If I Believe this Message

As I sat on the airplane in Tel Aviv, a man came and sat next to me. He was a local man as he did not have a good understanding of the English language, and I could see from his reading material that he was not of the Christian faith. The flight was going from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia, a nearly 13-hour adventure around the world. This may appear to be a fairly normal story, but I humbly admit that it has haunted me for quite some time. Over the past few years I have felt a burden unlike any I have felt before. It eats away at my  thoughts and at the end of every day makes me feel as if I have left something unaccomplished. What I feel is that I have not adequately been sharing the Gospel message with others. Now, you may ask how this burden I feel fits in with the aforementioned story of being on a plane. The man sitting next to me did not have a relationship with Christ. If he never accepted Christ in his life he would be bound for hell. I have a relationship with Christ and therefore house within myself the message of the Gospel. I sat next to this man for 13 uninterrupted hours. I never said a thing.

At some point, all Christians need to have a difficult conversation with themselves. This conversation is difficult because it shakes the very foundation of our beliefs to their core. I find myself wrestling with this question in my life: If I believe this Gospel message, why is it so hard for me to tell others?

I am a Pastor. Each week I preach to a congregation of about 120 people. From a stage, spreading the message of the Gospel is no problem. I am very comfortable being in front of a large group of listeners and sharing the Gospel message. But what about when I am sitting next to someone in a coffee shop? What about when I am on an airplane? In a waiting room? At the gym? Why is it so easy to spread the Gospel from a stage, but not in a one-on-one atmosphere?

The issue I have is that I do not find myself housing the passion of the disciples found in the New Testament. Have you ever given attention to just how passionate those men were about spreading the Gospel? Jesus actually had to tell them to wait on the Holy Spirit before they began spreading the message, because they would have messed it up without the Spirit’s help (Acts 1:4-5). Once they received the Holy Spirit, they went all over the world willingly and loving facing oppression because of the Gospel. No one could shut them up or make them stop! They did not let anything get in their way. Sure, they spoke to crowds. But they also had great success on an individual basis. They fully understood the weight and importance of eternal life in Christ, and wanted the entire world to hear its message. I believe this same message. Yet why do I remain silent?

I think there are two big reasons we humans find ourselves shutting down when spreading the Gospel:

A Fear of Man

Humans care how they are represented in the eyes of other humans. It is as if we do not want to be rejected or appear to be some sort of “holy roller,” so we simply refrain from sharing the Gospel message. We do the same with family. To be sure, some have members of their own family who do not know Christ and are destined for an eternity apart from Him, yet they keep their mouths shut. Our pride gets in our way of our mission and that can have devastating effects.

A Lack of Love
How much do we really love our fellow man? Hopefully we love them enough to tell them of the greatness and grace of Christ so that they have the opportunity for a relationship with Him. How much do you have to dislike someone to know the way to eternal life in Christ and not tell them about it? Not to share the Gospel message withholds a large showcasing of love towards others. We must endeavor to keep in mind the words of Paul in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: First to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (NIV).
I find myself incredibly convicted by these thoughts. If I truly believe this Gospel, and rest assured I very much do, then why I am I keeping it to myself? The lost in need of Christ are not always found in front of the stage on Sunday mornings. They are found in the coffee shops and airplanes and malls. I had to have a difficult conversation with myself, but after doing so I find that I take the urgency of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) more seriously.

The Cycle of Temptation; Genesis 3:1-15

I love movies. I don’t know that I would consider myself a “movie buff,” but I do enjoy films and have seen quite a few in my short life. Of course, films vary. Some are action films, some are dramas, some are comedies, some are scary, etc. Films vary, but they all have one thing in common: Things are good, until they go bad. No matter what is going on in the film, things generally start out good until an event happens in which things turn sour. Take, for example, the movie Gladiator. The main character, Maximus, is enjoying life as a highly decorated Roman General who is slated to be next in line to become Emperor. When the old and dying Emperor’s son, Commodus, finds out that he will not be succeeding his father, he usurps power and has Maximus’ family killed. Maximus must spend the rest of the film avenging the tragic loss of his family. Or take for example the movie The Fugitive. Notable Cardiovascular surgeon Richard Kimble is enjoying his successful career as well as his loving marriage to his wife, Helen. When Helen is murdered, Richard is wrongly accused and convicted of killing his wife. He must spend the rest of the film proving his innocence. We could go on and on.

The simple fact is this: The “Things are good until they go bad” motif is exactly what happened in creation in a very literal and real sense. When God created the universe and humanity in six days, he saw that everything He created was good. In fact, after nearly every creation account in Genesis 1 God says that what was created “was good.” When everything had been created, and just before He rested, God saw that everything was “very good.” Things, actually, were perfect in the world. We really cannot imagine what that must have been like, because we (nor anyone else) has ever experienced perfection, but it was true. When God created the world and everything in it, it was His intention for things to be perfect. Nothing would experience death. Nothing would experience fatigue or disease. It was a paradise that God meant to enjoy with those whom He created in His image. But we humans messed it up. Things were good, until they went bad. I have been preaching in a series called, “Back to Bible Basics” in which I am teaching through four basic, foundational, biblical truths of which all must have good understanding. Last week I talked about creation, and about how God has created everything in the universe, including humans.  Today, I looked at the second Bible Basic of the series: We live in a fallen world and humanity is sinful.

