1. Our Shepherd Feeds Us

    February 27, 2024 by David Mataya

    Our Shepherd Feeds Us

    Continuing to look at the goodness of Christ as Shepherd, let’s focus now on how he feeds and nourishes the sheep; how he teaches us. We could rightly look at the provision of food and basic needs that he provides. Shepherds know that sheep need food (green pastures) and water (quiet or still waters), which we see in Psalm 23. But Christlike shepherds know the goal is to restore the soul. That treasure, found in verse 3, is the crowning benefit of all else found in the chapter. We’ll look at this restoration more deeply in a future article.

    Biblical Feeding

    Biblical and Christlike teaching is the mechanism to feed and nourish both mind and soul. It transfers truth in the form of knowledge, wisdom, and always in love. This is a work fully dependent on God; a work of the Holy Spirit. A human teacher can speak truth and a human listener can hear truth, but the actual imprinting of truth onto the heart cannot occur without divine accomplishment. Consider the following:

    “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

    “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Cor 2:12–13).

    Biblical teaching, then, is both the human responsibility of those who teach (Rom 10:14) and an act of divine accomplishment (Eph 2:10; 2 Tim 3:16). It is never separated from the word of God or the action of God, and has the goal “to love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). This teaching fosters faith (Rom 10:17), trust (Ps 119:42–43), understanding (Luke 24:45), spiritual growth (Col 2:6–7), obedience (2 Tim 4:2), purity (Ps 119:9), encouragement, thanksgiving (1 Thess 5:11), strength (Ps 1:1–3), and so much more.

    How can I say so much more? Consider 2 Peter 1:2–4: The Apostle Peter writes that “all things that pertain to life and godliness” come to us “through the knowledge of him who called us.” This is unambiguous. Anything we can imagine in our spiritual life, or any pursuit of godliness, all comes through the knowledge of Christ. It comes through his “divine power” alone, and “has been granted” as a gift. We see that the gift-giving continues as he gives us his “precious and very great promises,” in order that we would be “partakers of his divine nature.” And all this comes through a centerpiece of the “knowledge of him who called us.” His teaching here is a divine act and a gift of grace, amen?

    In this, we remember that useful teaching involves application, and the application of God’s word is truly a gift. It involves the right handling of God’s word (2 Tim 2:15) and doing so in love (1 Cor 13:1–7, Eph 4:15). It also carries with it the weight of speaking “the oracles (or utterances) of God” (1 Pet 4:11). That should overwhelm us all! We are correct to pray at every turn for the Spirit to guide and protect our words whenever offering his word to others (John 14:26). This is true for the pastor, but it is also true for all Christians, as we shepherd those around us in some context. Consider again all the relationships and roles you have in this life. Where are you called to teach rightly and faithfully?

    A Generous Shepherd

    In ancient times, shepherds were the lifeline for sheep, and it remains so today. Sheep remain dependent on someone to bring them to food, or to bring food to them. Sheep haven’t evolved past some point where they no longer need a shepherd. And neither do we! Even as God graciously sanctifies and matures us, we never grow apart from our need of shepherding. Certainly not from our Good Shepherd, right?

    Just consider what happens when you aren’t spiritually fed, either in your own lack of devotion or the absence of others speaking truth. Have you been there? Are you there now? This is where we turn to the Lord, for he is sweetly good in his shepherding toward us. It is the Lord who will feed us on good and rich pastures (Ezek 34:14).

    In Deuteronomy 8:3, we see God’s nature to feed us his revelation, in that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” In John 4:34, Jesus equated his own food as being “to do the will of him who sent me.” Jesus’ food was doing his Father’s will, so we see that both receiving God’s word is nourishing, as is doing his will. And Jesus was always feeding, always teaching, and he did so in every context of life. In synagogues, on hilltops, in boats, over meals… from the manger to the cross and beyond, he teaches in word and deed.

    When we teach, and in whatever context, our desire is to reflect our nourishing Shepherd. We teach in order to offer truth and hope. We teach to encourage others to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength. We teach obedience. We teach others to abide and dwell in him. Certainly, to repent and believe. But ultimately, we decide “to know nothing… except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), and then we simply teach that; Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is the hallmark of the Gospel; the person and work of Christ. As we are being taught, let us consider that this is a generous work of the Good Shepherd who feeds us in rich pastures of truth, and deep waters of grace.

    Beyond this article, take some time to go back and read the entire first chapter of 2 Peter. Look for the workings of God in and through his truth, knowledge, and teaching. The interweaving of teaching and knowledge point again and again to the amazing power of God’s word and to his glory.


  2. Dealing with Differing Opinions

    February 20, 2024 by Todd Burgett

    Dealing with Differing Opinions  

    I bet you have an opinion regarding a variety of topics. How about sports? What about the election? Coffee preference? Who shot JFK? Are the Star Wars prequels better than the sequels (the answer is clearly “no” by the way)? There is no end of topics for which people can exert their opinions – strong opinions – sadly, even to the hurt of relationships.

    What about more important theological topics within Christianity? What is your opinion on the mode of baptism? The Trinity? The deity of Christ? Views on the end times or communion? These are more important matters. Some more important than others. Rupertus Meldenius, a Lutheran theologian from the early 1600’s, coined the phrase, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”[1] This is a helpful filter in addressing various opinions within the church. (Note: this phrase has also been misused, but that is a topic for another day).

    Essentials vs. Non-Essentials

    Before we dive into finding help when differences occur within the church, we must first set the foundation of the difference between essentials and non-essentials. Essentials in the Christian faith are the clear non-negotiable beliefs from the Bible. These include: the Triune nature of God, the deity of Christ, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, etc. This does not mean that there have not been strong debates concerning these issues throughout church history. Nevertheless, these are the hills to die on when it comes to biblical Christianity. It is upon these that unity must exist. We are never called to be unified merely for the sake of unity.

    Non-essentials are the areas that may not be so black and white. These are the areas that are based on individual convictions and issues of conscience. These are important areas of belief (sometimes very important) but not the hills to die on. These might include: mode of baptism, which spiritual gifts are active today, how Christ’s second coming unfolds, music style in worship, which Bible translation is best, etc. These are disputable matters of liberty within Christian circles.

    Here’s the point of this article: As Christians, we are never to let different opinions on disputable matters deter us from our unified goal of honoring the Lord. In Romans 14:1–12, the Apostle Paul gives us some much-needed help in how to deal with differing opinions within the church.

