Praying the Psalms: Psalm 21

Psalm 21 is another royal psalm, closely connected to the preceding psalm, psalm 20. Psalm 21 serves as a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his blessings on the King. The themes of kingship and kingdom run throughout the Bible. As we look at the joy the people of Israel found in their righteous and godly king, we too find our joy in the eternal king Jesus Christ. As we look at this Psalm today we will find that the Lord blessed his anointed King and exalts him to glory. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v 1-7 - The Psalm begins as a prayer to God in thanksgiving for their King and the way God has honored the king. The king is a godly and righteous king who rejoices in the Lord, delighting in the salvation of God. As a result, God is faithful to bless the king. He gives the king his hearts desire and sets a crown  of fine gold upon his head. God blesses the king with a long life and the king is made glorious through the salvific work of God. God gives to him splendor an majesty. The King is the most blessed, because “the king trusts in the Lord” (7).

God loves to bless his anointed king. Though this psalm was originally addressed to a godly king in Israel, this psalm points so clearly to the true king and the true son of David. Jesus is the Christ. Christ means the anointed one. Jesus is the faithful and obedient servant king who finds his strength in God. He rejoices in the presence of his Father and delights to obey him.

Since Jesus is the righteous king, God crowns him with honor and praise. Jesus is the forever king of God’s people, because he is the only perfectly righteous king. The Father gives to his son life, and resurrected life at that. The length of his days stretch thought the unfathomable time of eternity.

The psalmist tells us that “His glory is great through your salvation; splendor and majesty you bestow on him” (5). Truer words have never been spoken about Jesus. Jesus the king is made glorious through the salvation of God. Through the salvation God purchased through the death of the righteous king, the king then receives the glory for it. The ascribing of splendor and majesty is ascribed to Jesus so clearly in the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus who became the obedient servant, even unto death is know highly exalted by God. God gives to him the name that is above every name.

v 8-12 - The psalm continues in its celebration of the king by praising the Lord for his protection of the king. Enemies may very well rise up to challenge the King. They may be filled with violent hate, but the Lord will deliver the King from his enemies. “The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them”. The King’s enemies do not stand a chance. They will be wiped away by the very power of God.  Though the enemies may plan evil against the king, they will not succeed.

Certainly the powers of darkness cannot stand agains the anointed king Jesus. Despite all their cunning and hatred towards Jesus, their plans were foiled. Though they sought to kill Jesus, God used his death to bring about salvation and resurrected glory. Those who stand as enemies of God’s anointed king should be fearful, whether demonic or human. Jesus the true King will come again and establish his kingdom on the earth. Those who align themselves with the powers of darkness will face swift destruction and the eternal wrath of God.

v 13 - The Psalm concludes with a crescendo of praise. May the Lord be exalted in his strength, because the Lord provides strength to his anointed and blessed the righteous King. As we think about the kingship of Jesus, it is mean to bring us before our knees in worship. God is glorifies through his King and as we serve King Jesus with our lives, it is done  in worship and in love to God.

Prayer Guide

  • Thank God for King Jesus and for the way God has exalted him.
  • Thank God for the salvation given to you through Jesus.
  • Praise God for the confidence we have knowing that Jesus’ enemies will one day be defeated once and for all.
  • Praise the Lord for his strength and he glorifies himself through his King.

Millenial Angst: Adele, Getting Older, and Discontentment

Adele captures the consciousness of the millennial generation better than any other musical artist. Her latest album 25 reflects on themes of growing up, as her twenties fade and a new decade begins. As I've been listening to Adele's latest album, perhaps my favorite song is When We Were Young. She sings,

Let me photograph you in this light In case it is the last time That we might be exactly like we were Before we realized We were sad of getting old It made us restless I'm so mad I'm getting old It makes me reckless

As more millennials enter into their late twenties and early thirties they are bombarded by restlessness. We're getting older. Our twenties dawned with roaring optimism, filled with idealistic dreams of love and success, yet as the years wane that bitter reality has turned that roaring optimism into a reckless restlessness. Life did not end up the way we thought it would or rolled out the way that we planned. The last few years left us only with broken hearts and crushed dreams.

