Introducing “The Journey” (a little book to help you grow spiritually)

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The Christian life is a journey.

When calling people to himself, Jesus often used the words, “Follow me.” To follow implies movement–you’re travelling a path and going somewhere. That somewhere is an adventure in knowing God more and becoming more like Jesus. It is learning how to love God supremely and love others deeply no matter what is going on in the world. It is a journey that ultimately takes us into the great promised land of eternity where we will discover there is always more to learn about the greatness of God, there is always more to enjoy in the richness of his grace, and there is always more to happily do as we rule with each other and Jesus over the new creation.

Seven times in Ephesians Paul described this journey as a walk. There is movement.

To help you on this journey I have written a book/workbook simply called The Journey. Its purpose is to help you grow in all avenues of your journey of faith: loving God, loving other followers of Jesus, and loving those who are not followers of Jesus. I’ve described these under the phrases of living truth, building community, and pursuing missions. This book is free for you to use, print, copy, share, and/or distribute as you see fit (just give proper citation when due). You can download your own copy by clicking below (it is a .pdf file requiring Adobe Acrobat Reader or some other .pdf reader program; approximately 1.4 megs in file size; and formatted with margins to be printed double-sided on standard 8.5×11 paper).

I also welcome any feedback you have to share or grammatical errors you notice (we have gone over the document several times, but I don’t have a professional editing staff! 🙂 ).

May it be a good tool for your journey as you follow Jesus.

Download the file by clicking here: The Journey: A Guide to Spiritual Growth

Who are you? (a meditation on what it means to be in Christ)

This post was originally slated for this past Friday, I am putting it up today. ~ Pastor Mike

In him… ~Ephesians 1:11

Your English teacher may have despised run on sentences; Paul, on the other hand, gave us a beautiful picture of the gospel via a run on. Though our English translations of the Bible will tidy it up for our grammatical senses with periods and paragraph breaks, Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence where Paul poured out the beauty and grace of what God has done for us through Jesus.

IdentityElsewhere, Paul wrote about us being a new creation just as Jesus spoke of us being born again (2 Corinthians 5:17, John 3:1-16). These things are about our personhood and identity. In the beginning God created all of humanity, male and female, in his image. Though we have marred and corrupted that image through sin, we still possess it. Coming to Jesus by grace through faith restores that image. At once God has created us new, though over time he buffs out the stains and corrosion.

In Jesus we are new creations and new people, we have new lives and new purposes. It’s a new identity but fully and completely bound to Jesus for the glory of God.

At least twelve times (by my quick count), Paul wrote some variation of the phrase in him or through him—some preposition connected to Jesus. This defines us if we are God’s people. We are those in Jesus. Three times Paul wrote, “To the praise of his glory” or “To the praise of his glorious grace.” This is our purpose of being in him. We are made to praise him for his glory while basking in his grace.

Opening his sentence, Paul said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” I’ve written previously about the difficulty of translating blessed into English. When it comes to us blessing God, it would have to do with giving God joy through our praise of him. When it comes to God blessing us, it would have to do with God bringing us into a joyful sense of being through showering us with his goodness and love.

And what does it mean to be blessed by God in Jesus for his glory, according to Paul?

It means that we are chosen to be holy and blameless. What a wonderful beauty. The picture of who we are in sin is not pretty (just read 2:1-3). We are dirty, corrupt, hopeless, and helpless. We are deserving death and God’s wrath. We are his enemies, allies with a great cosmic evil. Yet when it comes to our lives in Jesus, God does not choose us because we are good or because we have made ourselves good. He chooses us in order to make us holy and blameless. This is why it is grace through faith not of our works but all of his works. We are fundamentally, radically new persons. And when the world or Satan tries to tell us otherwise, we can say, “I’m in Christ.”

It means that God has adopted us into his family. In sin, we “were by nature children of wrath” (2:3). In Jesus we are adopted sons and daughters (1:5). Not only a new identity, but a new family with its rich inheritance (more on that in a moment).

