Gay Marriage and America: The Changing Face of a Nation

Posted by on Aug 29, 2013 in Apologetics, Contemporary Culture, Gospel

Marriage 300x225 Gay Marriage and America: The Changing Face of a Nation In thirteen years since graduating high school a lot has changed, not just in my own life but in the life of America. We’ve gone from having President Bush to President Obama. I’ve gone from being single to being happily married, graduating seminary and leading Servants of Grace for thirteen years. While our nation has changed along with our lives, a few things have radically changed the way we live out our Christian lives every day. No I’m not talking about September 11th, 2001 although I believe that day changed America forever. Rather, I am talking about the debate over gay marriage. Growing up in Seattle, Washington, I was exposed to people who were gay and was often asked by them and other Christians what I thought about the issue. Even in Boise, Idaho, one of the most conservative states in the United States, we have a large gay population. Of all the issues that have come to the forefront in the past decade, I cannot think of anything that has been more prominent, forceful and with a more vocal demographic that wants its views to be known than the gay marriage issue.

America I believe is changing and not for the better. In the past decade we’ve seen our jobs increasingly exported as our economy continues to decline. Yet, in the midst of this economic chaos, we don’t see morality increasing. Many Americans today claim they are good people yet fail to understand their definition of good is lacking not to mention down right wrong. America is changing and is now known more for what it exports (pornography, movies, etc) than what it produces (cars, technology, etc). With generations of Americans addicted to pornography, overweight, and consumed by materialism what is our response? Is it to go to war? Is it to fight against the Supreme Court and view politics as supreme? While I believe responsible Christians need to vote with a biblical worldview in mind, I also know with this increasingly changing landscape, many Christians struggle to make sense of it all. They struggle to live out their faith and earnestly desire to know and make known the glory of God’s Gospel to their hurting neighbors. America is changing, but so is Christianity in America.

Christianity in America is changing from being more cultural to being authentic. In the coming days we are going to see the issue of gay marriage only increase because their goal is not just to dominate the headlines and push their agenda but to destroy marriage entirely. Some people may be alarmed by what I just said namely that “gay marriage wants to destroy marriage”, but I think the evidence is overwhelming. When gay marriage is put in effect, the evidence seems to suggest that gay “couples” will not get married. Why would people pushing for an ideology in the courts and in the public square not follow up with what they believe? What is the real agenda here? I believe it is to utterly destroy marriage and redefine it as something else. The whole gay marriage agenda is not restricted to just America. Countries such as New Zealand have legalized gay marriage and many other countries have also legalized gay marriage or are on the path to doing so. This isn’t a trend we are seeing but rather a sweeping change away from the godly values we once cherished and held in high esteem. What we are seeing is the ever evolving and changing face of a nation and a world that rejects and despises the God of the Bible who created man in His image and likeness and who established the institution of marriage. Furthermore, since the Apostle Paul says marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and the Church, this makes the attack on marriage a direct assault on God’s character and His glory.

The real question all of this raises is “Should Christians support gay marriage and view it as “equal rights” for those who believe in it?” The argument goes that everyone should have equal rights because to not have equal rights for everyone is to lack “tolerance”. While our secular culture accuses Christians of hypocrisy and being “old-fashioned” even telling us we are “preaching at them”, they are actually doing the same. Let’s be clear here. Those who support gay marriage have an agenda and that agenda is to do away with traditional family values and to expose their own values as “normal”. We already see this normalization taking place in our society with the vast increase of TV shows, movies and more showing gay marriage as normal. Case in point is the NBC show called “The New Normal” which depicts two gay men raising a child. If anything in the past decade has changed it is the outright flaunting of gay marriage as normal on our mass media. We do indeed live in changing times, one that will challenge us to stand not just for cultural change, but rather for gospel renewal in our nation.

The cultural battle is changing as our nation changes. While our nation is falling in love more with itself every day, Christians are called to stand up and be salt and light to our world. Christians are called to be holy, to speak the truth in love, and to do so with a view to faithfulness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of life. The question over who has “rights” and whether they are equal or not is really the wrong question to be asking. The real question we should ask is Who is the ultimate authority. We all want to appeal to our rights and our own opinions but they are as the writer of Ecclesiastes says “vanity” and grasping for the wind. Many of those who support gay marriage want to come to the Bible to persuade Bible-believing Christians of the rightness of their decision to be gay. Yet by coming to the Bible to prove their position, and preaching a message the Bible does not support, they demonstrate they have no fear of God and are in fact in rebellion against God and His Word. The cultural battle is shifting and what is needed now more than ever is renewal centered not on the opinions of man, but on the Word of God and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. Many people are espousing that the cultural battle is over, but the truth is the battle is not over and Christians are to stand upon the Word and proclaim its truth all the more in faithfulness to God.

Faithfulness to God and His Word is what it is going to take in this day and age. Faithfulness is not a popular word. Many people think if I’m “faithful” my ministry and my life will go well and everything will be fantastic. They sing “All is well” and think all is truly well despite having struggles and issues in their lives they have no intention dealing with. All is not well in our lives and while every single one of us wants to sing that song with all of our hearts, we struggle to believe it. Life is messy and hard and Jesus never promised that Christianity would be a life of your best life now, but rather a life of taking up your Cross and following Him to the glory of God. Faithfulness is what is needed in this day and hour. More than anything in a country and a world that is changing, faithfulness to the Creator who created us in His image and likeness, faithfulness to your spouse and faithfulness to the Gospel are increasingly becoming countercultural and viewed as “odd”. As our world continues to decline, I plead with you beloved of God to be faithful to the Word of God, to the Gospel, and to your spouses that our world may see a picture of Christ and the glorious grace that has saved us, is sanctifying us and will one day glorify us.

