New Year, Same Culture

If you are reading this blog post then congratulations, you have successfully survived the Christmas Holiday of 2016. It is hard to believe that Christmas is over and we are only a few short days away from 2016 being over as well. It does not seem possible, but I praise God for what He has done in 2016, as well as what He is going to do in 2017. I have high expectations because I know that God is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). God is good regardless of the situations we find ourselves in, and this will ring true in the coming new year.

 

Not Condemn, But Save

 

As Christians, we are living in a culture where we are known more for what we are against, rather than what we are for. This is obvious to see and cannot be denied by those who take a simple glance around the country. Churches, partly because of horrid misconceptions, partly because of unfortunate extreme cases (ex. Westboro Baptist), partly because of silence on issues and failure to clarify, and only slightly because of the Bible’s teachings, are being written off as irrelevant simply because we disagree with the culture at large. There are many different issues that could be used as an example within culture but, for the sake of time and space, I will leave the reader to decide what these issues are.

 

The Church in America by and large, fits into this category, though there are always outliers that have stood firm in biblical convictions in a loving way, and the issue with being perceived in this light is that we have effectively lost our witness. We have been deemed a people of hate, instead of a people of love; and when we do nothing, or even worse, buck up and find a hill to die on, then we are not helping the situation in the least bit. So a question arises in our day, “How should the church respond to a culture that is plunging head first farther and farther into sin?” Should we stand by and recede into our own little groups? Should we simply cater to the culture and throw out doctrine that has not only stood for thousands of years, but is more importantly established in the Word of God? How should we engage, and better yet, how did Jesus engage?

 

What was the purpose of Christ’s coming to earth? The answer is found in a well-known passage of Scripture, one that most who have darkened the door of a church for any amount of time should know.

 

John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

From the start of the passage we can see one crucial idea, that God loves the world. God has a deep love for all of His creation, and especially for those who are made in His image. God’s sending His Son has one primary cause: He is good, right, and perfect, and we are not. He is good, where we are not. He is right in all that He does, but we are marred by our sinful nature. He is perfect, and we are depraved. This describes all of us. We are ALL sinful. If you are reading this right now, then you are a sinner. Everyone who has ever lived, apart from Jesus Himself, is a sinner. From the time we are born, we are a rebel that should rightly be put down by our just God. We have all committed cosmic treason and all face condemnation because of it. John 3:18 describes the condition of mankind apart from faith in Christ as being condemned ‘already’. We are never neutral before God, and God is NOT unloving or unjust to send every last rebel to eternal punishment.

 

Our culture does not like this, but culture has never had the authority to determine what is true or not true simply on the basis of what is popular. God’s Word stands for all eternity and carries with it the authority of God Himself, and this is how He describes our relationship to Him. We live in an age that seeks for tolerance, and yet it is not intolerant for a doctor to withhold a cancer diagnosis from his patient simply because he doesn’t want to hurt his feelings; it would be the very epitome of hate. In the same way, if we do not know how dire our situation is, then we will not see the glory and beauty of the Savior.

 

In our open rebellion against Him, because of His love, God sends His own Son down to earth. Jesus lives a sinless life that we could not live, and dies the death that we deserve, bearing on Himself the wrath of God that was to be poured out on His people, and then resurrects three days later to show that our debt has been paid in full. This bloody, gruesome cross is the picture of what true love looks like. Jesus willingly sacrificed Himself so that others may be saved. Isn’t this why we celebrate Christmas in the first place?

 

This is why Christ came to the world, not to condemn it, because it is condemned already. He didn’t need to judge because our sin condemns us even now. He came to save!

 

If that is why Christ came, how then should we live?

 

We are to live our lives in two ways, but these two are so interconnected that they could be classified as one.

  • We are to live holy lives. Submitting ourselves to what the Word of God says about everything, and not only things that we like or agree with. We have no authority to determine what is or is not right, we simply submit and obey. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Without holiness you will not see the Lord. No matter your church attendance, or tithing, or your serving on a thousand committees, without holiness as described in the Bible, you will not see the Lord. We must daily put our sin to death and live like Jesus, which we will see clearly in the Bible. You will never reach perfection in this life, but that should never lower our standard that we are striving for.
  • We are to known by our love. Christ came to save those from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev. 7:9), so that means we have no excuse not to love everyone that is around us. You do not have to agree with one’s lifestyle or choices to love him. We should be a people known for loving all and seeking to serve all. Our cry, like Paul, should be, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some,” (1 Cor. 9:22). Jesus saved you out of your sin, why should we think that He is less powerful or glorious to save your neighbor? John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

In a culture that screams for tolerance, we must show patient love. I can assure you of this, no one will be saved by your pointing out their sin in judgment. We must show love to all people, regardless of what they believe, or the lifestyles that they live. Now, we must also never seek to change what the Bible teaches to cater to those outside of the church. All of the Bible is true and must be treated as such, but how we use God’s unchanging Word is the key. Do we use it in a fit of anger and condescension, or out of love in a relationship that we have with that person?

