Monday, December 22, 2008
Here is what she wrote:
Only Jesus can be our Great High Priest
And our sacrifice
Only Jesus can be our judge
And our advocate
Only Jesus can be born
Of his own creation
Only Jesus can be humble enough
To be highly exalted
Only Jesus can be seated at the right hand of the Father
And be with us always
Only Jesus can be the hearer of all our cries
And cry out in intercession
Only Jesus can be the alpha
And the omega
Only Jesus can be the Lion
And the lamb
Only Jesus can say “It is Finished”
And “I am completing a good work in you”
Only Jesus can be feared
And calm our every fear
Only Jesus could have nothing in his appearance that we would desire him
And be the joy of man’s desire
Only Jesus can be despised and rejected
And draw all men unto himself
Only Jesus can exist before time
And appear when the time had fully come
Only Jesus could empty himself
And be the fullness of God in bodily form
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
"The love of Christ constrains us."
2 Corinthians 5:14
Love of Jesus is essential to Christianity.
No privations can starve it, and no burdens
can break it down. It is the core of all true
piety. It is the only cure of the reigning
worldliness and covetousness and fashion
worship, which have made such havoc in
too many churches.
There is only one way to be a steadfast
Christian--it is to get the heart so full of love
to Jesus--that the world, and the lusts of
the flesh, and the devil can get no foothold.
A true Christian life is the continual
consecration of our bodily powers, of our
energies, our affections, our resources,
and our influence--to Him who bought
us with His .
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of
God's mercy, to offer your bodies as , holy and pleasing to God--this is
your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1
Thursday, December 4, 2008
And yet, despite all the talk of “peace on earth and good will toward men, ” I am forced to admit that Christmas, like everything else, brings out the best and the worst in people. We are, after all, such depraved creatures, you and I (Rm 3:10f). When push comes to shove, we shove back and find a way to turn even the greatest of all God’s gifts into a reason to display the selfishness of man.
We, sadly, saw a terrible example of this last week when 34 year old Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death in a Long Island, New York Wal-mart as Black Friday shoppers pushed and shoved their way past his broken body in their rush to claim their Christmas deals. And so the birth of the One given as the result of the greatest of all loves, became an excuse to kill a man in the selfish desire of a crowd to satisfy it’s lust for things.
Certainly I know this is an extreme case, but doesn’t it reveal something about the true nature of the human heart. Jesus said that it is from within, out of the heart that such evil flows (see Mark 7:21-23 above). That is the true condition of every man and woman apart from the grace of God. That is the root of our problem. Not what other people do, but what I myself am capable of doing and will do in my selfish rush to satisfy me! That, my friends, is why we need a Savior, and why I celebrate God’s gracious gift of Christ for a sinner like me!
To Him Be the Glory Forever!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I awoke this morning, looked out my bedroom window, and saw the leaves of a tree gently moving in the breeze; The thought came to me: "God is controlling the movement of every leaf on every tree, in every town, on every mountain side, and in every valley, in the whole earth. Lord, You are the One who controls that breeze, and ordains and causes every movement of each leaf."
If that is true, how much more the nations, governments, and all the direction of the affairs of all men?
"I bless the Most High, and I praised and honored him who liveth forever, whose dominion and his kingdom is from generation to generation; And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing, and he does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest Thou?" - Daniel 4:34-35
In other words, God reigns! In eternity past, He was reigning; at creation, He was reigning; at the to earth, He was reigning; a thousand years ago, He was reigning; and yesterday and today-- He is reigning in all the affairs of men. He reigns. Rejoice-- the Lord is King.
- Mack Tomlinson
Friday, October 24, 2008
Sadly, much of today’s preaching skips over repentance as if it were an unnecessary addition to the Gospel. Since Christ came to save people, so the thinking goes, let’s just tell them about Christ and his love, and urge them to put their trust in Him. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” they say, “so pray this prayer and ask Jesus into your heart and you can be saved.”
The problem with such a message is that it falls far short of the biblical Gospel, and thus it cannot save. ‘Salvation’ you see, implies rescue from something. I’m in danger of some terrible fate. I need to be rescued from it. But what does the modern gospel offer, to save me from missing “God’s wonderful plan for my life?” Maybe I have plans of my own? Is that all there is to it? I think most people would be willing to take their chances if there is nothing more to the Gospel than that!
But the biblical Gospel begins with a warning. “You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and “the wages of your sin is death.” It’s not just that you might “miss God’s best.” You are a rebel sinner who’s sin has put you under the wrath of God. You’ve set ourselves against God and His right to rule over this universe. Thus the danger you are in is that you will perish under His righteous wrath when He pours it out against all who stand against Him. No, your only hope is to turn from your sin and embrace by faith the Savior God has sent to bear His wrath for you – Jesus Christ His only Son. So repent and believe the good news that God saves sinners who turn and trust in Him!
Soli Deo Gloria
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Abram is over a hundred years old with a post-menopausal wife who’s never been able to get pregnant. But God says, “I’m going to give you a son.”
- The children of Israel have their backs to the wall – the Red Sea in front of them, Pharaoh’s army behind them – with no place to run either left or right. There’s no way out of this jam. But God tells Moses, “Stand back and you will see the salvation of the Lord”
- Gideon’s army is whittled down to 600 men, when God tells him to defeat a Midianite hoard of thousands.
- And who could forget David the shepherd boy sent out to face the Giant; or Daniel in the Lion’s Den; or the young virgin girl who’s told she will bear God’s Son even though she’s never been intimate with any man.
- And then there is Christ, God’s Messiah, hanging on a cross, despised and rejected by the very people He came to save. What hope could there be in such a Man? Or what hope is there for the ragamuffin band of disciples He sends out to evangelize the world.
I was thinking about this chapter the other day, when it occurred to me, that the real miracle here is not just what Jesus did for these individuals, but who He shows Himself to be in each case.
One man is possessed by demons – Satan has taken over His life! Jesus comes and sets him free. But that's not all. 1 John 3:8 says, “the Son of God has come to destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus not only has power to set this man free. He came to purify all His people from sin and it’s terrible consequences
The woman is suffering under the crushing weight of a terrible affliction. And Jesus heals her of her affliction. But Isaiah 53:4 goes on to say “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; . . .by his stripes we are healed. Christ came to take upon Himself our wounds and our sins and bear them away to the cross!
A child was dead! Beyond all hope of recover. And Jesus raises her from the dead. But even more, in John 11:25 Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though He dies.” He Himself is our source of Life! Eternal Life comes to us by trusting in Him!
