The Graveyard of Sin

 

  If a pastor preached in a graveyard, what would happen? What? What kind of a question is that, you may be thinking. But seriously think…what would happen if a pastor preached the Gospel in a graveyard? The obvious answer is nothing. Dead people cannot do anything, so they could not respond to a sermon. Again, you may be thinking, what does this have to do with anything. I merely want to use this common analogy to describe the state of our own souls before Christ comes in and rescues us from our spiritual deadness. Because when we understand the depth of our depravity can we explode in worship for the gift of salvation and regeneration.

   Throughout the Bible, we get a pretty clear picture of our total moral depravity. Psalm 51:5 reminds us that we are sinful at birth: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Paul, speaking to believers, illustrates in Titus 3:3 the Christian life before Christ: For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Romans 3:11-12 describes our unrighteousness and our refusal to seek God: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. I believe Ephesians 2:1-3 sums all of this up well: And you were dead in the trepasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

   Those Scripture passages provide a good summary of the picture the Bible paints of the unsaved soul. So we may be physically alive, breathing and moving, but in regards to spiritual things and the things of God, we are dead and unresponsive. In our natural state, we don’t seek God; in fact, we run away from Him and His perfection. Our unregenerate heart does not love God; it does not want God. The unsaved soul does not, indeed cannot, delight in God’s holiness; the mind is set on the flesh and does not submit to God and His ways. Theologians use the word total depravity to describe how this sinfulness and falleness affects every aspect of human life. Now, a person will not commit every wicked thing under the sun or sin as much as they possibly could. Total depravity rather means that ever since the fall in the garden our human nature is completely and totally against God. After Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden, humans are incapable of not sinning. Our natural bent is to do that which does not please God.

   Wow, that’s a very hopeless picture. But understanding the seriousness of our spiritual disease should make us run to our great physician. Jesus’ death on the cross and his sovereign saving grace is our only hope of coming to God because we don’t want God…we don’t seek after Him…we are children of His wrath. How does God rescue us from this and change our desires? 

   It is God’s sovereign grace alone that saves us from our sinful state. He takes our unresponsive heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh that loves Him. He mercifully regenerates us and gives us faith in Jesus. So, our morally hard hearts, darkened by sin, through the grace of God, become alive in respect to the things of God. This is good news because we do not deserve it and can do absolutely nothing to earn this gift. It is by this sovereign grace that we are saved through faith. He regenerates our dead hearts. Regeneration is a monergistic work, which basically means it is all God’s doing; it’s all His initiative. His regenerative grace is given freely with no mixture of human merit. Isn’t that amazing! And that’s just skimming the surface of everything God gives us through salvation! He has eternally loved us and chosen us so that we are no longer children of wrath but rather his own children. 

   I hope we can see how amazing this transformation is! Our sin requires a Savior. And Jesus through His death on the cross serves as God’s life changing, saving instrument. He takes us from our graveyard of sin and gives us everlasting life. Doesn’t this cause your heart to explode in worship! When we hear sermons and hear the Gospel we can respond with rejoicing because we have been forever changed by our omnipotent God. 


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The King is on His Throne

 
 

“God is on the throne. No one is kicking Him off. And you can trust Him.” This is something I heard my theology professor say multiple times. And what an encouraging phrase it is! Jesus is in control and we can rest in His sovereignty. But, I know we live in a challenging time and it is hard to put that truth into practice. Sadly, we are tempted to seek encouragement and comfort from many sources. But, when we hear about God’s wonderful nature and His incredible power and immerse ourselves in Biblical truth, we find the encouragement we need. 

    Revelation 1:4-8 says: John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

   In the Bible, John, through the Holy Spirit, begins his words in the book of Revelation by encouraging believers not to succumb to fear in the midst of the challenges and hardships they were facing. And what encourages the soul more than turning our gaze upon God and learning about His character. Who God is and what He has accomplished on our behalf helps to give us a redirected perspective from our problems to the Lamb who has overcome. 

     So, John starts out his letter by greeting his recipients, the seven churches of Asia. Mentioning seven churches is symbolic; the number seven is really a way to indicate completeness, wholeness, and perfection. So, all churches, all believers throughout history benefit from this encouraging message. Then, John turns His attention to God’s nature, and in doing so proclaims the saving work of the Trinity. He starts with God the Father, the God who is and who was and who is to come. This statement reminds us that God is eternal. He rules over all of time, past, present, and future. Nothing is outside His realm. He is not bound by time or history; He is sovereign over all of time and history and human activity. After mentioning the Father, John turns to mention the Holy Spirit. He mentions the seven spirits before God’s throne, which again is his symbolic way of referring to the Holy Spirit. Here, John emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s glorious perfection. 

