Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Sola Christus: Our Source for Life

Existentialism is a failure! It is absurd to believe that life has no meaning except what we give it. If we chase the belief that everything is meaningless then we are left with our own futility. The great test of this truth is when we assume something will lead us to joy, yet it leaves us lacking. The gospel teaches us that salvation is not found through looking within, but looking outside of ourselves. We need something outside of ourselves to guide us to joy. We need a Word from God. We need Sola Scriptura.

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If Scripture is our guide, where does Scripture lead us? Christ is the unifying theme of the Bible! The Old Testament looks forward predicting Him, while the New Testament looks back prescribing Him. The Reformers rightly understood Jesus as the solution to our primary problem, Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin.

 

This claim is not initially the Reformers or the Early Church Fathers or even the Apostles, Jesus Himself claims to be our Savior from sin. If the brokenness of this world has broken you, Jesus invites you to come to Him and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). If your soul is weary and dry, He invites you to come to Him and find “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

 

Those of us who have functioned as existentialists know that all the things we sought in order to find rest and life all proved futile. It is a lie to believe sex and money and esteem and good health and knowledge and toys and popularity will bring you lasting rest and life. We don’t need make-overs and more stuff, we need forgiveness and transformation. We need a Savior!

 

The reason Jesus is our rest and life is because He is our Savior from sin. When the angel appeared to Joseph he summarized the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation as to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus did not come primarily as an example, but a Savior from sin. Jesus taught us in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus views Himself as more than a good teacher, but as the payment for sin. Further, this isn’t horrific child abuse but the height of loving service. Paul also taught this truth in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus was sinless, but took on sin in order to defeat sin, which moves believers from the category of guilty to justified. Peter also emphasized Jesus as our Savior in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Jesus saves us from our sins in order to make us right with God!

 

Further, the Bible is clear that Jesus is our only Savior. Jesus is explicitly exclusive! He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” One can argue that all religious roads lead to the same place, but to make that argument, they are concluding that Jesus is a liar. Jesus is our Savior from sin, and Jesus is the only Savior.

 

These truths about Jesus are the primary message of the Bible, but the Reformers purified the church of false teaching. Protestants understand that our salvation is through Christ alone, but the mechanics of this salvation is that Jesus imputes righteousness to us rather than infuses righteousness within us. Jesus saving us from our sins doesn’t mean we never sin again, rather it means we have moved from a guilty category to a justified category. For example, God says that He reckoned Abraham righteous (Genesis 15:6). However, after this credit of righteousness, Abraham still committed some pretty scandalous sins. Thus, we can conclude that God did not, like a surgeon, make his inner man perfectly righteous. Rather, like a judge, God declares believers righteous through Christ alone.

 

There is no other way to find salvation and thus rest and life than through Christ alone! What a glorious truth! What a wonderful thing to celebrate! What should we do with this truth?

 

First, referring to Jesus, Paul wrote “him we proclaim” (Colossians 1:28). If we find salvation through Christ alone, then we should shout this news to anyone who will listen! Martin Luther said the church is to be a “mouth house.” We are to use objectively understandable words to communicate that salvation is only found in Jesus. This charge is foundational to what it means to be a Christian. If you have been saved through Christ alone, you have the privilege and responsibility to announce Jesus to others.  Proclaim Jesus!

 

Second, the ancient Psalmist sang, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Salvation from your sins comes through Christ alone. Lasting rest comes through Christ alone. Abundant life comes through Christ alone. Thus, take refuge in Him and then experience His goodness. Taste that Jesus is good! Our Reformer fathers taught us that the world is futile, but everlasting abundant life is found in Christ alone!

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

Sola Scriptura: Our Needed Guide

Next year marks the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the Castle Church in Wittenberg. I am a Protestant rather than a Catholic for very convictional reasons, thus we celebrate this moment in our history. Our church is not hostile to Catholicism, but we chose to be Protestant due to essential doctrines of the Christian faith. The early Protestants rallied around what became known as the “5 Solas.” “Sola” is Latin for “alone” and these doctrines outline the exclusivity of 5 essential beliefs. This article is the second in a series of articles on the “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation.

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2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This passage describes the quality of Scripture as “profitable.” It also explains the purpose of Scripture: teaching, rebuke, correction, training in righteousness/godliness, in order for people to carry out the good works they were created to do. What a tool! However, this passage also explains the source of Scripture. The Bible is not ultimately from humans, but rather from God Himself. God breathed out the Bible from within the core of his being. Protestants believe that God spoke through human authors to give us the Bible. This passage has enormous implications for the Protestant view of Scripture.

