This weekend in our series Pure Grace Pastor Harvey and Pastor Kyle both looked at some of the staggering statistics surrounding American Christianity today.
You can view the sum of their study at https://thestateoftheology.com
This weekend in our series Pure Grace Pastor Harvey and Pastor Kyle both looked at some of the staggering statistics surrounding American Christianity today.
You can view the sum of their study at https://thestateoftheology.com
As we look forward to our New Year's Eve Services this weekend at 9a & 11a, we are provided with an opportunity to carry the message we've seen all fall in the book of Romans into a new way of seeing our lives, that by faith in Christ we are "not under the law, but under grace.” (6:14)
Through the holiday season we are able to see examples of the natural inclination of our hearts to go back to being under the law.
This past week in our Christmas celebrations many of us watched movies and sang songs about a magical all-seeing bearded man who judges us as either naughty or nice. We placed elves on our shelves. We felt the fear, guilt, and shame of buying Christmas gifts for every single human being we’ve ever met, and that the each of those gifts would be memorable and meaningful. Our expectations for ourselves crushed us before we even got the stockings up. We’ve all spent this past month under the tyranny of the little Christmas law and its condemnation.
New Year's Resolutions are just another example of how the law works this effect on us.
On December 31, humans around planet Earth give themselves a new law or resolution for the next year. These laws are good, they’re beneficial, they may even be fairly simple and doable. We declare we’re going to start working out, be more present at home, start eating healthier, read a book a month, or stop interrupting people, our little laws goes on an on.
But year after year, we are unable to obey our laws. Before we even get to Valentine’s Day the gyms are empty, our freezers have four types of ice cream, and our books remain unopened as we remind Netflix that yes, we are still watching.
If we can’t even obey our little new year’s laws to lose a few pounds, what hope do we have in obeying God’s law? As Jesus summarized it, to love God with all that we are and to love others as ourselves.
As Martin Luther wrote in 1518: “The law says, ‘Do this,’ and it is never done.”
Santa Claus and his twice-checked list, New Year’s Resolutions, and the Ten Commandments all reveal our deep need for grace and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit.
As we move into 2018 I would ask you to consider leaving behind New Year resolutions centered around what you will accomplish and consider a New Year prayer centered around God and what he might do this next year and the grace to receive it all.
As a further meditation on this topic of Grace, the Law, and the Holidays, posted below is an excerpt from “Law & Gospel” by Mockingbird ministries that our staff pastors read this fall.
There is no more subversive song than “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” But it’s not subversive for the reasons that religious people usually take issue with Santa, when they lament the commercialization and ‘secularization’ disguised in the detour from Bethlehem to the North Pole. No, that holiday classic is so subversive on account of how effectively it sabotages the beating heart of Christmas, which has to do with giving.
We tell children that Santa Claus comes down the chimney to deliver them presents. To shower them with gifts. The song paints a different picture: “He’s making a list/ He’s checking it twice/ He’s gonna find out/ who’s naughty and nice.” Nice children get toys, naughty ones lumps of coal.
This Santa Claus is not actually a giver of gifts. He’s in the business of doling out reward and punishment.
As we all know, any gift premised on deserving is not really a gift at all. It’s more of a paycheck, an act based on reciprocity rather than generosity. A gift, on the other hand, is a decidedly lopsided transaction, and therefore a fitting image for Christmas, which marks the remembrance of Christ’s birth.
The baby Jesus represents pure Gift, a light shining on those who dwell in darkness, the revelation of God’s love in all its vulnerability and impossibility. Like all true gifts, he arrives unbidden—a great and glorious surprise, a savior given to those who don’t deserve one. As the one who will “save people from their sins” (Mt 1:21), the Christ child signifies something startlingly new and unassailably good.
In his life and ministry, Christ would bear out this divine generosity. He would become a walking euphemism for it. Again, those who welcomed him most enthusiastically would be they whose lives had stripped them of any illusions about deservedness, a.k.a. sinners. Their only way of receiving him was as a gift. This is what we see in Christ’s treatment of lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes and reprobates—he does not relate to them on the basis of what they bring to the table but on the basis of who he is. And it makes every difference. He is the ‘Yes’ to the world’s ‘No’ (2 Cor 1:20).
Jesus praises children for this very reason; their inability to earn is not up for debate. They are powerless and consequently have yet to turn love into a bartering system. Indeed, the strongest resistance Christ encounters comes from those who insist on paying for what is offered freely, who refuse to give up their rights—the place they feel their sweat has earned them on the Listmaker-in-the-Sky’s scorecard.
Though the law is conditional—a two-way street—the gift of Christ is unconditional. His affection cannot be leveraged or merited. This is what we mean when we talk about the attitude of grace, which is one-way love, or ‘love in the midst of deserved judgment.’ Jesus simply gave—his attention, his power, his very self—and to the wrong people. This is why Robert Capon wrote, “Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It’s free.”
Most things in life are complicated, but this is not one of those things. Something is either a gift or a wage—it can’t be a little of each (Rm 5:15). The moment that a price or condition enters the equation, it is no longer a gift, no longer grace.
This applies to present-tense conditions just as much as future-tense ones. If a friend gives us a car for example, out of the blue, most of us would pause before accepting. We appreciate the gesture perhaps, but what’s the catch? Is our friend ‘buying’ our loyalty (and what does that say about our friendship)? Is there an unspoken expectation that we’ll do a favor-in-kind some day? Are we in Godfather territory? We harbor a knee-jerk suspicion of the excessively generous, and for good reason. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. A present with strings attached is a bribe, not a gift.
This weekend our series Semper Reformanda, a series in the book of Romans, brought us to Romans 1:18-32, where the Apostle Paul details humanity's downward spiral of sin. As an illustration of this, Paul uses the sin homosexuality, to show how sin brings an inversion to all of God's created order.
Because of the sexual ethic of our day, we know that this topic, in particular, is loaded with experiences, stories, and emotions. For some Paul's words sound dogmatic and bigoted. For others, they may agree with the historical position of the Church but would like to see how this plays out throughout Scripture, even still, some may be looking for how we as Christians can discuss this issue with humility and conviction.
Below are a few resources that we hope should help you, as we together trust the eternal will of God and the goodness of his created cosmic design.
The homosexual community insists that Paul is not condemning homosexuals per se but heterosexuals who engage in promiscuous homosexual activity. “If it is my nature to be homosexual,” says the latter, “then it is not unnatural for me to engage in homosexual relations. However, if someone’s nature is to be heterosexual, it is unnatural for them to engage in homosexuality, and it is the latter only that Paul condemns.” However:
As Richard Hays has noted, “the ‘exchange’ is not a matter of individual life decisions; rather, it is Paul’s characterization of the fallen condition of the pagan world” (The Moral Vision of the NT, 388).
Ample evidence exists that the juxtaposition of “natural” and “unnatural” was a common way of referring to heterosexual and homosexual behavior respectively. Says Hays, “in Paul’s time, the categorization of homosexual practices as para physin was a commonplace feature of polemical attacks against such behavior, particularly in the world of Hellenistic Judaism” (387).
