Monday, November 12, 2012

Are Unbelievers Really Hostile to God?

In Romans 8:7 we read, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot."  Quite a statement, isn't it?  Here Paul is contrasting the mind that is set on the flesh (controlled by sin, an unbeliever) with the mind that is set on the Spirit (one who is now controlled by God's Holy Spirit because of the sin conquering work of Jesus).  But are unbelievers or people of other religions really hostile to God?  Do they actually hate Him?  At first glance it seems that most people who have not placed their faith in Christ have a certain respect for their Creator (if they believe that He exists).  You do not hear many unbelievers going about declaring, "I hate God!"

Richard Lovelace in his book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, unfolds Jonathan Edwards explanation of these verses.  Here's what he says:

"Edwards summed up the Reformation's critique of humanity's pretense of goodness in a sermon called "Men Naturally God's Enemies," based on Paul's statement in Romans that the unregenerate mind is hostile to God.  Although most human beings give the appearance at times of being confused seekers of the truth with a naive respect for God, says Edwards, the reality is that unless they are moved by the Spirit they have a natural distaste for the real God, an uncontrollable desire to break his laws and a constant tendency to sit in judgement on him when they notice him at all.  They are at moral enmity with the God revealed in the Bible.  Since his purposes cross theirs at every juncture, they really hate him more than any finite object, and this is clearly displayed in their treatment of his Son.  They are largely unconscious of this enmity.  It is usually repressed through their unbelief, their creation of false portraits of God, their sense of his distance from us, their fear of punishment or their lack of the awareness of the magnitude of their guilt."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Handle with Care: 2 Chronicles 7:14

As election time grows near one Biblical promise seems to come to the fore in many prayers and on signs and on bumper stickers.  It is the promise found in 2 Chronicles 7:14 which reads:

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

It is a beautiful promise that God makes to His people, Israel.  But the question is, does this promise apply to us today?  In other words, are we promised that if Christians in America will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways that God will bring spiritual healing and renewal to our land (America).  The answer, I believe, is clearly "no."

Here is why:  in the original promise "my people" is Israel.  "Their land" is the land of Israel.  If we then equate Israel with the church in this promise then what is the church's land?  The church has no land as God's people did in the Old Testament.

We might also note that when God promises to heal the land in 2 Chronicles, He is not promising that spiritual renewal will take place but that the land will be physically healed from drought and pestilence: 

"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name . . . " (2 Chronicles 7:13-14a).

As much as we might hope, there is simply not a promise here that a nation will be spiritually healed if the church will repent.

Now that is not to say that there would countless, wonderful results if the church in America (me included!) would humble ourselves and turn from sin and seek the Lord.  I believe there would be;  but the promise of healing our land does not belong to us (or any other country.  Think of the church in Saudi Arabia or Iran or South Sudan.  Are the believers there humbled and seeking the Lord?  Probably much more than us).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How do we keep the Sabbath today?

Remember the Sabbath Day
A Biblical reflection on the need for a Sabbath Day

There seem to be two extremes when we begin to talk about practices on the Lord’s Day.  On the one hand we may find people who appear to define the Lord’s Day by what we cannot do on that day.  We might call these strict Sabbatarians.  You cannot go shopping;  you cannot watch TV;  you cannot take part in sporting events;  you cannot work for pay;  you cannot hunt;  you cannot do homework.  Of course, they will say that we can go to church, worship, seek the Lord and do acts of mercy.  We are to honor God by setting aside one day of seven where every moment is taken up with spiritual pursuits and not worldly activities.  To many people the “cannots” seem to outweigh the “cans,” and the Lord’s Day appears to be a burden and not a blessing.

For those who reject a strict Sabbath keeping, the alternative is usually an extremely loose keeping of the Sabbath.  Extremely loose being defined as doing whatever seems most convenient on the Lord’s Day.  They might say that the Sabbath is not meant to be a burden but a joy.  So if I need to go to the store it is not big deal.  If I miss church because I am out of town or have family visiting, it is no big deal.  If I want to go to a football game on Sunday, God will understand.  If I have to work, I have to work.  The mall is going to be open, so why not do some shopping?  For the loose Sabbatarian almost anything goes on Sunday as long as you are attending church on a regular basis—and even that may not be necessary.

