29 Mar

5 Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Church

1. Make sure your faith is only something you live out in public

Go to church… at least most of the time. Make sure you agree with what you hear the preacher say, and affirm on the way home what was said especially when it has to do with your kids obeying, but let it stop there. Don’t read your Bible at home. The pastor will say everything you need to hear on Sundays. Don’t engage your children in questions they have concerning Jesus and God. Live like you want to live during the week so that your kids can see that duplicity is ok.

2. Pray only in front of people

The only times you need to pray are when your family is over, holiday meals, when someone is sick, and when you want something. Besides that, don’t bother. Your kids will see you pray when other people are watching, no need to do it with them in private.

3. Focus on your morals

Make sure you insist your kids be honest with you. Let them know it is the right thing for them to do, but then feel free to lie in your own life and disregard the need to tell them and others the truth. Get very angry with your children when they say words that are “naughty” and “bad”, but post, read, watch, and say whatever you want on TV, Facebook, and Twitter. Make sure you focus on being a good person. Be ambiguous about what this means.

4. Give financially as long as it doesn’t impede your needs

Make a big deal out of giving at church. Stress the need to your children the value of tithing, while not giving sacrificially yourself. Allow them to see you spend a ton of money on what you want, while negating your command from Scripture to give sacrificially.

5. Make church community a priority… as long as there is nothing else you want to do

Hey, you are a church going family, right? I mean, that’s what you tell your friends and family anyways. Make sure you attend on Sundays. As long as you didn’t stay up too late Saturday night. Or your family isn’t having a big barbeque. Or the big game isn’t on. Or this week you just don’t feel like it. Or… I mean, you’re a church-going family, so what’s the big deal?

-This article is by Thomas Weaver and can be seen originally at http://theresurgence.com/2011/03/26/5-ways-to-make-your-kids-hate-church.  I posted it here because it’s something we all need to seriously consider.  May we be people of Christian integrity!

23 Mar

Young, Southern Baptist… and Kingdom-focused!

I wasn’t born and raised a Southern Baptist.  I was a born and raised a sinner.

In 1980, I was born to my family in Bowling Green, KY.  You hear of people who are “E. C. Christians,” meaning they only go to church at Easter and Christmas, but my family wasn’t even that.  I guess my story is quite different from Brad Whitt’s, our South Carolina brother who had an article in the March 2 B&R.

Fortunately, faithful churches made sure I at least went to VBS—churches like Iva Missionary Baptist, Mt. Olivet Cumberland Presbyterian, and Richardsville Baptist.  Mt. Olivet even sent me twice to their summer camp.  It was there, around the age of 10, that I first felt the gospel draw of the Holy Spirit, but I resisted and hardened my heart.  In high school, I sometimes went to Mt. Olivet or a Free Methodist church, and at the age of 17, God saved me.  It was glorious, but I wasn’t saved in a revival service or even in a church building like many of the testimonies I hear.  God saved me on my drive home from spring football workouts.  At the Girkin crossroads, I pulled my car over and cried out to God in faith and tears to save me.  I was eventually baptized at Hillvue Heights, one of the leading Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky.

I soon headed off to Hanover College in Indiana.  It’s not Baptist-affiliated, but I wasn’t going for theological education.  There I attended the weekly gathering of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry but mainly went to church at the Assembly of God because of its outstanding college ministry.  During the summers, I worked at a United Methodist camp.  It was there that God called me into ministry.  Therefore, in my senior year, I pursued a ministry internship through my college.  I wanted to learn about youth ministry, and one of the local Southern Baptist churches—Calvary Baptist—had the premier ministry.  So, they took me on staff in 2002, and I began my relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention, which has been ongoing for roughly a decade now.  Since then, I’ve served Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky, Indiana, and now Tennessee, and earned a masters from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I share all of that with you to say I’ve had plenty of opportunity to go down different Christian denominational paths but in the end, stand a strongly committed, young Southern Baptist.  I’m a Southern Baptist by choice!  And I pastor a church that is strongly committed to the cause of Christ through the SBC.  We give 10% of our budget to the Cooperative Program.  We further match from our budget the amount given by our members through the Annie, Lottie, Golden, and Children’s Home offerings.  Every month we take up an offering for the SBC World Hunger Fund and give from our budget to our Association’s Hispanic church work.  I can’t tell you how excited these efforts make me.  As pastor, I’ve applauded them all the way and have never encouraged a cut-back.  In fact, I just led my congregation this month to begin supporting a NAMB Mission Service Corps missionary who’s planting a church in Saskatchewan, Canada.  I want us to do even more!

