Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Meditate (on the Word) Day and Night

In last Sunday's sermon, I gave three points of application regarding how we should interact with God's Word.  One was that we should read through it.  I recommend reading large portions of Scripture, the entire Bible in a year if you can do it.  This gives you a good overview of the big picture of the events and overall teaching of God's Word.

I also said that you should memorize the Scripture.  The Psalmist says that he hides God's Word in his heart in order to avoid sin.  With all the great tools that we have at this point in human history (the Bible on our phones!) we still need to memorize it so that we can be thinking about it and make use of it when we need it.

The second point of application that I gave was to meditate on it.  This is taken directly from the wording of Psalm 1:2 - "In his law he meditates day and night."  To meditate means to mutter something to yourself.  In essence, you are talking to yourself as you contemplate the meaning and application of Scripture.  I want to give you and example of how you can mine a text for diamonds that you can examine for a few minutes each day for a couple days without driving yourself crazy!

Take our "Verse of the Week" that we published in our bulletin and on our website this week:  Deuteronomy 7:9 - Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.

In looking at this verse, the first thing you should notice is the word "Therefore".  At this point, you should look at the immediate context of the verse to see what the "therefore" is there for.  How does it fit into the larger passage of Deuteronomy 7?  Then you might notice the word "know" is next.  Of course, you should want to find out WHAT you are supposed to know, which comes from the next few phrases.  But you should also ask yourself HOW you would come to know these things.  Think about your spiritual blindness and the work of the Holy Spirit that needs to take place as you read the Word in order to know the things God wants you to know hear.  As you think through these things, you could thank God that because of the cross of Christ, God opens the eyes of the blind and softens the hardened hearts that we have in order to know Him.

You could spend as long as you like thinking about these things and we haven't even gotten through the first phrase!  We haven't even considered WHAT we are to know yet.  This verse says we are to know two things - our God is really God and He is faithful (sounds like Hebrews 11:6).  You could spend a few days contemplating what it means to be God and thanking God that we don't serve a false idol, but the one true God.  As well, you could then consider how God has proven himself faithful throughout human history and in your life, which should then bring you to a crescendo of praise.

Please understand that I am not suggesting you spend 10 hours every day doing this.  I am saying that you take what time you have and fill it with God's Word.  If that's 5 minutes, take 5 minutes.  If it's an hour, spend it knowing and rejoicing in God through His Word.  Take it with you as you are driving to work, as you eat your lunch, as you lie down at night to go to sleep.  This is what the Psalmist means.

There is nothing in this world that will benefit you as much as allowing God's Word to permeate your thoughts and change you into the image of Christ.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Thoughts from Matthew 21:1-11 - Your King is Coming to You

"Your King is coming to you!"  This was the announcement from the prophet Zechariah roughly 580 years before the time of Christ.  But, Jesus didn't come like most people wanted Him to.  They wanted a military leader who would establish an earthly kingdom.  Jesus came as a humble servant to sacrifice Himself to redeem a people for God.

In Matthew 21, Jesus nears Jerusalem as He embarks on His final week of life during His first advent.  He is moving towards the cross with determined steps and everything is unfolding just as He and His Father had planned before anything, including time itself, ever came into being.  For His triumphal entry, his coronation, Jesus does not choose a might army and great horses.  He chooses two disciples, a donkey and her colt.

Verse 4 tells us that He did this on purpose in order to fulfill the prophecy made by Zechariah 580 years earlier.  Think about this.  Jesus made sure that He came into town at exactly this time and sent two disciples to exactly the right spot where he had the exact animals that were promised waiting just for Him.

This is how God works!  We don't know which disciples Jesus sent, but they played an important role in bringing these animals to the Master.  And, no one may ever know your name, but, if you are a child of God, you play an important role in the development of His kingdom.  He is sovereign and directs absolutely everything.  And, in that direction, He also allows us to participate in His plan!

