Join us this coming Saturday for an important seminar on The Ministry of Adoption with Covenant Care Services. As Christians, we are more than just against abortion, we are for life, pro-life. Pro-life is being pro-adoption, pro-foster care, pro-interim care, and thus pro-Christ. Jesus defined his mission as coming so that we might have life and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10). Therefore, those of us who have tasted this life in Christ don’t just want to bring an end to abortions, but we also want to share life with the children that are saved.
So come and hear how we might participate in this life mission of Christ. The seminar is open to all, but seating is limited. Lunch will be provided so please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 678-763-7302. Hope to see you there!
As the new year begins I have two books I have read and would recommend to you. One is a biographical sketch of two boys named Wes who came from similar backgrounds but traveled down different paths. The other is an expositional look at the parables Jesus taught and how they teach us about Jesus.
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. If you are a child of the 80′s like me, then you probably heard of the mean streets of Baltimore MD during those days. Even in Michigan with the notorious reputations of cities like Flint and Detroit, we would hear of the violent streets of Baltimore and cringe. Growing up there must have been akin to navigating a mine field. At least st was for Wes Moore – both of them. This book is the story of two boys whose names happen to be the same, Wes Moore. Both were raised by their mothers (one lost his dad to illness, and the other to the streets). Both longed for acceptance, masculine role models, and friends. One found it in the rigors of military training. The other found it in the drug-infested streets. The book is written by the Wes Moore who escaped the mine fields, made it through the halls of higher learning to become a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, and White House Fellow. The other Wes Moore stepped on one too many of those mines and is currently serving a life sentence without parole. As the former Wes Moore writes: “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.” The Other Wes Moore reminds us that all is not lost simply because lost-ness seems to grip your context. However, it also reminds that “second chances may be last chances” if we don’t take full advantage of them.
Glory Veiled and Unveiled: A Heart-Searching Look at Christ’s Parables by Gerald Bilkes. Any attempt to understand Christ and his mission must include a careful contemplation of the parables he taught. In fact, the bulk of Jesus’ teachings is found in the parabolic illustrations he gave in order that his listeners might better understand God and His Kingdom. Gerald Bilkes has written a book that reminds us that the parables are not just stories to be read, but reveal a kingdom to be experienced. In fact, his approach is unique in this way. He doesn’t deal with every parable Jesus taught, but takes the more popular ones and examines them seeking to understand them experientially, that is, not simply wanting to know what the parables teach, but what they reveal about Christ, us, and his kingdom. To this end, each parable examined is broken down into four categories:
1. The Scenery: How does Christ use the context, setting, background, and culture reflected in the parable to reach within human hearts.
2. The Substance: What is the main message that Christ gives in the parable about His kingdom or aspects of it?
3. The Savior: What does the parable unveil about the glorious Savior, His person and His work, to those who believe?
4. The Searchlight: In what ways does the parable search our hearts and lives and expose what is in them, as well as guide us into the knowledge of Christ as the gracious and glorious king of the kingdom?
This book is an informative and engaging read. I plan to eventually use it in my discipleship group. I would recommend you try it too.
The last book I read in 2012 was The Edge of Redemption: A Story of Hope for Rescuing the Unreachable by Troy A. Evans. The book is an autobiographical look at the life of Pastor Troy Evans, a one time gang-banger on the streets of Grand Rapids MI, now pastor of a “hip-hop” church located on those same streets. The book is well-written and the story mostly interesting. Troy’s journey is a remarkable one. His story is truly one of redemption and the power of God to change a life. Evans seems to lament much of his exploits as a gang leader, and yet points most of the blame at his environment and the local church’s inability to reach him. Though I believe Troy’s story is worth telling, I had hoped for a better articulation of the gospel – personal responsibility for sin and the sovereign underserved love of God in salvation.
The first book I am reading in 2013 is Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. As I begin this year, I want to press upon my self and others the need to remind us of the power of the gospel. Our daily need for the gospel of Jesus Christ to change our look and outlook is unquestionable, and yet we too often fail to avail ourselves to the simple discipline of speaking to ourselves the life-giving and life-sustaining truths found in Christ. I have heard Thorn’s book is a good place to start. I’ll let you know.