Please understand: I do not say this to bum everyone out. That is not at all my intention. But we have to know the truth, and the truth is that we do not live in perfection. We are certainly not perfect beings. We are sinful, and sin comes at a price. What we are going to look at in this post is the classic setup for our lives when faced with temptation. Everyone has faced temptation in their lives, and if you think back to those times, you will see that it almost always goes exactly the same way every time. We are going to look at this situation, which is the bad news, and then we will look to the Good News.

Consider Genesis chapter 3. The book of Genesis is an interesting one, to be sure. No one is quite sure who wrote the book, but most scholars seem to think its authorship belongs to Moses. And in Genesis 1 and 2, we have the account of God’s creation of the universe and of the first humans, Adam and Eve. As I said, at this point, things are good. There is no sin, there is no death, there is no sickness. As a matter of fact, there were next to no rules. But there was one. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat from any tree or plant in the garden, except the one that was in the middle of the garden which was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It wasn’t as if they were being deprived of food. The Garden of Eden was huge. Hundreds of trees and plants to eat from. Plenty of water to drink. They would have had no shortage of substance. Enter, the snake.

Satan had entered the world in the form of a snake, and had wrapped himself around the tree in order that he might tempt Adam and Eve into eating from it. This is where we pick up in Genesis 3 starting in verse 1 and following. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” What we are seeing in this instance in the Set up. Generally speaking, we always know what is right and what is wrong. We know what we should do, and then that implies what we should not do. For example, if you are on the internet alone you generally know what you should do and not do. There are usually clear-cut derivatives. The unfortunate thing is that Satan will prey on the wrong choice and then twist the truth to make it seem alright to you. He doesn’t come at you with what you don’t know, he comes at you with what you do know, and then twists it into a lie. This is why he is so dangerous, and why we are in so much danger when he attacks. This is exactly what happens with Adam and Eve in this instance. They know God’s directions. They know they are not supposed to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, and they know the consequences. Yet Satan came along and twisted the directions of God so that the two humans began to question what they knew. The set up. Let’s continue on. 

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to they eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Next we have The Fall. The unfortunate follow-up to the set-up. Sometimes, though we know the truth, Satan’s lies coax us into doing what we know is wrong. Why do we do this? It is all found in our desires. Look at verse 6. It wasn’t enough that the fruit from the tree looked good enough to eat, but because of Satan’s lie they thought they could gain the same wisdom as God. They put their desires above a command of God, and because of that they fell into sin. James chapter 1 says, “But each person is tempted, when they are lured away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Our desires get us into trouble. And when we make our desires first in our lives and push God’s commands to the side, trouble always follows. This is exactly what we see in Genesis 3. Let’s read on.

 “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” Next we have The Conviction. After the set up and fall phases, there is always conviction. In other words, we have the “What have I done?” moment. You know this is true. I knew this to be true when I was eight years old. I had just gotten a new bike and my mom had just gotten a new car. I’ll never forget it. It was a four-door electric blue Audi with white interior. Because this was a big purchase and I was eight years old with a bike, I was expressly forbidden to ride anywhere near the car. So one day I was riding around the car. Upon nearly making it past the vehicle, I tripped with my bike and ran the break handle down the drivers-side door. It was upon getting back up off the ground and looking at the door that I had my moment of conviction. I knew what was right and what was wrong, and I knew the consequences. Yet I did it anyway. This is the way we humans are. But through all of this bad news, I want you to notice something incredibly good from this last passage. Even though we willingly sinned; even though we chose what we wanted above what God commanded, He came looking for us anyway. And that is where we get to the final stage of today, The Rescue. Let us keep reading: “So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

God could have very easily written us off when we sinned against Him. He could have said, You know what? I’m done. They made their choice, so I am making mine. They are on their own. But He didn’t. He came looking for us when we messed up. He came and sought us out, informing us of what we did wrong because He is not a pushover, but then He did two very important things: 1) He sealed Satan’s fate. From that point onward, Satan’s days were numbered. God is more powerful than Satan ever could be, and therefore doomed Satan from the beginning. He has already lost the war. Do not let the defeated Satan distracted you from the God who holds the victory. 2) God began His great plan of reconciliation. Look at the end of verse 15. The “He” in this instance, is Jesus. He crushed the head of Satan with His sacrifice on the cross, but it didn’t come without pain. This is why the one who crushes Satan’s head will have His heel bruised. The point is this: We are sinners who live in a fallen world, but we are sinners who God loved enough to send His Son to die for.

Romans 8:28-30

One would be hard-pressed to find another portion of Scripture more controversial and deeply theological than that of Romans chapter 8. Within its 39 verses are the discussed topics of having life through the Spirit, the present suffering and future glory of those who are in Christ, and the act of those in Christ being “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). One would have little difficulty in writing a single book on any group of verses within this chapter, for the theological insight to be gained and discussed runs quite deep. For the purpose of this commentary, only three verses of the chapter will be discussed. It is within these verses that the majority of controversy is developed. These chapters discuss both the unending love of God, and the sanctification of the believer. The concepts of “predestination” and “election” stem from these verses, and have been a source of confusion for readers for millennia. It is a sincere hope that, through this commentary, some possible light might be shed on these few amazing portions of Scripture.