 

You will never save anyone, that is not your job. Your job is to love and share the wonderful news that we can be restored back to God by faith in what Jesus has already done. We live our lives in holy and loving ways, but eventually we are going to have to open our mouths and share the gospel. Yes, your life will be a witness, but it will NEVER replace sharing your faith. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

 

So reader, stand firmly on the Word of God, be exceedingly clear on what it says (any vagueness will begin a slide into liberalism), and be loving. God will bless those who are dependent upon Him and obey the two greatest commandments: to love Him and to love people.

 

The Best Book of Them All

 

For this section, I will not be reviewing a book at all this time. Instead, I simply want to plead with you in the coming year to make it a point to pick up the book that many of us already own. If the Bible is the Word of God and carries with it the authority of God Himself, then why do we often let it collect dust on our tables or bookcases? As believers in Christ we should be reading our Bible every single day, not so that we can check it off a list, or have more knowledge, but because we want to know God. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” God offers us fullness of joy and life in His Word.

 

God has given us a book and we must give it the time that it deserves. I read a blog just yesterday that said it takes around 70 hours to read the Bible through, which means that the average American could read it in four weeks if we would give up our TV time to read our Bibles (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/resolved-to-read-the-bible). So please, in the coming year, take the time to read your Bible through. All Scripture is God-breathed, and all of it deserves our attention (yes, that includes the Old Testament). Again, the goal is not to complete the Bible, but rather to know God.

 

Here is a link to Ligonier Ministries, which has an amazing list of options for Bible reading plans. There are also plenty of others on smart phone apps or online. If you do not own a Bible, then message me on here and I will send you one. I hope and pray that you will have a great New Year’s.

 

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

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Almost Christmas

It is getting closer and closer to Christmas Day and the excitement and anxiety are on the rise. Christmas time is one of the best times of the year for a lot of different reasons, with one of the main for me being spending time with family! I love to spend time with my family, and this is also more special this year because this is my last year of spending Christmas as a single. By this time next year, I will be married and I could not be more excited for it, though some in my family are excited through tears, but I guess that is normal as well. I am looking forward to being able to spend Christmas with my wife-to-be, but for the moment I will enjoy this year.

 

However, Christmas is special, not because of family, or gifts, or food but because of Christ coming to dwell among His people. The more we focus on the commercialization of this holiday and the less we focus on Christ, the more we show that we don’t actually understand what took place 2,000 years ago. The birth of Christ was the starting point for a plan that was decided before the earth was even formed, that the Son of God would come, live a sinless life, die a gruesome death on the cross, and resurrect three days later so that sinful humans might be brought back to God. It was a cosmic rescue mission that we might be restored to the relationship we were meant to have from the beginning. May we spend more time this Christmas season thinking on Christ and sharing this love with those around us. We love to give gifts, and great gifts at that, why not give the greatest gift of all, the gospel of Jesus Christ to someone that desperately needs it (whether they know it or not).

 

Not Only a Baby Born, But God Dwelling

 

One of the most glorious passages in the Bible, one that will take you high on the mountain when you stop to think on it, as well as one of the most heartbreaking, is the prologue found in John 1:1-18. I encourage you to take the time to read through it, after all it is only 18 verses and should take maybe five minutes to read, however for the sake of space I will not list the entire passage, but just hit on a few key ideas. The first aspect that is mind-blowing, but also sets up the rest of the passage, is the description of the Word that John gives. The Word was in the beginning. This beginning is not once the creation has already taken place and He shows up. No, from eternity past, the Word was there, and He was there with God, and He was God. This is not the easiest thing for us to understand, which is good because if we could understand everything about our God then He wouldn’t be much of a God. The Word was with God and yet is God. The Word is fully God and is yet distinct from God. There are not two Gods, but rather One, and within this One distinction can be made (see what I mean by not easy?).