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Engaging Worldviews

Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Evangelism and Culture, Gospel, The Gospel and the church, The Gospel and the Ministry

This is part one in a three part series looking at what it means to engage worldviews, Paul’s use and methods in Apologetics, and the use of Apologetics in preaching and teaching the Gospel. In this first post we will examine engaging worldviews.

In Acts 17:17-21 Paul engages the worldview of the Epicureans and Stoic philosophers. Jesus called His disciples to “go forth and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Mark 16:15). In the process of making disciples the Christian inevitably faces the task of dealing with worldviews. Understanding what a worldview is, and what distinguishes the Christian worldview from opposing worldviews, is vital.  At this point, defining which doctrines are essential to Christianity, and what doctrines are not essential to evangelical theology, would be important before we define what a worldview is.  By understanding the essentials of the Christian faith one will be able to distinguish what separates biblical Christianity from the rest of the world’s religions.

All of the following are necessary for salvation in the broad sense, which includes justification, sanctification and glorification.  Other essential issues to evangelical theology are 1) Scripture (2nd Timothy 3:16, 2nd Peter 1:21); 2) Virgin Birth, and Incarnation (Matthew 1:18-23; John 1:14); 3) Sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23); 4) Heaven, eternal life (John 6:47, 14:1-4); 5) Hell, eternal judgment (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:41-46); 6) The Trinity, 7) Creation (Genesis 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16); and, 8) 2nd Coming (Acts 1:9-11, Revelation 1:7).

A “worldview” is the framework of beliefs by which a person views the world around them; the grid or filter by which a person views the world they live in.  For the Christian this grid is the Bible.  Scripture is the filter through which believers view existence, truth, sin salvation, ethics and evil.  Therefore the Christian is to have a biblical worldview.

Every worldview is marked by the guiding premise of evaluation.  There must be an evaluation method by which a person measures his or her worldview.  The basis for this, for the Christian is the Word of God.  Scripture, not opinion, is the final authority for all matters of faith and practice.

Understanding a worldviews is important because the Christian lives in a world where everyone around them engages worldviews whether they realize it or not.  It is vital that Christians know what they believe so they can accurately, boldly, and precisely represent Christ as His ambassador in a pluralistic therapeutic culture. Finally, understanding worldviews is vital because it is necessary in order to be an effective witness for Christ in today’s world.

The reason for engaging worldviews comes from the mission of Jesus. Jesus came into the world on a mission to redeem man from sin. By coming in human form- the God-Man Jesus lived a sinless life, performed miracles, taught His disciples, and demonstrated how to engage people. When dealing with the religious leaders of Israel, Jesus often asked questions and went against the grain of theological thought of the day. Jesus was not novel with the Old Testament but He did interpret it through the perspective that He came to fulfill its meaning. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, and the Prophets all looked ahead to the hope they would have in a coming Savior. New Testament believers today look back to what Jesus has done in His Work on the Cross, burial, and resurrection.  The reason then for engaging worldviews is obvious- if Jesus engaged people where they were at and helped them to understand who He is and what He has done then believers have all the more reason today to engage people through a biblical worldview.

The mission of Jesus is to rescue sinners (Luke 19:10) from sin through His death, burial, and resurrection. Much discussion is occurring today on the role of being missional. Jesus called His disciples to mission. During His earthly ministry Christ called His disciples to a small missions trip to prepare them for future service (Luke 9), He called the seventy-two to ministry (Luke 10:1-16), and now He calls believers to a mission to make disciples. While the mission of Jesus is to redeem lost sinners, His mission is also to grow in intimacy with those who follow Him. Often in discussions on missional theology one focuses too much on doing the work of the Gospel rather than being the Gospel. Paul makes it clear that the Gospel is both inward and outward in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. The Gospel is a message that one first must believe personally and then confess outwardly. The Gospel is message one first has to apply to one’s own life and context before one can ever hope to confess it outwardly with any degree of effectiveness.  Preaching the Gospel to oneself is the greatest way to fight against sin and grow in sanctification. One first has to be a disciple before he/she can do the work of a disciple. Jesus taught that a disciple is not greater than his master. So a disciple must first learn from His master before they do the work of the Master.

Why does engaging worldviews matter?

The mission of Jesus is to go out and make disciples (Math. 28:18-20, Luke 24; Acts 1:8). As a result of going out one will engage worldviews which makes the why tied to the reason for engaging and the mission of Jesus. Engaging worldviews is ultimately a Great Commission concern. The Gospel is the timeless message one is to preach but the way one ministers that message may change depending on the context one is in or the background of the person being ministered to. Regardless of context or background the person must preach the Gospel in such a way as to make it clear to the person listening that Christ died, was buried and rose again. If that message is in anyway compromised then the person or preacher presenting the message of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection has failed.

