Monday, October 22, 2018

Preach this to yourself: I am safe

Uncertainty can be crippling -- especially when it regards eternal destiny.

Our Savior has words of certainty for you, however. If you have turned from your sins and trusted in Jesus, you have His promise as a comforting balm. He says in John 10:27-29:

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Jesus provides a three-part promise in these great words of assurance. He gives "eternal life" to those who follow Him, Jesus says. "[T]hey will never perish," He declares. "[N]o one will snatch them out of My hand," He promises.

Our Lord then proclaims this safety is based on a two-fold hold. He says, "[N]o one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." Then He says assuringly, "I and the Father are one."

You are in the solid grasp of the Father and the Son. No demonic being and no person -- absolutely "no one" -- can loosen the grip on those whom the Father has given to the Son and the Son has saved to be in the Father's family.

Jesus preached this, and you can preach it to yourself: I am safe in the hands of the Father and the Son.

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Friday, August 31, 2018

Corporate worship: Singing with purpose

While singing is not all there is to corporate worship, it is a vitally important part of our gathering as a church.

Christianity is a singing faith. The Bible -- which governs how we worship -- calls for singing by God's people corporately in both the Old and New Testaments. The following list is not all-encompassing, but it consists of some of the reasons Scripture indicates we should sing as a church:

(1) We should sing to give God glory.

"Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious" (Ps. 66:2). These commands from the psalmist are to all the earth, so it certainly applies to those who belong to God as His redeemed children. We give him glory in song by declaring how glorious He is and by making our praise of Him glorious.

(2) We should sing to declare God's attributes.

The same verse, Ps. 66:2, conveys this message by speaking of "the glory of His name." God's "name" in Scripture refers to who He is -- in other words, what His nature is, what His attributes are. The psalmist says God's people should make His attributes known in their singing.

(3) We should sing to proclaim the atoning death of Christ.

"And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth" (Rev. 5:9-10) The apostle John's vision showed those around the throne singing about the blood sacrifice of the Lamb of God and its far-reaching impact. We will sing as one great choir about the cross-work of Jesus one day in Heaven, and we can do it now corporately on earth as the church.

(4) We should sing to instruct and exhort one another.

"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:17). Singing, as the apostle Paul explains, has a discipleship function during corporate worship. As we sing, we act as teachers and exhorters to those with whom we are worshiping. We should recognize our singing is for the building up of our fellow saints, and their singing is for our building up.

(5) We should sing to express our heartfelt affection to God.

In this same verse from Col. 3, Paul says Christians in worship should sing "with thankfulness in your hearts to God." In Eph. 5:19, he says believers are to be "singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." Singing is a means of expressing ourselves to God. As we sing together corporately, we tell Him of our gratitude for what He has accomplished on our behalf and express to Him joyful affection for who He is and what He has done.

(This is a slightly revised version of a previous post.)

-- Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Monday, August 27, 2018

Preach this to yourself: I will be presented blameless

The apostle Paul provides a look into your future as a Christian that is both stunning and joyous. One day, Jesus will present you to the Father, and you will be "holy and blameless and beyond reproach."

Paul explains this in his letter to the disciples at Colossae: "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet [Christ] has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Colossians 1:21-22). By His reconciling work on the cross, Jesus has transformed your relationship to God from estrangement to harmony, from enmity to peace.

Christ has done this for the purpose of bringing you before His Father in a state that is difficult to fathom. Your Savior will present you "holy," separated unto God and without defilement. Your Redeemer will present you "blameless," without any blemish. Your Lord will present you "beyond reproach," free from any charge of a blemish.

"Holy and blameless and beyond reproach." That is impossible for us to imagine as sinners who will appear before the Holy Judge. Yet, this is the greatness of Jesus and His work on our behalf. You have nothing to offer Him except your sins. You deserve all kinds of charges for your wickedness. But Christ takes you in your fallen state and transforms you so that He might present you to His Father without any charge able to be made against you. What a great, thorough salvation.

