Rejoicing and Weeping (part 2)

In my last post, in light of Paul’s command to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), we looked at 6 reasons Christians ought to rejoice. In this post, we will look at 3 reasons Christians ought to weep.

First, we should weep over our own sin.

In 1973, a psychiatrist named Karl Menninger wrote a provocative book titled, Whatever Became of Sin? In his book, Menninger argues that the idea or concept of sin has been slowly eroding away in our culture. Now, remember, this book was written in 1973. If we fast forward 45-years, we might want to call Menninger a prophet instead of a psychiatrist.

We’ve lost our moral compass. We’ve lost the idea of sin—personal sin.

We play the blame game. It’s not sin anymore; it’s just a mistake. And my “mistakes” aren’t really my fault.

  • I do that because I had a bad home life growing up.
  • I do that because everyone else is doing it.
  • I do that because it feels good.
  • I do that because I was just reacting to what this other person was doing to me.
  • I do that because if I don’t look out for myself, no one else will.

Each one of us can pick our own excuses, but we’ve lost our since of personal responsibility. I don’t write these things to minimize the devastation that can come out of a bad home life, but at some point, we need to look in the mirror and take personal responsibility for our sin. We need to be broken over our own sin.

In Luke 7, Jesus had been invited to a certain Pharisee’s house to have dinner. And while Jesus is reclining at the dinner table, a certain woman from the community comes in and begins washing his feet with her tears. Luke records it this way.

Luke 7:38
38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.

The larger story has many important lessons. but I want to ask this question. Why was the woman weeping? Why was she weeping?

We know from the text that she was a notoriously sinful woman. Everyone in the room knew who she was. They knew of her reputation. Her reputation had preceded her. And I believe that gets to the heart of why she’s weeping.

She’s broken over her own sin, and she’s found in Jesus someone who doesn’t condemn her in her sin. She’s weeping over her own sin. There’s a lesson there to be learned by all of us.

Second, we should weep over the results of sin.

It’s one thing to weep over our own sin, but it’s another thing to weep over the results of sin. Here, too, our culture has missed the mark.

We often hear people talk about personal autonomy as if personal autonomy is the highest good. Here’s how that sounds. Someone will say, “I should be able to do whatever I want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.”

Right? We’ve all heard that before. It sounds simple enough. We might hear it and even be tempted to agree with it. But here’s the problem with it.

All of our actions cause reactions. Everything we do has an effect on someone else. This is Newton’s third law of motion put into action in a cultural sense.

Just in case you don’t know what Newton’s third law of motion is, this is what is says. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now, I know, don’t send me any emails, I know that Newton was talking about physics when he said this. But I’m suggesting that this is also true in a cultural or moral sense.

Whenever we decide to do what God has told us should not be done, there will invariably be negative consequences. God, who is the author of all things that are good, who isn’t the author of anything evil—when we violate his good and perfect laws, there will always be negative consequences. In other words, when we sin, it always has a negative consequence. This is a fundamental rule of how the universe is created.

So, we should weep over sin, and we should weep over the results of sin.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is chastising the believers in Corinth because they aren’t weeping over the sin of one of their church members.

1 Corinthians 5:2
And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

Without getting too far into the context of this passage, suffice it to say that this man was embroiled in sexual sin that even the pagans thought was out of bounds. The church in Corinth, however, thought they were being tolerant. They thought they were being loving. They wanted to look the other way. Paul said that was the worst thing they could do. Rather, they should have mourned over that man’s sins and the havoc it was creating in the community.

Third, we should weep for those who reject Christ.

The Bible is very clear in that there’s only one way that God has given us by which we can be put into a proper relationship with him, and that one way is through Jesus his Son. So, we should weep over those who reject Jesus. It should break our hearts.

If we get a bad haircut, it’ll be better in just a few weeks. Don’t weep over a bad haircut. Hair grows back quickly. It will grow out and we’ll soon forget the bad haircut.

If we land a bad job, we can get our resume ready, and with a little help, we’ll soon have new job. Don’t weep over a bad job.

If we make some bad financial decisions and have to declare bankruptcy, even then, in just seven years, we can rebuild your credit. Don’t weep over that.

But if we die after rejecting Jesus, we will spend an eternity in place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28), and there will be no relief for us.

Friends, this should cause all of us to weep for those who reject Christ.

Rejoicing and Weeping (Part 1)

In Romans 12:15, the apostle Paul urges Christians to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep.

To rejoice is “to feel happiness or joy,” and to weep is “to cry aloud.” These words express emotion.

Paul is urging us to have empathy for one another. If our brother or sister in Christ is rejoicing in God’s kindness to them, we ought to rejoice with them. If our brother or sister in Christ is weeping, we ought to weep with them.

