It’s There, Whether We See It or Not

Many of you know about my new passion for soccer, both in the states and globally.  It’s of endless fascination to me.  But what’s interesting to me is that five years ago, this game was not even on my radar. This is the most popular sport on the planet, and I didn’t notice nor did I care. I found myself quite content with what I grew up with:  basketball, baseball, and football–like an American!

We are surrounded here in Denver and in our country and in our world by thick, dark lostness. People all around us and even in our churches are enslaved by various and heinous sins that sink them further away from God and His gracious deliverance every second.  This is the most prevalent issue plaguing the condition of humanity–and we either do not notice or do not care.  For many, as long as they make a good living, slide into the American dream, and have plenty of recreational time is a good life.

But even though we do not notice, it’s still there.

And now that this situation is on our radar, what will we do. We cannot claim ignorance any more. We are without excuse.

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Preaching That Makes One Weep

I’m working through a book entitled Chaplain of the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South , a biography of Baptist stalwart Basil Manly, Sr (1798-1868).  While the title may be off-putting for some (Chaplain of the Confederacy), I’ve only made it to his life in the 1820s as he just begins his pastoral ministry.  He was a preacher of the gospel par excellence, whom God seemed to use to stir the emotions of his hearers, leading to a revival in the town of Edgefield, SC, where he first served in the pastorate.  This stirring is not a bad thing.  I was talking to a friend about various aspects of preaching and worship services, and he noted how so much of what has been done in churches bordered on manipulation rather than a reliance on the Spirit’s movement in hearts from the preached Word. 

The pendulum swings back and forth between preaching to the heart (formerly known as the affections) and preaching to the head.  Yet, which should the pendulum swing?  Clearly, one generation often seeks to compensate for the perceived shortcomings of the previous one—much like the previous generation seeks to compensate for the one before it.  The goal is to preach to both the head with the truth and the heart with the love of Christ/hatred of sin (see Ephesians 4:15). 

Jonathan Edwards gives some helpful insight:

A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble broken-hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behaviour.

A preaching of the Word of God that seeks a transformation will preach to both head and heart.  It will strengthen the mind and soften the heart to the things of Jesus.  This type of preaching will help us pursue a union with Christ as Christ has pursued a union with us through the cross and resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. 

May God give preachers a message and the Spirit to strengthen minds and soften hearts to be sensitive to the truth. 

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The Athenian Balance of Evangelism

The apostle Paul preaching in the Areopagus in Athens, Greece (Acts 17:16-34)”God is pushing us as His people outside the walls of our building.” Have you heard preachers say that?  I bet if you were to go back to the sermon recording of most of your pastors (myself included), say this.  But let’s be clear–we spend the majority of our time outside the walls of this building.  It’s not that God’s pushing us out, He’s pulling us forward to make a difference in the place we spend the most time.

Generations ago, when new settlers built towns, they built them in a way that resembled a square.  They would have a square that is an open public space that’s used for gatherings of various sorts.  This square is surrounded by small shops, with a fountain in the middle.

It’s with this in mind that I approach this sermon with this particular shape.  The first point is that of Christ, the second of us and our relationship to Christ.  The third point dealt with our connection to Christ and the church.  But there’s more.  Much more.  It’s the intended command of Christ for us to connect with our community and our culture—that’s the fourth point that makes this square—the public square.

Local churches develop cultures in how they interact with the culture.  Reinhold Niebuhr wrote  a book a few decades ago called Christ and Culture.  In this book, he outlines ways that the church views Christ’s influence and interaction with the non-believing culture.

So many conversations about how Christians are to interact with the culture.  Should we turn into a fortress to keep ourselves and the culture completely separate, and nary the twain shall meet?  Should we engage the culture in such a way that we look almost exactly like it (assimilation)?  What should we do?  What’s the balance?

Whether we realize it or not, each of us has made our choice as to how we will interact in the public square of people and ideas.  We must certainly identify where we are in this so we know how to move forward.  The best way to do this is to shine the light on where we are, look at ourselves in the mirror and see reality, then move forward to God’s aim for us.

Before hitting these three, please take time to read Acts 17:16-34 (that’s ok–I’ll wait!).  Paul displays three needed mindsets in evangelism.

Provocation (Acts 17:16-17):  His spirit was provoked by the idols in Athens.  This word used for ‘provoked’ is the same word form used when Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” over whether to take John Mark on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:39).  Does the idolatry of our nation and other nations provoke our spirits, that they are trusting in a substitute for the real, living God?

Compassion (Acts 17:18-23):  He acknowledged their spirituality.  Paul did not blast the people of Athens.  He did not say, “You rotten, blasphemous idolaters–you’re going to hell!”  Although this is true for all of us outside of Christ, that doesn’t mean you come in with both barrels locked and loaded.  You take Ephesians 4:15 out of the garage and take it on the highway: “… speaking the truth in love.”  You interact with aspects of the culture in order to connect them to the truth of that which transcends every culture.  Do we truly have a compassion for people, or are we ready to fire away because we’re right and their sinners?  Do we realize that, as Christians, God’s grace in rescuing us from the law cleanses us from sin?  

