Agents of Grace

Agents of Grace

What I Learned Last Sunday

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:1-7

In our natural state we resist the idea of grace. We like to have a hand in things, to be in control, independent, capable, and we certainly do not want charity. However, as Burt Newman mentioned in his sermon last Sunday, this is all Jesus is offering: Grace. Charity. Free, unearned favor. We resist it, but you won’t find any sweeter news than this. Grace not only saves us but also transforms us into agents of grace.

When Paul is urging believers to love unbelievers, the reason he gives for why they can do that is because they were saved by grace. Burt helped us understand the argument Paul presents and it goes something like this: love unbelievers because you were just like them. But God saved you, not because you were awesome or did anything awesome, but because he is full of mercy. Furthermore, his Spirit has transformed you so that through Jesus you are heirs of God, and as heirs of God, you should be agents of grace that love unbelievers.

What did I learn last Sunday? I learned that I know that I am saved by grace, but I so often act as if I was saved by my works. Like the believers Paul was writing to, I need to be reminded. Grace takes away all pride. It is unbelievable that the Lord has chosen to open my eyes to understand the gospel. I see many I love blinded in darkness yet my eyes are open, for no reason other than his grace. This humbles me and transforms how I see, speak, and relate to others. My heart overflows with patience when I see my neighbor in light of the great grace I’ve been given. Because I’ve been shown grace, I now have become an agent of grace. Not by my own will or doing, but by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, changing me to see these precious truths.

Resolved, to daily set my mind on the grace that has saved me.

Open our eyes Lord, to a deeper understanding of this justifying grace and transform us into agents of grace so that others may glorify your name.

While You Were Waiting

While You Were Waiting

Word in Season

In the mid 90’s a movie came out called, “While You Were Sleeping.” It is a classic romantic comedy in which Sandra Bullock saves her secret crush from a train accident.  While he is in a coma, she is mistaken as his fiancé, goes along with it, meets and befriends his family, falls in love with his brother, and so on. The point being, as this man lies in a coma, incapacitated, at a time where his life should be at a stand still, he wakes up to find that everything has changed. Everything changed while he was sleeping.

The Christian life is one of waiting. We wait for answers to prayers, we wait for this season of suffering to end, we wait for our newborn to sleep through the night, we wait for that family member to come to Christ, we wait as we are being sanctified, we wait for an acceptance letter to college, we wait for a job offer, we wait for a spouse, we wait for relationships to reconcile, we wait for grief to lessen, we wait to see the fruit of our labor, we wait for a pandemic to end. Most importantly, we wait for Christ’s return when we will be free of this broken world and at home with the Lord!  We wait.

Certainly, all of this is by the Lord’s design, but why? Why has God designed things this way and what is he doing while we are waiting? 

The Israelites and their 40 years of waiting to enter the promised land provides great insight into some of God’s purposes in our own waiting. What was God doing while they were waiting? Deuteronomy 8:2-3 tells us. 

  • Squashing Pride (Deut 8:2): The Israelites needed to wait because they were a hard hearted prideful people. God tried to reveal this to them as he purposely ordained this period of waiting. Waiting exposes the self-sufficiency that resides in our hearts. As we wait, we have an opportunity to search our hearts to see where pride and self-sufficiency has taken root. The squashing of our pride develops the sweet aroma of those who are poor in spirit. Waiting reminds us we are solely dependent on the all-sufficient Lord. 
  • Testing Faith (Deut 8:2): It was in these 40 years of waiting the Lord was testing the faith of the Israelites. Were they going to obey him even when he was asking them to wander in circles in the wilderness, year after year? It is easy to obey and trust God when everything is going our way, in the timeline we want, with the answers we want and when we want them. Faith by definition is the conviction of things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). Will we obey when we aren’t getting the answer we want? God is working to grow our faith in him when he asks us to wait. Do you ever wonder how that godly man or woman has so much faith? Ask them, and I’m certain you will find that the Lord has built that faith in them over years of waiting. Waiting provides our faith an opportunity to strengthen its roots and it can steady our foundation. 
  • Revealing God’s Character (Deut 8:3): God wanted the Israelites to learn something very specific about him as they were waiting. He was trying to show them that he was what they needed more than anything else. You find life in me, look to me, listen to me, trust me. As we wait we have an opportunity to ponder the God we wait on. We wait on a God who never sleeps, who is purposely working, who is good, loving, faithful, just, and abounding in steadfast love towards his children. Maybe in your waiting God is trying to teach you something about who he is, an aspect of his character that your heart needs to learn. Waiting draws our eyes to the one we are waiting on. As we are forced to turn to him, we come to know him more.
  • Deepens Worship: I’m not sure we see the Israelites in the wilderness learn this valuable lesson, but I have seen it in my own life. There is something sweet about worshipping God when he has taken us into the wilderness of waiting. We are singing not because all is right in our life, but we are singing because God is God and he deserves all of our worship. It’s unclouded, pure, almost childlike. It is a delightful paradox that God uses this waiting to grow our hearts in worship of him. 