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Back during our freshmen year of college, we were brimming with hope. The world was our oyster, filled with endless possibilities. The idea of independence, freedom, and adulthood seemed like a dream too good to be true. We longed to grow up, but as we entered into adulthood we’ve discovered it rather mundane. Our lives have become rather monotonous: we wake up, go to work, parent toddlers, watch Netflix, and go to bed early. Rinse and repeat. The exhaustion of this never-ending routine leaves many longing for something more. The millennial angst and disillusionment leaves us scratching our heads and picking up our hearts, wondering if there might be anything to provide meaning and purpose to our daily lives.

It is in this angst, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ enters into our restlessness and balms our burning hearts with his grace. Only Christ gives meaning to the mundane,  joy to the broken hearted, and hope for those in a quarter-life-crises. Though our lives may not have panned out as we hoped, Jesus gives purpose to our disappointments. Perhaps we have not advanced to where we want to be in our career or have yet to find our perfect spouse. Even still, Jesus gives something that we millennials desperately need: contentment.

It is no secret that millennials are not a very religious bunch. Yet, I believe that as more and more millennials enter into their child-rearing years, our discontentment will grow for something more. I pray that the disillusionment that so many feel will morph into a spiritual brokenness. The puritan Jeremiah Burroughs highlights this truth in his work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,

God has broken your estate; Oh seek to him for the breaking of your heart likewise. Indeed, a broken estate and a whole heart, a hard heart, will not join together; there will be no contentment. But a broken estate and a broken heart will so suite one another, as that there will be more contentment than there was before.

So brokenness is the first step to true contentment. Millennial angst could very well give way to a spiritual revival among this generation. When we finally realize that the promises of advertisers are just a sham and that living for yourself only brings disappointment, then and only then can we find refreshment in the fount of Christ. He is the only source of lasting contentment.

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Burroughs goes on to say in the same book,

It is not by having his own desires satisfied, but by melting his way and desires into God's will. So that, in one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before; still he comes to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God's will.

As the idealistic plans of so many millennials melt away, I pray they will surrender their wills to God. As our wistful dreams crack and decay into the reality in which we live, may we freely give up our life and find true life, true contentment in Jesus himself. As Jesus said,“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:25).

You are Too Rich to be a Scrooge

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. At least, that’s how the song goes. As I’m getting older, it seems like Christmas keeps coming around faster and faster. The Scrooge in within me sometimes utters, “Bah Humbug, Christmas again?” Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, has become a classic story at Christmas time. It has been adapted many times to film. Towards the beginning of the story, Scrooge has a conversation with his nephew. His nephew comes into his office and says Merry Christmas! Scrooge responds, “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” His nephew joyfully responds, “Come, then, what right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” Too-Rich-to-be-a-Scrooge-Post-Image

As Christians, we are too rich not to be merry this time of year. Though we might not have earthly wealth, we have been blessed with every spiritual gift in the heavenly places. We have been lavished with the riches of God’s grace. Because, for those in Christ, we understand the true significance and the true wonder of Christmas: the light of the world has come and that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Jesus not only enters into the darkness, but he overcomes the darkness! He slays our enemy. He rescues us from destruction. He absolves the darkness. How does Jesus overcome the darkness? Here are four ways Jesus overcomes the darkness.

1. He overcomes through his life as he is unstained by the darkness.

Every potential hero that emerges in the Old Testament falls victim to the darkness. No matter how much good they do, there are always horrible failures. From Abraham to Moses to David, no one is righteous, no not one. Yet, Jesus, the son of God, enters as the light of the world and he is unstained by the darkness. He does not succumb to temptation, but rather he overcomes it. Though tempted in ever way as we are, he is without sin. Where we all fail to meet the demands of God’s righteous law, Jesus fulfilled it. He fulfilled it not only through outward obedience, but through the internal motivations of his heart. He is holy, undefiled by sin. Where the first Adam fell to temptation in the garden of Eden, the new and better Adam in the Garden of Gethsemane crushed the serpent and overcome temptation. Jesus, the good son and the true Israel, obeyed where others failed. Throughout his life Jesus was unstained by the darkness.

2. He overcomes through his death as he is swallowed up by the darkness.

The perfect son of God was sent into this world as the light of the world, to die in the place of sinners. At the cross Jesus was swallowed up by the darkness, though he remains light. It was there on the cross that the full penalty for sin was poured out on Christ. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). So Jesus paid the penalty for our rebellion. He paid the price for our ransom. By his stripes we are healed. Matthew tells us in his Gospel that at the time of Jesus’ death darkness covered the whole land, indicating God’s judgment on his son as he bore the punishment for sin. Jesus overcame as he willingly laid down his life and was engulfed in the darkness of the cross—which is the great display of human sin and God’s judgment of it.