In each one of these cases, Jesus not only gives what each one needs! He Himself is what they need! He is our victory over sin! He is our healing righteousness! He is our resurrection life! In other words, we don’t come to Him for what He gives! We come to Him, by faith trusting Who He is!
My prayer is that thought will give you hope in a lot of "hopeless situations" as you look by faith to Him
Friday, October 10, 2008
God has so faithfully given us the truth of His Word! (John 17:17) That's where we see Him! And that's where He meets us with "grace to help in time of need!" (Heb 4:16)
But not only that, God is just as faithful to open up His word to our eyes, and by His Holy Spirit apply it to us, to our understanding and for our transformation by grace through faith! (Rm 12:1-2, etc)
Oh what a faithful Savior!
Looking forward to meeting with His people again this Sunday.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thursday, October 2, 2008
------------------------------- Mack writes....
I stopped this week at my friend Michael Durham's 3rd favorite place, Star Bucks Coffee (after his home and Oakgrove Baptist Church), to get some hot tea and study for about an hour before getting my children at school in the afternoon.
As I sat down at the table outside to enjoy the pleasant weather, I saw words written on the Starbucks cup which intrigued me. I began to read these exact words by James Brown, a pro football television sports anchor:
"I have faith--faith in our wondrous capacity for hope, good, love and trust, for healing, and forgiveness; I have faith in the blessing of our infinite ability to wonder, question, pray, feel, think, and learn; I have faith in the infinite possibilities of the human spirit."
I began to think, smile, ponder, and then grieve-- everyone's religious in America these days; Brown sounds like he lifted a quote from yesterday's Oprah show, though he probably wrote it himself. Everybody's talking about faith today, from Obama to Joe Biden, to Rush Limbaugh, to Oprah and Hillary, to Barbara Streisand and even Madonna-- everybody loves "faith"-- it's very fasionable and in vogue to say you have faith.
It all sounds so sweet, kind, inspiring, gushy and mushy, making people want to bust out singing in unison, "We are the world, we are the people!" But the real question is this:
What in the world do they mean by faith?
Brown's words above are loudly and clearly saying one thing: "I have faith in me-- I have faith in man-- I have faith in my own endless capacity to be really good; I have endless, infinite abilities and capacities because I am human."
The world is groveling and drooling over such language every day- in advertising, in movies, in the media, in Hollywood, from L.A. to New York, in office buildings, coffee shops, in press conferences, in presidential candidates' speeches, in churches, at weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies and in university classrooms across the country and in many towns in rural America, where ladies will have coffee together tomorrow morning. This disease is everywhere and it continues to spread.
Such words as Brown's are meant to teach only one thing-- have faith in yourself and in innate human goodness, for that is the only thing that matters. Neither Marx, Lenin, or radical atheistic communism ever had a better humanism than the words on that Star Buck's cup. America has swallowed the biggest lie of all-- I trust in myself because I am good.
Never has there been worse blindness than that. Such people are clueless as to what faith is at all. Because there is no faith apart from a true objective basis of faith-- the Word of God; and there is no object of faith that is credible and true except in one person-- Christ Himself. The Bible is the only basis of faith and Christ is the only object of faith. Accordingly, true believers are the only ones who have any faith at all and are the only ones who can even talk about faith in a true way.
There is only one faith in existence- the faith once delivered to the saints; there is only one basis of faith-- the Bible, and there is only one object of faith-- not you, not me, not man, but Jesus Christ Himself. Faith doesn't even exist apart from the exclusive reality of the Lord Jesus. Every person who has ever been on the planet is shut up in complete unbelief until he or she finds a resting place solely in Jesus Christ Himself, the only place for .
Sorry, James; the hot tea was good, but the cup's advertising fluff about faith is emptier than cotton candy. I'll drink the tea, but not the faith you are spreading; I don't want it because it's not the faith of Jesus and it does not work-- cannot work-- in life, in death, or in eternity.
- Mack T.
Monday, September 29, 2008
"We have met the enemy and it is us!" I think it was Pogo who said that, or something like it. But whoever it was, it certainly is true. Most often my falls into sin have come from tripping over my own two fleshly feet. Far too often I find that there's just too much of "me" in me, and too little Christ. That's when I thank God for the grace of repentance that turns my focus off of me and my wants and onto Him and His matchless, graceless provision.
I found the following quote from Horatius Bonar to be a help toward giving me a clearer view of the reality of things. My prayer is that it will be helpful to you as well.
What are you living for?
Most, perhaps, live to enjoy present things as
much as possible--and to escape hell at last.
Have your ideas, your hopes, your aspirings--ever
risen beyond these two things? Are you living only
for self? Is that all? What a poor object--what a
base and narrow aim! What an insignificant, empty,
hollow being is yours--wasted, shriveled, useless!
"My purpose is to give life in all its fullness."
What stands between you and that life? It is self,
the accursed thing! What separates you from God?
It is SELF--your love of self, your admiration of self,
your confidence in self. It is SELF which is blinding
and bewildering you!
What is it that is dragging you down, and making
you cleave to the dust? It is SELF! And what is it that
will before long be your everlasting ruin? It is SELF!
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wants
to come with Me--he must deny himself, take up
his cross, and follow Me." Matthew
Sunday, September 21, 2008
A man is what he is on his knees before God and nothing more! In great measure, according to the purity of the instrument, will be success. It is not great talents which God blesses so much as true likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is a powerful weapon in the hand of God.
Study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this; your sermons last but an hour or two, but your life preaches every day! If Satan can only make a minister covetous, or a lover of praise, of pleasure, or of fine worldly things, he has ruined your ministry!
"Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be!"
- Robert Murray M'Cheyne
Thursday, September 18, 2008
As we look forward to Sunday and what will be the last of our short series on "Raising Children Who Delight in God", I've really been enjoying God's teaching on wisdom, (or as I see it, "the God-centered life") found in Proverbs 1:7-9. This is what we are to train our children to see! That all of life relates back to God...and life is sterile and empty if anything but him takes center stage!
It also occurred to me this weekthat the Bible's emphasis on family is not something we should see as exclusive, as if those who are single or no longer have children in the home, are left out. The Bible's emphasis on family is "inclusive." We as Christ's church are meant to see ourselves as a "household of faith" (Eph 2:19). Thus we are commanded to open our lives and homes to one another so that all the benefits that are designed to flow from a healthy home into the lives of the children of faithful parents, can also flow out of our homes into the lives of those around us who are hurting, lonely, or just in need of seeing the beautiful picture we find on display of the in Christ whenever we do see a biblical, .
