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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Intentionally Walking in Wisdom

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 4:15-16
The wise hunter finds landmarks by which to find his way in and out of the woods.  I’ve learned the hard way how easy it is to walk in circles or get lost altogether.  I’ve gotten lost in the wee hours of the morning, late at night, and even in the middle of the afternoon...all because I miss the landmarks.  On the other hand, the best hunter I know breezes through the woods like a deer, never gets lost, and goes right where he needs to go because from the moment he enters the woods he finds and remembers landmarks.
How often we can find ourselves just going with the flow, allowing life and circumstances to take us where they will, with our spiritual eyes closed, not getting any closer to the prize, not getting any closer to Christ, but rather just spinning our wheels spiritually.  We don’t evaluate our heading on a regular basis, and finally we open our eyes to find we’re way off course, away from the Lord. 
The Bible has much to say to us about how we should walk, that is, how we should live.  It gives us many landmarks, as it were.  It says in many different ways this same thing: Steer clear of the temporal nonsense that so easily entangles us, and instead engage in an intentional pursuit of spiritual things. 
One such passage is listed above, Ephesians 5:15-16, calling us to walk in wisdom.  The world around us does nothing to spur us on to wise living.  Quite the opposite.  It lulls us to sleep so that we close our spiritual eyes and wander headlong into unwise living.  This is why Paul calls us to reject walking or living unwisely before calling us to live wisely. 
Wisdom and folly call to us, and we have a decision to make (Providence 9:1-18). Whether we realize it or not, we make that decision everyday in the choices we make. Most of us do so inadvertently.  Three things about the source of wisdom will help us to choose it intentionally.  
First, wisdom is a gift of God. James 1:5: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. If wisdom comes from God alone, a quest for wisdom must include asking God for it. We must pray for it.
Proverbs 2:3-6 teaches, “Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…”  Some believers think of God as a miser—He has unimaginable wealth, but He’s just a tight-fisted scrooge. When He gives, He gives begrudgingly and only after a prolonged tug-of-war.  
However, that is a lie.  Romans 8:32 tells us, 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?  Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  God is the giver of wisdom and He desires to give it.  He stands before us, arms outstretched, hands open, ready to give to anyone who asks in faith.  In fact, He commands us to pray for it!
Second, wisdom is personified in Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul wrote, “He became to us wisdom from God.”  Colossians 2:3 reads, “In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  
Christ is the wisdom of God.  To pursue Him with my life is to pursue wisdom.  You cannot become like Christ without gaining wisdom, and you cannot gain true Godly wisdom outside of becoming like Christ.  Any system of wisdom that is devoid of Christ is going to be rife with error and folly.   
Therefore, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, pursuing greater and greater intimacy with Him.  He is wisdom.   
Third, wisdom is found in Scripture.  2 Timothy 3:14-17: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.
When we think of wisdom literature in the Bible, we think of Proverbs, which gives us wise principles for life, knowledge applied.  Throughout the book, we find exhortations like these, “hear my son your father’s instruction”; “my son, if you receive my words…”; “my son, do not forget my teaching”; “hear, o sons, a father’s instruction”; “hear, my son, and accept my words”; “my son, be attentive to my wisdom”; “my son, be attentive to my words”; “my son, keep your father’s commandment”; “incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise and apply your heart to my knowledge”.  
What instruction, words, teaching, commandments, wisdom, and knowledge is he talking about?  The words that he is writingScripture.  The Holy Spirit intends for us to understand that it includes everything between the covers.  Wisdom on every page.  We must pore over the Scriptures if we would find wisdom.
You cannot seek and find wisdom outside of the pages of Scripture.  Wisdom is given by God in Christ through the Scriptures.  This is so clear.  And yet, so many of us would rather look elsewhere.  It’s easier to get some kind of drive-through, quick-fix, worldly wisdom than to dig into God’s word.  It’s easier to ask for advice on Facebook.  
But here is the question that will have everything to do with whether or not we are walking as unwise or as wise—what is the greatest influence in your life?  What shapes your thinking?  Is it God’s wisdom in Christ – Scripture – or is it the world’s wisdom?  Do you spend any time outside of Sunday morning pursuing fellowship with Jesus in the Word?  Or do you spend most of your free time taking in something else?  

Here is great news.  It’s not too late.  Pray for wisdom.  Seek Christ.  Dive into the Scriptures.  Find wisdom.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

One Team Launched, Another Locked and Loaded

I’m very encouraged by the sending of our mission team to Tanzania this week!  My prayer is that PBF will embrace a greater sending and going (!) culture for gospel work. Toward that end, another trip is fast approaching! 

