Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 2

20190319_222224

The most significant day in my life was the day I was regenerated and sought the LORD for forgiveness of my sins. One of the things that I recall very clearly from that night was not just the strong conviction of my specific sin, but a conviction of sin in general. I had an acute awareness of what was morally right and wrong. Sins that I tried to justify in the past, I could now easily see that they were offenses against God. It was truly a sign of God’s work of redemption. Later, I would come to understand that I had been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Despite my elation with Christ, I realized that I still had remaining sin that I needed to deal with (Romans 7: 7-25) as well as I needed to learn how to live in a world of full of sin.
At that point in my Christian walk, though I had the desire, I hadn’t yet found a church home. In many ways, I felt alone as none of my friends were Christians. Without knowing that Christians were commanded to share the gospel, I began telling my friends about Jesus and my salvation, but they were not interested. Again without knowing what spiritual warfare was, I began to experience mild persecution (i.e. name calling and social ostracization). I realized that my allegiance to Christ meant that I was at war against the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Christ told His disciples, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) and this was what I was beginning to experience. However, in my excitement and sadness, I diligently sought the Scriptures for understanding, comfort and as a means of war – war against the world, my flesh and Satan.

The Bible: A Means of War
Let me be clear – we will make no progress in the faith apart from life-long reading, memorizing and studying Scripture. Both testaments clearly state that God’s people are to be students of His Word, which not only instructs us about Him, but also about how we are to walk in holiness (the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai – Exodus 20-23; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 19:7-11; Psalms 119; Colossians 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12, etc.). We will make no progress in holiness unless we make it a daily practice to fight sin – sin within us and around us. One of the chief methods of fighting sin is fighting the lies sin tells us and fighting temptations by reminding ourselves of truth, which is God’s word.
As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10 – the weapons of our warfare are not flesh, but have divine power. He also goes on to say that we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. Though not the only weapon, I believe one of the weapons Paul has in mind that has the power to destroy thoughts against God is God’s word. Ephesians 6:10-20, also written by Paul, reminds us that our enemy isn’t flesh and blood, but instead are rulers, authorities and cosmic powers (i.e. demons) and the last weapon mentioned in the Christian’s suit of armor imagery is the sword of the Spirit – which is the word of God. The Bible is our means of war!

Jesus’ Temptation and War with the Devil
Before Jesus began his public ministry, he was baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22). After he was baptized, both accounts note that the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and the Father publicly affirmed that Jesus was indeed his beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased. In this Trinitarian scene, the Spirit descending on Jesus was very significant. As a human, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit to walk in obedience to the Father. Yet, the Father publicly declared him to be his Son, which points to Jesus’ deity. This was a reiteration of the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary (Luke 1:26-35).
But what happens next is significant. Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil for forty days (Matthew 4:1-2; Luke 4:1-2). Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness for forty days is likened to Israel’s forty year wandering in the wilderness en route to Canaan – the promised land. Israel, God’s son, was called to faithfulness during the journey from Sinai to Canaan, yet failed. Jesus, God’s Son, remained faithful to God during that time of testing. Israel’s downfall was a failure to believe God despite all he’d done for them and shown them in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Jesus’ victory was rooted in obedience to God’s word.
At the onset of his public ministry, Jesus is tempted by the devil repeatedly. Both accounts detail the same series of temptations by the devil, but in different order. Two times the devil asks Jesus, “If you are the Son of God,…..” and one time he blatantly asks Jesus to worship him in exchange for the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:3-11; Luke 4:3-13). It is interesting to note that the devil’s questioning Jesus regarding his Sonship comes right after the Father publicly declared Jesus as his Son. What’s at the heart of the devil’s temptation is seeing what kind of Son of God Jesus will be – a faithful one or a faithless one like Adam and Israel. But note Jesus’ response. Jesus, the Son of God, empowered by the Spirit and the Logos of God quotes Scripture to the devil! “It is written…..” Jesus goes to war with the devil with Scripture! In response to the devil’s temptations and misuse of Scripture, Jesus responds to the devil from Deuteronomy.
If Jesus, the Son of God, relied on Scripture during his time of temptation, how much more do you and I need to have it written on our hearts and etched in our minds to fight sin that wages war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11) and to stand against the cosmic powers (Ephesians 6:12)?
If we will do our souls well, we will take up the joy and necessity of reading the Word of God frequently. For temptations will always be within and the devil waits for opportune times to assail us (Luke 4:13).
Read. Stand firm.

Advertisements

Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 1

bible

The Good Book, God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures – these were some of the monikers I heard growing up regarding the Bible. As a child, I remember thinking it was a special book for older religious people. I remember seeing several Bibles at my grandparents’ home. Back then, I didn’t understand why they had so many Bibles. To their defense, I did see my grandparents reading their Bibles from time to time, but there were so many other copies in their home that seemed to serve as decoration pieces. Some of their Bibles were red, green, maroon, and black. Some had praying hands or a sword embossed on the front. I wondered if those were the extra special Bibles.