Zephaniah. Lastly and firstly (if I might put it in those terms) I begin the year reading God’s word. Like most of the Minor Prophets, Zephaniah calls God’s people to repentance with the assured hope of reconciliation and restoration in God. The Minor Prophets are good for reminding us that the judgment of God is not anything to toy with. It begins: “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. “I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD (1:2-3). And yet, Zephaniah also reminds us that God’s word of judgment is not his last word. When God’s people repent and turn to him in faith, they find his word of grace, redemption, and the gospel is always God’s preferred and greater work. “The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm….The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take gret delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (3:15-17).
God’s last word in 2012 was the gospel of Jesus Christ. His first word in 2013 is the gospel of Jesus Christ. New year. Same Lord and Savior. Praise God!
One week ago, the news of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT began making its way around the country and world. With shock we listened and watched the reports of the slaying of the innocent. And once again we were reminded that evil does exist in our world. Inevitably at times like this the question is raised, “If God is good, why does he allows evil to exist?” To see and hear of the horrendous and senseless murder of children and teachers, reminds us that the existence of evil is practically undeniable. However, before we answer the question of why, we need to address the question of what – “What is evil?”
When most of us think of evil we think in terms of its manifestation among humanity – terrorists, school shooters, gangsters, drug lords, malevolent dictators, rapists, etc. And though evil exists apart from humanity, we mostly speak of it in terms of its being part of our human experience. Consequently, for the Christian, evil is any manifestation of the sinful rebellion in humanity against humanity and God. In other words, evil is sin.
With this definition, evil is not just the murderous rampage of terrorists or school shooters, it also the sinful thoughts, actions, and intentions in all of us (Gen. 6:5). The malevolent dictator and the school shooter may be more reprehensible in our sight, yet I must admit that I have sinned, am a sinner, and have thought and did evil as well. In one sense, evil exists because I do. If this is the case, then for God to rid the world of evil, he would have to rid the world of me. To be just, he could not simply stop at the school shooters. And yet, ridding the world of evil is what God is doing. It is what we are reminded of at Christmas.
Christmas is the time we remember the birth of Christ in the world. Christ came as light, piercing the darkness of sin and evil (Isa. 9:2; Jn. 1:4-5). He came to bring an end to the works of evil (1Jn. 3:8) and to remind us that God has not left us to our own evil devises. Instead, Christ has entered into our human experiences of evil and sin, becoming the recipient of it and being slain and murdered, even crucified on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Yet, with Christ evil did not have the last word, because according to the Scriptures Christ was raised from the dead on the third day (1Cor. 15:4). He triumphed over evil (Col. 1:15) and promised we can and will also if we trust and believe in Him.
At times like these, we must remember that in Christ, God is meticulously making an end to sin and evil. In fact, he uses tragedies and manifestations of evil to remind us our only hope and comfort is that one day all evil, sin, and even death will end (Rev. 20:14; 21:4). We must remember, the demise of evil began at the first Christmas. Every subsequent Christmas should remind us that God’s work continues as we anticipate the coming of Christ again.
Obviously these few words are not going to fully answer the “why” question. However, I can confidently say that one of the reasons evil exists is so God can be eternally glorified in the redemption of evil doers from their sin through Jesus Christ, his Son. Christ did not come into the world only because there are child molesters and shooters. He came also because there are husbands who don’t love their wives and wives who won’t submit to their husbands. He came because there are disobedient children, prideful pastors, arrogant athletes, lying lawyers, gossiping girls, and belligerent boys. He came because I, like the terrorist and the shooter, am a sinner in need of a Savior.
So when I am tempted to look at the world and despair of the evil in it, and ask the question why God allows it, I must be careful to look also at my own heart and know that it is his allowance of evil that has brought me so great a salvation. And to know that the Christ, who came to save the world from evil, triumphed over evil at the cross and is coming again to bring that work to full completion. Until then, evil exists and so does God. God had the final word at the resurrection of Christ. He will have the final word again someday.