 

Protestants view the Bible as inspired by the God. This means we believe the Words of Scripture are the Words of God. Further, we also believe the Scriptures are infallible. The infallibility of Scripture means that in all matters of Christian faith and practice, the Bible is wholly true and useful. We have a distinction between our Catholic friends who believe Popes and even the Catholic Church are infallible. Protestants cannot find verses in the Bible to support the Catholic claims. Further, we believe the Bible is also inerrant. If the Bible comes from a holy God, then it would be a contradiction to claim there are errors in the Bible. God is holy and righteous and thus truthful, thus His Word always tells the truth and is never in contradiction with fact. If one pushes beyond superficiality, we discover that theologians understand this doctrine to apply to the original autographs. This doctrine also leaves room for relative things like grammatical constructions. The key takeaway for Protestants is that we view the Scriptures as the Word of God. God does not lie in little things and thus we can trust Him for all things.

 

You might be thinking, “ok, thanks for the theology lesson, but what does this mean for my life?” Glad you asked! Sola Scriptura means the Bible trumps all other authorities in our life. Sola Scriptura does not claim the Bible as the only authority but the rather the ultimate authority. For example, tradition and reason are authoritative. Wisdom says we ought to listen to those who have gone before us. I should humbly learn from Aristotle and Jefferson. I should cherish the Second London Confession and ancient liturgy. Additionally reason and science are good and helpful determiners of truth. If science says that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, I shouldn’t smoke them and should seek to limit their use.

 

However, we also know tradition and reason have their shortcomings. Slavery was an institution handed down from the ancients. Racism is not a uniquely American problem. It is a historical fact that racism and slavery are human problems. Both are wicked traditions. Further, the historical record shows reasonable and even scientific arguments were developed to justify racism and slavery. Eugenics was viewed by many as an acceptable science and its arguments were used by southerners in the 1860’s, abortionists in the 1920’s, and Nazi’s in the 1930’s! Clearly humans need something outside of us to referee our developed traditions and our attempts to discover truth through science and reason. The Word is our ultimate authority and thus a truly gracious gift from God!

 

The Word is a central biblical theme. In Genesis 1 God creates all that is by speaking it into existence. We read in Ezekiel 37 that the Word of God generates life. We learn that the man after God’s heart is to delight in this Word (Psalm 119:16). Leaders guide the spiritual lives of the people by explaining and applying the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).

 

We celebrate the biblical Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura because we need an authority outside of ourselves. Sola Scriptura gives us a needed guide. Sola Scriptura is a sweet grace of God that leads to our conversion. Sola Scriptura also leads to a joyful spirituality.

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Bible, Church, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality

Luther’s Purifying Flame

500 years ago a glorious spark was fanned into a flame. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous “Ninety-Five Theses” onto the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Some, even now, view this flame as destructive. However, the houses it burned down needed to be destroyed. This was a purifying fire, a return to the biblical gospel.

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I love Martin Luther. Even his imperfections are endearing because they teach me that God uses imperfect people. Luther was brilliant and brave and certainly bombastic.  He wrote masterpieces like “On the Bondage of the Will,” translated the Bible into German, and brought the church home to the gospel. The Reformer also boldly stood up to the church when they threatened his life. He refused to recant but rather stood on the truth of the Bible and declared, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”  Luther said things like, “Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.” More than anything, Martin Luther was faithful. In fact, his faithfulness to the Word of God was used by God to purify the church’s understanding of the gospel.

 

The church is to guard the gospel, yet had corrupted the gospel! The Bible progressively moves forward a redemption story which climaxes in Jesus. Bread crumbs were dropped throughout the Old Testament pointing the reader to Jesus. The Law taught us we are sinners, blood was always shed for these sins, but the blood never seemed to cover all the sins. Jesus then came and lived a perfect life in order to be that perfect blood sacrifice for us. The gospel says we no longer try to earn our place in Heaven through our many good works, rather we trust in Jesus’ one good work. This gospel is not looking within for righteousness, but looking to Jesus to make us righteous.

 

But, in Luther’s day, these truths were corrupted. Famously, the church was selling indulgences and telling people that they could pay money in order to get themselves (and their loved ones) out of a made up place called Purgatory! These were wicked lies. People were desperately turning to the church to learn how to enter Heaven, but were being manipulated for worldly gain. Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” set out to debate these teachings.

