Another voice

I started this blog about 8 years ago in 2006 while I was in seminary and working for CRU at the University of Louisville. When you’re in a ministry vortex like that, you’ve got a lot of thoughts and opinions that need to get worked out and this blog was my venue.

But then, four children and a church plant happened. Life got crazy and blogging took a back burner for a long time. Since then, many other gifted writers, pastors, and theologians have started excellent blogs and I didn’t sense a burning need to add anything to the online discussions. There were simply too many other more pressing priorities that demanded my attention.

Recently, however, I have sensed a desire to publish my thoughts on theology, church ministry, and current events from time to time because God has given me a platform as a pastor and ministry leader in Cincinnati. Sometimes ideas presented in sermons need further development and this will be the venue for that.

So welcome back to this blog, it’s been a while. But hopefully adding another voice will be fruitful and not simply be more noise.

23 Life Changing Rock Solid Promises of Scripture

Paul argues in Galatians 4 that Christians are the true Sons of Abraham because we share the faith of Abraham. God made promise to Abraham to bless the entire world through his offspring. Abraham didn’t know the whole story; he trusted God for the revelation God had given him at that time.

But now, in Christ, we are able to see all the full grandeur of God’s redemptive promise that he initiated through Abraham. We share the faith of Abraham, but we cling to better promises (Hebrews 8:6), built on a better sacrifice (Hebrews 9:23), and provides for us a better possession (Hebrews 10:34) as we await a better life (Hebrews 11:35) and a better destiny (Hebrews 11:16).

This following list is the content of that better promise provided for us by Jesus Christ. God’s promise to Abraham was a shadow of the things to come; but here are 23 life-changing, rock solid promises of the New Testament that we have to hope in.

  1. God loves you (Galatians 2:20).
  2. God chose you before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
  3. God knows you and you know God (Galatians 4:9).
  4. God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).
  5. God set his affection on you and adopted you into his family (Ephesians 1:5).
  6. God is Our Father (Matthew 6:9).
  7. God has redeemed us from all sin: all past sin, present sin, and future sin (Ephesians 1:7).
  8. God is also sanctifying us from sin (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 6:11).
  9. God has united all of us together as a family; we are members of one another (Ephesians 2:14, 4:25).
  10. God has made us together the temple of his Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).
  11. God has given us direct access to him; we can boldly come before Him (Hebrews 4:16).
  12. God will never condemn you because Jesus was condemned for you (Romans 8:1).
  13. God will never leave you; he will never forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
  14. God has given you his Holy Spirit as a guarantee that he will bring his promise to final fulfillment (Ephesians 1:14).
  15. God works all things together for your highest good and his highest glory (Romans 8:28).
  16. God has created you for good works; you are his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).
  17. God has set you free to pursue a radical life of love and service to God and others (Galatians 5:13-14).
  18. God will complete the good work he started in you; he will never give up on you (Philippians 1:6).
  19. God’s hand of discipline on us may be painful at times, but he loves us enough to correct us (Hebrews 12:6-8).
  20. God has made you a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and he is preparing a place for you there (John 14:2).
  21. God will greet you in death, because death is not the end, nor is it something to dread, because “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21-26).
  22. God has crushed the power of death through Jesus Christ; death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).
  23. God has planned all this from the beginning, for “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

Thirteen Ways to Diagnose Fear of Man

In last Sunday’s sermon, we talked about thirteen different ways to identify Fear of Man in your life. I drew heavily upon this list and also added some of my own.

#1. You frequently think about what other people are thinking about you.

#2. You long to be noticed more than you long to be godly.

#3. You get angry if you are ever publicly contradicted.

#4. You flatter other people with words in order to be liked by them.

#5. You rarely confront sin in others directly.

#6. You think about what’s politically correct more than what’s biblically correct.

#7. You love to cite your own accomplishments.

#8. You have a hard time saying what you really think, which prevents you from getting close to people.

#9. You prematurely terminate conflicts by yielding, withdrawing, or changing the subject.

#10. You frequently put yourself down in order to get other people to give you encouragement.

#11. You have a hard time saying “no” even when you should.

#12. You  fear that conflict in a relationship signals that the relationship is ending.

#13. You use texting or email as a preferred means of confrontation.

These are all indicators that some degree of Fear of Man is going on in your life.

Is this Gossip?