On a continuum from strict to loose, I think that we would find that in our day most American evangelicals lean toward the loose side of Sabbath observance.

My own thinking is that both of these extremes are mistaken, though both contain elements of truth.  If we desire to bring all things under the Lordship of Christ then this will include our Sabbath day attitudes and activities.

So how would God have us view and keep the Sabbath?  It appears to me that the key is to go back to the beginning in Genesis.  In Genesis 1:1 we have a record of God calling the universe into existence.  This is followed by the main purpose of Genesis 1:1-2:3 “which focuses on the making and the shaping of the earth as a place for humans to live and love God.”  As we will see this main purpose will have an impact on how we view the Sabbath Day.  But consider for the moment that during the six days of creation God was putting everything into the world that mankind would need to live for and love God.  He gave us light and darkness, times and seasons, the skies and the heavens, water and land, animals and vegetation;  and He made us male and female.  All the days of creation the Lord is working to supply what mankind needs in order to live for the glory of God.

If this is true, might it be the case that God gave us the seventh day, a blessed and special day, for the same reason?  Did God not give us the seventh day of rest, not because He needs us to observe it, but because we need it?  We need it not only for the physical rest that it is meant to provide, but especially the blessing of remembering God as our Creator and Redeemer.  Is God not telling us as our Creator that it is important for us to take one day out of seven to find rest in Him?

In Exodus 20:8-11 God bases the keeping of the Sabbath on His work in creation.  He worked for six days and rested on the seventh.  Why did God rest?  Did He rest because He was worn out by all of His hard work?  No.  God does not get weary (see Isaiah 40:28-31).  He rested because He had finished His work of creation and pronounced it very good.  I think of it like this:  when you finish cutting your lawn or planting your garden, what do you usually do?  You take some time to just look and admire and find satisfaction in the work of your hands.  This, I believe, is what God did.  He took a moment and, as it were, stood back to enjoy the work of His hands.  God set the pattern for us.  We are so constituted that we need to take a day of seven to step back from our normal pursuits and enjoy the work that God has done in creation and in redemption (Deuteronomy 5:13-15).

Do you not find it to be the case as you go through the week, that our minds and hearts get distracted by so many things?  There is work and the house and the yard and family and bills, etc., so that we truly begin to forget about what is most important.  We begin to forget about God and His kingdom and His glory and His faithfulness and His daily blessings and grace.  And we begin to fall into following the course of this world and start setting our hearts on things that do not satisfy our deepest longings.  It is true that every day we should seek to find refreshment in God through His Word and personal communion in prayer, but God made us to need something more.  That something more is a full day to delight in God.

God knows us perfectly.  He created us, and He knows that we need a day out of seven to get re-orientated on what is right and best and most valuable.  He knows we need to find real refreshment and rest in Him, and so He has given us a day to meet our needs--our need to be blessed in Him.

Is this not what Jesus is telling us when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27)?  The Sabbath is a gift that God gave to man because our hearts need it so much.  The loose Sabbatarian tends to say, “Thanks for the gift, God, but I don’t really need it.”  The strict Sabbatarian seems to say, “Look at the gift I have for you, God, a whole day devoted to honoring You.”  Both miss the point.  We need the gracious gift of the Sabbath.

To view the Lord’s Day from this perspective, I find, makes a huge difference.  For those who are strict Sabbatarians it can begin to show you the joy and blessing of the day.  It is not meant to be a day of burdensome “do nots” but a day of “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

For those who see nothing special about the Lord’s Day or who wonder if a Sabbath was only part of the Old Testament, we can at least say that man’s need for a day of rest has not changed.  Our nature is the same now as it was then, and we still need a day out of seven to refocus ourselves on God and His glory and take our eyes off the things of the world that hold such a powerful sway.

