Monday, December 17, 2007


A couple of months ago I was interviewed by Bill Lawless at Impact Midland, and then last week we had a discussion concerning worship in the church. You can listen to both at

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Irrelevant Preaching

To be relevant or having relevancy means having a signifcant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand. So being culturally relevant is really no more that staying current with the times. This is what so many pastors are striving for in their be relevant. They are seeking to stay current with what is going on in our American culture, and the topics they preach on reflect this. Take, for example, the Atlanta pastor who is currently preaching a two month series of Green sermons. That's right, two months on Christian responsiblity and the enviroment. With all of the buzz about global warming you can't get more current, more relevant than that, or can you? Look at other sermon series that are being preached such as marriage and the family, handling stress, how to be a good friend, how to stay positive in a negative world, how to handle your finances, how to raise your children, sex and sexuality, how to handle conflict, forgiveness, depression, and the list goes on. I wish I were exaggerating on these topics, but unforturnately, I am not.

You might say, but, Morris, all of theses topics are current, they are today, they are relevant to the world in which we live. Isn't it therefore good for the people to hear what the Bible says about them? Can't we use them to draw those who need to hear the gospel? Well, think about it for a second....maybe longer. Is the Gospel about your sex life, is it about your marriage and your family, is it about enabling you to handle stress? I admit that the topics I have mentioned are issues that we all encounter, and the Bible does get around to addressing them. But what is the point of Scripture? Is the point of Scripture our being a better dad or mom, a better husband or wife, a better person, our feeling better about ourselves, or our responsibility as stewards of the planet God gave us to rule over? Is it about the gratification of our fleshy desires or our infatuation with the immediate? Or is it about God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself through the cross, and then about us becoming more like Christ, being conformed to His image?

If you really think about it and give it some thoughtful meditation, to what, ultimately, must the church be relevant? Isn't it eternity? The current culture is temporal and fleeting, and even though our bodies will eventually wear out, our inner man, the real us, is eternal, is being renewed day by day, and will exist long after this world and all it contains is burned up. Did we not step into eternity the moment we were conceived? Is not our eternal state the real matter at hand? So then if we are preaching to be relevant to today's culture, to be current with the times, and are ignoring the preparation of souls for eternity, which is the real time in which we shall always live, isn't that the height of irrelevant preaching?

The great pastor, who is still a pastor to pastors, the apostle Paul, distills for us the essentials of an eternally relevant ministry in Colossians 1:28-29. Listen to his words, "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we might present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me." When we proclaim Christ and are admonishing and teaching every man so that they will become more like Christ, that is the epitome of relevant preaching. Why? Because it is Christ against whom we will ultimately be measured. He is the standard because He is the one who fulfilled all righteousness, He perfectly kept the law, He was absolute in His obedience. He is the one by which we are measured when we stand before God in preparation for our eternal state.

If we are becoming more like Christ then we will automatically be a better person, a better spouse, a better parent; and be more patient, kind, joyful, self-disciplined, loving, faithful, and good because He is all of these and more. So relevant preaching will always seek to lead the hearer to greater Christlikeness by having Christ at the center and Christ as the goal.

So, my friends, are you preaching to be culturally relevant or are you preaching to be eternally relevant? Are you sitting under preaching that puts a band-aid on your itch, or are you sitting under preaching that heals and prepares your soul for eternity? Let's recognize the true time in which we live, and move, and have our existence....eternity, and let us seek to be relevant to the eternal culture, God's culture.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Greater Holocaust

This morning I watched a short video from the Holocaust museum. It concerned an album of pictures depicting the lives of the officers over the Auschwitz prison camp, and covered the period of May through December 1944. Auschwitz was the place where thousands of Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Nazis, with much of that happening during 1944. The pictures showed ordinary looking men with their families at different functions as they were overseeing the mass destruction of so many other humans. This caused me to reflect on the horrors and atrocities committed against the Jews during WWII as over three million Jews (men, women, and children) were slaughtered by different methods. It makes your spirit shudder to think about it.

It also prompted me to reflect on what the Scriptures say awaits the nation of Israel in the end times. As horrible and nightmarish a time as the Holocaust was, it pales in comparison to what lies ahead for those who are of the nation of Israel, whether they live in Israel or not. The Lord warns about this in Matthew 24:15-22 ending in verse 22, "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved." We see a little more about this in Revelation chapter 12 where in verse 13 we see the vengeance of Satan upon Israel that starts after Satan is cast out of heaven at the mid-point of the tribulation. In Zechariah 12 and 13 we see this time described and in Zechariah 13:8-9 the word of God tells us that two thirds of the nation of Israel will perish, but that He will bring one third through the fire. This corresponds with Zephaniah 3:11-13, Joel 2:28-32, Jeremiah 50:20, Isaiah 4:1-3, Daniel chapter 8, and Romans 9:27-29. What a horrible time for the Jews as two thirds of all the Jews in the world will perish. The nation of Israel is still under the divine judgment of God for its forsaking God, breaking its covenant with God, and rejecting the Messiah. God will not completely forsake the Jews, but will save the one third that He refines through the fire. All of this is included in the divine plan of God and in the one eternal purpose mentioned in Ephesians 3:11 and further explained in Romans 9-11.

So a greater Holocaust is coming, a time of great tribulation, a time that happens after the fullness of the Gentiles has been completed. Let us not be indifferent to the plight of the Jews for the eternal plan of God revolves around them, and it includes us as we have been grafted into their rich spiritual life and heritage. In thinking about all of this I am brought to a state of humility before the Lord as I have pondered as Paul in Romans 11:33 "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!"

