Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Greatest Story

I find it helpful to regularly summarize the gospel in different formats. It stirs and nourishes my soul and helps me to know and love the good news of Jesus our Lord. I want to constantly grow in my understanding and application of it. Don’t you?

Below is a gospel summary that I have been using for about a year now. I like it because it captures the transcendence of the gospel by way of biblical, historical narrative. The format below captures God’s redemptive plan from beginning to end as the greatest story ever told.

GOD – In the beginning God created everything and it was very good (Gen. 1:1 and 1:31). Creation means God has authority, and when combined with his goodness as creator, we understand God to be holy. God is holy, holy, holy!

MAN – As a part of this perfect creation, God created male and female and gave them everything they needed (Genesis 2:15-18). But they decided not to trust God, believed a lie and tried to be like God (Gen. 3:1-6). We all have gone astray in this way (Isa. 53:6 and Rom. 3:23). The Lord God, however, has lovingly pursued humans (Gen. 3:9-11) and promised to redeem (Gen. 3:15) and bless those who would trust Him (Gen. 12:1-3).

JESUS – In the Old Testament God promises a Forever King (1 Chronicles 17:11-14) who will be a Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:4-6) to take away the sins of man (Isa. 53:10-12).  In the New Testament this Servant King comes and lives perfectly, dies in our place and rises again, overcoming sin and death (1 Cor. 15:3-8; Gal. 3:13-14).

What Jesus did for us is good news about bad news. What Jesus finished for God’s glory and our good is the gospel proper. I want to be clear, the gospel is not what I have, can or will do. It is what Jesus has done!

RESPONSE – The gospel of Jesus demands a response. Jesus Christ lived and died so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life. Jesus did the righteous work of God for us and we must repent toward God and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). We can either receive what Christ has done or reject Him. We can trust God or trust ourselves. In the end, there are only two options.

RESULT – When we trust in the finished work of Christ: 1) We are justified; set free from past sin and shame. 2) We are sanctified; given the Holy Spirit and God begins freeing us from present sin. 3) We will be glorified; God will forever restore us and the creation to His original design (Rev. 21 and 22). This is good news.

What is the gospel? The gospel is the story of good news for sinful and guilty people.

Do you believe it? Then receive it by grace through faith. 

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Everyone Has At Least One

Not everyone will admit it, but everyone has one.

No, not opinions. A savior or even saviors.

Any person who is paying attention will tell you there is something wrong with the world and the people who inhabit it, and if they are honest they will admit they are also flawed.

So what’s the solution to the ills that plague us and confound us? How do we deal and cope?

It depends on who you ask, but the answer reveals who or what the person is trusting in and ultimately it reveals who or what is functioning as their savior. Everyone has a functional savior they trust and look to for help and deliverance.

Here are some broad categories in which you might find a functional savior:

  • Escapes. This category might include: Video games, vacations, weekends, harmful and addictive substances, movies, books, sleep, hobbies, sports, etc. Barry Trammel, Sports Columnist for the Daily Oklahoman, stated this clearly when he said, “The very best thing about sports is escapism.” Anything or any person that helps  someone escape reality and responsibility has become a functional savior. An escape might even be something like a divorce which allows a person to leave behind an unhappy relationship commitment. To be clear, not all of these things are necessarily bad, and they might even be enjoyed for God’s glory in the right situation, but when someone leans on them more than they trust God, as evidenced by obedience to His word, then an escape is likely functioning as a savior. 
  • Experts. These are people who are going to fix life’s ills and make the world better. Experts might include politicians, doctors, role models, parents, clergy, counselors, lawyers, activists, financial advisers, intellectuals, etc. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with receiving the expertise and services of someone like a doctor or counselor. But when a person is placed above God; when their expert solutions result in the Great Architect and Physician being displaced from first place or ignored altogether, then we have to consider the possibility that there is an idol acting like a savior.
  • Dreams. This category is characterized by thoughts that start with an “If only…”  These dream-saviors might include: a dream job, a dream house, a dream relationship, a dream family, a dream salary, a dream invention, a dream society, a dream church, retirement, etc. I don’t mean ambition is always wrong. We should have Godly ambition to see the gospel grow and advance. We should hope and act so that our families and faith families flourish. But when the “if only” becomes a reality and we can’t be thankful and we can’t rest in what God has granted, then perhaps we have a dream-savior. For example, people who struggle in this category likely have a hard time with Godly contentment. They always have to have more of what they already posses or they just have to have the newest version. If the grass is always greener somewhere else, and we can’t be content to water and fertilize where we are, then maybe we should consider whether anything will satisfy. Maybe it is worthy wondering if we still haven’t found who we are looking for – namely, Christ Jesus.