 

Earlier in life he was a zealous monk marked by much confusion and even terror. Yet, Luther came to understand the gospel clearly through faithful study of the Bible. Romans 1:16-17 says, “(16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Initially Luther hated this passage because he thought the gospel meant God revealing his righteousness by punishing sinners and rewarding the righteous. He struggled because he knew he was not righteous but a sinner. Luther’s glorious discovery was that those who trust on Jesus passively receive God’s righteousness as a gift even though they didn’t earn it! The gospel is about believing in Jesus’ good work and thus receiving God’s righteousness!

 

This Fall we will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s posting of the “Ninety-Five Theses” with a series of articles on the Five Solas of the Reformation. These Word-saturated gospel-grounded truths are why we are proud Protestants. These doctrines are the answers to the most important questions. As you read these articles, I pray the fire of your own heart is enflamed by the pure gospel.

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Book Review, Children, Gospel Spirituality, Redeemer Church

BOOK REVIEW: The Ology

Periodically I do a little book review in order to equip readers for the practical works of service the Lord provides each of us (Ephesians 4:12). Parents, particularly fathers, we are called to pastor the hearts of their children. Long before there were church buildings and paid pastoral staff and organized Sunday School programmes, children had parents who taught them the truths of God’s Word and how to faithfully live according to those truths (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Today I want to share with you a resource that has blessed my family as well as how we use the book.

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“The Ology” is written by Marty Machowski and is beautifully illustrated by Andy McGuire. If you are familiar with Systematic Theologies then you will recognize that the book is organized along traditional Systematic Theology categories. It is divided into 11 sections spanning 71 chapters. The chapters are only a couple of pages long. The sections include “The Ology” of: God, People, Sin, Promise and the Law, Christ, Holy Spirit, Adoption into God’s Family, Change, Church, End Times, and God’s Word.

 

I love its intentionality to grab the larger redemptive message of the Bible. It is helpful that each chapter is only one to two pages in length, thus can be read in just a couple of minutes. The Adoption section is a strength because it helps children understand what the gospel accomplishes in our lives. My favorite section is the seven chapters on Change. This book explains spiritual growth and sanctification from a distinctively biblical approach as well as a gospel-grounded approach. Children, like adults, need to know how to live faithfully as well as what to do when they mess up.

 

After our two children bathe, brush teeth, and get into PJs we give 15 to 20 minutes to praying, talking, reading, and singing. We vary our reading, but lately it has been to read a biblical type reading (like “The Ology”) then something fun. Our readings stir up good conversation, but we also take time to simply take about their days. I then pray for the kids, and my wife sings with them. Most nights I spend time with the children separately but some evenings I gather both of them together. It can feel chaotic at times and some nights we skip, but I have to admit that it is my favorite part of my day.

 

Last Spring I began reading “The Ology” with my 7-year-old daughter during our bedtime routine. She reports that she loves the pictures. McGuire provides truly beautiful illustrations. Apparently my daughter is concentrating as I read because she said that she loves the “detail” of his pictures. The way Machowski explains complex ideas is also a highlight for her. My daughter told me that she gets into each little explanation and really understands what he is saying. Finally, my 7-year-old also said she loves the verses he provides in each chapter.

Even as I write these words I am blown away by the impact this little book has had on my little girl. I cherish these biblical truths and I cherish time discussing them with my daughter. Dads, especially if you have a preschooler or a young elementary student, I commend to you “The Ology.”

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Hope for a Broken Country

History is helpful. It has taught me that there is no such thing as the “good ole days,” the world has always been what it is since sin entered our world, there are ups and downs, and we can have an impact yet never truly change the nature of humans. However, wisdom says that our country is at a uniquely broken place. Any 4th Grader can point out the obvious problems that led to much of this brokenness, yet the church’s role is to provide light out of this hole. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, but maybe this provides some hope to our brokenness.

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First, racism is real. Ask any African-American and they have experienced suspicious looks and many have been hassled by police. African-American mothers still have to tell their children to be careful, even around police, because of the color of their skin. The sniper who killed 5 Dallas police officers was clearly killing people because of their race. I was broken-hearted watching Alton Sterling’s son break down at the press conference. I also have a tender-hearted son and have seen him overcome with grief at the loss of a loved one. It is good and right to personalize these incidents and feel them. Further, racism is still racism even if the guy is a felon. The Black Lives Matter movement has been helpful to me to point out this truth. When racism is real we need to acknowledge it and rebuke it. It is good and right and consistent with the gospel of grace to peacefully protest legitimate racism. We need to be united around the idea that racism is real.

