A World Without _______ Would be a Better World!

A world without _______ would be a better world!

What would you put there?

A world without violence…

A world without hate…

A world without fear…

A world without financial struggle…

A world without disappointment…

A world without divorce…

A world without abandonment…

A world without human trafficking…

A world without COVID…

It’s alright to dream a little, and imagine a better world without these evils and trials, but the reality of our fallen state is that things are getting worse, not better. There are glimpses of good in the midst of the bad, and light in the dark, but until Christ returns there is an inevitable downward spiral we all must ride this side of Heaven.

The way to cope is not to imagine a better world, or to wish it would all just go away. The mechanism for handling the increasing trouble around us, according to Scripture, is faith in God. And not only faith in God, but faith in Christ.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:3

What is the believing that Paul speaks of here? Look at v8 of that same chapter.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

The promise given to the patriarchs was that a Messiah, a Savior and Redeemer would come to the world and rescue God’s people from sin and judgement. God promised peace and blessing to men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not saying that this world would get better, but peace would reign in their hearts if they would trust Him to be their God and to do what He promised.

Well, He did what He promised. Christ came! He crushed the Enemy of our souls at the cross and made peace between God and all who trust Him by faith.

“The root of Jesse will come,
    even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.” Romans 15:12

Jesus came and will come again to set things right, to judge the wicked, the hatred, the traffickers, and cheaters who never trust Him. There will be justice for the unjust. But until then, hope in Him by believing. And as you believe, the God of hope will fill you with hope and peace. And as hope in Christ rises above the gloom of our day, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that you will not only have hope, but begin to abound in hope through Christ.

The trouble with erasing from the world the one worst thing we can think of is that there’s just too many of those one things. The root is sin and unbelief. People need hearts changed, and only though faith in Christ can that ever happen.

So how about this?

A world without unbelief would be a better world!

The End is Not Yet & The Mission Remains Certain

The end is not yet.

How do we know this?

“And the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations.” Mark 13:10

In the midst of His discourse on the end of time, Jesus adds these words of assurance and missional focus. It’s as if he’s saying, “Things will get bad. Really bad. But the mission of the disciples never changes, and ultimately, will never be stopped.”

No a pestilence or famine, war or wave of persecution, ever has and never can stop the church from her mission of gospel globalization for the glory of Christ.

Have you perhaps forgotten this during this time of uncertainty and unrest? I wouldn’t blame you. We’re human. The media is continuing to pump out articles and videos that span the spectrum from panic and pandemonium, to reasonable facts and practical precautions. But one thing they will never mention is the ultimate mission you and I, as Christians, must maintain. For that, the Christian must look to Jesus and His word.

So, is the end here? I don’t think so. But I’m not God. And seeing that the end of time is totally in the hands of God, and that even the incarnate Son was not given the day or the hour, we truly don’t know. But we do know that until that day arrives there are people everywhere who have yet to hear. There are people in our cities and communities who have never repented of their sin, to turn by faith towards Jesus and his work on the cross, and trust the risen Christ.

We (my family) are taking this seriously. What I mean is, we’re listening to sound reason and advice from the authorities such as the CDC and local government. Right not this means social distancing and self quarantine. We’re washing well, eating as healthy as we can, rationing TP (sort of), and covering coughs with our arms. The church where I’m the lead pastor has cancelled Sunday gatherings in person, as well as several events that were planned for late March. We’re prayerfully considering what City Groups (our small groups) should look like, and what’s the safest thing for our flock and the communities we live in. And we, along with thousands of other churches, are thinking of ways to encourage the church body, pray together, study together and fellowship through technology. Needless to say, these times are interesting and challenging, but we cannot succumb to fear and abandon all hope. Why? Because the end is not yet, and there are nations, peoples, tribes and tongues; there are neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends who have yet to hear the Gospel.

I’m not unaware of the possible number of deaths that the CDC says could ensue, but honestly, I’m hope-filled, not because I lack caution and prudence, but because of Jesus and the focus of His mission. Think about the way he endured the cross for us, and how the Father’s plan for our salvation put Jesus smack at the center of a tremendous trial. Yet Jesus endured for the sake of the mission, because he knew His Father’s will was perfect and trustworthy.

