Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Doctrines of Grace by John Piper

In this video, John Piper explains why the Doctrines of Grace have so impacted his life and ministry. While he doesn't go so far as explain these doctrines, he does show how they have sustained, catapulted, and given vision for his life and ministry. As you watch this, don't simply dismiss what he has to say simply because of words like "Calvinism" or other stereotypes you may have heard before. Listen. Investigate. Understand. 

I agree with Piper in this regard. There is no way I could live or function as a pastor or Christian man if I didn't think God didn't have ultimate authority in all things . . . including salvation.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cornerstone Questions: How To Approach Someone Who Isn't Interested?

I shared last week one of the questions I received as part of my sermon series on Church Discipline. Today, I share one more that I think most of us have experienced at some point in the past. 

Question: How do you handle "Discipline" when the person is clearly not "approachable." You know they are not wanting to hear from you. They are aware that they are sinning or outside of God's will and they don't want your input. What do you do?

My answer to this one will be very simple, yet difficult to put into action. The basic answer is that Jesus tells us that when our brother sins, we are to go to him and tell him his fault (Matt. 18:15). Jesus never specifies whether they want to hear it or not. My experience is that most people who are in sin don't want to hear it. But that is why Jesus gives us several steps in the process of Church Discipline to help wake them up to the reality of their sin.

So, my basic answer is that we are called to engage the process of Church Discipline with those that call themselves Christian whether they want it or not. That's the simple answer. But the difficult part is putting it into action.

Ask Them Questions
One of the things I would point out is that since we are not omniscient, we can easily misread whether someone is "approachable" or not. And so, one of the ways I might approach someone who I think is unapproachable is to ask them questions. I wouldn't go in accusing, but go in searching. I am going into that conversation interested in their life.

In fact, one of the questions I might end up asking at some point is whether or not I could point something out in their life. I might say something like this: "Friend, I was wondering if I could have your permission to point out something I have noticed in your life that might be in contradiction to your testimony of Jesus Christ?" The bottom line is that you are putting the ball in their court and forcing them to verbalize their objection to you being involved in their life instead of you assuming they don't want you involved based on some external non-verbal signals. Maybe you have just misread the signals.

Maybe Your Not The One To Talk To Them
Could it be possible that they may receive confrontation from someone else easier than they would from you? Maybe they feel on the defensive with you because of something you have done or said in the past. Maybe the conversations may need to start with you apologizing for something you have done to them. Maybe they don't want to listen to you and are not approachable to you because they do not trust you. Could any of these be in the mix? If so, maybe you need to work the soil of that relationship a bit to garner the trust to talk to them about things in their life.

If they know they are sinning, that might be a good thing. Maybe there is someone else that can help them. Maybe they are getting help from others. Check your heart. God may use you from time to time, but do you feel as though God needs you to be the one to solve others problems? He doesn't. He can and does work through many different people.

Are They Just Hard-Hearted?
Then again, time and apologies do not always solve everything. You may do everything you can to make that relationship trustworthy and they may never want to hear that they are sinning. At this point, your trust is in the process God has given to us. It is in the patient process of the 4-steps of Church Discipline. Trust in it. Allow God to work in it.

I have been through some of the painful last steps before and the people never wanted to talk. But it was still our calling to beg them to repent. We never wanted to go to tell the congregation. We never wanted to remove them from church. And so we went with compassionate hearts, calling them to repent and change their ways. Sometimes, it only ended up being a short conversation in a doorway of their house because they didn't even want to let us in. But we had to force the conversation to happen and then trust God to work.

One of the things I have learned in the past several years is that I am not the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. I have been way too quick to try to change people instead of being patient to see how God was going to work in their lives. Pray. Be patient. Have the difficult conversations. Trust God to work.

Is it easy? No. Sin is never easy to deal with, that's why Jesus had to come rescue us. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Certainty of Death

On Sunday, I returned to a preaching series in the book of Matthew, and found myself dealing with the death of John the Baptist. It is one of the most unique and tragic deaths that take place in the Scriptures. He dies because of a messed up man (Herod Antipas), his crazy wife (Herodias), and a young girls sexual dance (Salome). 

If you are interested in much of the history of this situation, you can download my notes or listen to the message by going HERE. It's not my point to detail the history of his death in this blog, but I did want to share one thing it reminded me about death.


As the old adage goes, "the only certainties in life are death and taxes." I don't know about taxes, but death is for sure. Everyone is going to die. The righteous dies. The unrighteous die. We are all going to die. Just watch the news and death is everywhere. I received the information this morning that a friend lost her sister last night to death. 