For the loose Sabbatarian I would say that it does matter what you do on this day.  It matters not so much because God demands certain practices from you, but you need this day.  You are no different from anyone else.  You need this day to seek God and His rich blessings and doing the same things you do on other days of the week would seem to work against this.  It is a day to delight in the Lord and you are the one who misses out when you go your own way and do your own thing:

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
Isaiah 58:13-14

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Did a Man Rise from the Dead?

Before anything else the Gospel is news. It is a declaration about reality. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He was dead and buried. “On the third day he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and many others.” Christianity’s foundation is the factual account of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So here’s the thing: This historical claim is either true or it is not true. It either happened or it did not happen. If it really happened, the ramifications are astounding.

If the resurrection did not happen, Christianity is a sham. The Apostle Paul says as much: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1Cor. 15:17-19).

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is there any way that you and I, 2000 years later, can know the answer to this question? I believe that we can. All of the available evidence points in that direction. Here is some of the evidence:

The Tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter morning- The Jewish and Roman authorities as well as the disciples of Jesus testified that this was true (Matthew 28:11-15). The tomb was empty and two explanations were put forth: the authorities said the disciples stole the body; the disciples of Jesus said that He had been resurrected. If the tomb were not empty, the Jewish leaders could have quickly produced the body of Jesus and proven that Jesus' followers were lying; yet they did not. This is the first clue: an empty tomb.

The Transformation of the Disciples- The disciples on Easter morning were a beaten and discouraged bunch—not expecting that Jesus would return to life (Luke 24:1-13). Their leader had been killed. They called the initial resurrection report of the women an “idle tale.” Even after Peter runs to the tomb, we are not told that he believed, but that he wondered or was amazed at what had taken place. But we also know that within 50 days these downcast and discouraged men would undergo a major transformation. The Book of Acts tells us how these same beaten skeptics began to confidently and boldly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.

What happened? What best explains this radical change? Did the disciples make up a lie together? That doesn’t fit with what we know of these men and their own initial skepticism. Some have held that they had some kind of mass hallucination or group delusion—they so much wanted to believe that Jesus was alive. I think this explanation is harder to believe than a resurrection from the dead. These men were neither expecting, nor inclined, to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. The most reasonable explanation is that these men had a real encounter with the risen Jesus. In fact, several of these disciples died because of their testimony of the risen Christ. The apostle James was beheaded. Peter was crucified and Paul beheaded in Rome. Do men willingly give up their lives for something they know is a lie?

The Conversion of Paul- Saul of Tarsus was a powerful enemy of the early church, persecuting and even putting to death followers of Jesus. Yet this same man became Paul, the greatest missionary and theologian of Christianity. What happened? What explains this radical change? Paul’s explanation was that he had had an encounter with the risen Jesus Christ (Acts 26:12-23).

This is just some of the evidence (not all!) that Jesus did indeed rise bodily from the dead. How is the empty tomb, the change in the disciples, and the amazing conversion of Paul best explained? The most reasonable explanation is that Jesus has been resurrected. Jesus is alive!

I would invite you to examine the evidence for yourself. If Jesus did not rise on that first Easter morning, we Christians are a sad and deluded bunch. But if He did rise—if He did—then there is a mighty and gracious Savior for all who will trust in Him.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Brief Theology of All Things

1. God created all things.

I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens who spread out the earth by myself. (Isaiah 44:24)

2. All things are dependent on God for their existence—at the beginning and all the way along.

From Him and through Him . . . are all things. (Romans 11:36)

3. All things are God’s servants.

By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. (Psalm 119:91)

4. God guides and directs all things according to the counsel of His will.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. (Ephesians 1:11)

5. Because God can do all things and controls all things His will can never be frustrated.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

6. God created all things, upholds all things and infallibly guides all things to show forth His glory.

From Him, through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. (Romans 11:36)

Therefore, if we love God and delight to show His glory . . .

