His Blessing, His Comfort, His Glory: How Paul Shepherds With God’s Sovereign Purpose

(Below is the manuscript of the sermon preached on July 5, 2015:  “I Never Reconcile Friends: Predestination and Free Will” from Ephesians 1:3-14.  Note: if you listen to the sermon, don’t try to follow along with the manuscript.  Really.  Don’t. Seriously.)

Remember when I said that you all asked major league questions for this Summer Playlist series?  Absolutely!  If you’re a guest with us, about two or three months ago, I asked our people what questions you have of the Bible that you’d like answered.  Here’s what you’ve asked so far:

The next question?  What About Predestination and Free Will?, in which we will look at Ephesians 1:3-14.   If we have free will, how can we be predestined?  If we are predestined, how can we have free will?”

Whenever this conversation takes place, it’s like oil and water as far as how people deal with this.  Those who hold strongly to free will have their verses, and those who hold to predestination have their verses.  We then load it up in our theological gun and shoot them at each other.  For those who are new to the faith, you may wonder, “What in the world are you talking about?”  But for those who may have been in Baptist world for any amount of time know how contentious this topic can be.

But it doesn’t have to be.  A few years ago, I was talking to a pastor of an evangelical church in Trinidad & Tobago who never shied away from preaching on this topic.  I’ll never forget what He said:  “Our people need to see God’s side of salvation as well.”  I never forgot that.  The Father wants us to see that!  Christ explicitly spoke of this.  The Spirit inspired the writers to talk about this.  So let’s not shy away from what God has spoken.  We didn’t last week—nor should we this week.

Turn with me to Ephesians 1:3-14:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insightmaking known[b] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

We as Americans trumpet freedom.  So when we see that God chooses or predestines or elects, what happens in our hearts when we hear this?  If you’re like most Americans or even Western Europeans, you feel this is God infringing upon your autonomy and upon your freedom.  Yet, other countries who have a monarch and who endure much persecution have little trouble with this doctrine of predestination.

My aim is to show you that the doctrine of predestination is not only biblical, but is necessary for us to have any hope of holiness, comfort, and perseverance.  For the Apostle Paul and all other writers of Scripture, preaching and teaching on this topic was not simply a theological exercise, but a pastoral exhortation.  It extols the sovereignty of God—His rule and reign over all things in His creation—including us. Every part of our spiritual lives revolves around two words:  “in him” or “in Christ.”

Let’s take a look at this and numerous other passages.

The greatest spiritual blessing He gives:  “in Christ.”

Verse 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”  Paul starts this off with a prayer:  “Blessed be… .”   All prayer is grounded in a belief in the sovereignty of God.

So, before he mentions His choosing or predestinating believers, we reminds us that, through Christ, the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  Yet, none of those blessings would be possible without the greatest spiritual blessing He gave—His chosen Son, Jesus.  And since God rules and reigns over every molecule, every atom, every electron, He is most able to deliver, even when it seems a tall order.

How did He choose us?  In verse 4, it says:  “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”  This speaks to a number of things.  First, we are chosen/predestined in Christ, not in ourselves One, that God did not wait for us to choose Him, but chose us even before we were born—even before the world began.  We even see this in Revelation 13:8 as the beast who would come and many would worship.  But who would worship him?  “And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”  God has called out a spiritual blessing in Christ for protection and a maintenance of a witness in the world.

It was not based on our obedience.  Look with me at Deuteronomy 7:7-8:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

It’s not due to numbers.  Were chosen not because of how obedient we were or how many we were.  In fact, that’s where free will comes in.    We were chosen in spite of our disobedience and in spite of our lack of number.  He did this because he resolved before one ray of light broke through the darkness of the universe.  And as we read through the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, we see that God did not choose them due to their obedience.  Repeatedly, God gave spoke of how “stiffnecked and stubborn” they were, but they remained His people through the covenant He made through Abraham:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So us being predestined in Him brings about a great comfort to us.  We are chosen in him, therefore, His calling and choosing are what keeps us.  This is where the free will comes in.  What do we mean by free will?  What we usually mean is that we are autonomous individuals who make our own choices and decisions without any coercion from anyone—even God.  God may nudge, but ultimately it’s our decision.

I believe that’s how we process it.  But we need to turn to the Scriptures and look at Romans 3:9-10:

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

The Bible tells us three chapters later in Romans 6 that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.  So if we talk about free will in any sense at all like what was up top, how is our will free?  It’s not.  It’s either coerced by sin and self, or it’s coerced by the Spirit.  Who has free will?  It’s here we find our greatest spiritual comfort.

