Are We Missional? 10 Diagnostic Questions

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In the book Live Sent: You Are a LetterJason Dukes lays out 10 questions to help Christians discern whether or not they are operating with a missional mindset. I have tweaked them and explained them below. Challenging words!

1. When you speak of church, what prepositions do you use?

Do you focus on church as a place or event more than a people who are sent? We are all called to live missionally, and we as a church are to be sent out as “salt and light” to a decaying and dark world. Our church in Athens has a sign as you leave the parking lot that exhibits this mindset, reading, “You are now entering your mission field.”                                                                                             

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Looking Unto Jesus- Charles Spurgeon

“Looking unto Jesus.” —Hebrews 12:2

“It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ.

He insinuates, ‘Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of His children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.’

All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: He tells us that we are nothing, but that ‘Christ is all in all.’

Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits.

Therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith.

We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by ‘looking unto Jesus.’

Keep thine eye simply on Him; let His death, His sufferings, His merits, His glories, His intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to Him; when thou liest down at night look to Him.

Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after Him, and He will never fail thee.

‘My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesu’s blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesu’s name.’”

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–Charles Spurgeon, “June 28 – Morning” in Morning and Evening (Geanies House, Fearn, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 1994), 378.

God’s Sovereignty In the Book of Acts: Ordaining the Cross

God’s-Sovereignty

“His Sovereignty rules over all.” – Ps. 103:19

I have often heard the phrase, “God is sovereign” in a way that has been spoken to me to give me encouragement in a tough time or situation. But I never really took the time to meditate on what it meant for Him to be sovereign. The term is defined by having supreme power and authority, a free ability to do as one pleases. In other words, God is in absolute control over every situation, and works out everything according to His will. Think on it for a while, and it will drive your brain into massive confusion. However, we are called to submit ourselves to and believe what scripture tells us, and trust in his sovereignty.

These past few days, I have read through the book of Acts, and I was struck with how much it reveals about God’s sovereignty-with regards to salvation! I simply would like to share them with you in a 3 part series, so that you too can see how God has worked out salvation for his people, and how you, too, if in Christ, were brought into salvation by his amazing grace.

In this first post, Lets look at the major theme of sovereignty in how God ordained the cross:

  • Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” Acts 2:23

I had a very interesting conversation with a Muslim man the other day, who asked me if Christians hated Jews, because they were the ones who “killed Jesus.” This was the first time that I had really come across this misconception. Before I could reply, my friend with me answered, “No,no,no, we don’t hate them at all. We believe it was God’s plan all along, that he used the Jews and the Romans to accomplish his purpose of sacrificing Jesus!” This can be a tough pill to swallow, but Acts 2:23 clearly states for us that Jesus was crucified because it was the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. Let’s look at another verse:

  • What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.” Acts 3:18

In this verse we are told that not only did God plan it from the beginning, but you can see his plan through reading the prophets in the Old Testament. Lets look at one of the most well-known passages. Isaiah 53:5 reads, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” Isn’t is incredible that these words were written 600-700 years before Jesus birth? There are over 300 in the Old Testament like it! God surely had a plan, and was voicing it to his people all throughout history.

If you haven’t been convinced yet, lets look at one last verse,

  • For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus…Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your hand had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:27-28

In the most heinous crime committed in the history of mankind, God was behind the scenes, sovereignly ruling. His hand predestined for Jesus to go to the cross, and to bear the weight of our filthy sin. He planned it all, so that whosoever would repent and believe in Him, would have eternal life. This was the depth of his love for us, that he would send his own Son, who would be despised and rejected, so that we might have life with Him. “But God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8. Recognizing this plan helps us understand the cornerstone of the gospel, seen in Isaiah 53:10,” Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him.” Him- meaning Jesus.

People everywhere are commanded to repent and believe in this incredible gospel (Acts 17:30). How could we not accept so great a Savior? How could we not devote our lives to a God, who in his sovereignty planted the very tree that he would be crucified on-all to give us life and relationship with Him?

Truly, He is sovereign.

John 3 – “You Must Be Born Again”

Jesus was very clear about the change that must take place in order to become one of his own and see the kingdom of God.

You must be born again” John 3:7

Must I go to church? No, you must be born again. Must I pray a certain prayer? No, you must be born again. Must I give to the poor? No, you must be born again. Must I be baptized? No, you must be born again. Must I follow the law? No, you must be born again. Must I teach Sunday school or sing in the choir? No, you must be born again!

