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The Strategist of Creation

April 24, 2017

The apostle Paul wrote that all things were created by/in Jesus.

Do you daily ponder the power of prepositions? I didn’t think you did. But I would like for you to consider how much glory is in the phrase, “all things were created IN HIM.” Two words. Five letters. So. Much. Glory.

In this prepositional phrase we learn that creation was accomplished by means of Jesus. It was within his realm of influence and responsibility to create. Even more, the details and intricacies of creation were Jesus’ idea because creation was “in him.”

Just this last week, a friend brought the kids several caterpillars. We watched those caterpillars eat some leaves, and then later, climb to the top of that little cage, and just hang there perfectly still. It fullsizeoutput_e9aseemed like they hung there forever. We thought they had died! And then, without even noticing, a green shell had formed around them. They had shed their skin and formed what is called a chrysalis. Inside that chrysalis, an amazing feat takes place. The caterpillar recycles its body. The best way I can describe it is to say that the caterpillar melts its body down into some kind of soupy goop and reforms itself into a butterfly. You know who thought it would be cool to have a worm shed its skin, create an outward shell of protection while it ate its own body and then come back as a flying creature filled with a beautiful design? Jesus did. Jesus brought these plans to God and said, what do you think of this, and God said, “Let’s do it!” and in combination with the Holy Spirit, they created the world.

According to Paul, I am the creation of the most powerful, most incredible Being on all the galaxies. My design and form, my height, my color of skin, the color of my eyes, the complexity of my DNA, everything about me that makes me me was part of the blueprint strategy of Jesus Christ. Whether my body functions perfectly and completely, or whether I have been laden with a difficulty, it does not take away my inherent value or the fact that I have been created by the design of God, in the image of God, for the glory of God.

You are not a mistake. You are not an accident. You are not a byproduct of random chance. This is who you are. You have value. You have inherent worth and dignity. You were designed in the mind of Jesus Christ, created in the image of God, to bring attention to the glory of your creator.

But Paul goes on to talk about the flaw that we bring into creation. We alienated ourselves from God by attempting to demote God from being God. We wanted his crown and did what we could to cause a coup. But a peace treaty was struck. This treaty was not between God and ourselves. We didn’t go crawling to Him to come up with a plan. He came up with the plan before the world began. And this plan brought peace through violence. God sent His own son to receive the punishment for our sinfulness. But God did that so we could be forgiven when we turn from trying to be our own kings, and recognize and trust that Jesus’ work on the cross was for sufficient for us.

We can stand back and admire the process a butterfly goes through to become a butterfly, but there is something even more amazing about all things being created “in him.”

When Jesus created the world along with all of its processes and complexities, he knew that his most prized creation would rebel. He knew that the lungs he created to expel air  would one day pass over vibrating vocal chords that modulated sounds meant to curse and ridicule him. He knew that the brilliance of the brain would one day design a torture experiment called crucifixion. He knew that the creation of four fingers and a thumb would eventually grip a hammer and nail spikes in his hand. He knew that his creation of the focusing eye would zero in on him with shame and contempt.

And yet, He still created. He still created you. This is glory. This is love.

Stop Being Interested in the Church

April 3, 2017

…and start being committed.

Interests are things that you dabble with or make a hobby. But interests take a backseat to commitments. You see, believer, there are few things in life to which you should be committed. Really committkarl-fredrickson-27504.jpged.One is your family. No questions there. One other major commitment in your life should be your church. I know what you may be thinking–“What about Jesus? What about a commitment to Jesus?” That is a great insight. Here is my answer. Your commitment to Christ is demonstrated in your commitment to your church. Those who are devoted to Christ are devoted to the things to which Christ is devoted. Christ loved the church sacrificially, unconditionally, and when she was unlovely. So should you.

A lot of people are interested in church, but committed to other things. Other things like sports, weekends at the lake, relaxation, and whatever else keeps us from being committed to our local church. Church is not a good hobby. It was not designed by God as something for you to take an interest in. You don’t treat church like she is your girlfriend. You are part of the bride of Christ, and when you treat church as an interest, it’s akin to slipping the ring off your finger when you see someone else who might be interested in you.

Actually, being a member of a local church goes beyond commitment, it is a covenant. A covenant to a church is a solemn, holy agreement you enter into. A covenant is stronger than a commitment. A covenant assumes a steadfast, iron-like bond to something. When you become a member of a church, you are making a covenant with that church that she can depend upon you, and you can depend upon her.