Also, as Stott notes, “differentiating between sexual orientation and sexual practice is a modern concept; ‘to suggest that Paul intends to condemn homosexual acts only when they are committed by persons who are constitutionally heterosexual is to introduce a distinction entirely foreign to Paul’s thought-world’” (78). Hays concurs: “In any case, neither Paul nor anyone else in antiquity had a concept of ‘sexual orientation.’ To introduce this concept into the passage (by suggesting that Paul disapproves only those who act contrary to their individual sexual orientations) is to lapse into anachronism. The fact is that Paul treats allhomosexual activity as prima facie evidence of humanity’s tragic confusion and alienation from God the Creator” (389).
There is nothing in the passage that would lead us to believe that by “nature” (physin) Paul means “my” personal, individual nature or inclinations, whatever they may be. “Nature,” here, does not mean “what seems or feels natural to me.” It means the way God intended things to be by creation. Thus to act “against nature” is to violate the order which God established for human behavior in general, not for your behavior in particular. Says Hays: “The understanding of ‘nature’ in this conventional language does not rest on empirical observation of what actually exists; instead, it appeals to a conception of what ought to be, of the world as designed by God and revealed through the stories and laws of Scripture. Those who indulge in sexual practices para physin are defying the Creator and demonstrating their own alienation from him” (387).
Over the course of this past year, Living Stones Church has dedicated itself as a community to prayerfully asking God to bring a revival to Northern Nevada. As a refresher, what do we mean when we say revival?
"We can define it as a period of unusual blessing and activity in the life of the Christian Church. Revival means awakening, stimulating the life, bringing it to the surface again." - Martyn-Lloyd Jones, What is Revival?
As we move into the fall, our anticipation and desire for revival continue as we begin our fall series moving through the first seven chapters of Romans: Semper Reformanda, alongside the 500 year anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation that continues to this day.
But how does Romans connect to revival? More than we'd think! Throughout church history, God has used Paul's letter to the church in Rome and it's message of justification (the declaration of sinful humans as righteous) through faith alone as the spark that ignites the fire of revival!
Here are a few examples of this historical truth:
May we continue in our earnest and prayerful pursuit of revival as we spend this fall diving into the book of Romans, which the great reformer Martin Luther called:
This weekend Pastor Nathan Dupree and Deacon Ryan Smith preached on reconciliation by conversion and Acts 16. Between last week's teaching on the Jerusalem Council and Paul's Second Missionary Journey, we read of Paul and Barnabas' split.. To ensure an overview of this portion of the text, we've posted a blog below originally posted here.
Acts 15.36-41 takes place just before Paul leaves on his second missionary journey. While he and Barnabas put their affairs in order and planned out the relevant details of the trip, a disagreement arose between them regarding whether or not John Mark should accompany them.
Let’s take a look at what Luke writes:
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
We could talk plenty about the context of this passage and the timing. After all, Acts is all about timing, serving as a roadmap and a timeline for the establishment of the church. The events of this passage follow the Jerusalem Council and Paul and Barnabas’ time in Antioch. But Paul never stayed in one place for long, and decided he and Barnabas should return and visit the cities where they had previously preached the Gospel. It was in this setting, as they prepared to leave, that they discovered a difference of opinion.
The controversy over John Mark was no simple disagreement. Verse 37 says, “Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.” Luke chooses the imperfect tense in the Greek for the verb we translate as wanted, indicating Barnabas was persistent and determined in his request. Then, in verse 39, “there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” We get our English word paroxysm from the Greek word used here for sharp disagreement. This is a sudden, violent outburst and gives some idea to the intensity of the disagreement.
While this sharp disagreement between two of our heroes in the faith could cause some concern, we should be thankful to Luke for revealing the humanity of these two men. That Luke is willing to record not only the marvelous events during the establishment of the church, but also the rough patches as well, lends credibility to his account. If we didn’t see problems erupt from time to time among great, but imperfect men, it is then we should be concerned about the authenticity of what we read. We can take comfort knowing that even the best of men disagree on occasion. It’s part of life.
So we know Paul and Barnabas disagreed over whether or not Mark should be taken with them on the second missionary journey, but why? Why didn’t Paul want Mark to accompany them?
“Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15.38). When did this happen? When did Mark abandon them? For that answer we go back to Acts 13.13, “Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John (Mark) left them and returned to Jerusalem.”
Our path gets a little tricky here because this is all the information we are given, at least directly.
Some men a whole lot smarter than me have speculated about the possibility that Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem to alarm the church, reporting that Paul received Gentiles apart from going through the synagogue. It is definitely of worth to note that the conversion of Sergius Paulus came right before Mark’s decision to leave. If Mark did in fact alarm the church, it may have stirred up the controversy we find later in Acts 15.1.
All of this is of course speculation, and whatever the details may be, we know that Paul felt Mark’s leaving them at Perga revealed a defect in his character.
Mark joining a journey lead by Paul at this point would have been unwise. For right or wrong, Paul couldn’t trust him, and therefore Mark could not have been effective under his leadership.
Mark likely felt guilty about abandoning the journey to Perga and wanted an opportunity to redeem himself. Perhaps the Jerusalem Council’s decision had a large enough impact to give him a new perspective from the one he held back in Acts 13. Barnabas wanted to give Mark this chance at redemption.
To be fair, we must note that Mark and Barnabas were cousins (Col 4.10), but it’s doubtful this was the only reason Barnabas wanted Mark to accompany them. Perhaps Barnabas recognized Mark’s full potential and wanted to give him a chance to develop and mature in his walk.
Galatians 2.11-14 accounts for the time gap between Acts 15.35 and Acts 15.36, indicated by the words, “and after some days” in verse 36. This was the time immediately following the Jerusalem Council. In Galatians 2.11-14 Paul writes,
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
So what happened? Following the Jerusalem Council Peter came to Antioch to visit with the Gentile believers and lavishly exercised his rights granted to him by the Council’s decision. He ate freely and enjoyed fellowship with the Gentile converts.
Not long after Peter’s arrival in Antioch there came a group of men from Jerusalem under the influence of the Judaizers, and when they arrived, Peter with his chronic insecurities, immediately ceased fellowship with the Gentiles. And not only did Peter exercise this lapse in judgment, but Barnabas was pulled down with him as well (Gal 2.13).
Paul confronted Peter regarding their regression from the Gentiles and a peaceful resolution followed. Peter and Barnabas admitted to the error of their ways and restored fellowship with the Gentiles.
Some might argue that ill feelings from this incident were still in play at the time of Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement in Acts 15.36-41 (our primary text), but because of the amicable nature of the resolution there is no reason to assume the existence of lingering negative feelings that would have any effect on this division between Paul and Barnabas.
We have established that Paul sensed (or assumed) a character flaw within Mark that made him unfit for ministry at the time, and it’s likely Barnabas also recognized the flaw but wanted to grant Mark the chance to work through it. I don’t believe the debate here was over whether or not Mark committed an unacceptable act, but rather should he be given a chance at redemption.
Who was right? Barnabas or Paul? Some say Barnabas should have submitted to Paul’s apostolic authority, but Barnabas had some hefty credentials himself (which we’ll see a in just a bit). Also, at this time, Paul’s apostleship was not universally accepted among the other apostles and could have been more of a gray area than we are aware. (No, I’m not saying Paul was not an apostle–please don’t misquote me. I’m only stating that it took some time before everyone recognized him as such. Some of the other apostles needed to be convinced.)
From a maturity in the faith standpoint, I think Barnabas was right in not judging Mark based on his past. He rightly understood that walking with the Lord changes people and the more time they have to walk, the more time they have to change. It’s called sanctification.