3. Jesus overcomes through his resurrection as he defeats the darkness.

The glory of the light of the world is that he did not stay dead. Though he was swallowed by the darkness, he was not defeated by it. Rather, on the third day he rose again in victory in resurrected new life. The suffering servant overcame and our great enemy was defeated. The lamb of God who was slain rose as the victorious lion of Judah. Yes, he died, but he rose again! The grand plan of God fixes the broken world through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

4. Jesus overcomes through his return as he achieves victory over the darkness.

Just as the light of the world entered into the world the first time as a baby born in Bethlehem, so too will the resurrected Jesus return at the end of days. He has put the fatal blow on sin and death, but will one-day return to establish his kingdom on the earth, defeating the powers of darkness once and for all. The consummation of his kingdom is coming. This is so important because the significance of the first advent can only be understood in light of the second. Jesus’ first coming is so important, because it points us to his final coming. The King will return for his throne. The husband will come back for his bride. The light will remove the darkness.

You’re Rich Enough to be Merry

Isn’t this what Christmas is all about? Even now as we sit in the sorrows of our suffering, isn’t our hope in Christ? Even now as we may groan in pain, our hope is in the light of the world who will return in victory over the darkness! Yes, darkness may surround us now, but the victory is already one. The light of the world has come and defeated sin and death, and he will come again. The significance of the first advent can only be understood in light of the second. This Christmas, you may be wondering is God fixing this broken world? The answer is yes—look at Bethlehem. Look at the God of light who became one of us to rescue us. The baby boy Jesus is the crucified son of God. The crucified son of God is the resurrected King. The resurrected King is the rider on the white horse who brings about the victory of the God!

So I’m not sure if you are in the Christmas spirit or not. Perhaps today you feel a bit like Scrooge inquiring, “What have you to be merry about, your poor enough, your suffering enough, you’re in pain enough, your hurting enough?” If you are a Christian this morning, I would simply reply back to you the same way Scrooge’s nephew replied to him, “Come, then, what right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” For, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it.”

Christ Over All: Stable in Christ

http://www.foresthillsbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/R_20150118-105919_1.mp3  

Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website.

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21–23, ESV)

Paul reminds the Colossian Church of who they used to be and reminds them of how they’ve been reconciled by Jesus while charging them to continue and stand firm in the Gospel. We must remember how we have been reconciled to God by Jesus and continue to follow him all our lives.

1. Remember Who You Used to Be (v. 21)

Paul, thinking and reflecting on the supremacy of Christ over all and dwelling on his ministry of reconciliation turns to the Colossians, “and you”.

It is easy sometimes to start studying the Bible or talk about theology and think only in the area of the mind. Every human being tends to be a hypocrite in some regards, even the Christian. We never fully workout what we believe into our lives. We have difficulty consistently following what we claim. For the Christian, we believe that Jesus is Lord over all. He is the image of the invisible God. He is pre-eminent supreme over all that is. Not only that but he is the reconciler, the one who brings us to the father and forgives us of our sins.

While all that is true, I’ve seen to many who claim to be Christians say these things about Jesus, but they are not personal to them. When they talk about Jesus, he seems to be a distant concept, or when they talk about his salvation of sinners, they fail to see that they in fact are the condemned sinner saved by God. In other words, to be a Christian is not just to know the Bible or know Christian ideas, but to personally experience the reality of them yourself. You’ve not only been taught the Gospel, you’ve been transformed by it. The good news of Jesus is not simply an answer you can get right on a quiz, but you’ve personally experienced this grace.

Paul, dwelling on the supremacy of Jesus turns to the Colossians and reminds them of how this Jesus has personally transformed them. He calls them “and you” to remind them of who they used to be.

Have you ever met someone with amnesia? Someone who has forgotten who they were and who they are? I’m convinced there are a great number of Christians out there who have Gospel Amnesia. They’ve forgotten who they really are and they’ve forgotten who Jesus really is.

We talk about the Gospel a lot here at Forest Hills. Gospel means good news or good message. What is the good news? The good news is that God saves sinful humanity by sending his son to take on their punishment on the cross. All of this is undeserved as we are saved only by God’s grace. We talk about the Gospel all the time here, because we are a forgetful people. We need to remember who we were and what God has done. Every week as we gather together we remind ourselves through singing and teaching just what Jesus has done for us.

