Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.


For us to see the opportunity in adversity we must recalculate our expectations.  What is God doing in prayer?  What do expect Him to do?  Perhaps what you expect of God in the trial is not what He expects of you.
We must also recalculate our situation.  Our situation may change, but God never changes.  The good and the bad of my life circumstances is not indicator for the way God feels about me.  Don’t misinterpret your lack of health or lack of finances as a lack of God’s love.  It doesn’t equate.
Finally, to see the opportunity of adversity we recalculate temptation.    
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  (James 1:12-18 ESV)
In the trial a lot of people get bent out of shape with God.  Why is God doing this to me?  What did I do to deserve this?  In every trial there is a temptation to forsake faith.  And it is here that you see people fall flat.  
There are lots of things that are sinful to which this verse applies.  Some people would say that by God allowing something incredibly hurtful in their lives; some sort of evil abuse that victimized them, that God is evil.  Or, someone may say that because they have a propensity toward a certain kind of sin, that it means God created them that way and so their lifestyle choices shouldn’t be considered sinful.  This verse clearly refutes those ideas by declaring that God is not evil and therefore cannot be blamed for being the source of evil, in any circumstance, in any person’s life. 
But in context, the immediate temptation James encounters is the greatest temptation we face in adversity, giving up on faith.  James is teaching that walking away from faith may be tempting, but it is sinful.  
If your faith falls flat and you walk away, don’t think that is God’s fault, that’s your fault.  God doesn’t allow the trial to come to turn you toward evil.  God allows the trial to come to turn you toward something that is remarkably good.  
Trials have a way of exposing our weaknesses.  But what does 2-3 say God’s design is in the trial?  Strength, completeness, to LIFE PROOF you to where you can hold up and stop falling prey to the same junk over and over again.  
This passage gives us a great teaching on temptation.  Sin is much like the conception, incubation, and birth of a child.  If you see someone fall in sin, know this - it wasn’t an overnight change.  They have been dabbling in it for a long time.  It is not a SITUATIONAL PROBLEM IT IS SYSTEMIC PROBLEM.
God allows the trial because He wants to do something good.  Look at verses 16-18.  It teaches us these truths:
  • You have a very special purpose - as the first fruits of his creatures.
  • You have a very faithful God - no shadow due to change, this means we can seek solid truth in our trials.  God gives good things.
Throughout the Book of James we will see the author constantly encounter the failed ends of man’s pursuits with the good things God gives when we trust Him by faith. 
Our temptation may be to walk away, but if we do that is failed faith.  It is not a failure of the faith God gives us, but it is a failure in a version of faith we have manufactured - a faith that cannot remain steadfast and stand up to the trial.

In times of trial, don’t rush to anger or to blame God.  Recalculate the temptation.  God has not required us to believe in something that is doomed to fail.  He has given us a faith that is good - one that when tested will mature and strengthen our lives.
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5 - Recalculate Your Situation

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.  (James 1:9-11 ESV)
To help us see the opportunity of adversity we must not only recalculate our expectation (namely for how God answers prayer), but we must also recalculate our situation.
A lot of times we gauge God’s opinion of us based on the stuff we have in our lives.  
I am healthy.  I am blessed.
I am sick.  I am cursed.
I was promoted at work.  God loves me.
I lost my job.  God hates me.
A situational faith is fickle.
James chooses wealth to expose our miscalculation of the situation.  The wealthy person believes that he or she must be doing something right because they have so much.  A false pride and sense of security develops.  
The poor person believes that he or she must be doing something wrong because they have so little.  A false humility and a misguided spirituality develops.  
You can’t gauge God’s love based on your stuff.  According to James 1:9-11, we need to realize that situations quickly change.  
James teaches that the lowly brother doesn’t need to focus on his lack, but on the lift.  
He says that the rich brother doesn’t need to focus on his provision, but on his pursuit.  
What does this mean?  Whether we are healthy or sick.  Whether we are rich or poor.  Whether we are in good times or in hard times - it is all a trial of faith.  
There are lots of people with lots of money and God is displeased in the way they are handling it, why, because they are pursuing the wrong thing.  One day, life will drop, they may lose it all and in the meantime they lose their faith.  Why, because their faith was equal to their wealth - which is never enough.
A faith that is based on the blessings of wealth is far from life proof.  When the account dries up, that form of faith will also go bankrupt.
On the flip-side, there are lots of people with little money and God is equally as displeased in the way they are handling it.  Why?  God is displeased because we are so prone to believe in our moment of lack that our greatest need is money.  They think that it is money that will lift them up, but it isn’t.  It is God.  Until your pursuit becomes more about God than money, you will never have a LIFE PROOF faith.

A life proof faith remains steadfast in abundance as well as in lack.  The Word of God determines the truth about faith, not your situation.  Our health and bank accounts are volatile and vulnerable.  God never changes.  Our situations should not make determinations about our faith, instead a life proof faith make a determination in any situation to trust the Lord.  

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4 - The Opportunity of Adversity - Recalculated Expectations

If we know God is working even when the situation is unwelcome, and we know that we are most changed when we are most challenged, then we must conclude that adversity is not a drudgery; adversity is an opportunity.  This is why James calls for us to “count it all joy (1:2).”

Easier said than done, right?  Why can’t we count it all joy?  Why is it so hard to see the opportunity of adversity?  
The reason we can’t see the opportunity of adversity is because we “can’t count” we miscalculate.
From 1:5-18 James calls for us to make some recalculations.  We need to recalculate three aspects of adversity: expectations, situations, and temptations.
Recalculate Expectations
One thing I can say with a fair amount of certainty, when times get tough, people pray.  When we pray, we do so with a fair amount of expectations.  Those expectations, unmet, often lead to frustration.
Why isn’t God answering my prayer?  
Expectations go unmet.  We feel as if faith has failed.  Once again, we hit hard times and we are shattered.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  (James 1:5-8 ESV)
This paragraph talks about something God wants to generously give us in our trials.  What is it?
While it is true that we serve a miracle working God who can change any situation, notice what the verse doesn’t say.  
God heals, but the verse doesn’t say God generously heals.
God provides, but the verse doesn’t say God generously gives us a bunch of money.
God opens doors of opportunity for His people, but the verse doesn’t say God generously gives us a new job.
God is sovereign over the nations, but the verse doesn’t even say God generously stopped the persecution that James’ readers were going through so they could go back home.
The verse says that God generously gives wisdom.  Wisdom is the the ability to know God’s will.  Wisdom is making the right choice.  Wisdom the ability to foresee the bad consequences of foolish choices because you know what God says.  
Wisdom is the ability to not make a bad situation worse.  
The Bible says God gives it generously.  This is an interesting word in that in one sense means exactly what you think it means, yet in another sense it doesn’t at all mean what you think it means.  
Generosity is the word used to describe the guy at the ice cream counter who doesn’t just give you one “technical” scoop; generosity means that he keeps digging down in the barrel and he pushes the ice cream down on the cone, he packs it on, and then goes in one more time to make sure you have a huge ball of ice cream up on top of that cone!  Generosity means he is going to give you more than the cone can hold!  Technically, one scoop can be 4 ounces.  Generously one scoop is the size of a basketball!  That’s generosity.  That’s the obvious meaning. 
God gives His people big scoops of wisdom.
However, generosity also means that God is also no arbitrary.  He is not wasteful.  He is purposeful.  There is a sense in the word in which it also means single-minded or focused.  And it is this meaning, single minded focus, that we don’t often associate with generosity.  
Have you ever seen the footage of the rich guy who goes to the mall at Christmas and dumps a basket of $100 bills over the rail?  The people below go crazy in the scramble to scoop up the money.  The rich man is celebrated as generous.  He may be generous, but is that kind of generosity effective?
In my experience I have found that a person who truly needs $100 is not at the mall.  Where will the basket full of money end up?  Will it accomplish anything truly good or has the rich man just given the people below $100 license to be greedy and wasteful?  There is no way to know.  
God is not the guy who dumps a bunch of money over the rail of the mall at Christmas time to see people go crazy over it - that’s not generosity, that’s publicity.
God is the guy who often goes unnamed, who finds a need, seeks to solve a problem, and makes a generous but calculated investment into something that is going to truly make a difference.
God has generous focus. 
Notice who He is generous toward, single minded, focused people.  Not the double-minded man, who is devoted to doing God’s will one day, but not the next.  He is not generous to the one who shows up all pious and religious when he’s in a mess.  He’s not generous to those who want only to change their situation but are not interesting in changing their life.  He is not generous to those who want prayer answered but are not interested at all about strengthening their faith.
God is interested in giving generous amounts of wisdom to people who are interested in knowing and doing what God wants them to do.
When you are in adversity what do you ask God for and why?  What’s your expectation?  Are you concerned about THINGS changing or are you concerned about your LIFE being changed?  
A lifeproof faith is concerned about encasing us in a generous amount of God given wisdom.  The expectation is guidance, insight, information for navigation; not necessarily escape.  When we recalculate our expectations, we see the opportunity of adversity clearly.  Wisdom helps us to learn things about God and about life that will contribute to our steadfastness; that will help us to hold up the next time life drops.  Wisdom makes a generous, calculated contribution to making us, like 1:4 says, “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” 

If you want a Lifeproof faith that sees adversity as an opportunity, recalculate your expectations for answered prayer.  Ask for wisdom - God gives it generously to God focused people.
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3 - It’s All in What You Know - You Are Changing

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4 ESV)

Yesterday we said that we can count it all joy in the trail because we know that God is working even when a situation is unwelcome.  According to James 1:2-4, there is also joy in knowing a second truth in the trial.

We are most changed when we are most challenged.
If you have ever worked out in a public gym, scenes such as these should be familiar.

The problem is that most of the people who become the hilarious spectacle known as the epic gym failure are usually wearing the nicest gym clothes.  They look the part - often a little “too much.”  They speak the language.  They drink the shakes.  They have mastered “the grunt.” They sit on all of the equipment, but they have no idea how to use it.
What ensues is an epic demonstration of weakness, form, and ignorance.  
Isn’t that often the case with our faith?  We talk a big game when things are going great, but there is no real strength to our faith.  Then, when life drops, we can’t hold up under the weight.  
Throughout his letter, James will confront 6 versions of weak faith that talk a big game, but have no strength and are easily shattered when life drops.

a)  1:19-27 - the person who hears the sermons, but there is no noticeable life change.
b)  2:1-13 -  the church that is judgmental, prejudice, and partial. 
c)  2:14-26 - the guy who says he believes, but does nothing.
d)  3:1-18 - the person who has the vocabulary of faith, but otherwise can’t control his tongue.
e)  4:1-17 - the church that is full of infighting, division, and worldliness.
f)  5:1-20 - the church that has real needs, but has no power because it is full of doctrinal error and greed.
If we were honest about our faith and honest about the modern church, especially in light of James’ 6 epic failures, we would say “it is not working” and that “it is now effective” and that “it is not powerful.”
We need strength.  The trial is key to the development of our strength.

The word steadfastness means the ability to hold up under something.  James says that in our trials that the longer we hold up under it, the stronger we will become.  But strength is not the only goal.  The ultimate goal is that we may be perfect, which means mature, complete, lacking nothing.  That means in short, that we develop such a strong faith that it becomes LIFEPROOF.

And this is what we want, a strong effective faith.  Look at what is happening at the end of the book.  Someone is suffering and so they are called to pray, anoint the person with oil and confess sin.  The effect is that the person is forgiven and healed.  The paragraph says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”  It is a powerful, effective faith that works!   