Either way, Luke does not write this account in such a way that puts Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong, or vice versa. They made a mutual decision to split ways because neither could agree with the other. In a way, they both were right. It wouldn’t have been productive for Paul to take Mark when he didn’t trust him, but Barnabas saw the long-term potential in Mark and gave him another chance.
It’s tough to grasp the idea that two of the most influential men in the establishment of the church could have such a heated (remember, violent outburst) disagreement, but at the same time we have the benefit of seeing the big picture. God worked a great deal of good from this situation.
The most obvious working of good is that two missionary journeys were launched rather than just one (Acts 15.39-41). Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus. Paul and Silas traveled through Syria and Cilicia.
Also, Barnabas shows us a fantastic character lesson by refusing to use his clout to overrule or cause trouble for Paul. We are talking about a man (Barnabas) who led the church in its earliest days (Acts 11.22-24), brought Paul into the work (he was the teacher and Paul the apprentice at one time), lead the first missionary journey (Acts 13.2), and represented the church at the Jerusalem Council. You think Barnabas couldn’t have made trouble for Paul if he had so desired? He could have easily played the “church politics game” and created an even larger issue than it was already.
Though we don’t know the specifics, I believe Paul grew up some through the process as well. He learned how to show grace and forgiveness. We know that later in Paul’s life he commended the ministry of Barnabas (1 Cor 9.6).
And lastly, I want to designate a special section to the progression of John Mark through these events because it’s so good. God knew what he was doing when he sent Mark with Barnabas instead of Paul. Mark learned valuable lessons and apparently lived the latter part of his life in a manner worthy of forgiveness and redemption. Let’s take a look…
We know Mark ended up close with Peter (1 Pe 5.13) and wrote one of the four gospels. These two landmarks cannot be ignored. The one who once neglected to serve, wrote a gospel emphasizing Jesus as the Great Servant. But what about his relationship with Paul? What happened there?
We know Paul developed a respect and love for Mark later in life (Col 4.10), and we know Mark worked closely with Paul during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Phil 23).
But perhaps the most touching of Paul’s references to Mark comes in 2 Timothy. When Paul wrote his second letter to the young pastor he was literally in the bottom of a pit–a dungeon. This wasn’t like his earlier house arrest in Rome where he could freely wonder about. Here, chains shackled him to the grimy wall behind him and if he could see any daylight at all, it was very little. Paul knew his execution was imminent and he had only a short time left in his earthly body before he would permanently unite with his Savior. He wrote 2 Timothy to set his affairs in order and to give his “last words” to Timothy who would carry on Paul’s ministry after his death. Only Luke was there with him. The letter is highly personal and should be read as such.
Towards the end of the book Paul gives a list of personal instructions–mainly comprised of several people to greet and one person in particular to dodge. Among the names listed, we find a final reference to Mark by Paul in verse 4.11. Paul writes, “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” In Paul’s final hour he requested only five things: for Timothy to come soon (v 9), for him to bring Mark with him (v 11), and to bring his cloak, his books, and the parchments (v 13).
Despite everything that happened at Pamphylia (Acts 13.13) and the emotionally violent disagreement over Mark in Acts 15.36-41, Paul, at the end of his life, found Mark to be very useful for ministry. The man he wanted to leave behind years before had become highly valuable to him. What a change! And this isn’t a change that would have come lightly. Mark must have undergone significant character enhancement since he had last been with Paul, and Paul had grown in his capacity to forgive and recognize the sanctification process in others. It is a beautiful picture of love, grace, perseverance, and restoration.
Here we have this man, John Mark, who clearly screwed up in his abandonment of Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. In many cases, a man like this may have tucked his tail between his legs and never been seen again. How easy that might have been. But instead Mark ends up becoming so much more than a failure. God uses the time Mark has alone with Barnabas to mold him into a champion of the early church and a dear friend of the man who once rejected him. How good is God’s process of sanctification?
This weekend Pastor Harvey preached on the the marks of revival in the church. One of the indicators of revival is radical generosity by God's people. As a supplement to this teaching, we've posted a sermon from last year below and a blog with William Barcley.
Originally posted by Chuck B. Colson at The Gospel Coalition
Typically, evangelicals are shy about Lent. The 40 days prior to Easter—Sundays excepted—are known popularly as a season for giving up chocolate or other extras in order to show God how much we love him. With such impoverished notions, it is no wonder that Lent has fallen on hard times.
So should evangelicals bother with Lent?
Whatever the popular conceptions, the season can encourage gospel-centered piety. But, before considering Lent's value, let's briefly discuss the benefits of the church calendar, in general.
Some evangelical traditions reject the notion of the church calendar wholesale, believing that the Lord's Day is the only God-given measure of time for the church. Some Puritans discarded all special holidays on this principle. But, no matter our efforts, we organize our lives according to some seasonal calendar that's not prescribed by God (semesters, financial quarters, and months, for example).
Recognizing this, the church's liturgical calendar seeks to order time around the major events of our redemption in Christ. During these seasons, we encourage certain theological emphases, spiritual practices, and corresponding emotions to instruct and train the church in godliness. Of course, the calendar does not limit the celebration of a truth or the experience of a particular emotion to one season or day. For instance, observing Easter Sunday as a joyous and festive holy day does not deny that every Lord's Day celebrates Jesus' resurrection. Rather, a joyous Easter Sunday anchors and gives shape to all other Sundays throughout the year. So it is with the liturgical calendar.
That said, let's explore five benefits to observing Lent.
1. Lent affords us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God's love. With Good Friday approaching, visions of Jesus' gruesome death remind us of the dreadful reality of sin. Here, our individual and corporate brokenness is on display as the Lord of glory dies under the weight of our just judgment, inspiring personal introspection. Though self-examination can turn into narcissistic navel gazing, such abuses should not foreclose on a godly form of self-examination that encourages humility, repentance, and dependence on Christ.
But for such introspection to remain healthy, we must hold together two realities that converge at the cross—our corruption and God's grace. If we divorce the two, then our hearts will either swell with pride and self-righteousness, losing touch with our sinfulness, or sink into anxious despair and uncertainty, failing to grapple with mercy.
Confident of God's grace in Jesus Christ, we are free to probe the inner recesses of our hearts, unearthing sin's pollution. God's grace liberates us to explore our soul, facing its filth, rather than suppressing or succumbing to its contents. With David, we are free to pray,
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139:23-24)
Searching us, God discovers nothing unknown to him (Ps 139:1-3), but discloses the secrets of our hearts, allowing us to know ourselves. Under his tender scrutiny, God exposes, not to shame, but to heal. Thus, turning inward, we are led upward to find consolation, hope, and transformation through Jesus Christ. Certainly, such piety isn't the exclusive property of any church season, but Lent provides a unique setting for this self-examination.
2. Lent affords us an opportunity to probe the sincerity of our discipleship. Jesus bore the cross for us, accomplishing our salvation, yet he also bestows a cross on us (Mt. 10:38-39; Lk. 9:23). Following him, Jesus guarantees unspeakable comforts and uncertainties (Jn. 16:32-33). Frequently, these uncertainties test the genuineness of our discipleship. Consider the following examples from Jesus' ministry.
