This Is Advent

Thanksgiving is past. December has arrived. And it is now safe to play Christmas music without fear.

This is the season of Advent. The word itself means “coming.”  This is the time when we celebrate the coming of the baby in the manger, a Savior to forgive us of our sins and provide a way back to God.

All things began with God. All of creation testifies to His power and majesty. Men and women were made in His image to tend to His creation,  to know Him and to enjoy Him forever.  He made us for His purpose and His glory, and we are accountable, each one of us, to Him.

We know the story, our first parents, Adam and Eve – our representatives in the garden, they rebelled against our Creator, broke faith, and chose their own way. Instead of reigning with Christ, carrying out God’s will, we would instead establish our own rule in opposition to the Creator. We committed treason against the King and made ourselves His enemies, deserving the just and appropriate wrath of a holy and good God.

Now, at this point in the story, you may be thinking, “time out! What do you mean ‘we’? I wasn’t there!”

I hear your objection, and it’s overruled.

Our God is just. He provided for us fair representation in the garden.  Our first parents were perfect, made in God’s image. Before they chose the enemy’s lies over God’s truth, there was no corruption in them. Make no mistake, neither you nor I would have chosen any differently had we been there.

So, after Genesis 3, everything changed.  We are each sinners both by nature and by choice.  More than that, we are slaves to sin, strangers to God, and objects of wrath. The Bible describes us as helpless, hopeless, and without God in this world. We are incapable of removing sin and recovering a right standing before our Creator.

God knows this. And before He spoke a single atom into being, He made a plan. He would come Himself and fix the mess we made.  He stepped out of heaven and put on flesh and bone.  Becoming a man, the eternal Son of God dwelt among us.  He lived the perfect life we could not. He died the death we deserved. He broke through the separation and provided a way of reconciliation. He provided a way for us to stand before God again, adopted into His family, recipients of mercy, and heirs to a kingdom.

But not everyone reaps these benefits.  Not all of us will participate in the work of Christ. While this glorious offer has been made available to anyone, only those who respond in repentant faith are included. Only those who recognize their sin and their helpless condition, only those who are willing to turn away from a life of sin and self will receive His salvation.

This is Advent. This is Christmas. This is the gospel. This is the work of God in Christ to reconcile sinners to Himself.

Merry Christmas.

Thankfulness FOR Requires TO

“What are you thankful for?”

This question (or one like it) will be asked around dinner tables all across the country this week.  As families gather and blessings are counted, we will rightly pause and consider all we are grateful for.

Giving thanks FOR our blessings, however, is only one side of the gratitude coin. Without the other side of thankfulness, our expressions are flat and incomplete.

If we are going to give thanks FOR anything, we must also give thanks TO someone.   Thanksgiving requires both an indirect and a direct object; it necessitates both FOR and TO.  A vague, indistinct sense of appreciation – an unfixed feeling of gratitude – is ultimately insufficient.

Indeed, some gratitude is better than no gratitude, but if we merely feel thankful without directing our thanks to another person, our thankfulness fizzles and fades. We become a firework that shoots into the air with the sparkling trail and the screeching sound of anticipation, only to fade into the dark without a colorful finale.  Thankfulness without a recipient is a gift left unopened and unreceived.

Giving thanks FOR demands giving thanks TO, and the “to” of thanksgiving must be personal.  We must give thanks to a person.

We cannot give thanks to fate, for the fickle nature of fortune is blind and cares not whose life is increased nor which cord is cut short. We cannot give thanks to the universe, for the universe has no will to grant gifts nor a consciousness to receive them.

No, if we are going to give thanks for anything, we must give thanks to someone. And if we are going to give thanks to someone, that someone most assuredly must be God. 

God, the author of life, is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He provides comfort to those who grieve and brings peace where chaos and enmity formerly ruled. He causes the rain of blessing to fall on the just and the unjust alike. He draws near to the hurting and cares for the needy. He multiplies families and grants special attention to orphans and widows.

