In Acts 2:42 we are told that the believers in Jerusalem were devoting themselves to fellowship among other things (i.e. – the apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and prayer). When we devote ourselves to fellowship – enjoying Jesus together, sharing with one another, serving the Lord together – we encounter God’s grace in and through each other to the point where coming into contact with a member of the body is to be reminded (almost instantaneously) of the Lord.
In my life this has played itself out in merely seeing another member of my local church. In specific, there have been occasions in my life when my heart has been insensitive to the Spirit and plagued with sinful desire, and simply seeing another brother walk into the room begins to help me think of things that are “true…honorable…just…pure…lovely…commendable…worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Thoughts of who these people are (representatives of Christ and siblings with me in God’s family) and how they’ve ministered to me personally (with loving care and faithfulness) seep into my mind and begin to wash away the hardness of heart at these times.
My conclusion: devote yourself to the family of God and let them devote themselves to you to such a degree that to merely catch a glimpse of them will cause you to remember the grace of God and praise him for it!
So sorry for my lack of posting recently. We just moved out of our house and are preparing to travel to California for church planting training this summer, so things have been a bit insane.
Having said that, on the subject of church planting, a good friend of mine took me out to lunch and gave me some fortifying encouragement on Tuesday. He read to me Colossians 1:3-6 which begins with Paul telling the Colossian believers that he and Timothy always thank God for them in their prayers ever since they heard of their faith in Christ Jesus and the love they have for God’s people. This faith and love, Paul says, is a result of the gospel coming to them. What comes next is what Paul says about the effects of the gospel:
“…in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing – as it also does among you” (v.6)
In response to these words (and in reference to the future church plant), my friend said, “We can’t see the fruit yet, but we know what the gospel does.”
Whether you are going to a new place to minister the gospel or you will be continuing to minister the gospel where you are, this should be profoundly encouraging – we know what the gospel does…it bears fruit. The gospel rescues sinners, transforms lives, and grows people in holiness. So, when you are tempted to turn to worldliness or a diluted gospel in order for your ministry to be more successful, remember what it is that bears fruit and yields effect – the gospel as passed down from the apostles.
Our pastor, Dan Kirk, preached what I pray will be a paradigm-shifting message for many Christians with a reformed bent in regard to salvation (i.e. – believing God is sovereign over the salvation of sinners). Being such a Christian myself, I, along with Pastor Dan, see a need for correction in ourselves, and others like us, in how we view the love of God. Preaching on John 3:16, Pastor Dan answers questions that have needed clarification on this subject…questions like:
- What does the word “world” mean in John 3:16?
- Does God love unbelievers?
- Is it true that God only hates the sin and not the sinner?
- Does God want unbelievers to be saved?
If you consider yourself to be reformed, you may be surprised by some of the answers.
A favorite quote of mine from the sermon is in the context of a request Dan makes of God: “Help me to worship you as you’ve revealed yourself and not as I want you to be.” This comes from a reformed pastor who is ultimately constrained by what the Bible says.
The sermon is simply called, The Love of God, and you would do well to give it at least two listens.
You can download it here.
Or get the notes here.
I’m thankful for this story I encountered in my reading today about the late Howard Hendricks, long-time professor at Dallas Theological Seminary:
Someone years ago called him up and said, “Dr. Hendricks, we’re having a Bible conference, and we want you to be our speaker. Can you come?” After he said no, the conference planner said, “This is a crucial event for our whole community. Why can’t you come? Do you have another appointment? Hendricks said, “No, I’ve got to play with my kids.” “You’ve got to play with your kids?” questioned the incredulous planner. “Don’t you realize that our people need your instruction?” “Yes”, Hendricks answered, “but my kids also need me” (taken from The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MacArthur).
Somehow I think Dr. Hendricks knew that managing his household well (1 Timothy 3:4), meant more than just being faithful to discipline.
A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a men’s conference called Pure Life: Cleansing the Heart of Sexual Lust. One of the other speakers at the conference was Keith Palmer, associate pastor at Grace Bible Church in Granbury, TX. Keith’s message at that conference continues to minister to me as one of the most biblically-practical presentations on how to battle sexual lust.
In the message, Keith gives several strategies to help men create a battle plan for fighting lust in their hearts. One of those strategies is one I haven’t heard recommended in the past: “Load your iPod (smartphone, iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.) with Christ-exalting, Word-saturated, flesh-battling Christian hymns and songs.” With the goal of battling temptation in mind, Keith says that one of the playlists he has created is made up of songs specifically chosen to “set [his] heart right”. “A good Christian song”, he says, “burns theology into your affections.”
I have experienced the value of what Keith is suggesting and find it helpful not just as I battle lust in my heart, but anxiety, despair, and anger too. It can be a help with any temptation to sin and so I second what Keith is advocating. Also, in case you’re interested, here are some albums I would recommend for this purpose:
This morning I am continuing to be blessed by an illustration that Tim Keller uses in his book, Galatians for You. The illustration is used to depict the reality of Paul’s words in Galatians 2:21, which read, I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Keller comments, Christ will do everything for you, or nothing. You cannot combine merit and grace. If justification is by the law in any way, Christ’s death is meaningless in history and meaningless to you personally.
His illustration helps:
Imagine that your house were burning down but your whole family had escaped, and I said to you, “Let me show you how much I love you!” and ran into the house and died. “What a tragic and pointless waste of a life”, you would probably think. But now imagine that your house was on fire and one of your children was still in there, and I said to you: “Let me show you how much I love you!”, ran into the flames, and saved your child but perished myself. You would think: “Look at how much that man loved us.”
Keller wraps it up by stating, If we could save ourselves, Christ’s death is pointless, and means nothing. If we realize we cannot save ourselves, Christ’s death will mean everything to us.
Last Friday, Keri and I went to see our favorite songwriter, Andrew Peterson, in concert. The evening was a mixed bag of emotions as Peterson has a talent for telling great stories with his songs, but one such song (and his explanation of it) has risen above the rest to stick with me over the last few days. The song is called Rest Easy, and Peterson calls it his “legalism recovery song”. He told the audience that this song sprung out of him dealing with a long-entrenched feeling that God was consistently disappointed with him. But his recognition of the gospel wins out in this song, because he believes the truth that God knows him and the truth that God loves him are not mutually exclusive.
It’s not hard for us think to that only one of those realities can be true: either God loves us but does not know us (because then he would be ignorant of all of our sin and rebellion) or God knows us but does not love us (because surely he could not love me when he knows the depth of my sin and rebellion). But the gospel makes both of these things true at the same time. How? Well, it wasn’t that God just learned to accept what was directly offensive to him because he knew we would never change. That would be impossible because of his holiness and justice. Instead, he made his Son the object of his justice for our sake – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). God knew about our sin, but punished Christ for it instead of us so that he could love us as he loves Christ.
You know much of the darkness that lurks in your heart, and if certain people in your life ever saw you from the inside, it is likely that they would withdraw from you at best or attack you at worst. But this is not the case with God. Actually, God knows the darkness of your heart more than you do, but it has not led him to draw back in fear or, in anger, consume you with fire from heaven. If you have trusted in Christ for rescue, then Jesus experienced the fullness of God’s anger for your sin, so that you will forever experience the fullness of his love in Christ.