When we understand that we are cared for far more that we could ever dream of by Jesus, perhaps we can begin to feel a little more safe in the quiet empty space that is needed to make room for others. We can step out into the uncertainty of what others might bring into our lives.Read More
Sitting here in the coffee shop, I find myself pondering the New Year. ‘Tis the Season after all. This is when all the type A’ers set their goals for the coming year. It is also when the messy folk finally wash their hands of the previous year. But aren’t those categories a little too neat and tidy? After all, we’re all messy. We’re all a little thankful to say goodby to the failures of the previous year. And don’t we all like to look on the coming year with fresh, expectant eyes? Is this the way you look at the New Year? Or is it just me?
With those thoughts swirling in my mind, combined with the refreshment of a few days rest and reflection, I find myself enjoying a cup of coffee with my daughter, and contemplating the coming year. But this year, rather than setting specific, measurable goals (though I do have a few), I am more focused on my posture. No, I’m not referring to the way I physically sit or stand. I am more concerned with the posture of my heart.
RESTING IN MY WEAKNESS
Sitting here I realize how much effort I expend trying to orchestrate my time, my relationships, the church, etc. All of this managing, of myself and of my surroundings, makes an assumption. It assumes that I have the strength to do so. Maybe more than strength, it assumes I have the ability to control outcomes, and that those outcomes I control will result in the best outcomes. But time and time again, experience seems to suggest otherwise.
Experience tells me that rather than strength, what I really have to offer is weakness. That realization can be somewhat depressing. At this time of year when I am thinking in terms of New Year’s resolutions, the natural response would seem to be, “Do better next time!” But maybe experience is not the only voice worth listening to.
The Apostle Paul had a pretty good voice. His was authoritative. At least in terms of the Scriptures he authored, his voice was divinely inspired. So sitting here in the coffee shop, the Holy Spirit is directing me to the voice of God uttered by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
“But He (the Lord) said to me (Paul...and me), “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul realized his inability and was reminded of the all sufficient grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. So he concluded to boast in his weakness. I’ll just be honest with you. I don’t know how to boast in my weakness. It’s just there. All around. So maybe rather than boasting in my weakness, this New Year’s I’ll resolve to rest in it. I’ll resolve to recognize I can’t manage my life, or yours. I’ll resolve to recognize my weakness, and to trust God’s Word when it tells me God’s power is made perfect in my weakness. So I’ll resolve to pray dependent-ly rather than demanding-ly. I resolve to adopt a posture of resting in the all too evident reality of my own weakness and inability.
STANDING IN AWE
I understand that a posture of resting in weakness can seem like a bit of a downer in terms of New Years resolutions, particularly if I simply stopped there. I guess there are two options in the face of weakness. We can wallow in it. Or we can turn our focus.
As I approach the New Year, the Lord seems to be the One redirecting my gaze. While He is calling me to rest in my weakness, He is also calling me to stand in AWE…of Him. So, sitting here in the coffee shop, my attention turns to the book of Hebrews, and to the glory of God.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. — Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29)
There it is. In God’s Word I find a sustaining picture of glory. In the midst of my weakness I find the picture of hope, of grace, of awe. I believe God is showing me this New Year that come what may, He’s got it. His grace is sufficient, so stand in awe…of Him.
EMBRACING THE CALL
I have no idea what is ahead this year. While there was a time when the thought of the unknown may have concerned me, something about this New Year is different. Maybe that difference is captured in one little word my daughter shares with me. Embrace. I think that word means “to take hold of”; “to own it.” (my definition)
This year, I resolve to embrace the call of God, to take hold of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to own the unavoidable reality of my personal weakness and in that place, to embrace the unchanging glory of God. So come what may, I resolve to rest in my weakness and I stand in awe of my great God and Father. How about you? This New Year, will you join me?
“Are you ready for Christmas?” I have either asked, or been asked that question countless times this Christmas season. It is the small talk conversation starter of choice in the month of December. It’s what we say when we don’t know what to say. But what are we really saying when we ask this question?
I can only speak for myself, but when I ask someone, “Are you ready for Christmas?” I’m asking if they have finished buying presents. I may also be asking if they have finished wrapping presents, decorating the Christmas tree, and planning the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day meals. There is a lot wrapped up in this question, but shouldn’t there be more than the details of our celebration?
Now don’t get me wrong. I love to celebrate Christmas. My family has taken to calling me Clark Griswold, and I don’t really care. I love it all…the lights, the movies, the gifts, the family time. But I also am beginning to listen to my own heart when I ask the question. I suppose there is a fine line between celebration and exhaustion. And maybe the search for the perfect celebration is really just a recipe for exhaustion. My body doesn’t need anymore exhaustion. Neither does my heart. How about your’s?
This sense of exhaustion ought to tell us something about our priorities, shouldn’t it? And that leads me to the deeper realization I have when I consider the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?” When I ask it, I am making a functional statement about the true meaning of Christmas. These days, everyone from Charlie Brown to the Hallmark Channel will offer a definition for the true meaning of Christmas, but maybe the Bible has the best answer.
Christmas means God became man. It means Jesus left his throne of glory to be born as a baby, in a barn. He came that we might see first hand the glory of God. He came to rescue hopeless sinners by securing our forgiveness. He came to restore us into intimate relationship with our God and Father. He came to crush our enemy. He came to die, that we might have life…and have it abundantly.
It took a Person to do this…a person who walked and ate and slept and befriended and loved and wept and taught and served. It took a Person who was both God and man. This is the true meaning of Christmas, and in no way should it diminish our family celebrations. If anything, it should make them more festive. But rather than exhaustion, this meaning of Christmas builds in me a greater anticipation.
What if we meant more when we asked “the question?” How would it change our conversations (not to mention our own hearts) if what we really meant was “Are you ready to experience and celebrate the joy of the incarnation of Jesus Christ?”
So how about now? Now, are you ready for Christmas?
As we explore leadership in the church, it is important for us to consider broadly what God is doing in and through the church. We often talk of vision statements and mission statements. I have a pastor friend who sets up that conversation well when he captures the essence of God’s vision and mission. My friend says that God’s vision as recorded in Scripture is: “I will be their God and they will be my people.” (see Ex. 6:7; Jer 31:33, 32:38; 2 Cor 6:16; Rev 21:3) He then goes on to say that if this is God’s vision statement, then God’s mission statement as to how he will accomplish that vision is contained in Matthew 28:18-20:
“And Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
So the church was instituted by Christ and will serve as his bride for all of eternity. The issue of leadership in the church, both of who shall serve and of how they should serve, ought then to be subject to the authority of the Word of God. Yet how often does the church take a more worldly attitude towards church leadership? So often, churches will appoint people who are successful in business, or who hold prominent positions in the community as her leadership. These are not, in and of themselves, bad things, but they do not qualify someone for leadership in Jesus’ church.
Jesus has in fact given us guidance/commands in his word as to the nature and qualifications of leadership. Listed below is a sampling of the Biblical outline for leadership in the church. It is by no means a complete listing of the Biblical texts on leadership, but they will give a representative sampling. I encourage you to read through these passages.
Exodus 18:15-26 - God spoke through Moses’ father-in-law Jethro to give him guidance as to his leadership of the Israelite people. In this passage, Jethro essentially tells Moses, “You are wearing your self out. Appoint leaders/elders over the people.” This is an OT outline for the elders we find in the NT church.
Acts 14:23 - Paul and Barnabus are on their first missionary journey planting churches, and as they plant churches, they appoint elders in each of the churches to lead them.
Acts 6:1-6 - In this passage, we have the choosing of the Seven. These men were the first deacons. The mention here of waiting on tables is not meant to be derogatory. The deacon is not a lesser office. It is a different office with a different gift set. These men have servant hearts and servant callings. The passage also makes clear that the office of deacon is a spiritual office. These men were to be men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. The passage goes on to say that these men were ordained for their office, signifying spiritual oversight, though broadly speaking the office of the elder is one of shepherding and the office of deacon is one of mercy.
