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Archive for the ‘sanctification’ Category

Christianity ought to radically change the way that we see people and relate to them. As I am currently working through the parables of Jesus, I have been struck by how many of them address our relationships with people. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus intimates that all people are our neighbors–even the person we are most frustrated with (for the Jew that was the Samaritan). Further, Jesus is more concerned with us living like neighbors than determining who fits that bill. In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus indicates that we should be reaching out in love to all people. Living in a kingdom that is upon us and yet awaits fulfillment (already/not yet) should open our eyes to see the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy in our midst.

The gospelradically changes the way we see ourselves and other people and how we relate to them.  Using the four gospel truths of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, here is a basic guide to poeple:

  1. Creation:  God created the world and he made it good–everything in it, including you and me, belongs to him. Every breath is a gift.
  2. Fall:  God’s good creation has subjected itself to corruption. We have sinned and what God made good has been broken.
  3. Redemption: God promises to fix his broken creation through the death and resurrection of His Son, the God-man Jesus Christ.  People who trust Christ are healed of their corrupt nature.
  4. Consummation: God will send Jesus back to finally redeem those who trusted him and he will finally and decisively make all that is wrong in the world right.

Seeing ourselves in the right light:

  1. 1. We are created beings. We have value.
  2. We are broken. There is much about us that isn’t good–we need to be familiar with this aspect about ourselves. Our nature has been corrupted in a way that we cannot fix by ourselves.
  3. We can be redeemed through Christ. Our corrupt nature can be done away with and replaced with a new one. We don’t deserve this–its the most marvelous gift.
  4. We are not yet what we will be.

Seeing other people in the right light:

  1. They are created beings. They have value. Not one is worth more than another.
  2. They are broken. We should expect them to fail and even hurt us at times.
  3. They can be redeemed by grace. No one deserves this–that is why everyone should hear about it.
  4. Those God saves he will perfect.

Seeing ourselves in relation to other people:

  1. You are created and therefore have value to offer other people.
  2. You are broken and thus have the potential to do great harm to people made in God’s image.
  3. You are saved by God’s grace. You don’t deserve this–its a gift so you are no better than anyone else.  This salvation does grant you a unique potential to bless others.
  4. You are saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. God isn’t done with you yet.

This paradigm has the power to radically change the way we see people and relate to them. As C.S. Lewis said–humans are immortal beings–that changes everything. Christians ought to be the humblest of all people.

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19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:19-25).

I have been thinking a lot about the local church lately—partly because I have been teaching on it and partly because I am fascinated by what the New Testament has to say about it.  In Nicaragua, I had the privilege of teaching pastors on Biblical church discipline—the practice of caring for the souls of the congregation—the NT’s emphasis on church discipline tells us that God has designed the local church to be a testimony of God’s grace to the world and its members to exercise genuine care and watchfulness over each other’s souls.

There is absolutely nothing like the local church.  The church universal is God’s global display of his life transforming grace.  The church local is one of the most profound experiences of that grace this side of eternity.

Hebrews 10 informs us of the value of the local church–it is the training ground for the age to come.  In the local church, God’s people are to “stir one another up to love and good works  . . . all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vv24-25).

If the local church is the believer’s training ground in which to prepare for the Lord’s return, we ought to think very carefully about how we “do life” together in the church.  A huge part of doing life together as the church local is simply showing up.  The writer of Hebrews says one of the ways we stir one another up to love and good works is by “not neglecting to meet together.”  Apparently meeting together is one of the primary ways in which we prepare for the age to come.  If that is true—we ought to make every effort to get the most out of our corporate worship as a local church and give the most to those who gather with us.