The message of the King demands faithfulness to the means the King has given. King Jesus died on the Cross, was buried, and rose again. Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, indwells believers for the task of growth in Him and also work for Him. When either growth in Him or missions for Him are emphasized above the other- the Gospel is compromised. The Gospel’s call is personal in that it alone justifies the sinner, but then calls for transformation in every area of one’s life. The Gospel is corporate in that it calls people everywhere to repent and believe in who Christ is and what Christ has done in His death, burial and resurrection. When any aspect of the Gospel work is compromised whether personal or corporate the Gospel is diminished not because of Christ, but because of the one giving it or the Church proclaiming it.

Sadly much compromise regarding the Gospel derives from either not believing the Gospel or believing that there is some other message God has given. This applies both personally and corporately as individuals reject the Gospel and many Churches continue to move away from the Gospel. As Christians God has given His Church one message- the Gospel, which from Genesis to Revelation is the message of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. The message of the Gospel forms the basis for the content of Gospel proclamation but also is the means God uses to effect transformation in every area of life in Christ’s Church and individual believer’s lives.

The why of engaging worldviews is clear- the Gospel forms the basis for its proclamation which in turn provides the reason why the Christian must engage worldviews. The Christian must engage opposing worldviews for the sake of the Great Commission. One should engage worldviews with the Gospel because it alone contains the power of God. People do not need more opinions or options- what today’s culture needs to hear is Christians proclaiming the exclusive not inclusive message that Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection provides the only way to God with one voice in both word and deed.

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Why Christians Are Not the Point of Easter

Posted by on Apr 8, 2012 in Contemporary Culture, Evangelism and Culture, Gospel, The Gospel and the church, What We Write About

I’m studying for my Easter sermon. I have to be honest, sometimes I get intimidated by Easter sermons. It’s not that I don’t enjoy preaching about the pivot point of our faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s just that I know on Easter there are those people sitting and listening to my message that probably don’t want to be sitting and listening to my message. (My friends could joke and say this is the case every Sunday!).

Some preachers get really fired up by a crowd of nonchurch people. They are gifted evangelists who are always at ease sharing their faith with hostile hearers. In a Christian sort of way, I envy them. I get nervous. This is a big moment. This could be the only time that some people will hear the gospel. I don’t want to mess it up. This is where God reminds me that He can use my clumsy gospel efforts and form the words to penetrate the heart of sinners. He is sovereign and for that I’m glad.

This year, God has impressed upon me this central idea of the Resurrection: Christianity is not about Christians, but about Christ. Let me explain:

Perhaps the biggest reason that nonbelievers give for not putting their faith in Jesus Christ is the shoddy faith of his followers. I believe it was Ghandi (but don’t quote me) who said he’d follow Christ, were it not for Christians. This is a sad commentary on Christians and the state of the church. And it’s the cause for much lament in the evangelical community today, with competing perspectives battling to define the church’s mission.

There’s a place for this introspection. And it’s true that our lives as believers must adorn the gospel well (Titus 2:10; 1 Peter 3:33-4). It’s true that we, Jesus’ followers, are the only Jesus the lost will see.

And yet, the point of Christianity is not that it produces the best, most disciplined followers (though history might actually argue that point well). But let’s assume that, over all, Christians haven’t done the best job of representing Christ. It’s a big assumption, but let’s go there. This, still is not the point of Christianity.

The point of Christianity is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He’s alive. He defeated sin and death.

The truth is that there may very likely be more disciplined adherents in other religions. There may be more moral, more socially responsible, kinder, gentler souls. But, the point is not that Christianity makes the best people. It’s that Christianity points to Jesus is risen.

Because the point is not that God needs more highly disciplined religious people. Even the highest, most disciplined people fall far short of perfection. Even the most religious can’t be religious enough to erase the curse of their sin. The best of us, regardless of religion or system or code, falls way short. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that even he, the most spiritually astute, religiously devout man of his day, needed to be supernaturally regenerated by a power that could only come from above. This is why the rich, young ruler in Luke 18 went away sad. He had followed the law, point by point, and still Jesus poked holes in his righteousness. This is why Paul said he counted his strict adherence to the law as “dung” (Phillipians 3:8). His works were good, but as a covering for his sin, were as useful as dung. This is the message of the prophet, Isaiah, who proclaimed in Isaiah 64:6 that our best attempts to satisfy God with our goodness are like, “filthy rags.”

The point is that we need something supernatural. We need God Himself to provide a solution. And God did. Jesus came to this earth, in the flesh, absorbed the just wrath of God against our sin, finished the work of atonement, and rose again from death on the third day. Jesus defeated sin and death and His life gives life to dead souls.

The Resurrection is not just a nice capstone to a wonderful religious story. The Resurrection is the story. Jesus wasn’t merely a good example to show us how to be better people on the earth. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that our dead, spiritually unprofitable souls could experience the regeneration of new life.

So, to the Christian who constantly chafes at his inability to be a good example at work, at home, at play, who broods over the incomplete picture He is giving of Christ, take heart. Know that you’re not the story of Easter. Jesus is. You don’t have to be perfect on Holy Week, because Jesus was. Draw on his love for you and when you do, that love and life will naturally flow out in a way that will point others to the Resurrection they need.