Two Kinds of Gossip

There are two ways to gossip. We can gossip with things we say or with things we listen to other people say. Both are participating in gossip.

But the Bible does not forbid talking about other people. There are numerous instances in the New Testament where people are called out by name because their sin has affected other people and those actions were reported to church leaders. A great example is Philippians 4, where a conflict between Euodia and Syntyche was permanently canonized in scripture because someone talked to Paul about it.

So we need some way to diagnose our words and our motives in order to gain wisdom about what gossip is. The questions below reveal that most of the things we say about other people are harmful rather than helpful.

Gossip through Speaking

  • Will I help or hurt the person’s character by repeating this information?
  • If I talk about this, am I doing unto others what I desire to be done unto me?
  • Even if the information is true, am I improving the situation by talking about it?
  • Will anyone be edified if I repeat this information?
  • What is my motive for telling it? Am I really seeking to build or destroy?
  • Is the information true? Is there any basis for it? Is it rumor or innuendo?
  • Is the information about something which the other person has repented of? (if so, leave it alone).
  • Am I promoting unity by talking about this?

Gossip through Listening

  • Am I enabling the sin of gossip in another person by giving audience to them?
  • Will I feel better towards the one being talked about by hearing what is spread by a gossiper?
  • Am I assisting the character of the person speaking to me by allowing them to talk about this?
  • Am I convinced that the person speaking to me truly desires unity and love for the other person they are talking about?
  • Has the person speaking to me already approached the one being spoken about?
  • Even if they have, does that excuse this conversation?
  • Who is being drawn more to Christ as a result of this conversation?

Proverbs 18:19 warns, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” If you are speaking gossip or listening to gossip then you are fortifying walls of distrust in other people.

Don’t do that.

(This post is connected to the Christ the King Church series on the biblical book of James called Wisdom. You can download the sermon “Taming the Tongue” here.

 

One of the hardest verses in the Bible

There is an apparent contradiction between two verses in the Bible.

James says, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

Paul says, “One is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).

Although they appear contradictory on the surface, a closer examination of how James and Paul are using words shows that they are talking about two different things.

Both James and Paul (and Jesus, for that matter!) argue forcefully that saving faith will always result in a changed life; a life that is characterized by good works. But Paul and James are referring to two different things when they use the word “justified.” Paul uses the word “justified” to refer to the declaration of a person’s initial pardon at the moment of his conversion. James uses the word “justified” to refer to the final accounting of a person’s life before God on the last day.

James argues that any faith that does not produce good works is only a superficial faith. It is not real. It is a “dead” faith (James 2:14), he even says a faith that doesn’t produce good works is demonic (James 2:19). James is not saying, however, that we need to perform good works in order to be saved. The kind of faith that actually saves us is a faith that changes us and produces spiritual fruit in our lives.

Consider it this way: if a person goes through the spiritual motions of “getting saved” but is not moved to care for people in need, be more generous, experience some degree of joy and thankfulness in Christ, then what good is that kind of faith? Sobering question.

But James is not the only one who says these sorts of things. The Apostle Paul wrote similar things in the book of Titus. He says that some people “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:6). He calls them “empty talkers” in Titus 1:10. People whose faith is nothing more than a religious accessory to round out the image of a balanced life. In Titus 3:8, Paul tells another Pastor, Timothy, this: “I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

Perhaps the most striking words come from Jesus himself, who said “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7:19).”

James cites two examples to make his case: Abraham (Jew) and Rahab (Gentile). Both of them believed in God’s saving power, and they demonstrated their faith by incredible acts of faith. In Genesis 22, Abraham believed so strongly in God’s promise to provide him with a family, he was willing to allow his own son to die because he believed that God could even raise the dead. Rahab, who was a Gentile prostitute believed God to save her by putting her own life at risk to protect two of God’s people.

James cites these acts of faith to show that true, saving faith is lived out in every day life. When James says that “Abraham was justified by works” in James 2:21, he is saying that Abraham’s works proved in the end that his initial, saving faith was real. God did not justify Abraham because Abraham did some great work. Rather, Abraham’s faith in God was proven genuine by his works.

Consider this. Suppose a man is arrested and placed on trial for burglary. In the course of the trial, this man is able to present clear evidence that he was innocent of the crime, and he was acquitted by the judge. The man could say that the verdict justified him because he was an innocent man. But the judge could say the evidence justified him because the evidence proved he was actually innocent. The man sees his justification in terms of his actual innocence of a crime. The judge sees his justification as having been proven by evidence.