In Matthew 8:18-22, two people approach Jesus, proclaiming their desire to follow him. One, a scribe, offers his undying devotion saying, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus responds by instructing the scribe about the rigors of following him, explaining that foxes and birds enjoy more comfort than he does. Perceiving selfish ambition, Jesus reminds the scribe that following him is not a means for advancing in the world, but rather involves forsaking it. We don't know how this scribe responded to the challenge, but Jesus leaves us with the question, “Will we follow him when it is inconvenient or only when comfortable and to our advantage?”
The second, a disciple, requests to attend his father's funeral before going on with Jesus. Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal the disciple's heart, unveiling his ultimate affections. He says, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Remember, Jesus warns us that we cannot love father and mother, or anything else, above him (Mt. 10:37). Obviously, Jesus does not forbid loving our parents or attending their funerals, but he does insist on being first in our hearts. Jesus is not a commitment among other commitments, but rather the commitment of our lives. Therefore, as Augustine points out, we must take care to order our loves properly, ensuring that our affections are set on Christ and not another.
In this way, Lent provides opportunity to question and examine ourselves, exploring the integrity of our discipleship.
3. Lent provides us an opportunity to reflect on our mortality. Pursuing eternal youth, our culture seems to live in the denial of death. But ignoring death does not erase its impartiality—everyone who draws a first breath will take a last one. It is a certainty we can't escape (Heb. 9:27). Fortunately, death is not the last word. For all who belong to Christ, there is a promise stronger than death—we will die, but Jesus will return to raise our bodies, wiping the tears from our eyes and making all things new (1 Cor. 15:12-28; Rev. 21:1-8).
The most difficult moment I face each year, as an Anglican pastor, is to apply the ashes, in the sign of a cross, to the foreheads of my wife and children on Ash Wednesday. It is an intimate and haunting moment. Echoing the words of Genesis 3:19, I say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is jarring. Every year, I cry.
Yet the ashes are applied in the shape of Jesus' cross—the only means for escaping the dust of death. When God raised Jesus, he raided death, destroying its power. Jesus' resurrection marks the death of death and welcomes us into a living hope (1 Pt. 1:3). This is our consolation and joy in the midst of our mortality.
Lent provides an unmistakable opportunity for disciplined reflection on this neglected certainty and God's radical solution.
4. Lent gives us the opportunity to move towards our neighbor in charity. Long misunderstood as a form of works-righteousness, Lenten fasting is not about scoring points with God, but rather emphasizes simplicity for the sake of others. By temporarily carving away some comforts or conveniences, good gifts from God himself, we hope to de-clutter our hectic lives, allowing us to focus. Simple living allows us to reserve time for others while also serving to curb our expenses. It is fitting to allocate these savings, along with other gifts, for charitable purposes, especially directing those funds to the poor and marginalized.
So search your heart and go simple. Consider fasting from types of food, technology, and/or sources of entertainment. Live frugally, and do so for the sake of charity. Find a cause, or better yet a person, and give sacrificially. And, in so doing, may you know the joy of Jesus who gave himself fully to us.
5. Lent prepares us to celebrate the wonder and promise of Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday. Here, Jesus trampled down sin and death, defeating the Devil (Heb. 2:14-15). After a season of depravation, highlighting the grim reality of our broken creation, Jesus' resurrection floods our grief with life and light. In other words, Lent prepares us to join the disciples in their joy and bewilderment on that strange morning long ago (Mt. 28:8; Mk. 16:8; Lk. 24:12). Our Easter worship is a dress rehearsal for our Lord Jesus' return when he comes to unite heaven and earth, making all things new (Eph. 1:10; Rev. 21:1-8).
And so, I invite you to a holy Lent. Take up the opportunity to dwell upon the grief of our broken world, the sin within your heart, and the deep love of God that exceeds these realities. Reflecting on the hospitality of God, consider the needs of your neighbor, especially those without life's basic needs. And, most importantly, in the gritty details of Lent, don't forget—Easter is coming!
At Living Stones Reno, we are inviting the members of our church to dedicate themselves to prayer and fasting on Ash Wednesday as we prepare to consider our own mortality together and our need for a Savior at our Ash Wednesday gathering at 6p.
The spiritual discipline of fasting, abstaining from food for a period of time with the aim of directing our attention to prayer and dependence on God, can seem daunting and even a bit ridiculous for those of us who may not have any experience with this practice.
Because many in our church may not have a history with fasting, we've posted a blog from Donald Whitney that provides an overview of the Why? behind fasting.
Originally posted by Donald Whitney on Ligonier.com
How often do you think fasting is mentioned in the Bible? By my count, there are some seventy-seven biblical references to fasting. Does that surprise you? Despite so many references, fasting is not a frequent subject in pulpits, publications, and Christian conversation.
In part, this may be due to the fact that, while fasting may be done cooperatively with fellow believers (as in Acts 13:2), typically it is private in nature and shouldn’t be evident to others (Matt. 6:16–18). So it’s possible that Christians around us fast more than we realize or hear mentioned. But could the main reason that fasting is seldom taught be that fasting is seldom practiced?
Should Christians Fast Today?
As a result of the famine of teaching on the subject, there are a number of common misunderstandings among believers about the discipline of fasting. One is the idea that it is a practice relegated only to biblical times or to religious eccentrics. But Jesus, when asked why His disciples never fasted, replied, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matt. 9:15). Until the ascended Bridegroom returns for His bride, fasting is a spiritual discipline His disciples will occasionally practice. This was the understanding of Christians in the book of Acts, who are reported fasting in 13:2 and 14:23. And church history reports that since the days of the New Testament, the followers of Jesus have likewise engaged in fasting.
Fasting and the Gospel
Another misconception about fasting occurs when people fail to associate it with the gospel. The most egregious version of this is the belief that fasting can impress God enough that He will open the door of heaven for those who deny themselves in this way. That, of course, implies that the life and death of Jesus are unnecessary (“Why repent and trust in Jesus? Just fast a little and heaven is yours.”), which is the greatest possible insult to the Father. Neither fasting nor anything else we could do — no matter how painful, self-sacrificial, or unselfish — can atone for our sins and reconcile us to God. Only Jesus, who offered Himself as a sinless sacrifice to bring others to God, can do that.
But it is also possible for genuine Christians to fast but fail to associate their fast with the gospel. They may fast simply in an effort to get things from God. In the New Testament, however, fasting is related to the spread of the gospel or the fruit of the gospel. Similarly, New Testament believers today should fast in a way connected with the spread of the message of Jesus or fast as those who are the servants of Jesus.
So a Christian might fast, for example, and connect it with prayer for missionary labors, for the Sunday morning sermon, or for his witness to a friend. He might fast with prayer primarily for a personal concern, but rest his confidence that God will answer, not on the basis of his abstention from food, but on the fact that he fasted and prayed in the name of Jesus.
So the error on one side is failing to fast at all, and on the other, fasting with confidence in the work of fasting rather than in the work of Christ.
Fasting for a Biblical Purpose
From the pragmatic perspective, the most common oversight is to fast without a clear biblical purpose. When you become aware of your hunger while fasting, you often remember, “Oh yeah, I’m hungry because I’m fasting.” Your next thought should be something like this: “And I’m fasting for this purpose.” There are at least ten purposes in Scripture for fasting, and most relate to prayer. So your hunger actually serves you during a fast in that it is a constant reminder about your biblical purpose, in this case to pray.