Everything can change while we are waiting, but quite often we are in a coma, missing all the Lord is doing. We don’t naturally have eyes that see and hearts that are teachable. Help us Lord! It is only in turning to him that we start to see what God is trying to do while we are waiting. Turn to him, seek him out in prayer, through his word, and ask a trusted Christian friend to help you seek God in the waiting. God can change so much in our lives while we are waiting.

Poem for the Suffering

Poem for the Suffering

Word in Season

Author’s Note: The thoughts below come from the struggle we face when we watch someone we love suffer. This poem is meant to explore the tension between wanting to take the suffering away yet at the same time recognizing that the Lord loves them too. In his love, he works for their good and his glory in the midst of the very sufferings we long to take away.

I would take this from you if I could, I’ve often told you the same.
I’d gladly swap you places and this would be finished as quickly as it came.
No more tear stained pillows or wondering when it all will end.
That would all be gone in an instant if I could take this from you sweet friend.

I’d take this from you if I could, the heartache, isolation, and hard days to come.
That distant look in your eyes as you know this season is far from done.
The why’s, how can this make sense, and what does this all mean?
That would all be gone in an instant if I could just intervene.

I’d take this from you if I could but you know I really can’t.
I’m not even sure this is a prayer I want the Lord to grant.
You see his ways are higher and even in this suffering he is good,
You would miss all that in an instant if I took it away so I really don’t think I should.

I wouldn’t take this from you because the Lord works mightily when you are weak.
To build your faith, draw you to him, and reveal places in your heart he wants to tweak.
If we are happy and able to do it on our own we have no need for him,
And this is what I want most for you, to cling to Jesus with life and limb.

How can I wish to take from you what may be a great means of his grace?
You may not know the why or how but you’ll know deeper the one who took our place.
He’s been through every suffering and warns we must follow him there,
To know him more and grow in love, in his sufferings we must share.

I wouldn’t take this from you if I could, but I will stay by your side.
I’ll bear these burdens with you that you must walk, you’ll have a friend who won’t hide.
I’ll sit in silence without a word just so you know someone is present,
Other days I’ll be sure to read you the Word to remind you of the one who is omnipresent.

I won’t take this from you if I could because the Lord uses these things for his glory.
But I’ll pray and pray you trust when he says that your sufferings are part of his story.
May this darkness release your tight grip on this world and point your eyes to our true home.
Someday this will all end and we will spend eternity in a place where we will no longer groan.

I want this to end, yes of course I do and I pray the Lord will bring relief.
May you emerge to find that because of this he has greatly increased your belief.
Yes, I’ll pray for him to take it away AND for him to refine you through this fire.
Ultimately, may his will be done and his kingdom come however he may purpose and desire.

Rest for the People of God, Part 3

Rest for the People of God, Part 3

Word in Season

This is part 3 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 1 here and part 2 here.

After two posts on sorting through how the Bible presents rest, we are ready to respond. Side note: Theology is important because you cannot rightly apply the Bible if you don’t know what it says. That is another blog post for another time. Back to application. The rest for our soul, our eternal redemption that is secure in the unchangeable hands of our Savior, must enter into our work and our rest. More specifically, Christ himself must enter our work and our rest.

Christ enters into our work. Christ has redeemed us and enters into our work, telling us that all of our labors can be used to bring him glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). He brings purpose to our work because these are works he prepared for us to do, for him (Ephesians 2:10). Our work doesn’t provide our value, identity, or salvation. All of this is secure in Christ. We aren’t saved on our ability to climb the corporate ladder, maintain a certain GPA, our athletic prowess, homemaking abilities, or how great our kids turn out.  