It is so easy for us to forget our identity found in Jesus. We must reminder ourselves regularly of this good news and call each other to live consistently in light of these truths.

So if you are a Christian, who did we use to be?

Alienated

We were alienated from God. Separated from him. Our relationship with him is estranged. In other words, there is something fundamentally wrong with your relationship with God.

The Bible tells us that this thing fundamentally wrong with us is called sin. Every single human being who has ever walked the face of the earth (except for Jesus) is a sinner.

God created us for himself, to love him and delight in him. Yet, every human being reject God doing things his or her own way. Rather than loving God above everything else, we put other people and things in the place of God. We dethrone God from our lives and put in place greed, sex, boyfriends, girlfriends, our reputation, comfort, selfishness, pride, you name it. In fact humanity seems to be infinitely creative in fashioning new idols to worship.

This sin puts friction between us and God. As infinitely holy, he cannot defile himself with sin. So because of sin their is a gulf, a chasm of separation between us and God. This is what Paul means by alienation. We were separated from him.

To be separated from God is a frightful thing. For God is the just judge who punishes sinners and brings justice. God being just, gives sinners what they are due, the very wrath of God. This is why Paul would say in Romans, “The wages of sin is death”. Death and punishment is what sinners deserve. Our sin estranges our relationship with God. Yet we are not only alienated, we are enemies and hostile to him.

Hostile in Mind

Paul tells us that we are hostile in our mind. Sin is not only action but thought and motive. Some of you may say that you are not much of a sinner. You’ve never murdered anyone and your not a terrorist. So you think, “I’m a pretty good person”. Wrong. God’s definition of sin is much wider and much more comprehensive. Sin is not only action, but how we think and our motives behind our actions. The problem with humanity is not that we do bad things but that we are bad people. Sin comes from the very depths of who we are.

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19, ESV)

Sin affects our thinking and our hearts. Humanity surpasses the truth about God. We invent worldview that explain a world without god or we create gods of our own making. Humanity is deeply confused about God.

Not only does sin make us confused as it blinds our eyes from the truth, we are actually hostile to God’s ways. We see God and his ways as oppressive, old fashioned, intolerant, or judgmental. So humanity blasphemes God, accusing him of wrong doing and seeking to break free from his oppressive yoke.

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”” (Psalm 2:1–3, ESV)

Not Only are we hostile in mind, that hostile thinking leads to evil actions.

Evil Actions

Because we hate God, we begin to live life in active opposition to Him. Because we are sinners we live our life our own way. We lie, cheat, and steal. We gossip, slander, and insult on another. We get drunk, smoke pot, or watch porn. We sleep around, cheat on one another, and destroy marriages. We are violent, murderous, and abusive. We become judgmental, self-righteous, or holier-than-thou. Because we are hostile in our thinking we live in hostility to God. We hate him. We think of ourselves as god and live accordingly.

It is a frightful thing to live in opposition to God. Each and every one of us were at one time an enemy with God. Some of you still are. You are hostile to God and his ways. You are angry with him and your not sure why. Your living life in rebellion against him. You are alienated and separated from God. What you need is to be reconciled back to God. The only problem is that you cannot do it yourself. You cannot absolve your sin and you cannot spurn away the wrath of the Lord. You are in desperate trouble. But there is good news coming. Because we will find out shortly just how God brings peace with his enemies.

Remembering your failures can be painful.Yet, Paul’s reason for calling the Colossians old life to their mind isn’t for their embarrassment or dread, but to demonstrate the intensity of God’s underserved grace he gave to them. As Christians we should not feel the need to hide our past, and we certainly not forget who we used to be!

2. Remember What God Has Done (v. 22)

What does it mean to be reconciled? To reconcile means that the relationship is repaired. It is fixed and mended. The two parties are brought back into right relationship with one another. Whatever the point of contention between the two has been absolved.

So we were enemies with God, but if you are a Christian you are reconciled to God. Peace has been made. The hostility and fighting you’ve been doing has stopped. God has brought you to himself. The greatest of all our needs is this – Peace with God.

I want you to notice one important thing about v. 22. Who is it that’s doing the reconciling? Is it you? Nope. How does the text read. “He has now reconciled”. So who is doing the reconciling? It’s God!

