Yesterday evening I had the awesome privilege of speaking at a fundraising banquet for Covenant Care Services. We are excited about our growing relationship with CCS, both as a church and a family. Being on the front lines for life is crucial at this time. With the ever-present danger of terrorist threats, both domestic and foreign, we are still reminded that the greatest terrorists are the government sanctioned abortion clinics in our communities. Everyday they sacrifice lives on the altars of convenience, ignorance, and unrighteousness. And yet, the greatest weapon the church and individual Christians have is the weapon of love – love for the unborn and the pregnant mothers cornered and confused by the lies and propaganda of the abortion industry.
The theme of the banquet was “That’s Amore!” As the banquet unfolded and we heard the testimonies of those who chose to give life, I was reminded of the difference that each of us can make if we would do the loving thing and embrace the call to give of our time, treasure, and talent to organizations like Covenant Care. Lives are not only being saved, but they are being changed by the grace and love of God showed to the least of these. We must be a people and a church that desires to celebrate life, both in the already and the not yet (Jn. 10:10).
As I was preparing for my time at the banquet and was meditating on the theme of love, I came across a poem written by a teenager who had been adopted and yet came to know the love of a mother that grows in the heart even if the child did not grow in her tummy. It encouraged me and reminded me that we make a difference for now and eternity whether we adopt, foster, or support and sponsor those individuals and organizations that do. The poem is called “The Question.” The question for the evening was, “What is love?” The answer is found in “the question”:
The Question by Gabe Myers
I’ve grown so much but you weren’t here
To hold me console me or fight my fear
I wanted to know what was wrong with me
Where should I have grown up, where should I be
There has never been a day gone by
I don’t ask myself the question why
The constant filling of my heart with doubt
It was a secret to never be let out
Who exactly was my mother?
Then it dawned on me it could be no other,
Than the one who had loved all my life
The one who will be there through all my strife
The one who held me when I was scared
The one who I could always count on and always cared
It didn’t matter that I never came from your tummy
The point is you’re the one I will always call Mommy
Thank you Covenant Care, for all you do for the glory of Christ and the spread of his kingdom. That’s Amore!
Not along ago I sat with a young married man and he shared with me his ongoing struggle with pornography. He confessed that he believed that he had conquered the temptation, and yet had recently found himself aga
in entangled in the web of illicit sexual fantasy, websites, and thoughts. After our conversation, I was reminded of just how prevalent porn attraction and addiction is in our time, even in the church.
Today, we are evangelizing and disciplining a generation of men who have been inundated with sexually provocative images and have in many instances become numb to sinful sexual practices and inappropriateness. In fact, sexuality is so pervasive that according to one author, “If you don’t address sexuality as part of your evangelism then you’ll either store up problems for future discipleship or you’ll never win people for Christ in the first place.” That’s a strong statement. Yet, it serves to remind us of the ubiquitous nature of unbiblical sexuality in our culture, and how its sinful effects are felt by all. For sure, there can be no true and lasting discipleship today without dealing with the issues of pornography and sexual temptation.
Consequently, recently the men of East Point Church gathered on a Saturday morning to take up this issue. EPC is filled with men on fire for Christ, evangelism, and discipleship. Yet, it is also, like most churches of our size and demographic, filled with men who have been and continue to be negatively affected and hampered by pornography. As we discussed and shared, it became apparent just how prevalent the struggle is and how needful and indispensable are times of challenge and encouragement.
As a run up to our discussion, the men were encouraged to read two articles by David Powlison on Breaking Pornographic Addiction (part one and part two). A few of us also read the free ebook Porn-Free Church: Raising Up Gospel Communities to Destroy Secret Sins. These are just a few resources we found extremely helpful in our discussion and ongoing discipleship and we would recommend.
As we talked, we knew that this was only to be the beginning of conversations. Discipleship is not a one time event. It is the ongoing, intentional, life-on-life realities of the blessed community. We committed to continuing the conversation and to pray with and for each other in this every man’s battle.
We did, however, leave with four takeaway or action points going forward as we seek to spur one another on to faith and good works:
1. Consider the Consequences. Unfortunately, when it comes to sin, we usually don’t seriously and soberly consider the consequences until after we have sinned and are reaping the consequences for our sin. Yet, as God gives us space to hear his word and to consider our ways (Hag. 1:5,7), let us also consider the effects sin, particularly pornography, can and will have on us and those we love. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and the resulting deceitful and murderous aftermath, God laid out the consequences of David’s sin, and the terrible effects it would have on his family (2 Sam. 12:10-14). Sin has consequences, even forgiven sin. Let us consider our ways even before the temptation comes, so that when it comes, we may be better able to stand against it.
