The Gospel Changes Everything

The Gospel Changes Everything

Word in Season

The gospel changes everything. Jesus and the good news of his life, death, and resurrection change everything. One perfect life, one perfect sacrifice, one perfect substitute, one king seated eternally at the right hand of God changes everything. Hostility between sinners and a holy God turns into peace (Ephesians 2:14). Dead people are set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). By grace alone through faith alone, to the glory of God alone changes everything. 

Nowhere in the Bible is this more clear than the life of Paul. From Christain killer to quite possibly the greatest missionary who’s ever lived. What a gift we have in God’s word as we can watch the Lord do this miraculous work in Paul’s life. What does, “everything” actually look like? 

Radical Lack of Self-centeredness: Paul is willing to lay down his freedom in Christ if it will help others know Christ and accept the gospel (1 Cor 9:19). He gladly forsakes his rights, preferences, and comforts if they put obstacles in the way of the gospel (1 Cor 8:13). He views himself as a servant to all for one purpose: “that I might win more of them” (1 Cor 9:19). He spends time understanding the people he is trying to reach with the gospel, becoming as much like them as he can, even when that is an uncomfortable inconvenience to him personally. He overlooks being misrepresented by jealous brothers aiming to take advantage of their opportunity to shine as Paul sits in a dark prison cell. Why? Because of the joy he has over Christ being preached (Philippians 1:16-18). His name means nothing, but Christ’s name, now that means everything to Paul. When Christ is exalted, Paul rejoices, no matter the cost to his reputation. 

Unusual Motivations for Living: How does Paul view life? “To live is Christ” he says in Philippians 1:21. If he is released from prison he will rejoice because this means he can continue to work for the sake of Christ. That is what he clings to in this world. Fruitful labor! And this “fruitful labor” (Philippians 1:22) means that other believers will progress and mature in their faith. What joy this is for Paul. He is willing to deny himself the gain of death for the spiritual wellbeing of others (Philippians 1:25). He says one of his main motivations in evangelizing is so that he can share with believers in the blessings of Christ! Paul labors so he can enjoy the gospel with other believers (1 Cor 9:23). Paul sees that Christ is worth more than everything so he gladly suffers the loss of all things so he can know and be known in Christ (Philippians 3:8-11). This is what is top of mind for Paul. This is what he lives for and aspires to. 

Focused Fellowship: Paul’s closest relationships were with other Christians and these relationships centered around their work together to spread the gospel. Paul thanks God for the Philippians because of their partnership with him in defending and spreading the gospel (Philippians 1:3-7). Their relationship has been strengthened and deepened by witnessing God’s grace played out in each others’ lives (Philippians 1:7) and a shared mission to bring much glory to Jesus. He has deep affection for other believers (Philippians 1:8) and this love means he will warn them when they have strayed (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Cor 3:1-4) and pray unceasingly for them to grow in deep spiritual matters (Ephesians 1:15-22). We see him intentionally, and most likely at a great cost to his personal time, discipling a younger brother, Timothy; training him up in the way he should go (See all of 2 Timothy). 

Everyday Influence: In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul addresses a myriad of topics: arrogance, sexual immorality, lawsuits, singleness, married unions, work, diet, relationships within the church, relationships outside the church, and more. He sees all of these things as being under the influence of the gospel. In fact, we see that, for Paul, there is nothing in a Christians life that remains outside the influence of the gospel. He has died and now it is Christ who lives in him (Galatians 2:20). 

High Expectations: It is easy to brush Paul off as an uber special dose of Christian. An unattainable sort of Christian. However, it becomes harder to do that when we read his instructions to other believers that go along with his examples. Imitate me (1 Corinthians 4:16), follow my example (Philippians 4:9), learn from me (1 Corinthians 4:6). “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. Paul’s life is one to be followed because he is imitating the only one worthy of being followed, Jesus! 

Have we taken the gospel that changes everything and made it into a gospel that changes very little?

And now we come to the heart of the matter. If we are honest, as we look around our churches, is the way the gospel affected Paul the exception? Have we taken the gospel that changes everything and made it into a gospel that changes very little? We take just enough gospel to feel good but not too much that it inconveniences the comfortable lives we love. We want the gospel and the path that is wide and easy. That gospel doesn’t exist in the Bible. That gospel minimizes Christ and exalts oneself. On the contrary, the gospel we see at work in Paul’s life, exalts Christ alone. 