Oh Lord, we can not attain to this as it is too high for us and too wonderful for us. Thank you Lord for including me in your eternal plan. Thank you Lord for selecting me and preparing my place in Your plan from all eternity. Strengthen me by Your Spirit in my inner man to faithfulness in carrying out the stewardship entrusted to me. Will and work in me Lord to completeness, lead me away from temptation, and let not evil have its way with me. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth just as it is in heaven. Work out Your decrees until all Scripture is fulfilled, righteousness reigns, and You and You alone are glorified in Your saints in that day. Amen

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Deep Love of Jesus

In looking for some music to play for the time prior to the start of our church service I ran across a CD on Rhapsody that really blessed me. It is Sacred Space-The Songs of Penny Rodriguez. Many of the arrangements are modernized, but without taking away the classical richness of these great songs. I have included a link to one of my favorite songs, The Deep Deep Love of Jesus. It was written in 1890 by Samuel Francis and was recently popularized by Selah on their Hiding Place CD. Sacred Space has great arrangement of this song and captures all of its richness. Let the words speak to your mind and wash over your soul as it takes you before His throne.

The Deep Love of Jesus: "1. The Deep Love of Jesus - Penny Rodriguez "

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Joining the Church

In late May of 2001 I was in Kiev, Ukraine teaching at St. James Bible College. I had taught at the school numerous times since 1994 and had developed a close friendship with one of my former students, Igor Lemischuk, who was now a pastor in Kiev. When I was in Kiev Igor always asked me to preach at his church and this time was no exception. Before the service started Igor took me aside and pointed to a group of young men, probably early twenties to early thirties, and explained that they had been coming for some time and that he had met with them on several occasions and explained the gospel and Christianity to them. He then asked me to finish my sermon with a strong call to repentance as he felt that is what they needed to hear. This fit in well with the sermon I had planned as I was preaching on I Thessalonians chapter one, and verses nine and ten paint a great picture of the turning from, the turning to, and the serving that encompasses the fullness of repenting. So I did just as Igor asked and finished up the sermon with a call to repentance following the pattern laid out in those verses. As I finished the sermon I handed the microphone to Igor.

Even though I had preached at his church several times I don't remember ever having seen him do an altar call. When he grasped the microphone he immediately asked for those who wished to repent in the manner I had described to come forward and meet with him. Four young men came to meet with him. As we sang songs for the next ten minutes or so I could see him talking to each of the young men. Now here is where it gets interesting! When the music ended he had the four young men stand and face the audience and told us that they had come down to repent and turn their lives over to God. Then for the next ten to fifteen minutes he proceeded to address these young men about what it meant to become a Christian, what it cost to become a Christian, what was required of them in coming to Christ, what they would be giving up, the sacrifices and sufferings that would be theirs because of their new found faith. He went on to tell them that true repentance meant that their lifestyle would change and they would not be living the same way any longer if their faith was genuine. He told them that their new found faith would be put to the test to see if it was genuine. He explained to them that their friends and even family would ridicule them and ostracize them because of their faith. He told them that they were not just joining a church, but were joining themselves to Christ. He said that true repentance was not just a decision, but entailed a commitment, and was about seeking to please God and not themselves any longer. He finished with asking them individually if they understood what he had said, and then told them if they were not ready to make this commitment or were unsure about it to say so now and return to the audience. All four young men stayed there and affirmed their commitment for all to see and hear.

Thanksgiving of 2005 Igor stayed with us for five days and I was delighted to share the hospitiality with him that he given me on so many occasions. I asked him if those four young men were still attending his church and how they were doing spiritually. He told me that all four were still attending and serving the Lord.

What would happen in the churches in our country if we handled people who want to join the church the way Igor did these young men? When someone makes a profession of faith or wants to know how to become a Christian are we telling them what it really takes? In our rush to get people to make a decision, to get them to join the church are we leaving something out? Are we adequately explaining to people the cost of discipleship? Are we telling people it is not just a decision, but a commitment; not something tried on like a shoe, or tried out like a test ride? Is the church in America too scared of running people off that it has watered down or left out the cost of discipleship?

In fact, I believe the American church's obsession with numbers and growth prevent it from telling people anything that will upset them or turn them away. In John 6:41-69 we see Jesus explaining the commitment required to be a true disciple of His. At this many of the disciples said, "This is a difficult (hard) statement; who can listen to it?" To which Jesus replied, "Does this cause you to stumble?" And we see that as a result of this many of His disciples were not walking with Him anymore. In Mark 10:17-27 we have the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Even though Jesus felt a love for this man He told him what he must give up to have eternal life. The young man was saddened and went away grieving. In both instances Jesus spoke the truth, not harshly, but plainly, and let the people walk away who would not accept the truth. In Luke 14:25-35 we see Jesus explaining the heavy cost it will take to be His disciple, and then uses two examples of counting the cost before making the committment. Is this not the pattern we should be following?