Given the value of the local church and the command to stir one another up, I have been thinking about how we can make the most of our Sunday morning gatherings.  With that in mind, I came up with four suggestions as to how we might do that:

  1. Come to Church.  Seriously—I know this sounds silly but if you are not here regularly, its very difficult to encourage and build up the body as the NT commands us to (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 12:13-30).
  2. Sing—sing and sing loudly!  No one is going to fault you for your lack of pitch—even if you can’t sing well, when others hear you sing, they will hear you singing God’s praises and rejoice and sing along with you.  I have found when I sing loudly, other people sing louder, perhaps out of desire to drown out my poor vocals, but nonetheless our singing should have a corporate feel to it as the Bible commands us both to sing to God and to each other (Eph. 5:19)!
  3. Talk to people—its difficult to “stir each other up” when we are mere spectators at church and are not utilizing this time to build relationships.  Some of my very best friends are members of our church, but sometimes I have to make a point not to spend all my time talking to them at church.  At church, I want to make a point to talk to people who I do not know as well.  Those who I am very close to will still be my friend if I don’t spend all my time at church talking to them and there are many wonderful, mutually encouraging relationships that can be built in our church if we will just step out of our comfort zone and talk to the people we don’t know as well.  Our church is small but just big enough for folks to fall in the cracks and miss out on mutually encouraging relationships.  Be intentional in your communication with people when we gather for corporate worship.  Instead of blaming others for their lack of interaction with you—why not seek them out.  You will only get out of church what you are willing to put into it.
  4. Make a point to let your fellowship extend beyond our corporate gatherings—as valuable as it is for us to meet together on Sunday morning, it is not enough.  We are to continually be encouraging one another and building one another up—that means our relationships ought to extend beyond what the settings that the local church provides.  Sign up for a community group and make a point to eat with people in our church to do fun things with them—make plans to go to a football game or to have lunch, go run, walk, or bicycle, play games together, it doesn’t matter what it is, but build relationships!  Invite a family you don’t know over for dinner—it may be awkward asking them because you don’t know them that well, but God will bless it because he promises to bless our obedience with His grace!

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If you didn’t know, I recently returned from a productive and encouraging short-term mission trip to Nicaragua.  There are many stories I could tell you about Nicaragua that would encourage you—stories that may even impress you—stories of how our team members got to share the gospel with hundreds of children in the local schools and stories of the many difficult questions that I was asked at the Pastor’s Conference or stories from our door-to-door evangelism and how the Lord was working to convict people of their sin.  However, perhaps the most memorable experience I had while in Nicaragua happened at a small Baptist Church in the rural area of Los Cedros—it was an invaluable lesson learned from Pastor Adonis.

When we went out into the communities of the churches we were serving at in Nicaragua, the pastors of the churches went with us and even brought members of their churches along so that they might learn to do evangelism and so that he might be used of the Lord to disciple them.  Pastor Adonis has a passion for evangelism and for discipleship.  He understands that the only hope the lost people in his community have is Christ and he understands that the members of his church must be the ones that tell their lost neighbors about Jesus.  There can be no evangelism without discipleship—if people are not trained to reap the harvest, they will not go out into it.  There can be no discipleship without evangelism first preceding it.  You cannot disciple the lost, you must share the gospel with them first, then the process of teaching them everything that Christ commanded can begin (Matt. 28:18-20).  Pastor Adonis was doing both—teaching the members of his church to do evangelism and doing evangelism himself, going out into the community and delivering the good news to the lost.

While I was greatly encouraged to see a pastor leading by example and seeking to disciple men in his church, this is not what stuck out to me most about Pastor Adonis.  What stuck out most was what Pastor Adonis said to the members of his church who were not doing evangelism.  Thursday night was the last night that we would spend at Los Cedros Baptist Church and Eric Hixon preached a revival there that night.  At the end of the service, Pastor Adonis opened up the altar for people to come and pray and he challenged those in his church who were not doing evangelism in the community to come to the altar and repent for their sin.  About 15-20 adult members of the church came forward and knelt at the altar in prayer.

