New Life for Your Soul

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“You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, “It is hopeless”; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint.” – Isaiah 57:10

Happy New Year. I pray that at the very beginning of this New Year your heart and soul are encouraged in Christ. It is by Christ’s grace that we are given a new year and it will be by his merciful power that we will be sustained another year for his glory. Every time I come to a time like this, having seen all that God has done, I cannot think a higher thought than of Christ nor can I think a deeper thought than of Christ.  He is the loftiest, grandest, and supreme thought for any and all mankind and a new year is the perfect time for us all to evaluate our lives and how urgently invested we are in the work of Christ Jesus and his kingdom.

When a new year rolls around, we will often reevaluate the ways in which we are lacking and set out to make improvements. For instance, the most common “resolution” we strive toward is to “get healthy”, which includes things like regular exercise, eating healthy, and eliminating bad habits. We always start strong, with genuine determination to get fit and better ourselves. But by this time next month, our determination is waning, and by March most of us have “worked out” enough and those donuts are just too hard to resist. This isn’t meant to be a downer for you; but it is an all too common reality. We can truly relate to the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7:15 – For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

One of the ways that Christians seek to better our spiritual lives is to set goals for ourselves in regards to bible reading, prayer, and ministry service. There is really no better place to start for any one of us than to commit ourselves to regular study of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12), sincere prayer (Ephesians 3:16), and service to our church and community (2 Thessalonians 3:13). In fact, I encourage every one of you reading this article to take a moment today and write out a plan for how you will restart your efforts to know God in his word. Read your Bible and study your Bible; it’s not just a book to read, it is a book to live out in obedience (Colossians 3:16). The more you learn the better equipped you will be to honor God with your life (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

But let me be frank with you about your efforts: There will be days of struggle and there will be days of failure. There will be times when you will not do what you want to do (read God’s Word) and you will do what you do not want (watch TV). We are easily distracted and led off course by the simplest things aren’t we? Do not despair or give up! The way to spiritual health, as we see in Isaiah 57:10, is “lengthy. . . but it is not hopeless.” Satan is so quick to tempt us with the thought that our efforts to draw closer to Jesus are pointless and so when we struggle, it feels as though we are falling too far behind, and so we give up in discouragement. Don’t quit what you begin for the glory of God. The “new life” we have in Christ cannot die because it is the resurrected life of Christ residing in us. It is imperishable and eternal (1 Peter 1:23) Therefore you can be encouraged that God is working in you always, even in your failures, to draw you closer to him. So as you look out onto the possibility of another year, be encouraged that you do not face it alone. It may seem like the end of 2014 is a long way off, but remember you thought so in 2013 and here we are!  We will walk this road toward spiritual maturity together this year and we will undoubtedly need to call on one another for encouragement, prayer, and support along the way. We will get weary at times, but God promises that by his grace “we will not faint.” He will see us through another year, if it be his will. So heed the call to growth in God’s Word this year and take up the challenge to apply your mind and soul to knowing more of our great God as you dig deeper into His Word.

May God bless you this New Year and may he reveal himself more and more to us and through us for the good of our city and for the glory of his name.

Christians Read Your Bible!

Giving credit to where credit is due. This blog post is re-posted from here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/

Please read and please enjoy reading your Bible this year!

Reading the Bible in 2014

Do you want to read the whole Bible?

If the average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute, and if there are about 775,000 words in the Bible, then it would take less than 10 minutes a day to read the whole Bible in a year.

(Those who want to bore into the details of how long it takes to read each book of the Bible can visit howlongdoesittaketoreadthebible.com).

Audio Bibles are usually about 75 hours long, so you can listen to it in just over 12 minutes a day.

But a simple resolution to do this is often an insufficient. Most of us need a more proactive plan.

Stephen Witmer explains the weaknesses of typical plans and offers some advice on reading the Bible together with others—as well as offering his own new two-year plan. (“In my opinion, it is better to read the whole Bible through carefully one time in two years than hastily in one year.”) His plan has you read through one book of the Bible at a time (along with a daily reading from the Psalms or Proverbs). At the end of two years you will have read through the Psalms and Proverbs four times and the rest of the Bible once.

The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Blog (which you can subscribe to via email) takes you through the M’Cheyne reading plan, with a meditation each day by D. A. Carson related to one of the readings. M’Cheyne’s plan has you read shorter selections from four different places in the Bible each day.