The greatest spiritual comfort He gives:  “according to the purpose of His will.”

This is first found in verse 5:  “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.  What affects God’s will? Nothing at all.  This is a big God we serve, dear Christian!

In James 1:17-18:

17 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. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

God’s nature, will, and his purpose do not change.  He is the only truly free being.   And His will

The next place is in v. 9 where he makes known to us the purpose of His will.  Set forth in Christ as far as how and when the fullness of time would occur.  So God even predestined how long the world would last.  He ordained when he would let us know the fullness of his will through Christ.

Lastly in verse 11:  Then our inheritance that we have obtained because it was “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

So you say, how is this comforting?  In the same way that so many find comfort in Romans 8:28:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  That’s right: purpose.  And what’s the purpose?  Romans 8:29-30:

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Through all of what God intends for us is found in verse 29 that also connects with Ephesians 1:4:  The purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son (the “in him”).  When we go back to Ephesians 1:4: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Through God’s work, he seeks to work in us and move in us.  Even as we are not righteous, not seeking after him, after all of us going astray—God worked before the foundation of the world to set apart a people (holy), to purchase the sins of those people whom God called out, and then the Father by the Spirit moves in us to conform us to the image of His Son! It’s all of grace!  It’s all of God.

  1. The greatest spiritual response we give:  “to the praise of His glorious grace.”

We’ve spent much time talking about God predestining, choosing, and electing.  So am I saying that there’s no need for us to respond?  No, no, and no!  In Ephesians 1:13-14, we read this:

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

 So much of the NT, we see that when belief and response come, it’s from the work that God already has done in our hearts.

For instance: Jesus said in John 6:37:  “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  All that the Father gives to me will come to me, which means there’s a certain number that God has called out—and they will respond.  Seven verses later in John 6:44, we again see Jesus say, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  God is the great initiator—and give us the gift of faith and belief!

In Matthew 11:28, we read of how Jesus tells us to, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.”  But what about Matthew 11:25-27:

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding andrevealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[a] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Folks come and say, “What about John 3:16?”  “Whosover believes.”  That is absolutely true!  Whosover believes.  But who are the ‘whosoever’?  Earlier, Jesus said that one had to be ‘born of the Spirit’ or ‘born again.”  In John 3:5-8:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind[e] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

So is the ‘whosoever’ in John 3:16 anyone, or those whom God is working and calling?  And those who are born of the Spirit, are sealed by the Spirit—protected and preserved!  No emperor, no unbelief, no Satan can take them out of his hand.

In John 1:12-13:  “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So one may say, “Then why should we share the gospel if God is working and saving without our aid?”  For one, he commands us.  For two, it fuels our evangelism to know that we aren’t the ones doing the saving—that’s God’s job.  We are called to plant the seeds for which God will bring the growth (1 Corinthians 3:8).  When someone asked Charles Spurgeon how he reconciled the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election and predestination with preaching the gospel and calling people to repentance, he said in the way only Spurgeon could:

“I never have to reconcile friends. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility have never had a falling out with each other. I do not need to reconcile what God has joined together. Where these two truths meet I do not know, nor do I want to know. They do not puzzle me, since I have given up my mind to believing them both.”

Do you understand it?  Probably not!  Do I understand it?  I still struggle with it.  But I’m not called to preach and teach and embrace that which I understand, but also that which I do not completely comprehend!  But God has revealed it in His Word.  He has spoken, and we must listen.  What a big God we serve to send Christ to continue and complete a work that took place before anything was around, to have a purpose put forth and completed, and to have a big God in Christ worthy of our praise!  This is the goal:  total glorification and satisfaction in Him!  Are we satisfied?

Categories: 2008 Presidential Election, Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Ephesians 1:3-14, free will, Paul, predestination, Romans 6, sermons, sovereignty of God | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Problem with American Christianity: How Do You React to Adversity and Suffering?

American Christians often struggle with the notion of adversity in their Christian walk.  I know that here in Colorado, with the great amount of flooding and destruction that’s happened, many wonder where God is in this.  Some wonder what kind of God would allow this to happen.  Others, as one prayed so eloquently in our service at church yesterday, see it as a reminder of God’s power in this fallen, cursed world. 

The Apostle Paul describes his ministry as that of having the “treasure” of the gospel in clay pots—that is, in our fragile human bodies—which puts God’s incredible power on display (2 Corinthians 4:7).  Then he goes on:

8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, ESV). 