If evangelism is a command, then it follows that neglect of evangelism is sin.  This really convicted me because far too often I fall to the temptation to think of evangelism as an optional practice.  I felt like I should be at the altar praying—I wasn’t invited though, Pastor Adonis only invited the members of his church as they were the ones who had covenanted together as a body to hold each other accountable to seek the Lord.  Perhaps Pastor Adonis’ encouragement to his people to repent for not evangelizing seems harsh and perhaps it was, but it was sweet moment for me.  It did not feel bitter, it felt redemptive and loving—I got the feeling that Pastor Adonis was calling his flock to repentance because he loved them.  I hope that is the case—I am praying that God would develop such relationships in my church—ones were we can lovingly call each other to account and ones in which we take the gospel and evangelism seriously.

Despite the fact that I got to spend three days teaching Pastor Adonis and several other Nicaraguan pastors, it goes without saying that I feel I gained much more from Pastor Adonis’ example and care for his flock.

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“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

What a problem, then, is it when those who say they believe in Christ use the name of Christ to justify doing something which God’s Word condemns as works of evil rather than good works.

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In James 2:21-23, James brings up the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22. You know the story: God tests Abraham’s faith in verse 2, saying, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.”

What a test it was! Abraham, as the story goes, trusted God and obeyed the tough command. On the way up to the mountain, Isaac noticed the lamb was missing, and he asked his father, “My Father! Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said to his son, “God will provide for himself a lamb.” Abraham believed God himself would provide a lamb to replace Isaac. The Bible says they went “both of them together” on the mountaintop, and there the angel of the Lord intervened, saying, “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” and, “For now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” You see, Abraham’s “saying” faith was tested in the story and his “works” showed his belief to be a “living” and “saving” faith.

So in Genesis 22:13 it says, “Abraham lifted up his eyes, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns.” When Abraham obeyed God with Isaac, James says that his faith was put to work, and his works (i.e. his obedience) showed that his faith was real, not merely a faith in name only.

You know, James wants our faith to be a real faith. He, as a pastor, wants your faith to be a living and saving faith that “works.” The theme in James 2:14-26 is the same as what he talks about at the end of chapter one. If you are a real hearer of the word, you will do what it says. If you are hearer of the word only, and not a doer of the word, you are deceiving yourself. To hear the word and not to do it is really to not hear the word at all.

It seems there is another lesson to consider here too. Abraham’s example is a tough example for us, is it not? How many times do we say that we believe God, and will follow him wherever he wants us to go, and will do whatever he wants us to do, but we only mean that when it is something that takes no living faith at all? I admit I find it hardest to do what God wants me to do when it requires the hardest stretching of my faith.

Yet James would encourage me, and you as well, to take notice of Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22. Abraham’s faith was so alive that “he was called a friend of God.” I want to be called a friend of God, and I do not think James illustrates living faith with the example of Abraham just to make us feel guilty. I believe James would encourage me, and you, to stake our belief on God who is able to overcome weak faith, and who is able to grow a “saying” faith into a saving faith, like Abraham’s.

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Marriage exists to help us make much of Christ.  I have been striving to define marriage this way in the last two newsletters that I have written.  First I made the argument that you are what is wrong with your marriage.  I wasn’t trying to be mean or judgmental but simply wanted to point out that marital problems are not primarily circumstantial but rather they arise because in every case, marriage is a covenant entered into by two sinners.  Sin comes from within the human heart, not from without (Mark 7:20-23).  If we want our marriages to improve, we need God to change our hearts not our circumstances. In my second article, I argued that Dr. Phil can’t fix your marriage or mine.  The reason being that much of the marital advice given by secular marriage experts is based on compromise between two people of differing mindsets and passions.  I therefore argued that what our marriages need is not a healthy dose of compromise but a common vision and goal.  Husbands and wives, to have a healthy relationship, need to be going in the same direction.  They need to be pursuing something together, namely Jesus Christ and conformity to Him.

When I read Ephesians 5:22-33, I think we see the purpose of marriage very clearly.  God designed marriage to make us holy—to make us more and more like Christ and thus to magnify Christ in greater and greater degree during our sojourn here on earth.  Does that mean that single people are less holy?  No not at all (1 Cor. 7:6-7), it just means that God has designed marriage in a unique way such that it provides special opportunities to image Christ to the world.

So how can your marriage display the glory of Christ more clearly?  How has God designed your marriage as a means to holiness?  I can think of at least three ways:

Marriage is a means to holiness by . . .