Think about this for a minute.  We, who have lived in rebellion to God for our entire existence, are not only forgiven of our sin and adopted into His family, but we are also His chosen vessels to build His kingdom.  No matter what abilities you think you do or do not have, if God is able to use two unnamed disciples and a donkey, He is able to use you!  God does not make mistakes.  When He saved you and left you here on earth, He also equipped you to be able to love Him and love others.  What God wants from you is not some exceptional show of talent.  What God wants from you is faithfulness to pursue Him with all your heart and to serve others as He has served you.

You may feel that you don't have what it takes.  But the donkey and her colt are in this story to tell you that you don't need much.  Just be willing to be used by God for His purposes and He will do the rest.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Equipping – The Ministry-Minded Work of the Church

"For the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry..."  This is how the Apostle Paul described the purpose of the gifts of Christ to the Church (apostles and prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers).  God has created the local church to be the primary place where you as a Christian get what you need to grow.  To accomplish this, God has given leaders to the church in order to teach you His Word and give you the tools you need to both enable your own spiritual growth and help others in their spiritual growth.

As Americans, most of us figure that church is a nice place to go on Sundays (maybe even every Sunday) in order to be encouraged as we worship God.  But, the church is much more than that.  The church is the ONE place that God has designed for us to minister to others and be ministered to.  Unless we are actively engaging in mutual ministry with other believers, we will never become more like Christ, which is our ultimate goal.

But, we don't know what we're doing, do we?  We don't naturally know how to minister to others?  In fact, we don't naturally know anything about the ministry that Christ calls us to.  That is why we need the equipping ministry of the church.  And, by "equipping ministry" I do not mean some prepackaged program.  I mean the church being who the church was meant to be.  I mean the elders and deacons functioning in the way God intended.  I mean the Gospel being the central focus of everything the church says and does.  I mean all the members of the church being actively involved in serving one another and the community around them.

So, what does this look like?  Well, there is no simple 4-step program to Christian growth.  Similarly, there is no simple 4-step process of equipping people for ministry.  It is a life-long job.  The Word of God is our primary tool.  As the servant-leaders of the church pour the Word of God into the lives of other believers, those believers begin to do the same with others.  We teach, we preach, we train, we counsel, we pray, we disciple.  We all do this.  Not just the pastor.  Not some board of super-spiritual people.  Paul says Jesus gave the pastors/teachers to equip "the saints".  That means all Christians.  And we equip with the Word because that is what God says He uses to make us all more like Christ, which is the goal.

As you become a part of a local congregation, your job is to find two types of relationships - 1) you need to find someone who is more mature than you spiritually so they can help disciple you, and 2) you need to find someone who is less mature than you spiritually so you can help disciple them.  Think about this for a minute.  What is your goal when you look for a church?  Why do you go to church?  What do you hope happens?  If you go to a church looking for what it can do for you or your family, you are only looking at half the picture.  The other half is what you can do for others within the congregation.  The question that remains is, "How have you purposed to get involved in the equipping ministry of your local church?"

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Great Faith (Part 2) - MORE Reflections on Matthew 15:21-29

"Have mercy on me, Lord!"  This was the desperate cry of the woman who approached Jesus.  She came to the right person (see yesterday's article).  And she came for the right reason - mercy.  This was a woman who was at the end of her rope.  Her daughter was demon-possessed and who knows what other problems that caused?  She could do NOTHING about her situation.  She had probably exhausted all the religious options her own people could offer.  No medicine could cure her daughter.  No amount of psychoanalysis would help.  She was desperate.  So, when Jesus came through her area, she ran to meet him.

And she cried out for mercy.  Notice she doesn't go up to Jesus and start complaining about her circumstances.  She doesn't whine about how God's not fair. No, this is the cry of someone who recognizes they deserve nothing from God.  That's a little different from the way most of us feel.  Most of us, although we would never say it like this, believe that God owes us something.  We think we deserve better than what we have.