Fasting has to be a discipline, otherwise it is a blessing we’ll never experience. When should you fast? Times of special need, when important decisions must be made, or occasions when spiritual longings are especially intense, are often promptings to enter into a fast. But Christians are free to experience the blessings of fasting as often as they desire. Fasting expresses in a God-ordained way our belief that we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8) — so good that there are times we’re satisfied to feast on Him instead of the food that the Lord made for us to live on. Fasting is a temporary physical demonstration that we believe the truth declared by the gospel, namely that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Do you believe that? Do you fast?
This weekend Pastor Harvey preached on the call Scripture to unity in diversity. As a supplement to this teaching, we've posted a sermon from last year below and Q&A with Tim Keller that provides a deeper study on how a diverse church not only mirrors the Kingdom of Heaven, but allows each of us to see God in a deeper and more profound light as he is reflected in the image of all of humanity.
This weekend Pastor Harvey preached on 1 Peter 5:1-5 and the call to elders in the church. As a supplement to this teaching, we've posted a blog post from Pastor Sam Storms below detailing and making the case for male eldership and complementarianism below.
The immediate problem we face in trying to answer this question is the fact that few churches or denominations today seek to reproduce the New Testament pattern for local church government. I realize that many will object to this and argue that the NT doesn’t present us with an explicit ecclesiology. I happen to disagree. I believe the NT portrays for us a consistent pattern of governance by a plurality of Elders. However, it is important to realize that even if this is not the case we can still determine whether or not women should be appointed to positions of senior governmental authority.
Let me explain. I was raised a Southern Baptist. In the great majority of such churches the Board of Deacons functions in the way a Board of Elders would in another denomination. Whereas the Senior Pastor is often viewed as the sole Elder, thus exercising primary authority, the Deacons exercise a governmental role that in practical effect is equivalent to a Board of Elders. So, my position is that women are not permitted to hold the office of Deacon in Southern Baptist Churches. In a number of other denominational settings, such as Presbyterianism, I would happily endorse the presence of female deacons given the fact that they do not exercise final spiritual authority over the body as a whole. The issue, then, is less on the name or title of the office and more on the actual, functional authority invested in each office.
Here, then, is the critical point. When seeking to determine whether women should be elevated to a certain office in the local church, one should be less concerned with the title (whether “Elder” or “Bishop” or “Deacon” or “Pastor”) and more with the actual functional authority that each church/denomination invests in that position (which isn’t to say that being careful in our use of biblical terms is unimportant).
My own convictions are that the NT portrays the local church as under the authority of a plurality of individuals who are called Elders or Bishops. These latter two terms are used interchangeably in the NT, as I’ll note below.
Let’s begin by noting the texts in which the word “Elder” appears:
Acts 11:29-30 – “And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea . And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”
Acts 14:23 – “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.”
Acts 15:1-6 – “Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and eldersconcerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria , describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem , they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses." The apostles and the elderscame together to look into this matter.
Acts 15:22-23 – “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas – Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.’”
Acts 16:4 – “Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem , for them to observe.”
Acts 20:17 – “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.”
Acts 21:17-18 – “After we arrived in Jerusalem , the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.”
1 Timothy 4:14 – “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery (or elders).”
1 Timothy 5:17 – “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”
1 Timothy 5:19 – “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.”
Titus 1:5 – “This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”
James 5:14 – “Is any among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
1 Peter 5:1 – “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed.”
1 Peter 5:5 – “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”
2 John 1:1 – “The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth.”
3 John 1:1 – “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.”
I don’t find any indication that a local church was to be governed by a single elder or pastor. The consistent NT witness is that each church was under the oversight of a plurality of elders/bishops.
The English word “elder” is the translation of the Greek presbuteros, from which we get “Presbyter” and “Presbyterian”. Our English word “bishop” comes from the Greek episkopos, from which we get the word “Episcopal” and “Episcopalian”. Earlier I said that “Elder” and “Bishop” are interchangeable in the New Testament. What I mean is that they are two different words that describe the same office or authoritative function. “Elder” focuses on the dignity and gravity of the person who serves while “Bishop” focuses on the practical function of the office (literally, one who exercises oversight).
Why do I believe they are interchangeable? There are four passages that justify my conclusion.
First, according to Acts 20:17 Paul called for the elders of the church to come to him. But later in v. 28, in referring to these same elders, he says that God has made them overseers (ESV) or bishopsin the church.
Second, Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5). When Paul then turns to list the qualifications for this office he says, “For an overseer (i.e., bishop or episkopon) . . . must be above approach,” etc. Clearly these two terms refer to the same office.
Third, “in 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul says, ‘If any one aspires to the office of bishop/overseer, he desires a noble task.’ Then he gives the qualifications for the overseer/bishop in verses 2-7. Unlike the deacons, the overseer must be ‘able to teach’ (v. 2), and in v. 5 he is said to be one whose management of his own household fits him to care for God's church. These two functions are ascribed to elders in the fifth chapter of this same book (1 Timothy 5:17) – teaching and governing. So it is very likely that in Paul's mind the bishops/overseers of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are the same as the elders of 5:17” (John Piper).
Fourth, 1 Timothy 3:1-13 clearly indicates that there are two primary offices in the NT: Elder and Deacon. Yet in Philippians 1:1 Paul directs his epistle “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi , with the overseers (episkopoi) and deacons.” Since Paul’s practice was to appoint elders in every church (Acts 14:23) it seems reasonable that the overseers/bishops in Phil. 1:1 is a reference to the elders in that city.
The Greek word (poimen) translated "pastor" is used only once in the NT in Ephesians 4:11. The related verb form (poimaino) has the meaning "to shepherd” or “to feed" with the idea of nurturing and sustaining the flock of God. When I put together Ephesians 4:11, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9, Acts 20:28, and 1 Peter 5:1-2, it would appear reasonable to conclude that all elders exercised pastoral responsibilities. Whether or not one might function in a pastoral capacity without holding the office of elder is another matter. I tend to think the answer is yes, but that need not detain us here (it would obviously depend entirely on how and over whom such a “pastoral” ministry would be exercised).
It would also appear that whereas all elders are to be able to teach, not all teachers are elders. Although being “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:9) is clearly a requirement for all elders, it is entirely conceivable that one may be gifted to teach but not qualify for the office of elder (or perhaps they do qualify but have not yet been appointed to that position).
My conclusion is that the local church is to be governed by a plurality of individuals who are described in the New Testament as elders, insofar as they hold an office of great dignity and importance (perhaps even with an allusion to age or at least spiritual maturity), or bishops, insofar as they exercise oversight of the body of Christ, or pastors, insofar as they spiritually feed, care for, and exercise guardianship over the flock of God.
But why do I believe that this ruling or governmental office is restricted to men? I would appeal to three arguments in defense of a male eldership.
First, I appeal to the NT two-fold description of the function of elders. (1) They are those who govern or rule the church (1 Timothy 3:4-5; 5:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17). (2) They are those who are primarily responsible for teaching the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11 [assuming the words “pastor” and “teacher” refer to one function or office of “pastor-teacher”; the best grammatical analysis would indicate this is true]; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9). Since I have determined from 1 Timothy 2:11-15 that Paul restricted teaching and exercising authority to men, it follows that the office of Elder or Bishop is restricted to men.