Then it happened – I got my own Bible when I was about 8. It was hardback with an artist’s depiction of “happy Jesus” walking through a meadow with a staff in His hand followed by smiling children. As a teen, I received a modern looking NIV Teen Bible with a computer generated picture of the toughing fingertips from Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”on the front and back with no words on the front cover. This definitely wasn’t my grandparents’ Bible! In fact, one wouldn’t know it was a Bible unless they read the spine of the book or opened it. I wrote my name on it and began to read portions of it. I was quickly surprised and pleased at the lack of “thees”, “thous”, “willeths” and “killeths”, which made the reading much more accessible. More than once, my grandfather encouraged me to read through the book of Proverbs by reading one chapter a day. I didn’t though. As a teen, I was unregenerate and had no desire to read the Bible, though I esteemed it to some degree.

By God’s grace, He saved me just a few months before my 24th birthday and one of the changes that I quickly noticed was a desire to know Him. I’d never been a voracious reader. I read enough to make good grades in school and earn an undergraduate degree, but reading wasn’t something I typically enjoyed. However, as a new believer, I now had a desire to read – to read the Bible. While I didn’t properly understand much of what I read, the Holy Spirit was allowing me to understand some key things I needed to know at that point in my life. This fueled my desire to keep reading the Bible and I noticed my affections for Christ being kindled as I pored over His word, sometimes for hours. That Bible I received as a teen was being put to use, but I soon got a study Bible that accelerated my understanding.

I remember taking my Bible to work and reading it during my lunch-break. After coming home from work, I would read for most of the evening only taking a break to eat dinner. Over time, I noticed new convictions for godliness and against ungodliness. I was being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) having my mind renewed (Rom. 12:2) by reading the word of God (Ps. 19:7-8; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). In my new found love, little did I know that the discipline of Bible reading would be so useful in times of great temptation and as a means of rejoicing through exaltation.

It would be some time before I understood the gravity these words spoken by Yahweh and the LORD, Jesus Christ –

“…. man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3)

It also would be some time before the thought crystallized in my mind that reading the Bible is a means of war and worship.

The Fulfillment of Advent

warmadventglowchrist

Since Genesis 3:15, God has been making several promises concerning His redemptive plan for creation. As I stated in my last Advent article, the Old Testament can be summed up redemptively as promises made and the New Testament can be summed up as promises fulfilled. It would take me quite a while and several other treatments to explain that all of God’s covenant promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. However, Luke’s account of the gospel helps us tremendously and succinctly.

After Jesus’ resurrection, two men approached the tomb of Jesus. While there, they were confronted by what appears to be angels, and were told that Jesus is not among the dead, but that He had risen from the dead. As they were walking on a road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to them and converses with them, unbeknownst to them. Toward the end of their conversation, Luke records these important words, 25 And he (Jesus) said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus himself declared that all that had been written from the writings of Moses to the Prophets concerned Him. Jesus was declaring that He is the focal point of God’s redemptive plan. He is the one who has come to fulfill the promises God made to His people. I listed several promises in the previous article concerning Jesus and He fulfilled each one of them. Several promises or prophecies were about places and times, which are important so we can clearly identify that it was indeed Jesus who fulfilled them. But what’s more important concerning Jesus’ promises is what He came to accomplish. Why did Jesus enter humanity? This is the question of utmost importance.

In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul said, “4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” These verses answers the question of why Jesus entered humanity. Jesus, the eternal second Person of the Trinity, entered humanity to redeem people deserving of the penalty of the Law. He came to gain possession of a rebellious people and call them brothers and adopted children of God! Our sin has caused a great rift between us and God and warrants eternal judgment. Christ came to fulfill the promise that God would defeat the work of Satan (Gen. 3:15; Col. 2:13-15; 1 John 3:8) and reclaim a people for Himself (Eph. 1:5). And how He did this was a promise fulfilled too. Christ came to redeem a people for Himself by His own blood. Jesus lived a perfect life according to the Law, but willingly died and drank the cup of his Father’s wrath for our sins. Jesus died for those who exercise faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins on the basis of His righteousness.

Over 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned these words concerning Jesus –

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

Christ was pierced, crushed, chastised, and wounded for our transgressions and iniquities. This is what theologians call substitutionary atonement. Christ bore the wrath of the Father, not for His sin, but for our sin. We are transgressors. We have committed iniquities. We have gone astray. We have turned to our own way. But He was the faithful one! He was wounded for us that we might be healed. This is the fulfillment of Advent! Christ has come to reconcile to Himself a wayward people deserving of eternal condemnation and to lift the curse from creation (Rom. 8:21). Christ has come to restore harmony between Creator and creature and to establish His sovereign eternal reign (2 Sam. 7:13; Rev. 7:9-10).

May Christmas be a refreshing, sober, and joyful reminder of God’s love for His people in Christ!

Merry Christmas!

