Archives For Gospel

It has always been the tradition that weddings are conducted within the context of the church. The reason for this is far more than it simply being a tradition however.

God ordains the institution of marriage. He created marriage and he defines it.

But there is even more significance to the marriage: it serves as a vivid metaphor for the central message of the Christian faith, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It may be difficult without some explanation to understand the gospel simply by coming to a wedding or looking at a marriage. The particulars of the metaphor take some explaining.

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This is probably one of the most common questions I hear from parents wanting to establish Christian disciplines in their kids.

Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate vs just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?

OUR PRACTICE

This is what we do in our home. I am not saying it is for everyone, but we are supportive of it as a practice by conviction and experience. Our children range from 20 months to almost 16. There is quite a variety.

I’ll hit this from two angles, family and personal devotions.

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We like the details when we like the topic.

Consider a newly engaged couple, do you have much trouble getting them to tell you the story about how they met and fell in love? Not likely. Or, how about new parents? Many will gladly recount the details of their birth story for you. How about a little kid who just saw something surprising? I think of my little 5-year-old daughter who recently told me the whole story of how she got a princess dress at Goodwill and how it really is an Elsa dress because of these 5 things… We love details when we love the topic we are describing.

God is no different. He loves details, especially when describing who he loves. He is very thorough, precise and passionate to communicate the intricate beauty and diverse glories of his Son.

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Christians approach evangelism a lot like dieting. We are comfortable doing what we are comfortable with. Occasionally, someone will say something that unsettles us.

In terms of our physical health, we go on a diet, join a gym, or pledge to be more fit. I think of this analogy whenever I see a guy getting abused by a trainer. They look like they are going to die. It’s obvious they won’t continue.

In the spiritual realm, specifically with regard to evangelism, people are convicted after they hear a sermon, read a book, or talk with a Christian friend. They pledge to be more active in evangelism. They grab some tracts, set some witnessing goals, and get set to “do-evangelism.” Then, after a few weeks they fizzle. They slide back into the posture of evangelistic passivity. Like the red-cheeked, exhausted fella at the gym: they are ready to throw in the towel.

But what if faithful evangelism didn’t involve anything extra but simply intentionally doing what you already do? Continue Reading…

“I will become a Christian once I get my life together.”

I have heard this phrase too many times to count while talking to people about Jesus. People believe that they need to clean up to become a Christian.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the thing that qualified someone to become a Christian is their filth. Jesus did not say, “I came to affirm the moral.” Or “I came to congratulate the righteous.” Never! Give Jesus the mic and hear him clearly:

“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Mark 2:17, ESV)

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How do we bring about change?

There is no real debate about the presence of problems in society. One must simply open the newspaper to see the chronicles of brokenness. Each day we read of domestic violence, drug abuse, abortion, corporate greed, gang violence, and terrorism. There is no shortage of problems.

But how do we fix this? The common approach is to work on the symptoms. To do this people spend money, try to change the environment, work on education, and even provide technological advantages. In other words, the common approach to fixing problems is to work on the external. Presumably, we believe that if we can fix the environment around a person then people will thrive.

How does God fix the problems? As the Creator and omniscient One, he has a unique even a privileged perspective. We should hear it. Continue Reading…

In his design of the Christian experience, God has created very simple ways for experiencing his grace. Particularly in the gathered church, we have prayer, Bible reading, preaching, singing, the Lord’s table, baptism, and fellowship. These ordinary activities don’t lend themselves to off-the-chart experiences but rather they are, steady, compounding and shaping. Over time one can look back with some surprise and say, “God has been so gracious, he has changed my life.”

As a result of both the ordinariness and God’s faithfulness, we may slouch into a posture of passivity and presumption. Neither are helpful. Let me explain.

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My mind and heart simultaneously explode when I think about the divine plan, commonly referred to as the covenant of redemption. In this arrangement or agreement we have the Son willingly accepting the assignment of being the Redeemer. In a fictional but devotional series of paragraphs, John Flavel contemplates something of this Trinitarian conversation.

My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice!  Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them:  What shall be done for these souls?

And thus Christ returns.  O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it.  I will rather choose to suffer they wrath than they should suffer it:  upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

But, my son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it:  and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures…yet I am content to undertake it.”  (Flavel, Works Volume 1) p.61

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When I read the news I often feel like I am walking around in a the middle of a power-outage. Things are not arranged the way I thought they were (or at least the way my mind thinks they should be). Let me give you a couple of examples.