Second, I would appeal to the qualifications for the office of Elder that are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. An Elder must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6; need I say more?). For the meaning of this phrase, see my article 1 Timothy 3:2,12 and“The Husband of One Wife” (www.SamStorms.com, in Deciphering Difficult Texts under Biblical Studies). Note also that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).
Third, there is no reference anywhere in the New Testament to a female elder. You may wish to object by pointing out that this is an argument from silence. Yes, it is. But it is a deafening silence, especially when taken in conjunction with the two previous points. The bottom line is that we simply have no biblical precedent for female elders nor anything in the text that describes their nature, function, and qualifications that would lead us to believe that this could ever be a possibility.
I agree that women can serve as deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:1-2; although this is disputed by others), that they can assist and support, as “co-workers”, someone such as the apostle Paul (Phil. 4:2-3), that they can evangelize, and that they can possess and exercise in biblically appropriate ways every spiritual gift (except that of “apostle,” although I’m not persuaded “apostleship” is a spiritual gift). I suggested in Part Two of this series that women can serve and minister in virtually every capacity aside from what I have called “senior governmental authority”.
If a church is governed by a plurality of Elders the application of the preceding principles seems clear enough. However, if you are in a church or denomination that is governed by a single Senior Pastor or by a Bishop, you will need to determine if others who serve in official and governmental capacities, whether a Board of Directors or Deacons or some such equivalent group, are exercising that authority which the NT would appear to restrict to males.
(1) Some egalitarians have argued that since Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3) were “co-workers” with Paul, women were in positions of leadership and should thus be considered as viable candidates for the office of Elder. But the Greek word sunergos (“co-worker” or “fellow-worker”) is used of numerous individuals (e.g., Romans 16:9; Phil. 2:25; Col. 4:10-11; Philemon 24; etc.), as well as anyone who supports traveling missionaries (3 John 8). But this in no way implies that such people exercised ruling authority in the local church. Whereas all Elders would certainly qualify as “co-workers,” not all “co-workers” would qualify as Elders. Their “work” in support of the gospel, whether as those who provide financial aid, or those who evangelize, or those who intercede in prayer, or those who serve in any number of capacities, does not in and of itself indicate they were invested with governmental authority or were even qualified to serve in such a capacity (cf. Romans 16:1-2).
(2)Contrary to what some egalitarians have suggested, the reference to “older women” in Titus 2:3 does not support the notion of female Elders. Paul concluded his discussion of church offices in 1:5-9. In chapter two he focuses on a variety of individuals classified according to their age: “older men” (v. 2), “older women” (v. 3), “young women” (v. 4), and “younger men” (v. 6). Furthermore, the word in v. 2 translated “older men” (presbutes) is different from that used of the church office (presbuteros). Likewise, the word in v. 3 translated “older women” (presbutis) specifies age, as is evident from the contrast with the “young women” whom they are to teach (cf. 1 Timothy 5:1-2 for a similar emphasis).
(3) Hebrews 11:2 uses the plural of presbuteros and applies it to such women of the OT as Sarah, the mother of Moses, Rahab, and others. But clearly the author of Hebrews is using the word to refer to “a person who lived long ago,” i.e., “ancestor” or “ancient” (it is translated “people of old” in the ESV). There is not the slightest indication that the author is thinking of ecclesiastical office in the NT, nor would any reader have thought that people like Abel and Enoch and Noah (vv. 4-7) were the equivalent of those who served in senior governmental authority in the NT church. One must always be careful not “to import one meaning of a word into a context where a different meaning is the one the author clearly meant” (Grudem, 253).
(4) The epistle of 2 John is addressed to “the elect lady and her children” (v. 1). Some have seen here a reference to a woman who exercised authority in the body of Christ. However, it is far more likely that "elect lady and her children" is a metaphorical way of saying "the church and its members" (cf. v. 13; see also 2 Cor. 11:2 and Eph. 5:22-32 where the church is portrayed as a “bride” betrothed to Christ; note also how Peter refers to the church in 1 Peter 5:13 – “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son”).
(5) An appeal has also been made to 1 Timothy 5:3-16 where Paul discusses how “widows” should be treated. But simply being an “elderly” person, in this case over the age of 60, does not make one an “Elder” with ecclesiastical authority! Besides, the word presbuteros doesn’t even occur in this passage. Contrary to the claims of some, the qualifications for “widows” and “elders” are not the same (see Grudem, 256-57) and the “widows” were not remunerated for ministry but were supported because they had no believing relatives on whom they could rely for financial assistance.
(6) Finally, what about those women in whose homes churches would meet, such as Mary (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:15), Prisca (Romans 16:5), Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), and Nympha (Col. 4:15)? Does this imply that they exercised spiritual authority over the congregation in their midst? Of course not. Hosting a church in one’s home does not justify ignoring the qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Are we actually to believe that Lydia , a new convert, was appointed as a local church Elder simply because she opened her home to Paul and his associates?
This weekend, Elder Candidate Ryan Griffin preached on 1 Peter 4:1-11, specifically emphasizing the texts call for our church to be a community of disciples serving each other and our city.
Within the text however, the Apostle Peter reflects on the role of suffering and adversity in the life of the church. Because we recently preached on this text and topic, Ryan primarily gave his attention to the serving portion of this text.
If you were hoping to hear on the Church's call to faith in adversity, Pastor Harvey's sermon on the topic is below for you to check out.
This weekend we arrived at Peter's exhortation to the marriages of our church, as a resource to further study and growth in the marriages of our church, we've posted two classes on marriage from Pastor Harvey and Rachael Turner taught last year at Living Stones Reno.
The foundation and cornerstone of the Church is the person and work of Jesus Christ. He alone is the living stone upon which the church is build upon as we advance his Kingdom mission.
To be a Christian is to be a part of this reality, that we exist together as living stones. There simply is no other kind of Christianity.
The letter of 1 Peter is theology for that community.
It’s about what we believe together and how we live together.
This is seen in the books primary theme, summed up in 1 Peter 2:4-5:
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
For the next 12 weeks, our journey through 1 Peter together will lead us to a deeper understanding of our what it means to be a community centered on Jesus.
Each week’s teaching revolves around the shared identity and responsibilities of the Christian community and the topics mirror this aim: “Our Message, Our Identity, Our Marriages, etc.” We are not interested in separated and isolated theology, but living and active communal conviction.
The Disciples Guide was created as a tool for you, your families, and community groups to further explore the text and the sermons from 1 Peter each week.
Within the guide you'll find recommended resources, upcoming events, questions and prayers for your community.
I believe it is imperative to talk about a common misconception that has been stuck to the Christian culture like a piece of gum on the bottom of a shoe.
This misconception, which needs to be dug at and scraped off once and for all, isthat our lives are the gospel. Yes, our actions can be persuasive, and we can be good citizens and loving neighbors, but we ourselves are never the gospel.
Hang in there and allow me to explain.
First and foremost, the gospel is news. News has to be announced, communicated, written, and delivered with words.
Think of any major news story or event: the reporter doesn’t seek to act it out. They aren’t doing anything to make the news true; they’re simply delivering a message. A reporter recounts an event that happened in space and time.
The gospel is news about an actual historical event accomplished by an actual historical person that altered history. Jesus did something that changed everything.