The Promise of Advent

In  my previous Advent article, I sought to briefly expose the nature and necessity of Advent. As previously stated, Advent means “coming”. Advent is a celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ into the world. This is what Christmas is about – the incarnation of our Savior. That is the nature of Advent. I also briefly touched on why there was a need for Christ to come into the world. Genesis 3:1-14 details humanity’s treason against its Creator and Romans 8:20-21 explains that because of Adam’s rebellion, God subjected all of creation to futility or depravity and its effects. God has judged treasonous man by declaring him guilty and by subjecting all of creation to a curse. This curse has brought physical and moral corruption. However, at the end of Romans 8:21, we learn that God subjected creation to futility in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom. All is not lost or ultimately consumed by the just wrath of God. There is hope! Liberation was promised. Creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption!

Did you notice the passive language? Creation will be set free. It cannot set itself free; it must be delivered by another. I stated that Genesis 3:15 gives us a hint that God has appointed an emancipator. One will come and deliver creation from its curse. That deliverer will be the offspring of woman that will bruise the head of the serpent (the devil), but in the process, the deliverer’s heel would be bruised (the deliverer would be struck). That was the first Messianic promise of Scripture. That promise was concerning Jesus.

From this point on in the Old Testament, we are given more promises that provide greater clarity and explanation about the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, and the results of His ministry. The grand narrative of Scripture is that a Holy God has reconciled a sinful people to Himself through His appointed King, our Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ. Some have rightly summarized the Old Testament as promises made and the New Testament as promises fulfilled. Some of the most significant promises made concerning Jesus are:

What grace from God that throughout the course of human history He would speak to us in the Scriptures through ordinary men and women concerning the identity of Jesus, the one promised to come liberate us from our bondage to sin and corruption.

During this Advent season, may we praise God that He is a God of hope, mercy, forgiveness and grace and that He has not been silent concerning the salvation He has for His people through Christ!

The Nature and Necessity of Advent

advent-image-450x450
This year, December 2 marked the beginning of Advent. Advent is a period of four weeks in December that many Christians observe to prepare for the celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. While it is commonly known that Jesus was not born on December 25, His birth is traditionally celebrated on this day by many. Advent is the Latin word for “coming”, which makes Advent preparation to commemorate the incarnation of Jesus Christ (Lk. 2).

However, it’s obvious that all who celebrate Christmas are not celebrating the birth of Jesus. For non-Christians, the Christmas season is merely a time for winter trips, shopping, parties, decorations, exchanging presents, etc. For the retail industry, it is usually a time when businesses recover from financial deficits throughout the year. This profit surge usually starts on the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday. Corporate budgets typically shift from red (deficit) to black (profit) due to the increase of demand for their products. Certainly, Christians contribute to retail and travel industry profits during this time of year, but at large, the culture is not seeking to genuinely glorify Jesus Christ. For many, He’s a mean to a great financial end. This is just one of the reasons why Advent significantly matters and is so desperately needed.

Why the need for Advent?

As stated, the Advent season is a time to commemorate the coming of Jesus Christ. The most significant person ever to be born was Jesus Christ and part of what validates that claim is understanding why there was a need for Him to be born.

Everyday all across the globe we see and hear of terrible and tragic events. All one has to do is tune in to their local news or national news channel or social media outlets to see or read about various tragedies occurring non-stop, as it seems. Tragedies and sufferings are experienced by all of creation. These tragedies and sufferings are what the Bible calls the groans of creation longing to be free from the curse that it was subjected to.

Romans 8:20-23 says –
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

While Romans 8 is arguably one of the most encouraging chapters for the believer, it does explain why all of creation, including you and me, suffers. Let’s observe what this text says as it pertains to the present condition of creation, our response to these conditions and why this condition exists.

Verse 21 tells us that creation is in bondage to corruption. Though there is much beauty to behold in all of creation, it is marred by corruption. This corruption expresses itself in physical corruption and moral corruption. Every tornado screams corruption. Every stillborn baby screams corruption. Every cancer diagnosis screams corruption. Strife and deception among humanity screams corruption. Man’s rejection of his Creator screams corruption. Corruption and its effects are pervasive physically and morally.

Verses 22 and 23 tell us that all of creation, including humanity groans, but is awaiting an emancipation from our corrupted state (See v21 & 23b). These groans serve as a witness that all is not right and there is a deep desire for an emancipation from corruption.

However, verse 20 seems to be the most provocative verse in this passage. It says “creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it…..” The original word for futility means that which is devoid of truth or appropriateness or perverseness and depravity. Creation was subject to that which is devoid of truth or depravity, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it. Someone subjected creation to a condition of corruption or depravity. There has been some debate about who him is in this verse, but Genesis 3 settles that debate.

After transgressing the clear command of God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God curses Adam, the woman and the serpent. With respect to the curse pronounced to Adam, creation would work hard against man’s rule and cultivation. All that man had dominion over would be subject to futility. Due to Adam’s sin, man’s relationship with God, with his wife (and all other human relationships) and with creation was broken. This was God’s judgment for Adam’s sin – futility. God subjected all of creation to futility as a form of judgment. Creation groans because of the curse we’re under and the corruption we experience every day. In fact, this is the whole point of Ecclesiastes. All of life without God is vanity or futility. Also, futility is our natural state (Ps. 51:5, Eph. 2:1-3). Due to Adam’s rebellion, we’re born in a state of moral corruption.  Our sinful nature is incapable of pleasing God in any way and only fit for His just wrath. We need liberation from sin and from God’s wrath. 

