Sunday 05.29.16 (to the ends of the earth)

This Sunday we’ll be taking a look at Psalm 67 and see how God has blessed us in order to make his glory and joy known to the ends of the earth. We hope to see you there! If you’re traveling this holiday weekend, we pray that you travel safe. Starting on Sunday nights in June, we’ll be doing a study through Thom Rainer’s book I Will. For a copy of the book, please see Pastor Mike.

@945 Small Groups / Sunday School for all ages
@1045 Worship Gathering
**No Evening Services, enjoy the holiday weekend!**

Sermon Notes
To the Ends of the Earth ~ Psalm 67

  • A prayer for God’s blessing (67:1)
    • This prayer echoes Numbers 6:23-27, asking for God to supply his people with joy, protection, grace, and peace
    • To be blessed is to be made happy by God through the fullness of Jesus
    • The ultimate purpose of blessing is that God might bring joy to us by displaying his glory through us which will bring joy to others
  • Blessed by God we are to take God’s blessing to others:
    • We are to make the way of God known… (67:2)
    • …to multiply praise to God throughout the world (67:3-7)
    • …to multiply joy in God throughout the world (67:4)

Imprecatory Prayers (a meditation)

Imprecatory is not a word that gets much use these days, but if you ever do a theological study on the various psalms, it is a word you will come across. The Book of Psalms carries a wide range of human emotion in response to world events, personal happenings, and the work of God in each.

When you read through the Psalms, on occasion you will encounter verses like these:

Rise up, O God, and scatter your enemies. Let those who hate God run for their lives. Blow them away like smoke. Melt them like wax in a fire. Let the wicked perish in the presence of God. ~Psalm 68:1-2

These verses form a prayer asking God to bring bad things upon evil people. This is what the word imprecatory means. Sometimes people wonder, based on prayers such as these found in various psalms, is it okay to pray imprecatory prayers today against one’s enemies. A few biblical principles will help us answer that question.

First, the Psalms are God’s inspired word through the Holy Spirit given for our benefit. This is what we read about in places such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where we are told that all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for our growth in Jesus.

Second, God’s nature is the same in both the Old Testament and the New. Some people believe that the “God of the Old Testament” is different than the “God of the New Testament” in that in the Old Testament he is vengeful and in the New he is loving. If you read through both the Old and the New, you will find that God is consistently righteous and loving, wrathful and gracious. God’s nature doesn’t change. Old Testament and New paint God as being perfectly righteous yet also perfectly loving. He pours out his wrath upon sin and at the same time bestows favor upon those who trust in him.

The same Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and our neighbors, and gave his own life for ours on the cross, also pronounced great woes upon bad religious leaders (Matthew 23), cleared out the temple by turning over tables and using a whip (John 2:13-16), and is described by John in Revelation 6:15-17 as having wrath against the wicked. God is loving and righteous.

Third, Jesus told us that in loving our enemies we are to pray for our enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard the law says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:43-44)

In other words, Jesus expected his people to forego their demands for personal vengeance, and instead lift up their enemies in prayer to God. This is one of the many things Jesus tells us to do that is contrary to human nature.

And fourth, a scene from heaven depicts martyred Christians as crying out to God for justice and vengeance. We see this in Revelation 6:9-11. These saints who are crying out in an imprecatory way are not rebuked for their statements, but rather told to wait a little while longer. This accords with what Paul teaches at the end of Romans 12 about not taking out our own vengeance, but rather doing good to our enemies and leave judgment to God.

Altogether, I believe we find the following to be the normal expectation of the Christian when it comes to imprecatory prayers: Our main job is to love all those around us, our enemies included. Even when they do evil to us, we are to do good to them, including praying for them. At times, however, especially as we work through the pain of being hurt, we may pray an imprecatory prayer to God against his enemies and ours. These prayers, though, are not personal pronunciations of judgment but rather acts of trust in the God who both saves and judges.

Even should the occasion arise that we cry out to God against our enemies, our greater hope should still ultimately be their repentance and salvation. Praying for our enemies should be normal. Praying against our enemies in times of pain or distress is not wrong so long as in the prayer we are trusting God to act in his will and way, and not using these prayers as a personal cover for our own wrath.

