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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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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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Head Home to Your Father

Luke 15:17-19 reads, “(17) But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! (18) I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. (19) I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.

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Luke 15:11-32 is the story about a wild son whose selfish loveless heart produces reckless living. He shockingly asks his father to cash out his property in order to get his inheritance early! He would rather his father be dead so he can get his stuff! He took that money and lived like a brute with no regard for virtue.  He lives opposite of John 8:42 which says, “If God were your Father, you would love me.” He rejects the idea of John 14:15 which says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This animal-like kid does not love his earthly father and does not keep his earthly father’s commandments. This is a heart issue that points back to his love for his heavenly Father. This selfish, loveless, animal-like behavior is the result of not loving his heavenly Father.

But, by God’s grace, “he came to himself.” The brokenness in his heart doesn’t lead to depression, but to repentance. Broken repentance should mark our lives. We don’t use the word “repentance” in our everyday lives, it is sort of a hard-core Bible term. It is the idea of saying, “I’m wrong here.” God’s way is one path, but I am going down another path. Repentance is honestly (and even emotionally) hating the condition of your heart about something, then believing that Jesus’ way is better, then resolving to walk down his path. He resolves to confess his sin to his father, and heads for home.

Is there an area of your life that you need to repent and return home to your Heavenly Father? Maybe this area has manifested itself in reckless brutish behaviors. Maybe this area is still hiding itself in a dark corner of your heart. Whatever it is, don’t slip into depression, rather repent and head home to your heavenly Father.

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Church, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Friendship For Friendship

Proverbs 27:9 reads, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” The first line is about a physical blessing or pleasantry, the second a spiritual blessing. It is a pleasant spiritual blessing to have friendship, to have people who love you enough to speak into your life. It is a great blessing to have people who know you, and love you, and engage you, and speak up when you are going down a wrong path, and are there for you when you are in the middle of a fight.

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One good definition I found for Biblical Friendship is mutual love that knits together souls. It is a sweet spiritual blessing to have those we love so deeply we feel our souls are interwoven.

We see this intimate intertwined love in the Trinity. Our God is one yet exists as three persons, yet the love is so tight that we are monotheistic. Marriage is supposed to be a loving oneness. Jonathan and David both loved each other deeply and were close friends. Many think of Paul as this bold lone ranger, but the reality is that he always had friends close by. His relationship with Timothy is a glorious example of loving lasting life-giving friendship.

 Also, James 2:23 explains that due to our genuine faith, we have become a “friend of God.” Who are you?  You are called a “friend of God.” These “friends of God” who have genuine faith are also marked by good works. So, out of this glorious friendship, we get a vision and even a calling to the good work of friendship. God makes us his friend so we can be friends with others. And this is no superficial matter, this is a sweet life-giving pleasantry to our souls.

Friends, as I look ahead to 2016, my prayer is that our new church would embrace our standing as being “friends with God” by being friends with God’s Church and being friends with our City. I want us to have deep life-giving loving friendships with each other, and with those around us.

How do you need to improve as a friend this year? Do you have a friendship that you have neglected? How can you deepen the friendships that the Lord has provided? How can you be a friend to the city around you?

God has called you his friend as a call to be a friend.

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Church, Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

A Year of Friendship

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is finding pockets of time to read. One of the books I have been picking through is a biography of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Anytime I read about Spurgeon I am inspired. Before there were megachurches, his was a megachurch. He became the pastor of a historical London Reformed Baptist church at a young age. When he became pastor there were less than 300 members. 38 years later, at the end of his ministry, there were over 5,000 members of the church. He routinely preached to 15,000 people on a Sunday and many times preached to over 20,000 people.

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I know Denton is not London, and I certainly know that I am no Spurgeon, but I have to admit that reading Spurgeon has given me a renewed excitement about our church in 2016. You see, Spurgeon and the Metropolitan Tabernacle share our same Biblical gospel convictions…the Bible is the Word of God and his gospel is the power of God to save and thus I believe our best days are in front of us.

God has truly been glorified in our new church this past year. We saw God’s glorious faithfulness in 2015. We experienced his grace, saw him save souls, experienced him conforming us to him image, and watched him establish his church. Let me throw some exciting numbers at you:

  • After we launched the church, we averaged 88 on Sunday morning. Then, in 2015 we averaged right at 100 on Sunday mornings.

  • We grew from 44 Covenant Members in 2014 to 59 Covenant Members in 2015.

  • We moved into Game On Athletics, thus saving us some money, and providing a semi-permanent facility for the coming years. This facility enables outreach events and provides an office and a place to gather beyond just Sunday morning.

  • We began 2015 internally covering about 40% of our budget, now we cover 70% of our monthly needs.

  • We launched 2 new Neighborhood Groups.

  • We launched a Shepherd Training discipleship and leadership development track.

  • We added a new Redeemer Kids teaching team.

  • We launched a Youth Ministry and added Reece Bishop as our Student Pastor.

  • We served our city through Service Projects and Attractional Events like Trunk or Treat.