2. Be Heart-Honest. One of the more difficult things for a man to do is to admit to his weaknesses, especially to other men. Yet, biblically speaking, no man is ever as strong as when he admits to his weaknesses and thus is able to avoid such temptation. For example, if you know that you struggle with alcohol, you should not be hanging out at the local pub or tavern. Likewise, if you know you struggle with sexual temptation and pornography then you shouldn’t be reading Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. You probably should not be attending rated-R movies with sexually explicit warning tags. This is just common sense. People often ask me if I have watched certain popular movies. I have no problem in saying “no, I have not.” I know that watching a man and woman have sex on a larger than life projector screen is not good for my heart and mind. I need to admit that I can’t handle it. Others may be able to navigate that minefield just fine (though I have my suspicions) , but I can’t. But its OK, because I trust that when I am weak, and admit to my weakness, then am I strongest in Christ (2 Cor. 12:10).
3. Walk with the Wise. The Christian life is not designed to be lived in isolation. There are too many one another passages in the Bible for us to ever believe that the lone ranger Christian is a healthy Christian. This is particularly true when it comes to overcoming the temptation of pornography. Pornography tends to be a secret sin. Those Christians who find themselves entangled by pornographic material are not pulling out the material in public or sharing it freely and willingly on their social media. Rather, it is in private that we tend to fall victim to pornography. With sexual sin, secrecy is deadly. Therefore it is important that you walk openly with the wise. Remember, those who stray become easy prey. Instead, walk in the counsel of the wise, stand in the company of the righteous, and sit in the seats of the worshipers (Ps. 1), and find yourself among the people of God in a place full of grace, acceptance, wisdom, and encouragement.
4. Trust in the Truth. The first step in the Christian overcoming sin is the truth that in the gospel of Jesus Christ all your sin is forgiven. The power of sin in the life of the Christian is its ability to enslave with guilt and condemnation. Sin wants to convince us that God tires of forgiving us. Sin wants us to believe that God’s patience eventually runs out as he come to his wit’s end with our sin. Yet, the biblical truth is that our sin, no matter how often or how grievous, is not greater than the grace of God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:20). The truth for the Christian struggling with pornography to remember is that “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). We must remind each other of the radical forgiveness of the gospel. We must rehearse in our hearts and minds the sufficiency of grace. Confess your sin and know that Christ is able and willing to forgive you of your sin and free you from all condemnation and guilt (1 Jn. 1:9). How many times? As many as you need! It sounds radical, I know. But that’s because it is!
Today I begin a couple of weeks of writing leave. I look forward to spending some intentional (and relatively uninterrupted) time making significant progress on a couple of writing projects. I am thankful for the leadership of East Point Church, who graciously encourages me to take this time, and for the church body who offer prayers and support.
Yet, during my leave I not only write, but I also read. I know of no writer who is not also a reader. Reading not only trains my mind and challenges my heart, but it also inspires me to write. Therefore, over this brief break I hope to read a couple of books, which recently came to my desk. I am excited about these two volumes because they are on subjects that interest me.
Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle that Changed a Nation by Jonathan Rieder. One the most important social editorials ever written, Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail continues to be the seminal statement of the Civil Rights Movement, and the heart of a man committed to the rights and freedom of all people. As one ever interested in Civil Rights history, I welcome the opportunity to explore more deeply the importance of this letter and the context and concerns that brought the content of the letter to the public arena. “I Have a Dream” Speech may be more memorable, but the Letter from Birmingham Jail was equally, if not more, important.
Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. This book is written by my friend David Murray, a Pastor and a Professor of Old Testament. I have great appreciation for the labors of Dr. Murray and his heart for teaching the Old Testament in ways that make the Scriptures clear and engaging. As one who loves to preach from the Old Testament, I am really looking forward to David teaching me even more profitable ways of discovering and proclaiming Christ from all the Scriptures. This book is not yet published, but David has given me the honor of reading an advance copy, and I can’t wait.