We cannot reconcile ourselves to God. It doesn’t matter how much good you may do in this life, all of it is unable to bring peace between you and God. In fact, our good actions are often just our rebelliousness in disguised. In our hostility the motive for our good action is not to please God, but to be thought of as a good person or to impress our fellow man, or to think more highly of yourself.

God takes the initiative. He is the one who has paved a way. Though he does not need us, we need him. God by his mercy, made a way for us to be delivered from our sin. God has made a way to bring peace to your heart.

How Has God Reconciled Us? Through the Death of Jesus as he stands under the wrath of God in our place on the cross. Listen to Paul describe this in Romans 5:6–11.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6–11, ESV)

Why Has God Reconciled Us? To present us as holy, blameless, and innocent before him. God loves us and chooses to glorify himself by taking we who were enemies and making us his children. He takes our filth and our sin and he cleans us, purifies us and makes us holy. Through Jesus you are able to stand before God and posses the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

3. Continue in Jesus (v. 23)

The most dangerous false teachings are the ones with a subtle and often unnoticeable shift. Many of you have been taught “Once saved always saved”. Meaning that you walked down an aisle, say and prayer, get baptized, then you go live your life your own way. Now that they have their “get out of hell free card” they live their life their own way, in sin, and continuing in their rebellion against god, while claiming to some deluded security in the phrase “once saved always saved”.

Do I believe that you can lose your salvation? No, not at all! Rather the Bible teaches that there is no one or no thing that can pluck you from the hand of God. So what’s wrong with “once saved always saved” phrase? Its not so much that the phrase is wrong, but that its incomplete. The Bible doesn’t teach that salvation is some item to possess or purchase through a magic prayer or an alter call, rather it is described in a much more organic way. Salvation in the Bible is not compared to a ticket to heaven but being grafted into a vine. Salvation is being connected to the true vine Jesus Christ, and the true Christian is one who stays connected to that vine. Remaining in that vine till the day he or she dies. The Christian is one who has been united to Christ. We have are attached to him, connected to him. The true Christian is one who is permanently united to Jesus.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5, ESV)

The correct phrase to describe the Bible’s teaching is not “one saved always saved” but "once saved always persevering”.

One of the most frightening realities as a pastor is when I ask people to share about their testimony and how they came to know Jesus and they start telling me about their church membership history. Your testimony is not your church history! For there will be many regular church attendees who find themselves in hell.

““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21–23, ESV)

Are you in Christ? Not, are you a church member. Not, have you been baptized. Not, do you believe in God. Not, do you come to church. But are you in Christ? Have you been reconciled to God? Are you connected to the vine? Have you joined yourself to the firm foundation Jesus?

As we read Paul’s warning here to the Colossians he is not doubting that they will persevere to the end. This phrase Can be translated, “Provided that you stand firm” or paraphrased like “At any rate, if you stand firm in the faith - and I am sure you will”.

Yet, there are some who seem to shift away from the hope of the Gospel. Its not that they lose their salvation, its just that they never had it to begin with. One of the greatest tragedies is watching someone shift from the hope of the gospel, a hope they never truly had or believed. Like Jesus said in the parable of the sower,

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” (Matthew 13:5–7, ESV)

There are those who seem to show initial signs of spiritual life, but it proves to be ingenue, fake, and phony. Over time they shift away from the hope of the Gospel either by being scorched by persecution and the difficulty of life or being choked out by the things of this world.

This idea of perseverance in the Christian life can create some anxiety within our hearts. If I am truly connected to Christ, can I fall away? Yet, God promises us that those who have truly been born again will never fall away. Just as we have been justified by the grace of God so too will we endure and preserve to the end by the grace of God. The same God who saves us in the same God who preserves us.

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:29, ESV)

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28–30, ESV)

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)

The assurance of your salvation is not tied to your ability to remain in God, but by God’s ability to keep you. He is the sovereign God who does not lose a single sheep of his flock . Those whom he justified he will glorify. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. The Same God who by his grace reconciled you to the son, is the same God who keeps you reconciled. So do not forget who you used to be, an enemy and hater of God. Remember that God has reconciled you by his son therefore church, stand firm in this unshakeable foundation until the Lord Jesus calls you home.

How Can I Have Joy in Difficult Circumstances?

Are you in a situation you'd rather not be in? Have you been given a hand by God and you'd rather just fold and give up? There are always situations that God puts us that are not how we want them to be. We question.

