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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Exaltation - The God-Honoring Purpose of the Church

Psalm 99 begins with the proclamation that the Lord reigns and ends with the command, "Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His holy hill; For the LORD our God is holy."  This is a great summary of a major theme that runs through the entirety of Scripture.  God is king and we exist to declare that and worship Him for it.

This is basically what we mean when we say that Grace Baptist Church exists to glorify God.  In fact, if you look at our mission statement, it reads, "Grace Baptist Church exists to glorify God by bringing people into God's family through the gospel, building them up into mature followers of Christ, and training them for ministry in the church and to the world."

That's a lot of words!  And we don't expect everyone can remember something like that, so we have boiled it down to 4 words that all begin with the letter E (of course I alliterated - I'm a Baptist after all).  These are Exaltation, Evangelism, Edification, and Equipping.  This is what we do and who we are.

First and foremost, we are here because God created us in order to exalt him.  While it is true that God created everything for His glory (see the 2nd question to the Catechism for Young Children), God has uniquely designed the local church to be a display of His glory.

Display of His glory.  This is what we mean when we talk about exaltation.  We, as the people of God, exist as a display of God's glory.  We don't make God more glorious than He is.  We can't. But, we do display the glory that is there. Everything we do - preaching the gospel, singing songs, praying together, reading Scripture, teaching the Bible, eating food a pot-lucks, sending out missionaries, ministering to our community, discipling one another, disciplining errant church members is designed by God and must be planned by us to display not our own greatness, but the greatness of the God who saved us.

This is the primary mission of the church - to exalt the Lord our God.  And, it's the primary interest of God as well - His own glory.  It's good for us to have the same motivation as God, isn't it?  So, let's keep that motivation at the center of everything we do.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

God cares. Now what?

In the last couple of posts, I have tried to emphasize (from the Scripture) that God genuinely cares about you.  He loves you.  He is compassionate toward you.  He knows that you are weak and in need and He is right there with you to help you.  Jesus showed this throughout His earthly ministry as he met people where they were and helped them both physically and spiritually.  He came not to be served, but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for sinners.

So, now what?  I began talking in the last post about what we should do in response.  Once you recognize that God cares about you and has the power to help you, you should come to Him.  This only makes sense.  If you knew a doctor had the only cure to your deadly disease, you would be stupid to not go to him for help.  Well, it's the same with God.  He is the only one who can help you and loves you enough to give His own Son for you.  So, come to Him for help!  Pray to Him.  Ask Him.  Believe in Him.

And (to quote Journey) don't stop believing.  Keep on trusting Him even as you struggle through the difficulties of your life.  Even as you deal with pain and loss and suffering and disappointment and joy and love and EVERYTHING, keep trusting God.

NOW...bring others to Him.  This is exactly what Jesus taught when he transitioned from compassionate ministry in Matthew chapter 9 to collaborative mission in Matthew 10.  He gathered a special group of men together (we'll talk about them sometime in the future) and sent them out to bring others to Himself.

Honestly, if you really believe in the God who loves you so much He gave His Son for you, how can you keep Him to yourself?  How can you not tell others?  You don't need a degree in theology to bring someone to Jesus.  You just need to know people (who are sinners) and know Jesus (who is the Savior).  I'm not saying you shouldn't always be learning more of Christ, because you should.  But, it is not your knowledge that people need.  It is your God.

So, what are you waiting for?  If you know Jesus, share him with others.  Perhaps God will use you to bring someone to Him.

Monday, July 03, 2017

God cares. So what?

So, God cares.  If you've paid any attention to the sermons from chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew, you have heard this resounding chorus over and over.  Jesus showed the compassion of our heavenly Father.  In these 2 chapters, Jesus heals people; he touches people; he eats with people; he raises the dead.  In short, Jesus cares.

In fact, the passage we just looked at in Matthew 9:35-38 tells us that Jesus looked out at the crowd of people coming to him with a lifetime of problems and he was "moved with compassion for them".  What a statement!  The God of the universe, who upholds all things by the word of His power, cares about the every day problems people have.

In the last entry, I said we would look at why this matters and what we should do.  Well, I think the answer to the first question should be obvious.  What can you usually do about the situations you find yourself in that bring you pain?  NOTHING!!  Usually, though there may be little steps we can take to better ourselves if our problems involve finances or health, we have no way of actually changing the situation.  That is why we are so distressed when we find ourselves in these situations.