The Book of James is about saving us from gross error that when tested will shatter our faith.  The book ends, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (5:19-20).”  In other words, we need to save them from being shattered.  We need to encase our life in a faith that is real. 

If we are going to change, we must be challenged.

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2 - It’s All in What You Know - God is Working

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4 ESV)
Count it all joy?  Seriously?
When life drops it is hard to see the joy.
You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, joy?
The pressure at your work is difficult to bear, joy?
You and your spouse hardly talk, joy?
There is too much month at the end of the money, joy?
1st century Jews of the dispersion who have fled for your life from intense persecution, are you having fun yet?
According to James, it’s all in what you know.
According to these verses, we know two things in the trial
We know that even when the situation is unwelcome, God is working.
The verse refers to “trials of various kinds.”  The trial is an unwelcome situation.  Money issue.  Physical issue.  In the case of the first readers of James, persecution.  These are the life drops - the difficulties of being on an imperfect planet with imperfect people.  
James teaches us that even though a situation is unwelcome and unexpected that no situation is ever beyond the bounds of the sovereignty of God.  Life will drop you.  God will not.
As a matter of fact, the passage says in 1:12 that God is paying attention to our response and He rewards us when we respond rightly to the trial.  So we can count it joy because we know that God is not only working, He is watching.
There are various places in the Bible in which people stayed encouraged during adversity.  How?  Because they didn’t necessarily understand the significance of what was happening, but they knew God was working.  
  • In Acts 5 the apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching the name of Christ.  That is certainly unwelcome.  But the Bible says they left the council “rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  They saw God working in what was otherwise unwelcome.
  • In Hebrews the author speaks of the chastening of God, discipline He brings into our lives.  Certainly unwelcome, but not unwarranted and something in which God is working.  “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  He. 12:11
  • Paul had a thorn in his flesh he asked God to remove.  God refused.  He did so to teach Paul about His grace.  The thorn was unwelcome but God was working.

Your situation may be unwelcome, but be assured, God is working.  Joy.
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1 - Lifedrops

Whether you are a smartphone lover or a hater who only has one out of necessity, we all share a common fear, THE DROP.  In an instant your $600 window to the world becomes a useless piece of shattered glass.  
The company Lifeproof has created a successful business by manufacturing what has become a necessary accessory to the smartphone - protection.  Lifeproof makes no technological contribution to your device; instead Lifeproof helps your phone do the one thing your phone does not do well - LIFE.
The people at Lifeproof know what is coming at your phone - YOU.  Drops.  Toilets.  Kids.  Sweat.  Dogs.  A lonely, lost overnight stay in the last place you set it down - in the rain.  There is no app for that.
James writes a letter to a group of Jewish Christians in the 1st century who started well.  If you heard them speak the language of faith, you would detect no issues with the lingo.  But they are suffering a serious life drop.  Dispersion.  They are being persecuted.  They are fleeing and as they do they leave behind everything familiar - family, work, peace.  
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.  (James 1:1 ESV)
But you must understand, James was not writing them because they were scattered.  James was writing to them because they were shattered.
So how are you doing with those “life drops?”
In many ways our life is like our phone.  It looks and sounds great when things are going well, but when life drops, we easily shatter.  Don’t you agree?  It should be much more difficult to fall apart.
In chapter 1 verse 2, James mentions “trials of various kinds”; life drops.  Financial issues.  Physical issues.  Marital issues.  Family issues.  Whatever form they take, trials are unwelcome, unexpected experiences.  We all have them.
Whatever the trial brings, these are the moments that go deeper than what you say.  They go deeper than what people see.  It is easy to say all is well and look the part.  But when the hard stuff hits, one of two things will happen - you will either hold together or shatter.
The Book of James is about encasing your soul in something life proof - authentic faith.  
My intent with these posts is to flesh out in print a teaching from the book of James as I also flesh it out through preaching to our church.  Hopefully the print versions will be a blessing as it will afford me the opportunity to share some thoughts and ideas from my preaching notes that may not necessarily make their way into the pulpit version.  

Follow along.  Let’s encase our soul in a life proof faith. 
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How to Talk to Your Kids about Modesty

We live in a society that is quickly losing a sense of decency, modesty, or shame.  The Bible, however, calls for God's people to observe a sense of modesty.  How do you talk to your kids about this subject?  Here are 10 "Do Not" principles that you may find helpful:

  • Do not teach that the body is a bad thing. Gen. 1:31.  Modesty is not because there is a problem with the body, it is because there is a problem with our mind.  Before they sinned, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed.  After sin, even though they were married and there is no indication that there was anyone else in the garden, they looked at their nakedness in a different way than they had before.  As a result, they covered themselves.  Let's be honest, we live in a world of perversion and uncovering the body is provocative.  Call it art, call it beauty, naked is naked.  I have read articles that object saying that we should honor the person without objectifying the body.  Ultimately we do want to see people as parts of the body of Christ rather than just seeing people as body parts.  Yet, again, really hard to do when that person is naked.  It's the nature of the way we think.  Modesty is an answer to our situation.  We are sinners.  Sinners are tempted, enticed, and think bad things.  Cover up.
  • Do not teach that the body is their own.  The attitude of the culture is that one can do what one wills to do with their own body.  The Bible calls for us to practice a different ethic.  1 Corinthians 6 and 7 teaches that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that the body is also something that one can surrender to their spouse.  We need to have conversation about modesty in the broader conversation about sexuality and marriage.  In a culture that is undermining marriage, the church needs to be more proactive at teaching marriage and purity.  Modesty is not just covering up, but it is saving up for a grander goal that God has for us.
  • Do not think that if your kids are wearing what you said they could wear that the mission is accomplished.  Legislation is not life change, it is legalism.  However, this does not mean there is not a place for rules.  Even though someone may not understand the heart of a law, laws are necessary to protect us.  Even in the garden when Adam and Eve sinned God made a correction.  They covered themselves with fig leaves, God covered them with animal skin.  There is a broader picture of atonement here, but our Heavenly Father was the first one to say to His children were not going to go out of the house wearing that!  They needed to put more on themselves.  Legalism takes the life out of principles.  Modesty is not about a certain color, length, or texture of anything.  It is about a mindset that is considerate of others.  Interestingly, the Bible never defines modesty, it just uses words like appropriate, modest, respectable. The word modest comes from a Greek Word that talks about a person in a crowded room of excellence; perhaps there are skilled actors on the stage, singers, or musicians.  All the attention in the room is directed toward something beautiful, then in an act of vulgarity you break that attention and draw it towards yourself.  This is the idea modesty is rooted in.  Modesty is a position of humility that realizes life is not about you.  We need to teach the heart of this principle, not simply legislate obedience.
  • Do not make modesty an issue of conviction, but of aspiration.  Modesty is about loving God and loving His body (His people), not magnifying your own. G.K. Chesterson stated that it was a mistake when we moved modesty from the organ of aspiration to the organ of conviction.  Our goal is glory for our Lord, not guilt over what we wear.  Modesty teaches that we want to be pleasing to Him and mindful of His people.  We don't measure our shorts because a Baptist believes it, we wear what we wear because we love the Lord and His church.
  • Do not teach that modesty is a matter of clothing, but rather that it is an issue of the heart.  If it is always a fight about clothing, there probably needs to be some conversation about deeper things.  It may not be an issue of the shirt, it may be an issue of the heart.  The Bible teaches that modesty is a heart issue, not a fashion one. (Luke 6:45, 1 Peter 3:3-4)
  • Do not teach that modesty is about what you wear only, but it is also about the way you wear it.  Interestingly, 1 Timothy 2:9 was about overdressing not underdressing.  Let's be honest, for the ladies, they wear what they wear not for other guys, but for other girls.  Have you ever been sitting in the waiting area of a crowded restaurant?  Next time you do, when a woman walks in, watch the eyes of the other ladies around her.  They check out her shoes, then her clothes, then her purse, then how she got her hair "did."  Watch their face, you can tell what they think :).  It's funny!  Modesty means that I don't dress just to best someone else.  There is an attitude of Christian con tenement that should permeate everything we do (and put on).
  • Do not teach that modesty is an issue for your daughters and leave your sons out of the conversation.  We need to teach our sons to honor the ladies, not victimize them.  Job made a covenant with his eyes.  Jesus taught that to look lustfully on a woman was to commit adultery in the heart.  We need to teach our sons that girls are not giving guys permission based on what they wear.  I read a great statement in an article published by Relevant magazine by Sharon Hodde Miller, "Love your sisters by exercising the fruit of self-control and “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Love your sisters by taking ownership in this resistance, rather than letting the bulk of the burden fall on us."
  • Do not teach modesty without modeling it.  Modesty does not just apply to the way we dress, but it is about a sloppy, vulgar, selfish life.  Modesty is seen in every venue of life from the way one keeps the house, speaks in public, or posts online.  Overly loud and obnoxious can be just as offensive as an outfit that is too short and too tight.  If our kids are to receive the message of modesty it is something that must be modeled at home, in society, and at church.  Titus 2:3-5
  • Do not teach that modesty makes you more beautiful.  There was a popular message that sounded attractive, but was dishonest, "Modest is hottest."  Yet, modesty is not a beauty issue at all, it is about consideration of others.  A person who dresses modest may not be "hot" at all.  In fact, by societies standards, probably not.  At the same time modest doesn't mean I have to look like a potato sack either.  When the Lord sent Samuel to seek out a new king he revealed to us that the issue for the Lord is not outward appearance at all, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  For humans beauty is often a relative issue anyway.  Recently a free lance journalist sent an untouched picture of her natural face to 25 graphic artists in various countries and simply asked, "Make me beautiful."  What she received back was 25 various versions of herself compliments of photoshop.  Check out the project here.
  • Do not give up on teaching modesty just because it modesty is more difficult.  In a culture that seems to value "uncovered" it is not easy to find modest clothing at times.  It is especially difficult in the warmer seasons, and especially true of swimwear for women.  When it comes to our children we cannot trust a sexually addicted culture that does not value censorship and moral protection for our children.  The fashion industry will probably not applaud what you are trying to teach your children.  Furthermore, your children may not get support at school, at the pool, and you may not get any help from other parents.  And there may be some rare occasion of life in which your children don't agree with your values. As shocking as this may be, remember, you are still the parent.  For Christian parents this is where the church should be especially helpful.  In a Christ centered counter-culture there should be support, not undermining of the message.  Parents need to talk to one another as well as to their children about modesty. 
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Love Songs (Points from Sunday 6/29/14)

Sermon:  Love Songs
Series: Psalms and Songs
Text:  Psalm 33

Love is arguably the most common theme in music.  With an incredible capacity to love and to receive love it should be no surprise we find love so interesting and inspiring.  At the same time we have a heart that is vulnerable and explosive.  When it comes to love we often experience as much exhilaration as we do confusion.  

In today’s music there are basically four types of love songs.  1) Pure romance.  This is the song that makes the ladies melt.  It is romeo with a beat.  Much like John Legend’s “All of me” it is all about the words.  2)  I’m not like the other guys.  These songs pick up the important theme of rebuilding trust in someone after a broken heart.  Justin Timberlake’s “Not a Bad Thing” is a prime example.  “I know people make promises, all the time, then turn right around and break them.  When someone cuts your heart, open with a knife and you’re bleeding, but I could be that guy, to heal it over time, and I won’t stop until you believe it.”  3)  Lust at first sight.  It’s not really about love as much as it is about immediate attraction and a wild night.  Ed Sheeran’s “Sing” exemplifies this genre.  4)  Finally, we have the break up song.  No one is better at break ups than Taylor Swift.  She doesn’t have anything currently topping the charts, but someone is going to break her heart soon and she will get over it by slicing him open on 12 tracks and sell 10 million copies.   

