Monthly Archives: January 2014

The False Gospels of Antinomianism, Legalism, and Liberalism

fingers pointing

When Hollywood or political figures create a buzz for Christians, it is usually because we (Christians) are against what they have said or what they are doing.  We know these as commonly termed culture wars. A culture war is something where (at least) two sides sit opposed to each other and believe that what is best for society is their side and their view points.  Several culture wars are happening currently in Western society, and I would go so far to say that this is indicative of God’s judgment on our society.  This post is not a theological discourse of the judgment of God, so suffice it to say that in reading Romans 1, God gives people what they want, and that is often the very judgment of God.  Romans 1:21-25 says:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen. (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)

God gives people what they want when they don’t want Him – He gives them exactly the thing that they think will make them happy.  The point?  It won’t make them happy, only God can make them happy.

We as Christians see different culture wars happening and we are prone to lash out on social media.  We have a stigma about us that we are haters, judgmental (I assume in a condemning way, although when most people use this term, they don’t *actually* know what the Bible says about judgment), and bigots.  Of course, the irony is that in their accusations of us being intolerant, they want us to be tolerant.  The problem for them is that they cannot tolerate our views, so the tolerant become the intolerant.

The reason for writing this blog post is to warn and exhort believer’s to only post truth.  Post the whole truth or none of it.  If we want to be the light of Christ to the world, we must give the whole truth of who Christ is.  I generally see three categories of postings from Christians in response to cultural wars:

  1. Your sin is wrong!  The Bible says that is wrong, you shouldn’t do it, etc. etc.  (Legalism)
  2. (In response to #1) Just come to Jesus as you are, find His love for you, and He will take care of you because He loves you! (Antinomianism, also called “easy believism”)
  3. Just have faith, in whatever it is you believe in, and in the end we will all reach the same God (Liberalism)

I will give a short answer to each of these categories.  Before I do, let me be clear: we need clarity.  And we also cannot be silent.  As a theme of my last few blog posts, I have sought to articulate the need for defending the true faith of Christianity as opposed to what we see in much of Christianity today – “pop-culture Christians” who could care less about right thinking.  In doing so, I have challenged believers to think highly about everything.  We don’t have anything better than what the Bible has to say, so in our thinking highly about particular things, we ought to primarily and most importantly be thinking biblically and theologically about every issue.  After all, everything bears the weight of representing and reflecting the glory of God.  To that end, we as Christians have something better than each of these three responses above.  We have the whole truth.  Let’s be clear truth communicators, and remember, giving only part of the truth of the gospel is changing the gospel, which then it becomes no gospel, at least no Christian gospel.

1. Legalism

Legalism is that way of thinking that demands Christians hold to the Old Testament law in order to receive divine favor.  This way of thinking demands of people to become holy, so that you will be holy.  I hope the problem with this jumps out at you, but if not, here is what is wrong with this thinking – it is backwards!  The gospel is not to call people to conform to our moral code so that they will be saved.  Instead, the gospel calls people to Christ so that they can repent and turn away from their sin, and then they will be saved.  Apart from the Holy Spirit giving someone a new heart that wants to worship God and only God, we cannot and should not expect sinners to want to conform to our standard of morality.

In the story about the woman caught in adultery (John 8), the Pharisees bring this woman to Jesus and ask Jesus if they ought to stone her, because after all, the Old Testament law says she should be stoned.  Jesus responds with “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her (v. 7, ESV).”  Jesus was denying validity to legalism and its demands.  Legalism demands righteousness before salvation.  The gospel that saves says that righteousness only comes after salvation.  This is the point Jesus makes.  And don’t forget, Jesus absolutely does deal with her sin.  The last thing He tells her is “go, and from now on sin no more (v. 11, ESV).” 

Our response to culture and to people on social media ought not to be legalism in its demands.  Yes, it is true that their sin is wrong, but that isn’t our message, it is only the beginning of our message.

2. Antinomianism

Antinomianism is also termed “easy believism” because it essentially tells people to come to Jesus just as you are, and you can stay just as you are.  In the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, antinomianism is defined as “an ethical system that denies the binding nature of any supposedly absolute or external laws on individual behavior.  Some antinomianists argue that Christians need not preach or practice the laws of the OT because Christ’s merits have freed Christians from the law.”

In response to the legalists, I have seen person after person, usually a well meaning brother or sister in Christ, rant about those ranting.  They will post something to the effect of this: “I am tired of seeing believers post against this issue because our message isn’t that, our message is love and we should love people and call them to Jesus and He will take care of them”.  Just like in legalism, this is only partly true.  In this system, though, we tell people to come to Jesus and that your sin won’t condemn you in Him and in Him you will have a better life.  This message is missing one huge aspect of the gospel – the gospel starts with us as sinners.  Jesus saves us from sin, from our former life.

In John 8, the antinomian would have Jesus only tell the adulterous woman “neither do I condemn you”, which Jesus actually does say to her (v. 11a).  But that isn’t all that is said – Jesus calls her to repent from her sin by adding “and from now on sin no more” (v. 11b).

Our message to non-believers and to culture is not a message of easy believism, rather it is a message of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  We ought to be careful that we don’t attempt to sugar coat the gospel in attempts to draw people in, only to “lay the hammer” on them once they are in by telling them they need to change their entire way of thinking and way of life (repentance).

Legalism says you must be righteous to be saved.  Antinomianism says Christ was righteous for you, so it doesn’t matter what you do before or after you believe, as long as you believe, you will be saved.

3. Liberalism

Liberalism is the increasingly popular idea that everyone is on the path to God, we just all take different roads to get there.  I see this posted by people who claim to be Christians, and I just cringe.  Our message is absolutely not a universal approach to God and to deep questions of existence.  Simply looking at John 14:6 will answer for us why – Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me (ESV, emphasis mine).”

I recently taught a group of high school students this truth.  In it, I used what I think to be a helpful illustration.  Liberalism and pop-culture seeks to say that we are all on the path to God, we just use different approaches.  I use the illustration of a mountain.  In liberalism, we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and God, or nirvana, or reincarnation, or whatever you believe about the end or eternity, is at the top of the mountain.  We are all – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, ect. – on the same mountain, we just take different roads to get to the same point at the top.