Restlessness, anxiety, anger, needing to control outcomes, incessant busyness are indicators that we, instead of Christ, are at the center of our work. When we labor like this, we are saying that Christ’s work isn’t enough, there is more to do. We must cease from striving, cease from our works, sit at the foot of the cross, and rest with our eyes on Christ. We labor from a place of rest. One type of work brings slavery and the other brings freedom. 

Here are some helpful questions to ponder as we think about our labor:

  • Are my emotions controlled by how my “work” went that day? What is it I’m seeking for from my work that is controlling me and my emotions? Joy, pleasure, success, identity? 
  • Whose standard am I trying to achieve? My own, my peers, my children? Who do I need to accept me and tell me, “well done”?
  • What am I trying to accomplish and what happens to my world if I don’t accomplish it? Who’s performance matters?

Christ enters into our rest. The Lord knows we need rest. There was a practical point to the Sabbath as well. We aren’t God and we need rest. Christ enters into our rest just as he enters into our labor. We can rest for the glory of God. We don’t hide from him in our rest, we bring him into those times of rest. When we neglect to bring Christ into our times of rest, this is when we find ourselves not rested at all. It is funny how much work it is to rest well. Self-indulgent rest leaves us exhausted. 

What are some signs we aren’t resting well? 

  • Feeling guilty for resting or feeling like we need to sneak rest
  • When rest seems separate from your life as a Christian. We don’t think about Christ when we rest, it is an escape from Christ and his work. 
  • Feeling like you have to hide from God when you are resting
  • Rest that is primarily self-indulgent

Bringing Christ into our rest in the here and now is practice for the coming eternal rest where we will dwell with Christ forever. 

What small steps will you take this week to rest in Christ as you labor and as you rest? 

  • Ask. Ask God to show you where you are striving apart from him. Seeing where we aren’t trusting Christ is good and necessary. We can’t fight what we don’t see. 
  • Repent. Repentance helps us to rest. Turning from our sin to Christ in and of itself is restful. 
  • Trust. Trust that Jesus died for sinners like you and me. He forgives and provides the grace to help us grow in this area. Seeking refuge in the forgiveness, mercy, and grace from our gentle Savior is the foundation of all true rest. 
  • Act. Is there a small change that can help you rest better in Christ? I write this from a place of great neediness and desire to grow in this area. I’m slowly learning to bring Christ into my labor and times of physical rest in small, simple ways. 
    • Saturday mornings I try to sleep in. I now thank the Lord for the opportunity to sleep a little extra and it helps me not only enjoy that refreshment with Christ but also recognize that it is a gift from him. I am aware of my tendency to hide from Christ in my rest. 
    • I am learning to recognize signs of anxious toil in myself. Acknowledging before the Lord that this is placing trust in myself instead of Christ has been a huge step forward in freeing me to rest in Christ as I work. This freedom has even had a positive impact on my physical energy levels. 

I’m thankful we have a Savior who says his yoke is light. I’m thankful the cross penetrates into all areas of our lives. I’m thankful our salvation is complete in Jesus. Lord, help us rest. 

Note: These series of posts were greatly influenced by a podcast from CCEF on Rest. I encourage you to take a listen here: https://www.ccef.org/podcast/rest/

See part 1 here and part 2 here.

Rest for the People of God, Part 2

Rest for the People of God, Part 2

Word in Season

This is part 2 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 1 here and part 3 here.

Biblical rest is about finding refuge, satisfaction, and actively trusting in the finished work of God’s son, Jesus Christ. Putting our faith in his work on the cross as final for our salvation is where we find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). Before we dive into application, I think it is helpful to look at the opposite of rest in the Bible. 

Rest and Restlessness: The opposite of rest in the Bible is restlessness. This means we can labor without resting and we can rest without resting. The key to biblical rest is not necessarily to stop laboring and physically rest. 

Psalm 127 is about three areas of human activity: The home, the city, and the family. What does the Psalmist point out about these places of labor? He reflects on the significance of our labor and God’s work. 

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep. – Psalm 127:1-2

It isn’t the work that is bad, it is the heart behind the work. There is a vanity to laboring in any of these areas of life when that labor comes with anxious toil or restlessness.  Why is it in vain? Because this is God’s work to complete. It is he who is taking the work and using it for his purposes. He is in charge. It is a gift from him to have a family, a home, and a safe city. We are not in control of the outcome and our anxious toil is a complete giveaway that we are resting on our works instead of in his. God is pushed out of the picture entirely. That is why the Psalmist stresses that we can lay down that restlessness labor and sleep as an act of faith. 