Some say that they can be just as good a Christian without the church as they can with the church. Charles Spurgeon spoke to this when he said,

“I know there are some who say, “Well, I’ve given myself to the Lord, but I don’t    intend to give myself to any church.” I say, “Now why not?” And they answer, “Because I can be just as good a Christian without it.” I say, “Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? There’s a brick. What is the brick made for? It’s made to build a house. It is of no use for the brick to tell you that it’s just as good a brick while it’s kicking about on the ground by itself, as it would be as part of a house. Actually, it’s a good-for-nothing brick. So, you rolling stone Christians, I don’t believe that you’re answering the purpose for which Christ saved you. You’re living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live and you are much to blame for the injury you do.”

Maybe today you need to spend some time assessing your life and the things to which you are committed versus the things to which you are interested. To what are you teaching your family to be committed, and in what are you teaching them to be interested?”

I promise you, as a pastor, my concern is not for big numbers at church. My concern is for the well-being of your soul.

Dr. Daryl Cornett, my Church History professor at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, recently tackled this very thing in a blog post that captures his heart as a pastor, and perfectly represents my heart for some of my church members. I wish you would mosey on over to this link and check it out.

 

How to Leverage Your Life for God’s Glory and Other’s Joy

March 27, 2017

1Over the last month our church has been going through a series entitled “Growing Generous.” One of the passages we studied was 2 Corinthians 9 where Paul tells the church at Corinth that he wants them to be ready and willing to give an offering for the churches in Macedonia. We also studied the passage of the shrewd manager in Luke 16, where Jesus tells his disciples that we should be people who mastermind a life generosity plan for His glory and others eternal joy. As we studied these passages, I made mention that one way you can be ready and willing to give and mastermind a generosity lifestyle is by taking inventory of your life. If we are going to be a people who leverage all we have been entrusted with for the glory of God, then we need to know what we have and how we are currently using it so that we can make the needed adjustments. Thus, taking an inventory of our lives becomes a very helpful thing to do.

Below is a sample template that can be used to do just that. I have filled in some of the areas to give you an idea of how it works. For example, you ask the questions, “What do I spend my time doing? With whom do I spend that time? Why do I use my time in that way? How much time weekly do I spend doing that?”

The key is to be as thorough as possible. Once you have used this template to take inventory, then you can assess what changes need to be made in your life in order to better leverage all you have for the kingdom of God.

Being ready and willing to give of your life means that you know exactly what you are giving up, and are willing to do that very thing. Jesus tells us to consider the cost of following Him. Taking inventory of your life is one way you do that very thing.

Life Inventory Template

What                       Who                           Why                         How Much wkly

Time: work Co-workers Earn a living 40-50 hours
crossfit Kris, others I like it/stay in shape 8 hours

 

Coaching Jack, Sam, others My kids enjoy it 7-8 hours
Discipleship Mike/Tyler/Kolby Great Commission 3 hours
       
Finances: Offering
  Gas
  Bills
  Groceries
Other Resources: Home Kris, Jack, Sam, Soph, Zheng, LG Brings peace/missional 12 hours
  Car
  Boat
  Mower
  Kitchen

This is just an example, a sampling. Yours will look a little different. Feel free to tweak this template to fit your life. The main thing is to be honest and thorough. After you fill in the inventory, lay it before the Lord in prayer and ask Him what you need to stop doing, and where He wants you to be more generous with your time, finances, and resources.

Once you take inventory of your life, and determine the areas the Lord wants you to adjust so that you can leverage your life for eternity’s sake, you will have to say “no” to some other things. If the Lord wants you to give more, that may mean you eat at restaurants less. If the Lord wants you to spend more time discipling your family, then that may mean you spend less time on personal recreational activities. But I assure you that there is greater joy and freedom in doing what God has called you to than in chasing your own dreams.

So what are you waiting on? Start taking inventory today and leverage all you have for the greatest and only eternal cause in the world.

 

Preaching Through Books Without Bogging Down

March 17, 2017

One of the great debates in preaching circles is whether to preach topical sermon series or expository series through books of the Bible. I am sure you have met some people who have passionate opinions regarding one or the other. One camp says that preaching verse by verse through a book is tedious and becomes unengaging after a while. The other camp says that jumping all around the Bible is confusing and can lead to unfaithful exegesis. No man of God desires to be unfaithful to the text. Neither does a preacher have ambitions to be unengaging. I once heard of a preacher who preached from the book of Hebrews on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night for a long time. Pretty soon, people in the community couldn’t figure out how his congregation could understand him if he was always preaching in Hebrew!aaron-burden-36113.jpg

Let’s face it. We are not Martin-Lloyd Jones, who spent 13 years in the book of Romans. That doesn’t need to be our goal.