 

  1. 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

 

This is probably one of the most recognized (and memorized) portions of Scripture. To that end, it is also one of the most assuring and confusing. Paul seems to be bringing to conclusion a thought that surfaces back in verse 27, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Essentially he is explaining that the Spirit is always petitioning for us on our behalf. We may stumble in our words and thoughts, but the Spirit is the one who forms the foundations of our prayers and, as Grant Osborne puts it, “petitions for us” (Osborne, 218). The point to be made is this: The Spirit prays in keeping with the will of God, which is how we know that God’s will is going to be fulfilled (Osborne, 219).

With this in mind, we venture into the continuation/conclusion of these thoughts in verse 28. Paul begins with the phrase “And we know…,” a statement used several times prior to this verse. In stating this, Paul is insinuating that the following proclamation should be common knowledge to all those in the early church. This was not only something that was regularly being taught in the early church, but was something which all believers should have been understanding and experiencing on a daily basis. When we struggle to pray or are afraid we will be praying with the wrong motives, the Spirit, who fully understands the will of God, is there to intercede for us. God acts on prayer because He hears both us and the Spirit, so His will ultimately works for the good of all.

The question in this passage is centered around the driving force behind the action of turning all things out for the good of those who love God. Some biblical translations (like the NIV) state “God works for the good of those who love him,” while others (like the ESV, KJV or NKJV) simply translate, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God.” It is not easy to establish a definitive answer to this question. Scholars like Osborne seem to think that placing “God” as the driving force is more accurate. Osborne states, “An intercessor does not normally provide a response, and it is better to see God as answering the petition of the Spirit” (Osborne, 219). While the Spirit speaks to God on our behalf, it is not the Spirit from which the response of the prayer comes; it is God.

Notice the specifics in this verse as it is noted that God works, “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This raises a few questions: Is this a limiting statement? Do all things work for the good of Christians only when they love God? Is this an encouraging statement? Do all Christians naturally love God and are called by Him to do His works? One could make a solid case for either of these thoughts, however it is more likely that this is a natural response. Because Paul began this section with the phrase, “And we know,” it is likely that everything after that statement would have been common knowledge. Both the early Christians and Christians today understand that when one has had an experience with God, they cannot help but naturally love the heavenly Father as they would an earthly father. It is likely that they also understand God’s calling of His children to fulfill portions of His will. Those who hold to Calvinistic scholarship would more than likely limit God’s calling to those whom He had predestined to be called. However, it seems as though Paul’s intention for this verse is to both remind the Roman Christians of what they already know to be true, and to encourage them that, with the help of the interceding Spirit, all things work together for the good of those who love God, and God calls everyone who is willing to a certain purpose in His plan.

 

  1. 29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”

 

Verse 29 seemingly brings with it an explanation of the items discussed in the aforementioned verse 28. Paul seems to give reason as to how all things work together for the good of those who love God (Osborne, 220). Scholars note that there are five items mentioned by Paul which give reason as to why all things work together for good, these items are known as the “Golden Chain” (Osborne, 221). Not only do these items give the reason as to why everything works for the good of those who love God but, according to Douglass Moo, they give the purpose for why God chooses to work in our lives (Moo, 531).

The first item revolves around the verse, “For those God foreknew he also predestined.” This verse states that God not only knows His people, but it implies that He knew them beforehand. This could be Paul referencing God’s omniscience, that is, His all-knowing nature, however this is more than likely linked to elements of eternal election. As previously stated, Romans chapter 8 is subject to much discussion and controversy. This is due to its discussion of predestination and election. This particular verse is common law among the Calvinist/Arminian arguments. Many of those who hold to Calvinist scholarship, such as John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, hold that “predestined” and “foreknew” are not mutually exclusive terms. In their comments on this passage these scholars state, “God determined beforehand the believers’ destiny, namely, conformity to the image of Jesus Christ” (Walvoord and Zuck, 474-475). While they make a compelling case and certainly can give evidence to support their thesis, it would appear they are somewhat missing the mark. Their holding of the equivalency between “foreknew” and “predestined” cannot be said of the other five items listed within this “golden chain.” As a matter of fact, as Osborn points out, even “predestined” and “called” are in different stages (Osborne, 221). If none of the five are equivalent, then why would the first two be the only ones linked together? On another note, Paul is seemingly speaking directly to believers in this instance, but that does not mean that God had pre-determined their decisions for them. If God were to pre-determine who went to Heaven and who did not, this would call into question His goodness and would make the understanding of grace nearly null and void. It makes much more sense to look at the phrase “foreknew” in this way: God knew beforehand who would make a decision to follow Him. To view this as God knowing who would respond in faith to His call of a personal relationship makes sense not only concerning the goodness of God, but also His sovereignty. Think back to the time of Adam and Eve. They were tempted to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and gave in to that temptation thus transferring God’s perfect world into a fallen one. If God had already predestined those who would enter Heaven and those who would not, this detail would be insignificant in regard to our need of a Savior. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross was such that all our past and future sins were washed away, and the “wall” which was built between humans and God was torn down. Because of the cross, intimate fellowship with God has been restored, and now all humans have the opportunity to be united in relationship with Him again. The defeat of sin’s hold on his people showcased God’s sovereignty. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and this was seen in his defeat of death and his breaking us free from the bondage of sin. Humans have but two choices in this life that are of vital importance: The choosing to accept Christ as their Savior, or the choice not to accept Him. What God foreknew and predestined was this: There would be some that would accept His outstretched hand and there would be some that would not, but God does not make this decision for someone.