The same is true for James and Paul. Paul sees our “justification” as a declaration that God views us innocent and perfect in Christ and given new life. James sees our “justification” as the evidence of that new life demonstrated by our good works.

Thus James and Paul do not contradict each other. They are both describing different things using the same word. And both James and Paul agree that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and that faith changes us and produces good works in us.

Simple Advice for Bible Reading in 2012

I have read through the Bible several times over the past few years and have found a couple of things helpful.

1. Use a Reading Guide to track your progress.

Pretty much all you need to know can be found right here. Here is the plan that I like to use.

2. Choose a readable translation.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Bible reading is different from Bible study. My favorite translation for Bible study is the ESV. But when I’m trying to read large chunks of Bible at once I like to use other translations that are easier to read. Here are a few good ones: New International Version (NIV), New LIving Translation (NLT), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

I use the ESV for preaching, but I’m going to be reading the NLT for my personal Bible reading time this year.

3. You won’t understand everything. It’s easy to breeze through Genesis and then get bogged down once you get to a bunch of laws about food and genealogies. That’s OK. Keep pressing on through the tough parts and don’t get discouraged.

Some Christians get spooked when they read the Old Testament because it seems to them like God is harsh or even unloving at times. When you get to these parts of the Bible and you wonder, “why did God tell his people to kill those other people?,” remember that God’s character is most fully displayed in Jesus Christ, who gave his life for his people rather than taking life from others. When you see something in the Old Testament that gives you pause, be reassured that God’s full plan of redemption is life giving and centers on Jesus.

4. Budget enough time. You can’t do this in 15 minutes a day. It’ll take about 30 minutes a day or more, but it will be worth it!

5. Don’t be legalistic about keeping pace. If you have to miss a few days, don’t worry about it. If you miss a week or two, don’t worry about it. Just use the checkboxes to track your progress and don’t quit just because you’re not keeping track with the dates.

Ok, I hope this helps. Happy Bible reading in 2012!

How to Tell if You’re a Pharisee (Part 3)

This is the final part of this series, taken from the sermon “Barriers: Religion” at Christ the King Church.

#7 Pharisees test others to include or exclude.

The Pharisees did it to Jesus. In John 8:1-11, the Pharisees caught the woman in the act of adultery. But their whole point in doing this was to “put Jesus to the test.” They tried to box Jesus into a corner with a complicated test to see if he would side with Law or with grace. They did this in the name of justice, but their motives were wrong.

This happens a lot with Christian sub-groups. Not only are these sorts of Christians prone to “pet issues” (see part two) but they also devise tests to evaluate one’s commitment to their pet issue.

These tests are numerous. Some people make heart judgments about other people based on the clothes they wear, where they school their children, what part of the city they live in (in the city or in the burbs), and so on.

#8 Pharisees Follow the Rules and Miss the Point.

The Pharisees who caught the woman in the act of adultery followed the “Do Not Commit Adultery” rule from the 10 Commandments. But they missed the point. The Law was not given to us by God to give us a sense of moral superiority when we obey it. Rather, the law gives us a code to live by but also a means of atonement for failure.

The Pharisees were eager to point out the moral sin of adultery committed by this woman but they failed to see their own sin of self-righteousness and pride.

#9 Pharisees Rejoice in the sins of others.

Since Pharisees are all about demonstrating their own moral superiority, they might secretly rejoice when others fail. People who’s sins are outward and easy to identify make those around them feel great about themselves. Then those Pharisees can demonstrate their self-righteous outrage at the sin of others.

#10 Pharisees Lack Genuine Joy.

Living life as a Pharisee will ultimately rob a person of true joy. There is no freedom because they are always wondering how others perceive them. They take themselves too seriously because they feel like they are the only ones who take anything seriously.

But the life of freedom offered to us in Christ sets us free from bondage to sin and gives us a true joy that lasts forever.

Ten Ways to Tell if You’re a Pharisee (part 2)

Continuing this post from last week, here are three more ways to tell if you’re a Pharisee. These are taken from a sermon at Christ the King Church called “Barriers: Religion.”

#4 Pharisees don’t extend grace to others.

The Pharisees were not interested in restoring this woman who was caught in adultery. Grace was not part of the equation. They seized the opportunity to condemn her simply because it served their desire to trap Jesus.