This knowledge of God, his Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet reached and worked in our hearts and lives the way God intended. Where do we go from here? We repent and turn to the only one who can change us. We pray Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3 (Ephesians 1:15-22, Ephesians 3:14-21), pleading with our Father that we understand more so we can be wholly transformed.  We strive together side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). We throw off contentment and continue to press forward with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14). We remember we have no confidence in ourselves to do this work but that our confidence remains solely in Christ (Philippians 3:3). We continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) until the gospel truly does change everything about us, to the praise and glory of God. Amen!

 

He is Our Refuge

He is Our Refuge

Word in Season

Adversity is coming your way. A day, a year, a long season. It will look different for each of us, but it is coming. This isn’t supposed to invoke fear, it is just a matter of fact for all followers of Christ.

The way is hard that leads to life, Jesus says (Matthew 7:14). Paul warns the Ephesians to prepare for battle (Ephesians 6:10-20). Peter even goes so far as to say that believers shouldn’t be surprised at the trials they are facing as though something strange is happening (1 Peter 4:12). Open the Bible and it is everywhere, from Abraham to the Prophets, John the Baptist to the Apostles. Of course, our Savior, Jesus, suffered greatly in his life. In following him we should expect to share in his sufferings.

Adversity is coming your way. You need a refuge.

Years ago, on a family vacation to the Rocky Mountains, my brother and I decided to try out rock
climbing. We hired a guide, geared up, and started to climb the face of an actual mountain. There were
no pre-determined places to grab with our hands or solid foot placements. No ledges that provided a
nice rest for our burning forearms. A place that looked friendly to grab could crumble under our weight.
A nice spot to place our foot for leverage may not be as sturdy as we thought. It was a vastly unknown
landscape with little to no direction to guide us. We were without a refuge.

Thankfully, God has not left us in this state when he brings the day of adversity our way. He, himself, is
our perfect and all-sufficient refuge during the storms of life.

The prophet Nahum has a message to deliver to the people of Nineveh. It is full of God’s justice, wrath,
power, and ability to do whatever he wills to make wrongs right. God is against the people of Nineveh
(Nahum 2:13), but in the midst of this sobering message, Nahum brings hope. If you read too fast, you
may miss it. It is hope for us as well.

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” Nahum 1:7.

The LORD is good. Period. The Bible leaves no room to question God’s goodness. He is good. We need a refuge who is good, all the time. Turn to him and trust in his goodness. He never changes. He is always
good.

The LORD is a stronghold. In the day of trouble, where will you wait out the fight? The enemy is
encamped outside your door; will your place of refuge hold? God, himself, is the impenetrable fortress
that can withstand any attack.

The LORD knows. He sees all who come to him for refuge. He knows you are turning to him for help. He sees, he knows. He is there, with you.

The Psalms are full of wisdom about God. Psalm 37 gives us much more to consider about God, our
refuge.

He loves justice (Psalm 37:28). What could be better than a refuge who loves justice? He will make all
things right. He loves doing that.

He helps those who take refuge in him (Psalm 37:40). He doesn’t just see, he helps. He is our deliverer from all evil.

He upholds. (Psalm 37:24) A refuge that protects, but also takes you by the hand so your stumble
doesn’t turn into a fall. A gentle guide when your steps seem shaky.

He foils even the best plots. (Psalm 37:12-13). Nothing surprises him. Plot after plot, attack after attack, and he laughs. He is a refuge who is never caught off guard and always has the upper hand, the final say. He brings the day of adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14). It is all in his hands, his control.

Ultimately, there is a day of adversity no one can escape. Death. God provides refuge for this day as
well. We know our sin condemns us, our mouths are shut before the holy one. We stand guilty. Christ’s
perfect life, death, and resurrection has secured our redemption. We have a refuge in the forgiveness
that comes through his sacrifice. His life for ours. All who believe in the name of Jesus shall be saved
(John 11:26). Jesus is our peace. He has broken down the hostility between us and God (Ephesians 2:14). He is our continual refuge as he sits at the right hand of God, advocating on our behalf (1 John 2:1).
Praise God!

Where are you turning? If it isn’t to God, it isn’t a refuge that will carry you through life and death.
Adversity is coming your way. May the LORD be your refuge.

Four Reasons to Study Exodus this Summer

Four Reasons to Study Exodus this Summer

Word in Season

Our church is taking the summer to go through the book of Exodus. I can hardly contain my excitement as I type! Exodus is one book of that Bible that I can’t recommend enough for Christians to study. Why? Of course, it is God’s very own words. What could be more important to study? But what is so particularly important about Exodus and why should believers make time to study this book? Four reasons come right to mind.