God is light and love, just and merciful. He provides hope and gives strength, brings comfort, and grants rest. For good reason, the Doxology declares, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”

All blessings flow from the Blessed One.  Whether we ask for them or not, whether we recognize them or not, every good thing we enjoy comes from Him. Our impulse is to thank Him. Not only does the Lord deserve our thanks, but we owe it to Him.  All thanks, honor, blessing, praise, and glory belong to Him.

So, let us give thanks FOR what we have been given, but let us also give thanks TO the One who gives it.  Then we will see how thanksgiving, humbly offered and properly directed, proves fully satisfying, wonderfully complete, even enlarging our souls.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Christ’s Church & His Sacrifice

Every believer should be a faithful and active member of a local church.

Over the past two articles, I have tried to support this truth. I have attempted to establish it with two initial points: (1) every believer should be part of a local body of believers, and (2) becoming a formal, recognized member of a local body is a pattern of faith rooted in the New Testament and is not a human convention.

I have no idea if my presentation has been convincing or not (although I would enjoy hearing from you). Still, over decades of serving His churches, and talking with church leaders, and reading theologians, and enjoying fellowship with believers from other churches, I have become more thoroughly convinced that the local church is at the center of God’s plans and purposes for His people and for the world. To quote others who have expressed this truth:

The church is God’s plan A, and there is no plan B.

To be clear, this statement does not deny or begrudge that parachurch ministries are offering much valuable service for the Kingdom. Yet, those ministries with the most significant impact and the most enduring influence cooperate with local churches.

In the lives of His people, the healthiest disciples are those abiding with other believers in the context of a local church because, in the local church, we encounter all kinds of people (or we should) and not just those who share our preferences and opinions. Jesus challenges us in Matthew 5:

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv.46-47)

Allow me to apply this to our lives in the church (together with other commands). Scripture teaches we will never become like Him by demanding our way, enjoying our preferences, and surrounding ourselves with people who look like us and think like us and have the same preferences as us.

The local church should be a kind of “gospel laboratory.” How do we live out the gospel in a community – a community filled with people of various ages, life stages, preferences, personalities, backgrounds, and ethnicities?

Can we love like Jesus loved, humbling ourselves and serving others? Can we forgive like Jesus forgave when people hurt us and neglect us? Can we defer to the preferences of others, and invest in the faith of others, and sacrifice for the benefit and blessing of others? If we cannot, we are not Christlike. We are not acting Christian.

Every comfort we demand, every right we assert, every grudge we nurse, every blessing we withhold, these become limits to our personal spiritual growth and barriers to fellowship with Christ Himself.  When we shun the church (who is Christ’s bride), we limit how much we can know Him. 

Yes, the church is imperfect, and people can be difficult. That is only because people are imperfect and difficult… because you and I are imperfect and difficult.

Growing in Christlikeness – growing in faith and in holiness – demands we do what Christ did. He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. He was humble, gracious, forgiving, and selfless. He did not assert His privilege but stepped out of Heaven, stepped down from glory, and put on flesh so that He could show us the Father. He lowered Himself even to the point of death.

So, Christian (and I say this to myself first), why do we demand so much from His bride when Christ’s example demonstrates how much we should give?

Is Church Membership Biblical?

Last week we considered the idea of the Church and the reasons why every believer should join with a local church. I do not know if the reasons given were compelling or not. Either way, I want to press the issue a little further. Not only is it a necessary expression of our faith to be a part of a local church, but every believer should join a local church in a formal membership agreement.

In full transparency, this is not an issue I have considered much in the past. Even in seminary, church membership was more assumed than taught – at least, we were not taught the biblical grounds for the idea. Therefore, when I came across the objection that church membership was a human convention superimposed on the church, I did not have an answer. At a much later time, I came across a clear, logical, and sound argument from the Scriptures concerning church membership.