The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word for our English word gospel means “good news.” As one scholar puts it, the word gospel is “good news concerning the now present instantiation of Jesus’ divine dominion and way of salvation by his death and resurrection.”1
Here’s some more good news. The gospel is not news about you and what you have done to be good. The gospel is news about Jesus. You are simply a beneficiary of this news and a recipient of this news, but you are not the news.
This is good news because you and I could never be good enough to bring ourselves salvation, let alone bring salvation to anyone else by our own goodness.
Evangelism is about announcing the goodness of another. It’s about announcing the historical reality that the goodness of Jesus brings rescue to weary sinners. He lived, died, and rose again for you and me.
I find it so confusing when I hear people say things like, “We’re just trying to live the gospel” or “We’re trying to be the gospel.” In other words, they’re associating the gospel with their good works, their moral living, or their method of evangelism.
If you do evangelism by trying to “be” the gospel, not only will you be guilty of false advertising (you’re not the Savior), but nobody will hear the real good news about Jesus Christ.
Only Jesus could live out the gospel and be the gospel (don’t burden yourself). At the very heart of the gospel is that none of us can “be” the gospel or “live” the gospel, which is why we need the one who can and did.
Although the message of the gospel might rub you the wrong way at first, it is actually really good news if you are someone committed to evangelism—you don’t have to be Jesus!
You can (and will) struggle with sin, doubt, and personal weakness and still do evangelism because you don’t have to be perfect to do it. Jesus was perfect on your behalf, and this is part of your proclamation.
Getting the focal point of the gospel straight is huge in rightly understanding evangelism. Many Christians fear that their lives don’t match the gospel message, and that this shortcoming is a significant barrier to doing evangelism.
They’re right, of course. None of us live as we ought to 100 percent of the time. If you think you are worthy to earn the gospel based on your moral performance, you have never studied the law of God.
“For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom 3:20).
Your obedience to God’s law is not the gospel. The gospel is the gospel, and the gospel proclaims that Jesus obeyed the law on our behalf, died for our disobedience to it, and rose again to give us the Holy Spirit to pursue obedience in it.
No one is worthy but Jesus Christ, and he fulfilled all that you need in your place. Now you’re free to tell others about this grace.
There is a well-known quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” This is clever, but not biblical.
This quote confuses the distinction between law and gospel. It confuses sharing the good news of what Jesus has objectively done for sinners (the gospel) and what God calls us to do in order to love and serve our neighbors (the Great Commandment, Matt 22:36–40).
The assumption of the quote is that the gospel is something we live through our actions of love toward our neighbor. But our loving actions are not the gospel.
That is the gospel. You see, who you are and what you do don’t make the cut to be included in the news of the gospel. You are not Jesus, and you don’t need to try to be.
You and I are not the gospel; Jesus Christ is the gospel. There are four books in our Bible that we call Gospels that detail him as the hero.
You and I are not Jesus; Jesus is Jesus. Therefore, you cannot live or show the gospel; you must proclaim it.
The gospel is a message that must be preached, proclaimed, and told using words. And now we’re invited to speak with others about that good news. And this, in a nutshell, is evangelism.
Thomas Sheldon Green, Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976).
This is an excerpt from Pastor Harvey's new book Friend of Sinners: An Approach to Evangelism
This Sunday we closed out our We Exist series with a sermon dedicated to what the Bible says about our money and God's mission.
As a supplement to this teaching, we've posted a sermon from our Acts 29 West Conference hosted at Living Stones Reno earlier this year. In this teaching, Joby Martin unpacks how we are all generous towards something, and how the gospel invites us into generosity toward God's church and mission.
Each year Christians around the world celebrate Easter Sunday as the day the hope of the Gospel was shown in the resurrection of Jesus. This is a day of joyful singing as we proclaim that death has died and our King has lived! But in many ways, the beauty and bliss of Easter can be minimized by an overlooking of Good Friday, the day he was crucified, died, and buried. In doing so, we neglect one of the vital doctrines of Christianity: penal substitutionary atonement. “The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while they essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man along.” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 61)
Tonight we’ll be looking at penal substitutionary atonement further in our Good Friday Services across Northern Nevada. For a full list of Good Friday times and locations, visit LivingStonesChurches.com
As a devotional for reflection today, we’ve posted a few of the writings from Melito of Sardis. Melito was a pastor around 190 AD. Our hope is that you’ll not only find his writings helpful for reflection, but also find confidence in the historic doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement in the writings of Church leaders from over 1,800 years ago.
He who hung the earth is hanging. He who fixed the heavens in place has been fixed in place. He who laid the foundations of the universe has been laid on a tree. The master has been profaned. God has been murdered. The King of Israel has been destroyed by an Israelite right hand.
The Lord clothed himself with humanity, And with suffering on behalf on the suffering one, And bound on behalf of the one constrained, And judged on behalf of the one convicted, And buried on behalf on the one entombed, Rose from the dead and cried aloud.
I am the lamb slaughtered for you, I am your ransom, I am your life, I am your salvation, I am your resurrection, I am your King. I shall raise you up by my right hand I will lead you to the heights of heaven, There shall I show you the everlasting father.”
He it is who made the heaven and earth, And formed humanity it the beginning, Who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets, Who took flesh from a virgin, Who was hung on a tree Who was buried in earth, Who was raised from the dead, And ascended to the heights of heaven, Who sits at the right hand of the father, Who has power to save all things, Through whom the father acted from the beginning and forever
This is the alpha and omega, This is the beginning and the end, The effable beginning and the incomprehensible end. This is the Christ, This is the King, This is Jesus, This is the commander, This is the Lord, This is he who rose from the dead, This is he who sits at the right hand of the father, He bears the father and is borne by him. To him be the glory and the might forever. Amen
On Thursday, Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples and took the most sacred meal for the Jewish people and made it all about him and his mission to redeem all of creation. Pastor Mike Mumford has written a look at the meal of Passover as we move closer to observing Good Friday. Visit LivingStonesChurches.com for Good Friday service times and locations across Northern Nevada.
If you’re a Christian of any denomination or tradition, chances are you have partaken in what we refer to as, The Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or The Eucharist. There are many different traditions and beliefs surrounding this meal as well as different interpretations regarding it’s spiritual significance. It is important to understand these differences in opinion, but for this blog, I’d like to take a closer look at a different meal.
The reason I’d like to talk about the Passover meal is simple; it’s the meal that Jesus and his disciples were partaking in when the Lord’s Supper was instituted during Jesus’ final hours on earth.
The Passover meal is a Jewish tradition in which a family would gather around a table to eat of specific foods that remind them of God’s favor upon the Israelites during their time in slavery to the Egyptians. In the book of Exodus ch. 7-12 we see where this tradition began. God threatens and executes 10 plagues upon the Egyptians because they had enslaved the Israelites and Pharaoh (the Egyptian ruler) had refused to let them go, despite several confrontations by Moses (the Israelite leader) warning Pharaoh that if he didn’t free the Israelites, God would exact judgement upon the Egyptian nation.
The 10th and final plague was the death of the firstborn son. And it is from this plague that Passover get’s its name and tradition. In Exodus 12 God tells Moses to have every family find a Lamb to sacrifice, and with the blood of the lamb they were to mark their doorposts. God warned Moses saying, “I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”
Pharaoh did not heed Moses’ warning to let the Israelites go, and being true to his word, God did just as he said he would. He slew every firstborn son in the nation of Egypt that was not covered by the blood of the lamb. This final act of judgement broke Pharaoh and forced him to let the Israelites go, and Jewish people have celebrated this act of divine intervention ever since.