We get angry.

We doubt God's goodness.

Needless to say we have terrible attitudes and we often begin to find our wicked hearts rebuking God.

This is why Paul's attitude in the book of Philippians never ceases to amaze me. Paul is writing this letter in prison, yet it is one of his warmest and joyous letters he ever wrote. I'm not sure what situation you find yourself right now, but I doubt you are in chains being guarded by a burly Roman guard.

So what is Paul's secret?

What does he know that we need know?

What is he believing that we are not?

Well as we begin to look through the letter of Philippians, we begin to see why Paul is so joyous despite his circumstances. Here are three ways you can face whatever situation with joy.

1. Make Jesus Your Chief Treasure

Paul loved Jesus. Not only did Paul love Jesus, he counted all his worldly accolades and his prestigious reputation as rubbish in order that he may gain Christ (Phil 3:8). If Paul's whole life could be compared to a shelf, Jesus was not just an item on the shelf of Paul's life. Jesus is the shelf itself. Paul had a laser focus on Jesus, and ultimately nothing else mattered as long as he had Jesus.

When Jesus is all you live for, you will be surprised what you can live without. There is not cost to high, no persecution to great, and no suffering to overwhelming when Jesus is your treasure.

In fact the great irony is that it through those difficulties that the ecstatic joys of Christ increase. Just like a fine wine cleanses the palate and accentuates the flavor of the meal, so does suffering accentuate the depths of our knowledge of Christ. This is why Paul longs "I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (3:10). Paul wants to experience the joy of the resurrection of Christ and he knows that that joy comes through suffering.

Paul saw his chains not as obstacles to his joy but as catalysts. When you begin to see your trails not as obstacles in the way of your joy, but pathways to deeper joy there is nothing that life can throw at you that wills shake you.  The obstacles we fear become tools in God's hand for our joy and His glory.

2. Live Believing Dying is Gain.

Because Christ was Paul's chief treasure, he had a reckless fearlessness concerning his own life. Paul's chief concern is the glory of Christ and knows that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by life or by death (1:20). This is why Paul could say so boldly and confidently "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21).

Can you imagine that sort of freedom? Though Paul was chained to the imperial guard he was the freest man in the room. What could they do to him? If they keep him alive, he was going to live for Christ. If they kill him, great! He gets to be with his savior.

Christians should be the most fearless people on the planet. Because Christ has redeemed and set us free from the condemnation of our sin, the penalty of death is removed. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus (Rom 8:1). Therefore death is not a horrific, tragic end but a beautiful, new beginning. Paul, with Christ as his chief treasure, got this. Do you?

This is why he could go on to be content whatever the circumstances (see Chapter 4). Whether his stomach is filled or he hasn't eaten for days, Paul says he is content. Why? Because he is a man living for eternity. He is a man with his eye on the prize. He is a man striving for Christ and there is nothing on earth that can get in the way of his pursuit. He is running the race and pressing on to cross the finish line of death and receive his prize–his treasure, Jesus.

Do you live with such laser focus on Christ? Are you living as if dying is gain? Do you see the world through the lens of eternity? If so, there is no situation of your life that can still your joy.

3. See Your Hardships as Opportunities

I love Paul, because the man is sitting in prison and in chains. Though Paul is bound, the Gospel is not. In fact, it is spreading ever the more rapidly while Paul sits in his cell. Paul tells the church,

"I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers having become more confident in the Lord by my imprisonment are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (1:12-14).

Isn't that amazing? When Paul gets locked up he doesn't throw a pity party. He doesn't say, "Ok God, I'm not sharing the Gospel with anyone until you get me out of here. I don't deserve this!" Nor does he say, "If God really cared about me he wouldn't have let me get arrested". No! Paul with Christ as his treasure continues to proclaim the Gospel to the audience the Lord has given–the prison guards. Even in his imprisonment, the Gospel was going forth and God was converting the guards. Not only that, but the Christians in the city are being stirred to evangelism through the example that Paul is setting. Rather than seeing his imprisonment as an affliction, he saw it as an opportunity to boldly proclaim Christ.

You're Right Where You Need to Be

I'm not sure what sort of situation you have found yourself. Maybe it is not ideal. Maybe it is not what you wanted. Maybe you are frustrated and burned out. Learn from the apostle Paul's example. Live with Christ as your treasure. Live knowing dying is gain. Live looking for opportunities to proclaim Christ. As you do you might just be surprised that this difficult place the Lord has placed you is right where he needs you to be.