I am afraid that the church in America has bought into and is preaching a false gospel. It is a gospel without a cross. In the American gospel both the cross that Christ bore, and the cross that his true disciples are to daily bear is missing. Without the cross of Christ the gospel is emptied of its saving power. Without the cross we are to bear the gospel is denied its claim on our life. Would it be that more preachers would be like my friend Igor and not be afraid to tell people the cost of becoming a true disciple of the Lord.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Spiritual Insecurity

In 1964 Martin Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons over 21 consecutive Sundays on the topic of spiritual depression, its causes and its cure as he had noticed how many Christians seemed spiritually depressed, and even the great preacher himself had dealt with a season of spiritual depression. It seems to me that in our new century we are seeing another issue that is pervasive in Christianity in our country and that is spiritual insecurity. This spiritual insecurity is becoming a polluting, corrupting, and paralyzing force in the life and faith of the body of Christ. Sad to say many who are insecure spiritually are so because they do not have the Spirit, but there are also many others who are believers who are struggling with being insecure in their faith.

I do believe that one of the factors contributing to this is the postmodern age in which we are now living. With its emphasis on uncertainty, its elevation of personal experience as the arbiter of truth, and its deconstruction of all truth claims, it is easy to see why those who have succumbed to this way of thinking and viewing life would be insecure. The church has always been in danger of being influenced by the surrounding culture and its accompanying philosophy, and the more immature the church the more immature the believer, the more susceptible they are to adopting the cultural mindset of the day. Take, for example, the books of I Corinthians and James.

Another contributor to this spiritual insecurity is the lack of the knowledge of God. It is sad, yes, tragic that many Christians just do not know God very well. II Peter 1:2-3 tells us that grace and peace are not just given, but multiplied to us in the knowledge of God and His Son, Jesus Christ; and that we have been given everything pertaining to life and godliness through this true knowledge. In Hosea 4:6 God tells us "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Then in Hosea 6:3 He exhorts us, "So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord." Since the Scriptures are true, if Christians are insecure in their faith, their relationship with the living Lord, then they must not have much of the knowledge of God and His Son that multiplies grace and peace in their lives. The lack of the knowledge of God is destroying His people and His church in America today, and can be directly related to the preaching to felt needs and the therapeutic gospel that have been in the main for the last 20 years. It may seem odd that self help, feel good, Jesus loves you for who you are sermons would not make people feel more secure in their relationship with God, but the key to security in any relationship is an intimate knowledge of the other party in the relationship. When preaching and church life are all about you, then how can you ever know about God?

Finally, the third contributor to this spiritual uncertainty comes from the proliferation of Arminian and Semi-Pelagian (you can look these up at views of the role of man in his salvation and sanctification, from "getting himself saved" to "keeping himself saved." When man takes the responsibility for his salvation, and the working out of that salvation, upon his own shoulders he will never feel adequate for the task. For deep down in his soul he is all too aware of the sin that so easily entangles him, and his own lust that entices and carries him away. Without a solid foundation built on the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of our great and merciful God in our salvation, from its beginning to its end, man is left to rely only on the strength of his own arm,the power of his own piety......and, for all of us, our faults and foibles are ever before us.

Where are you today, my friend? Are you struggling with being secure in your relationship with God and living the life of faith? Are you plagued with doubts and uncertainties? Confess this to God, cry out to Him for relief, for peace in your soul, and rest for your heart. In Jeremiah 33:3 He tells to call upon Him and He will show us great and mighty things which we do not know, which, I believe, are the things of God Himself. According to Jeremiah 9:23-24 God wants our only boast to be that we know and understand Him. If that is what He wants then He has provided the means for that to take place and those means are the Word of God and the Spirit of God. In fact, in Jeremiah 1:12, He tells us that He personally watches over His word to make sure it is fulfilled, that is carried out to the fullest. Start your journey to spiritual security by reading the Psalms and in each Psalm mark with a colored marker each verse that tells you something about God. Meditate on these things and ask God to reveal to you deeper insight about that aspect of His nature and character. In Jeremiah 29:12-14 He has promised to be found by us when we search for Him with all our heart. Take Him up on that promise today.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fact Collectors

Are you a collector? Do you collect antiques, dolls, comic books, depression glass, animal trophies, name it? Do you set your collectables up on a shelf, or do you have a display case, or a special storage unit to house them? Do you show your collection off to friends and family? Is your collection something you take pride in? Have you become informed or developed a level of expertise regarding what you collect, and can you talk about it until the cows come home? Is what is on display not just your collection, but your knowledge of it as well? Is this how you treat the Bible, the Sacred Scriputres, the living Word of the living God? Are you a fact collector, a Biblical fact collector?

You may say, "But, Morris, aren't we all? Isn't that why we study the Bible, listen to the pastor, read blogs, go to conferences, etc.?" To which I would answer, "No, not really." For the goal for us in our learning of the Scriptures ought not to be knowledge for the sake of accumulation, but knowledge for the sake of assimilation. We should want what we know about the Scriptures to become part of the fabric of our person, to be a part of who we are and what we are, not a collection of facts gathering dust in the shelf of our minds.

Many people are just like the Athenians in Acts seventeen...always in search of something new. New truth, new knowledge, instead of becoming a morsel to be looked at, chewed on, and ingested, becomes a nugget to hoard and stash away, so that hearer can go and find another new fact to add to the collection. These people are also like the ones we see in II Timothy 4:3 who accumulate teachers in a heap. As soon as they are through milking all the new nuggets of knowledge from the current one he is thrown on the heap and they are off to the next.

What is your view toward Biblical knowledge? Is it something to be accumulated or something to be assimilated? Is knowledge for the sake of knowledge what you are pursuing, or are you pursuing knowledge because you are pursuing Him? In Hosea 4:6 God says His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, but then tells us in 6:3 to press on, to press on to know the Lord. So it wasn't religious facts that they needed, but knowledge of the Holy One, Himself. Peter tells us in II Peter 1:3 "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." So we really shouldn't even seek knowledge for the sake of transformation, but seek knowledge for the purpose of growing and deepening our relationship with Him, out of which our transformation occurs.