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Friday, August 24, 2018

Corporate worship: More than the music

One of the traps we can fall into when thinking of corporate worship is to equate worship with music. It is not unusual to hear someone talk about how powerful or awesome the worship was in his or her church the previous Sunday. You know that person is essentially referring to the music. Evangelical churches also commonly refer to the primary musician as the worship leader. That person might be the worship leader, if he does more than lead music. Or he might be just the lead musician who is hopefully helping the congregation worship in song.

Congregational singing is vital. It reflects the truth our church has expressed and practiced for the last 20 years -- corporate worship is for participants, not spectators. It is a way we express adoration, confession, thanksgiving, lament, submission and intercession. It is a way we proclaim together the church's ancient faith.

Singing as a church is not, however, all there is to corporate worship. It is an aspect of worship.

We also worship as a church in reading God’s Word aloud in unison or responsively, in listening to the reading of His Word, in declaring praises to God out loud or in the quietness of our hearts and minds, in praying verbally or silently, in reading common confessions of faith together, in paying attention to the prayers of others, in listening to the preaching of the Word, in responding in obedience to the work of the Spirit through the Word, and in encouraging, serving and loving one another.

A biblical understanding of our corporate gathering calls for us to engage in worship in all the ways God intends. May we “sing with the spirit and . . . with the mind,” as I Cor. 14:15 says, but may we also worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23).

(This is a revised version of a previous post.)

-- Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Monday, August 20, 2018

Preach this to yourself: I am reconciled to God

We can grasp the significance of reconciliation to God only if we understand how dire our straits were prior to salvation.

The apostle Paul brings into focus the utter hopelessness of our condition in one of the Bible's greatest passages about the pre-eminince of Christ. Near the close of Colossians 1:16-23, Paul writes, "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Colossians 1:21-22).

Paul reminds the Christians at Colossae they were previously "alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds." They were "alienated" from the only God -- estranged from Him. They were "hostile in mind" toward the loving God -- enemies of His. They "engaged in evil deeds" before the holy God -- demonstrating their alienation from and hostility to Him . These traits describe people who have no way of changing their status in any of these areas. Their fate is settled -- unless God acts in a reconciling way.

And He did for these now born-again men and women. Christ "has now reconciled you in His fleshy body through death," Paul writes. That is true for all of us who have flung ourselves on His mercy. The sacrifice of Jesus as a substitute for us has transformed our relationship -- or lack of relationship -- to God from estrangement to harmony, from enmity to peace.

You and I are no longer strangers to or enemies of God purely because of His grace and the all-sufficient work of Christ. You can say, "God is for me." You can say, "God is a friend to me." You can do so because you also can say, "I am reconciled to God."

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Friday, August 17, 2018

Corporate worship: God-centered from the start

The church's worship of God begins with God. He is the only one worthy of worship. He has made our worship of Him possible through His Son. He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. He has told us how we are to worship Him, again in His Word. He has invited us to worship Him.

Therefore, it seems the proper way for the church to worship God is to begin with God. As the gospel of God begins with God, so does the worship of God.

Our belief as Covenant Community Church is that our Sunday gathering calls for us to be quickly confronted with this God we have come to worship. Our worship leader typically begins by reading a passage about this unmatched God, His greatness or His attributes, that reminds all of us whom we have come to worship. It is a gracious blessing in the first hours of wakefulness on the first morning of the first day of a new week for us as a church to recall there is one true God, He is different than us, and He should have all our worship.

In this way, we seek to give God His rightful place at the beginning of corporate worship. Our worship is to be God-centered from the start.

(This is a revised version of a previous post.)

-- Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Preach this to yourself: Death is a defeated foe

Death is stalking you.

This is nothing new. Death has been stalking you and me ever since we entered the world. And it will get us if our Redeemer doesn’t came back for us beforehand. For those who have been rescued from sin but won't be rescued from death, there is great news. Death is a defeated foe.

Death is our reality, because sin is our nature. Death came through sin (Rom. 5:12). We all are sinners, so we all will die unless Jesus returns first.