Philippians 1:1 - As Paul writes to the church in Philippi, he addresses the letter to the overseers (elders) and the deacons. This is just an example of the two offices existing within the church.
1 Timothy 3:1-6 - This passage describes the Biblical qualifications of the elder. Please note that Titus 1:5-9 also includes these qualifications.
1 Timothy 3:7-20 - This passage describes the Biblical qualifications of the deacon.
Hebrews 13:17ff - This passage speaks to the seriousness of the office and is one that ought to be on our hearts and minds as we consider leadership in the church. It tells us that the leaders in the church will one day be called to give an account before God as to our stewardship of the church. The elders will be called to give an account before God as to their care for the souls entrusted to their shepherding care.
Friends, please know that the officers of Christ Church have been called by God to this service, and we take very seriously this calling placed on our lives. I plead with you to pray for us, for our leadership, and for our families. I also plead with you to pray that the Lord would continue to provide men, whom he has called, to lead his church.
This is a highly abbreviated teaching on leadership in the church, but I want to close with a few summary statements from the PCA Book of Church Order which outline the qualifications and duties of elders and deacons. Thank you for taking a few moments to read through and consider how God has provided for the leadership of his church.
Summary of Qualifications:
8-2. He that fills this office should possess a competency of human learning and be blameless in life, sound in the faith and apt to teach. He should exhibit a sobriety and holiness of life becoming the Gospel. He should rule his own house well and should have a good report of them that are outside the Church.
Summary of Duties:
8-3. It belongs to those in the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the Church generally when called thereunto. They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the Church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples. All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.
Summary of Qualifications:
9-3. To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.
Summary of Duties:
9-2. It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation. In matters of special importance affecting the property of the church, they cannot take final action without the approval of the Session and consent of the congregation.
In the discharge of their duties the deacons are under the supervision and authority of the Session. In a church in which it is impossible for any reason to secure deacons, the duties of the office shall devolve upon the ruling elders.
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
In my lifetime, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the beauty of nature in its many forms. I have been brought to tears through song. I’ve been stirred to response through speech. And in moments too holy to describe with words, I have touched beauty when I’ve held my new born children. Each of these moments was a moment of worship, with its own unique form of liturgy, and in my better moments, I looked beyond the direct object of my gaze, to worship the Creator. These moments challenge me, and I hope you, to think through the question: Just what is it, or who is it, that we are we worshipping?
Five years in to the life of Christ Church, I continue to be asked about our worship style. So, I’d like to at least take a stab at answering. Though as I do, I must (if even for my own sake) offer a qualifying statement. While I/we spend much time planning for worship, I don’t in any way think we are the ones who have finally gotten it right. In fact, I pray for more creativity, more beauty, and more soul in our worship. I also pray for less of me. And maybe that is the point. We gather each week to worship our great and awesome God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So with the object of our worship in view, let’s talk about how our view of God shapes our worship.
A DIVINE DANCE
We believe that God, for His own glory, and for our good, has chosen to reveal Himself to us in His Word. So, we worship Him according to His Word. While there is much that could be said about how the Scriptures inform our worship, my focus for the moment is on how the Scriptures shape the flow of our worship.
Given the truth of God’s self revelation in His Word, combined with our call to worship Him according to His Word, the best way to describe our worship would be to see it as a DIVINE DANCE, consisting of God’s revelation to us and our response to Him. This means there is a natural back and forth to our worship. It is participatory. He calls us together to worship through His Word. We respond by singing songs of adoration and praise. We respond with prayer. He continues to reveal Himself to us through the reading of His Word, inviting responses of confession and repentance. God continues to reveal His love for us as we are reminded of the pardon we have in Christ, which further draws out our response of praise and prayer. The preached Word and the visible Word (Sacraments) urge us to respond by coming forward for the Lord’s Supper, where we see and respond to Christ’s death on the cross…a death He died for us.
This flow is a back and forth dance which is meant to engage us, to nurture us, and to show us the God whom we have gathered to worship, all the while telling His story.
A STORY TOLD
One of the most shocking things about God’s self revelation in the Scriptures is that He reveals Himself to us in the context of the redemption story. It is a story which occupies the whole of Scripture, and is told in four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. This is the gospel story of our Savior, who in the fullness of time, was born of a woman, who was born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…so that we might receive adoption as sons of God. (from Galatians 4:4-6)
This gospel story of redemption is not one which can merely be added on to the end of a sermon. It must inform the whole of our worship. The story unifies all that we do in the context of worship, which means worship is so much more than the songs we sing. Our desire is to speak the story of the gospel, to hear it, to see it, to pray it, and to sing it.
A SONG SUNG
Often, when I get the question about our worship, I understand the question is really code for “What is your music like?” It’s a great question, but honestly, it’s not a question that I have a great answer for. The truth is, we just don’t aim for a particular genre or style of music.
When our leadership plans for worship, we pray a specific prayer. We pray, asking the Lord to direct our hearts, so that our worship would be a transformational celebration of the gospel. It is our desire to plan worship that is God honoring, Christ centered, and Spirit led, and we pray it will be transformational in the lives of God’s children. We pray it will be an appropriate celebration of our Savior and His gospel. And, we pray that the gospel will be clearly proclaimed throughout our service, both in the parts, and through the whole.
So, we don’t start with a particular style of music. We start with the text of Scripture, and through it, seek to tell the story God is telling, through Word, prayer, confession, song, and sacrament. But we do sing. We love to sing. Some of the songs you know. Some you may not. But our desire is to sing songs which are rich in meaning, which celebrate the gospel. There is often a blend of styles, though we don’t intentionally aim for a “blended” worship service. There will be praise songs. There will be hymns, new and old, some of which have been re-tuned…all of which, we pray, will point you to Christ.
In the beginning, I mentioned several moments of worship. I will close by adding another moment…one which is repeated weekly. Each week, we get the blessing of witnessing beauty. It is the beauty of God’s people, coming together from all types of backgrounds, for one purpose…worship. In that beautiful moment of worship, our focus is directed toward our great and awesome God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the One who shapes our worship, because He is the object of our worship. And the wonder of it all is this: as we focus on Him, He is glorified and we are blessed. Praise the Lord!
“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
You’ve had those conversations. Well, kind of. They don’t always fit into the category of conversation. To be a conversation there must be two people engaging in a back and forth. But sometimes you just feel like you’ve been talked to. How did it feel? It felt like the other person wanted to talk, to tell you something, but not really to know you. So, you kept an eye on your watch, wondering how much longer this would go on. It’s amazing how exhausting those talks, and relationships, can be.
And then there are other conversations. True conversations. You’ve had times when you know you’ve engaged with someone else, and they have engaged with you. There has been no time clock, no sense of urgency, only lingering in conversation with a friend…one who is interested, and interesting.
Conversation can be draining. Or, it can be life giving, even when the subject matter is difficult, maybe especially when the subject matter is difficult. Conversing with someone who cares can be one of the most emotionally freeing, burden lifting exercises we can experience. Yet, we don’t go deep unless the person we are conversing with is worthy of the investment.
A FLY ON THE WALL
In John chapter 4, we get the opportunity to be a fly on the wall (or maybe a fly on the well). There, we see the consummate conversationalist at work. Jesus is traveling northward, from Jerusalem to Galilee. Rather than scooting around Samaria, as most self-respecting Jews would have done, Jesus intentionally entered in to the land of his mixed-breed cousins.
There, in a little town called Sychar, among a lesser people (or so was the predominant thinking among the Jews), Jesus engaged in a conversation with a woman. His disciples would later “marvel” that he was talking to this woman, either because talking to a woman was taboo, or because this woman wasn’t worthy, or likely both. Regardless, Jesus conversed.
As I picture the scene, I imagine Jesus with an intent look on his face. I imagine him with a comfortable posture. I imagine him with a willingness to linger in silence. Admittedly, I am filling in some gaps with my imagining, but these aren’t big gaps to fill. In the conversation, Jesus is caring for this woman, pealing back the layers of her story.