So, let us not be fact collectors, but seekers of Him who promises to reward those who diligently seek to know Him with the knowledge of Himself, which then becomes something in which we truly have a reason to boast.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Music in the Worship Service

Another book I am currently reading is on being a missional church (the term missional being the topic for another post). In reading through the book one of the author's quoted in the book was saying how much freedom we have to be creative in the music portion of the worship service (yes, I call it the music portion because the whole service is a worship service). It sparked the question in my mind as to how much freedom do we really have? Are there some guidelines that need be, must be followed in order for the music to be acceptable to God and spiritually effective for the people? I do believe that the regulative principle of worship gives us the guidelines of what is acceptable to God so what I am going to do is share what I believe makes it spiritually effective for the people. These are the questions that I ask of the music portion of the worship service. These questions apply whether you are participating in a traditional service or one that is considered contemporary.

Is it reverent? Does it create an atmosphere of reverence. The elements of reverence being:


Does it take us up to God or does it bring God down to us? Is it

God focused
God honoring
God exalting
God glorifying--defined as that which gives an accurate representation
of who God is, His nature and character?

Is it Scripturally true and accurate?

Does it present and teach right theology?

Does it add to and enhance our understanding and appreciation of God and Christ?

Does it spiritually inspire, not a rock concert high, but does it feed the
soul by engaging the mind, thereby taking the people to a higher and
deeper place than themselves?

Does it prepare the mind and heart, does it open them up to receive the
word that will be preached?

Does it minister to the people?

Does it teach?
Does it admonish?
Does it exhort?
Does it encourage?
Does it enlarge?
Does it take them to the throne of God?
Do they experience the presence of God as
part of the corporate communion?

Is it able to be sung congregationally?

Is it balanced through Psalms, Hymns, and spiritual songs?

Is it worship driven and ministry driven versus performance driven?

Does the instrumentation overpower the singing?

Is it transcendent versus being temporal?

Does it make people spectators rather than participants?

Does it occupy its proper place in the service, not as the focus of the service?

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Few Thoughts on the SBC

From my view point there seems to be four main camps in the SBC right now. Camp #1 is the Traditionalists--those that have been Southern Baptist and were a major part of the resurgence. Camp #2 is the New Traditionalists--those who have been Southern Baptist and were involved in the resurgence, but were not the movers and shakers; and those who have come on since the resurgence. Camp #3 is the Disenfranchised--This is made up of those who were against the resurgence and are still in the SBC, and those who are newer and are questioning the value of remaining in the SBC. Camp #4 is the Evangelical Southern Baptist--those who see value in the SBC, but are also connected and involved in the larger evangelical arena.

Camp #1 seems very interested on keeping the status quo it has achieved as a result of the resurgence. This group is starting to be defined more by what they are against than what they are for, which is the leading edge of fundamentalism. This usually leads to behavior based on fear.

Camp #2 seems very interested in keeping things Southern Baptist and keeping the tent large for the purpose of missions cooperation. They put a high value on local church autonomy and cooperation. However, when the tent gets too large it can start falling in on itself. This is potentially a problem in an age where individualism is valued over cooperation. In addition there is always the problem of having to accomodate for the sake of cooperation.

Camp #3 seems interested in doing their own thing. Those that were against the resurgence are mostly ignoring the goings on in the SBC and have their own niche within the SBC. Many of those who are new are resentful of being left out and disregarded. The remainder of the new group are feeling that the SBC has nothing to offer them. As a result many are looking to other groups to associate with like the Willow Creek Association, etc.

Camp #4 seems interested in getting the SBC to reevaluate itself in light of theology and church practice. They see value in the SBC in the areas of missions and seminary education, but also think the SBC should be doing some healthy self evaluation.

The struggle/battle, if you will, in the SBC right now is between camps one and two. Camp three doesn't care and will pursue doing its own thing. Camp four wants some changes made and is concerned with the health and future of the convention. There seem to be many things going on in the SBC right now and in my opinion we will see more tumultuous days ahead and the SBC will go through a shake out, a pruning if you will. In fact, I think that the pruning process has already started and is needful for us to bear more fruit.

We do need to reexamine ourselves, our values, our common ground, our procedures, our expectations, what holds us together, what defines us as Southern Baptists. There is too much disunity, and distrust for the SBC to continue on as it has been. As a result I think we will see a smaller, leaner, more focused, and therefore, more effective SBC. I believe that those who are involved in the denominational goings on know this is happening and that things will be brought to a head sooner than they think.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The State of Evangelicalism and Preaching

The post is titled this way because the two are inextricably linked for as preaching goes so goes the church. After attending conferences, reading blogs and books, and listening to CDs you see the lamentable shape the church of Christ is in. However, I am neither pessimistic or optimistic about the current or future condition of the church. Looking back at the history of Israel and the history of the church the true believers have never been in the majority or ever been a major minority.