The gospel of Jesus doesn't prevent death. It defeats death, which the Bible describes as "the last enemy that will be abolished" (I Cor. 15:26).

That same chapter in the apostle Paul's letter opens with the gospel. By the end, the apostle Paul declares the verdict on death in light of the gospel -- which has the life, death and resurrection of Jesus at its center: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:54b-55).

Those in God's family are not immune to devastating grief in the face of death, whether we are the ones staying or departing. Yet, we can be assured death is not the final victor. The gospel tells us death is defeated and an even more glorious life awaits those of us who are in Christ, the resurrected Lord.

Todd Billings, a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., is living with incurable cancer. He told The Gospel Coalition in an interview last year: "I’m incredibly grateful for life and breath now, but I’m also getting more and more expectant for the age to come — to see Christ face to face, and to be made like him, with the whole church, in ways I can only faintly imagine now."

That is our future as well because of the gospel. Let's address our fear at least in part by preaching this gospel-centric message to ourselves before death comes for us or our loved ones: Death is a defeated foe.

(This is a slightly revised version of a previous post.)

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Friday, August 10, 2018

Corporate worship: Not captive to culture

Corporate worship by a church stands athwart a culture that prizes individualism, promotes niche marketing and pursues the next big thing.

Think about it.

As Christians, we gather each Sunday as a testimony not only to our need of God but to the importance of regularly being with other redeemed sinners. God has ordained this for His people. We are to covenant together as a church family and to spend part of each Lord's Day in a reunion with our brothers and sisters. By coming together, we reject the belief we only need to worship God privately. We refute the notion Internet church is sufficient. Instead, we affirm that gathering with other saints is vital to our lives as followers of Jesus and worshipers of the one true God.

In addition, we meet together as Christians because of our relationship to one person. Our makeup as a church and our corporate worship are not based on our common interests, our common skin color, our common nationality, our common language, our common marriage status, our common schooling choices or anything else apart from our common Savior and the common confession that Jesus is Lord with all that declaration means. Our goal as a church in corporate worship is not to reflect any natural alikeness but the "every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev. 7:9) of the heavenly gathering.

As followers of Jesus, we also gather to remind ourselves, not to discover something brand new. Our corporate worship is filled with calling to remembrance who God is and what He has done for us. The reading of Scripture, the singing of hymns and songs, the praying of the saints, and the preaching of the Word remind us week by week of what Christ the Lord has done for us and who we are in Him as a result. We need to remind ourselves of the gospel, and corporate worship is designed to help us remember.

May we remember each Sunday we gather not as captives of our culture but as captives of the Lord Jesus and His gospel of grace.

-- Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Preach this to yourself: I am not condemned

It has been nearly three months since I last posted at this blog, and I plan to resume my blogging with a couple of series -- one on preaching the gospel to ourselves and one on corporate worship. I return to blogging today with a slightly and now twice-revised post from the past.

Reminding ourselves of the gospel -- or preaching the gospel to ourselves, as it has been described in recent years -- is one of the most important exercises we as Christians can participate in. Even though we have been rescued by God, we can fail to understand fully -- or we can even neglect -- the message, the meaning and the manifold benefits of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Faithfully recognizing the effect of the gospel can make all the difference in how we think and live as Christians.

One of the undeserved benefits of the gospel is described by the apostle Paul: "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1, NASB).

This means God does not condemn those of us who have trusted in Jesus to save us from our sins. It is not that we will be condemned if we don't embrace the gospel of Christ. It is that we have been rescued from the condemnation we already were experiencing. Paul teaches this truth in his letters, and Jesus testifies to it.

In Rom. 5:18, Paul writes: "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." Our condemnation was the result of the sin of one man, Adam. As his descendants, we are under condemnation.

In Eph. 2:3, Paul says, "[We] were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." God's wrath was upon us just by virtue of being human beings with a sinful nature.