    Eating Restrictions and Special Days

    In the first verse of Romans, chapter fourteen, Paul says, “do not quarrel over opinions.” The word opinion means “The process of reason; a conclusion reached through the use of reason; a disputable matter.” It is disputable because another person might reasonably come to a different opinion or a different conviction regarding the matter. In this passage, Paul uses two issues that were apparently causing tension and disagreement in the church of Rome. Both issues were mostly holdovers from some in the church, regarding their former Jewish beliefs under the Old Covenant. Paul refers to the one “who is weak in faith.” What he means by weakness is a person whose conscience lacks assurance that their faith permits them to do or not do certain things.[2]

    The first example had to do with food (v. 2–4). In this situation, the “weak person” only eats vegetables compared to the stronger person whose conscience allows themselves to eat anything. Food restrictions were only binding under the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant, it was now okay (not a sin) to eat any and all foods(Acts 10:11–16; 1 Tim 4:4). The stronger believer, in this situation, was more fully informed regarding what was taught in the New Covenant, which resulted in a freedom to eat anything without the fear of sinning.

    The second example had to do with “special days” in verse five. The Jewish calendar is filled with festivals, new moon celebrations, and Saturday Sabbaths. Most of these particular occasions were a shadow of what was to come, when the Messiah appeared. Since Jesus the Messiah had come, these special days had been given their true substance and were no longer mandatory. Tom Schreiner explains, “Such ritual observance [diet/days] did not nullify the authenticity of their faith but it does indicate a certain deficiency.”[3]

    Paul explains this New Covenant freedom in Colossians 2:16–17, saying, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The judgment that was being passed was upon the Christians who were not celebrating these Old Covenant festivals. Paul reminded them that they were no longer mandatory celebrations. Of course, they had the freedom to celebrate them, but they were not to look down on those who did not.

    Responding to Differing Opinions on Non-Essentials in the Church

    In light of these two test cases, Paul has interwoven the rules of engagement when Christians face these non-essential areas of liberty. Paul gives us five right responses regarding engaging others in disputable matters:

    1. Be Welcoming: Differing opinions on non-essentials should not just be met with tolerance but warm fellowship. There is an expectation of those “stronger” in faith to take responsibility to welcome the weak in faith. Just because their conscience is not fully informed, don’t just shove a cheeseburger in their face and say, “Get over it!” Do you welcome those whom God welcomes? Not everybody is at the same stage of faith and understanding.
    2. Do Not Quarrel: Disputable matters should not cause unnecessary quarreling. Yes, there is a stronger and weaker side in many of these issues, but quarreling never solves the tension. This does not mean you cannot discuss them. It means that there is no reason for these matters to cause division, hurt, or inhospitality. Do you let your strong opinions about non-essential matters cause you to be that guy that other Christians avoid? Needless quarreling is not the answer.
    3. Do Not Despise the One for Whom You Disagree: Again, this is more than likely in reference to the strong one showing contempt, mocking, and dismissing the weaker brother. The new believer is very sensitive to sin. At times, this sensitivity can even extend to areas of freedom. Making them feel weak or rejected is not helpful.
    4. Do Not Pass Judgment on the One with a Differing Opinion: This one might be more for the weak regarding the strong. They may be inclined to pass a wrong judgment on the stronger brother without realizing it. “You’re eating a steak? You’re not going to Passover?!” They may be unnecessarily assuming the worst of their fellow Christian. Paul reminds them that each Christian is ultimately accountable to their Master (v. 4), who alone has the right to judge.
    5. Be Convinced of Your Convictions: When it comes to meat, no meat, or which days to celebrate or not, be convinced ultimately that your motive is to honor the Lord. Your motive is not to think that you are better than a Christian who may have a different conviction. Whether it is celebrating Christmas or not, eating barbequed pork or not, going to church on Saturday or Sunday, etc., do not think of yourself as more superior than the one taking the opposite position. Make sure you are convinced, that as far as you are concerned, it is the right decision, and that your goal is to honor God in your conviction. That is really the point, after all, in all that we do.

    Honoring the Lord is the Ultimate Motive

    Ultimately, honoring God in all we do is Paul’s overarching point. When you stand before Christ to give an account for your actions (v. 10–12) you are not going to be held accountable to the convictions of others, but to the convictions of Christ. In fact, you will find out which personal convictions you had that were wrong, as well as the ones you got right. However, this ultimate motive tempers our whole understanding. When it comes to the liberty you have regarding the non-essentials, is the motive of your conviction to honor the Lord? If so, that diffuses the quarreling, despising, and judgementalism. It helps clarify your convictions and reminds you to be welcoming of those who differ on disputable matters. In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity. How can you honor God today as you follow Him?

    [1] Mark Ross, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity,” Ligonier, September 1, 2009.

    [2] John R.W. Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Netherlands Antilles: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 355.

    [3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 1998), 714.


  3. Press On

    February 15, 2024 by Dale Thackrah

    Press On

    “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12–14).

    Living on this planet can be tricky, even in the best circumstances. The pressures of life, the challenges of relationships, and the process of aging can weigh us down, discourage us, and even pull us into a depressive state. We can focus on our past and present to such an extent that we lose sight of our future. However, we must be diligent in reminding ourselves that we, as Christians, have the Word of God that guides us and fuels us to press on toward our ultimate hope: An eternity with the triune God.

    We All Struggle

    Anyone who tells you that they don’t struggle emotionally, physically, or even spiritually, is not being truthful, which, ironically, means they struggle to speak the truth. I recently went through a season of struggle, doubting my suitability in my current ministry role. For clarity, I wasn’t struggling or questioning my call; I have never been more affirmed or confident in that call, but more about my ability to lead in our ever-changing and growing ministry environment. Did I have what it took to lead a group of people I love to where I knew Jesus wanted me to take them? More specifically, had I followed Jesus to where He wanted me to go, that would indeed allow me to lead others to that same place?

    The Warmth of Truth

    My favorite time of year in Arizona is the Winter, when calm and sometimes cold nights allow me to sit outside by my firepit on my back patio, listen to music, consider the ministry tasks in front of me, and think about God’s goodness. A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about my suitability to lead, and God reminded me of a few things that brought me to that awfully familiar, yet sweet place of repentance. On that calm night, the Lord reminded me of my why; why I serve in his local church and the why of my calling. Not shockingly, the why had nothing to do with me or my suitability, Only his. Here is my list of why I serve Jesus:

    He Became Sin

    “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 Cor 5:21).