So, let’s consider the question: Is church membership biblical, meaning, do we see it in the Bible? Is there a biblical precedent for becoming a member of a local body of believers, or is this just a convention of man in order to count “nickels and noses”?

I believe we see the evidence of local church membership in at least two places:

1. We see the evidence of local church membership in the establishment of the New Testament church.

  • Acts 2 – Upon the preaching of the Word, thousands are saved. In their salvation, we see two things expressed: (a) a specific number is given. In other words, they know who made a profession of faith and who did not; and (b) everyone who responded was baptized. There was a sign of inclusion, an act of identification. These two observations are significant. The individuals in this group identify themselves as believers and have everything in common (this would be impossible without a notable distinction).
  • Acts 5 – This principle of distinction and separation is also recognized by those outside their number. We also see pictures of church leadership.
  • Acts 6 – A dispute arises in the church, and the apostles’ response is also instructive. They ask the believers (an identifiable group) to pick, from among them (again, they knew who to chose from), deacons to serve. So, here we have some indication of organization, identification, and decision-making.

As we continue to flip through the picture album of the New Testament church, we see several little signposts that indicate a developing structure among local believers: Acts 8, opponents knew who to persecute; Acts 11 – communication between churches; Acts 12 – Herod arrested some who “belonged to the church”; Acts 14 & 15 – Paul & Barnabus “gather the church together.”

2. We see the evidence of local church membership in the instruction of the New Testament church. A few of these observations include:

  • 1 Cor 5:4, 11:18, and Heb 10:24-5 – Speaks of the assembly, the regular practice of meeting.
  • Rom 12:3-16 & 1 Pet 4:8-11 – Here we have instruction concerning behavior toward and service to those inside the church. This instruction only makes sense if those being instructed had a context in which they could practice this kind of serving and living.
  • 1 Tim 5:9-10 – This is one example of pastoral care shown by the church to its widows. We see that there is a way to identify who is eligible for help.
  • 1 Pet 5:2 & Acts 20:28 – Peter and Paul both instruct elders to care for those they have been entrusted with. These elders would have some way of knowing for whom they were responsible.
  • 1 John 2:9 & 1 Cor 5:2 – Finally, when Scripture speaks of those who leave (or are expelled from) the church, these terms/actions only make sense if there is a knowledge of who is included.

As we search the New Testament, we may not have a book of 1 Membership, and yet it becomes clear that the idea of church membership is not the tradition or convention of man. We see it modeled for us by the early church. Indeed, even the existence of letters to the churches indicates that believers organized themselves into local bodies. Now, the exact form of that organization may not be explicitly spelled out for us… but that’s another discussion.

If you would like to read more on this topic, this article summarizes Jonathan Leeman’s argument in the book Church Membership. That book is also part of a more extensive series that you may find encouraging.

It’s Time to Re-engage

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.

(Joel 2:25, ESV)

We are living in odd, difficult, and uncertain times. What we have experienced and are experiencing cannot be easily summarized or readily processed. But one thing we can know: the past nineteen months have revealed how fragile life is and how little control we actually have.

Our God, however, is a God of restoration. He is a gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Not only is He able to bring us through this time, we can come through stronger than ever in our faith and in our fellowship.

Nothing is too hard for God. He can do anything. Because God is omnipotent (all-powerful), He does not care about “degree of difficulty,” for when you are omni-potent there is no “degree of difficulty.” In fact, there is no such thing as difficulty!

And yet, the all-powerful Ruler of the universe, chooses to use weak and faulty humans to accomplish His will. He has even commissioned us with the greatest of all tasks, the spreading of the gospel.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV)

We can overcome, because of the One who lives in us and calls us to Himself. It is by His blood (His work to redeem us for Himself) and by the Word of our testimony (the continual work of the Spirit to apply Christ’s work to our lives and conform us into His image) that we overcome. It cannot be our strength but His faithfulness.