Reflecting upon the lovingkindness and faithfulness of God this morning in watching over and caring for His children.
Many of the Psalms remind us of the intimacy of God’s providential care for his people. And for many of us, nothing is more precious than the comfort of security that comes from knowing our lives are in the hands of a gracious, loving, and all-knowing God. Like a good shepherd, God delights in the care of his sheep. Even in a world where safety and security is an everyday challenge, the child of God can pray: ”Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Ps. 17:8). Indeed, many consider the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” to be a favorite. Martin Luther wrote it as he reflected upon Psalm 46, which begins: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Indeed, the Psalms abound with references to our security and consolation in God as our refuge and strength (Ps. 4:8; 18:2; 61:3). Yet, perhaps the most memorable and exhaustive is Psalm 91. It is a Psalm without title, but no title is needed. It is filled the assurance of God’s care, even in dire distress. Charles Spurgeon called it, “a heavenly medicine against plague and pest.”
Today is a good day to remember, that those who dwell in God, and God in them, are eternally secure because no harm can come to the soul that dwells in the shelter of the Most High and abides in the shadow of the Almighty.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Christians don’t believe in reincarnation. Such notions belong primarily to Eastern religions and those new age philosophies seeking to explain death and the after life apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians, however, have the firm hope of following Christ into eternal life after death – not the recycling of this present life.
Nevertheless, even though we don’t believe in reincarnation, I am convinced that I spoke with Barnabas and Phoebe last night. No, not the reincarnation of these early Christians, but the embodiment of their spirit of encouragement and service in two people at our church.
Last evening Barnabas came into my office and sat down. In the Bible, Barnabas (whose name means Son of Encouragement) served as an encouragement to the Apostle Paul and the early church. In Acts 9:27 he stood with Paul and was able to ease the anxiety of those early Christians who were skeptical of Paul’s conversion. He was Paul’s advocate. And yet, in Acts 15:37 Barnabas challenged Paul’s reluctance to keep young Mark in the ministry with him after Mark had disappointed Paul. These two accounts demonstrate to us what biblical encouragement is. It serves both as a challenge and a comfort.
As Barnabas sat down with me last evening, he offered both comfort and challenge. He challenged me to consider the nature of my calling as pastor and how easily my heart can be turned aside to personal agendas. He reminded me of the stewardship God has given us as leaders of the church and how we must guard against our own private kingdoms. It was a gracious challenge, and yet it was clear. It was a gift from God that humbled me and reminded me of my need to live a life of repentance. It was a comfort to know that God has Barnabas’ in my life who will on one hand stand arm and arm with me, and on the other hand say the tough things that need to be said.
After Barnabas walk out, and my heart humbled by the reminder of God’s continued grace in my life, to my amazement Phoebe walked in.
Phoebe was a prominent woman in the early church. In fact, in the Bible she is referred to as “a servant of the church at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1). She was a servant (diaconos), one who had made the church her home and her home the church.
In speaking with Phoebe last night, I was moved by her love for God and all things the church of Jesus Christ. She spoke of the example her now deceased parents had shown her in what it meant to serve God and his people. She reflected on the unexpected joy of washing the saints’ feet. She told me how she loved to serve, and yet she is growing tired and weary. She needs a rest.
I was reminded that at time it is necessary for some of us to do as many of David’s men did by the Brook of Besor – they rested (1Sam. 30:9). Her desire for rest is really a testament to God’s goodness to us. It should remind us that our God loves to replenish his servants and his church.
Phoebe is a faithful sister. Her service is not in vain. And yet, I am reminded that we need to appreciate and comfort those among us who have served long and faithfully. We need to remind them that their reward is imperishable and kept for them (1Pet. 1:4) by the one who loves them with an unchanging, everlasting love.
Last night, God reminded me why I am a pastor, and how much I need him if I am going to continue faithfully in this calling. He places Barnabas in my life to comfort and challenge me. He gives me Phoebe so I would remain steadfast and diligent. Ultimately, both are there to point me anew to Christ – not the reincarnated, but the resurrected Lord.