What does need to be our goal is faithfulness to the whole counsel of God over found in the biblical texts. The trouble rises when you realize that being faithful to the book of Ephesians may take a year and half, and you know that your church will tire of it in about six months. But what if I told you that preaching a topical and expositional book series simultaneously is possible? Not only is it possible, but it is also biblical, which is most important. Would you be interested then?

Two keys are necessary to excel at this type of preaching.

First, study the book as a whole so that you recognize the major themes or topics throughout a particular book you want to study and preach. Take, for instance, Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. This a letter in which Paul has some definite theological and practical matters he wishes to communicate to this church and he does so in the first few chapters. But it is also a letter where Paul answers some of the church’s questions regarding certain, disconnected “topics” such as marriage, matters of conscience, authority structures, communion, spiritual gifts, orderliness, and the resurrection. Each one of these “topics” is a mini-series within the overall “exposition” of the entire book.

Another example is found in the book of Matthew. At the end of chapter 4, Matthew states that Jesus, “went throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” At the end of Matthew 9 we find a restatement of this passage. This forms an inclusio, or bookend, for this portion of the gospel. This could be a topical/expositional sermon series entitled, “The Focus of Jesus’ Ministry,” within the overall exposition of the gospel of Matthew.

Paul’s letters to Ephesians and Colossians are especially geared for this type of preaching. In each, Paul takes time in the first part of the book parsing out the beauties of the gospel. In the second half of the book, he explains how and why the gospel is applied to practical areas of our lives such as church, parenting, and work. Each of those topics are worthy of their own mini-series within those books.

Another way to preach topical and expositional messages simultaneously is to identify themes that are sprinkled throughout a book. The gospel of John offers several possibilities such as light/darkness/night, the “I am” statements, the “signs” of Jesus, or how John uses the word group “to know.”

By identifying the different themes or topics within a book, you are afforded the flexibility to change series’ titles or subtitles and graphics while remaining faithful to the text of one book. So instead of taking two years to preach through a sermon series entitled, “1 Corinthians,” you can break it down into mini-series that keep your flock engaged, anticipating, and excited.

The second key to utilizing this way of preaching through books of the Bible is transitioning from one topic to the next, or one mini-series to the next. Good transitions accomplish at least three purposes.

First, they keep your church grounded in the overall context of a book. You may think your people get tired of hearing the overall sitz im leben of a book, but trust me, they don’t. You, as the preacher, study it over and over, but they likely do not. So after having spent three weeks on a theme, transition to the next theme of the book by casting an understanding of the overall context of the book. For example, you could say something like, “As we move from studying about humility to examining the joy of discipleship, let me remind you of what is going on as Paul writes this letter to the Philippian church from jail.” If your people do get tired of hearing about the context, then chances are that they at least know it, which is a good thing!

Second, transitioning gives you the opportunity to highlight the intended design of the book. Is there an identifiable reason why, in Ephesians, Paul moves from talking about living a life worthy of our calling in the church, and then in marriage, and then in parenting, and then in work? He is hitting all the major areas of our lives, and your congregation needs to know this. Is there an identifiable pattern as the author of Judges moves from judge to judge? Perhaps! It appears that as you move through Judges, there is a decline in morality.

The third purpose of transitioning is to connect the mini-series to the overall theme of the book. You can then connect the overall theme of the book to the entire metanarrative of scripture. This gives you the opportunity to preach the entire bible, focusing upon Jesus, His redemption and coming consummation. Your church need to see that the Bible is one main story broken down into mini-series of books, which are broken down into mini-series as well.

So rest easy brother. You no longer have to decide whether you will preach a topical sermon series or go through a book of the Bible expositionally. You can, and should, do both!

You can go here to find this article on Ministry Pass

 

 

How the Deeply Broken Find Deep Joy

February 13, 2017

Jesus was accused of being a lot of things—a charlatan, a false prophet, a fake, a blasphemer, a friend of sinners. Only one description of that list is true. Jesus was most definitely a friend of sinners, and this is something that disturbed many people. But it seemed that those “sinners” found great pleasure in being around Jesus. Why is that?

I think the gospel of Mark lays out for us how the deeply broken found deep joy in Jesus if we are willing to tie several consecutive stories together.

