Real Hope

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. – 1 Peter 3:14-16

When Peter gave this charge, it was not in the context of an evangelism seminar; it was in the context of a letter written to encourage saints who have experienced great suffering. Peter’s audience was suffering because they were Christians, and he exhorts them not to be afraid of their persecutors. Rather, they are to honor Christ the Lord as holy. In other words, Jesus is the only one to be feared, and as they do so, they should expect opportunities to make a defense to anyone who asks [them] for a reason for the hope that is in [them].

People want hope. Suffering is a universal issue. The longer we live, the more acquainted we become with the unwanted visitor of pain. How does one endure suffering? Is it possible to pass through suffering with joy? With peace? As followers of Jesus Christ, we have an unshakable hope in the one who is Lord of all. He is the sovereign ruler over all creation. And because he does all things for his glory and for our good, he is trustworthy. Of course, the tricky thing about trust is, we usually have to exercise it when we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.

Sadly, too often as Christians we are ashamed of this message of hope. Not wanting to offend, or not wanting to appear simple-minded or simplistic, we try to offer some kind of hybrid hope; a strange mixture of worldly wisdom with a dash of Scripture, which somehow we think will make it taste like godly counsel, but not be too strong for the palate of our non-Christian friend.

In so doing, we lose the actual message we were entrusted with, the only message that gives true and lasting hope. Should we then be surprised when the world rejects godly council because they feel like they’ve tried it and were left wanting? Strong medicine is effective, but it often tastes bitter and is unpleasant until it accomplishes its designed result.

In the book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp puts it this way:

As sinners, we have a natural bent to turn away from the Creator to serve the creation. We turn away from hope in a Person to hope in systems, ideas, people, or possessions. Real Hope stares us in the face, but we do not see him. Instead, we dig into the mound of human ideas to extract a tiny shard of insight. We tell ourselves that we have finally found the key, the thing that will make a difference. We act on the insight and embrace the delusion of lasting personal change. But before long, disappointment returns. The change was temporary and cosmetic, failing to penetrate the heart of the problem. So, we go back to the mound again, determined this time to dig in the right place. Eureka! We find another shard of insight, seemingly more profound than before. We take it home, study it, and put it into practice. But we always end up in the same place.

The good news confronts us with the reality that heart-changing help will never be found in the mound. It will only be found in the Man, Christ Jesus. We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer. In his power, we find the hope and help we need to defeat the most powerful enemies. Hope rests in the grace of the Redeemer, the only real means of lasting change.

Jesus is our hope, and the only hope for a lost world.

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Romans 1:16

–Pastor Dave

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Published in: | on August 28th, 2014 | Comments Off

Being Some Earthly Good

I’m not sure who first said it, but Johnny Cash captures the sentiment in his song “No Earthly Good”:

If you’re holdin’ heaven then spread it around
There are hungry hands reaching up here from the ground
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded you’re no earthly good
No earthly good you are no earthly good
You’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded and you’re no earthly good

I remember hearing that phrase as a kid and understanding it as a description of someone who was so godly that they were of no use to us here on earth anymore. “They are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Does this capture the heart of what it means to be a Christian? Is this to be our pursuit? Is this really the inevitability, to have our minds so set on heaven, so conformed to heaven, that we become useless on earth?

Isn’t our responsibility presented differently in Scripture? Here are a couple of passages to serve as quick examples.

Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Colossians 3:1-3:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Paul goes on in verses twelve through fourteen to connect heavenly mindedness to reformed earthly behavior:

Put on these as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

The implications here are that heavenly mindedness does not make us useless for earth. In fact, being heavenly minded serves the dual purpose of preparing our hearts for heaven while also making us more useful, more of a blessing in our lives now. The pursuit of the vertical is what makes us most effective in the horizontal.

C. S. Lewis captures the heart of this in one of my favorite quotes from Mere Christianity:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.

It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.

It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.

So let’s resolve to aim at heaven today in our thoughts, actions, goals, pursuits and dreams, and watch how much earthly good results.

To the Praise of His Glory,
Pastor Steve

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Published in: | on August 21st, 2014 | Comments Off

Our Brothers and Sisters in Iraq

stock-photo-9842791-magnifying-glass-over-a-map-of-iraqI believe it crucial to keep the plight of Christians in Iraq before us. Here is an article that has some helpful suggestions. I found the first point to be especially insightful. I would encourage you to stop and pray as soon as you have finished reading!

Click here to read the article.