Thankfully, Romans 8:20b-21 reminds us that that futility is not the end. God subjected creation to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom….”.

But how? How will creation be set free from its bondage to corruption?

Genesis 3:15 gives us a small hint of the one God would send to set man and the rest of creation free from His wrath and from the bondage to corruption to obtain freedom. The rest of the voices of the Old Testament grows progressively louder concerning the coming of this appointed emancipator.

May our Christmas season be a joyful gratuitous expression for the Christ who has come and brought freedom!





Do Not Despise Your Inconveniences

keys

Babe, now when we move in to our house, don’t be surprised by the imperfections and issues that we’re going to experience. Don’t get your hopes up. Expect something to happen.”

By God’s grace, my wife and I closed on our first home last fall. Knowing that moving can be and usually is a big deal, these were the words I spoke to my wife in an attempt to prepare her for transitioning from a small apartment to a house. Little did I know how much I needed to remind myself of these truths for what was to come.

After we had our refrigerator delivered and installed, I went back to our apartment to get a few more things. When I returned to the house, I walked into the kitchen welcomed by a huge puddle of water on the floor. I completely froze trying to figure out what happened. I checked the pipes, but they were okay. I managed to find every towel we owned and used them to soak up the water. After they absorbed all they could, I ran to the master bathroom shower to leave them there. When I got to the master bathroom, there was water all over the floor as well. “What is going on!!!” Again, I looked for leaks from pipes, but every pipe was dry.

I went back to the kitchen and I heard a faint noise. As I moved the refrigerator away from the wall, I noticed a slight spewing of water from the ice maker line/faucet connection. Realizing the appliance technician didn’t fully tighten the ice maker line, I tightened it as best as I could with my bare hands to stop the water flow. This is what happened the day we moved into our new home. Welcome to home ownership, right?

The next three weeks would prove to be the beginning of a two and a half month “nightmare”. Over the course of those 3 weeks we discovered that the leak wasn’t stopped and water traveled the opposite direction under the walls to a guestroom. It was discovered as my wife walked into the guest room and was met by an uncomfortable squish under the carpet. We later discovered that one third of the guest room was soaked as well as the entire closet. I couldn’t believe this was happening to our new home.

I called the store that we bought the refrigerator from and filed a complaint about the faulty workmanship. Thankfully, the company completely complied and made exceptional effort to correct the situation. They sent out an insurance adjuster to assess the damage to our kitchen, master bathroom, and guest room. The damage was more extensive than we thought as mold has started to grow and accumulate in 3 areas. As part of correcting the problem, we had to have a fire and water damage specialty company deconstruct the damaged areas to dry out the water with fans and dehumidifiers. After the areas were deconstructed, the fans and dehumidifiers were set up and had to run for 48 hours non-stop. They were loud and hot. Our house looked like a war zone. Due to the kitchen being almost completely inaccessible, my wife and I had to pick up dinner almost every night. Thankfully, the company compensated us very fairly for all of the damages ensued.

For the most part, things were running smoothly until it came time to re-construct the damaged areas. After researching general contractors in our area, I hired a company to repair our floor and baseboards. The contract was sent over and per his request, I paid fifty percent up front to cover the cost of materials, etc. After the materials were purchased, a time was scheduled for the contractor to repair our home. The agreed upon day arrived and the contractor informed me that his workers were unable to complete the job due to car problems. So we agreed on having the work done the following day. The following day, the contractor sends out another crew, but once they arrive they inform me that they’re not trained to install the flooring that I have. At this point, I am trying to maintain my composure. I called the contractor and told him about the issue and he was very upset about the mistake. I told him that I needed to have a crew at my home before noon or else I was going to find someone else and that I needed the remainder of my deposit back. He confirmed that he couldn’t find anyone on short notice and that he would refund the portion of my deposit minus the cost of the materials that were already purchased.

At this point, I started looking for another contractor and I quickly found one with great reviews on Yelp!. I arranged to have them begin work on my home later that week and all seemed to be going better. They arrived at their scheduled time and began working. However, as the day progressed, they realized they didn’t have enough material and the job was a bit more extensive than they bargained for. They agreed to come back the following day to finish the job, which was fine with me. The next day came and the owner of the contracting business came, but his worker didn’t show up. He was livid. He was extremely apologetic and I was in utter disbelief, but I tried not to show my annoyance to him. He told me that he was extremely sorry and said that his worker has never done that before. He offered to continue the job right after Christmas, but I wanted to have it done before then because my wife and I were having family in town. I didn’t want to have to subject my family to a semi-construction project home. I began calling around for a third contractor.