You open this book and you meet God.

God makes himself known. I have yet to study another book of the Bible where so many of God’s attributes are on full display as they are in Exodus. You open this book and you meet God. Who God says he is. In fact, he even introduces himself to Moses with his name! Knowledge of God is life changing, faith-strengthening, and worship inducing. Paul often prayed for believers to increase in their knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10). Have you ever wondered God’s ultimate purpose in revealing himself, why God saves people, how God wants to interact with his people, or even how God works amid evil? Study Exodus.

God makes his sovereignty known. This is one of those attributes I mentioned above. You may have read that God is sovereign in Romans or Ephesians, but seeing it in action throughout the pages of Exodus adds much depth to help our understanding of God’s sovereignty and why this attribute, that belongs only to him, is such a glorious truth in the life of a believer. Are you living in a world full of injustice, evil, disappointments, suffering, persecution, and wondering how God fits into that? Be encouraged in God’s sovereignty. Study Exodus.

In Exodus, we see shadows of the gospel that point us to the reality found in Christ.

God makes his plan for salvation known. Exodus is a book about redemption that points us to the ultimate redemption that comes thru Christ. Throughout Exodus, God is progressively revealing how sinful man can be made right before a holy God. What other question is there in this world that we should strive to understand? In Exodus, we see shadows of the gospel that point us to the reality found in Christ. Does water save man or blood? Will salvation come from man or God? Can man make up for his own sin enough to be in the presence of God? Saved by grace or by works? Strengthen your knowledge of the gospel. Study Exodus.

You cannot understand Christ the way the New Testament authors describe Christ and intended the original readers to understand Christ without studying Exodus.

God makes his Son known. Jesus is everywhere in Exodus. Even the Old Testament is all about him. He even said so in Luke 24:27. You cannot understand Christ the way the New Testament authors describe Christ and intended the original readers to understand Christ without studying Exodus. When John talks about Jesus being the Lamb of God (John 1:29), what does he mean? Jesus tells a group of Jews he is the “I AM” (John 8:58) and they try to kill him, why? What about Jesus as the High Priest, the mediator, the tabernacle, the bread of life, or the fulfillment of the law? Try to make sense of the book of Hebrews without Exodus, it is nearly impossible. Come to know Jesus, our savior, in all his fullness and glory. Study Exodus.

For these reasons and so many more, I pray you will study Exodus this summer with a friend, with your family, and with your church.

Saying Goodbye to the Periphery

Saying Goodbye to the Periphery

Word in Season

Believers in the New Testament had fellowship together. It is an odd word, isn’t it? Fellowship. What does it mean and why is that detail about believers included in God’s Word?

Real fellowship is a deep love for our brothers and sisters in Christ; a visible love that will attract other people to Jesus.

Biblical fellowship is rooted in Jesus. Through him, believers become united together in Christ as fellow citizens and heirs (Eph 2:19, 3:6), and partner together for the gospel (Phil 1:5). In Acts, fellowship looked like doing life together – a life primarily focused on the advancement of the gospel (Acts 2:42, 4:32).

Real fellowship is a deep love for our brothers and sisters in Christ; a visible love that will attract other people to Jesus. I was shocked, rebuked, and then convicted when I realized John uses “one another” in his gospel and in 1 John to refer to fellow believers. Our Lord Jesus commands this love for fellow believers at least 3 times in the gospel of John (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 15:17).

John emphasizes this commandment of Jesus 4 times in 1 John (1 John 3:23, 4:7, 4:11, 4:12). He even says that one evidence of our salvation is our love for our brothers (1 John 3:14). Let the weight of that sink in a bit.

The road is hard, suffering is promised, the world (maybe even dear friends and family) will hate us and yet we must persevere until the end (Hebrews 3:14)

Why do we need fellowship? God, in his great wisdom and because he alone is our provider, knew we would need to be loved like this. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday and possibly sooner than we think. The road is hard, suffering is promised, the world (maybe even dear friends and family) will hate us and yet we must persevere until the end (Hebrews 3:14). How? By God’s grace, he has given you an eternal family to exhort you every day; to serve you in your darkest hour, and to strive side by side together for the faith of the gospel (Phil 1:27). A family that you also have a responsibility to exhort every day so that none of us might be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-13).