George Guthrie’s “Read the Bible for Life Chronological Bible Reading Plan” is takes you through the whole Bible in the basic order of events, with a reading each day. There’s also a 4 + 1 plan (similar to the others, in that you read from four different places each day plus the Psalms). But it’s a semi-chronological plan, placing the prophets and the NT letters in basic chronological order.

Trey Hunter’s “The Bible-Eater Plan” is an innovative new approach that has you reading whole chapters, along with quarterly attention to specific books. The plan especially highlights OT chapters that are crucial to the storyline of Scripture and redemptive fulfillment in Christ.

For those who would benefit from a realistic “discipline + grace” approach, consider “The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers.” As Andy Perry explains, it takes away the pressure (and guilt) of “keeping up” with the entire Bible in one year. You get variety within the week by alternating genres by day, but also continuity by sticking with one genre each day. Here’s the basic idea:

Sundays: Poetry
Mondays: Penteteuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
Tuesdays: Old Testament history
Wednesdays: Old Testament history
Thursdays: Old Testament prophets
Fridays: New Testament history
Saturdays: New Testament epistles (letters)

There are a number of Reading Plans for ESV Editions. Crossway has made them accessible in multiple formats:

  • web (a new reading each day appears online at the same link)
  • RSS (subscribe to receive by RSS)
  • podcast (subscribe to get your daily reading in audio)
  • iCal (download an iCalendar file)
  • mobile (view a new reading each day on your mobile device)
  • print (download a PDF of the whole plan)
Reading Plan Format
Chronological
Through the Bible chronologically (from Back to the Bible)
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Daily Light on the Daily Path
Daily Light on the Daily Path – the ESV version of Samuel Bagster’s classic
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Daily Office Lectionary
Daily Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospels
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Daily Reading Bible
Daily Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
ESV Study Bible
Daily Psalms or Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch or the History of Israel; Chronicles or Prophets; and Gospels or Epistles
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Every Day in the Word
Daily Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Literary Study Bible
Daily Psalms or Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch or the History of Israel; Chronicles or Prophets; and Gospels or Epistles
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
M’Cheyne One-Year Reading Plan
Daily Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms or Gospels
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Outreach
Daily Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Outreach New Testament
Daily New Testament. Read through the New Testament in 6 months
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email
Through the Bible in a Year
Daily Old Testament and New Testament
RSS iCal Mobile Print Email

You can also access each of these Reading Plans as podcasts:

  • Right-click (Ctrl-click on a Mac) the “RSS” link of the feed you want from the above list.
  • Choose “Copy Link Location” or “Copy Shortcut.”
  • Start iTunes.
  • Under File, choose “Subscribe to Podcast.”
  • Paste the URL into the box.
  • Click OK.

For those looking for some books to have on hand as “helps” as you read through the Bible, here are a few suggestions:

As you read through the Bible, here’s a chart you may want to to print out and have on hand. It’s from Goldsworthy’s book According to Plan. It simplified, of course, but it can be helpful in locating where you’re at in the biblical storyline and seeing the history of Israel “at a glance.”

Goldsworthy’s outline is below. You can also download this as a PDF (posted with permission).

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Taken from According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy. Copyright(c) Graeme Goldsworthy 1991. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 (www.ivpress.com) and Inter-Varsity Press, Norton Street, Nottingham NG7 3HR England (www.ivbooks.com)

Creation by Word Genesis 1 and 2
The Fall Genesis 3
First Revelation of Redemption Genesis 4-11
Abraham Our Father Genesis 12-50
Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption Exodus 1-15
New Life: Gift and Task Exodus 16-40; Leviticus
The Temptation in the Wilderness Numbers; Deuteronomy
Into the Good Land Joshua; Judges; Ruth
God’s Rule in God’s Land 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1-9
The Fading Shadow 1 Kings 11-22; 2 Kings
There Is a New Creation Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther
The Second Exodus Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai
The New Creation for Us Matthew; Mark; Luke; John
The New Creation in Us Initiated Acts
The New Creation in Us Now New Testament Epistles
The New Creation Consummated The New Testament

Below are Goldsworthy’s summaries of each section.