John died. But so did Herod Antipas and his wife, Herodias. They eventually came to the same fate as they brought upon John the Baptist. And so will you and I. But this is not how God designed it to be. Originally, in the Garden of Eden, after God created everything, He said it was very good. Things would have remained perfect if Adam and Eve had not succumbed to the temptations of the Evil One and eaten of the one tree God told them not to eat. The result of that sin was death. Things and people began to die. 

Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. It wouldn't be long before they saw death personally in their life when one of their sons kills another (Cain & Abel). I wonder what it would have been like for Adam and Eve to cope with the tragedy of that loss, knowing it was because of their sin that death entered this world? Death became part of everything in this world. Animals died. The earth moaned in death. And their family, one by one, succumbed to this horrific thing we call death.

But it wasn't as if God didn't have a plan. He did. His plan was simple. He would send His Son, Jesus Christ, to this earth to . . . die! Yes, the answer to the certainty of death is for someone to die. Painted in the backdrop of the story of John the Baptist is Jesus. He may not be the main character, but He is always the main plot. At the end of this account, He withdraws from Herod Antipas, not because He is afraid to die, but because it isn't His time yet. He will run into Antipas later and it will lead to His crucifixion.

He will die a similar death to John the Baptist, but it will be so different. His is a death of sacrifice. His is a death of substitution. In fact, He is the only one who ever didn't deserve to die, for He is the only one to ever live a perfect life. He perfectly fulfilled the demands of God's Law and yet was still put to death for my sins, for your sins. 

Death is certain. But just because death is certain doesn't mean it isn't tragic at times. And it certainly doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. But when we face death, let us remember the One death that made it possible for us to deal with death. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Bible in a 100+ Days (Week 2 Summary)

The last two weeks have been good for me as I have had to discipline myself to read the Bible every day. Well, almost every day. I am in a plan that gets through the Bible in just over 100 days. I love it. And I have had great conversations with many of you who are doing it as well. Here are some of my thoughts from week two of reading.

Reading: Exodus 29 - Numbers 32

Thoughts from Week 2: Every time I have done this plan, this is one of the hardest weeks. The end of Exodus, Leviticus, and parts of Numbers are very hard to read. Not only is it very repetitive, but most of this content is so very foreign to our experience. It is mostly about the laws of God and sacrifices needed to cover the sins of the people because they didn't obey those laws. It is draining. It is exhausting to read and to think about being under.

As I read most of this, I was continually moved to thanks for all God has done in my life. I am so thankful for the gospel that tells me I am not under the law anymore, but under grace. I get it that the Law was given to let people know they couldn't do it on their own. It pointed out their weakness and inability to please the Lord with their natural sinful heart. That's why what Jesus did in perfectly fulfilling the Law is such a big deal. He did what we couldn't do.

The few narrative accounts that are told in this section are very interesting. From the Golden Calf to the spies entering the Promised Land to the defeat of foreign kings, we see man's sinful heart of distrust to the Lord and His grace poured out on the people of Israel. Even under the Law, we see the grace of God in their lives. It is a foreshadowing of what is to come.

Reading for Week 3: This is the schedule for the next week. If you want to see the entire schedule, you can find it HERE.

  • February 24th -- Numbers 33 - Deuteronomy 7
  • February 25th -- Deuteronomy 8-23
  • February 26th -- Deuteronomy 24-34
  • February 27th -- Joshua 1-14
  • February 28th -- Joshua 15 - Judges 3
  • March 1st -- Judges 4-15
  • March 2nd -- Meditation Day

Keep reading. I'd love to hear what God is doing in your heart as you are reading His Word each day. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thoughts on Heaven, Week 7

I am leading a small group Sunday School class through Randy Alcorn's book on Heaven. We are reading about two chapters each week and then coming together to share what we are learning about the eternal destiny of those that know Jesus. I thought I would take the opportunity each week to blog about what I am learning in this study. This week we read:

  • Chapter 13: How Far Reaching Is The Resurrection
  • Chapter 14: Where And When Will Our Deliverance Come?

This is one of the chapters that I started to feel Alcorn takes the imagination a bit too far. He makes the point that not only will we survive on this earth after the resurrection, but also some of the things we have done on this earth. He says that what is "done in this life has a direct carryover to the next life" (129). 

Now, I agree to some level that our deeds will impact the next life. I can imagine our faithfulness here on earth now will impact what God gives us to do in the New Earth. Faithful in a little, much will be given. 