A family to lift your hands up together with on Sunday mornings and praise God in the best and worst of times. A family to bear unspeakable burdens with you. The world cannot love you like this. Those of you who have experienced some of these things from your church are nodding your head right now. I can hear your “Amen” and I join you! You can tell of God’s mercy that he has extended to you through the body of Christ. You can recall that time when you had no words to pray and your brothers and sisters endlessly interceded on your behalf. You remember the Sunday you wondered if you could ever continue another day in this fight for the faith and you walked in that door only to be refreshed and renewed. This bond between believers surpasses all others and satisfies our deep need for community. This is how God designed it and like everything else he designed, it is good (Genesis 1:4).

We experience this deep, relational community in the greater body of Christ with our brothers and sisters around the world but more intimately this fellowship is intended to be lived out within our local church.

Periphery isn’t real fellowship and if we stay there we miss out on an important and necessary means of God’s grace in our lives.

If God’s design is ultimately what we should desire and strive for, why are so many of us content to stay on the periphery of our church?

We attend church but we rarely get involved in anything outside of Sunday morning. We make small talk, but we never share our life or become aware of the needs of others. In fact, we don’t really want to be involved in church because our schedules are too full already. Church falls off the priority list when it competes with sports, vacations, hobbies, exercise, work, sleep, etc.

To my great shame, this was how I interacted with the local church for many years. My thoughts about my life, my wants, and my over-packed schedule ruled my interaction with church. Idolatry. Putting other gods in place of the one God, for whom we all exist and in place of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we exist (1 Cor 8:6).

Periphery isn’t real fellowship and if we stay there we miss out on an important and necessary means of God’s grace in our lives.

So, what do we do? This post can’t change hearts. Only God can do that work through his Spirit and oh how I pray he will! Father, open our eyes to see and experience this glorious truth!

Father, help us to look at our schedules and re-prioritize (or remove) to make room to love “one another” and engage in true biblical fellowship with our local church.

Father, help us make time for fellowship outside of just Sunday morning.

Father, help us prioritize building relationships and discipleship within the church.

Father, help us to leave room in our schedules, so when a need arises within the church we have the time and the energy to fill it.

And Father, help us carefully weigh the costs with missing a Sunday at church vs whatever is causing us to be absent

Father, help us say goodbye to the periphery.

How to Study the Bible, Part 1

How to Study the Bible, Part 1

Word in Season

Have you resolved to study the Bible in 2019? If not, maybe this post will help. If you are ready to start studying the Bible, then you may be wondering, “What now?”

This new series of posts is intended to help with that question. Although the Bible is unique because it is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), we study it as we would any other literary text. The Bible, simply put, is a book. It is The Book. We want to know what it says, what it means, and then how to respond. Another way to say this is that we want to observe, interpret, and then apply the text.

  1. Observe – What does it say?
  2. Interpret – What does it mean?
  3. Apply – How do I respond?

We begin with observation because we need to know what it says if we want to correctly determine what it means. Furthermore, we don’t want to respond to how we feel at that moment about the text, we want to respond to the true meaning of the text. Observation is not hard, but it does take time. Observations are things in a passage that cannot be disputed. In other words, things that are simply true about the text.

But how? First, take time to pray. God loves that you are seeking Him out in His Word. He wants to be known. Ask Him for wisdom and to help you understand and handle His word rightly (2 Tim 2:15). Next, get out your Bible, paper, pen and start to read, read, and read the text again. Here are some things to look for:

  • Who is it talking about, who is the author talking to, who are the key people?
  • What are the keywords, repeated phrases, repetitive thoughts/patterns?
  • Identify and make note of lists and/or any contrasts or comparisons
  • Take a close look at grammar, especially connecting words (therefore, thus, for, but, so that, hence, if/then), also note subjects and verbs, questions and answers, and quotes
  • Note imperatives (direct commands), these show us the outcome(s) the author desires

Let’s use Hebrews 3:12-14 as an example. Here are 10 observations from this text:

