In our study of John’s gospel on Sunday mornings we’ll jump over some interesting stories in order to hit the highlights. We simply don’t have the time to go verse by verse.
One of those stories we’ll skip is found in verses 22-36 of chapter 3. In these verses, “John the Baptist exalts Christ.” Interestingly, Jesus and John the Baptist were in the wilderness baptizing men and women within eyesight of one another. John’s baptism was one of repentance and preparation for Jesus’s coming into the world. Jesus’s baptism was one of repentance and faith in himself. John pointed to Jesus in his words and baptism. Jesus drew people to himself. They both were of God but had radically different purposes. You may remember that John “was sent from God” and “as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through His testimony” (John 1:6-7).
While the two men were baptizing people John’s crowd got smaller and Jesus’s grew larger. The townspeople were no longer going to see John to be baptized; they went to see Jesus. Why wouldn’t they? Why would they remain with a prophet when the Lord was present? They wouldn’t because it doesn’t make sense. When John’s disciples asked Jesus later in his ministry why his disciples didn’t fast like they and the Pharisees did, he answered “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” It’s time to celebrate when the bridegroom is present for his wedding.
There were some men, though, who remained loyal to John. He was their ride or die. Their problem, however, is that they failed to see that John wasn’t interested in keeping disciples for himself. He wanted everyone to follow Jesus because he knew that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29) and the one who “came from heaven” and is “above all” (3:31-32). In fact, John had no problem admitting that he was not the Christ. He reminded his disciples of their experiences with him when he said, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him'” (3:28). John was simply doing his job and wasn’t bothered by his decreasing ministry and Jesus’s growing one. That’s the way it was supposed to work.
One of my friends, Bob Elliott, told me once that his favorite verse in John’s Gospel related to his own life is John 3:30 — “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John the Baptist made this statement in reference to his own life and ministry. it was his desire and pleasure (3:29) to decrease so that Jesus could be exalted. John wasn’t “in the game” for himself. He wanted Jesus and his fame to grow. He wanted those who came to hear him preach and be baptized, including his disciples, to place their faith in Jesus, “the true light which enlightens everyone” (1:9).
I think Bob’s perspective on John 3:30 is both healthy and inspiring. Like John, all of us have been called to be witnesses to Jesus and his glory. We are to point others to him in our words, actions, and commitments. We should always be pointing to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And, we must always pursue a life of humility that enables us to decrease while he increases. May God be pleased to work in and through us to elevate Jesus.
It’s January 4, 2023! It’s a new year.
I’ve always liked the transition from one year to another. It brings a sense of change. The old is gone — 2022 — and the new has come — 2023. It’s a time for fresh starts, new routines, a new set of goals to accomplish. And, for an optimist like me, it’s a welcomed relief.
Now, we all know that the past doesn’t go away. Most, if not all of the challenges we faced in the previous year stick with us. They follow us into the new year. Our health scares are still with us. Our tense family relationships are still here. Our vices still pull on us. And, the consequences of our sin must still be dealt with. However, 2023 brings an opportunity to us — an opportunity for change, for growth, for forgiveness, for repentance, for maturity, for disciplined lives. We don’t have to be trapped by our pasts, whether they are good or bad. We can change. First, by the grace of God. Second, by faith and repentance. Third, by choices and behaviors. This is what makes New Year’s Resolutions so popular around the globe (a practice that some historians argue goes back to the ancient Babylonians).
The more cynical of us will say, “What’s the point in making New Year’s Resolutions if I’m just going to break them in six weeks?” We’ve all been there. We’ve all started strong on a new health routine, a plan for spiritual growth, or a determination to break a bad habit. My gym will be packed for the next 6-8 weeks with all those who have determined that 2023 is the year that they’re going to drop that pesky 10-20 pounds and get in better shape. By March, a significant percentage of them will stop coming and I’ll be able to use the machines and weights at my normal leisurely pace. But, does that failure to establish a new lasting habit mean that they wasted their time in January and February? No. if nothing else, they got two good months of exercise that they wouldn’t have had they not made the New Year’s resolution to start going to the gym. Those two months were better than nothing.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I think they are good for our overall health and lifestyles. For example, this year, I want to be more present with my family and our congregation, so I have logged off social media. It drains my energy and traps me to my phone as I’m constantly checking to see what the latest political or theological battle is taking place on twitter, or what kind of silliness I can find to numb my brain on Instagram reels. Also, as a family, we want to be more encouraging and grateful of each other and other people, so we have committed to writing more notes and sending more appreciative text messages.
I think the key to a good New Year’s resolution is to take a positive instead of a negative approach. Often we think negative things that we want to change about ourselves because we don’t like them. However, that approach is not beneficial to long-term change. It’s far better to settle on a version of who you or your family wants to be and then make the changes to become that person or family. A common example is: instead of saying, “I want to lose 20 lbs because I don’t like the size that I am now,” say, “I want to be healthier physically so I will get serious about having a better diet and being more active with the goal of dropping 20 lbs.” That way you have a goal to work toward without getting discouraged if you don’t achieve it quickly. The same is true for our spiritual and mental growth too.
So, I ask you, “Who do you want to be moving forward? What do you need to change in order to become the man, woman, or family that God has called you to be for his glory?” Prayerfully determine that and then make the necessary changes in your life while relying on the grace of God and his strength to change you from the inside out.
Have a great new year!
I wrote the following essay for a video lesson series that our congregation used to study the Church’s history this past summer. The seventh video was on the Reformed Tradition. It particularly answered the question: What does it mean to be Reformed? If you would like to watch the videos, you can find them here.
We are back for the seventh lesson in our summer series on the history of the Christian Church. One of the things that we have noticed, or at least said throughout the previous 6 lessons, is that the history of the Church is the history of the Western world since the beginnings of the New Testament Church during Pentecost.
The Church’s history has either shaped Western civilization directly or indirectly, meaning that the society in which we live has either embraced the Church and taken its form from the religion of the Church, or it has taken it’s shape by actively pushing against the Church.
But, there is no denying the fact that the western world’s history is intertwined with the Church’s history. It’s an historical reality.
Today, I thought we would take a moment to explore the aftereffects of the Protestant Reformation on the Church communities that came from it. Last week I gave you three hallmarks of the Reformation that summarize, to a large degree, the theological and church life commitments of the post-Reformation congregations. They are:
These three theological commitments greatly impacted the culture of the congregations within this Reformed tradition. So, today, I thought we’d take our time to work through some of the distinguishing characteristics of the ethos (or culture) of the Reformed tradition. In essence, we’re going to answer the question: What does it mean to be Reformed? Or, what does it mean to be faithful to the historic Reformed tradition?
Why is this Important?
You may be wondering why answering this question is important. I’ll tell you. Simply put, we are a Reformed congregation. And, it’s not because we have reformed in our name — Chester Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. It’s actually because we are Presbyterians. Next week, we’ll get into the specifics of the Scottish Reformation and the development of Presbyterianism. But, for now, we’ll leave it at this: as Presbyterians we are a part of the Reformed tradition.
The Reformation Spread Quickly
As we get started, let me give you an idea of how quickly the Reformation spread throughout Europe. Last week, I said it spread like wildfire due to the printing press, the renewed sense of intellectual advancement, and the growing sense of connectivity among the citizens of the various European countries. Society was becoming more mobile as well.
The Reformation began in Saxony (Germany) in 1517 and spread to neighboring nations immediately. A few years after Luther was excommunicated at the Diet of Worms (1521), Huldrich Zwingli started reforming Swiss Christian congregations in 1523. From there, the movement picked up momentum as it was propelled by the Holy Spirit. Below is a list of Confessional documents that were written and adopted soon after the initial blows of the Reformation were thrown.
All told, eight Confessional statements, representing 8 different Confessional bodies were written and approved within 58 years of Luther’s excommunication. 60 years is a long time for us. But, when you think about change within the Christian Church throughout all of Europe, it’s an amazingly short time. God worked quickly and broadly to establish the Reformed tradition, which changed the western world. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said of the Scottish Reformation under John Knox, “It is no exaggeration to say that the Protestant Reformation changed and turned the entire course of history, not only the history of the church but secular history.”
Since this is the case, it behooves us to think about the distinguishing characteristics of the Reformed tradition? Our tradition. Our story.
The Distinguishing Characteristics of the Reformed Tradition
I want to point out six characteristics of the Reformed tradition. I’ve seen as many as nine identified, but for our purposes, six will do just fine. (As always, they’ll be listed in on the video). Here they are:
Let’s work our way through them.
A Focus on the Majesty and Praise of God
For Reformed Christians, God is the center of life and theology. He is the Creator of all things, the Redeemer of His people, and the King of Kings. There is none higher than Him and there will never be one higher than Him. This conviction comes from the Reformed Christian’s belief in the authority of the Bible. No one can read the Scriptures seriously and not conclude that the Bible is all about God and His glory. This reality has at least three consequences for the Reformed Christian.
First, this focus makes worship the principle purpose of the Church and the individual person. Both Church and person share the same chief end — to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Fundamentally, God has created and redeemed His people for the sole purpose of His glory. And therefore, they live lives of humble subjection to Him because they trust Him to accomplish His good purposes.
Second, this focus makes Reformed Christians ask the fundamental question: how is a man or woman made right before this holy, majestic, and powerful God? It’s not about finding a little bit of help in this life, or some physical healing, or a tad of guidance for this life, or some inner peace, or a friend to help with loneliness. It’s about being right with the Creator of the Universe, the maker of our souls. Reformed Christians are convinced that they are at odds with their Creator, and so their concern is reconciliation, which is reflected in the way they worship, the way they live, and the way they minister to others.
