Look to the past to fuel your future (a meditation)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… ~Hebrews 12:1-2

“The dead still speak.” Those are the words I heard recently introducing a lecture on church history. And it’s true: the dead do speak. This is not in some macabre sense of ghostly spirits communicating through flashing lights, tv static, Ouija boards, or voice recordings. No, this is in the sense of people who have lived before having their words and lives shared through books, stories, or memories.

Even then, as Jesus said to the Sadducees, Moses called God “the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”—and he is not “God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:37-38). So we remember that those who belong to Jesus through faith, though physically their bodies may have died, spiritually they live on in paradise, awaiting the resurrection.

It is these of which the author of Hebrews wrote. These men and women, some remembered well by history and others not, who’s life stories still speak to us today (Hebrews 11). These are ancient Bible characters, men and women who belong in the annals of church history, and people of an enduring faith who have lived long or who have died before us in our churches and families.

Hebrews 12:1 says such people form a “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. And what is their purpose in our lives? To fuel us to a faithful future.

They have run the race, following after Jesus, and finished (or have nearly finished) the course. Their lives are a testimony to the fact that one can indeed live faithful and die faithful in a sometimes dark, confusing, and faithless world. Their voices echoing in various ways from the past urge us to strip off the weights of sin and fix our eyes squarely on Jesus.

Sadly, there are also some who teach us this lesson but from a negative perspective. Paul wrote of such in 1 Corinthians 10 where many heard God’s voice and experienced his miraculous provisions yet “with most of them God was not pleased.” Paul concluded, “These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (10:5-6).

So as we run the race after Jesus, we look back and see the lives of the past and hear their voices. Those who ran faithfully, we emulate the good. Those who did not, we avoid their evil. Remembering their lives provides for us fuel for a faithful future.

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

Good Reads 09.28.16 (on: reputations, thankfulness, and more!)

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

On our reputations: Christ Our All: Image Maintenance in an Age of Emojis by Owen Strachan

This does not preclude any response to critics. At times, one must speak up. There are real falsehoods that deserve a response. But we will never be able to undo opposition in a total and final sense by our own strength. Important as it is for us to engage in select discussion, there simply is no ultimate vindication of ourselves we can accomplish. Only Jesus can clear our name. Only Jesus can overcome our enemies. Only Jesus can quiet hate, and destroy evil, and right every wrong ever done to his people (and every wrong we ourselves have done, sadly). (click here to read more)

On being thankful: Lay Aside the Weight of Thanklessness by Jon Bloom

In parents like these, we see an image of God’s heart for us. God does not command and exhort us to thank him because he loves to hear the “magic words” or watch us perform a mere divine courtesy. He’s after our spiritual health and prosperity. He does not want us to be spiritually sick and poor. He tells us that thanklessness is a sign of unbelief (Romans 1:21). But thankfulness is a sign of faith, evidence that we really see his grace and feel its effects. That’s what he wants for us. (click here to read more)

On praying for pastors: Top 10 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor by Michelle Leslie

Does your pastor have time to get alone with the Lord for his personal relationship with Christ? Maybe he’s struggling against a particular sin or striving to be more committed to prayer. Pray that God will grow your pastor in Christ as an individual. (click here to read more)

On church and helping people see the awesomeness of God: They Unchurched the Church by Erik Raymond

As the discussion went on I was able to figure out why he had so thoughtfully engaged with this experience. He went to church looking for something. You might say he was a seeker. In his case, he was truly seeking to learn about God. He wanted to see how Christians worshiped. But notice the painful irony: the church in its effort to be relevant to the unchurched was actually irrelevant to this seeker. They had unwittingly unchurched the church. At the time of his visit my friend wanted answers to some important (and extremely relevant) questions he had. He went to what seemed like the right place—a Christian church with a lot of people. However, what he found was a ecclesiological Potemkin village. This church’s unhealthy quest relevance led them to a startling place of irrelevance. (click here to read more)


Sunday 09.25.16 (testimonies, precepts, and statutes)

This Sunday we’ll take a look at Psalm 119 and see what God says about his own word and how his word impacts our lives. Then on Sunday evening we will be in our final session of our I Will study through the book by Thom Rainer. We hope to see you there!