   John’s words then point to the Son, Jesus. He places a great deal of emphasis on Jesus and what He has done for believers. As a faithful witness, He preached God’s message and proclaimed His truth faithfully throughout His earthly life, remaining faithful to death.  John also mentions Jesus’ preeminence. Jesus is preeminent over every being. He is the firstborn of the dead. He is the One who has the authority and power to save those who believe in Him. He is our mighty Savior. John continues this theme by reminding us of Jesus’ power and love demonstrated on the cross. He showed us His love by removing our sin and freeing us from sins’ bondage, giving the ultimate sacrifice of His life by dying on the cross. And notice the word order here. It starts with God’s love. God’s love, like His being, is eternal. He loved us before the creation of the world, before there was time and space and matter. This changes the trajectory of our lives forever and ensures our future with God in Heaven. And through His power and saving work, Jesus makes believers priests. Priests have access to God, which allows them to offer sacrifices in His presence and give God all worship and glory and dominion. 

   John then shifts his focus to Jesus’ second coming. This promise is so amazing! Jesus will come to earth again, completely vanquish evil, consummate salvation, bring about the fullness of His kingdom, and restore all of creation. This will be a joyous, happy reality of those all over the world who have believed in Jesus. But for all who rejected His name and hated Him now wail and cry in fear as they behold King Jesus. Nothing will stop his event. In verse 8, John closes by referring once again to God’ eternality: He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega over all things. He is almighty: completely supreme in power over everything, which erases the need to be fearful.

   What encouragement can we take away from this? By remembering God’s nature, we are encouraged not to fear or worry about the unknown things in our life or the crazy things happening in the world. God knows all of our moments and will perfectly carry out His good and loving plan in our lives. Second, Jesus’ faithfulness serves as a good reminder to us today, to stay true to the Gospel in all situations. Also, God is holy and perfect, very much unlike us. So, we can be thankful for Jesus shedding His blood and atoning for our sins. We can be thankful that the all knowing, all powerful, triune God made a way to bring restoration to this broken world and to our fallen, sinful souls. Also, while it is very true that God deserves our worship because of the things He has done for us, God warrants worship simply because of who He is. He is the almighty, faithful, triune, loving, perfect, holy, eternal, glorious King of the universe. So, let us be encouraged that: God is outside of time. God is all powerful. And we have every reason to trust Him.


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Digging Deeper into the Bible

A Brief Introduction to Deeper Textual Engagement

A question I am frequently asked is, ‘how should I read the Bible?’ My glib answer is, ‘I don’t care, just as long as you are reading your Bible!’ However, that question is really getting at how should one approach the Biblical text? I think we have all heard sermons or someone talk about a Bible passage and thought, ‘how on Earth did they get that from the passage??’ So, I thought I would share some of the steps and considerations I take when approaching a Biblical text. Now, this is part of my personal process. It is by no means the best or only way to approach the text. This is just part of what I do. Try it out and see if any elements of it work for you. When I sit down to read a text, I have 5 things in mind: genre/form, context, text criticism, important words/themes, and structure/development of the text.

Genre/form Recognizing the genre of a text may have an impact on how we understand it. For example, we read a textbook differently than we read a recipe differently than we read a letter from our Gram. Perhaps the best example of this is the satire news website ‘The Onion.’ The Onion is a satire newspaper (both print and digital) that publishes made up ‘news’ stories. The intent is to make people laugh. Now, if you pick up a copy of The Onion and know it is a work of satire then you know how to read it. You know that what you are reading is not true but is poking fun at something. However, if you don’t know that The Onion is a satire work (if you don’t know its genre) then you will probably misread it and could take what it says as true.

The same is true of the Biblical text. Parables are a common example of this in the Bible. Jesus frequently used parables when teaching. Take the parable of the Prodigal Son: we understand that this story is not referring to a real family. There was no rich father, no son who wasted his inheritance, and no brother who was angry. We understand that parables are made up stories, intended to teach some lesson. The Bible is full of a wide variety of genres: creation stories, family histories, laws codes, courtroom scenes, prophecy, apocalyptic literature, gospel accounts, epistles, personal letters, and so many more! Understanding the genre of a text you are about to read can greatly change how you understand it. 