It means that God has redeemed us and forgiven us. The blood of Jesus on the cross has purchased us out of our dismal estate of sin. It has paid back every debt we owed God all the times we rejected him and his goodness. It has absorbed judgment and wrath. It has wiped the slate clean and given us a fresh start that never again becomes clouded. No more do sin and failure define us. In moments of weakness we still stumble and fail, but by his grace God lifts us up and sets us back on our feet. He disciplines but he no longer punishes. We experience his love even when the discipline seems painful, and we are infinitely removed from his wrath.

It means that we have an inheritance. This comes from being a part of the family. There are many things of eternity that we only catch brief glimpses of through scripture. Whatever the mysteries, one part of this inheritance is clear: Jesus creates a new heaven and new earth, and we get to rule alongside Jesus as kings and queens over the new creation. In the beginning we were made rulers of creation, subject only to God. In sin, we subjected ourselves under sin and Satan. In Jesus, we are set free and subject again only to God. When Jesus restores, we get the fullness of a good creation once more with him.

Finally (at least for Paul’s run on sentence) it means that we have received the Holy Spirit within. What Jesus promised in John 14 and 16, he made a reality in Acts 2. Ever since, every follower of Jesus receives the fullness of the Holy Spirit when they turn from sin and turn to Jesus. The Spirit within us is a seal of promise and a guarantee. We indeed do belong to God and his family through Jesus, and he indeed will give us a great inheritance from his love.

All of these things now define us.

Who are you? If you are in Jesus, you are one infinitely loved by a God who has cleansed you, forgiven you, redeemed you, made you a part of his family, and given you great promises. And he has done all of this without any begrudging feelings. After all, he is the one who has lavished upon us the wonderful riches of his grace (1:7-8).

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Sunday 06.28.15 (the Christian journey and summer grill off)

The Christian life is like a journey, in fact Paul called it a walk seven different times in Ephesians. This week, we’ll ask the question How’s your walk? and look at some ways to keep moving forward, towards Jesus. Also after our worship gathering you’ll want to stick around for our Summer Fellowship / Grill-Off.

@945 Small Groups / Sunday School for all ages
@1045 Worship Gathering
@Noon Summer Fellowship and Grill-Off
@6pm Study: Praying with Paul by D.A. Carson, Session 4: “The Content of a Challenging Prayer”

Sermon Notes
How’s Your Walk? ~Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Three things to keep you moving forward on your journey:

  • Keep dying to your old self (4:17-24)
  • Keep replacing the bad with the good (4:25-32)
  • Keep imitating God through love (5:1-2)

Obey King Jesus, Honor Everyone (a pastor’s thoughts on the same-sex marriage ruling)

This morning news broke that is not surprising when given the direction our culture in the United States combined with previous Supreme Court rulings: same-sex marriage is now a right that must be legally recognized in every state.

Here are some opening truths for us to remember: Jesus is still King, God is not surprised or caught off guard, Jesus will continue to build his church until his return, and he has tasked his church to be a continuing witness of his love and grace. With these in mind, here are a few of my thoughts:

First, this does not change how the church should view marriage. On the one hand, Christians have always (if imperfectly) held up marriage as a great societal good. In Genesis 2 it became the first pillar of society given by God. Yes, Genesis 3 tainted it as with everything else, but in Jesus there is a redemptive element to marriage.

The church should not simply be about trying to produce a bunch of heterosexual monogamous relationships under the banner of “marriage.” Instead, under this banner our goal should be to produce such relationships that provide a clear gospel witness. With Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 3, and Matthew 22 in mind, we see several truths: (1) marriage between a man and a woman is a temporary, earth-bound relationship; (2) though we are to hold it in high honor, the greatest focus is to always be living for Jesus; (3) Christian marriage is to be a sanctifying relationship where the husband grows to mimic Jesus more and the wife grows in a greater love and relationship with Jesus; (4) so marriage is pointing us to a greater eternal reality of the relationship between Jesus and his church; and (5)we can never view Christian marriage as separate from discipleship.

