According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Month: June, 2014

The Repetitive Baptist Prayer

I am a Southern Baptist. I love it. I don’t think I’ll ever be part of another denomination.

I may love the Baptist tradition, but I do consider other denominations my brothers and sisters in Christ as long as they are true followers of Jesus, meaning they believe the Gospel.

I hear a lot of Baptist speak against Catholics in how they pray. Because they pray the Lord’s prayer or other repeated prayers, they are said to violate Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 where he says not to pray with vain repetition. I would absolutely agree, under most circumstances, don’t pray with repetitive prayers. But I do have to challenge those in my own denomination who say this.

Have you ever heard either of these prayers:

“Lord, thank you for this meal. Use it to the nourishment of our bodies.”

“Dear Lord and Gracious Heavenly Father. Thank you for this day and all your many blessings. Lead, guide, and direct us. In Jesus name, Amen.”

I hear these two prayers all the time. In fact, by habit, I sometimes unintentionally pray the first one.

Baptists, these are just as repetitive as those Catholics use.

Think about it. We get to talk to the God of the universe! The one who created us. We get to speak to God! Why in the world would we ever want to recite something to him when we can talk to him? If I were married, I’d never recite a speech to my wife. I’d genuinely talk to her because I love her! The same with God.

Let us all, Baptist, Catholic, or anyone else, make our prayers like this. The prayer over your meal. The prayer over the offering in church. The closing prayer at church. None of these are transitions to get on to the meal or the next part of church. They are prayers. You are talking to the God who loves you. The God who made you. He has a personality. He has a character. Talk to him like he is a person and not just some genie in a lamp that you have to recite a certain saying to get what you want. Talk to him like he is really there.

Praise God we get to talk to him.

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Sanctification in Back Pain

I have to be straight with you. Sometimes, I get injured in really pathetic ways.

This week has been one of those weeks where I am experiencing the pain of one of those pathetic injuries. I strained a muscle in my back. This happens to me a couple times a year, but usually it is because I am doing manly things like weight-lifting or manual labor. Not so much this time.

Last Saturday, the college group at my church went to Dave and Buster’s in Nashville. If you don’t know what that is, it is like a Chuck-E-Cheese for adults. So, of course, I wanted to play skee ball. I am usually pretty good at that game. I didn’t do so hot that night. On my first ball, I was bent forward in the skee balling position and a muscle in my lower back just gave out. I felt it strained.

Everything was okay. I had a little pain, but it wasn’t too bad. Sunday and Monday were the same. I felt the pain of a strained muscle, but it was completely bearable. Tuesday morning, I woke up and oh my. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even sit in a chair without hurting. So, I used icy-hot, ibuprofen, and ice like crazy to make it feel better.

Pathetic injury #2. I woke up Thursday morning and the pain was nearly gone. I felt like a new man! I sat at my computer and was checking my email when I felt a sneeze coming on. I had been holding my nose when I sneezed to prevent pain in my back. But this one came too fast. I sneezed and the jerk reaction strained the already strained muscle.

Since that moment, I have been in horrible pain. Even as I write this, I have an icy hot patch on my back. I can barely put my shoes on because I can’t bend over. I can’t get out of bed without gasping as the searing pain runs through my back. I have to get out of my truck at about the speed of a 70-year-old man.

So, this whole week, I’ve been in my house for most of the time, usually by myself. I am an introvert, but I hate this so much. I absolutely advocate that you take a Sabbath day once a week. But a whole week of it will drive you insane.

But today, I started thinking of what God is teaching me in this time. He has reminded me heavily of 3 things.

1. Pain is real

Often, I hear Christians whine about pain they are going through and in my arrogance, I say, “Come on. Just rejoice that God is good and you will be fine.” That’s an area I need to grow in. This pain has definitely taught me that they have a legitimate reason to be upset with their pain. Yes, God is good. But that doesn’t make us without pain….yet.

2. Sin is destructive

In this painful time, I am reminded that ultimately, pain is the result of sin. When man was cursed in Genesis 3, it brought about the sweat of the brow, pain in childbirth, thorns, and ultimately death. It all came as the result of sin and it continues to happen because of sin. I am cursed with pain because I am a sinner. Sin is destructive and it will kill you. Run from it!

3. Jesus is alive

In my pain, I am reminded that Jesus bore pain upon himself and allowed it to kill him. And then he promises in the end that it will all die. In Revelation 21, he says that there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. He is repairing his creation to what it was in the beginning before Adam sinned and brought a curse upon us.

Christ redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us.

Jesus Relates to Our Careers

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In Mark 1, Jesus approaches Peter and Andrew, who were fishermen. He looks at them, while they are at work, and says, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” In other words, “Your fishing may be doing you well, but come with me and I’ll show you an even greater version of fishing.”