Creation by Word
Genesis 1 and 2
In the beginning God created everything that exists. He made Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden of Eden. God spoke to them and gave them certain tasks in the world. For food he allowed them the fruit of all the trees in the garden except one. He warned them that they would die if they ate of that one tree.

The Fall
Genesis 3
The snake persuaded Eve to disobey God and to eat the forbidden fruit. She gave some to Adam and he ate also. Then God spoke to them in judgment, and sent them out of the garden into a world that came under the same judgment.

First Revelation of Redemption
Genesis 4-11
Outside Eden, Cain and Abel were born to Adam and eve. Cain murdered Abel and Eve bore another son, Seth. Eventually the human race became so wicked that God determined to destroy every living thing with a flood. Noah and his family were saved by building a great boat at God’s command. The human race began again with Noah and his three sons with their families. Sometime after the flood a still unified human race attempted a godless act to assert its power in the building of a high tower. God thwarted these plans by scattering the people and confusing their language.

Abraham Our Father
Genesis 12-50
Sometime in the early second millennium BC God called Abraham out of Mesopotamia to Canaan. He promised to give this land to Abraham’s descendants and to bless them as his people. Abraham went, and many years later he had a son, Isaac. Isaac in rum had two sons, Esau and Jacob. The promises of God were established with Jacob and his descendants. He had twelve sons, and in time they all went to live in Egypt because of famine in Canaan.

Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption
Exodus 1-15
In time the descendants of Jacob living in Egypt multiplied to become a very large number of people. The Egyptians no longer regarded them with friendliness and made them slaves. God appointed Moses to be the one who would lead Israel out of Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. When the moment came for Moses to demand the freedom of his people, the Pharaoh refused to let them go. Though Moses worked ten miracle-plagues which brought hardship, destruction, and death to the Egyptians. Finally, Pharaoh let Israel go, but then pursued them and trapped them at the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds). The God opened a way in the sea for Israel to cross on dry land, but closed the water over the Egyptian army, destroying it.

New Life: Gift and Task
Exodus 16-40; Leviticus
After their release from Egypt, Moses led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. There God gave them his law which they were commanded to keep. At one point Moses held a covenant renewal ceremony in which the covenant arrangement was sealed in blood. However, while Moses was away on the mountain, the people persuaded Aaron to fashion a golden calf. Thus they showed their inclination to forsake the covenant and to engage in idolatry. God also commanded the building of the tabernacle and gave all the rules of sacrificial worship by which Israel might approach him.

The Temptation in the Wilderness
Numbers; Deuteronomy
After giving the law to the Israelites at Sinai, God directed them to go in and take possession of the promised land. Fearing the inhabitants of Canaan, they refused to do so, thus showing lack of confidence in the promises of God. The whole adult generation that had come out of Egypt, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, was condemned to wander and die in the desert. Israel was forbidden to dispossess its kinsfolk, the nation of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, but was given victory over other nations that opposed it. Finally, forty years after leaving Egypt, Israel arrived in the Moabite territory on the east side of the Jordan. Here Moses prepared the people for their possession of Canaan, and commissioned Joshua as their new leader.

Into the Good Land
Joshua; Judges; Ruth
Under Joshua’s leadership the Israelites crossed the Jordan and began the task of driving out the inhabitants of Canaan. After the conquest the land was divided between the tribes, each being allotted its own region. Only the tribe of Levi was without an inheritance of land because of its special priestly relationship to God. There remained pockets of Canaanites in the land and, from time to time, these threatened Israel’s hold on their new possession. From the one-man leaderships of Moses and Joshua, the nation moved into a period of relative instability during which judges exercised some measure of control over the affairs of the people.

God’s Rule in God’s Land
1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1-9
Samuel became judge and prophet in all Israel at a time when the Philistines threatened the freedom of the nation. An earlier movement for kingship was received and the demand put to a reluctant Samuel. The first king, Saul, had a promising start to his reign but eventually showed himself unsuitable as the ruler of the covenant people. While Saul still reigned, David was anointed to succeed him. Because of Saul’s jealousy David became an outcast, but when Saul died in battle David returned and became king (about 1000 BC). Due to his success Israel became a powerful and stable nation. He established a central sanctuary at Jerusalem, and created a professional bureaucracy and permanent army. David’s son Solomon succeeded him (about 961 BC) and the prosperity of Israel continued. The building of the temple at Jerusalem was one of Solomon’s most notable achievements.