The owner of the third contracting business came out to my home to assess the work needed and he was able to schedule one of his workers to complete the job a few days after Christmas. The day arrived for the work to be done and the worker didn’t show up. “Lord, what is going on??!!!? How hard is it to get a floor repaired??” At this point, my wife and I are laughing in utter disbelief. I called the owner of the business and he told me that he would check with his worker and call me back. When he called me back he informed me that his worker had gone to the hospital the night before and he was still under observation. He promised to get back with me with a back-up plan, but he never did. I texted him and politely told him that I would not need his services. Meanwhile, I still hadn’t received my deposit back from the first contractor. After texting the first contractor almost everyday about my deposit, I settled in my head that he was a thief. I had resigned to take my financial loss. I found myself being angry for being seemingly lied to and and taken advantage of. The injustice was the source of my anger, not the dollar amount. My wife was in utter disbelief, but by the grace of God we both didn’t “lose it”. In fact, I told her, “The LORD has to be doing something because of all this is just strange. I just can’t put my finger on it because none of this makes sense to me.” Shortly after that, some of what the LORD seemed to be doing seemed to become more clear.

After the third contractor failed to show, I called the second contractor back and I was assured by the him that they could finish the job after New Years Day. We’d been dealing with this issue since October 21. As scheduled, the second contractor came back out to my home with his crew and they began working! “Finally!” As the crew was working, I was sitting at my dining room table reading my Bible. As I was reading, the owner of the contracting business asks me which book of the Bible I was reading. I was a little shocked. We talked for a little while about the Bible and he said that he loved reading the gospels, but that he didn’t go to church. “Yeah, I got introduced to Jesus a few years ago when I was going through a hard time and it really changed my life. I have a son and I want him to know what I know, but my girlfriend is an atheist, so it’s a bit harder for us.” I couldn’t believe he dropped that bomb in my lap so casually. “Maybe we can talk about this more?” I said. He obliged and went back to work.

As his lunch break approached, he asked me where he could get some good food. I told him a few places nearby and he left. I then went to the bank to get his payment, and while I was driving I called him to make sure I had the check made payable to his correct business name. As we were talking he invited me to eat lunch with him at a Vietnamese restaurant. I am not a fan of Vietnamese cuisine, so I hesitated. My taste buds were longing for something different. Then I thought to myself how much of an opportunity this was to share the gospel and that my taste buds would have to make a sacrifice. I told him that I would meet him there after I finished at the bank.

I arrived at the restaurant, ordered my food and we continued our conversation about the Bible and his life. As we were talking, I asked him if he knew the central message of the Bible. He responded with a works based answer – we should try to be good and help people as Jesus did. I pressed him a little more and asked him what sets Christianity apart from other world religions that also preach good works. He got quiet. I could tell he didn’t know. So I asked if I could share what the essential message of the Bible was and he obliged. After I shared the gospel, he seemed a bit intrigued. It was almost as if he’d never heard it before in such detail. He said that our meeting and talking was “meant to be”. He also shared how he wished his girlfriend would have the desire to go to church so they could take their son too. We talked a bit more of what it meant to follow Christ rather than follow the world and how that involves life changing sacrifices and turning away from things that are outright sinful or are hindrances to our walks. He thanked me again and said that he believes our talk was supposed to happen. I recommended he visit a church in his area that I was familiar with that clearly proclaims the gospel faithfully and he said he would check it out. It was at that moment that I confessed my sin to the LORD for being so selfish and failing to believe He was working good in this situation. That day would also be the day that I received my remaining deposit back from the first contractor.

A few years ago, I heard John Piper say, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” In other words, God is always working out His plans in our lives in all things, even the things that are very trying, inconvenient, and at times life threatening, and we don’t have the slightest clue that He’s working or how. This truth is derived from Scripture and one of the places we can see it most clearly was in the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50). He was hated by his brothers, wished for dead, sold into slavery in a foreign land, jailed, falsely accused for sexual harassment and yet as the LORD remained with Joseph and elevated him to second in command in Egypt. It was in this position that God used Joseph to actually save his family during a famine and after reuniting with his brothers, he said, As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today(Genesis 50:20). God was doing 10,000 things in Joseph’s life and the rest of redemptive history shows that.

I was despising the inconvenience of having to repair the flooring in our home, but here are a few things that I can tell that the LORD was doing through all of that.

  • He was showing me just how sinful I was by the way I responded to this inconvenience. I was impatient and frustrated at different times.
  • He was working to produce godly character in me (James 1:2-4).
  • He was working so that the second contractor could hear the gospel.

Too many times I think we’re guilty of looking at life from our limited, selfish, earthly perspectives. I was reminded that I am part of the outworking of God’s redemptive plan and that I needed to maintain perspective at all times. Since God is faithful, good, wise and powerful, we must trust that He is always working for His glory and for the good of His people no matter how painful life may get. It is because of this that we can learn not to despise our inconveniences, but trust that God is always working in the midst of them.

Christmas: God’s Grace Through the “Insignificant”

20171225_150202One of the reasons that grounds my assurance in God is His deliberateness. All that God does He deliberately does with purpose and intention. There are no accidents or happen-stances with God. Even when our minds can’t fathom how or why God chooses to work in particular ways, what we need to do as finite beings is trust in the wisdom and goodness of the Infinite. This is part of what it means to be human and what it means to be God.

