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Thursday, April 19, 2018

What's your message? How Contending for Political Views Online Affects Our Gospel Witness

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor 2:2

Everyone has a message.  Everyone thinks his message is worth hearing.  But there is only one that is truly transformational - the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In light of that, how peculiar that so many professing believers spend so much energy online making political arguments, pushing political messages. 

Is it the best thing for the Kingdom for believers to use our social media voices for political purposes?  I’d like to make the argument that it is not.  

When we advocate for political opinions on social media:

We unintentionally add a political component to the gospel in the minds of unbelievers.
When we post political opinions and argue for those positions, and then share the gospel and appeal to people to repent and trust in Jesus, in the minds of some, we have attached Jesus to a particular political persuasion.  In other words, we may have inadvertently communicated by example that in order to come to Jesus one must repent, believe, and become a Republican or Libertarian or Democrat.  The last thing we should want to communicate to someone is that they must have a particular party affiliation in order to be a Christian.

We unintentionally alienate many of our friends from us and the gospel.
The gospel itself is inherently divisive.  In spite of what many in the world would say, Jesus Christ is the greatest divider of all time (Matt 10:34-39).  He divides all people into two groups - believers and unbelievers, the found and the lost, the blessed and the damned.  They are divided based upon how they respond to His call to repent and trust in Him.  

The gospel doesn’t need any help from us in offending people.  When we advocate for political views, we may be alienating half of our friends or more before we’ve ever spoken a word about Jesus.  In other words, we’ve offended before the gospel has had a chance to!

Only the Lord know how many doors for the gospel have been closed by online political disputes.  Some people are so opposed to one set of political views that when they hear those views espoused by a person, everything that comes out of that person’s mouth then becomes suspect, or worse, automatically intolerable.  I’ll admit, there are some celebrities that I find so obnoxious because of their political views that if they were to say, “the sky is blue,” my Pavlovian response would be to say, “No, it’s not!”  That phenomenon is a two-way street.  So when someone of the opposite political persuasion hears me first contend for my political views, then share the gospel, they may lump the gospel together with the political views and say to all of it, “hogwash!”

I want to do everything possible to refrain from giving unnecessary offense so that a door to the gospel is always open.  If offense is going to take place, let the gospel do it!

We advertise that our hope is in man and man’s solutions to man’s problems.
Remember that the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hands of the Lord - he turns it wherever He wishes (Pro 21:1).  Politicians, armies, social institutions, and social media political warriors are all pawns in the hands of a sovereign God who is working out His plan in His perfect time.  This does not deny our responsibility to do what is right - this short article is not the place to discuss the interplay between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility - but by clamoring, arguing, and posturing for political solutions to man’s issues, we betray a lack of faith in the one thing that makes all things new - the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

There is one thing that can set the world aright.  It isn’t getting guns off the streets or protecting the 2nd Amendment.  It isn’t social programs or lower taxes.  It isn’t a donkey or an elephant.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have repented and trusted in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  If we’re going to exhaust ourselves pushing a message it should be a bloody cross not a party platform.  

We advertise hope by what we talk about.  When we preach political solutions, we implicitly tell our audience that ultimate hope is in man.  When we preach the gospel, we tell our audience that ultimate hope is in Christ.  There is a reason that Paul said, “I purposed to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  It’s the only hope!  Everything else distracts from the one thing that can save.

We show that political wins and losses are more concerning to us than lost souls.
If we know that contending for political causes ostracizes those on the other side of the political divide and costs us a hearing for the gospel, and we continue to do it, what must be said about our concern for the lost?  We would rather be known to be right politically than to see the lost be reconciled to God.  Are we willing to ostracize half of our social media friends to make a point about guns?  Are we willing to pound our chests politically at the cost of an opportunity to proclaim the Lord of Glory?  May it never be!

“What’s my message?”  What a critical question to consider as we engage with people online.  Everyone has a message.  Everyone is communicating a worldview.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have the only message that saves and sanctifies.  It’s the only message that fixes the problems man clumsily tries to remedy with his political solutions.  It does it by reconciling sinners to God and changing their hearts.  We must be so careful with what and how we communicate.  If you’re a believer, your message is the gospel.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

He Breathed On Them

In the text on Sunday, we saw John 20:22, And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  We didn’t have time to deal with it, so I wanted to address it here.  Some of us us may have thought, “what’s the big deal?”  Well, the issue is that it appears that Jesus imparts the Holy Spirit to the disciples there, while in Acts 1:8, Jesus says to the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  The obvious fulfillment of Acts 1:8 comes one chapter later when the Spirit comes like a mighty rushing wind on the day of Pentecost, all were filled with the Spirit, and began to speak in tongues.  So, did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them or on the day of Pentecost?  More importantly, do we have a genuine bible contradiction here?