I’m excited and enthusiastic about the SBC, and you should be too.  I’m drawn by its doctrinal fidelity to the Scripture and unrelenting desire to win the world to Jesus Christ.  I love the emphasis on the autonomy of the local church and its grassroots authority.  I’m thankful for the ingenuity and pragmatism of the CP.  I’m captivated by the commitment to unity in the essentials and mission of Christ while allowing diversity in the nonessentials and methodology.  I completely agree with Whitt who said, “I am not ashamed of being a Southern Baptist, and I am proud and passionate about my SBC involvement.  I have benefited personally from the cooperation among Southern Baptists, and I don’t believe that there is a more effective and efficient way for churches of all sizes to make an eternal impact on this world for Jesus.”

However, it must be said:  the Kingdom of God is way bigger than the SBC.  Some of you might close your browser at this moment and walk away, but what I’ve said is true.  I know it from Scripture and from experience.  I’m afraid we sometimes get denominational tunnel vision.  We at times can develop the mentality that if a person or church isn’t Southern Baptist, we must separate from them and not give them an ear.  That’s the approach I believe was being encouraged by Whitt’s article, but that mentality is unnecessarily divisive and in the long run detrimental to the cause of Christ and our SBC ministries.  Certainly, there are those from which we must separate at certain times due to theological impasse, but it must not be because they’re not Southern Baptist.

There is much we can learn from non-SBC people because again, the Kingdom of God is bigger than the SBC.  Whitt mentioned non-SBC names like Tim Keller, CJ Mahaney, John Piper, and RC Sproul along with SBC names like Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines.  I appreciate aspects of the ministries of all these men and rejoice in God’s gift to us in them, even while differing at some level with all of them.  But, is there not much we can learn from these non-SBC Christian leaders and other godly people outside the SBC camp?  I say there most certainly is.  Otherwise, we should throw out all Christian influence prior to 1845 when the convention was formed.  Can we not be true, committed Southern Baptists and have influence from other godly men outside the SBC with whom we have secondary doctrinal differences?  I absolutely believe we can and should.  In fact, we’ll be better for it!

I’m afraid that Whitt’s vision is uniformity more than unity.  He implied that true Southern Baptist experience is connected to a certain style of church—a suit-wearing pastor, a church choir, revivalistic invitations, certain sanctuary lighting, preaching from a pulpit.  Let me say there’s nothing wrong with that style.  Those words for the most part describe my church.  But, even if that’s the majority style of SBC churches, that’s not what makes for a true Southern Baptist.  My goodness, I pray we have loftier, more God-honoring goals than that!

A true Southern Baptist is one who’s more consumed by the glory of God than the glory of the SBC.  A true Southern Baptist is one who loves and is committed to Christ more than the denomination.  A true Southern Baptist believes the Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible, sufficient Word through and through.  A true Southern Baptist has the heart of God for the lost and dying world.  A true Southern Baptist upholds the doctrinal distinctives outlined in the Baptist Faith and Message, including cooperation.

Therefore, those who are true Southern Baptists come in many forms.  Some are traditional while others are contemporary, progressive, or historic.  Some are covenantal while others are dispensational.  Some are more Arminian while others are more Calvinistic.  Some are continuationists while some are cessationists.  Some are urban, and some are suburban while others are small town or even rural.  Some use the KJV while others use a modern translation.  Some are cowboys and hold their services in barns while others are white-collar professionals who meet in highly-modern ministry complexes, and there’s all in between.  Uniformity shouldn’t even be a goal for the SBC.  There are simply too many different ministry contexts to not have diversity, but praise God that we have unity around the gospel and our biblical Baptist distinctives.  There’s room for everybody who fits in under that tent!  If we are not careful, SBC pride manifested in traditionalism could become a stumbling block for our cooperation and the very purpose for which we cooperate—evangelization and education.

That’s why Whitt’s article struck a nerve with me.  It contained veiled jabs at people and was rather pessimistic about the direction of the SBC.  We have so much in common and too much at stake as fellow Southern Baptists to have people promoting infighting and discouragement.  He lobbed bombs at those he says have “soft Southern Baptist convictions and commitments” and those he calls “outsiders from within” without defining exactly what he was talking about in either pejorative.  I think he was actually aiming at are those who do not fit his SBC mold, those who don’t give to the CP at the percentage he recommends, and those who are trying to affect change through the Great Commission Resurgence and its implementation.