I also have found great encouragement in the fact that there are no perfect families. Nor does it take perfection for God to work in the life of our children. 2 Tim 1:5 and 3:14-15 give us a window into Timothy's home life: an absentee father, raised and trained in Scripture by his mother and grandmother -- anything but ideal! And yet Timothy was trained well because of the God-centered faith and love of these two women who brought him up (1:5). It seems that God's grace can make up for an awful lot that sin would otherwise destroy! So it's true, no one comes from a perfect home. And yet, no matter what kind of home you may have had, God's grace is sufficient, and more than able to make up for what sin has stolen. What a joyful thought! When our lives are shaped by His Word, His presence heals and corrects, strengthens and solidifies us into men and women who are able to know the joy of living to the praise of His glorious grace!
Now certainly this does not excuse parents to slack off and just "let grace handle it". Far from it (See Romans 6:1f)! We can do much to set our children on a God-glorifying path -- and we must do all we can as we prayerfully seek God's help! But it is a great encouragement to those who feel deeply the loss of not having a solid home life to find that God really is able to restore all that sin has broken! And he does that through the larger family we all 'the church" when it really is being "the church", the "household of God" There wounded hearts can heal, the fatherless can find a Father, and the unloved outcast finds that he has a family who cares for him very deeply and will not let him go. And there, by the patient love of a church family, built on the solid structure of healthy families, God will use what Satan meant for evil, in order to bring about great good! What a wonderful plan our Father has for His children of grace!
Well, that's a small taste of what we'll be thinking about together .! I pray you who live near Arnold, MO will be able to join us!
God is at work. I'm looking forward to worshiping with my beloved family in Christ!
Soli Deo Gloria,
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I hope to get back to this soon!
Friday, August 29, 2008
And so I set my course in a different direction. Early on I loved to study science. I received a degree in chemistry and even worked in research for a little while (though that sounds much more impressive than it really was!) And yet God called me to Himself. He opened my eyes to see Christ as my only Savior and Lord. He turned my feet so that I would walk after Him. And then He called me to declare His praise to the nations, that all might see and hear the glories of His grace.
I don't know why he did it. I just know that He did. And now it is my privilege, among other things, to spend time in His word, seeking to understand Him and the wonderful things He has done, and then somehow to find a way to express what I have learned to others.
That's where the note that follows (or perhaps its a prayer) comes in . I sent it out as an email to our congregation asking them to pray for me. You see, my greatest desire as I stand before them on Sunday, is to be able to express, in some small way, the wonderful things God has so graciously allowed me to see! And though you may be reading this long after the particular events have passed, perhaps you might be moved to pray for me as well, or to pray for your pastor, that he, too, may be able to declare clearly "the wonders of God's grace" to his people this Sunday.
So here is the note:
Dear Family in Christ,
Once again I am humbled to the point of great joy over the truth God has let me see in the passage we'll be studying this Sunday, from Mark 5:1-20. There is such a stunning picture here of the compassion and power of Christ! I find myself humbled and encouraged just to think of it!
Please pray with me that God will give enabling grace to share, to some degree, the wondrous mercy he's allowed me see. I always feel -- and every preacher feels this way, I think -- I always feel that I fall way short of really being able to describe the great depths of his love that I see opening up before me in the careful study of Scripture! My desire is that he would enable what he has made so stunningly beautiful to me, to appear just as beautiful to you, and that the encouragement he's giving me, will fill your heart as well when we meet together !
Seeking Him for an outpouring of grace!
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
One of the most fearful things about sin is its power to harden the one who practices it. The deeper a man goes in sin, the less sin bothers him. . . . Every sinner finds himself now committing sins that he once despised, and the sins that he now despises, he will someday find himself committing. It should shock us to remember that Adolph Hitler was once a little boy playing with toys just like other little boys. Man knows the beginning of sin, but no man has ever known the end of sin.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Return to your rest, O my soul, For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. Psalm 116:7What a busy summer (and spring and winter) this has been! But it looks like I might have a little time to catch up on a few things this week and next. My good friend and fellow elder Bob Schembre is about to take a short sabbatical from his position of leadership at our church so he can finish up some college courses he never got to complete when he was young. He's asked to give his testimony this Sunday. Since that's relieved me of the need to prepare to speak this week, I've tried to use the time to catch up on a lot of other things that tend to pile up when things get as busy as they've been. Thank you Lord, for this opportunity!
Next week, a couple of our interns and I are going down to Muscle Shoals, AL to spend a little time with some of our good friends form HeartCry Missionary Society talking about how our church can expand it's commitment both to training young men through internship, and how we might better organize to be more personally involved in the task of world missions. That will be Monday and Tuesday.
I hope to use the rest of that week as a kind of spiritual retreat and to get some things ready to teach this fall. After that, my girls and I plan on visiting my parents and family down in Arkansas.
Not a bad way to spend a couple of weeks here at the end of the summer. How I think the Lord for every opportunity he's given, and for his ongoing grace that upholds and strengthens us for every task!
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
And yet, as strange as it seems, I praise God for weeks like this (and there are a lot more of them than I’d care to admit). Because it’s these times that always seem to throw me back on my knees before God, pleading for understanding and help. Times like these remind me that understanding God’s word is not so much the result of my skill as an interpreter, as it is His grace in letting me see something of His Truth. How I thank God for that. Jesus said in Matthew 11:25,
"I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.I thank God as well that truth, like silver and gold, doesn’t usually lay on top of the ground where any half-hearted fool can stumble over it, but it must be sought with diligence (Prov 23:23) as we dig and sweat and seek the help of the One who is worth seeking! The One Who sought us first, and through an amazing grace has given us a desire to know Him in Jesus Christ.
My prayer is that God will give you a growling hunger for his truth that will continually send you to your knees before an open Bible seeking to know Him, and longing to be like Him. And that He will satisfy that hunger he creates in you, by giving you an intimate and growing fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ as you meet with Him regularly in His Word. For whether it comes to you easy, or it's one of those days when things are hard, it's always worth it to find that God still speaks through His Word.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Grace and Peace
Monday, July 28, 2008
What a welcome surprise to discover that this year things were quite different. Oh there were the usual displays of drama, and the cuts and bruises that accumulate whenever you have kids at camp. But from the moment I arrived it was clear God that had been moving upon the hearts and lives of many of the young people who were there in a way that is very encouraging.
One of the things that really impressed me was the response I saw from the teens in the class I taught. Aaron had asked me to speak on “What is the Gospel.” But when he told me that this would be an “elective” class held during “free time” just before supper, I thought, “Well great, that one kid that shows up and I can have a great time.” Much to my surprise fifty young people came on their own to study the Bible when they didn’t have to.