And to those who read this who have rejected Jesus. I say with tears, don’t wait to acknowledge your sin, God’s coming judgement against it. Don’t wait to fall on your knees in faith at the foot of the cross. Don’t wait to accept the rescue of salvation Jesus offers freely. And most importantly, don’t confuse the inconsistencies of Christians like me with the perfection and life of Jesus Christ.

Because us sinful, sometimes nasty, flawed followers are not the story of Easter. Jesus is. He’s alive.

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Bin Laden, Justice and the Gospel

Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Contemporary Culture, Evangelism and Culture, Gospel

Last night President Obama announced that the United States Military- specifically the U.S. Navy Seals team six raided the house of Osma Bin Laden and killed him. Before I get into my remarks on this issue, I want to preface them by giving you a brief history of my family history. My grandfather was a Staff Sargent who served in World War two on General Eisenhower’s staff. My father is a retired Lt. Colonel. My uncle was a Chief Petty officer who served in Vietnam and other parts of the world. I have had many friends who have served in the military. I say all of this because I deeply respect the military and the sacrifice their families make everyday.

Last night after listening to President Obama’s speech tears started streaming down my face and I could not stop crying for over an hour in my office. After stopping crying for a bit, I walked downstairs from my office to talk with my wife. I made it to the end of the stairs and then I started crying again. My wife turned off the television and ran to me to ask me what was wrong. I did not answer immediately and she came and gave me a hug. After I was done crying I told her why I was crying. I told her I was crying because of the destruction Osma Bin Laden’s life caused.

After having a talk and sharing my thoughts with my wife about Bin Laden, I walked back upstairs to my office and watched more of the news on the television. I sat and watched on television as people celebrated the death of Bin Laden. The more I watched the celebration the more it grieved me. The reason this grieved me is here are people celebrating the death of a man who caused massive devastation in the lives of so many people around the world, and yet these same people celebrating the death of this man are sinners.

Please do not get me wrong here. I am not saddened by the death of Osma Bin Laden, but I am not happy about it. Here is a man by all accounts who is unrepentant and who has hardened his heart against the Lord God. Here is a man whose death was carried out justly by the government of the United States. I am also not saying that I was not the least bit happy that Bin Laden is dead.

I am deeply grieved at the death of Bin Laden because of the destruction his life caused. As Christians we believe in a God of justice. At the Cross Jesus death dealt a death blow to the forces of Satan. Yet at the Cross not only the justice of God but the love of God meet. The holiness and wrath of God were satiated in the death of the Lamb of God. As I look to the Cross of Christ even in the wake of Osma Bin Laden, I become convinced afresh that inside every single one of us as human beings is the capacity to do the same things that Osma Bin Laden did.
You may think that the last sentence I just said is not fair. How could one possibly do the evil Bin Laden did in one’s life? Inside every human being is the capacity for murder, death and destruction. On twitter, I noted that many people some even Christians were happy that Bin Laden died. I am grieved that one man caused so much destruction in his lifetime. I am also reminded that my sin can cause just as much destruction as Bin Laden in the lives of those around me.

Are you truly convinced that your sin is repulsive in the sight of God? Does the death of Osma Bin Laden bring you happiness and relief? I must be honest that I have mixed feelings about the death of Bin Laden. I am at once relieved that this man is dead and saddened by the reaction of many people. I am relieved that he is dead but I am not convinced that his terror will end in his death. This man has sowed seeds of hate the world over and many have been persuaded by his thinking. While I am not persuaded that the terror of Al-Qaedia is over I do believe that his death marks a major victory in the fight against terrorism. At the same time, I am saddened that this man is now in hell suffering unending unrelenting conscious punishment for his sin.

Now you may be surprised that I am sad that this man is now suffering unrelenting unending conscious punishment. Any person who willfully rejects the Savior will experience unending unrelenting conscious punishment. I am not going to defend that statement because I have done so more thoroughly in other articles dedicated to that subject. Yet because I believe in the unending unrelenting conscious punishment of people in hell does not mean I am happy that people experience such punishment. If I were happy that Osma Bin Laden was suffering unrelenting, unending conscious punishment in hell, I would be no better than the murder on death row awaiting his death.

Now you may be really shocked that I said that last sentence about being no better than the murder on death row. I did not write that last sentence to shock you but to get you to help you understand my point. My point is that anyone who takes joy at the death of a person who isn’t saved is no better than a criminal on death row for murdering someone. Celebrating the death of Osma Bin Laden is morally wrong, because celebrating the death of a man who has murdered and injured so many ought to sober us to the reality of our own sin. Rather than celebrating the death of a man we ought to seriously examine ourselves in light of the Gospel and repent for the wickedness and sin that lurks in our own hearts.

Sin is an issue of the heart. It was to rescue man from sin that Jesus was born in a manager, lived a sinless life, died victoriously and triumphed over sin and death in the resurrection. While Jesus has triumphed over sin and death in His death and resurrection- the Bible also teaches that He will come back to deal a death blow to His enemies by merely speaking His Word which is a sword mowing down His enemies from Megiddo to Edom. In other words all of the enemies of God will be utterly and thoroughly destroyed at the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ. In the meantime- Jesus told His disciples to pray for their enemies in Matthew 5:44-48.

The first thing Jesus does in Matthew 5:43-45 is correct people in verse 43. In verse 44 Jesus teaches that those who follow Him are to be defined by “loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Those are strong but necessary words from Our Lord and Master who sees into our hearts and knows us from afar. Our Risen Lord Jesus because He knows us through and through knows what we will do if we do not obey His Word and follow in His footsteps.