The true message of Christianity is 100% against this idea.  I like the illustration of a maze.  In a maze, everyone starts out at the same starting point.  To get to the end, there is only one way that leads out.  Other ways may seem right, but in the end, it only leads to a dead end or may even lead you back to the starting point.

The message of Christianity is that only the God of the Bible will satisfy your soul.  Your sin will not satisfy you now or for eternity, so repent of your sin, but turn to Jesus Christ, who will satisfy your soul, now and for eternity.  There are many other religions in the world, but only one has God rescuing people out of the mess of life and out of sin and into the state of true blessedness, now and forever.

As Christians, let’s not mix our messages.  Let’s not preach a one-sided gospel.  We have something better – we have the whole truth of God’s Word and the gospel.  The true Christian gospel is not legalism, it is not antinomianism, and it is not liberalism (all-inclusivism).   So, don’t fall into the trap of appearing to be any of those, because each of those will only lead people either away from God or into something that isn’t really God.

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Filed under Antinomianism, Legalism, Liberalism, True Christianity

The Ugly and Uncomfortable Truth About Sin

Sin is one of those topics that seem to make many Christians uncomfortable.  There are several reasons why.  One reason is that they think that by bringing up the issue of sin, they are being judgmental and they think it is wrong.  A second reason is that they would rather focus on the new life we have in Christ, after all, doesn’t the Bible teach that God separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)?  A third reason is that they don’t know or don’t believe the full effects of sin and what it means for us as humans.  A fourth reason is that they think Jesus accepted sinners as sinners and never dealt with their sin, but comforted them and helped them, which is not what the Pharisees did.  They believe the Pharisees only wanted to deal with sin and keep the law and condemn people who didn’t, so, in efforts to not be like the Pharisees, they just don’t deal with sin.

My first response is to encourage all Christians to think highly about every issue, including the issue of sin.  There is truth in each of these reasons that sin makes us uncomfortable, but I believe that none of these reasons suffice as a reason to not deal with sin.  I will make efforts to deal with each of these categories from a biblical perspective.  A main doctrine of our faith is the doctrine of sin and man.  What does that mean?  It means we need the Bible as our source for what we believe and what we do in regards to sin.  Therefore, each response to these four reasons will be explicitly and unapologetically grounded in the Bible.  For more on the need for high thinking about true doctrine, read my blog post about true Christianity here.  Below, I will seek to answer biblically each of these reasons.  The bold type heading will be the objection to dealing with sin, and the subsequent paragraph will be the response.

1. If we bring up sin and seek to deal with people’s sin, we are being judgmental, and being judgmental is wrong.

The words “don’t judge me bro” have become a popular phrase in our culture.  The main thrust of this idea comes from Matthew 7:1, which says “Judge not, that you be not judged (English Standard Version of the Bible).”  Sadly, this way of thinking is similar to the popular way of thinking in our culture of individualism and self-seeking attitudes.  The Burger King slogan “Have it your way” is as telling as anything in this discussion.  Why did BK market using that slogan?  Because they understand that the generations currently alive (young and old) have a self-seeking drive:  I want things my way.  When someone begins or attempts to confront our sin, we automatically take this defensive posture.  We think, “whoa man, that’s my business, not yours”.  But this way of thinking is not what Jesus’ point was in Matthew 7.  The larger context of Matthew 7 is found in the proceeding verses of Matthew 7:1.  Matthew 7:1-5 says:

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce  you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (ESV, emphasis mine)

The emphasis at the end of this passage is telling.  I interpret this passage to mean this – don’t automatically first seek to deal with other people’s sins.  First, deal with the sin in your own life, and as you do that, then you will be more equipped and more able to rightly deal with other people’s sin.  The argument that is in this first objection would argue that this is only one way of interpreting this passage.  After-all, they would interpret this passage as Jesus telling us not to judge (don’t judge me, bro!).  It is true that several passages of Scripture can have multiple interpretations.  Suffice it to say that there is a right way to interpret each passage of the Bible.  There is a singular meaning.  Why say this?  Because there is a right way and a wrong way to interpret Matthew 7.  One of the best and most sound ways to interpret difficult passages (those passages which could seem to have multiple ways of interpreting it) is to search the rest of the Scriptures.  In John 7:24, Jesus also says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment (ESV, emphasis mine).”  We need not look any further to see that it seems that Jesus is saying two different things.  On one hand, Jesus says Judge not, and on the other hand, He says judge rightly.  In light of John 7:24, I believe the more appropriate and accurate interpretation of Matthew 7 is the one I have presented instead of the one that is presented within the framework of this first objection to dealing with sin.

It is certainly true that people (even Christians, even well-meaning Christians) will sometimes abuse this responsibility that we have.  That’s why there are several other Scriptures which give us parameters and foundations for executing right judgment.  Some of which are:

  • Galatians 6:1 – “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression (SIN!), you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Sounds an awful lot like what Jesus said in Matthew 7, according to my interpretation)
  • Psalm 141:5 – “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” (The restorative judgment is kindness!  It ought to be like oil on our heads – oil that heals my spiritual sickness – SIN!)
  • 2 Corinthians 2:5-7 (I reference this because this passage does not encourage us to ignore sin, but rather deal quickly with it, forgive, and move on from it in love) – “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure – not to put it too severely – to all of you.  For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”
  • Hebrews 12:12-17 – “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” (We are to see to it that each one of us remains holy by seeing to it that we are not in sin, lest we turn out like Esau who was unable to repent!)
  • James 5:19 – “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (what covers a multitude of sins?  LOVE!  It is LOVING to confront sin, thereby saving souls from death!)

The list could go on, but because of limited space, this list is at minimum a good foundation to begin to understand how and why we should judge.  I actually believe that if we agree and follow this first objection, we are actually doing the body of Christ much harm and are acting most unlovingly towards each other.  There is absolutely a difference between judging condemningly and judging righteously.  I will address judging condemningly in the fourth objection.