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” John 3:3

One of my spiritual heroes, C.H. Spurgeon, illustrated this truth this way (in my own paraphrase):

Suppose that in England, there should be a law passed that admission to courts, preference to office, and any privileges in the nation were only given to the natural born citizens of the country. What then, would court officials say if an native Indian man came to them and said, “I will change my name” or “I will change my dress” or “I will change my family, my friends,” or “I will learn the language” or “I will work for it!” You see none of these things could admit the man, for the law is absolute, the man must be an natural born citizen to obtain the privileges, and he is not.

This illustration also correlates with us as Christians. We cannot change our names (call ourselves Christians), change the way we dress, change our friends, change our behavior, learn to talk like Christians, learn to pray like Christians, give away our money, help the poor, or do any type of Christian service. For God’s statement is clear: “You must be born again.”

This new birth is a sweeping process which is more than a change, it is a creation. Not just reformation, but regeneration. Not just becoming religious, but being born. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefor, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; Behold, the new has come.”

Do you exhibit a different life than you did before? Do you now hate the very things you used to love? Have your desires changed? Do you have a hunger for reading and understanding God’s Word? Do you desire to be around other believers? Can you persist in sin? What is your attitude towards sin- are you brokenhearted over it? or are you still indifferent to it? To whom have you entrusted your whole life to?

We cannot bring about these changes ourselves, nor make ourselves “born again.” We are only born again of the Spirit, the power of God. Salvation is a magnificent work where a soul is saved and made completely new. Ultimately, Jesus is the only one who can bring about this new creation in us.

It is imperative to understand that he brings about this change. “Behold” says Christ, “I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Dear friend, you must be made new; you must be born again! I paraphrase Mr. Spurgeon again, “Christ can make you really pure in heart; he can make you a new creature, so that you shall be converted and become as a little child. “Oh!” say you, “how can I get it? How can I prepare myself for him?” You do not want to prepare yourself for him. Go to him just as you are; trust him to do it, and he will do it. That is faith, you know–trust, dependence. Can you believe that Christ can save you? Oh! you can believe that; well now, will you trust him to save you? Will you trust him to deliver you from your drunkenness, from your angry temper, your pride, your love of self, your lusts? Do you desire to be a new creature in Christ Jesus? If so, that very desire must have come from heaven. I could fain hope that he has already begun the good work in you, and he that begins it will carry it on.”

“”Oh! make me a new creature!” If you have said that from your heart, you are a new creature, dear brother, and we will rejoice together in this regenerating Savior.” (Spurgeon, A New Creation, published July 15, 1915.)

John 1: The Word Became Flesh

This year, my family, some friends and I are reading through the book of John counting down to Christmas. Each day we are reading a chapter and I am writing an analysis. Please join us! Today is John Chapter 1.

John 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, He was in the beginning with God.” (verses 1-2).

In the very beginning of the book of John, we are given a clear representation of who Jesus is. From these first two verses, what are we told? That in the beginning, the Word was there, with God, and was God. So who or what is this “Word?” None other than Jesus himself! Skim down to verse 14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Aha! Now we can read these “Word” verses with this knowledge in mind. Lets summarize what this section tells us about Jesus:

  • In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. (v.1)
  • He (Jesus) was in the beginning with God. (v.2)
  • All things were made through him (Jesus), and nothing was made without him. (v.3)
  • In him (Jesus) is life, and he is the light of men. (v.4)
  • Jesus put on flesh and dwelt among us (v.14)

Is this odd that John starts with these deep truths about Jesus right at the beginning? Why would he do that? I believe he was intentional about it, because he believed it was absolutely crucial to understand that Jesus was God in the form of a man, to understand the gospel at all!

So what else is unique here? (besides John the Baptist, I will write of him in a later post). Look at this verse, “No one has ever seen God, the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” (verse 18). What does this tell us? The 2nd time the verse says “God,” it is referring to Jesus! Some older manuscripts read “The only Son…..has made him known.” We could also read this verse now thinking of Jesus: “No one has ever seen God, but Jesus, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

So Jesus has come to make God known, and so that we can know Him! As we read on in John, we will see that because of our sinful condition, this was the only possible way that we could be made right with God. The Bible calls this “knowing God” eternal life; “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

We will see as we continue reading that Jesus came to accomplish this very purpose, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). But first he must live a life of perfect obedience, offer up his life by being nailed to a cross, and rise from the grave to do so. I hope you will join my family and me as we continue to read the gospel of John this Christmas season, as we strive to know God through the amazing gift he has given us: Jesus!

Rethinking Heaven….The New Earth

landscape09In a bible study that I had with a couple of guys last night, we talked briefly about the topic of the new earth, and how our eternity will not be spent in some foreign sky called “heaven” but that we will walk the new, transformed, perfect earth, with Jesus reigning as Lord!

