Two Ways for Christians to Respond to the Orlando Shooting

4045383465_f22759e77d_z As we woke up to the news of massacre and carnage in Orlando, the event shocked the consciences of the American people. The news of another mass shooting in our country has become all to familiar in recent years. Yet, the catastrophe yesterday marks the largest shooting in American history—a record that no one wanted to see broken. As our eyes glued themselves to the news outlets for the latest updates, our inquisitive hearts long for answers. As the law enforcement officials report more information in the days to come, what can we as Christians do in response to this havoc?

Already, the opportunists have jumped to political solutions, using the Orlando slaughter as a chance to propel an agenda. We want to do something to stop the shootings that recur so frequently, so such reactions are understandable. So calls for the regulation of gun control and the ban of radical Islamists have already overtaken the tragedy. Though we should explore political solutions to this persistent problem in our country, I would suggest the church should take a different approach. Before we jump to the politicization of the event, may we first mourn with the hurting and proclaim the hope of Christ.

Mourn with the Hurting

Many are hurting—The friends and family of the victims, the LGBT community, peaceful muslims, the city of Orlando, and more. Before we rush to judgement or vocalize our disagreements with any of those communities, the church must weep with those who weep. We mourn with those who mourn. We must identify ourselves with the brokenhearted, sharing tears with all.

Though our ears still ring with the shell shock of this news, we must offer our compassion and tears for those affected by this abominable attack. God birthed the church out of the afflictions of our savior. In his prophecy, Isaiah called the messiah the suffering servant. Jesus identified with us in his incarnation, becoming human just as we are. The messiah shared in our sufferings and experienced the horrors of sin and evil unleashed upon the world. As Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha, God experienced the terror of bloody murder. God became a victim and aligns himself with the oppressed and marginalized, all for the forgiveness of human sin.

Just as Jesus shared in our sufferings, so too should we share in the sufferings of those around us. We must display compassion, love, and hope for those families of the victims, coming alongside them and sharing in their grief.

Proclaim the Hope of Christ

Not only must we mourn with the hurting, we must also proclaim the hope of Christ. Jesus identifies with the weeping, but he also came to stop all the weeping. The rampage in Orlando unsettles us, serving as a poignant reminder that the world is not as it should be. The evil and hate that can fill the heart of a man to open fire in a crowded room reminds us of that. Something is seriously wrong with the world. The fault line of this world cannot be filled by shuffling political dirt. The tectonic plates of sin continue to quake the earth with unspeakable acts of evil. The restraining grace of God provides the only explanation for why the world is as stable as it is. Human remedies cannot solve the virus that is human sin.

Yet, the cross of Christ not only displays Jesus’ identification with our suffering, but proclaims victory over our suffering. God sent his son to save sinners like us, but also to restore the broken world to its original and perfect design. The Gospel involves individual restoration, but the good news expands to the entire cosmos. Yes, Christ shares in our weeping, but he also stops the weeping. This is the tension we live in as Christians between the times. The kingdom of God is here now, arriving with Christ himself two thousand years ago. Yet, the kingdom has not yet been fully realized, and won’t be until Christ comes again. Jesus’ arrival marks the inauguration of his kingdom, but that kingdom has yet to be fully consummated. As Jesus endures the sufferings of the cross, his resurrection breaks the back of our enemies sin and death, but there final defeat has yet to come. Though the kingdom of darkness continues to squirm, we must proclaim the hope that Christ has won the day on that resurrection morning and that he is coming soon. The day will soon come when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” (Revelation 21:4, ESV)

As our nation processes the carnage from Sunday, may we mourn with the hurting and proclaim the hope of Christ. Though blood stains the floors of Pulse in Orlando, Jesus is alive and he is coming soon. As we mourn with the brokenhearted, may we proclaim the hope of Christ and in our sorrow may our longing for his return grow evermore in our hearts.