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

Good Reads 05.25.16 (on: grief, parenting, ssa, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On parenting: 3 Priorities for Christian Parents by Tim Challies

I was recently reading through 1 Thessalonians and once again came to one of my favorite passages. In this letter Paul is addressing specific concerns raised by the congregation in Thessalonica. It seems that one of the matters they wanted him to address involved the simple question of Christian living: How do we live lives that are pleasing to God? How can we know that God is pleased with us? The most significant part of Paul’s response to the question comes in chapter 4.

It struck me as I read it: Isn’t this the question we ask for our children? How can they live lives that are pleasing to God? Isn’t that the dream and desire of every Christian parent, that their children will live lives that thrill God? In this section of his letter Paul provides three priorities. The priorities Paul offers to this first-century Christian church can be helpful to twenty-first century Christian parents. (click here to read more)

On seeking God in the face of grief: The Day I Dug My Daughter’s Grave by Tabor Laughlin

With the grave dug, and struggling through tears, I said some words about our small daughter, giving thanks to God for her life. Then we had some prayer time together. We lowered her casket into the grave. I filled her grave with dirt. We put a flower and rock on top of the gravesite. It’s a gravesite we could never find again, even if we wanted to. My repeated thought was, “Is this really happening to us?” (click here to read more)

On same-sex attraction and faithfulness to Christ: Born Again This Way by Anonymous

As one who the world could call bi-sexual but the word calls born-again, I offer this final plea: Never forget both the beauty and the power of the gospel. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Your temptations and sins might be different than those in the LGBTQ community, but without the grace of God your condition is the same. Jesus offers all of us a new life, new identity, new community, and new heart. He offers each of us that opportunity to be “born again this way,” if we will receive him. Don’t look upon a crowd marching with rainbow flags as your enemies. Don’t look in disgust as a man dressed as a woman walks past you and your family. They are people who need Jesus just like you, and you have the very Savior and Gospel who can give them life forever as your brother or your sister. (click here to read more)

On church: 3 Reasons to Stay in a Church that’s Not Cool Enough by Michael Kelley

It gets really disturbing, though, when that consumerism infiltrates our attitude toward our local churches. And it surely does. At some point, most any of us who grew up in a Christianized culture are going to look around at our church, the one we have supposedly given our lives to through membership, and see that some other church in town has better music. Or a trendier vibe. Or better coffee. Or a more polished preacher. Or whatever. Our church has suddenly become not cool enough, and that same righteous indignation boils up inside of us because we believe we deserve something more… we deserve the best!

So we leave…

I’d like to argue for three reasons to do the very counter-cultural thing of actually staying in the church that’s simply not cool enough: (click here to read more)

Also on church: 10 Reasons Why the Church Gathers by Casey Lewis

Each week on the Lord’s Day, we gather as a church in worship. As a pastor, I always look forward to Sundays. Not only do I get to preach, but I also have the opportunity to praise God alongside others, and to watch how the Lord is using our fellowship for His glory. As Christians, we should all desire to gather together with one another as often as possible. As motivation, here are ten reasons why gathering regularly with the church is important: (click here to read more)

When Paul Opposed Peter (a meditation)

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. ~ Paul, Galatians 2:11

Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia (a region in modern day Turkey which then included towns such as Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe) is perhaps the harshest that he wrote still preserved as scripture. He minced no words with them because they bought into a teaching that required their men (largely from a population of Gentiles, or nations that did not practice ritualistic circumcision) to be circumcised to truly be right with God. This was an affront to the gospel preached by him, Peter, John, and other early missionaries and disciples of Jesus, which said: the work of Jesus alone saves and this is ours by faith.

To add “works of the Law” to this message, whether to fellow Jews or the Gentiles, was to proclaim a different gospel—a message that wasn’t really a true gospel about Jesus. A message Paul opposed so strongly that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed preachers of faith in Jesus plus circumcision to be accursed, or under God’s condemnation (1:8).