But, God can change it!  In fact, He is the only one who can completely turn a situation around.  He is the only one who can completely heal.  He is the only one who can completely solve any financial situation.  He is the only one who, when He chooses not to solve your problem, can help you persevere through the problem.  So, it matters greatly that He cares about you.

Now, what do you do about it? Well, there may be a lot of little (and some major) things that you can do about your specific situation. But, in general, there are only two things that you can and should do throughout the entirety of your life as you face problems. And those two things are found in every passage we have looked at in Matthew 8 and 9.

First - come to Jesus.  Pray to Him.  Plead with Him.  Tell Him what your problems are and how you feel about it.  Ask for His help to solve the situation.  Sometimes He will miraculously change what is happening in your life.  He did in each one of these cases in Matthew.  Sometimes, He will make you go through the problem because it is better for you in your quest for holiness and Christ-likeness to endure.  Consider that some of these situations in Matthew had been going on for years.  And, of course Jesus already knows what you're going through.  He's God!  But, remember, He cares about you.  So, come to Him with your doubts.  Pray to Him about your fears.  Plead with Him in your despair.  This is what about half of the Psalms are about!  It's good for your soul to do this.

Secondly - keep trusting Jesus.  One of the hardest things to do as your are struggling with your situation is to keep the faith.  It's easy to give up...particularly if it seems like God is disinterested in you.  But, don't give up.  Don't lose heart.  This is why Jesus gave the parable of the widow and the unjust judge - to teach us to continue coming to him with our needs and to keep trusting Him to do what is best for us.  Remember, God is faithful, even when we are faithless.  If you are His child, NOTHING happens to you but what is good for you.  And, God is a loving heavenly Father who only does what is right and good.  Remind yourself of the character of God and of His love for you.  Remember the cross and the love God showed for you as He poured out His wrath for sin on His Son.  Remember, that if God is for us, who can be against us?  Hold tightly to the truth that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.

Romans 8:38-39 - For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Does God Care? (and does it matter?) - Reflections on Matthew 9:18-26

"Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble."


These words were spoken by someone who knew what trouble in life was all about.  Job had lived his life as righteously as he knew how.  He was so righteous that even God bragged about him.  God blessed him in many ways - he was wealthy, had a good marriage, had many kids, and was well-respected in his community.

And, then things went south for Job.  Unknown to Job, Satan stood before God and accused Job of only trusting God for the benefits he received.  So, God allowed Satan to test Job.  He lost everything.  Robbers stole everything he had and burned all his fields.  All of his kids were killed in a "freak accident".  And Job's wife turned on him and told him to "curse God and die".  Talk about a rough time.

All this happens in the first few chapters of the book of Job.  The rest of the book (chapters 3-37) is a heart-wrenching account of Job's misery and his 4 "friends" telling him it's all his fault.  Job wonders why God allowed all these things to happen.  Job cries out to God for 34 chapters asking Him for an answer or a solution or, at the very least, to just let him die.  And God is silent...

Do you sometimes feel like Job?  Admit it.  Sometimes life throws so many curve balls at you that you have no idea where to turn next.  You get beat down.  You're hurt.  You feel alone.  And God seems absent.  You wonder, does God even care? And, if He does, what does it matter?

I'm reminded of the story of Job as I contemplate what we looked at last Sunday in Matthew 9:18-26. Here were 2 people of different social standing, that had life-altering problems.  One was a synagogue official named Jairus.  The other was an unknown woman in a crowd.  Jairus' daughter got so sick that she was at the point of death, and died during this account.  The woman had an incurable bleeding disorder for 12 years!  Neither one had hope of help from anyone around them.

And then along came Jesus.  He brought hope.  He could do something about their problems.  He had healed people, cast out demons, directed storms and waves.  If anyone could help, He could.  But, did he care enough about them to stop what he was doing and actually help?  The answer was a resounding YES!!!

When the synagogue official came to Jesus, pleading for Him to come with him and raise his daughter, Jesus dropped everything and followed him.  In the midst of the crowd during the journey, the woman touched Jesus' clothes and was immediately healed.  Jesus stopped and offered her not only physical healing, but deeper spiritual healing as well.  Then Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead - an feat unheard of even today!  Yes!  Jesus cares.

But, does he care about you and me?  This was the question Job was asking for 34 chapters.  This is, I'm sure a question you ask all the time.  We have real problems.  And sometimes the answers seem few and far between.  Does God even care?