But I just wonder if he takes it a bit too far. He talks about a child's story written out of love for Jesus possibly surviving. Or maybe great works of art or literature or music could survive. He wonders if a piece of furniture that Jesus made in the wood shop with Joseph could survive. It just seems a bit of a stretch to me. I wonder if this book will survive? [Okay, that was a bit of sarcasm]. 

His point is that thinking like this "elevates resurrection, emphasizing the power of Christ to radically renew mankind--and far more. God promises to resurrect not only humanity but also the creation that fell as a result of our sin" (129). 

But the one good point he did make in this chapter is refining our terminology so that it fits with a belief in the resurrection. If someone is in Christ, it might not be good to say, "I'll never see them again" or "That's the last time I'll get to hug that person." It might be better to say, "I can't wait to hug them again in the New Earth." I think that is a helpful terminology change that will bring comfort to us at the death of our loved ones who know Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cornerstone Questions: Should We Shun Sinning Christians?

From time to time, I have taken the opportunity to answer questions that I receive from people in my church. I just finished a series on the topic of Church Discipline, which raised a couple questions I thought I would like to address here on my blog as well as our church blog. I'm sure there were more than what were given to me. If there are, I'd sure love the opportunity to address them as well. But today and tomorrow, I will simply answer the ones I have been given.

Question: Does this mean we, as Christians or the church, "Shun" the man that is continuing in sin? If so, what does that look like?

Good question. Because of where I live, I am surprised that there were not more questions in connection with shunning. I have previously written about this topic (Excommunication is NOT Shunning), but will attempt to articulate it a bit more in depth this time around.

I know this question came after my sermon on 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul tells the church "let him who has done this be removed from among you" (vs. 4) and "Purge the evil person from among you" (vs. 13). These both sound very serious. And so the question becomes, how should the Christian respond to the one who claims to be a Christian but has resisted repentance when confronted with their sin?

What Is Church Discipline?
The primary purpose of Church Discipline is to restore the individual. The church is never called to discipline the person who claims to be an unbeliever. You discipline the one who claims to be in a relationship with God but is acting like he isn't. It is meant to be a plan of helping people walk with God.

Jesus gives us the pattern to follow in Matthew 18:15-20. Step on is to go alone and if they respond to the confrontation, the matter is over. If they repent, the situation is done. If they refuse to repent, then you shed more light on their sin by taking one or two with you. If they continue to refuse to repent, you tell it to the church. And if they still refuse to repent, Jesus tells us to treat them as a Gentile or Tax Collector. His point is that we treat them as they are no longer part of the covenant community. This is excommunication.

How Should We Treat The Excommunicated?
When they are no longer part of the covenant community, then how should we treat them? This is the real issue. Once someone has gone through the four steps and Jesus tells us to treat them as a Gentile or Tax Collector, how should we respond to them? Let me offer several practical steps.

First, Continue To Pray For Them. Never stop praying for the one that has been removed. This will be one of the ways in which we see the church continuing to pursue the individual. As the church has taken the steps outlined by Jesus, they have the authority of Jesus. But they don't have the power to change the person. And so we continue to cry out to the one who has the power. Unfortunately, my experience has been that once someone is taken to step four, the church seems to forget about the individual. This is a shame. And I believe the church has failed and shows that it might not care for them as much as they said they do.

Second, Be Intentional & Don't Avoid Them. There is a difference between Jesus' words in Matthew 18 of treating them like a Gentile or Tax Collector and doing everything you can to avoid the person. Even Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 5 to not associate with them certainly doesn't mean that we avoid a particular store because we see them walk into that store. If I were to summarize how we should treat them, it would be intentional, but not social. If the relationship was social before, there probably needs to be a change so the person feels a difference. But the difference should never be avoidance.