  1. Its very nature.  God created marriage to be a “one flesh” union (Gen. 2:23-24; Eph. 5:31).  In the Old Testament, “flesh” more often than not is synonymous with “person.”  In other words the idea of sinful flesh or the flesh being synonymous with the sinful nature is a not what is intended by marriage being a “one flesh” union.  For example, in Genesis 6:12, just before the flood, we learn that “God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”  Clearly here, God means that all people corrupted their way on the earth.  Thus in being one flesh, a husband and a wife are no longer two people but one.  This idea of “one flesh” certainly carries a sexual aspect but it is much bigger than that.  Inside of marriage, you can no longer think of yourself as an autonomous individual.  Marriage by its very nature attacks selfishness and self-worship.  What is at the heart of your marital squabbles?  If you are honest before God, is not selfishness at the root?  As a follower of Christ, God has graced you with a spouse to reveal your own selfishness to you so that you might repent from it and He will uproot it out of you and make you more like Jesus.  That is good news and God has designed your marriage to do that on a regular basis. Marriage shows us our sin so that we might hate it and repent from it and thus image Christ more clearly.
  1. Its roles.  Wives and husbands are clearly equal in Scripture (Gal. 3:28-29; Gen. 1:26-28; 1 Peter 3:7), but Ephesians 5:22-33 clearly gives them different commands.  God commands wives to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord” (v22) and husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v25).  In the curses pronounced upon Adam and Eve in the fall, we see that there is going to conflict inside of marriage because they will struggle to keep these commands (Gen. 3:16).  We could probably all attest to the fact that husbands get frustrated when they feel they are not respected and wives get frustrated when they don’t feel loved.  The headship of the husband is not all about making all the big decisions, let’s not forget that the husband and wife are now “one flesh”  In fact, the husbands headship is primarily spiritually directed.  The primary way in which husbands are to lead their wives is toward Christ (Eph. 5:25-27).  Husbands lead primarily through love—loving in a self-sacrificial, Christ-like way that frees the wife to grow in her relationship to Christ because she is receiving the kind of love that God intended for her inside of marriage.  Similarly, wives point their husbands to Christ by submitting to them as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22).  This doesn’t mean that wives are to blindly do whatever their husbands say, it means they strive to respect their husbands and submit to their humble headship out of love for Christ.

Husbands its worth noting at this point, that the Bible actually doesn’t say anything about you taking the back seat when it comes to keeping house and raising the children.  In fact you are to be the lead discipler of your children (Eph. 6:1-3) and are to love your wife in a self-sacrificial way (Eph. 5:25).  The Bible tells us more about who we are supposed to be in marriage than it does about exactly what we are supposed to do.  It is clear, you are to love your wife to such an extent that you would give your life for her—that may mean swallowing your pride, turning off the TV and helping her around the house.  Similarly, wives when you do not feel loved there is a very discouraging and disrespectful way to express that which will crush your husband.  Strive to respect him—even when you disagree with him.  Work to communicate your frustrations and disagreements in a way that values and respects your husband.  Husbands when you love your wives like Christ loves the church, they will find joy in submitting to your Christ-like leadership.  Wives when you respect your husbands, they will find joy in loving you self-sacrificially.  When we live faithfully inside the roles God created for marriage, we display the glory of Christ in our marriages.

  1. By its evangelism.  Marriage is a mighty tool in the hands of God to take the gospel to the world.  When we live within the roles God created to be exercised in marriage, a godly marriage then naturally displays the gospel–husbands are showing the love of Christ for the church by giving of themselves for the good of their wives and wives are submitting to them out of love for Christ.  Godly marriages are grace-centered, deep hurts can be overcome inside of Christian marriages because they are grounded in the gospel that tells us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12).

There is a call inside of Christian marriage to invite unbelievers into our lives, to let them see the way we live and be challenged by it.  If we are living the way that God calls us to live in marriage, we will display the grace of Christ in the gospel—we will stick out from the secular marriages around us that are treading through the muddled waters of compromise.  God has designed Christian marriage to be a display of Christ’s redemptive love for the church—thus your marriage is a mighty tool to draw both your neighbors and the nations to himself!