The reality is that we all deserve much worse than we have.  We all deserve eternal damnation for our cosmic treason that we commit with every breath we take.  We probably don't think we are all that bad, but the reality is that we are!  The Bible describes us as utterly corrupt, evil down to the core, enemies of God, violent, boastful and proud.  Not one of us ever loves God the way we should and we definitely don't love others the way we should.

This is why we need mercy.  We are in no position to ask for anything from God and DEFINITELY in no position to demand anything.  But, God gives mercy.  The Father sent the Son into the world to fulfill our righteous requirement and die in our place.  He then offers forgiveness of our sin if we will just repent of (that means "turn from") our sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life.  I plead with you, if you are not a believer in Jesus, stop reading right now and deal with that issue.  Nothing else matters.  God's mercy is available to you.  Don't pass it by.

Even as Christians, sometimes we think God owes us an easy life.  After all, we made the right decision.  We chose Christ instead of rejecting Him.  We go to church (at least once a month).  We don't drink, smoke, chew, or go out with girls who do.  We think we have performed well enough to earn God's blessing.  Isn't that how it works?

NO!!!  Christianity is never a performance-based religion.  Well, actually, it is.  But it's not our performance that matters.  What matters is not our works, but Christ's.  Of course, this in itself is mercy!  If our standing with God was in any way up to us, we would be cast out of His presence forever.  But, we have Another who stands in our place, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who has performed all the righteousness we will ever need and also took all our punishment on Himself.

Well, why is life so tough for the Christian then?  Shouldn't "mercy" mean that life gets easy after we come to Christ?  Of course, that question betrays our lack of an eternal perspective.  We forget that God is more interested in our holiness than our comfort.  And, so everything that God brings into our lives has a greater purpose than we can even contemplate.  He, in His mercy, is working Christ-likeness into us with everything He brings into our lives - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Romans 8:28 says, "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."  It doesn't say, "everything feels good."  It says, "all things work together for good."

This is all mercy!  Christ being our righteousness, Christ taking the wrath of God for our sins, Christ constantly interceding before the Father on our behalf, the Holy Spirit guiding us and empowering us to live the Christian life, God ordaining all the things that come into our lives to make us more like Christ - all these things - are examples of God's mercy!  And we need it.  We need God's mercy every day.  And God withholds no good thing from His children.

So, the way to approach God is the exact way this woman did - crying for mercy.  And the beautiful thing is, God gives it!  Rather than giving us judgment, through Jesus Christ, God gives us mercy.  So, Christian, keep coming to Jesus pleading for His mercy.  He won't disappoint.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Great Faith (Part 1) - Reflections on Matthew 15:21-28

OK, so every 6 months or so, I decide I need to type something.  Actually, one of my desires is to have time to update this blog more often, not because I think I'm all that important.  Mostly, I want to reflect on my understanding of Scripture so that those who end up reading this have a greater appreciation and love for God.  SO... I am going to attempt to be a little more persistent (which will come into play in a few days when we get to that issue in this passage in Matthew).

When Jesus went into the region of Tyre and Sidon, He was approached by a woman who was in desperation.  She wanted help.  She had nowhere else to turn.  So, she came to Jesus.  As we looked at this passage this past Sunday (the sermon will be posted on later tonight), we saw that Jesus described her as having great faith.  In our consideration of this proclamation by Jesus, we sought to find out what about this woman's faith was so great.  Because WE want great faith.  Wouldn't it be (dare I say it) great to have Jesus say that about us?  So, what made this woman's faith so great?

Well, the first thing we noticed was that she came to the right person for the right reason.  In this post, I'll deal with the first part of that.  The right person.  You see, the object of our faith is just as important, if not more so, as the faith itself.  You can have a lot of faith, have it be in the wrong object, and be lost for eternity.  Everybody has faith, but most of it is misplaced.  No, this woman came to the right person.  The object of her faith was the King of kings and Lord of lords.