Context. The central aim of looking at context is to establish the bounds of the text. Is what I am reading self-contained? Or is it part of a larger discussion/tradition? When looking at context, I have three levels I explore. The first level is what I call local context (or literary context). This is reading a passage together with what has happened directly before it and sometimes what happens after it. For example, we are currently preaching through Matthew chapter 8. In this chapter, Jesus is performing various miracles and has interactions with various people. These stories are great to read by themselves. But they take on a different light when we realize that they are happening right after the Sermon on the Mount (on the same day with the same crowd of people). Now, we can almost view them as a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, or object lessons of the things Jesus said in that sermon. This adds new meaning and depth to these stories.

The second level of context is canonical context (the text’s place within the larger biblical story). Our Bible is amazing. It is a work that is composed of 1000s of stories, told by 100s of authors, spanning 1000s of years. Yet, all of this comes together to tell one cohesive story: the story of God’s relationship to humanity. Because of this, sometimes a passage can reference an event, person, or story from elsewhere in the Bible. Picking up on this reference can impact how we understand the text we are currently reading. For example: in John chapter 1, Jesus speaks of angels ascending and descending from Heaven. There are some interesting things we could take from this illustration on its own. However, if we catch that this is a reference to Jacob’s dream of a ladder going up into Heaven (Gen. 28), then this statement of Jesus takes on a larger idea of promised hope and blessing.

The last level of context is social/historical context. The stories we read about in the Bible did not take place in a vacuumed environment. They happened to real people, living in a real time. That time was different than today. It can be easy for us to forget that and to impart our own personal context onto a text. For example, we read about taking ‘an eye for an eye’ and think it sounds barbaric. In our context today, that is not how things should work. That leaves little room for mercy! However, understanding the context of that text sheds some new light on it. Human nature is bent on taking revenge. If someone hits you, you are probably going to want to hit them back. And not only hit them but hit them hard, so they don’t hit you again. This is called escalation. Over time, a small harm can grow and grow to become a large crime (all because of continued escalation). Therefore, various law codes of the time (and before) put limits on how a person could retaliate to a wrong committed against them. ‘An eye for an eye’ now becomes the prime limit on how retaliation is doled out. It is to prevent a small offense to escalate to the point of murder. Rather than lacking mercy this law is extremely merciful! Something like that could be lost on us without proper historical context.

Important words or themes.  Identifying key words or themes in a text can give real insight into what the author wants us to get out of the text. These could be repeated words, the continuation of an earlier metaphor, or a concept that is important to the Biblical story as a whole. Sometimes looking at the passage in its original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek can help, but it is by no means absolutely necessary to identify many key words or themes.

Once you have identified an important word or theme, the next question you should ask is ‘why is this important?’ Being able to pick out important words or themes is great, but they are only able to provide meaningful insight if you can figure out why they are important. Asking probing questions can be a great way to start digging into their meaning.

Take I Corinthians 3:16-17 for example. In these two verses, Paul uses the word ‘temple’ a number of times. He tells us that we are a temple of God. Some questions we could ask include: why this particular word (why not palace or shrine or tabernacle)? Does Paul use this word in other places in I Corinthians? What role did temples play in the environment into which Paul wrote these words? How are temples presented or talked about in the Old Testament? What element of temples do we think the text is wanting us to focus on? You see how quickly you can start to build up a lot of (hopefully relevant) information that could relate to a particular passage.

Structure/Development of the Text. This textual aspect will be closely related to genre. Knowing the genre of the text can give us some idea of how it should be structured. For example, if you are looking at a parable, then most likely the text is building up to a one or two verse pithy conclusion that will act as the ‘elevator pitch’ for the entire passage. However, even if you do not know a text’s genre you can still notice elements of its structure. There are many formal writing styles and techniques Biblical writers used to convey meaning. One common example is called inclusios. The easiest way to think of an inclusio is to think of a sandwich. You have the bread (two similar- if not identical lines) surrounding the delicious peanut butter and pickles[1] (the main idea of the passage). This is a common technique seen in Hebrew Poetry.

Those are just a few examples of how the structure of a passage can help unlock some of its meaning. But do not think that you need to have a full encyclopedia of biblical writing styles to understand the text (although that would be awesome!).  A great way to engage with the development of a passage is to notice anytime you find yourself saying, ‘wait what?’ Often a question like this can lead you to find something important in the passage. The more you engage with the Bible the more you will notice patterns in how things are written. You will start to become familiar with how certain books are written and that will lead you to start identifying differences between books and that will lead you to ask questions about those differences, and before you know it you will be reading the Bible on a deeper level than you ever thought you could!