That’s amazing enough. But what really encouraged me were the answers I received to a series of questions I asked them about the Gospel. I expected to get the usual, shallow answers one usually finds in a room full of teens. To my great shock and surprise, this group of kids displayed a real depth of understanding and a deep hunger to get even more. Questions like, “What did Christ accomplish on the cross?” were met with answers like, “He gave Himself to be my substitute and took God’s wrath in my place!” Wow! I was blown away! I soon realized that this was a group of kids I could go deep with, and not only be understood, but also find that the truth was greatly appreciated. There’s no other way to say it, these kids were hungry to know God.
I especially appreciated the spirit and attitude of the youth from First Baptist DeSoto. It was clear that their youth pastor,Gene Smith , is doing a great job teaching and discipling them. Brother, it was great to meet you and your kids. I hope we’ll get to work together again in the future.
Another encouraging event was the late night question and answer session that I shared with Pastor Jeremy Muniz (also from FBC, DeSoto) and two of his staff guys (Gene and John). The young people asked more questions than we could ever have taken time to answer - but they were good questions. And even though we went way too long – they patiently listened the whole time. Quite amazing. I’ve rarely seen that many young people giving their full (or mostly full) attention to something like that when they were not being entertained, but were instead being given clear answers instruction from God’s Word.
Thank you Bro Jeremy for being a part of the whole thing with me. It was a joy to be able to field such good questions with a like-minded brother. God has given you much wisdom for your young age – I suspect that it comes through your complete dependence on the source of all wisdom – His inerrant word!
Another thing to mention, Bro John (also from DeSoto) did an incredible, Christ-exalting job of leading the kids in worship. I’ve been to many of these things where the music was more of a play time than anything else, and the cross of Christ barely an after-thought. So many today seem to think you’ve got to focus on the kids themselves and make them think the whole thing’s about them - or they won’t be interested. But that’s exactly what they don’t need. Most of their problems in life will come from thinking that it is all about them ( Isn’t that the very nature of sin?). What they need is a vision of the majesty of a Christ Who is big enough to cause them see that it’s not about them, it’s never been about them, and it can’t possibly be about them. They need to understand that there is a God Big and Glorious enough and Sovereign enough to demand their total allegiance, and able to satisfy their souls forever! You, with the help of the Holy Spirit, gave them that. I so much appreciate your leadership.
And finally, Bro Aaron, I will tell you again, how much I appreciate your hard work this past three weeks. I know you’re tired. But you wanted to make this about Christ, and you did so. I believe there will be a rich, future harvest of grace worked in many lives by God through your faithful obedience to Him this past month.
And to the rest of you who may happen to have read this far. I share this word of thanks with all of you as a word of encouragement. God has not abandoned this present generation. He’s still at work revealing Himself and His ways to hungry hearts. I pray you will come to Him hungry as well, and draw near to Him expecting to hear from him as you open His Word. And I pray God will open your eyes to the Majesty of His Son Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again to give life us who put our trust in Him.
Soli Deo Gloria
(To God Alone Be the Glory)
Monday, July 21, 2008
My most recent experience of this joy began back in April on my last mission trip to Romania -- you know, the one I was supposed to blog but never did! -- I met Mateusz (Matthew) Wichary, his wife Beata and their friend "Chris", all from Poland. They'd heard about the work of HeartCry and were interested in attending a conference where we were teaching, so they drove down to Romania for the week (an amazing thing in itself!). From the beginning we fell into a warm and enjoyable fellowship as we traveled along all week in what for all of us was a "foreign" country. At the end of the week, "Mat" told me he would be coming to the states during the summer to work in his PhD at Southern Seminary. I told him to contact me when he did.
To make a long story short. He emailed me about four weeks ago when he got this side of the Atlantic, and we arranged for one of our former church members, Terry Delaney, a student at Southern, to bring him to Arnold, MO for the weekend so he could join us at Rockport (thanks Terry, for taking the time!).
That weekend has just finished, and what a time we've had, laughing at silly jokes, sharing ideas, and rejoicing together in the marvels of God's grace in Christ to sinners such as ourselves. And what fun to be able to introduce him to Saint Louis and the Arch - despite the 100 degree heat! -- and then to try and explain what all the celebrating was about when Miles popped a walk-off grandslam to beat the Padres at Busch Stadium while we were standing under the arch. Have you ever tried to explain baseball to a European who's never seen it played before?
Any way, I don't know if you'll read this, but Matt it was a joy for my family to have you here and to learn what God is doing among the small, but vital group of baptists who live and worship there, and to find out how very much we are alike, despite the miles and cultural differences that might separate us! And I'm grateful to God for giving me the chance over the years to meet dear brothers and sisters of our one family in Christ from so many different places around the world!
What a mercy!
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son
Why are children afraid of the dark? It’s too simplistic, I think, to say that it’s only because they cannot see what’s there. For the same children who ran screaming from a dark room the night before, will almost certainly turn around the next morning and walk into that same room blindfolded and think nothing of it. No, it’s not just that they can’t see. There is something in a dark room, a quality in a darkened house, that feels threatening. Something in there forebodes of evil unknown and lurking, ready to pounce. No doubt, that’s why nearly every horror movie I ever saw as a boy ended up at some point in a darkened room with strange noises echoing from a corner. We all fear something in the dark.
Darkness is that place where evil hides and evil deeds can be indulged unobserved. Nobody sees you in the dark. No one is there to hold you back. You do exactly what you want. Perhaps that is why the Bible uses “darkness” as a metaphor both for the evil that holds men in their sin, and for the evil that motivates people to indulge in sin.
Let’s think about each of these pictures. First, the Bible describes “darkness” as a sinister power or evil empire that holds people in it’s grip – something from which they need to be rescued. In Colossians 4:13, for example, the apostle Paul describes what God has done in Christ for those whom He has saved (rescued) from the power of sin. He says,
“For [God] rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.”Here “darkness” is a “domain”. It is a “realm” that is “ruled” by a power. Much as a king would rule his kingdom, so darkness is pictured as ruling over a domain where people live, bound in sin. They are it’s subjects. It’s slaves, as John 8:34 makes clear. Darkness is something from which people need to be rescued.
The Apostle Paul certainly understood this. In Acts 26:18, as he relates how he was commissioned by Christ to go preach the Gospel, he says he was sent “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God.” Notice the parallels here. By preaching the Gospel, Paul will see people turn from darkness to light, which means from the dominion (or realm or kingdom) where Satan rules to the realm or kingdom where God rules. Darkness, then, is that place where sin reigns and Satan holds men and women bound in chains they forged for themselves by lust and rebellion against God.. It is a kingdom from which they cannot break themselves free. They need a Rescuer, someone who can enter the darkness with them and set them free.