 

This Word, that is with God and is God, is said to then be the One who creates everything. All things are made through Him, and nothing that exists was made apart from Him. Every tree in the forest and animal that lives in them, every drop of water and creature that calls it home, every human being as well as the very breath in his lungs, was made by the Word. In this Word was life and the light of men. The two things that man needs most because they are what he most lacks are found in Him. Man will die, but in the Word there is life. Man lives in darkness because of sin, and the Word brings light. In the same way that a flashlight in a dark room will not be overwhelmed, so also the light of the Word will not be overcome by the darkness that is in the world.

 

This amazing Word comes down to the world that He has made and what type of response should we expect? Fanfare and celebrations? You would think so. Feasts given in His honor and all people adoring Him, if for no other reason than for their existence? I would imagine. But this is not what happens at all. In heartbreaking fashion, the world does not notice Him. They do not know Him at all. The very One who created all was not given a second look.

 

Well, you may say, what about the people of the Old Testament? Maybe the people who God protected and lead for so many years will welcome their rightful King? Again, this is the correct response, but is simply not what happens. No, they did not receive their King, but openly rejected Him. They wanted a conquering hero that will rescue them from the clutches of the Roman empire, but they were given a humble servant who would conquer a far greater enemy, sin itself. They wanted a warrior, but received a sacrifice. They were looking for the lion, but at first received the Lamb who would be slain. It is truly heartbreaking to think about coming home and no one even bothering to notice.

 

However, praise the Lord that this was not everyone, because God has for Himself a people that did and even today still will believe. Verses 12-13 says that those who did receive Him, those who believe in Christ and did not reject Him like the others, He gave the right to become children of God. Think about that. We, as sinful human beings that are in open rebellion against the God of the universe, by believing in Christ can become Children of God. We deserve nothing except condemnation for our actions. We deserve eternal death in hell for our sin. And yet, we can become children of God, adopted into the family of the King. We can even share in the inheritance of the Son of God, Jesus Himself. But why? How is that fair? It’s not fair, we don’t want fairness, but God gives grace and mercy. Too often we ask a very wrong question of ‘why doesn’t God save everyone?’ when in reality the question is why should He save anyone?

 

The Word became flesh so that we might have life. Jesus Christ was born so that we might be born-again. In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The darkness cannot overcome this light. Those who did receive it were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). God alone saves and gives to men light. We cannot earn our own adoption into His family, but He freely gives it. Let me ask you as we get closer to Christmas, which person are you? Do you reject Him, or do you believe in Him? Now, don’t get me wrong here, simply because you go to church or pray or anything else does not mean that you truly believe. There are plenty of moral people who fill church pews that reject Him. They live as if He is only concerned on Sunday mornings, or even just on Christmas, and does not care about the rest of our week. Jesus didn’t come for you to mentally believe and not have your life changed, no He came that you may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10), which will only be found in a life that is submitted to Him. Do you believe in Him? If the answer is no, then I beg you to consider Him this Christmas season. Would you believe in Him and begin to follow Him, not just for this season, but for all of eternity. Joy in the full will be found nowhere else, but in Him, and who wouldn’t want that? Joy in the midst of difficulties, and life eternal in the presences of our Savior, that is the offer of the gospel. We don’t follow Him to have a good life now, or to get money, or health, but because He is far better than all of them. What would be a greater gift on Christmas than life in Christ, after all, He is the reason for the season (and yes I know that that was cliché)?

 

The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield

 

I am in serious debt to Steven Lawson for his long line of godly men profiles, and if he were to ever read this post then let me say a big thank you! This profiles are short introductions of people from church history and give a description of one aspect of their lives. In this case, this particular volume is on George Whitefield, the 18th century evangelist that God used to reach thousands of people in his lifetime. He traveled throughout England and the American Colonies, preaching to thousands. It is estimated that in the Colonies four out of every five individuals would have heard Whitefield speak. This book, like all the others I have read in this series, fuels in me a fire for God that few other things can. Reading of this man’s zeal for Christ and his longing to see others saved hopefully drives me to do the same. I highly recommend this book and the series as a whole. They are fantastic introductions to key figures throughout church history. Again, they are not long and yet being very engaging throughout.

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Here We Go

Writing is something that I have always wanted to do in the future. I think of it as a task that should come years down the road when I have read more, prayed more, studied more, and, if I am honest, have more letters behind my name. Writing is for the guy who has it all figured out I thought; and there is no possible way that that is me right now. I am just starting grad school as a 22 year-old, so really, what could I possibly write about that could make a difference to anyone?