In Robert Cheong's wonderful book, God Redeeming His Bride, he quotes Pastor Steve Viars who talked about what he (and their church) does when he comes in contact with someone who has been excommunicated from their church.
"We cannot go out to dinner, we cannot go out to the store without running into someone that's been disciplined by this church. That's the value of an ongoing pastoral ministry. Again, we would treat them just like we would an unbeliever. We're going to befriend them. We're not going to walk down the other aisle in the grocery store. We're going to greet them. We're going to love on them. But if that conversation goes beyond a sentence or two my arm is going to be around that person and I'm going to be telling them we love them and are praying for their repentance and we would be so glad to receive them back into our membership and treat them like a person who knows Christ as soon as they repent. I have those kinds of conversations all the time and we train our church members to do the exact same thing so if they continue to be friends with the person who's been disciplined, and many times they do, part of that friendship is regular encouragements to repent" (283).
Third, Help In Times Of Need. Some of the best advice I have read comes from Cheong's book. He makes the case that when a person under discipline goes through a rough time in life, such as an illness, loss of job, poverty issue, or so on, it might just be the hand of God seeking to humble that person. And maybe during that time, it would be helpful for the church to step in and serve as long as they do not help them continue in their sin. He says,
"Such mercy during times of need reflects the kindness of our redeeming God and can soften hardened hearts and lead to repentance" (285). 
Fourth, If They Are Family, Shine The Light Of The Gospel. Some of my friends and I have been talking about this. What do you do when it is one of your family members who were excommunicated? What then? How would someone not socialize with someone that still lives in their home? Cheong offers these helpful thoughts:
"Family members have the most interaction with those disciplined if they still live in the same house. Whether they live in the same house or not, family members should reflect Christ when they relate to those who have rejected Christ. God instructs a wife whose husband is disobedient to the Word of God to place her hope in Christ and live out the gospel before her husband sot hat she may be a redemptive influence on her rebellious spouse. God knows and addresses the sinful realities of marriages" (284). 
It seems to me that excommunication is different from the Amish version of Shunning. While the Christian may not intentionally socialize with the person who is under discipline, they should not be avoided. And they certainly should not be forgotten. May God use us as we pursue those who have walked away from the Lord. And if necessary, may God use the pain of loneliness to change their hearts toward Him. All to His glory and our good.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why I Love Our Church Staff

I have shared the past couple days several reasons why I love our church and our elders at our church. Today, I wanted to expand on a few thoughts I had as to why I love our church staff. God, in His grace, has brought together some very unlikely people to work together on a weekly basis at Cornerstone Bible Church. Here are three reasons why I love working with them.

They Are Uniquely Gifted.
Each of our staff fits well into what they are called to do at our church. Annee Paul is extremely gifted in the are of music. I like that she writes some of the music we sing at the church. Janet Richard helps run the office smoothly and efficiently. When she is not here, we are often lost. And Luke is a very gifted teacher of God's Word. I feel very comfortable having him teach my son.

They Are Not Afraid to Step Outside Their Job Description.
Annee works with music. Janet works in the office. Luke works with students and families. But they are very quick to do anything when the needs arise. I could give many examples, but the point I'm trying to make is that I have never heard them say, "That's not my job." In fact, they are quick to pick up to help bear the load across the ministry. They do not work out of a selfish attitude, but out of a "what's best for the church" attitude. That's needed and helpful.

They Are Growing Spiritually. 
As we talk in our staff meetings, it is apparent that they are growing in Christ. We talk in the office of what God is teaching us through His Word. They ask questions of how certain things apply to their life. They desire to please the Lord, which is a great attribute to have.

There are many other things that I could say about them. We have fun with each other. We enjoy laughing in the office. We even enjoy the occasional game of Corn Hole. We have fun and I'm thankful to have them part of our ministry. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why I Love Our Elders

I shared yesterday some thoughts on why I am growing to love our church. One of the things I didn't mention in those things was the leadership that I get to serve with at CBC. Godly leadership is one of the most important things for a church. Under the authority of Jesus Christ as the Chief Shepherd, our church rises or falls based upon the leadership of our church. Our Elders are men who love the Lord and are concerned for His truth. There are several reasons why I love them. 

We Can Laugh With Each Other
This may not seem like a big deal, but when tensions run high and things get stressed, it is great knowing that guys feel comfortable enough to laugh with each other. We can joke around. I means that we care enough about each other to not take ourselves too seriously. 

We Don't Always Agree, But We Respect Each Other
There are times in our meetings where we do not always see eye to eye on things. There are even times when things could get heated. I have never been in a meeting with any of them where it resorted to anger (at least externally). But I don't think there has been a time when we didn't respect each other. It is often really healthy to have a push back on ideas and thoughts as long as it is done in a spirit of respect. I love that about these men.

A Desire To Pursue Relationships With Each Other
I have a growing sense the past several years of a deeper desire for these men to be involved in each other's life. Friendships are growing. We have had more social gatherings, gone to conferences together, and I believe the guys long for more of that. 

We Pray And Study With Each Other
None of us have arrived, and so we study the Word of God with each other. We just finished going through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology together. We begin every elder meeting reading through and talking about the sermon for the coming Sunday. And we pray with and for each other. I know that if there was something in my life that I was going through, these men would be there to shepherd me. That is important for a pastor.

I love these men. I love serving with them. I look forward to our Elder meeting tonight. And I hope those at CBC appreciate them as well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why I Love My Church

A few years ago, I had a conversation with someone from our church in which he asked if I loved the people of the church. At that time, my answer was something like, "I am growing to love them." That was an honest response. I had only been there less than a year and I was still getting to know them. I would have assumed their response would have been something similar. 

