This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.
When we read the theologically rich letter to the church in Ephesus, we get the sense that these early Christians needed gospel encouragement. Like us, this church found herself in a world of hostility toward the Christian faith. One of the great themes of Ephesians is that Christ has given powerful gifts to His church to, among other things, stand against the onslaughts of the defeated one and his allies.
The Christian life is war. In Ephesians 6:12 we are reminded that we wrestle with the cosmic powers of the present darkness. If we are honest, this is a tiring thought. But the Good News is, we will not be overdone.
God does not leave us on our own but empowers us through His Spirit. We war with the power of God’s strength. And on the cross, Christ defeated the powers of evil. In the resurrection, their defeat was sealed. In the gospel, we have an announcement that it is finished, Christ has won!
So, while we may be weak in body, we are strong in spirit. When we are brought to our knees in fatigue from the war, we find that we are in the appropriate position for prayer. For this reason, we pray “… according to the riches of his glory,” that God would grant us “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit” in the depths of our souls (Ephesians 3:16).
The Good News is that God is able to “… do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Though we are weak, He is strong. This juxtaposition of power and weakness, shows that victory is a gift of grace. When we realize this truth, we can triumphantly proclaim, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
What gives us the power to fight when there is no fight left within us? We are empowered by the spirit of God. We are also encouraged to endure, when the Spirit reminds us that Jesus’ victory is our victory.
This was originally posted at the North Carolina Baptist Convention’s website, and at the Biblical Recorder. I am leading a breakout session on this topic next week at the REVEAL: Disciple-making Conference.
As church leaders, we all desire to lead evangelistic churches. Proclaiming the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ is central to our ministry and our faithfulness to the mission of God. In my experience, there are two primary strategies for evangelism in the modern American Church. It would seem that local churches lean heavily toward event-based evangelism or a more individualistic approach to evangelism.
In event-based evangelism the idea is, “get the unbelievers to the church event so they will hear the gospel and prayerfully be saved.” The problem is, many church events like this tend to attract Christians from other churches rather than unbelievers. While people should hear the gospel at a church event, they shouldn’t have to come to a church event in order to hear the gospel. Simply put, we should not become dependent on an event to reach the lost.
The individualist approach tends to promote an evangelism that is primarily undertaken in isolation. In other words, individuals are sent out like lone rangers to share the gospel by themselves. Certainly, individuals should present the gospel when the opportunity arises. However, an evangelism strategy that primarily depends on individuals has the potential to crush our people under the burden of carrying out the mission of God on their own.
While there are benefits to both strategies, as we see, there are also a few drawbacks. Something seems missing if these are the only two ways we train our people for evangelism. What if we started to think of evangelism as something that is done in the context of community?
In my experience, it is becoming more and more the case that people are attracted to biblical, Christian community before they are open to the biblical, Christian message. Skeptics need to see the power of the gospel lived out in the context of a Kingdom community.
In other words, Christian proclamation makes the gospel audible, but we also need a corporate witness to make the implications of the gospel visible. The local church “examples” the power of the gospel to those around them. The world should look at the Church and see the gospel interpreted in every day.
Our loving commitment to one another despite our differences and our grace toward one another’s failures are a beautiful testimony to the gospel. True gospel fellowship within the local body transcends the barriers of race, sex, class and education, creating a community bound by the gospel alone.
With this in mind, introducing people into the Church community as a relational network becomes an important part of our being a faithful presence in the world around us.
Now, our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe. Isn’t this what Jesus said in John 13? “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The ongoing witness of a church community is much more powerful than a one-time event. The collective witness of a church family is much more widespread than the impact of one individual.
This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.
We live in a spiritually dark world. There is a lurking darkness not only in the world around us, but also deep within our souls. The bad news is, there is no escape. No political or moral agenda can rescue us from this darkness.
Even worse, there is no way for us to rescue ourselves from the darkness of sin in our own lives. When G.K. Chesterton was once asked, “what is wrong with the world?” His response was personal and profound. He simply said, “I am.”
The Good News is, Jesus came to earth to rescue us. He came to rescue us from the sin that plagues the world we live in. Jesus also came to rescue us from us.
Jesus entered into the darkness of our world, and there was light.
The Good News of the gospel is that Jesus, the light of the world, “… shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Jesus is our only hope. And just like in Genesis, when God spoke into the darkness and there was light, the light of the spoken gospel shines in our hearts and saves us from the darkness of sin. This light of God’s love gives us warming comfort in the cold darkness of the world we live in.