This objection is also what has birthed the popular cliché “love the sinner, hate the sin”.  This cliché has taken pop-Christianity and culture by storm.  Any time someone attempts to call something sin, this statement is immediately claimed.  My problem with this statement is that it just isn’t what the Bible says.  I will deal more robustly and holistically with a biblical view of sin under the third objection.  For now, this cliché needs to be tossed out.  If you think you like this statement, let me ask you a question.  Do you have something better to say than the Bible?  I will answer that for you.  No.  You don’t have anything better to say than the Bible.  And certainly the Bible deals with sin in a much more definitive way and robust way than just “love the sinner, hate the sin”.  So, instead of giving people what they want to hear and “itch their ears” (2 Timothy 3:4), give people truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (how’s that for a cliché?)

2.  If all we do is deal with sin, aren’t we missing the new life in Christ?  Doesn’t Jesus want to compel us and propel us in this new life we have with Him, instead of living in our past and dwelling on sin?

This objection to dealing with sin is like wearing a patch over one of your eyes.  You may still be able to see, but your entire faculty of your senses has to be relearned and reprogrammed to functioning with one eye instead of two.  The gospel has two eyes, and this objection covers one of them in efforts to focus more finely on the other.  Yes, Jesus wants us to not focus on our pasts.  But, as believer’s, the only gospel that has saved us is the gospel that focuses on who we are at the time of salvation.  In the moment of our conversion, we are saved from something, sin.  Jesus dealt with our sin, yes, but this does not mean that we don’t have to as a result.  In one sense, though, we don’t have to deal with our sin.  Our punishment has been paid by Jesus on the cross, spilling His blood and covering the mercy seat by His sacrifice.  He is the scape-goat, and He separates our sin as far as the east is from the west when we believe and trust in Him and His work of death and resurrection.  However, this isn’t the end of the story.  We aren’t in the afterlife yet.  We still have a process of salvation which the gospel writers exhort believers to work out and live out – free from sin!  No, we do not have to make any payment for our sin.  We can’t be good enough, we can’t do any number of things or say enough confessions to pay any of our debt.  Salvation has been paid for – in full – by Jesus.  It is His payment that has been accepted on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21), He and He alone was good enough (2 Cor. 5:21), His work alone saves (Eph. 2:4-9).  But this doesn’t mean that we are in the clear when it comes to working out our salvation.  This is in the realm of the doctrine of sanctification.  Yes, we are holy.  But also yes, we are to continue to become holy.  How do we continue to become holy?  By putting our sin to death!

So, the gospel in one “eye” is focused on sin, and in the other “eye” is focused on new life in Christ.  The new life in Christ is only attained by Christ dealing with our sin so that we can continue to kill our sin.  When we are converted, sin doesn’t just run away and quit trying to be our master.  In some regards, sin “ups its game” to try and get us to fall even harder!  Consider these passages:

  • Philippians 2:12-13 – “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation (living the new life in Christ by continuing to kill your sin) with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:10 – “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
  • 1 Peter 5:8 – “Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
  • Genesis 4:7b – “…Sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
  • Ephesians 4:27 – “…and give no opportunity to the devil.”
  • Ephesians 6:11 – “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

The exhortation of the Bible is clear: be on guard against sin and the devil.  Continue to fight the sin that still so easily entangles you and clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1), or else it will master you.  The Apostle Paul understood the continued power of the mere presence of sin around him.  In Romans 7:15, he writes “For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  If Paul writes of his own continued struggle and need to fight to kill sin, how much more do we!  This does not mean that this is the central focus of our lives as Christians.  We ought to be living in the new life that Christ has saved us for.  Again, the Bible gives us the way to kill our sin.  Colossians 3:2-3 says “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.”  Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

On one hand, I live a new life in Christ.  On the other hand, I can only live that new life if I am continuously and mercilessly killing my sin.  We need both sides of the gospel, not just one.  If we remove one side, we create another gospel entirely.  This second objection to dealing with sin has “Joel Osteen” written all over it.  Time and time again he has said he does not want to talk about sin because he wants to talk about higher things to his people.  The problem is that Jesus talked about sin and hell more than any other subject.  To miss sin is to miss a part of the gospel, and to miss a part of the gospel is to change the gospel.

3. Why should we deal so seriously and intensely with sin when it isn’t all that bad?  Generally speaking, people are mostly good.  What we need is just a few minor improvements or adjustments, right?

These statements are from a neo-orthodox point of view.  This is liberalism at its best in regards to sin.  Liberalism seeks to make much of mankind, and in so doing belittles sin and makes it seem not all that bad.  Here are some easy and simple things, but truthful things, that the Bible says about man and what sin has done:

  • We are spiritually dead because of sin (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13; Ezekiel 37:1-4)
  • We are alienated from God because of sin (Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:12; Ezekiel 14:5; Genesis 3)
  • We are totally depraved because of sin (Romans 3:9-18, 8:7-8, 7:18; Ephesians 2:3)
  • We are enemies of God because of sin (Romans 5:10; James 4:4; Colossians 1:21)
  • We desire creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25; Isaiah 28:15; Jeremiah 10:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12)
  • We sin because we are sinners, rather than becoming sinners when we sin (Ephesians 2:1-4; Galatians 5 – Emphasis on old nature.  Also, Martin Luther’s book The Bondage of the Will makes this crucial point.  Man, in his natural state, is a sinner, and will therefore sin.  We sin because we want to sin.)
  • God’s wrath is burning hot against sin and sinners (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6, 2:3; Genesis 6-9 – Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood; Exodus; and so many more examples).

These are but a few of the important things that the Bible says about sin.  For a more complex dealing with the doctrine of sin, go to this website.