But there is a second, deeper darkness that must also be considered, lest we think of men and women merely as victims of evil forces outside of themselves. The Bible is very clearly that the darkness that holds people in their sin, is an internal darkness as well – a darkness of the heart that sins because it wants to. John 3:19-20 says that even after Christ came into the world in the incarnation – when God became man, and light broke in to the darkness – mankind in the evil of his sin continued to refuse Him.
"This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”It’s not just that men and women are held in sin against their wills. They are willing participants in the sin and rebellion that holds them. That’s what we must understand. All of us at one time looked at the light of God in the face of Christ wherein are found all beauty, purity and perfection, and then we looked back into the face of our sin, and it was a face that seemed so familiar, like seeing your own image in the mirror. We looked and we said, “I’d rather have my sin than surrender to this Christ!” And we turned our backs and walked deeper into the darkness away from Him. We loved darkness rather than light!
That’s why the Bible pictures the coming of Christ into the world as an invasion of Sovereign Grace – of God breaking through our darkness with the overwhelming power of His Light to drive that darkness from our hearts that we might be changed by His grace from God-haters, into those who walk in the light of His love through faith in Christ. Thus Isaiah said, as he looked forward to the coming of Christ in Isaiah 9:12,
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.”And the Apostle John adds,
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV).
This powerful light that shines through Christ, shines not only into the darkness of this world but, as the Gospel of Jesus is preached, it also shines into the very hearts of men and women chosen by grace, so that their darkness is overturned and they themselves become children of light who turn from sin to embrace Christ by faith alone.
Consider the following verses that depict this transformation. 2 Corinthians 4:6
"For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”Notice that it is not we who have clawed our way out of the darkness in order to find Him. It is He who has commanded the light to invade our hearts and to give us the gift of seeing Christ and coming to the knowledge God through Him. Or, Ephesians 5:8-10
"[F]or you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord."This invasion of light is transforming us in Christ. It not only brings us into His light to dwell, it also becomes a part of us, transforming our character and making us more like Him.
In other words, not only have we been transferred from the realm where Satan reigns, to the realm where God’s grace rules, so that positionally we have a new Master and therefore a new destiny (heaven, not hell). We also have been transformed personally (and are being transformed daily through the work of sanctification) so that more and more His light can be seen shining through us. 2 Corinthians 3:18
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory (the bright shining) of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”We are being made more and more like Christ, the Lord of Light, who has called us out of darkness to walk with Him in a new and God-glorifying light.
Of course such a calling, brings with it a responsibility. We must realize what He has done in bringing us out of darkness and into the light of a new life in Him. We must acknowledge that this is now the truth about us. We are no longer children of darkness. We can no longer live as we once did in the darkness of our sin, following the lusts of our former life. We must live now as men and women whose lives have been transformed, and who now belong to a new realm of righteousness and grace in the light of Christ. Thus Romans 13:11-14 commands,
“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”Or again, 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8 urges us
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day [of judgment] would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. ”In other words, let us not sleep in the darkness as those who belong there. But let us strive with all His new life in us, to live in a way that is pleasing to God. Or as Jesus says in Matthew 5:16,
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”This is what He called us to, when He called us out of darkness and into light! It is a call first of all to salvation, to turn from sin and embrace Christ by faith alone. And then it is a call to ongoing sanctification, to continue with Him in the light of this new life with its ever expanding joy of holiness as we , the people of God, keep on walking with Him. And so Peter urges us to remember in 1 Peter 2:9-12,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.Let us no longer fear the dark, as children we once did. But let us overcome it by faith in Christ, Who is the Light of New Life alive and at work in us, to the praise of the glory of His grace.
*This post was originally written for "The Saint Louis Amigan" anniversary issue published by Bill Maddock at billsey-christian.net
Thursday, June 19, 2008
God, it seems, makes some strange choices. If you don’t believe that, just take a quick glance in a mirror or look around the room next Sunday when you go to church! One look should prove my point! Or, if you still need convincing, consider the choices he made when he called his Twelve Disciples. That He’s the one who did the deciding is beyond question. Mark 3:13-14 says that “he summoned those whom He Himself wanted” and then “appointed the Twelve to be with Him that He might send them out to preach.” The emphasis here is on the fact that He Himself did this. He chose those he wanted to be with Him. So let’s think about some of His choices.
First there’s Simon Peter. Peter is his nickname. It means “rock.” Some think Jesus gave it to him because he was so steadfast in his faith. The truth is, he was anything but. He could be impulsive, unstable, unsure of himself, and when push came to shove, he even denied Jesus. No, by naming Peter “the Rock” Jesus was not telling us about Peter, He was telling us about Himself and what He is able to do with such an unstable man.
And then there’s James and John. “Son’s of Thunder” Jesus called them. Impetuous, hard to get along with. Ready to call down fire on those who opposed them. And yet before Jesus is through, one will lay down his life for Christ (James), while the other becomes known as “the apostle of love” (John). There is power in His gentle grace!
And then consider Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector. If ever two men should not have been brought together, it was these two. Zealots believed all tax collectors were traitors and therefore worthy of death; and tax collectors feared the Zealots who wanted to kill them. And yet here, in the power of Christ, these two men found a reason to love one another as brothers.
How odd for God to choose such a crew. But Christian, aren’t you glad He’s chosen you? May we live to the praise of His glorious grace!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,It reminded me of something my wife said to me just the other day . She pointed out how so many widows and others who retire or end up with time on their hands seem to use it to turn in on themselves. They take up little hobbies, or just waste their time doing nothing. But this woman has not done that. Instead she has become a beautiful example of the biblical exhortation to use this precious time God has given to serve others for their spiritual good and to find joy in seeking to be used by God for His Kingdom.
Her husband, Bill, died a few years ago. He was a marvelous, warm-hearted believer in Christ who I know she misses every day. I'm certain it would have been easy for her to just turn inward and give her energy to doing whatever would help her forget her loneliness. I can imagine there are times she would rather just "depart and be with Christ". But instead, she has humbled herself as a precious, gifted servant of Christ, giving her time and energy to minister to hurting children in our local Baptist association's divorce care ministry; helping people in need through the Missouri Baptist Convention's Disaster Relief Team, promoting missions and prayer as our WMU director, serving the members of this church in so many ways; ministering to the needs of her own aging parents; and even showing up to watch our church's softball team and serve them by keeping score.