    Jesus is the only perfect man that has ever lived. He did what Adam (or I) could not do; he lived an acceptable life to God—a life of perfect obedience and perfect worship. He didn’t do that for his sake, but for me and you.

    I serve Jesus because He became sin.

    He Forgave Me

    “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:14).

    If I were to stand before God, on my own merit and works in this life, I would be found guilty and sentenced to an eternity separated from his holiness. But I have been delivered from this fate through the life, blood, and resurrection of Jesus.

    I serve Jesus because he forgave me.

    He Adopted Me

    “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:5–6).

    If I were only to have been forgiven of my sins and saved from an eternity separated from God, I would be content and thankful. However, after being pardoned for my sins in the criminal courtroom of God’s justice, Jesus walked me across the hall into the family court of Heaven, and he then petitioned the family court to adopt me as his son. I am forever a child of God because of what Jesus has done for me.

    I serve Jesus because he adopted me.

    He Called Me

    “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor 7:17a).

    All of us within the body of Christ have a unique and specific role. The Apostle Paul calls each of us to realize and function within our assigned roles (1 Cor 12). For me, that role is as a pastor. He has called me to protect and shepherd his sheep. He has both called me to lead and to follow.

    I serve Jesus because he has called me.

    He Guides Me

    “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you”  (Ps 32:8).

    Before he ascended into Heaven, Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them alone. He assured them that after departing from them physically, he would indeed send the Helper, the Holy Spirt:

    “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

    I serve Jesus because he guides me.

    He Sustains Me

    “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved”  (Ps 55:22).

    I have been a Christian now for almost 28 years. And the one continuous lesson I keep learning is that when I attempt to operate in my power, I end up tired, lost, and lonely. Sadly, I keep relearning this truth over and over again. Even though my faithfulness sometimes wanes, the faithfulness of Jesus in all his promises to me never has. The reality is that I am weaker than I realize, and prone to wander far too often, and yet he continues to remind me of his mission for me. He brings me back and fills me with clarity when I lose direction and focus.

    I serve Jesus because he sustains me.

    My Life is Forfeit

    “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’  (Matt 16:24–25).

    As Christians, our lives no longer belong to us but to the One who purchased them. Paul states, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:22–23).

    I serve Jesus because I am a slave.


  4. Bear the Gospel

    February 13, 2024 by Jeremiah Dennis

    Bear the Gospel

    Let’s talk about living a life that matters.

    About exploding beyond the humdrum of daily existence and living a life that reverberates throughout the centuries.

    Interested?

    Then let me encourage you to embrace one simple, critical conviction: As a believer, you must bear the Gospel; that is, you are called to participate in God’s global mission to glorify the Son through the purposeful proclamation of the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, nation and people.

    Charles Spurgeon once said, “If there be any one point in which the Christian church ought to keep its fervor at a white heat, it is concerning missions. If there be anything about which we cannot tolerate lukewarmness, it is the matter of sending the gospel to a dying world.”[1]

    As a Christian, you’ve been summoned and selected, hand-picked by the King of everything, to courageously carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the very ends of the world. Two compelling reasons support this assertion.

    • The Lamb is Worthy of Worship
    • Global Glory Is God’s Goal

    The Lamb is Worthy of Worship

    The Lamb is worthy of worship.

    Consider the following scene in Revelation 5:8–9:

    When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slaughtered, and You purchased peoplefor God with Your blood from every tribe, language, people, and nation.’”

    What’s going on?

    This is nothing less than a heavenly worship service. The assembled creatures and elders observe the Lamb of God and spontaneously erupt in worship. And the purpose of their praise is simple: To exalt Jesus, who shed his infinitely precious blood so that he could purchase a people who would give God glory forever.

    Heaven grasps the unspeakable worthiness of Christ to receive eternal glory and honor.

    Do you?

    Are you living for Christ’s glory, or your own? You weren’t mean to live for career advancement, financial security, or familial bliss. In fact, you weren’t meant to live for you at all.

    You’ve been redeemed by the Lamb so that you would pursue the goals and glory of God. Quite simply, that the Son would be worshipped for the magnitude of his sacrifice and the perfection of his character, and that his fame would spread far and wide, touching people from every ethnicity, every language, every culture, and every race.

    The Lamb is worthy of worship.

    Global Glory is God’s Goal

    Filling the world with God-worshippers has always been God’s game plan.

    From Genesis to Revelation, the pages of Scripture drip with God’s missionary fervor for his own global glory.

    Consider the following passages of Scripture (Italics added for emphasis):

    Genesis 12:1–3 – “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

    Psalm 46:10 – “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

    Isaiah 49:6 – “He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’”

    Malachi 1:11 – “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure, for My name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of Hosts.”

    Matthew 28:19–20 – “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    Acts 1:8 – “…you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

    Romans 15:9–11 – “…Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing praises to Your name.” Again he says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.” And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.”

    Revelation 7:9–10 – “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

    The testimony of Scripture is unmistakable: God’s goal is and has always been glorious, global worship.

    Now, if you’re wondering how you can be involved, let me offer three simple suggestions:

    Pray

    Pray that: 1) God would send more missionaries; 2) He would supply all their needs; 3) He would save people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation; and 4) Churches would grow strong and remain true to sound doctrine.

    Give

    Support missionaries financially. If need be, start small. Give $5 a month. Hold off on one Starbucks latte a month, and give that money to a faithful missionary that your church supports.

    Go

    This may mean moving to a foreign country and serving in a local church so that the Gospel may spread. Most likely, however, it will look like going on a short-term ministry trip and spending a week or two with your church, serving in a foreign country. These trips are life-changing and perspective-shifting, opening your eyes to the massive need for the Gospel across the world.

    You can live a life that matters. You can live a life whose impact echoes throughout time and eternity.

    Though I don’t know what God has in store for you, I can tell you this—He’s calling you to a courageous commitment to boldly embrace your role in God’s global plan to bring honor to his name, from your own neighborhood to the nations.

    [1] Charles Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Vol. 14 (Pilgrim Publications: Pasadena, TX, 1982), 220.


  5. Consider the Cost

    February 8, 2024 by Darrell Harrison

    Consider the Cost

    But an opportunity came . . .” (Mark 6:21a)

    An ‘Economy’ of Words

    The term opportunity cost is an expression used in the field of economics that refers to the potential benefits a business, investor, or individual consumer misses out on when choosing one alternative over another.[1] And though the concept of opportunity cost may have its origins in the secular field of economics, it is not exclusive in principle to that particular arena. There is a sense in which the concept of opportunity cost has theological significance as well.