The Fading Shadow
1 Kings 11-22; 2 Kings
Solomon allowed political considerations and personal ambitions to sour his relationship with God, and this in turn had a bad effect on the life of Israel. Solomon’s son began an oppressive rule which led to the rebellion of the northern tribes and the division of the kingdom. Although there were some political and religious high points, both kingdoms went into decline, A new breed of prophets warned against the direction of national life, but matters went from bad to worse. In 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the power of the Assyrian empire. Then, in 586 BC the southern kingdom of Judah was devastated by the Babylonians. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and a large part of the population was deported to Babylon.

There Is a New Creation
Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther
The prophets of Israel warned of the doom that would befall the nation. When the first exiles were taken to Babylon in 597 BC, Ezekiel was among them. Both prophets ministered to the exiles. Life for the Jews (the people of Judah) in Babylon was not all bad, and in time many prospered. The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel indicate a certain normality to the experience, while Daniel and Esther highlight some of the difficulties and suffering experienced in an alien and oppressive culture.

The Second Exodus
Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai
In 539 BC Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian empire. The following year, Cyrus the king allowed the Jews to return home and to set up a Jewish state within the Persian empire. Great difficulty was experienced in re-establishing the nation. There was local opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. Many of the Jews did not return but stayed on in the land of their exile. In the latter part of the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire. The Jews entered a long and difficult period in which Greek culture and religion challenged their trust in God’s covenant promises. In 63 BC Pompey conquered Palestine and the Jews found themselves a province of the Roman empire.

The New Creation for Us
Matthew; Mark; Luke; John
The province of Judea, the homeland of the Jews, came under Roman rule in 63 BC. During the reign of Caesar Augustus, Jesus was born at Bethlehem, probably about the year 4 BC. John, known as the Baptist, prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. This ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing began with Jesus’ baptism and lasted about three years. Growing conflict with the Jews and their religious leaders led eventually to Jesus being sentenced to death by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. He was executed by the Romans just outside Jerusalem, but rose from death two days afterward and appealed to his followers on a number of occasions. After a period with them, Jesus was taken up to heaven.

The New Creation in Us Initiated
Acts
After Jesus had ascended, his disciples waited in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began the task of proclaiming Jesus. As the missionary implications of the gospel became clearer to the first Christians, the local proclamation was extended to world evangelization. The apostle Paul took the gospel to Asia Minor and Greece, establishing many churches as he went. Eventually a church flourished at the heart of the empire of Rome.

The New Creation in Us Now
New Testament Epistles
As the gospel made inroads into pagan societies it encountered many philosophies and non-Christian ideas which challenged the apostolic message. The New Testament epistles shows that the kind of pressures to adopt pagan ideas that had existed for the people of God in Old Testament times were also a constant threat to the churches. The real danger to Christian teaching was not so much in direct attacks upon it, but rather in the subtle distortion of Christian ideas. Among the troublemakers were the Judaizers who added Jewish law-keeping to the gospel. The Gnostics also undermined the gospel with elements of Greek philosophy and religion.

The New Creation Consummated
The New Testament
God is Lord over history and therefore, when he so desires, he can cause the events of the future to be recorded. All section of the New Testament contain references to things which have not yet happened, the most significant being the return of Christ and the consummation of the kingdom of God. No clues to the actual chronology are given, but it is certain that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. The old creation will be undone and the new creation will take its place.

Power in the Manger

manger

For whom did Jesus come? German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives us a glimpse of the hope and promise we have in the manger, where the Christ child slept and where his earthly journey began to redeem his Father’s creation. Jesus came for the poor, lowly, and humble. Let us not think so much of ourselves that we are unable to kneel in humility and submission  at the manger.

“For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage
fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, form which they shy away.
These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach
the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where  thrones shake, the mighty
fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing,
because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty.
Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful
come to naught; they have no right, no hope, they are judged. . .”

“Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.”

From God Is In The Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (p.26)

Waiting

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Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. – Luke 2:25

Luke 2 is one of the most read passages of scripture this time of year because in it we find recorded the account of the event leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As Luke 1 records the prophecy and announcement of the future saviors birth, and Mary’s Magnificat in celebration of this life-changing news  (Luke 1:46-55), chapter 2 leads us into the narrative of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem  and the birth of Jesus (2:1-7). The coming of the King of Kings is announced and celebrated by angels and shepherds, indicating that the highest of heavenly beings and the lowliest of human servants are invited and commanded to worship Jesus.