This striving on the basis of our own works is mentioned in Hebrews chapter 4. 

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.  So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:9-11

We strive, but we strive to enter the rest provided in Jesus Christ. We rest from our works, our striving, our insatiable need to prove or earn something. We are redirected to strive towards the rest found in Christ. We lay down our anxious toil, our restlessness, and surrender our work and our rest to our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

When the Israelites neglected to keep the Sabbath it was a sign of their declining spiritual state. When we find ourselves full of restless striving in the work God has given us to do or unable to physically rest, it too is a sign of spiritual self dependence and a lack of faith. Striving apart from Christ never brings rest. 

In the next post we will make our way towards application.

See part 1 here and part 3 here.

Rest for the People of God, Part 1

Rest for the People of God, Part 1

Word in Season

This is part 1 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 2 here and part 3 here.

Here is what I’ve been pondering lately: Rest. Not just any rest, biblical rest. The rest the Bible talks about and teaches.  A rest that any number of vacations won’t quench. A rest better than the best night of sleep you have ever had. A rest that can be enjoyed even during the hardest seasons of life. The rest that Jesus talks about giving. A rest that reaches all the way down to your soul (Matthew 11:29). A rest that permeates into every facet of your life. But before we get there, we need to go back to the beginning and see how rest develops in the Bible. We need the full picture because the Bible is one book, all about Jesus Christ, and all of it matters. 

God Rested (Genesis 1:31-2:3): Although the Lord doesn’t need to rest (Psalm 121:3-4), we see him resting on the seventh day of creation. What’s notable is the context around his resting: God rests after his “very good” work is completed. He rests in satisfaction at his completed work. God rested with satisfaction from the very good work he alone had finished. Remember this because it is important. 

God’s People Rest (Exodus 16:16-24): God redeems Israel (his people) from slavery and now he graciously gives them a day to rest. Will the people obey and trust God to make provision for them on this day of rest or will they trust in their own work and go out to gather food on the seventh day? This rest is a gift, however, in order to take this rest, they must trust in the work of God to provide for them. Eventually, God establishes the Sabbath rest as part of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:9-11) and anyone who fails to take the Sabbath rest will die (Exodus 35:1-3). 

Sabbath and Redemption (Deuteronomy 5:15): The death penalty if you don’t rest? I never understood why such a harsh penalty was necessary. Deuteronomy connects this rest to redemption which helps us understand how the LORD sees this rest. 

Moses says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15). 

God saved you, therefore you rest in his work. This rest wasn’t a mindless pattern. The Sabbath has to do with freedom and redemption. It was a day for the Israelites to remember that God saved them in his great act of redemption. They were to rest with complete satisfaction in the redemptive work of God (Does this remind you of Genesis 2, it should!) A neglecting of this rest was rejecting the redemptive work of God. When you reject the redemptive work of God, there is death. Not keeping the Sabbath was a key indicator throughout the Old Testament in the declining spiritual state of the people (see Jeremiah 17:21-27 and Nehemiah 13:15-18). 

Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of Rest It is in Christ’s work on the cross where God’s people find their ultimate rest. Jesus invites people to come to him to find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30). The Sabbath rest, where God’s people stopped to recognize and be satisfied in God’s work of redemption, was a shadow pointing to the work of Christ that offers redemption and thus true rest to all who believe (Colossians 2:15-16).

Jesus claims he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). Not only is Jesus claiming he is God with this statement, but he is also stating that he is the one who the Sabbath was all about. Jesus is the substance of the Sabbath rest for the people of God. The Pharisees were trusting in their own works (ironically this doesn’t lead to rest, it leads to slavery) and lost the heart of the Sabbath which was to rest in the work of God. This Sabbath rest pointed forward to the salvation that is found only in Christ. There is no rest, no salvation apart from Christ. 

Biblical rest is about finding refuge, satisfaction, and actively trusting in the finished work of God’s son, Jesus Christ. When you reject this, there is death. 

Now What? If you are still reading, I’m glad for that. Theology is important because we can’t correctly apply God’s word unless we know what it says. However, I hope you are wondering what this all means for you now, today, in this moment. Run to Jesus as your Savior if you have not done that. Put your faith in his work on the cross as final for your salvation. If you have already done that and are wondering how this rest in Christ actually works itself out in our every day to day lives, stay tuned for the second part of this post where we will try to flesh that out.

