Christ has already been made certain in the cross and has sealed the conquest of the future and final day. We live today in victory for final victory.

In Revelation 12 John gives us a picture of a woman who battles with a great dragon as she gives birth to a male child. It is difficult not to recognize this child as Jesus. John writes, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” (Rev 12:5). This is a direct reference to Psalm 2:9 where the Psalmist looks to a Messiah who will defeat the earthly nations of the world and rule with all authority. Jesus was indeed born into a situation of conflict against a dragon who sought to destroy the seed of the woman.

John tells us that this child that was caught up to God’s throne defeated the ancient serpent and deceiver of the world and threw him down. This seems to say that Satan has already suffered his great defeat. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sin and death have been defeated and Christ has ascended to the throne of all rule and authority as the true King over all. We live in this victory, but we are still playing for the final whistle to blow.

Between now and ultimate victory there is no room for apathy. “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.” (Rev. 12:17). We are reminded by this verse that we are still in a real war in this world until Christ blows that final whistle. Without the previous verses showing us Jesus’ comprehensive victory through the cross, we would be discouraged about having to persevere in this world. It may seem to us that all is lost. When we acknowledge victory, it changes our view. We are playing now for a victory already won. Even while our enemy is a prowling lion, our focus on that victory gives us hope and will to persevere. We are playing with ultimate conquest in view. We play with strength, hope, vigor, and boldness. We don’t have to be afraid of the dragon’s tactics because the child has already thrown him down and we await our Captain’s return.

Without that acknowledgement of victory, there is no answer for fear or anxiety or for a desire to live up to the expectations of the Victor. There is no encouragement to persevere through hardship or persecution. But victory for the Christian is indeed a reality in Christ.

Wining matters. So, play hard and persevere in Jesus until he comes.

What Did One Temple Say to the Other Temple?

One day The Temple walked into the temple.

In John 2:13-17 we find the account of Jesus walking into the Jerusalem temple to have a rather lively encounter with the money-changers and those who were profiting by selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus, God incarnate, sees these activities and cleans house with zeal and authority. His actions fulfilled Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

This section of Scripture has caused many people to place all sorts of restrictions about what we can and cannot do in church buildings. Is this action really applicable to modern church buildings and anything sold in a church premises? If John 2:13-17 is all you read, you might be inclined to think so. If you read further, there is more to consider in vs. 18-22.

“So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Jesus brought authoritative judgment into the Jerusalem temple and then claimed that he himself was the temple. This was of course confusing to all who heard it. The Jews were thinking of the physical structure of Herod’s temple being rebuilt in three days and the disciples were clueless onlookers until they witnessed the resurrection.

Essentially Jesus was showing that he himself was the fulfillment of the physical structure and its function. The temple was a place for obtaining right relationship with God through sacrifice. It was a place where Israel would gather for worship. It was a place that depicted God’s dwelling presence with his people and a constant reminder of the need for holiness. The zeal Jesus displayed with the money-changers had everything to do with their contempt for sacrificial atonement, God’s presence, worship, and holiness. When Jesus refers to himself as the temple it has everything to do with sacrificial atonement, God’s presence, worship, and holiness. All of this was fully displayed in Christ through his death and victorious resurrection.

Jesus has replaced the function of the temple. He is the once and for all sacrifice, the presence of God with his people, the only access to worship the Father, and the justifier of repentant sinners. As soon as you read Jesus’ statement about his own body you realize that the people of God no longer worship through a location but a Person. Jesus, The Temple, not the church building, the temple.

When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples believed the Scriptures. Which Scriptures did they believe? One could argue that they believed Scriptures such as Psalm 16:8-11 that talk about the body not seeing corruption and being raised. Perhaps though the disciples realized that the physical temple had become a thing of the past because everything has been achieved by the once and for all Lamb of God. All of the Scriptures about the function of the temple had been completed in three short terrible and glorious days.

What did one Temple say to the other temple? “It is finished.”

Have You Forgotten Who You Look like?

As a kid I remember watching the classic film about Hans Christian Anderson. I enjoyed watching Danny Kaye sing and dance as he told stories to children and I can even remember the tunes today even though it has been years since I last watched it. One of the stories was about the ugly duckling who didn’t realize that it wasn’t so ugly after all. As it grew, the duckling realized that it was no duck at all, but as it looked into the still water found that it was an elegant swan. It was time for that swan to live out what it knows to be true.

Hans Christian Anderson might have been an early preacher of self-esteem doctrine, but there is still some reality to the message that we should not forget who we really are. The Apostle James says it another way to encourage Christians to live authentic lives that are consistent with our calling in Christ. I James 1:23-25 he says, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” If our identity is in Christ, we must not give it lip service. We are to not only hear the Word of God but to do it and show in our active lives that trusting Christ is how we live. James says this is like a reflection. We are to be like people who know who we are in a mirror so that we act that out in public. If we are God’s children, then the reflection of God must be evident in our words and thoughts and deeds.