Looking back to the early church, the time of the reformation, the time of the Puritans and the great awakening (which many consider the golden age of the church) you see that false teaching abounded, persecution was common and often severe, but the church, though small, was strong, vibrant, and influential. What stands out about the church during these times is the quality of its preaching/teaching. The early church of course had the apostles, Timothy, Apollos, Epaphras, Stephen, Phillip, and Barnabas, but then came along men like Augustine, Chrysostom, and Clement. Then we had the reformation with Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli (and John Hus, the John the Baptist to Luther). In the Puritan age there are almost too many to mention, but we see John Owen, John Flavel, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, and Cotton Mather. Throughout these times we had the well-known, the less-known, and the unknown who were faithfully proclaiming the word of truth, truthfully.

I see the same thing today. In the crumbling of evangelicalism here in our country I believe we are seeing the purging of the church that will reveal the true church. We have many outstanding preachers that are well-known such as John McArthur, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and Albert Mohler. We have less-known such as Philip Ryken, Sinclair Ferguson, Stephen Lawless, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan, and then we have the host of unknown, many of whom are entering the blogosphere. Much like the previously mentioned times we live in an age of pervasive false teaching and attacks from both within and outside of the church, and in this I find a strange comfort as I see that there is nothing new under the sun. As evangelicalism crumbles we will see the true church that is led by faithful preachers from the well-known to the unknown holding their ground, holding their doctrine, proclaiming the grace of their God and the power of His Christ. Paul says in I Corinthians 11:19 "For there must also be factions (hairesis-a divergent opinion or belief, from which we get our word heresy) among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you." Really, we should thank God for what is going on in evangelicalism in our land as it will separate and make obvious those among us who hold to and proclaim the truth and those who do not. Those who do not hold to the truth will no longer be hidden among us as reefs in our love feast, but will be made manifest for who they are and there will be a separation, a parsing if you will, of both the true and the false, the sheep and the goats.

In Philip Ryken's series "City on a Hill" (available through the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) he talks about our time being a post-christian time. I believe he is right, but I also believe that our post-christian time is not any different than the pre-christian time of the early church. Small in number but large in faith, benign in the things of the world but bold in its confession, these men and women were those that turned the world upside down. I see in our present time well-known and lesser-known men who are standing firm for the pure truth of the word and proclaiming it as such, and I see many of us, the unknowns, who are in agreement with them, doing the same thing. While those who hold to the truth and the way of the truth are small in number compared to the whole of evangelicalism, God has always seemed pleased to work through small numbers to bring glory to Himself.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Object of Our Faith--Colossians 1:4a

This is the first sermon of my series on The Measure of a Church.

If we are to measure the church and therefore its people by faith, hope, and love it is important to understand what faith is and what is to be its object. For faith, by its very nature, cannot exist by itself, but must have an object to rest upon. Faith must have a target to aim at, a bulls eye to fix itself upon. So let's see what faith is for us as a people of God and then what the object of this faith is to be so that we can be truly saved.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen. Martin Luther describes faith as a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. The Greek word for faith is pistis and means a firm persuasion, a strong conviction, a belief in the truth. It is not the outcome of imagination, but is based on fact. It is a strong and welcome conviction that leaves no room for doubt. It is to be fully and completely persuaded beyond a shadow of any doubt.

Colossians 1:4a Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus...

Before we get to the object of our faith, Christ Jesus, it is interesting to note what Paul did not include as the object of our faith. It is not faith in our faith, faith in a prayer we prayed or a decision we made, because this would be having faith in ourselves. It is not faith in walking the aisle, faith in our baptism, our tithing, or the good things we do, for that would be having faith in our works or faith in our obedience. Which, again, is nothing more than having faith in ourselves.

Here Paul gives us only one object for our faith to rest upon, that is Christ Jesus. There is a dual component to having faith in Christ. It is having faith in the person of Christ, which is represented by His name and having faith in the work of Christ, which is what He did to accomplish our salvation.

What is in a name? Well, in this case quite a lot. The name Jesus means Jehovah is salvation, God is salvation, or Savior. The name Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, the anointed One, King of Israel. To be anointed was to be appointed or set apart for a specific task or duty. So in the very name of Christ Himself we see that He was the appointed One, the One set apart to achieve our salvation. Let's see how this is pictured in the Scriptures.

Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).

Matthew 1:20-21...the angel appeared to Joseph and said, 21...She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

Luke 2:11 (When the angels appeared to the sheppards) For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

John 1:41 (Andrew) He found first his own brother Simon and said to Him, "We have found the Messiah" (Which translated means Christ).

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 6:69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.

John 8:24...for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.

John 20:31...but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Acts 10:43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.

I Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.

Matthew 16:13-16, 13...Who do people say that I am? 15...But who do you say that I am? 16. Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

So the question for us today is not any different. Who do you believe that Christ is, and who do you say that He is?

Okay, what did Christ do to accomplish our salvation? What work did Christ finish to make our salvation complete? Again, let's take a look at what the Scriptures have to say. For to understand His work is to understand why He took on flesh and came to earth.

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Hmm, notice who the seeker is here. Compare this with John 4:23 and Romans 3:10-11. It shoots a big hole in the notion behind all the seeker churches.)

I Corinthians 15;3-8, 3. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. and that he was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5-8 then He appeared....

II Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 7:26-27 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27. who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

Hebrews 9:11-12 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12. and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, he entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Hebrews 10:10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:12 But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who drew near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 5:9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.

Hebrews 12:2 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.

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

Wow, think about all that we have seen here. Isn't God good to base our faith on facts, truth, real events that transpired around a real person. God did not decree that our faith should be based on whims or notions or meditations. He did not leave it up to each person to find their own path to heaven or to figure out how to have eternal security. God Himself has done everything necessary for our salvation in and through Christ, and that is why it is necessary for us to believe in Him and Him alone for our eternal salvation.