Our life is fragile. We do all we can to avoid this simple principle of life, but it’s true. No matter how well we eat, no matter how much we exercise, no matter how many vitamins or pills we take, we find out in a hurry that life is fragile.

We are fragile physically. Everytime we watch a football game, we see that these specimens flying at each other on the field can do some damage. No one is immune! Not a quarter goes by where someone isn’t limping, isn’t having their ‘bell rung,’ or any other physical issue. The mildest car accident can cause an injury to the neck or back that can linger for years. Some are struggling with physical illnesses. We don’t need any reminders of the fragility of our physical bodies.

We can be fragile emotionally. We hear men and women who return from combat with post traumatic stress disorder who struggle to adapt to civilian life. We hear of teenagers who take their lives because their parents divorced or their boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with them. We hear of those who fall into addictions to escape either their situations or themselves (either sexual or substance addictions).

We can be fragile spiritually. Every one of us is looking for meaning and purpose in life. This is a spiritual issue. Everyone of us at one point has asked themselves, “Why am I here? Where do I belong? Where is life taking me?” This brings an understanding of how finite our lives are, but also can be beneficial! We realize that this is not all there is, but we also begin to see where the true treasure lies—and that treasure does not come from us.

In looking at gospel gripped character, we look at the next trait—humility. In our culture, as in most cultures, humility is a sign of weakness. Being humble is the equivalent of milquetoast, ho-hum. If you were to pick a cartoon character, we would likely think of Eeyore. But that’s not the case in God’s economy. Humility and meekness are strengths. The opposite of humility is pride—pride is destructive because of its reliance on self to find answers and solve problems. Pride is the source of all idolatry—for pride sets up one’s own self as god. You are the center of the universe—the world admires this, until you get in the way of someone else’s universe.

A number of years ago while governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura said that “Christianity is a crutch for weak people.” But we have to remember that recognizing your weaknesses is a sign of strength—ignoring them is bad.

Sam Storms helps us sort through how we as believers should interpret adversity:

Sadly, many Christians encounter the obstacles and trials that Paul has just described and draw far different conclusions about their source and design. (1) Some deny they really exist. Such people are not optimistic: they are simply unrealistic, or perhaps they fear that to acknowledge weakness and hardship and turmoil would be an admission of sin or immaturity. (2) Others despair because they exist. They encounter something similar to what Paul endured and immediately conclude that God hates them or has abandoned them, so why bother trying. (3) Some insist such calamities are demonic. All such trials and tribulations, so they argue, are from Satan, not God. (4) Finally, others, like Paul, see them as divinely ordained, instruments used for God’s glory.[1]

How do you view such adversity and suffering?  May we view them as a way for us to not rely on the things this world has to offer, but of the life that’s found in the death of Christ.  And may His life put our selfish aims to death. 

[1]Sam Storms, 2 Corinthians 4:1-18. Accessed 13 September 2013; available at [on-line]; Internet.

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The Ant Camp or the Sluggard Camp: A Gospel-Centered Work Ethic, Part II

We work because we have examples to teach us (Proverbs 6:6-11). 

I read this and the other Proverbs portion to my children last night, calling it, “The Story of the Ant and the Slug.” Isn’t it amazing the lessons that God teaches us through His creation, and even through two animals that, for most, are not considered at all. And yet, God speaks to the sluggard and says, “Consider her ways and be wise.” To consider means to think about something before you make a decision. So, before you decide on the life course of a sluggard, think about the ant.

The ant — the great earth mover (Proverbs 6:6-11).

In Proverbs 6 we learn much about a tiny little creature to which we may not pay much attention: the ant. In reality, the only time we pay attention to them is when they start marching along the baseboards of the house or begin carrying off your sandwich at a picnic luncheon.

But God wants us to take notice. Everything in the created order has a purpose (although the house fly and mosquito will need some convincing from us, I’m sure). God calls us to consider this creature. You may say, “Wait a minute, he’s not calling all of us, just the sluggards.” Fine—but isn’t a word to the wise sufficient?

Verse 7 shows that ants are motivated. By whom? They need not “any chief, officer, or ruler,” they get things gone. If you watch ants around the anthill (or in your house), they do not stop. No breather is needed, no one is dragging behind.

Verse 8 show how they prepare: They get what they need now, and store up what they need later. They prepare. They don’t wait for the disaster. They store things away. I’m reminded of the Parable in Matthew 25:1-13 regarding the Ten Wise and Foolish Virgins.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

God has called us to plan and prepare for when the Lord returns for His people. The ant, one of the smallest of all visible creatures, brings this to mind. There’s an old song, “Little is much when God is in it.” That sure applies to the ant!