Today, we have a mission too. We find that mission in Acts 1:8. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” As we carry forth the mission of Jesus we encounter trials of various kinds, trials that increase in intensity as the years pass and as Jesus’s return draws closer. In the midst of this we cling to the very faith Jesus showed us, a faith that surrendered to the will of our Father for the glory of the One who’s mission we still hold fast and hold dear.

The Gospel according to Matthew put it this way:

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

“This is not a great commission, nor a great commandment. It is a great certainty, a great confidence.” John Piper

So let us be as certain as we can about the things that matter the most. Let us be wise and loving in our actions when the world is in great need. But let us not forget the mission, and the certainty of God’s promises to fulfill that mission.

Corona Virus? Take Heart

I’m honestly not sure what to make of the Corona virus. Some would tell me that I need to be scared because this thing is really serious. Others are seeing this in a more balanced light, they’re not losing their mind, and they’re also not unaware of the potential threat that looms, and steps are being taken to be ready when and if things get worse. I’ve not decided what I think quite yet. One evening I read an article saying that China is basically curing people by giving them IV’s of vitamin C. While other articles and news agencies seem to have an IV line of panic directly into the population of America.

See what I mean? CONFUSION!

So I’m determined to use what influence I have to help people, and myself for that matter, to trust in a God who IS sovereign, and who actually DOES know.

Hear these words from John 16.“Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In the hour when Jesus was most alone, when death and betrayal was at His door, He trusted in the closeness of the Father. Today, every follower of Jesus, every born again believer in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ has this very same closeness to the Father, and truly, has no reason to fear.

I like the phrase, “take heart”. In the original language of this text it means to take courage. But this translation makes me think of an intentional action that many of us need to hear today. It’s as if Jesus is saying, when you have tribulation, of any kind, take your heart, your center, your fear, your worry and hopelessness and place it in the hands of Jesus who knows all things. Why? Because He has overcome the world.

Remember that no one else in the universe can make such a claim. Yes, I know this could get serious. I’ve heard the same stats you have. I have kids and a wife, a church that I pastor and plans that I’m making, some of which include travel. Good things. And no, I don’t want to be unwise and foolish. But the questions remains, am I trusting the one who overcame the world, and did so through the darkest trial a human has ever faced?

Jesus said “I have said these things to you, that in me you might have peace.” The key phrase here is, “in me”. In Jesus.

Is this new virus an act of judgement? Is it a tool in the hands of God to wake up the church and cleanse her? I don’t know. But we can say for certain that the outcome of it all, because of the nature of God’s goodness to bring light into the darkness, will work out for the spread of His glory in this lost world.

If you’re on the side of panic, and you’re a Christian, take your heart and entrust it to Jesus. Yes, even if the virus comes to your home state or town, even if it gets worse. I don’t say this on my authority, but upon the authority that every Christian has been given to believe and embrace, the Word’s of Christ.

If you’ve stumbled upon my blog and you’re not a Christian, I’m glad you’re here. I hope you’ll consider that the plight of this world is deeper than any virus, plague or war we might ever face. The absolute greatest foe to ever wage war on humanity was sin. It rules the hearts and minds of us all, until Jesus takes over as Lord and Savior. So, when Jesus say’s He’s overcome the world, and that we can have peace, the ultimate sense in which He accomplished this was at His cross and His resurrection. There, sin was crushed. The wrath that you and I deserved for sinning against Him was absorbed by the Son. Death was overcome, and a righteous record is given to all who place their trust in what He did. In Christ, we will NEVER be alone, and there is nothing to fear.

Teaching and Preaching: What’s the Difference?

The Scriptures say that both preaching and teaching are good and right. I don’t believe one is more important than the other. Both have a place and a purpose in the church and in this lost world.

The Place of Preaching In General

“When a man has been in the fire, and has the smell of it still upon him, he is the one to warn others not to meddle with fire.”