7. Because God did not refrain from giving us His most precious treasure—His Son—He will give us all things.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

8. God will give us all things we need in order to live a life of godliness and show forth His glory and excellence.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. (2 Peter 1:3)

9. This means that as God’s children all things in our lives are servants for our good and God’s glory.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:2)

10. Suffering and yes, even death, are servants for good for those who love Jesus.

For all things are yours, whether . . . life or death or the present or the future—all are yours. (1 Cor. 3:21-22)

Those who know and revel in these great truths of God’s glory and sovereignty in all things are the most unshakable of saints. There are so many set-backs, so many discouragements, so many failures and weaknesses in our lives. What keeps us from growing weary and getting disheartened* and giving up on God, ourselves and others? Because we know that “in all these things we are more than conquerors” through Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37). Nothing comes to us—nothing—as Christ’s followers that God did not bring about, direct and design to draw us closer to Him that we might gladly reflect His glory in our lives.

Let these words sink deeply into your heart, soul and mind this day. God is so great and He so greatly wants us to live lives of holiness and happiness. God made you to joyfully show forth His beauty and glory. If you love this truth then know this day that all things—all things in your life past, present and future—will help you see and show more of that unsurpassed glory this day and all your days.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Second Column in the Destin Log

Passing time pleasantly. I love to pass time pleasantly. I would guess that all of us do. It seems to be our default mode of existence. To work; to be with family; to enjoy hobbies; to relax in our favorite chair in front of the T.V. All good, pleasant things--but in themselves they cannot satisfy a heart made for God, nor do they bring delight to the heart of our God.

Consider the life of Brownlow North, an Englishman born in January of 1810, who was a son of privilege, raised in a family of status and wealth. Though he was known as an enjoyable companion and “good-natured,” he spent the first four decades of his life on this earth in what he would later call “empty living.”

North’s life was empty because it was consumed by his comfort. He loved to fish, hunt and travel; he married and had children, but rarely, if ever, did he consider God.

All of this changed in 1854 when after having a pleasant dinner, North sat down in his billiard room to enjoy a cigar and a game of cards. All at once he was struck by severe abdominal pains—so severe that he was sure that he was about to die. North later recounted, “My first thought then was, Now what will my forty-four years of following the devices of my own heart profit me? In a few minutes I shall be in hell.” In later years he was to say, “I believe it was a turning point with me. I believe that if I had at that time resisted the Holy Spirit it would have been once too often.” The next day he told his friends that he had given his life to Christ. The whole direction of his life changed dramatically.

In January 1855, a month after his conversion, he wrote on the first page of a New Testament, “Brownlow North, a man whose sins crucified the Son of God.”

The last twenty years of North’s life were not wasted as the first forty were. In his last two decades, North humbly sought to serve God and any who had need. Whether he was with a noble or a “nobody,” he would share with them the Good News of a Savior who could forgive their sins and give them new life. North was mightily used by God in a revival that swept through Northern Ireland and other parts of Great Britain in 1859, so that many today consider him to be the greatest evangelist of 19th century Scotland.

So what does Brownlow North have to teach us as the New Year begins? Let me mention two lessons. First, Jesus can change and use anyone—even you and me. The love of Jesus is an amazing thing. It really does bring about newness and usefulness in any life. Who does not long for real change, and who of us does not yearn to be a blessing to others? Jesus did this in the life of Brownlow North; He can do it in yours. Turn to Him. Trust Him. He really is a mighty Savior.

Second, always be aware of the danger of just passing time pleasantly. “For forty-four years of my life," North tells us, "my object was to pass time pleasantly; so long as the day was spent agreeably I was satisfied.” Yet North came to see there was greater and lasting pleasure to be found in knowing and serving his Savior. In his last two decades, he often preached and wrote about these truths using Jesus’ parable of “the Rich Man and Lazurus” (Luke 16:19-31) as his text.

It is so easy to waste our lives and days passing time pleasantly. But we live in a fallen world. Hell is real. People are lost and hurting. The needs are great. God calls His people to love and serve and give in the strength He supplies. Will we just pass time pleasantly this new year? God has made us for greater things, for grander pursuits, for eternal pleasures.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Applying the Gospel = Theology

I want to put in a good word for Gospel-centered theology today. It seems appropriate as our church begins its study of A Gospel Centered Life on Wednesdays. What we are seeking to do with this study is good theology, that is, applying the truth of the Gospel to every area of life.