And this is the beauty of the real and ultimate Savior, Jesus Christ; only He can give to us the eternal and fulfilling life we so desperately seek for both the present life and the life to come. And when He does save us by trusting Him, He puts all of these others things in their proper place so that we can enjoy them (Psalm 128:1-4; Matt. 6:33).  If we try to use them to seek ultimate enjoyment, they will let us down and rob us of what we are truly seeking.

“Almighty God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” Augustine of Hippo

Assurance for Parents; 9 Ways to Increase Confidence in Your Children’s Ministry

Mary Berry

When my wife and I became new parents, we were ultra-protective of our son – to a fault in many instances. It was obvious to us that no one could take better care of the little guy than we could.

It’s hard not to make idols out of ourselves as parents, and it’s hard not to idolize our children. One of the solutions to parenting idolatry is to trust God by trusting our brothers and sisters who are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit and desire to serve us as a part of the local church. After all, if you can’t trust your church family, who can you trust?

But this is the major sticking point isn’t it? Can other people be trusted with our most important possession(s)?

A personal story might connect.

I remember dropping our firstborn off at the nursery of the local church we called our faith family. The teenager who greeted us at the door – if you would call it a greeting –  did not inspire much confidence. Of course, there were other and more seasoned folks in the room, but if a foot is to be put forward, shouldn’t it be the best foot? The young man meant well, but meaning well isn’t a whole lot of comfort to young and nervous parents. We needed someone to be a minister of assurance. We needed to see that we could trust others with our pride and joy.

If you are a parent with a pulse, you have probably experienced the same thing and the thing that you most desired was to be assured that your child was in good hands. One of the most important ministries that any local church has is the ministry of assurance to parents as a part of the children’s ministry.

What then should be the attitudes and actions that would give assurance to parents that their children are safe and secure from harm?

  • Parent Perspective. The children’s ministry is also a first impressions ministry to parents. We are not just taking care of someone’s kid, but we are ministering to the parent by partnering with them to love and disciple their child.
  • Courtesy. The parent should be acknowledged with eye contact and a verbal greeting that is warm and reassuring. If possible, the worker/teacher would do well to walk to the door to receive the child and address the parent. 
  • The Attitude of Jesus. The parent should observe the worker/teacher greet the child in a warm and loving way. Did not Jesus model for us the way we ought to treat the little children (Matt. 19:13-15)? In our church one of our expectations is that we will treat our youngest and oldest with special honor (1 Cor. 12:22-26).
  • Communicate. Upon pick-up, the worker/teacher should communicate what the child did and how they did. Parents often want to know how and what their child is doing.
  • Respect. Especially in the nursery, the worker/teacher should honor the scheduling and feeding requests of the parent.
  • Punctuality and Dependability. It’s important to be early because when parent(s) and child arrive before the worker/teacher, it communicates something. People keep commitments that they value and time is a reference point for commitments. Additionally, when someone doesn’t show up it causes scrambling, and scrambling doesn’t produce assurance.
  • Think About Yourself. Jesus shows His genius when He tells His disciples in Matthew 7:12: “In everything (including children’s ministry), therefore, treat people (parents and children) the same way you want them to treat you.” We all want to be treated well and if we took the words of Jesus to heart, we would surely do all of the above, because that’s the way we would want to be treated.
  • Consider God’s Glory. We must always be asking if our actions and attitudes glorify God through Jesus.
  • Memorize Galatians 6:9. Ministry is hardly ever convenient and easy, but it can presently be worth it and will certainly one day be worth it (Galatians 6:9).

If we would examine our hearts in light of these attitudes and actions, our children’s ministry would be good for worker, parent and child. May God give us the strength to love and minster to parent and child with all of our being. In doing so, we will also be loving Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40 and John 14:15).

Worship and Idolatry; Thoughts and Diagnostic

We were created worship (Genesis 1:26-28) and so we will worship. This truth is self-evident.

apple idolatryWe inevitably assign ultimate value to something and this is worship.

Therefore, we will worship God or will worship the creature/creation. The worship of God is true worship and the worship of anything else that God has created is idolatry.

We can see this in Bible narrative from the very beginning and therefore make several propositional (truth) statments about worship and idolatry.