Revelation 21:2-3,”Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.

After our discussion, I went home and broke open one of my favorite books, Eternal Perspectives, by Randy Alcorn, and I read,

“At Christ’s return, the earth will be healed from sin’s wounds. These include not only toxic waste and chemical pollution but also cultural and moral pollution. The healing of wounds implies the return to an original condition. If our new bodies will look enough like the old bodies to be recognizable, doesn’t this suggest that the New Earth will look enough like the old Earth for us to recognize it?

…The New Earth will still be just as much Earth as the new us will still be us. Our resurrection bodies will have our eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. Like Christ’s body, ours will maintain their distinguishing features. If our new bodies will so closely correspond to the present ones, won’t the New Earth just as closely correspond to the present one? Will there be a New Mount St. Helens and New Himalayas and New Alaska under the new northern lights? Will there be a New Bermuda, a New Canada, a New Australia?

…My understanding of Scripture suggests that the New Earth will include not only resurrected geographical locations but also resurrected cultures. The kings of the nations will bring their tribute, splendor, and glory into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24,26) There will be not one nation but many. This reference gives us biblical basis to suppose that the best culture, history, art, music, and the languages of the old Earth will be redeemed, purified, and carried over to the New Earth.

Surely these kings and cultures who bring their “splendor” and “glory” into the new world won’t start from scratch. They’ll bring into the new world a national and personal history, an ethnic identity, and a wealth of customs, art forms, and knowledge. All these will be purified, but that leaves plenty of room for distinctive cultural celebrations, holidays, meals, sports, and many other customs.”

So much for floating around in the sky as robots!! How could we not look forward to whats coming? First and foremost, WE GET CHRIST! IN FULL! and then there are so many other amazing things such as these, yet we cannot even begin to grasp them, because “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9.)

I hope this is encouraging for you today!

and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” – See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/New-Heavens-And-New-Earth#sthash.h0Pny9OU.dpuf
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” – See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/New-Heavens-And-New-Earth#sthash.h0Pny9OU.dpuf

The Heavenly Wedding Feast…Do You Have The Attire?

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In Matthew 22 Jesus speaks to the disciples in a parable that we regard as “the parable of the wedding feast.” He starts of by telling them that “the kingdom of heaven could be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son..” (verse 2). He proceeds to tell them that the king sent out his servants to invite people, but the people would not come. He sent more servants to invite them to the wedding, but the people paid no attention to them, treated them shamefully and even killed them. He sends out new servants with new instructions, “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” These servants gathered good and bad (a foreshadow that Gentiles would later have the gospel message offered to them, but more on that in a different post) people, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But the king comes in and sees a man without the wedding garment and asks him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (verse 12). The man was speechless, and at once the king had him bound and cast into outer darkness.

If your like me, you may read this and think, “What in the world? The man didn’t have on the right clothing…so he was cast out? What about meeting people where they are and welcoming them into our churches no matter what?” These are the things that I thought before the Spirit revealed to me the much deeper meaning of the passage. Here’s the deeper meaning:

The wedding feast represents heaven, and the King represents God. The servants that go out and invite people (the Jews) represent God’s prophets in the Old Testament, that proclaimed repentance and prophesied about Jesus, but were treated badly and put to death.  The good and the bad people represents everyone else (because the Jews refused to respond). All of this so far may or may not be obvious, but what on earth does the poor man without the wedding garment have to do with anything? Well, he is truly a poor man, and I’ll tell you why:

The wedding garment represents Christ’s righteousness that is laid over us. This is the way that Jesus taught that our self-righteousness would never be enough! From the very beginning of creation, God has provided a “covering” for our sin. To insist on covering ourselves is to be clothed in “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Adam and Eve tried to cover their shame, but they found their fig leaves to be woefully scant. God took away their handmade clothes and replaced them with skins of animals (Genesis 3:7, 21). In the book of Revelation, we see those in heaven wearing “white robes” (Revelation 7:9), and we learn that the whiteness of the robes is due to their being washed in the blood of the Lamb (verse 14). We trust in God’s righteousness, not our own (Philippians 3:9)! The man who did not wear the wedding garment is an example of one who trusts in his own righteousness and merit to get into heaven! It simply cannot be done, if we try to do so, we will be cast into outer darkness.

