During 2014, it is my goal to read and comment on the entire New Testament. The plan is simple: read one chapter a day five days a week and make a few points of personal application. In some cases, this will be a rather easy and painless endeavor. However, at other times, I am confident that there will be great toil, conviction, and inner reflection as the Scriptures penetrate my life and challenge me in direct ways.
I would love for you to join me on this experiment. I am not sure where God will lead us, nor am I sure about what he will teach us, but I am confident that his grace will sustain us. I am also certain that we will be more devoted followers of Jesus at the end of 2014 than we are now. That is, if we are willing to let God speak into our lives and to discipline ourselves to follow through with the plan.
I will begin on January 5, 2014 with Matthew 1. See you then.
Yesterday I mentioned an online article about inviting people to church. This link will take you to the article. I encourage you to take a moment to read the brief article. My favorite line in the article is, “Every invitation to church is an ‘I love you and I want this indescribable love, peace, and joy for you because I genuinely care about you.'”
If you’ve had someone on your mind recently that you wanted to invite to church, invite them. If you meet someone new, invite them to church. Invite them because you love them. Invite them because you want better for them – you want them to know Jesus.
If you’ve received this email and you haven’t been to church in a while, then this is my special invitation to you to join us Sunday morning. I want you to know and grow in Jesus! It’s my greatest desire for each and every one of you. May The Lord bless you in his grace. Christmas is a great time to experience God’s grace and love in Christ anew.
I’m often asked the question, “What is the Bible about?” My response is simple: Jesus. The entire Bible is about Jesus. He is the center of the story. He is the center of God’s love story — the story of God’s love for his people. Jesus said as much himself. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18).
Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets because the Old Testament was written about him. He established their true purpose and intent in his teaching and accomplished them in his obedient life.
He Did It in Four Primary Functions
This Matters Because…
Jesus and His Gospel are the center of the Bible. Everything in the Bible points to Him. Then….
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the los of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…but that which comes through faith in Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:8-11 (NIV)
Recently, I have thought more and more about the question: Why don’t we see the kinds of things that those who walked with Jesus saw? Why don’t we see the healings? Why don’t we experience the power? Is it because they walked in a specific time with a specific pouring out of God’s power in the person of His Son – Jesus Christ? I suppose so. But, didn’t Jesus say, “…whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works that these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Is it because God works in the spiritual realm now (since the ascension of Jesus), not so much in the physical one? I guess you could say that, but isn’t that idea challenged by the testimony of the Christians in Acts along with the testimonies of Christians throughout history, and even some today? Now, I must admit that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom in the present, and we await its physical consummation in the future. But, that doesn’t mean that the physical realities of the future aren’t expressed in the present world in which we live, does it? No. Then, why are our Christian experiences so lacking of the power of Christ that was so evident when he walked on earth and just after his ascension when his church was being formed?
Many people would explain this by saying that we experience a “crisis of faith.” In other words, we don’t believe enough. But, how do you quantify belief? You either believe or you don’t, just as you’re either pregnant or not. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, and you can’t have a little bit of belief if you hold to the biblical gospel. If the amount of belief you have determines the depth of your relationship with Christ, then your belief becomes the work upon which you are saved. And, that is no salvation at all. So, we have to reject that.
I believe the reason that we lack power is an issue of PRIDE. It’s one thing to believe in Christ; it’s another thing to depend upon Christ. It’s one thing to call upon your belief from time to time, even regularly in your life; but, it’s a whole other thing to draw every breath from your faith in Christ, to get your very lifeblood from him. In order to do that we must be humbled in his grace. That’s what Paul writes, isn’t it? I’ve given it all up for the righteousness that comes through faith so that I may by any means possible attain the power of the resurrection of the dead. And Paul saw that resurrection power at work in him and in the church as others sought the same goal –the glory of Christ – in their brokenness before Christ. Let me ask you, do you know that broken dependence upon Jesus about which Paul testifies?
Let me give you a test to help you answer that question. What do you do when there is trouble in your life, when life is too big for you, when you can’t make heads or tails of life? What do you do? Do you withdraw from God and his people? Do you isolate yourself saying, “I just need to deal with this personal issue by myself? I don’t want to burden people with my problems. When I get it all figured out, I’ll be straight and get back with God’s people.” Do you get angry with yourself? With others who aren’t struggling? With God? Do you find yourself joyless – not struggling with depression (we all do that), but completely devoid of joy? Are you overwhelmed by shame? If so, and if you are doing these things, the chances are pretty high that you aren’t living in the full resurrection power of Christ. This is because your life depends upon what you do rather on what God has done in Christ and is doing through his Spirit in the lives of his people.