When speaking about being the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters,” notice that the pronoun “he” is used. Who could be the “he” to which Paul is referring? Directly, this is talking about Jesus. When one accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior, they not only can count on the new and close relationship with Him, but can also count on being grafted into the family of God. Romans 8:17 states, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” For one to be a “co-heir” implies that we will receive an inheritance, if we are to receive an inheritance it would imply that we are a member of a family. To be a “co-heir with Christ” would imply that we receive an inheritance and are members of the family of God. Paul, here, speaks of this family, but speaks of Christ as the head of this family. The Son of God, Jesus, will be the firstborn among those whom receive Christ and are brought into the family of God. Walvoord and Zuck put it this way, “The resurrected Jesus Christ will become the Head of a new race of humanity purified from all contact with sin and prepared to live eternally in His presence” (Walvoord and Zuck, 474).

When believers are eventually grafted into the family of God, a transformation into the image of Christ’s likeness takes place. Scholars argue, however, as to whether Paul is describing this transformation as one’s spiritual growth throughout their time on earth, or a final transformation at the end of one’s life when standing before God (Osborne, 222). While scholars can make a case for either end of this debate, it is more than likely true that both arguments combined formulate the correct answer. When one comes into a relationship with Christ, the repentance of past sins takes place. In other words, they change the direction of their life. They were going down their own path of self-righteousness and deceit, but now are walking down the path towards living as close to Christlikeness as possible. There is certainly a transformation that takes place as one grows in Christ and walks daily with Him, however this is not the final outcome. Even if one repents of their past sinful nature and lives as closely to Christ as possible, the act of sinning still occurs. One cannot be transformed into the likeness of Christ while they are still actively sinning. The transformation process, if both arguments are combined, works thusly: One comes into a relationship with Christ and walks as closely to Him as possible, being transformed by the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2) in the process. Then when one who has remained faithful to Christ passes on and arrives in Heaven, they are fully transformed into the sinless image of Christ.

 

v.30, “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.”

 

            Continuing in the discussion of predestination, Paul points out that those whom God predestined, He also called. From the aforementioned arguments, we know that God has predestined that some will accept His call of a relationship, and some will not. With this in mind, the case moves from predestination to calling. Is this calling predestined, or is the calling based on the decision of a believer? It makes more sense that the calling refers to the choice of a human to follow that calling. God’s call to salvation is available to all. His hand is always outstretched, ready to grasp the sinful palm of anyone who would repent and turn to Him. This calling, however, is resistible. While God always has His hand outstretched, humans have the option to turn their backs to it. Grant Osborne puts it this way, “God calls us to salvation, but we must respond” (Osborne, 223).

Next, comes the topic of justification. If one were to look up this term in a Bible dictionary, one would find that this word refers to, “that judicial act of God by which, on the basis of the meritorious work of Christ, imputed to the sinner and received through faith, God declares the sinner absolved from sin” (Douglass, 58). If one were writing down possibilities for themes in the book of Romans, “justification” would certainly be on the top of the list. At a quick glance, the concept of “justification” or being “justified” is mentioned fifteen times within Romans sixteen chapters (Strong, 578). Paul seems to focus solely on justification from the point of view of God, only making reference to the human side of things in stating “though faith” (Romans 5:1). While it is of the upmost importance to understand justification from the standpoint of God, this does not mean that humans are off the hook when it comes to this concept. We have all been justified through the grace of Jesus Christ displayed at the cross, but it is up to humans to respond to that justification out of faith.

What of being “glorified?” Walvoord and Zuck note that this action from God is in the past tense (Walvoord and Zuck, 474). What is the purpose of stating this in the past tense? Has God already glorified those who have acknowledged His justification and have responded willingly to His calling?  Perhaps this displays God’s confidence that the glorification of every believer is a certainty (Walvoord and Zuck, 474). At the end of the life of a human, we will be fully transformed into the image of Jesus. Previously, it was remarked that being “co-heirs” with Christ implied the receiving of an inheritance. What would be inherited? The item to be inherited is glory. Jesus received His ultimate glory by rising from the grave, thus defeating sin and death. Now that He sits at the right hand of the Father awaiting the moment to return, those who have accepted Him as their Savior and have spent their lives trying to live as closely to His Word as possible wait anxiously to share in the glory He received, and be transformed into His perfect image.

 

Sources

 

All Bible verses were read and studied from a New International Version translation of the Scriptures.

 

Douglass, J.D., and Merrill Chapin Tenney. The New International Dictionary of the Bible: Pictorial Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997. Print.

 

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996. Print.

 

Osborne, Grant R. Romans (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.) IVP Academic, 2010. Print.

 

Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: With Main Concordance, Appendix to the Main Concordance, Topical Index to the Bible, Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, Dictionary of the Greek New Testament. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996. Print.

 

Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, and Imprint of Cook Communications Ministries, 2004. Print.