Yesterday my friend Steve Fernandez was memorialized. Steve died last week of cancer. He had served as pastor of Community Bible Church in Vallejo, CA for 33 years. Sadly, Christians today are fond of throwing around superlatives. In fact, like many of you, I weary of hearing and reading “best of” list (preachers, books, blogs, conferences, etc). Unfortunately, in the Christian cyber world celebrity and preacher-idolization is all the craze. Megaconferences continue to create atmospheres where the celebrity is celebrated. Nevertheless men like Steve, who love and lead the local church with passion and without all the fanfare, are a refreshing reminder of what really matters in the kingdom of God
You can have all your famous platform speakers and conference icons, I’ll take men like Steve Fernandez every time.
Of all the men I have had the pleasure of knowing and laboring with in the gospel, none genuinely loved worshipping Christ more than Steve. He may not have had the worship pedigree of some, or what some may call aesthetic rhythm. But he no doubt had what matters most – a heart filled with love for Christ. Steve, my man, you will be missed. However, I look forward to seeing you again and raising our hands together in the perfected praise of Christ. I know you are rejoicing today, because no one I know practiced praise for the perfection of praise anymore than you did, my friend. In the following clip (Oct. 21, 2012), Steve addressed the church on “Brain Tumors and Exalting Christ.” Thank you, my friend, for your example, faith, and courage in Christ our Lord.
Purchasing power is the number of goods or services that can be purchased with a unit of currency. When I was a young boy growing up in rural Michigan, currency was scarce. If I was ever fortunate enough to get my hands on a doll ar, I felt I had the world at my disposal. I would run to the local store and experience real purchasing power. In those days, the stores were stocked with penny candy and one could buy a bottle of Coca-Cola for a dime. Those were the days. I recall my mother driving up to the gas station and saying to the attendant (yes, the gas stations had attendants back then): “Two dollars regular, please.” Gas was 20 cents a gallon. Back then we had greater purchasing power. As the older generation is fond of saying today, “A dollar just ain’t what it used to be.”
I have since learned that purchasing power can fluctuate. What you are able to afford with a dollar today, you may not be able to afford tomorrow. Many factors affect purchasing power, such as inflation and erratic swings in the stock market, even if one is in a remote part of the world. All of these and more can affect our purchasing power and cause the value of the currency in our hands to go up or down.
But unlike money, the blood of Christ has purchasing power that is not affected by inflation or erratic swings in the stock market. This power does not fluctuate depending on where you are in the world.
To go to certain parts of the world is to understand the fluctuations in the value of a dollar. The U.S.dollar will buy you more in Canada than it will in the Grand Cayman. Yet the purchasing power and value of the blood of Jesus is the same wherever it goes. Our Lord’s blood has the same purchasing power in Dallas as it has in Darfur. It is purchasing in Singapore the same thing it is purchasing in Switzerland. From East Point to East India, our Lord’s blood has made eternal purchases.
What did Jesus purchase? Or better yet, the question should be, whom did Jesus purchase? According to Acts 20:28, He purchased the church. According to Scripture, the apostle Paul, on the eve of his departure from Ephesus, gathered the elders together and encouraged them to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained [litera lly, purchased] with his own blood.”
The Bible reminds us that Jesus purchased a people for His own possession. We understand the nature of possessions. When we purchase something, we expect to take possession of it. We own it. No longer does it belong to the seller. Even when we buy things with credit, like houses and cars, even though we don’t really own them and are making payments on them, we treat them as if they are ours. We think, “These are my possessions because I bought them.” The Bible says that Christ has paid the price for us. He bought us. He owns us. His purchase of His people was not on credit but was paid in full.
Again, the Bible frequently reminds us of the nature of our Lord’s purchase as that which now belongs to Him. In Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 2:9, the church is called “a people for his own possession.” In 1 Corinthians 6:19, the church is reminded “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” The Heidelberg Catechism begins with a grand theme when it asks: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer rings with the truth of the purchasing power and possession of Jesus Christ: “That I am not my own, but with body and soul, both in life and death, belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood.”
Our Lord’s blood has purchasing power, not only to obtain us but also to cleanse us, wash us, sanctify us, and to make us righteous and holy. We must remember that heaven does not deal in dollars, pounds, euros, or even gold or silver. The only currency that is of value in heaven and throughout eternity is the blood of Christ. It’s the only currency that is going to get you in.