We have lost opportunities these past nineteen months – some have been taken from us and others we have neglected to take hold of. And yet, the Lord can restore us, establish us, and strengthen us again for His purposes. But there are a few things we must do so that effectiveness can be recovered.

(1) Let’s purpose to move forward. No longer can we fear those things we cannot control. With wisdom, we can faithfully and responsibly pursue the calling we have received in Christ Jesus. We can gather together for instruction and encouragement. We can engage in ministry.

(2) We must overcome spiritual atrophy. More than lethargy, we have become so relaxed and disengaged for so long that our spiritual muscles have diminished. Having been in “survival mode” for such a long time, we must once again look outward and upward. We must retrain ourselves to serve one another, to be gospel focused, and engaged in ministry.

(3) We must repent of being frozen by fear and discouragement. I don’t know who else needs this one, but I need this one the most. Because of fear and insecurities, because of discouragement and uncertainties, there remains a long list of things that haven’t happened and a greater list of people who have been neglected. To the extent that we have been paralyzed by circumstance and selfishness, we must repent and move forward.

and (4) Let’s go!! Let’s re-connect with one another, re-discover the joy of ministry, and re-engage the mission He has given us. People need hope. They are looking for comfort. They are desperate for purpose and meaning. We have the eternal, life-changing, soul-enriching message of the gospel. We serve a God who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly beyond anything we could ask or imagine. So, let’s go! And let’s see what He does through us and in us for His glory.

Why Join A Local Church?

(adapted from Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever)

Perhaps you have met someone, or you’re related to someone, or maybe, you ARE someone who doesn’t believe in “organized religion.” You might prefer to keep your faith a private matter between you and God – after all, the experiences you’ve had in church or with church people have not been positive.

I get that. I have had my share of experiences, too. However, Jesus (who had considerable conflict with “organized religion”) does not give us the option to abandon the church. After all, the Church is His bride, His body, and His people. He has established His Church and is building His Church. And He continues to stand as the head over every church – even the ones filled with broken, imperfect, and (even, at times) ornery people.

We could say much about God’s design for His people, Christ’s work in the gospel, and the Spirit’s application of salvation; however, for the sake of time, let me present five reasons every believer should be an active member in a local church.

(1) Believers join a local church to express their faith. (John 14:21; 1 John 4:20)

“Membership in a local church is intended as a testimony to our membership in the universal church.” Church membership is an expression of our faith. As believers, we want to obey our Savior, to do what our Lord commands – and He expects his people to be united together, living faith alongside one another in the context of a local church.

(2) Believers join a local church to embody the gospel. (1 Thess 1:1-10; Phil 1:27)

“The church is the gospel made visible.” In the church, we are called to display the glory of God in the gospel of Christ. We should see community, reconciliation, forgiveness, transformation, love, humility, care, and comfort. It is in the church that we are called to live out our faith in tangible, concrete, and observable activities. It is a sort of laboratory for gospel experiments: what happens if we live life together like the Bible says?

(3) Believers join a local church to edify the church. (Col 3:1-17; Heb 10:19-25)

Our gatherings are a time of encouragement. If you do nothing else but show up faithfully, your presence infuses boldness, and comfort, and faith into the lives of those around you. The way we prioritize one another and relate to one another confirms & strengthens faith.
The church is built up as every working part pulls together to do what God has called and equipped each part to do. Instead of joining a church for what we get out of it (while there are benefits), we should join a church for the service and gifts we bring to that particular church.

(4) Believers join a local church to evangelize the lost. (Mtw 28:18-20; Phil 2:1-4)

“A local church is, by nature, a missionary organization.” As a church, we are to give attention to spreading the gospel… locally, nationally, and globally. This is our “one purpose.” It is our “great commission.” The unity and love we demonstrate (in no small part when we meet) are crucial elements of this mission.