If you listen to today’s music it is not hard to hear the volatility of our experience in love.  Yet, God puts on display for His people a perfect picture of redeeming love.  In Psalm 33 David writes a song for stringed instruments and he says in verse 21, “For our heart is glad in Him because we trust His holy name.”  In the song David celebrates 4 things about God as a true lover.

A true lover:

  1. Speaks a trustworthy word (Psalm 33:4a, 6-9).  Everything God says comes true.  He does not simply make empty romantic promises, but His Word comes to pass.  The right response is to stand in awe of Him in worship (v. 8).  For those who are married, never underestimate the power of your words.  Especially for the men, we need to be mindful of our words toward our wives.  For those who are single and searching, find someone that can be trusted.  Someone who is always backtracking, covering for themselves, and having to constantly explain why what they said doesn’t match what they did, is not a fit lover - move on.
  2. Does a faithful work (Psalm 33:4b, 10-12).  We will constantly deal with difficulty when it comes to life and love.  Yet even though the nations rage against the Lord, His plans do not fail.  What He has determined to do, He will do.  He is faithful because He is able.  As Timberlake’s song insinuates, it is difficult to trust people.  Yet he croons in a vulgar way that if his lover will go out, do whatever she wants to do with whoever she wants to do it with, that she will find in the end, he is the one.  is that really the way we want to arrive at the truth?  You will never find someone higher by looking lower.  If you want to find truly love, you have to know where to truly look.  In the Lord we find a lover who has not only envisioned a plan for us, but is faithful to perform on His Word.  For the married couples, are you simply coexisting, or is there a dream and a plan for your marriage?  What are your goals.  We need in our marriage to be constantly working and fostering faithfulness for one another.  For the searching singles, find someone like our God in the most basic ways - working!  Find someone with ambition, a plan, goals and who is working toward those ends. 
  3. Goes a righteous way (Psalm 33:5a, 13-17).  David finds in the Lord someone who does right.  Sheeran’s song is the age old story of the one night stand.  Yet we need to realize that our life is not a music video, our life has real consequences.  David writes two Psalms about the misery of the consequences of a night driven by lust (Psalm 32 and 51).  The conviction of the Lord was greatly on him and the guilt of his sin made his body ache in the heaviness of shame.  You can’t get to the right place going the wrong way.  You can’t find the right thing looking in the wrong place.  David says that the Lord looks down from heaven on us and he fashions our hearts and deeds in His hands.  This means He is mindful of all we do, nothing escapes His righteous gaze.  Whether a searching single or married, we need to have a vision for righteous, redeeming love.  We need a love that God honors, that has purity at its heart and Christ and the church as its vision.  God does not trash us in lust, but He redeems us in love.
  4. Extends a lasting love (Psalm 33:5b, 18-22).  There is no breakup song for God.  No lover has been more attested as being faithful and loyal as He.  In the Lord David found for his heart gladness and hope.  He knew the Lord would not fail.  When we realize how we have been loved by God and we celebrate His love it informs us and prepares us to give and receive love to others.  God’s lasting love shows us the boundaries of love.  His love for us shows us where love works and where love is not love at all but unrighteous lust.  God’s love informs us in that it raises our expectations and standards.  Even when we are disappointed in love, we are not looking lower but higher because of the lasting love God extends to us.  God’s lasting love also gives us a place of grace.  The lasting love of God requires grace.  Ultimately we are an unfaithful, unrighteous people, yet God gives steadfast love to His people.  God’s love gives us grace and stability we can extend to others, which will go a long way in repairing relationships.

As much as we hear on the radio about love, we need to see what redeemed love looks like.  God has given us an incredible capacity for love and passion, yet in a sinful world much of what we hear is merely a perversion of truth.  The love God has for His people is a perfect love.  When we seek Him first, it helps us to be more discerning with the messages we hear, but it also helps us to be more loving toward those around us.  Paul said in Phil. 1:9 that our love needs to abound, grow more and more with knowledge and all discernment.  

If you are heart broken and looking for true love.  Repent of sin and receive the love of God He has given to us in His son Jesus Christ.  Receive Him as Lord and Savior and follow Him as a disciple.  Only by experiencing redeeming love can we sort though the chaos of love in this life and know what true love is (Romans 3:23, 5:8, 6:23, 10:9-10, 13).  
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The Power and Peril of Habit

If you were at Liberty this morning, I know I gave you a lot of information in a hurry.  Here is a copy of the material with everything filled in.

The Power and Peril of Habit document

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Introduction to Philippians

An Introduction to Philippians
Worthy of the Gospel

When we first engage a book of the Bible it is important to spend some time in background study.  A good background study will involve at least two aspects (all of which and more can be found in most Bible commentaries):

1)     Context - The profit of studying context is that it helps us interpret the text rightly.  The Bible never means what it never meant (Fee and Stuart - How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth).  Studying context also helps us to not exempt ourselves from the demands of the text.  Most would think that such study would alienate us from the text and that we would indeed find reasons to exempt ourselves.  The Bible is old and culturally distant, but it is eternally relevant and so the very opposite of what we would expect takes place.  A thorough background study will actually bring the reader more closely to the Bible's originally recipients.  Good study builds sympathy not distance.  We find ourselves more like them that we originally thought.  There are two general types of context we observe.

Historical - What is the life situation of the recipients?
Biblical - Where does the text fit into the Bible?

2)    Structure - The profit of studying structure is that it helps us familiarize ourselves with the way the letter works and seeing how the argument progresses.  What is the one central idea that holds it together?  How does each paragraph and statement in the letter support this central idea?  We do this to keep ourselves from merely seeing the letter as a bunch of verses.  We would read one of Paul’s letters much differently than we would Proverbs.  This is an important conversation between Paul and a church.  They understood what he was saying.  We study structure by:

    1)    Reading the text in whole.
    2)    Observing the flow of the text from paragraph to paragraph.
    3)    Identifying key verse or passage that holds it all together.
    4)    Find an outline that communicates the text to us.

 I.    Context

A.    Philippi

1)    One of the most well known cities of the ancient world.
2)    Highly developed with baths, marvelous temples, libraries, gymnasiums, streets, and an acropolis (upper city).
3)    Became a capital center for politics, philosophy, and a military outpost about 800 miles from Athens.
4)    Religiously “charged” area taking not only the Roman cult gods seriously but participating fervently in emperor worship.  There were only two types of religion in Philippi, legal and illegal.
B.    The Church at Philippi - The story of the Philippian church is in Acts 16.  There you will notice several key characters who are mentioned in Paul’s letter.  Paul founded the church during his second missionary journey in the early 50’s (1st century AD).  Two critical facets of Paul’s story are developed in Philippi.  1)  Paul gains some important partners who help not only support him personally, but help finance his church planting efforts as he spreads the gospel to the Greek world.  2)  We also get a glimpse into Paul’s experience in prison.  Many of the admonitions and behaviors Paul fosters in his letter to the Philippians are exemplified in the way he spent his time in prison in Philippi.  At the time of Paul’s writing it is probably the late 50’s or early 60’s and Paul has been imprisoned again.  Even still, the Philippians remain not only person friends but ardent supports of his work.

C.    Occasion - 

1)    The Philippians have made a contribution to Paul and he is sending Epaphroditus back with a letter not only thanking them, but instructing them and answering some of their concerns as a congregation.  The letter serves as a note of gratitude and a missionary report (1:12ff, 4:8-13).
2)    The people were personally concerned for Epaphroditus’ health.  His return would encourage them (2:25-30).
3)    As supporters, Paul needs to give the Philippians perspective on his imprisonment.  This is not only an update to assure them he is currently well, but that whatever happens it is not a failure of God’s plan for the gospel (1:12-25).
4)    Paul uses the letter to address the Philippian concerns over Paul’s opponents (1:15-18) and to warn them about false teachers who have entered their congregation (3:2-11).
5)    In light of the growing dangers surrounding their support of the gospel, the people needed to receive an apostolic admonition toward doctrinal integrity, missional solidarity, and congregational unity (4:2-9).

I.    Structure

      Key passage - 1:27-30 - A life worthy of the gospel

    1)    Congregational unity in the gospel

    a)    One spirit
    b)    One mind
    c)    Striving side by side

    2)    Faithful in suffering

    a)    A refusal to back down from opponents.
    b)    Living examples of a saved people strengthened by God in the gospel.
    c)    Seeing suffering as much a part of the call of the gospel as believing.
    d)    Partners in the greater/global conflict of the gospel.

    I)    Outline

    A.    Salutation (1:1-2)

    B.    Thanksgiving and joyful intercession (1:3-11)

    1.    Thanksgiving from a full heart (1:3-6)
    2.    The apostle’s affection (1:7-8)
    3.    Intercession for love and discernment (1:9-11)

    C.    The Priority of the Gospel for Paul (1:9-11)

    1.    The progress of the gospel (1:12-14)
    2.    Preaching Christ from different motives (1:15-18a)
    3.    Final vindication and glorifying Christ (1:18b-20)
    4.    Life or death (1:21-24)
    5.    An anticipated reunion? (1:25-26)

    D.    Conduct worthy of the gospel: exhortations and an example to the community (1:27-2:18).

    1.    Unity and courage in the face of opposition (1:27-30)
    2.    A call for unity and mutual consideration (2:1-4)
    3.    Christ Jesus, the supreme example of humility, solidarity, and faithfulness in suffering (2:5-11)

    (1)    Adopt Christ’s attitude (2:5)
    (2)    Learn from Christ’s example of humility (2:6-8)
    (3)    Be inspired by Christ’s exaltation by the Father (2:9-11)

    4.    Work out your salvation (2:12-18)

    E.    News about Timothy and Epaphroditus, two Christ-like examples (2:19-30)

    1.    Timothy (2:19-24)
    2.    Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

    F.    Warning against Judaizers. Following Paul’s example and teaching (3:1-21)

    1.    Watch Out for the Evil Workers (3:1–3)
    2.    Paul’s Past Life: Privileges and Achievements (3:4–6)
    3.    A Radical Change: Paul’s Present Values (3:7–11)
    4.    Pressing On toward the Goal (3:12–16)
    5.    True and False Models. A Heavenly Commonwealth and a Glorious Hope (3:17–21)

    G.    Final Exhortations (4:1–9)

    1.    Stand Firm (4:1)
    2.    Be United (4:2–3)
    3.    Rejoice, Be Gentle, Don’t Be Anxious (4:4–7)
    4.    Focussing on What Is Excellent, Following a Godly Model (4:8–9)

    H.    Paul’s thanks for the gift (4:10–20)

    I.    Final greetings (4:21–23)

Outline taken from: Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: a Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 39.

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What it Means that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life

Here are the talking points for Sunday morning.  What it means that Jesus is the resurrection and the life from John 11:
  1. We have someone infinitely good, caring, and compassionate in ultimate control of sickness and death.
  2. Jesus' coming brought a marked shift in the way we think about death.
  3. The resurrection is not simply a theological truth, it is a point of personal trust.
  4. Jesus' return will fully demonstrate his authority and victory over death.
  5. We must do something more than simply believe there is a Heaven, or even want to go to Heaven if we are to have eternal life.  We must repent of sin and surrender to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord if we are to have eternal life.
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The Church Emerging from the Reformation (Church, Who? What? How?)