Our one man, one woman understanding of marriage is not important simply because God created them male and female in the beginning (though that is part of it). It is vastly important because it stands as a gospel witness of Jesus and his church and is to bring us to greater holiness and Christ-likeness.

The nations of the world will define marriage however they desire. Always have and always will. Some cultures throughout the ages have and do view marriage as a sense of property ownership or as part of a political treaty. These are also not Christian and God-defined views of marriages even if between a man and woman. Regardless, we as the church are called to practice what the Holy Spirit gave us in scripture. This is our duty: we obey King Jesus and we hold marriage as a sacred relationship that helps us grow in Christ-likeness.

Second, we must keep looking at the world through gospel-influenced eyes. First Peter 2:17 says, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”

Yes, biblically speaking, we are to see ourselves in the midst of a war but we are not to see any person or group of people as our enemy. Politicians, the Supreme Court, members of the LGBT community, our neighbors, our family, people spread out across the world—no person is our enemy.

What they are is the same as we were before we followed Jesus. What they are is how we are all born into this world.

They are people created in the image of God, meant to be significant, meant to reflect his glory to the world, but lost, broken, and held under the chains of sin. From the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb we are children of Adam. This means we are children of Genesis 1, 2, and 3.

The only thing that separates us and makes us different, no matter our gender, ethnicity, social class, or orientation is Jesus. If we are in Jesus then we have been redeemed, we have been reshaped, and we have been renewed. We are no longer bound by our birth identity in the flesh. We are no longer children of Genesis 3 but of Genesis 12: children of Abraham, children of promise, and children of God. We have been forgiven, adopted, and restored.

But none of that is because we were more righteous (Romans 3, anyone?). None of that because we were more special (1 Corinthians 1). None of it because of anything we did (Ephesians 2). It is only by the grace of God working in our hearts through the gospel that the Son, Jesus, has freed us (John 8, Ephesians 2). As God has lavished his grace upon us, so he has called us to take the good news of his wonderful grace to others, indiscriminately.

If they disagree with us on marriage, we are to go to them in grace and love and share the beauty of the gospel. If they disagree with us on the proper way to honor God, we are to go to them in grace and love and share the beauty of the gospel. If they disagree with us on ethics, we are to go to them in grace and love and share the beauty of the gospel. If they hold a gun or sword at us and say they will kill us, we are to go to them in grace and love and share the beauty of the gospel.

Yes, we are in a war, but not with people. And our weapons of warfare are not picket signs or bumper stickers about Adam and Steve or the power of legal force. Our belt is the truth of Jesus. Our breastplate is the righteousness of God covering our sin. Our shoes are the good news of peace in, through, and with Christ. Our shield is our faith rooted firmly in the finished work of Christ. Our helmet is the gracious salvation God has given us. Our sword is God’s word which is not to bludgeon but to declare the greatness, love, and righteousness of God in Christ. And it is all bound together with prayer.

Two final sub-thoughts with this: We must look for avenues of grace. Malachi 2:14 describes marriage as a covenant. At the core of the fight in favor of same-sex marriage is a remnant of a godly reality. Those of the LGBT community have fought for this because they desire to share in a greater bond; because at its core they still see something special about marriage.

This goes back to the fact that we are all created in the image of God. God is relational, he is eternally triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is also covenantal. We clearly see in scripture God making a covenant (a relationship built on promises, but something more solid than mere verbal promises) with Noah, Abraham, the people of Israel through Moses, and David, and then a new covenant through Jesus.

In our hearts we long for deep relationships, for covenant relationships because we have been formed in God’s image. Those in the LGBT community long for these things because they have been formed in God’s image.

I do not say this to diminish the reality and consequence of sin, ours or theirs. Rather, this gives us a point of contact. We all have the same longing, just expressed in different ways. We all have the same desire, just corrupted in different ways by sin. We must see the reality of this longing as an avenue to speak the truth of the gospel: no mere person in any relationship will make you feel complete and perfectly loved. Yes, relationships lived out in a God-honoring way can point us in the right direction, but it is only God himself through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwelling within that will complete you and bask you in perfect love.