And while I am not trying to puff her up, I can't help but admire her gentle, Christ-like, Spirit. God sees her bearing this choice fruit of love! He insures that none of her efforts will ever be wasted! And I am convinced there is laid up for her, and thousands of other dear saints just like her, a "crown of life" which our Lord will give to her when he looks at her and says "Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into your rest"
God is faithful! And in women like Janet, I see a picture of His faithfulness.
With loving admiration for faithful saints everywhere!
Pastor Scott Lee
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Saying Amen, to the preaching of the Truth.
1 Corinthians 14:6-19
In most languages of the world where Christianity has taken root the word "Amen" has been taken over untranslated. Listen to a person pray in Chinese or Japanese or Swahili or Maninka or German or French or Russian or Arabic, and very likely there is at least one word you will understand: "Amen" - pronounced differently perhaps, but discernible. One of the reasons for this is that the Greek New Testament took it over from the Hebrew Old Testament untranslated (even though the Greek Old Testament [the Septuagint, LXX] rarely did, using "let it be" [γενοιτο] instead of "amen" [Αμην]).
So what we have, all over the world today, is a word, "Amen" that is a direct transliteration - not translation - of the Hebrew "Amen". Now we see from our text that the word was taken to
Bringing the word "Amen" to
But let's be more specific. What did the word "amen" come to
"Amen" in the Old Testament
Well, let's make sure we get a glimpse of its Old Testament background before we answer that. In the Old Testament the word "amen" was mainly a congregational response to give a strong affirmation or agreement - to a curse or a word of praise to God. For example, in Deuteronomy 27:16 the Levites say, "'Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'" That is, we agree with that curse, so let it be.
Or consider this beautiful scene of reverence and worship from Nehemiah 8:5-6:
Ezra opened the book [the Word of God] in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
The "amen" meant, "Yes, we agree with your blessing! We join in your blessing! All that you have said of God's greatness we let it echo in our Amen. We say, "True, and firm and reliable is what you have said."
Or take Psalm 72:19, "Blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen." Here the psalmist speaks his own "Amen," and doubles it for doubled certainty. But he almost certainly means for the people to join him in saying the Amen. As in Psalm 106:48, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, 'Amen.' Praise the LORD!" Amen is the congregational way of affirming the leader's blessing. When great things are being spoken to God or about God in a public assembly, the fitting thing to do is to express agreement and affirmation. That seems to be the implication of these texts.
"Amen" in the New Testament
Now here comes Paul into Greek-speaking
Paul is extremely zealous that public speaking (whether prayer or preaching) be an event of group understanding and group agreement - not one person doing his own thing and others boggled. Not even one person doing his own thing and others understanding and silent. What then? His answer is just beneath the surface in verses 15-16:
What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?
Paul assumes something here. He assumes that when a public prayer is made, other people besides the one praying say, "Amen." Let's not miss this. It seems to matter to Paul. He could have just said: don't pray in tongues because nobody can understand you and so nobody is built up in their faith, because faith comes by an understood word of Christ. Or he could have said always have an interpretation. But he said more. He said (verse 16): If you pray so people can't understand you, how will they say "Amen"?
"Amen" Affirms Others in the Body
What if someone says to Paul, "I don't care if people say "Amen" to my prayers"? Or what if someone says, "That's not my tradition or my personality to say anything out loud in a group"? What would Paul say? I think he would say, This is not about personal taste. It's not about traditions of high church or low church. It's not about culture, say, African-American culture versus Swedish-American culture. It's about God's will for corporate worship, rooted in age-old Biblical patterns of prayer and preaching, and captured in a word that crosses all cultures.
I think he would say, God is calling us not to be isolated, silent, encapsulated individuals in worship. Privately coming, privately hearing, privately going, with no one able to tell what we love and cherish and long for, because we haven't expressed resonance - an echo, an empathy - with anything. I think he would say that God is calling us out of our cocoons of emotional isolation and invisible, inaudible, unshared responsiveness. I think he would say, it's God's will that we echo the excellence of God in preaching and prayer - that we express our affirmation of the truth of God in the Word, and that we resonate verbally with Godward longings and yearnings in prayer.
Let me mention two more reasons for making more of this than we do, and then close with some practical suggestions. Consider 2 Corinthians 1:20. This is the passage that gives "Amen" its clearest and deepest meaning. "For as many as are the promises of God, in Him [that is, in Christ] they are yes [which is a translation of "amen"]; therefore, also through Him is our 'Amen' to the glory of God through us."
Now what Paul is doing here is precisely what I am trying to do this morning. He is taking the familiar word "Amen," and trying to fill it back up with the theological freight that words so quickly lose, so that it has meaning and weight and power to it when we use it.
Christ Is God's "Amen!"
He says first that Christ is God's "Yes" to all the promises of the Bible: "As many are the promises of God, in him they are Yes." Christ is God's Amen to all that he has spoken. Christ affirms them and even secures them by his blood. The fact that you don't deserve God's promise to pursue you with goodness and mercy all your days, is now no obstacle. Christ has taken your ill-desert on him, and put his righteousness on you. He is God's yes to all the promises in your life. For his sake you will get them if you trust him.
Then he says, in verse 20b, ". . . therefore, also through Him is our 'Amen' to the glory of God." In other words, the reason we say "Amen" through Christ when we hear the promises of God preached or hear a prayer of longing for the promises of God to be fulfilled, is that Christ has said "Amen" to us. He is God's "Amen" to us. God says "Amen" to us through Christ in the cross, and we respond with "Amen" to God through Christ in preaching and prayer. So that's one more reason we should make more of this echo of agreement than we do in corporate worship and prayer.
"Amen" Is Part of the Exaltation of God
The other reason is found in Revelation. John interrupts his own preaching with "Amen." And when we see the final worship in heaven, one of the main forms it takes is the form of "Amen."
Look at Revelation 1:7, "Behold, He [Christ] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be [literally: Yes]. Amen." Here is John's intrusion on his own preaching when something is said that is so wonderful that he can scarcely contain himself. Christ is coming. Everyone will see him - everyone. Even those who pierced him. And there will be global weeping among those who have not repented. And John breaks into his own sermon and says, in Greek, Nai!, and in Hebrew, Amen! - Yes, Amen, let it be, come, Lord Jesus.
The book ends with the same connection. In Revelation John says, "He who testifies to these things [namely, Christ] says, "Yes [= Amen], I am coming quickly," to which John cries, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." John responds to Jesus' "Yes" with his own "yes": Amen! Come!