We need theology. The fact that God called Paul to be an apostle is proof of the fact. One of the chief reasons that God chose Paul is that the early church needed a theologian. More specifically, the early church needed someone who was well-equipped to apply the Gospel to the new Gentile believers.

Think about the fact that the early church flourished and grew for several years before God even called Paul to be an apostle. In addition, it was some time before Paul began to exercise influence in the early church. What this tells us is that a clear and full theology are not needed for a young Christian church or individual to flourish. However, theology is much needed as the church or individual grows and begins to confront new circumstances and difficult questions.

Most of us know this by experience. When you first came to rest in Jesus, you probably knew very little of the Bible and its implications for your life, but you loved Jesus and rejoiced in your new life and flourished for a time apart from a clear theology. But as time goes on, if we are to continue to grow and flourish, we need to begin to apply the Gospel to every area of our lives. Without this we very soon begin to drift and loose joy and power and hope in our lives.

Doing theology means asking questions such as: How does the Gospel apply to obeying the law? How does the Gospel apply to what I watch on T.V.? How does the Gospel apply to reading God’s Word and prayer? How does the Gospel apply to the house or car that I purchase? How does the Gospel apply to my sexuality or my bad habits or my loneliness or my hyper-critical spirit?

Many people never ask these questions—they never do theology. Gospel theology that brings life also sustains our life in Jesus and makes us fruitful for His Kingdom.

Gently rebuff those who say that theology doesn’t matter. It matters because what God thinks about everything matters. To not care about theology is not to care about what God thinks.

May God help all of us to be “little theologians” because we love Jesus; we love His Gospel. We want to be more like Him.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Destin Log Column

Below is my first column that ran in the Destin Log on December 10, 2010. Enjoy!

Jesus is Great and I am Not
By James Calderazzo
Pastor, Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” These words from the hymn, Amazing Grace are so familiar that it is almost hard to read them without humming along that timeless, lilting tune. John Newton, the former slave-trader who encountered Christ and then went on to become a faithful pastor for four decades, knew first-hand the overwhelming mercy of God’s grace. Near the end of his life he summed up what he considered to be the most vital truth—not just for himself but for all of us. Newton said, “When I was young, I was sure of many things; now there are only two things of which I am sure: one is, that I am a miserable sinner; and the other, that Christ is an all-sufficient Saviour. He is well-taught who learns these two lessons.” I am a sinner. He is sufficient.

As a local pastor, who continues to rely on Newton’s “two lessons” daily, I am thankful every eight weeks or so to have the opportunity to lift up the “sweet sound” of the grace and truth of Jesus in this column. There is simply no one like Him. Even skeptics and atheists must admit the profound and positive influence that Jesus and His teaching have had throughout our world.

I do approach Jesus from a certain perspective. I am a person who, like Newton, has encountered Christ personally and who believes that He is more than just a positive role model--He is the unique Son of God, the Messiah; indeed, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That last description of Jesus is found in the first Chapter of the Gospel of John, and it reminds us of something important. We are sinners. Many people believe that those who follow Jesus think of themselves as good people. That is not the message of the gospel. Those who see themselves as good people have little real need for Jesus. It is Jesus who is great and not us. We are sinners; He is our Savior—the Lamb of God who takes our sin.

In March of 1861 the great Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, was speaking at the dedication of his new church in London, the Metropolitan Tabernacle. On that day he declared, “I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus.”

Spurgeon also stated, “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ’ Jesus who is the sum and substance of the gospel, who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious embodiment of the way, the truth and the life.”

I am definitely not the exceedingly gifted Charles Spurgeon, nor do I speak from the Metropolitan Tabernacle. But I join with Spurgeon in saying, (with one slight change), “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name Presbyterian; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ’ who is the sum and substance of the gospel.” We need more of Jesus—all of us. Jesus is everything, and there is great joy to be found in knowing and resting in Him.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How God's Love Motivates Obedience: Part 2

How does knowing that we are loved by God actually motivate greater and more joyful obedience? It's an important question. And, I think, the dynamic is many times not well understood.