Passing the Baton at Forest Hills

At the conclusion of our centennial celebration, I couldn't help but be filled with joy. Seeing so many faithful saints return produced great thanksgiving in my heart. In many ways, I'm still humbled that God has called me to shepherd a church like Forest Hills. I've developed a profound appreciation for the legacy and heritage of Forest Hills over the years. As I thought about this weekend, I knew it would be special. In some ways this weekend symbolized a passing of the torch, the handing off of the baton to me and my generation of believers. IMG_0901

As I stood on stage and introduced James Herron, our oldest living senior pastor, I couldn't help but be thankful for men like him whom God used mightily for his Kingdom. Yet, in his sermon this Sunday, he cautioned about making too much of the past, but charged us as a congregation to move forward into a new century. Nostalgia is a wonderful, powerful sensation, but too much of it will drug you as you become gloomy about the present and pessimistic about the future. Ironically, we never realize we were living in the good ol' days, until those days are gone. By the grace of God, we tend to forget about the dark days, as our memory preserves the bright spots.

Yet, nostalgia cannot hinder God's work in the present and his vision for the future. The work is not yet over. The Great Commission lies before us, and lost souls need to hear the Gospel of Jesus. In our nostalgia, we cannot run our race backwards. This is the tension of churches with such great history like Forest Hills. We must simultaneously give thanks and honor those who have come before, and at the same time run with our eyes on the finish line, not on the starting line. Indeed, that's what those who came before us desire. Who runs a relay race, takes the baton from his teammate, then turns around and backtracks towards the starting point? Our teammates want us to move forward, not backward. We must sprint towards Christ, not to an idolized vision of the past.

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Over the weekend, I've felt that tension within my own soul. My gratitude for my forebears, the faithful shepherds of this church who've come before me, cannot adequately be expressed in words. They have preserved the apostolic Gospel, preaching Christ now in our church for a century. In an overwhelming and monumental way, that mantle has now fallen on my shoulders. By the calling of God, I now stand with the baton of the Gospel in my hand, charged to lead these wonderful people into the next century.

As I think about my own shortcomings as a leader and inadequacies as a pastor, the responsibility can be overwhelming. Yet, press on in the race we must. We must preserve the integrity of the Gospel and innovate new methods of reaching a new generation in a drastically new American culture. As a result, change is afoot in Forest Hills Baptist Church. Ministry strategy and programs have been and will continue to shift over the next several years around our vision to treasure Christ, equip believers, and send disciples for the glory of God.

As we run our race, may we not falter in our steps, but press on towards Christ, prepared and ready to pass off the baton to the next generation. May we not break the chain of faithful saints who came before, and may the great relay race of the saints, that has continued at Forest Hills now for 100 years, continue in our church till Christ returns for us.

Why Bringing Your Kids to Church Is Not Enough

The conversation goes like this. A well meaning parent comes up to me, expressing their desire to get involved with the church. Always curious, I ask why, and the answer I typically get is this: “I want my child to grow up in church.” Though certainly we should want our children to grow up in church, I’m gravely concerned with what is often meant by this innocent statement. Usually what people really mean is this: “I want my children to be raised with some sort of faith, preferably the Christian faith, because it was so important to my moral upbringing. Since I am either unwilling or unable to provide it myself, I’ve come to the church to get them to take care of the spiritual life of my child while I’ll take care of everything else.” To put it more simply, parents want to outsource the spiritual nurturement of their child to the church. 8483660163_3fd14630eb_z

Though I certainly welcome any family and any child into the community of the saints, I do want to challenge the idea of outsourcing the spiritual care of your children to the church. Unfortunately the church has only reinforced this mindset within many people through our programs and ministry methodology. We have taught parents to come and drop off their children where paid professionals stand by to handle the tenacious work of discipleship. As a former youth pastor, I’m fully aware that ministry to teens without the parents simply doesn’t work. The responsibility for the spiritual care of our little ones cannot be placed upon the church entirely, but rather the full weight of responsibility rests on the shoulders of daddy and mommy. God has called the parents to evangelize and disciple their children. The church then exists to come alongside mom and dad to equip them for their task and supplement what is already taking place at home.

So if you are a Christian parent, please bring your children to church, but you must do *more* than that. As any experienced parent will tell you, more is caught than taught. Therefore, in addition to just dropping your child off at church, we must model the Gospel to our children. We must live out what it means for Christ to be our greatest love and greatest treasure. We must display what it means to submit our lives to king Jesus and his authoritative word. If you take seriously your job as a parent, you must live out your faith to those little eyes who are always watching.

Here is the main point: In addition to bringing our kids to church, we must model a life of devotion to Jesus.