Finally, look at Revelation 5:14 to see how central "Amen" is to the eternal acts of worship in heaven. Starting in verse 13b John describes the heavenly worship. All creation says, "'To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.' And the four living creatures kept saying, 'Amen.' And the elders fell down and worshiped." In other words, when worshipful beings - like we should be all the time - hear God exalted, they want to enter into the exaltation, and they do it with "Amen."
Well, what shall we say? What shall we do?
"Amen" When We Pray Together
The main thing I would say is: Let's be natural and healthy. Here's what I mean. When you are talking to someone, or even in the presence of someone, about things that are extremely precious to you, or painful to you, or frightening to you, and they give you no feedback that signals a sharing of your values or your hurt or your fear, there is no possibility of a natural and healthy relationship. Now that is the way many prayer meetings happen, and it's the way much preaching happens. And it is unnatural and unhealthy. And I fear we have come to accept it as normal. But dysfunctional worship dishonors God in ways that healthy worship doesn't.
A person pours out his heart to God in a circle of prayer and there is complete silence. What does that mean? Well, you could probably tell me fifteen things that it may mean. But let me simply plead for another way, a more Biblical way. As others pray, you whisper, "Amen." Whisper, "Yes, yes." Whisper, "Umhm." Whisper, "Do it, Lord." I say whisper, partly because I want to make it easy for you, and partly because you're not supposed to take over or draw attention to yourself. The murmur of quiet "Amens" and "Yes" and "Umhm" is like background music that supports the one who's praying and joins him in the prayer. And at the end of a prayer a deeply felt "Amen" in unison is a powerful moment before the throne of grace.
The deep question is really: When you listen to someone pray, are you longing for what they are praying? Are you aching for God to work? Are you glorying in the God they praise? If so, make that moment a corporate moment the way Paul calls us to do it, not just an isolated, private, individualistic experience.
"Amen" When We Hear the Word Preached
And so with preaching. For me, preaching is expository exultation. It is a kind of prayer, a kind of exultation before God. I'm going to talk about this next week - why is preaching central in our corporate worship services? But today I will simply say, preaching is worship. It is the heralding of good news about God in Christ by a person who is called, sent and anointed by God to make Biblical truth plain, beautiful and powerful. Now when that happens in worship, it is a marvelous thing. And if it happens regularly without an echo or a reverberation in the mouths of God's people it is unnatural and unhealthy. It's as if a wife should come home thrilled at the sunset she saw, and as she describes it, her husband and children just look at her and don't say anything. That makes a natural and healthy relationship impossible. It also minimizes the beauty of the sunset.
God knows this about worship and preaching. That is why for 4,000 years he has made it simple for us: he has prepared a word. "Amen." There is no talk here about shouting or dominating or distracting. This is simply the call to make preaching and praying a corporate exultation in the supremacy of God. It is a call for authentic heartfelt expressions of "Yes" and "Amen."
Thursday, May 8, 2008
It’s easy for me, sometimes, to overreact. I know that. In my zeal not to repeat the mistakes of others, I can end up making new ones on my own. I've wondered at times if I’m in danger of doing that when it comes to "Hallmark Holiday's" like Mother’s Day.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love my mom– far more than I could ever say! And I think its good to set aside a day once a year to honor our moms and let them know that we think there’s no one like them in the whole world.
My problem comes in the tendency I see in churches to take a day like Mother’s Day and make it the focus of our worship. It just seems to be a misappropriation of God’s honor to shift the focus of any worship service off of Him and put in onto anyone or anything else.
And then there’s a practical concern, as well. When it gets down to it, I’m convinced that what you and I need is not another warm and fuzzy, feel-good experience or another ‘sentimental journey’ sponsored by Hallmark. What we need is for the life-strengthening, soul-anchoring power of God’s Word to be opened up and applied to our lives.
So let’s take a moment this Sunday to say ‘Thank you’ to our Mom’s for what they have meant to us. Let’s acknowledge that we can’t think of any job that could be more important than that of a godly parent. Let’s shout from the rooftops, “Mom, we love you! We’re grateful to God for you. We know our lives would be infinitely poorer without you and your Christ-like example of love.” But then for Mom’s sake, let’s shift our attention off of her and on to Him who created motherhood in the first place. And let’s offer our prayers and praise to our Father in Heaven Who alone can give Mom the help she needs!
Yours for His Sake...and grateful for moms everywhere....,
Thursday, May 1, 2008
"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”Jesus was uncompromising in His demand that there be no rivals to him in our lives – not even the members of our own family! Our love and commitment to Him must surpass all other loves and eclipse all other commitments.
Sadly, much of that emphasis has been lost in today’s preaching. Instead, we’ve tried to present Jesus as someone people should like, someone who is “relevant” and fun and always good to have at parties. But mostly this “new Jesus” ends up looking about as interesting as the store manager down at Office Depot. He’s friendly, tame, middle class and safe!
No, you can’t re-imagine Jesus! You can’t turn him into the ‘nice guy’ down the street. You have to take him for Who He really is – as He’s revealed Himself in Scripture. And there you find that he’s rarely “safe”. As Mr Beaver says to Lucy in C S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia (the book, not the movie!) ”He’s not a tame lion!” Nor is He “safe.”
In that same passage from the book, Lucy asks Mr Beaver if Aslan, the Lion representing Christ, is “safe”. To which he responds, "Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
So it is with the real Christ. He’s not safe, but He’s good! He’s the King! I pray God will give us new eyes to see Jesus for Who He really is – not a “tame lion” – but the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who is mighty to save!
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Our small group will be studying this passage tonight. But as I was preparing, I was so struck but the warmth of what Paul has to say, that I thought I’d take a moment to ‘blog’ some of the wonderful things I’m seeing here.
The first thing that really strikes me is the depth of Paul’s affection for this church. He says to them,
v 3 - “I thank God for you!”
v 4 - “I’m praying w/ joy over you”
v 7 - “It is only right for me to feel this way about you...since I have you in my heart”
v 8 - “I long for you with the affection of X”
v 9 - “As I pray for you, I think about your love...”
I wonder how many congregations can say those kinds of things about each other? One of the great joys in my life here at Rockport is to see how this kind of deep feeling is alive among us! Certainly we haven’t gotten it down to perfection, and there’s always room to grow. But I really do see this kind of love alive in our fellowship – to which we can say, “Thank you, Lord!”
At the end of last week’s prayer time, I asked our group to spend some time this week looking at this passage and asking two two questions:
1) What ought to bind us together in the body of Christ, and particularly in this church?
2) What does Paul pray will be true about us as people who are ‘in Christ’?