I love that James uses the idea of reflection in his simile. In Christ, the reflection we see should be a reflection of our very identity. The identity of every Christian is that we are children of God in and through the Son of God. Our Father’s character should be a defining characteristic of who we are and how we act. The problem is that as we think about the consistency of our reflection, we realize that we are fallible human beings who have no possibility of a perfect representation of the pure, perfect, holy God. We just cannot live up to that.

This is why it is so wonderful that Jesus has accomplished all that we cannot and that his accomplishments are actually applied to us through faith. Does the bible tell us that Jesus has accomplished a perfect reflection of the pure, perfect, holy God? Yes, it does. Christ has done it in character, in words, in thought, in will, in action and in every way imaginable. We do not get any sense that Christ deviated even one percent from a perfect image of the Father. This is why the writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is the, “…radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”(1:3).

Jesus has no identity crisis. As the perfect Son of God, he is the very nature of God and his exact representation is in every aspect including the power of God, the work of God, and the majesty of God. He never forgets who he is. He is always our Creator who became our Savior in perfect obedience to the Father. He is the exact imprint of God in every way. God has represented himself to us in His Son.

If you are struggling in reflecting the image of the one true holy God of the universe, take heart. Look to Christ and find both an accomplishment in your place and the perfect example for us to follow. When you look in the mirror and see the scratches and bumps and wrinkles and when you are reminded that you are a desperate sinner, remind yourself that when the Father looks at Christians, he sees through the lens of a perfect reflection of himself. He looks at Christ in our place.

We are ugly ducklings. All of us. But our faith is in the most beautiful Swan and his reflection is always stunning.

The Fellowship of The Light

No, it is not the fellowship of the ring. There are no secret messages that light up when you get closer to Mordor. There are no dwarves and elves to help us on our pursuit in victory over evil.

There is, however, a people who have been saved out of the despair of sin and from the eternal and righteous judgment of God. Those people are one people called the Church. We are a people who have accepted the apostolic witness of Christ and in the enlightenment of the Spirit of God have heard and believed the good news of Jesus. This is the good news that Jesus Christ has given himself for our sin to rescue us from this present evil age. Yes, there is a victory over evil, but it is not or ever will be our doing. It is Christ’s alone on our behalf.

In 1 John 5-7 we read something about this precious fellowship that we have with the apostles as the believing church. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

In the previous verses, John had told us that the apostles witnessed Jesus in a physically experiential way. They had touched Jesus and seen Jesus and heard him speak with their own eyes, ears and hands. John says that in the true revelation of Jesus Christ they have fellowship with the Father and the Son. They have a vertical relationship with God because of their faith in the one and only Messiah. In verses 5-7 we find that our fellowship as believers is directly connected to that of the apostles as we walk in the same truth in faithfulness in our life.

There is one characteristic about our Christian fellowship that we must all accept. It is a fellowship based on light. That light is God himself and in God there is no darkness at all. In the Scriptures it is very apparent that the entire world is in darkness due to the comprehensive power of sin. This darkness has no truth and this darkness has no holiness or hope. If we are those who love the world, we are those who love darkness. If we claim to believe upon the apostolic witness of Jesus, then we must trust that reconciliation with God in Christ brings us out of darkness into the light. We are no longer those who desire to walk in the darkness. We are no longer those who call darkness light.

Walking in the light of Christ and not in the darkness of the world confirms our claim of fellowship with one another. As we do so, we can look forward to the day when Jesus will finally cleanse us entirely of sin and the darkness will be eternally eradicated.

It is a beautiful thing to know that our Savior has already dealt with darkness. It is beautiful to see that our fellowship in Christ means that we don’t do it alone. Together, and in the continuation of the salvation that came to the apostles, we encourage and build each other up to continue to walk in the light and toward the eternal light that will never dim. Together we shine into a dark world.

Eagle's Wings: A Historical Reality

Perhaps you have watched a movie or TV show depicting a man crawling in his last moments through a hot, lifeless desert. As he climbs over one sand dune he sees countless more in front of him and the hopelessness of his situation is clear. He is going to die.

The people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. They were rescued by God as he gave them exodus from slavery through the parting of the red sea and drowning their pursuers. He brought them through a desert wilderness where in any other circumstances they should have perished. Instead of perishing, they were able to move through the desert without their shoes wearing out. God guided them by cloud and fire and provided food for them to collect every day except for the day they could collect double for the Sabbath. After a long and arduous journey, they came before enemies who opposed their very existence. Without God, Israel would never have survived.

If you read the book of Exodus, all of the above information about Israel is presented as an historical event that was echoed for generations as God pronounced his faithfulness to his chosen people. Israel was carried by the Lord through the desert as God took his people out of exile through exodus and into the land of promise. In Exodus 19:4, God’s sovereign deliverance and protection is described using the imagery of an eagle. “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” The imagery of the eagle’s wings is a beautiful explanation of God’s sovereignty and providence in a period of history that would become a picture for God’s people in future times.