It was only when I was talking to one of my close friends about this desire that he encouraged me to start writing on a weekly basis. It would be good practice and, after all, truth doesn’t change whether it comes from a scholar or a beginner or someone in between. That thought is what drove me to actually try what he recommended. Why not write about what the Bible means and how it still applies to us today as a short devotional because: 1. Truth doesn’t change. 2. The Bible as the very Word of God never changes. 3. The Bible, because it is timeless is always relevant. 4. People need to hear of God’s saving work in Christ. So, why not give individuals another opportunity to hear this amazing gospel from one more outlet? This is my desire on this blog and in life, both as a Christian generally and a minister specifically. May God glorify His name in this blog and encourage the reader by His grace.

 

Why Being in Christ Makes a Difference in How We See Life

 

Over the last week one key passage has been coming to my mind so often. It is pretty common to the average church-goer and is found in Matthew 3, more specifically it is the baptism of Jesus. Jesus, before He begins His earthly ministry that would ultimately lead to a cross and an empty tomb, first begins by being baptized by John the Baptist. He goes to the river to John in order to make this happen. The first thought that should come up is why this is necessary? In fact, John tried to prevent Him from being baptized, but Jesus, in order to relate to man fully and “fulfill all righteousness” gets in the water. The interesting part, and the one that I want to focus on is not that He was baptized, but rather what happens after it. When He gets out of the water the Holy Spirit descends on Him like a dove and the Father speaks over Him, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Now, for those that are standing by the river this is an amazing event. Imagine for a minute being there. You show up to be baptized by a man who is known as a prophet. You see him attempt to refuse baptizing someone that he is calling the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and then when this other man, after being baptized, gets out of the water a voice booms that this is the Son of God. This is an unbelievable moment. Would we be left shell-shocked, or would we follow the man? Despite disagreements on how we would react, we can all agree that this would be intriguing to witness, but the question that remains is how does that affect me today? I’m glad you asked that!

One of the biggest struggles that Christians in America face, especially those living in the Bible-Belt, is the desire to try and earn God’s favor. We may not come right out and say it, but we operate as if our performance dictates whether or not God likes us that day. If we fall into sin or struggle then God is ready to punish, but if we can manage not to screw up then everything is fine. God is our Father in the clouds that we are trying not to disappoint. And yet, is this how God actually sees us?

For those who are followers of Christ, we are in Christ and have been adopted into His family. Go back and read that statement one more time slowly. We are in Christ and have been adopted into the family of God! What an amazing place to be! Romans 8:15 says that we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons”. We are no longer slaves to measuring up because we are sons who are loved and delighted in. We do not earn this or work toward it, nor do we even stay in it by our own effort. Ephesians 2:8-9 credits salvation wholly to grace to completely eliminate human boasting. God will save His children from start to finish (Phil. 1:6) and He will be the One that will continue to instill the desires and abilities to work out salvation along the way (Phil. 3:12-13). God alone saves and will receive the glory.

Now back to our first passage on Jesus, how does this even relate? What this adoption into the family of God means is that for His children, God declares over them “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” God says this to Christ, I am in Christ and His righteousness is my own because of the cross (2 Cor. 5:21) so when God looks at me He sees Jesus. I am His child! He delights in me today and not some future version of me when I get my life all together. He actually likes me today. In my struggle and sin, He looks at His child and says “I love you son.” No sin will hinder this love and no accomplishment increase it. I can rest and continue to live for Him because I know that I am already accepted.

Do you feel this in your own life? When you think of God as Father do you first think about trying to earn His approval, or do you believe that He loves you, and likes you, today? Regardless where you find yourself I pray that you would spend time praying and seeking God, either in praise for this wonderful truth, or asking the Holy Spirit to put this understanding deep into your mind and heart. May God show you His love for you today in Christ.

 

Book Review

Since this blog will more than likely be weekly then I will try and put a section on what I am reading and my brief thoughts on it. I am currently reading Jefferson Bethke’s book It’s Not What You Think. In this book Bethke shows the reader how so often we miss significant themes of the Bible simply because we are not taught them, nor are we looking. His main point that he strives for his readers to see is that the Bible is a single narrative, it is one big story over 66 books. I agree with this completely and think that he does a wonderful job pointing out how our preconceived notions of who we are, what the temple is, and what worship is for example, can hinder us from seeing what an individual with focused eyes can see. There are many connections that the original audience would pick up on that we simply do not notice, not because we don’t understand but often because we don’t care to look. Overall this book has pushed me to read the Bible more carefully and pay attention to the details that I often miss. I recommend this book, as it is highly readable with solid content throughout!