God the Son explains in John 3:17-18 a reason He came to earth as a man -- and points to the condemnation all humanity lives under. He says, "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

As sinners by nature, we are condemned; we are under wrath; we are judged. That all changes when God saves us by His grace because of the powerful, gospel work of His Son. Forever, we are no longer under condemnation. Nothing can reverse that verdict, and we are never to contemplate that God's attitude toward us is one of condemnation.

This is the kind of benefit we should regularly remind ourselves of and celebrate.

-- Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Friday, May 18, 2018

How much is an image-bearer of God worth? (Part 1)

"How much is a little girl worth?"

This question from Rachael Denhollander in a courtroom in January continues to reverberate. She asked it regarding the crimes against humanity committed by Larry Nassar and enabled by others at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. Nassar, team doctor for both institutions, sexually abused girls who apparently numbered in the hundreds over a two-decade span while his employers refused to believe or act on the reports of molestation brought them by victims. A devoted follower of Christ and a lawyer, Denhollander courageously became the first person to go public to report Nassar's assault on her, which occurred when she was a 15-year-old gymnast. Her email to The Indianapolis Star in 2016 set in motion an investigation that resulted in a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison for Nassar.

She was the last of more than 150 Nassar victims to give her impact statement in court before the sentencing, and her question still looms over not only that case but our culture: "How much is a little girl worth?"

More expansively, we would ask: How much is an image-bearer of God worth?

Sadly, the sexual abuse of girls -- and boys -- is not found just in the secular world. Nor are sexual assault and harassment. They have happened too often in the evangelical church, and too often those who courageously reveal their devastating, life-altering ordeals have been greeted by disbelief and scorn from the church. Or church leaders have refused to report criminal allegations to law enforcement authorities. Or pastors and elders have failed to shepherd the victims and their families with mercy and understanding.

Rachael Denhollander and others have pointed out this painfully true reality -- it is abuse, as well as assault and harassment, by those within our own community we find most difficult to address. It is easy to believe the reports of abuse and coverup in an institution we are not a part of and to denounce them emphatically. When it comes to our church or our section of the evangelical landscape, we become much more hesitant to trust the ones bringing the charges against people we hold in high esteem. These allegations may come from young victims of abuse or adult victims of harassment. We may not want to believe them because we don't want to countenance such sinful, maybe criminal, behavior by a Christian leader we have trusted. And we may dismiss out of hand such allegations because we think they would harm our faith or the church or the gospel or even the reputation of Christ.

If we would follow Jesus and rest in His strong name, however, we must repent of and forsake such thinking. We must think biblically about sin and its pervasiveness. We must not carve out exceptions for our favored leaders. We must not fear that the call for us "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God" (Micah 6:8b) will undermine Jesus, His gospel or His church.

As Denhollander said in a January interview with Christianity Today, "[T]he gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. . . . Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience."

Let's make certain our knee-jerk reaction is not to side with the powerful because our interest is wrapped up in them being innocent. Let's make certain we listen to and extend mercy to the powerless -- whether it be a child or adult bringing reputable allegations. Let's make certain we seek truth and justice whoever the parties involved may be.

Let's make certain to ask ourselves: How much is an image-bearer of God worth?

-- Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

Thursday, April 26, 2018

We don't give up on others

Maybe the retail, restaurant and business area nearest your home is like ours. Many buildings once busy with activity now stand vacant -- monuments to failed dreams or corporate bottom line.

These empty shells once were inhabited by a Best Buy, Dick's Sporting Goods, Famous Dave's BBQ, Mimi's Cafe, a bank, a party store, a gym and others. Meanwhile, other retail outlets and a restaurant now stand nearly ready to open in this same area booming with new residences.

I think I understand why businesses build new stores instead of renovating empty ones. Reclaiming vacant space doesn't appear to make sense. There seems to be no profit in it.

But it strikes me as sad. These were once destination points for people who had needs -- none that may have been greater than coming in contact with fellow image bearers of God at a time when it is possible never to leave home to work and shop. These were once locations where people gathered to serve and be served. These were once places where people unexpectedly became friends, whether as fellow employees or as workers and customers. Now they know only the sound of silence, their walls possibly never again to echo with the fulfillment of human voices.