Sin is too big and too important for us to casually move on from.  To hold a low view of sin is to hold a low view of Christ.  I think that the highest view of sin and its effects, meaning, the most devastating and most terrifying view of sin is actually the only view which magnifies Christ.  The light shines the brightest in the…DARK!  Bursting forth out of darkness (sinfulness) and into the light (Christ), this is what it means to be a Christian.  It is a theme of Scripture that God’s people are often tempted (and most of the time fall back) into the darkness.  So, sin is something to take seriously and have a high view of.  It means too much to miss and not deal with, especially in the body of Christ.  God took sin so seriously amongst His people that He actually struck people dead because of their sin.  Achan was struck dead in the book of Joshua because he disobeyed the command of the Lord.  Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead in the book of Acts because of the deceitfulness in their hearts and their pride which led them to want to have a certain standing in the church, but their actions said otherwise.  In both cases, God struck them dead – because of their sin!  Too much is at stake to simply ignore it or even have a low view of it.  Pick up a good systematic theology book or a topical Bible or do some research on your own as to the doctrine of sin.  I promise, the more you learn about the devastating effects of sin, the sweeter Christ will become to you!

4. Jesus was opposite of the Pharisees.  All the Pharisees wanted to do was judge people in their sin and hold people to the law.  Jesus just hung out with sinners and accepted them as they were.  In fact, Jesus said “you who has no sin can cast the first stone”.  So, there, we shouldn’t deal with sin because Jesus didn’t deal with sin.

Jesus absolutely hung around the sinners of His day, and I think that is commendable and good reason for us to seek to be around unbelievers in our day.  But Jesus didn’t merely hang around sinners.  He also didn’t only hang around sinners.  How do we know what the Pharisees were like?  Because they were constantly confronting Jesus, trying to trap Him and trick Him into slipping up.  But when Jesus was with the sinners, what was He doing?  Jesus was on mission with them.  And His mission and message were clear – “repent (turn from your SIN!) and believe” (Mark 1:15; Matthew 3:2; Acts 19:4, 20:21; Hebrews 6:1).  Not only that, but Jesus had other things to say about sin.  Luke 13:3, Jesus says “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  John the Baptist declared about Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Here are some examples of Jesus’ dealings with sinners:

  • Jesus calls Matthew in Matthew 9:9-13.  He also encounters Pharisees in this passage.  To the Pharisees, Jesus says “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (ESV, emphasis mine).”  Jesus obviously doesn’t believe the Pharisees are “well” spiritually.  He perceives their attitudes of believing they are “well”, which Jesus rightly targets as pride.  Jesus point?  I came to save sinners from their sin.  If you have no sin, then I am not here for you.
  • Jesus, in Mark 2:1-12, encounters a paralytic brought to Him by four friends of the paralytic.  They make a hole in the roof and lower the paralytic down to Jesus.  Jesus first declares his sins to be forgiven.  Then Jesus proves that He is the Son of God by commanding the paralytic to get up and walk.  What happens?  He gets up and walks!  Jesus restores this man to physical strength, but much more significant, shows He alone has the power to forgive sin.  Which was the greater need of the paralytic – his sins being forgiven (eternal focus) or his legs being made healthy (temporal focus)?  Obviously the greater miracle, and the point of Jesus in this passage, is to show that He has come to deal with people’s sin.
  • In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus encounters Zacchaeus.  He was a wee little man.  A wee little man was he.  But when Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, Zacchaeus had a completely changed heart.  He repented!  And Jesus declared salvation had come to Zacchaeus.  Jesus didn’t just leave Zacchaeus where He was.  Jesus wanted him to have the best life possible, and Jesus understood that the best life possible only comes through repenting of sin, which means to turn away and deny sin.
  • In John 4:1-42, Jesus confronts the Samaritan woman at the well.  What does He confront?  Is He just hanging out there, not making her feel uncomfortable?  No.  Jesus confronts her sin.  And she is convicted.  And she repents.  Though the repentance isn’t explicit, it is implicit.  Why was her testimony received when she returned to her village (v. 39-42)?  Because they saw her transformation.  Would anyone have listened to her other wise, if she hadn’t turned from her sin?  Her testimony matched what had happened her life.  In essence, her life was the testimony.
  • In John 8:1-11, Jesus meets the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery.  They want to stone her, and ask Jesus what He thinks, since the Law of Moses commands that they stone such a woman (v.5).  Jesus says “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And they dropped their stones and left.  (v. 7-9).  Here’s the point of why Jesus addresses the Pharisees as He does – the Pharisees aren’t spiritually elite.  They are legalistic.  They believe (rightly so) that salvation won by being perfect.  But what they miss is that no one is perfect, save for One.  They think perfection is in themselves, thus gaining them entrance into eternal life.  The point Jesus makes is the same point Paul makes in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned”.  Many who refuse to deal with sin use this passage as the reason why they don’t feel it is their place – because we all sin.  In that, they are correct.  But the thrust of the entire passage is not to confront dealing with sin, but rather to show the Pharisees exactly who they are – not perfect and that salvation is won for those who are saved by the only One who is perfect – Jesus Himself.  If the point of Jesus was to not deal with this woman’s sin, then we will have a difficult time explaining the end of this passage.  Jesus says to her “neither do I condemn you; go, and from no on sin no more (v. 11).”  Jesus deals with her sin – He confronts that she is a sinner!  By declaring that He doesn’t condemn her, He isn’t saying that she isn’t a sinner (hence the next phrase, go and sin no more), He is saying “I am the only One who’s judgment matters, and I have chosen not to condemn you, so go, and sin no more”.

There are several other instances in which Jesus points people to faith by healing them.  The thrust of the ministry of Jesus was “repent and believe or perish” (John 3:16).  So, when we speak of Jesus’ dealings with sinners, lets speak rightly of His intention.  His intention is to heal their sickness – their sin.