 

 

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If God is Good Book Review

One of the toughest questions that continue to plague the Christian faith is “if God is so good, then why is there evil in the world? Why do people suffer if God is so loving?” This is the question that Randy Alcorn takes on in his book If God is Good. He covers a plethora of ideas and answers to one of the biggest questions of every generation. I recommend reading this book if you are facing this question yourself or if someone you know is.

He takes a biblical approach and from Scripture shows how evil serves purposes that may not be clear to us at the time, but are working for good and God’s glory despite God being in control but not responsible for evil because He is only good.

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7/8/16- Tragedy and Hate

Where do I begin in the midst of all of this violence, hatred, sorrow and grief? At the forefront of all of the media are the tragedies of deaths of two different African Americans in two different cities at the hands of police officers. There is no time to grieve and have sorrow for the families who have lost their members; no time for sadness and tears before two sides arise and call for justice, one that these deaths were needless and the other that they were justified.

No sooner does this news cross our phones, another story comes in, police officers have been shot by a sniper at a Black Lives Matter protest. In the middle of a peaceful protest violence erupts and now there are even more families that are forced to grieve with the deaths of five officers. What is the cry that roars out? One side is calling for justice, saying that these deaths were needless and the other that they were justified.

How am I to feel? What am I to think? I am so utterly confused by the thought that violence is the answer to violence. However, it is in this time that I am reminded of the state of mankind apart from Christ, depravity. This entire situation is happening because of the sin that infects all of us and the only remedy is Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we are not only restored back to God, but also to one another. This is the lone act of violence that truly brought life to man, the crucifixion of the Son of God. He bore our sins on His body in order to reconcile us back to God (1 Pet. 2:24). It was His death and resurrection that bought our life.

Love is the answer in a world of hate and the gospel of Jesus Christ the display of love at its fullest. We know what love is because He loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). This love is love that does not separate, but rather brings together. It does not divide, but unites under the banner of Christ. This is the love that we need.

So as this continues to unfold I will continue to be confused, however I will not be without hope. My response for now is clear, I will pray. Pray for the families of those who are dealing with loss in a way that I hope I will never have to face, and prayer for the police officers who risk their lives every day in order to keep us safe.

God forgive us and help us. We desperately need You.

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Draw the Circle

Prayer is something that the Christian knows that he or she should do, but is something that is usually lacking in his or her life. Now, I do not mean that most Christians rarely pray,but are we (yes, we) praying in the way that God wants us to be praying? Are we praying with the expectation of God showing up? These are some of the ideas that Mark Batterson discusses in his 40 day prayer challenge book Draw the Circle.

This book is a sort of devotional that goes along with the book The Circle Maker. I have to say that these two books have changed the way that I view prayer. Draw the Circle gives you a few pages to read that are different things to be praying about. If nothing else, this book caused me to intentionally get on my knees in the morning and pray before I start my day, and I believe that it was well worth it. It gave me a new perspective on prayer in general. “Prayer is the difference between the best we can do and the best God can do.” This idea was not a foreign idea, but one that was rarely believed in my own life and because of this I am on my way to a more deeper, intimate relationship with God, because of prayer.

I would recommend taking the prayer challenge, whether with a small group, or church-wide. I think that it is well worth your time.

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Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart

“Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart”, is a short book that was written by J.D. Greear in 2013. This is a book that when seen at a Christian bookstore, my cause an individual to look again just to make sure that they read the title correctly. I was one of those individuals who looked again just to see that the book does indeed say “stop asking Jesus into your heart”. This book deals with a subject that can be very difficult to address because the affect that it could have on those who read it. Assurance of salvation can be seen throughout the pages of Scripture, but is this assurance the same assurance that is being taught in the church today? This is precisely what Greear discusses throughout this book.

Beginning with his own struggles to find assurance, Greear walks through different issues that walk along side the topic of assurance. These issues include how do I know that I am saved, is the prayer that was prayed as a child enough, what if I stop following Jesus later in life, and do I need to earn (or better prove) my salvation. He is able to tell the difference between a faith that stands firm and endures, and one that withers once the going starts to get tough.

I felt that this book gives one of the most concise and biblically accurate description of what it means to be saved, and also what it does not mean. His definitions and examples are very easy to understand and are extremely helpful for anyone that is struggling with finding assurance in their walk with Jesus. He sticks closely to the Word of God and shows exactly what the Bible says when it comes to the issue of assurance in Christ, and how that looks with our world today.  I highly recommend this book for any individual or churches that are looking to address these topics.

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