Lets' consider some of the facts behind other Scriptures:

Matthew was written by a disciple who walked with Jesus, an eyewitness.
John was written by a disciple, an eyewitness who laid on Jesus bosom, and beheld His glory as the only begotten of the Father.
Mark was discipled by Peter, a disciple and eyewitness.
Luke traveled with Paul and interviewed eyewitnesses.
In I John, John talks about what we beheld and our hands handled.
In II Peter, Peter says, "We were eyewitnesses to His majesty."
James was written by Jesus brother who was an eye witness to His resurrection.
Paul saw the resurrected Christ and was taken up into the third heaven.

We have the infinite and eternal God who broke into time and space by becoming flesh and blood. He lived a real life, died a real death, was raised and ascended to heaven--all real events that happened in real time with eyewitnesses. God did not leave us with fables, or tales, or our own vain imaginings, but provided a real person and a real work upon which our faith can rest; and by which we have a sufficient security for our eternal state. To paraphrase A.W. Pink, the work of Christ did not make our salvation possible, it made it certain. The thing we must do then, according to John 6:29, is to believe in Christ whom God has sent.

So, my friend, are you trusting in His person and on His work for your eternal state? Do you believe the words of Scripture to be true? Is Christ Jesus alone the object of your faith? This is indeed the starting point and resting place for all those who are truly Christians!

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Direction of Our Love--Colossians 1:4b

As I mentioned in my last post the best way to measure a church is by the three eternal spiritual qualities mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 13. They are faith, hope, and love. This post is from a sermon I recently preached on Colossians 1:4b which was the second in a series on the measure of a church.

In I Corinthans 13 Paul tells us that is faith, hope, and love that abide. These three spiritual qualities are mentioned in nearly every book in the New Testament, but of particular note there are only two churches that are singled out as reflecting all three of them, the church in Thessalonica and the one at Colossae.

In I Thessalonians 1:3 we see these qualities manifested in the work of their faith, the labor of their love, and the steadfastness of their hope; and in the rest of the letter to the Thessalonians you see these qualities reflected in the life and work of this exemplary church. Here in Colossians we see these attributes manifested in the object of their faith--Christ Jesus, the direction of their love--all the saints, and the place of their hope--in heaven. Remember that for these qualities to be present and manifested in a church they must be present and manifested in the lives of its people. So with this in mind I want to talk about the direction of the Colossians love, which is towards all the saints, and as it was for the church at Colossae, it should be for the church today.

So as we consider the direction of their love and therefore the direction of our love in the church today we want to look at four things:

1. What is this love they have?
2. Where does this love originate?
3. Why is this love directed towards all the saints?
4. How is this love manifested?

What is this love they have? Well, the Greek word for love used here is agape. It is one of four words the Greeks use for love. The four Greek words for love are storge, eros, phileo, and agape. Storge means natural affection, like the kind you automatically have for a pet (unless you are a pet tolerater like me), but better yet the natural affection the parent has for their child. Storge is not used in the New Testament except twice in its negative form in Romans 1:31 and II Timothy 3:3 to describe how far man has fallen without God. Eros, is a passionate, sensual, physical love. It is a love based on infatuation and sensual attraction. It is often used to describe romantic love. It is the kind of love portrayed in most of our music, television, and movies. Interestingly, it is never used in the Scriptures. Then there is phileo, brotherly love. Phileo is a warm and tender affection. It can be deep and intense. It is used to describe the love of those near and dear to one's heart. It is a love that cherishes. It is a love that is reciprocal in nature and a love that is shared. It is used throughout the New Testament. Finally, there is agape, the predominant word used for love in the New Testament. It is a love of the will and the mind. It is a love of choice and commitment. It is not devoid of emotion, but overrules and overrides emotion. It acts in spite of how one feels. It is a selfless love, an unselfish love, a sacrificial love. It is not motivated by the self, but by others. It loves even if the person who is the object of the love is undeserving, unworthy, and unloving in return. It puts what is best for the other person first and foremost. It is a love that compels one to action. It is used to describe the love of God, the love of Christ and how we are to love. This type of love was thought unattainable by the Greeks and is only used in Greek writing two or three times. Therefore what we see in the Scriptures is not "being in love," but the act of loving.

Where does this love originate? As you can see the Greeks were right in thinking this type of love was unattainable, from a human perspective. The heights this love operates in are unassailable for us mere mortals. So where do we go to find this love, where are the headwaters from whence this love flows? I John 4:7, 16 As we see in these two verses, God is love. Note that it does not say that God has love, or that God is a loving being, but that God is love. By saying that God is love John is saying that love is intrinsic to who God is, it is part of His nature, and is therefore inseparable from who He is, and, consequently, present in all that He does. Love is as much as part of Him as your eye color is of you. This love that is part and parcel of who God is, is agape. God is agape. This love of the will, of choice and commitment, this love that compels one to action, this love that is selfless, unselfish, and sacrificial, this love that loves despite the unloveliness of the object loved, that loves despite its unworthiness, in spite of the hatefulness it receives in return, this love that comes from a predetermined state of mind; this is the love that is part of the core of His being. This the the love that is described in I Corinthians 13 as patient, kind, never jealous, never bragging, is never arrogant, never acts unbecomingly, is never self seeking, is not provoked, never takes into account a wrong suffered, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and it never fails. This is the the love that God is.