Yet in the town of Antioch, Paul found Peter (Cephas) playing the hypocrite in this regard. As the leader of the apostles and a “pillar” of the early church, Peter and other church leaders in Jerusalem gave the charge that the Gentiles had no need to be circumcised or be brought under the Old Testament Law in any other way in order to be saved (2:9-10, cf. Acts 15). So Paul, Barnabas, and others went out with this message of Christ alone.

At the same time, Peter lived by his freedom in Christ to also not be bound to the Law as a Jew. When he was with the Gentile believers in Antioch, he ate and associated with them, along with other Jews, until a group showed up who still valued circumcision as a necessary ritual. Then, out of fear, Peter and the others withdrew from the Gentile disciples and refused to associate with them any longer (2:12-14).

So Paul got in his face and rebuked him.

Within the theological backgrounds that led to this moment, we see accountability among leadership. Though the church is to have leaders, foremost, of high character (see: Acts 6, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1), they are still imperfect people who struggle with sin and sometimes walk in hypocrisy. But no leader should stand above rebuke.

Despite his status, Peter acted contrary to the gospel and needed someone to point him back to the right path. Paul, though elsewhere calling himself the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15), was willing to do just that. We don’t know if Paul was bold at first sight or if he, like Peter and Barnabas, felt fear and so had to take time to reflect and pray. We do know that Paul did what was necessary because the gospel was that important.

The entire letter to the churches of Galatia keeps pointing to this point: Jesus is superior to the Law and salvation comes only through him and not adherence to the Law. He went so far to exclaim that he wished those who pushed circumcision as a requirement of righteousness would have the knife slip on themselves (5:12). So Paul would not be dissuaded.

Church leaders need other leaders and the churches in which they serve to keep them accountable for their character and their message (see also: 1 Timothy 5:19-25). Thus, leaders need to be humble and willing to submit to correction where they have erred. Likewise, leaders need to be bold in the gospel and willing to take a stand upon God’s word, even if no one else will. After all, the gospel about Jesus is still that important.

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

Sunday 05.22.16 (hope and the nature of God)

This Sunday we’ll be taking a look at Lamentations 3 and see how a deeper understanding of the nature of God helps to produce hope in both the good times and the bad. No evening services throughout May. Hope to see you there!

@945 Small Groups / Sunday School for all ages
@1045 Worship Gathering
@4pm Eagle Scout Ceremony at the United Methodist Church
@430pm Deacon Ordination at FBC Rich Hill

Sermon Notes
Hope and the Nature of God ~ Lamentations 3:21-33

žWe need hope in bad times and in good; we develop hope by reflecting on God’s nature…

  • God’s love is unceasing (3:22)
  • God’s mercies are new each day (3:22-23)
  • God’s faithfulness is great (3:23)
  • God’s presence satisfies (3:24)
  • God’s goodness and salvation extend to those who seek him (3:25-26)
  • God’s compassion sustains the afflicted (3:27-33)

A Moment of Introspection (a meditation)

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourself, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! ~ Paul, 2 Corinthians 13:5

To close out his second letter (at least second letter that we still have) to the church at Corinth, Paul called the church to a moment of introspection. He wanted them to examine and test themselves to make sure their faith was genuine. You can’t blame Paul for this request. In the first letter we see again and again how much the Corinthians got wrong, though they were still “called to be saints.” And much of this second letter is Paul dealing with the fallout from attacks on him by false apostles.

It seems that spiritual maturity was greatly lacking.

Paul here doesn’t give a ten question exam or something similar for them to take. So when we try to apply this passage to our own lives we cannot create a legalistic exam that can be used across the board. Also, we shouldn’t see this as Paul demanding some sense of perfection. A few verses after this he called them to continue to grow in areas of restoration, comfort, unity, and love (13:11).

But as we think through Paul’s letter, we do see hints of what he likely meant. First, as in all his letters, Paul spoke about faith in Christ. Throughout the letter, Paul again and again returns to the fact that either we have Jesus or we do not. Most of chapter 3 deals with whether or not they and we are living by the Spirit through Jesus as opposed to finding self-justification in laws carved onto stones. And chapter 4 opens with the fact that the perishing have minds veiled to the gospel but those saved have seen the glory of Jesus through it. So the baseline question of the test would be: Are we trusting in Jesus as our Savior-King?