Second, racism is sin. At the heart level we fear those that are different and we don’t understand. At the heart level it is easier to draw distinctions rather than unify. It is easier to protect what we know rather than celebrate and learn from those who are different. Ultimately racism is a sin because God has created everyone in His image (Genesis 1:27), thus everyone has equal dignity. God has created my African-American friends with black skin because he thinks it is good and beautiful. Racism is real and it is sin because everyone is created in His image…full of equal dignity.

Third, this truth is where the founders of our country got the idea that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” (Declaration of Independence). This is truth and should be celebrated. It is also fair to criticize these men for declaring this and fighting for this…all while owning slaves! However, a cynical reading of our country is also not fair because this was a revolutionary step for their era. Further, our country chased this truth until we got it right. We still chase it. Our history is also that thousands of white men took up arms and died, not for their own benefit, but to free African-Americans from slavery! Those ideas were rooted in a Christian worldview and a continued pursuit of those glorious American ideals set forth by the founders….not a rejection of either. We need an honest reading of our history because an overly whitewashed as well as an overly cynical reading is wrong and keeps us from learning the lessons we need to learn.

Fourth, we need to be honest yet not cynical. We need to advocate justice yet not not vilify groups of people. Even if we see something as thematic, we need to honor those whose job it is to protect and serve us. If there is an instance of racism and/or a police officer doing something wrong, we should acknowledge it and demand justice. However, if something is not racism we should not claim it as such. Further, it is wrong to lump all African-Americans into one negative camp, it is equally wrong to do that to police officers. We should be honest about what is wrong, but also see the best in people. It is not honest to paint all or most police officers as racists…it simply is not true. We need to grieve with and stand up for victims of racism, but we also need to esteem the vast majority of police officers who are doing great work. Dallas police officers provided protection for those who were protesting them and then ran to the shooting to protect those who were fleeing! We all have friends who have experienced the injustices of racism, but we also all have friends who are police officers.

Fifth, we need to listen more and hashtag less. It is good and right for us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). It is also good and right to be angry at sin (Psalm 71:11). However, we need to be slow to rush to judgment and anger (James 1:19). The reason why we need to be slow and discerning how we talk about these complex issues is because overly charged emotionalism frustrates people yet does not give them a hopeful outlet. Amping everything up leads to really bad reactions. Amping everything up helps people justify hatred, civil unrest, and even murder. I tend to want to dive into debates, but I am learning to listen and learn before drawing hard lines. We are not listening and learning if we don’t hear that Black Lives Matters is not about dividing people! However, we are also not listening and learning if we don’t hear that Black Lives Matters has the real potential to divide people! I am not fully onboard with that movement (partially because I don’t fully understand the movement), but I am trying to listen to the movement. However, I see a lot of people in that movement (even Christian leaders) who are bullying people who have my same criticisms of Black Lives Matters. Bullying might silence the opposition, but it does not convince minds and change hearts. Patiently hearing and being willing to change your position is the way forward, not throwing social media grenades.

Sixth, tone matters. Amped up social media tone leads to vilifying people (in this case police officers), which is not only wrong but leads to really dangerous places. I was heartbroken over the death of Alton Sterling and really heard the pain in mother’s hearts about how to talk about this with their African-American boys. I don’t know the full context of all of this but the outrage of his death seems very legitimate to me. However, Thursday afternoon I feared that the police as a whole were being vilified. I also feared that this was going to continue to lead to bad places. The vilification of police is having crushing ramifications on the communities that need the police’s help the most! If you have a megaphone, remember that tone matters.

Seventh, focus more on what you can control rather than what you can’t….thus, focus local. What has become increasingly frustrating to me is that I feel like I can’t have an impact on our country’s deepest problems. I can’t fix the problems in our two political parties, I can’t fix racial tensions in Louisiana or Chicago, and I can’t bring about justice in Baltimore. Thus, my focus needs to be on where I can impact. I need to focus on my own city, my own part of town, my own church community, my own family. I need to own my responsibility here! I need to understand racism in my corner of the world. I need to understand the history of Quakertown and Fred Moore High School. I need to try and bring reconciliation and redemption to Goat Man’s Bridge. I can’t become depressed over what I can’t control, but I need to influence what I can! Pray for our nation, but also pray for your own community. Figure out ways to be a blessing to those around you. Listen to those in minority communities. Listen to police officers.