There is a popular credit card company that likes to ask in its commercials, “What’s in your wallet?” Wouldn’t it be interesting if, when we get to heaven, someone is standing at the gate asking the question: “What’s in your wallet?” At that point, dollars won’t do. Euros won’t count. Silver and gold will be of no service. You better have Jesus. You better have His blood. What’s in my wallet? The blood of Jesus! He has purchased me, and I am His and He is mine forever.
(Read more about the blessings of the blood of Christ in Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes our Salvation)
Recently I was interviewed on The Janet Mefferd Show for the book “Blood Work.” Janet and I discussed many questions including: Why does the Bible make such a point of the blood? What is propitiation? Why is the blood of Christ mentioned so frequently in the New Testament? And many more. I am thankful to Janet for inviting me and the encouraging discussion we were able to have.
Below, you can listen to the show in its entirety.
The story is told of Abraham Lincoln, who went down to the slave block and there noticed a young black girl up for auction. Moved with compassion, he bid and won her. Upon purchasing her, Lincoln told the disbelieving young girl that she was free. In her surprise she said, “What does that mean?”
“It means you are free,” he replied.
“Does that mean,” she said, “I can say whatever I want to say?”
“Yes, my dear, you can say whatever you want to say.”
“Does that mean I can be whatever I want to be?”
“Yes, you can be whatever you want to be.”
“Does that mean I can go wherever I want to go?”
“Yes, you can go wherever you want to go.”
And the girl, with tears streaming down her face, said, “Then I will go with you.”
Admittedly, the account is probably more legendary than legitimate. Yet it does communicate an important spiritual truth. Like the young girl on the slave block, we, too, have been redeemed and set free. The Bible reminds us in 1 Peter 1:18–19 that if we are in Christ, we have been “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.”
Before Christ, we were sold into slavery to sin. Our hearts, our souls, our bodies were captive to sin. We had no choice but to sin. Yet unlike the slave girl, we loved our captivity and reveled in it. We lived in the foolishness of our minds and bliss of our ignorance. We relished every foolish, ignorant moment. We loved the world and we hated God (Rom. 8:7). We loved the passions of our flesh and deemed God unnecessary and His Word irrelevant for daring to challenge our lives. We were lovers of self rather than lovers of God (1 Tim. 3:2–4). We were on the broad road to hell and happy to be there.
It was into this situation that the Lord came. He came to us while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:10). He came to us while we were in the chains of the Devil and the grip of this world. He came and set us free — free from slavery to sin, free from the chains of the Evil One, free from the grip of this world and the bondage of our fleshly lust and desires. As the Bible says, God ransomed us (1 Peter 1:18). He paid the price to free us, and now we are free. The price was not paid with greenbacks or silver or gold. It was with the most precious currency of them all, the blood of Christ. And like the young slave girl, we should desire nothing more than to live for and live with the One who has redeemed us. In fact, Peter reminds us that our priceless redemption should provide the motivation for our loving, joyful, holy obedience to Christ (1 Peter 1:15–16). We are called to holiness not in order that we might be ransomed but because we have been so graciously ransomed.
In fact, here we see two truths worth remembering as motivations for our pursuit of holiness. First, remember from what you have been ransomed. The Bible says we have been ransomed “from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers.” Life apart from a right relationship with God is futile. Vanity of vanities, the Bible calls it, all is vanity. No matter how religious, lavish, or popular, your life before Christ was, it was empty. This is a significant word in Peter’s world because he was writing to people who in most cases were the first Christians in their families. Yet, he said the rituals their parents handed down were empty, leading into bondage and away from God. But God, through the blood of Christ, has delivered us from them all.
Second, remember with what you have been ransomed. The Bible says that we have been ransomed not with perishable things but with the precious blood of Christ. Someone has said that salvation is free. Yes, it is free in that it does not cost silver, gold, dollars, or cents. But that does not mean that it doesn’t cost anything. In fact, it cost Christ everything. Salvation is free to you and me because someone else paid the price.
It’s one thing to ransom someone from slavery in this world, but how do we ransom people from slavery to sin? How much do you pay to ransom them from death and hell? Silver and gold are of no value. There is an economy wherein the only currency is the blood of Christ. It is God’s economy. It is the economy of the kingdom of God. It is the economy of the redeemed. To redeem us, Christ did not reach into the treasure bag; He reached into Himself — the treasure of all treasures — and set us free. I choose to go with Him. How about you?
(Read more about the blessings of the blood of Christ in Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes our Salvation)