So, the question remains: Why don’t we see the things the disciples saw? Why don’t experience the working of the resurrection power in our lives? I think it’s simple: we are too proud to depend upon Christ, to draw our very breath from him. Friends, we don’t have a faith problem. We have a PRIDE problem. May God humble us and break us in his grace so that we can know his power and say, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the los of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…but that which comes through faith in Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Its been a while since I last wrote. The summer has been busy, and quite frankly, life with a 1 yr. old running around the house is anything but relaxing! Its great, but exhausting. My goal is to begin to post on Tuesdays, maybe more.
One of the fundamentals of our congregation is Christ-honoring service. We talk about it all the time. How do we honor Christ as we serve him in this world? Christian ministry takes place more outside side of the context of the congregation than it does inside it. As a congregation we are to be a launching pad to ministering to those outside the kingdom of Christ and so advance His kingdom. That’s one of the fundamentals of being a disciple of Christ. Jesus trained and commissioned his disciples to go and proclaim the kingdom of God while he was still with them (Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-12) and then after he ascended into Heaven (Matthew 28:18-20). One of the ways they were to proclaim his kingdom was through Christ-honoring service. This is true for us too. And so, since we hold this Christ-honoring as a fundamental of our congregation, we have challenged each other to honor Christ by investing our lives in avenues of service so as to proclaim the kingdom of Christ and to bring people into it.
And so, I was thrilled and encouraged greatly in the Lord when I read a piece in the Rock Hill Herald about one of our students, Peyton Marion. To impact the world for Christ, to invest in others, Peyton spear-headed an effort to collect soccer cleats for children in Liberia who do not have shoes and cleats in which to play the game they love. As I read the article two Bible verses came to mind — “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it in a matter worthy of the Lord” (Col. 3:17) and “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Peyton put his faith to work. May we all be challenged and encouraged by Peyton’s example of faith in action — Christ-honoring service. Well done Peyton!
Check out the article here if you haven’t already seen it.
Last night, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. R.J. Gore preach at my good friend Kyle Sims’ church in Lancaster. Dr. Gore chose as his text 2 Corinthians 4:1-10. His main point was that the light of the gospel, Jesus Christ as Lord, is best seen from pots that are cracked. A cracked pot releases the treasure that is found within. This is especially the case if the treasure is light and the pot is a luminary set in a dark place. As the light shines it illuminates the room so folks can see. The more the pot is cracked, the more brightly the light shines. Dr. Gore pointed out that Paul referred to himself as a cracked pot who had suffered many afflictions for the sake of Christ so that “the life of Jesus may be made known in his body” (2 Cor. 4:10). There was and still is much fruit in Paul’s affliction.
Dr. Gore used three examples of cracked pots in Christian history in addition to himself. He told the stories of David Brainerd, John Bunyan, and William Cowper. Each of these three men were severely cracked pots. Brainerd was sickly, melancholic, and weak; Bunyan was arrested and held captive much of his life for preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified; and, Cowper suffered depression and mental breakdown under the pressure of guilt and self-condemnation. But yet, the Lord shined brightly through each of them. The pots were cracked, but the light was bright. The pot is the vessel. There is nothing particularly special about it. It’s ordinary. But, the treasure is priceless! The treasure contained by the pot is the pot’s glory. A vessel that contains the light of Jesus is a vessel full of glory. And in that case, the more cracks the better.
Wasn’t this the case with the Lord Jesus. The true light of the world had come into the world in a clay pot – a human vessel. He was broken; he was crushed; he was abandoned. But his treasure of truth shined for all the world to see. The centurion by the cross proclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” The women attending the cross saw the the light of glory shine in its brightest ray when the Lord Jesus said, “It is finished.” His pot was crushed, but his light shined for all the world to see.
That got me thinking. If I were to attempt to lighten a dark room with clay pot luminaries, I would need one of two things. I would either need a lot of luminaries in pristine condition, or I would need a few luminaries with multiple cracks in them. When God wants to illuminate the world, he has both at his disposal. Sometimes he has multiple pots, and other times he simply has a few or, even, a single one. The number he uses and the way he uses them is a decision of his providence. However, you and I can decide whether or not we will allow him to use us. Sometimes he wants to use us together, and yet other times, he wants to use us alone. So that we can shine as brightly as we can, he often has to crack us. That’s not pleasant, but it is glorious. We are the vessels, he is the treasure! May we let him use us to shine ever so brightly for his glory.
Why would I call my blog poolsandpastures? That’s a good question. The term poolsandpastures has its roots in Psalm 23. The Shepherd leads his sheep by pools of still water to refresh their thirsty bodies and into green pastures to sustain them for the journey of life that lies ahead. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, leads his sheep into the pools of living water to refresh their souls and into the the treasure trove of heavenly manna to sustain their lives in his grace. As his under-shepherd, it is my great privilege to lead his sheep in his footsteps and into the pools of refreshment and into the pastures full of sustenance which he chooses. I pray for the Lord’s blessing upon us as we follow him, the great and good shepherd. Blessings.