What is the Text About? Wow! You have done a lot of work on the text so far. You have engaged the text on its level by identifying its genre. You have determined the bounds of the text by looking at it in three different context levels. You have noticed important words and themes in the text. Not only that, but you have tried to figure out why they are important and what the author’s purpose was in using them. Lastly, you have looked at the structure of the text itself to see if that reveals any meaning. Now it’s time to put all of that together and summarize the main point of the passage. It is entirely possible that there will not be a single simple point to the passage. One of the amazing things about our Bible is that it speaks to us on many different levels. But a great practice to have when reading a passage is to see if you can summarize what that passage is saying to you at that time in one simple sentence. If you can distill the passage down to one central simple message, then you can use that as a springboard for reading the text as a whole.

This is what I do when I prepare sermons. I go through the steps above and try to come up with what the main take home message of this sermon is going to be. I think, “If people only remembered one sentence I said today, what would I want that sentence to be?” Then I take that sentence and work backwards constructing an argument that builds up to that one sentence conclusion. Obviously, most of you are not reading the Bible to prepare sermons all the time. But this practice of finding a one sentence ‘point’ of a passage can be a great way to remember key themes and ideas you read about in the Bible.

 

Now, I don’t expect everyone to do all of these steps each time you sit down to read the Bible (that would be so overwhelming!). I don’t do this entire process every time I sit down to read. Sometimes I do a few of these, sometimes I add in other elements of interpretation (we did not even talk about text criticism—that is a super fun topic!), and sometimes I do none of them and simply read the text as I would any novel. I don’t want you to feel like you should run down this checklist each and every time you crack open your Bible or fire up your Bible app. But I would encourage you to from time to time engage with some of these steps and see what they do for you. If you come across an especially difficult passage, or read something that does not feel quite right, or if you hear someone talk about a passage and you are not sure how they got that meaning out of the text, take time and follow some of these steps. See how your engagement with the text grows or changes. This is not a simple thing to just jump right into. It will be difficult at first. Ask questions. Seek out people’s help. Have a reference book or two. All of these things will get you walking down a path to amazing, insightful, and life-giving reading of God’s word.
 

[1] Don’t judge me! This is an amazing sandwich. Try it and you will see!


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Always Choose Joy

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

No doubt these are favorite Bible verses of many. In fact they are often popular go tos on Christian t-shirts and coffee mugs. That is all well and good but it is important that we  simply not stop thinking of these verses as a quick “feel good” message. Paul, through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned these words to the Thessalonian church to convey a specific message. Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time on one of his missionary journeys but, due to persecution, was forced to leave the city earlier than planned. Later, he wrote a letter to the church to help fix a few theological misunderstandings about Jesus’ second coming. He wrote to encourage the Christians to continue in the good work they were doing as well. Toward the end of his letter, Paul encourages the people of the church to continue in their godly behavior in three areas: loving one another, building each other up and seeking to do good to everyone. Then, Paul writes “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Let’s take a look at what this means for us today.

Rejoice always. First, this reminds us that our joy is not circumstantial. At the root, our joy comes from God. No matter what we face or what circumstances we experience, we can have joy in God. We can rejoice in who He is. We can rejoice in the blessing of salvation. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. To paraphrase Dr. John Greever, grumpiness is not a spiritual virtue. However, sometimes things can make us sad; sometimes joy is a process. As Psalm 30 reminds us, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Sadness is a real emotion and we should not feel like failures when we experience that emotion. As Christians we can feel sadness over our ongoing sin. Also, anxiety, fear of the future, and health scares can all trouble our souls. So, we may experience a nighttime of sadness but gradually God can move in our hearts and bring us to a place of joy. Our joy in the present is rooted in knowing that God works all things for good for those who love Him. Our joy in the present grows as we commune more and more with God, and focus on who He is. Also, our joy can come as we look forward to our eternal joy with God in Heaven. So, even in this life, our eternal, constant, true joy is rooted in God.Our circumstances will always change, but God is unchangeable and God is always good, whether we see or understand His ways or not. 

Pray without ceasing. Spending time with God in prayer is a continual activity. Prayer implies that our hearts and minds are occupied and satisfied with God. In prayer, we engage in loving fellowship with our heavenly Father. Prayer is not something we should do exclusively before we eat or before we go to sleep. We should be communicating with God throughout our day. We should have a prayer-ward bent in our hearts. Before we undertake any activity, before we think, before we speak etc. we should say Lord help me, Lord empower me, Lord be with me in this. All of our daily tasks, no matter how small or time consuming or repetitive or frustrating, we can bring God into the moment. Prayer acknowledges our dependence on God. Honestly, can we think of one area of life where we don’t need Him? 