    1. The sluggard— the great lion maker (Proverbs 26:13-16).

The sluggard is another story. We hear much about him in Proverbs. In Proverbs 6:9-11:

How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

What is a sluggard? Ray Ortlund helps us: “Think of the way syrup oozes slowly out of a bottle when it is cold. That is the sluggard—sluggish and slow and hesitant when he should be decisive, active and forthright. His life motto is, ‘Don’t rush me.’”[1]

And what do we see first? He’s not motivated—he’s lying there, sleeping, resting! It reminds me of an old adage I heard recently: There are three kinds of workers. For example, when a piano is to be moved, the first kind gets behind and pushes, the second pulls and guides, and the third grabs the piano stool. 

The sad issue is that one who is lazy like the sluggard is among the more selfish to walk the earth. They simply think about their own feelings. He seldom if ever thinks about his use to other people as an imagebearer of God.

Some of you may remember the running back Ricky Watters. He was a great player coming out of Notre Dame and did have a great career as a running back. He played for the 49ers, leading them to the Super Bowl, before jumping ship to the Eagles. He’s one of the few who rushed for over 10,000 yards and had 4,000 receiving yards in his career. Yet, he’s not in the Hall of Fame. Why?

Selfishness and self-centeredness marked his career. All that came to a flashpoint when the Eagles were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Randall Cunningham threw a pass over the middle, intended for Ricky Watters. As the ball was coming, so was a linebacker with his sites set on Watters. So Watters pulled what’s called “alligator arms”—he pulled his arms in so to avoid being hit. When he was asked in the post-game interview why he didn’t fully extended, his response was, “For who? For what?” This is the epitome of selfishness—only doing something that benefits you. If it costs, requires any energy, thought, dedication, or perseverance, no thanks.

In Proverbs 26:13-16, we meet more of Mr. Sluggard:

13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
There is a lion in the streets!”
14 As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who can answer sensibly.

A lion in the streets? Sluggards worry much about what could possibly happen, then do nothing; rather than work to see what will happen, then prepare and adapt. We hear from Spurgeon that those who are lazy do not simply respond to lions—they make lions.

Laziness is a great lion-maker. He who does little dreams much. His imagination could create not only a lion but a whole menagerie of beasts; and if some mighty hunter could hunt down all the lions that his imagination has let loose, he would soon distribute herds more of the terrible animals, with wolves and bears and tigers to match. An idler will never be short of difficulties as long as he has no heart for work. As they say that any stick will do to beat a dog with, so any excuse will do to ruin your soul with; for this man’s objection, after all, was not to lions in the way: he objected to the way itself, and he was glad to place a lion there so that he might be excused from going into the street. He did not want to get to his work, and therefore there was a lion in the way to obstruct him. The lion was his friend. He had invented him on purpose to be the ally of his idleness.[2]

These ‘lions’ they create are a product of the sinful life that fail to do what God called us as imagebearers to do. While we are called to take care of the ground and keep it, part of the curse is found for Adam in Genesis 3 is:

… cursed is the ground because of you;

In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

And you shall eat of the plants of the field.

God always called us to work, but now the ground would be a picture of the lack of unity and harmony between Creator and created. Proverbs 24:30-31 says:

30 I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

Solomon noted that those who a lazy lack sense. Why? A direct reflection of their view of God and why He created them—and the sense of what the curse is all about. There is a gospel reflection here.

Notice this man’s property was overgrown with thorns. The wall was crumbling. The vineyards could produce nothing. The walls could protect nothing. All because he did nothing. Thorns and thistles are a sign of God’s impending judgment, whether from the ground, or from the cross (Jesus with the crown of thorns), or in Hebrews where hearts produce thorns and thistles rather than producing a “crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated.”

Our job is a gospel-centered work ethic where we work to be disciples in taking the gospel as an instrument of the Spirit to reverse the curse, work the land of the heart, and beat back the ‘thorns and thistles’ that lie there.

What lions are we creating in our minds that keep us from doing our physical work? What lions are we creating in our minds and hearts that are excuses from being spiritual slugs?

[1]Ray Ortlund, Proverbs. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books), Kindle location 1900.

[2]Charles H. Spurgeon, One Lion, Two Lions, No Lion at All!

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How to Have a Gospel-Centered Work Ethic, Part I

Frank Tyger once said, “People will do anything to be able to do nothing.” Is this quote sad? What makes this quote sad is its truthfulness. So do we find it odd that tomorrow we observe a day that acknowledges labor?