Jesus calls every person, no matter their career to follow him and be part of a bigger story.

To the banker, he says, “Follow me, and I will make your money count for even more.”

To the construction worker, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you build an even bigger house, my house.”

To the journalist, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you a reporter of the greatest news there is.”

To the chef, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you serve bread that gives life.”

To the athlete, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you run an even greater race.”

To the teacher, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you teach the most exciting subject since the creation of the world.”

To the musician, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you sing melodies like that of the angels.”

To the lawyer, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you defend the truth of your case before the nations.”

To the scientist, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you go even deeper into scientific truth than you could ever imagine.”

To the doctor, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you bring healing, physical and spiritual, to the world.”

To the police officer, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you a protector of even greater justice.”

It is not just the pastor, missionary, and church planter that have a God glorifying career.

Following Jesus is not some archaic practice that you can’t relate to anymore. He takes you to an even deeper path of life than you could have imagine existed. To some of you, he might call you out of your career, as he did Peter and Andrew. But for most of you, he will call you to follow him in your career to make much of his name right there.

So come on. Jesus is standing in front of you saying, “Follow me.” Follow him with everything you’ve got and then make much of him in your career. He makes know the path of life providing fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Holy Spirit, Fill This Place?

Often, I think we pray for the wrong thing. During worship services, sometimes we pray that the Holy Spirit would fill the place. That’s a great prayer, but I think it’s a little off target.

Sometimes, I feel like we are praying that a warm breeze would fill the room when we pray that. That wouldn’t benefit us in any way. We’d just have to turn the air up because the people would be complaining that it is too hot in the sanctuary.

Think of the Holy Spirit as water. If the stained-glass windows were to explode in your church and a rush of water came in and filled the room like a scene right out of Titanic, it would not be beneficial for the congregation. They’d drown and die.

However, if you give them a glass of water and they drink it, they have the required strength to live life.

When the Holy Spirit first fell in Acts 2, it did fill the room in a wind, but it wasn’t until it actually rested on the apostles that anything happened in the life of the church.

So it’s not bad to desire the Holy Spirit to fill a place, but what is His target? Is it simply to fill the room and make everyone have warm, fuzzy feelings while they sing? Or is it that the Holy Spirit would fill each person in the room and send them out to do God’s work in the world?

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would fill our people that the Kingdom of God will advance in the world for the glory of Jesus in all nations.

My Current Theology Struggle

For a little over a year, I have leaned toward reformed theology. If you don’t know what reformed theology is, it is what Calvinism falls under, however, I would say that much more is included in it than just Calvinism. If you don’t know what Calvinism is, it deals heavily with the idea of predestination. It hovers around the idea that God chose (or elected) people for salvation before the creation of the world. It includes so much more than that issue, but most people camp out on that issue and never discuss anything else in the theology.

It’s not something I have talked about much because what often happens with this theology is that the theology itself becomes more central to someone’s faith than Jesus and I am not interested in that happening in any way.

I have leaned heavily toward this theology for two reasons:

1. I have admired it’s glorious view of Christ.

2. Most of the preachers I follow today are reformed. (Matt Chandler, David Platt, John Piper, Louie Giglio, etc.)

I am going to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall to pursue education for pastoral ministry. If you know anything about Southern, you probably know that it is famous (or infamous) for being very reformed.

Recently, I went on a pastoral care visit with my pastor, who is not reformed. We had to drive an hour both ways, so we were able to talk a lot. In discussing Southern, we got on the reformed topic. I didn’t voice any beliefs I had. I just listened.

Since, I have not been sure where I stand on a lot of theological views I’ve had for a while. I don’t know how much of reformed theology I still believe. I am on a quest right now to figure that out. There are a lot of questions I have that I can’t find an answer for. It’s not that there isn’t answers that have been put forth for them, but my seeking of an answer is not satisfied by these answers.

Some of my struggles

-Some reformed preachers, like John Piper, teach that God’s greatest goal is to glorify himself. God is completely worthy of all glory and honor forever, however, does the notion that he is self-seeking of his glory fully match the Bible? There are two sides of this, which is what is causing my struggle. In one sense, the image of God’s glory and nature is Jesus (Hebrews 1:3), who did not come in glorious power, but emptied himself of his glory in order to save us, which ultimately made him glorious forever. (Philippians 2:5-11). So, we see this picture of God emptying himself of his glory for our sake, however, Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before him. What is that joy? Is it him being glorified or something else? God says in Isaiah 42:8 that he will give his glory to no other. He seems to hold on to it there, but he empties himself of it in Jesus.