My point in all of this is not to give (or receive) a lesson in how to be a better conversationalist. No, I am more interested in the picture this conversation paints of the personhood of Jesus. And, I believe the way he engaged in conversation tells us much about the kind of person he is.
By the very nature of his engaging the woman, we see that he is a respecter of persons. In speaking to the woman, and asking something of her, he was bestowing on her a sense of dignity. This simply wasn’t done in those days. Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans. Nor did men publicly talk to women, not to mention this kind of woman.
So Jesus speaks, but he does more. He listens. He is inviting conversation. He is drawing her out. He is leading. And through it all, he is patient. This woman has something to hide. Why else would she come to the well in the heat of the day, longer after the rest of the women of the town would have finished fetching water? She had a past.
You sense her hiding as she darts through the conversation, changing the subject matter. But Jesus is nimble. He senses she is signaling something deeper, so he listens. In his listening, he asks, and directs, in revealing ways. When he sends her to get her husband, he is challenging without condemning.
In response she redirects again, talking about places of worship (a very modern way to avoid the deeper subject of the heart). And again, Jesus is nimble, staying with her in conversation while not losing sight of her heart. Through it all, she is the one who finally brings the conversation around to the Messiah. At that, Jesus simply responds, “I who speak to you am he.”
He doesn’t respond by sitting her down to teach her about the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, and the doctrine of the Trinity, as beautiful and life giving as these truths are. No. Instead, he simply reveals his personhood.
THE IMPACT OF REAL CONVERSATION
Jesus hasn’t forced anything in this conversation. He has given the woman time. He has truly listened to her. So what was the impact of this conversation on her? She felt KNOWN. And in being known, she came to KNOW. Just listen to her evangelistic proclamation in verse 29, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” What a powerful thing to be known! It was so powerful that the people of the town came to believe because of her testimony (verse 39).
That was the impact of the conversation on the woman at the well, and on the people of her town. But I ask myself about the impact this conversation has on me (and maybe on you). I began this journey through John, not to pick apart every Greek word, or even to understand and explain the meaning of every verse. Instead, I came looking for the person of Jesus. And, he continues to speak.
In John 4, when I simply slow down and listen for the person of Jesus, I find the consummate conversationalist. As I continue to listen, I am reminded that this Jesus is still the consummate conversationalist. He is the same person. He is unhurried with me. He is penetrating in his knowledge of me. He draws me out. He peels back the layers. In short, he KNOWS me. And like the woman at the well, this is the kind of person I want to KNOW in return.
Jesus taught much about why he came, what he did, and how he is calling me to live in response. I need those truths as well. So do you. But with the woman at the well, he simply revealed himself. For me, for a moment, I will simply rest there. Maybe we could rest together, simply KNOWING the person of Jesus.
Evangelism Through the Eyes of Christ
Taught by Michael Davis
What is our calling and purpose with regard to the unbelieving world around us? If we got a chance to listen to Jesus praying for his church, what would we hear him asking the Father for? In fact we’ve been given that chance. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed for us, that the Father would send us into the world, just as he was sent into the world (John 17). How do we go about living out this prayer Jesus has for us? How are we sent into the world in the way he was?
What do you think of when you hear the word “Evangelism”? What feelings arise in your heart? As believers we all have some sense of calling and even eagerness to share our faith, but perhaps this desire is coupled with feelings of fear, frustration, or even guilt? Unfortunately, it is often churches that place these feelings of guilt on believers. The Lord never motives his people to his service through guilt, but rather he draws us with his unfailing love and graciously invites us in to be apart of his redemptive work. That’s right, it’s HIS work…that HE is doing. There is an invitation here to be set free from the frustration and burden of thinking it’s up to us to convert anyone. I can remember as a child getting to join my Dad (who is an electrician) on side work he would sometimes do (like wire a house, or install light poles in a neighborhood). If it had been up to me to do this work, to say the least, it would have been a disaster, but I remember really thinking it was something that I got to help my Dad do this work. He was doing it and allowed me to be a part of it. The Spirit of Christ does the work of transforming hearts and he lets us be a part of it!
Still fear often crops up in our hearts. We think, “I really want to share my faith in Christ with people I know, but I’m afraid I will ruin the relationship. What will the person think of me if I try to tell them about Jesus?” We do find ourselves in what is becoming an increasingly post-Christian Western society, while at the same time living in a region of “cultural Christianity” where many people go to church. There are certainly many barriers to sharing our faith in Christ, but often times the greatest barrier of all is our own hearts.
The calling we all have as disciples of Christ is to make more disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), but we have not been left to ourselves to do this work. As mentioned already, it is in fact the Spirit of Christ who is doing the work. We are simply cooperating with him. To cooperate with the Spirit of Christ it is important that we grow in our understanding of how Christ actually engaged with an unbelieving world. If you think about it, Jesus (God incarnate) is indeed the greatest evangelist whoever walked the earth.
As we learn from Jesus and become more captivated by his love for us and his commitment to his mission of seeking and saving the lost, the hurting, the broken, the self-centered, the despised; we will be more equipped for sharing our faith. This study is not meant to be theoretical, but to encourage us to put into practice what we are learning together. We will discuss together practical and simple ways to incorporate outreach into our daily lives, and identify ways that perhaps we are already doing it without even knowing it! This class isn’t about a method, or memorizing formulas for gospel presentation. Rather its about engaging with the gospel itself and biblical principles that shape how we share it. As the gospel has it’s way in our hearts it will also work it’s way out of our hearts and into the lives of others. When we see our own need for the gospel and how Jesus restores our dignity as image-bearers of God himself, we will in turn see others in the same light as those who bear the image of God and can be loved and engaged in light of that reality. Won’t you come with us on this journey of cooperating with the greatest evangelist of all times, Jesus Christ.
Covenant Theology: A Survey
Taught by Joel Ellis and Joe Gunter
Why do a survey of Biblical covenants, and what are they after all?
Many faithful Christians have heard the term many times, but really do not have a real understanding of what the biblical covenants are, or what they mean to us today. Since the Civil War, the study of the covenants, or more properly the study of the Bible in a Covenant framework has decreased and been replaced with other methods and frameworks that have grown in popularity.
Viewing the story and message of the Bible through the lens of a covenant framework is a basic historical Reformed Theology principle. In fact the Westminster Confession incorporates many statements regarding the bible covenants. But due to the shift of attention, many Christians who are Reformed in their theology do not have the foundation of the covenants supporting it.
Here at Christ Church, we are familiar with the term because we are constantly hearing references to the covenant family that is our church. We hear references to the children of the covenant. What does it all mean?
Over the next 9 classes, we want to survey the Bible covenants. We will discuss:
- The definition of a covenant
- Terminology of covenants and how they differ from other concepts like wills
- What are the covenant seals used in the Bible, and what do they signify
- The principal covenants of the Bible and how they provide the foundation for the relationship we have with God
- The Major Covenants
- The Covenant of Works
- The Covenant of Grace
- Further developing expressions of the one Covenant of Grace
- The Covenant with Noah
- The Covenant with Abraham
- The Covenant with Moses
- The Covenant with David
- Some comparisons with other Bible view frameworks (if time allows)
- What the Bible covenants mean to us today
This class will be a “survey” that will introduce the students to the covenant framework of scripture. The goal will be to make the material understandable and spiritually enriching for everyone. We hope you will join us starting July 30th.
In high school, I drove a 1978 Buick Electra. It had an army green exterior…and interior. At some point in the car’s history, I’m sure she was a thing of beauty. For my brother and I, she was a means of transportation. Maybe owing to the car’s age, and maybe owing to the way we treated her, “The Tank” often needed some type of mechanical repair. The problem was, I only knew how to change the oil and the tires. Outside of those two basics, I was out of my league. I just didn’t know that much about cars. Fortunately though, I knew someone who did.
My grandfather, or Papaw as I knew him, owned an auto parts store. Papaw did business with most of the mechanics in town. He knew what he was doing, but beyond his technical expertise, anyone who ever met him loved and respected him for his character. So what do you think I did when I needed work done on The Tank? You guessed it. I made sure the mechanic knew that I was Clyde Richards’ grandson.