But this isn’t even a remotely controversial idea. After all, even our non-Christian co-workers will rejoice with you when you have a baby, and our non-Christian neighbors will weep with you when tragedy strikes your family.

So, how are these two commands, “to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep,” how are these two commands distinctly Christian? Let’s ask ourselves these two questions.

First, what are some things for which Christians should rejoice? And second, what are some things for which Christians ought to weep?

Since the Word of God tells us that we should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, we should know when we should be rejoicing and when we should be weeping in the first place.

When should we rejoice?

First, we should rejoice when we face persecution for the cause of Christ.

In Matthew 5, Jesus said these words,

Matthew 5:10–11 (cf. Luke 6:23)
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Most of us don’t like being the object of persecution. That’s not our default setting. Our default setting is that we like people to like us. We want to be likable people—at least most of us feel that way. But Jesus tells us that we’re to rejoice when we’re persecuted for righteousness. We’re to rejoice when people say all manner of things falsely against us on account of Jesus.

We see this example carried out in the lives of the apostles. Early in the book of Acts, Peter and John and been put into jail for telling people about Jesus. When they got out of jail, this is what happened.

Acts 5:41
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

So, we should rejoice when we suffer persecution for the cause of Christ.

Second, we rejoice in the cross.

A bit of cultural understanding is helpful and important here. When the writers of the New Testament mentioned a cross, none of them had on their mind a pretty piece of jewelry that was worn around one’s neck. That would have been the furthest thing from their minds.

The cross was a symbol of shame. It was a symbol of pain and suffering. It was a symbol of death. The cross wasn’t pretty, but as Christians, we rejoice in the cross, because it’s through the cross that we have life.

It’s through the cross that God removes the penalty of our sin. It’s through the cross that our sin is covered in the righteousness of Christ.

Romans 5:8
8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus went to the cross. He went to the cross and he bled and he died to pay a penalty that we owed. And then his body was laid in a tomb. But his body didn’t stay in the tomb. On the third day, God the Father raised his Son, Jesus, from the dead and victory was declared over the curse of sin.

If you believe this, you can have eternal life. If you turn from your sins and turn to Christ, you can have eternal life. And this is why Christians rejoice in the cross. Because it’s through the cross that Jesus bore our sin and gave us new life.

Third, and closely related to the previous point, we rejoice when others embrace Christ.

It’s one thing to rejoice in our own salvation, and, yes, that is something we ought to rejoice in. We ought to rejoice in our own salvation. But we should also rejoice when we see others embrace Christ.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of three parables. All of the parables have the same message—the central message is this. Rejoicing when what had been lost has now been found.

In the first parable, a man has 100 sheep, but one of his sheep has gone astray. One of his sheep is lost. He searches everywhere for that one sheep, and when he finds it, he comes home and says this.

Luke 15:6
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

In the second parable, a woman has 10 silver coins, but one of them is lost. She turns the house upside down to try and find the one coin that was lost. When she finds it, she says this.

Luke 15:9
And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

In the third parable, a man has two sons, and one of his sons goes astray. He lives a life of sin and rebellion. When he finally gets to the end of himself, he repents of his sin and returns to his father’s house. This is what the father had to say.

Luke 15:23–24
23
‘And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

It’s good and right to celebrate when someone turns from their sin and embraces Christ.

Fourth, we rejoice in our sufferings.

This is different than rejoicing in our persecutions. With persecutions, we’re referring to suffering specifically for the cause of Christ. Here, with sufferings, we’re just talking about any run of the mill sufferings. We’re talking about the suffering that comes to all of us because we live in a broken and sinful world. We should rejoice in those sufferings.

Paul writes this in Romans 5.

Romans 5:1–5
1 
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

In the middle of this broken and sinful world, we WILL experience sufferings. It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when. Don’t listen to any false teacher who’ll tell you that by the word of your faith you can speak these sufferings out of your life. That’s neither biblical nor true.

We WILL have sufferings in this world. But listen to this—this is important—our suffering in this world isn’t pointless. Our suffering isn’t pointless. God uses our sufferings for our good and for his glory. Our suffering produces endurance, which produced character, which produces hope in Christ.

So, we rejoice in our sufferings.

Fifth, we rejoice when someone walks in obedience to Christ.

We rejoice when people repent of their sins and walk in obedience to Christ. Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians 7.

2 Corinthians 7:9
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

In this passage, Paul’s writing to Christians in the church at Corinth, and many of these Christians are living in a way that would bring shame on the gospel. So, Paul decides to write a harsh letter to them. He wants to confront them in their sin. And he does just that.

And as a result of this harsh letter, the Christians in Corinth grieve over their sin and they repent of their sin. So, Paul says, “I rejoice that you repented.”