Reckless Love; Romans 8:31-39

On October 27th, 2017 the Christian world caught on fire. This fire was two-fold: There were those who were on fire having been inspired by the event, and those who were staunchly opposed to it. What event could have caused such a bipolar response? Cory Asbury, a worship leader from Bethel church in Redding, California released a song entitled Reckless Love.  The song was (and is) so popular that it quickly gained national and theological attention.

As I said, this song was viewed in both a positive and negative light. For the sake of the argument, allow me to begin with the stance of those who were in opposition. The core of their argument is found in the song’s title. No one, when speaking about the character of God, wanted to use the term “reckless.” This denoted a sense of carelessness that would imply an imperfection in the heart of our perfect God. Did they have a legitimate argument? Sure. Did they take the argument and stretch it far beyond the boundaries of where it should have gone? Without a doubt.

The song is not at all stating that God’s love is careless, but rather that God’s love for us is an out of control force that we undeserving humans simply cannot fully understand. Let me clarify: When I describe God’s love as being “out of control,” I mean that it knows no bounds. God will go to the ends of the earth to search us out when we stray, and he, like the Father in Jesus’ parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), runs to us and grasps us in His loving embrace as we walk the path back to where He wants us to be.

To those who look at the love of God and think it makes no sense, you’re right. Why would God love a people who so often disappoint and disobey Him? It doesn’t make sense to us because we only view His love by human, worldly, standards. One of the saddest realities of a fallen world is that the love found in the hearts of humans, a love that hurts and forgets, is attributed to the One who is Love. The human concept of love cannot be attributed to God because we are imperfect. Even someone who is good at loving will be flawed in their attempts because they are in the flesh and the flesh is weak. So how can God love us in a way we cannot even fathom? Because He is our Creator and, more than that, is our Father. Often times we do not view God as our Father, but that is exactly what He is. He loves His children, His creation, so much that He stops at nothing to find us and show us His love and faithfulness.  I turn your attention to the cross.

Paul understood that those in the Roman church struggled with understanding the love of God just as we do in the modern day. He states it best in Romans 8:31-39:

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV).

His love is indeed reckless, is it not? God wants us to know that not only does He love us, but that nothing can ever separate us from that love. There is an assurance in this passage of Scripture that I do not want you to miss. Once you have connected with God through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ, the assurance is two-fold: God loves you no matter how many bad things are happening inside you, and no matter how many bad things are happening outside you.

First, the bad things that happen inside you. We humans do and think some pretty awful things. I want to tell you something I heard a Pastor say recently, and it holds true for humans at all stages of life: There are things in your heart, that you don’t know about yet. And when they come up you are going to be so disappointed in yourself and think, I can’t believe I said or thought that. There is no way God could love me. Yet the Bible tells us that He loves us anyway.

Second, God loves you no matter how many bad things are going on outside you. Sometimes life’s circumstances are all too overwhelming and we think, Look how bad things are. God doesn’t love me. No matter how bad things are on the inside and no matter how bad things are on the outside, God loves us endlessly. We see things happen internally and externally and think, I’m a mess both inside and out, there can’t be a loving God. But Paul, in this Romans passage says, Oh yes there can be.

“Reckless” is not an inappropriate term for God’s love. In fact I think it is as close as we humans may get to describing the awesomeness of it.

Community Involvement

I couldn’t believe my ears. I leaned in with my hand cupped to my left ear as I beckoned the storyteller to repeat herself. My friend was telling me a story that her Pastor had told from the pulpit the previous Sunday. This story was personal for the Pastor as it involved his engagement with a member of his congregation, which makes what I am about to disclose all the more severe. Apparently the Pastor, an introverted man, was approached by an elderly member of his congregation with the invitation to come to her house for lemonade and conversation. It appeared from his telling of the story that this was all the elderly lady wanted in the world: Some communication with her Pastor. The man then told his congregation that he did not have time to sit and have lemonade with sweet old ladies (he was using a joking tone, but somehow maintained a certain level of seriousness). He then ended his story by stating that his job was to preach.

My heart sank and my brain hurt as I felt the uneasy truth of the situation come over me: This man is a pulpit preacher and nothing more. From his story it seemed that he did not feel it necessary to engage himself into the community in which he served. He simply wanted to teach. This is all well and good, but it cannot (and is not) the only thing one does when called into the Ministry. The act of shepherding a flock means you have to walk around and check on the sheep from time to time. Preachers must get themselves into their communities, which brings about a whole new set of integrity issues.

Why is it necessary for ministry to be conducted in the community? Joe E. Trull and R. Robert Creech state that, “The people of God have always had a role to play as “aliens and exiles” in the world who, rather than being separated from their context, are called to make a difference in it” (Trull and Creech 128). If we are following Christ, then we have a two-fold mission to play. First, we are to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). Second, we are to do so while being “in the world, but not of it” (John 17). The Bible is full of examples of sharing the Gospel within the community. Paul did so every time he entered a new area. He did not simply share the Gospel in the Synagogue and move on. He spent large amounts of time in the areas to which he was ministering so that he would be able to establish himself in the community and therefore get to know how He could best reach the people in that area. We are to model the same mindset in the modern day.