One of the reasons why I like Luke’s gospel is his Holy Spirit inspired attention to detail. I often remind myself when I start to wonder why so much seemingly insignificant detail is mentioned, that God has a reason for including the particularities in Scriptures. They are for our good and our worship. God is in the details. In Luke’s account of the birth narrative of Jesus, every detail is important and the detail about Jesus’ earthly parents must not be taken lightly.

In Luke 1:26-38, Luke records the annunciation of Jesus’ conception and birth by the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin, who was betrothed to Joseph. However, verses 26-27 contain a great deal of important information. As I stated earlier, every detail of Scripture is significant, and these first two verses are pregnant with significance that we cannot afford to miss.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

According to this text, Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph, of the house of David and they were living in Nazareth in Galilee. Nothing seems unusual about these details on the surface, but let’s consider this information more closely.

The “Insignificant” People

Scripture reveals that Mary was merely a pre-teen or teenage Jewish girl who received this angelic annunciation. Except for one questionable lineage account, the Scriptures are silent concerning Mary’s lineage,which doesn’t give us any reason to assume she was a person of significance or importance in society. Mary, very well, was an ordinary Jewish girl of her times.

Verse 27, however, gives us a bit more detail about Joseph. Luke records here that he was of the “house of David”. Two other instances of Joseph’s lineage are mentioned in Luke 3:23-38 and Matthew 1:1-16, which both tie him to David. In addition to this familial detail, we also know Joseph was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:65, Mark 6:3). As a couple, Joseph and Mary were of meager financial possessions. Luke 2:22-24 records that after Jesus was born, they presented Him at the temple according to the Law and offered two turtle doves or two pigeons as a sacrifice to God. The book of Leviticus tells us that in the event people couldn’t offer a lamb or bull as a sacrifice due to economic inability, turtledoves or pigeons were acceptable.

Based on these truths, it is reasonable to conclude that both Joseph and Mary were ordinary working class citizens of Israel. By worldly standards, there was nothing significant about them.

The “Insignificant” Place

In addition to their ordinary statuses, they were residing in Nazareth of Galilee. Archaeological and historical discoveries have revealed that Nazareth was an ancient agricultural village that had between 200-400 residents in the first century. It was situated 65 miles north of Jerusalem and about 71 miles north of Bethlehem. While Jerusalem was the religious center of the Jews and Bethlehem was known for being the birthplace of David and eventually Jesus, Nazareth was not a significant place in the first century. In fact, one of Jesus’ disciples, Nathanael, couldn’t believe that the Messiah would be associated with Nazareth. In utter disbelief, Nathaneal uttered, Can anything good come out of Nazareth?(John 1:43-46). By worldly standards, nothing was significant about Nazareth.

The God of the “Insignificant”

Mary was a young Jewish girl. Joseph was a poor teenage carpenter. Nazareth was small non-respected agricultural village in upper Galilee. Yet, God purposely chose all of these elements to accomplish His redemptive plan in Christ. As Luke records, Joseph and Mary were betrothed and he was from the “house of David”. The significance lies in the fact that centuries before God made a covenant with King David stating that a king from his line would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:8-13). From a worldly perspective, the seemingly insignificant are profoundly significant in God’s redemptive plan. We must have eyes to see and ears to hear the profundity.

May Christmas be a reminder that our God deliberately accomplished His significant plan of redemption in Christ through seemingly insignificant people or circumstances so that He alone will get the glory and praise that He rightly deserves.  Rejoice in the fact that God extends grace through the insignificant and to the insignificant to accomplish His eternally significant purpose. 

Merry Christmas!

d.

Christmas: God’s Grace to the “Insignificant”

Wca0c354e2f0bcd4674d99a5d8d878a16hat generally comes to mind when you think of Christmas? Frenzied shopping trips, wrapping and unwrapping presents, decorating a Christmas tree, putting up lights, holiday parties, scenic landscapes of snow, aromas of holiday meals and treats, family gatherings, singing Christmas songs and hymns, etc. Those of us who are Christians understand and believe that the Christmas season is a time to remember how our great God sent His Son, Jesus, to ultimately save us from His eternal wrath because of our sins. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is arguably one of the greatest events of human history, but definitely the greatest birth to ever have happened. While only Matthew and Luke records the birth narrative of Jesus, Luke records an account that Matthew doesn’t that has great significance and offers great encouragement. Luke’s inclusion of the angelic announcement to shepherds (Luke 2:8-21) serves to remind us of God’s grace to the seemingly insignificant.

The “Insignificant” Shepherds

Shepherding is very common in the Middle East and parts of Asia. During the time of the biblical patriarchs and after, shepherding was the way of life and commerce for most families. Moses was a shepherd (Exodus 3:1-2), Abraham was a rich shepherd (Genesis 13), Jacob was a shepherd (Genesis 30:25-43), and David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Shepherding was a noble calling as it pictured leadership and care. Think of how David described God as his shepherd in Psalm 23 and in many other Psalms. However, by the first century when the Roman Empire subjected Israel to its rule, shepherding was seen as a very low class calling in Israel and the surrounding areas. To be a shepherd was to be socially inferior and shepherds were often marginalized. Considering that, it ought to make us wonder why the LORD would send an angel to announce the birth of the Savior to shepherds. Why them? Why not a prominent business man or woman? Why not an influential political figure of the day? There is a reason and Luke’s gospel emphasizes it throughout. Let’s look more closely at what Luke records.