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The number one problem of every marriage is the husband and the wife.  If your marriage isn’t what you want it to be, let me encourage you with this–it is probably your fault.   Certainly marriage problems are more complex than I am making them, but transformation inside of marriage doesn’t come from compromise but rather spiritual transformation.  What your marriage needs is not more compromises but a common and worthy goal.  God-glorifying marriages are made of a wife and a husband who are moving in the same direction together.  Successful marriages pursue Christ together.  Let me explain:

No Dr. Phil cannot fix your marriage.  In fact I find a good bit of his marriage advice suspect.  Certainly much of what good ole Phil has to say is worth hearing, but I think most of his advice is rooted in a false assumption that the differences between men and women are irreconcilable and thus the lesson that needs learning inside of marriage is the art of compromise.

Learning to compromise in areas of conflict won’t fix your marriage and could in fact ruin it.  Compromise is handy when it comes to what movie to rent, where to grab lunch, and how to spend your free time as a couple.  Compromise can be deadly when applied to more essential matters.  To put this clearly, there are certain areas of marriage that we must not compromise on.

For instance, let’s say my wife is very close to her family (which she is) and we live much closer to them than we do to my family (which we do), so my wife suggests that we spend every other weekend with her parents (which my wife would never do, though she loves them very much!).  What should I do there?  Should I compromise and say once a month?  What is the right course of action there?  Compromise in this instance would neglect to prioritize my relationship with my wife and would contradict the Bible’s clear teaching on marriage.  The Bible tells me that “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).   In other words if my wife is not leaving and cleaving–I am not helping her by compromising.  Whether we live like it or not, we are “one flesh” and that means that we must prioritize this new one flesh relationship.  So in this instance, compromise would get us in trouble.  In this instance I need to lovingly show my wife that we are now a family that takes priority over our individual families.  Certainly we will want to spend time with our families, but what needs to happen is that my wife and I need to understand that our relationship is unique–we are “one flesh.”

What does it mean to be “one flesh?”  We see this word “flesh” in Genesis 6:12, “And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”  So flesh here doesn’t mean our physical bodies nor does it carry the New Testament understanding of “flesh” as our sinful nature.  The clearest definition of “flesh” here in Genesis is person.  Being “one flesh” means that a husband and wife are no longer autonomous individuals.  They are now essentially “one person.”

The implications behind God’s creative design for the husband and wife to be one are vast.  Adam and Eve were one flesh to such an extent that they were “naked and unashamed.”  Nakedness in Scripture is tied to intimacy (more than just sexual) and vulnerability.  When one is truly “naked” nothing is hidden.  Before the fall this meant that Adam and Eve knew each other intimately, neither of them were self-seeking but rather they knew, loved, and appreciated each other.

What happened immediately after the Fall when God confronts Adam and Eve in the garden?  They immediately become consumed with self and they blameshift.  Adam says its Eve’s fault, Eve says it is the serpent’s fault (Gen. 3:12-16).  Neither will admit their failure and they hide not only from God but from each other–true intimacy is broken.

So how can such intimacy be restored?  Through the gospel, by which Christ is reconciling all things to Himself (Col. 1:20).  The gospel tells me how my sin which is crippling my marriage can be cleansed.   The gospel frees me from slavery to sin (Rom. 6) and transforms me such that the intimacy with God I was created for and the intimacy I am to have with my wife can be restored.  This doesn’t happen over night, but God delights to heal his people and he heals them through the power of the cross.

So instead defaulting to compromise any time there is conflict, how about asking whether your marriage is focused on the gospel?  Ask this question instead–do we share a common goal in this marriage?  Is our goal to become more like Christ?  Are we moving toward greater intimacy with Christ?  Are we pursuing Christ together?

Marriage exists to display the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22-33).  The marriage that glorifies Christ is the one that is being conformed into his image.

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