The answer to that question is a resounding "YES!!!".  God does care.  The old hymn "Does Jesus Care" answers the question this way:

Oh, yes, He cares!  I know he cares.
His heart is touched with my grief.
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

So, know this.  When you are at the end of your rope and everything seems to be against you, if you are a child of God, He cares for you.  In the next post, we'll look at why this matters and what we should do.

Monday, January 02, 2017

"As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, 'Where is your God?' When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance."

I must confess something.  I have been in a desert.  I have been in this desert for a long time.  Eight years ago, I left the full-time ministry to go back to work because our church couldn't continue supporting me and paying our bills at the same time.  But, I began wandering into the desert before then. Partly through life circumstances, partly (mostly?) through my own sinfulness, I began a slow but steady walk away from the "streams of living water" to try to drink from "broken cisterns". As God said through the prophet Jeremiah, it is an astonishing thing. But, it is true.

No, I didn't cheat on my wife, or abandon the faith, or anything like that.  But, is pastoring without passion any less of a sin? Is preaching without praying any better than not preaching at all? I tend to doubt it.

I think every pastor goes into the ministry with a great desire for the glory of God. We all long to see people come to know the Lord, grow in their faith, and extend the kingdom. But, sometimes, we get weary. Things don't go as we had hoped. The church we are pastoring doesn't grow, but shrinks. People who we have loved and served turn on us and, worse yet, turn on God.

And the human response is to wander into the desert. To stop caring as much. To stop praying as much. To begin to go through the motions, hoping to just survive.  Some of that describes what I have been going through.  Oh, I love the people in my church.  I always have.  I have wept over them and prepared messages for them and taught them.  But, while I was doing that, I was not weeping over my own soul or studying God's Word in order to know God myself.  In short, I was dry.  I was thirsty, but not going to the Fountain.  I was just flopping in the sand. And my ministry was not in the power of the Spirit, but in the half-hearted effort of a sinful man.

Well, something has happened to me over the last six months.  It is hard to describe, but I can tell you that I am not who I have been for the last eight years. No, I am not perfect.  In fact, I am far from it.  But, I have a new-found hope and trust in God.  I long for Him like I never have before.  I want others to have this same longing I do.  I can say, without a doubt, that I am now ministering from an overflow of the work of God on my life and not just from my own strength.

Does this mean that everything is going to go perfectly?  Did it for David?  Will the church I pastor suddenly grow by leaps and bounds?  Will we see thousands getting saved, families reconciled, sin fought against?  Maybe some of that will happen.  Maybe it won't.  I have been praying for a revival first in my heart and then in the hearts of our people.  But, the answer to that prayer isn't up to me, it's up to God.  For now, I am happy to be out of the desert and, once again, drinking from the fountain of living waters. And I pray that I may be able to serve God's people from the overflow of what I am drinking.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A Gospel-Driven Church

You ever wonder why you're still here?  I mean, if salvation is all about your forgiveness of sin and keeping you from hell so that you spend an eternity in heaven, why are you still breathing?  Wouldn't it have been much better for God to save us and then take us immediately to heaven?

These are questions that I wonder about sometimes.  I know the theological and biblical response to these questions.  But, sometimes it just doesn't make sense to me.  I guess it's a good thing I'm not God.  You see, God, for some reason I can only guess, seated Christ at His right hand and left the mission of spreading the message of His death, resurrection, and reign to people who often don't seem to care.  Obviously, God know what will best bring Him glory, and God chose to display that glory here and now through the Church.

This is why we need to ask ourselves some tough questions.  Like what motivates our church ministry.  In other words, why do we do what we do?  Our church has developed a mission statement that is, under Scripture and our doctrinal statement, supposed to govern everything we do.  It goes like this:  Grace Baptist Church exists to glorify God by bringing people into God's family through the gospel, helping them grow into mature followers of Christ, and equipping them for ministry in the church and to the world.  We have boiled it down into four easy-to-remember words - Evangelism, Exaltation, Edification, Equipping.

The first phrase of the mission statement gives the why of our existence.  We are here to bring God glory.  Everything we do revolves around this.  Everything we do is motivated by this.  This is our central focus and should be at the forefront of our minds at all times.  We do not bring attention to ourselves or our organization.  We are not about having huge buildings or making people feel comfortable.  We don't stroke egos or try to make people rich.  We are about the glory of God now and for all eternity.