Despite all of the songs and pageantry that surround the Christmas season today, in 1st century Judea, the birth of a baby to a poor carpenter and his young bride would have gone relatively unnoticed. In fact, outside of a few shepherds, the angels of heaven, and the wise men from the East, it was an event that came and went without any fanfare. In the eyes of so many, he was just another baby. But Joseph and Mary knew better than that. The lowly shepherds knew better than that. The heavenly hosts who sang of his birth knew better than that. While he was just like any other baby in his helplessness and dependence upon his caring parents, Jesus wasn’t just any other person. Jesus was who the world had been waiting for.

The word advent means “a coming into place, view, or being; arrival”. The birth of Christ was the ending of the world’s waiting for redemption because the redeemer had arrived. Specifically, the people of Israel, like Simeon, had been waiting for a deliverer or “messiah” for such a long time. But their understanding of the prophesied messiah was one of political deliverance; one who would rid the Jewish nation of its Gentile oppressors and who would establish the nation of Israel as a sovereign nation like in the days of David and Solomon. A king had been promised, and it was a king for whom they waited. And waited. And waited. But he did not come. Many tried to fill that role but they all failed. Every rebellion and revolution was met with swift and mighty force by their Gentile oppressors. Yet they continued to wait; and among those waiting for the advent of the messiah was the man Simeon, who was a man of faithfulness and righteousness and obedience to God’s holy word. He longed to see the days of deliverance from outside oppression. But more than that, he desired to see the faithfulness and fruitfulness of Israel restored. He desired to see God’s name once again exalted above all others and he prayed for the restoration of true faith and worship of God alone. The Holy Spirit was upon him, and his faithfulness to God in all those years of waiting was rewarded. How? He was told that he would not taste death until he laid eyes upon the messiah of God (“the Lord’s Christ”) (v.26). He was given the blessing of meeting the long awaited messiah. He got to see Jesus with his own eyes.

Luke 2 tells us that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple as was the custom, to dedicate their son Jesus to the Lord God (v.22-24). And Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and worshiped God for fulfilling his covenant promise (v.29-32). Simeon called Jesus “the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” This prayer of praise was significant because Simeon’s prayer indicated that the messiah promised by God was a light to both Gentile and Jew. Profoundly, Simeon declares what the prophets of old had spoken of the promised messiah; He would come to save both Jew and Gentile, for the messiah sent by God is given for the peoples of all nations. The entire world was groaning and waiting for deliverance. In all the time they had spent waiting, their faith was turned to false gods and idols made by human hands. But with the advent of Jesus Christ, the waiting for true deliverance from the darkness of sin and separation from God was over. Hope and life have been given, in the form of the perfect son of God, wrapped in human flesh.

The great deliverer, prince of peace, and savior of mankind was given to us as a gift, born in an insignificant town, laid to sleep in a feed trough,and visited by dirty, undesirable herdsmen. The shepherds were just waiting for morning, but what they what they witnessed was the dawning of hope. They were waiting for the sunrise, but instead they were commanded to bow in worship of the one who created the sun. Just like you and me, Simeon and the shepherds, and the people of Israel, and all the people groups of the world were waiting. And right on time, by his divine plan and by his divine power God gave us Jesus, to be with us as one of us. He came and walked among us. He came and suffered with us and for us. He came to save us because we are completely and utterly helpless to save ourselves. The wait is over.

Yet it seems that we continue waiting for the next great thing to come along. What we have in Christ Jesus is the greatest of all things, standing before us in complete life-changing love and mercy, calling us to stop and see him for who he is. Do you see him as he is? Will you look to him and call upon him and cry out to him for mercy and grace. Your waiting does not have to end in tragedy. There is deliverance for all those who trust in Christ Jesus. The baby in the manger is the man on the cross and the risen savior who sits at the Father’s right hand, waiting to come again. And until then, we will wait.