During a Passover seder (or ritual meal) there are specific foods that are meant to remind those participating in the meal of the passover event. Things like Matzos and bitter herbs are eaten as a representation of the hardship of being enslaved, an egg is present to represent the new life that was granted to the Israelites after fleeing Egypt. Finally, a lamb shank is present to represent the sacrifice of the lamb, which provided the blood for the doorpost.
During the biblical account of the last supper, Jesus was eating Passover with his disciples. Jesus being a rabbi, was likely quite familiar with the rituals of the seder, such as passing the food, breaking bread, pouring and drinking wine. But, oddly enough, what is missing in the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ passover meal is the lamb.
His disciples, being Jewish men would have all been wondering, “I see the bread and the wine, but where is the lamb?”
What they may not have realized then was that the lamb was indeed present, but in a different form.
In the gospel of John 1:29 the apostle records this moment where John the Baptist see’s Jesus coming from a distance and declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John the Baptist’s words were not merely metaphoric, they were prophetic.
In this moment, during this passover dinner between Jesus and his disciples, we see Christ as the truer and better lamb, who’s blood covers us and allows the wrath of God to pass over.
This is the birth of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or The Eucharist. It all goes back to this moment, where we see the Lamb of God, administering the sacraments of the new covenant. A covenant made by the shedding of his blood, by the breaking of his body, for the forgiveness of our sin.
So Christian, this Sunday as we gather together to worship our Savior, come to the table and behold him, the lamb of God, who takes away your sin.
Wednesday is known as the middle of the week for many. For Jesus, it was no different. On Wednesday he found himself halfway to day of his death, most likely due to this, we don't see much happening on Wednesday in Scripture, so often the church has made this a day of rest and silence as we prepare ourselves for Good Friday. In that tradition, Pastor George Velarde composed a devotional to help us see in the call for silence and rest in our souls.
I am an addict. Not in the traditional way you would think of the word addict, but if I am truly honest with myself, then I must admit that there is something that has me completely hooked. The thing that I am addicted to is ME. I am addicted to what people think about ME. I often feel like I am at the mercy of everyone’s demands and expectations, endlessly trying to please everyone around me. I am addicted to control, which is all about ME getting what I want. I feel like I’m always trying to anticipate the next bump in life and then try to come up with a plan to avoid (or at least minimize) the damage it will cause. I am addicted to activity. It feels like there is always something I should be doing, so I can never be at peace. Even on my days off, there are chores and projects to be done, which keep me busy. However, because of this constant activity, I then look for ways to escape the pressure and demands of life by distracting myself with TV or wasting time on my phone.
Do you share in my addiction? Like me, do you ever feel like Martha in the Bible?
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38-42)
Like Martha, are you distracted, anxious and troubled about many things???
Like me, are you tired of your addiction???
Perhaps then it is time for you to “choose the good portion” and do the “one thing that is necessary,” which is spending time with the Lord. As I write that sentence however, I can feel your objections rising to the surface. “Yeah, I know I need to spend more time reading my Bible and praying, but I’m just too busy.”
Well, I am actually NOT proposing that you read the Bible more or even pray more (though those are essential disciplines in the Christian life). What I am proposing is that you, “Be still and know that [he] is God.” (Psalm 46:10)
However, being still and opening up yourself to the presence of God is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It is what is known as the contemplative discipline of Silence & Solitude. Silence is the act of freeing yourself from the distraction of noise so as to be totally present to the Spirit of God. Solitude is the effort of freeing yourself from the distraction of people so as to give yourself completely to God. The goal of this discipline is to quiet your soul so as to clearly hear from God.
Picture being up at Lake Tahoe early in the morning as the sun is rising. The lake is like glass and as you look out across it, you can clearly see the reflection of the mountains, the trees and even your own reflection. But then as the morning progresses, more people get out on the lake, boats begin passing by and the beautiful reflection you once could easily see is now lost in the the ripples and choppiness of the water. The discipline of silence and solitude is the effort of calming the waters of your heart allowing your reflection to reemerge where you can see yourself and God clearly.
What makes it so difficult is that when we try to quiet our soul, we are often met with what we call “monkey-brain” where our mind swings from thought to thought much in the same way that a monkey swings from branch to branch. Another difficulty is that when we try to quiet our soul, painful and powerful feelings surge to the surface. Thoughts of our inadequacies, feelings of not being good enough, memories of rejection, the pain of loneliness all come flooding in. To make matters worse, when you are done spending a few minutes in silence and solitude, it can feel like it was a complete waste of time. After all, you accomplished nothing, your problems are still there, those pesky feelings are still nagging at you and it’s not like God parted the clouds and spoke to you from Heaven.
But as our friends at CrossPoint Ministry say, “If you and I can’t be still, we can’t hear. If we live as distracted souls, then we will live within a very narrow frequency band for relational intimacy with God and everyone else. If we decide for distraction we feed our addiction and we will never know our truest self.”
So what do you do? How do you benefit from this contemplative discipline?
I leave you with the words of Henri Nouwen from A Cry for Mercy, “Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence. No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you. But Lord, let me at least remain open to your initiative; let me wait patiently and attentively for that hour when you will come and break through all the walls I have erected. Teach me, O Lord, to pray. Amen”
On Tuesday, as Jesus moved closer to toward Good Friday, tradition holds he taught on God's wrath and judgment found in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21). Below is a reflective devotional written by Pastor Kyle Wetzler. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-44 ESV)
The daily grind of life can easily distract us from the reality we find ourselves in. Expectations from family, work, friends, personal dreams, hopes, and desires keep our minds preoccupied from the moment we rise to the moment our head hits the pillow at night. It can feel as if we are on a perpetual treadmill with no end in sight. What Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, in this section of the Olivet Discourse is that there is an end. People can debate and argue what Christ’s return will look like but it doesn’t change the fact that one day He will. This is something that should impact the way we use our time, resources, and our lives. If we are being honest, this truth can be extremely far off, we believe that it will happen one day, but probably not tomorrow, probably not next week, or even within the next year. Jesus warns his disciples that the day will come, and implores them not to be caught surprised.
Jesus references Noah’s day as an example of what not to do. The Old Testament tells us that the people of that day were sinners, and it was their exceeding sinfulness that brought the flood on them (Genesis 6:5). But Jesus doesn’t use this to threaten or scare them, he simply reminds us that life before the flood was much like our own. People were engaged in eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage. We should notice that there is nothing inherently sinful in the activities; these actions are the same ones we participate in today. Unfortunately, these rhythms of life distracted Noah’s hearers from hearing the warning he gave of God’s coming judgement. Jesus is saying that people will again continue to go about their normal business right up to the time of his coming, ignoring the warning to get right with Christ before his return. Much like the flood, there will be the critical point, and after that, it will be too late. Jesus is saying that his second coming will be just as abrupt, just as unexpected, just as decisive as the flood.
As Christians, we should not forget the fact that Christ will one day return. For this day during holy week, I encourage you to contemplate this fact. Thinking how Christ's return could be any minute, how would that impact the way you carry yourself and engage in relationships? My guess is we’d take the Great Commission more seriously, love our family, serve our church like there was no tomorrow.