I’ve already demonstrated that the SBC mold is not found in a style but in being gospel-centered and beholden to the biblical Baptist distinctives outlined in the BF&M.  As for the CP percentages, each autonomous, cooperating church decides what percentage it should give in light of its ministry context.  A church is not less faithful, as Whitt implies, by choosing to hire a staff position rather than increase CP giving.  When did giving a higher percentage to the CP become equivalent to having a higher commitment to the cause of Christ?  As for the GCR and its implementation, Baptist Press reported that the amended report along with its recommendations passed the 2010 Convention vote by an estimated 3-to-1 margin.  The Convention overwhelmingly spoke.  Undoubtedly, some tough calls have already been and will continue to be made at all levels in response to the will of the Convention, but these changes must come as we realign ourselves for greater effectiveness for the cause of Christ through the SBC.

It’s time to move past bickering and infighting over nonessentials.  We must focus on the Kingdom of God instead of denominational politics.  Satan loves when we get sidetracked and draw enemy lines within.  Personally, I’m encouraged by what’s happening now in the SBC.  I feel like we’re heading in a direction that’s intentionally trying to make the SBC about the cause of Christ instead of about the SBC.  These are exciting days!  You see, the SBC doesn’t exist to perpetuate the SBC and its entities.  It exists to spread the glory of God through the gospel at home and abroad.  Therefore, we must be ready to change radically if we lose sight of that goal or run into ineffectiveness.  Otherwise, irrelevance is inevitable.

I’m praying against Southern Baptist irrelevance.  I’m hoping our commitment to the cause of Christ would always focus our commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention.  May those who are truly Kingdom-focused be given possession of the microphone!

-This article originally appeared in the March 23 edition of the Baptist and Reflector (the Tennesse Baptist newspaper) and is a response to Brad Whitt’s article entitled “Young, Southern Baptist… and Irrelevant?”, which appeared in the March 2 B&R and the March 3 Baptist Courier (the South Carolina Baptist newspaper).  You can read Whitt’s article here.  You can also read responses to Whitt’s article printed in the March 17 Baptist Courier here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  I want to thank Mark Bass & Jeremy Vanatta for helping me formulate a response to Whitt’s article.

23 Mar

Stay the Course

Undoubtedly, learning is thrilling, but being tested isn’t.  Throughout my years of formal education, tests were almost always stressful and very difficult.  With all the studying and cramming and pressure, they were in no way fun.  However, I have to wonder where I would be educationally if I had never been tested.  Where would you be?  I suspect that we wouldn’t be even near where we are today if we’d not been tested.  Therefore, testing in school serves very beneficial purposes.  It shows us where we stand educationally and challenges us to grow intellectually.

Of course, academics isn’t the only arena in which we are tested.  Life is full of them too.  Those whom God loves He tests, and like academics, our testing in life shows where God stands in our affections and challenges us to grow in godliness.  We MUST be tested!  I believe this truth is the big idea God’s communicating to us through 1 Peter 4:1-2, 7-19:

1 Peter 4:1-2 1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God… The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.  Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Being Shown Where God Stands in Your Affections:  Is He your treasure or not?  There is an epic battle being waged for your heart and your mind and subsequently, your soul, which is behind both of those things.  On one side is the flesh impelled by the power of sin, and on the other side is God manifested in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Tests show us what we really love.

That’s what I believe Peter is getting at when he says in vv. 1-2, he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  You see, to suffer is to be tested, and when we pass the test, we show we stand with God—for the will of God and against the flesh.  In persevering, we demonstrate that God is more precious to us than our own physical comfort.  We declare to God and the world that we desire God and the things of God more than anything else in the universe.  We proclaim that God in Jesus Christ is infinitely worthy of the complete dedication of our lives.

Friends, that’s why the blood of the martyrs is seed of the church, as the early church father Tertullian said.  It’s in those moments of complete faithfulness to God, even in the face of death, that makes God look so appealing and awesome to the lost, leading to conversions and church growth.  John Piper has had as his ministry’s slogan for years this sentence:  God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.  Whether you esteem Piper or not, that’s a profound summary of biblical truth.  You see, persevering through suffering in the flesh for Christ screams that God is most satisfying and totally worthy of supreme devotion and shows that God stands uppermost in your affections.  You must be tested to see if this is true for your life.  And, if it’s true, you’ll not just persevere in your suffering.  You’ll actually rejoice as Peter instructs in vv. 12-19.