    A Fork in the Road

    In Alice in Wonderland, written by the 19th century mathematician and author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832–1898), under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, we find the following exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat, whom she encounters as she endeavors to find her way through Wonderland’s many forked roads:

    Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

    Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

    Alice: “I don’t much care where.”

    Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go, does it?”

    Like the fictional Alice in Carroll’s beloved story, you and I can often find ourselves facing similar decision points, only in real life. As we progress in our daily pilgrimage through this sinful world, we are constantly confronted with spiritual “forks in the road” that present us with opportunities to consider the cost of either obeying God or disobeying him (Luke 6:46). And far too often we choose the latter over the former (Gen 3:1–7).

    A Sobering Reminder

    The word opportunity appears 16 times in Scripture across 15 verses – all in the New Testament (Matt 26:16; Luke 21:13, 22:6; Acts 25:16; Rom 7:8, 7:11; 1 Cor 3:5, 16:12; 2 Cor 11:12 (twice); Gal 5:13, 6:10; Eph 4:27; Phil 4:10; Col 4:5 and Heb 11:15). It is a word that denotes not merely an occasion by which an individual is faced with a relatively innocuous decision to do or not do something, such as accepting or rejecting a wedding invitation, but one that is ideally fitting for acting at any given moment on a specific desire or intent of the heart for either good or evil.

    Such was the case with King Herod and his illegitimate wife Herodias concerning John the Baptist (Mark 6:14–29). In that passage, Mark informs us that Herod “feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man” (v. 20). Herodias, however, had a distinctly different mindset toward John. As Mark writes, she “had a grudge against” John and “wanted to put him to death” (v. 19).

    In hindsight, it would be easy for us to look at Herodias and assume that she wanted John the Baptist killed because she feared he might convert Herod to faith in Christ (v. 20b), a transformation which, from her perspective, at least, would likely cause great concern as Herod, as a consequence of his repentance, would likely have returned her to her rightful, and lawful, husband, Philip, who was Herod’s brother (v. 16).

    But I want to suggest to you that Herod’s potential conversion to Christ was not the primary reason Herodias wanted John the Baptist murdered. Ultimately, Herodias wanted John murdered because of what Jesus says in John 3:19, that “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

    Herodias wanted John murdered because, in considering the opportunity cost of what she might miss out on by allowing John the Baptist to remain in the good graces of King Herod, she chose darkness over light. Another way of saying it is that Herodias preferred to live in unrepentant sin rather than heed the cry of John the Baptist to repent. But such was once the state of your heart and mine, was it not, prior to being mercifully regenerated by the power of the gospel, made effectual in us by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 7; 1 Cor 6:8–11; Eph 2:8)?

    A Solemn Warning

    It was the French reformer, John Calvin (1509–1564), who lamented, “The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself.”[2] Conversely, the 19th century Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892), declared, “Surely, the heart is a chameleon.”[3]

    It was the hardness of her heart that afforded Herodias with an “opportune time” (Luke 4:13) to have John the Baptist murdered. In fact, so intent was she to have John eliminated that she went so far as to use her own daughter to ensure that her devious scheme was brought to fruition (Matt 14:1–8).

    Herodias’s story should serve as a solemn warning to each of us to keep a constant, Spirit-guided watch over our heart (Prov 4:23), knowing what it is capable of when left to its own devices (Eccl 7:29), or, as the Puritan, John Owen (1616–1683), said in his book Searching Our Hearts in Difficult Times, knowing what the heart is capable of when “Christ is laid aside as if quite forgotten, as if he was of no use and of no consideration.”[4]

    [1]https://www.investopedia.com/terms/o/opportunitycost.asp#:~:text=Opportunity%20cost%20is%20the%20forgone%20benefit%20that%20would,must%20be%20considered%20and%20weighed%20against%20the%20others.

    [2] John Calvin, A Calvin Treasury: Selections from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by William F. Keesecker (Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York: 1961), 53. https://archive.org/details/calvintreasuryse0000calv/page/52/mode/2up?q=crannies

    [3] Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Psalm 78:37, http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/treasury/ps078.htm

    [4] John Owen, Searching Our Hearts in Difficult Times (The Banner of Truth Trust: 2019), 16.


  6. Why Doesn’t God Just Come and Fix the World?

    February 6, 2024 by Kyle Swanson

    Why Doesn’t God Just Come and Fix the World?

    Introduction

    The question posed is often the source of angst, sinful anger, and distrust toward God, incited by the deceitful instruction of all God-haters in this present world. It is, however, an important question to ask and to answer, understanding that God has provided for us a clear and understandable explanation, which showcases his heart of patient love for his people.

    Recently I had the opportunity to preach on a familiar parable. Parables are stories that express general axiomatic principles through situational dilemmas and cultural ethics. Though parables can be helpful, they are like a secret code without a cipher if the meaning of the parable is hidden by the one who is teaching. It is important to understand this, knowing that the true heart of Jesus, and the nature of the coming kingdom was veiled from the masses and kept only for his truest of disciples. Jesus would teach parables in public, only revealing the true meaning to his disciples in a later private setting.

    In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus encountered rejection and scorn from the national religious leadership of Israel, effectively dismissing his divinity, his ministry, and insulting the power of the Holy Spirit, attributing it to the work of Satan. Because they were the leadership representing the predominant religious thought of the day, this rejection of the Messiah (despite overwhelming prophetic evidence that Jesus was indeed the Christ) resulted in Jesus veiling his teaching in the form of parables. These veiled stories, we are told, is a judgment against their actions. Matthew 13:10–11 says, “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

    With that context, I want to share with you something significant that I learned from the parable of the wheat and the tares found in Matthew 13.

    The Setting of the Parable

    Parables require a setting. Like any good story or fairytale, the setting chosen gives the deeper truth a place to flourish. The setting of this parable takes place in a field, and that field has both an owner and an enemy. The owner sets forth to sow the field with good seed, whilst the enemy, under the cover of darkness (always the cover under which sin flourishes), sows the field with noxious weeds intended at choking out and destroying the good seeds of wheat.

    We find ourselves with Jesus having painted this scene, wondering what will happen. The field workers seem anxious and eager to uproot the weeds for the sake of the good wheat, and yet the master of the field seems to have a different intent, setting the stage for the master to share his heart and intentions for this field of wheat, to which he is deeply committed to grow to maturity.