Third, this focus causes Reformed Christians to fight against the sin of idolatry. If God’s glory is the supreme end of life, then anything, anyone, or any practice that threatens His glory must be eradicated. It’s simple, really. God and His glory is pursued above everything else.
An Understanding of Divine Providence at Work in All Things
If God is majestic, powerful, and the Creator of all things, then He is sovereign over all things by definition. This means that He is working in and through all things to accomplish His divine purposes for His glory. The Reformed Christian trusts Him and allows Him to be the sovereign God of all Creation. He has a perspective and purpose that the Reformed Christian does not, and the Reformed Christian isn’t bothered by it in the least. He or she rests in the truth that God is working in everything to accomplish His purposes, and those purposes will be good for His people because He has promised so in His Word. God always keeps His promises, for He is a covenant keeper.
A Commitment to a Life of Holiness
Since God’s glory is supreme, and in His love and grace He reconciles undeserving men and women to Himself, then those who have received that reconciliation owe a life of holiness and obedience to Him. So, Reformed Christians and their congregations are committed to living holy and disciplined lives. But, this commitment doesn’t apply to Christians only. It also applies to the general public as well. Because of their conviction that all men are to live for the glory of God, Reformed Christians believe that general society should be reformed according to the Word of God and God’s standard of morality as well. This has caused Reformed Christians and their congregations to challenge friends, family, local and national governments to live, educate, and legislate according to the teachings of the Bible.
A Dedication to the Principle of Faith Seeking Understanding
A faith that seeks to understand the character of God, the world He created, and the faith that testifies to Him is a hallmark of the Reformed tradition. Reformed Christians and their congregations are not satisfied with an unapologetically anti-intellectual Christianity. They are convinced that the development of the intellectual components of the faith are both glorifying to God and essential for faithfulness. It is impossible to separate Christian practice from Christian doctrine. Thought informs and determines action. Therefore, Reformed Christians prioritize education within the Church and the society at large. Many of the world’s greatest universities trace their origins to the traditions of Reformed Christianity.
A Conviction that Preaching Should be Plain and Powerful
Reformed congregations not only prize the corporate worship gathering, they also prize the proclamation of God’s Word from the pulpit. But, there are two specific qualities that preaching ought to possess. First, it is to be plain and clear. A sermon should be written and delivered plainly and clearly enough that the worshippers will learn who God is and be challenged to live according to His will. Second, preaching should be powerful, which is dependent upon the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Delivering and hearing a sermon is a spiritual experience through which God speaks to His people.
An Insistence on the Simplicity of Faith
Reformed Christians and their congregations insist on the simplicity of the Christian faith in every aspect of it. They do this because of their commitment to the authority of God’s Word. If God prescribes it, then they do it. If God doesn’t prescribe it, then it is not required. Life and worship really are simple when viewed through this lens. Love God, do what He says, worship as He prescribes, and fulfill the ministry that He gives to the Christian and the congregation. There’s no need to add to what God says, and Reformed Christians refuse to do so because of their adherence to the Bible’s teaching on the Sovereignty and majesty of God. What He says is what goes.
And, there you have it. Six characteristics of the Reformed tradition. Now that we have them, we’ll move into the specifics of the Scottish Reformation and establishment of Presbyterianism next week. See you then!
Last week I had the privilege of addressing the graduates of our local Adult Education Department. The whole class had wonderfully inspiring stories of perseverance, dignity, and strength. Below is my address to them. Maybe you’ll appreciate my words.
Congratulations to the 2022 Graduating Class! You’ve earned it. Well done.
I have been asked to address you tonight, and to be honest, I feel a little strange standing before you because I imagine you all have a lot to teach me. You’re the stars of this show.
You’ve overcome many obstacles.
You’ve shed some tears (maybe a lot).
You’ve probably said some stuff you didn’t mean to the people you love.
You’ve stopped and started again, and potentially have done that more than once.
But here you are! You’re finished. Hallelujah!
We’re all proud of you.
4 Things to Do From This Point Forward
I do have to do my job up here tonight, don’t I? So, let me make a few points.
First, thank everyone that has helped you get to this point in your life.
We all come from different backgrounds and different perspectives. We have all faced different obstacles in our lives. I’m not going to stand before you and act as if I know what you have been through because I don’t. It would be ridiculous for me to think that I do.
But, I do know this: you didn’t get to this point in your life without someone helping you. You had a teacher offer a helping hand with a difficult subject. You had a mom keep your children so you could do your schoolwork. You had a child cheer you on as you fought to get your diploma. You had a friend to pick up the emotional pieces of your life when you thought you couldn’t do it. You had a pastor challenge you to go back and finish your schooling. There were countless others who were there for you along the way.
And, yes, that includes those who told you that you couldn’t do it. You’d never amount to anything. You’d never be enough. Thank them for fueling your fire with their negativity.
Tonight, you celebrate a great accomplishment, but don’t think you did it all by yourself. There are many people who helped you get to this point. Make sure to thank them.
Second, take the lessons you’ve learned in grit and determination with you.
You have gained a wealth of knowledge during your time as a student. You’ve learned about English grammar, algebraic equations, geometric shapes, literature, historical events and their significance, how government works, and so on. You have mastered this information. If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here tonight.
And, those lessons will serve you well. You intuitively will be able to engage the world in which you live. Your education has seeped into your bones and has become part of you. You’re more capable now than you were when you started. You will no longer struggle to figure out how to compute per unit prices at the grocery store to determine whether or not you are getting the best value for your dollar.
The greatest lessons of a completed education (I have to be careful saying this because I don’t want your teachers and administrators to charge the stage.), however, aren’t the ones you learned as you studied the subject matter. Rather, they are the ones you learned in the process of completing your educational requirements.
Psychologist Angela Duckworth has a defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” You’ve demonstrated grit over the course of your study. Some of you had longer-term goals than others but all of you have accomplished them nonetheless. As you continue your adult lives, this testimony of your grit will pay dividends in your life. It will remind you that CAN set goals, that you CAN persevere to attain them, and that you CAN complete them. Confidence is an invaluable characteristic for anyone who desires to accomplish anything in this life, let alone something great. And, tonight’s accomplishment will supply you with overflowing confidence. Never forget what you have done, and let the story of how you’ve done it inspire you to set goals and accomplish them throughout the rest of your lives. Don’t give up.
Third, fight to make sure you do the right thing, always.
You have probably heard the MLK quote that says, “The time is always right to do what is right.” It’s always the right time to do the right thing.
It’s always right to be kind to others.
It’s always right to be generous with your time, talents, and resources.
It’s always right to be a humble person.
It’s always right to be a loyal friend.
It’s always right to love other people well.
It’s always right to support and train the children around you.
It’s always right to motivate your friends and family while holding them accountable for their actions.
Make sure you fight against the temptation to take the easy way out or to not do the right thing. You learned how to fight this temptation when you were tempted to not turn in those assignments or complete the course of study before you, but you did it anyway. You know how strong those temptations are, and you know you have to fight hard to overcome them.
This is where faith comes into play. As a Christian pastor, I trust in a great and wonderfully powerful God who enables me to overcome the temptations of this world. If you have a similar faith in our God, then I encourage you to rely upon Him and His power. Fight to make sure you always do the right thing.
Finally, strive to make the world a better place.
Education is a wonderful thing. It gives you confidence. It makes you more adept at interacting with our world. It gives you an opportunity to better yourself. You know all of these things, for they are probably the reasons you decided to return to school.
However, your education is for more than just your benefit. It’s for the benefit of others. In this county, we believe in an educated public because it makes the world a better place. It makes everyone more capable of providing for themselves. It informs our public debates. It makes our democracy possible. The freedom, standard of living, and opportunity that we enjoy are only possible because we have an educated population. As education goes, so goes our country.
Now, that you have completed your secondary education, you need to be an advocate in our community for education. Impress upon your children and your grandchildren the importance of being well-educated. Help the teachers in our schools; they have tough jobs. Tutor students. Tell them to behave and commit to life-long learning. Use your influence and experience to make Chester County a better and more educated place to live and work.
As the Scriptures teach us, we all need to focus our attention on other people more than we focus it on ourselves.
In conclusion, I want to say again that it has been my honor to be a part of your special celebration. Thank you for giving me your attention and your time. Again, I say congratulations to you all. Job well done!
May God bless you richly in His grace.
I wrote the following article was written for the March/April edition of ARP Magazine, a publication of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. May it be an encouragement and a challenge to you.
My task is to write an article on the Moderator of our General Synod, Patrick Malphrus’s theme for this year which comes from Luke 9:62 — “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” You probably already know that this statement comes from a collection of passages in Luke’s Gospel where he defines the cost of discipleship.
In verses 23-27 of chapter 9, Luke records Jesus’s famous teaching on self-denying discipleship where he said that his disciples are duty bound to “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him.” We must willingly lose our own lives for Christ’s sake in order to save them. There is no salvation for the man or woman who will not forfeit the whole world in order to gain Christ.
Luke 9:57-62 further explains this call to committed discipleship and what it means for faithful Christians in three ways. First, Christian discipleship means life-long struggle and warfare in the pursuit of Christ. Second, it means faith-filled devotion to Christ and his cause. And third, it means a definite break with our old life for the sake of Christ.
Before I expound upon each of these statements, let me quote the passage from which they were taken. It’s imperative that we always root our understanding of discipleship in the Bible.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” — Luke 9:57-62 (ESV)
Struggle and Warfare in the Pursuit of Christ.