Oh there were a lot of reasons for this. I loved Papaw. But I also knew that he could speak for me when I didn’t know what to say. His reputation in the community spoke for me, so I didn’t have to fear being taken advantage of. And often times, he literally spoke for me, calling a mechanic to tell them what I needed when I didn’t understand it myself.
I was not the expert, but by virtue of my family relationship, I had ready access to the expert. And that ready access was accompanied by his loving and protective care. There is a very long list of reasons why I miss my Papaw, with his knowledge of cars ranking pretty low, relatively speaking. But, on more than one occasion when I’ve had to have repair work done in a new town, I’ve missed his counsel.
Over the course of the past week, I’ve spent hours studying and praying over Romans 8:26-27. In many respects, I believe the Lord keeps bringing me back to this picture of the loving counsel provided by an expert who knows his subject matter intimately, and who cares deeply for his family. I believe that is an appropriate description of the Holy Spirit’s work in these verses, as he guides the children of God in prayer, and as he steps in to pray on our behalf. He is the loving expert, who knows us perfectly, and who perfectly knows the will of God the Father.
I still don’t know that much about cars, so I have to rely on the experts. By God’s grace, I am beginning to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus. As I do, I’m coming to see that learning to follow Jesus is learning to know my own weakness…and to pray accordingly, relying on the expert witness of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to join me in learning to rely on him, to pray with him, and to lean into the Father’s love for us.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
What does it mean to believe in a person? Does it simply mean to believe that person existed? If so, I believe a lot of people have existed. Some of them have been good people. Some have been bad. Some, I’m not real sure.
For example, I believe Franklin Delano Roosevelt existed. My grandparents told me about him. They lived through the depression, experiencing it up close and personal. They needed help and he seemed to give it, so they loved him.
I’ve actually read a fair amount about FDR, but based on what I’ve read, I honestly don’t know what to think about the man. I believe he existed. I know what my grandparents told me. I believe the things I’ve read about him. But, I don’t think any of it is going to have any relevance to the way I live my life today, or tomorrow.
So how is my belief in FDR different from believing in Jesus? To be honest with you, for much of my life, there was no difference. My grandparents, and my parents, and a whole lot of other people told me about Jesus. Most of them told me about John 3:16. I heard it all and had no problem believing he existed. I understand that some of you may have a hard time with that belief, but we’ll have to reserve that struggle for another discussion. Believing in Jesus’ existence just wasn’t a problem for me.
Oh yeah, I also believed John 3:16, at least as I understood it at the time. I didn’t like the idea of perishing either. That thought kept me up at night with worry. So, John 3:16 seemed to answer the problem. Believe in him and I get heaven instead of hell.
For many years, that was the extent of my faith. Well, John 3:16 plus being a “good person.” After all, that seemed to be my Sunday School instruction. The truth be told, that was probably where my trust was found. Believe in Jesus, but be a good person. Come to think of it, it sounds a lot like another president…Ronald Reagan, and his “trust but verify.”
That was my version of belief for many years. Believe in Jesus, but verify by being a good person. It may be yours now. But in time, the nagging question came back up. What does it mean to believe in a person? Could John 3:16 be talking about more than my belief in the person of FDR?
GOOD PERSON #1 - NICODEMUS
Maybe the rest of John chapter 3 has something to tell us about what kind of belief John 3:16 is describing. The rest of the chapter presents two men, both of whom would fit into the “good person” category. The chapter opens with Nicodemus. He was the teacher of Israel. He knew the law, taught the law, and at least with fair amount of respect for the law, we assume, sought to obey it. In other words, Nicodemus was the classic “good person.”
Nicodemus also believed something about Jesus. He recognized Jesus’ uniqueness, and had come to question him about it. But Nicodemus’ belief had not yet risen to the level of trust. In fact, he couldn’t seem to understand Jesus’ words when Jesus spoke of his true identity. In the early part of John 3, we see there was a more fundamental blockage at work. It wasn’t just Nicodemus’ mind. It was his heart, prompting Jesus’ instruction, “You must be born again.”
The good person was missing something, and it wasn’t something he could earn or do. It was something he had to receive. And somehow, receiving it was connecting to believing in the person of Jesus…at the level of his heart.
GOOD PERSON #2 - JOHN THE BAPTIST
Later in John chapter 3, we see a second good person. This time it is John the Baptist. He is the one whom Jesus described as the greatest man born of a woman. John also was a teacher, and a prophet. Yet more than Nicodemus, John understood Jesus was the Christ. And in declaring Jesus’ title, he captured the fullness of his personhood. He was a man. He was the Savior. And more importantly, he was John’s personal Savior.
John was declaring to his disciples that there was something lacking in his own life. It was something that only Jesus could fulfill. John knew that in Jesus he had both the forgiveness of sins, and the righteousness of God. John not only knew about Jesus, he believed in him with a belief that rose to the level of trust.
Whereas my belief in FDR doesn’t affect my life today, John declared for all to hear (and to see) that his belief in Jesus impacted every sphere of his life. In John 3:30, he captured it beautifully and succinctly with, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
HOW ABOUT YOU?
How about you? Who do you believe in? Are you believing in yourself, as a good person? Or are you believing in Jesus Christ, the Savior of Sinners? Do you know about Jesus like you know about Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Is Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension merely an interesting episode in history, like the New Deal? Or, is the knowledge of Jesus’ life and work a personal reality in your life? What does it mean for you to believe?
I used to confess belief in Jesus, but late at night, I worried about eternal life. How about you? Late at night, do you worry about perishing? If so, John 3:16 can bring you peace, but only as it points you to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. Salvation in his name is a gift, meant to be received, by believing in faith…with your heart.
Can I point you forward in the story line a bit? You know by now that John the Baptist had a true belief. But how about Nicodemus? If we skip forward in John’s gospel account, he see that he would go on to publicly defend Jesus before the Pharisees, and would eventually help bury Jesus. While we don’t know for certain, something changed in Nicodemus’ heart. I happen to believe he was born again, and received the gift of a true, trusting belief. The good person needed something more, or rather someone more. He seemed to find it in the person of Jesus.
The bottom line is this..good people need Jesus too. Good people like me. Good people like you. So I ask you one final time…what does it mean for you to believe in Jesus?
When our family travels, we pray for the journey. Generally our prayer is for safety, mixed with a prayer for sanity. We consider the journey, and the destination, then pray accordingly. Romans 8 speaks of a different journey, though. It is not a journey by car or plane, but probably more specifically it refers to our journey through life.
Romans 8 speaks of walking according to the Spirit. This is a journey which is both led and powered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. So, as we pray for this journey, it is appropriate to pray for the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As you consider that type of prayer, can I offer you a suggestion? Included below is a prayer from the Valley of Vision (Bennett, Arthur, 1975. The Valley of Vision, Banner of Truth Trust).
The Valley of Vision is a collection of prayers written by Puritan pastors and laymen. The language is not familiar to our modern ear. The language is old, but it is rich. These prayers are not light and fluffy. They must be lingered over, but it is worth the effort. As this prayer becomes your own, it just might serve as a set of jumper cables for your prayer life. I offer this prayer to you as a guide for your journey with the Holy Spirit. As you pray, commune with the Spirit. And be blessed.
O GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT,
Thou who dost proceed from the Father
and the Son,
have mercy on me.
When thou didst first hover over chaos,
order came to birth,
beauty robed the world, fruitfulness sprang forth.
Move, I pray thee, upon my disordered heart;
Take away the infirmities of unruly desires
and hateful lusts;
Lift the mists and darkness of unbelief;
Brighten my soul with the pure light of truth;
Make it fragrant as the garden of paradise,
rich with every goodly fruit,
beautiful with heavenly grace,
radiant with rays of divine light.