As previously stated, ministering out in the community brings with it a whole new set of integrity practices. Trull and Creech note that, no matter what role the Pastor assumes outside the walls of the church, “…the Pastor’s effectiveness in that role will depend on the degree to which the community perceives the Pastor as a person of integrity” (Trull and Creech 133). One can only be effective in community ministry when they are known to be truly moral by the community. For example, I recently heard of a Pastor leaving a local church because his lack of integrity began to show through. He did not actively engage himself in the life of the community while he was in his position, and by the time he decided to do so it was discovered that he had misused church funds for his own personal gain. He was certainly not trusted or seen as integral by the community after that point.

It should also be noted that how the community perceives the Pastor will affect church attendance. People are not going to want to be taught by, or attend a church Pastored by, someone who lacks moral values. It simply does not work that way, and to live in such a way would jeopardize the view of the Body of Christ as a whole.

When I was hired by my current congregation, the church board stipulated that I get out and get involved in the community as often as I could. If I am being honest, this made me a little nervous. I had no idea what I could do that could benefit both the community and the church. I love sports but did not play enough to coach. I love food but am not skilled enough to cook. I do, however, play music. One day an opportunity arose for me to begin teaching guitar, bass and drums in an after school program. Still a little nervous, I walked into my first day with the hopes to make some good memories and encourage some students for Christ. I am very happy to say that, because of God’s goodness and grace, I will be beginning my second year with the program in just a few weeks and will continue to teach music and spread the love of Christ in my community. We have even had some kids from the program attend our worship services.

Over the past year, I have gotten to see first-hand the importance of sharing the Gospel in the community. Ministry is certainly done in the church, but the church itself is not limited to four walls and a steeple. The church is the Body of Christ who is to set out into the world to be His witnesses. This means that we, as Pastors, have to live more ethically than ever. However in the end it is all worth it to get to know that the Word has been made flesh in the lives of Christ’s followers.

 

Ethical Reflection

 

When I look into the mirror, the reflection has changed a bit. On an obvious level, I see myself as I am. I take note of the way in which I look and notice that the reflection I see now is not the same as the one I saw when I was eighteen. My hair is darker. My eyebrows house the shadows of a few grey hairs. My eyes are still blue. On another level I see myself as I was. A shy, anxious teenager who wanted nothing but to disappear from the world around him. This is not to say anything drastic was in my head back then, but I would be lying if I said I had not wished to be in a place where nobody knew me. If you want to know why this was the case, you’re not alone; I would like to know myself. No one knows why they want to be shut-off from the world, they just hope to figure it out in their moment of isolation. It’s ironic that the time in which we want answers is when there is no one around to answer them. In any event, as I look in the mirror the reflection has changed.

There seems to be another face in the mirror. It is not one I am unfamiliar with as it is certainly my face, but it is nonetheless different. It is as if I am seeing me, but in a way I have not yet experienced. So what has changed-the reflection itself, or the way in which one sees the reflection? I happen to think it is the latter. As a matter of fact, I believe this is how the power of Jesus transforms the lives of those who seek to follow Him. We realize we are sinners who have a past that resembles the ‘No Man’s Land’ of the Somme, and this mars the reflection. But the beauty is that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross cleared the fog and made a way for all humans to have a clear channel back to a relationship with God. Those who have a relationship with Christ are new creations with a new identity in the risen Savior. The reflection is the same, but the person behind the reflection is most certainly not.

With these things in mind, I ventured into ministry. I had no idea what I was doing, and I certainly did not think I would be able to do the things in which I am currently engaged. I serve as the Associate Pastor at Highland Christian Church in Maysville, Kentucky. God has blessed my wife and I with an incredible place to serve, and we are walking daily with the Lord so as to shepherd the flock to the best of our ability. I did not think the reflection I saw in the mirror would ever show the reflection of a Pastor, but that, I suppose, is one of the beauties of grace. With all that being said, upon surrendering to the call of ministry I was quickly thrust into one of the most essential (yet untold) areas of serving a congregation: Complete and unwavering ethical behavior.

Some will read that last sentence and think me conspicuous. Of course being in ministry calls for complete ethical behavior! Who else lives as ethically as a Pastor? Not an unfair sentiment by any means. However, one might be surprised to know how understated the notion of ethics is to ministry. I suppose it’s the biggest assumption in the world: All those in ministry, old or young, rich or poor, Senior or Youth Pastor, are naturally ethical. Not so. All those in ministry are naturally sinful and are just as much in need of an ethics lesson as anyone.

Joe E. Trull and R. Robert Creech hold that the foundation of ethics, not only for those in ministry but for all Christians everywhere, stems from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). They state, “Scholars agree that this monumental message [Sermon on the Mount] contains the essence of Christ’s ethic. Jesus emphasized again and again that character precedes conduct and that morality is a matter of the heart” (Trull and Creech 30). The fact that morality is a matter of the heart should tell you why so many struggle with this issue. The human heart is like a storm-metaphorically beautiful but can cause lots of destruction. The attitude and desire of the human heart is what caused man to fall in the book of Genesis. So then why is morality a matter of the heart? Following Jesus Christ is a matter of the heart. When we surrender to His awesome love and grace, we are saying that it is no longer the attitude of our hearts that matter, but rather what stems from the heart of Christ. The bottom line is this: Christian morality is rooted in the heart of Jesus. Every ethical decision made by ministers and lay-people alike, needs to be viewed through the lens of Christ.