See part 2 here and part 3 here.

The Naughty List

The Naughty List

Word in Season

Our Christmas tree is up, our stockings hung with care, and we even turned on our outside Christmas lights. Yes, I am that person who decorated for Christmas well before Thanksgiving. With Christmas on the mind, I’ve been thinking about Santa’s “naughty list.” It is an opportunity for children to debate and negotiate their righteousness: “I hope we aren’t on the naughty list. I probably am on the naughty list. Maybe this year I really will get coal. I haven’t been that bad, but I have been bad. I am definitely not on the naughty list because I haven’t murdered anyone.”

We would be mistaken if we shrugged off this behavior as childish. We all suffer from this disease, adults are just better at hiding it. Side note: I love kids. They haven’t learned to hide what’s in their hearts yet like you and I have.

The disease is called self-righteousness. Righteous means to be perfectly right. Add self to this and it means that you, yourself, are perfectly right. Your actions, words, thoughts, attitudes, desires, motives, and the way you live your life is morally superior and correct.

How does this play out before God? Because of this attitude, one decides they have lived in a moral way which leads to God saving them from hell. And certainly one’s name would never be found on the “naughty list” because they haven’t done anything that bad.

“I’m a nice person.”
“I’ve been baptized.”
“I am way better than Sally, Tom, or Johnny.”
“I haven’t done any of those really bad sins.”
“I attend church most Sunday’s.”
“I worked really hard to make up for my sin.”
“I gave a lot of money to poor people and volunteered.”

We live in the Midwest (I love the Midwest). Most everyone says they are a Christian and everyone is extraordinarily nice (I love the people in the Midwest). Many trust that their names are on the good list because of who they are (I can’t love this).

Here is the problem: God is not like Santa. He has one list. It is called the Book of Life and he only has to check it once (Revelation 20:12-15).

God sets the standards to get into that book of life and we would be wise to pay attention to how he orders things. One sin and you are out of his book of life. One. Did you tell a lie? Get angry at that person at the grocery store? Have you harbored feelings of jealousy towards a friend? Maybe you looked at something on a screen that you shouldn’t have? Have you loved someone or something more than God even for one second?

We can’t tip the scale back in our favor by negotiating our righteousness before him. No one is righteous before him (Romans 3:10) and every mouth that tries to plead their case of self-righteousness will be stopped (Romans 3:19).

God’s standard is perfection and every single person ever born has fallen short of God’s standard, but one. He was perfect and never once sinned. He was punished for sin he didn’t commit and he was killed on your behalf. He lives now, at the right hand of God, and stands before God pleading the case of all of the sinners who have found refuge in him (Hebrews 9:24). Jesus Christ the righteous and our advocate (1 John 2:1).

Santa gives out gifts because people have been good. God gives out gifts because he is good. God gave the gift of his Son because he is full of mercy (withholding deserved punishment), grace (giving undeserved favor), and this amazing kind of love that goes after people who walk in complete opposition to him (Ephesians 2:1-10). That is the kind of love we all truly desire and that is the kind of love that has the power to save wretched sinners like you and me.

A friend of mine likes to ask this question that gets to the heart of the matter: If you are standing before God and he asks you why he should let you into heaven, what do you say?

What will you say to plead your case? What will you be standing on? Who will you be clinging to? Will your name be found in the book of life? There is only one correct answer. You have to admit your great need and die to yourself to find it. But, in this dying you will find life (Matthew 10:38-39).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

Editor’s Note: If none of this is making sense or you have more questions, I want to encourage you to make time on Tuesday evenings this winter. Join us in this powerful study to learn how all the events of the Bible – from creation to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – fit together to tell the greatest story in the universe; that God so loved the world. This study is coed and will be led by Pastor Mike and Cody Trump.

The intro session will be December 15 @ 6:30PM in the Worship Center. The weekly study will begin on January 15. Check our Facebook page for sign up details.

Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

Word in Season

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”*

Oh Father, I’ve tasted the abundance of a life rooted in trusting Christ. How I fail when I trust anyone or anything else. Bring to mind the words and promises of Christ. Remind me Christ is standing before you advocating (1 John 2:1) and interceding (Hebrews 7:25) on my behalf. By grace, not working, you have declared me forgiven, holy, and blameless (Ephesians 1:3-12, 2:1-10). All of your words are true. Give me faith to believe them.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Him,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend
And I know that He is with me,
Will be with me to the end.