Though we certainly never do it for the show, our children should see our devotion to Jesus in action. Our children watch us in the most private and mundane of moments and they should see our professed love for Christ on display. They should see us pray and read the Bible, growing in our relationship with Jesus. Our children should be able to look to us as example of what the Christian life is. Sadly, for far too many families, Jesus only comes up on Sunday mornings and is ignored the rest of the week. When you tell your children to follow Jesus on Sundays, but ignore him every other day, chances are your kids will follow Jesus none of the days. Why? Because your own spiritual life screams hypocrisy.

How can mom or dad tell me Jesus is worthy of my devotion when they show no evidence of that devotion themselves? Why make Jesus the Lord of my life when he isn’t the Lord of theirs?

I’m afraid many parents do more harm than good by forcing their kids to go to church, teaching them that church is like broccoli—nobody likes to eat it, but you have to eat it because it's good for you.

I’ve talked with many parents who struggle with their children who don’t want to come to church, particularly in the teenage years. Every Christian parent encounters this at some point in their parenting, and parents should indeed require their children to come to church, whether they want to or not. Though what is most likely happening behind the scenes is something much bigger than just refusing to come to church; the teen calls the bluff on the parent’s hypocrisy, reacting against the parent who speaks out of the both sides of the mouth.

We must repent of our Janus-faced parenting and confess our hypocritical compartmentalization. After all, the goal of our parenting is not to produce well-behaved, moral little monsters, but contrite sinners, redeemed by the blood of the Christ. If we hope our children will join the redeemed, we must not cast doubt on the truth Gospel by our hypocritical life. Parents must authentically live out their faith before their children. Though we may have the rest of our church fooled, our children are not. Our rehearsed play-acting will only put a bitter taste of Christianity into our children’s mouths. We need less Christian thespians, and more parents who authentically, consistently, and genuinely live their lives in devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

So bring your kids to church, but you better demonstrate devotion to Christ in your private life. If not, your legalistic requirement of church attendance and your hypocrisy could very well estrange your children from the Christ you profess to love.

Sanctity of Human Life: How the Gospel Compels Us to Take Action

On Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, we pause to remember the intrinsic value of every person and call the church to action to take up the cause of life. We must take action because the gospel compels us to action. The gospel is the good news of Jesus which speaks of the kingdom of God, the rule of Christ over the cosmos, and the restoration of this broken world. The gospel ushers in a new resurrection-reality that brings redemption, forgiveness, and love to sinners. The good news fuels our motivation to care for the fatherless, particularly the unborn. Foetus-435110

The scriptures tell us that we are orphans. The Scriptures speak of God’s love as a loving father who adopts us and brings us into his family. Spiritually, everyone of us is an orphan, abandoned to our sins, exposed in eternal suffering, and hungry for love and family. As the lamenter Jeremiah said, “We have become orphans, fatherless” (Lam 5:3).

Though we are poor orphans, God cares for the marginalized. He sees us in our lowly estate; he sees our suffering; he sees our hunger, and he chooses to adopt us as his children. He sent Jesus, his own son, to purchase us and bring us into his family. Our salvation tells one beautiful story of adoption. The story of the Bible describes a loving Father who sacrificed everything to love his children. He spared no expense, even if it meant the sacrifice of his only-begotten son.

Yet, even though Jesus has been raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father, God did not abandon us like orphans. Rather, now we have the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18, ESV). He gives us a helper, the Holy Spirit until Christ returns for us.

These glorious Gospel truths amazes us. If you are a Christian, you’ve received the adopting love of God. How amazing it is that God’s love would descend to choose broken, unwanted orphans like us. Though you may feel unwanted, good for nothing, and worthless, God the Father declares: “I love you. I want you. Become my child, and let me become your father. Come enjoy the warmth of my embrace and enjoy your inheritance as my son or daughter.” You want that kind of love. I want that kind of love. If you want to become a son or daughter of God, he invites you into his family today. He calls you to turn from your sin and trust in his son Jesus Christ for your salvation. Come to the Father through the son, and enjoy the privileges of being a child of God.

So when we become a child of God, we are called to action. We spread the kingdom of God and share in our Father’s care for the orphan. As Paul would write in Ephesians, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV). James write, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, ESV). James tells us that one of the ways we prove to be a part of the family of God, is that we obey God. Disobedience to the command of God indicates spiritual deception. Our obedience proves our son-ship.