    The Substance of the Parable

    When Jesus set the stage for this common enough, and yet eternally significant story, he established several things for us to know. First, the field is owned by a master. This master employed members of his household to tend the field and care for its growth. Second, these household members did not understand the full plan of the master, nor did they recognize the extent of the evil that was perpetrated onto this field by the master’s enemy. And third, this enemy sought to destroy, by any means necessary, the value of the crop in this field.

    As the servants begin to question the master about his actions, they ask him in verse 27, “did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” In verse 28 the master replied, “An enemy has done this.”

    At this point, a contrast of actions and will is established as the servants seek to uproot the weeds immediately for the sake of the wheat, but the master halts their plan. His attention immediately goes to the well-being of the wheat crop! He says to the servants, after they ask him if they should go uproot the weeds, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them into bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn” (v. 29–30).

    With this substantial setting, the story has been told. The moral has been expressed, and yet the crowd is left wondering what the true intention of the parable would be. You would think that Jesus would clarify! Instead, he exits the small boat from which he was teaching, surrounded by a massive crowd along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and he retreats with his disciples to the refuge of Peter’s house in Capernaum.

    The Symbolism of the Parable

    When he had sat down with his disciples in private, he began to illuminate for them the deeper meaning of the parables he had taught along the shore to the crowds earlier that day. Keeping in mind that he had already expressed to them the reason he was teaching in a veiled format, he now began to reveal to them the secrets of the kingdom that were built into this simple and yet eternally significant illustration.

    He begins to unmask the meaning of each of the symbols as we continue to read down to Matthew 13:36–43. The Master is God. The field is the world. The good wheat are God’s people, the sons of the kingdom, as they are called. The weeds are those belonging to the devil, the enemy who sowed them. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels carrying out God’s will.

    Each of the pieces of the story are shown to have a deeper meaning. A simple agrarian setting, common enough in the land with a common enough outcome has proven to represent a picture of cosmic proportions and eternal consequence. Jesus continues to outline what would happen to the weeds that were sown and to the good wheat in the remaining verses of this explanation. The weeds would be gathered, at the harvest, by the angels, and bound up and burned. The good wheat would be gathered together and taken into the master’s barn.

    The Significance of the Parable

    Here’s where we need to understand the significance of this story, and answer the question posed in the title of this article. Why doesn’t God just come and fix the world? I mean, we all see the destruction caused by evil, the pain of suffering, and the injustice of sin, do we not!?

    This is a question that many of us have wrestled with. In philosophy, we call this Theodicy, or the study of the problem of evil, in light of God’s holiness and omnipotence (his all-powerful nature). I mean, is God incapable of fixing the evil? If so, then he isn’t all-powerful, right? If he is all-powerful, but allows evil, then he couldn’t possibly be all-good and holy, right?

    Herein lies the logical fallacy at the heart of these arguments, and in this parable lies the answer! To ask these questions, devoid of God’s heart for the good of his people, is to miss the entire point. To ask without the foundational truth, that whatever it is that God is doing is the ultimate good, according to his definition and practice, subjugates our understanding to his. Truthfully, though, the heart of our heavenly Father is revealed in this parable, and the answer is so simple, yet so profound, it should drive us to our knees in worship and in trust of his sovereign and loving plan.

    You see, in this world, this harvest, the wheat is still growing. The seeds are still germinating, and the harvest is not yet complete. In terms of parables, this means that people are still being born, sinners are still being saved, and souls are continually being regenerated, saved, and transformed into God’s people! Every parable has its limits as far as illustrations go. Weeds don’t turn into wheat. However, God’s intervention can change people’s natures by breathing into them new spiritual life, effectively altering their spiritual DNA. Spiritual weeds can and do become spiritual wheat!

    God’s tarrying, seemingly for ages, watching the evil of this world unfold, does not make him culpable for the evil perpetrated by men, nor incapable of solving it. James 1:13–15 makes it clear that sin and evil are not thrust into our way by God, but rather are fruits of the human heart, sown in evil and stoked by the dark spiritual forces of this world. Matthew 13 makes it clear that God’s heart is not to bring about a swift end to evil, because despite what we see around us, the harvest of God’s righteous elect is not yet complete. Romans 11:25 expresses that God’s plan will continue until, “The fullness of gentiles has come in.” That is, until the elect from all the nations are added to God’s kingdom, he will hold back the reapers because the harvest is not yet ripe.

    Christian, be encouraged by 2 Peter 3:15, which says, “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation…” Peter is encouraging the church to live holy, righteous lives, aligning our hearts with God’s heart, exercising endurance and patience in this evil world for the sake of all of God’s chosen people, who have yet to come to faith!

    Conclusion

    A relatively simple, boring, and seemingly insignificant agrarian parable, explained by Jesus to his disciples, has answered a cosmic question of enormous significance. Why doesn’t God just come and fix the world? Because the harvest of God’s righteous elect has not yet come to full fruition. Imagine if all Christians for all time begged God to come fix the world, and yet you, Christian, had not yet bowed the knee to Christ in repentance and faith! If God followed man’s wishes, you would die in your sins. Instead, his patience saw fit to wait for the exact right moment for you to come to faith.

    In the same manner, aligning our hearts to God’s heart and knowing his intent, we must count the patience of God as salvation for those who are his. These precious souls, who, in the proper course of the progress of redemptive history, will come to faith and be gathered into the righteous harvest of God’s people. When seen in that light, the answer to this question becomes not only plain, but a source of hope and worship of God for his grace, mercy, and sovereign plan of love that, through the darkness, is on display through our lives for the whole world to see.


  7. To Those Who Are Perishing

    January 25, 2024 by Darrell Harrison

    To Those Who Are Perishing

    Among the most sobering passages in the New Testament, in my opinion, is 2 Corinthians 4:3–4, which reads, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

    A Heartfelt Concern

    Needless to say, there is infinitely more to unpack in that doctrinally weighty passage than I am able to address in this brief blog post. Nevertheless, my intent with this article is not so much to exposit the aforementioned text, as to highlight why, in my opinion, it warrants our thoughtful and serious contemplation.

    As those who, by God’s grace (Eph 2:8–9), have been saved from his wrath by the blood of Christ (John 3:36; 1 John 1:7), it can be uncomfortable for us to confront unbelievers with the biblical truth, regarding the eternal consequences of their remaining in a state of unbelief (2 Thess 1:8–9; Rev 20:15).