  1. V.10: The author is talking to “brothers”, so these are believers. The author includes himself with the believers when he uses “we” two times in v.14
  2. V.12: The author wants the believers to watch out for unbelief within themselves and each other
  3. This unbelief is a repetitive thought and key concern of the author. It is brought up again in v.13 as a sin that is deceitful and could “harden” the believers
  4. V.13: An unbelieving heart can lead these believers to fall away from God
  5. V.12 & 14: The result of unbelief/sin is serious because of the effect it would have on their relationship with the “Living God” or their “sharing in Christ”
  6. V.13: “But” is a key transition word shows a contrast or another option. Instead of an unbelieving heart, exhort “one another”
  7. V.13: The frequency of when to exhort seems stressed as he says, “every day” and “as long as” it is called “today”
  8. V.13: Exhortation serves a purpose to help against being hardened by sin – I see this in the transition word “that”
  9.  V.14: “For” shows me there is a reason the author wants the believers to watch out for sin and to take care to exhort one other. (See next observation)
  10.  V.14: I’ll want to carefully observe the “if / then” statement – If believers hold their original confidence firm to the end, then the believers have come to share in Christ

If you are like me, my mind is already going to interpretation. I have lots of “why” questions that I may write down for later and then go back to my observation. It is a good practice to reference the verse for each observation as it keeps us accountable to the text.

Now, it is your turn. See if you can make 10 additional observations from this passage. Our next post will talk about what to do with these observations as we move onto interpretation. I encourage you to follow along and practice with us as we move through this series of blog posts. Let me be clear, this does take practice. Don’t get discouraged if you are finding it hard. Laboring to understand the word of God is the best labor you will ever do.

Click here to read How to Study the Bible, Part 2.

Resolve to Study the Bible in 2019

Resolve to Study the Bible in 2019

Announcements Word in Season

Why should Christians study the Bible? What reason would you give someone if they asked you this question? Isn’t sitting through a sermon most Sundays enough “time in the Bible”? I have asked myself these questions and now I have two young kids wondering the same thing when we sit down to read the Bible together. “Why mama?” I open the Bible and we start in Matthew 22.

Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind…” (Matt 22:37). How can you love someone with the magnitude that Jesus describes here that you hardly even know? As Christians, we read and study the Bible so we can know God. What is He like, what breaks His heart, what brings Him joy, what is His greatest desire? Furthermore, it is no small thing that Jesus claims that the scriptures “bear witness about him” (John 5:39). Every one of the 66 books of the Bible shows us something about our Savior, Jesus, who is the exact imprint of God (Heb 1:3). So if you want to know God, look at Jesus. If you want to know Jesus, study God’s word as if your life depended on it. We don’t have a shot at living out the greatest commandment if we neglect God’s word.

Which brings me to my next point. God has spoken. Let that sink in a bit. How can we, as Christians, be uninterested in what God has to say? Paul reminds his beloved Timothy, that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17). God has spoken and if that isn’t enough, He claims it is profitable and serves a purpose to “complete” and “equip” all believers. As Christians, God’s word is essential, equipping us properly for the work He has for prepared for us (Eph 2:10).

Not convinced yet? What about the fact that man lives by these words (Deut 8:3), that we are called to long for these words, so we can grow to understand our salvation (1 Pt 2:2), and that we are soberly warned to pay close attention to these words, so we don’t drift away from our faith (Heb 2:1). Do you want to take a stand against evil? You need the word of God, your sword (Eph. 6:17). Do you want to be the wise man who built his house on the rock? You must know God’s word to obey it (Matt 7:24). Do you want to be blessed? Delight in the law of the Lord day and night (Psalm 1:2). Studying and laboring over the Bible is not a burden or another item on your to-do list. There is life in these words. These words satisfy deep longings in your soul and will eventually become sweet like honey to the believer (Psalm 119:103). Your greatest joy will be loving God with every inch of your being as you come to know Him through the scriptures.

Resolve to study the Bible, God’s very own words, this year. Don’t do it alone though. Make it a point to commit to one of our women’s studies and enjoy the fellowship of studying the Bible with others. We have four women’s studies starting in the new year.

Galatians: Tuesdays at 6:30PM @ church – Starting January 15th – Contact Lacy Troester
Ecclesiastes: Tuesdays at 6:30PM @ church – Starting January 15th – Contact Maya Johnson
Biblical Overview: Wednesdays at 9:30AM @ church – Starting January 23rd – Contact Kristen Huls
Gospel Study: Mondays at 7:00PM @ the Varvel house in Hay Springs – Starting February 4th – Contact Raime Varvel

Let the cry of the prophet Jeremiah ring true for you in 2019. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart…” (Jeremiah 15:16).

Editor’s Note: We have a few other studies going on for men and women. One of them is an in-depth study of 1 Thessalonians, which meets on Sundays at 9AM @ church. We are also planning to launch a men’s group in the Spring. Check the Event Calendar for the latest meeting times.