Spurgeon

Spurgeon helps us see what is one functional difference between preaching and teaching in a general sense. Spurgeon likely had the pulpit in mind here, so he mentions men only, but we can broaden that out into a larger Christian context too. We, both men and women who bear the name of Christ have been called to preach the gospel of Jesus. Preaching, historically, has carried a sense of fire with it. The fire and brimstone preaching that is void of grace and gives Christianity a bad name is not what we need. But speaking forth truth in a manner that causes one to listen up, sit up, wake up and straighten up, because the person speaking has a passion and pain in his or her voice that cannot be ignored; now that, we need. Preaching is a heralding the good news.

Jesus did it. Paul did it. Peter did it. Even Mary Magdalene did it when she brought the news to the disciples that “Jesus is alive!” In that moment, she did not teach, but preached. Brothers and sisters, preach the gospel as though you’ve been in the fires yourself. Preach truth to your own heart, your neighbors, your church, your co-workers and your family. Be a herald of the grace you received, through which God declared you righteous by faith in His Son, Jesus.

The Place of Teaching in General

The Spirit graces both men and women with the gift to teach. I’m not advocating a position that places a woman in teaching authority over a local body. The church I have the privilege of helping lead sees this position reserved in Scripture for qualified and called men. I’m making the case, here, that teaching the Scriptures in general is necessary, and that both men and women of God should take up this torch, and the local church should see that this happens.

The best picture of teaching comes from Jesus. Consider this scene.

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:.. ” Matthew 5:1-2

What was Jesus doing at this famous scene that began with the beatitudes? Was he teaching or preaching? He was teaching. It was slow, methodical, clear, rich with examples and metaphors to help His hearers learn and apply the principles of the Kingdom that had come, and the way of the King that sat before them. He wasn’t heralding, but explaining.

All Christians are called to preach the gospel. All Christians are called to teach, in the sense that we’re all called to make disciples. This is not a vocational calling I speak of, but a universal calling to the entire body of Christ to carry on the work of teaching that Jesus began. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Teaching and Preaching in the Local Church

When it comes to the gathering of the local church, under local leaders, and the function of preaching and teaching, we are not left to wonder. The Scriptures give us guidance here too.

In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” His instruction to this young pastor seems to combine preaching and teaching into one necessary and cooperative function for the shaping of a people into Christ-likeness and maturity. Preaching generally aims to awaken the sleeping and apathetic heart and calls believers to gospel attention, while teaching generally seeks to explain truth in such a way as to form and mold that very same heart. Preaching calls sinners and saints to repentance and faith, while teaching explains the details and implications of such a faith. And if expository preaching is the primary diet of a churches intake of God’s Word, as I believe it should be, the Holy Spirit will take a congregation through a healthy balance of both.

The blog scene has exploded in recent months with the topic of women preaching from the pulpit, and women’s role in teaching in general. I will not address that here, but instead share a few links for those interested.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/pastors-need-women-teachers-and-vice-versa/

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/where-can-women-teach

The Real Hero of the Bible

The Bible is full of stories about people whom God used to do incredible things. It’s really easy to look up to them. But where did they get their strength to do the great things they did? Who is it that is really at the center of the Scriptural narrative? While we often hold up famous biblical characters as heroes, the truth is that God is the real hero of the Bible.

Some might look at the man, Noah, and consider him a hero. After all, he did build the biggest ship the world had ever seen, one that would rescue his family and every kind of animal from total extinction. But where did his strength to do this come from? It was God who commanded Him to this task. It was God who controlled the timing of the rain so that the Ark would be completed at just the right time. And perhaps the most significant proof that Noah’s strength and heroism was truly God’s is the fact that God, himself, shut the door to the Ark before the floodgates opened. It’s as if God was saying, “Noah, your obedience honors me, now get in and rest in my strength.” What does all of this tell us? The heroic acts of even the most famous biblical characters are attributed to the strength of God.

Another point to consider is that Bible characters, as strong as they might seem at times are still sinful and in need of a hero themselves. Look at David. As a young boy he watched his flocks with diligence developing the skills to slay lions, bears and even giants. But later in life we see grievous mistakes being made. As king over Israel, with great power and authority given to him by God, he fell into sexual sin with Bathsheba and found himself in need of saving. The chosen king over God’s elect was as flawed as you and I. Thankfully, God’s grace was greater. David later found himself experiencing God’s mercy and resting in the heroic plan of God, His Hero, His rescuer and Redeemer.