Fulfil in me the glory of thy divine offices;
Be my comforter, light, guide, sanctifier;
Take of the things of Christ and show them
to my soul;
Through thee may I daily learn more of his love,
grace, compassion, faithfulness, beauty;
Lead me to the cross and show me his wounds,
the hateful nature of evil, the power of Satan;
May I there see my sins as
the nails that transfixed him,
the cords that bound him,
the thorns that tore him,
the sword that pierced him.
Help me to find in his death the reality
and immensity of his love.
Open for me the wondrous volumes of truth
in his, ‘It is finished’.
Increase my faith in the clear knowledge of
atonement achieved, expiation completed,
satisfaction made, guilt done away,
my debt paid, my sins forgiven,
my person redeemed, my soul saved,
hell vanquished, heaven opened,
eternity made mine.
O Holy Spirit, deepen in me these saving lessons.
Write them upon my heart, that my walk be
sin-loathing, sin-fleeing, Christ-loving;
And suffer no devil’s device to beguile
or deceive me.
I immediately thought to myself, now that’s the best interview question I’ve ever heard. I was taking part in a group interview, and one of the other interviewers asked the question: “Tell me who you are without telling me what you do.”
It really is the perfect interview question because it gets to the very heart of our identity. As I heard it, I found myself wondering how I would answer. So I ask you…tell me who you are without telling me what you do. No, really, I want you to think about it.
< Take a moment to think about your answer. >
Was that hard? Why was it hard? We struggle, probably because we are conditioned to think that the essence of who we are is wrapped up in the content of what we do. When that content get’s stripped away, we don’t quite know what to think about our essence. Exposing this reality helps us think through the question of definition.
I will often tell people whom I am ministering to that __________ doesn’t define them. Their job doesn’t define them. Their hobby doesn’t define them. Their sport doesn’t define them. If they are in Christ, Jesus defines them. Their identity is in Christ. It’s true, but what does it mean?
In my job, it is easy to try and define myself by my role. Pastor. It tells a lot about who I am by describing what I do. Sure, there are some personal characteristics wrapped up in that one word, but does it really capture the essence of who I am? I don’t think so. To do that, I’ve got to get beyond the descriptions of what I do, and move to the status of who I am.
Who I am is quite simple. I am a child of God. I am an heir to the kingdom, an adopted son of the Living God. Among other passages in Scripture, John 1:12-13 captures this well. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
So there it is. If you are a Christian, you are defined by your status…as a child of God. Problem solved. It’s all better now. No more worries, right? Wrong. Life is still hard. There are still struggles. And that’s where Romans 7 comes in. Romans 7:7-25 is one of the most intensely relatable passages in all of Scripture. It is Paul’s description of his, and our, struggle with the reality of indwelling sin…those nagging sin patterns that we struggle to find victory over. But in our experience of struggle, Romans 7 tells us we are not alone. The Apostle Paul is saying, “Me too!”
If you are a Christian, you know this real life struggle. The Christian life is beautiful, and messy. It is joyful, and bloody. It is a life of peace, and struggle. Yet the beauty of Romans 7, and the rest of Scripture for that matter, is that we are reminded once again there is a difference between what we experience, and what defines us.
I know, I know. You just want to be free from the struggle. But that’s not real life. And the Bible is real life. The Bible doesn’t ignore the reality of our experience. It gives word to our experience. But the Word also points us to our Savior, and the Savior speaks a louder word than the constant whisper of experience. This is what we find in Romans 7…a call to focus on Christ in the dailyness of our inner struggle with sin. It takes us to the end of ourselves, leads us to our strong Deliverer, and transitions us into the loving, encouraging words of the Holy Spirit.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
“As sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It is amazing how dependent I have become on this little phone in my pocket. No longer is it simply a phone. In addition to serving as my communications portal to the world, my cell phone now serves as my full time navigator. Once upon a time, I would get directions before leaving for my destination. Now, I simply plug in the address to my phone, often times after I have pulled out of the driveway.
“Siri”, my personal navigator, is so thoughtful, that she will often alert me to changes in road names, even if I am not making any change in direction. For example, every time I drive into Birmingham, Siri will tell me to continue on I-20 westbound when I-20 merges into the I-59 traffic. My phone is letting me know the road name has changed, even though I am traveling in the same direction, on the same road, to the same destination.
This weekend, we return to a journey through Romans which we paused last November, picking back up in Romans chapter 6. Yet here we come to a transition in Paul’s Epistle. In chapters 1-5 of Romans, Paul’s primary teaching dealt with justification by faith…the reality that by an act of grace alone, Jesus has forgiven our sins through His death on the cross, and has given us His righteousness, earned by Him through His perfect life, and given to us by faith alone.
Now, beginning in Romans 6, Paul is focused on our sanctification… the call for Christians to live into their justification by daily dying to self and living to Christ, also by grace, but a work of grace which we participate in. With that transition, we may have a tendency to think we have just turned onto a new road, traveling in a new direction.
Yes, there is a different emphasis, but the same truth: the Christian life is a life of UNION IN CHRIST. We soon find out that we are traveling in the same direction, to the same destination. Maybe there is a new theological term to identify the road, but Romans 6:1-14 reminds us that we are to continue along the same path, in the same direction. There are no drastic right or left turns here…simply a reminder that as we walk in newness of life, we do so under the reign of grace.
Brothers and sisters, I eagerly look forward to our continuing journey in Romans. I pray that as we journey, we will learn more and more what it means to walk in the Christian life. I pray we will learn more and more what it means to distinguish between the voice of God and that of the evil one. I pray we will learn more and more what it means to grow in Christ, as we enjoy our new status in Him. I pray that as we continue in Romans, we will continue on in the gospel, trusting in God’s Word to His children: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
Dalit. It means "the broken ones." In the Indian culture, defined by its rigid caste system, the Dalit's are the lowest. They are the outcasts. Yet among the outcasts, the Spirit of God is moving in powerful ways.
This should come as no surprise to us. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 to define His ministry on earth. Sitting in a Nazarene synagogue, Jesus read these words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
To summarize, Jesus is saying that He has come to make the broken ones whole. In India, the Dalits have seen and experienced the folly and oppression of Hinduism and Islam. They have experienced the oppression of discrimination built in to the fabric of their culture through the caste system. Now, they are hearing the good news of a Savior who came to live among them in their poverty, of a Savior who has loved them in spite of their lowly position in society, and most importantly in spite of their sin before the Lord. They are hearing this message of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is turning their hearts to Him.
This week, Rick Rodgers and I have the privilege of ministering among a group of largely Dalit pastors who themselves are ministering among the Dalit people of India. And we have seen the Lord moving. On Sunday morning, we ministered among, and worshiped, with a group of these believers in a small village, 2 hours from the nearest city. We worshiped in a building built by a woman who was converted while serving time in prison for murdering her husband. Shewas later released, returned and was reconciled to her village, where she built a building for the church. That church, meeting in that building, is now shining the light of Jesus Christ in a very dark place. During this service, 7 new believers were baptized...the broken ones made whole.
Then on Sunday evening, we ministered and worshiped with a small house church, meeting in one of the slums of Hyderabad. There, a young pastor is evangelizing and pastoring in the Dalit community where he lives. That night, 4 new believers were baptized...the broken ones made whole.
It has been an encouraging and humbling week as Rick and I have been with these pastors, most of whom are evangelizing and planting churches in 5 or 6 villages each! I have been providing theological training for these pastors. Rick has been ministering to their physical needs for water and power, training them in the use of water filters and solar chargers provided by Designs for Hope. Both of us are being blessed by the zeal these brothers and sisters express for a Savior who makes the broken ones whole.
As with all mission trips, this one has been a time of ministry, but also of great encouragement to me. I have seen, once again, the breadth of the kingdom of God. Our great God is at work in His great creation, and seeing His work first hand builds within me a greater longing for the final fulfillment of Revelation 7:9-10:
"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"
I am so encouraged by the bigness of God's kingdom. But as with other mission trips, I also find myself thinking of Trussville. The Dalits are told by their culture that they are the broken ones. For us, we are told the opposite. Our community is thriving, and for that we are thankful. But let us not forget, we too are the broken ones. Many in our community our hurting. Many are oppressed. Many experience discrimination, in various forms. Many of us are captive, not to an oppressive caste structure, but to our own sin.