The first of the three prospective disciples approached Jesus and boldly stated that he would follow Jesus wherever he went. Now, that’s and admirable statement from anyone, but especially from a scribe (Matt. 8:19). Scribes were the lawyers of the day. They understood the Law of Moses and made opinions on it. As a result, they were well respected in the community. They also frequently aligned with the Pharisees as they shared a common commitment to following the continually growing legal demands of the Law as it was interpreted by the tradition of the elders. Righteousness, for them, was found in how well they kept the law and the traditions of the Jewish faith externally.
This scribe, for some reason, was intrigued by Jesus. In fact, he was so intrigued that he was willing to commit his life to following Jesus. Not surprisingly, Jesus stood ready to welcome him into his band of disciples. But first Jesus wanted him to know what following him would mean in his life. It would mean struggle, conflict, and rejection.
Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but Jesus and his disciples have nowhere to permanently lay their heads in this world. The Christian’s life is described in the Bible as a pilgrimage – from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Think about the people of God in the Exodus. They were delivered by the grace and power of God from the land of bondage. They were given the Law on their journey to the Promised Land. Along the way, God provided for their every need while leading them day and night and meeting with them in the Tabernacle until they arrived in Canna. Consider also the image of Revelation 14 where the redeemed of God in Christ are pictured singing a new song and marching their way behind the “Lamb who was slain” to Mount Zion, the dwelling place of God. Our home – our holes, our nests – are not in this world; they are in the eternal dwelling place of God.
This scribe needed to hear this message from Jesus. Remember, he enjoyed a comfortable life, a position of honor and influence in the religious community of his day. To follow Jesus, he’d be required to forfeit his familiar and comfortable life. Was he willing to pay the price of following Jesus? Was he willing to join a group of disciples who were rejected, persecuted, ostracized and would eventually lose their lives for the sake of Christ? We cannot tell from the story.
Faith-filled Devotion to Christ and His Cause
The second potential disciple is different than the first and third because he received a direct call from Jesus to join the disciples in their pursuit of Christ. Jesus walked up to him and plainly said, “Follow me.” The man’s response is puzzling because it’s hard for us (at least for me) to imagine anybody telling Jesus to his face, “Hold on. I’m doing something. I’ll be with you when I’m finished.” But that is what this guy does! He responds with, “I’ll come but let me go take care of some other stuff first.” Jesus’s response is equally stunning. “Let the dead bury the dead. You go proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Now, I could write much about burial rites in the culture and whether Jesus is condemning a tradition that placed undue burdens of family members of the deceased. We could even make a spiritual argument that Jesus is distinguishing those who are spiritually dead and those who are spiritually alive. None of those things, however, changes the ultimate meaning of the interaction. The guy simply isn’t ready to devote himself to following Jesus at that moment. Burying his father is nothing but an excuse for not responding to the Lord’s call immediately. You see, discipleship is a matter of faith that plays itself out in devotion to Christ and his cause. It makes our relationship with Jesus and his demands on our lives our top priority.
I want you to notice that Jesus identifies one demand as paramount — “You go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Discipleship is not about “me and Jesus.” Rather, it’s fundamentally missional. That means we are called to join Jesus in the announcement of his kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel message. There is no Christian discipleship without witness and mission. “You follow me and proclaim the kingdom” is the call, not only on this disciple, but on everyone who has ever received the effectual call of Christ on his or her heart.
In this instance, there is something else of note as well. Jesus connects witness to mourning. In no way is Jesus saying that the man shouldn’t mourn the loss of his father. What he is saying is that family duties in the mourning of death or in the celebration of joy should not consume our time to the point that it prevents us from fulfilling our plainly stated religious duties. We are to declare by words and our deeds that our hope rests in Christ and that the world to come occupies our minds. Paul said it well, “We do not mourn as those who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” So, we proclaim the kingdom of God as we mourn. And that is what Jesus called this potential disciple to do. Did he? We won’t know until we get to Heaven.
Definite Break with Our Old Life for the Sake of Christ
The third man in this story has the easiest story to understand. He came to Jesus and said, “I’ll follow you on one condition, that you wait for me to go home and say goodbye to my family and my friends. It won’t take long.” Jesus said, “No.”
I want to draw your attention back to verse 57 for a moment. There Luke uses a participle to express the movement of Jesus and his disciples from one village to another, meaning that when Jesus meets this third prospective disciple he is literally on the move. To stop and wait on this fellow go home and say goodbye would disrupt the fulfillment of Jesus’s mission. He will not wait.
The significance of this interaction is found in the condition that this aspiring disciple, who approached Jesus about discipleship, puts upon his devotion. “I’ll follow you Jesus but let me go home first.” Jesus is not opposed to closure in personal relationships when his calling on our lives leads us in a different direction. He is, however, opposed to anything that places conditions on our discipleship, especially connections to our old lives. This is because he demands top billing and following him necessarily demands a defined break with our old lives. It’s the essence of repentance.
The Shorter Catechism defines repentance unto life as “a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience” (#87). Think about this for a moment. A Christian understands his or her sin and the mercy of God in such a way that he or she turns from it and unto God, forsaking the old life and its sin while embracing the new life and its pursuit of obedience to God. This is exactly what Jesus called the third man to do – “Forsake that old life and follow me because were on the move.” Was he willing to do it? We don’t know.
A Pearl of Great Value
Luke leaves us with big questions at the end of this passage. We don’t know, nor can we know, whether any of these three men made the decision to follow Jesus. We don’t know if they were willing to pay the price. And I think that is Luke’s divinely inspired point. He wants us to ask the question of ourselves. Are we willing to pay the costs associated with following Jesus? Each one of us will identify with one of these characters, if not all of them, and we must decide if we are willing to follow Jesus.
Some of us, no doubt, need to decide if we are willing to give up the comfortable and well-respected positions we now enjoy in order to pursue Christ and his call on our lives. Others of us need to make Christ and his cause the top priority of our lives. And some of us need to confront our past lives with its relationships and trappings that pull us away from Christ and our devotion to him.
Inevitably, we will make our decision based on whether we believe that following Jesus is worth the cost. It’s how we make decisions, isn’t it? Is the payoff worth the cost? The Bible’s answer is a resounding, “Yes, Jesus is worth everything.” What is your answer?
Jesus taught that the kingdom of God, which we enter through faith and repentance, is like “a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matt. 13:45-46) The value of the kingdom of God, as it is embodied in the King, the Lord Jesus himself, is far greater than anything you or I could ever dream of possessing on our own in this life or the next. Just ask yourself what in your life is more valuable than an eternity spent in the presence of your Creator who loved you enough to take human flesh upon himself, live a perfect life, and bear the wrath stored up for your sins by dying on a cross in your place? You don’t have anything more valuable than that. I promise.
Friend, sell it all and throw yourself on Christ in faith. He is infinitely worthy of your life. Cash out your faith in yourself, endure the hardships in this world, repent of your sins, and trust him to get you home!
 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.  And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance  and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” — Luke 17:11-19 (ESV)
One of the most damning passages in Luke’s gospel regarding human pride and forgetfulness is the story of the ten lepers in chapter 17. While making their way to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples met ten men with leprosy in a small village between Samaria and Galilee. Collectively, the men begged Jesus to have mercy on them. He answered their plea and cleansed them of their disease. Only one of them turned back to thank Jesus for his gift of grace and healing. The others went on their way to “show themselves to the priest,” as Jesus had instructed them. Troubled by the failure of the nine to return to thank him, Jesus asked the questions, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
For Jesus, thankfulness is a central and mandatory characteristic for anyone who has been touched by his grace. The neglect of the nine lepers to return to thank him is telling as it reveals the true nature of their hearts before God. Surely, if asked, they’d all say they were grateful for the healing. How could they not be? Being cleansed of leprosy gave them their lives back. They could return to their families, to the Temple, to their jobs, to their community activities. But, they couldn’t be bothered to stop and give God thanks for the healing he specifically brought into their lives. Why is this?
It seems that they struggled with the same phenomenon we battle. They were thankful for their healing. Felt it deeply in their hearts (I believe). However, they weren’t disciplined enough to go back to Jesus to say, “Thank you.” They simply couldn’t be bothered by it. After all, they were don’t what he told them to do. They were going to show themselves to the priest.
I can’t help but note that the nine lepers’ failure to thank Jesus offended him. And, I’m not using the word offended in the same way we use it today. Their ingratitude literally wounded his heart and insulted his grace. Sadly, we often do the same thing.
When we fail to express our thankfulness to Jesus for his great grace and work in our lives, we hurt him. It doesn’t matter whether our failure was intentional or not. It still has the same effect as it communicates our sense of entitlement. We, like the lepers, act as if we deserve God’s good works in our lives when we don’t. This arrogance, intentional or not, is an affront to the glory of God. We glorify him when we recognize our need for him, depend upon him, and thank him for his goodness to us.
Take sometime today to thank God for his goodness and grace to you. Make your plans to join with his people on Wednesdays and Sundays to join the chorus of thanksgiving. He deserves more than we will ever be able to give him, and we certainly don’t want to offend him or rob him of his glory.
Lord be with you.
 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (ESV)
As I prepared for this past Sunday’s message on Witnessing as a characteristic of our congregation, I thought about Like 24:44-49 multiple times. These verses contain Luke’s version of Jesus’s final words to his disciples before he ascended into Heaven. Several things in these verses stick out to me.
First, Luke 24:45 says, “Then he (Jesus) opened their (the disciples) minds to understand the Scriptures.” Jesus had to open the minds of the disciples before they could understand that the Scriptures were all about him. Think about that for a moment.
You and I often ask why the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus’s teaching meant nor what he had come to do. He was so clear, we say. But this verse tells us that their minds were closed to the real meaning of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and mission. It had to be revealed to them and their minds had to be opened. This is why you and I understand it more clearly than they did. Our minds have been opened by the Holy Spirit. It’s also why so many people we know and love, some of whom are incredibly intelligent, don’t get it. Their minds are closed by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and must be opened before they will ever come to know Christ and trust in him. We must pray for them.