If we are to have great faith, we must, first of all, have God as He is described in the Bible as the object of our faith.  We can't just trust in some god of our own making.  We must trust in the one true God.  And, apart from the Scripture, we do not really know who God is.  So, we must turn to the Bible to see who we are to trust.

There is a lot about God that the Bible reveals.  John tells us that God is love.  Both in his gospel account and his epistles, he emphasizes that God loves His creation and sent His Son to save His people.  So, yes God is love.  We also see that God is merciful and gracious.  He is a God who, despite our sinfulness and war against Him, consistently and continuously forgives us because of the death of His Son in our place.  In Genesis 18 (as we noticed Sunday night), Abraham recognized that God is a just God.  As the "Judge of all the earth", God will always do what is just and right.  We could go on and on talking about God's sovereignty, His power, His omnipresence, His omniscience, His perfection, etc.

BUT (and this is a big "but"), the one aspect of God's character that the Bible emphasizes over and over is His holiness.  We must understand that the God we approach is holy.  He is not like us.  The basic definition of the word "holy" is "separate, distinct, other".  God is not like His creation.  In fact, all of His other characteristics are bound up in His holiness.  His sovereignty is a holy sovereignty.  His justice is a holy justice.  God is completely different from any other thing in existence.  He is holy.

In Isaiah 6, shortly after the death of a very powerful and popular king in Israel, the prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the King of kings.  He describes the Lord as "high and lifted up" and seated on His throne.  Around Him are angelic beings known as seraphim, or burning ones, who are described as having multiple wings and flying around constantly.  Over and over they call out to each other, describing the character of God.  And the one aspect they choose to proclaim is God's holiness.  They cry out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."  The tripling of the word "holy" is a Hebrew method of emphasis.  Notice the seraphim don't say, "Love, love, love" or "sovereign, sovereign, sovereign."  They say, "Holy, holy, holy."  Above all else, the God we approach is holy.

This is why, in Matthew 6, when Jesus begins instructing us in how to pray, he starts by telling us to address God as "our Father, who art in heaven".  And immediately, we are to pray for God's name to be hallowed.  In other words, as we come to God as little children to their daddy, our initial and primary concern should be the holiness of His name.  Everything else takes a back seat. Before we ask for stuff either for ourselves or for others, we should plead that God's name would be set apart from all else.  That He would be considered holy by His creation.

So, when we approach God, as we come to Him to plead with Him for His mercy and grace and help in time of need, let's remember that we are coming to a God is not at all like us.  He is not given to weakness or unjust anger.  He is not capricious or needy.  He is not forgetful or mistake-prone.  He is not greedy or sinful in any way.  He is preeminently holy.  And "as He who has called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'." (1 Peter 1:15-16)

**If you're looking for a good resource to do deeper study of the holiness of God, I recommend the book by R. C. Sproul with that same title (The Holiness of God).  You can buy the book or watch the teaching series here.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Edification - The Growth-Focused Service of the Church

We're all involved in a building project. Anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ is also a disciple.  That's a loaded term that has the basic meaning of being a learner or a follower.  Our pursuit is Christ-likeness and our teacher is Christ Himself.

God uses a LOT of tools to help us grow as Christians.  Historically, the church has used the phrase "means of grace".  One of the major means of grace that God has chosen to use for thousands of years is the Church.

The Church is not a building, but a people.  The Greek word for church is "ekklesia", which could be translated "a called out assembly".  God has called out people, through salvation, and put us together into various churches in order to display His glory through the spread of the gospel and the growth of disciples. Simply put, we need each other and God has designed that we help each other.