But over the years I have been here (just passed the 3 year point), I can honestly say I am growing to love Cornerstone Bible Church in newer and deeper ways. I love the people of our church. And I love many things about our church. On Sunday, I shared several aspects of our church that get me excited and move me into deeper levels of love and commitment to our church. There are many things I could say, but I just limited them to five. Here they are.

1. There is a Growing Sense of Relationships. 
It has been my focus the past several years and I assume that it will continue. But the pursuit of relationships and friendships are some of the most important things we can do as a church. We can't talk about church without talking about being in community with each other. And I see this growing in the life of our church. I see people opening their home. I see others inviting people out to dinner. I see them coming to ballgames with each other. I hear about play dates for their children as moms spend time with each other. It's probably always been part of CBC, but I see it in greater levels than the past. 

2. A Good Mixture of Older and Younger
Some churches are old. Some of the newer churches are all young. I feel our church is very balanced. There are tons of kids running around and there is plenty of grey hair (and some without hair). It encourages me to write wedding anniversary cards to people who have been married for just a couple years to those that are closing in on 50. This is healthy.

3. They Listen to the Preaching of God's Word.
I feel we are really starting to get momentum when it comes to listening to preaching. Maybe our church is just getting used to my weird humor, but I think its more than that. The way people long for the Word of God tells me they care for God's Word. They hold it in high regard. They care what God has to say to them each week. They follow up with questions. And beyond this, they are not afraid of having tough topics preached. We just finished a series on Greed and then Church Discipline. Who does that? But they received it well, as the Word of God, not men (1 Thess. 2:13).

4. I Sense Friendliness from the People. 
I hear from people all the time that they think our church is friendly. I hope so. I'm sure there are times when people come in and are overlooked. And that hurts me when that happens. But I think it also hurts many others. There is a real heart of people at our church to minister well to others.

5. We Are Becoming Respected in Our Community. 
I hope this comes from the right motives. I believe people in our community see us as a resource rather than a hindrance. I have heard people in recent months say things like, "Your church has a good reputation." That's awesome. And that's not me. I've heard the other as well, but I hope our good for the community outshines our bad.

There are many other things I could say. In fact, I'm going to share tomorrow a few of the reasons why I love our Elders and Staff at CBC.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Bible in a 100+ Days (Week 1 Summary)

I am in the beginning of a new Bible reading plan that gets through the entire Bible in just over 100 Days. I love it. And I have had great conversations with many people who are doing it as well. Here are some of my thoughts from the first week!

Reading: Genesis 1--Exodus 28

Thoughts From Week 1: From the beginning of this week, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in God's Word. It always amazes me that no matter how many times I read God's Word, I learn something new. And I have more and more questions about what He has revealed to us. There are questions I might not have time to look at now, but will keep before me to go back to look at soon. For instance, as I was reading this past week, several questions came to my mind:

  • What would have happened if Adam & Eve would have eaten from the Tree of Life? (Gen. 3:22)
  • What would it have been like when Adam & Eve found out their son had killed their other son, and they knew it was because of their sin that brought death into this world? (Gen. 4:9)
  • In Gen. 4:21, we are given genealogies and it doesn't seem like very long until culture and art are part of this world. What would that have looked like?
  • God promises never again to flood the earth to destroy the people, but it doesn't seem like He promises to never destroy people; just through a flood. (Gen. 9:11)
  • Abram comes out of nowhere in the text. We know nothing about him when God calls him (Gen. 12:1)

I could go on and on. These are just questions or thoughts from the first day. I had them everyday. Hopefully, the reading of God's Word peaks your curiosity. 

One of the things I love the most about this plan is that it forces me to be disciplined. There was one day that I fell behind a few chapters, and it is tough to make up. You simply cannot fall behind by more than a day or you are in trouble. That's why I love it more than just a few chapters a day. It causes me to be way more disciplined.

Reading for Next Week: This is the schedule this next week.

  • February 17th - Exodus 29-40
  • February 18th - Leviticus 1-14
  • February 19th - Leviticus 15-27
  • February 20th - Numbers 1-8
  • February 21st - Numbers 9-21
  • February 22nd - Numbers 22-32
  • February 23rd - Meditation Day

If you are reading with me, I'd love to hear some of your feedback. It always encourages me to hear what God is teaching you.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Accountability Questions

I posted a review last week of Jared C. Wilson's book, The Pastor's Justification. In one of the chapters, he lists a series of accountability questions from John Wesley. He refers to them as Wesley's "famous" accountability questions, which seemed funny to me. You see, while I do not find myself reading Wesley very often, I have been around ministry and small groups for some time. And I have never heard of these questions. They are not so famous to me, but they are now. I really liked them and think they might be helpful in the proper situation. 