Eighth, focus more on heart change. Jesus always cut to the condition and intentions of the heart. He knew that behaviors are rooted in the heart. Thus, he brought salvation to the heart. We all need to do a hard look at our hearts. A number of years ago I had a couple of Asian men do me wrong. I then met an Asian man and in my heart I was suspicious of him. It honestly surprised me, and I was tempted to justify it, but by God’s grace He quickly convicted me of it as well as giving me understanding about where it came from. I tried to own it at a heart level and repent. Pray for repentance in your own heart on issues of race. Pray that you would be more patient and really hear the other side. Pray that you would love someone enough to try and convince them rather than just beat them. Pray that these victims would be able to forgive. Pray that these killers would be convicted and repent of their murderous hearts.

Ninth, advocate for justice, but also advocate for peace and unity. As you fight for justice, fight just as strongly for peace and unity. Criticize your leaders when they drum up anxieties and fears in order to get votes or win political battles. Fight for justice but make sure your words don’t give license to someone else’s violent actions. Further, fight for justice but make sure it leads to unity.

Tenth, find hope in the multiethnic gospel which produces a multiethnic church and leads us to a multiethnic new heaven and new earth.

Even as I write all these many comments I feel like they are band-aids not ultimate solutions. We have to come to grips with the fact that this problem is never going to be perfectly fixed, yet we should never stop striving for harmony. But where can we look to find hope to this problem? It is certainly not in our political parties which exaggerate these divisions for their own gains. No, the gospel is where we find hope to this issue.

If you are not familiar with the gospel let me share John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus came to die for the entire world…all nations, all colors, all nationalities. This was a radical thing in His day and it remains a radical idea. Jesus died for both the Jews and the Palestinians. He died for Asians, Africans, African-Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, Europeans, and anyone else you want to put on that list. If you want to stay in your little ethnic camp, you need to understand that this is not God’s will for you. If you long to see a diversity of people living harmoniously together in love and unity then I plead with you to come to Jesus, confess your sins to him, and believe He died on the cross for your sins!

But what does John 3:16 produce? Anyone who surrenders their life to Jesus becomes part of the Church. Further, this church is multiethnic. It is a church that is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Thus, God’s plan is not to produce Jewish churches or White churches or Asian churches or Black churches. No, Jesus’ gospel is producing one multiethnic church. If you are a Christian and content living out your journey in the comfortable confines of your own cultural traditions, then you are missing God’s plan for you. He wants you to walk with those who are different than you. It is there that you find joy! If you are not a Christian, come for faith, come to church and find a beautiful multiethnic church. As the church is becoming more marginalized and even vilified, it is actually becoming more beautiful! The largest Protestant denomination that was born from being on the wrong side of the slavery debate had an African-American President! Our own little church plant began meeting in a predominately African-American church and I consider their pastor a friend and seek him for wisdom. We are seeing more and more churches have multiethnic leadership teams. Even our own new little church has a mutliethnic staff and I anticipate our first Elder Team to also be multiethnic. If you are not a Christian, and you are longing to see a diversity of people truly loving each other, I want to report that it is happening in the American church! Jesus’ gospel is producing a multiethnic church!

But, I want to give you further hope. Where is this multethnic gospel and this multiethnic church going? Again, God cares deeply about a diversity of people living harmoniously together. This part of His plan for His people, and His assumption is that the world will look differently. In fact, God’s vision of eternity is a multiethnic new heaven and a new earth! Our longing for harmony amongst the ethnicities is good and right. I am here to tell you that there is a day coming when these tensions will not exist anymore! I am here to tell you that God hates this violence and brokenness to the degree that He is going to fix it all. If you want hope for a glorious day of all the ethnicities living in harmony then look to Jesus and hope in heaven. I’ll close with John’s glimpse into heaven found in Revelation 7:9-10. Notice who will be there and if they are unified:

(9) 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, (10) and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Are You the Older Brother?

(25)Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. (26) And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. (27) And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ (28) But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, (29) but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. (30) But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (31) And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:25-31)

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Most call this story found in Luke 15:11-31 the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” However, most also think the story ends at verse 15:24, but Jesus provides more to this story. Remember this story is about two brothers, not just one.

We all know the younger brother didn’t have love for his father…but just wanted his stuff. Out of this selfish unloving heart bore a reckless hedonistic life that resulted in brokenness. Now we see the older religious son. But sadly we don’t see a happy man…but an angry man. This son is described by Jesus as angry and he is refusing to go in and commune with his younger wild brother. Unlike the father, he doesn’t yearn for him or have compassion on him or embrace him or kiss him or restore him or be reconciled with him. Unlike the father, the older religious brother condemns him.