Though there have been attempts to construct a successionist lineage of Baptists back to the Apostles or even John the Baptist, these constructions are revisionist at best and often end up as simply poor historical scholarship.  Doctrinally these attempts do more harm than good as they are heretical attempts to prove that the Baptist church is the only, true church.  In the end these attempts are dishonest and unnecessary.
The historical truth is that Baptists emerged not from a single stream, but more from the convergence of several movements that stemmed from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  Therefore, to properly understand Baptist history one must examine the context of the Reformation.  

Background of the Reformation
In our previous session we discussed two of the major challenges of the Patristic or Early Church; persecution and heresy.  Both of these issues raised major questions as to who are the people of God, or who is the church?  In response to the rising tide of persecution through the first 500 years of its history, the church was forced to ask, “What becomes of the lapsed?”  For those who renounced Christ to save their skin, is there room for restoration?  This question resulted in several church councils, the most notable of which being the first meeting of Carthage under Cyprian in 251 AD.  Subsequent councils or synods of Carthage would meet over the next century to deal with other issues; perhaps the most notable of which being the Canonicity of certain books of the Bible.  Yet, before dealing with questions about the authenticity of the Bible, Carthage was called together to deal with the authenticity of the church.  
Another notable council dealt with the other critical Patristic issue, heresy.  The most looming issue was the identity and nature of Christ.  Arius (250-336 AD), an elder in Alexandria, taught that the Word, Jesus, was not coeternal with the Father but rather the first of God’s creation.  Arius’ teaching did serious damage to the identity of Christ and caused quite a schism in the church.  
The controversy also had an adverse affect on the Roman Empire.  Constantine, who had experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity, had risen to power in the western section of the empire.  Constantine’s attributed his victory to the blessing of Christ in his life.  Therefore, Constantine represented the end of the persecution of the church and the beginning of Christian favor in the empire.  Constantine allowed the church to own land and build places of worship so that it could establish itself as a legitimate faith in what was otherwise a pagan, polytheistic state.  With Constantine being the first Christian emperor, the church and the state became bedfellows.  This turn of events becomes critical to understanding the next 1,000 years of church history leading to the Reformation.
Because the church was so closely related to the state under Constantine, the Arian controversy not only brought unrest to the western and eastern Church, but also to the western and eastern empire.  Constantine knew that it was not only critical for the church, but also for the state, that consensus be reached concerning the nature of Christ.  In 325 AD Constantine called a council of church leaders together from both western and eastern sections to draft a common statement concerning Jesus.  The end result was the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Conspiracy theorists would argue that the church did not understand Christ as the divine Son of God until Nicaea.  The idea of the conspiracy is that Constantine manipulated the meeting to his own ends as to legitimize Christ as King and himself as divinely chosen emperor.  This is simply not the case.  Because this is only a contextual accounting for purposes of Baptist history, there is simply no time to deal with this charge.  I would only state simply, that to assume the church had no understanding of Christ as divine before Nicaea is a total fabrication that is unscholarly, dishonest, and illogical.  To charge that the church did not believe something strongly before it stated it in council is a major historical and philosophical leap into total conjecture.  In fact, Philippians 2 could be argued as one of the earliest creeds of the church.  A text in which it is plain to see that indeed the church held that Jesus Christ was equal with God.  
The positive of Nicaea is that it was the beginning steps to quench a critical heresy.  The negative is that after Constantine the marriage of the church and the state became adulterous.  The next 1,000 years of church history are riddled with deep corruption in the Catholic Church as popes, bishops, and priests competed with and against emperors for massive amounts of wealth, popularity, and power.  It is from this fabric that the Dark Ages, the Medieval period is woven.  
Yet even in this time one can trace the struggle for purity in the church as the key question comes to the front over and over again, “Who is the church?”  During this time monastic life and the ascetic movements find reasons to flourish.  Against an increasingly immoral church certain men and women of the period would separate themselves to demonstrate extreme holiness and seek to find the true people of God.      
The Reformation
The question of “Who are the people of God?”, “Who is the church?” reached its boiling point in the 16th century.  Many people associate the Reformation with Luther, but he did not work alone.  Luther was certainly the voice and face of the Reformation, but the seed of the thought can be found in the humanist movement, most notably in Erasmus (1466-1536).  With Erasmus came a revival of reading original and sacred texts.  In an otherwise illiterate generation, scholars began to study the Bible in its original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and translate it into the language of the people (refer to Wycliffe 1328-1384).  The humanist movement inspired a revival of learning and began to loosen the grips of the Catholic Church on the Biblical text.  Until this point the Catholic Church conducted worship from the Latin text, a language long lost in Europe by the 16th century.  With the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press (1440) the Bible was no longer the exclusive property of the papacy (leaders of the Catholic Church).  Despite persecution, revival began to break out in remote corners of the Holy Roman Empire.  The flashpoint would come on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
The immediate context of Luther’s 95 Theses was the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel (1465-1519).  Tetzel’s occasion for selling indulgences was to not only raise money for the building of St Peter’s Basilica but also to pay off debts to the pope owed by the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg.  Indulgences promised those who paid that deceased loved ones would spend less time in purgatory.  He would travel the streets singing, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  While Tetzel’s heresy may have pushed Luther over the edge, it was the greater corruption of the Catholic Church and the lack of theological orthodoxy that Luther addressed most poignantly in his 95 Theses.  As he stated in his introduction, Luther protested for one reason alone, he sought the truth.
In the early stages, at the core of the Reformation movement there was affection for the Catholic Church.  The primary desire was to reform the church from within.  Yet as the Catholic Church declared the protestant reformers heretical and excommunicated them, the need to begin something new become increasingly apparent.  Yet again, it is important to note that despite the fact that the end result was Protest-ing or Protestant Churches, this was not the initial agenda of Luther and the Reformers.  So as the Reformers saw that they could not bring about Reform within the church the question became how far should they go in their reform and separation from the church?
This question resulted in two Reformation camps:
  1. The first camp would be those Reformers who in the end retained some influence of Catholic doctrine, polity, and praxis.
      • Martin Luther (1483-1546) - Although these ideas were not original to Luther, his proclamation of Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), and Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) began the great divide between Catholic theology and the Protestant churches.  As a powerful preacher and a brilliant scholar, Luther’s skills to communicate his message fueled the flames of the Reformation.  Although he did not subscribe to the Catholic understanding of Transubstantiation (the bread and wine become the body of Christ) in communion, Luther did hold to consubstantiation (the bread and wine are with the body and blood of Christ) in communion.  Calvin strongly disagreed with Luther in this point.  However, along with Calvin and Zwingli, Luther held similar views of the church’s relationship to the state and the necessity of infant baptism.  
      • John Calvin (1509-1564) - If Luther’s contribution was the idea of the Reformation, Calvin’s was the organization of the idea.  It was through Calvin’s well organized theology that the doctrines of the Reformation spread throughout Europe.  Calvin’s Institutes became the standard for a Reformation theology that centered on the sovereignty of God.  As such, ultimate authority did not reside with the pope or the state, but in God alone.  The state could not rule over the church, but if the state was not accomplishing the will of God it was the duty of the church to right the ship.  In the end Calvin retained an idea of a magisterial state heavily influenced by the church.  Also, along with Luther and Zwingli, Calvin believed that infants should be baptized as a way to remove original sin and bring them into the covenant of grace.  For the Reformers, like the Catholic Church, baptism had not only implications for membership into the church, but also citizenship with the state.  
      • Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) - Zwingli was the militant arm of the Reformation.  He did not agree with Luther’s ideas of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but he was persuasive in retaining the Catholic praxis of a close state/church relationship.  Because of his military prowess Zwingli was able to wrestle several municipalities away from Catholic control and establish Protestant states.  Zwingli had no problems using the power of the state’s military might to continue the spread of the Reformation ideal.
      • The legacy of the Reformers could be summarized as follows:
        • The recovery of the authority of Scripture and salvation by faith.
        • The emergence of Protestant states and the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire.  
        • Close relationship between the church and the state.  An unrighteous state had no power over the church, but the church had the responsibility to bring the church to righteousness and could then use the power of the state to enforce righteousness.  (It is interesting to see the legacy of the relationship of the church and the state post-Constantine, yet notice the Reformers still had great faith that this relationship had redemptive potential). 
        • Lutheran form of church government.
        • Presbyterian form of church government.
        • Reformed theology.
  1. The second camp would be those Reformers who held that the Reformation fathers did not go far enough.  In the end these Reformers retained nothing of the doctrine, polity, and praxis of the Catholic Church.  The movement first began to emerge with a group known as the Swiss Brethren.  Some of the original members were students of Zwingli.  Their disagreement arose when they did not feel that Zwingli took the principles of the Reformation far enough.  Their sharpest point of disagreement was over Baptism.  The Brethren held that Baptizing children gave people a false sense of conversion.  They were Christians only because they were baptized into the Christian church and were citizens of a Christian state, but there was lacking in many a real sense of repentance, faith, and following Christ.  When the Brethren saw that Zwingli would hold fast on his views, the Brethren sought to begin a new congregation of true converts.

    On January 21, 1525 at the fountain in Zurich square George Blaurock, a former priest, asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him.  Blaurock and Grebel held that baptism was reserved only for believers and because children were baptized without willing consent, theirs was illegitimate.  The followers of Blaurock and Grebel soon became known as Anabaptists or “re-baptizers.”  Their views on Baptism drew strong opposition from both Protestant Reformers and Catholics.

    The Anabaptists also took the Reformation to other ends.  Unlike Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the Anabaptists were pacifists, believed strongly in separation of the church from the state, and religious freedom.  Most all of the early Anabaptist were martyred, tortured as heretics, drown in rivers and burned to death by Protestant Reformers.  The more they were persecuted the more the movement grew. 

    Persecution not only brought about the deaths of the first generation of Anabaptists, but it brought about some diverse and more radical views in subsequent generations.  Some later Anabaptists forsook Pacifism and incited rebellion against Protestant states.  This led to the idea that a New Jerusalem must be established first in Strasbourg and later in Munster.  The end of the radical movement came in unfulfilled prophecies, a lost sense of the foundational principles of the movement, and a great deal of bloodshed.

    The restoration of the Anabaptists ideal came through Menno Simons ( 1496-1561).  Simons returned the Anabaptists he influenced to pacifism, forbid the taking of oaths, and advocated obedience to civil authorities.  Because they would not take oaths nor serve in the military, Simons’ followers were considered subversive to the state.  Being persecuted they were scattered, migrating to new lands that offered the prospects of religious freedom.  Subscribing to Menno Simons’ principles the Anabaptist became known as the Mennonites.
The Legacy of The Reformation and Its Influence on Baptists
  • It may be argued that Baptists are not Protestant in the true sense, but there is no doubt that Baptists “are a Reformation people.”
  • From Luther Baptists continue the legacy of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, and the priesthood of the believer.
  • From Calvin Baptists have been heavily influenced by Reformed theology.
  • Because of Zwingli the Anabaptists emerged giving another Reformation root from which Baptists owe a great deal.
  • The Anabaptists heavily influenced Baptists in their ideas of the relationship of the church to the state, believer’s baptism, the importance of discipleship, religious freedom, and congregational forms of church government.
  • The initial question that sparked Reformation continues, who are the people of God?  If anything, Baptists have gleaned that this is a question that should never be lost.
Cairns, Earle E.  Christianity Through the Centuries 
Gonzalez, Justo.  The Story of Christianity vol. 1 and 2
Leonard, Bill J.  Baptist Ways, a History
McBeth, H. Leon.  The Baptist Heritage, Four Centuries of Baptist Witness
Shelley, Bruce L.  Church History in Plain Language
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The Church from Jesus to Constantine (Church Who, What, How?)