Give thanks in all circumstances. Notice what this verse does not say. It does not say give thanks FOR all circumstances, it says give thanks IN all circumstances. That’s a big difference. We may not be thankful for all circumstances. Some circumstances are not good. But we can be thankful in all circumstances. Like we have seen earlier in this passage, we can thank God for the blessings He gives us everyday. He gives us countless spiritual blessings. He gives us many temporal earthly blessings as well. We can thank Him for the situations He prevents. We can thank Him for His beautiful creation. We can thank Him for the people we love. We can thank Him for every breath and heartbeat. We can thank Him for things in the past, as we look back and see God’s sovereign hand graciously guiding us. We can see past challenges as ways God used to get us to joyful places. We can look to the future and thank God knowing that He is working out a perfect plan for us.We can also look to the future and think about the joys of Heaven. So, IN all things, we can give thanks to our loving Heavenly Father.

It would take a pretty big coffee mug to truly capture Paul”s message in this passage. However, Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians how prayer and rejoicing and thanksgiving are connected. The more we pray and focus on God, the more we can rejoice in how amazing God is. And the more we pray and rejoice, the more thankful we become. Maybe we face persecution or trials or maybe life is carefree; but no matter what, we always have a reason to rejoice, pray and be thankful. 


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Living Hope

 

   Jesus is not dead. The grave does not hold Him. He is alive, seated victoriously in Heaven. What great news! Though it is always important to  reflect upon this gospel truth, around Easter, we need to remember and celebrate the resurrection and the hope we have through Jesus. When we turn to Scripture, we see that 1 Peter 1:3-5 sums up our resurrection hope well by saying:

   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

   What an amazing truth! What an amazing hope! In Jesus, we have a living hope. We can see what this living hope implies by walking through the passage. Peter begins by describing God’s blessedness. Out of His eternal blessed happiness, God willingly gives the gift of salvation. We cannot save ourselves. There is a great chasm between us and God: He is perfectly holy and we are saturated in our falleness. God would be completely just to condemn us for our sins. But, out of His abundant mercy, He sent Jesus into the world to live and die and rise again to bring salvation.So,God in His mercy, provides the way of salvation.But, God’s mercy does not just stop there; God also gives us eyes to see the sweetness of the Gospel. He shines the light of His loving kindness in our hearts. Our regeneration, aka new birth, is the greatest gift. Through new birth, we are no longer dead in sin. We are alive in Christ. We have a living hope; this is our hope: Jesus died and rose again.

   What an amazing truth! What an amazing hope! In Jesus we have a living hope. We can see another aspect of this living hope when Peter talks about our heavenly inheritance.We know that as believers we will be with God forever in Heaven. Since Jesus rose from the grave victoriously,  His resurrection seals our inheritance. What is our inheritance as believers? It is eternal joy with God in Heaven forever. Nothing and no one can take that away. It is incorruptible…totally free from corruption, evil, and sin. It is eternal…it never fades away. As time bound creatures, it’s hard to imagine eternity; but we will enjoy a never ending succession of moments in Heaven delighting in our God. And this inheritance is kept, reserved, secured, and guarded for every believer; every child of God receives this precious inheritance. Through God’s power, He will sustain us through the end; we can never lose this precious gift of salvation or our heavenly inheritance.We can never lose our living hope.

   What an amazing truth! What an amazing hope! In Jesus Christ, our living, glorious Savior, we have a living hope.Jesus gives us the living hope of salvation: He is the one who sets us free from sin and death and the grave. He also is the one who guarantees the hope of our heavenly inheritance.  I pray this Easter season that we remember this truth and give thanks to God. I pray we will always lift our voices to sing of our living hope.


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How St. Patrick should Influence our Daily Mission

This week is St. Patrick’s Day. Today, in America at least, the day has really become an excuse to wear green, pinch people, and drink Guinness. However, there is much more behind the day that celebrates the life of the real “Apostle of Ireland.” Even the person of Saint Patrick himself is wrapped in myth and legends. From Patrick banishing all the snakes in Ireland, to his walking stick growing into a magic tree; most of the ‘stories’ around St. Patrick lack any historic credibility. Even idea that St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach about the trinity is probably not true (because that is the heresy Partialism, Patrick!).