But in contrast, there's the church of Jesus Christ. It's made up of previously empty shells. Each part of this building (Eph. 2:21), metaphorically speaking, has been reclaimed. You and I. God has reclaimed us from our fallen state as his image bearers. He has "rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Col. 1:13).

Because He has reclaimed us, we don't give up on others -- before or after they trust in Jesus. We might be tempted to think there is no use in continuing to love, serve and appeal to some people. We may be tempted to think some such attempts are unprofitable, even hopeless. We may think our efforts to help a brother or sister aren't worth it because that person won't heed our advice and direction.

We don't give up on people, however, because we don't set the limits of God's grace. With our brothers and sisters, this is true for multiple reasons. For one thing, God has promised He will complete the work He has begun in His children. Also, Jesus has promised never to forsake us.

But it is also true we are eternally intertwined with one another. God demonstrates this in the New Testament. For example:

-- We are one people group from many people groups. "[Y]ou once were not a people, but now you are the people of God" (I Peter 2:10).

-- We are in the same building. We "are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:19b-22).

-- We are in the same body. "[B]ut speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).

We don't give up on others who have been rescued from sin because we belong together. We are bound together. We are being built up together. And all of us are advancing together toward Christ-likeness.

In the church, let's don't give up on anyone. Let's don't leave anyone behind.

-- Photo by MarĂ­a Victoria Heredia Reyes on Unsplash

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Some reflections on the MLK50 conference

My wife and I had the privilege of attending "MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop" April 3-4 in Memphis -- she to listen and observe and me to file reports on in Baptist Press.

The conference -- co-sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and The Gospel Coalition -- was held in conjunction with other events to remember the life and legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his death. King was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis.

I have written about the event as a reporter. Now I want to offer some reflections as a pastor.

The conference was one of the most significant -- if not the most significant -- I have attended or covered. My hope is the gathering attended by about 4,000 people and viewed livestream more than one million times will help encourage racial justice, healing and unity. Such work is needed in and through America's churches, as well as in this country. Both the church and country continue to be plagued by the bitter fruit of the sins of slavery and segregation and the ongoing, yet often unrecognized transgression of racism.

The speakers and panelists -- primarily African American and white -- provided helpful, insightful and sometimes convicting insights. Here is a sampling:

-- Charlie Dates, senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicsgo, explained some of the frustrations black churches have with white evangelicals: “We have expected you to be our greatest allies in the struggle against injustice. We wanted you to tell your churches and your congregations that God was never pleased with segregation and the systems that segregation has created. . . . We wanted you all to unflinchingly denounce the politics of fear and the alt-right racism that elected playboys while denouncing a black man who was loyal to his wife all his years in office and took care of his kids and did not disgrace America. We wanted you all to preach a gospel that was bigger than the clandestine, provincial and colonial misread that told slaves to obey their masters as if Paul intended American slavery to be ordained by God. . . . But instead of finding allies in the fight for justice on the grounds of righteousness, we have encountered antagonists. Instead of understanding our plight, we have been met with demands to justify our sentiments.”

-- Russell Moore, ERLC president, said, "[King] is relatively noncontroversial in American life, because Martin Luther King has not been speaking for 50 years. It is easy to look backward and say, ‘If I had been here, I would have listened to Dr. King, even though I have not listened to what is happening around me in my own community.’ . . . [T]ime and time again in the white American Bible belt, the people of God had to choose between Jesus Christ and Jim Crow because you cannot serve both, and tragically many often chose to serve Jim Crow and to rename him Jesus Christ.”

-- Matt Chandler, teaching pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, said to white pastors, “You have got to say something. There is no way forward if white pulpits won’t talk. . . . Ethnic harmony is one of the great themes of the Bible. This is the refrain of the Bible over and over and over again."

-- Crawford Loritts, African-American senior pastor of predominantly white Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Ga., said on a panel, “This issue is going to cost us. Are we willing to pay that price? Love is expensive, and commitment is expensive. And I think God is standing back and saying to the church, 'You all know what to do here. You really do know what to do.' It’s the courage and will to do it and to be it and to pay that price.”