My position is that there is good reason to hold that Jesus makes a symbolic gesture in John 20:22, pointing to the ultimate outpouring of the Spirit that would come at Pentecost.

In spite of the English translations, the best way to understand the text is simply, he breathed and said to them…  There is no explicit prepositional phrase indicating that Jesus breathed on the disciples.  Most lexicons hold that the word itself means to breathe on, however these lexicons are based upon New Testament usage, and John 20:22 is the only use of this word in the New Testament.  Usage outside of the New Testament supports the idea that the word simply means to exhale.  There is no reason to believe that Jesus was breathing on or into the disciples.  D.A. Carson writes, “Unless one adopts a literalistic and mechanical view of the action, understanding the Holy Spirit to be nothing less than Jesus’ expelled air, one is forced to say that the ‘breathing’ was symbolic…”1

That this was a symbolic act makes sense given what we see in the rest of John’s Gospel.  There is no noticeable difference in the behavior of the disciples after Jesus breathes and says these words.  The disciples still meet behind locked doors (20:26), indicating they are still afraid of the Jews, a far cry from the boldness we see in Acts 2.  When Thomas finally believes, it is not because of the promised witness of the Spirit (15:26-27), but because Jesus has allowed him to touch His hands and side (20:27-28).  In John 21, it appears the disciples are tending back toward their old ways of life - Peter, John, and others go fishing.  Later in ch21, there is still a twinge of the old “who’s the best disciple” thing going on (21:20-22).  In other words, the disciples do not act like Holy Spirit-empowered people until Pentecost.

First century believers would have instantly recognized the symbolism, given that they were aware of what happened at Pentecost - a might rushing wind.  Ancient Near Eastern languages almost uniformly use the same word for breath and wind.  They likely would have understood Jesus to be saying, “I’m not only giving you my mission, but the power for my mission,” referring to the coming outpouring at Pentecost. 

One might wonder why Jesus make a symbolic gesture like this?  Well, Jesus does many things in the Gospels that the disciples don’t understand.  But it makes sense if we look at the greater context.  After the resurrection, Jesus affirmed all the things He told them before the cross.  “I’m giving you a mission, and I’m giving you everything you need to accomplish the mission.”  He told them about the Spirit before, and this was a unique way to say that that promise was still standing.  

1D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 652.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Man of Sorrows - The Darkest Psalm

The Psalm most closely associated with the Passion of Jesus is undoubtedly Psalm 22, from which we derive such well known verses as, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and, “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

There are numerous psalms that we call “Messianic Psalms” for their close association with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They were not written as straightforward predictions, but rather detail the personal laments of the psalmist.  In Psalm 22, David speaks of his own feelings and anguish.  But in the mysterious providence of God, David’s experiences foreshadow the details of the sufferings of the Son of David in such a way that they are considered predictive by the New Testament authors.  We might echo Paul and say that David’s sufferings were a shadow the substance of which belongs to Christ (Col 2:17).

There is another Psalm that gives a foretaste of the sufferings of Jesus, particularly the anguish of the solitude of the cross.  It’s Psalm 88.  Again, this is a psalm of David, in which he speaks from his own experiences, and yet, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he speaks for his Greater Son (Matt 1:1).  

I find this psalm to be helpful in providing some perspective on Christ’s suffering.  Many tend to emphasize the physical aspect of His passion.  Certainly, we should not minimize that the agony of crucifixion, but the Lord’s suffering was not limited to the horrific physical pain He endured.  Psalm 88 helps us to see that there was another aspect that was perhaps even more difficult, given the eternal, unfettered fellowship He enjoyed with the Father: on the cross, Jesus was abandoned and utterly alone.  

The psalm’s multiple references to the dark evoke images of those three hours in which Jesus hung on the cross in complete darkness.  There are multiple references to His sorrow, to His companions having shunned Him, and to God’s wrath sweeping over Him.  The overwhelming sense is one of suffering in complete solitude.  No one has ever been as alone as Jesus was on the cross.

Psalm 88 is unique in that it alone has no explicit statement of confidence or hope.  No small ray of light is allowed to stream in.  There would be no rescue for Him on the cross.  He was born to suffer in solitude and die.  This aspect of the psalm indicates yet again the complete darkness that Jesus endured so that, unlike Him, we would never suffer alone or without hope.  