Luckily, what we do know about the person of St. Patrick is still worthy of remembering on his day. Patrick was born in Roman Britain (seemingly England). At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped by a group of Irish pirates. He spent the next six years enslaved in Ireland working as a slave. Eventually he was able to escape his captors and return home to Britain. In his autobiographical work Confessio, it was his time in captivity and his escape that cemented his love of Christ and his eventual decision to become a missionary. And the place he felt called to be his mission field was the very place of his captivity, Ireland.

Tradition has it that Patrick entered Ireland through the very same port he escaped from years earlier. Think about that choice. Could you go back the place you were held in captivity as a slave and try to minister? Could you go to the very people who kidnapped you and try to tell them of Jesus? I don’t know if I could. Patrick’s return to Ireland was not a joyous affair. He tells of being beaten on the road, robbed of his possessions, being chained up and imprisoned for weeks on end. Yet he remained faithful to bring the love of Christ to the people doing this to him.

So this St. Patrick’s Day, try and reflect on the courage, the love, the forgiveness, and the faithfulness of Patrick. Strive to forgive like Patrick forgave. Strive to remain as dedicated to God’s mission as Patrick was, even when it is no easy. Just imagine the kind of impact we could have if we all lived out our daily missional lives like Patrick. That should be our goal this St. Patrick’s Day. Let’s take that goal and run with it!

 


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Thoughtful Words

   From a mere 7,000 to a whopping 20,000: that’s how many words the average person says in a single day! Words are powerful tools that we can use for good or bad. Oftentimes, however, it seems that our words become mindless and routine. Though no harm is intended, by neglecting to put thought into our daily speech, it becomes easy to unintentionally downplay God’s sovereignty and providence. For example, how many of us find ourselves saying things like…

Chance meeting you here…

Knock on wood…

That’s lousy luck… 

What a coincidence… 

What good fortune… 

That’s fate for you…

   Certainly, God’s providence cannot be contained to one blog alone. However, in his book, Everyone’s a Theologian, R.C. Sproul sheds great insight on God’s providence in our everyday life by saying the following:

Chance is simply a word that describes mathematical possibilities. Chance is not a thing. It has no power. It cannot do anything, and therefore it cannot influence anything, yet some have taken the word chance, which has no power, and diabolically used it as a replacement for the concept of God. But the truth, the Bible makes clear, is that nothing happens by chance and that all things are under the sovereign government of God, which is exceedingly comforting to the Christian who understands it.  Knowledge of divine providence brings comfort in our suffering. God is in control not only of the universe and its operations but also all of history. The Bible tells us that God raises up kingdoms and brings them down, and our individual station in life has to do, in the final analysis, with what God in His providence has ordained for us. Our lives are in His hands, our vocations are in His hands, as are our prosperity or our poverty; He governs all these things in His wisdom and goodness.

    Hmmm. He intentionally governs all things in our lives by His perfect wisdom and knowledge. That said, should we not also be intentional and use wisdom in our thinking and speech? So, words like luck, chance, or fortune should never escape from our mouths. Our thoughts and our words need to reflect God’s sovereignty, that God holds all things. In perfect wisdom and knowledge, He executes the best possible outcome for every situation. We need to spend time reflecting on the Biblical truth of God’s sovereignty. Think about the following verses:

James 4:13-15

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

   So take a moment and reflect…When this truth saturates our thinking, it will overflow into our speech. We want to communicate accurate Biblical truth about God in what we say. So, let’s have our words proclaim God’s sovereignty and perfect plan. I pray that our hearts absorb and understand this amazing truth and that we use our words to communicate things like…

Praise God…

God allowed this..

God will work..

God prevented..

Lord willing…

Let’s try to make our words count!


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God Is

   Isn’t God wonderful! Words seem to fail to describe how truly incredible He is. Reflecting on His character is a joyful activity. Sadly, we don’t do that often enough. In a theology class, one of my favorite professors challenged us to pray through the attributes of God and praise God for His amazing essence. So, below I have a list, a sample, and a challenge. I have listed what theologians have put together as a standard list of God’s attributes. Also, I have included a sample prayer. I want to challenge you to pray prayers of awe and thankfulness over God’s character for the next 7 days. Pray through these attributes every day and let your heart take that time to delight in God and his perfections; then your heart can overflow with gratitude to our astounding triune God. 