-It is completely clear in Scripture that God is in sovereign control of his creation and his people. So, if that is the case, to what extent is God in charge of every action that we undergo? My pastor made an interesting point that God is sovereign over his own sovereignty, so he can therefore grant that humans have free will. However, does that mean that he loses all sovereignty willingly? To what extent did God plan out the events of what would happen beforehand? The Bible seems to suggest that he did plan things out in advance. John Piper has actually made the argument that God can predestine that sin happen and not be sinful himself. I don’t agree with that. I don’t see how God can be just for condemning sinners in their sins if he planned for them to sin.

-The Bible does say that God chose Christians for salvation. Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:3-6 both say that he predestined us. Ephesians say that he chose to make us blameless before the foundation of the world and predestined us in love for adoption. However, what about the other side of that? Did God then choose who would go to hell? Or do the non-Christians simply go to hell because God did not choose them? What do we do with the reprobate who never believes the Gospel?

These are just some of what is going on in my head.

I may not get the answers I am looking for this side of eternity. If in the end, the questions above are answered in the ways that I don’t seem to understand as good, I will understand them then in the presence of Jesus. He is the one who knows all things. I won’t know all things here on earth. If I am wrong or don’t understand something, I can’t get mad at God. I didn’t create the universe. I haven’t set the order of how things are to be.

However, there is one thing we do know for sure in the reformed debate: God know everything. So there had to have been some kind of election before the foundation of the world. If God knows everything, he created the world fully knowing that Adam and Eve were going to sin, so Christ was always the plan to save the world. Revelation calls him the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. If God knows everything, he knows every person in the world who will believe the Gospel and be saved from their sins. Whether he planned to save them before hand is a different debate. But he knows all of his blood-bought children.

So it’s our job to continue preaching the Gospel until all the children of God believe and Christ returns.

“I need to do better.”

I often hear Christians talking in a saddening way about the things in their Christian walk. I’ve heard things said a lot in the manner of, “I don’t pray enough. I should pray more.”, “I could give more of my time to God.”, or “I could always be doing more.” Some of these sayings are absolutely genuine, but I wonder how many of them are just filler text to ignore taking action in our Christian walk? I want to challenge it.

When you use this “I need to do better” theology, is it because you are sincerely seeking where you are not measuring up in your walk and seeking to grow or is it simply an excuse for you to get by, so you don’t have to acknowledge your lack of measuring up?

I’m worried that many Christians have a mentality like the bumper stickers that I have seen: “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” It’s true that you have fallen short of the glory of God and can be made righteous before God by nothing except the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but it is false that you do not grow more toward perfection as you follow Jesus. Jesus actually told his disciples, “…be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

If you think you could do better in prayer, then don’t sit around moping about it, start praying. If you could be spending more time with God, don’t whine about it. Figure out where in your life you are wasting time, abandon that activity, and spend more time with God. If you could be sharing the Gospel more, don’t simply talk about the fact that you don’t do it. Go and share the Gospel. The only way your levels of lacking will ever be beaten is for you to push headlong against them and seek to push them away, becoming more like Jesus.

Paul said that he is so concerned with achieving perfection in Christ that he strains forward with everything he has got to reach it (Philippians 3:13). The writer of Hebrews said we are running a race to get to Jesus (Hebrew 12:2). No runner of a race is still at the starting line looking at his tied tennis shoes thinking, “I sure wish I ran better.”

So recognize that you are not perfect before God. You will not be totally perfect before God until Jesus returns and completes his work in you. As you wait for that, do everything in your power to run toward Jesus and become more like him. Christian, seek to be perfect, for the Son of God was perfect.

Faithful, Fruitless Evangelism

Have you noticed how, in the church, we sometimes praise ministry only when it is fruitful?

So, the Billy Graham crusade that brings 5000 people to make a decision is viewed as awesome, but the faithful laborer who is sharing the Gospel everyday in the streets, but never sees people respond is completely overlooked. If the person is teaching everything correctly, the faithful laborer who sees no fruit should be as praiseworthy as those who lead 100 people to Christ a year.

The Scriptures are filled with examples of people who were radically faithful to God, yet saw little to no fruit from it. But no one wants the ministry of Moses. He has to deal with a group of complaining people for 40 years and when they finally arrive outside the promised land, God tells Moses, “They are going in, but I’m killing you on the mountain.”

No one wants the ministry of Isaiah, who is told to go preach the Word to a people who will never listen. No one wants the ministry of Jeremiah, who warns Israel for years that Jerusalem is going to get destroyed and guess what, it got destroyed.

Everyone wants Jonah’s ministry. He preached an 8 word sermon and the entire people group repented. Everyone wants Peter’s ministry who preached at Pentecost and saw 3,000 come to faith in Jesus.