The Vision of Christ for the Church
Jesus referred to the church twice, Matthew 16:18 and 18:17.
Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 18:17 (ESV)
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
So what exactly did Jesus mean when He said He would build His church?
  1. Old Testament ancestry - At its core the church is a gathering of God’s people.  An important theme in Scripture is the work of God to gather a people for Himself.
    1. Genesis 12:2-3 - the call of Abraham
    2. Exodus 6:7, 19 and 20 - In the Exodus story we literally see God “pull out” a group of people who would establish their identity in worship, morality, and in civic life according to His ways.  In their days, their moral codes, their ethics, and in their worship habits Israel was to identify themselves with Him.
  1. The New Testament word for church is the Greek term ekklaesia.  The word is used 114x in the New Testament and is translated 109x as the word church.  Ekklaesia literally means “the called out ones.”  Prefix ekk - means from or out of.  Kaleo - means to call.
  2. Greek context - In Greek life an ekklaesia most often referred to as a civic organization or society of people who had decided to gather around a common cause.  They would agree to adhere to a common creed, set of organizing principles, and purpose.
  3. When Jesus used the word ekklaesia (church) then, He referred to:
    1. The continuing work of God to call a people unto Himself.
    2. Those who He would redeem.
    3. Those who would adhere to His teachings.
    4. Those who would agree to accomplish His purpose.
    5. In the Greek sense, a fraternity or society of people defined by Him.  The church is literally the Jesus Society - a group of people who subscribe to His teachings and seek to fulfill His purposes.  In the historical context in which Jesus is speaking His hearers would have made an immediate connection between the Greek  idea of ekklaesia and Jesus’ claiming it as “my” church - my ekklaesia.  
  4. There is no New Testament understanding of the word “church” as it refers to a gathering place or a worship ritual.  Whether the term was used in Greek life or the Biblical text, the term church always refers to a distinctive group of people.  Church is not where we go or what we do, church is who we are.
The Apostolic Church
Jesus’ reference to the church has an obvious future aspect.  So when did the church begin?  In His parting talks it is apparent that Jesus is preparing His closest followers, the apostles, for a critical mission.  This mission would come through great trial, but it would also come with great help.  Jesus told His apostles that the Holy Spirit would become a comforter and a helper to them.  John 14 - 17 are critical passages to understanding the role of the Holy Spirit and the task of the apostles after Jesus’ departure.  
Other key texts come from Luke; Luke 24:36-53 and Acts 1:6-11.  These texts teach us that the inauguration of the work of the Christ followers and their new relationship to the Holy Spirit was soon coming.  Before any work would commence the apostles and disciples were instructed to wait in Jerusalem.  Once the Holy Spirit came, their work would begin.
The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit is shared in Acts 2.  The church, in its apostolic sense, was born on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection.  The rest of the New Testament then, particularly the Book of Acts and the epistles, gives us important insight into the development of the church.  Some important themes begin to emerge:
  1. The church would engage in a distinct task of taking the gospel global (Acts 1:8).
  2. The church would subscribe to a distinct set of doctrines that centered upon the identity of Christ which includes: defense of Him as Messiah to the Jews, proclamation of Him as a global Savior to the Gentiles, defense of His bodily resurrection, and application of His teachings as authoritative in the lives of His followers.
  3. As the church spread, its people would express shared life in Christ through continuance in the apostle’s teaching, baptism, communion, and distribution of material wealth through offerings and contributions for the purpose of missions, support, and benevolence (Acts 2, 4, 5, Romans 6, 15, 1 Cor. 11, 16, Ephesians 4, Col. 2, 1 Peter 3).
These shared distinctives would not come without great challenge.  The three main threats to the purity of the apostolic church were:
  1. Persecution – Therefore the church had to endure.
  2. Corruption – Therefore the church had to be faithful to exercise discipline (Acts 5), to preaching/teaching (Titus 2), and to study (1 and 2 Timothy).
  3. Attrition – Therefore the church had to be committed (Acts 2, 4, Heb. 10:19ff).
It is also important to note that as the church spread and developed it organized.  In many people there is resentment towards “organized” religion.  This resentment is often expressed along with a romanticized ideal that the apostolic/New Testament church was raw, bohemian and resistant to organization.  This is not the New Testament picture.  In the Apostolic church, clearly we see:
  1. Leadership (Acts 6, Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 2)
  2. Localization (the address of the epistles themselves, also seen in the movement of the gospel in Acts)
  3. Accountability both financially and doctrinally (note several episodes in Acts especially in distribution, missions, and in Gentile conversion as well as the closing statements of several epistles).
As a collective witness of the New Testament we see an important theme emerge concerning the church.  The major question concerning the church became “who?”  Who are the people of God?  Who is the church?  This question was not only answered by initiation:
  1. Repentance of sin and faith in Christ as Savior
  2. Clearly exhibited indwelling of the Holy Spirit
  3. Baptism
The question was also answered by continuance:
  1. Devotion to Jesus teaching (kerygma) and apostolic doctrine (didache)
  2. Continued identity with the church
  3. Participation in the mission
  4. Moral purity
Those who did not continue were not considered to have eternal life (1 John 2:19).
The Early Church (@90 AD - 325 AD/451 AD)
Whenever we speak of the Early Church we measure its beginning by its apostolic successors and end the period approximately at the Council of Nicaea 325 A.D.  Some would end the period at Chalcedon (451 AD).  When we speak of this period then, we are speaking roughly of the church’s first 500 years.  This period is also referred to as the Patristic period which is a term that notes the men who led this early period.  These men are commonly called the Church Fathers or its patriarchs (latin - pater), hence the term patristic.  
Characteristics of the era:
  1. Succession - This period is led by men who succeeded the apostles.  Many of them exhibit a relationship to the apostles such as Polycarp (70-155) who had a relationship to John.  Their writings are critical as they exhibit that the early church:
    1. Saw the teachings of Christ and the writings of the apostles as authoritative as they referred to them often and used them as base texts for their teaching (refer to Papias 60-130, Clement of Rome 30-100, The Didache).
    2. Continued to organize and especially took the issue of leadership seriously.  For the church to succeed it must continue in the authority given to it by Christ through the apostles (refer to Clement of Rome 30-100)
  2. Heresy - Heresy was an issue even before the death of the apostles.  The most notable challenge being the identity of Christ.  The most common strain of heresy came through the teachings of the Gnostics.  We see their influence greatly upon the writings of John, in both his gospel and epistles, as it is clear in his choice of terms that he is refuting their teachings.  In short Gnosticism was a fusion of Greek philosophy with Christian thought.  The end result was an understanding of the spiritual and material world that did serious damage to the person of Christ.  Gnostics did not see Christ as God in the flesh (as this was impossible due to the evil nature of flesh), but rather Jesus was a human being who achieved “gnosis (the Greek word for knowledge).  As a man achieving gnosis he lived as the supreme example of what man is to achieve.  In the Gnostic system there is no understanding of the atoning death of Christ, His suffering, or His resurrection.  As such the orthodox understanding of salvation, sin, creation, the fall, most all Christian doctrines are distorted heavily or lost altogether. 

    The Patristic period is noted for the important documents generated during the era.  From the Gnostics came a series of psuedographic (false names) writing.  During this period it was common to write under the name of an apostle or early follower of Christ so that one’s statements were lent instant credibility.  The discovery of Nag Hammadi (@ 50 documents discovered in Egypt 1945) revealed the nature of these early Gnostic writings.  In the Nag Hammadi we find documents such as the gospel of Thomas,  The Secret Book of John, The Gospel of Mary, etc.  Currently one will see documentaries aired on The History Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic reporting these documents as “lost gospels.”  The charge is that there was a conspiracy to leave these documents out of the New Testament cannon.  Had they been accepted, they would certainly have given us a much different picture of Christ.  The Nag Hammadi also serve as the plot of the popular book and film The DaVinci Code.  What is important to note here is that these writings were NEVER accepted by the early church and are proven to have appeared at least 200+ years after Christ (compared to the gospels and New Testament epistles which were completed within 60 years after the resurrection).  If there is any positive to heresy it inspires orthodoxy to be clarified and recorded.  In response to the Gnostics and to other heretical writings of the period, the Patristics generated numerous manuscripts that help us affirm a sense of orthodoxy and practice within the Patristic church.
  3. Persecution - We see Christian persecution beginning in the New Testament.  It certainly increased dramatically under Nero (54-68), who probably killed Paul, Peter and most of the early disciples of Jesus (especially the 70) and reached  its greatest intensity under Diocletian (284-305).  Christian persecution in the Roman empire did not end until Constantine I (306-337).
  4. Formation - It is important to note that during the Patristic period the New Testament Canon began to form as the writings of the apostles circulate and gained wide acceptance in the church.  The writings of the Patristics are critical here as they quote New Testament texts, reject false texts, and use accepted texts as the basis for their teaching.  Each time they did so they gave attestation to many parts of the New Testament that were affirmed early and received by the post-apostolic church as the Word of God.
  5. Gentilization - In 70 AD Jerusalem was destroyed.  This not only marked the end of an important era of Jewish history, but also an important era of the migration of the gospel.  With the loss of Jerusalem, Rome became the center of the Christian universe.  As the gospel moved to Rome the church became decreasingly Jewish and increasingly Gentile in nature.  It is here that we begin to see how culture begins to influence the expression of the gospel in the church as it migrates.  As the church becomes more Roman we see it take on many of the values of Greco-Roman society as well as its organizations.  It is here that the Church “Catholic” or “Universal” (intentional use) is born.
Early on the church established that the people of God would trace themselves back to the teachings of Jesus and those of the apostles.  Though the ancestry of Baptists can become cloudy at times throughout the centuries, there is no doubt that a distinctive Baptists hold dear is that they are ever seeking to be nourished from the roots of Christ through God’s Spirit and God’s Word.  Baptists may not find succession through a catalogue of great historical names, but it does find lineage in the Word.  No matter how far removed we are from first century Jerusalem holding to the Bible as the authoritative text keeps us connected to the teachings of Jesus and the birth of the church in Acts 2.
Ultimately the church is not a chapter within a denominational fold, nor is it an addressed structure on a street.  The church is a group of people defined by Christ.  Church is not a place one goes nor is it something one does, the church is something we have become because we have been born again by the Spirit of God.  People should also not carry a false sense of salvation if they have an affinity for Christ but have no relationship with His people.  The church is the Jesus society.  On the first Pentecost day after His resurrection Jesus gave His people His Spirit, they gathered together, and by His Spirit He made them His church.  The church is His society and as such His people subscribe to His teachings and seek to fulfill the purposes of Christ, the one who defines them.  
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Bringing Life Back to Our Town (Signs Series, Sermon Manuscript)

The main road through Chatsworth is dedicated to G.I. Maddox.  Do you know who G.I. Maddox was?  The following statements are excerpts from the bio of G.I. Maddox as it appears on the Georgia Agriculture Education Hall of Fame website.
Mr. G. I. "Shorty" Maddox's love of teaching agriculture was exceeded only by his love of students. After eight hours in the classroom, he visited his students' homes and farms, applying and reinforcing principles taught in the classroom.
He taught at Murray County High School for 34 years.
Many of Mr. Maddox's students were elected state FFA leaders, including a state FFA president. Several students received national FFA recognition, including the American Farmer Degree. Chapter members showed more cattle at the Atlanta Steer Show than any other chapter as long as the chapter exhibited. One of Mr. Maddox's major contributions was the establishment and operation of the Murray County cannery, which was named in his honor in 1981. The facility processed home breads, cakes, meats, and other products. During World War II and the Korean War, many of these products were sent to those serving in the armed forces.