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not like other people, especially the Pharisee who despised the publican?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
  20. Is Christ real to me?

As I think about these questions, other questions come to my mind:

  • Can I answer them?
  • Do I want to answer them?
  • Who could I answer them to?
  • Why wouldn't I want to answer them?
  • Who do I really fear?

These are things that are bouncing around in my head. What do you think? Do you like them? Do you see value in questions like this with someone you trust in your life?

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Bible in 100+ Days (The 1st Day)

Today begins a new journey of reading through the Bible. It's not too late to join. A few weeks ago I shared how and why I would be reading through the Bible in about 100+ days. It is a very fast plan that takes some discipline, but the reward is amazing. I hope some of you are planning on joining me. Here is the plan for this week:

  • February 10th - Genesis 1-16
  • February 11th - Genesis 17-28
  • February 12th - Genesis 29-40
  • February 13th - Genesis 41-50
  • February 14th - Exodus 1-15
  • February 15th - Exodus 16-28
  • February 16th - Meditation Day

Stay tuned here as I will share every Monday some thoughts on my journey through the Bible in the next 100+ days. I would be especially blessed if you shared your thoughts as well. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thoughts on Heaven, Week 5

I am leading a small group Sunday School class through Randy Alcorn's book on Heaven. We are reading about two chapters each week and then coming together to share what we are learning about the eternal destiny of those that know Jesus. I thought I would take the opportunity each week to blog about what I am learning in this study. This week we read:

  • Chapter 9 - "Why Is Earth's Redemption Essential To God's Plan?"
  • Chapter 10 - "What Will It Mean For The Curse To Be Lifted?"

These were not simple chapters. They were weighty with Scripture and doctrine. Throughout this book, Alcorn has been making the argument that Heaven is not some ethereal realm of spirits floating on clouds, but that it is a real, physical place. In these chapters, particularly chapter 9, he shows how the redemption of Jesus applies not only to man, but also to all of creation. A redeemed earth is our final destination, not some cloud. He says,
"God's redemptive plan climaxes not at the return of Christ, nor in the millennial kingdom, but on the New Earth. Only then will all wrongs be made right. Only then will there be no more death, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:1-4) . . . He isn't going to abandon his creation. He's going to restore it. We won't go to Heaven and leave Earth behind. Rather, God will bring Heaven and Earth together into the same dimension, with no wall of separation, no armed angels to guard Heaven's perfection from sinful mankind (Genesis 3:24). God's perfect plan is 'to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Ephesians 1:10)" (87-8).
While my guess is that most people affirm that God will create a New Heavens and a New Earth, they fail to connect the dots. They still think Heaven as being angels strumming harps on a cloud. They fail to see that the New Heavens and New Earth coming together is God's plan. 

That only happens when the Curse if finally lifted. In Revelation 22:3, we are told that in Heaven "No longer will there be any curse." One day we will know what it was like for Adam & Eve in that Garden without being under the curse. We will know it with redeemed, restored bodies. And we will know it on a redeemed, restored Earth. Alcorn says,
"We have never seen the earth as God made it. Our planet as we know it is a shadowy, halftone image of the original. But it does whet our appetites for the New Earth, doesn't it? If the present Earth, so diminished by the Curse, is at times so beautiful and wonderful; if our bodies, so diminished by the Curse, are at times overcome with a sense of the earth's beauty and wonder; then how magnificent will the New Earth be? And what will it be like to experience the New Earth in something else we've never known: perfect bodies?" (106)
I can't wait. It just gets me excited to think that the beauty we see here is just a diminished version of the original. I can't wait for the original. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Only Hope Is Jesus

Yesterday I shared my review of Jared C. Wilson's book, The Pastor's Justification. Towards the end of the book, he shares a poem that an elderly lady at his church had written. I loved it. I am not normally into poetry, but this was one I could understand. I hope it blesses you as well. 

My Only Hope Is Jesus

My Jesus I love thee
I love thy written word
It's the sweetest story ever told
that I have ever heard.
You are always with me
you live within my heart
and if I ever need a friend
you are there to impart.
You are always there to listen
to what I have to say
and you answer all of my prayers
in your own special way.
I can come to you in spirit
I can come to you with love
and know some day I'll dwell with you
in my Heavenly home above.
When my work on earth is over
and my work for you is done
you're my only hope for Heaven
you're the only one.