(5) Believers join a local church to exalt their God. (1 Thess 2:1-12; Col 1:1-12)

Above all else, God is honored and shown to be great when we abide together the way His Word commands. Church-hopping in a consumerist fashion not only stunts our spiritual growth but dishonors God. Superficial relationships may make us feel good, but they do not build us up. More than that, maintaining a unity based on pleasant feelings with those like us (while we hide our faults) is contrary to the gospel. On the other hand, maintaining unity with those unlike us (especially when our faults are exposed and our feelings are hurt) brings glory to God. That magnifies the gospel!

Suppose we are going to live out our faith according to the Lord’s design and display the gospel powerfully before a watching world. In that case, we must identify with, join, participate in, and submit to a local body of believers.

Our faith may be personal, but it is not private. We are wired for relationship. Faith is designed for community. Participating in a local church is foundational to our growth as disciples, experiencing His plans and purposes, and walking in fellowship with our Savior and our God.

The Sufficient Word of God

The Word of God ALWAYS produces a response.

Paul wrote to the Colossians, “…you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth…” (Colossians 1:5-6)

The gospel, Paul exclaims, was bearing fruit in Colossae just as it bears fruit every. where. it. goes.

To put it another way: God’s Word works. God’s Word opens hearts, changes minds, shapes wills, and transforms lives.  God’s Word is God’s chosen method of accomplishing His will in His people and in the world.

Consider Isaiah:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven; and do not return there but water the earth; making it bring forth and sprout; giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty; but it shall accomplish that which I purpose; and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

(Isaiah 55:10–11, ESV)

God’s Word is effective.  It will accomplish the purpose for which God sends it. All ministry (in order to be faithful) must trust the Word of God to produce true gospel fruit. 

As believers, we must prioritize God’s Word in our battle against sin and to cultivate a closeness to our Savior.  When we neglect the Word of God and rely instead on willpower, accountability, and other resources, we are moving our trust away from God’s Word and placing our confidence in our own strength and wisdom.  This is a recipe for frustration and failure. 

Instead, let’s run to God and His Word.  Marinate our minds in Scripture. Memorize His promises and follow His commands.  Instead of watering our souls with inspirational thoughts and esteem-building post-its, let’s plant our souls next to the running waters of His Word. Let’s write Scripture on our mirrors and keep His commands before our eyes.

The Word of God is not only effective, but also sufficient. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)

God’s Word is His method of shaping our lives and strengthening our souls. It is by His Word that the Holy Spirit prepares workers, trains disciples, and equips His servants. 

James instructs believers as they seek to do God’s will and walk in His purposes.  To walk faithfully, they must “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21, ESV)

In other words, the saving of their souls (in this case, victory over sin and increasing holiness) is ultimately dependent on the Word of God.

We see this all over the Bible.  Consider still these Scriptures:

Need more faith, a stronger faith?  Look to God’s Word, for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  (Romans 10:17, ESV)

This is true because “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)

Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17, ESV)

God’s method (and therefore Jesus prayer) centers on the ability of God’s Word to transform, sustain, and empower His people.  But more than a declaration of it’s ability, God is giving us a promise that He will transform, sustain, and empower us as we trust His Word.

In our study of Acts, we saw Paul and his company move through Macedonia.  Paul’s pattern was to reason from and present the Word of God as he declared the gospel.  When those in Thessalonica received God’s Word immediately endured persecution from those who rejected it.  There is so much we could say about this (you can read it in Acts 17).  For now, let’s simply say it was their high value on God’s Word that enabled them to survive.

Paul would then be sent to Berea, where there was not persecution (at least not from the Bereans).  The reason the Bereans came to faith together (instead of being divided like the Thessalonians) is because they had positioned themselves under God’s Word and committed themselves to its proper understanding. It is this high respect for Scripture that made the Bereans “more noble” than the Thessalonians.

This challenges us in at least three ways:

1. We must give priority to the Word of God. As we live our faith and share it with others, we must rely upon and lead with and trust God’s Word to bear fruit and produce results.