Labor Day was first observed in this country in the 1880s. New York State first presented the bill to the legislature in 1884, but Oregon first passed the ordinance in 1885, followed that year by Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and, yes, Colorado. A day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the American workers seemed appropriate. Founder Peter McGuire wanted to honor those who “from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur of the world.”

What a far cry today is from the mindset of the late 19th century! Pastor Adam preached on Sunday night from Genesis 2:4-17 and had a very interesting opening. He asked us to close our eyes and picture what paradise would be for us. We spent some time doing this, and then he asked, “Did any part of paradise include work?” Some gave themselves whiplash shaking their head saying, “No!”

We must recognize that as believers, God has brought us into a spiritual rest! Matthew 11:28 tells us that all who come to Jesus will find rest for our souls. When God established the Sabbath in Genesis 2 and included this as the fourth commandment, he not only prescribed the rest, but he gave it as an illustration of the rest we would have once our work here on earth was done (Hebrews 3:7-4:11). We are supposed to relish in the rest he prescribes, but also to relish in the work to which he has called us.

Work is a gift from God that reminds us of how God continually works in His world and in us through the Spirit and the gospel!

  1. We work because we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-31; Genesis 2:15-17).

God created the heavens and the earth and all it contains, but the crown jewel of his creation was man. In Genesis 1:26-31, we see that “God made man in his image” both male and female. And as God’s imagebearers, they were to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

Then in Genesis 2:15, God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. This was before the Fall, before sin entered into the world, that God called His creation to work the land.

Albert Mohler makes an interesting insight:

Christians understand labor as a duty, but miss the fact that it is a gift. In the first place, God has made us able to work — to manipulate things, to cultivate the ground, to manage herds, and to invent microprocessors. Secondly, He has allowed us through labor to understand at least part of our purpose in life — to fulfill a vocation. Furthermore, we can often see the result of our labors. The farmer takes pride in his orderly rows of crops; the carpenter sees the beauty of his cabinet; the doctor is fulfilled in his recovering patient; the mother sleeps content after a day of unceasing work with children.  Still, many people have difficulty seeing labor as the gift that it is.[1]

Both work and rest are gifts from God that feed each other. I began to realize this on our vacation to Kentucky. I had a difficult time pulling away from church matters while there, and would often engage in conversations about church issues while gone. But I began to realize that the best thing someone can do on a vacation or during a Sabbath is to pull away. Pulling away from work is the best thing you can do for your work. We don’t work so we can rest, we rest so we can work as God has called us.

In speaking of recreation, Richard Baxter (the Puritan from centuries back), noted that recreation is “to fit the body and mind for ordinary duty to God.” Joe Thorn followed this up by noting that when it comes to rest, relaxation and recreation, and vacation, our culture tends to get it backwards. “We tend to work to play, when we should be playing to work. In other words, recreation itself is not the end, but a means to an end. It serves the purpose of refreshing and restoring us so that we may return with energy to the work God has called us to.”

As imagebearers of God, he has ordained for us work and rest. May we have those in the right priority.

(To listen to the entire sermon, click here—apologies in advance for the persistent hum.)

[1]Albert Mohler, Leisure and Labor—Two Gifts from God. [accessed 28 August 2013].

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God Called Them?? The Scandal of the Christians Messengers

The foolishness and weakness of the message of Christianity is couple with the foolishness and weakness of those God calls—at least by the culture’s standards.  By God using those whom the culture deems foolish, this not only brings glory to Him alone but amazes a world that God will do so much through so little!

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The messengers’ and the message are scandalous. Again, their message was offensive, foolish, and undignified—they did not talk publicly about crucifixion.

We are the called—the Christians are ones whom Christ has called! What do these Christians look like? The wise? The strong? The elite? Look at what He says:

Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

While some were wise, powerful, and elite according to what the culture deems so, the vast majority of those God called to salvation are considered castoffs and no-accounts by the world. Just as a crucified Savior didn’t look like much, neither do many in the church look like much in the world. What the culture chases after, we do not, for we see it for what it is—passing away and destructive.

But in an amazing cosmic turn of events God will use the fools of the world to shame the world. And who will get the glory? God will in Christ Jesus. The wisdom that this world lines out, will be made into nothing, and the nothingness the world sees of our message will be made into something! Every part of the Christian message is seen as silly—from God creating out of nothing to God using a crucified Son to impart life! But this is how it is! Only God could keep His law (which Christ as God the Son accomplished for us), and a Man had to be sinless in order to stand in our place to take our sin (and Christ as the Son of Man accomplished this).