Merry Christmas!

The great has been brought low. The high king has become a peasant. The Lord God of the Universe stooped down and added humanity to his deity. What degradation is the incarnation! How great God has condescended to our low and helpless estate.

Yet, it was all from Love, to seek those who are lost, to cleanse those who are filthy, and forgive those who are enemies. It was love for his image bearers that the Jesus put on flesh and dwelt among us.

May this miracle of Christmas never cease to be remembered. God has become one of us. God is with us. Immanuel is his name. The virgin has conceived and given birth to a son. The shepherd King of Israel has arrived. The savior of the nations is born.

This Christmas may we ponder as Mary did about the birth of this babe. May the degradation of God in Jesus led us into worship.

This Christmas may we proclaim as those shepherd did, telling all what they have seen and heard about the Christ.

I hope your Christmas is merry and worshipful as you celebrate the birth of Jesus!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Meaning in the Mundane

Life can get a little mundane can't it? In our lives we can quickly get into the monotony of routine. Wake up, get the kids ready for school, go off to work, eat dinner, go to soccer practice, go to bed. Rinse and repeat. As ambassadors for Christ how do we thrive in the seemingly mundane routine we find ourselves every day? The answer is what must look to every area of our lives with Gospel intentionality. You see the Gospel provides meaning to the mundane and purpose to the trivial. Through a Christ-centered lens our ordinary days become powerfully meaningful and eternally significant. Let me give you two examples.

Raising Children with Gospel Intentionality

When we begin to live with Gospel intentionality, the way we raise our children is different. We are not just raising them to get a good job, get a good education, and make a bunch of money. We are raising them unto Christ. We are raising them to fulfill the great Commission. We are raising them for Christ and to evangelize them, disciple them, and release them as fellow partners in advancing the Gospel. This makes changing diapers and late-night feedings incredibly meaningful. Everyday mundane things filled with Gospel purpose.

Going to Work with Gospel Intentionality

The way we go to work is different, when we begin to go with Gospel intentionality. Many people absolutely hate their jobs. Their sole purpose for going to work is just to make a paycheck. However the Gospel fills our work with purpose. In Christ, not only are we going to work to provide for our families, we go living for Christ to be a light in a dark place. We build relationships with co-workers to be able to live out and speak Christ. As we go into our jobs we do not go as corporate drones but joyous ambassadors for Christ. Therefore no matter what our profession from garbage man to CEO all of it is incredibly meaningful.

The Gospel gives purpose to the mundane and meaning to the trivial. In Christ, our ordinary days become extraordinary. So if you are struggling to get out of the morning and finding your routine boring, begin to see yourself as an ambassador for Christ. When you do you will find just how meaningful the mundane can become.

Is Proclaiming Christ Your Single Passion?

What would it look like if proclaiming Christ was your single passion?

How would it change the way you get out of bed in the morning?

How would it change your morning commute into work?

How would it change the way you spend your lunch break?

How would it change your conversation with co-workers?

How would it change the way you spend free time?

How would it change the way you change a diaper or drop the kids off at soccer practice?

How would it change your monthly budget?

How would it change your family schedule?

What would it look like if every person in your church had the single passion of proclaiming Christ?

How would it change your ministries?

How would it change your worship service?

How would it change your community?

How would it change your philosophy of ministry?

How would it change your churches budget?

How would it change your churches calendar?

What would happen if we kicked off the auto-pilot switch and start asking the right questions? What would happen if we pause and reflected on the way we live our lives? Would we have the courage to think, reflect, and repent?

Is proclaiming Christ your single passion?

Top Quotes from Christ-Centered Preaching

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Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon by Bryan Chapell has become the modern go-to preaching book.  It is a wonderful introduction to anyone wanting to understand the discipline of homiletics or preaching.  However, where the book is most helpful is the last few chapters, when Chapell explains the necessity of Christ-centered sermons and how to observe Christ in every text that may be preached.  It is incredibly practical, scholarly, and helpful for anyone who feels called by God to preach his Word.  