Being challenged to grow in godliness:  Dear one, the end’s near.  The time of judgment is at hand.  It’ll be the day of ultimate testing, final exams.  Therefore, God is challenging us to grow in godliness until then in the areas mentioned in vv. 7-11 so that in all things God may be glorified.  Specifically, Peter points to growth in our discernment, seriousness leading to prayer, love for one another, hospitality, our words, and serving.  These are the areas in which God expects us to excel.  Your testing should lead to a great surge in your godliness.

May you be ready when the test comes and honor your great God!

-This article first appeared in the March 23 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the March 27, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3755.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

18 Mar

Relationships under Stress

The Apostle Paul was a man of great persuasion. That was probably his greatest goal other than glorifying God. He lived for the opportunity to persuade and convince somebody that God is worthy of devotion and that Jesus is the only Savior (Acts 18:4, 13; 19:8, 26; 26:28; 28:23-24). In fact, he tells us, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences,” (2 Corinthians 5:11). He lived to persuade.

The technical study of persuasion is called rhetoric. Rhetoric is all around us. You see it in pulpits and at political conventions, in conversations between stay-at-home moms and at meetings between business executives. Although the term rhetoric has come to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, it’s just part of the art of effective communication.

There are three main forms of rhetoric. One is called ethos, which is an appeal based upon the character and reputation of the communicator. Another is called logos, which is an appeal based upon logic or reason. Finally, pathos is an appeal based upon emotion. You see every form of rhetoric used in the Scripture, but space doesn’t afford the opportunity to give examples.

We too, like Paul, are to be people of persuasion, striving to convince others of the hope found only in Jesus Christ. In fact, that’s the entire point Peter is trying to get across to us in our focal passage this week. But, how are we to go about it? Peter focuses in on one particular form of persuasion — our ethos, the powerful witness of a godly life.

In 1 Peter 2:11-12, 3:1-12, we read:

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation… In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, “THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS, MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT. HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT. FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”

Here Peter provides us with specific and in-depth teaching on ways to shine forth a godly character and build a Christ-like reputation before a lost and dying world. He begins with the general principle there in 1 Peter 2:12. We’re to keep our behavior excellent among unbelievers so that they’ll glorify Jesus when He returns. In other words, Peter is saying we should live in such a way that leads people to salvation. You see, it’s only saved people who will rejoice, praising God, when Jesus comes back. All others will shriek in terror because judgment has fallen upon them. Peter wants our life to persuade people to come to Christ.

What sort of life is Peter talking about? He’s talking about a life that:

  1. abstains from fleshly lusts (1 Pet 2:11);
  2. submits to government officials (1 Pet 2:13-17);
  3. yields to bosses on the job (1 Pet 2:18-20);
  4. accepts the leadership of a husband (1 Pet 3:1-6); and
  5. is considerate and honoring to a wife (1 Pet 3:7).

To sum up what Peter is driving us toward, he says, “All of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing,” (1 Pet 3:8-9). That’s a powerful life that will persuade people that your Jesus is a worthy Lord.

Do you want to win people to Jesus? Do you hope to be used by God to persuade other sinners like yourself to hate their sin and love Christ? Then you must share the message of the gospel — the glorious truth that Jesus lived the life we cannot live and died the death we all deserve so that all sinners who will believe on Him will be forgiven, made righteous and have life everlasting. But, God through Peter wants us to authenticate our gospel message with a godly life. May your ethos, your life, shine for Jesus! Then, may the world see the goodness of Christ in you and be persuaded by your message so that you’ll bring along many brothers and sisters to glory!

-This article first appeared in the March 16 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the March 20, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3746.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

18 Mar

Ready for Action

“What is God’s will for my life?” Have you ever uttered those words? I know I have many times. Unfortunately, we often turn discovering God’s will into some sort of mystical, spooky thing when actually His will for our life is right before us. The foundation and starting point for discovering God’s will for us is found unmistakably in the revealed will of God — the imperative sentences of the Bible, the commands and precepts of Scripture. In other words, if you want to know God’s will for your life, begin with “God says to do this and not that.” Therefore, we must understand that God’s will for us is first and foremost obedience to Him. Obedience is the action for which we’re to ready ourselves.

As we come to 1 Peter 1:13-2:1, we read:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.” And this is the word which was preached to you. Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.