Isn’t it amazing how the Lord mysteriously and graciously confronts us? Last week I poured myself into preparing a sermon on Pontius Pilate who was nothing if he wasn’t complacent. Pilate’s complacency led him to make the decision to crucify Jesus. He was, from a Roman perspective, the principle reason for Jesus’ crucifixion. Because of his complacency, he lacked courage. He wouldn’t stand for the righteous one in the face of unrighteous, even evil, opposition. We have a lot to learn from him because complacency characterizes our lives as well. And, it takes courage to live as committed Christians today.
A.W Tozer wrote, “One of the greatest foes of the Christian is religious complacency…Orthodox Christianity has fallen to its present low estate from lack of spiritual desire. Among the many who profess the Christian faith, scarcely one in a thousand reveals any passionate thirst for God.” So, we ended our worship time with a call to faith and repentance. As I left worship, I was convicted, but also satisfied because I thought I had preached what God had called me to preach. And, I still think that. But, I am not sure I understood the depth to which God would go to confront the sin of complacency in my life. Enter Mrs. S.
Mrs. S. came into my office on Monday morning. She was confused, broken, perplexed. She truly fit Paul’s description of himself in 2 Corinthians 4 — “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…struck down, but not destroyed.” Her daughter had given birth to a still born child and then fell off the delivery table and suffered a life-altering brain trauma. Now, her daughter had been moved to the hospice house to await her untimely death. Mrs. S. was confused, but her faith remained strong. As we talked, I discerned that she was a member of another church, but her church wouldn’t assist her, her husband, nor their daughter. We prayed. We shared in the hope of Christ. And then the Lord burdened me for this woman and her daughter — a burden that I knew was coming — “Go to pray with the family and care for this young lady as I have cared for you.”
My mind is full of uncertainty and even fear — “I have never met Mrs. S. before. I don’t know her, and I surely don’t know her daughter. They are members of another church. Is the daughter a believer in Christ? What will the scene be when I get to the hospice house?How will an African-American family respond to me?” But, the Lord’s call is sure. “Go.” I need courage. My complacency seeks to find an excuse, but the Lord says, “Go. I will give you the strength.” And so, I go. I’m afraid and uncertain, but he supplies the strength I need to be courageous. “God, supply my every need.”
I often tell people, “Be careful what you pray for because you might just get it.” I guess I should learn, “Be careful what you preach for the Lord might just confront you with it.”
For about the past three weeks I have been wrestling with a particular text in Luke’s gospel. In verses 38-42 of chapter 10, Luke tells a story with three main characters: Mary, Martha, and Jesus. Mary and Martha were sisters and the hostesses of a party. Jesus was the invited guest. Martha had a gift of service, and she put it to work. Mary didn’t have that gift. She just hung out at Jesus’ feet. Martha was distracted, and Mary was focused. Martha complained to Jesus; she needed and wanted Mary’s help. But Jesus didn’t respond the way she wanted him to. She wanted him to tell Mary to get up and help her. But, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (verse 41-42). I can imagine Martha saying, with jaw dropped, “What? I’m trying to serve you. Is that wrong?”
Did Jesus say that she was wrong by trying to serve him? No. What he meant was that she went far beyond the call on her life to serve him. That led her to a point of sinful, prideful preoccupation with her service. Doug Milne wrote, “Jesus’ reply to her…indicates that she was not wrong to take trouble for Jesus. Her mistake was in going beyond what was necessary in the circumstances when only one thing (a meal) was necessary. Her response was not measured by the wishes or needs of her guest so much as by her own desire to host something grand. Martha ought to have been more taken up with Jesus and less with herself.” Martha let the task overtake the task-giver. She had put her own activity of serving Jesus over and above her own relationship with Jesus. That was her mistake. And, that is my great struggle as well. Often times I think we have a tendency to think about what we can DO for Christ is as important, if not more important, than how we ENJOY Christ. That is a fatal mistake. In fact, it is idolatry. When we do this, our joy and satisfaction is found in what WE have done, rather than in who HE is and what HE has done. Mary, however, got it right. She perceived that there is one thing of most importance: personal communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. And she chose it. That should not and would not be taken from her.
There are many activities in which we can involve ourselves in service to Christ, but one thing is of utmost importance — communion with Christ. Mary shows us that whatever work we do for Christ our primary need is for time spent with him and hearing his word. Daily communion with Christ is essential. Our work for Christ is only resourced by our continual drinking from the fountain of living water. May the Lord burden us with the desire to sit at his feet and to serve him in his great Spirit.
I came across John Mellencamp’s song “Small Town” when I was in college. I have always been a small town guy. Now, by God’s grace, I am a preacher in a small town. And I love it! My wife and I and our little girl are the proud servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and a wonderful congregation. This blog will be about the joys, trials, temptations that we face along the journey while “preaching in a small town.” There is a great line in Mellencamp’s song that says, “Taught to fear Jesus in a small town.” That is my goal: to teach people to love Jesus in our small town, Chester, SC. My prayer is that we will be encouraged in God’s grace as we share together the blessings of following him.