This is a book that will warrant are reread in order to fully understand and comprehend the wisdom locked in its pages.  However with my first read through, here were some of my top quotes:

An expository sermon may be defined as a message whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text, that covers the scope of the text, and that explains the features and context of the text in order to disclose the enduring principles for faithful thinking, living, and worship intended by the Spirit, who inspired the text. (31)

Character oozes out of us in our messages.  Just as people reveal themselves in conversations by their words and mannerisms, we constantly reveal ourselves to others in our preaching. (37)

You must know grace to preach it. No matter how great your skill or accolades, you are unlikely to lead others closer to God if your heart does not reflect the continuing work of the Savior in your life.  (39)

You may never hear the applause of the world or pastor a church of thousands, but a life of godliness combined with clear explanations of Scripture's saving and sanctifying grace will engage the power of the Spirit for the glory of God. (41)

The healthiest preaching does not assume listeners will automatically see how to apply God's truth to their lives; it supplies the application people need.  If even the preacher cannot tell (or has not bothered to determine) how the sermon's truth relate to life, then people not only are unlikely to make the connection, but also will wonder why they bothered to listen. (53)

Make sure that you motivate believers primarily by grace, not by guilt or greed.  If God has freed his people from the guilt and power of sin, the preachers have no right to put believers back under the weight Jesus bore. (219)

These are just a few of the MANY quotes I got from this book.  There were to many to count.  I commend this book to you!

5 Ways to Have a Christ-Centered Christmas

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Don't have a Christ-less Christmas. As Christians we must keep Jesus in the center of everything we do. In our increasingly consumerism-driven understanding of Christmas, we must fight the current of culture and commit to making much of Jesus during this time. However, you might ask yourself the question? How do I have a Christ-Centered Christmas? Well here are five extremely practical ways you can lift up the name of Jesus this Christmas:

1. Go to a Christmas Eve Service

Christmas Eve Services are awesome. They are always one of my favorite church services of the year. Make it a priority to take your family to one this Christmas. If you are out of town visiting family, find a local church and visit them for their Christmas eve service. It is a great way to usher your heart and soul into worship before Christmas day by praising our gracious God who put on flesh for you and for me.

2. Invite a neighbor over for Christmas Dinner

One of the ways we can honor Christ is by reaching out to those around us. As Christians we are ambassadors for Christ, and what a better time to be an ambassador than at Christmas time? Schedule a night to have that family down the street over for dinner. Share with them about who Jesus is and why God sent him for us. Share the Gospel with them. Not only does it honor Christ at Christmas, but it spread the Gospel to those who so desperately need to hear it!

3. Read the Christmas Story Together as a Family

As a family, sit down and read the Birth Narrative of Jesus in Luke 1-2. It is a great time to spend some time in the Scriptures and foster family worship. I know many families that will do this first thing on Christmas morning, before opening presents and before the busyness of the day. The family will gather by the tree and Pastor Dad will lead the family in scripture reading and prayer. Dads, make a priority to start this tradition with your family. It is a great way to disciple your children and keep Christ in the center of your home.

4. Skip the Gift Exchange this Year

What? Are you serious? Skip the gift exchange? I know, I know. That is exactly what you are thinking. There is nothing wrong or sinful about giving gifts to one another at Christmas time, however I think everyone can admit that it does distract us from honoring Christ. So often the thing that Christmas Day centers on is the getting of stuff. It is a travesty and poison that American Marketers have been telling us for decades. How about one year, maybe this year, you take a fast from the gift giving as a family? Maybe take the money that you would spend on Christmas Gifts and give it away? This is something I have been praying about in my own family. Kaitlyn and I are not planning on doing much gift exchanging this year with one another, but we want to give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which goes to fund and support all of our Southern Baptist Missionaries over seas. Maybe we should do something a little radical this Christmas and be counter cultural for the name of Jesus.

5. Volunteer and Serve Others

At this Christmas time, why not keep Christ at the center by serving others? After all, "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Imitate your savior this Christmas and honor him by giving of your time to serve other people. Get your eyes off of yourself and onto this dying world who needs you to show them Christ with your words and your actions.

Christmas is busy. It is so easy to get distracted by the next Christmas party you have to attend or the next Christmas show you need to watch. Don't let the busyness of Christmas distract you from keeping Christ at the center of your life and your worship. As Christians we must keep Christ the center of our lives in every season, not just in December, but this Christmas may we seek to lift high the name of Jesus for the whole world to see! The King has come. The savior is born. What great and glorious news!

What are some ways your family keeps Christ at the center of Christmas? Share with us in the comments!