Anyone’s desire for marriage is an avenue to point to the truth of the gospel, and our need for Jesus and his righteousness.

We must be people of prayer. We often hear 2 Chronicles 7:14 quoted in response to events like this: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The thing is, though, God is not talking about the United States. The States have never been, are not, and will never be “my people who are called by my name.” There is only one Christian nation and that is the faithful church itself (1 Peter 2:9-10).

We do need healing. We need healing from our oft divisions, whether over music or personality clashes or lack of grace and love towards God, each other, and neighbor. We do need to turn from our Sunday-Christian mentality that has devalued through its non-practice evangelism and discipleship. We need to reclaim a daily passion for God and love for others.

So we need to pray. We pray to be the people that Jesus has called us to be: missionaries of a wondrous light in a world of spiritual darkness. And we pray that we might walk in the holiness and righteousness of Jesus, not to browbeat those who don’t but to be an example of God’s transforming love and grace.

This is not a day for us to lament our nation. This is a day for us to renew our hope in Christ. Politics, laws, and courts will never change a person, make a nation godly, or win the world for the gospel. The people of Jesus living for Jesus and declaring the good news of Jesus as the Holy Spirit works through them will.

Good Reads 06.24.15 (on enjoying life, temptation, trusting God, and more)

Here are some links and summaries to some good reads collected over the past week. Be sure to check them out…

On enjoying the good things in life: Is It Possible to Enjoy What God Has Created Without Feeling Guilty? by Stephen Altrogge (click here)

Without a doubt, we treasure God primarily through his word. But I don’t think that we treasure God exclusively through his word. We can also treasure God through the wonderful gifts that he has given to us.

On fighting against sexual temptation with greater desires: Our Odyssey Against Sexual Temptation by Jimmy Needham (click here)

Real freedom came for me when I began, by God’s grace, to see that my cravings were for more than just food or sex. All my appetites were, at root, for an all-satisfying God. God will always be the better treasure, the more pleasing song. His music makes all the songs of the world pale in comparison.

On trusting God to give us good things according to his wisdom: What If God Wants Me To Marry Somebody Ugly by Stacy Reaoch (click here)

Part of me wanted to chuckle at these extremely candid questions. But really, I have asked the same questions in different ways. The question isn’t as simple as “What if I don’t like the man I am supposed to marry?” but rather, “Do I trust that God is for me and gives good gifts to his children?”

On confession and accountability: Confession is a Cosmic Trust Fall by JA Medders (click here)

Hiding sin is a self-shackling; it’s a false freedom. We think we are free because we feel like we are in control, but we are leashed to a lie. Covering our sin, deleting web histories, hiding receipts, erasing text messages—these are all landmines and no one will ever evade them all. “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23).

On righteousness: Become the Righteousness of God by Nathan R. Hale (click here)

This is the event that changed everything for everyone in whole world! One perfect person, Jesus Christ, died and was raised back to life for everyone so that they could be free from selfishness and find real abundant life outside of themselves. This is new reality, and implication are huge, because it means that real self-giving love and authentic community are actually possible. It changes the way we look at everything.

It Started with Pizza (thoughts on discipleship and upcoming discipleship conference)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… ~ Jesus, Matthew 28:19

It started with pizza.

As a junior in college I had just moved into my new dorm at my new school, the University of Oklahoma. In the hall, I talked with my new dorm mates when all of a sudden another guy approached with a handful of flyers. “Hi,” he said. “I’m from the Baptist Student Union and we’re having a back to school pizza bash this Friday and would like to invite you to come. It’s free!”

“Do you have to be Baptist?” one of my dorm mates asked.

“Nope. In fact, I’m Catholic, but it’s just a great place to hang out and meet people.”