Ephesians 4 tells us precisely God's plan for our spiritual growth as disciples of Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-13 - And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-- Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

This passage tells us a few things.  Firstly, the entire building project is the plan of God and also under His direction.  We do things His way because it is His project, not ours.  Secondly, Jesus has placed gifted men (in the case of the modern church, evangelists and pastor-teachers) in order to equip the saints (that's all of us) to do the work of the ministry.  Pastors are not the paid professionals who do all the work.  They are equippers.  Thirdly, we all do the work of the ministry - serving one another, teaching one another, loving one another.  It's our responsibility.  Fourthly, we all grow up together through the power of Christ and become more like our Savior.

This whole plan shows why the church is vital to your Christian growth.  You can't do ANY of this stuff by yourself.  Oh, you can read the Bible and get some knowledge about God and the gospel, but you can't live it out on your own.  You were meant to be part of a growing body of believers who love and serve God by loving and serving others.

While our church is small and doesn't currently have all the age-segregated programs some other churches might have, there are plenty of opportunities for both learning God's Word and applying God's Word in the context of the relationships you will build here.  The challenge is to not sit on the sidelines, but jump in and get involved.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Evangelism - The Soul-Seeking Mission of the Church

"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."

Elwood Blues (yes, I am going to quote one of the Blues Brothers) once claimed that he and his brother Jake were "on a mission from God".  Of course, their mission was to get a fictitious band back together to complete a movie plot.  Our mission, however, is direct from the Captain of our salvation and Lord of the universe.  And it involves something far more important than the comedic elements of a Saturday Night Live spin-off.  It involves the eternal destiny of everyone with whom we come in contact.

You see, for reasons known only to God, He has given us a major responsibility and privilege in being a part of the growth of His kingdom.  I call it a responsibility because Matthew 28 (and the other parallels of this passage) is a command.  He doesn't make this an option.  A former pastor of mine, who I greatly respect, many times would remind us that "the Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed".  We aren't allowed to opt out of making disciples.  We simply must obey our Lord's command.

I call it a privilege because I can't believe that we get to be involved in God's saving work!  This is not a drudging requirement.  It is something to rejoice in.  God uses US to keep people out of hell!  He allows US to be a small part in his glorious work of salvation!  He calls US to evangelize the lost.

Evangelize the lost.  What does that mean?  There are two parts of this to understand.  First, what does it mean to evangelize?  And second, who are the lost?  So, technically speaking, "evangelism" comes from the Greek word "euangelizo", which means to proclaim good news.  The good news that we proclaim consists of the historical facts of the gospel - the sinfulness of every human being in the eyes of God, the sinless life of Jesus (the eternal Son of God), the sacrificial death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.  Along with the historical facts, we also need to proclaim a call to respond to those facts.  Biblically speaking, we are to call people to repentance (to turn from their sin) and faith (to turn to God by trusting in Jesus alone).  If we fail to give either the historical facts or the plea to respond, we have failed to evangelize.  We have failed to share the gospel.

The second question involves to whom we are to share the gospel.  Who are the lost people we are to reach?  The simple answer to this question is EVERYONE!!!  The person who lives in Iran and knows only Islam is lost and so we are to send missionaries (and go as missionaries) to reach them with the gospel, sometimes at great peril to our own lives.  The person who lives next door to us and knows Jesus as only a curse word is lost and so we are to build relationships with them in order to share the gospel with them.  Our family members, our coworkers, friends and anyone else we come in contact with are lost and in need of the gospel.  Our evangelistic responsibility knows no ethnic barriers, no culture barriers, no social class barriers, no gender barriers, no barriers at all.  We are to share the gospel with everyone.

And, as we do, God saves some.  This is the joy of our work.  God uses us to reach people and we get to see them come to know the Lord.  We get to see the Lord convict them of sin.  We get to see the Lord change them from hating Him to loving Him.  We get to see them experience forgiveness of sin.  We get to see God cause them to grow in their faith.  We get to see them go out and share the gospel with others.

This is the only reason we are still breathing.  God has left us here to share the gospel with the lost.  Let us never shy away from this awesome privilege.  Let's get to work!