While you can find the entire psalm here, I’d like to give you the most striking portions now.  Praise God for this Man of Sorrows, who tasted death on our behalf.

For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.
 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength,
 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, 
for they are cut off from your hand.
 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. 
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. 
(Psa 88:3-9)

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.
 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.

(Psa 88:14-18)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

So Grateful to Be Here - A 10th Anniversary Reflection

Our 10th anniversary celebration is just days away.  I'm overwhelmed with thankfulness.  There are a host of reasons. I'd like to share just a few.

For many years I was terrified to be a pastor, both because of the pain I'd seen pastors endure and because of how difficult I thought it would be to devote enough time to the task of preaching, given the many demands on a pastor’s time.  I didn't want the pain, and I would rather not preach than preach poorly simply because I didn't have to time to prepare well.  Even though it was clear to me from the time I was a young man that this was the life God chose for me, I ran from it.  Eventually, I decided to be a biblical counselor as a way to serve God in lieu of being a pastor.

But at the first Together for the Gospel conference in 2006, God used John Piper's message to change my heart.  It was clear to me that I could no longer tell God in what capacities I was willing to serve him. I told the Lord that if He wanted me to be a pastor, I would do it.  But I asked him to bring the church to me rather than my going out and looking for a church.

Later that year I started seminary, still open to the idea being a pastor, but not at all looking for a pastorate.  I still had the same old fears, but was willing to overlook them if the Lord asked.  

Fast-forward a year and a half - my family was having lunch with the Joneses.  This cop who I didn’t know very well - and who didn’t know me very well - was pitching to me the idea of planting a church.  Those two old fears came to the surface. I only told him about one of them - the concern that with all the responsibilities of being a pastor I wouldn't be able to dedicate sufficient time to preaching. Of course, I wasn't going to tell him I was afraid of getting hurt – he was a cop, a real man's man, and I didn't want to sound like a little girl.

I'll spare you all the details of how the rest of that conversation went. You may hear more of those details this weekend. What I really want to say now is just how amazingly kind God has been to me over last 10 years regarding those two fears.  

I was afraid of getting hurt, but it's not what I expected, nor what I feared.  First, I’ve never been part of a church that is as loving as PBF.  What kind, godly people we have.  Certainly, we are sinners and we do hurt one another, but the love and care that I’ve experienced at Providence has far exceeded any pain that I feared.  The Lord has allowed me to shepherd the gentlest congregation I’ve ever seen.  

Also, the pastors whom I watched suffer as I was growing up did so alone; they did not serve in a plurality of elders. My experience has been very different.  Ministry is difficult and can be painful.  It is a given that you will be misunderstood and encounter unique trials, but by God's grace, PBF has had a plurality of elders from the first day.  The work, the pain, the reward, the joy is shared.  I was afraid of getting hurt, but what a gift these shared trials have been as they have forged friendships with my fellow elders that have proven well-worth the pain.  We have matching scars - and I’d receive the blows again ten times over rather lose the joys we’ve shared serving the Lord together.  

My second fear was that I would be so busy with ministry tasks that I would be unable to devote sufficient time to what I regarded a critical task, preaching.  I’d seen this pattern over and over in other churches and the thought of becoming a part of it made me nauseous.  But the Lord has been so generous.  He has consistently raised up saints who delight to do the work of ministry so that week after week I have all the time I need to study to preach.  Initially, the standard for this kind of service was set by Pastor Rick, who purposed to do everything necessary to keep me in the study.  He still exemplifies this, demonstrating that he is as devoted to the preaching of the Word as anyone I know.  Others have followed that example.  The result is that my original fear is a thing of the past and something that I only think about when telling the story of how we decided to plant the church.  (On that note, may I ask a favor?  If you are ever blessed by a message that I preach, would you go and thank Pastor Rick or Pastor Ken or Pastor Dan or Pastor Jason or Pastor John?  Would you go and thank one of our deacons?  Every message preached at Providence is a result of many people doing many things so that one person can focus primarily on studying.)  

On top of fears unrealized, I am overwhelmed to be part of a church family that I love so dearly.  I love the body of Christ at Providence Bible Fellowship.  I’m so grateful that he overcame my fears so that I might have the joy of serving Him with you.  I can’t believe it’s already been 10 years together.  May He give us many more.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Orphan Care Ministry Silent Auction!