It was you Lord who taught me to trust you. It was you who showed me the love of Christ. It was you that first called me friend (John 15:15). It is you who refuses to leave me in my sin and continues to sanctify me in your truth (John 17:17). It is you that promises to not leave or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:8). I cannot keep promises like that, but you can and you promise to finish what you started in me (Philippians 1:6).

Oh, how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood
And in simple faith to plunge me
‘Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

I trust you Jesus. When you say you are faithful to forgive, you are (1 John 1:9). Your blood secured my salvation once and for all (Hebrews 10:11-14). With simple childlike faith, I come to you assured of things I hope for and convicted of things I haven’t seen (Hebrews 11:1). Because of this cleansing, I approach you with confidence to find the help I need (Hebrews 4:16)

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

I’ve tried many paths Lord and I’ve found nothing sweeter to my soul than you. I must decrease and you must increase (John 3:30). Impress upon my heart that your power is made perfect in my weakness. Your grace is sufficient for what you have for me today (2 Cor 12:19). Teach me again that Christ is gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29) so I can imitate him to others. Help me to stop my striving and rest in you (Matthew 11:28).

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

I trust you Jesus. I trust you with my life. I trust that to live is Christ and to die is gain. That you are worthy of whatever you ask me to give up because knowing you is better than having everything (Philippians 3:7-11). I’ve seen your faithfulness in your word. To Abraham and the offspring you promised (Genesis 21:1-5, Galatians 3:16). To work for good through Joseph’s suffering at the hands of his own family (Genesis 50:20). To Moses and the Isrealites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:31-32). To Job even in the darkest season of his life (Job 42:1-6). To the world by providing a substitute in Jesus for dead, sinful people in rebellion against their God (Ephesians 2:1-10). Jesus, I’ve seen your faithfulness in my own life. I have pages of ebenezer’s. Thus far, you have helped me Lord! Oh I forget and I drift. Lord I need your grace to keep me trusting. Keep me trusting Jesus. Keep me trusting Jesus!

*”Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” is a Christian hymn with music by William J. Kirkpatrick and lyrics by Louisa M. R. Stead.

The Christian Greeting

The Christian Greeting

What I Learned Last Sunday

We finished up Titus at 9 am Sunday School this past week (Side Note: We start the Gospel of Mark next week, it is the perfect time to start coming to Sunday School!). We lingered on Titus 3:15, “All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.” 

The Christian greeting. Mention of the Christian greeting is abundant in the New Testament and referenced over 80 times. But how often does it come to mind? Usually we skip over these first and last sentences in the New Testament letters. 

Paul spends 16 verses in his letter to the Romans on Christian greeting (Romans 16:1-16), concluding this section with instructions for believers to greet each other with a “holy kiss” (Romans 16:6). Peter has similar instructions (1 Peter 5:14). John wants the recipient of his letter to greet all of the believers but more specifically, he wants them greeted by name (3 John 1:15). Paul wants to make sure every single believer in Philippi receives a greeting from him (Philippians 4:21). 

What are we to make of this emphasis on the Christian greeting, and how can we apply it to our lives? 

  • It starts with simply making an effort to greet your brothers and sisters in Christ like a family member would be greeted. Enthusiastically, intentionally, sincerely, and with love (maybe not a “holy kiss” but with that measure of love). 
  • When you see a fellow believer out and about, is it evident by your greeting how much you love this person? Eye contact, body language, full attention, sincere words, making time to stop for a few minutes to talk. 
  • These things matter greatly because it is by our love for each other that others will come to know Christ (John 13:35). Let that sink in for a moment. What would others make of Christ by the way you interacted with a fellow believer at Walmart or during the church service?

There is another aspect to Christian greeting and its importance. In the New Testament, many believers lost their families when they became a Christian. The body of Christ was their family, support system, and the only community where they belonged. This still happens today in many countries. This may not happen as much in the Western world we live in, but it is still relevant. 

  • Kids may be the only believers at their school but they have a place to belong with their church family. 
  • An elderly widow may have no one left of her blood family, but her eternal family is here at church. 
  • That college student sitting in the back row feels out of place because they choose to not party on the weekends and they need to be welcomed and encouraged Sunday morning. 
  • What about the woman who comes to church without her husband every week and sits behind you? She needs support, love, tender care, and someone to notice her.