As we think about the sacredness of human life, how does the Gospel compels us to do something? What motivates us to action? Let me suggest five ways.

First, we are compelled by gratitude. As we think about all that God has done for us, we cannot help but be grateful, and that gratefulness leads us to obedience.

Second, we are compelled by love. We want to imitate God, be like him in his care for the least of these. As God has loved us, we love others. Children are like their fathers, and the church should by like God. We share in the care of God for the least of these. Indeed, we are an extension of the love of God.

Third, we are compelled by God’s Kingdom. The kingdom of God speaks to our individual salvation on a micro level, but on a macro level it speaks to the restoration of the cosmos. God will renew all things and restore all things before sins corroding influence on the world. As citizens of God’s kingdom and members of his family, we are compelled to see his kingdom advance.

Fourth, we are compelled by the Great Commission. We do justice and serve the least of these as a part of our Great Commission work to make disciples. Social justice goes awry, when we forget that people need Jesus. Out of love and compassion, let us care for the marginalized, but let us also take the Gospel message with us, inviting all people to trust Christ as the savior and king.

Fifth, we are compelled by God’s glory. At the end of the day, this is the ultimate motivation for all we do. We want to make God’s name famous through all the earth. We want his rule to spread, his kingdom to come. We want the nations to be glad and sing for joy, as all of the cosmos sings in climatic praise to God!

Christ Over All: Stable in Christ

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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.

3 Dangerous of Assuming the Gospel

Assumptions are dangerous. It is eternally so when it comes to the Gospel. Having grown up in a Bible belt culture I have heard far to many Christians, Sunday School teachers, and even pastors assume the Gospel when they are talking about the Christian faith to others. They assume that those who are listening to them understand the heart of Christianity – the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The danger of this is that the Christian speaking thinks they are communicating Christian teaching, yet they leave out the most central aspect – Jesus himself. Christian teaching without the Gospel is not Christian teaching. As pastors get up to the pulpit on a Sunday morning or at a funeral and fail to make the Gospel explicit they not only fail to preach the Gospel they preach an anti-Gospel. Although we think we may be preaching Christianity we actually are communicating a completely different religion when we fail to make Jesus explicit. Here are three false Gospels we mistakenly teach when we fail to make the Gospel explicit in all we say and do.

1. A False Gospel of Sentimentalism

This happens most often at funerals and times of loss. In my life I’ve hear a lot of bad preaching, and most of it at funerals. We can begin talking about heaven, golden streets, and God’s wonderful love. Although all of these things can be wonderful and true, it is only made true for us through faith in Jesus. We can talk about all the benefits of the Gospel without ever talking about the Gospel. When we do so, the message of Christianity gets boiled down to warm fuzzy feelings and Christianity simply becomes a therapeutic blanket to provide warmth from the cold realities of this life. When we fail to realize the Jesus is the only way to the Father and the only hope in death, we move from preaching the true Gospel to a false gospel of sentimentalism. When we fail to make explicit what Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection we can mistakenly preach this false Gospel of sentimentalism.

2. A False Gospel of Moralism

A false gospel of moralism is when we preach holiness without preaching Christ. I’ve mentioned this false Gospel in a previous post, but it is so prevalent and dangerous it needs to be mentioned again. When we emphasize Jesus’ commands for righteousness without explicitly emphasizing Christ’s imputed righteousness to us, we get a false Gospel of moralism. Many out lookers who do not know Jesus simply hear from Christians “Be Good and try harder”. Preaching holiness without Christ is preaching legalism and a works based salvation. We must make it explicit that our standing before God has nothing to do with our behavior or performance but everything to do with God’s gracious gift of his son. If we don’t ground deeply any call to holy obedience in Christ’s finished work we will mistakenly preach this false Gospel of moralism.

3. A False Gospel of Universalism

This is similar to the false Gospel of sentimentalism, but with much deadlier twist. Often we can speak of heaven and the love of God without ever making explicit the need for repentance and faith in Jesus. Sometimes Christians sound just like universalists when they talk about salvation. We must make explicit to our hearers that the only way to receive this salvation gifted to us by God is by turning from our sins and trusting in Christ. If we preach salvation without calling sinners to repent and turn to Christ, we’ve shifted to this false Gospel of moralism. In addition, we must make sure we help our hearers know whats coming if they choose to reject Jesus. The realities of hell seem so very offensive, but people need to be made aware of the frightening consequences of rebellious sin.