Conviction (Acts 17:24-31):  He still addressed their need for an exclusive gospel of our crucified and resurrected Christ. God was patient with our ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  Why?  A day of reckoning is approaching.  No, that may not sound politically correct, but it is biblically and historically correct–that is, Paul tells the people what will happen in history.  Does our compassion for people give us a reason to pull back on our convictions in order to please people?  Our compassion for people should propel us to share the truth with people in a winsome way that’s firm in the faith.

May God increase each of these in us!

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Is God More Present in Certain Places Than in Others?

Back when I was a youth pastor in Kentucky, Billy Graham came to Louisville. So, a few folks from our church piled in the van and went to see him. the number of our youth went as well, and to my surprise they thoroughly enjoyed the evening. after Graham preached, he offered the invitation, and many got out of their seats and made their way to the bottom floor. I’ll never forget what one of my youth said.  he said that he would go up front anyway, even though he was a Christian, just in case God hears him better here than he did at church.

While we all laughed at what he said, it does make us wonder if there are places where God seems more present than others. I would say Yes and No to that question. We know from Psalm 139 that God is everywhere and that He hears us no matter where we are, He sees us no matter where we are He knows our thoughts even before we think. There is nowhere that we can escape from Him and His watchful eye. But is there a place where He is more present even as He is all present? It is here that I would say yes, simply for the reason of clarity. Being in God’s creation makes it very clear, at least to most, that there is a Creator and a Designer of all that we see. In this sense we get an understanding that there is an Infinite Being that is omnipresent. But among God’s people, that is among His church, a clarity arrives because this Infinite Being, we now understand is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So yes, God is omnipresent.

But no, God is most present when the clarity and conviction of His Word is preached so we know Who He is and What He has accomplished!

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How Do You Cast Your Anxieties on God?

Interesting how we’ve often heard that we should cast our anxieties on God, but not the how!  What does this mean?  Let’s hear from John Piper:

This word “casting” in [1 Peter 5:7] occurs one other time in the New Testament—in Luke 19:35, in exactly the same form. It’s Palm Sunday and the disciples have been sent to get the donkey for Jesus to ride on. Then verse 35 says, “They brought it to Jesus, and casting their garments on the colt, they set Jesus on it.”

So the meaning is simple and straightforward: if you have a garment on and you want an animal to carry it for you, you “cast” the garment on the animal. In this way you don’t carry it anymore. It’s on the animal not on you. The donkey works for you and lifts your load.

Well, God is willing to carry your anxieties the same way a donkey carries your baggage. One of the greatest things about the God of the Bible is that he commands us to let him work for us before commanding us to work for him. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22). “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4). “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4).

God wants to be a burden bearer because it demonstrates his power and puts him in a class by himself among the so-called gods of the universe. “No one has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him.” So throw the garments of your anxiety onto him. He wants to carry it.

What a fantastic picture and what a glorious truth!  Anxieties will come, and someone will carry them–either you, or Christ!  Put them on Christ!

(To listen to the entire sermon by John Piper, listen here.)

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Our Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous

Christ-Advocate560

Dear Christians, prepare for the accusations!  I do not mean the accusations from others, for they will come.  Who knows what fuels the hearts of others, but we are either fueled by self or by the Spirit!  But accusations will come, and they should not surprise us.

Yet, we see from Revelation 12:9-10 and Satan himself is the accuser of the saints.  Satan makes us aware of our sin, our shortcomings, our weaknesses, and our failures—and these will come as well, no matter your best attempts. 

But we have an advocate, dear Christian: Jesus Christ the righteous!

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).

Note, if you will, that Christ will not only be an advocate for those who are righteous, but He will be an advocate for those who’ve surrendered to His righteousness in their weakness.  As the “propitiation for our sins,” the guilt and wrath for our sins that were ours were put on Christ, who in turn imputes His righteousness to His own and from those from every people group in the world.  (The “world” does not imply every person, but the ‘nations’ as opposed to only the Jews.) 

Accusations will come and go (and I know some of you have been the recipients of accusations, both false and true).  Our sin and shortcomings are ever present, and are a violation of the holiness of God.  Weaknesses will come to the fore, becoming more clear the longer you are around others (there’s only so long you can hide them).  Failures will happen, for we are not holy and are not God! 

Yet, God has defeated the ultimate accuser of the saints!  He’s living on borrowed time.  Take courage that God will not simply justify you in your righteousness (for we have none in and of ourselves) but will justify you in His righteousness and in spite of yours and in spite of mine. 

You have a choice.  You can spend time defending yourself and justifying yourself out of insecurity in self, or you can remain silent and let God be the one to sort out matters.  When you feel tempted to pursue revenge, remember that numerous times in Scriptures, we see how God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19).  Here’s the entire passage:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).

I know some of you now are struggling with accusations and half-truths being thrown your way.  Leave it to God, all the while praying that God give you His strength, His discernment, His hope based on the righteousness of His Son! 