-- H.B. Charles Jr., pastor-teacher of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said as a panelist, “Do not underestimate what God is doing in the local church. Local churches being faithful right where they are might not make national headlines, but God is changing communities and neighborhoods and cities through churches that are determined to be the church.”

Video of the keynote sessions and audio of the workshop sessions are available here.

If you have time to listen to only four speakers, I recommend Dates, Moore, Chandler and pastor/hip-hop artist Trip Lee. Their talks are from 20 to 36 minutes in length.

Time to listen to only one? Make it Dates.

Among the other speakers were Karen Ellis, John Piper and Jackie Hill Perry. Diverse teams from Fellowship Memphis and The Village Church led musical worship, and the Tennessee Mass Choir presented a rousing set of gospel songs.

Of course, the success of any conference is demonstrated in the effect it has on and the fruit it produces in the lives of those who attend or view it.

Here are a few takeaways for me from this conference and from talks at the Together for the Gospel conference a week later:

-- We should listen to and learn from those whose experience in America is different than ours.

-- White evangelicals should listen to and learn from black pastors and leaders and not wait for white pastors and leaders finally to say what African-American saints have long said about racial justice.

-- We should be devoted to thinking biblically -- not politically, culturally or tribally -- about racial justice and harmony.

-- We should be committed to developing friendships with Christians and non-Christians of other skin colors and ethnicities.

-- We should pay the cost required to achieve racial justice and unity in the face of criticism and resistance from others, including some in the church.

May God grant us grace to do all this and more, as well as to become diverse communities in our churches for the glory of God and the display of the gospel and kingdom of Jesus.

-- Photo by on Unsplash

Friday, March 16, 2018

Christian, please fight for your faith (Part 3)

We enter a war zone when we cast ourselves upon Christ and His saving work. We are no longer His enemies. Instead, we have a new enemy, and conscientious objection in this conflict is not an option.

As I said in Part 2 here, the Bible is one of the means of grace God has provided to help us persevere in the battle against falling into unbelief. Here are two more:

2. The gospel

We must not only know and believe the gospel. We must understand the gospel's benefits to us. We must remind ourselves of the gospel. As is often said in evangelical Christian circles, we must preach the gospel to ourselves.

The New Testament describes the gospel work of Jesus in His life, death and resurrection, and it also explains what our Savior accomplished for us. As a result of this saving work, we are counted righteous in Christ by God the Father. There is no longer any condemnation for us. All of our sins are forgiven. We are children of God whom He disciplines and loves with an everlasting love. We are united with Christ. Our identity is in Him. He is our life.

We must rehearse these gospel truths, as well as others, if we would survive and subdue in warfare. We must jog our memories regularly about our gracious salvation and all the benefits that flow from it.

In his book A Gospel Primer for Christians, Milton Vincent says the pieces of the armor of God described in Eph. 6:11-17 are essentially different ways of depicting the gospel. "That God would tell me to 'take up' and 'put on' this gospel armor alerts me to the fact that I do not automatically come into each day protected by the gospel," Vincent writes. "In fact, these commands imply that I am vulnerable to defeat and injury unless I seize upon the gospel and arm myself with it from head to toe."

The gospel of Jesus is a vital weapon in our battle against unbelief.

3. The church

The church isn't an option in or a supplement to the Christian life. Nor is it a frill in the fight for faith. The church -- the local church, that is -- is essential to the perseverance of each follower of Jesus.

The corporate gathering of the church in a weekly rhythm unites us with our fellow saints in confession of our faith in Christ. It involves us in a pattern of worship -- adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication -- we are wise to follow as households and individuals. We proclaim the gospel to one another in singing, praying, reading, preaching, teaching, serving and loving.