In the last few weeks the National Football League (NFL) has been in the headlines for incidents that occurred off the football field. In the first instance, Ray Rice was seen violently abusing his then fiancé. The running back appears to knock her out cold and then calmly drag her out of an elevator. The video goes viral and is accompanied by a loud public outcry. Rice is suspended indefinitely from the NFL and cut from his team. In another story, another running back, Adrian Peterson, is indicted for child abuse. Peterson, allegedly, went far beyond any reasonable forms of discipline and training his child. The images and descriptions of the wounds are graphic and disturbing. The public outcry over Peterson’s case is also loud and it appears, justifiably so.

As Christians we can join in the chorus of opposition. In both cases, Rice and Peterson, we see the breakdown of what God created man to be. Instead of loving, protective, sacrificial, servant leadership that promotes flourishing, there is violence, selfishness, and destructiveness.

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It is a common phrase spoken by Christians and wrestled with by pastors, “I don’t feel connected at church.” The pastoral burden is for all Christians to be thriving in and through the ministry. When we hear something like this we immediately go into “fix-it” mode. Often times we even attempt to construct some structure around the person to help them feel connected.

But what if this didn’t help anyone? What if the problem wasn’t the ministry but the individual? What if the disconnection we feel is actually the consequence of selfishness?*

Catering to selfishness will never cure selfishness, it only fortifies it.

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servantI have been enjoying the reading of one of my favorite Puritans, Richard Sibbes. When you read Sibbes it is like eating that perfect pie–you have to cut some slices and share it. Enjoy!

In Christ we have the greatest and the lowest joined together; exalted God and humbled man. I appreciate how Richard Sibbes brings this out:

[He is] the Lord of all and a servant, and such a servant as should be under a curse, for the Highest of all to come to the deepest abasement. For there was no abasement ever so deep as Christ’s was, in a double regard. 

First, None ever went so low as he, for he suffered the wrath of God, and bore upon him the sins of us all; none ever was so low. 

And then in another respect his abasement was greatest, because he be a curse, to suffer the wrath of God, to be the lowest of all Lord, whither dost thou descend? Here is a wonder in these conjunctions.

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detours demonic

I’m fascinated by summits between leaders. Whether we are talking about Roosevelt and Churchill or Reagan and Gorbachev or a host of other historical moments, I’m intrigued.

But there is perhaps no bigger meeting than what we find in Matthew chapter 4 between Jesus and Satan. Here you have the seed of the woman and the serpent meeting together in that long awaited moment. The head of the true evil empire and the head of the new humanity, the kingdom of grace.

When you look at the temptations you see Satan attempt to get Jesus to take his eye of the ball (this may be an oversimplification). He appeals to his status and his rights as the Son of God. He also offers him what seems to be what Jesus wants: to be King.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”” (Matthew 4:8–9)

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We all know that kids, particularly little kids say surprising and funny things, but sometimes they are refreshingly precise. They can cut through the boundaries erected by the mature.

This was the case last night as I was putting my daughter (4) to bed. We were talking about how I was going to visit a family member. She asked me if this person loved Jesus. I told her that I do not think that she is a Christian. Then I invited her to pray with me for her salvation. She complied. Then she sat up, pushed her curly hair back and said, “You know what, you should also go and tell her about Jesus right away. Prayers are good but you need to tell her about Jesus Daddy.” I told her that she was exactly right and that I would.

Here we are reminded about the simplicity of a child and perhaps some of the things that Jesus would have been aiming at when he reminded us of being like a child. She doesn’t have all of the hangups that we often have about evangelism. She hasn’t been rejected, argued with, or belittled. She doesn’t entertain the quiet, embarrassing doubts about the sufficiency and power of the gospel. She just understands, in her young mind, the need for us as Christians to tell unbelievers about Jesus. And she is exactly right.

I share this story because it was so encouraging to me and I think it would be for you also. Further, it reminds us not to overcomplicate things; it is really that simple: someone has got to open their mouths and talk about Christ. The gospel is powerful. It is sufficient (Rom. 1:16). After all, this is how we ourselves came to faith in the Savior.