Here we see that God desires for us to be “obedient children” (1 Pet 1:14). God is our heavenly Father, and as His children, we are to do what He tells us to do. In fact, it was unto obedience that He chose us (1 Pet 1:1-2). Therefore, obedience is clearly God’s will for our life.

It’s for this reason that God commands us in 1 peter 1:14 to “not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” We are to be holy in everything we do. That’s a tall order, but praise God we have a Father who says, “Do as I say, which is what I do.” How many of us had a dad who said, “Do as I say but not as I do,”? It’s like the dad who tells his kid to never smoke as he himself lights up another Marlboro. Thankfully, God isn’t like that. He says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16). The very definition of human holiness is obedience to God.

To set yourselves up for obedience, God tells you to “prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, and fix your hope completely on the grace to be revealed” when Jesus returns (1 Pet 1:13). In other words, when the time for obedience comes, we must be ready to be obedient. We must have the right mind, attitude and perspective. Then obedience can come to pass. You see, obedience is easy when life is easy but hard when life is hard. Therefore, we must be ready for those hard days of testing if we hope to be obedient.

Furthermore, we see that one motivation for our obedience is accountability to God. God will judge us. Therefore, we are told to“conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Pet 1:17). Friend, the salvation that God has provided for you isn’t something flippant and invaluable. It required “precious blood, … the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19), which is far more valuable than silver or gold. Jesus was sacrificed for our sake. Therefore, disobedience to God dishonors Jesus and His work. You will be accountable to God for your obedience, and that truth should be a great motivator toward obedience. Don’t you want to hear from God, “Well done, good and faithful child!”?

Finally, we see that obedience and love are inseparable. Loving others is obedience to God, but even more, obedience to God is how you love others. God tells us, “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments” (2 John 1:6), and “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). In our passage, God commands us to “fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22). We do that by being obedient to God’s commandments. Obedience and love are inseparable.

May you find God’s will by getting into His Word and do God’s will by being obedient to whatever He’s commanded there!

-This article first appeared in the March 9 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the March 13, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3737.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

07 Mar

Faith under Fire

We love music around the Simpson house, and in our opinion, it doesn’t get much better than The Isaacs. One of our favorite songs by them testifies joyfully in the chorus, “He’s taking care of me; in ways that I cannot see; He’s working it for my good just like He said He would, and He’s taking care of me.” What a glorious thought that the God of the universe, the one and only true God, is working for my good in all things! That’s the exact sentiment that pours out of 1 Peter 1:1-12:

  • Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.

God’s primary goal through the Apostle Peter’s letter is to spur us on to greater and greater Christlikeness in the face of difficult and fiery days. Therefore, suffering is a major concept in this epistle (1 Pet 1:6; 1 Pet 2:19-21, 23; 1 Pet 3:14, 17; 1 Pet 4:1, 15-16, 19; 1 Pet 5:9-10). Of course, we need little encouragement to persevere during the easy, breezy moments of life, but oh how we need it when the fires come!

Indeed, when the fires come, God takes care of us in unseen ways. He is our living hope. You see, our faith is not in faith, as if faith is some force we can wield to protect and provide. The force, the power is found in the object of our faith, namely Almighty God who is jealous for His glory and our good. My goodness, He’s a big God, and oh how He loves us!

These realities push God to graciously work for us. Just look at what all He has done for us according to our text:

  1. He has chosen us to obey Jesus and be sprinkled with His blood (1 Pet 1:1-2).
  2. He has caused us to be born again to a living hope in Jesus (1 Pet 1:3).
  3. He has provided for us an incorruptible, undefiled, never-fading inheritance through Jesus (1 Pet 1:4).
  4. He protects us through faith in Jesus for salvation (1 Pet 1:5).

With all these massive, God-wrought things in mind, Peter prays in 1 Pet 1:2 that grace and peace would be multiplied to us unto the fullest measure. In fact, I would argue that it’s these four graces that lead to our peace — both with God and within our souls. Paul contends in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”. The implied answer is: of course, God will freely give us all things if He has given us Christ. You see, God has gone to such great and gracious lengths for us that we should peacefully rest in Him, even in the midst of trials.

What’s more, have you ever thought that that fiery trial is itself a grace from God? You’d better believe it is! Friend, it’s through that crucible, according to Peter, that your faith is proven and your heart is prepared to praise the coming of Jesus (1 Pet 1:7). It’s for these reasons that Paul rejoiced and gloried in the tribulations that came his way, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” (Romans 5:3-5). You see, you come out the other side knowing that you are not a fake and longing to see Jesus. What a blessing!