Make the Gospel Explicit

In our speech, our conversations, and certainly our preaching we must make the Gospel explicit less we miscommunicate a false Gospel. We must make explicit Jesus’s perfect life and his vicarious death in our place. We must make explicit the consequences of our sins and the price God went too to pay them. We must make explicit the call for sinners to turn from their sins and trust in Jesus. And we must make explicit that all of the benefits of salvation and eternity are given only because we’ve been adopted by God and made heirs because of Jesus. Make the Gospel explicit. Do not assume even church people understand it. Make it crystal clear all the time and every time.

How Do We Change This World?

This world is broken. If you've watched the news at all the past few months it seems to be more evident than ever.  This world needs change.  How are we going to do it? It seems like everyone has a cause this day. Everyone is fighting for change. Young people in particular seem to have a zeal for social issues plaguing our day – world hunger, sex trafficking, racial injustices, poverty, and the list goes on and on. It is amazing to me that so many have a zealous desire to make a difference and to make this world a better place. I too have that same desire and passion. I want my life to make a difference. I’d love to see so many of the social issues plaguing our society to be transformed, yet I am a pastor. Many have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to pastors and many consider the church and its theologizing to be a distraction (at best) or the cause (at worst) of the social ills that plague our society.

As a pastor one of my chief tasks is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people. Why bother proclaiming the Gospel when there are so many hurting people and social woes? Isn’t proclaiming the Gospel an inefficient use of time to make a difference in this world? Not only do many non-Christians think this way, but unfortunately many Christan’s do too. The Gospel of Jesus is not a distraction from changing the world, but rather it is the only catalyst and hope for humanity. If we want to truly transform the world in which we live, there is no better way to do it than through proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus and calling people to believe in him. Let me give you three reasons why.

1. Only the Gospel Deals With Sin

Our modern secular world has no concept for sin. As we look at a broken world that includes child abuse, sex slavery, and mass murder the secular world has no terminology to explain what is happening. The reason for the broken of the world is the evil of sin, brought about through the rebellion of humanity. The fundamental problem of this world is not poverty or slavery or rape, the greatest problem is human sin. All these other social justice issues are just simply axils to the center cause of it all – sin.

Only the Gospel gets to the core of whats wrong with us. Education reform, gun control, and other political reforms cannot transform the depraved human heart. Only the Gospel of Jesus riches down to us in our core and causes us to be changed from the inside. Only in the Gospel are we born again as new creatures in Jesus Christ. That leads us to the second point.

2. Only the Gospel Changes People

Sure we may be able to modify our behavior with therapy or will power, but only the Gospel changes who we really are. True change happens as the Spirit of God brings new life within. If we really want to see our society change it will happen as God brings revival within the hearts of people as the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth. What can change a murders heart or who can transform a child molester? Only the grace of God.

3. Only the Gospel Advances God’s Kingdom

As the Kingship of Jesus advances throughout our world in the spread of the Gospel, then society transformation will follow. Social reform follows the Kingship of Jesus, it does not cause it. As more people turn from their sin and make Jesus the Lord of their life, the kingdom of God will spread. As God’s people begin to fill this earth then and only then will society be changed.

God’s kingdom will not fully come until Jesus returns again and establishes his kingdom here on earth. Until he returns the society woes will continue to plague us as the painful throbbing of our brokenness continues. Yet, until Jesus returns the proclaiming of the Gospel should be the chief work of every Christian (not just pastors). If you really want to see the world change seek to advance the Kingdom of God.

Only Jesus can bring racial reconciliation.

Only Jesus can help us channel our sexual desires in a way that glorifies God.

Only Jesus can give the spiritual riches of his inheritance to those who are poor.

Only Jesus can fill the stomachs of the hungry with the all satisfying bread of life.

Only Jesus can take the adulterer and offer forgiveness.

Only Jesus can penetrate the darkness of this world with the light.

Jesus is the hope of this world. As we fight for social causes – and we should – lets make sure we keep the Gospel in the forefront of all we do. Lets seek to advance the kingship of Jesus through the preaching of the Gospel and as that happens by God’s grace may we see this world changed.