Genuine repentance is a good and godly thing. It’s something we should rejoice over. It’s a good and godly thing to walk obediently in the truth.

Sixth, and the final “rejoice,” we rejoice when the gospel is preached.

In Philippians 1, there were some people who were preaching the gospel to make a name for themselves. In other words, they weren’t preaching the gospel for the correct reason, but they were preaching the gospel.

Their gospel content was correct, but their hearts weren’t where they were supposed to be. So, what are we to make of that? Should we be happy that people are using the gospel to make a name for themselves?

Now, let me be clear, this would be different than much of what we see on TV in America today. Many—not all—but many of today’s TV preachers preach for the wrong motivation AND then to top it off, they ALSO get the gospel wrong. Paul’s not talking about that.

Paul’s addressing people who have the wrong heart motivation, but they have the gospel right. This is what Paul has to say about those people.

Philippians 1:18
18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

So, we too rejoice when the gospel is preached.

These are 6 reasons Christians ought to rejoice, and we ought to rejoice with one another about these things.

My next post will explain why Christians ought to weep.

Walking Together

Perhaps you’ve read church membership covenants that are full of the language of “I” and “my”—first person SINGULAR throughout the covenant—no references to “we” or “our.”

Is this a problem for a church membership covenant? Is this significant? I would argue that it’s extremely significant.

But you might think that I’m making a mountain over a molehill. But this isn’t me making a mountain out of a molehill. This has everything to do with understanding what the church is.

We’re not the church individually. We’re the church collectively. Individually, we’re a part of the church. Individually, we’re members of the church, but we’re not the church individually.

In Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges his readers, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” In our English language this fact may get past us since we have only one word for “you”—whether we’re speaking of the singular “you” or plural “you all” or “y’all.”

But the language that the New Testament was written in is more precise than that. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, and in Koine Greek there’s one word for singular “you” and there’s a completely different word for the plural “y’all.”

And, yes, I’m sure you’ve already guessed it, the “you” that Paul uses in this verse is the plural “y’all.” He goes on to expand on that by using the language of “bearing with one another” in verse 2.

The “one another” phrase clearly spells out the importance of relationship. It spells out the importance of community. But this isn’t the only place in the New Testament that talks about how we treat “one another.” Tthere are nearly 60 passages in the New Testament alone that speak of “one another.”

  • Encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11)
  • Bear with one another (Col 3:12–17)
  • Forgive one another (Col 3:12–17)
  • Teach one another (Col 3:12–17)
  • Serve one another (Gal 5:13–15)
  • Confess our sins to one another (Jas 5:16)
  • Honor one another (Rom 12:10)
  • Love one another (John 13:34–35)

And we could go on! The point is simple and clear. We weren’t made to live by ourselves. We weren’t meant to struggle by ourselves. We weren’t meant to pursue Jesus by ourselves. We’re meant to do that in community—with one another.

Here’s something important I tell people when they join the church. When you join a church, you’re giving permission to your fellow church members to get in your business! That’s what you’re doing when you join a church.

And the flip side of that is true also. When we as a people receive someone into church membership, we’re telling that person that he or she has permission to get into our business.

We’re saying to one another, “I love you enough to allow you to speak the truth of God’s Word into my life, and I love you enough to speak the truth of God’s Word into your life.”

Friends, we were made for this. We were made to live in community. The “we” language of a church covenant is EXTREMELY important. We do this together.

God Is Faithful

How do we respond to God? When God shows himself faithful to us, do we respond with faith in return? The history of God’s people paints a different picture.

In Nehemiah 9, the Levites recount God’s steadfast faithfulness to his chosen people.

In verse 7, we’re reminded that God was with his people from the beginning, since Abraham. We’re reminded of God’s faithfulness to his people when God rescued them from Egypt (verses 9ff). We’re reminded of God’s faithfulness to his people while they wandered in the wilderness (verse 21). And we’re reminded of God’s faithfulness during the period of the judges (verse 27).

Again and again, we’re reminded of God’s faithfulness to his people.

But God’s people didn’t always respond with similar faithfulness towards God.

In verse 16, we’re told of how God’s people had “acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey [God’s] commandments” (cf. verse 29). We’re reminded of how they fashioned a golden calf for themselves (verse 18).

Yet in response to the unfaithfulness of his people, God responded with grace and mercy.

Nehemiah 9:17
But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

We’re reminded again and again of God’s faithfulness towards his people, and we’re reminded again and again of their own unfaithfulness. The whole history of God’s people is that of a people who do absolutely NOTHING to deserve God’s love and faithfulness, yet he gives it to them at every turn.

Time after time, God is faithful, and then God’s people are unfaithful in response.

But, lest we be too hard on these people who lived centuries ago, let’s remember this. We are those people. We’re the same people.