Friend, even in the midst of terrible trials, may peace abound in you because God is graciously taking care of you.

-This article first appeared in the March 2 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the March 6, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3726.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

01 Mar

Joy: the Fuel for Godliness

What motivates you to be a man or woman of God?  What keeps you going on, even on the difficult and trying days?  What’s the fuel for your godliness?

There’s an amazing passage in Nehemiah 8 were Ezra, Nehemiah, and all the recently returned exiles of Israel gathered together in the newly restored Jerusalem.  The leaders opened the book of the Law and began to read it.  Many had forgotten the Hebrew language while in Babylon.  Therefore, they also translated the Law as they read it so that everybody would have understanding.

That’s when the Word of God began to do what the Word of God does:  expose and convict sinners.  The people began to weep upon hearing the Law.  They began to see how far they and their families had drifted away from God while in exile.  Heavy conviction and grief fell on them.

But, the leadership in the wisdom of God knew that conviction and grief would not carry them very far to godliness.  It never has.  It still doesn’t.  That spiritual fuel runs out quickly.  So, they offered a different route to godliness.  They said to the people, This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.  Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

That’s it!  There’s the fuel that will sustain us to ever-increasing godliness!  Joy.  The joy of the Lord.  Joy in the Lord.  That’s where true strength toward godliness and holy living comes from.  The joy of the Lord is your strength!

Sadly though, we in our sinfulness are motivated by the wrong things toward godliness.  Here are some common temptations:

  1. Being a man or woman of God to earn salvation (ie, putting forth your own godliness)
  2. Being a man or woman of God to get glory for yourself (ie, using godliness to grow your name)
  3. Being a man or woman of God to pay God back (ie, borrowing grace until you can get your godliness in order)
  4. Being a man or woman of God out of guilt (ie, trying to do godly things even though you don’t really want to)
  5. Being a man or woman of God to fulfill a duty (ie, grinning and bearing it to godliness)
  6. Being a man or woman of God to please others (ie, focusing mainly on others’ opinions of your godliness)

Friend, these will get you nowhere.  I take that back.  Some of these will get you somewhere, namely Hell.  The others will get you to spiritual meagerness and futility.  These are not God’s plan for your godliness.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.

So, be a man or woman of God out of joy.  Moses recognized the centrality of joy as to leading to godliness:

  • Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).

David recognized it:

  • Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing (Psalm 100:2).
  • Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
  • You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).

Jesus certainly knew this truth:

  • These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full (John 15:11).
  • Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
  • Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master (Matthew 25:21).

Paul also knew that joy in the Lord leads to godliness:

  • Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm (2 Corinthians 1:24).
  • Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4).

Peter saw it too:

  • And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)

The joy of the Lord is your strength!

Okay, so maybe you’re convinced now that joy should be our great motivation, but why should you have joy?  In other words, what is the source of your joy?  Where should our joy come from?  There are at least two places.

First, our joy springs forth from the reality of God himself.  He is the very personification of joy and desires to be in relationship with you.  In Him there’s joy unspeakable, pleasures unceasing.  As the old hymn says:

Who can cheer the heart like Jesus
By His presence all divine
True and tender, pure and precious
O, how blest to call Him mine

All that thrills my soul is Jesus
He is more than life to me
And the fairest of ten thousand
In my blessed Lord I see

His presence itself is joy.  We were made to be thrilled in God, and God has certainly not withheld himself from us.  Rather, God has sought us and made a way for us to enjoy Him forever.  He is the highest and the holiest—everything our souls truly desire.  Delight yourself in the Lord because the joy of the Lord is your strength!

Second, our joy comes from what God has done in our lives.  Look at what all He done for you , especially if you are a Christian:

  1. He has made you (Psalm 139:13).
  2. He is sustaining you (Psalm 54:4).
  3. He has saved you (1 Peter 1:3-5).
  4. He has adopted you (Ephesians 1:3-6).
  5. He has set His love on you, planned to completely sanctify you, effectually called you to salvation, justified you, and will glorify you (Romans 8:29-30).

There’s so much more that could be said, but isn’t that plenty enough reason for joy?  Oh yeah, more than enough!  He has dealt bountifully with you.

God has called you to be a man or woman of God, and you’re to pursue that calling out of joy and with joy.  May the joy of the Lord be your strength unto godliness!