The reflection in the mirror is different. I no longer stair into the eyes of the anxious young man of my past, but rather look into the eyes of one who is a new creation in Christ. This new man is doing his best to live for Christ and lead others to Him, pausing along the way to ponder how best to show Christ’s ethics in his own life. Is he perfect? Not by a long shot. Does he serve a Savior who is? You bet. If following Christ means sharing in His ethical views which stem from the heart, then nothing will stop this young man from striving to live and serve in as ethical a manner as possible.

 

Source:

 

Trull, J.E. and R. Creech. Ethics for Christian Ministry. Baker Academic, 2017.

Our Part in the Mission; Acts 14

I would like for you to pause for a moment and think about something. This is not a difficult question, but it can result in a difficult feeling of inadequacy. This question is not intended to make anyone feel badly about themselves, but is rather geared towards opening one’s eyes. Here it is: What part are you playing in the mission of Christ?

Oh good, you’re still reading. Normally when people  are faced with the question of where they stand in the mission of Christ, they shy away or change the subject. I know this from experience, for I am one of these people. Over the past several weeks I have felt unwavering conviction from the Lord. It has been enough to keep me awake some nights and cause me to slip into trances during the day. The conviction I feel has everything to do with the fact that I have been lazy in reaching people for Christ. Let me be clear, I do not feel that God has called me “lazy,” however I do feel that I have not been as engaged in His mission as I need to be. I have been thinking back on all the times God has opened a door for me to share His Good News, but I stepped around it like a hole in the ground. What if that was my only shot with that person? What damage could I have caused? When a person’s eternity is a stake and we (who are in Christ) house within ourselves the information which can lead a person to Christ and eternal life, yet we do nothing, it is as if we are sitting in a rowboat paddling away from a sinking ship. We are not helping the problem of the lost, we are in fact prolonging it.

Jesus commanded His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (NIV).  This is our mission, and the mission of the church. Dr. Keith Keeran put it this way, “When Jesus returns again, when the blue of the sky is split, when the clouds roll back like a scroll and you hear the trumpet of God sound, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father…the mission of the church is to make people into believers before that day comes.” We must be active in this mission, my friends. The eternity of our unbelieving friends, family members and fellow humans is a stake.

Unfortunate and hurtful as it is, I feel that most Christians share my attitude when it comes to proclaiming Christ to others. They might hold one, or all, of these mindsets: Someone else will share Christ. It’s too dangerous out there for me to go spread the Good News. People will think differently of me if I do this. I could go on and on. Friends, let me share something with you that the Lord recently brought to my attention. It is what sparked my realization of how little effort I have been giving towards the cause of Christ.

David Platt, a Pastor in Washington, D.C., recently preached a sermon entitled “The Idolatry of Comfort and the Glory of Christ.” In this sermon he tells the story of a recent lunch he attended with a professor from a prominent Christian University. The professor proceeded to tell David that the trustees of the university had forbidden (used that language) professors from taking students on mission trips to muslim nations. Stunned, David Platt turned to the professor and stated, “Do they not want the students obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28)?” The professor responded, “The trustees aren’t the biggest barrier, it’s the parents of the students. There is too much risk involved. Even if the trustees allowed students to go on mission trips to muslim countries, the parents wouldn’t. The parents won’t go, and they certainly aren’t letting their kids go.” As Platt finished this story, he turned to his congregation and said, “Parents, if that is our perspective, then we may call ourselves Christians, but we are not following Christ.”

After he said this, I paused the video. I couldn’t breath. I am not a parent, but I have thought similar things to the parents mentioned by the professor. I have wanted to stay comfortable. I have wanted to stay safe. I have worried about what others might think. I still do worry about these things as it is natural to do so. But the problem is that I let these things impact my reaching others for Christ.

In the book of Acts, Jesus returns to Heaven after resurrecting from the grave, and the first Apostles are sent out to proclaim the message of Christ and to plant churches. Two of the Apostles mentioned are named Barnabas and Paul. These two men are so on fire for the Gospel that they stop at nothing to proclaim the message of Christ. In Acts chapter 14, the two men are in the cities of Lystra and Derbe, teaching others the message of Christ. Some men who opposed their teaching decided to cause them harm, but it did not stop them. Listen to this account:

“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples and gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe” (Acts 14:19-20, NIV).

Even after being pelted with stones to the point of death, Paul and Barnabas continued the work of Christ. They weren’t concerned with safety. They paid no mind to comfort. They knew their position in the mission of God.

It is a process, but I am changing my views on sharing the Gospel. It is my hope that I will be able to have the courage and strength of Paul and Barnabas in proclaiming Christ to the nations.

The Idolatry of Comfort and the Glory of Christ

I do not do this very often, but I feel as though this is worth sharing. The following is a sermon by David Platt in which he discusses the importance of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. The mission of Christ is not about being comfortable. It is about putting our comfort aside so that others may experience comfort in knowing Christ.

 

https://www.mcleanbible.org/sermons/idolatry-comfort-and-glory-christ

Refugee Faith: A Study of the Book of Daniel: Temporary Power

Throughout this series, we will be looking into how followers of Jesus Christ can maintain their faith in times of “exile.” As was explained in the introduction, Christians are seemingly entering yet another time of “exile” in the modern day. The world preaches tolerance and individualism while searching for any excuse to blame Christians for not holding to a similar worldview. Because of this, I do not believe it is far-fetched to suggest that the children of God are finding themselves in a time of exile once again (in a different context, of course). The book of Daniel is full of accounts which showcase what can happen when the people of God stand strong in the faith in the face of opposition. The beautiful element to exile is that it is always temporary. The length of the exile cannot fully be determined, but rest assured that it will come to an eventual end.