Next month, Michael Cox and I will be headed back to Brazil. I’m going to be equipping local pastors on the practice of preaching. Many of you probably know that Michael grew up in Brazil as the son of missionary parents. He’s going to help do some teaching as well as serve as a translator for much of my teaching. 

While in country, we will not only be helping to train local pastors, but talking with them about the possibility of long-term partnerships with local churches. The elders hope we will be able to send members to join in ministry labors with them. 

I’m putting this on your radar in the hopes that the time you are spending in prayer for our Tanzania team in the coming week will keep going and shift to Michael and me as we prepare to serve. 

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Luke 10:2).

Therefore, how can we not pray? 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Tanzania Team Prayer Guide

Some of you joined us last night to send off our Tanzania team with prayer. Others of you may not have been able to be there. I hope all of our member want to bathe our team with prayer while they are on the field!

Toward that end, we've created a Prayer Guide to help focus your intercession for the team. This is designed to be read on a mobile device or tablet. We encourage you to click on the PDF below and keep it close at hand. 

Use spare minutes as well as planned time to pray without ceasing for our brothers and sisters during their time away!

And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Sending Our Loved Ones to Other Shores

Under Pastor John’s leadership, exciting things are happening in PBF’s missions ministry. We are equipping our first “home-grown” missionary for deployment to the mission field sometime next year. (For security reasons, I won’t mention a name here on the internet.) Additionally, Pastor Jason will be leading a group of our members on a short-term trip to Tanzania in September, and Pastor John may be returning to Brazil in October.  We are thrilled to have so many of our number getting involved in the global work of the Lord.
Accordingly, I would like to put two things in front of you. First, please make every effort to attend times of prayer for our short-term missionaries this Sunday after the second service and next week at our regularly scheduled corporate Prayer Gathering (Wed, Sept 4; 6:30p).
Second, below is a book recommendation from eight years ago, particularly timely due to our many loved ones reaching out to nations.
“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.  Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?  Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
This is not your typical, “may I have your daughter’s hand in marriage?” speech.  Yet, it is an excerpt from a letter written in 1810 for that very purpose by Adoniram Judson to John Hasseltine requesting permission to marry his daughter, Nancy, and to take her with him to serve as missionaries overseas.  Mr. Hasseltine gave his consent, and the young couple shortly found their way to shores of Burma. 
Whether or not Judson truly expected to face the potential difficulties detailed in his letter, his words were prophetic.  He and those with him would eventually experience all the suffering mentioned there, save the violent death.  
The story of the life of Adoniram Judson, as told in Courtney Anderson’s To The Golden Shore, is all at once inspiring, encouraging, convicting, and horrifying.  The first Baptist missionary sent abroad from the shores of America, Judson exemplified the essence of the missionary heart and task.  After denying the faith in his college years, he was prompted by the death of his best friend to consider his own mortality and the purpose of his life.  Shortly, he was converted and dedicated his life to the spread of the gospel among the “heathen nations.”  
Judson’s dedication to the task is something unparalleled in our modern times.  That dedication, reflected in his letter to John Hasseltine, would lead him to spend his entire life in Burma, a land completely untouched by the gospel prior to his ministry there.  He diligently absorbed the local Burmese dialect so that he could translate the Bible into the native tongue.  He would spend thirty years laboring on that translation only to immediately begin revising it until the time of his death.  All the while, he was also writing and distributing gospel tracts in a land that was hostile to the Christian faith.  It took six years to see the first native convert.  
That Adoniram Judson labored so long and so faithfully is inspiring in itself.  However, the account of how he suffered throughout his ministry makes his dedication all the more amazing.  There was the seemingly constant loss of friends and family to disease, the imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Burmese government, and the numerous personal life-threatening illnesses.  There were two constant themes in Judson’s life: the ever-present specter of death and the methodical translation of the Bible into Burmese.  

To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson is one of the best books I have ever read.  It prompted me to examine the motives behind my life’s pursuits.  It put into blessed perspective the light, momentary difficulties I have experienced thus far.  And it challenged me to consider what meaningful return the cause of Christ is receiving for the investment God has made in me.  It is rare to find such an engaging and challenging story.  Courtney Anderson’s care in the writing of this work has made it an enduring classic in Baptist history, considered by many to be one of the greatest Christian biographies every written.  I highly recommend it to you.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Avoiding the Allure of Pornography

This Saturday, 8a-12p, the Youth Ministry at PBF is hosting a workshop, Avoiding the Allure of Pornography.  All men and young men (teens) are invited, whether you regularly attend Providence or not. 