  • Do you believe you must be a mental specimen for God to use you?  Do you believe that because you have that degree, you are more than qualified to serve God because of our strength, wisdom, and the letters behind your name?  (“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise… .”)
  • Or maybe you don’t have the degree—so do you believe God uses you because you’ve been to the School of Life, so to speak?  You may have wisdom, ‘common sense,’ a good know-how about how things work in this life—do you believe God called you because of your street smarts?  (“Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards… .”)
  • Do you believe you have to be a physical specimen for God to use you?  You may say, “I’m feeble, struggling with all sorts of physical issues.  I’m not up to it—God can’t use me.”  (“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”)
  • Do you believe God uses you because of your family heritage?  Do you believe that since you have an esteemed family line, even an esteemed family line in Christian and church circles, that of course He will use you.  (“ … not many were of noble birth…”)
  • Do you believe you need to adapt the gospel message of a Virgin-born, crucified, buried, risen, and ascended Christ who will return one day to judge the living and the dead—all because the culture may be offended by such a notion?  (“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”)

Yes, we messengers know what we are up against—but we also know Who is for us.  And He will receive the glory. 

Be encouraged, church!  The world tells us we are silly, foolish, weak, and to stay on the sidelines.  Yet we know that God has called us for such a time as this, regardless of what those around us say.  He will use us for great things for His glory and the good of all who listen to the message of the cross.

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Let It Walk or Let it Fly? In Which Kingdom Are You Investing? (Part II)

“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box” (Mark 12:41a). 

We must not gloss over this sentence. He took time to sit and to watch people. My father was like that—to give Mom time to go shop, he would sit on a bench and just watch the people. I enjoy doing that when I’m at an airport. But Jesus did not sit just to people watch, he was on a heart watch, checking people’s MO.

The treasury consisted of thirteen brass treasure chests called trumpets, due to their shape—narrow at the top, large at the bottom. According to the Mishnah, each of these chests had a description of what these offerings were for: “Old Shekel dues,” “bird offerings,” “Young birds for the whole offering,’ ‘Wood,’ ‘Frankincense,’ ‘Gold for the Mercy Seat,’ and on six of them, ‘Freewill Offerings.” So during the Passover time, when Jerusalem and the Temple were bustling with people, this area grew noisy with the din of shekels clanging into the brass chests. The longer and the bigger the noise, the more attention it likely drew.

He would watch them, not only the amount they gave, but their body language and betrayed the motive in which they gave it. This especially interested Jesus, but on a more fundamental level: many seemed to believe they were giving their money to God, therefore God should be pleased with the fact!

Yet, Jesus had set up number of truths and principles from other encounters he had, just prior to this incident at the treasury.

In Mark 12:13-17, a lawyer came to trap him, bring to him an image of a coin. The question—“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Either way he went, he would lose credibility.  He asks who’s image is on the coin. “Caesar’s.” “Render unto Caesar… render unto God.” It hinges on the image. Kent Hughes notes that we are made in God’s mint, with His image imprinted on us. We belong to Him and all that we do and all we have is under his rule.

Later, a teacher came to Jesus and asked him what is the greatest commandment?  “Love God with all you have, love neighbor as self.”  In other words, we love God with all we are, and all we have. The scribe was impressed, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

We belong to Him, and all we have. When we understand from Psalm 24:1 that “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” we agree with Abraham Kuyper who, at his inaugural address at the dedication of Free University, said: “”There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

But the kicker was in Mark 12:38-40:

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Widows, who had very little cultural standing nor legal recourse, had very few options in which to make money. That, coupled with the fact that the scribes could only receive subsidies from the offerings given, would find themselves taking advantage of widows and their piety and generosity, rather than working to alleviate their poverty and want.

So Jesus watches what people do their money, but what His church does with it! How many times have I heard in 20 years of ministry and a lifelong involvement in church life where many stand up and say, “We need to be good stewards of God’s money.” If I were to put subtitles to translate that, the issue would be, “We can’t spend money because we don’t know what the return will be.” It’s like that preacher who said, “Jesus has called the church to walk!” An old deacon would respond, “Let it walk!” The preacher went on, “The church needs to run!” “Let it run!” “The church needs to fly,” the preacher spoke. “Let it fly.” “It’s gonna take money and time for the church to fly.” “Let it walk, preacher. Let it walk!”

Christ is watching what we do with His money, both as parishioners and as leaders of our churches.  Do we treat it as His money?