Praying for our enemies is very important! It is important because the only thing separating us as Christians from being non-Christians is the work of Christ. Only Christ saves. Only Christ offers mercy. Only Christ through His shed blood, burial and resurrection offer life to those who come to Him. Only Christ can do this- no man can manipulate God into accepting them into heaven. Only Christ through His work in the Cross & resurrection intercedes for His own can mediate the covenant He died to establish. Only Christ can do His work of drawing, convicting and wooing people by His grace, for His glory.

As believers in Christ Scripture calls us to be His ambassadors- salt and light in the world empowered by His Holy Spirit to bring His message of reconciliation to the world. Christians ought not to rejoice at the death of Osma Bin Laden because we are just as bad as Bin Laden. We ought to know better than to rejoice over the death of this man, because we have been transferred from death to life in Christ. We ought to know that we do not deserve the grace of God. I say this because we often become apathetic as Christians to the fact that we are called to be agent of grace in the world. We forget that Christ expects us to represent Him. Christ expects us to represent Him in a way that brings glory to His name. Christ expects Christians to reflect His holiness to others as we grow in His grace and minister in His power.

My brothers and sisters in Christ- I implore you, no, I plead with you to please pray for the families of those affected by the destruction Bin Laden and his cohorts have caused. I urge you to pray because Christ has commanded you to love your enemies. This does not mean that I don’t expect you to be mad or even upset at the actions of Bin Laden’s followers’ cause around the world. If I expected such a thing, I would truly be a fool. We should pray for our enemies because we know that we were once the enemy of God. We were once the object of the wrath of God that now burns on Bin Laden and the enemies of God. Because we know this truth it ought to lead us to be sober and vigilant to the reality of indwelling sin in our own lives. This ought to cause us to fight against sin in our own lives and put sin to death in our lives.

My dear brothers and sisters as I conclude today, I want you to understand the following. The Gospel is either going to be displayed through the bride of Christ through this situation or it is going to be diminished. The world will watch us and how we handle this situation. Now is a great time to stand up and make a declaration to one another to pray for the salvation of those who are not saved. Now is a great time to repent of our own sins and reconcile broken relationships. Now is a great time to witness to our unsaved family members, friends and neighbors.

As I have reflected the past few hours on this issue in preparing to write this, I must be honest I am sobered and humbled. I am sobered by the offensiveness of my own sin and how it displeases my Father in heaven. I am humbled afresh by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I am thankful that Jesus died in my place for my sins taking upon Himself my sin in His bloody death, and giving me new life through His resurrection.

Christians we are not any better than Osma Bin Laden and his followers. The only thing that separates us from Bin Laden is the work of Jesus Christ. Until we grapple with the Gospel- specifically the justice of God, the goodness, kindness, mercy and grace that God pours out through the Gospel we will not pray for our enemies.

Praying for your enemies is not an option- it is a command. At one time you were an enemy of God. You were estranged by God. Yet, God through the ministry of the Word and Spirit drew you to Christ. Even though you made a decision to accept Christ- it was Christ who brought you from death to life through His Work on the Cross. It was Christ through His resurrection who gives you new life. It is not about you- it is all about Jesus Christ. It is all about displaying His glory in the world through the message and means of the Gospel.

Finally, I pray that every single Christian would grab hold of the Gospel. I pray that we as God’s people would not just speak the Gospel but that we would be transformed by the Gospel. May the message of the Gospel seep into our bones, & out of our bones shine through all our words and into the lives of hurting and broken people.

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Rep.Gifford, National Tradegy and the Gospel

Posted by on Jan 11, 2011 in Contemporary Culture, Evangelism and Culture, Gospel

On Saturday, January 8th, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona an event called “Congress on your corner” occurred at a local Safeway. The goal of the event was to give the people a place to voice their opinions and also meet the Rep. Gifford. This event turned tragic as a Jared Lee Loughne shot Rep. Gifford in the head at a range of ten feet.

Over the past few days, I’ve had some time to watch the news, read some blogs, and reflect on the events that occurred on Saturday. The most obvious thing that sticks out about this event is the sheer horror of it. The man from his own statements defines himself as a “terrorist” and wants to inflict pain and suffering on people. This man did this act of severely injuring a Representative of the people of Arizona and of the United States House of Representatives with premeditation and precision. Not only did he severely injure Rep. Gifford but he also killed a nine year old girl, a federal judge, four others, and injured more. To say that this event is a national tragedy would be the understatement of the year.

In an effort to process this tragedy, I would like to highlight some but not all of the lessons that this event has to teach us.  The first is the frailty of human life, and the second is the depravity of our hearts. None of us know when our time is going to be up here on earth. The Bible speaks to this when it says that the Lord knows the very hairs on our heads (Matthew 11:30; Luke 12:7).

We know human life is frail because many of you have family members, or know close friends or associates who have died, had cancer, have a serious health condition or a disease.  Everywhere we go we are confronted with the reality that human life is frail. The hospital is but one place where we are confronted with the frail nature of human life. People go to the hospital because they are sick, have a disease and need help. The funeral home is another place we are confronted with the frailty of human life.