The most common answer that I have heard is that knowing that we are loved should make us want to please God more and, therefore, be more obedient. This answer is right, but it needs to go further. We need to ask, what kind of obedience is pleasing to God? One might think of Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." So the obedience that is pleasing to God must be obedience that arises from faith. The next question follows: faith in what or in whom? In Galatians 2:20 Paul says, "The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." John Piper states that for Paul "His whole life was nothing but a daily experience of working out what it meant to be loved by the Son of God—what it meant moment by moment to bank on being loved by Jesus."

There is our answer. That is obedience. It is moment by moment banking on being loved by Jesus. God's commands to us show us what it means to rest in His love and acceptance day by day.

Think about this. Why do I need to lie to someone? Usually I lie or deceive someone so that they will think well of me or, at least, better of me. But I am loved and accepted by Jesus. The only who matters already thinks well of me. I don’t need to fear the disapproval of someone else.

Why get anxious when the economy goes South—Jesus loves you. He is for and with you. If your earthly father who loves you provides for you, then how much more will your heavenly Father provide all that you need?

Why do I condemn and criticize others? At the bottom of my condemning spirit is, more often than not, a need to tear others down so that I will feel better about myself. Why do I need to do this if I know that Jesus loves me and accepts me?

Why do you need to continue to harbor bitterness and unforgiveness—Jesus loves you. He gave himself that you might know the sweetness of being forgiven. Why do you need to hold on to that bitterness? What does it give to you that Jesus does not?

And the list can go on and on. As I said in the last post, it is knowing that we are loved and accepted in Jesus that truly frees us for joyful and even radical obedience. Abide in Christ's love each day and see if obedience does not begin to flow more and more from your life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How God's Love Motivates Obedience

You know the question: if God loves us, and He will continue to love us no matter what we do or don't do then why should I bother about obedience? Answer: Christian obedience flows from resting in the love of Jesus. At least this is what I believe the Apostle Paul taught.

In Paul's wonderful prayer for the Ephesian believers to know more of Christ's love (Eph. 3:14-19), he says that they are "rooted and grounded in love." I take this to mean that Christ's love for His people is the very foundation of their Christian life. Christ’s love is the base on which everything is built in the Christian life. Everything else follows from knowing we are loved by Jesus.

Let me give you one example from the OT. Do you remember in Exodus 20 when God gives the 10 Commandments to His people-- a call for His people to obey Him and live holy lives before Him? I want you to notice the foundation of God’s call to obey Him. It is Exodus 20:2 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other God’s before me.”

That little introduction is vital, and we tend to miss it and move right into what we are to do. But in that introduction God is laying the foundation for us to obey Him. In essence He is saying, “Remember how I have shown you that I love you. Trust in me and trust in my love and you will begin to walk in obedience.”

A lot of us get this backwards. We think that if we are obedient and holy today then God will love us (or love us more). This is not what Paul says. He says that we should be obedient and holy because we are loved by Jesus. It is knowing that we are accepted and loved by our Savior that truly frees us to begin to really live for Him.

I will put forth some specific examples in my next post.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Movie Clips for Illustration in Worship

I've been reflecting on the use of clips from popular films in worship as part of the sermon. Some of you have probably seen them and seen them used effectively during worship. Perhaps a pastor is speaking about how love in Christ overcomes differences in race and socio-economic background, and they then play a powerful scene from The Blindside to illustrate their point. Is this a wise and Biblical practice?

God has certainly not forbidden the use of screens and/or movies in church. God has given us much freedom in the forms we may use in worship, so I don't see this as a simple "movies in church are forbidden" issue. However, I personally don't think that the use of popular movies in worship is wise. I'll give two reasons--one my own and one from John Piper.

First, for a great many Christians movies are a stumbling stone. It is very difficult to sit through 115 minutes of attractively presented worldliness without having your heart drawn toward the materialism, sensuality, amorality, cynicism and God-absent world view that are prevalent in most popular movies. By playing clips from those movies during our central act of corporate worship are we not implicitly encouraging already struggling folks to go back to those "broken cisterns" which are causing such destruction in so many lives?