    Yet, only the most ungrateful of professing believers would have no concern or regard for the salvation of unbelievers (2 Pet 3:9). As the 19th century evangelist, John Newton (1725–1807), once said, “…when we look at transgressors, we are not to hate, but to pity them, mourn over them, and pray for them; nor have we any right to boast over them, for by nature, and of ourselves we are no better than they.”[1]

    Newton’s exhortation is relevant to our consideration of 2 Cor 4:3–4, in that Paul describes unbelievers as “those who are perishing.” The word perishing denotes a state of spiritual destitution (condition) and alienation from God (position). Ponder that reality for a moment. Have you ever considered unbelievers in the way Paul describes, as “those who are perishing”?

    Perishing is precisely the spiritual state that you and I were in at one time.

    A Heavy Reality

    Prior to God mercifully removing the veil of unbelief from our hearts, by faith in Christ (2 Cor 3:16), you and I were in a state of hopeless alienation from him (Eph 2:12). The 17th century Puritan minister, Richard Baxter (1615–1691), explains the significance of such spiritual estrangement, saying,

    Now, the Scripture tells us that the state of an unconverted man is this: he sees no great felicity in the love and communion of God in the life to come, which may draw his heart thither from this present world, but he lives to his carnal self, or to the flesh; and the main bent of his life is, that it may go well with him on earth; and that religion which he has is but a little by the by, lest he should be damned when he can keep the world no longer; so that the world and the flesh are highest in his esteem, and nearest to his heart, and God and glory stand below them, and all their service of God is but a giving him that which the world and flesh can spare. This is the case of every unconverted man; and all who are in this case are in a state of misery.[2]

    That unbelievers are perishing should weigh heavily upon the hearts and minds of every follower of Jesus Christ. Why? Because, as Paul makes clear in 2 Cor 4:4b, the god of this world has blinded them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory Christ. Such darkness is the malady of all human conditions for, unlike bodily disorders, it is a spiritual affliction that only God himself can remedy (Ezek 36:26; John 3:16, 4:10, 6:44a).

    A Humble Posture

    Reflect, if you will, on the spiritual darkness in which you walked prior to God bringing you to faith in Christ (1 Cor 1:30). In what ways were you prevented by the god of this world from seeing the light of the gospel? In 1 Pet 4:3, the apostle Peter provides us with a rather stark reminder of what our old life was like, prior to God mercifully unveiling the gospel of the glory of Christ within our hearts, saying, “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”

    Now, lest you be tempted to read Peter’s words and feel a sense of pride rising up within you because you no longer “carry out” such fleshly desires, as are mentioned in that text, my counsel to you is to guard your heart against such an attitude (Prov 4:23). Knowing that it is only by the unmerited grace of a merciful heavenly Father, that you and I are no longer perishing, should humble us, not make us proud (Ps 75:4–5; Eccl 7:20; Rom 3:23).

    Consider that sobering truth against this exhortation from the 19th century Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892), who said, “Always fight for the lowest place. If you aspire to be last and least, you will not have many competitors; there will be no need to demand a poll, for the lowest seat is undisputed.”[3]

    A Heavenly Charge

    Though, as followers of Jesus Christ, you and I no longer live to carry out the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19–21; 1 Pet 4:2; 1 John 3:9), we nevertheless struggle with the remaining sin that indwells us (1 John 1:8), and will continue to struggle with it for as long as we are in this sinful world. Humility, not pride, should be what motivates us to share the gospel with unbelievers (Ps 25:9; Matt 28:19–20; Eph 4:2). For in sharing the gospel with those who are perishing, we are reminded that we were once perishing ourselves (1 Cor 6:9–11).

    [1] John Newton, Forty-one Letters on Religious Subjects (United Kingdom: Religious Tract Society, 1831), 286.

    [2] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (United Kingdom: Religious Tract Society, 1862), 342.

    [3] Charles Spurgeon, “Conversion and Character,” Answers in Genesis, November 17, 2021, sermon originally published on September 18, 1913, https://answersingenesis.org/education/spurgeon-sermons/3372-conversion-and-character/.


  8. Looking Forward, Looking Up

    January 18, 2024 by Todd Burgett

    Looking Forward, Looking Up

    It seems that for the past ten years, when we enter the new year, there has been a focus on treating the former year as a curse, as in, “curse you, 2023.” This thought process is usually followed by a doom-and-gloom approach to the new year with a side helping of fear and anxiety. In fact, fear and anxiety provide the key ingredients to what fuels the ratings for news outlets. You better tune in, or you might die. That may be overstated a bit, but not by much.

    Sadly, even many “churches” and “ministries” contribute to this kind of hysteria by providing endless YouTube videos trying to predict the apocalypse (you know, the videos that one uncle keeps sending to you). Or, how the world is going to “Hell in a handbasket.” However, this type of “curse” mindset, couched in fear and anxiety, can be a form of discontentment and a distrust in God’s righteous control of all things.

    All that to say, we need to revisit a familiar passage. Matthew, chapter 6, which is right in the middle of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” is a key place to find help for our most simple and complex anxieties. We need a renewed trust in God’s goodness. Jesus does just that in the “Sermon on the Mount,” as he explains what a relationship with God truly looks like. Specifically, in chapter 6, verses 25–34, Jesus calls us to reprioritize our lives by trusting God in three overlapping ways, which will be a sure remedy to alleviate our anxiety and fear.

    Jesus Calls us to Trust God’s Care and Provision

    Verse 25 starts with a “therefore.” In verses 19–24, Jesus challenges his listeners to “lay up their treasures in Heaven,” not Earth. With our treasures in the right place, this causes our focus to turn away from the things that cause us anxiety, specifically concerning life’s necessities: food and clothing. Jesus provides two testimonies that help us trust in God’s provision in our life.

    The first testimony comes from the birds. The birds do not reap or store food in barns, because God provides for them. God is not against hard work or proper storage, but he is concerned with how we view him and where we place our trust. As image-bearers of God, we are more important than birds. If God provides for birds, how much more can we trust God to provide food for us? In fact, worrying about things like “daily bread” has the inability to add even an extra hour to our lives.

    A second testimony comes from the lilies of the field. Jesus compares the superiority of the way the lilies are “clothed” with the way the dapper Solomon dressed. The lilies win the contest. Again, as image-bearers, God cares more for us than flowers. The real problem is not that God is unaware of our needs (v. 32), but that we often lack the faith that he will provide them (v. 30). These two testimonies are meant to give us confidence that God cares more for us than animals and plants. If God cares for them, how much more does he care for us?