In this day and age, people love power. They love to be in control. In control of what? It doesn’t matter. We just want power. Want to be able to build ourselves up and ensure that what we establish for ourselves will continue for our loved ones. Hear me out: I am not saying that you should not strive for success so that you may take care of your family. You should do whatever it takes to provide for those you love. What I am saying is this: If you have a business, political office, or some sort of title and you place all of your hope and strength in things which are only obtainable  in this life, you have a problem. You have become focussed on your own power and control. You are so focussed on the reflection in the mirror that you neglect to see that the mirror has a crack in it. You are only concerned with how things look in the now, and what is worse is that you would be perfectly content with things staying the same forever. In fact, we wish that it would. When we become powerful or have a high level of control, we want those who come after us to experience it. If we are being very honest with ourselves, we would rather those who come after us not share in our power or control, but rather bask in awe of what we have accomplished. I have had these thoughts myself, and in the moment there is nothing more satisfying. If you are doing everything you can in this life to have power and control, I have some bad news for you: That for which you are striving, even if it is achieved, is utterly and completely temporary. I know that stings, but it is true. All worldly power and control will eventually come to an end; a lesson the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar learned in an encounter with Daniel and the wisdom of the Lord God.

The Babylonians had invaded and conquered the city of Jerusalem, taking back to Babylon with them thousands of Israelite exiles. The quality of life for the Israelites in Babylon must have been terrible, but for those who were made to work in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, things were a little different. Daniel, because of this educated background, was among those made to advise the King. In particular, Daniel interpreted the King’s dreams. In one instance, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in which he saw before him a statue made of different types of precious metals and clay: The head of the statue was solid gold, the chest and arms made of silver, the belly and thighs made of bronze, legs of iron and feet of baked clay (Daniel 2:32-33). Once the King got a good look at the statue, a large rock came and smashed the statue to pieces. Daniel, with the help of the Lord, then interpreted the dream for the King.

The interpretation is found in Daniel 2:39-45, however for the sake of this lesson, we will only focus on the last portion of the interpretation. Essentially the different metals within the statue represented the different kingdoms that came before Nebuchadnezzar’s reign; His was the last and the greatest, represented by the head of gold. The rock that came and smashed the statue is explained thusly:

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to and end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands-a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces” (Daniel 2:44-45, NIV).

Nebuchadnezzar had built his entire life around being in control and being in power. God let the King know that only true authority comes from Him, and that eventually all power and control on earth will cease to exist when God returns to set up His good and perfect Kingdom.

It is not about our power but about the power of God. Do not build your life around worldly power and control; the Kingdom of God is the only thing that lasts.

Refugee Faith: A Study of the Book of Daniel: Introduction

It is as if we have entered into yet another period of exile. For Christians, following the teachings of Christ and striving to live obediently to His Word is often looked down upon in the world today. One does not have to look far in order to see that Christians have become a scapegoat for anything deemed “indifferent” by the world. Liberals growing tired of Conservatives? It’s all the Christians’ fault. Homosexuals feeling hated? It’s all the Christians’ fault. You believe God created the world and that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven? You’re a fool. These are just some of the things Christians are experiencing today. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not attempting to begin a blog series in which every post seeks pity and sympathy on those who follow Christ. That is not my intension. My intension is to show how the Body of Christ can survive when in a period of supposed “exile.” Since its founding on the Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, the church has faced adversity at every possible turn. The twenty-first century is no different. With that being said, the church has prospered and overcome during every period in exile, and the twenty-first century will be no different.

There is no better place to see God’s amazing work in the lives of those in exile than in the book of Daniel. Over the next several weeks, we will be looking into accounts all throughout the book in which God’s people were experiencing the full brunt of what it meant to be exiled in a foreign land. More than that, we will be looking into the amazing faith of those mentioned within this book and will see how God can (and does) come through in every aspect of our lives, even in times of exile.

The book of Daniel is broken up into two parts. Chapters 1-6 contain stories about Daniel and his friends, while chapters 7-12 contain the visions of Daniel about the future. Daniel was a strong man of God who, with the help of the Lord, was able to interpret dreams and signs. The Lord gave Daniel this incredible ability so as to showcase His great and mighty power. As it will be seen throughout this book, the Lord was extremely successful in showing His might and power.

Daniel opens in the time just after the city of Jerusalem was invaded and conquered by the Babylonians. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, raided the Temple, took all its riches and then burned it to the ground. If this wasn’t enough, he then took all the Israelites back to Babylon as exiles. The book of Daniel details the accounts of four of these men: Daniel himself, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Most people will be more familiar with these last three men by their Babylonian names (when they were put to work in the King’s court, their names were changed): Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The incredible faith of these men would not only save their lives, but would showcase the might of the Lord God Almighty to the unbelieving Babylonians.

Daniel and his friends were refugees; refugees with strong faith. Christians today, as far as the world is concerned, are refugees as well. I pray that the Lord will use this series to give confidence to modern Christians, and showcase the incredible things that can happen with “Refugee faith.”