Second, from John Piper: "I believe profoundly in the power and the till-Jesus-comes-validity of preaching. And by that I mean the spirit-anointed exposition of the Scripture through clear explanations and applications of what's there. There's something God-appointed about that.
I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it's going to backfire. It's going to backfire.

It's going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, but entertainment does. And we'll just go further and further. So we don't do video clips during the sermon. We don't do skits.

Of course, it would probably help if we all could preach like Piper.

Bottom line: Are the gains from playing movie clips--strong emotional impact and cultural relevancy--worth the potential losses? My fear is that many in the name of pragmatism are not even asking the question.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What is Love?

What is love? We speak of it all the time in church--God's love for us; our love for God and one another. But what is it? Jonathan Edwards gives, what I believe, to be a great and biblical definition of the word love, but it's not what you might expect from a rather prolix and exacting theologian. This definition comes from his sermon series Charity and Its Fruits:

Love is an affection of the heart whereby one is dear to another.

A simple and wonderful definition of love. Therefore when we say that God loves you, it means that you are dear to the heart of God;
you are precious to Him; God delights in you.

What is the Scriptural foundation for this definition? Edwards does not say. I wonder, though, if it comes from Paul's words to the church at Thessalonika when he writes, "So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (I Thess. 2:8).

This is part of the amazing news of the Gospel. Because of what Jesus has done those who look to Him in faith are dear to the heart of Jesus and to our Heavenly Father. You are loved!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Resisting Temptation

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1Co 10:13).

Many have struggled with wondering whether this verse is true--myself included. Temptation comes: watch this TV show which I know I shouldn't; get angry and not love someone who has hurt me; be impatient with my spouse or children, etc. Then we cry out to God, "Lord, help me! You have promised that You will not let me be tempted beyond my ability. Show me the way of escape!" Nothing seems to happen, and we fall back into the muck of sin.

What has happened? Is God's Word true? What is wrong with me? These may be some of the questions that we begin to ask. Let me highlight two thoughts from this verse that may help those who have found themselves in this agonizing plight.

1) "With the temptation he will also provide the way of escape."-- This says to me that the temptation and the way of escape come together. Temptation does not strike and then some time later God provides a way of escape. Right with the temptation there is a way out. It is there.

Why can't I see it? There does not seem to be a way of escape, or at least I don't have the ability to use it. This leads to the second point . . .

2) The way of escape is often to call out to another brother or sister for help and prayer-- Remember Paul says that whatever temptation has seized you is "common to man." So often Satan wants us to think that our sin is unique and especially shameful. We don't want others to know about it. A personal and private sin needs to be handled personally and privately. This is a lie. To believe it closes off a primary way that God has provided for us to resist temptation. The way out is to trust Christ in the body of Christ.

So there we are crying out, "God, help me! Save me! Give me the ability to resist!" And God says, "I have given you the way. I have given you brothers and sisters who love you and care for you, but you will not pick up the phone and avail yourself of the obvious way of escape that I have provided. You'd rather sin than humble yourself in asking for help from my flesh and blood body on the earth."

We respond, "Could you perhaps provide another way?"

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Life Worthy of the Gospel

Someone once said, "Live your life in such a way that when you die you will be missed." Paul Belardino is greatly missed. I know that God's work for Paul here was finished . . . but there is a void left when a beloved saint goes home. A real friend, a real Christian brother, one who faithfully loves and prays for you is a rare and precious thing in this fallen world. Some of you reading this know what I mean.

The following are some of my comments from the funeral of our brother, Paul Belardino:

I first met Paul four years ago when my family and I moved to this area to pastor SHPC in Destin. Paul was a member of Safe Harbor and had served faithfully as a ruling elder since 2002. Paul was a good friend and not just to myself, He was a Father in the faith.

The last time I spoke with Paul 3 Sundays ago I asked him what Scripture had been speaking to his heart during this time. He told me Isaiah 40. I want to share some of this Scripture with you this morning.