Here’s what I mean. You and I have done NOTHING to deserve God’s love and faithfulness. The Bible even goes so far as to say that you and I deserve the opposite of his love and faithfulness. We deserve his wrath (cf. Ephesians 2). That’s what we deserve. That’s what we’ve earned.

At most every turn, when God shows himself faithful to us, we rebel against him. We choose our own way instead of his way. In many ways, we live as a stiff-necked people—just like they did.

And what does God do? What does God do in response to our rebellion? What does he do in response to our stiff-necks?

In response to our rebellion, God sent us his Son—his only Son, Jesus Christ. In response to our sin, God sent Jesus to bear the penalty that we owe for our sin. In response to our stiff-necks, God provides a way in which we can be reconciled to him.

We didn’t deserve it. We hadn’t earned it. It was an act of sheer grace. But praise be to God for his never-ending mercies!

Because Jesus bore our sins on the cross and because God raised Jesus from the dead, all who turn from their sins and believe in or trust in Christ, ALL who do that will be saved—all who do that will inherit eternal life.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how unworthy you think you are. Because where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom 5:20).

But you need to trust in Christ Jesus. You need to lay hold of the gift of God through his Son Jesus. If you’ve never done that, you can do it today! You can do it right now. You can call out to God and trust in him today.

For his glory,
Pastor Brian

Formed by God

In their book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop describe the horrors of Nazi Germany.

The first to be killed in Nazi Germany were the infirm, the senile, and the mentally retarded. Then came the aged and the “defective” children. Eventually, as World War II approached, the doomed undesirables included epileptics, children with badly modeled ears and even bed-wetters. The transportation of people to these killing centers was carried out by “The Charitable Transport Company for the Sick.” The plan then was to kill all Jews and Poles and to cut down the Russian population by 30,000,000.

We’re all struck by this great Holocaust and wonder how it ever could’ve happened. Leo Alexander, who served as a consultant to the Secretary of War in World War II and who was on duty with the office of Chief Counselor for the War Crimes tribunal in Nuremberg, says that what happened in Nazi Germany “all started with the acceptance of the attitude that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.” In German, it was called lebensunwertes leben, which roughly translated means “life unworthy of being lived.”

An elderly German man who lived through the Holocaust tells the following story. These are his words.

I always considered myself a Christian. I attended a church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews; but like most people in America today, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it?

A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we heard cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews.

Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing!

We could do nothing to help these poor people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more.

Years have passed, and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.

Does this sound anything like the United States in 2018? Are we tempted to cover our ears and just “sing a little louder”? As we face a virtual holocaust on the dignity and sanctity of life, are we tempted to cover our ears and just sing a little louder?

It all began with “the attitude that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived”—lebensunwertes leben. We may think we’re beyond that. We may think that only oppressive Nazi regimes would pursue this. Surely, modern people wouldn’t think that there’s such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.

But listen to this. Many people in the European country of Iceland have recently been bragging that they’ve virtually eliminated Down Syndrome from their country.

We may think this is good news. Have they found a cure for Down Syndrome? Wouldn’t that be fantastic! They could share it with the rest of the world!

But, no, they haven’t found a cure for Down Syndrome. They’ve just reached the point where virtually 100% of the babies who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are killed in their mothers’ wombs. So, they’re bragging that they’ve virtually eliminated Down Syndrome from their country.

But Iceland isn’t alone. In Denmark, 98% of babies who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome will be aborted. In the UK, the number is 90%. In France, it’s 77%. In the USA, it’s 67%. That’s 2 out of every 3 babies who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. Do these babies represent lives not worthy to be lived? Are their lives lebensunwertes leben? Are we any different than the Nazis?

Have you ever thought, “If that person really knew me, he/she wouldn’t love me”? Many of us have deep, dark secrets in our lives that we don’t share with anyone for fear that people won’t love us if they know who we really are.

We may fear that we’ve done something in the past or that we’ve had something done to us in the past that makes us unlovable. In Psalm 139, David writes,

Psalm 139:1
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

These two verbs “search” and “know” are going to form “book ends” on this psalm. They appear here in the opening verse, and the same two verbs appear again in the same order in the second to last verse of the psalm.

The verb “search”—in the original language—means to consider something in detail, to analyze something so that you can discover its essential features. The verb “know” is used multiple times throughout this psalm [verses 1, 2, 4, and 23 (x2)]. In the original language, it means to become familiar with something through experience.

David’s point in using these two verbs in the opening phrase of this psalm is to let the reader know that God’s knowledge of us is both complete and intimate. There’s nothing that God doesn’t know about us. We may keep secrets from our parents. We may keep secrets from our siblings. We may keep secrets from our spouses. But we keep no secrets from God (cf. 139:2–6).