This is the kind of event that every man desperately needs to attend and that the enemy desperately wants men to avoid. I want to give you the best reasons to make every effort to be there this Saturday.

  1. The intentional, group pursuit of holiness is commanded in Scripture. 2 Tim. 2:22: So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.  Attendance at this specific workshop may not be commanded in Scripture, but the intentional, group pursuit of holiness is.  The vast majority of Christian men disregard this on a regular basis.  Why not take this first step in the right direction?
  2. You DON’T currently struggle with the allure of pornography.  Attending the workshop is NOT tantamount to a public admission that you struggle with pornography.  Rather, at the very least you’re saying you have the spiritual foresight and wisdom to be proactive in the fight.  The workshop has been named very intentionally. We’re avoiding the allure of pornography, not only grappling with enslavement to pornography.
  3. You DO currently struggle with the allure of pornography.  Sin flourishes in darkness and isolation.  “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov 18:1).  When we allow ourselves to be isolated in our sin, it wins the day.  When we get help in the power of Christ within the body of Christ, we live in freedom.  To remain alone with our sin in the dark is to guarantee continued slavery.  John 3:19-21; Eph 5:11-14; Psa 32 
  4. Other people need your help.  You will be equipped to help those who are in utter desperation.  There are men who will be encouraged just to see your face there, not the least of which will be the young teenage men who are on the front end of this lifelong battle.  Attendance not only means we’re serious about being proactive, but it also means we’re serious about be useful to the body of Christ.  Recognize that while you may not struggle, this is rampant in our culture and the church.  Those who stay away because they personally do not struggle have all the wrong ideas about the nature of the body of Christ.  We need to stand shoulder to shoulder and take the hill together.  
  5. You don’t know what you don’t know.  Though many men believe they have “tried everything” in the battle with sexual sin, this workshop is not your run-of-the-mill material.  You likely will hear things you haven’t before in the context of fighting sexual temptation.  Even if you do know everything that will be said, the great repetitive nature of the truths of the Bible indicates that we benefit from hearing it over and over again.  Come and be refreshed by helpful truth.

It’s not too late to register.  You can do so here!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"I AM": Certainty in Uncertain Times

But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid.”
(John 6:20) 

Uncertain times.  Is there anything so certain, so constant?  People change as do circumstances, but it seems that one things stays the same—life keeps us on our toes.  

We crave security.  For each of us, that may look at bit different.  Knowing for sure that a spouse will be faithful.  Achieving debt freedom.  Having normal, healthy relationships with extended family.  Experiencing true, long-term unity in a local church.  Receiving a clean bill of health.  Hearing that a grown child has made the right decision.  Seeing that friend or loved one surrender to the Lord.

Yet, it seems that we gain one measure of security only to miss or crave another.  Safety and peace can feel so elusive that a latent anxiety settles in our heart as we ask, “What next?  What’s going to happen?”  

John 6 contains a wonderful picture of security in uncertain times.  The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus.  Like everyone else, at least early on, they believed Him to be an earthly Messiah who would setup an earthly kingdom and free the Jews from the Romans.  Yet, by John 5 Jesus has already become a stench to the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem to the point that they were seeking to kill Him (John 5:16, 18).  He was highly popular in Galilee; hated in Judea.  Uncertain times.

Early in John 6, we find the disciples participating with Jesus in feeding the 5,000, a task which would have taken hours at the end of an already long day of ministering to the people (John 6:1-14).
Afterward, Jesus withdrew by Himself to the mountain.  Beginning in v16, we read:

 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.
 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.

Several things are worth noting.  First, the disciples rowed three or four miles into the night.  This means physical exhaustion on top of sleep deprivation.  Second, the sea was rough.  Most of them were fishermen and had grown up on this very sea, so rough waters wouldn’t have been frightening.  However, rough waters only made the task of rowing more difficult.  Third, what DID frighten them was what Jesus was doing in the middle of the choppy seas.  People don’t walk on water.  Never-before-seen things can become frightening things when mixed with confusion and exhaustion. 

But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid.”

The first three words, “It is I,” are the same words found in John 8:58: Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  Of course, in John 8, the Jews understood precisely the claim Jesus was making—not mere existence, but identification with the Great I Am.  The Jews became enraged at the perceived blasphemy and picked up stones to murder Him.  