Mr. Maddox was instrumental in assisting families in establishing college education funds through student participation in the Atlanta Fat Cattle Show and feeder calf sale. Many students earned enough money through the sale of their show animals to pay a major part of their college expenses.
G.I. Maddox was a man that involved himself in the community in such a way that he brought marked change to people’s lives that had long lasting results.
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 13:6-9 about a fig tree of which the vineyard owner had given up any hope that it would bear fruit.  He commanded the vinedresser to cut it down.  If a tree did not produce in three years it was deemed worthless and in need of replacement.  Yet the vinedresser asked for the grace of a year in which he would change the conditions of the soil.  If after a year the tree remained barren it would then be cut down.
The parable of the barren tree seems like an odd story without much spiritual significance.  What’s the point?  Here are some important elements to notice in the story:
  1. In context, the barren fig tree image is not uncommon in the Bible.  It generally refers to Israel and is a symbol of her fruitlessness and impending season of judgment (Jeremiah 8:13; Mark 11 and 13). 
  2. The vinedresser identifies that the problem may not be with the tree.  The problem may rest in the soil.  He seeks to change the conditions of the soil to give the tree a chance to respond.
  3. The grace of the year works in conjunction with work to change the conditions of the soil.  The parable ultimately implies that given the new conditions the tree is expected to fruit, if it does not it will ultimately be lost.
  4. The conditions of the soil may be changed, but ultimately the tree must respond.  Notice the context in 13:1-5.  Jesus was telling the Jews who were listening to Him that now was the season of change or judgment was coming.  

Do you know what G.I. Maddox did?  He changed the conditions of the soil in the lives of people.  By involving himself in lives G.I. Maddox helped to change a community that could have otherwise been lost.   What I admire about him is that he was a well educated man who did not only have ideas, but he went to the places where those ideas needed to be applied.  He did not only identify what needed to change in his community, he went out and changed the soil.  G.I. Maddox applied himself.
Jesus gives us several metaphors to describe His followers and their work in the gospel.  Two of the most popular are salt and light.  We are to enter situations and become agents of change.  In this parable (Luke 13:16-19) we become manure.  It seems less than flattering.  Yet there is an important principle here about the potential of manure to change soil and bring about change:
  1. Manure contains enzymes, microorganisms, and nutrients that when added to the soil stimulate growth in the plants that pull from it.  Eugene Peterson calls manure, “the stuff of resurrection.”
  2. It takes time for manure to work.  Real change does not come instantaneously.  It must be nurtured.
  3. There is nothing glamorous about manure.  Bringing about change in lives and communities is no easy task.  It takes getting involved in the dirty aspects of life.  Many of the strategies of the contemporary church are attractional in nature.  We are trying to make the church attractive enough for people to want to come in.  This may work to some extent, but to really penetrate the lostness around us we must realize what we must do is not attractive at all.  It is going to be dirty work performed in grace over a long period of time.
  4. For manure to be life giving it must be applied.  The only way manure makes change is if it is worked into the soil.  The church will not positively impact the community unless it becomes a part of the soil.
This is what we are, manure.  We are the stuff of resurrection.  The church was never designed to simply exist in a community.  The church was designed to change a community.  After all, the church is supposed to be an expression that indeed the gospel is working in a community.  If the church effectively sows the gospel into the soil of the community resurrected life will begin springing up all over town.
Yet if the church becomes isolated and institutionalized it not only separates itself from the surrounding community but in so doing takes something incredibly life giving out of the soil.  Somehow we must do what G.I. Maddox did and what Jesus commanded us to do.  We cannot simply exist in a world of proclamations, instruction, and ideas.  At some point we must do the dirty work.  We must be applied manure and get out into the soil if there is to be any chance at new life.
Randy White writes a book about missions in the inner city entitled Encounter God in the City.  He gives us some great principles from which I want to glean, that help us not only become aware of what is going on in our town but help us to apply ourselves to it.
Questions of Observation:  These are questions we need to be asking that will help us begin to identify the story of our town and the places to which we can apply ourselves.  Ultimately this is the exercise of this series about looking at the signs.
  1. What are the influential institutions?
    • Here we are asking questions like where are the schools?  How many are there?  How do they represent the surrounding community?
    • What sorts of businesses are in the area?  Are there more quick cash stores than banks? 
  2. What are the perceptions/or problems of these institutions?
    • What are people in the community saying about these places?
    • Who uses them and why?  
    • What do the places people gather in certain sections say about those sections of town?
  3. What are our relationships to these institutions?
    • Do we have people who work in these places or hold memberships?
    • Do we involve ourselves as a church with their events?
    • Do we use their facilities?
    • Do any leaders, managers, or owners attend our church?
There are four major sectors that make up the soil of our city:
  1. Local Government
    • How does the community relate to the local government?
    • What are the perceptions?
    • What are the experiences of the community with the government?
      • Is trash being picked up?
      • Are public facilities in disrepair?
      • What are the zoning laws and how do they impact surrounding neighborhoods?
      • What is being said in the newspaper?
  2. Private Sector/Labor
    • What industries drive the town?
    • What are the employment opportunities?
    • What is closing?
    • What is opening?
    • How are people equipped to work?
  3. Education
    • What are the educational opportunities?
    • What schools are in the area?
    • Where are the schools?
    • What is the reputation of the schools?
    • How does the school represent and impact the surrounding community?
  4. Churches/Places of Worship/Ministries
    • What are the other churches in the area?
    • Is there a predominant theology or set of core beliefs?
    • How does the community perceive the churches?
    • Is there an organized non-Christian presence in the community? 
    • What is the history of religion in the community?
So how do these questions relate to us as a church?

An effective strategy for making disciples in our town will demand that we take the time to learn the story of our town from these perspectives.  Investing ourselves in answering these questions is imperative to our strategy.  When we take the time to learn the story of our town perhaps we will begin to see:
  1. We do not need to start a “Christian” version of something or even start something new as much as we need to realize that the institutions of the community are the soil.  The existing institutions are the vehicles of the message.  They already influence every life of every person in our town.
  2. We need to evaluate our personal involvement in the institutions.
    • Who works where?
    • Are we equipping and encouraging our members to make disciples where they work?
    • Are we encouraging and equipping our members to work?
    • What are the connections we have with leaders and influencers in the institutions?
  3. We need to engage in intentional partnership.
    • What can we do as a church to connect with the various sectors of our city?
    • What can we do to make our church (people and ministries) a place in which the various sectors of our city intersect?
    • How can we create a climate of connectivity with Chatsworth and Dalton at Liberty?
  1. Engage the problems in our town with long term solutions that not only change the soil but give people a chance to change.
    • Instead of simply doing things that ultimately ignore the real issues, do things that will consistently involve us in changing the issues.
    • A tent revival or a crusade in town is exciting for a certain audience, but is the audience we are trying to reach going to attend?  Are there any long term “soil” changes that take place if we only choose to use revivals, crusades, etc.?  I am not saying that churches should not hold revivals, crusades, concerts, or other events.  What I am saying is that we must think of ways invest ourselves beyond them.
    • I have heard several times in only a few weeks about how great VBS is at Liberty.  I have also heard that the Hispanic population comes to our campus for VBS week each year, but does not return.  How can we invest ourselves beyond VBS?  What can we do to consistently engage this population of our town?
In order to bring life back to our town we must realize:
  1. There is something in us (enzymes, microbes, etc.) (gospel witness, testimonies, life lived in Lordship) that is the “stuff of resurrection.”
  2. It takes time for change to happen.
  3. We must get into the soil.
  4. There is nothing inherently desirable, glamorous, or enticing about what we must do.    An attractional strategy will not ultimately change the soil of our town.  We cannot think only of how we can get people to come to the church building.  We must think far beyond it.  It will take doing the dirty work for  a long time to change the soil of our town.
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 5

(Continued from Thursday)

To further demonstrate my point of the conversational nature of proclaiming the gospel I want to offer you some simple observations about the conversational nature of spreading the gospel.  I give you two examples:
  1. The prophet Jeremiah - The Book of Jeremiah is unique in that he is one of the premier prophets, yet there are no visions and there are no miracles.  The nature of His calling and His messages is really rather common.  All of Jeremiah’s prophecies are based on simple observations of everyday life. 

    Jeremiah 1:11 - What do you see?  Jeremiah answers, an almond branch.  This means he is simply walking a path he has probably travelled many times before, but God calls his attention to see a message in something he has grown accustomed to seeing everyday. 

    Jeremiah 1:13 - What do you see?  Jeremiah sees a boiling pot.  This is probably someone out in the open doing some sort of work that boils water and it is either boiling over or spilling.  God uses something that is once again, along the way, to speak into Jeremiah’s life and help him enter a conversation about his town.

    18:1-19:15 - This is probably the most well known of Jeremiah’s prophecies, but notice it is a conversation with God about Jeremiah’s town and people over something that happens everyday, a potter making pottery.  In the normal movements of making and molding pottery God has a conversation about the nature of Israel’s heart.  In chapter 18, as long as Israel stays pliable, soft, God can mold and reshape the nation.  Yet in chapter 19 if they harden against the message judgment will be final, they will be broken to pieces and beyond repair.  These are powerful images that birth powerful messages.  Yet we cannot miss the fact that these are conversations with God about things that happen in Jeremiah’s town every single day.
  2. Jesus and the parables - Luke 10:25 - The language of the parable is everyday “life-speak.”  This is not church lingo.  This is not religious rhetoric.  Jesus shared the gospel by telling stories.  These are stories told on the road, and along the way.  These are not proclamations from the pulpit, nor are they sermons.  They are stories that are told in conversations that begin with such mundane topics as, “How was your day?” or “Did you hear about ______’s son?” or “May I ask you a question?”

    We make a grave mistake to believe that the venue for bringing people to Jesus is the church worship service.  While God may use this venue, this is not the primary place people come to Jesus.  People come to Jesus in the highways and hedges.  The church is a foreign country to the lost.  It is full of foreign words and concepts.  It makes no sense to anyone in the world except church people.  The proclamations made in the church are necessary, but to the common Christ-less man they are not very user friendly. 

    This is why it is so dangerous to not only equate evangelism to bringing someone to church, but to also equate evangelism to sharing a pre-packaged “church” message.  Evangelism is not a presentation.  Evangelism is a conversation.  It is story-telling.  Evangelism is helping people to see what God is doing in the everyday.  It is pointing out almond branches.  It is having conversations about boiling pots.  It is going to the mall and talking about how clay pots are made.  It is talking about a father whose son left home and blew his inheritance.  Evangelism is about talking about lost coins.  It is watching shepherds deal with sheep.  Evangelism is the story of the search.  It is talking about life and introducing people to God.

    Conversations about God are not easy things.  Whenever we go to speak to people about these things there is a level of fear because it seems to intrusive.  How do you bring God into a conversation at the ball field?  How does the gospel become the discussion at Kroger’s?  This is why we must not allow evangelism to become the work of the institution - inside the church house and relegated only to the preachers and teachers.  What I do on Sunday is NOT what you should do on Monday.  You cannot disrupt baseball practice and give an exposition of Matthew 28.  That is NOT the place for the outline.  When we talk about God people have their own ideas and they become very defensive.  So how do we get around the seeming disruption of sharing the gospel and yet bring it into the conversation?