David declares in verse 7,

Psalm 139:7
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

This are rhetorical questions. They’re questions with an obvious correct answer. They’re questions designed to get us thinking. Where can we go from God’s Spirit? No where! Where can we flee from his presence? No where!

God is with us and he loves us. There are no invisible people in God’s eyes. We may make people invisible in our eyes, but there aren’t any invisible people in God’s eyes.

We make people invisible by refusing to think about them, by refusing to have open, honest conversations about them.

We take a young woman who’s a part of the sex industry, and pornography turns her into an object of lust. In our mind’s eye, she’s no longer someone created in the image of God. She’s become invisible.

We take the refugee who is fleeing persecution, and we complain that his presence here makes us feel uncomfortable. In our mind’s eye, he’s no longer someone created in the image of God. He’s become invisible.

We take the baby in the womb and we declare that what the mother does with what’s in her body is her choice. In our mind’s eye, both the mother and the baby are no longer people created in the image of God. They’ve both become invisible.

We take the elderly and the infirm and we warehouse them away and encourage them to choose death with dignity. In our mind’s eye, that old woman’s no longer someone created in the image of God. She’s become invisible.

God is the master craftsman (cf. 139:13–16). He forms us while we’re in our mother’s womb. God creates and gives life and God values human life—all human life.

God values the life of the women who is being sex trafficked.

He values the life of the refugee who’s fleeing persecution.

He values the life of the mother and of the baby in her womb.

And he values the life of elderly and infirm.

God values all human life because unlike any other part of creation, human life is created in the image of God.

Genesis 1:26–27
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness. . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

He formed us. He knitted us together. We were intricately woven together.This is poetic language, but it’s language that speaks of being carefully and thoughtfully put together. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (139:14).

But when it comes to the topic of abortion, we’ve taken this beautifully poetic language and we’ve exchanged it with cold, sterile, and sanitary terms like “pulling the plug” or “making a choice” or “fetal tissue.” And in so doing, we’ve removed ourselves from what’s really happening—the taking a human life.

There are only 7 countries in the world that allow an elective abortion after 24-weeks. And of those seven countries, only four countries allow for elective abortion at any point in the pregnancy—right up to the point of delivery:

  • The United States of America,
  • Vietnam,
  • China, and
  • North Korea.

How’s that for company to keep? Vietnam, China, and North Korea. All three of those countries are among the top of the list of countries where human rights are regularly violated. And that’s the company we keep in allowing abortion for any reason at any time during a pregnancy.

Statistics tells us that 3 in 10 women in the local church have had at least one abortion. But abortion isn’t just a women’s issue. Women don’t get pregnant without the help of a man. In many cases—not all, but in many cases—women choose abortion because the man leaves her with little choice.

Now, to be clear, having an abortion or coercing your girlfriend or wife to have an abortion isn’t an unforgiveable sin. It’s not. It is a sin. But there is forgiveness and grace to be found at the cross. God’s grace can cover all of our sins.

But we have a crisis on our hands. There have been over 60 million abortions in the USA since 1973. These are human beings. These are human lives.

But there’s also some good news here as well. There’s been a steady decline in the number of abortions since 1990. In 1990, there were 1.6 million abortions. That was the high-water mark of abortions in the USA.

In 2017, there were an estimated 900,000 abortions. That’s still a lot. That’s one abortion every 8 seconds. But that’s over a 40% decrease since 1990, and that’s good news.

Statistics tell us that the younger people are, the more opposed they are to abortion. And I think I know why. I think it’s the sonogram or ultrasound machine. We have a generation of adults now who grew up with a sonogram picture of their brother or sister taped to the fridge. When you use a sonogram machine to look at what’s happening in a mother’s womb, there’s only one conclusion you can come to: LIFE! What’s in mommy’s belly is LIFE!

And now we have generations of young people who have grown up seeing these pictures of their brothers and sisters in mommy’s belly. Some have even gone with mommy to the doctor’s office to see the baby in the womb. There’s no other way to say it. That’s a human baby in her belly.

We need to celebrate the sanctity of life. We need to celebrate the sanctity of life from conception until natural death.

So, you may be wondering what you can do. There are any number of things you can do. Here are seven things you might consider.

  • First, if you’re a parent, start by educating your own children on these issues. Show them what the Bible has to say about this.
  • Second, volunteer at your local crisis pregnancy center. They’d love to hear from you.
  • Third, volunteer at a homeless shelter. When we talk about the sanctity of life, we’re not only talking about babies in the womb. Every human being on the planet is created in the image of God. All human life is precious.
  • Fifth, volunteer at an assisted-living facility. Some of the men and women who live in these facilities feel like they’ve been forgotten. They feel as if they’ve been warehoused in a facility and left there to die. Make it a part of your schedule to go and visit the residents of a local assisted-living facility.
  • Sixth, learn to teach English as a Second Language (ESL). There are refugees who have come to America because they’re fleeing persecution in their home countries. And they live here now. They want to speak better English. They just need someone to come alongside them and teach them.
  • Seventh, volunteer at a battered women’s shelter. These shelters serve as a temporary place of residence for women who’ve been in relationships that have been marked by domestic violence.
  • Eighth, become a foster parent. There are children all over this country who need a safe place to live. Without the foster-care-system, many of these children would be homeless. Show these children the love of Christ by bringing them into your homes.