Don't Lose Your Appetite for Grace

When I find something new I like to eat, I eat it till I’m sick of it. Whether it is a new restaurant or a new snack I devour it till a lose my appetite for it. I experienced this recently with Chick-Fil-A. For a myriad of reasons I went to Chick-fil-a about five different times that week. Now I love Chick-fil-a, but by the end of that week the thought of waffle fries and chicken nuggets made me queasy. Why? Well our bodies are designed in such a way to encourage us to eat a variety of foods for our health, and a consistent diet of friend chick nuggets just doesn’t seem to be a healthy diet. We all need food to live, but there is something we need much more, the grace of God. We are dependent upon it not just the hour we first believed, but every moment sense. We are not only saved by God’s grace, we are sustained by it. Yet, I think there is a huge danger in our Christian life to begin to be so accustomed to consuming God’s grace that we lose our appetite for it. Each day we wake afresh in desperate need of God’s mercy, yet like so many other things, we begin to take for granted what we’ve been given. The beautiful truth of the Gospel can become to us something we take for granted or worse, something we feel entitled too. It is vital for us that each day as we live in God’s mercy that we beg for our souls to be awakened to the costly beauty of that mercy.

The grace we are given was incredibly costly. We are sinners, wretched and wicked, have been saved. We do not deserve mercy, grace, or forgiveness yet God has made a way and this through His son. Jesus entered into this world on a rescue mission to save sinners. He did this by going to the cross in our place, laying down his life as a sacrifice for our sins. At the cross Jesus absorbs our punishment and our condemnation and he justifies us before the Father. All of this is undeserved and all of this by grace. We who deserve death have been given life.

Christian, do not become so accustomed to the grace of God that you cease to be in awe of it. Do not let a day go pass where you sit in awe over these glorious truths and of God’s divine love for you. We daily consume his mercies each day as he sustains us in the faith, and as the decades pass may our awe of Him be ever-increasing. May our appetite for divine grace be ever-increasing and ever-growing, longing for more of Jesus. May those who have had their hunger satisfied by God always be hungering for more of God. In the words of Jesus “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”.

Which Kind of Church Kid Are You?

I grew up in the home of a pastor. I spent my youth rolling down the aisle in fisher price cars and stuffing my face with communion bread after the service. I know church kids, because I am the stereotypical church kid. I was at every church function whether I wanted to be or not. Church kids are an interesting breed and in my experience there tend to be two different types of church kid: Pharisees or Tax Collectors.

The Pharisee Church Kid

There often is not much in between. When you grow up in the Church before the regenerating work of God, these two seemingly opposites develop. On the one hand, you hear the demands of the Law, demands like “do not commit adultery”, “do not lie”, or “do not steal”. The young little self-righteous Pharisee will hear these words and begin to immediately be puffed up in pride. “I can do this” so we think, and in our self-righteousness we become blind to our sin and thus follow the letter of the law and miss its spirit.

The pharisee lives there live comparatively. They are not interested in genuine righteousness, just comparative righteousness. He lives his life constantly evaluating everyone else. He will go to school and grow up amongst his peers denouncing them in self-righteous judgement. “I’m better than that guy”, so he thinks. The church kids who are probed to Phariseeism become moral little monsters, puffed up with a judgmental self-righteousness. How do I know so much about these little moral monsters? Because I am a recovering Pharisee.

The Tax Collector Church Kid

On the flip side, many church kids become the tax collector. Unlike the pharisee church kids, they become so fed up with rule following that they just give up Christianity completely. They realize they cannot get more gold stars than the Pharisee kids and that they struggle to live for God and constantly find themselves in sin. Some how along the way, either by their own hardness of heart or the incredible failure of their church, they completely miss the Gospel. The Tax collector kids realize early how unable they are to keep God’s law. They realizes that they are unable to obey and rather than becoming sorrowful over sin, they check out and abandon Christianity. These are the church kids who end up doing keg stands in college. They become so frustrated with their works based religious upbringing that rather than resisting their sin, they embrace it.

We Cannot Do It

Yet, the Gospel has much to say to both of these two types of people. In this sermon Jesus rebukes both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus’ strongest rebuke is to the pharisees. It is often those who have the thick headed metal skull of Phariseeism that need a vicious blow to the head to get their attention. The hardest people to share the Gospel to are those who think they already believe it. So it is with the Pharisees.