Mark 2 begins a series of stories that share a common theme—the religious leaders of the day did not like what Jesus was doing or with whom Jesus associated. At every turn they questioned Him.

Mark 2:7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive   sins but God alone?”

Mark 2:16 “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Mark 2:17 “Why do John’s disciples fast and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Mark 2:24 “Why are they (the disciples underneath Jesus’ leadership) doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Mark, it appears, uses each of these stories to show us the building tension between the Pharisees and Jesus, a tension that crescendos at the beginning of chapter three with the Pharisees seeking a way to kill Jesus.

 

So how is it that one group of people want to kill Jesus, and another group of people rejoice, throw parties, and are full of joy when they are in His presence?

 

The reason is fairly simple. The ones who loved to be around Jesus have had their eyes opened to the reality that Mark gives in 2:7—Jesus is God. Jesus is not just a fun guy to be around; He is God. Jesus is not just a religious teacher; He is God, and all the characteristics of God are Jesus’s characteristics as well. He is the second person of the trinity.

But why does that reality bring joy to a people who are betrayers? How can knowing that God is in their presence make them feel anything other than horribly uncomfortable? The reason is that they know two more realities as well. They know who they are and what Jesus, God in the flesh, has come to do. Mark gives us this tidbit in 2:17—“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The “sinners” know they are sick, and they have embraced the physician.

What does this result in? 2:19 answers that question by means of a wedding illustration. When wedding guests are in the presence of the bridegroom, you couldn’t be anything but joyful. For one, it was unlawful to be sorrowful while in the presence of the wedding party. Secondly, who is sad at a celebration? Sadness and celebration are incompatible.

So how do the deeply broken find deep joy? They find it in discovering three realities: Jesus is God and has the right to forgive sin (by the way, all sin committed is sin against God); they admit their own sinfulness and brokenness; they embrace the grace and forgiveness offered to them by the God-man, Jesus. This is why Psalm 16:11 says that there is fullness of joy in God’s presence.

In Mark 2:20, Mark drops his first allusion to the crucifixion of Jesus, which is the way a righteous and just God can fellowship with “sinners” like tax collectors, and me. Their sin, my sin, is never overlooked, swept under the rug, or minimized in any way. It is fully punished in the crucifixion of Jesus. And Jesus is willing to do it, even joyful to do it so that God can be glorified.

If Jesus wasn’t willing and joyful to glorify His Father through the cross and resurrection, I doubt he would be accused of being the friend of sinners, or being the life of the party at a tax collector’s home.

So the cross and resurrection is my joy. It is there where an infinitely great transaction takes place. All the believer’s sin is laid upon Jesus and justly punished by God, and Jesus’s righteousness is placed upon the believer. Forever.

Has joy been a missing element in your life as a follower of Christ? Then spend some time in the presence of Jesus, being reminded by God’s word of who Jesus is, who you are, and what He has done on your behalf.

Are you not a follower of Christ but desperately long for a joy and peace that surpasses understanding? Shoot me an email. I would love to help you discover who Jesus is.

 

The Beginning, Middle, and End of the Christian Life

February 6, 2017

The instruction to follow Jesus, to be near Jesus, to be close to Jesus, not just in geographical proximity, but in nearness of heart, is not only the call that goes out at the beginning of the Christian life, but it is also the middle and the end. And the call is not just to follow Jesus, but in following Jesus to experience ever-increasing fullness of joy.

The Beginning

 Let me reiterate a point that is made by Matthew, Mark, and Luke in the accounts of Jesus calling them. They are short; they are concise to emphasize the immediacy and radical nature of their obedience to the call of Christ. My favorite of the accounts is Luke. Concerning Peter, Andrew, James and John it says that when they had brought their boats (full of fish mind you) to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. Concerning Levi it says,

 

“And leaving everything, he rose and followed Jesus.”

 

No doubt Levi had heard the message of Jesus, had been convicted of his sin. But what is it that would drive grown men to leave everything and follow Jesus? Was it just curiosity? Was it mere adventure?   I don’t think so. There was something riveting in the authority of Jesus, and these followers knew that there was more joy to be had in following Jesus and being near Him than anything else.

Can’t you just the see the scene when the four fishermen left their boats and nets and fish to follow Jesus. All the other fishermen, once they see these four guys walking away not to return, they all scurry over to their boats and fish and begin putting them into their boats. Can’t you see the people walking along the street that day who stop in their tracks once they see what is going on with Levi? These were men who had found joy and there was nothing that would stop them from following after it!