2. We must cling to humility and teachability.  We must determine in our hearts that the entirety of our lives is under the authority of God and His Word. Our methods, ideas, desires, and theology must all be subject to and shaped by the Word of God.  Like Martin Luther, our conscience must be captive to the Word of God. Scripture, rightly interpreted and well-reasoned supersedes all our ideas, desires, dreams, and traditions.

And 3. We must give attention to the Word of God.  We must read it, meditate on it, memorize it, sing it, submit to it, talk about it, and teach it.  Our lives must be given over to the Word of God.  We must give it more than 30 minutes a week.  God’s Word should pour into our lives daily if the seeds of His Word are going to transform our minds and lives, heal our hearts and families, strengthen our hearts and our hopes.

Our Calling: Make Disciples

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

The words of Jesus found at the end of Matthew’s gospel are known as the “Great Commission,” and have long been considered the marching orders for Christ’s church. Contrary to how it may appear in the English translation, there is only one imperative in Jesus’s words. Jesus’s command, the imperative at the center of His instructions, is to “make disciples.”

Making disciples happens in two parts: (1) share the gospel, and (2) help people grow in the gospel. We want to share the gospel so that people can repent of sin and believe in Christ for salvation. As they come to faith in Christ, we labor to see them grow in faith.

What about “Go.”?

“Go” is describing the command, “make disciples.” In the Greek, it is an adverb, a participle describing the command to “make disciples.” In a sense, Jesus is saying, “as you go,” or “while you are going, make disciples.”

The implication is that throughout our going, throughout life’s ins and outs, we are to be making disciples. This is especially key for parents. In the spirit of Deuteronomy 6, we are to teach His Word to the next generation as we go: “You shall teach [the Lord’s commands] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:7–9, ESV) Again, as you go and wherever you are, make disciples of your children.

This is the method of disciple-making: take people with you. Parents, when you are going to minister, volunteer, deliver a meal, or decorate for an event, or encourage someone in the hospital, take your kids with you. Take others with you. But not just parents, all of us! Find people in your life that you not only study Scripture with but people that you act on Scripture with. Believing is only genuine when it results in doing.

Before we leave the idea of “Go,” we must also say that there is included a definite sense of intentionally going to people and places with the deliberate intention to share the gospel. We must be engaging the world around us so that we can take the light of the gospel into dark places. We want to be building relationships and going into places to that Christ has representation and a voice in places where He does not yet have a representation or a voice. So, let’s GO into these places, let’s GO to all people, and as we are going, let’s be making disciples.

But the command to “make disciples” is also modified by our Lord with two other participles. In addition to the participle “Go,” we also are told that making disciples involves “baptizing” and “teaching.”

When someone comes to believe in Christ and surrender their lives to Him, baptism is that first step of obedience. When a new believer goes under the water, it is symbolic of dying to their old self and when he/she comes out of the water, it demonstrates that they have been raised to walk in new life. It symbolizes the change that has happened in their hearts, crucifying the old self and choosing new life in Christ.

Finally, the participle “teaching” leads us back to where we started. We mature in our faith as we learn “to observe all that [He] has commanded.” Being a disciple is a lifelong journey of learning and being changed by what we learn. But as we teach and train (and learn) as disciples, we must recognize that teaching is not merely about knowledge. Paul warns us that knowledge can puff us up, makes us arrogant, and even deceive us. But knowledge in love of our Savior leads to obedience, and knowledge in the service of love for others transforms our desires and our behaviors.

Teaching includes information and knowledge, but it is also training. What do we do with that knowledge? How does it change us and what does change look like? …in my life? How does change influence my desires? How does maturity transform how I view marriage and what I want out of my marriage? How does being a disciple influence how I parent my children or what I want for my children? As I disciple of Christ, how does my business look different than others’?

Every area of our lives should be impacted by discipleship as we make disciples and grow in our own journey as a disciple. Walking faith together, with a local body of believers, we need coaching, encouragement, and accountability. We learn to pour out our lives, serving others more and demanding less. We learn to consider own another as better than ourselves. We seek to outdo one another in showing honor. We divide our sorrows, share our burdens, and multiply our joys. We begin to see Christ in our lives and in our midst as we seek to know Him, and honor Him.