@945 Small Groups / Sunday School for all ages
@1045 Worship Gathering
@6pm I Will study in church library

Sermon Notes
Testimonies, Precepts, and Statutes ~ Psalm 119:1-16

  • God’s word leads you…
    • To be happy in holiness (119:1-3)
    • To be faithful in obedience (119:4-8)
    • To be strong against sin (119:9-11)
    • To be delightful in worship (119:12-16)
  • Digging deeper into God’s word: READ–Read, Explore, Apply, Discuss

Rejoice today (a meditation)

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. ~ Psalm 118:24

Some days seem good, others seem bad. Some days we don’t want to end, others we can’t wait for them to be over. Good days, bad days, rough days, easy days—through them all, God commands our joy.

Joy can sometimes be a difficult thing for us to grasp, because the world looks at happiness primarily through the lens of pleasure. If it makes me feel good, then it must be good. There ensues a struggle—because what might bring momentary happiness might later bring lasting pain or destruction, if we do not approach the situations with wisdom.

But the Bible looks at joy differently.

Joy is a happiness focused on God—a happiness that looks not only at the momentary pleasures but also at the lasting, even eternal, outcomes. Seeing happiness through the lens of scripture we discern that some momentary pleasures will be fleeting in the long run (Hebrews 11:25), and we discern that some momentary pain will result in lasting happiness. We see this lesson even in an act such as childbirth—where there is pain in the labor but joy in holding new life.

This is why in John 17, Jesus could pray about us having his joy fulfilled in our lives and quickly follow with the pain of persecution for being faithful to him (17:13-14). This is also why Paul could say that the sufferings of today aren’t worth comparing to the glories to come (Romans 8:18) and James could tell us to take joy in our trials because of the good result they are producing (James 1:2-4).

Psalm 118 provides for us a two-fold reason as to why we can have such joy, even on the difficult days. First, God is in control of the good days and bad. The sun has come up, the earth has completed another rotation on its axis, and you have opened your eyes and taken another breath.

You have begun a day—this day, today. “This is the day that the Lord has made.” It’s God’s day, God’s plan, and he has graciously included you in it. Yes, because of Genesis 3 and mankind’s fall into sin, evil very well could (and likely will) happen throughout the day. God doesn’t clue us in as to why he allows certain acts of horrific evil to occur. God doesn’t promise that such evil will not bring pain into our lives. God does promise that whatever such evil is and however much it might hurt in the moment, he will set all wrongs to right, he will punish all evildoers who do not turn from such sin, and he will bring ultimate good in response to that evil through Jesus and for his people.

The darkness has not escaped his notice and will not always remain. So, we can live with a forward-looking joy.

Second, it is a day to rejoice because God has saved us from our sins. A few verses before this call to rejoice, the psalmist said, “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:21-22).

Verse 22 finds a quotation in several spots in the New Testament as a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. That is ultimately how God has “become my salvation.” If you belong to Jesus, then every sin of yours on him was laid and every perfect act of his to you was given. Because of that gracious act, you are no longer a rebellious sinner but a beloved son or daughter.

As someone else has said, that means: For the Christian, the closest we will ever get to hell is the pain we experience in this life. That’s why Paul could write that the sufferings in this life aren’t worth comparing to the glories to come. What is to come is simply so much greater and better. Knowing that and knowing how Jesus rescued us from an eternal hell, we can be glad in this day no matter what it brings.

So, indeed, let us say with the psalmist: This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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

Good Reads 09.21.16 (on: friendship, being ordinary, and more!)