The older brother is angry with him, and we understand why…right? Wouldn’t you be angry?  Think of all the shame the wild younger brother caused this family. Think of the financial impact this had on this older brother and the family as a whole. Think of all the grief and the sorrow that he saw on his poor father’s face each and every day.

Deep in the corners of his heart, when he reflected on his wild younger brother, he compared himself. The anger he felt towards his brother birthed self-righteousness. Every time his blood boiled over his brother, he soothed it with the thoughts, “I am not going to be like him” and “I am better than him.” His anger birthed pride.

His religious pride went to entitlement. “He went off and had his fun but in the end I’m going to be better off because I remained faithful. I deserve better because I am better.” Is that you today? Have you ever said those words? Have you ever thought those thoughts? Have you ever felt those feelings?

Has your religious faithfulness simply produced a self-righteous judgmental heart? Has the free grace of the gospel birthed a heart that feels good about itself because it is more faithful than the poor soul that is struggling? Has the cross of Jesus only bought pride for you? Are you an older brother?

But the father also has a message for older brothers. If you are angry and self-righteous and entitled and judgmental, he is faithful to convict you, but he is also faithful to draw you back to your first love. He is faithful to draw you back to Jesus. You see, this glorious faithful loving father has a message for us too. The father says to him, “Son, you are always with me” (15:31). Being with the Father was the older brother’s blessing! Repent and return to your first love…Jesus…not his stuff!

Do some heart work today. What stuff do you care more about than getting to know the Father better? Whose opinion do you care about more than Jesus’? Ask God to soften your heart to Him and make that stuff and those people taste like mudpies compared to the glory of Christ. Thank God for the fact that he loves you so much that he will convict you of your sin, even your self-righteous pride. Confess to a close friend or your spouse how your religion has produced pride in your heart and ask them to ask you about the condition of your heart every few days.

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Paul’s Apostolic Authority Still Matters?!

Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me” (Galatians 1:1-2).

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Paul opens his letter to the Galatians by describing himself as an “apostle.” What in the world is an “apostle”?! The root meaning of the word is a “sent one.” It is similar to a Hebrew term used for a delegate or a lawyer who was empowered by someone to share a message or do a job in their place. The Greek term used here was also a naval term for an emissary who was sent on a vessel for a particular authoritative errand. The idea is that an “apostle” is someone who has been given authority by a greater power in order to deliver a message.

Paul is actually referring to what we would label an office or maybe a title. Paul was an Apostle (with a capital “A”). I don’t believe there are still Apostles today, but rather it was a unique office given to a group of men who actually saw Jesus and were selected by him to share his gospel message. I believe their primary role was to share Jesus’ message by writing the New Testament. Paul was not one of the original twelve Disciples, but if you remember from Acts 9, Paul was dramatically converted to Jesus on the Road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him.

But, it is also important who made Paul an Apostle. Paul was not voted into his Apostolic office by a group of men. He says in the opening verse that he is an apostle “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” God Himself made Paul an Apostle.

The Bible goes further by going back to the cross and describing the type of God that has made Paul an Apostle. It is the God “who raised him from the dead.” This is a God who has power over life and death. He is the creator of all things. Even though he is holy and perfect, this God chose to satisfy His own wrath by dying a brutal death on the cross as an atonement for our sins. Jesus’ resurrection then defeated death and became the good work we can trust for our salvation. We don’t have to try and earn our salvation through many good works, but we can trust in his one good work for our salvation. So, not only is he a powerful God, he is also a good God. That is the God who made Paul an Apostle.

So what?! Maybe we understand why this was important to the original readers in Paul’s day, but what is the significance for us?

GENERALLY, Paul’s Apostleship is important because we live in a day that is prone to discounting Paul by pitting him against Jesus. Many people (even in the church) do this all the time. I have even stepped into heated debates with other pastors who reject a portion of Paul’s teaching on the grounds that Jesus didn’t speak into that issue?! Many people create a caricature of Jesus as loving and focused on relationships, while Paul is more harsh and only focusing on doctrine not people. They claim that doctrine divides and that Paul only cares about doctrine and doesn’t pastorally care about people. Please hear me, those popular caricatures are simply false.