    In verses 31 and 32, Jesus explains that our focus should stand in contrast to non-believers (“Gentiles”). The world is obsessed with food and clothing, to the point of worry. Are you a Christian? Are you characterized by worry? This should not be. Let Jesus’ words be a reminder of God’s care and provision for you. Paul, too, reminds us of this amazing truth in Romans 8:32 when he says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” What a great reminder of just how trustworthy God is when it comes to caring and providing for us.

    Jesus Call us to Trust God as Reflected in Our Priorities

    Verse 33 starts with a “but.” This means there is a contrast in verse 33 compared with the previous verses. Rather than a heart focused on worry (vs. 25–32), Jesus calls us to refocus our priorities. This is a major shift in focus as to what the number one priority should be for a Christian. This number one priority is reflected in two areas.

    The first area of focus is on “God’s kingdom.”  The word for “kingdom” in the original Greek is “basileia” which is not about geography or borders, but is a reference to “kingship, rule, dominion, and sovereignty.” This re-prioritizing is really about allegiance to God and his Lordship in our lives. We adopt God’s kingdom priorities and make them our most important priority. His kingdom, not our own, is our top priority.

    A companion area of focus is in “seeking first…his righteousness.” As one commentator explains, “[Having] heavenly expectations is met with a holy life.” Seeking God first means living our life in obedience to our King. Paul echoes this in Colossians 3:1-4, saying: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

    As Christians, we have a new life, a new focus, new priorities, and thus, a new way to live. Does the way you live your life reflect God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, or something else?

    Notice that verse 33 ends with a promised blessing. The promise? Jesus said “…and all these things will be added to you.” What “things?” Precisely what Jesus has been talking about in the previous verses: food and clothing. God will meet our needs as we make him our greatest priority. This is the hope that eliminates anxiety and fear.

    Jesus Calls Us to Trust in God’s Control of the Future

    In verse 34, Jesus reiterates and summarizes this point of his teaching. Worry is a result of being anxious about the future. Jesus reassures his audience that we are to stay focused on “today,” and in so doing, we trust God with our “tomorrow”. This is not about Jesus telling us not to plan ahead. It’s more about him reassuring us that God is in control of everything, including the future. Even if 2024 turns out to be the craziest year yet, we can trust that God is at work, and we need not be characterized as those who worry.

    Conclusion

    I have heard it said many times in church circles that, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” That’s not actually true. Often times our faith can be stretched during circumstances that are beyond our ability to handle them. Here’s the real assurance: “God will never give you more than he can handle.” This is the heartbeat of Jesus’ message on re-prioritizing our lives.

    So, as we embark on this new year, our response does not need to be fear and anxiety. Nor should it be. As we look forward, we look up. We are called, as Christians, to order our priorities according to God’s kingdom and for his righteousness, trusting that he will provide and care for us. Faith is not only trusting in God, but trusting that God is, in fact, good and cares deeply for those who are his. The most important question then is: Are you his? We have an amazing God who cares deeply for us, and 2024, nor any other year, will be an exception.


  9. Our Shepherd Leads

    January 16, 2024 by David Mataya

    Our Shepherd Leads

    He makes me lie down in green pastures.

    He leads me beside still waters.

    He restores my soul.

    He leads me in paths of righteousness

        for his name’s sake (Ps 23:2–3).

    His Sacrificial Leadership

    Jesus lived an exemplary life. There had never been, nor will ever be, a life more exemplary that his. He is altogether beautiful, altogether lovely, and we are not. His choice to engage us, to take on flesh, is sacrificial enough. For holiness to dwell with unholiness, this should astound us to the core, causing a humility that says… thank you, Lord!

    As we continue to look at Christ as our Good Shepherd from my last article, it is right to see the greater sacrifice—the sacrifice of God’s love in sending his son to be a perfect propitiation, and a completely satisfying payment, for our sins on the cross (1 John 4:10). But Psalm 23 also shows a Shepherd who is expending himself, practically, in caring for the sheep. Our Lord did not simply do the work of death and resurrection; he did the work of living in love. And he leads us toward that goal.

    His Loving, Serving, and Equipping

    The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 is given to the care of the sheep through love. We just contemplated that in his sacrifice to shepherd. And consider—in the culture of the time, shepherds were among the lowest of the low in society, culture, status. The mere fact that the Psalmist begins by saying YHWH (the Lord) is a shepherd, this should highlight the radical imbalance readers then and now should see. His very title here points to a sacrificial love, something articulated by Christ in John 10:11 saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

    Our Good Shepherd loves with the attributes of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. Consider Jesus as he was given to patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, forgiveness, righteousness, hope, and endurance throughout his earthly ministry.

    Our Good Shepherd is a servant leader as well. In fact, we know that he came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45), and he served in life and in death. Jesus is the perfect example of servant leadership, the manifestation of all wisdom and humility. This leadership is encouraging and strengthening, providing relational clarity of just how much he loves and cares for us. He serves by leading and leads by serving. What a Shepherd he is!

    Highlight this…Christlike leaders build up, not tear down, their people. Our Good Shepherd shows this, as he equips and builds us, his church. In Psalm 23, we get to see this in several ways:

    • Provision—Nourishment, rest, shelter.
    • Protection—Closeness with authority, guarding, defending.
    • Restoration—Restoring the soul itself; another example of building up and not tearing down.
    • Sanctification—Being led toward righteousness.
    • Goodness—Applying the goodness of God himself for the benefit of the sheep.
    • Lovingkindness (or Mercy)—Gifting the sheep with an intentional love that follows and seeks out.

    These are personal benefits for individual sheep, and benefits to the entire flock. Dwell on this list for a moment and consider, how can I be thankful and prayerful for each? How can I ask for my trust to increase in this Good Shepherd? Do I see this in the eternal sense, but struggle to believe it in the present sense? And as we will explore next, how am I emulating this as I lead others in my own life?

    He Leads, We Lead

    Christians are all called to lead and guide in some capacity. We are careful to rightly understand leadership roles when it comes to marriage, family, and the church. But we sometimes forget that we are all called to lead as light (Matt 5:14–16), a light that illumines, guides, and directs. We are living testimonies and evidences of Christ! It is, as one author notes, the most important leadership function that we be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet 1:3).[1]

    The call to lead comes with both joy and burden. The Apostle Paul often experienced this, as he expresses in Philippians 4:1, to those he had ministered to and led that they were his beloved brethren, his “joy and crown.” But in 2 Corinthians 11:28, after a lengthy exposition of his hardships in ministry, Paul says that “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety [or concern] for all the churches.” When we lead, we are called to persevere toward Christ in all things, including hardship.