As the 1st advent came and went with the incarnation of Christ Jesus, the Word of God, we now wait for the 2nd advent, or arrival. For Jesus promised that as he left this earth so will he return. But the next time Christ comes, it will not be as a baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and sleeping in a manger in humility and poverty. The next time we see Jesus with our own eyes, he will be coming in power and majesty and glory to take home all those who love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

And so we wait. And while we wait we know that He is with us even this very moment (Matt. 28:20). He knows us better than we know ourselves and yet he still loves us and cares for us and interceded for us. Imagine that! A holy savior who knows everything about you, and loves you more than you deserve. We can wait, like Simeon, with great expectation and anticipation for the blessing that will come when we finally see him as he is. That is a savior worth waiting for.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in God is in the Manger,

whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting-that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessedness of fulfillment. . . Thus Advent can be celebrated only by those whose souls give them no peace, and who sense something of the greatness that is supposed to come, before which they can only bow in humble timidity, waiting until he inclines himself toward us – the Holy One himself, God in the child, in the manger. God is coming! The Lord Jesus is coming!  Christmas is coming. Rejoice, O Christendom! (p.4, 6)

We wait because we have hope in something better than this life, namely Jesus.
We wait because Jesus is worth it.
We wait because the consolation for this life is eternal glory.

Christmas is all about waiting, but it is waiting with expectation. Not for things, but for the savior. And he is with us, right now, helping us to wait for him. So let this Christmas “advent” mean more to you than remembering the birth of Jesus. Let this advent point you to the magnificent love of God who comes to his people and save them to the uttermost. Praise be to God!

 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

- Luke 6:20-26

Together for God’s Glory

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For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. - 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

        Together for God’s Glory! During the month of September, those who gathered with FBC Baton Rouge spent some time each week walking through the scriptures as we sought to learn the importance of church membership and all the ways we as Christians are called to join with a local body of believers to worship God and serve one another. I believe church membership is vitally important in the life of any man or woman who professes faith in Christ Jesus. Uniting with a local church is for our own good, as the church provides teaching, training, correction for our lives as well as providing a place for us to organize ourselves to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ and the larger community. The church consists of people from many different walks of life: rich, poor, young, old, parents, singles and children, all from different towns, states, and countries. There is nothing quite like the body of Christ.

As the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12, he is addressing a local church which has endured divisions over moral and theological issues. As he has sought to correct their thinking and behavior, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are all members of one body; the body of Christ. Jesus died to makes us one (Ephesians 4:4-7), calling us all to work together (there’s that word again) with the gifts that God has given each of us for the advancement of the gospel. The church is not a collection of individuals who remain concerned about their own personal agendas; rather we are to all be concerned about the same things: loving God and loving one another for God’s glory (one body!). The church is the means which God has chosen to proclaim the gospel, making his church those who represent Jesus in the world. So the purpose of God’s church is to tell and show the world who Jesus really is and how he came to save sinners.

The way that we represent Christ in this world is to meet together regularly, to study God’s Word, sing, pray, break bread, give, serve and challenge one another together, as we are sent out into the world to live as Christ lived and share with others the love of God (Acts 2:42-47). In light of this glorious purpose as one body united under the covenant with Christ, Paul tells the Corinthians that everyone who is a professing, covenant member of God’s church (Ephesians 2:11-22) is essentially dependent upon one another as we all depend on God to sanctify us by his power (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Church unity transcends age, ethnicity, language, background, social status, financial success, educational achievement, and chosen occupation. There is no other place like the church, and there is no other place like OUR church.

By no means have we arrived. There are still many areas of weakness and growth that we must seek to address. After nearly 140 years, FBC Baton Rouge still has much growing to do. This growth comes by confession and repentance of our sin, genuine prayer, faithful obedience to God’s Word, committed discipleship, and service to one another and to our community. But I am so very grateful that I have the privilege to serve and lead a church congregation that appreciates the uniqueness of God’s church. I love that so many of the members of FBC BR are genuinely concerned about the health and witness of their church, and I know that they are committed to do whatever it takes to see our church family grow into a healthy body of Christ followers. When I am asked by other pastors, “How are things going at FBC?” I always respond, “God has been good to us. He is making us a healthy church, little by little, all for his glory.” We truly are one body. May God give us the grace each day to be that united, representative of Christ in the world.

Not Strangers, but Family

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Ephesians 4:12-22

“remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Remember who you were before Jesus saved you and recognize who you are today BECAUSE Jesus saved you. We are no longer aliens, but we are now identified as God’s people, united together as one body under Christ. We are truly a family.