Now, we can’t do all of these things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something. These are just a few of the things you can do. You can do many of these things either individually or as a family.

The point here is simple. There are men and women, boys and girls, all around us, all of whom are created in the image of God, many of whom are hurting, many of whom need to experience the love of God.

What can we do to show them the love of God?

Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 3

What is a disciple?

When you think of the word “disciple,” what comes to mind?

  • Do you think of a super Christian?
  • Do you think of someone wearing sandals following after Jesus?
  • Do you think about people who are so engaged in religious stuff that they don’t have time for other things?

There might be a hundred different things that come to mind when you hear the word disciple, but what’s of first importance isn’t what we think of when we hear the word disciple, but what does the Bible say about the subject. What did Matthew think when he wrote “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19? What did Jesus mean when he told us to “make disciples”? What is a disciple according to the Bible?

First, an interesting fact about the word “disciple” in the Bible. “Disciple” is OVERWHELMINGLY the most common way of describing Christians in the Bible. The word “Christian” is only used 3 times in the New Testament, but the word “disciple” appears nearly 300 times in the New Testament. BUT . . . all 300 times are in the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and in the book of Acts. After Acts 21:16, the word “disciple” is no longer used.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the concept of a disciple is no longer employed. On the contrary, the concept of a disciple appears throughout the New Testament, but the word itself is used nearly 300 times in 5 books of the Bible and then not again for the rest of the Bible.

So, what is a disciple? At its most basic level, the Greek word that’s translated disciple carries with the idea of learning or following. So, we could well say that a disciple is a learner or a follower.

For example, in Luke’s Gospel we hear the word disciple used in this way.

Luke 5:33
And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

Luke 6:40
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

So, whether we’re talking about disciples of John the Baptist or disciples of the Pharisees or disciples of Jesus, a disciple stands in relationship to his teacher. A disciple watches his teacher and learns from him and then imitates his teacher.

So, we might say that a disciple of Jesus is someone who is committed to learning how Jesus lived and then following how Jesus lived.

And, according to how it’s used by Jesus in Matthew 28, and with how it’s used elsewhere in the Bible, there are two important symbols that are regularly associated with the idea of discipleship.

The first important symbol is that of baptism. Jesus says,

Matthew 28:19
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . .

Baptism is a symbol of repentance and faith. It’s a symbol of turning away from that which is old and turning to something new. Baptism pictures a decisive turning from sin and turning to Jesus.

Discipleship, therefore, requires first a radical reorientation of our lives to the one we’re following. It’s the idea that I was once going “that way,” but now I’m going “this way.” My life has been reoriented around following Jesus. That’s the first symbol associated with discipleship.

The second symbol associated with discipleship is learning. Jesus says it this way,

Matthew 28:19–20
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

In another part of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus uses the imagery of a yoke to describe this teaching.

Matthew 11:28–30
28 
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. [emphasis added]

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

The yoke was a form of service and submission. The oxen who were in the yoke were under the complete command of their master.

These two ideas, baptism and learning, tell us what a disciple is. A disciple has radically reoriented her life to follow Jesus and she has put herself under the willing submission to her new master so that she might learn from him.

If I had to give you one sentence to describe to you what a disciple is, I would say a disciple is a “forgiven sinner who is learning to follow Christ.”

 

[I’m grateful for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne and their book, The Vine Project, available here. Many of the ideas in this series of blogs have come from this book.]

 

Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 2

Why make disciples?

The easy answer—and the most straightforward answer—to why we should make disciples is “because Jesus told us to do so.” I mean, that should be enough, shouldn’t it?

When you ask your 5-year-old to do something and he says to you, “why?” In a moment of parental exasperation, we say, “Because I told you to. That’s why!”

While this answer is true, it’s often not adequate. There’s more to the why question than a matter of simple obedience. The “why question” might be reframed into a “what question.”

What exactly is happening when a person becomes a disciple of Jesus?

And here we need to understand that every single human being on this planet—all who have ever lived and all who ever will live—every single one of us are born “on the wrong side of the tracks”—spiritually speaking.

The Bible teaches us that at one time we were all “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), and we were spiritually dead in our trespasses (Eph 2:5). Our sin had separated us from God so that there was a wall between us and God (Isa 59:1–2).