Friday evening came and I headed across campus to the Baptist Student Union. Fortunately, I met another guy going the same way to the same place. I don’t do crowds very well, and when we saw the parking lot it was packed with people (well over 500, and that’s just who registered their name that night) and lots and lots of pizza. If I had been on my own, I may have turned around.

The guy I met disappeared in the sea of bodies and found me later wondering around to introduce me to another guy (we were all in the same degree field), who eventually became one of my best friends. This new, new guy, Joe, told me more about the BSU, invited me to his church, and invited me to hang out with him and his roomies in his dorm.

Little did I know at that moment that everything was about to change.

The BSU proved much more than just “a great place to hang out and meet people.” It had been led for well over thirty years by a then skinny, old guy named Max Barnett. Max had one singular passion in life: to be a disciple of Jesus who makes more disciples of Jesus. Yes, he was the director of the BSU and an elder (pastor) at the church I was involved in for my three years at OU; but more than that he took time to invest his life in others, telling them the gospel, modeling Jesus, and helping them figure out how to live a life that honors Jesus in everything, including investing themselves in others as well.

Throughout the years, many of the people he discipled in that college environment grew up to go in all different directions (some as BSU staffers, some as missionaries and pastors, some as business men and women, some as scientists and mathematicians, some as homemakers, and the list goes on), but with the same singular passion: to make disciples.

I grew up in church. I sometimes even lamely joke, “Yeah, I started going to church nine months before I was born.” In the twenty years of my life up to that pizza party, I had heard many sermons and lessons. I had been in Sunday School and even spent time in the old “discipleship training / training union” programs of the Southern Baptists. Yet, I had never really seen discipleship like this—discipleship that is rooted in church (we do this in community) but continues far beyond the programs and worship gatherings within the four walls of a building.

For the first time, I came to understand that: discipleship is life. It is life because it’s what we’re to be about as Christians. Ours is not meant to be a religion or a few hours a week program that we tack onto everything else. We are followers of Jesus—every moment, every day. The question is: are we doing well to follow or are we stumbling, struggling, and finding ourselves face down in the dirt way too often? It is also life because it is what should define us no matter what we do. It’s not just a preacher thing, or a missionary thing, it’s not just a thing for college students who have some free time, it’s not a program for the spiritual elite.

It is a call for every single one of us: teachers, farmers, bankers, athletes, pastors, WalMart associates, retirees, factory workers, parents, authors, artists, etc.

Another old man at a conference I went to once said, “People used to ask me: what do you want to be when you grow up? Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to tell them, but I knew I was supposed to make disciples. Now here I am in my eighties and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I’ve been making disciples the whole time.”

That is the passion that Max Barnett inspired in many of us.

And I feel honored that we get to host him at FBC Adrian for a Discipleship Mini-Conference on Saturday July 18 from 3 to 8pm. You can find more information about the conference and a registration form by clicking here. He will also be preaching in our worship gathering on Sunday July 19.

Earlier I referred to Max as a skinny, old man, because he was. It’s been 12 years since I graduated from OU, so he’s a bit older now and a decade retired from the BSU. But he still has a great passion to make disciples who make disciples. If you’re near the Adrian, MO, area you will not want to miss the wisdom that Max has to share.

Sunday 06.21.15 (“Trust in the Lord” and Father’s Day)

This Sunday, we’ll take a look at Psalm 4 and what it means to trust in the Lord. We also want to wish all of our fathers and grandfathers a happy Father’s Day and we have a special gift we will be giving to all men present.

@945 Small Groups / Sunday School for all ages
@1045 Worship Gathering
**No Evening Activities, enjoy Father’s Day!**

Sermon Notes
Trust in the Lord ~ Psalm 4

Faith is more than a mere belief in ideas or notions of truths; it is a deep trust. Psalm 4 shows us a glimpse of this trust:

  • Trust God for your righteousness (4:1)
  • Trust God to answer your prayers (4:1)
  • Trust God with your reputation (4:2-3)
  • Trust God with the things that make you angry (4:4-5)
  • Trust God for your joy (4:6-7)
  • Trust God for your security (4:8)

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