Biblical Discipleship

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And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9:23-24

In his vastly popular and widely read work The Cost of Discipleship, German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer writes “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” These words have resonated with me a great deal recently and I have thought about my own church family and our individual and corporate pursuit of growing in Christ as his disciples as well as being disciple makers. I am always evaluating what we do as God’s people to dive deeper into God’s word for the sake of our own holiness as committed followers of Christ Jesus.  Of course, we are never complete and our work is never done as we seek to follow Jesus in order to be more like him each day, nor is our work ever finished in seeking to make disciples of Jesus. Discipleship is a lifestyle, not a task or programmed objective, and the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23-24 give us the clues to why we (Christians) must be continually seeking biblical discipleship, despite what it will cost us.

When Jesus lays out the requirements for discipleship, at first glance they sound a bit vague. Deny yourself? Take up your cross? Follow? What do those commands really mean? For those of us in the 21st century, we don’t quite have the cultural understanding that his 1st century listeners would have had. When Jesus gives his listeners the foundation of discipleship, his words have ultimate, life changing meaning. Essentially, Jesus tells those listening to him, “if you want to follow me, you must die to yourself every day, and seek me.” Those words immediately take on must greater weight don’t they? To deny yourself is to renounce your wants and desires and in their place seek God’s desires for you (Matthew 6:33). To take up your cross daily is to die to your old flesh and live in the new Spirit-filled life of Christ in you (Galatians 5:16-25, 2 Corinthians 5:17). To follow Jesus is to surrender your life to his will and to actively obey his commands and live by his example, every day, for the glory of his name (John 12:26). Discipleship is not easy because it was never intended to be.
(Matthew 5:10-12)

But in our modern day culture, which prefers the “path of least resistance”, doing something hard is intentionally avoided as often as possible for matters which are of a more convenient nature; personal preference and comfort seem to rule the day. The idea of willfully surrendering your life to Jesus and dying to ‘self’ is counter-intuitive to all the other ideas we are led to embrace. Yet the command and expectation for Christ’s disciples has always been the same and it remains the same to this very day. You may be wondering, “ok, so why such an emphasis on discipleship?” The answer comes in v.24, where Jesus explains why following him is paramount; “for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” So, Christ-centered discipleship has a result: following Jesus to eternal life. The alternative to Christ-centered discipleship is to seek our own good and have temporary happiness while here on earth, but lose  the life that Jesus died to give us. But if we seek Christ, dying to ourselves daily and seeking to love, serve, and glorify God as Jesus did, we will be given eternal life that Jesus’ promises us and secures for us by his death and resurrection. Discipleship is the daily experience of becoming more like Jesus now, and wanting for ourselves and others what he gave his life to provide for those who trust him.

In light of these enormous, life-changing truths, this kind of discipleship requires action by God’s people, for the good of others. Notice Jesus’ words indicate actions deny. . . take up. . . follow. . . which we are to be doing, and not only discussing. But how do we do this? First of all, being a disciple of Jesus is a personal decision that you make, in your own heart and mind, because you are certain it is the right path. The Holy Spirit has confirmed that truth in you (1 Thess.1:5) and now your life is surrendered to God. But how does discipleship happen practically, in the life of a believer? This is where others come into the picture: disciple involves others because we need each other. Discipleship is not just a theoretical concept, or something for only pastor’s and ordained ministers to do. It is a conscious and joyful effort by Christian people to seek out relationships that are built on spiritual growth and maturity. These relationships are personal investments in other’s lives for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Back in August I shared with our church family at FBC BR the necessity and tremendous blessing to a church when its members take seriously the call to be disciple makers. The answer for biblical, multigenerational discipleship (Titus 2) is not another program.  We can’t program discipleship because programs all have an expiration date. Instead of designing a “new ministry program” for Christian growth, we have to live it out, in relationship with other Christians, both old and young. My challenge for those of you seeking to become a disciple and a disciple maker isn’t all that complicated, but it does require a deep commitment, and it has enormous implications for the health of our church:

1) Men, find a young man, and women, find a young woman and couples find young couples and invite them to lunch, dinner, coffee, and get to know them. Ask them about their lives, what they do for a living or what they are studying in school. Ask them about hobbies, interests, and their families.