First, many of Jesus’ parables and teachings take a direct in-your-face approach. Do you remember him cleansing the temple with a whip…Indiana Jones style? We also see tender even heart-broken words from Paul in his Epistles. Second, all of the Bible is equally God’s Word. The gospels are not more important or more truthful than Leviticus or Revelation or Jude. All of it is the inspired inerrant Word of God. That truth is partially based upon the fact that Jesus himself appointed Paul as his Apostle with the message he shared in books like Galatians and Ephesians and Colossians. Third, the purpose of the Epistles are to look back at the Gospels and explain what happened. The very nature of the Epistles demands that they will go further in depth on different issues.

As a rule we can’t pit Paul against Jesus. Paul is relational, just like Jesus. Jesus is doctrinal, just like Paul. The Bible doesn’t view doctrine as divisive, but rather the basis for our relationships. The words God gave us through Paul in Galatians are ultimately God’s Word for us. Again, you can’t pit Paul against Jesus.

SPECIFICALLY, we are to accept the message of Galatians as God’s authoritative Word. Paul makes a link between his Apostleship and the message he is going to share in this book. His Apostolic office is the credibility of his gospel message. So in Galatians when Paul calls us to daily lean on the gospel versus keeping religious rules or operating out of our own self-righteous strength, it is authoritative truth for us! If you want to argue back at Paul, you are actually arguing back at God! These words are God’s Words coming like a ship bringing us life saving news!

Do some heart work today. Are you viewing all the Bible as from God? Are you viewing the Bible as the ultimate authority in your life? Do you need to change your thinking or attitude about the Bible? Ask God to help you see attitudes and habits that need to change in order to align yourself with the truth of God’s Word. Thank God today for not leaving us in the dark, but rather giving us His Word so we can know have to find salvation and joy. Finally, select a Bible verse to memorize this week.

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Wholeness for the Hollow

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

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I once heard an old pastor explain, “you have lose them before you can save them.” Romans 1:21 is the beginning point of lostness. A heart that looks like Romans 1:21 is what leads God to pour out his just wrath upon us. Paul described this type of heart as “futile” or hollow or vain or pointless.

Notice that Paul explained all humans have an innate or inherent or natural knowledge of God. This is not a saving knowledge of God, but an understanding that we have a creator. Atheistic philosophical positions can be reasonable and logical, yet false. Humans can reason away God, but that doesn’t mean God is dead or never existed. Rather, it means that humans can convince ourselves that God does not exist. This verse, as well as the human experience teach that we all have a commonsense innate knowledge of God.

However, our problem is that all people suppress (v18) these innate truths and distort (v21-23) these natural understandings, thus we are all guilty and God’s wrath is justifiable. So the question arises, “what should we do with this natural knowledge that there is a creator God?” Romans 1:21 explains we should honor and thank him.  Because there is a Creator-God and He created us, we should honor and thank Him. We should be thankful worshipers. Becoming thankful worshipers is Paul’s answer to hollowness.

Honor is about making much of someone. We should make much of our Creator-God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 teaches that no matter what we are doing we should glorify God. We should worship Him. There is none like Him, He is our Creator, and we should make much of him, and less of ourselves. But, is that what we do? No, we actually dishonor God. We degrade Him, cheapen Him, and lower Him. We declare Him dead, we ignore Him, we glorify ourselves, we worship ourselves.

Further, we should also thank Him. We should recognize who He is, give Him credit, have gratitude, and thank Him. In fact, just like 1 Corinthians 10:31 and the lifestyle of glorifying and honor God, we should also have a lifestyle of thankfulness. But, is thankfulness a theme of your life? For most it isn’t. Most people’s lives are marked by complaining, by ingratitude, and by grumbling. Most express dissatisfaction, not thankfulness, for their circumstances. Most express annoyance or irritation throughout their day, not gratitude. Honoring Jesus and thanking him is how we move from hollowness to wholeness.

Do some heart work today. What area of your life have you quarantined from Jesus? Are you glorifying Jesus in how you work, live with you spouse, treat your friends, and parent? Take a moment and ask God to reveal where you are not honoring him. Further, take a moment to pray for a thankful heart. Are you giving Him credit for the blessings in your life? Are you grumbling and complaining about something these days? Thank Him for who he is and what He has done for you! Finally, communicate honor and thanksgiving. Honor Jesus today by telling someone that you are thankful to God for them and why.

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Focus When Suffering

(14) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (15) that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.“ (John 3:14-15)

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John 3:14-15 helps us gain focus and perspective when suffering. Some have been abused and want the Bible to give hope that their abuser will go to jail for his crimes. Some have been deeply and painfully betrayed and want the Bible to give hope that their friend will repent and seek reconciliation and all will be made right again. Some have lost fortunes and want the Bible to give hope that they will be prosperous again. Some are dying and want the Bible to give hope that they have years left on this earth.