Look at what Levi does to express His joy—he throws a banquet, a great banquet is what Luke calls it. It was a party. So who comes to this party? Don’t forget that the only friends that Levi has are tax collectors and other society rejects, yet he wants them to know about the joy he has discovered in Jesus.

The Middle

Now this is not just the call that Jesus issues forth at the beginning of discipleship and then moves on to other things. The call to follow him and be near Him continually is the way to continue in ever-increasing joy.

Psalm 16:11 “You have made known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 62:1 “For God alone my soul waits in silence”

Psalm 63:1-8 “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you; as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Another Psalm says, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after you.” And we soften the implication of that up and we may have a pretty picture of a deer standing by the brook. But listen to it—picture this. The idea is one of a deer scurrying to find water, his tongue hanging out because he is about to die. And the Psalm writer is saying, “I must have you God, I must be in your presence or my soul will die!”

Psalm 73:25-28 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…But for me it is good to be near God.

“The call of Christ to Himself is the beginning of ever-increasing joy and eternal soul-satisfying happiness. If you think you are going to find your heart with a clean conscious before God doing anything other than following Jesus Christ, you have not even begun to know what joy is.” Jordan Thomas

The End

The call to follow Jesus and be close to Him is the beginning, the middle, and the end goal of the Christian life.

John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you unto myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Revelation 21:3 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God”

God will not send us a delegate or a representative. He Himself will actually live among us. Steven Lawson says, “God’s glory will fill and permeate the entire New Heaven…Thus, wherever we go in Heaven, we will be in the immediate presence of the full glory of God. Wherever we go, we will enjoy the complete manifestation of God’s presence. Throughout all eternity, we will never be separated from direct, unhindered fellowship with God.” Randy Alcorn says, “In the new heaven, we will never be able to travel far enough to leave God’s presence. If we could, we would never want to. However great the wonders of heaven, God himself is Heaven’s greatest prize.” (Heaven, Alcorn, p.184-185)

Understand this today Christian, you have been called to live the Christian life, so that you can have joy that continually springs forth and overflows, ever-increasing gladness, which is obtained and maintained by following Jesus. God wants us to have as much joy as imaginable, and that is precisely the reason Jesus says, “follow me.” His nearness is my good.

I sometimes forget that. When I do I lose my joy because I have moved away from Christ.

 

Your day is busy, your stress is great, and your life is full but it may not be in the sense that Jesus meant it in John 10. Clarity, perhaps, is missing from your life and you seem to be drifting. Maybe there is no real purpose to what you do or how you live. Can I encourage you to find your joy and satisfaction in Christ? The Bible tells us that we have been created for one overarching purpose and that is to glorify God.

Isaiah 43:6 “bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.”

Romans 11:36 “For from his and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.”

Colossians 1:16 “…all things were created through him and for him.”

Your ultimate purpose in life is to glorify God, and the nearer you are to Christ, the more glory God gets, and the joy in your life increases.

Can I invite you to return to the cross and empty grave? Gaze upon the wonder of redemption which God planned, Christ accomplished, and the Spirit applied to your heart and celebrate afresh the glory of the gospel. We can’t look to ourselves and to our own strength. That will simply discourage us. But we look to Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,” and accomplished redemption and forgiveness for us.

Bored With God?

February 3, 2017

We started this bible study at our church recently. During the first session, John Snyder asked the question, “Are we bored with God because we know him so well, or because we barely know him at all?”

That type of question will lead people to quit your bible study real fast…because they do not usually want to be confronted with bible-jagged edges like that.

You cannot read the saints in the Bible and ever imagine that they were bored with God.

“As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.”

 “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? …All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”

 “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

 “And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, Levi rose and followed him.”

Yet, we are bored with God. Or is it that we are bored with the God of our own making, and have never truly delved deep into knowing the God of the Bible? My guess is that we have come to love and worship a safe, self-made god. With that god, boredom sets in very quickly.

How do I know this? I know this because I can bore myself relatively quickly. So anything I make up, especially a god, will fall woefully short of being able to fulfill the deepest longing of my soul.

The God of scripture, however, that God is anything but boring. He is frightening, and stunning, and demanding, and gracious, and radical, and surprising, and forgiving, and just, and compassionate, and adventuresome, and daring.

So let me encourage you to read your Bible. It is there that you have been invited to experience a real relationship with the God of the universe, to walk with God.