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In Which Kingdom Do You Invest? (Part I)

Jesus spent a great deal of time dealing with the issue of money. This may surprise many of you, but this is the case. We would do well to be reminded that Jesus spoke on money as well as the topic of hell more than any other subject. Are these subjects related at all? Why did Jesus spend so much time on this area of money?

While we will come to Mark in a moment, he spoke in what’s known as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Later, he drives home the point:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24).

God gives us what he gives us in regards to His resources, not for us to serve them, but for them to serve the Kingdom of God and to supply our needs according to His riches and glory in Christ. He calls us to invest.

The question that needs addressing is this: In which kingdom are you investing? A number of years ago, someone wrote:

Money will buy:

A bed, but not sleep.

Books, but not brains.

Food, but not an appetite.

A house, but not a home.

Medicine, but not health.

Amusement, but not happiness.

Finery, but not beauty.

A crucifix, but not a Savior.

Someone else noted that nowadays people can be divided into three classes: the haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-Not-Paid-for-What-They-Haves. Some of you here are enslaved to crippling debt. The average American household’s credit card debt averages between $15,000 and 16,000. You think that isn’t a huge weight? No wonder Jesus says you can’t serve both God and stuff. Where is our treasure?

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Christians are Forgiven—But From What?

I must share with you why I am preaching on this particular Psalm.  I was visiting a church back in Kentucky this past Sunday, Lagrange Baptist Church in Lagrange Kentucky. It was a good sized church that had some wonderful songs and some very loving people. They did something that I was used to in my church growing up, and that was having a spoken call to worship. The spoken call to worship was usually a scripture reading. And I like that because the Apostle Paul commanded young Timothy to do not neglect the public reading of Scripture . The scripture they read was Psalm 32. 

As they read that, I felt as if I were revisiting an old friend. Because as I read this, I begin to realize that many people in our culture believe that they are entitled 2 things. And this sense of entitlement has crypt into the church. We tend to believe in our society that we deserve certain things, good things, even the things that we want that may not be good for us, without any sense of what goes into getting those things. We tend to believe that we should receive things, regardless of the cost.

Such is the case with how we look at this text before us. David had received something. He knew that what he received, he did not deserve. He recognized, as it says twice in the first two verses, that he was blessed. Why was he blessed? What did he receive that caused him him to deliver such an incredible testimony?

St Augustine once said “The beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner.”  He is right. This reflects what the writer of Proverbs once said in that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). So David begins by acknowledging he is a sinner.  But he also declares that he is forgiven . This served as a foundation for the Christian’s assurance, for their testimony, and for their joy. While the world wants to say that everyone is basically good, the Scripture say that everyone is a sinner in need of forgiveness from the one who they have ultimately sinned against 

So let’s get to work and see what the scripture has to say. First, we must know that of which we have been forgiven.

In vs. 1 and 2, David uses three words to describe three different aspects to the concept of sin.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

The first word he uses the word transgression, which basically means a going away or a departure. In this case, it is a going away, departing, and even rebelling I guess the authority of God. Psalm 51 verse 4 notes the David, when he rebelled against Bathsheba, confessed that ” against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”  we would do well to remember this. Often when we have sinned against someone else, we tend to think it’s simply against them. But its not. We have violated God’s command, rebelled against authority, and send against another that was made in His image. This is no small thing. But David goes on.

He also mentions the word sin, which in the Hebrew is translated to a word that means falling short of a target.  In this case, and aspects in is falling short of the standard that God has set in His Word. Some of you may recognize the verse from Romans 3:23, which says that all have fallen short of the glory of God.

The last word that he uses is the word iniquity.  This word means twisted or corrupt.  This word deals with how sin works in our inner being. It does not simply violate God’s law are mine, but twists and corrupts our souls. We become twisted people, corrupt people. When we here of someone in a life of crime or does not deal with others with integrity, a word that used to be used what’s the word crook. Or if a politician violated his oath of office, he was crooked.

All of these paint a bleak picture. But notice the words that connect with these words: his transgression is forgiven; his sins are covered; the Lord does not count his iniquity against him. This is significant—the transaction is complete. Forgiveness! The covering of sin hearkens back to the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The tablets that contained the Law (and thus showed where that law was broken) were covered by the mercy seat lid, sprinkled clean by the blood of the Lamb. During the Day of Atonement, the priest would sprinkle blood on that seat (Leviticus 16:11-19) for the cleansing of the sins of the repentant people of Israel.