Next, verses 46-48 teach us that the gospel of Jesus centers on his death and resurrection and demands faith in him and repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Faith and repentance are the only acceptable responses to God’s grace and love for us in the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Nothing else will please God. He only accepts our faith and repentance.
Finally, verse 48 says that the disciples were to be witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as well as the blessed forgiveness that came to them through faith and repentance. Jesus assumed that they would testify to the gospel. Plain and simple. The same is true for us. There’s no other appropriate way for us to live if we’ve been transformed by grace. There is no biblical understanding of a Christian who does not publicly witness to the resurrection of Christ and the joy of being forgiven of our sins through faith and repentance. We are witnesses for Jesus by definition. It’s that simple.
The questions really are: 1. Are we being faithful to our DNA as Christians by witnessing to the glory of our God? and, 2. Do our lives present a good witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ or a bad one?
Let’s pray for one another as we seek to be good witnesses for Christ. Let’s also pray that our God will be pleased to open the eyes of our loved ones so that they will see him as he is and repent from their sins while trusting Christ.
Our family travelled to Atlanta to visit my wife’s family on the day after Christmas. One of their family traditions is that they all work a jigsaw puzzle together. It is usually 750- or 1000-piece puzzle. My sister-in-law tapes the box lid to wall in front of the table on which she scatters all the pieces. Everybody works the puzzle over the course of a couple days until it is finished.
This year I thought about how appropriate that tradition is when thinking about the arrival of the kingdom of peace we celebrate every Christmas. In the Bible, peace is defined most often as wholeness or completeness. I cannot think of a better illustration of biblical peace than a jigsaw puzzle.
As you know, the goal of working a puzzle is to put it together so that you have a finished picture. You also know that the puzzle begins as a picture and then is cut up into small pieces. Each fragment is a part of the whole, but they are all mixed up. And the best puzzle workers have a system for organizing those pieces and putting them back together.
Think about this with the reference to the human life in the context of the Bible’s story, if you will. The first humans were created good without fragmentation or defect. They were like the original picture of my sister-in-law’s puzzle before it was cut up. Over time, the first humans lost their original goodness by rebelling against their Creator, which led to the fragmentation of their lives as they sought to reclaim their initial goodness. Unfortunately, they couldn’t do it, no matter how hard they tried. All their efforts were for naught and led to more and more fragmentation. The same has been true for all of us since. We live fragmented lives while living in a fractured society.
This is what makes the Bible’s promise of peace so hopeful. God, by his grace, has collected, organized, and begun putting the pieces of our lives back together. He will complete this work at the end of time. So, we experience peace now through faith in Jesus as he puts the pieces of our lives back together. Day by day, he completes more of our puzzle, giving us a greater sense of peace.
One of the best effects of increased peace in our lives is that it makes us want to see other people enjoy the same sense of wholeness that we have. Therefore, we try to be those people whom God uses to help put the pieces together of the lives of our friends and family. As we do it, we will find that our society is more whole as well. And isn’t that what we want for ourselves and our society?
**This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, March 2, 2022 edition of The Chester News and Reporter of Chester, SC.
Tina Turner famously asked, “What’s love got to do with it?” The answer is: everything.
Love, along with faith and hope, is essential for a society to function properly because love governs the interactions that people have with one another. And that’s by design. The Bible says that God created us to love him and to love one another. We’ll never experience harmony as a people until we learn to learn to love each other.
This love, however, is not defined by our feelings. Rather, it is a decision of our will. Your experiences prove this point. Think about your closest friend for a moment.
Have there been times when you couldn’t get enough of each other? Times when you shared your deepest concerns in life? Of course, there have. Have there also been times when you just didn’t like your friend very much? Times when they got on your last nerve? Times when they hurt your feelings or broke your confidence? Absolutely. But did you love them more when times were great than when times were hard? Or did you love them less when times were hard? No. Why? Because they are your closest friend and you have decided that you love them regardless of your emotions in any one moment of your friendship.
God’s ideal of love is for us all to have that kind of love for everyone – our friends and our enemies. You may have heard it said that we don’t have to “like” every person, but we’re called to “love” them all. This is because God loves us in this way. His love for us does not come and go; it’s constant. It is not wearied by our sins, our struggles, or our indifference toward him. In fact, it is the opposite in its relentless pursuit of a right relationship with each of us.
Imitating our Creator, then, our love should result in action. Again, this makes sense. If we willfully decide to love other people, then our love for them will show up in the way we treat them. This means at least two things for our daily lives. First, we will be more patient with, and kinder to, everyone since our love for others is not tied to whether we “like” them or not. Second, we will do more good things for other people. Love is like your savings account. The more you do loving things for others, the more the interest on those loving actions compounds giving you a larger capacity to love. And the more your capacity to love grows, the more love you have in your balance to share with other people.
So, you see, that love has everything to do with every aspect of our lives. It defines our relationships with ourselves, our families, our community, and God himself. We can’t function without love. Let’s decide to love and be kind to one another and trust that we, and our world, will be better because of it as we all grow into more loving people.
**This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, December 8 edition of The Chester News and Reporter. I’m thankful that editor Travis Jenkins affords me the opportunity to write openly about the Christian faith.
It’s been a couple of months since I wrote a column, so I thought I’d start back with the first of a series of articles on what the Bible calls the “Fruit of the Spirit.” In Galatians 5:22-23, the Apostle Paul lists nine virtues that should define all good and upright people’s lives. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines virtue as “a particular moral excellence,” which is an academic way of saying that a virtue is a standard by which we determine good and acceptable behavior. We use virtue to govern our own personal lives as well as that of our community. We have personal standards that we set for ourselves, and we have collectively agreed upon norms for the way interact with one another. Both are necessary for a healthy society.
Author C.S. Lewis used an example of a fleet of ships sailing in formation to explain the importance of virtue and moral rules “for running the human machine.” He wrote:
“The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order…You cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions, they will not remain seaworthy very long. On the other hand, if their steering gears are out of order, they will not be able to avoid collisions.”
In short, Lewis’s argument is simple. For human society to function properly, we all must be concerned with the general purpose of human life, the way we are to live in harmony with one another, and the presence of consistent behavior within each of us individually. If any of these three is missing long-term, societal collapse is inevitable.
As a Christian, I am convinced that the Bible gives the most comprehensive and cohesive plan for us to use as we chart the human course. There is a unified purpose for all of us – to glorify our Creator by loving him more than we love anything or anyone else (Matthew 22:37-38). There is an overarching principle that governs our interactions with one another – to love each other as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39) – as well specific applications of this principle in our daily lives. And there is a path for us to follow to ensure that we keep ourselves in good working order by living morally consistent lives – die to ourselves so that we can live for Jesus (Matthew 16:24-25).
I plan to discuss this plan in more detail in the coming weeks by highlighting the nine virtues of Galatians 5:22-23. Until then, let me ask you a question. If the God of the Bible created the world and us in good, shouldn’t we, at least, consider applying his wisdom to our personal and collective lives?
I can’t help but note that All Saints Day (Nov. 1) follows after Pastors Appreciation Month. (Yes, I realize that the two special occasions are not historically related.) All Saints Day is an ancient tradition within many denominations when Christians pause to thank God for the rich and goodly heritage they have inherited from those faithful men and women who have gone to be with the Lord and now rest from their labors. These faithful ones are a part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who’s testimony of God’s grace strengthens us as we walk with Christ. And, Pastor’s Appreciation Month is a modern invention meant to give an occasion to appreciate those who’ve pastored and helped us in our Christian journey. It’s the connection between these two occasions, intentional or not, that has led me to write.
Our congregation (Chester ARP Church) has had ten pastors before me. God has used all of them —from R.W. Brice to Dwight Pearson — to testify to his great grace, glory, and goodness. They have preached memorable sermons, prayed fervent prayers, pursued lost sheep, offered a helping hand or kind word. They have been constant presences in our daily lives. Their kind rebukes, challenging messages, and words of wisdom have come at just the right time in our lives, as well as that of our congregation. And, perhaps most amazingly, they’ve stood in the gap for us and kept believing in God on our behalf when we couldn’t bring ourselves to exercise our faith because the times were too tough. Regarding these pastors, one of our congregation’s historians, Esther Strong, once wrote, “Throughout the one hundred years of our church’s history, our pastors and officers have consistently sought to put the chief mission of the church at the core of its program and to translate their faith into Christian living.”
And so, I write to remind us of God’s blessed provision of faithful pastors and to give us reason to praise him for their good service to our congregation. I thank God for these men who’ve been stalwarts of biblical religion and who’ve led us well as we’ve followed after Christ. Nine of them have already received their eternal reward, and the tenth is sure to be richly blessed with his crown of righteousness in the future. Join me in thanking God for them.
We have indeed received a rich heritage and experienced God’s great blessing individually and as a congregation. What a gift these men are to Chester ARP! May God be praised.
Soli Deo Gloria
Between June 14-25, Christian Education Ministries hosted our denomination’s (ARPC) summer conferences for middle and high school students at Bonclarken (the ARP’s conference center). I understand those were two great weeks, and our Lord worked powerfully among the students.
After the conferences were finished, Brad Anderson, the conferences’ director, sent a text to a group of ARP ministers, including me, that read: “We have the next generation of ARPs and need to work on holding on to them. The conferences go well because of everyone that attends and serves. They’re a bright spot in the denomination.” I immediately thanked God for his grace and for the good work of those who led, served, and oversaw the conferences when I received the text.