Our advocate.  Jesus Christ, the righteous!  Rest in this, dear friends!  Live with the end in mind.

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Praying for Easter Sunday

In reading through 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, I found myself seeing this as great fuel for praying for our pastors and our people in the church and our community regarding this greatest of days, Resurrection Sunday!  Take time to read through it now, then pray for the Day in which we find the ultimate hope—our risen Savior and Lord Jesus Christ!

  1. Pray for the preaching of the Word of God!  (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).  Pray that believers would be reminded of the Good News (i.e., the Gospel). 

  • Pray that people would receive this gospel:  Christians have received this Word—it hasn’t come from within, but from above!

  • Pray that people would stand in the gospel:  The gospel is information that brings transformation—with the world all around us on sinking sand, trying to silence.  The only thing we have to stand in is the good news of what Christ accomplished. 

  • Pray that people would be sanctified in the gospel:  The gospel continues to kick out sin and the flesh, so the Spirit will reign full and free. 

  1. Pray that people would see the death, burial and resurrection of Christ of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). 

  1. Pray that people would trust the eyewitnesses of His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

  • Peter: fully restored (John 21:15-19):  Yes, even among the Twelve, one denied Him—but was restored! 

  • The “Twelve”:  Yes, they scattered (Zechariah 13:7; Mark 14:29-31), but when they saw Christ raised, they were galvanized by the Spirit, no longer hiding but how abiding and speaking the clear Word of God, even amidst great persecution. 

  • The 500:  Christianity does not rely on one person to propound a message, but gathers witnesses that could also speak about what they’ve seen.

  • James—his half-brother:  Yes, His half-brother testified to Christ’s deity and resurrection.  What a solid testimony this is!

  • Lastly, to Paul (Acts 9):  one who persecuted the church of God, now propagating the cause of Christ?  Christ by the Spirit can reach anyone and change everything!

  1. Pray for our people to invite, invite, invite so others will come and connect!

  1. Pray for a joyous atmosphere in our times of worship because of the reality of 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 15:55-58. 

  1. Pray for our Good Friday service that there would also be a combination of gravity and gladness:  Christ was crucified for our sin—but did not stay in the grave.

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Through the Eyes of Spurgeon–A New (and Wonderful) Documentary of My Pastor

The lives of millions of Christians around the world have been changed through the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. But how much do those of us who esteem him so highly really know about Charles Spurgeon, the man?

What were the events that shaped his life and made him the man who would be known as the Prince of Preachers? Through the Eyes of Spurgeon invites you to explore with us where and how Spurgeon lived, to follow his steps, to embrace the legacy he has left us.

http://www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com

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Your Identity is in Christ, Dear Christian–Don’t Believe Anything Else

“I’m an alcoholic.”

“I’m a sex addict.”

“I’m a workaholic.”

“I’m a soccer fan.”

“I’m a glutton.”

“I’m very spiritual.”

The problem with all of these?  You’re focusing on your sin and yourself.  Satan is most pleased with that. But when we come to Christ, our identity is ultimately in Christ, for that relationship will be the only one that will last.  “Yes, but I’m spiritual.”  Only if that spirituality is connected to Christ.  And only if that spirituality is exalting Christ rather than your spirituality.

When Christ saved us, He adopted us as His child.  We are His.  That won’t change!  That world loves labeling people–so you give them this one.

I am:

Wide-eyed, Sanctified, Blood Bought, Spirit Taught,
Bible Totin’, Scripture Quotin’, Satan Bashin’,
Sin Trashin’, Christ Followin’, Pride Swallowin’,
Hard Prayin’, Truth Conveyin’,
Faith Walkin’, Gospel Talkin’,
Bonafide Big Time Believer
and proud of it!
(Anonymous!)

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Unbelievers Prosper, Believers Struggle: What to Make of It?

Those who deny Christ seem to be the ones who prosper and receive the most attention in this life.  In fact, even those who claim to be inside the church of Christ who begin to deny things clearly written in His Word are given a seat at the table of progress, lauded for finally “coming around.”  Other seem to escape the troubles of this age, wearing the necklace of pride, believing God is either ignorant or absent in bringing any consequences.  Therefore, those who trust in Christ alone not just in theory but also in practice struggle in such a system. 

But those who “set their mouths against heaven,” who rebuke the Christian for their cause, who try to subdue the people of God who fail to bow to the idol of sex and self that so marks our age—even though you prosper in this life, we beg of you to repent in this life because of the reality of the life to come.  All that matters in this life is what you do with the Author of Life, Jesus Christ.  Only God and your soul will last—and the only way to God is through Christ. 

“Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near GOd;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
That I may tell of all your works” (Psalm 73:25-26).

May that be so with us.  Unbelievers may prosper, and believers may struggle.  Christians, come to the “sanctuary of God” and discern the end of the faithful and unfaithful.  Be comforted!  But also be vigilant and bring that message of eternal comfort to others!

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