  • We gave away $18,000 to missions efforts.

Each of these graces should be celebrated. However, I believe our best days are ahead of us. As I have spent the past 4 to 6 weeks praying about next year, I continued to come back to a little verse that is loaded with meaning.

James 2:23 reads, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.”  In this verse James explains God’s grace as salvation coming to Abraham through his faith in God, which makes Abraham a friend of God.

James is quoting Genesis 15:6 where God’s Word calls Abram to believe in something hard to believe…that a very old childless man would not only have a child but his descendants would be a numerous nation. We have all been at those difficult crossroads of belief, when what God is saying doesn’t really seem plausible. However, we are called to believe. What Genesis 15:6 teaches us is that God’s grace came to Abraham when he trusted God’s Word and thus experienced God’s salvation.

After James quotes this verse, Paul quotes it twice. He quotes it in Romans 4:3 as well as Galatian 3:6. Both passages help us understand the AVENUE of salvation. How do we move from being declared guilty to being declared righteous? Most believe it is by keeping all the rules. However, these passages use Genesis 15:6 to explains the AVENUE of salvation is via faith, not keeping all the rules. Thus, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but by faith in the Word of God. The AVENUE of Abraham’s salvation, and thus our AVENUE, is faith.

James’ goal is a little different. Many have concluded that James and Paul are somehow at odds with each other here, however that is not the case.

First, James is likely the earliest NT writing (most likely between 44AD and 49AD), while Romans is most likely written between 55AD and 57AD and Galatians between 49AD and 55AD. This is important because it helps us see that James is not arguing against Paul’s writings, because Paul’s writings had not been written yet.

Second, James and Paul are not at odds because James is not talking about the AVENUE of salvation (which is faith), but rather the NATURE of that saving faith. James is not saying keeping all the rules redeems anyone. James agrees that salvation is through faith alone, but his concern is with the NATURE of that faith. James 2:23 is advocating for genuine faith. So, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but genuine faith in the Word of God. The NATURE of Abraham’s saving faith was genuine to the degree that good works were evident. Because of Abraham’s genuine saving faith, he was categorized as a friend of God.

James is saying that genuine faith produces faithful works. He is arguing against false faith that remains private, that doesn’t produce faithful works.

We are entering into an election season (yuck) and politicians are in pandering mode. Many politicians are trying to demonstrate their religious credentials. However, in a secular age, many don’t want to come off as too religious. Thus, one path for them is to simply say they are a Christian then say their convictions are private and they don’t want to talk about them. That leads me to believe they are hiding something, that they are not genuine in their convictions. It leads me to believe they are just sleazy politicians.

Look at our passage again. James 2:23 says, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.” What does genuine faith produce? It doesn’t produce quiet private politicians who don’t let their faith impact any area of their lives. No, genuine faith produces faithful good works.  How does genuine faith change us? When we have genuine faith in the gospel, we don’t remain enemies of God or objects of his wrath. No, genuine faith changes us to become friends with God.

When looking at the three New Testament citations, James is the only one who makes this point about “friendship” when citing Genesis 15:6. Once we have genuine faith in Jesus’ gospel, we become friends with God. BIBLICAL FRIENDSHIP is what I pray Redeemer Church is all about in 2016. Over the coming weeks, I will be laying out our vision of friendship with our Church and with our City.

All Christians should love Spurgeon. We should love his theology, his sermons, his books, and his classic quotes. But I have always loved that he left a legacy of more than sermons and books.

You see, Spurgeon lived during the Industrial Revolution of the mid and late 19th Century. The population of London had just doubled from 1800 to 1850. Rapid urbanization brought new social problems. But Spurgeon didn’t just preach sermons and write books, he sought friendship with his city. He started:

  • A Pastor’s College where young pastors could come and prepare for the ministry free of charge.

  • 23 mission stations around the city of London.

  • Hundreds of new churches all around Great Britain.

  • A gospel literature society to get the truths of the gospel into the hands of London residents.

  • Almshouses for people who lost their jobs.  They could come and stay and be fed and have time to get back on their feet.

  • Nursing Homes, before there were Nursing Homes, where the elderly could live their final years with dignity.

  • Orphanages for boys and girls.

  • Homes for single mothers and their children.

Matt Carter wrote in his book “For the City”: “It got to the point that if [the] Metropolitan Tabernacle had shut down during that [those] decade[s] of grappling with the problems of the Industrial Revolution, the city of London would have been crippled.  They would have grieved the loss of the Tabernacle.

I love that! Friends, I know we are new and don’t have millions of dollars and don’t even have a building like the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I know Denton isn’t London, and I am no Charles Spurgeon. But, I want to us to ask the question, “If we were to cease to exist, would our city grieve our loss?”  Would our schools miss us? Would our neighborhoods feel a void?

In 2016, my prayer is that we would fulfill the call of James 2:23. My prayer is for us to be good friends to each other and to our city. God has called us his friends as a call to be a friend.

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