We all deserved God’s wrath to be poured out on us. We weren’t innocent—not one of us. We have earned his righteous wrath (Rom 6:23).

But God in his grace sent his Son into the world. His Son lived a perfect life. His Son was innocent in every sense of that word.

And then that innocent Son went to the cross to bear the penalty that we owed for our sin. As he died on that cross, he wasn’t dying for his sin—remember, he was innocent. No, he was dying for our sins. He was paying the price that we owe.

And then after he died, he was buried, and on the third day he rose victoriously from the grave and defeated even sin, death, and the devil.

So, let’s return to the original question. Why do we make disciples? Yes, we do it because God told us to, but more a important “big picture” answer. The reason we make disciples is because this is the way God rescues sinners from the punishment they deserve.

When you speak to “Unbelieving Bob” about Christ, and Bob turns from his sins and trusts in Christ, let me tell you what just happened. At that moment when Bob trusts in Christ, God rescued him from an eternal hell.

The reason we make disciples is because it’s God’s means of rescuing lost sinners into a relationship with him.

Do you know any sinners in need of rescue?

 

[I’m grateful for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne and their book, The Vine Project, available here. Many of the ideas in this series of blogs have come from this book.]

The Lord’s Supper

Different names are used, the Eucharist, Communion, the Table, or the Lord’s Supper, but all of these names point to the same reality. It is one of two ordinances that Christ left for his church.[1] And as there are many names for this ordinance, there are multiple times as many questions about it. For example,

Who is allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper?
How often should Christians take the Lord’s Supper?
Lords SupperIs the Lord’s Supper open only to church members or are all Christians invited to the table?
What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

And the list could go on and on. But this article will focus on one question.

When and where is the Lord’s Supper to be received? Is it for individual Christians to receive and celebrate or is a godly husband permitted to lead his family to take the Supper or is the Supper intended to be received and celebrated only when the church is gathered? In other words, is it an individualistic Christian ordinance or is it a corporate Christian ordinance?

To help answer this question, we will turn to the Scriptures. The longest sustained teaching on the Lord’s Supper is found in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34.

1 Corinthians 11:17–34
            17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

So, what may we conclude from this passage about the individualistic or corporate nature of the Lord’s Supper?

[Note: Epistemological integrity would demand that dogmatic conclusions not be reached. In other words, there are no “slam dunk” arguments about this question that can be made from this passage (or any other passage). There are, however, implications that strongly suggest the Lord’s Supper should be viewed as a corporate celebration and not as an individualistic celebration.

Argument

We will consider seven lines of argument from this passage that suggest that the Lord’s Supper is a corporate ordinance. These arguments are not listed in any particular order of importance. My arguments will be brief. This blog isn’t intended to be a treatise on this topic.

First, we must ask to whom this letter (1 Corinthians) was written. First Corinthians 1:2 clearly shows us that the letter was written to the whole church. If the letter was written to the whole church then those who “come together” (11:17, 18, 20, etc.) to celebrate the Supper are the church.

Second, the pronoun “you” in this passage is always in the plural. In this sense Greek is a more precise language than English. In English it isn’t always clear whether “you” is referring to an individual or a group of individuals. This isn’t the case in Greek. There are different words for a singular “you” and a plural “you.” In South Carolina we distinguish this by saying y’all when we mean plural—but I digress.

Third, five times in this passage the phrase “when you come together” is used in this passage and one time “when you come together as a church.” A honest reading of the text tells us that Paul here is speaking of the church gathering together corporately.

Fourth, Paul admonishes the Corinthians because he has received word of divisions existing among the believers and these divisions have surfaced around the Lord’s Table. Divisions can only exist in community, not individually.

Fifth, the Corinthians were taking the Supper in a way that promoted individualism rather than unity so Paul asked the question, “Or do you despise the church of God?” Again, this seems to suggest that the Supper is for the church.

Sixth, Paul asks another question, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” This question implies that the Supper is for our corporate gathering. If you’re just hungry do that at home.

Seventh, there is a self-examination that is done in conjunction with the Supper, but even that examination is not individualistic but it is done in conjunction with the corporate gathering. The church body helps to affirm that we are indeed walking in the faith.

Application

Given the teaching that the Lord’s Supper is to be taken as a church, what points of application may we deduce? Let me suggest two.

We ought not to take the Lord’s Supper as a Sunday school class or home group or biological family to the neglect of the church gathered. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance given to the church for the church. We shouldn’t celebrate it on our own. While this author is unsure of whether celebrating apart from the church should be considered sin, it surely is unwise to celebrate it on one’s own.