And God has told us how He expects us to glorify Him.  In Jesus' final instructions to His disciples before He ascended into heaven, He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

This was His Great Commission to His followers - take my message to others.  That is why we are still here.  We are like waiters.  The Chef has cooked up the meal and we are to bring it to the table.  We exist to proclaim the good news (the Gospel) that God in Christ was reconciling men to Himself.  And what greater privilege could we have?  We are heralds of the Sovereign King of the universe and we bring a message of peace with Him!

And the Gospel message isn't just for unbelievers.  It's for believers as well.  We need to hear constantly that our God chose us, love us, sacrificed His Son for us, clothed us with Christ's righteousness, forgives us when we sin, restores us, and will sustain our faith until we reach glory.  This is the Gospel!

This is what should motivate or drive our church.  This is what we should be our focus.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Christian response to the Penn State scandal


I'll admit, first of all, that I am taking all of this personally. I am not in any way affiliated with Penn State, either through the university or as a fan of the football program. But, I am primarily a father of two children from the ages of 8-11. I have been a youth pastor of Middle School and High School kids. I have dealt with countless kids in my pastoral ministry. And I have been a kids' soccer coach for the past 5 years. Most of all, I am a Christian, so I love the glory of God and hate sin. So, I take all of this a little personally.

And you may not care what I think, but I figured I should weigh in on this Penn State situation. So, let me elucidate a few of my thoughts:

1) Jerry Sandusky is a despicable man. He preyed on little boys who couldn't defend themselves and took advantage of their predicament in life. He is disgusting and there is absolutely no excuse for what he did. He is a sinner and deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law.

2) Mike McQueary should have done more. How you can walk in on those events and turn around and walk out is beyond me. The proper response is not to go to your office and call your daddy. The proper response is to stop what is happening and call the police.

3) John McQueary gave his son the wrong advice. When told of the events unfolding as they spoke on the phone, Mike's father told him to leave the building. He should have told him to go back into the shower room and beat the crap out of Jerry Sandusky and rescue that boy. By no means should he have told him to leave the building and wait until the next day to call his supervisor.

4) Joe Paterno didn't do enough. Joe Peterno, apparently, obeyed the letter of the law by reporting the alleged incident to his supervisors. But in a LOT of areas he failed. He waited an entire day (from Saturday morning until Sunday morning) to report this event. He may not have given the full description that McQueary gave to him. At the very least, he allowed Sandusky to continue to use his facilities and have access to his own football players and program for the next 9 years after this incident was reported to him. This is odd, given the nature of the accusation. At best, it is negligence. At worst, it is enabling and cover-up.

5) The rest of the university administration that knew about this incident are guilty of allowing the further abuse of boys on their facilities and by someone they knew was doing it due to their negligence.

6) We as Christians must primarily consider how these events profane the name of God. Sin is an affront to a holy God. The sexual abuse of children by those in authority over them defiles not only those children, but also the glory of God. Sin is disgusting. This is a prime example of the depravity of mankind. It is sick. It is sad. And God hates it.

7) We must also consider the victims of this alleged abuse. Our concern should not be for a sports program or a college, but for those who are most hurt by these incidents. I am sure that Joe Paterno will suffer because of his inaction. And I don't care. The victims here are the children who were abused during his watch. We must pray for them and we must pray for their families.

8) We, as Christians, should be concerned about the spread of the Gospel through this situation. The reality is that the only answer to the sin here is the Gospel. The cross is the only solution. As we are praying for the emotional healing of the victims, we must pray for the success of the Gospel and look for opportunities to bring it up as the only solution. Remember, apart from Christ, we are all Jerry Sandusky.

9) We must, in our churches, seek to protect our children from such predators. Make no mistakes. The enemy (Satan) ever looks to corrupt people within out churches. And he will stop at nothing to make the Kingdom of God look like a joke. Sexual predators have done this often because we have, in the church, been negligent in our jobs of protecting the ones who are most susceptible to abuse.

10) Above all, our response as Christians is not about us, nor about these boys, nor about Joe Pa, nor about Penn State. Our response is about God. We must never forget that.

As we grieve for these boys, experience anger towards Jerry Sandusky, wonder about Joe Paterno, reminisce about the supposed greatness of Penn State football, consider the remaining football players, and discuss the events of the last 9 years, let us never forget that our primary consideration as Christians is not in the human realm. It is in the spiritual. The focus of our thoughts and our discussions should be the glory of God. We must hate sin as God hates it. We must care for the lost as God cares for them. We must love the glory of God as God loves it. And we must live accordingly.