None of this happens without the Christian greeting. 

Jesus took time to greet people; sinful, messed up people. He came down from heaven to pursue us!  In the Gospels we see Jesus as someone who has his arms wide open. “Come to me”, he says. “Talk to me. I am a good shepherd, I’d love to care for you and listen to your troubles. You matter to me. Let me love you and pour out my grace on you.” People are so very important to Christ that he died for them. 

When a believer greets you at church this Sunday or at the store this week, turn your body towards them, look them in the eye, listen to what they are saying, ask them how they are doing or about important things you know that are going on in their life. Put aside that worry we all struggle with about how we will be received. Follow the example of Christ and the disciples, and together let’s make an effort to greet our fellow brother and sisters with the love Christ has shown us all. 

Equipped for Every Good Work

Equipped for Every Good Work

Word in Season

Fresh out of college, I started working at a construction equipment manufacturing company. In my first week on the job, I found myself in a machine shop looking at a 9-cylinder diesel engine. My task was to work with a small group to disassemble and reassemble this engine. I graduated with a degree in marketing. To describe me as ill-equipped for this task was the understatement of the century. Alone, I was ill-equipped. 

As believers, we aren’t so different from this situation I found myself in. Our dead hearts were made alive by Christ and now we find ourselves sent into a world of which we are we are not supposed to be. (John 17:14-18). We are forgiven all sin but still struggle to live by the Spirit and not the flesh (Romans 8:5). We are called to die to ourselves and live for Christ (Matthew 16:25). Our Lord asks us to suffer with patience, be angry and not sin, spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, and practice meekness in the face of our opponents. Alone, we are ill-equipped.

But the Lord has plans to equip us to do his work and does not leave us alone. He has not only given us his Spirit and the body of Christ, but also his Word. His Word has many purposes, one being to equip the man of God. 

“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 Timothy 3:16-17

This means that on Sunday when we sit and hear the Word preached or attend a weekly Bible study, God intends to use it to equip us. How can we be better prepared to attend that Bible study or sit and listen to the Sunday sermon so that the Word equips us instead of going in one ear and out the other? How can we get better at applying truth and growing toward Christ?

  1. Recognize your Need: God sees our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7) and the posture of our hearts towards him. It is hard to teach someone who doesn’t want to be taught. We are better prepared to let God do his work on us with a heart posture of knowing we need his help. We come Sunday morning or to our mid-week Bible study wanting to be equipped. We keep in the forefront of our minds this purpose of God and we stop and pray that God would use his Word to do his work on our hearts. We get out of the habit of checking Sunday mornings off of our list and remember how much we need Christ to change us.
  2. Prepare:  It sounds almost too simplistic yet many of us don’t do this and it is so helpful. Read the passage in advance. We prepare for tests, we prepare meal plans, we prepare for sports practice, we prepare for that big presentation at work, but rarely do we prepare for Sunday morning. Spending time in the text before you come to church starts to prepare your heart. You will be more familiar with the passage and it will be easier to listen, understand, and apply. We need to hear things multiple times before they start to stick. The same goes for your Bible study; set aside time to read and think about what you are studying that week. If you don’t know what your pastor will preach on, ask him to share his weekly plan with you. It takes discipline to manage your time and priorities well and we must acknowledge that God’s equipping is needed more than just about everything else for which we take time to prepare.
  3. Engage: Be an active participant. Have your Bible open, take notes, write questions or thoughts about application. Then, talk to others about the sermon or engage with your Bible study group. As a leader of a Bible study, I can’t tell you how encouraged I am to hear questions from women because it means they are engaging with the text! Things stick more when we process them with others. Come to a Sunday night home group where you can discuss and apply the sermon. Plan to review the sermon as a family on Monday mornings at breakfast and have everyone share what they learned about God. If you are discipling someone, plan to talk about the sermon weekly with them. Ask others in the church how the sermon series has been affecting them spiritually. There are many ways to engage; let’s get in the habit of talking about application and how our lives are being transformed by God’s Word. 

I wasn’t equipped to put together that diesel engine and was useless to the three engineering majors in my group. I don’t want to find myself ill-equipped for the good works God has planned in advance for me (Ephesians 2:10). Let’s get better at applying truth and growing toward Christ as we come to church next Sunday and start our next Bible study this fall.