Monelvia May Fitzgerald, The Blessings of My Life: A Collection of Poems (unpublished, 1997), 31.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Pastor's Justification by Jared C. Wilson

In the previous couple years, there has been a resurgence of ministry directed at those in full-time pastoral ministry. I have been blessed by many books and articles and conversations I have had with other pastors about their life and mine. My life certainly has been distinctly changed through these resources and conversations.

And now to add to all of this conversation is a new book by Jared C. Wilson, The Pastor's Justification. I have enjoyed Wilson as a writer and blogger for some time now. He writes with such gospel clarity that the reader is easily blessed. But if I were honest, my first reaction to hearing that he was writing a book directed at pastors was a bit on the skeptical side. I thought, "How old is he? How much pastoral experience does he really have? Can he really give advice on pastoral ministry when he appears to be the same age as I am and probably about the same amount of experience?" Now I'm not saying these were good thoughts. But I just felt this message might be better received from someone like Paul Tripp who is a bit more seasoned. 

But then as I read the book, I realized his message is rock solid. He writes from a distinctly reformed tradition, which I particularly appreciated. From the opening pages of the book, he works really hard at showing how the answer to the trials and tribulations of pastoral ministry is found in the gospel. For instance, in the opening chapter, he commiserates with some of the difficulties the normal pastor might face and their response to them. He says,
"The pastor can be the loneliest soul in the congregation, wandering out in the point man position, scoping the land for danger all by himself, yet always feeling the tug of those needing his attention on the back of his coat . . . The pastor is ministerially multipolar . . . Very few people lose sleep over 'the way the church is going.' But the pastor does . . . The laity starts Monday fresh, filled. The pastor starts Monday exhausted, empty" (24-25). 
But then he shepherds us with these direct, but helpful words . . .
"And yet, let's not overthink it, brothers. Let us not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Oh, we poor pitiful pastors, we sorry lot, we put-upon unprevailers! We special class, whatever will we do with ourselves? We can nail self-pity to the cross, first off" (25). 
Please, tell us what you really think! But he is so right. And that is how much of the book reads. It is like taking a right cross only to be followed up with a left hook, but then to be hugged by Jesus with the remedy of the gospel.

In the first half of the book, Wilson shares his thoughts from 1 Peter 5 on the Free, Holy, Humble, Confident, Watchful, and Justified Pastor. But then in the second half of the book, he turns to show how the pastor needs the sola's: He uses the Scripture alone, he lives and preaches grace alone, he is moved by his faith alone, Christ is His only king, and everything he does is that God be glorified alone. 

If you are looking for some good encouragement, yet also a little jump start in your ministry, this will help. Are you concerned for your pastor, then maybe you should read this book. Are you an elder who is trying to give good shepherding to those on pastoral staff, this will certainly give you good thoughts. And pastor, you probably need to read this book. You need it for your leadership. You need it for your church. You need it for your soul. 

As Wilson has done in many other books, he clearly articulates and applies the gospel to this much needed topic. And for that, regardless of his age or experience, I am grateful!

I received a copy of The Pastor's Justification by Jared C. Wilson from Crossway for review.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Forgiveness 101

C. S. Lewis once said, "We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it." I think we can all give a hearty "Amen" to that. We love the thought of forgiveness, but for some reason, it is just so difficult. And yet the Scriptures are littered with commands to forgive. Here are just two:
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 5:32).
"Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (Col. 3:13).
And yet we still struggle. It is difficult. And sometimes, we simply don't feel like it. And then there are other times that we say we forgive, yet don't. We can learn a lot about forgiveness by identifying what is is not. For instance . . .

  • You have not forgiven if you continually treat the other person differently than others.
  • You have not forgiven if you continually bring up the past.
  • You have not forgiven if you resent them in your heart.
  • You have not forgiven if you harbor anger towards them.
  • You have not forgiven if you go out of your way to avoid them.

I'm sure there are many other examples of what forgiveness "is not." So what is it? Forgiveness is taking what someone has done to you and leaving it at the foot of the cross, never to deal with it again. It means that you treat that person the way Jesus treats you.

Peter once asked Jesus that question we have thought before. How many times does my brother sin against me and I have to forgive him . . . up to seven times? You know the answer. Seventy times seven. Meaning, limitless. 

The forgiveness we offer to others is closely attached to the fact that we realize we have been forgiven by Christ. And we need to continually remember:

You Will Never Be More Like God Than When You Forgive Like Christ!