We also see throughout the letter a call to the Corinthians to pursue godly character. Such a pursuit is ultimately the work of the Spirit within the believer as he transforms us to be more like Jesus, but it is still our place to pursue such traits as we are transformed. This includes: boasting only in the Lord and not in human strength, offering forgiveness to a repentant brother or sister, separating oneself from sexual immorality, being true to one’s word, avoiding anger, quarreling, jealousy, and the likes. So a second question would be: Are we growing in Christ-like character?

Paul also spoke about taking the gospel to those without Jesus. He said no matter where they go, they preach Christ whether people accept it or reject it. They were seeking to bring light to the blind and saw themselves as ambassadors of Christ with the message of reconciliation to God. So a third question would be: Do we have a growing love and concern for those without Jesus?

Paul also spoke of community matters. He encouraged them to give generously to their brothers and sisters in Christ who were in need, just as they promised to give. He lamented the possibility that there would be disunity bound in quarrels, slander, and gossip. And he called them to unity and peace. So a fourth question would be: Do we have a growing love and concern for those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Most of these questions are summaries of ideas which could have many applications. What could be a sin-struggle for one Christian or one church may not be a sin-struggle for another. Hence, why we cannot be too legalistic in our application. But I believe these questions provide a fair idea of what Paul wanted the Corinthians to consider and what we should also ponder from time to time with a moment of introspection.

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

Good Reads 05.18.16 (on: the seasons of life, weariness and rest, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On embracing your season of life: Love the Season You’re In by Kim Shay

Wherever you are in your life, know that God is good (Psalm 145:9). He is good to all. There may be things you wish you could do, and you feel frustration because it seems like God is holding you back. If he is, there is a reason. Look at the good where you are right now. That may seem like a rather lame, trite word of advice, but there really is no benefit in allowing bitterness to creep in. God has a time for everything in our lives, and some day, you will probably see his wisdom in ordering things as he has done. (click here to read more)

On finding rest for the weary soul: Come, All Who Are Weary by Jon Bloom

And here is where our burdened souls are tested. Will we believe in him; will we trust him? We want to rest our souls on the knowledge of how and when our burdensome problems will be addressed. But Jesus does not provide those details. He simply promises us that they will be addressed.

Jesus does not want our souls resting on the how and when, as if we are wise enough to understand and determine them. Rather he wants our souls resting on the surety that he will keep his promise to us in the best way at the best time. “Come to me,” he says, “cast your anxieties on me for I care for you” (see 1 Peter 5:7). “Trust in me with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (see Proverbs 3:5), he says, “and you will find rest for your souls.” (click here to read more)

On prayer and Bible reading: The Best Bible Reading Advice I’ve Ever Received by David Qaoud

Here’s what Piper says: “If there is anything I can underline, it would be this: cry to God day and night that he would open your eyes to see wonderful things in his word (Ps. 119:18). In other words, seek to experience every hour of study as a supernatural event. Everyone knows study is natural . . .  you do the work. But if you are crying out for him, God works. And his work is decisive. That makes all the difference.”

Yes, pray before, during, and after you read your Bible. This will make a life-changing difference. But what can you pray for? Here’s at least 10 things… (click here to read more)

On parenting and not exasperating your children: 7 Ways Parents Unfairly Provoke Our Children by Tim Challies

We can provoke our children when we live in great doubt instead of great confidence in God’s desire to save them. There are all sorts of good things we want for our children, but nothing more than their salvation. Parents can live with crippling fear that God will not save our children, and this fear has consequences: We can become heavy-handed, demanding our children turn to Christ, or we can become manipulative, constantly begging or pleading with them to make a profession. Our children may then grow angry and discouraged because they will see their parents professing faith in a God who is sovereign and good but then acting as if God is neither one. (click here to read more)

On life and purpose: What Is My Purpose? It Comes Down to This by Mieko Seymour

And then someone, somewhere along the way says, “the only thing that matters is Christ and what you do for him.” But how do you square with the desires and the dreams that he gives you…those things that reside in the crevices of our heart? Isn’t what I am doing all for God anyway? That is what I’ve set out to do. That is what I profess. That is what I center myself around. (click here to read more)