On the point about the Pharisees, Jesus sought to expose them for who they were.  I affirm that we are to strive to not be like the Pharisees.  But often we think that means that we run the other way.  Jesus exposed their intentions, not necessarily their actions, although because their intentions were wrong, so were their actions.  The action of judgment has already been done – God has already declared what sin is and isn’t, and what actions and mindsets and intentions are sinful and are not.  To say that we ought not judge sinners because that’s God’s job is to miss the fact that God has already judged what sin is!  The intention of Jesus is to encourage His people to deal righteously and redemptively with one another.  We ought to seek to lead each other into further holiness, into further life with Christ, more passionately pursuing Him and loving Him and worshiping Him.  The Pharisees were not doing this.  They only cared for themselves.  So, no, don’t be like the Pharisees.  But also don’t miss what Jesus was saying to be like.  He wasn’t saying what we think He was – “don’t judge me bro”.  He was calling us to higher calling – deal with your sin, lovingly, gently, not condemningly (like the Pharisees), with patience, and encouraging holiness in one another.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe the church has the right and the responsibility to hold one another accountable to personal holiness.  To ignore the issue of sin because it is uncomfortable is to ignore the very reason Jesus came – to bear the wrath of God on Himself for the sin of His people.  Matthew 1:21 says “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (ESV, emphasis mine).”   We have something better than clichés, half-truths, or no truth – we have the Truth in Jesus and the Truth in God’s Holy Scriptures.  As Christians, saved to the most Holy Church of Christ, let’s start sanctifying each other with the washing of the water of the Word of God (Ephesians 5:25-27).  Let’s help guide each other towards holiness, lets fight and make war against sin in our own lives and in the lives of those in our groups.  We should love each other too much to let each other continue in the path of death and destruction.  Let’s encourage each other to live the blessed life, free from the worship of false, unsatisfying idols of sin and self, and let’s point each other to the One who does satisfy by saving us from our sin – Jesus Christ.  To God be the glory, forever and ever, amen!

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The Clarity of Scripture: Is the Bible Meant to be Understood?

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The Bible is more accessible in our day and to our culture than at any other time and to any other people of all time.  Most families in Western Civilization have at least one copy of the Bible in their households.  I am amongst the ranks that has several.  I have all types of Bibles:  I have different translations of the Bible, I have different study Bible’s (a study Bible is a Bible which has helpful notes at the bottom of the page which help to explain what that part of the Bible means.  Mind you, the study notes are not inspired Scripture), I have reference Bible’s, “preacher’s” Bibles (Skinny Bibles which make it easy for the preacher to use while preaching), and so on.  I could fill a small bookshelf with just the Bibles I own.

I have conversations with people that end with some type of reason as to why they don’t read the Bible often on their own.  The number one reason I hear is I just don’t understand it.  The number two reason I hear is I just don’t like to read.  Most often, these are people who struggle with finding joy and satisfaction in God. They likely are struggling in their faith and they want to be able to become spiritually mature, but lack the hope that they ever could be spiritually mature.  Many times, they have been a Christian for several years, even decades.

The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture simply means that the Bible is able to be understand in a simple form by all believer’s.  In fact, part of this doctrine even holds the belief that even unbelievers can understand it (on an external level).  For a long-form explanation of this doctrine, go to this site.

One reason I believe that Christians, especially Western Christians, have trouble with the Bible is that they are willing to put very little effort into it.  They approach the Bible as something that must be “fed” to them rather than something that they are to “feast” on themselves.  The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that the Bible is not deep and complicated.  The Bible isn’t easy.  But it is clear.  God has ordained several means by which Christians ought to get to know the Bible in terms of knowledge.  As we learn more about the Bible, the Holy Spirit then enlightens our minds and our souls to having an understanding of what the Bible really is and what it really means.  Some of those means God has ordained are preaching (corporate worship), teaching (small group worship), self-study, meditation, memorization, and repetition of reading.  I like the term pouring over the Scriptures in relation to all of these other means combined.

I think the reason, or the cause of the symptom of not liking to read and not understanding the Bible is that Christians aren’t willing to work hard at understanding it.  Yes, the Bible is clear and able to be understood by all Christians, but again, it is not easy.  Maturity and depth of knowledge in the Bible come over time and with hard, careful, diligent work.  How did David come to the point to trust that his way would be kept pure by hiding God’s Word in his heart?  By pouring over the Scriptures over time and with great devotion and effort.  The Bible is life giving.  But it is only life giving if we are willing to give up ourselves to get into it.  If I consistently find myself having better things to do, I am not giving up anything in order to have the life that the Word gives to the life of the believer.

Often, the motivation for Christians to come to church is to be “fed” and to be “filled”.  What is sad is that they don’t have to come to church looking for food and satisfaction.  Christians can come to church already satisfied with God, ready to worship Him with anticipation of meeting with God and having God meet with His people.  Church isn’t as much about getting some more of God’s Word as much as it is an expression of believer’s knowing God’s Word.  I get frustrated often with Christians who are more passionate about reading things and submitting to things written by “experts” instead of reading and submitting to God’s Word – the means by which God has given us to know Him by!  We wonder why we aren’t truly satisfied by our modern notion of worship.  The reason is because we are not prepared to truly worship!  Worship occurs when we know God, and when know who God is, we want to know Him more, and when we know Him more, we are driven into deeper worship.  There is a Spirit and Truth tension here, much of what Jesus says will happen when He confronts the woman at the well in John 4.  The Holy Spirit causes my soul to worship God when I know God, and the more I know God, the more I want to worship Him.  Sadly, many Christians miss out on the blessing of personal worship driving the corporate worship because their personal worship simply is non-existent.

So, take some time and work and devote yourself to reading God’s Word.  A good study Bible can help make it easier, but don’t have a study Bible simply to make it easier.  As the study Bible helps you read the Word, and the more you are accustom to reading the Word and understanding it without the study notes, release yourself from reading the study notes and read the only the Word.  Do you have a desire to be fed and filled with more of God?  Then work at reading the Bible.  Your level of devotion to God’s Word reveals just how hungry and desperate you are for Him.

Resources:

  • ESV Study Bible, Crossway Press
  • Read the Bible for Life, George Guthrie
  • Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem (A good systematic theology will help you read the Bible in terms of themes and systems, though the Bible is not primarily a systematic theology.)