With our brothers and sisters, we enter into the kind of friendship and fellowship that provides a safe place for us to share our sins, fears, anxieties, burdens, trials, sufferings and losses. With one another, we learn we are not alone in the battle. With each other, we understand we can be vulnerable, because grace reigns. We need grace, and we give grace. With one another, we are reminded we are united in pursuing the goal of Christ-likeness. We encourage, challenge, pray for and even confront one another so that we all might continue to trust in Jesus.

Enduring in belief is a corporate project. The church plays an indispensable role in each saint's completion of that effort.

-- Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Christian, please fight for your faith (Part 2)

A Christian will "hold fast" (I Cor. 15:2) to the gospel of Jesus and continue in the faith to the end, but that does not mean he or she will do so without a fight. As I said in Part 1 here, the war we enter as Christians when we are saved is real, and it has no conscientious objectors who will survive.

I commend to you three vital means of grace God has provided to help us persevere until we are with Christ. While they apply to overcoming a variety of sins, I point to them in this series of posts as weapons in the fight against falling into unbelief. The first is this:

1. The Bible

If we would continue in the faith, we should maintain trust in God's Word. Our deceitful enemy, Satan, would have us question the Bible's infallibility and authority. Once we doubt -- and continue to doubt -- the trustworthiness of any part of the Word, we are vulnerable to a slide into mistrust of all of the Word, including its testimony to the saving work of Jesus. Such doubt left unresolved leaves us prey to the devourer, who will consume our faith and us.

Billy Graham, who passed away Feb. 21, faced a crisis regarding the Bible's truthfulness nearly 70 years ago. How he responded made all the difference for him and his ministry, and it serves as a model for us.

Some of Graham's friends and associates began to reject the inerrancy of Scripture, and he began to question intellectually if the Bible could be trusted. The crisis reached a climax one night, when Graham settled the issue once and for all in a forest. On one occasion, he said of that pivotal evening:

"And I took this Bible, and I said, 'Lord, I don't understand all about this Bible. There are many things I cannot explain.' And I remember laying the Bible out on a stump, and I said, 'Lord, this is Your book. I'm going to accept it by faith like I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ by faith and He saved me and changed me and transformed me. I'm accepting this as Your Word by faith.'"

Graham's trust in Scripture resulted in his constant appeal to its authority in his preaching. He became known for saying time and again, "The Bible says." The salvation of many in his meetings over the decades seems to testify to the power and fruitfulness that comes from believing Scripture's truthfulness.

While there are questions in Scripture we should try to answer, ultimately you and I are faced with this question: Do we trust the Bible's testimony of itself -- that it is the fully infallible, totally trustworthy Word of God? On numerous occasions since becoming a Christian, I have responded to questions that arise in my own mind about the Bible in this way: God, I don't understand this and I can't explain everything, but I reaffirm my belief that this book is Your Word and I will continue to trust that it is without error.

Trusting God means to trust His Word. The Bible is a gift to God's people. Trusting its truthfulness is critical in the life-long war in which we are enlisted. That means believing all God's promises therein and all He says therein about Himself, about us and about His saving work. Let's not waste the powerful weapon God has armed us with in His Word.

(Part 3 will address other means of grace in this battle.)

-- Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Christian, please fight for your faith (Part 1)

Christianity is warfare.

I have grown to appreciate that reality about following Jesus in an increasing way as the years have passed. My own need to win the battle in my mind and heart has sensitized me to this truth. So has my observation of others who seem to have failed to engage in the fight with the weapons Christians have been provided.

A few years ago I was able to visit with a friend whom I had heard no longer believed the faith he had long confessed. The two of us spoke while surrounded by many others, so the occasion did not provide me an opportunity to speak at length. After he explained his departure from following Christ, I said something like this: "I won't say a lot at this point, but I believe I should say this: 'We have to fight if we are going to continue to follow Jesus.'"

A phrase in the passage I preached on Sunday -- I Corinthians 15:1-11 -- points to this kind of combat. In the first two verses, the apostle Paul wrote, "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain."

Paul was saying the fact a Christian holds "fast the word" he preached -- the gospel, in other words -- is evidence that person's profession of faith was not false.