This love is also the love that we are to direct toward all the saints, so how do we get this love? Let's look again at I John 4:7. We are to love (agape) one another, for love (agape) is from God and everyone who loves (agape) is born of God and knows God. So we see that agape is from God and only those that are born of God (born again) and know God have this kind of love. So this love, this agape, is not something that an unregenerate person, the unsaved person, the person that the Scriptures call a natural man possesses. It is unique to the believer. Now let's look look at Romans 5:5. Here we see that the love of God (not just any love, but God's love, agape) has been poured out within our heart through His Holy Spirit who was given to us. Poured out is in the perfect tense here which means that it is a completed event with continuing results or effects. So we see that God has given us His love, His agape, in our heart through His Holy Spirit who indwells us, and we received this love, the full amount of this love, the minute the Holy Spirit came and took up residence in our heart. Now let's look at Ephesians 3:17. This verse tells us that we are rooted and grounded in love, this agape. What a beautiful picture these words paint of our secure position in, and reservoir of, the love, the agape of God. We are fixed into and draw from the infinite love (agape) of God. This is where this love we are to have for all the saints originates and how we have come to posses it.

Why is this love directed toward the saints? Most of us who have been Christians for any length of time are familiar with the two greatest commandments in all of Scripture. The greatest is to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind; and the second is like it, it is to love your neighbor as yourself. We all know that when Jesus came He fulfilled all of the law, so He fulfilled these two commandments. But what He also did was to raise the bar. John 13:34-35 Here Jesus gives a new command, and this command is to love (agapao) one another, which would be fellow believers ( the saints), not as ourselves, but as He has loved us. This is what John is referring to in I John 4:7 when he says "Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God." So we are to have the same love toward all the saints that Christ Jesus has for us. This is why Paul is commending the Colossian saints, for following the command of Christ to love one another as He has loved us. According to John 13:35 our love for all the saints will prove to all men that we are His disciples, His followers. If you think about what we have seen about agape, you can understand how this would be a witness to all men that we are His disciples, because only Christ or someone who has Christ living within them can love like this. We also see that this is a particular love; it is Christ's love, and His love for His own, being lived out through His saints for one another. This is a powerful witness to all men, both saved and unsaved, of the reality of the power and love of Christ. And when we follow His command to love one another we prove our love for Him as He said in John 14:15 "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments," and we know His commandments are not burdensome. Christ Jesus wants us to love one another as He loves us. He wants us, His own, to share and experience His love for us with and through each other. Oh, what a glorious thing this ought to be in the church, to never be without the love of Christ. What a wonderful provision He has given us to never be without His love. This is the reason behind the gifts and the gifted given to the church in Ephesians chapter four, to attain to the stature of the fullness of Christ, and in doing so the church will build itself up in love, agape, Christ's love.

How is this love manifested? When something is manifested it means that it is revealed. As believers we reveal the love of Christ in how we live it out, and from the context here in Colossians it is lived out in relation to other believers. Let's look at some practical examples from Scripture:

We are to be angry and yet, not sin.
We are to let no unwholesome word proceed from our mouth, but only that which edifies.
We are to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander be put away from us.
We are to be kind to one another , tender-hearted, forgiving each other.
We are to bear one anothers' burdens.
We are to bear one anothers' weaknesses.
We are to be on the alert and pray for one another with all prayer and petition.
We are not to be arrogant toward one another.
We are not to be partial.
We are to treat each other the way we would want to be treated.
We are to please others instead of ourselves.
We are to defer to others by considering one another as more important than ourselves.
We are to do no wrong to one another.
We are to accept one another.
We are to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
We are not to be provoked.
We are not to act unbecomingly toward one another.
We are to be patient with one another.
We are to not to gossip about one another.
We are to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.
We are to provide for one anothers' needs.
We are to reconcile with one another.
We are to gently restore those who sin.
We are to be subject to one another.
Our love is to cover a multitude of sins against us and still keep on loving.
No matter how much and how well we love we are to excel still more.

This is the essence of love, the love and God and Christ, that has been given to us; the love in which we are rooted and by which we are grounded.

You know we hear so often today that we are to love ourselves or that we must learn to love ourselves. Some would even tell us that we must love ourselves before we can love others. This is the mantra behind all the self-help books and seminars. It is what under girds the new hot seller "The Secret" and unfortunately is what is being taught in so many churches. This is the eternal lie! It is what Satan was really telling Eve to do in the garden, and what Satan was tempting Christ to do in the wilderness. Isn't it interesting that there is not one place in Scripture that says God loves Himself, nor is there any place where we are told to love ourselves. If self love was that important to our well being don't you think that God would have told us, nay, would have commanded us to do just that? What Scripture says is that God loves us, that God loves His Son, that God so loved us that He gave His Son, His only Son whom He loved, for us; that we might have eternal life with Him and enjoy His presence forever. We are not commanded in Scripture to love ourselves, but to love God, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and to love one another as He has loved us. The focus of our love is to be on God and therefore on His saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ. My friends don't fall prey to the siren song of self love, but follow the command of Christ, and the example of Christ by loving one another as He has loved us. Greater love has no man than this, that He would lay down His life for His friends. My friends, my fellow saints, let us love like this today.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Measure of a Church

The measure of a church is the measure of its people. As its people go, so goes the church. What is it that we as a people of God must possess and practice to be spiritually healthy, vibrant, and effective, so that our church(s) can therefore be the same way? In I Corinthians 13 Paul gives us three eternal spiritual qualities that I believe we must be strong and growing in as individuals so that the church we belong to will be strong and growing as well. These are faith, hope, and love. As believers we have these attributes, yet we may be weak in one or more of them. For example, the church at Corinth was spiritually immature and was especially weak in love (I Corinthians 13), and you can see the many problems it had as a result. The believers written to in II Peter needed to be diligent in developing their faith (II Peter 1:5-11) so that they would not be susceptible to the cleverly devised tales of the false teachers. The believers in Hebrews needed to press on to maturity leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ to anchor their hope more securely, so that they would persevere under their trials. James told the twelve dispersed tribes what real faith was all about.