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What’s Worse – Transgressing God’s Law or Transgressing Our Preferences

George Herbert

In one of my classes at Boyce College, Great Books II, we read through western literature and discuss it with a theological bent in class.  I have found this class (mainly Great Books I, since Great Books II just started) is profoundly helpful in thinking through issues.  I have also discovered a passion of mine of reading classic literature, whether it is allegorical fiction, poetry, or treatises.  I encourage you: read, read, read some old books.  Read some Puritan books, read some reformation books, read some Christian poetry (like the one pictured above).  A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems, by Dr. Jim Scott Orrick (my Great Books professor), is so far a wonderful read.  Herbert was a 17th century Puritan writer, and his poems capture into few sentences great theological ideas that men having written voluminously on.

I wish to share with you the first poem, entitled “The Altar”, and then I want to seek to answer the “Ponder” section, which is Dr. Orrick’s encouragement to the reader to think more deeply on the poem which was just read.  Here is “The Altar”, by George Herbert, in it’s entirety (// = beginning of the next line.  To really see the picture, buy a copy of the book for yourself.):

1A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,//  Made of a heart, and cemented with tears://  Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;// No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same// A HEART alone// Is such a stone,// as nothing but// Thy pow’r doth cut.//  Wherefore each part// Of my hard heart// Meets in this frame,// To praise thy name.// That if I chance to hold my peace,// These stones to praise thee may not cease.// O let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,// And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

A few notes, which are given also by Dr. Orrick, must be allowed for.  First, God’s law required that altars for Him be made of stones which were natural and not cut by human hands.  Second, Herbert, in his poems, writes of the devastating effects of sin.  He references in this poem that natural stones may be cut other ways, but that the stone which is the human heart may only be cut by the power of God.  Third, Herbert says that even if he himself quits writing in praise and worship of God, that even the stones of the altars will continue to cry out and worship God.  He no doubt references Luke 19:40, which says “(Jesus) answered, ‘I tell you, if these (disciples of mine) were silent, the very stones would cry out’ (ESV).”2

The Ponder section, which is written for the reflection and deep thinking of the reader of the poem, is Dr. Orrick’s.  For this poem, Dr. Orrick asks the following questions:

3Does true repentance include sorrow for sin?  Herbert writes this poem not as someone coming to God for the first time, but as someone who has long loved and worshiped God.  Ongoing sorrow for sin is an integral element of the spiritual lives of many historic Christians we admire, but it is an element that is conspicuously absent in much modern worship, both private and public.  Why?

As the title of this post reflects, I want to hone in on a specific aspect of the last part of the Ponder section, namely, why sorrow for sin is absent in both private and public worship settings.  As the title also reflects, I think the answer is not so much that we are not sorrowful period.  I think the answer is that we are sorrowful for the wrong thing.  Growing up in church, and even still in my current ministry position, I hear complaint after complaint, whether explicit or implicit, of how this upcoming generation of children and students has no respect.  One specific thing I have heard a lot of is the lack of respect for the church building.  Now, I absolutely believe one area of improvement that has happened over the course of my life, being a mischievous, adventurous, curious boy, is that I have grown to respect property.  I think I am currently still going through this transformation, and I think being a husband, dad, and pastor to young people has helped reveal that weakness in which I am in need of much growth.  So, I am not saying that this specific complaint is inherently wrong.  I believe I have a responsibility to train our young people and my own children to have respect for persons and property.  I believe this is a universal truth which God has written on the hearts of men and women.

But, my rebuttal complaint is one of a different nature.  I am not in disagreement with the idea of tradition and preference.  I have my own preferences and traditions which I hold dear.  My disagreement lies in the same balance of what is true and factual as opposed to what is opinion and preferential based on tradition.  What I mean is this: we often give off the idea that it is far worse to have our own preferences transgressed than it is to transgress the holiness and righteousness of God.  We get more bent out of shape over something that has no eternal bearing or consequence, but has only hurt me because I was raised to do something in a different way.  I have very thin patience for this sort of attitude.  To add to the reason for being disagreeable, I see such a lack of sorrow for sin in our own lives and in our church.  We have become professionals at training and teaching our members to be traditional (I use this word in place of religious, because I think the main beef people have with the church, especially when they say Christianity isn’t a religion, is that they mean to say Christianity isn’t based upon personal preferences which are based on generational traditions).

We have become modern Pharisees when we would much rather deal with conforming the non-conforming to our traditions.  Instead, Jesus wants us to be passionate about sin in the body of Christ.  Matthew 7:1-5 is perhaps the most misquoted passage of this age.  Most of the time, I hear this verse in reference to the secularist cultural idea of tolerance – meaning – “don’t judge me bro”.  However, Jesus is dealing with a much different attitude.  He is making sure that we are dealing with sin, including our own!  Jesus wants us to deal with our own sin, and in our dealing with our own sin, we ought not to ignore the sins of others.  Instead, He wants us to restore with gentleness those who are in sinful lifestyles to the life that is free from sin!

So, as a response to Dr. Orrick’s question of the reason for the disappearance of the sorrow of sin in modern worship, I believe it is because we have misplaced our sorrow.  We are more broken hearted when personal preference and tradition is broken than we are broken hearted over rampant sin in our own lives and in the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  I absolutely agree that we have a responsibility to help teach the upcoming generation values such as respect, honor, service, stewardship, and so-on.  But let’s do it in the spiritual sense – let’s deal with sin, come to repentance and call others to repent and turn to the life-giver, Jesus Christ.  Then, we can teach and train better on values.  Why should I respect and honor people?  Because it is a sin not to, not because you have done something differently and broken the pattern of a certain tradition.

Have thoughts or comments?  I’d love to have some discussion.

Resources I Have Read in Great Books:

The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (Perhaps the most influential book I’ve read in terms of philosophy)

The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther (Reformer)

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Dante’s Inferno, Dante

Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan

Paradise Lost, John Milton

Bibliography:

1 A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems. Dr. Jim Scott Orrick, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011.  Page 2

2 A Year with George Herbert.  Dr. Orrick, Page 2

3 A Year with George Herbert.  Dr. Orrick, Page 3

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Church Growth – Outward or Inward?