“It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” (Hebrews 7:7)

Like a shaken two-liter of soda in the hands of a 5-year-old, the story of Melchizedek is fully charged and overflowing in Christological significance. We learn of the uniqueness and superiority of Christ’s priesthood by means of this somewhat mysterious and obscure type from Salem. It is upon this new priesthood that the new covenant is built. For a guy with only a hand-full of Old Testament verses he sure does get a lot of airtime in the New Testament Scriptures.

shutterstock_94042480There is one phrase that arrests my attention in Hebrews 7 however. It is this statement about the inferior being blessed by the superior. In the case of the narrative we are talking about Genesis 14 where Abraham received a blessing from Melchizedek.

The context of chapters 13 & 14 include a story of Abram and Lot separating because their hired hands could not get along (Gen. 13.13). Abram went toward the land of Canaan and Lot towards Sodom. Following this a war breaks out and Sodom, along with 4 other kings, are defeated by the 4 king coalition from the north. Consequently, Sodom, and Lot with them, were dragged north towards Mesopotamia. When Abram hears about this he gathers his crew and charges after them. In due time he catches them, battles them, and wins. He takes Lot and all of his possessions and turns around to go home. Abram is legit.

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GOD'S CHARACTERHe arose early in the morning. There was no time to waste; after all, God had told him to do something. It was difficult but clear. He had to do it.

Previously God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation (Gen.12.1-3). This after, as Paul eloquently put it, Abraham was as good as dead (Rom. 4.19). The promise would not come through Eliezer, his present heir (Gen. 15.1-4) but his own son. Nearing 100 years of age Isaac is born and the word of the promise is confirmed. However, now, several years later, God tells Abraham to go and sacrifice his son on the mountain.

We know how the story ends. God mercifully stops Abraham and provides the ram. The promise does indeed come through Isaac. God is faithful.

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shutterstock_171636374It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”

When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn’t that great?”

In one sense this is true, God’s love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.

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shutterstock_190858196What does it mean to have faith? I have gotten this question numerous times as a pastor. Faith is a term that is vitally important but often also loosely defined or applied.

People speak of faith as if it is a “leap of faith.” In this way it sounds like an acceptable embracing of something that is irrational. The Bible does not present faith as irrational.

Others speak of faith as simply intellectual ascent. I believe the facts about God much like someone believes the facts about the life of George Washington. While facts are important there is more.

Still others will speak of the way they feel. God makes them happy when they should be sad. Emotion corresponds with faith but is not all that faith is.

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I once heard someone ask RC Sproul a question. “What is the point of creation?” His answer was, “Holiness.” He nuanced it a bit to include “that people would glorify God by means of holiness.” If Sproul is correct (and I think he is) then this is a staggering statement. God is pursuing his glory through the reflection of his own holiness. The obvious problem here is the reality that none of us perfectly reflect this holiness. When we sin we are failing to be holy as he is holy.

When you think about the divine pursuit and the human problem then the Bible’s tone makes a lot of sense. What you basically have is God speaking and acting in order to procure holiness by waking people out of their rebellion.

How does God do this? How does he get people’s attention? How does he get your attention?

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Many years ago I was driving across the country to visit my future wife. As you can imagine I was eager to arrive so I minimized stops and attempted to make the 26-hour drive all at once. Going nearly a full day without sleep and in spite of being fueled on more Mountain Dew than is advisable, I began to nod off. I soon meandered over into the other lane and was startled by an 18-wheeler’s lights and horn! I awoke and swerved back in my lane. That shook me. My pulse went through the roof. I lost my breath. I contemplated what would have happened if I didn’t wake up. I was good for another 5 hours. No problems. After my pulse descended to reasonable levels I remember getting mad at myself. “How could I be so careless?”

The Book of Hebrews often functions like the headlights of an 18-wheeler. With pastoral clarity it provides a number of warnings as well as reassurances. We are told do not neglect so great a salvation then we are told that we have an anchor of hope within the veil. We are warned about the danger of hardening our hearts through unbelief while also being reminded that Jesus has delivered his people from the bondage of death (cf chapters 2, 4, 6, 10, & 12 for warning passages).

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Our filthiness deserves that God should hold it in abhorrence, and that all the angels should spit upon us; but Christ, in order to present us pure and unspotted in presence of the Father, resolved to be spat upon, and to be dishonoured by every kind of reproaches. For this reason, that disgrace which he once endured on earth obtains for us favour in heaven, and at the same time restores in us the image of God, which had been not only stained, but almost obliterated, by the pollutions of sin.

Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, p. 290).

The Disgrace He Endured On Earth