In Isaiah 40, God gives a rebellious Judah hope in the midst of his judgment. Isaiah is writing to Judah to give them comfort about God’s faithfulness in the future exile that they are going to experience at the hands of Babylon. As Isaiah brings God’s comfort to exiles, he reminds them that God is the omnipotent Creator of all and that the most powerful of human nations are simply like withering grass. Babylon is no threat to God and Judah should trust that their God will faithfully fulfill the covenant that they could never keep. In verse 31 God uses imagery that this people have heard before in the writings of Moses. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Those who trust God can know that he is a God who will bring them out of exile and sustain them again in a new exodus. The reason that the exiles can take comfort in this is because God is referring to something that he has previously accomplished in history as a real-life example. It is a reference that Judah remembers as an historical foundation of their very identity as God’s people.

In Revelation 12, John gives this image of an eagle once more. This time the book of Revelation is written to a church living in this evil world of persecution and problems and looking for hope awaiting the final consummation. The Apostle John talks of a woman who goes through the wilderness and gives birth to a boy who rules the nations with a rod of iron. This is the same statement we hear from Psalm 2:7-8 that is no doubt a reference to Jesus. Through God’s chosen people the promised child comes, and while the great dragon attempts to slay him, the child is caught up to God and to his throne (Rev 12:5). The woman is then is pursued by the dragon but is given the wings of an eagle to be sustained in the wilderness wandering of this world for an allotted period of time (Rev 12:14).

If we know our history, the imagery in Revelation 12 should give us great hope. We may feel like the persecution and problems in this world are too difficult to bear, but we should always remember that just like God had brought Israel out of Egypt and out of exile in Babylon, he will bring his people out of exile in this evil world and sustain us through the wilderness until he also brings us home. The reality of this imagery gives us hope not because these are beautiful pictures but because of the historical reality they depict. They depict God’s saving grace in choosing and protecting his children. Our exodus from this world comes through the cross of Christ, the Child born of a woman and hunted by the world. In Christ we have a faithful God who is bringing his people all the way home. The historical relevance of God’s saving grace and providence are the eagle’s wings that will carry us into his promise of a new creation. The historical reference of eagle’s wings tells us that when God saves, he faithfully saves to the uttermost.

The Bible: Not Science, but Not Disconnected from It.

As I grew up around the ministry of Answers in Genesis and worked in that ministry for many years, I was certainly impacted by the clear thinking this organization promoted when it comes to the subject of the bible and science. I know other creation apologetics organizations do similar and I am thankful for their contribution in serving God’s Church.

One of the common accusations made against biblical creationists (often known as young earth creationists) is directed toward how they treat the bible. You will hear statements such as, “The bible is not a science textbook.” This claim suggests that biblical creationists misinterpret scriptures by seeing them essentially as a scientific instruction manual rather than God’s revelation of himself. This is quite a distinct misrepresentation of biblical creationists. In all my years around creation apologetics ministries I have not met one biblical creationist who believes that the bible is a scientific instruction manual. What I have found is that biblical creationists (many are also PhD Scientists) believe the first eleven chapters of Genesis are historical narrative revealed by God and written through Moses to give an account of the history of the origins of all created things in the context of the entire history outlined in scripture. This means that the identification of biblical genres (particularly historical narrative), historical recording of genealogies in the Old and New Testaments, the use of biblical language and grammar in interpretation, and the consistency applied through all of scripture, point biblical creationists to a solid stance on a young earth originally created in a period of six normal days (and a day of rest). In short, they come to their position firstly through the historical recordings of the bible and not because they believe it to be a science textbook.

If the history of the bible had no connection to the real world in which we live, then it would be an absurd book. The commitment of our brothers and sisters in biblical creation ministries is one that comes from recognizing that faith is not blind. They believe that the historical narrative serves a very real purpose of telling us about what happened in this real world and in a real past. They believe that the real evidence we all see in this world should corroborate with the historical narrative of creation, fall, flood destruction, and animal and human diversity outlined in the text. The scientific observations they make show real and obvious connection to the historical narrative of the bible without having to incorrectly perceive the bible as a scientific textbook. In this way, the bible is not a science textbook, but the history cannot be, and is not, disconnected from scientific process and discovery. If it was, it would not be a real history. God created a real world and he recorded it in history. He put us in this real world with capacity to experience the physical realities of what he accurately revealed to us in the historical accounts of the bible. We have seen these physical realities in biology, astronomy, geology, anthropology and archeology.

This Sunday we commence a series called The Jesus of Genesis. We will be looking at the themes in scripture that run through the historical accounts that start in Genesis and lead to Jesus. Before we really get into this series, we must acknowledge that the themes of biblical history that run directly to Christ are themes that start, proceed, and finish in a real world with a real historical origin that is not disconnected to our central focus on Jesus who is our real historical Savior.

So yes, I am thankful that Answers in Genesis and other creation apologetics organizations seek to serve the church in showing how the historical account of creation connects to a real physical world in which we live. It might simply be one aspect of highlighting the importance and the authority of the bible, but it’s one that is often overlooked in its helpfulness in seeing both the spiritual and material unity of the biblical message. It helps us in knowing that the biblical themes that run to Jesus are not merely intellectual playgrounds for bible scholars but real historical lines that outline God’s purpose for us in Christ. They start in reality, they proceed in reality and they point to our future reality.