Often in church life, I have experienced different people and groups of people who have a major concern for church growth.  Church growth gurus and books are everywhere.  In our age, the church has taken on a secular business model – measuring metrics such as growing numerically, giving increases, and explosions of ministries.  I want to be clear – I am not against church growth.  I pray every day for the Lord to bless the church I serve in with numerical growth.  I pray every day for the Lord to give me grace to trust Him and become a more generous giver, and that He would allow the other church members to have the same burden of increased generosity.  I pray every day to the Lord for our ministries at our church to be thriving, flourishing, and God glorifying.  So, I am not saying these are bad, in fact, I affirm that they are good!

Where I am concerned is that the only thing we are focusing on is outward growth.  I have had recent conversations with some close brothers about the reasons, the why, behind our different teaching ministries we have as a church.  In one discussion, it became known that some of the other church leaders want our small group ministry, which is traditional Sunday School, to be only evangelistic.  That philosophy is one that says the small group must function in such a way that it becomes the method of evangelism for our church – in essence, the Sunday School is an outreach ministry.  Again, don’t read something I am not saying.  I do not mean that this is wrong as one goal for the small group ministry.  I only mean to say that it ought not be our only, or even primary goal for the small group ministry.

I am convinced, according to the Holy Scriptures, that the primary reason to gather together and study God’s Word is to help and exhort the body of Christ towards godliness and holiness.  Some examples in the Bible of God’s people gathering for spiritual growth through teaching ministries (Bible study, preaching, Sunday School, etc.) are:

  • In Acts, when Barnabas and Paul first begin their missionary work – “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul (Paul), and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a great many people (Acts 11:25-26a, ESV, emphasis mine).”
  • To the Ephesians, Paul wrote “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13, ESV, emphasis mine).”
  • Peter, in his last words to the group of Churches in his correspondence – “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18a, ESV, emphasis mine).”
  • The first glimpse of the believer’s gathered together in the book of Acts – “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42, ESV, emphasis mine).”

These are but a few instances in the Bible where we see God’s people gathering together to teach one another in God’s Word, to train each other, and to build each other up in the faith.  In our Student Ministry at Colgate Baptist Church, we are studying through the book of Acts on Wednesday nights (our corporate youth gathering).  Recently, I preached (to youth, for over 30 minutes, and they ate it up!) on the first Christians in Antioch.  Acts 11:19-30 gives us a pattern of proper church life, and a three-fold emphasis for the mission of the church:

  1. Spiritual Birth – In Acts 11:19-21 (I will let you read this passage, it is too long to quote here), the church members were sharing the gospel with people.  See?  I am PRO evangelism!  I pray that the Lord will give us a fervency for sharing the gospel through relationship building, bold truth telling, and holy living!  As this happened in the book of Acts, the Lord adds to the church!  Over an over again, the theme in Acts is the Lord building His church – “And there were added that day about three thousand souls (2:41)”, “And the LORD added to their number day by day those who were being saved (2:47)”, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand (4:4)”, “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord (5:14)”, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied (6:7)”, and so on!  I want to be careful, because I want to make sure you know I see evangelism – or the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and calling people to repent and believe – as a good thing and a necessary thing for Christians to do.  My disagreement with the above philosophy is that the gathering of the church is not meant as the way to do evangelism.  I hope that will become more apparent in the last emphasis.
  2. Spiritual Growth – In Acts 11:22-26, the focus is on Barnabas and Paul and their teaching, exhorting, and training the people of God with the Word of God.  This shows us the reason for coming together – learning! As Christian’s learn the truth of who God is through faithful exhortation in teaching and in preaching, the Christian grows! How can we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ?  By corporately and collectively gathering together, engaging, listening, meditating, talking about, and thinking about the small group lesson or the pastor’s sermon.  I was involved in a church once that had small group ministries that met throughout the week in homes.  The studies were geared around the sermon from Sunday morning!  The point for God’s people to gather is to worship God – to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.  This is, I believe, what Paul meant in Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (ESV, emphasis mine).”  The more we know God (mind), the more we love God (heart, obedience)!
  3. Spiritual Overflow – In Acts 11:27-30, the Christians at Antioch learn of a famine “over all the world (v. 28)”.  They sent relief to believers in Judea by sending Barnabas and Saul, along with relief – materials, supplies.  What was this?  A mission trip! When Barnabas and Saul get to their next temporary residing place, they aren’t only giving their physical supplies, they begin the process over at #1!  In Acts 13:5a, it says “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews (ESV).”  The process began again, as a result of the overflow of the believers in Antioch.

These points of emphasis , I believe, are a holistic, Biblical pattern of Church life and growth.  As the gospel is proclaimed (on the outside, in our jobs, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our waiters, etc.), new spiritual life is formed (by God), and spiritual birth takes place.  People are born again!  As people are born again, the church takes on the role of growing and maturing those believers, as well as continuing to evangelize other areas.  As these new believers are discipled, they mature and grow, and as they mature and grow, they begin to overflow that which has happened in them.  They begin the process in other people.

Church growth is important, but it isn’t the only point of emphasis.  Maybe for a season, the body of Christ may need to focus on intensified discipleship efforts for its own members.  Maybe for a season, there will be a heavy emphasis on evangelism and missions.  But, I believe, there will always be a working organism with a three-fold mechanic – seeking spiritual birth, helping spiritual growth, and encouraging and participating in spiritual overflow (repeat).

Some good resources for these points are:

  • Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons by Christopher Ash
  • Creature of the Word: the Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger
  • Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan

Have a comment/different philosophy?  We’d love to hear from you!

Post written by:  Aaron Hale

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Reflections on 2013 and Looking at 2014

Happy New Year!  Starting off a new year, people often make resolutions that quickly fade.  Even in my (Aaron) own life, I have made some resolutions of which I quickly failed at.  I rarely make resolutions for the New Year any more, but the reason may not be what you think.  I think the best time for self-examination and self-reflection is all the time, not just at the beginning of a new year.