I also thought about a conversation that Brad and I had with Chip Sherer during our Synod meeting in June. He told us that, as the President of Bonclarken, he believed that Bonclarken’s role in the growth and development of the ARP Church and her youth is a provide a place for inspiration and renewal where our children and youth can encounter the living God, build strong relationships with their peers across the denomination, and make lasting memories that will encourage them to join ARP congregations as they mature and move away from home. That’s a tremendous vision, and Bonclarken does a great job fulfilling it.
As I’ve thought about those two conversations in conjunction with my own ministry context, I think the ARPC faces a singular obstacle, from a strategic perspective, when it comes to holding on to the next generation. There are few to no vibrant ARP congregations in the areas to which our young people move when they graduate high school or college.
The Challenge of Rural Communities
Historically, the ARPC has thrived in rural communities. Our congregations have a familial feel that is rooted in tradition and relationships. Hard-working, independent, God-fearing people living and worshipping together while maintaining the faith and the customs of their ancestors have provided the solid foundation upon which the denomination stands today. But things are changing.
A 2018 report from the United Nations anticipates that 68% of the world’s population will live in urban centers by the year 2050. That is a predicted growth of 13% over the next 30 years. This global trend is also reflected in US population statistics. In 2018, the Pew Research Center published a study that reported a 13% population increase for urban centers and a 16% increase for suburban counties between the years 2000 and 2018. This same report confirmed that rural counties, across the nation, experienced a 3% increase in the same time frame. The reported statistics indicate that this 3% increase was due to migrant workers moving into agricultural communities and a relatively high birth rate among the residents of rural counties. However, this small population increase for rural counties will most likely be short-lived as birth rates across the nation continue to fall. 2019 marked the fifth straight year of decline in the nation’s birth rate. That year there were 58.3 births for every 1000 women aged 15 to 44, and preliminary reports indicate that the number of births in 2020 will be less than 55 births per 1000 women, meaning that there will be 8% fewer children born in the country this year.
Additionally, 88% of rural counties across the nation have lost prime-age workers at an alarming rate since the year 2000. These workers are between the ages of 25 and 54 and when they leave, they take their families with them, leaving rural counties with fewer young children, school-aged children, young adults, and middle-aged adults than suburban and urban centers. Moreover, it means that rural communities have more rapidly aging populations, with 65+ year old men and women being the most prominent demographic. Pockets of concentrated poverty, where at least a fifth of the population is poor, and an unprecedented income gap are the byproducts of this population shift.
These statistics paint a bleak picture for rural counties in the near future. The picture is grimmer for a Christian denomination that makes its home, almost exclusively, in these rural counties. As the prime-age workers and their families move to suburban communities and urban centers the vibrancy and long-term viability of the ARP congregations in these rural counties will be negatively affected. Less children, less young adults, and less wage-earning adults means fewer church members, fewer worshippers in attendance each week, and fewer resources in the offering plates. These effects necessarily have consequences for the denomination as a whole, and we’re already seeing them as the ARPC’s membership numbers and Denominational Ministry Fund receipts are in decline.
The Future of the ARPC
So, what do we do? What do we do about our future as a denomination given this population shift? It’s simple: we have to plant churches where people are.
At present an estimated 82.5% of Americans live in city centers or suburban counties. That is a total of close to 275 million people. We have little to no gospel witness or congregational presence among those people even though 57 of the nation’s 200 largest cities are within the geographical bounds of our presbyteries. 28 of them are in Texas and Louisiana alone with 5 of those cities having a population of over 900,000. The other 29 cities are dispersed all around the eastern seaboard and the southeast. 22 of these urban centers have a population of over 200,000 people and comprise a total population of 29,266,000 Americans or 8.6% of the US population, which means that we have a potentially fertile mission field already within our grasp as a result of the providence of God (chart listed
If our young people and other members are moving to these urban centers and suburban counties for work and play, shouldn’t we? That’s what Paul did during his missionary journeys, isn’t it? He went to Antioch, Derbe, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, and Rome. He went to the population centers with the strategy of planting Christ-honoring and disciple-making congregations in those city centers because that’s where people lived, shopped, and recreated. As a result, those gospel congregations in the city centers influenced the surrounding communities. If there was a presence of Christ in those city centers, then the testimony of Christ made its way to the rural communities around them.
But this isn’t just about keeping the next generation of ARPs or reclaiming those who’ve moved away. It’s about fulfilling the Great Commission. Christ told his Church to advance his kingdom on earth by going to all the nations and making disciples among all peoples. He has also chosen to concentrate the population of our great nation in city centers and suburban communities, affording us the opportunity to proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all men, and teach them to obey all that Christ has taught us right where our presbyteries already are.
Therefore, I call on our presbyteries to commit to developing and implementing a strategy to plant vibrant, disciple-making, confessional churches in the urban centers and suburban counties within their geographical bounds. I also call upon congregations in rural communities to contribute prayerfully and financially to this effort.
May God bless us as we seek to advance his kingdom and plant biblical churches.
22 Urban Cities and Their Populations
Existing Presbyteries – 29,266,000 people in these 22 of the 200 largest urban centers in US.
New York – 8,600,000
Philadelphia – 1,500,000
Houston – 2,400,000
Dallas/Fort Worth – 1,942,000
San Antonio – 1,600,000
Washington DC/Arlington/Alexandria – 1,107,000
Austin – 1,000,000
Jacksonville – 930,000
Charlotte – 912,000
Raleigh/Durham/Cary – 728,000
Boston – 696,000
El Paso – 685,000
Nashville – 678,000
Memphis – 651,000
Atlanta/Sandy Springs – 635,000
Louisville – 616,000
Baltimore – 576,000
Virginia Beach – 405,000
Tampa – 405,000
Arlington – 400,000
Corpus Cristi – 327,000
Greensboro – 301,000
Pittsburgh – 300,000
Orlando – 291,000
Plano – 285,000
Laredo – 266,000
Lubbock – 264,000
Chesapeake – 250,000
Norfolk – 241,000
Irving – 237,000
Garland – 236,000
Frisco – 225,000
Baton Rouge – 216,000
Birmingham – 207,000
Huntsville – 205,000
Augusta – 200,000
Amarillo – 200,000
I’ve been thinking a lot about communication recently, particularly with the regards to the irony that we are more connected than ever before and yet we are worse communicators than we’ve ever been. I’ve heard it argued that this is because we are too busy to actually take the time to think about what the best way is to communicate with other people. And I agree. However, I think there are several other reasons why we struggle to communicate despite having countless media in which to do it.
First, I think most of us are overly consumed with ourselves and the lives of those we think are dependent upon us. We have unprecedented opportunities and choices before us every day. As a result, we have more responsibility than ever as we wade through these innumerable decisions. This necessarily causes us to spend the majority of our energy weighing all the options and making decisions that bygone generations either took for granted or didn’t have.
Second, I think we are far more isolated than ever before. Because we have phones and computers and social media at our fingertips, we fall into the trap of thinking we are more relationally connected than we really are. Texting and scoping out someone’s Instagram or Facebook may give us plenty of information about them, but it doesn’t develop lasting, genuine connections with them. We are informed (by filtered information) about the happenings of others’ lives, but we don’t know them, nor do they know us. We are little islands in the stream of American life (Thanks Dolly and Kenny).
Third, I think we are lulled into thinking that every event in the world has a bearing upon our daily lives. Certainly, staying informed about major global events is important, but the obsessive commentary on the most minute details of those events via online and cable new sources as well as social media browsing is overwhelming. We believe we have something to say or do about a tragic or wonderful event in a village located deep in the Himalaya mountains.
Our ancestors didn’t have to navigate these waters. Many of them lived in a small town or village and got their news once or twice a day from local newspapers and from the local community center gossip. I remember watching my grandmothers talk to the ladies at church before Sunday School and after “preaching” (worship) to catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives. They loved that fellowship because it was the time they could connect, share prayer concerns, and laugh with their beloved sisters in Christ. We were always the last to leave church because “nanny,” “maw maw,” and mom were always in deep conversation with their friends whom they hadn’t seen in a week.
I must say that I miss those days. We would all be a lot better off if we would slow down, be less concerned with ourselves, limit our choices, intentionally connect with others in person, and focus our attention on the things that actually do impact our lives and our community.
**This article was originally published in the Wednesday, May 19, 2021 edition of The Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
Twenty-five years ago, my friend Brian asked me the pointed question, “What is faith?” I did not have an adequate answer even though I thought I did. I had been raised in a Christian home where we discussed faith often. We talked about our faith in God, our faith in one another, and our faith in the Bible. I had also participated in organized sports from the time I was old enough to join a team. Coaches had instilled in me the importance of faith in my teammates, faith in the game plan, faith in my coaches, and faith in my preparation. I knew a lot about faith as a result of these experiences, but I didn’t know what it was. Looking back on Brian’s question, I think that’s the reason he asked it.
Brian was a staff member with the Christian organization Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru). He was specifically assigned to Cru’s ministry on NC State’s campus. His job was to ask hard questions of student leaders to help us grow in our understanding of the Christian Faith. He did his job well.
As I have replayed our conversation in my mind over the years, I’ve been repeatedly struck by the simplicity with which he defined faith. He said, “Faith is trust in someone or something.” In the Christian context, it’s trust in the Triune God of the Bible that is expressed in a personal dependance upon the Lord Jesus Christ who is the perfect revelation of God in human flesh. In more general terms, faith is trust in someone or something that provides certainty for your life as a whole or in a particular aspect of your life. For instance, children inherently trust their parents and find security in that trust.