But what about faithful church members who are “shut-in” due to age or infirmity—would it be proper to serve the Supper to them in their homes (or nursing homes)? First, we must be careful to teach these shut-ins that there isn’t anything salvific in the Supper. In other words, taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t guarantee one’s salvation and not taking the Supper doesn’t guarantee someone’s perdition. The Supper is a time to remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

But for these faithful Christians who are no longer able to attend, they, by nature of their infirmity, are no longer able to participate in this celebration. It would seem prudent and loving to allow the Lord’s Supper to be served to these saints under the following two conditions. First, again, the shut-ins (and the church) should understand that the Supper isn’t salvific. Second, the gathered church should be publicly informed and invited to participate as the Supper is served to these shut-ins.

Conclusion

In the Supper the Lord has given us a wonderful visual picture of gospel. As Christians we should not only rejoice in the gospel, but we should rejoice when we gather together to see dozens or hundreds or perhaps even thousands of others all confessing the same gospel as they take the Supper.

For His Glory,
Pastor Brian

[1] The two ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some refer to these ordinances as “sacraments.” For a helpful discussion on the use of the terms “sacrament” and “ordinance,” see John S. Hammett, 40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015), 19–24.

Book Reviews

As a part of my job, I have the great pleasure of reading good books about living the Christian life. I want to provide a brief review of two such books here.InvitationToAJourneyARoa30576_f

Mulholland, Jr., M. Robert. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation. IVP Books, 1993. 173pp.

As the title suggests, Mulholland’s book is about the Christian journey toward “spiritual wholeness.” He defines spiritual formation as “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (12). The book is divided into four sections.

In the first section Mulholland dissects his definition of spiritual formation into four parts. The first part of spiritual formation is to recognize that spiritual formation is a process, not an event. Second, it is a process of “being conformed.” In other words, this is not something we do to ourselves. He writes, “The difference between conforming ourselves and being conformed is the vital issue of control” (25). Third, it is being conformed into the image of Christ. Mulholland argues that the image of Christ is the “fulfillment of the deepest dynamics of our being” (33). Finally, being conformed to the image of Christ is ultimately for the sake of others.

In the second section of the book Mulholland relies heavily of Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. He argues that each person has a unique personality type and understanding one’s personality type helps one grow in holistic spirituality.

Mulholland deals directly with various spiritual disciplines in the third section. He describes the classical Christian pilgrimage as “awakening, purgation, illumination, and union.” He discusses the spiritual disciplines of prayer, spiritual reading, and liturgy. He helpfully shows how God works in the Christian life to wage war against death and bring life (120-34).

In the final section Mulholland underscores the importance of the faith community for spiritual formation.

Mulholland writes from a Wesleyan theological perspective. This, in itself, is not an issue, but because he is writing from this perspective, he makes some rather elementary exegetical fallacies so that his exegetical conclusions fit his theological perspective. I’ll highlight just one such fallacy. His exegesis of Ephesians 1:3-6 is flawed by a simple word study fallacy. Mulholland argues that the Greek word (eklegomai) which means and is translated “chose” (Eph 1:4) by every major English translation really means “spoke forth” since it is a compound word with the respective parts of the compound meaning “forth” (ek) and “speak” (lego). This is a rather elementary fallacy since compound words do not necessarily have the meaning of the sum of each part. For example, we all know that a pineapple is not a special type of apple that grows on pine trees!

Without question the strongest part of Mulholland’s book is his attention to the fact that spiritual formation does not happen in isolation. We are created as communal creatures and God has designed us to live and flourish in community. Mulholland argues that not only is the end result of spiritual formation “for the sake of others” (see definition above), but even the process of spiritual formation is in the context of others. One quote will suffice even though this theme is beaten like a drum throughout the book. He writes, “There is no holistic spirituality for the individual outside of the community of faith” (50).

Recommendation

I would recommend this book for the discerning Christian reader who is interested in spiritual formation.

 

Thornborough, Tim, and Richard Perkins, eds. The Big Fight: Christian Men 51qBC3ibWELvs The World, Flesh & Devil. The Good Book Company, 2012. 107pp.

A total of 10 contributors come together to write this very helpful book for men who are pursuing holiness. Each contributor wrote one chapter of particular interest to men (although it must be stated that these are not solely men’s issues).

The “G” key on the keyboard got stuck in the naming of the chapters: Guilt, Gold, Gossip, Glare, Grumbling, Gospelling, Girls, Gifts, Grog, and Games. A preacher must have come up with the titles for each chapter!

The book is written so that it could be used for a small men’s group or one-on-one, or it could be read and used by a single individual.

None of the chapters are written to be particularly deep theologically, but every chapter is immensely practical. This is certainly by design and it does not detract from the book in any way. Every chapter includes discussion questions and recommendations of further resources for reading.

Recommendation

I would gladly recommend this book to a man or a men’s group.