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 

After the shepherds were approached by the angel, fear immediately struck them and they were instructed by the angel to not fear. If we casually read these verses, we’ll miss an important point the Holy Spirit is making through Luke’s account. However, if we thoughtfully read keeping the audience, and the social and historic contexts in mind, we’ll notice the gravity of these verses. The angel of the LORD says in verse 10, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you….” and in verse 11, “For unto you…..” . Who is this message of good news for? Who is the Savior born to? This gospel (good news) is “for all the people”, but notice the personal emphasis of the angel’s words… “I bring you” and “Unto you…”. This good news was for them!  This angelic announcement wasn’t an announcement given to Israel at large, but to the shepherds. The fact that God entrusted this news to the shepherds and saying that the Savior was born for them verifies the indiscriminate grace of God toward people.

What the Holy Spirit wants us to understand is that God lavishes His redemptive grace on whomever He will. He is no respecter of persons. This reality runs throughout Scripture. God chooses whom He chooses to lavish His saving grace. Those whom the world would discount or pass over, God chooses for His plans so that He gets the glory (1 Cor. 1:26-31)! Jesus was born that the lowly and seemingly insignificant might be saved.

I believe the shepherds were saved shortly after their angelic encounter. Verse 20 tells us that after the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw Jesus, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Their praise was a direct result of the good news brought to them by the angel. These shepherds laid their eyes on their Good Shepherd (Jhn. 10:1-18), the Shepherd of their souls, their Savior!

So how should we think about Christmas? We should be reminded that Jesus saves those whom the world would otherwise look over. Jesus saves the ‘insignificant’. We should be overjoyed that our socio-economic standings, education levels, gender, or ethnicities are not barriers to God’s grace. For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and for that God has sent His Son, Jesus, to be our everlasting hope.

Merry Christmas! 

d. 

Thankfulness: The Melody of the Christian Soul

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

As the holidays approached, my wife and I kept noticing how store decor went from Halloween to Christmas. In fact, back in July we were at a home decor store and we noticed Christmas decorations already being displayed. We asked one of the store employees why Christmas decor was already being displayed and we were told that many customers like to purchase Christmas decor in preparation for the Christmas season, but it was all for commercial marketing. The end goal was financial capitalization. However, what we also noticed was that there was very little attention paid to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Although there is much discussion about the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday, one thing that we must understand is that it was a day set aside to respond with gratitude. According to American Colonial history, the origin of Thanksgiving originated with praises to God for His benevolence by religious separatists from England in 1620 and was made an official United States holiday on October 3, 1863 by Abraham Lincoln toward the end of the Civil War.

Read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation

It is clear from Lincoln’s proclamation that a day of thanksgiving was to be set aside nationally as a day to thank and praise God for His abundant mercies toward the United States, even in the midst of a Civil War. Not only was it a day of thanksgiving, but it was also a day to confess national sins seeking the mercy of God. Now, I’m not here to debate the theology of Abraham Lincoln or the sincerity of his Christian profession, but to reveal what the proclamation stated. It is important to understand that the Thanksgiving holiday was started as a response to the benevolence, grace and mercy of God.

The Grounds for Thanksgiving

Every year around this time something strange happens that I’ve noticed and I imagine you have noticed it too. I hear people say, “We’re so thankful!”, “I’m thankful for….”, “I’m blessed.” These expressions of gratitude lack an object of gratitude. In other words, there are expressions of thankfulness attached to no one. They are just impersonal expressions of gratitude as if the blessings for the things that people are thankful for occur in a vacuum. There is no one on the receiving end of those impersonal expressions of gratitude. Think about that. Isn’t it strange how the human heart can detach the origin of the blessings from an expression of gratitude? Does an expression of gratitude truly make sense apart from the provider of such blessings? In my loudest voice I want to shout out, “To whom are you thankful for such things?!!”

Scripture repeatedly reminds us that God is the source of all of our blessings. The epistle of James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

But we don’t have to get that far in the Bible to understand that everything that has been given to us has been created by God. We read of this in the very first book of the Bible. And this is a refrain throughout the rest of Scripture. The Lord reminds His people, and even those who oppose Him, that He is the Lord of all and He gives and withholds according to His discretion. He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust. He alone is the person we give thanks to for everything. Without someone ultimately to thank, gratitude is meaningless.

What Thankfulness Reveals

For Christians, thankfulness ought to be as normal as breathing if we truly have grasped the gospel and its implications. If we are a thankless people, either we have not truly grasped the gospel or we are really not part of God’s elect. Consider the gospel and some of its implications: we have been freed from the Father’s wrath, there is no condemnation for us, we have been reconciled to the Father through Jesus, we are the friends of Jesus, we will receive an eternal inheritance in the new heavens and the new earth, we are no longer dominated by sin, we will no longer be afflicted by Satan, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the word of God, we have the community of the church, we have spiritual gifts, God provides our daily needs and all of the effects of sin will one day be removed from our experience. We have so much to be thankful for! Praise be to God for his indescribable gift! (Romans 11:36)

To be thankless is to stand in opposition of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. However, genuine expressions of gratitude by Christians reveal the fundamental truths about our nature and God’s.

• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal that we are insufficient for all things.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveals our recognition that God is wholly the source for all things.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal our humility.
• Expressions of gratitude to God reveal His benevolence.
• Expressions of gratitude to God guards our hearts from having a critical spirit against God.
• Expressions of gratitude to God are forms of spiritual warfare against Satan and his demons.
• Expressions of gratitude to God are ways of inducing joy to the heart.
• Expressions of gratitude to God is worship.

Because God’s mercies are new every morning, thanksgiving should be the melody of the Christian soul.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalms 118:1)

Grace and peace,

d.

Racism, Fatigue & Perseverance….

alachurchbomblittlegirlsI’m not sure who coined the term black fatigue, but I have it.  What I mean by that term is this – I am tired of the minimization, apathy or outright dismissal of present and historical racism toward blacks by whites. I am tired of trying to lovingly have conversations with my white friends with the hope that they’ll get it.  I am tired of having to explain why we collectively suffer when we see another black man, woman or child treated cruelly, and even in a sub-human manner whether guilty of a crime or the suspicion of a crime.  I am tired of trying to explain the injustice experienced by blacks everyday in many ways. I’m just tired. I am tired of the way the church is slow to address this issue inside and outside the church. But I also am a Christian and that is hugely significant.

In late February, I was asked to be part of a ethnic reconciliation panel at a church in my city. I’ve had the privilege of preaching at this church a couple of years ago, so there was some familiarity. However, upon the invitation, my immediate thought was, “No. I’m tired of this conversation because nothing is happening.” I’ve poured out my heart too many times on social media, taken part in a panel at my own church, written articles, read others’ articles, read books, had many conversations with my white brothers and sisters (some fruitful, others more problematic) and I have vented to my wife too many times to count and it just seemed pointless.  Frankly, I was just done with the conversation. I resigned myself to just pray and do the work myself organically with those closest to me at my church. But part of me still wanted people to get it and empathize with this sinful narrative. So after I told my wife about the invitation and about my thoughts, she understood my perspective, but she encouraged me to do it. I was still against the idea, but the LORD overcame my resistance and changed my heart about it. My wife had the right idea and perspective.

As I spoke to the pastor who invited me (he pastors a predominantly white Southern Baptist church), he told me that he had been affected by all of the shootings of blacks last summer (2016) and he became more concerned that the church ought to be doing something about it. Down the street, literally 300 yards, from his church is an African American Missionary Baptist church with whom they have almost no relationship.  I was told that there had been attempts by the African American church to establish a relationship with this predominantly white church, but there was no reciprocation by the previous pastor.  In fact, I was told that this was the first time that his church (the predominantly white church), to their shame, has ever addressed racism in the church’s history and he wasn’t sure how things would go.  I was encouraged by his genuineness to address this topic, which could have easily caused an uproar in his church, and by his transparency about the church’s failure in the past. This was a historical event for his church.

By God’s grace, the panel event turned out very well. It was well attended by members of both churches. An assistant pastor moderated the event, each of the pastors gave a 20 minute talk about their experiences concerning racism, and there was a 45 minute panel discussion where the three of us answered questions from the congregation.  Several of my white brothers and sisters approached me afterward and told me how helpful and encouraging I was to them. Praise the LORD!  Some of the things that I desired for my brothers and sisters to know and understand were:

  • The doctrine of the imago dei (image of God) must shape how we view people. Seeing people as image bearers of God is one of the foundational truths that needs to shape us.
  • Racism is both individual and systemic.
  • Racism is a sin issue and is only remedied by the gospel (Ephesians 2).
  • African-American people, like all people, are not monolithic. Therefore, generalizations and stereotypes need to be avoided.
  • Seek to understand the perspective of blacks and how we corporately suffer when we’re victimized by racism.
  • Weep with those who weep.
  • Be educated on the history of black-white relations in America (e.g. slavery, civil war, reconstruction, the black codes, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement).
  • Talk to African-Americans about these issues. Do not be afraid.
  • Befriend African-American brothers and sisters. Have them over for dinner, etc.
  • To fellow African-Americans, let the gospel shape how you see whites.

onenewmanAs a first step toward visibly demonstrating the power of the gospel across ethnic lines, I pray more fruit abounds between these two churches as time goes by.  This, I believe, will be one of the strongest arguments for the Lordship of Christ and the credibility of the church.  Jesus told his disciples in John 13, “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   

Yet, by this same measure of love, our profession of faith is validated or invalidated.  The Apostle John said this in 1 John:

  • By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)
  • If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

For me, I must persevere in fighting racism like I do any other sin. The LORD knows I’m tired! However, if I truly believe the gospel, and I do, I must strive, by the power of the Spirit, to walk worthy of the gospel, do good to all, especially the household of faith, and not grow weary in well-doing.

d.