Now, you may have noticed that in Brian’s definition as well as every other example I’ve referenced in this column, the little preposition “in” is central to defining faith. It’s trust IN someone or something. The reason for this is that faith must always have an object. We understand this implicitly. We do not have faith for faith’s sake. We have faith in someone or something. Think about it. Our modern society tells us to believe in ourselves. Coaches tell us to believe in the game plan or in our teammates. Public health officials tell to trust in the science of the vaccines. Faith is always placed in someone or something.
So, the challenge for all of us is to determine what is the ultimate object of the faith upon which we build our lives. Is it someone or something that will stand the test of time and empower us to overcome the multitude of challenges we will face throughout our time on this earth? As a Christian, I am convinced there is only one who can do that as we sink the roots of our faith deep into him who is the eternal rock of our lives and creator of all things. Perhaps you would like to know more about him. If so, you can find him throughout the pages of the Bible.
** This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, April 21, 2021 edition of the The Chester News and Reporter from Chester, SC.
On Sunday, some of us will join Christians around the world will gather together with family, friends, and their congregations (with proper precautions, no doubt) to celebrate Jesus’s physical, bodily resurrection, which is a pillar of the Christian faith. Some would argue that it is the central tenant of the faith because there would be no Christianity without it. Think about it with me.
In First Corinthians 15:3-5, the Apostle Paul summarized the Christian gospel message in this way: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” He followed this summary statement with a list of appearances that Jesus made to a variety of groups after he rose from the dead. According to the list, he appeared to Peter, and to his disciples, and to 500 of his followers at one time, and lastly to Paul himself while Paul traveled on the road to Damascus. These eyewitnesses validate the reality of Jesus’s physical resurrection, which is a reality that is essentially important for Paul. Here’s why.
Notice how Paul connected the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins to his burial and to his resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. For him, there is no good news about God’s forgiveness of our sins, there is no hope beyond this life, without a resurrection. He was well aware of the Bible’s message of salvation. He understood God’s great love for the world. He recognized the reality of Jesus’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. He was convinced that Jesus’s death was a substitution for his own life to satisfy God’s judgment on him for his personal sins. He knew that was the case for the Corinthians too, and it would be the case for all those who would read his words throughout the rest of time.
But, he also realized that the power of sin is death and that as long as death remined unconquered all hope for humanity would be lost. Our great enemy would always and finally win. And this is the reason why the resurrection is such great news! When Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave, he broke death’s stranglehold on men, women, and children. It has no more power over those who trust Jesus with their lives! They’ll live eternally with God in the remade heavens and earth.
This is why Easter is so important to Christians around the world. It’s the very reason we have any hope in this life.
Sunday is going to be a great day for our family and our congregation as we celebrate our Savior’s resurrection from the dead. We’d love for you to join us!
***This article was originally published in the March 31, 2021 edition of the Chester News and Reporter from Chester, SC.
One of my favorite Bible stories is when Jesus healed a blind man in John 9. In it, Jesus and his disciples walked by a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus an important question for their day in age — “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered with, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
After this interaction, Jesus made some mud with his saliva, put in on the blind man’s eyes, and told him to go wash it off in a nearby pool. The man did as Jesus had told him. When he came out of the water, he could see for the first time in his life!
It’s a wonderful story of healing, of the power of the God of the Bible, of the love and grace of Jesus, and of the fullness of life being restored. It’s also a beautiful story God’s willingness to employ his creative genius to provide a solution to an impossible problem.
You may be wondering how a story about Jesus healing a blind man is a story about the God’s ability to solve insurmountable problems creatively. If you are, you are asking a great question. Historic and biblically based Christian teaching answers that question for us in two ways.
First, it tells us that Jesus is God in the flesh, meaning that he is both God and man – 100% God and 100% man – in the same person. He’s unique. There was no one like him before him and there will never be anyone like him again. Therefore, when Jesus fixes a problem, God fixes it.
Second, biblical teaching is clear that God created all that there is. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins with the statement, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” John introduced his version of Jesus’s life story with a similar proclamation, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” God is a creator. He is, in fact, the creator of all things.
So, when Jesus healed the blind man, he created a solution to an impossible problem. There was no hope for the man to receive his sight outside of the miraculous and creative work of Jesus. This is what Jesus does. He graciously fixes the world’s problems in his power to recreate all things in the same way he created them at the beginning. He does it in your life, and he does it in my life. The challenge for us is to trust him enough to allow him to do it. If we do, we will see the works of God displayed in us.
** This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, March 3 edition of The Chester News and Reporter of Chester, SC.
As our political environment has gotten more and more charged over the past year, I have been asked multiple times how we are to pray for our political leaders. The place to which I often turn when answering this question is 1 Timothy 2 where Paul wrote the following to Timothy:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV).
In this passage, Paul gives great wisdom that is as helpful to us as it was to Timothy when it comes to praying for our leaders.
The first thing we are to do is: pray for them. Make it a habit to actually pray for your leaders, those at the local, state, and national levels. Sometimes we ask questions like, “How do I pray for my leaders?” because we know we are supposed to pray for them and feel bad because we aren’t actually doing it. There’s no shame in that, per se. It’s just our reality. We don’t pray for them because we don’t know how to do it. However, we can’t know how to pray for them until we actually do pray for them.
A second thing we are to do when praying for our leaders is pray that they’ll govern in a way that enables all men, women, and children to live “peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.” This is where Paul gets specific. We are to pray that our leaders will lead in a way to maintain the freedom we need to be able to live our lives in honor of our God, lives that are peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified.
The third and final thing that Paul tells us to pray for in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is for our leaders to provide clarity and protection so that we can live at peace and proclaim the message of the wonderful love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. There can be no peace without clarity or protection. When things are unclear and truth is determined by agendas chaos reigns (not to mention looney conspiracy theories), and chaos is the opposite of peace. Similarly, protection from our enemies and those things that harm us creates the environment in which we can enjoy our freedoms. Security produces peace.
So, I encourage you to pray for your leaders at the local, state, and federal level. Pray for them to govern in a way that enables all people to live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way. Pray that they will govern with clarity and provide protection for all of us.
May God be pleased to answer our prayers today and every day.
**This post was written for the Wednesday, February 3, 2021 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC. It was also published on the seventeen82.com blog.
Good morning friends,
Earlier this morning, I watched a video from Rev. Donald MacDonald, minister of the Portree Free Church Congregation on the Isle of Skye and current Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. In it, he spoke about all the things we don’t know right now as we continue to live in this pandemic. We don’t know:
We have no idea about any of these things and countless others facing us at the moment. However, we do know some very important things. Rev. MacDonald pointed out four things we know, in particular.
So, in the months ahead, let’s resolve to focus on the things we do know and be thankful for the ways in which God has, is presently, and will continue to provide for us in his goodness and grace while continuing to practice proper social distancing to restrict our physical contact with one another. There is great peace in trusting our Lord to be the provider and lover of our souls that he has revealed himself to be. He will carry us through this whole thing in his perfect time.
You guys have a great day! May God bless you richly in his grace.
Here’s the link to Rev. MacDonald’s short video, if you’d like to watch it.
If you know anything about Coach Nick Saban’s leadership style, you are familiar with the two primary themes that he drills into his players. First, they are to “trust the process.” For Saban, the process is far more important than the outcome. Second, they are to do everything – even the smallest things – with excellence. I’ve heard numerous clips of Saan shouting, “You have to be excellent in everything! If you practice with excellence, you will play with excellence!”
Does it work? In college football, yes. The results speak for themselves. Saban’s team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, won their sixth National Championship in the last eleven years on Monday, January 11 in Miami. The win was the Saban’s seventh overall and the school’s eighteenth. These are remarkable accomplishments.
Saban, like most other coaches, is quick to say that he is not simply concerned with winning football games. His goal is to develop young men to be productive citizens, good husbands and fathers, and valuable employees. He understands that life is more important than football and that the vast majority of his players will not make their way onto NFL rosters, and even those that do, need the life skills he can teach them.
As a Christian, I think there is good wisdom in Saban’s twin emphases – trusting the process and being excellent. Now, I don’t know anything about his faith commitment or the source of his process-focused coaching and life philosophy, but I’m convinced they line up well with the wisdom for life we find in the Bible.
The Bible’s authors repeatedly challenge us to live lives of excellence to the glory of God in the present as we wait for our eternal reward. Consider these examples from the New Testament.
The purpose of each of these statements is to encourage us to live lives of excellence because everything we do should be done to bring glory to the God of Heaven, the one who has guaranteed an eternal reward for all of those who place their faith in Jesus and walk with him. The outcome is secure; so, let’s pursue excellence in everything we do while undergoing to process to get to eternity.
**This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, January 20, 2021edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
This year we have decided to designate the third Wednesday of each month as a day of prayer for our nation, our culture, our community, and our churches. The genesis of this decision came from a call to prayer from the Moderator of the General Synod of the ARP Church, Rob Roy McGregor, which he issued earlier this week in preparation for President-Elect Biden’s inauguration and in response to the tumultuous events that have shaken our society over the last year.
We know that the only hope we have to find peace in this world is the intentional movement of the Lord Jesus Christ to pour out his Holy Spirit on the hearts of men and women. We desperately need a fresh wave of revival in our land. He has done it before and he can do it again. Revival, however, MUST begin in the hearts and minds of the Lord’s people, his Church — those who call upon him for salvation and claim to follow him with their lives.
For this week’s prayer guide, I have adapted one that I wrote and distributed to our congregation on Thursday, January 7, 2021. You will notice that I have added two principle request to the ones I mentioned then. They come directly out of 1 Timothy 2 and were drawn to my attention by Moderator McGregor’s email requesting that we set January 20 aside for prayer.