The king provided wedding garments for his guests, and God has provided salvation for mankind through Christ! My friends, our wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ, and there is no wedding feast for us if we do not have it! When the religions of the world are stripped down to their basic tenets, we either find man working his way toward God, or we find the cross of Christ. Jesus crucified, buried and resurrected is the only way to God, for He himself says, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

God has invited us to a wedding feast, and an eternity with him. Our invitation comes with a garment that we must receive and put on to enter: Christ’s righteousness. We do this by trusting in His life and finished work on the cross to cover our sins, without any bit of trust in our own merit or good works. If we trust in ourselves, our own righteousness, and our good works to gain us entrance to the feast, we wil be cast in to utter darkness: eternity in hell. However, the kingdom of heaven is opened to those who will set aside their own righteousness and by faith accept Christ’s righteousness.

My friends, there is a heavenly wedding feast awaiting, and your invited. The question is, do you have the attire?

 

The Heart, Words, and a Love For Jesus

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Convicted. Sometimes I approach God’s divine Word, I walk away thinking, “Man, scripture calls me to do this, act this way, treat people this way, and I just can’t do it!” However, I believe there are two ways to respond to this: 1.) Give Up- When I’m convicted, I could easily say, “Man! This bible stuff is so hard, there’s so much I can’t do! Jesus can’t possibly expect me to actually do these things, and if I show a tiny bit of effort, that will be enough. Or, 2.) I could say, “Lord, even as I read your Word I realize more and more how much I don’t even come close measuring up to your standards. I am so depraved and sinful, and would be utterly lost without you. Thank you so much from saving me from this body of sin. Please, by the help of your Holy Spirit, help me to not only hear and understand your words, but to DO them.”

I was confronted with another passage of scripture this morning that brought me this “decision point” of how to respond. The passage is in Matthew 12 (verse 34) where Jesus says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Wow. I was taken back a bit. As I read this scripture I remembered the conversations I had the day before about NBA Playoff predictions, golf, braves, fishing, hunting, work, etc. Jesus tells us that out of the abundance of our heart, our mouth speaks. Basically, whatever we prize or cherish the most, is what we talk about the most! I was convicted, but also encouraged to engage in more conversations with my peers (and even strangers) about Jesus!

I was talking with my girlfriend earlier this week, and our conversation was about the reason that we were created. In scripture, we are told that we were created for two related reasons:

  1. To glorify God.
  2. To have a personal relationship with him.

If we honestly believed this, how much more time would we doing things that accomplishes both of these? Wouldn’t we have more conversations with our friends about the one who made a personal relationship with God possible for us!?

Jesus HAS made it possible!  This IS the purpose that YOU were created! If this concept is foreign to you, or your have never really understood all this “Jesus” stuff, let me give you a brief attempt at revealing this amazingly good news: We are sinful. You know we are. We all do “wrong” things and rebel against God. This happens because God created man and woman to live in perfect harmony with him, and they sinned against him by breaking one rule he gave them. Mankind has been slaves to sin ever since. David says in Psalm 51, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” Romans 6:23 tells us that the “wages of sin are death.” By being sinful, we deserve an eternity in Hell, suffering never ending torment and separation from God. But God chose to manifest himself through his only Son, Jesus, stepping down from a place in glory, to a place where he would be beaten, mocked, abused, and spit on, just for you and me. He lived a perfect, sinless life, and was subject to torture and to death upon a cross, all for us. He did this so that by believing in him, his blood would cover all of our sins and make us in right standing with God. God no longer sees us as sinners, he sees us as saints. When he looks on us, he sees Christ and his righteousness. We are given access to eternity with Him because Christ’s obedience and perfect life is attributed to us if we believe. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” The relationship that God intended to have with Adam and Eve has been restored, and he will keep us into his hand until the end of our lives, where we CONTINUE this relationship with Him in heaven!

A quote by one of my favorite pastors, Timothy Keller, demonstrates Christ’s great love for me and YOU:

Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED.

My friends, he did this for YOU! When he was being beaten, spit on, mocked, and crucified, he could’ve easy had an army of angels at his side at once, but he STAYED and endured, so that you and I could be restored to our Father!

I encourage you to spend some time this week focusing on these truths. No one has or will ever love you this much. He saved you from so much. I encourage you to come along side me and help make Christ the center of some of our conversations (yes, outside of church) this week, showing others how thankful we are for Him and how much we truly love Him! Here are a couple questions I can think of to get the ball rolling!

  1. What is your view of Jesus? How would you describe him?
  2. How did you come to know Jesus, or how long have you been walking with Him?
  3. What changes have you experienced in your life as a result of following Jesus?
  4. How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?
  5. How is He working in your life right now?

Prove that Jesus is the abundance of your heart this week!