    In persevering toward Christ, remember his exemplary life we explored earlier. In our being disciples, are we truly following in his very footsteps, the very dust of his path? Or are we just watching his steps from afar? Again, we must remember, that to be a Christian is a call to reflect Christ. Are we emulating and imitating him? This call should rightly overwhelm us! And yet, Paul tells us in both Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27 to “put on Christ.” And we see an even clearer picture of action by John, in 1 John 2:5–6 ,when he writes, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

    A Course Toward Christ

    Consider the opportunities in your life for leading, and for pointing, to Christ. Are you a father, mother, or friend? A sibling, employer, or student? Is your platform at home, school, work, or on social media? Is it in caring for a neighbor, a grandchild, or a parent? What about church? What about the one anothers? Maintaining our course toward Christ carries a heavier burden when we lead and guide. Don’t miss this…people see our course and direction toward Christ, so we better be pointed in the right direction!

    In Hebrews 12:1–3, we are given an imperative to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” We are reminded that he is “the author and perfecter of faith,” and that we should consider him “so that (we) will not grow weary and lose heart.” This is a twofold grace for us in leading. First, we are given a clear direction, to fix our focus on Christ. His ways are not hidden to us, but rather revealed in Scripture. Maintain that focus. Maintain that course.

    But second, we see that he carries the ultimate weight of authority. He alone is the author and perfecter of, not just our faith, but the faith of those we lead. This is praiseworthy for any humble leader, that Christ alone does this work, not us. Frankly, I could not exist as a pastor if this wasn’t true! Knowing he alone is sovereign and good in all things, this refreshes us for the work of leading, no matter the circumstances or role. Remembering that he is the Greater Shepherd, the very One we are to point towards, this will bring you peace in your leading. Leading others to a Shepherd who sets the greatest example of sacrificial leadership mankind will ever know.

    [1] Timothy Witmer, The Shepherd Leader (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), 160.


  10. Preach the Gospel

    January 11, 2024 by Jeremiah Dennis

    Preach the Gospel

     

    If you were to die tonight, where would you spend your eternity?

    That’s the ultimate question facing all of us.

    Hebrews 9:27 affirms the inescapable reality of death when it declares, “and inasmuch as it is appointed unto a man to die once, and after this comes judgment.” This means that if you’re a Christian—if  you know and believe the glorious truth that God is holy, man is sinful, Christ is Savior, and salvation comes only through repentance and faith—then you’re one of the most important people in the world.

    You hold in your hands the gospel key that unlocks the gates of heaven. The question is, what are you doing about it?

    Our world is headed to hell in a handbasket, drowning in sin, deception, and false religion. Our neighbors, coworkers, and family members desperately need to hear the life-giving news of the gospel; which makes you, dear Christian, one of the most important people in the world. And as I’m going to argue, it implies that gospel-proclamation ought to be your life’s work. Not your occupation, but your sacred involvement.

    Said differently, every Christian must preach the gospel, not occasionally, but as a lifestyle. And to be clear, when I say “preach” I don’t mean preach from a pulpit. I mean verbally declare that the wrath of God abides on sinners (John 3:36), and only through the atoning blood of Christ can they be forgiven and brought into a right relationship with Him. Three biblical realities drive the forgoing assertion. As a believer you ought to preach the gospel as a lifestyle pattern and practice because:

    1) The need is great.

    2) The gospel is essential.

    3) You are God’s method.

    The Need is Great

    Why should you embrace your personal responsibility to proclaim the gospel as a regular lifestyle pattern? Because the need is great. The fleeting nature of life highlights the greatness of the need.

    Isaiah 40:6 teaches that, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it.” Flowers and grass are here today and gone tomorrow. That’s a picture of mankind.

    James uses a different analogy to stress the same point. In James 4:4, he writes, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

    Your life is like the smoke that rises up from a candle and disappears. Adding to the urgency of the need for gospel proclamation is the fact that sin is deadly. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…”

    And how many people have sinned? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). That’s universal condemnation. By the way, the death mentioned in Romans 6:23 isn’t mere physical death. No, it’s the eternal separation and unending agony awaiting all who those who don’t know Christ. In a word, it speaks of hell, a place of never-ending torment, where sinners are subjected to the infinite wrath of God, forever.

    Unsettling as the concept of hell is, the Bible plainly affirms its reality. Revelation 20:15 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

    In Mark 9:47-48, Jesus provides these sobering words:  “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

    The word for “hell” is Gehenna, which refers to a ravine south of Jerusalem that was a trash dump. The Jews burned the trash there, so the fires were always burning and the smoke always rising. That’s the picture of hell.

    So why should you proclaim the gospel as a lifestyle conviction?

    Because the need is great.

    The Gospel is Essential

    There’s a second reason to proclaim the Gospel: because it’s essential. The gospel is the exclusive path to paradise. Acts 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

    In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus declares, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

    The road to heaven isn’t a superhighway. It’s a one-lane road. And yet, most people think the path to heaven is broad and easy. They imagine that all you have to do is be a good person, try hard, sprinkle a little religion into your life, and ask God for forgiveness once in a while.

    But the truth is dramatically different. The way is narrow and the standards are high. Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are required.  So preach the gospel because there is no salvation without it.

    The Method is You

    Lastly, believers ought to preach the gospel as a lifestyle conviction, because they are God’s method for evangelizing the world. God could have written the gospel in the sky with fire. He could have sent an army of angels to preach the good news. But He didn’t.

    Instead, He entrusted believers like you with the greatest message ever told and instructed us to go far and wide, telling everyone about it. Did you know that as a believer, you’ve been personally recruited by the King of everything?

    That’s right. You’re an official representative of the King, armed with His message, empowered by His authority, and stamped with His approval. 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

    My friends, your mission is to go to a lost and dying world and beg and plead with lost sinners to turn from their sins and to believe in Christ.

    The great preacher Charles Spurgeon describes it this way, saying: “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay…If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”[1]

    That’s what it is to be an ambassador for Christ. That’s why you must preach the Gospel as a lifestyle conviction. Because the need is great, the gospel is essential, and you are God’s method.

    The question is, how are you going to respond?

    [1] Charles Haddon. Spurgeon. Sermons of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon of London (United States: Sheldon, Blakeman and Company, 1864), 333.