That said, here are the specific requests that we ask you to bring before the throne of glory.
Your prayer can be short or long, in private or in public. We simply ask that you stop what you are doing and unite with us in prayer at 11 am. We know our God hears and answers the pleas of his people.
Also, we will be broadcast a short prayer service live online from our Sanctuary at 11 am. If you are available to pause your day at that time, please tune in. Here’s the link: https://livestream.com/chesterarp/events/9492963.
We hope you’ll join us in prayer today!
We, at Chester ARP Church, ask you, wherever you are, to join us at 11 am today (January 7, 2021) as we pause to pray for our nation, our culture, our communities, and our churches. Americans are divided, and the shocking events of yesterday at the Capitol are sadly just another example of that division.
We know that the only hope we have to find peace in this world is the intentional movement of the Lord Jesus Christ to pour out his Holy Spirit on the hearts of men and women. We desperately need a fresh wave of revival in our land. He has done it before and he can do it again. Revival, however, MUST begin in the hearts and minds of the Lord’s people, his Church — those who call upon him for salvation and claim to follow him with their lives.
Psalm 85 gives us a guide to humble and contrite prayer for revival. It is posted below.
We ask that you specifically pray for:
Your prayer can be short or long, in private or in public. We simply ask that you stop what you are doing and unite with us in prayer at 11 am. We know our God hears and answers the pleas of his people.
Would you join us where you are at 11 am to pray for our nation, our culture, our community, and our churches?
 LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
 You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah
 You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
 Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
 Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,
and grant us your salvation.
 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.
 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
 Yes, the LORD will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
 Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way. (ESV)
It’s that time of year when everyone of us is making and desperately trying to keep our New Year’s Resolutions. Some of us will no doubt have more success than others because we most likely chose more realistic resolutions.
I have four primary goals this year. They’re simple: read more, write more, enjoy good food and drink more, and laugh more. That’s it.
You know, I’ve tried developing more detailed and specific resolutions for the year. One year, I was going to read a book per month. Another year, I planned to lose 20 pounds. And then, there was the year I decided that I was going to play golf at Pebble Beach.
Let me save you from the guessing game as to whether or not I accomplished them — I did not. I fell short. I made a good effort at reading a book per month in January but failed to complete one in February that year. I lost some weight the year I pledged to lose 20 pounds but put it back on between Thanksgiving and Christmas (which we all do, don’t we?). And playing golf at Pebble Beach? That dream died the second I found out that one round cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.
By now, you are probably asking, “What is the point of this article?” Great question.
I want to encourage you to think about 2021 in terms of getting better rather than completing a list of arbitrary and somewhat unrealistic resolutions. That’s the goal in life anyway, isn’t it? Be better today than you were yesterday. Be better this year than you were last year. Therefore, set some goals that will enable you to be better in 2021 than you were in 2020.
Take my four goals for an example. Here’s how I think they will make me better.
And there is one final thing that all of these goals will make me do in 2021, and that is: slow down. Reading takes time. Writing takes meditation and time. Enjoying good food and drink requires that I set aside many of the distractions that occupy my mind. Laughing more demands that I give more attention to friends and family so that I can find the humor in their stories and actions.
So, I challenge you to leave your resolutions open-ended this year. Set the goal to be better in 2021 than you were in 2020. Expand your mind, record your thoughts, share some good meals, and be pleasant to be around. And, you’ll have a great year.
Happy New Year!
** This article originally appeared in the January 6, 2021 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
In his first post of the new year on the seventeen82.com blog titled, “Growing as a Christian,” Pastor James McManus wrote about the importance of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ from 2 Peter 3. His post encouraged my heart and I trust that it will encourage yours should you read it.
If you will allow it, I would like to jump on the James Train in this post and draw our attention to the beginning thirteen verses of 2 Peter 3 where Peter gives us a three-fold philosophy for living faithful lives in light of the impending return of Christ.
Let me set the stage.
By the time we get to the beginning of 2 Peter 3, the Apostle has written (for the better part of two letters) to a group of congregations full of Christians and Christian families who have been “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). They were marginalized by their society, led astray by religious leaders they trusted, and exiled from their families for their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. They were in a tight spot.
Knowing this (because he, himself, faced persecution in Rome), Peter sought to stir up their “sincere minds by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1). He reminded them first of the words and “predictions of the holy prophets” as well as “the commandments of the Lord and Savior through their apostles” (2 Peter 3:2), for they spoke God’s inspired word (2 Peter 1:21). He reminded them second that the prophets and apostles predicted that scoffers and false teachers would rise up in the last days following their own sinful desires and would try to convince others to follow them in their pursuit of godlessness (2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:3). He reminded them lastly that their only hope rests in the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel as it is revealed to them in the words of the apostles and prophets.
After stoking the fire of their memories, Peter focused on one particular promise they found in the Scriptures — Christ Jesus will return.
Central to understanding Peter’s message to his beloved congregations is the concept of the last days. For him, the last days is the time between Jesus’s ascension into Heaven and his subsequent return when he will completely establish his eternal kingdom after the heavens and the earth have been made new. This means that the present era has a beginning (the Day of Pentecost) and an end (Christ’s return), and the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee (Eph. 1:13-14) that it will all come to be as he testifies to our spirits of the reality of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return. Specifically in 2 Peter 3, Peter grounds his confidence in Christ’s return in the fact that Jesus came, lived, died, rose, and ascended in the exact way the prophets had predicted. Therefore, he and his readers could be certain that the predictions of Christ’s return would in fact come true in due time.
Armed with this faith-filled confidence, they could withstand the pressure of the scoffers and endure the hardships they faced from their persecutors. All they had to do was to wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill his promises, trust him with their lives, and prepare themselves to welcome him and his eternal kingdom.
Now, at first sight this instruction from Peter appears too ethereal, but it is imminently practical. Patiently waiting on the Lord’s return gives purpose, meaning, and direction to our lives. If we know that there is a definite end with reward for those who remain faithful to Christ and punishment for those who do not, then the decisions we make and the actions we take are eternally consequential for us. The conviction that Christ will return shapes our lives as we prepare ourselves for his return, a return that will come like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10). Because of this reality, waiting patiently on the Lord, trusting him with our lives, and preparing ourselves for his return are the most practical things to which followers of Christ can devote themselves.
As I conclude, I will draw your attention back to the opening paragraphs of this post where I said that Peter gives us a three-fold philosophy for living lives of faith in light of Christ’s return. Here is that philosophy, and I commend it to you.
May God bless you richly in his grace as you pursue him and elevate others to his glory as you wait for his certain return.
My beloved NC State Wolfpack beat Wake Forest Saturday night in thrilling fashion. After the game, running back Ricky Person, Jr said, regarding his breakout performance, “I’m speechless, honestly. I’ve battled through a lot of injuries throughout my career. I just kept faith in God, my teammates encouraged me on a daily basis, everyone. It was a long time coming for this moment…”
In a similar vein, Sunday’s winner of the 2020 US Open Golf tournament, Bryson DeChambeau, recently explained his belief in his new training regimen which was designed to drastically increase his body mass in an interview published in Golf Digest.
Based on their words, both of these athletes properly understand the concept of faith. They both know that faith, by definition, always has an object. It is “in” something or someone. Person stated it directly Saturday night when he said that he “kept faith in God.” His faith is in God. It wasn’t his faith alone that carried him through the obstacles. It wasn’t his faith alone that overcame the injuries to his hamstring and Achilles tendon. It was God that did it. His faith attached him to God and enabled him to rest in God’s strength while working tirelessly to get back to the playing field. The same is true for DeChambeau, except his faith wasn’t in God but in his process and training.
The Bible talks about faith in the exact same way. Biblical faith is grounded firmly in the Lord Jesus Christ, who famously told Martha, at the tomb of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). He gave her hope in the midst of her grief. Later, the Apostle Paul claimed the same hope for himself through faith as he testified that he lived his life “by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20)
In both of these instances, faith was the conduit through which God’s power and hope ran to the individuals. Let me use an example to explain.
You have power at your house. You use it all the time. You heat water with it. You cook with it. You wash clothes with it. You turn lights on at night with it. You watch TV with it. You surf the internet because of it. You also know that the lines that bring that power to your house are not the power source. It comes from somewhere else.
The same is true for faith. Faith functions as the power lines do in that it is the way you and I receive the power, hope, blessing, grace, and mercy of God in our lives. God is the source of all things and he gives them to us by faith.
So, let me encourage you to exercise your faith in the good and gracious God of the Bible so you may receive his life and his power each and every day.
This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, September 23, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter of Chester, SC.
During a recent interview, Georgia Bulldog great Herschel Walker described his morning workout. It is simply amazing! Get this.
Every morning Herschel does between 1500 and 2000 pushups, between 3500 and 5000 sit ups, and over 500 dips.
What? Are you kidding me? That’s simply an unbelievable workout regimen.
The crazy thing is that this has been Herschel’s normal workout routine for years. It has become part of his identity. It has helped train his mindset, enabling him to achieve great things on the football field and in life.
The best part of Herschel’s interview, though, was when he made the following statement: “The problem with most people I talk to is that they are not willing to put in the necessary work to be better people.” I could not agree more.
When I think about my own life, I see this reality and you probably do as well. We want to be better people. We want to be better parents and grandparents. We want to be better employees and employers. We want to be better citizens. And, if you are a Christian, you want to be a better Christian. All of this takes work.
Paul directed the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Being a faithful Christian – a faithful follower of Jesus – takes work. But, God has given us everything we need in order to be faithful to him. Paul goes on to say that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
This means that God not only commands us to do good deeds that bring him glory while working out our salvation, he gives us what we need to do it! Through his Spirit and in his grace, he gives us the desire as well as the ability to be more faithful men and women.