Christian, is your church a disciple-making church? Is your home a disciple-making home? Are others growing in their faith because of their relationship with you? Are you engaging the world around you so that Christ has a representation and a voice?
If you cannot answer those questions as enthusiastically as you would like, or if you don’t know how to answer… that’s okay. Join the club. But let’s strive together toward increased faithfulness, so that the next time we consider this Great Commission, we can joyfully praise God for the change we see in our lives.

When God Seems Absent

We’ve all been there. Some of us have been there more times than we want to remember and more recently than we care to admit.

We have been on our knees, asking the Lord God to intervene on our behalf. Maybe for you it was in the midst of chemo. Maybe you have been calling out in the midst of a marriage crumbling around you. Impossible times have a way of making us feel isolated, alone, and helpless. When we are brought to the end of our own self-sufficiency and there is nothing we can do about a child in rebellion, that strained relationship, or an evaporating job market.

So, from the fog of our confusion, hurt, and desperation, we pray. We call out to God, and as best as we can tell, we hear nothing in return. We are struck by silence. And we wonder where He is in the midst of all we are going through.

Be encouraged. You are not the only child of God to have that experience.

Take heart. God is much nearer than your feelings would allow you to believe.

The world is saturated with pain, difficulty, and hardship, but our Savior reminds us that He has overcome this world. Throughout Scripture, God declares and demonstrates that He will never leave us, He is with us, and He is for us. He captures every tear. He hears every prayer. And every struggle we experience is working in us a glory that will eclipse every hardship.

The book of Esther is one powerful example of this truth. This small testimony, tucked away in the history of God’s people, is full of struggle, tension, drama, humor, irony, and plot twists. However, the one thing it is missing is any mention of God. His name is never spoken. Not once.

But, make no mistake, God is present. His hand is clearly at work behind and between every decree and every plot. Therein lies our first lesson. Even when we cannot see God, He is present & active. He is weaving a tapestry of faithfulness that is not readily visible while standing in the midst of a chaotic mess of needles and yarn. But when it is finished and we look back, the beauty of His artwork is undeniable.

In Esther we also see that God’s enemies are real and evil has an agenda. When Jesus promises that “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33), He is not speaking in metaphor. The world (as we have already said) is ripe with pain and trouble. The Lord’s enemies, spiritual and natural, have a plan and they are always at work. Satan prowls like a lion (1 Peter 5:8), seeking those whom he might devour. He comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10). But we have the assurance that “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Therefore, we have confidence that even when evil appears to advance, God’s plans and His purposes will prevail. Esther is positioned in a position of influence. Mordecai is saved. And Haman is hanged on his own gallows. Authority is granted and a plan is developed. God’s people are preserved, and His enemies are destroyed. Even when others act on evil impulses, God is working for the good of His people and the glory of His name. His plans will prevail.

Our role? Our role is to trust Him today. Esther and Mordecai teach us this. We cannot anticipate or prepare for every challenge that awaits us, but God prepares us daily as we pursue Him. When Esther was taken, they were powerless to stop it. When Mordecai stops an assassination plot, and was not rewarded for it, he did it because it was the right thing to do. He had no idea the significance of the act, or that a late reward would be key to God’s plan.

There is so much we cannot anticipate or plan for, but if we will commit to follow the Lord in the day we have, then He will prepare us for the days to come. Preparing for the big plans of tomorrow begin with faithfulness in the little things of today. We may not know the fullness of His plans, but He does. And if we commit to present day faithfulness, we will see His deliverance and provision and glory.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

Take courage. Our God is faithful. Our Savior is faithful. The Spirit is our help. Trust Him and stay close to Him.

If there is anything else I do to help you along this journey, please reach out.