It is strictly by God’s mercy that Christians are forgiven of sin. In Genesis 15:6, Scripture says that Abram “believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” God credited his righteousness to Abram’s account. Why? Because he believed in the promises that God made regarding His gracious salvation—this was not something that Abram, David, nor any of us can earn.

How can we find this forgiveness?  Check back tomorrow!

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What is a Sermon? I’m Glad You Asked…

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How to Sort Through Why Christians Adhere to Such an Old Book (Part 3: Necessity)

When Jesus told them that, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), the Jews objected. “We’ve never been slave to anyone.”

History bears out that the Jews have been enslaved or occupied by seven different countries: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Assyria, Greece, and Rome. And this last one (Rome) showed their current condition. Rome occupied the Holy Land—and the Jews and Jewish leaders interacted with them every single day in every single way. Yet, they did not see their situation.

What a pity to see someone in slave but blind to their own condition. They felt they were actually free in a political sense—and this is a significant picture of being enslaved in a spiritual sense.

Whenever I ask someone, “What do you understand it means to be right with God?” Many answer, “Well, I just need to follow the commandments and do my best.” When I counter with, “Where does Jesus fit into this?” Some may say, “Well, he fills in the gaps.” Or, “He sees how hard I’m trying.”

Did you see the sign on the marquee when you drove in? “Christianity is not about trying your hardest, it’s about trusting the Highest?” If your hope is just trying to do your best—you’re not saved. If your hope is in Jesus just filling in the gaps that you can’t, you’re not saved. Christianity is about denying self, not asking Jesus to fill in the gaps self can’t do. We may be enslaved by cannot free ourselves. We may have sat under preaching after preaching, sermon after sermon. They are blind to their own condition!

Skeptics counter with this: “There’s nothing liberating and freeing about the Bible. So many of the commandments are ‘do nots.’ More and more of what you cannot do. The Bible restricts who you can marry, it feels restrictive to women, it’s been used as leverage to oppress (slavery, etc.), it’s used to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies, what you can do, who you can fraternize with, what you should see, what you should say, where you should go, what you should think. I don’t feel free in getting around the Scriptures—I feel restricted and confined.”

First of all, let me just ask this: how does the world look now that the authority of God’s Word is continuing to lessen? Better? Granted, there are those who have used the Bible wrongly and selfishly. But they’ve also used it to build hospitals, education, orphanages, and to help people that God made from the cradle to the grave.

Second of all, do you believe that it’s good for us to be able to do all we want?  Not everything that we want is good for us—just ask the drug user or alcoholic.  In fact, those very things that we want so desperately may be the very things that enslave us so drastically (and destructively). 

Spurgeon told of the time when he came to Christ (and Christ came to him) as a young lad looking for the way to be free from his sin!  He went to church after church after church.   He finally stumbled into a Primitive Methodist church where a layman was filling in for the pastor who could not make the service due to inclimate weather.  Here what happened next in Spurgeon’s own words:

Now it is well that ministers should be instructed, but this man was really stupid, as you would say. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had nothing else to say. The text was “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter.

There was I thought, a gleam of hope for me in the text. He began thus “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now that does not take a great deal of effort. It ain’t lifting your feet or your finger, it is just ‘look.’ Well, a man need not go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool and yet you can look. A man need not be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; a child can look. But this is what the text says. Then it says ‘Look unto Me.'”  “Ay,” said he, in broad Essex, “many of ye are looking to yourselves. No use looking there. You’ll never find comfort in yourselves. Some look to God, the Father. No, look to Him by and by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some of you say, ‘I must wait the Spirit a working.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. It runs: ‘Look unto Me.'”

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweating great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hanging on the cross. Look! I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend and sit at the Father’s right hand O! look to Me!” When he had got about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger, He then said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well I did, but I have not been accustomed to having remarks made on my personal appearance from the pulpit before. However, it was a good blow struck. He continued:

“And you will always be miserable in life, and miserable in death if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment you will be saved.”

Then he shouted as only a Primitive Methodist can: “Young man, look to Jesus Christ!” I did “look.”

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun: I could have risen that moment and sung with enthusiasm of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me that before. TRUST CHRIST, AND YOU SHALL BE SAVED.

Dear friends, you may know the truth and the Son who proclaims the truth by looking!  Don’t try to understand, then look!  Look and believe, that you may understand!  The Word does its work!  But you also must look out of necessity for your soul!  Look unto Christ and Christ alone!  Be blind no longer!

(This sermon was preached in full on Sunday, April 28, 2013 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO.  You may listen to it here.)

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