Faith, hope, and love are mentioned in almost every New Testament book. And out of all the churches and groups written to there are only two that are commended for all three of these qualities. They are the churches at Colossae and Thessalonica. In the first chapter of both epistles Paul says that he is thankful for them and praying for them. He commends the Colossians on their faith in Christ Jesus, the love which they had for all the saints, and their hope laid up in heaven. He commends the Thessalonians for the work of their faith, the labor of their love, and the steadfastness of their hope. Also, in the first chapter of both epistles, he talks about the reception and power of the gospel, which is the tool God uses to develop faith, hope, and love in His children, and as His children are, so is the church.

Even though these attributes are spiritual and intangible, they are not inconspicuous. They are evident in the life, the attitude and actions of the people of God. They are the ground of our motivation, the core of our spiritual life, the evidence of our salvation. So we in the church must look to make sure these qualities are ours and are increasing, and those of us who preach, teach, and lead the flock must be diligent to develop these qualities in the flock that God has assigned to us, so that the flock will be spiritually healthy and vibrant.

More on this later.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Some Random Thoughts on Loving Christ

If we love Christ we will keep His commandments. So everyday we prove we love Him as we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome. It is true that we love Him because He first loved us. He has poured out His love within our hearts through His Holy Spirit and we are rooted and grounded in this love. His love does not reside in those who are not His. So if we are truly His we can not help but love Him and it is this love that compels us to no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again on our behalf.

We work out that which has been inwrought. We are working out while He is at work in us, and it is this work, this good work, that He has begun that He will complete. But in the middle of all of this is sin. The sin that is present in our members, waging war against the law of our mind. Sin, the great weapon of the enemy which has caused the death of all mankind, which seeks to master us. It is in the battle against sin that our love is proven. The issue is not do we still sin, because we do, but the issue is do we battle against sin, do we strive against sin, are we actively resisting sin. We are to watch and pray that we would not enter into temptation for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

It is written that those who have been forgiven much love much. Does this mean that those who were more egregious and pervasive in their sin are the ones who love more? No, it means that it is those who see their sin for what it is and understand the depth of their depravity, who, therefore, understand the depth and the riches of the mercy and compassion of God, who then love Him more. This is something that happens as we work out our salvation and grow in Him. Let us, therefore, not think that we have arrived, but realize that we have not, and continue to press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Claiming Salvation

Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 "Many will say to Me on that day, ' Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you,' Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'

Look at what these people are claiming as their basis of right standing as they stand before the Lord on that day. It is not faith, but works, and not just any works, but sensational works; and not just any sensational works, but sensational works done in His name. The three works they claim are prophesying, casting out demons, and performing many miracles/works of power (Hmm, sounds like a certain persuasion today). What were these people trusting in for their salvation? They were trusting in their own sensational religious works and not in Christ. They were not doing the will of the Father and therefore were workers of iniquity/practicers of lawlessness. What then is the will of God that we are to do to assure us an entrance into the kingdom of heaven? It is that we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, on Him alone, on His person and His finished work for our salvation. There can be nothing more and there is nothing less.

The context that this sensational claim is made in is interesting because in vs 12-14 Christ says that the gate is wide and the way is broad that lead to destruction, but the gate is small and the way is narrow that lead to life, and few there be that find it. (My friend, Bill Lawless, has made the comment that both gates have the same sign, "This Way to Heaven" but only one takes you there.) In vs 15-20 Christ tells us to beware the false prophets who come to us in sheep's clothing, but that we will know them by their fruits (see also Hebrews 13:7). Then in vs 24-29 Christ says that it is the wise man who hears His words and acts on them, but the fool is the one who hears His word and does not act upon it (see James 1:22).

Christ is the narrow gate and the narrow way. Religion is the broad way, and the broad gate. Religion says chart your own course to God, choose what you want to believe, what you want to do, believe that there is something you can do to achieve right standing before God. False prophets tell you they know the way, so follow them. They even claim sensational works to back it up. However, they will always lead you away from Christ never to Him. We can know them by their fruits, the result of their conduct, and not be led astray by their sensational works and claims. It is the wise man who hears Christ say, " I am the way, the truth, and the life. Come to the Father through Me." and then follows Christ and Him alone. It is the fool who hears the same words, but decides to make his own way, chart his own course, and great is His fall.

So where are you today, my friend? What are you depending on for your entrance into the eternal kingdom of God? Is it your confession, your baptism, your prayer, your attendance, your tithing, something you have done or are doing now, or is it Christ Jesus and His finished work on the cross? Are you depending on yourself or on what God has done for you in Christ? Religion is what man can do to get to God. Christianity is what God has done to bring man to Himself. Where does your faith rest today, on yourself, or in the power of God in the cross of Christ? Think about it, weigh it carefully, consider it wisely because your eternal destiny hangs in the balance.