Finally, when we look at the Scriptural narrative from beginning to end, we see one unified story of God’s redemptive plan for His creation, and Jesus is at the center of it all. He’s the thread that holds it all together. He was foreseen in Genesis in the lamb which God killed to make clothes that covered the shame of Adam and Eve. Later in the law, every priest who entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice foreshadowed Jesus, our perfect High Priest. The kings, prophets, and mighty men and women who acted in faith all point us to a better man, the God man, Jesus Christ. Upon entering the world all eyes were on Him, and rightfully so. Later, God the Father would say, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” Biblical characters like Noah and David did wonderful things for God. Their stories serve a greater purpose, though, to point us to Jesus our perfect Prophet, Priest and King. He died in our place to save us. He is the true Hero!

So, the next time you read the Bible and discover a story of faithfulness, courage, and strength from a well-known character, remember who gave them that strength in the first place.  Remember that they, too, were sinners like you and me. You may look up to them, appreciate their stories, and seek to model some of their heroic behavior, but in the end it is God, and ultimately Jesus Christ, who deserves the title, Hero.

Remember to like and subscribe to the blog.

What Bible character do you look up to, but now see that their story exists to point you to the real here, Jesus?

Would love to see some feedback in the comments too!

Home Groups and the Sunday Gathering

Most Christians believe in some sort of discipleship strategy. This is the process of growing in maturity and becoming more like Christ daily. But how is this best accomplished in the church? Christians are supposed to be a family that share life together and live on mission to make more disciples for Jesus. So, although Sunday gatherings are crucial, and must not be neglected in the slightest, engaging regularly in a home group or missional community will provide a level of discipleship for the believer that Sundays alone never could.

First, let us consider how the Church is called to be a close and loving family. Jeff Vanderstelt said, “We have to get close. We have to be seen and known. This is what we call life-on-life discipleship—life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another, so that others can gently peel back the layers and join us in our restoration.” Such things could never be achieved by Christians limiting their exposure to other Christians to Sundays alone. We need a context for family life to happen. Believers can be honest, close, real, visible and accessible in that sort of setting. When Christians gather on Sundays it is easy to come and go without ever seeing the uglier side of anyone’s life. It is easy to hide the parts of life that make us human and needy for the Gospel. Home groups and missional community models of discipleship push the church beyond surface level relationships and into a space where closeness and growth can happen.

In addition to helping the church to live as a family, home groups and missional communities promote a life of sharing. Acts 4:32 says that “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (NIV). As a family grows in togetherness their willingness to share struggles and practical needs will grow, along with opportunities for those needs to be met. Practically speaking, this could be a car problem one learns about, meals that are needed during a time of sickness, or after a baby is born, or a financial struggle that is hindering a college student. No matter the case, sharing done in the context of a close family is a testimony to the Gospel’s influence.  As we learn to share with one another we learn the heart of Jesus more deeply. He shared His life with us. When we share we grow into better disciples.

And that brings me to my final point on this topic. Home groups and missional communities lead to living on mission for the sake of making more disciples through reproducible patterns. That is our commission. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Discipleship is all about reproducible patterns that bring us closer to Jesus. For example, when a young mom struggles with trusting Jesus through the difficulties of parenting her 2-year-old, how will she best learn principles that build her faith in Jesus? When a married couple wrestles though a season of unbelief as they transition through serious financial difficulty, how will they develop biblical and practical patterns to follow that can later be passed on to others? When unmarried Christians struggle with being alone, who will be an example of purity and patience that helps them guard their heart against sin while pointing them to satisfaction in Jesus? Who will be a family to them? Home groups and missional communities are an excellent place to learn to apply the gospel and to set reproducible patterns of faithfulness that point others to Jesus. When this happens, doors open for relationships to flourish.  Reproducible life examples can begin to be seen and imitated by others. As maturity within the group increases, the life on life examples that are set forth and imitated will become an influence for non believers as well.  