Paul had a specific good work in mind when he wrote these verses as well. Philippians 2:14 reads, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Paul’s intent here was to show the difference between a life of quiet endurance and one of discontented grumbling. Continual complaining and disputing stunts spiritual and personal growth as it focuses on the problems we face, our limitations, and our discomforts instead of the solutions. Paul is clear that our focus should always be on the solution because our eyes are locked on the target of our faith, the Lord God himself who has the power to do anything.
So, don’t walk around grumbling about everything that isn’t going your way. Don’t start an argument with everybody about everything. Don’t be afraid to put in the work to be better. Don’t quit when you confront adversity. Stay strong in your faith and let your light shine before all men and women remembering that God is always with you and strengthening you.
**This article originally appeared in the August 12, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
One of the popular movements of the 60’s and 70’s was to be more environmentally minded. “We need to save mother nature!” was the cry. Protests, rallies, and concerts joined the chorus. Nature must be preserved. Today, this movement has become political. Various candidates all proposing different plans to save the earth and to protect our world. Often, the most vehement defenders of nature have drastically conflicting world views from Christians. What should a Christian think about all of this? Should we be conservationally minded? Does the bible have anything to say about this topic? All of these are important questions.
Throughout Scripture, we find numerous references to God’s creation. From the very beginning, God places the stars and planets in the sky, the trees and flowers on the earth, the mountains and hills rising against the skyline, and the waves crashing on the shore. Time and again, the Scriptures talk about God’s creation and how it all brings glory to Him. In Psalm 8, David says of the creation, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Or, in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that all men know of God because He is made known through His creation.
Christian author and apologist, C.S. Lewis explained that the creation is like a mirror. When someone looks at a beautiful flower or an intricate spiders web, they are seeing a mere reflection of God’s greater beauty and intricacy. All of creation serves this same purpose – namely, to reflect God’s attributes and to bring Him glory. In this way, every single piece of nature is significant.
What should we take away from all of this? First, we, as Christians, should care about nature. We should desire the preservation and protection of the trees and plants. We care about them because they ultimately point us (and all who see them) back to the one who made them. Second, we should use nature as a talking point. John 1 tells us that Christ is the one who made all things. The next time you see a beautiful flower, you have a reason to talk about Jesus! Finally, take time during your day to enjoy God’s creation. Look at flowers, marvel at the work of the tiny ants, or even go and hug a tree. God made it all, so enjoy it, and praise Him for it!
** Post was written by Ethan McConnell, Pastoral Intern of Chester ARP Church
It’s summertime and that means that many of us are using our grills regularly to cook food for our family and friends. There’s not much better than a hot, juicy cheeseburger grilled to perfection, is there?
In his cookbook, Boy Meets Grill, celebrity chef Bobby Flay defined grilling as a means of “cooking food quickly over a very hot fire,” which gives the food a “seared, flavorful crust and a juicy interior.” That’s what makes it so good!
In many ways, I think our contemporary society can be defined as a grilling culture, and it’s not just because of the fun, the casual fellowship, and the relaxation that comes from gathering around the grill. It’s because we love things to come at us hot and fast. It suits our appetite.
We want our internet instantly, with its movies on demand and our news in small, manageable, fast-paced portions. We want immediate economic and political solutions to our greatest problems. We want systems changed overnight. We want educational options and medical advancements without delay.
This is all well and good until we confront the absolute impossibilities of our demands. It takes time to develop vaccines and effective treatments for unknown viruses. It takes time to recover from severe economic recessions. It takes time to create acceptable options from which parents, children, and educators can choose their preferred method of education. It takes time to address our greatest social dilemmas.
God knew this as he inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “Put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you…” (Colossians 3:12-13). This brief instruction challenges us to be kind, compassionate, meek, patient, and forgiving. Every one of these qualities is necessary for the development, maintenance, and growth of a good and profitable society. That really doesn’t need any further explanation, does it? It is self-evident.
As I conclude, I’ll revisit the introduction of Bobby Flay’s cookbook where he made the distinction between grilling and barbequing. Barbecuing, he wrote, “is slow cooking over a low flame and is suitable for less tender food.” The low heat over a long time breaks down the connective tissue and makes the tough meat delicate and delicious!
Friends, most of our personal and societal problems aren’t tender and suitable for grilling. They’re tough, and they would be far better smoked. And, smoking takes patience. So, let us put on compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience as we bear one another’s burdens, working together to make this world a better place.
** The above article originally appeared in the Wednesday, July 29, 2020 edition of the The Chester News and Reporter.
What ever happened to grace?
Have you been wondering that lately?
It seems as if almost everyone has forgotten this little five letter word that author Philip Yancey has called our “last best word.” In fact, our experiences when interacting with one another both on social media and interpersonally often reflect the opposite of grace – harshness.
Now, I know that there are still plenty of displays of grace all around us, especially in our local community. But, would you not also agree that our society is becoming less and less characterized by grace, politeness, and good manners?
We jockey with one another for position. We tear each other down in order to elevate ourselves. We withhold forgiveness from those who have offended us. We hold others to impossible standards of behavior that we have no intention of meeting ourselves. We create fear in others to prevent our imperfections from being exposed. We do it all in some attempt to make ourselves feel better about our weaknesses and our failures.
This is what makes grace such an amazing word!
Grace is, in a biblical sense, the unmerited favor of God. It says that God loves and accepts you and me regardless of who we are, where we have been, what we have done, what we have not done, or where we are from. God loves us, provides salvation for us in Jesus Christ, and pours forth immeasurable blessings upon us.
John Newton wrote the most famous song about grace – Amazing Grace. Interestingly, his story of redemption began as the captain of a slave ship. His heart was arrested by the love, mercy, and grace of God and his life was transformed. After converting to Christianity, he renounced his former trade and worked tirelessly for the abolition of the slave trade. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “I’m a great sinner, but Christ is an even great Savior.”
God’s powerful and transformative grace enables us to be gracious to one another. Think about it. If you’re accepted by God, then you don’t need to elevate yourself over other people. Why? Because your identity is no longer found in relation to them; rather, it is rooted squarely in what God says about you. Therefore, you are free to be gracious, loving, polite, and forgiving to those you see daily.
Newton was right. Grace is truly amazing. We are much better off when we live in grace and extend it to others, for our world thirsts for it in ways it does not even recognize.
This article was originally written for and published in the Wednesday, June 24, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
From the beginning of March, we have been living in a continual crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of social distancing policies. All of our students missed out on the last three months of their school year while our graduating seniors missed out on many of the rites of passage that they had anticipated over the last 3-4 years. And, the events of the last two weeks with the death of George Floyd and it’s repercussions have increased our senses of uncertainty, confusion, and frustration. Each of these realities would have been challenging in and of themselves, but when combined they have created a cultural pressure cooker, which has caused me to consider the proper attitude to possess while dealing with crises.
As a Christian, my first inclination was to study the life of Jesus to examine how he dealt with crises. When I did, I found six attitudes in his life that I think we would do well to adopt when we face our own crises or walk with others through them. Here they are.
I’m convinced that a prayerful, listening, compassionate, gracious, righteous, and wise person is well suited to confront the challenges that this world presents. Attitude matters. It determines how we respond, the words we say, and the character we exhibit throughout our lives. Let us follow Jesus’s lead while walking through these current crises as well as those that are sure to come throughout the balance of our lives.
This post was originally written for the Wednesday, June 10 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Barnabas. In Acts, Luke tells us that he was an early convert to Christianity who came from a rich Jewish heritage. He was also one of the most generous members of the early Church. However, his encouraging spirit is the best reason for which he is remembered, for his name means, “Son of Encouragement.”
Acts 9:26-27 reads, “And when he (Paul) had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him (Paul) and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.”
Every time I read these verses, I’m struck by how instrumental Barnabas was in bringing Paul into fellowship with the other Apostles. Barnabas stood in the gap for Paul by testifying to his conversion, his initial gospel work, and his defense of the faith against the Hellenists (Acts 9:28-29). Without him, becoming a member of the small and skeptical band would have been much more difficult for Paul, if it was possible at all. They were scared of Paul, and rightly so. He was the one who had violently persecuted the earliest christians and oversaw the stoning of Stephen. How would they know he wasn’t trying to join them so that he could destroy the Christian Church before she ever got started? Barnabas’s testimony provided the necessary proof of Paul’s life-change.
Three aspects of Barnabas’s character stand out to me when I think about his story. First, he had a solid faith in our sovereign God. His faith caused him to believe that Paul could be changed by the gospel. It also caused him to give credence to Paul’s testimony of his own salvation while causing him to rest peacefully in God’s sovereignty over all the events that would take place. Second, he was courageous. Standing up for Paul wouldn’t have been an easy thing for Barnabas to do. It took courage. Everyone in the room was skeptical about Paul’s transformation. The easy thing would have been for him to remain quiet, but his courage wouldn’t let him. Third, he encouraged Paul and the other Apostles. He intentionally spoke positively about Paul’s change while reassuring the Apostles that Paul would be a great addition to their fellowship and a benefit to their mission.
We would do well to emulate these three characteristics of Barnabas’s life. We need faith to believe that life-transformation is possible, that the testimony of that transformation is credible, and that our God is sovereign over everything that happens on this earth. We should be willing to exhibit courage on the behalf of other people. Additionally, we must develop the habit of encouraging one another as we grow in grace together and spread the gospel. If we would commit to being more faithful, courageous, and encouraging our lives would be fuller, and the world would be a better place to live.
Here’s this week’s Pastoral Update where I discuss becoming an encourager in more detail. Have a great day!