This event in Tucson, Arizona ought to remind everyone of the frailty of their human lives. It ought to remind each of us about the precious gift of time. It ought to remind us of the gift that is the ability to breathe. This event ought to remind us of the gift of family, friends, a job, education and whatever else occupies our time. Every good and perfect gift comes from above and is a means God desires to use in our lives to draw our attention to the reality of our sin and our need for Jesus Christ.

For believers who hold the name of the Lord Jesus Christ precious- we ought to be reminded that every single one of us is capable of the evil that this young man did. We may not ever shoot a person with calculated premeditation like this young man did, but each one of us has sin in our hearts. We live in a world dominated by sin, and we ourselves are also sinners. The believer in Christ is engaged in a life-long journey of progressively conforming into the image of Jesus Christ.

Luke 6:45, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

The media today is saying that Jared’s mental illness is one of the reasons he did what he did on Saturday, but that only addresses a symptom and does not get to the root cause. Jared’s root problem is his sin. The real problem is that Jared is a sinner and he acted on his sin in the most depraved way by murdering six, injuring Rep. Gifford and many others. Jesus said it in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

National tragedies have a way of uniting a county. Even as I write this article on Monday morning, President Obama has called for a time of silence, reflection and prayer. As the people of God we ought to pray and reach out to the victims of this shooting. As Americans during national tragedies’ we are often drawn together for a purpose greater than ourselves. Consider how Americans responded after Pearl Harbor was attacked or even more recently when the airplanes slammed into the Twin Towers on September 11th, 2001. These events are meant to open our eyes to the frailty of human life and also the depravity of the human heart.

Every single day people are confronted with major and minor events in their own lives or the lives of people they know, and such situations are meant to open our eyes to the reality of our own human frailty. Events like those that happened in Tucson, Arizona or even major or minor events in our own lives grant us a time for repentance. On Sunday night (January 9th, 2011), as I lay in bed, I was deeply burdened by the events that occurred on Saturday (January 8th, 20011) in Arizona. President Obama calling for a time of prayer for the victims was a good move on his part, and yet as a nation we need to repent for our own moral failings in addition to praying for our own nation and her leaders.

It would be a big giant mistake on my part to simply stop at calling for believers to pray for the victims of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona. The fact is that whether it is in six months, six years or sixty years- it is highly likely that most of us will altogether forget the events that occurred on Saturday January 8th, 2011. This is why during times such as these in the history of America- not only the events of our daily lives but also the events that shape our nation- we as believers ought to stop, examine ourselves in light of Scripture, repent and return to the Lord.

As a nation, American spends trillions of dollars a year on pornography. The divorce rate continues to climb and more and more men and even women are falling for the lie of pornography. America is a pseudo-conservative country. We say we believe in conservative values as a nation and yet our marriages, our economy and the future of our great nation lay in shambles.  How many of us who profess the name of Christ really pray for our nation? How many of us who profess the name of Christ are really living what we say we believe as Christians? How many of us who profess the name of Christ are deeply burdened and saddened by the events in Tucson? How many of us who profess the name of Christ truly grieve over our own sin and understand that our sin is repulsive and disgusting in the sight of a holy God?

The actions of Jared on Saturday January 8th, 2011 are deplorable in every sense of the word. It would be all too easy to go ahead and condemn this young man to the death penalty, but before this is done- one also needs to remember that not only are we sinners, but we are all criminals. Every single one of us has sinned, and while it’s likely that your sin was not as deplorable as this young man- all sin is repulsive in the sight of a holy God.

The events of Saturday ought to cause every single born again believer to do some serious self-examination and repentance. It ought to cause us to see just how repulsive our sin is. After all a young man murdered a federal judge, a nine year old girl, four others, and injured many more. This event reminds me afresh of my own need for the grace of God. This event not only reminds me of my own need for serious self-examination of my walk with God, but also celebration of the fact that Jesus Christ died for sinners and that He now offers pardon for sin through His death, burial and resurrection.

I don’t want you to be introspective about your sin; I want you to be realistic about the fact that you are a sinner. I want you to see your sin for what it is and behold the majesty of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was born in a manager, lived a sinless life, died a brutal bloody death on the Cross, was buried and rose again. Today many people have a hard time coming to grips with a Savior who could forgive a man who committed a crime. Let us remember that Jesus Christ committed no crime and yet He died in our place for our sins on the Cross. Furthermore, this is the same Christ who forgave a criminal on the Cross, and said he would be with Him in heaven.

Throughout this article we have seen that Jared’s sin and our own sin are root causes of our problem with God. Now we are going to turn to look at what true repentance and confession of sin is and conclude this article by applying the Gospel to the situation in Tucson, Arizona.

Thomas Watson said, “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.” John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees who were arriving with bath towels at his baptism, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8)

Thomas Watson said there are six ingredients for true repentance. The first is sight of sin, whereby a person comes to himself (Luke 15:17) and clearly views his lifestyle as sinful. If we fail to see our own sin we are rarely ever motivated to repent. The second ingredient for true repentance is sorrow for sin (Psalm 38:18). We need to feel the nails of the cross in our soul as we sin. Repentance includes godly grief; holy agony (2 Corinthians 7:10). The fruit of repentance is shown in genuine, anguishing sorrow over the offense itself and not just the consequences of it. Sorrow for sin is seen in the ongoing actions it produces. True repentance lingers in the soul and not just on the lips.