In conclusion, it is important to remember that home groups and missional communities are not the only way to effectively make disciples and live out our faith as Christians. Other models can succeed as well. But the Church of Jesus Christ is undoubtedly a family. As a family we are called to be vulnerable with one another, to share our lives with each other, and to be close enough with other believers that our faith becomes an example for others to follow and reproduce. Folks who limit Christian fellowship to Sunday gatherings only will be hard pressed to live out any one of these biblical imperatives.

Afraid of Your Own Clarity

Every day there seems to be a new major report on a heavy issue that concerns the Church one way or another. For instance, last week it was the fall of James McDonald, a pastor I’ve greatly respected through the years. Yesterday the Methodist Church voted to “Tighten the ban on same sex marriage and gay clergy”, bringing the issue front and center once again. Of course, I agree with that particular vote, but many in my community do not, so like it or not, it affects me as a follower of Christ. Then there’s the daily social media coverage of everything from a drag queen story hour to the prosperity “gospel”. With all of this going on, not to mention the issues within the local church that weigh on the heart every pastor, the thought crosses my mind, what’s next? What scandal, fallen pastor, persecuted Christian, or liberal anti-Christ social agenda will come up next and force my heart to sink once again? And what will we all do when it happens?

The way forward is actually clear to me, but that’s part of the problem. I think that clarity scares people today, even some professing Christians. They may not admit it, but it does. Think about the clarity of the Apostles and their mission in the 1st century, and the amount of opposition their clear vision brought them in the end.

“Go into all the world and make disciples” Matthew 28:18

“If you love me, keep my commandments” John 14:15

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  Matthew 10:16-20

With every opposition the early disciples faced, every sin they addressed, every interaction with local government that wanted their mouths stopped or even killed, they marched on with great clarity for the sake of the eternal life of those who would believe. When we, as Christians today, march on with clarity proclaiming the Gospel with both zeal and love, there’s always someone to say, “You’re going to offend someone!”, “You’re just intolerant and bigoted”, “You’re behind the times, Christian!” But didn’t the first followers of Christ hear the same things, and even worse, and yet they persevered?

My question is this: Have we forgotten who we serve? Have we forgotten that Christ is King of the world and that the spread of the Gospel was His idea and his mandate to us, first in person and now in His Word? I think many have, the result of which is a church and a people that fail to speak the truth when truth is what’s needed to confront the sins of the age. What do I mean by truth? I mean the truth that is in Jesus, the truth embodied in His eternal nature as God, and what he manifested to us in His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and his unalterable commission to His disciples. The fact that the question, “What is Truth?” is now just an argument between groups who call themselves Christians is sad to say the least. God’s truth, the truth that is in Jesus, is by nature unifying to Christians. It’s meant to be surrendered to, not arranged and rearranged to our liking.

As you already know, the major issues on the stage today are human sexuality, equality, parental rights, and immigration. With all of these, the Christian does not have to scramble about trying to figure out where he or she want to stand on the issues. We have the Word of God. We always have. But today it’s nearly disregarded, while opinions and a so-called “truth” relative to what suits the individual has taken precedent.

Again, the way forward is clear, not because I or anyone else sees better than the next guy, but because God’s Word gives the clarity, by His grace, where it’s needed. Notice that issues being debated are not things like the age of the earth, or the exact events surrounding the end of the world, or whether aliens in outer space exist. This is because at the end of the day these things remain foggy. God didn’t see it necessary to clarify any further than He did. These things don’t generally detract from the Gospel, the theology of God, or man made in God’s image, sin, salvation, repentance and so on. The fight is over issues that true Christians should never have to compromise on, things that the Scripture has made plain. Until we grasp that it’s ok to be clear in what we believe about God and orthodox Christian faith, and the words and actions that stem from those beliefs, even if we’re hated for it, the line between true believer and skeptic, and even atheist will become thinner and thinner. And that’s just what Satan wants!

We need to be a people that isn’t afraid to stand for truth, and to be clear when the Scripture is clear. We need to do it lovingly, persuasively (as Paul did), with passion and compassion for all people, for this is also clear in Scripture.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

And remember that we, as Christians, ultimately serve Jesus, and not any man. Why does this matter? Because doing what suits our desires and likes and dislikes here on earth, and here only, is to disregard eternity and the life that comes only through trusting Christ who died for sinners.

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