Isaiah 40:28-31 (

I wish I could read it with Paul’s same booming voice. As I read this Scripture it reminds of two things about Paul:

Paul was a man of prayer. If you asked me to say one thing about Paul it would be this, he was a man of prayer. Paul stood so tall for Jesus because he spent so much time on his knees. He knew what it meant to be tired and weary and he sought strength for Himself and others from the living God in prayer. Many of you here have probably enjoyed prayer with Paul at some time. Paul led our prayer in worship each Sunday. I loved to hear him pray because his prayers seemed to usher me into the presence of a holy and loving God. Paul prayed . . . and He prayed to a Big God

And that is the second thing I want to say--Paul had a huge vision of the greatness of God like Isaiah. “Have you not kno

wn? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God. The creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and His wisdom—no can fathom.” God made everything. He is everlasting without end. He is all-powerful. His wisdom is infinite and He is and exhaustable fountain of love and goodness to the needy. Paul had a God-given, God-centered, God intoxicated, God-entranced vision of all things. To Paul God didn’t just touch each area of life—God was central to every area of life. He loved and enjoyed God so much because He saw the glory and grandeur of God so clearly—especially in His Word. And now He sees Him face to face.

Many of you know that Paul’s view of God’s glory was strongly influenced by the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards. Several years ago Paul memorized much of Edwards famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and had the opportunity to repreach this great and sobering sermon. I was mentioning this to my wife Susan the other day and she said, “Paul is probably talking with Edwards right now.” And he is. Talking with Edwards and worshipping with Edwards. Having their breath taken away by the glory of God!

I want to share a quote from Edwards that I am sure Paul knew on the joy of heaven that Paul is enjoying right now:

"The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean."

Paul is with His heavenly Father and He is with his Savior Jesus Christ. I think Paul would not be happy with me if I did not end by pointing each of us to Jesus. Paul was who he was, a man of love and prayer, a man with huge vision of God because Jesus rescued him. Paul was one of those sinners who needed to be saved from the anger of God by the Son of God. Paul loved Jesus and He is now with Him. To end one more word from another giant of the faith whom Paul loved--Charles Spurgeon.

“There will be little else we shall want of heaven besides Jesus Christ. He will be our bread, our food, our beauty, and our glorious dress. The atmosphere of heaven will be Christ; everything in heaven will be Christ-like: yes, Christ is the heaven of His people.”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Segregated Worship--a Gospel Issue?

I continue my Quixotic quest against dividing a church into a contemporary and traditional worship service. I just can't help but believe this is a GOSPEL issue and not just one of preference. This time I turn to David Wells and his book Above All Earthly Powers:

"The church is not only to declare the gospel, but to model its truth, and if it does not model the truth it will undermine what it declares as truth. . . . The gospel declares that there is no natural merit, no human standing, which advances a person toward God and his salvation, or makes one person more acceptable to God than another. All of the ways in life in which people seek importance and seek preeminence over one another are irrelevant to their standing before God. This is true of ethnicity, wealth, class, power, privileged birth, connections, profession, generation and religion. If this is the truth upon which the gospel rests, then it is the truth which the Church is obliged to model. So it is that Paul declares that there 'is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Gal. 3:28). And by extension, should we not also say that because we are all one in Jesus Christ, there is neither Builder nor Boomer, neither Xer nor child of the Millennium, city dweller or suburbanite, Westerner or Third Worlder? Exploiting generational distinctions in the pursuit of success, which is what is at the heart of the seeker church movement, should be as offensive as exploiting racial differences for personal advantage . . . .

The gospel calls for the Church to exhibit in itself the fact that what typically divides people has been overcome in Christ; marketing frequently leads the Church to capitalize on what divides people in order to exploit the niches of class and generation.

What is at stake here, as Paul argued, is nothing less than the gospel. What is at stake is also nothing less than the work of the Trinity. To the Ephesians, Paul argued that there "is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all who is above all and through all and in all' (Eph. 4:4-6).

Paul's argument is compelling for its simplicity. There is only one body because there is only one Spirit; there is only one faith because there is only one Lord; there is only one family because there is only one Father. The unity of the people of God is as secure as the unity of the trinity. The Church's responsibility, therefore, is not to create unity, as the ecumenical movement proposed, but to preserve the unity that God himself has already created in Christ..." (pg. 294-295).