Praise be to God that we are the kind of people whom our Savior has come for. My prayer this week is that Rick and I would not forget this mighty movement of God. My prayer this week is that the people of Trussville would know, and not forget, this mighty movement of God. I pray that we would realize our brokenness, but in realizing, we would not be given over to despair. I pray that we would know the reality of our victorious Savior who has come to release captives like us. I pray that we will experience the joy of these newly believing Dalits...the broken ones made whole.
“‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.”
We take a lot of pictures in our family. Last Sunday for example, we took the opportunity to get a family Easter picture...or rather, a lot of family Easter pictures. Those pictures are all digital images saved electronically on my computer, but they aren’t the only pictures saved there. Each member of our family is connected digitally, so every picture that every member of our family takes is saved electronically, all in one place…in my photo stream.
As I look through my photo stream, I find a picture of life in our family. It is a collection of photographs too numerous to count. Each picture tells me something about our life together. There may be a picture of some store product which I captured to show my wife. There may be a picture from a field trip. There may be a picture of one of the kids’ homework assignments. And then, there are the family pictures from Easter.
All of those pictures have meaning for our family, but at the end of each year we intentionally choose a few in order to tell a story. Each Christmas we give the grandparents a photo album. Homework pictures, though they tell a story, don’t make the photo album. My picture from the grocery store salad dressing aisle doesn’t make the photo album. All fifty pictures from Easter Sunday won’t make the photo album. We will choose a few, for specific reasons, so we can tell the story of our life together from the past year.
At the end of John’s gospel account, he is telling us that Jesus’ photo stream is filled with countless pictures, not of grocery options and homework assignments, but of signs and miracles. Then he tells us that these are written for a specific reason…that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name.
Let that sink in. Because John was limited, either by page count or by hours in the day, he narrowed down the number of signs presented in his gospel account, choosing these signs intentionally from among the many. Now let this sink in…the first sign he presented, so that we might believe and have life, is the sign of Jesus turning water into wine. What might he be telling us with this picture?
Sign pointing to life (eternal)
In John 2, Jesus has come to the party. Please don’t water this down or try to over spiritualize it. The wedding at Cana was a joyous affair, and Jesus came, with his disciples, to enjoy himself. But there was a problem brewing. The wine was running out! Gasp! Mary, Jesus’ mother, found out about the problem and knew it would put a damper on the party, so she went to find Jesus.
His response seems a bit shocking, given our modern English translations. “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” As we read this, let’s get beyond what we may think his tone is implying. There is not an edge to his words, as we might be tempted to read in to them. Rather, he is using a polite formality when addressing her as “woman.” Of greater importance is the statement that his time has not yet come.
Jesus is telling Mary, and us, that though this scene is important, it is not the final fulfillment of his mission. The fulfillment of his mission, and the greatest display of his glory, would come on the cross where he would cry out in triumph “It is finished!” (John 19:30) The whole scene at the wedding party is meant to point us forward to that moment. The words “It is finished!” did not merely refer to the end of Jesus’ life, but to the end of the reigning power of sin and death in our lives.
But, Jesus did change the water to wine. Yes the sign points us forward in the knowledge that Jesus is the God Man, but God chose to record this particular picture in his picture album. I believe he did so, not merely to point us to the promise of life eternal in Christ, but also to give us a picture of life in Christ now.
Picture of life in Christ (now)
Does it make you uncomfortable for me to describe Jesus as the life of the party? Or, does it make you hope that it could be true? In this journey to recapture Jesus, I’ve been trying to rediscover his personhood. In John chapter 2, John gives us a picture of Jesus’ personhood, not with a staged studio portrait, but a candid snapshot from the party.
Though this is not a studio photo, we aren’t capturing Jesus unaware. He isn’t willy nilly with his power, recklessly throwing out miracles just for kicks. No, he cared (and cares) about people. Though the miracle points us forward, the present-ness of the miracle shows Jesus’ care for the host, and his desire for the party-goers to experience the joy of the wedding celebration. And Jesus is extravagant in his care.
Do the math. In my translation, Jesus takes somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of water, and converts it into the best wine. We don’t buy wine by the gallon. We buy it by the bottle. To help you see the abundance of Jesus’ wedding gift, he is giving somewhere between 600 and 900 bottles of the finest wine!
I can just imagine Jesus with a smile on his face as the master of the feast tastes the wine. Don’t you think Jesus enjoyed giving this gift? Don’t you think the people enjoyed receiving it? Look, I am often very quick in offering boundaries as to how we should apply this kind of blessing. I am quick to protect against a straight-line approach leading to some form ofprosperity gospel. But the truth is, this picture gives us a beautiful reminder that Jesus is for JOY.
I don’t know the particular outworking of that joy in your life. I often struggle with it in my own life. I don’t think it means Jesus is going to give you 900 bottles of wine for your next party, but I do believe he is telling us that he cares about our present life. He cared about the party hosts and desired to spare them the embarrassment of running out of wine. He cared about the people at the party and wanted them to enjoy themselves. And, he cares about you and I. He desires for us to experience the joy of salvation, regardless of circumstance…and maybe to see that our circumstance is a gift from him (regardless of how we experience it), and that our circumstances are meant to point us to greater joy.
I think I am coming to see that this is at least part of what Jesus meant when he promised life abundant. I think I am coming to see that this is at least part of what John meant when he said that by believing Jesus is the Christ we might have life in his name. The pictures in John’s photo album point us to life (eternal) in Jesus’ name, and they illustrate for us what it means to have life in Christ (now).
Friends, more and more of my prayer life is taken up with a desire to know Jesus more deeply in this way. I want to see his glory on the cross, and I want to see the smile on his face as the master of the feast tastes the wine. I pray the same for you. May we all enjoy the picture show!
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Last Saturday, our family went to A-Day, Auburn University’s annual spring football game. It was a beautiful, relaxed day. We wandered in to the stadium, just before the scheduled start, knowing this wasn’t going to be the typical pregame routine. After all, it was basically a scrimmage. We knew that Auburn would at least win this one.
And then the cheerleaders took the field. I smile thinking about the whole scene. Now let me just assure you, I love college football traditions. I love all the excitement, but I do have to smile thinking about the Auburn Mic-Man taking the field on A-Day. For those of you who don’t know, the Mic-Man is the cheerleader who calls out cheers for the crowd. Before each game, the Mic-Man runs around the field, waving a towel, shouting out cheers, trying to whip the crowd into a frenzy.
So what’s the point of all this? I suppose the Mic-Man, and the cheerleaders, are revving up the crowd so the crowd can do its part to stir the team on to victory. I’m actually not trying to be cynical about all of this. I love all of it. But if you think about it, the whole thing is really in reverse order. The cheerleaders are stirring up the crowd before there is anything to actually cheer about.
This week, the whole scene from last Saturday has had me thinking about the Christian life. Don’t we often practically live as if we can manufacture a victorious life by just acting joyful? I know I try, with “try” being the operative word. But oftentimes, I just don’t feel joy. How about you? How is forced joy working for you?
Lately, I’ve been thinking instead about real joy. It’s one of the reasons why I am so thankful for Easter Sunday this year…and one of the reasons why I want/need to meditate on Easter every week. Easter is a clear reminder that Jesus’ victory is not in doubt. It is a victory over sin and death, already secured, as evidenced by his Resurrection. It is not driven by the frenzy of the crowd. Instead, Jesus’ victory is a victory which secured salvation and produces deep and abiding joy.
This Easter, I am praying for joy…deep and abiding joy. I am praying for myself, and I am praying for you. And though I love the Mic-Man, we won’t be employing his services this week. You see, true joy is not manufactured joy. True joy is derived from victory, and our victory is not in doubt. We’ll gather to celebrate the certain victory, won by Jesus, and shared by all God’s children.