The third ingredient is confession of sin. The humble sinner voluntarily passes judgment on himself as he sincerely admits to the specific sins of his heart. We must not relent of our confession until all of it is freely and fully admitted. We must pluck up any hidden root of sin within us. “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deuteronomy 28:19). At least seven benefits of confession are found in Scripture:

1)      Confession of sin gives God glory.

2)      Confession of sin is a means to humble the soul.

3)      Confession of sin gives release to a trouble heart.

4)      Confession of sin purges our sin. Augustine called it “the expeller of vice.”

5)      Confession of sin endears Christ to the soul that needs atoning.

6)      Confession of sin makes way for forgiveness.

7)      Confession of sin makes way for mercy.

The fourth ingredient for true repentance is shame for sin. The color of repentance is blushing red. Repentance causes a holy bashfulness. Ezra 9:6, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens”. The repenting prodigal was so ashamed of his sin that he did not feel he deserved to be a son anymore (Luke 15:21). Sin makes us shamefully naked and deformed in God’s eyes and puts Christ to shame, the One who took the scorn of the Cross on himself.

The fifth ingredient in repentance is hatred of sin. We must hate our sin to the core. We hate sin more deeply when we love Jesus more fully. Repentance begins in the love of God and ends in the hatred of sin. True repentance loathes sin. Finally the sixth progressive ingredient of repentance is turning from sin and returning to the Lord with all your heart (Joel 2:12). This turning from sin implies a notable change, “performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20). “Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6). We are called to turn away from all our abominations- not just the obvious ones or the ones that create friction in others. The goal of repentance is not to manufacture peace among others with perfunctory repentance, but rather to turn to God wholly.

This repentance most importantly is not just a turning away from sin but also a turning in “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Here is the joy in repentance. “It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4). We rejoice that Christ has done so much for us and continues to do for us.

A community, a city, a state and a nation mourn the deaths of those who died and were injured on Saturday January 8th, 2011. The only solution to the problem of sin that pervades each one of us is the Gospel. The Gospel addresses our greatest need and is the only means that God has provided for hope and healing. The people in Tucson are going to need the prayers of the people of God. They are going to need the Gospel.

The Gospel is good news for people like you, and I, as well as the people in Tucson, Arizona, and around the world. The Gospel alone addresses the deepest need we have for our sin to be exposed and for our sin to be forgiven. May the people of God in the midst of this situation- all around the world stand up and proclaim in word and deed the precious Gospel that saves sinners and restores joy to broken people.

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The State of Discipleship in the Evangelical world

Posted by on Nov 30, 2010 in Contemporary Culture, Evangelism and Culture, Gospel, The Gospel and the Christian Life, The Gospel and the Ministry, What We Write About

Discipleship is under attack by those who dismiss doctrine as unimportant, and by those who believe that it ends with a certain level of progress in the Christian life. Is discipleship unimportant today? Does one ever outgrow the need for discipleship? These questions are relevant because people believe that discipleship seemingly ends when one reaches a certain level of maturity in Christ. If discipleship ends when one progresses to a certain level of maturity then there is no more need to learn because one has become God. It is precisely this attitude that saps the Church of Jesus Christ from any form of credibility outside the Church today. The other concern related to discipleship is the expressed desire of some to have a conversation about how to redesign the Church at the expense of doctrine.

How one defines knowledge demonstrates their view of what discipleship is. The popular approach to knowledge among evangelicals suggests that one never has anything to learn “after” believers “arrive” at a certain place in he/she walk with Christ. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord and fools despise wisdom and correction.” No one ever achieves perfect knowledge as every believer even the most “mature” believer only knows in part not in whole. Ultimately only God knows everything, because He knows every hair on every head of every person in the world. Knowledge has its origins in one’s view of God. If discipleship is to be correctly understood how one thinks and understands God is of primary importance since the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”.

How should one “Fear the Lord?” Is the fear of the Lord the fear of man? Many people have fears of all kinds but this is not the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord, Solomon says, is the beginning of all knowledge. Knowledge relates to one’s understanding of the world and oneself as a creature of a magnificent and loving God. “Wisdom”, is the acquired skill of applying knowledge rightly or the skill of godly living. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of both wisdom and knowledge because both have at their root humility. In order to live a moral reverent life the believer has to understand who they are before their Maker and Redeemer.

The Greek’s pursuit of knowledge has at its basis the quest for perfection. It was this pursuit of knowledge which formed the basis for much of Western civilization. The Bible is clear that there is only one who lived a perfect life, and that is Jesus Christ the God-Man. Unlike the pursuit of knowledge through philosophy or any other academic discipline, biblical wisdom and knowledge asserts that submission to the Lord is foundational to the attainment of real understanding (Ps. 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). The covenant name of the Lord is used rather than the generic “God”, which makes the point of this verse (Proverbs 1:7), which is simply that truth is found only through Israel’s God. Solomon contrasts between the two ways of knowledge and folly, which dominates the whole book of Proverbs as the way of wisdom, righteousness, and the fear of the Lord is set against the way of folly, evil and scoffing.