And so let go. Forgive. Move on. I guarantee you that the sins you have committed before a Holy God are so much more offensive than anything someone has done to you. And yet, God demonstrates the heart of forgiveness by completely wiping the slate through your faith in Jesus Christ. Follow that pattern of forgiveness today.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Thoughts on Heaven, week 4

I am leading a small group Sunday School class through Randy Alcorn's book on Heaven. We are reading about two chapters each week and then coming together to share what we are learning about the eternal destiny of those that know Jesus. I thought I would take the opportunity each week to blog about what I am learning in this study.

This week we read chapter 7, "What is life like in the Intermediate Heaven" and chapter 8, "This world is not our home...or is it?" One of the first things that Alcorn does in chapter 7 is to push against the mindset of most Christians that when we get to heaven, we won't be concerned with what is happening on the earth. He exhausts Revelation 6:9-11, showing how those that have been slain for Christ are actively petitioning Him to finish what He has started. It is obvious that they see and know what is going on at that time. In addition, he interprets the "Cloud of Witnesses" in Hebrews 12 as those watching and cheering on the people of God. He says,
"The unfolding drama of redemption, awaiting Christ's return, is currently happening on Earth. Earth is center court, center stage, awaiting the consummation of Christ's return and the establishment of his Kingdom. This seems a compelling reason to believe that the current inhabitants of Heaven would be able to observe what's happening on Earth" (70).
I can buy this argument, and not just out of sediment. While it is probably a bit of an insinuation from the text, it is not outside a possible interpretation. But sedimentally, it rocks my world. To think that those of the faith have gone on before me are cheering me on in my walk of faith is motivating, to say the least. 

I loved chapter eight. He makes the argument that earth is what we were designed for. Not the earth we know now, but "a perfect and beautiful Earth with free and untainted relationships with God, each other, animals, and our environment" (77). It is in this chapter that he moves from talking about the Intermediate Heaven to the Christians final home. 

When we think of heaven, most people can easily think about what it will be like to have a resurrected body. But we are very slow at thinking what a New Earth will be like. He says,
"We should open our eyes, because the present Earth is as much a valid reference point for envisioning the New Earth as our present bodies are a valid reference point for envisioning our new bodies" (81). 
That's helpful. And it is exciting. One last thought by Alcorn.
"In Genesis, God plants the Garden of Earth; in Revelation, he brings down the New Jerusalem, with a garden at its center, to the New Earth. In Eden, there's no sin, death, or Curse; on the New Earth, there's no more sin, death, or Curse. In Genesis, the Redeemer is promised; in Revelation, the Redeemer returns. Genesis tells the story of Paradise lost; Revelation tells the story of Paradise regained. In Genesis, humanity's stewardship is squandered; in Revelation, humanity's stewardship is triumphant, empowered by the human and divine King Jesus . . . The earth matters, our bodies matter, animals and trees matter, matter matters, because God created them and intends them to manifest his glory" (85).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Unique Trials for Pastors

Just the other day, I had the opportunity to sit down for lunch and talk with seven other pastors from our community. To be honest, I never thought I would be part of a pastoral group like this, let alone, be the one trying to make it happen. In years past, I just wasn't that much interested in being involved in the lives of other pastors at other churches.

But I am today. Maybe it is age, maybe it is wisdom, or maybe it is just a better understanding of my own weakness; I don't know for sure. But what I do know is that pastoral ministry faces some very unique challenges. I am in the process of reading Jared Wilson's new book, The Pastor's Justification. In the chapter on "The Confident Pastor", he quotes Arturios Azurdia concerning the unique challenges facing those in ministry. If you ever wonder why only 1 out of 10 men who begin in pastoral ministry retire from pastoral ministry, listen to these words: 
"To be sure, the minister of the Gospel is vulnerable to trials and temptations distinct to his calling: jealousy ("Why are his gifts more esteemed than mine?"); bitterness ("why does the congregation criticize everything I do?"); fear ("Will they leave the church if I teach particular redemption?"); depression ("Will this church ever grow?"); grief ("Why have there been so few conversions?"); frustration ("Why does the board appear to distrust my motivation?"); doubt ("Why has God caused such suffering in the life of this family?"); anxiety ("How will we ever afford to send our children to college?"); sexual indiscretion ("Why does it seem that my wife is not as responsive to me as other women in the church?"); despondency ("Why doesn't the congregation love Jesus with greater fervor?"); desperation ("Have I rightly discerned my call to ministry?")."
So what can you do? Encourage your pastor today. Pray for him today. Send him a short note today. Grow in your faith this year. Be his friend. Engage his family. But above all, the most important thing you can do for your pastor is this: Love Jesus Christ Radically!