We can see this in our own hearts when we fail to forgive, or when we hold grudges, or we seethe with anger over things other people do. The Pharisee feels as though she has the right to be treated better and when this doesn’t happen she becomes angry and bitter and unforgiving. The Pharisee is upset by the sin of others because she feels that “I deserve better than this.”

#5 Pharisees practice selective repentance.

Pharisees will repent of things they find easy to control so they can claim mastery over a particular area of sin. Since Pharisees focus on external things, they can find other little external things to “repent” of so they can appear even more holy and righteous.

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23ff).

We can do this to. People who struggle with sexual temptation and lust can find some refuge in having the “right doctrine.” Other people might have poor doctrine but pride themselves on being good at evangelism. Others might be bad at evangelism so they get on their financial stewardship hobby horse.

There are fine convictions in themselves, but we shouldn’t hide behind something we’re good at in order to avoid repenting of things we’re really struggling with.

#6 Pharisees are prone to pet issues.

The Pharisees’ pet issue in this story is sexual immorality. They feel high and mighty about sexual immorality because that’s not something they’re guilty of. The woman is. She violated their pet issue. So they feel important about trumpeting their holiness in this area because they think no one else “gets it” like they do. And the more they feel no one else gets it the more strongly they circle the wagons around their pet issue.

In many churches today, Christian pet issues abound. People get all worked up about various parenting methods, political ideas, educational approaches for children, secondary doctrines, and so on. The list is seemingly endless. And even though these may all be very important things to discuss and develop convictions about, these things can’t be pet issues that we use to condemn others for to make ourselves feel smarter.

The gospel gives us a different approach. The gospel leads us to extend grace to others because we ourselves are also in need of radical grace. The gospel frees us to repent of any and every sin, no matter how seemingly big or small, because it has already been forgiven in Christ. And the gospel is the ultimate standard by which we evaluate our pet issues and convictions.

Ten Ways to Tell if You’re a Pharisee

From a sermon at church yesterday, we discussed 10 Ways to Tell if You’re a Pharisee. I will post them all here throughout this week.

The Scribes and Pharisees used a woman caught in the act of adultery as a pawn to get to Jesus in John 8:1-11. From this text, we can learn a few lessons about how the heart of a Pharisee works and how we can avoid these same traps.

#1 Pharisees focus on externals more than internals.

They look at what’s on the outside of a person rather than what’s on the inside. The Pharisees were more than happy to condemn this woman for her external, obvious sin. Jesus’ response to them was to force them to look internally at their own hearts.

The Gospel empowered life starts with a heart that has been changed by God’s grace and works its way out to the external behaviors. The Pharisee only looks at the external behaviors and doesn’t acknowledge the inner realities of the heart.

#2 Pharisees are more suspicious of others’ sin than their own sin.

The Pharisees had a major problem here of only seeing the sin of this woman while neglecting to see their own. They brought her to Jesus presuming her to be guilty and themselves to be innocent.

The Gospel empowered person is not so impressed with himself. He doesn’t always trust his own motives and knows that he has sin lurking in his own heart as well. Just like Jesus commanded, he first makes sure he doesn’t have a telephone pole sticking out of his eye before he approaches another to remove a speck of sawdust.

Who’s sin really bothers you? Your own? Or someone elses?

#3 Pharisees always need to be “right.”

The Pharisees were driven by this desire to go and show Jesus that they were right and he was wrong. They thought Jesus was badly mistaken about the Law and they were going to show him just how right they were.

This will always be a temptation for people who have strong convictions and deep beliefs. We hold our beliefs so strongly that we don’t allow other people to penetrate our defenses to help us see where we might be wrong.

What Church Elders Do

This is a quote from Alexander Strauch’s book, “Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership” (p 98).

Biblical elders do not dictate, they direct. True elders appeal to their [flocks] to faithfully follow God’s Word… Out of love, true elders suffer and bear the brunt of difficult people and problems so that the lambs are not bruised. They bear the misunderstandings and sins of others so that the assembly may live in peace. They lose sleep so that others may rest. They make great personal sacrifices of time and energy for the welfare of others. They see themselves as men under [God’s] authority. They depend on God for wisdom and help, not on their own power and cleverness. They face the false teachers’ fierce attacks. They guard the community’s liberty and freedom in Christ so that the saints are encouraged to develop their gifts, to mature, and to serve one another.