    I love the way Eugene Peterson talks about Jesus‘ masterful way of using conversation to bring people into discussions about Spiritual truth.  Jesus did not forsake preaching and teaching, but He knew the proper venues.  In his book Tell it Slant Peterson writes,

    “When Jesus wasn’t preaching and when he wasn’t teaching, he talked with men and women with whom he lived in terms of what was going on at the moment - people, events, questions, whatever - using the circumstances of their lives as his text.  Much as we do.  Preaching begins with God:  God’s word, God’s action, God’s presence.  Teaching expands on what is proclaimed, instructing us in the implications of the text, the reverberations of the truth in the world, the specific ways in which God shapes in detail the way we live our daily lives between birth and death.  But unstructured, informal conversations arise from incidents and encounters with one another that take place in the normal course of going about our lives in families and workplaces, on playgrounds and while shopping for groceries, in airport terminals waiting for a flight and walking with binoculars in a field with friends watching birds.  Many of the words that Jesus spoke are of this nature.  Most of us are not preachers or teachers, or at least not designated as such.  Most of the words that we speak are spoken in the quotidian contexts of eating and drinking, shopping and traveling, making what we sometimes dismiss as ‘small talk.’”
The point is simply this.  We have exiled evangelism from the simple conversation and in doing so we have not only failed to do what Jesus did, but we have failed to fulfill His commission and just make disciples along the way, as you go, while you eat, shop, play, and live.
We need to look around us and realize that discipleship is not to be quarantined to the church house.  Discipleship takes place in the highways and hedges, underneath the signs.  Bringing people to Jesus takes place behind the windows that advertise how much meat will cost us this week.  Discipleship happens in stores in which everything must go!  The gospel is spread where people are.  This is the place where God, in the gospel, collides with life.
I leave you with this.  Genesis 28:16.  Jacob is in the desert.  He is on the run from his angry brother Esau and in the middle of the night he has a dream.  God shows him a ladder that connects earth with heaven.  An otherwise barren place becomes a place where God intersects with humanity.  Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  
I think that is a common problem for us.  God is having a conversation with our town that is all around us.  Look at the signs.  Look at the almond branches.  Go to the place of the potter’s wheel.  Enter into the conversation.  Every sign, every business, every slogan has a story behind it.  It is a conversation with us.  They are inviting us to talk, to respond to the message.  Let’s do what the Great Commission has told us to do - just live life, just go!  But while you are going and living  - tell the story of God.  We are not going to forsake visiting, outlining, or teaching.  But if we do not become conversational we are not “disciple making” and we will not be effective.  Let’s go into the venues of life where we can answer people’s questions.  Let’s develop relationships with people so that conversations about Christ begin with simple questions like, “How was your day?”  Invite them to know you and in so doing to know Christ.  Enter into the conversation of making disciples.

Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

to be continued
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 4

(Continued from Wednesday)

With this sermon I want to accomplish two things:
  1. I want to prevent us from throwing out the baby with the bath water.  I am not saying we should not visit, share Bible verses, learn outlines, or offer classes.  These things are not the cause of our failure.  We need to be intentional and make visits.  God uses visitation to spread the gospel.  We need to learn Bible verses and outlines.  These are tools that give us confidence and help us process and communicate theological truth.  We need to offer classes in the church building.  God uses classes to help people become informed disciples.  What I intend to do in this regard though is to challenge us to see these expressions as part of a process rather than as an end in themselves.  Without a personal discipling relationship at the core of these things, they are simply mechanical processes that will not make disciples.
  2. I want us to realize the conversational nature of discipleship and commit ourselves to entering into those conversations with the people of our town.
Back to our word study of the Great Commission.  There is only one imperative; one command.  Make disciples.  There are three participles.  A participle implies an ongoing activity.  In English we often express the nature of this action by adding “ing” to the verb.  So the Great Commission actually looks more like this:
  • As you are going - Going refers to living life, taking your kids to baseball practice, eating at the diner, buying in the market, conducting the activities of everyday work and life.  Jesus did not command us to go anywhere any different than we go on any given day.  The problem in our churches is not a lack of going, but a total lack of the realization that we already are.
  • As you are baptizing - While the term certainly pictures the act of immersing a person in the water, it is the meaning of baptism that is important here.  We are constantly challenging people to come out of the world and identify in a radical way with the Messiah by forsaking the old life and uniting with Him.  This is no easy task, but it is not enough for us to simply tell people about Jesus.  It is not enough for us to persuade them to even like Jesus.  It is not enough for us to ask them to pray a prayer and be baptized.  We must ask them to repent, to turn, and to begin a new life in Jesus.  Baptism pictures the death of the old self a a new resurrected union with Christ.
  • As you are teaching - Teaching carries the sense of an ongoing instructive conversation that helps a person unlearn the former life, learn the new life, and create new parameters for living.  Teaching takes place in the context of life, not necessarily in the classroom.  Teaching can be done by anyone who is willing to invite another into their world and show them how they walk with Christ.  Teaching is not about filling in blanks in a workbook, nor is it about gaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  Teaching is about changing habits and demonstrating real life in Christ.  
The sense here is that making disciples is a conversational business.  We may share an outline, but we need to be personally interested in people.  We may have classes, but we need to be sure they are in the context of equipping an ongoing conversation.  We may invite a person to church, but the pastor’s sermon does not need to be the end, but the beginning of a discussion.
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 3

(Continued from Tuesday)

The problem is very simple.  We are not making disciples.

  • We are asking people to come to church.
  • We are sharing an outline.
  • We are asking people to believe in Jesus.
  • We are trying to grow churches.

WE ARE NOT MAKING DISCIPLES.  If we are not making disciples we cannot call ourselves a GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH no matter how many times we go out, no matter how many times we share, no matter how far away we go, no matter how many classes we teach, and no matter how many people attend.
This is a painful realization that is difficult with which to come to grips.  Personally it took me a long time to not only see this, but once realized it took an even greater amount of time for me to stop doing this.  I simply knew of no other way.  To be honest, I am still working out all the ramifications of this in practice.  Yet, I know that something in my life and relationship with the lost must change from where I once was to something that more accurately reflects what Jesus told me to do in the Great Commission.  
What I am certain of is that I cannot give you a great report with large numbers of people who have believed upon Christ.  But I can tell you stories of several men, and where they were a few years ago.  I can tell you about the times we met and talked and learned to live life in the context of Christ.  I can tell you now that they are following Jesus and asking others to do the same.  I can tell you where the men I discipled are now.
What I cannot tell you is where most of the people are that I shared an outline with or simply prayed with.  There were hundreds of them that actually prayed to receive Christ.    I know where very few of them are now and I have no assurance that the vast majority of them are following Christ today.  I asked them to believe.  I asked them to enroll in the church program.  I did not ask them to follow Jesus.  I did not show them what this meant.  

Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

to be continued
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 2

(Continued from Monday)  

This being the case, a more Biblical understanding of the Great Commission turns our evangelistic process on its head.  I would submit to you that our unbiblical understanding of evangelism has resulted in:
  1. An approach that measures success in “deciders” rather than in “followers.”
  2. An approach that ends with the decision.
  3. An approach that is presentation oriented.
  4. An approach that is impersonal.
  5. An approach that is unnatural (it is unlike any other way of interacting with human beings).
  6. An approach that is not working!  It is not working because:
    1. Church people grow weary of doing it and eventually don’t.
    2. Church people feel guilty if they don’t do it.
    3. Lost people are not responding to it.
    4. It assumes a high degree of prior knowledge of the gospel and as such is becoming more and more irrelevant in an increasingly Biblically illiterate culture.
    5. It does not allow anyone to explore what it means that Jesus is the Christ and learn what it means to follow Him.
    6. It does not result in fully devoted followers of Christ, but rather very fickle church members who are uncommitted, undisciplined, uneducated, hypocritical, and in the end non-existent when difficulty arises. 
The problem is very simple.  We are not making disciples.
  • We are asking people to come to church.
  • We are sharing an outline.
  • We are asking people to believe in Jesus.
  • We are trying to grow churches.
WE ARE NOT MAKING DISCIPLES.  If we are not making disciples we cannot call ourselves a GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH no matter how many times we go out, no matter how many times we share, no matter how far away we go, no matter how many classes we teach, and no matter how many people attend.

Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

To be continued

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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 1

Title:  Conversational Gospel
Series:  Signs
Text:  Matt. 28:16-18
Matthew 28:18-20 is probably one of the most well known Bible verses in evangelical churches. This is our mission to go into the world and share Christ with people.  When you study  the passage word for word it has an interesting break down that is often missed in our translations. The common understanding of the passage is that our mission consists of several components:

1) Going
2) Discipling
3) Baptizing
4) Teaching
Because of the way we understand the passage the church has developed a more
institutional approach that often looks something like this:
1) Going - is expressed in mission trips and visitation programs that are most often built
around a canned approach to sharing the gospel message. The success is
measured in converts. “We had 15 people saved” and so forth and so on.
2) Discipling - is expressed in a set aside time of teaching, a program of offered classes,
etc. The purpose of discipling is to help a person gain a certain degree of
understanding. In this sense success is measured in what one knows or by how many classes one has completed.
3) Baptizing - is something a church does to its converts that is viewed as an
initiatory rite of passage. Once a person is baptized, then they are a member.
Success is measured by merely participating in the act of being baptized.
4)  Teaching - is the ongoing process of instruction that the church offers.  It is most often done by its most gifted congregants who become “teachers” or pastors.    We trust the teaching to them.  The place of teaching is inside the church building. In this sense there are very few if any discernible differences between discipling and teaching.

So we see the Great Commission as being something very command driven and numbers oriented. If I am to win people to Christ I must go, teach, baptize - institutionalize. The goal is to get a person into the program of the church.
It is here that a careful study of the words used in the text reveals something very interesting. There is only one command in the Great Commission. Do you know what it is?
The most popular answer is “Go.”  Yet you may be surprised to know that “Go” is not the command. Jesus is not commanding us to go anywhere.  You may also be surprised to know that Jesus is not commanding us to teach or to baptize. The only thing Jesus commands us to do is to “make disciples.” What is a disciple?
Here are some perspectives that may help us get a sense of the word:
  1. A historical example - A disciple was someone who devoted his life to not only learning the teachings of a master but mimicking his life.  A disciple would leave his former life and attach himself to the teacher.  In that format he was not only able to hear what the teacher had to say, but he was also able to see how the teacher lived out his teaching in the public square - at the market, with the family, raising children, in good days and bad.
  2. The literal definition is one simple word - learner.
  3. The modern “slogan” or definition that is most popular and memorable to us is to describe a disciple as a “fully devoted follower of Christ.”
I think what is important to note here is that we are not thinking of evangelism in terms of “conversions” as if it is fulfilled in a moment.  The concept of evangelism that is true to Jesus‘ commission to us is disciple making, which is something all together different than simply persuading someone to believe.  We are not merely asking someone to pray “a sinner’s prayer.”  Jesus did not simply ask us to believe or to pray, He called us to follow.
Notice in the gospels when Jesus is calling his first disciples together; notice the term here; He did not call on any of them to believe upon Him or to pray to Him.  Jesus called them to “follow” Him (Mark 1: 16, 2:14).  He was asking them to leave their former life of fishing, or tax collecting, or whatever had defined their life to that point and attach themselves to Him as master.  They would now take the next three years to learn life “the Jesus way.”  They would not only listen to His teaching, but they would observe His life, and learn to live it out in the public square.  In the end the measure of success would not be the decision they made in the beginning, nor would it be how much they learned, but rather it would be whether or not they were willing to die for Him in the end.  He did not measure the success of His mission on how many people raised their hands in response to His invitation.  He measured the success three years later on whether or not they were willing to stay with Him to the cross and carry on the mission long after His death; until their own death.  

Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf 

(To be Continued) 
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The History of Herod

Sermon Title:  The History of Herod
Sermon Title:  The Last Days of B.C.
Sermon Text:  Matthew 2:1-18
Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity 3rd. ed.
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah 1993 ed.
Holman Bible Atlas
Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary
We have probably read Matthew 2:1-18 countless times at Christmas and simply glossed over the question of the wise men, "Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?"  The Bible says that Herod was troubled by their inquiry, and all of Jerusalem with him?  Why so much trouble?

When Judas Maccabee rededicated the Temple in 164 BC he found only enough ceremonially clean oil to light the lamps for one day.  One version of the story is that one lamp miraculously burned for 8 days, thus giving us the 8 days of Hanukah.  Yet, as the priests procured more oil the number of torches they lit each night increased.  Against the darkness of the Jerusalem winter the ever increasing light that emanated from the Temple mount gave hope that in the Hasmoneans a new day of sovereign independence was dawning for Israel.  This hope was only briefly realized.  The corruption of the Hasmoneans was only magnified when they successfully united the offices of priest and king in John Hyrcanus.  In a very real sense their absolute power corrupted them absolutely.  After John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.) the dynasty declined considerably.  Alexander Janneus (103-76 B.C.)  was the worst of them.  He became an enemy of his own people exacting revenge upon his opponents by hanging 800 of them on crosses and butchering their wives and children at their feet.  After Alexander’s death his wife Salome Alexandra (76-67 B.C.) ruled.  Because she was female she appointed her son Hyrcanus II as high priest thus preserving her influence as essentially the priestess/queen.  Upon her death her younger son Aristobulus II (67-63 B.C.) allied himself with the Sadducees and defeated his brother Hyrcanus II.  Civil war soon broke out between the brothers.  The flames of strife were flamed by competing interests in surrounding states, each ultimately hoping to control Israel in time.  The strife was finally settled by Pompey who was sent by Rome to intervene.  Each of the brothers were given a chance to present their case.  Pompey quickly sided with Hyrcanus II.  Israel was once again under Roman control.
The years that follow are full of strife, shifts of power, and brokering for power.  It is during these confusing times that the Herodian dynasty is born.  Under Pompey, Hyrcanus II’s control was severely limited and delegated mostly to Antipater of Idumaea.  Idumaea was an Edomite settlement conquered by Hyrcanus I and forced to adopt Judaism.  Under Hasmonean rule, Antipater became a chief official.  When Antipater helped Caesar to defeat Pompey in Egypt (48 B.C.), Caesar in turn appointed Antipater as Procurator of Judaea.  Antipater’s two sons, Phasaelus of Jerusalem and Herod of Galilee, were appointed governors.  At the time Herod was 25 years old.  Though young, Herod was a proven leader and promoted quickly by Caesar. 
Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.  Antipater, Herod’s father, was poisoned by a rival in 43 B.C.  In the meantime Herod and Phasaelus, as they had done throughout their careers, easily aligned themselves with the new powers, Antony and Octavius (soon to be Augustus Caesar).  Upon their father’s death, Antony appointed Herod and Phasaelus joint tetrarchs of Judea.  Hyrcanus II subsequently lost all real power and was named ethnarch, a much inferior position. 
In 40 B.C. Antigonus, son of Aristobulus II returned to Judea taking advantage of the Parthian invasion.  Phasaelus was killed.  Hyrcanus II was imprisoned and Josephus tells us that Antigonus bit off his uncle’s ears thus disqualifying him from serving as high priest “since according to the Old Testament the high priest must be without physical defect (Ferguson, 412).”  Antigonus thus ruled Judea for about 4 years.
Herod responded by fleeing to Rome.  There he gained the consent of Antony and Octavius and was proclaimed by the Roman Senate as King of Judea.  After making sacrifice and holding a banquet at the capitol Antony celebrated Herod as the “new successor of David (Edersheim, 88).”
Though he had the Senate’s blessing, it was not until 37 B.C. that Herod succeeded at the hard work of securing control of his kingdom over Antigonus.  Herod convinced Antony to have Antigonus bound to a cross, flogged, and killed.  This left Herod alone as client king of Judea.  It was then his duty to carry out the will of Rome in Jerusalem.  The Herodian dynasty was officially underway.
As part of his final play to secure Jerusalem, Herod married the teenage Mariamne.  Though he was lauded in Rome as the Davidic king of Jerusalem, Herod could not escape his ancestry.  He was Edomite and as such closer by blood to the throne of Esau than that of Jacob.  Mariamne had an interesting lineage being the granddaughter of both Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II.  In her the rivals of the Maccabean family were united.  Herod had not only defeated the last of the Maccabees in Antigonus, but he also became the heir of the ancestral pool in marrying Mariamne.  Herod had great affection for Mariamne, but she despised him.  Initially she despised Herod not only because of the execution of her uncle, but also because at the time of their marriage Herod was already married to Doris.  Herod’s madness began to first manifest itself when Herod ordered Mariamne to be executed should he die so that she would not marry another.  Yet her disdain for him grew as he attempted feverishly to destroy any distant remnant of the Maccabees that remained after Antigonus.      
The carnage that ensued resulted in the extermination of the rest of the Maccabees including Aristobulus, brother of Mariamne whom Herod had appointed as high priest at age 17 so that he may gain some favor with his wife.  Herod later ordered Aristobulus killed and he was drown while bathing.  Herod also executed Mariamne’s mother Alexandra who conspired against Herod with Cleopatra of Egypt, who also hated him.  But Herod did not kill Alexandra before he had fallen so mad with paranoia over his rivals that he had Mariamne executed as the penalty for being found guilty in a highly questionable trial.
Herod’s execution of his love Mariamne seemed to push him over the brink of insanity.  He so desired to secure his role as king that he placed spies throughout the land of Judea, he hemmed in the Jews by placing mercenary outposts in various fortresses around her border, and he immediately executed anyone perceived to be a rival.  The bloodshed is endless and includes the deaths of all the sons of the first two of his eventual ten wives, Doris and Mariamne.  Herod’s rule was so notorious that  Augustus said that it is better to be Herod’s pig than his son (Ferguson, 414). 
This being the case it is not difficult to believe the account of Matthew of Herod’s murder of the innocents.  Because the account is recorded only in Matthew and not in Josephus or any other historical source of the period, many historians doubt the validity of Matthew’s account.  However, the story does appear in some early historical documents in the 3rd and 4th centuries and many historians argue for its validity based on the Herod’s profile.  At the very least, no one can deny, based on history, that Herod was fully capable of such cruelty.
Herod not only tried to secure Judea by intimidation and brute force, but he also tried to do so through building.  If Herod is notorious as a bloodthirsty madman, he is even more so as an architect.  He was seemingly addicted both to blood and brick.
(Copied from Holman Bible Atlas, Logos electronic ed.)
Herod ranks as one of the greatest builders in the ancient world, second only to Tiberius. He embarked on a grand building program during the middle years of his reign. As a Roman client-king, Herod was expected to act as a benefactor within his own kingdom and beyond. Several projects honored his patron, Augustus. Samaria was rebuilt and renamed Sebaste, the Greek equivalent of Augustus. A massive temple dedicated to the emperor reflected the new city’s pagan character. Herod’s most ambitious project outside of Jerusalem was a new port at Caesarea Maritima (see below). Herod’s engineers created a large protected harbor by utilizing quarried stone and hydraulic cement to build a massive mole. Caesarea became Herod’s “window to the world,” a cosmopolitan city that linked Palestine commercially and culturally to the Roman Empire.
Herod transformed Jerusalem during his reign. He built a new palace on the western side of the city protected by three towers on the north named after friends and relatives: Mariamne, Hippicus, and Phasael. His architects constructed the Antonia fortress with its four distinctive towers on the north side of the temple complex. According to Josephus, Herod added a theater, hippodrome, and stadium to the city, but their locations have not been confirmed by archaeology. Herod increased Jerusalem’s water supply by erecting aqueducts that brought water from the Bethlehem region into Jerusalem. Herod’s crowning achievement was the building of a new temple to replace the unimpressive structure dedicated by Zerubbabel in 515 b.c. Begun in 19 b.c., the project was not completed until a.d. 64. The size of the temple complex was doubled by massive earthfills and retaining walls. The temple building was expanded, its marble facade overlaid with gold trim. Herod accomplished the task with scrupulous attention to Jewish law, including the use of priests trained as stonemasons (see further “Jerusalem in the Days of Herod and Jesus” pp. 228–33).  (End Copy)
If any building project aptly represented the personality of Herod it was the fortress of Herodium.  The site chosen for Herodium was the site of his final victory over the Hasmoneans when he defeated Antigonus in 40 B.C.  Herodium was built 4 miles southeast of Bethlehem (7 miles south of Jerusalem), took 9 years to construct (24-15 B.C. and featured seven buildings that stood atop a man made mountain that’s height reached 2,500 ft above sea level. 
Though Herod so desired to be the King of the Jews the people despised him as nothing more than an Edomite King, a pawn of the Romans, and a man associated with taxation (as a means to fund his massive building projects) and with blood.  It is in this context that the birth narratives of Christ are written.  Knowing Herod in context we now realize just what Matthew meant when he said Herod was troubled (Matt. 2:3); for the wise men had asked a poignant question of such a paranoid, pompous King, “Where is he who has been BORN king of the Jews?”  Herod had bought, built, and bloodied his way to the throne, but he would never be the king of the Jews, for he could not erase his birth.  A rightful King, a true son of David was born.  The announcement the birth of the heir to the throne nullified all Herod had tried to accomplish by brick and by blood.  Matthew notes his trouble.  If Herod is troubled all of the land would suffer with him.  
Herod’s legacy is merely history and archeological ruins.  His kingdom, immediately carried on by his sons Herod Antipas and Philip, would end under Agrippa II, who brought Paul to trial in 59 AD (Acts 25-26).  It is said that Agrippa II was so twisted that he celebrated the destruction of his own people when Jerusalem was sacked in 70 A.D.  There are not many who would not consider each of the Herod’s to be madmen.  Egos larger than life they destroyed lives trying desperately to be kings when in reality, kings they never were.  They were pawns of Rome, client kings of the state, nothing more than glorified tax collectors.
If a history were written of us, would it excuse us of our own insanity?  We think of ourselves more civilized and sane than Herod, but how can we ignore the holocaust of America’s infants taking place by abortion?  The last 100 years of world history have been the bloodiest by far of any historical era.  Are we any better than they?
We desperately try to build our own kingdoms when in reality we have never been given the sovereignty to do so.  In Christmas we observe the birth of a King.  In Christmas we are also called to come to grips with what we are not, born kings.  We do not have the ability to save ourselves.  If anything we have proven it is that we are sovereigns only of the mess we have created in sin.  Thus Christmas calls us to salvation.  But there will be no salvation without surrender.
If we are to be saved from our own insanity we must surrender to King Jesus by repentance and faith.  By birth we are sinners.  The good news is that He was born the savior.  In Him we have new life.  In Him we are born again (John 3).  If we are to experience the glory of His Kingdom, we must come into it by the new birth (John 3:3). 
The birth of Christ marked the end of an era, the last days of B.C.  If we will repent of sin and surrender to Christ a new era begins in us.  2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV), “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  May this Christmas represent for us a new beginning in Christ.
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