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

On the needed wounds through faithful friends: Find a Friend to Wound You by Greg Morse

Praise God then for the faithful wounds of true friends who protect us from ultimate injury. They tell us plainly, “You’re flirting with destruction!” Or, “Spiritual sloth is unacceptable!” Friends who ask us hard questions, who crush the whispering lizard on our shoulder, who are for our eternal soul above our momentary feelings — these are true friends. (click here to read more)

On the goodness of “ordinary”: Stop the Revolution, Join the Plodders by Kevin DeYoung

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too—same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works—like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). (click here to read more)

On sex and grace: Sex Under the Law, Sex Under Grace by Tim Challies

As a pastor—one who has performed weddings and counseled many couples—I know how many struggle mightily in the early days and months of marriage. So many couples quickly learn that sexual intimacy isn’t immediately as simple, pleasurable, successful, or fulfilling as they had expected, as they had wished, as they had seen modeled in a hundred Hollywood movies. For some this is the case for a short time and for some it is a lifelong struggle. (click here to read more)

On our big God drawing small people into his big mission: Why We All Want to Do Something Bigger by Zach Bradley

Wherever you land in the Scriptures, it’s hard to miss that people are small and God is big. Yet, it was not until I ventured out on mission that I began to own my tiny stature. Serving cross-culturally helped me realize that though God invites me to be part of his monstrous task, it doesn’t so sorely depend on me. In light of being a little one with a great big Father (1 John 2:14), I was invited afresh to “draw near to God with a sincere heart and full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). That, my friend, was a greater high than any summiteer has ever known. (click here to read more)

A time for milk and a time for meat (a meditation)

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. ~ Hebrews 5:12

“Act your age” is the admonition we sometimes give to older kids, teenagers, or young adults. In life, we expect kids to act one way and adults to act another. The process of moving from childhood to adulthood is maturity.

The same is true on a spiritual level. The Bible calls our coming to Jesus a “new birth” (John 3). We are born again and then enter into the stages of spiritual infancy, adolescence, young adulthood, and then mature adulthood. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The author of Hebrews wrote to a church he knew and loved dearly, yet for some reason had been separated from (Hebrews 13). He encourages them with many things, but he also rebukes them at points—we find one of these toward the end of chapter 5. Seeing the lives of many in the church, even from afar, he knows something is amiss. They came to know Jesus, started to grow in faith, and then stalled.

They should have been to the point where they could give instruction to others—like a parent teaching a child, but they were still like children themselves. Their teeth should have been cut and they should have been dining on meat, but he had to feed them milk instead.

The meat is the deeper teachings of God through his word; the milk is the basic teachings—“elementary doctrines”, or: the “foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God and of instruction about washings [possibly: baptism], the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

There is a proper place for milk. When people first come to follow Jesus, most (if any) are not ready for things like comparing Jesus to Melchizedek (which the author does throughout chapter 7). They need the basics. But if that is all they ever get and never grow into the meat, then something is awry—either in their willingness to learn or in the teaching of their church.

For we must go on to meat.

That doesn’t mean that we never again touch the milk. It can be a good drink to go with the bigger meal—a reminder of the foundations on which we build the rest. But we need to get most of our sustenance from the bigger meal in order to keep growing healthy and strong.

So push onto growth. Gain from the milk, but once your spiritual teeth are cut crave the meat. There is a time for both, but let us not be stuck on the basics. Rather, may we “go on to maturity” (6:1).

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

Sunday 09.18.16 (respect and kindness)

This Sunday we’ll take a look at Titus 3 and how Paul urged us to show respect and kindness to everyone around us. Then Sunday night we’ll return to our study through I Will with chapter 8: “I Will Avoid the Traps of Churchianity.”

Also check out the updates on our Activities Page for information on our new and revamped Sunday School classes following last Sunday’s kickoff.

Hope to see you there!

@945 Small Groups / Sunday School for all ages
@1045 Worship Gathering
@6pm I Will Study in Church Library

Sermon Notes
Respect and Kindness ~ Titus 3:1-7

  • Be kind and respectful to everyone you encounter (3:1-2)
  • …b/c before you came to know Jesus, you were no better off than they (3:3)
  • …b/c God saved you only by his grace offered in Christ, not by your goodness or works (3:4-7)
  • …b/c God made you a new person in Christ by the Holy Spirit (3:5-6)
  • …b/c God made you heirs of an eternal hope and you should want the same for others, too (3:7)