But the truth is we are hoping in the wrong things. I can’t promise he will face jail time. I can’t promise your spouse or friend will repent and return. I can’t promise faithfulness leads to riches. I can’t promise you healthy years. But, if those are your ultimate hopes, you are hoping in the wrong things.

But, what I can promise you is that Jesus will be exalted. If you are a Christian, that is enough. The pathway to peace and happiness is not through finding justice, reconciliation, wealth, and health on this earth. Rather, joy is found in the depths of your soul not in your outer circumstances. Might sound odd, but God-the-Father and God-the-Spirit found happiness in God-the-Son. Their pleasure was found in lifting Jesus up?!

John Pitman was committed to get Jesus up, even when suffering. Pitman was a Revolutionary War hero who got converted and became a Reformed Baptist pastor in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Pitman’s life was marked by many forms of suffering. He survived a violent war. He buried his wife and young daughter on the same day. He faced financial ruin, losing his business and livelihood. He longed to be in ministry but the door really didn’t open for him till late in life.

At the end of his life he became very ill and knew the end was near. Jesus was Pitman’s desire, and as he neared the end he wrote:

“Let us adore the rich grace of God in calling us in early life, in keeping us by his power through faith unto the present time, in still making us his care, in enabling us to bear testimony to the truth and its glorious effects in old age, and in all circumstances…Should we have a hard battle with the last enemy that is to be destroyed, it will be very short, and then we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us, and enjoyed his presence forever…It is a blessing to be tried, a blessing to be delivered, a blessing to have a grateful heart for both.”

Then, on the day he died, he wrote:

“In a short time our glass will be out, and the sands run low; not far distant is the change to which all other changes were directed, and the afflicting portion of them will add an eternal weight of glory to the soul.  Let these things animate us to run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God, whose intercession is prevalent for all that love and obey him.”

Friends, we don’t need earthly justice, we don’t need need all things to be made right here and now, we don’t need wealth, and we don’t need long healthy years. But, what we do need is to see Jesus exalted. Today, as you pray, confess to Jesus areas of your life where you are not seeking to exalt Jesus. Confess if he is not your greatest desire. Believe again that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, greater than him. Believe again that your greatest joys will be found as you lift him up in your heart and life.

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living

Using the Gospel, Preserve Your Decaying City

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)

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We need to begin by pointing out that Jesus says  ”you” are the salt! Jesus is our hope and the truth, but individual Christians, as well as the institution of the Church, have missionary calls.

But, what does salt represent? There is a debate about the meaning of salt and Christians have interpreted the meaning differently. First, some say that salt brings a satisfying taste to bland food; thus, Christians are to bring taste to the world. Second, some have lumped all the interpretations together and tried to interpret a broad category. All the interpretations benefit the world in some way therefore they simply interpret this image to mean Christians are simply to benefit the world…sort of like the United Way. These interpretations could be right, but we can only be sure about one usage of salt in Jesus’ day. Salt was used to preserve decaying food. The heart of this illustration is Christians are to be a preserving force in their decaying city.

But this preserving salt metaphor means something regarding the nature of Christians as well as the nature of the city. The biblical view of the world is that it is decaying. This does not mean it is decaying as fast as it possibly can or that every aspect of our world is constantly decaying. However, the general and basic trajectory of our world is one of decay. It also means that the Church, individual Christians as well as the institution, are to be the preserving element for this decay.  You and I are called to fix this problem! You and I are the medicine for this disease!

But, what does losing saltiness represent? Some have tried to say losing your saltiness and being trampled upon means that you lose your salvation. We did not earn our salvation…Jesus did. Thus, so we can not lose our salvation and this can not be the meaning. We can not lose our salvation, but we can lose our missionary effectiveness and become useless missionaries. Salt really can not lose its saltiness but it can lose its taste or effectiveness if it is mixed with too much other stuff. If you mix in a bunch of sand into a bowl of salt, it is going to become useless to prevent the decay in the meat. Here is what this means for us; we can love the world in the flesh and be like the world rather than distinct from it, thus losing our missionary effectiveness. You can mix so much of the world into your life that the distinctiveness of the salt loses its effectiveness. If we lose our distinction we lose our purpose. If the salt gets diluted, the mission is lost. We are to be missionaries, not monks, striving to preserve our decaying world.

What area of your life is getting diluted? What worldliness do you need to repent of today? Pray that God would take you out of the monastery and use you as a missionary today!

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