Jesus “call to discipleship” is the call to abandon all, take up the Cross and follow Him. Jesus in [Luke 9:23-27] says, “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

“Come after Me” means to become a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:27) and requires that one first deny himself (not just denying certain things they may prefer but denying sovereign control of one’s life). Take up his cross (Luke 14:27), means making a commitment that will lead to rejection and even death. And “follow me” (refers to following the example and teachings of Jesus). In Jesus’ day “follow me” also meant joining the company of his disciples who traveled in ministry with Jesus around Palestine. Gaining even the whole world is infinitely less valuable than one’s eternal destiny in relation to God (Mark 8:36). Being ashamed of Jesus means to deny any link with him (Luke 22:54-61) and is the opposite of acknowledging him as one’s Lord and teacher (Luke 12:8-9). The person and message of Jesus (me and my words) are indivisible: “When He comes in glory” refers to the second coming. Luke emphasizes the glory of Jesus (Luke 21:27; 24:27). Some standing here refers to Peter, John, and James, who will witness the transfiguration (Matthew 16:28).

Jesus the Lord of all Creation, the Master who paid for sin through His bloody death and resurrection, calls every born again believer to discipleship. Discipleship is not just a pursuit of knowledge, or the achievement of titles, degrees, or the accumulation of more money. Discipleship according to Jesus is following after His Word which sets forth His example. Jesus went to a Cross to die a bloody death and even before Jesus carried the Cross- He was beaten, scourged and whipped. As He walked with the Cross, Jesus fell down, and they beat Him again. Jesus went through the horrendous ordeal of cruxification and rose again triumphantly to not only give us an “eternal life prize”, but to also call believers to a life of discipleship where His followers rest, learn, exalt, glory, and worship Him.

Believers often look to the Cross as the place where salvation begins, but they should look at it as foundational to discipleship. The Cross, while a one-time event where Jesus died a bloody death and now offers forgiveness of sin and is more than just an object for the basis of discipleship in Jesus. The forgiveness of sins is offered by Christ through His death on the Cross, and the resurrection empowers believers to live new lives. As a result of what Christ has done; believers can not only look to the Cross for victory over sin, but live Cross-Centered lives that glorify Jesus.

A disciple knows who the Master is, and the Master calls His disciples to go forth and make disciples. Matthew 28:18-19 says, “18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus the Lord, who alone can draw people to Himself (John 6:44), calls His followers to be His disciples. Jesus calls His disciples to go forth and make disciples for His glory; baptizing them, and teaching them to observe His teachings. The all authority here refers to the fact that Jesus, in his risen state, exercises absolute authority throughout heaven and earth, which shows his deity. His authority has been given by the Father, which indicates that he remains subject to the Father (1 Cor 15:28). The imperative make disciples, that is, call individuals to commit to Jesus as Master and Lord explains the central focus of the Great Commission, while the Greek participles (go, baptizing, and teachingv.20) describe aspects of the process. Jesus’ ministry in Israel was to be the beginning point of what would later be a proclamation of the Gospel to all the peoples of the earth, including Jews and Gentiles alike. Teaching is the means by which disciples of Jesus are continually transformed in order to become more like Christ (Matthew 10:24-25; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). “I am with you always” is where Jesus concludes the commission, and Matthew’s gospel ends with the crucial element of discipleship: The presence of the master, who is “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

Discipleship is not a program, but the very mission Jesus gave the Church to fulfill. Discipleship is not just an object to be achieved because that focuses on the numbers of people while biblical discipleship focuses on becoming like Jesus. Jesus in His ministry cared about where people were going, and spent time with people who were hurting, ill, sick, afflicted, and demonized. Jesus shows people in His life how not only to care for people, but how to love people the way they were created to experience love. Biblical discipleship is thoroughly grounded in the person and work of Jesus.
The story of the Bible revolves around the person and work of Jesus Christ. A believers’ salvation does not rest in what is done for Jesus’ name, but in Jesus. Jesus died for sin, and rose again. Since this truth is fundamental it ought not be overlooked, but be central to the thought of every disciple of Jesus. If the story of the Bible is the story of Jesus, and Jesus calls us to be His disciples; then the more one knows of the Bible should lead to knowing Jesus better. Jesus- as the central point of the Bible- calls us to a life of discipleship whereby believers are to focuses their lives on His teachings, example, and mission. With so much talk about “reformation” and change in the Church, it’s about high time that the Church refocus the attention upon Jesus.

Jesus is not just some Savior (or some Lord), but the Lord who gave us this great hope through His death and resurrection. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers are dead in their sins. Jesus, who is great in mercy and faithful to His children, died for sin to bring the ungodly to Him. It is through Jesus that believers are justified. Discipleship should be grounded in the finished work of Jesus because it is there that discipleship is grounded. Discipleship is not grounded in some program, or teaching, but in the finished work of the Savior who died for sin, and rose again. Jesus calls His children to be His disciples which means that believers must take up their Cross, follow Him, learn from Him, exalt Him, and glorify Him by living Cross centered lives that bear the marks of what a true disciple of Jesus is.

The state of discipleship is only going to change within evangelicalism when the Church returns to the Bible as the final authority for faith and practice instead of worshipping the latest teacher, fad, idea, or theology. Salvation is not grounded in what man can accomplish but in what Christ accomplished. Discipleship is thoroughly biblical, and it is Jesus who calls His disciples to pick up their Crosses, and follow Him. Follow Jesus, and make disciples for His glory, and majesty.

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