This is certainly not the only such warning in the New Testament. Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians, "He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach -- if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard" (Col. 1:22-23a).

These texts testify to this reality: True faith results in continuing to believe the gospel, continuing to trust in Jesus, to the end. But that perseverance in the faith is not without opposition. We must recognize the conflict we entered when Christ purchased us for Himself. The war is real, and it has no conscientious objectors who will survive. We must fight.

(Part 2 will address how we are to wage this battle.)

-- Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New desires for evangelicals in 2018

I started this post nearly a month ago and have finally decided to finish it. At the start of last year, I posted seven desires for evangelical Christians in 2017. Here is that list minus the comments made on each entry:

-- More evangelicals would realize Christ is their life and treasure Him supremely as a result.

-- More evangelicals would recognize the significance of the church in their lives.

-- More evangelical churches would be intentional in corporate worship.

-- More evangelical churches would base their ministry on the gospel.

-- More evangelical churches would be committed to expositional preaching.

-- More evangelicals would value the sanctity and dignity of each human being.

-- More white evangelicals would grow in understanding the perspectives of their minority brothers and sisters.

Those remain desires of mine for us as evangelicals, but I have two more to add for 2018:

1. More evangelicals would actually be, and act like, evangelicals.

Increasingly the last couple of years, the label "evangelical" has been up for debate. Some contend it should be discarded because it has come to have a political, cultural or even racial meaning rather than a biblical or doctrinal meaning.

LifeWay Research provided some clarifying information in an early December report. Its survey found less than half of self-identified evangelicals -- 45 percent -- strongly agree with foundational evangelical beliefs as defined by LifeWay, such as salvation by faith in Christ alone and the Bible as a Christian's highest authority. Many Americans identify as evangelicals who are not evangelical in their doctrine. Support for a president or a public policy agenda does not make a person an evangelical.

Yet, division exists even among those who hold evangelical beliefs. Some evangelicals seem to make a position on a controversial issue like immigration the basis for a divisive spirit with brothers and sisters who disagree. Evangelicals remain sharply divided over President Trump, especially his rhetoric. This leads to my second desire:

2. More evangelicals would focus on being the church instead of saving America.

It is clear to me the biblical priority for a Christian is to live in community with other disciples in a way that glorifies God, exalts Jesus, and displays and proclaims the true gospel before a watching world. The church -- not our country -- is to be our priority. The United States is important, and we should be faithful citizens as Christ-followers and work for policies that honor God and provide for human flourishing. But America is not ultimate. God's kingdom is. Each of our churches is an embassy of that kingdom, an embassy that reflects what God and His love are like.

-- Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

Monday, January 29, 2018

The church is a worshiping community

I preached a sermon titled "The church is a worshiping community" from Col. 3:12-17 yesterday. It was the fourth sermon in a short series I am doing on the church.

The sermon didn't come close to addressing all the Bible says about the church and its worship, and what I say in this blog won't either. Yet, it's important for us as Christians to understand at least the scriptural truths below about corporate worship. These statements are based on texts in John 4, Colossians 3, and Hebrews 10 and 12:

1. Worship is a response to God’s revelation in Scripture of Himself, of us, and of His work, especially in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

2. Worship is in spirit and truth and not restricted to a location. We are to worship God, who is Spirit, under the direction of His Word, which is truth, and we are to do so as a spiritual activity, expressing ourselves verbally and physically from our inner being.

3. Worship is a spiritual celebration in the presence of God and by His grace. When we worship God, we are joining with the angels and the spirits of believers in Heaven who are worshiping Him.

4. Worship is to be with thanksgiving and awe unto a holy God. God remains a jealous God, one who protects His glory, and we are to respond to Him in worship with reverence and joy.

5. Worship is made possible by Jesus. His death enables us to enter God’s presence with confidence.

6. Worship is to be Christ-centered, reflecting, focusing on and honoring Him.

7. Worship is a ministry to fellow Christians in which we motivate each other to love and good works through faithful participation and encouragement.

-- Photo by Roan Lavery on Unsplash