As God’s people, we are called to be a light to the nations, a city on a hill. In this sense, God calls us out of the darkness into the light, and then commissions us to go back into the darkness with the light.
The Good News of the gospel is a light to everyone groping around in the darkness of sin. Jesus, the light, is our salvation. And the Good News gets even better. Those who come to the light will one day forever dwell in the radiant glory of God.
The New Jerusalem is described as having “… no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk” (Revelation 21:23-24).
This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.
All Christians have a deep problem of the soul. We are wired by nature towards self-righteousness. We tend to view our own sin in a therapeutic way. “Well, at least I am not as sinful as most people.” However, if you and I could solve our problems with sin, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified?
Ignoring the reality of sin leads to ignoring our need for a savior.
This is the problem with the religious leaders in John 8:2-11.
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The Pharisees saw themselves as sufficiently righteous. In fact, their self-righteousness was so great they were ready to murder a woman who had been caught in adultery.
They had failed to see the purpose of the law. For them, God’s law was a means of earning salvation. By their own standards, they were not only righteous enough to achieve God’s acceptance, but also to exact God’s punishment on those who hadn’t.
If we think we are good enough to fulfill the law ourselves, we tend to look down in judgment on others. However, Jesus looks at the Pharisees and declares, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7).
After an honest assessment, each Pharisee dropped their stones and walked away. An honest assessment of sin brings forth a good sense of humility. We realize that the law is not meant to be a means of salvation, but a means to reveal the holiness of God and our own need of salvation from the sin deeply embedded in our hearts.
Jesus’ initial coming into the world was not to cast stones of judgment, but to cast himself towards the cross for the payment of sin. Salvation is not based on our righteousness, but His. However, he will come again one day to judge.
If we believe in Him now, we are able to go and sin no more, not as a means of salvation, but in a Spirit-filled and worshipful response to His salvation. We must realize that self-righteousness is just another sinful way of rejecting Jesus as Savior.
This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.
I will always remember the moment that Laura and I received Solomon into our care. We were in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our driver came and picked us up from the guest house and drove us through the city into the hills and up to a gated house full of orphaned children. Laura and I stood outside the gate while one of the agency case workers went inside, and after a few moments, our agency worker opened the gate and walked out into the street and handed us our son.
We turned and got back into the van and got situated. As the van pulled off Solomon started screaming and crying frantically. This little child had no clue what was going on. We were pulling baby Solomon away from everything he had ever known. But after a few minutes, he reached his little arms around Laura’s neck and tightened his grip and held on for dear life.
It was moving to see Solomon hold onto Laura, but what really mattered, was Laura holding onto Solomon. Laura and I knew where we were going. We also knew that he was our son.
Solomon came to understand this reality as time went on.
Since that moment, I have never been able to read passages like 1 John 3:1-10 the same: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
As J.I. Packer once said in his classic book, Knowing God: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”
As we live the Christian life, we must realize that years may transpire before the believer who is adopted by God may know that he is adopted, have a deep sense of feeling of it. We live in the comfort and hope of our loving Father’s arms. And as we grow, that reality shapes us more and more as we head towards eternity.
Jesus Is Greater
In this video, I discuss the unique contribution that the book of Hebrews makes to the New Testament, exploring how the book weaves a beautiful tapestry of biblical theology centered on Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite accounts surrounding the birth of Christ involved a man named Simeon. Simeon was a righteous and devout man. During his life, the Holy Spirit promised him that he would not see death until he had seen the savior of the world.
In Luke 2, Simeon was lead by the Spirit into the temple. At the same time, Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple. It was forty days after his birth, and he was brought to the temple for circumcision as it was custom according to the law. Luke 2:28 tells us that Simeon took infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God and said;
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
What a moving moment! As Alexander Schmemann once noted, Simeon had waited his whole life for this moment. Up until this point he was restless, longing for the comfort and salvation of his people. And then, at last, the Christ child was handed to him.
In that moment, he held the life of the world in his arms.
Let us remember that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. In the birth of Jesus, God delivered on His ancient promise to provide salvation from sin, and eternal life over death.
May we all stop today and thank God that He is a promise keeping God. The Christ child that was held in the arms of Simeon, is the same Christ that would sacrifice his life in order to deliver sinners into the loving arms of a Holy God.