Jesus regularly exposes the religion of the Pharisees as a complete sham, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, the Pharisees may be sparkling clean on the outside, but inwardly they have the grotesque stench of a decaying corpse. Jesus shows that the Pharisees have greatly missed the intention of the Law of God and shows them that they actually have not been keeping it at all. They have loved their neighbor, but hated their enemy. They have not committed adultery, but they indulge lustful thoughts. They take oaths, but manipulate the system so they can get away with deceit. This is the great frustration Jesus has with these Pharisees, they are hypocrites!

Now it easy for us to take a sledge hammer and beat the snot out of the Pharisees as if they are those people and not us. Yet more often than not when we are talking about Phariseeism we are talking about ourselves. Many of us are moral little monsters who place our hope in our religious performance. We pride ourselves on our moralistic skill and desire the praise of others to boost our spiritual ego.

Jesus teaches us this, there is no spiritual somebodies in the kingdom of God, there are only spiritual nobodies. Blessed are the poor in Spirit! Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual inability, for there’s is the kingdom of heaven! This is Jesus’ whole point, that the tax collectors are closer to entering into the kingdom than the Pharisees, because the tax collectors at least know they cannot do it on their own.

Church Kids in Need of Jesus

Yet both of these church kids, the Pharisees and the tax collectors are lost and in need of a savior. Both groups have completely misunderstood and distorted Christianity. The Pharisees create a religion of moralism while the tax collectors a religion of hedonism. The Gospel of Jesus Christ both rejects moralism and hedonism. Salvation cannot be earned through good works. We only enter heavens gates through the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that we receive by grace through faith. At the same time Christ calls us as children of God to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel .

If you grew up in the church, I don’t know which kind of kid you were. Maybe you were the self-righteous pharisee or maybe you were the hedonistic tax collector. Regardless of your rebellious inclination, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for all people, even church kids. If you are like me, along the way my pharisaical heart began to realize that I was not nearly as righteous as I thought I was. God began to show me how much of a sinner I truly am and that I needed a great savior. God was gracious enough to show me my short comings and to lead me to Calvary where my sins were paid. It is only through the gracious work of God that this little moral monster became an adopted son of God.

The Most Discouraging and Encouraging Sermon Ever

We at Forest Hills Baptist Church have been journeying together through the Sermon on the Mount. The journey has been glorious so far, but difficult.  The demands of the kingdom are steep. Martyn-Lloyd Jones has preached through the Sermon on the Mount and has been my companion as I have read through his sermons on the text to glean understanding, insight, and application. He writes this about the sermon on the mount:

Have we not felt that as we have been working our way through this Sermon? Is there anything known to us that is more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Take these passages from verse 17 to the end of this fifth chapter – these detailed illustrations given by our Lord as to how we are to live. Commandments, the ordinary moral standards of decency, are difficult enough; but look at these statements about not even looking with lys, about going the second mile and throwing in the cloak together with the coat, and so on. There is nothing more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount; it seems to throw us right out, and to damn our every effort before we have started. It seems utterly impossible. But at the same time do we know of anything more encouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Do we know of anything that pays us a greater compliment? The very fact that we are commanded to do these things carries with it an implicit assertion that it is possible. This is what we are supposed to be doing; and there is a suggestion, therefore, that this is what we can do. It is discouraging and encouraging at the same time.

Lloyd-Jones would want me to be sure to remind you that the only hope we have for doing these things in the sermon on the mount is through the supernatural rebirth.  The natural man is unable to love his enemy or turn the other check. Yet, for Christians although the Sermon on the Mount condemns us it provides us with a encouraging reminder that through the power of God's Spirit we can do these things through God's grace. Jesus is not giving us commands in these passages that we are unable to obey. Jesus not only gives his followers commands but the power to obey them. He is the one who gives us new hearts with new desires and affections. He is the one who empowers us to obey not only the letter of the Law but its Spirit.

If we are to understand this sermon rightly, we must read it in the tension of discouragement and encouragement. The sermon condemns us and yet reminds us of the empowering, transforming grace of God. The sermon brings the poor in Spirit to a posture of mourning, but they will be comforted and they will be filled with the righteousness of Christ.

If interested you can check out my sermon audio through the Sermon on the Mount here. Plus you can subscribe to the Forest Hills Baptist Church Audio Podcast in iTunes.