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
2 Timothy 3:14-15
You have been called by God to a noble work. You are called, by virtue of your office as an elder or deacon, to serve as an ambassador and servant of Christ, and to labor for the beauty of His bride and the advance of His kingdom. This is a weighty calling to a work which will take more of you than you have to give. Yet do not despair. Rather than being overwhelmed by this truth, be encouraged. Just as God has been at work in your lives, He will continue to be at work in His church. And for His glory, He will use your weakness to display His perfect power.
Yes, be encouraged, but also be aware. Paul tells us to expect persecution. This is true for all believers, yet it is especially true for those called to lead in the church of Jesus Christ. In this warning, he gives us instruction. In the face of persecution, Paul tells us to continue in what we have learned, and to remember where we learned it. He is telling us to maintain our identity in the gospel and to stay rooted in Scripture.
Though you may carry the title of "elder" or "deacon", your identity is in Christ. You are a sinner who has been saved by grace. Never forget it. As you counsel other believers, as you care for their physical needs, as you reach out to non-believers with the precious Word of Christ, never lose sight of the fact that you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you once walked. But God, being rich in mercy, simply because of the love with which He loved you, raised you up and made you alive in Christ...all by His grace!
This reality of our gospel identity keeps us ever dependent upon Christ. We are wounded healers, simply pointing others to the One whom we have found...or rather to the One who has found us. Paul reminded Timothy of this as he sought to equip him for his role in leading the church. The same is true for us in our roles in Christ Church.
ROOTED IN SCRIPTURE
As Paul pointed Timothy to the gospel, he reminded him where he learned the gospel...in the sacred writings...the Word of God. This Word, as Scripture tells us, is breathed out by God. It is without error. It accomplishes it's purpose. It is sufficient. It is necessary. Timothy needed that truth. I need that truth. You need that truth. And your people need that truth.
You all have gifts which God has given you for service in Jesus' church. Your church family has recognized those gifts and has nominated you for service. Your elders have confirmed those gifts. You have been examined and qualified to serve in your office. This has all been a rigorous process, meant to prepare you. Now, I am here to tell you that your people don't need you. They need the Word of God. And, they need you to be rooted in the Word of God.
Paul tells Timothy, and us, the blessing of staying rooted in the Word...that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Brothers, continue to nurture a love for the Word. Trusting in the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, mine the depths and riches of God's Word. Don't explore the Word merely so you will know facts and figures. Allow the Word to transform your hearts. Be shaped by the Word. Then, you will truly be able to serve Christ and His people.
My friends, you are joining a group of weak men who have come to know their desperate need for a Savior. These are the kind of men Jesus has chosen to care for His bride. You are in good company. Lead with an attitude of mutual submission and a posture of prayer. And know that I am praying for us all, that God would be glorified in you and through you. To Him, be all praise and glory and honor. Amen!
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John’s gospel account begins rather curiously. What is all this talk of “the Word?” It seems almost veiled. Is John trying to hide what he really means? Why doesn’t he just speak clearly? Though I’ve read this verse countless times, I still ask these same questions. And then it hits me. Maybe he is speaking with crystal clarity. After all, words do have meaning.
So what is the meaning of the word, “Word?” A word describes something. We use them to communicate an idea, or a thing…or maybe even a person. Words also reveal. So maybe, in using the word “Word,” John is revealing something to us, not only about the person he is describing, but also about who that person describes.
Later in John 1:18, we are told who the Word is revealing. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made him known.” In John, the Word is Jesus, and here we are told that at least part of Jesus’ purpose is to reveal God the Father.
Jesus, the Word, describes, and reveals the Father. He communicates the love of the Father. He communicates the mission of the Father. He communicates the character of the Father. John is telling us that we should not drive a wedge between the wrath of God and the love of Jesus. He is telling us that God the Son and God the Father are intimately connected in character and in purpose. And my heart needs to know all of this.
Maybe its not the way we would say those same things, but there is something very different about this book. At the end of the book, in John 20:30-31, we are told why John wrote this particular gospel account. He is giving us a glimpse into the signs Jesus performed in order to point the disciples, and the crowds, and us, to who He really is. Those signs tell us that Jesus was not just another guy. They are telling us that He was, and in fact is, the Son of God.
This book is not merely about knowledge, though. There is a purpose to our knowing that Jesus is the Son of God. In believing Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, you may have life in His name. This is not a general informational bulletin. This is a conversation. He is speaking directly to US, because he desires for us to have life. That’s a conversation I want to have. That’s a conversation my heart needs. So what else does John 1 tell me about the Word?
THE WORD ILLUMINES
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Jesus, the Word, sheds light on my existence, and I’m beginning to see just how bold He is as the light. The journey that is this series of blog entries began with my struggle over losing sight of the person of Jesus. As I consider that, and as I consider John 1:4-5, I’m forced to consider that there are times when Jesus draws me back to Himself by allowing the light to fade. My existence…my way through life…makes less sense when I don’t see Jesus clearly. My struggles feel much more lonely when I think I am by myself. My sin is hopeless if I lose the personal object of my faith.
One of my favorite days every year comes each spring on the first Sunday after we adjust our clocks for Daylight Savings Time. I love to sit outside in the evening, that first evening when the sunlight lingers. That one extra hour of sunlight has always seemed to me a tangible sign of the new life of springtime. I have always loved that evening because it is a sign that the long winter evenings are over.
Jesus is not merely the light of men. He is my light. He is your light. This is personal. After a long dry spell of engineered Christianity, the beautiful truth that Jesus is our light feels like that first spring evening. The long darkness is over and something in my heart wants to leap.
THE WORD COMES
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14 has long been one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture…even in moments when I haven’t fully appreciated its meaning. In this verse, John is telling me the Word came to me. The Word wasn’t merely filling pages in a book. The Word was born (made incarnate). Jesus was a baby. Jesus learned a trade from His earthly father. Jesus was a friend. He had best friends (Peter, James, and John). Jesus ate and slept and exercised and prayed. In other words, before He died, Jesus lived…for me, and you…among us.
Again, this is a verse I’ve read countless times, but as I read it with fresh (illumined) eyes, my heart is blessed. I’ve long illustrated this verse in terms of my children. When my daughter was a little girl, she would occasionally have sleepless nights. When the boys couldn’t sleep they would come to me for help. But, when my daughter couldn’t sleep, she would crawl into the hallway, lay down, and cry. She wanted daddy to come to her.
I’ve always thought of those nights when I’ve considered the Word coming and dwelling among us. I still think my daughter’s need is a picture of our need, but I’m beginning to see that far too often, I’ve projected that need on others rather than recognize it in myself. The truth is, I need help to come to me. When I am lonely, when I am hurting, when I am confused…I need someone to come to me. Jesus, the Word, is the one who comes, not only for my daughter, but also for me.
THE WORD GIVES LIFE
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Long ago, I received the Word in my heart and believed in His name. Long ago I received the right to become a child of God. But children need reminders, don’t they? My life, or at least my truest life, didn’t come from the will of flesh, nor of the will of man…not my parents’ or my own. My life came from God, through the Word made flesh, who has given me the right to become a child.
All my life I’ve tried to be a grownup. But the greatest gift I am given by my Savior is that of becoming a child. Wow! Words really do have meaning, don’t they? John tells me much about Jesus by describing Him as the Word. He is also telling me much about myself by describing me as a child. And by using that word, he draws me back, ever closer to the person of God…God my Father, Jesus my Savior, and the Holy Spirit, my companion and guide.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
A straight line may be drawn from a given point to any other point. Put another way, the first postulate in geometry tells us the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Maybe you remember this truth statement from high school. Maybe you are studying it now. Maybe you have purged it from your memory bank. It is a true truth, but it hardly stirs the heart.
On my wedding day, I was not conscious of Euclid’s postulate. I just knew there was a beautiful woman at the other end of the straight line, and I couldn’t wait for her to walk down the aisle. The first postulate was just as true on my wedding day as it was in high school geometry class, but my focus that day was on a person…the person I was about to join in the union of marriage.