2013 brought several points of self-examination for me, of which the Lord is graciously keeping me and growing me in.  As I stated above, I believe the best time for self-examination and self-reflection is ongoing.  It seems to be that in today’s evangelical world, self-examination and self-reflection aren’t what they used to be.  When I say “self-examination” and “self-reflection”, I don’t merely mean looking inward at oneself.  I also mean what David means in Psalm 139:24:

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! (ESV)

I recently preached a sermon birthed out of my blog about what True Christianity is (read here).  I preached from Jude, and while preparing for Jude, I noticed in Jude a contrast within the letter.  Jude says in v. 1, “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ (ESV, emphasis mine)”.  Again, in v. 24, Jude says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…(ESV, emphasis mine)”.  Jude says, as a point of countering false teachers and false ideologies, in v. 21, “keep yourselves in the love of God (ESV, emphasis mine)”.

Do you see the contrast?  Jude, for as small as it is, is weighty doctrinally.  Jude is assuming the basic doctrine of perseverance of the saints!  We are kept, by God’s grace, so that we will keep ourselves in Him!  Paul says this about himself in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (ESV, emphasis mine)”.

Jude’s point?  Paul’s point?  God preserves us, so that we will persevere!  That is the emphasis of the Psalm 139 reflection – that God would search us, that He would find the sin that is deep in the dark corners and crevices of our lives, that He would lead us in the Way everlasting!  Our growth, our perseverance, our ability to keep ourselves in God, is absolutely by God’s grace.  But it is God’s grace that gives us the ability to grow, to work hard in our spiritual lives, to mature, to become like Christ.  Those are things we do.  We work hard, we mature, we become like Christ, through the power of God’s grace which fuels our gospel-driven effort.

What’s this to do with reflection on 2013?  What’s this to do with looking at 2014?  God’s grace.  Samuel, in 1 Samuel 7:12, set up a remembrance stone, and he called it an Ebenezer, because “Till now the Lord has helped us (ESV)”.   It was God’s grace which brought the Israelites to where they were, and Samuel wanted the Israelites to be able to look back and see God’s faithfulness and His grace.  In 2013, I have some “Ebenezer’s” I would like to share.

1. God’s Grace was Sufficient to Help Me Lead My Family

Early 2013, my wife and I began to prepare for adoption.  This wasn’t because of any problems of our own, but because God had been (and still is!) wrenching on our hearts for children who are parentless.  Shortly after we began praying through this process and looking into it, we found out we were expecting our second child, now with us, Elijah James (and what a blessing he is!).

Elijah was born 5 weeks early, with no major developmental complications save for some weak lungs.  He was in the NICU (ICU for babies) for 2 weeks.  These two weeks were a blur.  My wife and I were wrecked.  We cried together when she was released and we had to leave the hospital where our son still was.  We are thankful that he is fine now and you wouldn’t even know he was there!  God certainly gave me strength and was my portion (Psalm 73:25-26) during that time, and His grace empowered me to lead my family and be strong during that time.

2. God’s Grace was Sufficient to Help Me Lead in My Church

When 2013 began, I looked back at a difficult 2012.  Shortly before 2012 began, I began a new ministry role as Family Pastor, which essentially meant I was overseeing both Children’s work and Youth work in our church.  This had been a tough transition, and with the help of some really faithful and godly volunteers, we tried some things (which failed miserably), and tried some new things, and tried even some more new things.  Also in 2012, my personal life took a hit early on when my father passed away on December 27, 2011.  When 2012 began, I was in Florida with my wife, our three month old daughter Ava Grace, and the rest on my family grieving his death after a battle with lung cancer.

Even now, typing this blog, I am teary eyed thinking of God’s grace and seeing that it truly was the Lord that has brought us as a church to where we are now beginning 2014.  Our Children’s ministry is experiencing solid growth and our youth ministry is able to focus on discipleship for the new students we have gained in the past few years.  I have never been more hopeful and secure that God has placed me in the right place, not because I’m special, but because He is working through me.

3. God’s Grace was Sufficient to Help Lead Me in School

I have been in college since 2005.  Coming up on 10 years.  TEN!  I know, most of you may be thinking of the Tommy Boy reference “lots of people graduate college in 10 years, they are called DOCTORS!”  Yeah, I tell myself that everyday.  But, some unforeseen things have happened in the past 8 1/2 years – I had a really prideful attitude early on, one that made me goof off much of my first 2 years; I had a full time job, which was managing a bookstore, and it was difficult to balance with school; I got married 4 1/2 years ago, and we had our first child 2 years ago; I took 2 years off; I only took 1 or 2 classes for 4 semesters; etc.  Enough of the excuses.  But 2013 was the first time I attempted to go back full-time.

I see the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”.  It was difficult, but the grace of God, coupled with a gracious wife (and patient!), saw me through a very busy schedule for 2013.  I pray the same for 2014!

So, what about 2014?

I am confident even more than I was last year.  Why?  I see how God has orchestrated and directed every single step of the way, and brought us here by His grace.  But it was not without effort!  2014 may be challenging, we may experience failures and disappointments, but God is still working!  I have never been so confident (not that I was a doubter) that Philippians 1:6 holds true:

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

For 2014, I have some goals (I prefer to say goals, sounds less cheesy than resolutions):

1. By God’s grace and my faithful effort, I want to become a better husband and father, shepherding my family into mature hood in Christ.

2. By God’s grace and my faithful effort, I want to become a more diligent reader, reading things which broaden my knowledge of the world and of God.

3. By God’s grace and my faithful effort, I want to shepherd and lead the flock of God with ever-increasing passion, zeal, and commitment to Christ and His church.

To close, I encourage you, self-reflect, self-reflect, self-reflect!  Let’s be on our knees, praying over and over Psalm 139, asking God to search us and grow us.  Look back many times as a reminder to see how faithful our God is to His people and to His promises.  And look forward to this new year with great anticipation, knowing that God wants our ever-increasing joy in Him, and trusting that He will never leave us or forsake us!

Have a comment?  Have your own Ebenezer’s?  Have your own goals?  We would love to hear from you!

Post Written By: Aaron Hale

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Filed under New Year, Reading, Spiriual Disciplines