But let us not be quiet about ministers out there who are faithfully laboring and not seeing any results. Praise God they are being faithful. Good job.

Rather, let them be an example to those who aren’t sharing the Gospel. It’s not about the results of your ministry. It’s about whether or not you are being faithful. The majority of Christians don’t ever share their faith, which is frightening. We are supposed to be a people marked by love (John 13:35).  Yet, if you believe that God is going to pour out his wrath on those who don’t believe the Gospel and that Jesus is the only way to be saved from God’s wrath, how much do you have to hate somebody to not talk about that message?

Let us be faithful messengers of the Gospel wherever we go. The command Jesus left all Christians before he ascended was to go make disciples. Whether or not you are doing that will show whether or not you take him seriously.

Are things really as “awkward” as they seem?

I have a theory.

Maybe it was because I was five at the time, but I don’t recall people talking about things being “awkward” twenty years ago. My parents don’t talk about anything being “awkward.” Awkward wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary until I got to college.

It seems like I can’t be in the room for five minutes without being called awkward. I suppose I sometimes deserve it, but a lot of the time, it’s not as big of a deal as everyone makes it.

What has been a major innovation that has come in the last twenty years? Texting. Now don’t think I am down on texting. I text everyday. But what if all of this “awkwardness” came from the fact that people have all of their important conversations through text messages? So when it comes to having face to face conversations, any imperfections in communication (not responding immediately, mumbling, etc.) comes off as awkward.

When you are texting, you have all the time in the world to think about what you are going to say, but in person, you can’t wait an hour to respond to someone’s question when they are right in front of you.

So how about we squash the awkward bug? How about we only text when necessary? How about we only text for informational purposes? Text to find out general information. Don’t text when you need help with a problem in your life. Don’t work out arguments with loved ones over texting. Don’t ask girls out over texting. (Seriously guys, that’s not very manly) Let’s start actually having face to face conversations again. Or at least call them and hear their voice.

Our generation lacks community because we ignore people in the same room as us in order to talk to people far away from us virtually. The result of this is a generation of people who think everything is awkward.

Let’s put down our phones for once and talk to the people in the same room as us.

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Do you have trouble understanding the Old Testament?

Many people struggle with the Old Testament. They know they are supposed to view the Bible highly, but they can’t help but feel that all the commands of sacrifice in Leviticus are boring. The chapters in Genesis that say, Adam fathered Seth and Seth fathered Enosh and Enosh fathered…. just seem long and pointless. The census at the beginning of the book of Numbers just seems irrelevant to someone who is not a Jew.

So how to we think highly of a passage of the Bible that just seems outdated? We know that all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16), but we really struggle with how to read some of these passages and be interested.

Simply put, all of the Bible is about Jesus. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, everything in some way connects to the ultimate display of God’s glory: Jesus. After Jesus had risen, he met two men on the road to Emmaus and took them through the entire Old Testament and concluded that every bit of it was about himself. (Luke 24:27)

When we think about the passion of Jesus, we see every bit of the Old Testament within it.

Just as all of Paradise was destroyed when Adam disobeyed God in a garden, Jesus begins his complete obedience to God in a garden, praying “your will be done.”

Just as Noah was a righteous man among a corrupt people and God used him to provide salvation from judgment, Jesus was the only righteous one among a world of sinners and provided salvation from judgment with his death on the cross.

As Abraham is taking his son up to sacrifice him, he assures his son that “God will provide for himself the lamb.” That lamb is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

As Moses climbed a mountain to receive the law, Jesus would carry his cross up a mountain to fulfill the law by being crucified.

As Joshua led the people of God out of the wilderness and into the promise land, Jesus would lead the church of God out of their sins and into adoption as God’s children.

As the Levitical High Priest would go into the holy of holies once a year to offer a sacrifice of atonement for the people’s sins, Jesus would offer himself up as a once for all sacrifice of atonement for the people’s sins and open the holy of holies so that now all who are in Christ can have access to the presence of God.

As David was anointed king as a young man but didn’t get publicly anointed until much later, Jesus was anointed King at his baptism, but pronounced King publicly when he was lifted up on the cross for all to see.

As Solomon built a dwelling place for God (the temple), Jesus came as something greater than the temple and provided himself up on the cross to make each Christian the dwelling place of God.

As Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days, Jesus was in the grave for three days until he rose.

As Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem when it was in ruins, Jesus rebuilt the Holy City, by establishing the church in his death and resurrection.

Time would fail me to continue on in every story from the Old Testament, but it is all about the Son of God. So if you are having a hard time understanding the Old Testament, ask this question:

How does this passage look ahead to Jesus Christ?