It has been wonderful over the last few years to see the Lord increasing the number of families adopting at Providence Bible Fellowship.  There are numerous young lives who have been graced by loving adoptive parents – and we’ve had the pleasure of participating in various ways.  Right now we have two more families waiting for adoption placements that could come at any minute and another expecting a placement later in the year.

I’m so grateful for those who He has moved to start our Orphan Care Ministry.  One of the ways we are seeking to bless families interested in adopting is to help with funding.  As you know, the cost of adoption is astronomical.  A reasonable adoption can run $25,000, which is far more than most young families have lying around.  One difficulty we have is that those among us who are giving also have limited resources.  Others cannot give financially, but strongly desire to contribute in some capacity.  So we are looking for unique ways to continue to help without exhausting everyone’s ability to give.

We believe we’ve found one in our next big event to raise funds: a silent auction, concert, and light meal on Saturday, April 7, 4:00-6:30 at PBF.  The key is that we are depending upon our membership to invite people outside of the church both to donate items to be auctioned AND to attend the auction for the purpose of purchasing items.  Here are ways that anyone can help:

-       Donate items
-       Solicit businesses to donate items, gift cards, etc.
-       Invite friends, neighbors, co-workers to donate items
-       Invite anyone and everyone to the auction on Saturday, April 7, 4:00-6:30.
-       Pray that the Lord would bless the event by providing funds for adoption and by exposing our community to the gospel.

To avoid a flurry of activity at the last minute, we would like to have item donations dropped off at the church by March 16. 

To help get the word out and encourage donations/attendance, you can download a letter here, explaining the event.  And here is a donation form that any donor can use to help us know how to list the item for auction. 

Please put this event on your calendar and plan to help any way that you can!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Is Exactly What I Need Right Now

Transparency time: I’ve been somewhat stressed about a number of issues over the last week. A couple of those issues have been dragging on for a couple months. One for many months. I've tried to fill my mind with true things about God, but it's been a constant fight to keep those things at the front of my mind while these other issues have clawed to take center stage. Then last night in the middle of prayer meeting, I got a phone call that my son had been in a minor car accident. By itself, not a big deal. But in light of everything else going on, I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I need right now.” 

As I drove to the site of the accident, I feared that I was going to sink deeper into melancholy. I've been fighting it for the last week. Fighting hard. I prayed, “Lord, I don't think I can take this.  Please help me.”  I know cognitively that God does not make mistakes, but this sure felt like one, at least in its timing.  However, I was going to see that this truly was exactly what I needed right now.

You see, my son rear-ended the kindest man in West Chester.  Honestly, if this man wasn't a believer, then he was an angel.  He was uncommonly kind and encouraging to me and my son, expressing relief that my son was okay and saying several times, “your son’s life is more important than any damage to my vehicle.”  He shared funny stories about his first car accidents as a teen, two of which happened in the same week.  It seemed as if he wanted one thing - to help me be okay.  Even his voice and eyes were soothing to me.  As I thanked him for his kindness and understanding, he said, “God bless you.”  With police report in hand, I left the scene of that accident in the dark, pouring rain, but the clouds had lifted from my heart.

It was such a simple thing. This man didn't say anything profound.  He didn't exhort me from the Word.  He was just a conduit of God's kindness right when I needed it.  The Lord demonstrated to me that I was precisely right when I said to myself earlier, “this is exactly what I need right now.”  I meant it sarcastically, but it was true.  God always knows exactly what I need, and what I needed was for my son to get into the most pleasant fender-bender of all time.  The other issues with which I have been troubled have not changed since yesterday, but this small gesture of the Lord’s kindness has changed my attitude about all of it.  

How easy it is to live differently than what we say we believe.  “God is sovereign.  He is in control of all things.  He forces all things to work out for our good.”  But at times, this issue and that issue are so annoying to me that they couldn't possibly be for my good and I wish that they would go away right this second; they seemingly override my theology.   But when I slow down long enough to think biblically, I know it's all from him.  He's doing me good.  When I can't take another thing, He gives me more.  And there could be a million reasons why.  He may make it obvious in that moment why, or I may wait until eternity future to know why. Either way, I do know that one thing is true and I must remind myself that it is true: no matter what happens, this is exactly what I need right now.  I know because He has brought it about.

Psalm 145 came to me today to put a biblical interpretation on last night. Verse 13 reads, “The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.”  Verse 17 says something similar:  “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” Verse 18, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

No matter what the Lord brings into my life, He does it out of faithfulness and righteousness. He's being kind and good.  He is near to me, always giving me just what I need right now.