If you are interested in viewing the Esther Sermon series, you can access it here.

Passing On the Faith

I enjoy track and field. It’s one of my favorite things to watch when the Olympics roll around every four years. (Sidenote: I really missed the Olympics last year.)

Of course, in the world of track and field, the fan-favorite races are the sprints, especially the relays. I have never been much of a sprinter, but I have always wanted to run in the relays. As a distance guy, I never got the chance. There’s just something about the quick starts, the teamwork, and the passing of the baton that capture my attention – and still create a sense of envy.

There was however one time I was able to run a relay. I cannot remember why I was recruited, but I do remember the dread of thinking, “What if I botch the exchange? What if I drop the baton?” I didn’t, but we didn’t win, and I was never on a relay again.

Church. We have a baton to pass. The ancient baton of faith. It has it’s origin woven into creation and has been passed faithfully throughout history and it is in our hands today. It is “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” God has faithfully preserved it among His people, and we are holding it now.

What are you going to do with it, Christian? Who are you going to pass it to? How are you going to pass it on? What shape are you going to pass it in?

Too many Christians take this baton and hide it. Like the servant that buried his talent, some bury their faith out of fear. Keep it close, after all, it’s a personal matter, what does it matter to other people? This fearful and timid faith comes dangerously close to surrendering faith into apostasy. Our faith, while personal, is not private. We are not saved merely for our own eternal preservation but as a display of His glory and as a part of His mission.

We must proclaim His gospel to all those around us, especially to those in the upcoming generations. Too many Christians are not thinking of passing this baton of faith. We may not hide it, but neither is it being extended to others. Instead of offering it to those around us, we enshrine it. We place it on a pedestal out of reach and adorn it with decorations that make the baton hard to see.

We want others to see Jesus in us, but they cannot distinguish between Jesus and all the stuff we’ve attached to him. We hope our children and grandchildren will walk after us in the faith, but we are unwilling to go into the future with them. We demand that they navigate the terrain of the future with the tools of the past. We cannot pass the baton to their hands if we continue to focus on our grip. A faith that is self-focused, will not be grasped by others.

If our faith is going to be passed on:

(1) We must model both faith and faithfulness. We must recognize what the gospel is and what we have attached to it, and then must pass on that which is essential as we speak of and act on the passions, priorities, and purposes of the Kingdom.

(2) We must adopt a heritage of faith. The church walks in a legacy of faithfulness thousands of years old. Let’s hear those stories. History is memory. We must never forget for where we have come. There is a legacy behind us that guides us to the plans God has in front of us. Even every changing times, in the midst of modern challenges, it is increasingly important to hold onto the constants of the faith, to the continuity of His Word.

(3) We must connect them to a people. Faith is a team sport. Faith, by God’s design, is meant to be lived out in community. We cannot experience the fullness of faith in Christ apart from the fellowship of His Bride, the church.

(4) We must pass the baton to a person. We cannot toss this baton of faith into a generic “generation.” Faith does not live on in instituions but in the hearts of people. We must share it with individuals, for if it is to be sent into the future, it will be individual believers who show it and share it with others. The gospel, this faith, only goes where people take it. So, we must invest in people, people we love and trust and encourage and teach and help.

(5) We must pray for those who are coming up behind us. There is so much more that can and should be said, but ultimately, this task is too big for us; we must trust God. And trusting God, we pray diligently and desperately for those we are sharing the gospel with. We want them to flourish in the faith as they walk with God, pursue His purposes, and fulfill His plans. In this, they will know life, eternal and abundant, and in the knowing they will be able to pass it on to others.

Passing on the faith is a personal investment that requires intentional action, sacrificial service, and earnest prayer. Let’s pray that we can build up one another, and especially future generations, unto multi-generational faithfulness.

If there is anything else I do to help you along this journey, please reach out by leaving a comment or sending an email. If you want to watch this message in it’s entirety, you can find it with past messages on our website: fbcblanco.org.