2) Commit your time and attention to them for the good of their souls. Getting to know someone takes time, today and tomorrow. It is a process of spending time together.

3) Offer to pray for them and the concerns of their hearts in specific ways. Lift up your brothers and sisters in Christ in prayer.

4) Read scripture together and pray the scriptures together. Ask God to do what he promises in his Word, and commit yourselves to doing as he commands.

5) Stay in contact and make your meetings regular, at your convenience. Do not neglect your time together, as it will strengthen both disciple and disciple maker.

6) Always, always, always make your time about growing closer to Christ. At the center of every relationship is the gospel. Remember that discipleship is still focused on being a disciple of Jesus, in which every person is called to deny themselves, take up their crosses daily, and obediently follow Jesus. So any attempt at being a disciple maker is built on teaching, training, and encouraging others to be a disciple as Jesus commands. Keep Christ Jesus and his message front and center.

We hope to be a faithful, healthy, multi-generational church, for God’s glory and for the good of one another. The truth is that discipleship accomplishes this goal. And if we seek to do it well, generations will be blessed and God will be glorified.  When this becomes our priority, Christ will be exalted and significant friendships will be rooted in the truth of God’s Word and our congregation will be a healthy, vibrate body of believers.

 

 

 

A Prayer

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The Trinity


THREE IN ONE, ONE IN THREE,
GOD OF MY SALVATION,

Heavenly Father, blessed Son, eternal Spirit, I adore thee as one Being, one Essence,

One God in three distinct Persons,
     for bringing sinner to thy knowledge and to thy kingdom

O Father, thou has loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me;

O Jesus, thou has loved me and assured my nature,
     shed thine own blood to wash away my sins,
     wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness

O Holy Spirit, thou has loved me and entered my heart,
     implanted there eternal life, revealed to me the glories of Jesus.

Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee,
     for love so unmerited, so unspeakable,
     so wondrous, so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory.

O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast given me to Jesus,
    to be his sheep, jewel, portion;

O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
     thou has accepted, espoused, bound me;

O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
     thou has exhibited Jesus as my salvation,
     implanted faith within me
     subdued my stubborn heart,
     made me one with him for ever.

 O Father, thou are enthroned to hear my prayers,

O Jesus, thy hand is outstretched to take my petitions,

O Holy Spirit, thou art willing to help my infirmities,
     to show me my need,
     to supply words, to pray within me,
     to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication.

 O Triune God, who commandeth the universe,
     thou hast commanded me to ask for those things that
     concern thy kingdom and my soul.

 Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold Name.

                                           – Taken from the Valley of Vision, p.2-3 

Being Known

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For the professing Christian, the revelation of our position as a child of God (John 1:12-13), known by him and loved by him, is a glorious and life-changing reality. To know just how rebellious and sinful I am, even on my best day, yet God saves me and calls me “his own” it a blessing to my soul beyond words. This knowledge of how deeply God knows me is, as J.I. Packer calls it, “momentous”. I am currently re-reading Packer’s phenomenal work, Knowing God, and I found the following section especially helpful.

“What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it – the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me, and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.”

“This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort – the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates – in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at ever point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am do often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.” From, Knowing God by J.I. Packer

It is important to point out that God’s knowledge of me is rooted in his goodness and grace and not in my performance, obedience, or inherent goodness. In fact, my performance is severely lacking of any merit, my obedience is tainted with constant failure, and I am certain, because I know my own heart, that I am not “inherently good.” But God IS good. He is so good, and so loving, and so kind, and so gracious, that he has chosen by his own will and out of his endless love, to love me and know me. That kind of knowledge truly is momentous. So much so that it changes everything about how I see the world and how I seek to live for God’s will over my own. And even when I fail or forget, he still knows me and chooses to love me.

My prayer for you is that you would submit your life to God and be joyfully blessed to be known by him in such an incredible way.

 

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“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,

     to whom belong wisdom and might.

He changes times and seasons;

     he removes kings and sets up kings;

     he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;

he reveals deep and hidden things;

     he knows what is in the darkness,

       and the light dwells with him.

To you, O God of my fathers,

   I give thanks and praise,

for you have given me wisdom and might,

   and have now made known to me what we asked of you,

   for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

                                                                   - Daniel 2:20-23

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