Independence–unchangeable–eternity–omnipresence–unity–spirit–invisibility–wisdom–omniscience–providence–sovereignty–truthfulness–faithfulness–goodness–grace–mercy–love–patience–holiness–righteousness–justice–wrath–jealousy–peace–free–willful omnipotence–perfection–blessedness–beauty–glory

   Thank you Lord for being totally sufficient and independent. You rely on no one. Nothing upholds your existence. You need nothing, but rather You are the one who gives all things life and breath. You sustain all reality by your power. Thank You Lord for never changing. Nothing else in the world remains the same. Your being, your perfections, your promises never change. Who you have been, you will always be. You stay the same eternally. Thank You for being eternal. You are not bound by time because you created it. You are outside of time. You have no beginning or end. Thank You for knowing the past and future and present with vivid clarity. Nothing in our lives is unknown to You. You see it all. You see every sin we would ever commit and yet You freely and lovingly chose us before time began. Thank You that You are omnipresent, not bound by space. You are present with us here and everywhere we could possibly go. You are present in every moment. Thank You for your amazing being. You are united. You are one. You are wholly loving, completely merciful, and always just. You are spirit; nothing in the entire universe can enclose You.  Your essential realm of existence is starkly different from all of creation; You are invisible. It is mind boggling to comprehend. Thank You for allowing us to worship you in spirit and in truth. Thank You for your omniscience, knowing all things actual and possible. You have always known everything. You cannot learn anything. Thank that in perfect wisdom You know the best course of action that leads to the best result. Thank You for Your sovereignty. Thank You for Your providential care over all of creation. Thank You for your providence in our lives. Every moment of our lives is held in Your hands perfectly, and known perfectly. Thank You for your providence in salvation. We would never come to You if not for your sovereign divine intervention. Thank You for always being faithful and true. Thank You that your words can be trusted. When You promise something it will come to pass. You set parameters for what is true and good. Thank You for being good and showing us what goodness truly entails. Our lives are saturated with Your compassionate goodness. From morning to evening, everywhere we look, everywhere we go, we can see the evidence of Your goodness to us. Thank You for being loving. Thank You for Your saving love that draws us to You. You loved us before anything was created. And nothing in this entire world can separate us from Your great never ending love. Thank You for Your saving mercy and grace. You show us grace and mercy that we could never deserve. Out of Your mercy and grace You bring salvation. You are so patient with us. We fail many times, yet You patiently seek our hearts, and draw us  to You. Thank You for Your holiness. You are completely separate from sin. Nothing evil comes from You. Thank You that through Jesus, we as sinful human beings are allowed into the presence of the holy God. You are holy holy holy…You are holy to the highest degree. Thank You for Your righteousness and justice. You always do what is right and just. You are the just judge. Left to ourselves, our righteousness is like dirty rags. Thank You that Jesus’ righteousness is counted on our behalf because we could never match the standard of Your righteousness. Thank You for being wrathful. You would not be good if you did not punish evil. Thank You that through Jesus we never have to face Your never ending wrath in hell.  Thank You for being jealous. You are jealous for your people. You are jealous for Your holy name. You are jealous for your people’s wholehearted worship. Thank You for being the God of peace. You are a God of order. You never act carelessly or recklessly. You are separate from disorder and confusion. Thank You for being the God who fills our hearts with perfect peace.  Thank you God for being free. You are not constrained by anything or anyone. No one can thwart You as You accomplish your will and purposes. You are free to carry out Your perfect plans. Thank you for Your omnipotence. You have all power. Nothing is easy or hard for you. Often we are tempted to only bring You “easy” prayers. Or we feel as though we should only bother you with “hard prayers”. What a false dilemma! You are able to handle it all. You are able to perfectly execute Your will and do whatever is good in your sight. Thank You for being perfect. You need no changes. Nothing needs to be added to your nature. Nothing needs to be removed from Your nature. Who You are is perfect and everything You do is perfect. Thank You for being blessed. You are eternally happy within the Trinity. You take delight in us. You delight in all that reflects Your character. Thank You that out of Your blessedness You freely bless others. Thank You for being beautiful. Thank You that we see glimpses of Your beauty in creation. Every part of Your being is beautiful. Your beauty shapes what we should see as beautiful. Thank You for Your radiant glory.  Your glory displays the excellence of Your character. Your glory is what we live for. Your glory is why we want others to know You. Nothing and no one else is worthy of worship and honor and glory.

  God thank You for who You are. Help us remember to take time to think deeply about You and honor You for who You are. Thank You for revealing your character to us in Scripture; help us be more like You, reflecting Your character in our daily lives and interactions. God, let us always be shaped by who You are. Amen.


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So, This is Christmas

I have a love-hate relationship with the Christmas season. Obviously, I love it because of all that it represents—the birth of our savior, the coming of salvation, the fruition of a covenant of grace. I love decorating, watching cheesy Christmas movies, and eating way too many butter cookies. I love just about all the Christmas activities: the light shows, plays, ballets, markets, tree lightnings, all of it.