I see several things here that bind believers to one another. First, as we’ve just seen, there should be a deep, Christ-like affection toward one another. Jesus said in John 13:35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love for fellow believers is one of the first and most important marks of a genuine Christian (see 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7-8; 11-12, etc). Every believer should seek to increase the affection he feels for other believers, and to demonstrate that affection through his/her actions.
The second thing I see that binds us together is a joint participation in the Gospel. Paul says in v 5, that he prays with joy in view of their ‘participation in the Gospel’. Every genuine believer loves the Gospel they have believed, and is committed to sharing that Gospel with other people! That makes us “co-laborer’s and “co-combatants” joined together in this same holy pursuit – that His Name would be great among the nations (Psalm 67). For that reason we purpose together to spend and pray and go and tell and serve and share with one accord this message of God’s grace in Jesus.
A third thing that bind is us a solemn confidence in the power of this Gospel! I love verse six, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The Gospel is God’s work. It is by His power and grace that any of us believe (Rm 1:16). It is through this same Gospel and the grace and power it brings into our lives that any of us continue to believe and thus remain faithful to the end. This confidence then continues to do two things for me. First, it makes me less likely to panic when things don’t go well. I know that God is in control, even when I (or others) blow it. I can rest in His grace. But second it gives me patience with others. This Gospel is not done with us yet. I’m not looking to find perfection in your life, just a genuine change of direction from the old self-satisfied, self-centered life you used to live, to the new Christ-exalting, Christ-centered, life you’re living now. So when you blow it, or disappoint me (or I do you), it’s not the end of the world. I know God’s not finished with either of us yet.
Fourth, we are held together in a Shared grace. Paul says in v 7, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.” What is implied here, I think, is that this group of Christians in Philippi were demonstrating the grace of God in their lives by the way they cared for Paul in his time of need! They stood with him! They supported him! They loved and encouraged him! We must do the same for one another! And we will, if we are truly in Christ.
And then fifth, I see us held together by a common experience of new righteousness in Christ. In v 11 Paul says that they have been “filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ” Such Christ-like fruit is something that spills out into believer’s life in a way that can be seen (Galatians calls it the ‘fruit of the Spirit’). Such ‘righteousness or Christ-like attitudes and behavior then spill out from our lives into our relationships with others! And that’s when “church” really begins to happen. You see, whenever these Christ-like attitudes and commitments begin to spring up in a body of people, they become begin to experience the joys of a genuine Christian fellowship. That brings an irresistible and attractive force that soon draws other people in to enjoy the good thing God is doing. I love it when I see that happening among us! And I’m humbled by it, because I know no human plan or program could bring it about! It’s a God-thing!
But then, there is a second question I used to challenge our group as well. I’ll only touch on it briefly here since I’ve already gone so long. But it too is a very important question and could lead to a great deal of very fruitful discussion. Here it is: What does Paul pray will be true of us who are in Christ together? Let me just point out four quick things.
1) That we will experience a growing love! He prays in v 9. “ . . . that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,”. Notice that this love is not only meant to grow outward and embrace more and more people, but it is also full of ‘knowledge and discernment!’ In other words, it’s not a love that is based on empty platitudes and warm fuzzy feelings! It’s a love that is rooted in something real! Something God has done! You see, God through Jesus Christ has created a new reality in us that binds us together in love and then pushes us out in that same love to give our lives together for Christ in the world. This love, rooted in truth, makes us wise as we demonstrate the reality of new life in Christ in everything we do, say and undertake together in Him.
2) This work of Christ gives us wisdom to press toward what really matters! The first part of verse ten says we exercise this knowledge and discernment “ so that you may approve the things that are excellent.” There is a great deal in this world that is not necessarily good, or bad. It’s just mediocre. A great deal of entertainment falls in this category. TV won’t make you a mass murder, but it will certainly cause you to kill a lot of time that should have been spent doing something that matters! Wisdom teaches us in the body of Christ how not to settle with merely avoiding what is bad, but instead to strive for what is “excellent” and what really matters in life by pouring ourselves into the great priorities of life which include family, friends, the Gospel and seeking to glorify God in all things.
3) We are meant to be blamelessness in our behavior. Verse ten continues, , “...in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” Behavior matters – not so that we can be saved (Eph 2:8-9) but as the evidence that we are saved (Eph 2:10, notice the connections here!). It is after all our “good works” that people will observe in order to “glorify God” because of us (Mt 5:16). How many unbelievers have been turned away from ever hearing the Gospel because of what they’ve seen in professing Christians. What if they were constantly seeing us live such good lives – lives in which there was nothing blame-worthy – that they had no choice but to confess that there truly is something different about us! Might not more people be brought to Christ by our blameless actions of love toward them, than by our boycotts and blame casting shouts against them?
That brings me to the fourth thing,
4) We must live fruitful lives of righteousness that bring glory to God. As Paul says in v 11, “... having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
My prayer is that God will make this true at Rockport and every church where his word is faithfully preached and his people seeking to live for the glory of His Name.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
I've been to a lot of conferences over the years. Usually there are one or two outstanding messages, and then a few that, while helpful or informative could only be described as ...well...OK. But here there seemed to be such evident grace from God that every message ministered something vital and helpful to my soul.
Another amazing thing is how great a diversity there was between the preachers both in their style and personalities, and yet such a great unity in the truth they proclaimed. Paul Washer is passion aflame as he burns for the glory of Christ. Mike Morrow exudes a confidence in truth with a 'country preacher' kind of charm. Charles Leiter teaches with a clear and logical faithfulness to Scripture that never fails to help me see something even more wonderful in the truth of Christ. And Mike Williams speaks so plainly and powerfully with a unique ability to disarm me, even as he presents deep and powerful truth in a way that is simple without being at all simplistic. Each man (and there were others as well) was used by God to show me something else of His glory that I needed to see. Now my prayer is that all who heard will believe and apply what they have seen into their daily life with Christ -- especially the numerous young people who were in attendance.
Finally (for now), just a quick word about Rockport Baptist! Wow (again). I am amazed at all your hard work -- the way you all chipped in and gave of yourself to make this conference come together so wonderfully. So many have done so much that it would be impossible to name you all. And a couple of you deserve loud commendation for what you've done...but since you would not want to be acknowledged publicly (thus keeping your reward in heaven) let me just say, "Thank you!" knowing that you know who you are!
To God alone be all the glory!
PS - I hope to blog a bit more about content once I've had time to process and perhaps listen again to the messages. We also plan on posting the messages on our website or on Sermon Audio as soon as we can. Now it's off to Louisville for the Together for the Gospel conference