Here in John 6:20, the words are the same and there is no reason to take them any differently.  “I AM.  Do not be afraid.”  This was more than a reassurance, “Hey, guys, it’s just me.”  Jesus was identifying Himself as the I AM, a name which connotes covenant presence (Exo 3:13-17).  "I AM" means to us, “Because of My covenant, when you’re with Me, it doesn’t matter where here is.  You’re secure.”

Is there a better metaphor for the uncertainty of life than rowing across rough waters, completely exhausted in the middle of the night, while God is doing something we absolutely don’t understand? It’s frightening.  But what could be a better picture of security than a God-Man standing on the rough waters, saying, “I AM. Don’t be afraid.”

His covenant presence is even more fully realized with us than it was with the disciples who saw Him with their physical eyes that night.  The covenant has now been sealed with His pure blood.  We have individually been sealed by His own Spirit for the last day.  The Christ who was beside the disciples is now IN us, assuring us, “I AM. Don’t be afraid.”  

We should do what the disciples did that night—welcome Him into the boat and trust Him to see us to the other shore.  

Thursday, August 8, 2019

He Overwhelms Our Uncleanness

Every day, the news testifies to us that evil is growing faster than good.  The darkness of the world seems to be winning.  Even in our struggle with sin, we can feel as if it is always one step forward and two steps back.  
The first part of our passage from Sunday's message in Haggai 2:10-19 would seem to agree.  The prophet showed in vv12-13 that in the temple sacrificial system, defilement was more contagious than holiness.  In the battle between holiness and uncleanness, if one or the other was going to eventually win the day, it would be uncleanness—a seemingly hopeless situation.  
Of course, these shadows cause us to long for the substance, which is Christ (Col 2:17).  In discouraging times, we must look to Him for the real story, which is that with Christ—our better sacrifice—holiness overwhelms uncleanness.  A picture of this reality can be found in Matthew 8:1-3, the story of Jesus healing a leper.
Before we consider those verses, keep in mind that when Jesus heals diseases in the Gospels, it serves various purposes.  First, it has the very real and practical benefit of ministering compassion to the sufferer (Matt 14:14).  Second, it demonstrates Jesus’ power and testifies to His identity as the Christ (John 7:31).  Third—and we tend to overlook this—it is emblematic of His ability to cleanse us from sin.  One chapter later, Jesus shows that if He has the authority to heal, He has the authority to forgive sin (Matt 9:1-6).  Similarly, when Jesus heals a man blind from birth, He then reveals what this ultimately pictures—He came to give sight to the spiritually blind (John 9:39).  
Therefore, if we would read Matthew 8:1-3 correctly, we must understand that this is not only a healing story, but also a statement about Jesus' ability to take away sin and give holiness. 
When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matt. 8:1-3) 
There are so many reasons to love the story, not the least of which is how Jesus healed the man.  Strictly speaking, it was completely unnecessary to touch the leper.  Jesus was known to heal with a word and across long distances (Matt 8:5-13, 16; John 4:46-53).  Yet, given the nature of the man’s ailment, healing by touching was the most meaningful and compassionate way Jesus could have done it.  
For our current purposes, even that beautiful aspect is beside the point.  Let's put this in the context of what we've seen in Haggai and in the context of what the law teaches about leprosy.  Leprosy contaminates everything around it.  Two entire chapters of Leviticus are dedicated to dealing with leprous disease (Lev 13-14).  Anything that the leper touched became unclean.  Even going into a leper’s house would make you unclean.  It was incredibly contagious, the perfect symbol for sin.  Just like in our passage in Haggai, leprosy testified that uncleanness is far more communicable than holiness.
But what happened when Jesus touched the leper?  The leper’s uncleanness wasn't communicated.  In fact, not only did Jesus not become unclean, but the leper instantly became clean, indicating that we have a force here altogether different from the Old Testament shadows.  Jesus’ cleanness overwhelms uncleanness.  His holiness overwhelms sin.  
What wonderful news is this!  Prior to conversion, our defiled consciences rightly testify against us of the magnitude of our stain.  After conversion, the enemy wrongly testifies that nothing could cover this or that particularly black sin.  To both, a mighty, risen Christ replies, “I make all things new.  I impute righteousness to everything I touch.”  Good news to the unsaved and good news to the saved.   
Such things are worthy of meditation. When we feel guilt about sins long-forgiven, even when we feel downtrodden over temporal troubles--what a relief that Jesus brought an infinitely contagious holiness to bear on our sinful souls.