But herein lies the problem. By the end of December, I am exhausted and honestly just want it all to be over. By the time Christmas itself rolls around, I am kind of over it all. Every year I (and I guess many other people) tell themselves that this season they won’t over commit. They won’t spread themselves too thin. How many of us broke that promise this year, again? I feel like this year is especially hectic as most of us are trying to make up for missing so much last December.

So the big question and struggle for many of us is: how do we balance all of the meaningful and fun Christmas activities with our emotional and mental sanity? First off, I want to say that I do not have the ironclad answer for this question. But I wonder how much of it comes down to us placing higher values on certain times of the year over others. Think about it, I know I often get wrapped up in thinking, ‘it’s only Christmas for a few weeks, I have to make it special, make allllll the memories right now!’ We can get so wrapped up in trying to craft the perfect experience or memory that we can forget to actually experience that moment or be present for that memory.

Psalm 118 tells us that, “this is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (v.24). THIS day, THIS very day, is the day that the Lord made. God crafted each of our days, each of them is a blessing and a gift. A random Tuesday in February, any Thursday in May, and Christmas day. Each and everyone of them is the day that the Lord made, and we should rejoice in all of them.

What would that look like for us—to live with the same zeal we have on Christmas Eve on say, June 6? How might our outlook change if we saw every day as special and worthy of our full attention and passion? Would that make us less likely to overbook some parts of the year while we mindlessly skate through others? What would it look like to put the same importance we place on Christmas day on every day of the year? I am just as guilty of this as anyone (if not more so). I know far too often I go on auto-pilot for extended periods of time, only clicking things back on for what I deem as an important event.

What would it look like to be fully engaged every day? Would it balance out our lives more—help us move away from the peak and valley cycle of living one big event to the next? Honestly, I don’t know. But it is something I want to try. I want to try to genuinely view every day as a gift and as something with which I am meant to utilize for the glory of our God. Or perhaps to quote a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Let’s try to take that Christmastime specialness and zeal and import it to all the days of the year!


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Stay Wholehearted

 

   Stay Biblical. Stay God-centered. Stay wholehearted. While we don’t often think of it, there is a right and a wrong way to worship God. True worship involves worshipping God wholeheartedly in Spirit and in truth as He directed in Scripture. False worship occurs when we don’t worship God: we worship idols and the things of this world. We worship God in vain when we worship the God of the Bible in the wrong way, contrary to His Word. Clearly, Judges 17 shows a combination. Judges 17:1-6 says:

  “There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah.  And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.”  And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.”  So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah.  And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest.  In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

   So, right away we see that Micah is a thief and a liar. And after returning the funds to his mother, they both commit apostasy, meaning they turn away from following God. They take a portion of the money and create an idol. It is ironic how they “dedicate the silver to the Lord” and yet violate the first and second commandment. They showed great spiritual ignorance, mixing elements of true worship with ahobrent practices. They seemingly worship God, yet they serve a mere metal statue. They thought God could be improved upon, that worship needed some changes. 

   The situation only goes downhill from there. Micah basically builds his own house of worship, which was a perversion of God’s true sanctuary. He thought he could create a place of worship as good as the one in Shiloh. He wanted to invent his own way to worship God, a way that pleased him. Micah starts to replicate items from the true sanctuary. He made his own ehpod, a garment supposed to be worn by Levitical priests. After that, he further violates Mosaic law and makes his son a priest.  Micah is not even a Levite, neither is his son. People could not randomly appoint whoever they want to be priests, God appointed the Levitical priesthood. Verse 6 sums up the situation well: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.. Everyone did what they wanted. They did what seemed right to them. They did not seek to do what is right in God’s eyes. 

   What does this mean for us? While we do not live in Old Testament times of the Sanctuary and Levitical Priesthood, we still need to worship God rightly, with reverence and awe, surrounded by the truth of Scripture. We need to stick to the Biblical definition of worship; we need to worship the God of the Bible, not the God we want or have created in our heads or the idols of the world. We cannot be casual in God’s presence. It’s important to properly focus on Him during worship instead of thinking…hmm where should we eat lunch…I really need such and such at the store…I hope we get home in time to see the big game…etc. We cannot do what is right in our eyes or try to rewrite the definition of Biblical worship to suit our needs. The truth is, we are creatures of worship: we are always worshipping something. So, let’s commit to rightly worshipping our King, not the things of this world.


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