  1. In the beginning the Holy and Triune God Created (Genesis 1:1) the heavens and the earth and everything in them.
  2. He created the creation to display and reveal His glory and the creation was good (Genesis Ch. 1).
  3. He also created man as a distinct part of that creation to worship God by faith (Genesis Ch. 1 and 2) and enjoy the creation by honoring God and giving thanks (Romans 1:21).
  4. Therefore, when God is worshiped, mankind enjoys creation righteously.
  5. But when the creation and creature are worshiped, the created design is suppressed (Romans 1:18), and man worships the creation because mankind was created to worship. 
  6. Idolatry is self-worship (Isaiah 44:9-20). Bottom line: We trust God or ourselves. Though we may assign value to another object or idea, we are ultimately valuing and trusting ourselves because we have decided what is worthy of worship. This is a paradox of sorts because it looks as if the idol is the object of our worship. But who decided it was of ultimate value when God has told us that He is the most valuable being in the creation?
  7. The Fall-Out: Moral Chaos (Romans 1:24-30). With each person deciding their own moral standard by which they make decisions about what is ultimately valuable, moral chaos ensues. We should not be surprised when we see the chaos. With more than 6 billion people on planet earth acting as their own god, we get a lot of moral standards instead of one.

A Idolatry Diagnostic: FAD 

If we don’t carefully define worship and idolatry then we might conclude that we are not idolaters since most of us are probably not housing any little wooden or stone idols. Idolatry is making a good thing a god-thing. Idolatry is assigning ultimate value to anything that is not God. How then do we identify idols? FAD.

  • Fear. What do you fear? What controls or paralyzes you because you are afraid of losing it or not having it? “One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life because we are dependent on that object.” Tim Keller
  • Anger. Anger can be a Godly response when exercised in a Godly way for Godly reasons. But if there is something that easily offends you, or sets you off regularly, then that thing or person is probably controlling you in an idolatrous way. People tend to get angry about things that they value, but don’t get angry about what they don’t value. Is that thing you get angry about more valuable than God says it is? 
  • Dear. What do we spend the most time and money on? What is it that we can’t live without? Football, clothes, a big home, a new car, hunting, reputation, food,  control, or a pet? Any object or idea/dream? If we hold anything more dear than God and His glory, then it is probably an idol. For instance, Americans spent billions of dollars last year on Christmas presents for their cats. We spent over $40 billion on our pets – more than movies, video games and music combined. 

Solution 

  • Acknowledge that you, like the rest of us, are an idolater and then turn to Christ by grace through faith. Repent and believe in Christ alone. Trust God and not yourself.
  • If you are a Christian who has an idol, start by praising God (Romans 1:25c). Don’t just admit the problem, do the right thing immediately. Value God with your thoughts and actions.
  • Guard yourself from going back to an idol with regular self-examination. Use the FAD diagnostic and ask others to speak into your life. We are always in danger of going back to the very thing Jesus saved us from. Trust in Jesus and He will put everything in its proper place.

Raccoons and Wrath

We humans come up with some fantastical theories and ideas regarding existence and where it might be headed.

In Romans 1:18-23 Paul asserts that everyone is under the wrath of God and will experience the wrath of God (a part from faith in Christ)  because they suppress the truth and speculate that there is no God. Paul says God’s existence is irrefutably evident because the creation makes visible the invisible God. So instead of worshiping God, people concoct futile speculations to explain God away (Rom 1:21). Some people are headed for God’s wrath because they ignored God and worshiped people, animals and stuff, committing idolatry.

Some would say Paul and Christians like him are delusional to think this.

What about this possibility?

racoonsThe History Channel aired a show called, How the Earth Made Man, in which a New York University Professor of Biology describes what might happen if the earth was struck by a cataclysmic event like a Texas-sized asteroid or a “super volcano.” Once humans have become extinct he offers this possible scenario.

“Evolution will start working on the survivors and I might vote for raccoons. They have very nice hands and they are pretty smart, and if they manage to survive the next mass extinction, maybe they would go on to invent or reinvent technology and all the things human beings have done.”

I realize that given enough time a lot of strange things can happen, but that seems like a huge leap of faith (speculation). Of course, this also clarifies how this particular professor thinks humans came to be in the first place –  A lot can supposedly happen in 4.5 billion years.

I was sharing this little anecdote with a close friend of mine over lunch and he responded: “Buddy, raccoons are not that smart. I have trapped about 30 of them this year and sold their skins.”

Hmm. If they can’t escape the primitive trap of my friend, how will they escape a mass extinction event? Oh, yes, I almost forgot, evolution will shape the raccoons or whatever is left to the design of the theory.

So we have two different men with two different worldviews. Paul was an intelligent and well-educated man (Acts 26:24). The aforementioned professor is undoubtedly an intelligent man. One of them is right about where we came from and where we are going. One of them is wrong. Which one is more fantastical?

I wish for no one to experience the wrath of God, but it is apparent that some people are asking for it when they have more faith in raccoons than they do in the God who created them.

The same Paul that wrote of the wrath of God on the unrighteous also used creation as evidence in 14:15-17. May we follow his example in boldly pleading with people to escape the wrath to come by pointing to the God of creation.

“Men, why are you doing these things things? ….Turn from these vain things to the living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet God did not leave Himself without witness, in that he did good and gave rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”