In many respects, this distinction between focus on a postulate versus a person has been weighing heavy on me lately. I have come to realize that I have lost sight of the person of Jesus. Oh, I know the theological truths. I can cite the Bible…book, chapter, and verse…to describe Jesus with theological precision, but I fear I’ve lost sight of His beauty.
The weeks leading up to Christmas began to expose this struggle in my heart. I knew the postulates. I knew that Jesus had to become man to die for the sins of man. I knew the prophecies which pointed to Christ’s coming. But in all of those passages, my focus was on the fact of fulfillment more than the anticipation of Jesus.
My wife and I talked through this struggle during advent. We talked on Christmas day. We’ve talked since. Then a couple of weeks ago, listening to the preached Word at a youth leader conference, and waking early to spend time in morning devotion, the Lord seemed to break through my cold logic. “I am a Person! Look upon me!” He seemed to be shouting, but it wasn’t a shout. It was a welcoming, loving, call.
WEIRD FOR A PASTOR?
Does it sound weird to you that a pastor would confess he had lost sight of the personhood of Jesus? I hope not. We’re people too, with the same struggles as other people. So how about you? Jesus asked His disciples (who were also His friends), “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) Who do YOU say that Jesus is?
< Pause to truly think about your answer.>
Do you answer in terms of postulates, or personhood? As I ask that question, let me qualify it. The truths of why Jesus came, what He did, and how we relate to Him are vitally important. They cannot be separated from His personhood. But, if we limit ourselves to the postulates, we reduce the gospel to a logical formula. I know. I have done it. And a logical formula rarely stirs the heart.
In addition to the content of your answer, how confident do you feel in that answer? Are you skeptical, or solid? Squeamish, or secure? Do you know Jesus, or do you merely know about Him? It’s ok. Be honest. I’m a pastor and I’ve just told you I had lost sight of the beauty of Jesus. After all, real conversation is only real when we are honest with one another. This is what makes real conversation with a person scary. But it is also what makes it beautiful.
I know, I know…we live in a community where it is not socially acceptable to acknowledge we have questions about Jesus. The ironic thing is that in most of the rest of the country it is not socially acceptable to acknowledge Jesus at all. So let’s make a deal. Let’s not worry about what is socially acceptable. Instead, I’d love for you to take a journey with me.
LET’S GO FOR A WALK
During my time in the Word over the course of the past couple weeks, the pronouns have been jumping off the page. I see the Lord referred to as He, and I am reminded that “He” points me to a Person. I am recapturing the truth that God is my FATHER. I am recapturing the beauty of Jesus, my Savior. This recapturing is stirring me to take a bit of journey, and I’d like to invite you to join me. So, can we take a walk together through the Gospel according to John?
In John 20:31, John writes, “these (signs) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” I really don’t know if you believe or not. I don’t know if you believe, but are struggling with trying to recapture the beauty of Jesus. I don’t know if you claim to believe, but do so in name only. I don’t know if you want to believe, but are struggling with honest questions of faith. Wherever you are on that spectrum, will you come along with me?
In the coming months, I plan to take a journey through John, and I’d like to invite you to walk along with me. As I walk this path, I’d like to share some of my thoughts…almost like a travel journal. I don’t plan to hover over every verse. There is a place for that type of deep examination, but it is not my goal for this journey. I am simply looking to recapture my love for the person of Jesus. Along the way, I plan to share the highlights through a series of blog posts which I’ll send out every few weeks. Like Philip, who invited Nathaniel to “come and see” the One whom he had found (John 1:46), I am inviting you to come along, and let’s go see together. It may not always look like a straight line, but I know there is a beautiful person at the other end…our Lord Jesus Christ.
As children, many of us played “Hide and Seek.” You know the game. One person is IT. The others go and hide. The goal of the game is to keep from being found, and if found, to keep from being caught. So, the people hiding try to run back to base, avoiding being tagged by the person who is IT. I played Hide and Seek for hours as a child. I’m sure you did too. But we’re talking about a child’s game, right?
Well, maybe. But if you are an adult, you may also recognize the word “metaphor.” Hide and Seek, in many ways, is a metaphor for how most of us live our lives, and of how we approach God. We believe God is IT, and our goal is to hide so that we are not found out, then to run back to base without being caught. That is the way we look at God. That is the way we look at other Christians.
Sin does this to us. It gives us a mistaken view of the gospel and causes us to live life in hiding. Even for church goers, we can remain in the dark corners, living in fear and isolation. Afraid we don’t measure up, we either hide, or strive. But the gospel says our measuring up is complete because of the cross. The gospel tells us that through His life and death on the cross, Christ has earned our place with the Father. The gospel tells us our place with the Father is so secure that we are now adopted children in His family, recipients of all the benefits of membership in His family.
In short, the gospel is the radical message that we have been radically accepted by God. This message invites us to come out of the exhausting treadmill of hiding and striving, that we might be awakened to new life in Christ.
We speak of this message often, but what does it practically mean for our lives and relationships? These are questions we all struggle with. Your elders struggle with them, and we know you do too. With that in mind, we have invited our ministry partners, Greg and Stacey Oliver from Awaken to join us for a 6 week Sunday School series entitled “Awaken to Grace.” Beginning this Sunday, and lasting for the next 6 weeks, we will explore the following topics:
- February 19th - Greg and Stacey will share their story of experiencing and being renewed by grace.
- February 26th - Making Sure We’re on the Right Road
- March 5th - Grace for Parenting
- March 12th - Grace for Marriage
- March 19th - Grace for Church Community
- March 26th - Grace for Sexual Struggles
I want to invite you to join us these next 6 weeks, and to make Sunday School a priority in your worship routine. As you come, please know that while our regular youth Sunday School class will continue to meet, you are also welcome to include your High Schoolers in with the adults.
For all of us, regardless of age, let’s stop playing Hide and Seek. Let’s leave the dark corners of isolation as we Awaken to Grace.
“But there is a God in heaven….”
There are certain statements of fact which have the power to change everything. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” “It’s a boy!”, or “It’s a girl!” “Congratulations, you are hired!”, or alternatively “You’re fired!”
These statements of fact, when first heard, will change all future reality for us. When we hear them, we KNOW this to be true. In Daniel 2:28, Daniel has just told King Nebuchadnezzar that he is incapable, by his own strength, of fulfilling the king’s request to recount and interpret his dream. But, Daniel’s inability was not the end of the story. With great flourish, Daniel pronounced a fact which had the power to change everything. “There is a God in heaven.” And with that statement of fact, or more importantly because of the reality behind the statement, everything about Daniel’s future changed.
Take another look at the words at the top of the page. For those who claim to be Christians, there is no controversy in them. Yet I ask you, has this statement of fact changed everything for you? Have you actually wrestled with the truth that there is a God in heaven, and does this truth have any practical relevance in your day to day life?
I ask these questions because for all too many of us, especially in the Bible Belt, it is easy for us to mention the name of Jesus when convenient, yet live lives which bear no mark of gospel transformation. With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves if we truly believe in the God of the Bible. Do we truly believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners?
Brothers and sisters, all Christians will struggle with sin. You know this experientially. I know this experientially. Biblically, there is NO place for earthly perfectionism in the gospel of grace. The work of transformation is a work begun, empowered by, and completed through the work of the Holy Spirit. (Phil 1:6) So…I don’t ask if you are perfect. The God of heaven certainly knows that I am not. But, when the God of heaven looks upon me, he sees the righteousness of Christ, which is given to me only by his grace, and received only by faith.
Do you KNOW this truth yourself? Maybe you still wrestle with the truth claim Daniel uttered…that there is a God in heaven? If so, can I tell you another life changing fact? The God of heaven sent his Son. In Galatians 4:4-7, there is another statement of fact which has the power to change everything when we truly KNOW it. There we read:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Dear friend, do you claim the name of Christ? Allow these words to sink in and bless your soul. They have the power to change everything. Do you wrestle with faith? Allow these words to sink in. KNOW them, and they will bless your soul. They have the power to change everything. Praise the Lord!