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on August 13th, 2014 | Comments Off

9 Things You Should Know About Mormonism

moroniIn posting the following, I am not intending to pick a fight. As a pastor, I have a responsibility to protect the flock, to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). I personally know several Mormons and love them dearly, while I strongly reject Mormon doctrine. As Christians we must speak the truth in love. Often however, particularly with Mormons, it is easy for us to be strong on the former and weak on the latter. Taking an approach of ridicule or condescension is neither wise nor winsome.

At the same time, Mormons would like to represent themselves as Christians, not really that different from you and me. This is usually the approach of the friendly young men who come to your door. While we may agree to certain ethical or moral standards, our core beliefs could not be more radically different. The following blog post by Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition, 9 Things You Should Know About Mormonism, is a brief but helpful reminder.

–Pastor Dave

 

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Published in: | on July 29th, 2014 | Comments Off

Arguments Against Anxiety

Anxiety can be devastating. Perhaps you are struggling with it even as you read this post. How are we to combat its crippling effects? What help do the Scriptures provide that we might successfully wage war against it?

John Piper recently spoke on anxiety at Bethlehem College and Seminary. Although his address is in the form of an “assignment” he might give students, I believe the message is one we all need to hear. He walks through Matthew 6:24–34 and identifies the arguments Jesus provides there for dealing with this issue. How powerful and relevant the Scriptures are! I highly recommend this video, and pray it is an encouragement to each of us as we endeavor to fight the fight of faith.

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on July 16th, 2014 | Comments Off

21 Words for Fathers

I was originally trying to post this for Father’s Day, but better late then never!  This is a fairly short clip from a Pastor named Douglas Wilson. Many of you will be familiar with him, but for those who aren’t, he’s one of my favorite guys to listen to. He is especially helpful to me in regard to the resources he provides on Biblical manhood. It’s a subject very close to both his heart and mine, and a reality that is in serious decline in the American church today. I found this list, “21 Words for Fathers,” of particular help, so I figured I’d pass it along.  It’s helpful regardless of whether or not you are a father, as all of us are impacted by this role in one way or another.

[21 Words for Fathers from Canon Wired on Vimeo.]

Geoff

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Published in: | on July 9th, 2014 | Comments Off

Checking Up On Our Bible Reading

A Bible studyJune! The year is half finished, and those well-intentioned goals for Bible reading crafted last January may seem like they were made an eternity ago. But I believe it is a great time to stop and ask how we are doing. Are we spending more time in God’s Word now than we were a year ago? Are we growing in our love and delight of its treasures? Has our vision of God and his glory increased as we read its pages? Do we sense we are becoming conformed more to the image of Christ because of time in the Scriptures?

In a perfect world, we all would answer with a resounding “Yes!” to each question. But I suspect for some of us that is not quite the case. So what’s the solution? One option is to give up and wait for next January to roll around so we can make a fresh batch of goals. But I would suggest a different approach. Regardless of where we are in our devotional lives at the moment, let’s join the Psalmist in praying the prayer of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (ESV)

Steve Fuller, former pastor here at SGCC and Men’s Retreat speaker for us last fall, recently wrote a blog post on this verse. You can read it by clicking here. The article is filled with practical help for growing in our times in the Word, even if we find ourselves struggling. I pray it will be an encouragement.

Let’s press on in the reading of God’s Word. January will be here soon enough!

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on June 18th, 2014 | Comments Off

Walking Through Sin with Someone You Love

Dealing with sin is hard work, and messy. We know this both from the sin in our own lives, and from interacting with others.  Dealing with sin in our family – those closest to us – is even harder, and can be even messier. And yet, these are the people God has brought into our lives to walk through these processes with: to whom we minister, and by whom we are ministered to.

I’ve had several conversations lately about how to walk biblically when we are dealing with sin in someone close to us. I’m excited that folks are working through these issues and not just sloughing them off; it stands to reason that many others are working through similar situations, as well.

I am recommending an article Charity forwarded to me entitled “What if Your Child is Gay?” This article specifically addresses its title topic, but also deals generally with how to respond to the sin of a family member (or someone we have a relationship with) whether they repent of their sin or not. It looks at the pitfalls so many of us are tempted to tumble into while walking through these hard situations. It’s also not a bad thing to be prepared for the ever-increasing possibility that someone in your family will deal with same-sex related issues.

Click here for the article

–Geoff

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Published in: | on June 11th, 2014 | Comments Off

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck … maybe.

Mallard2Let me introduce you to four men — four modern American evangelicals. We see these men every day.

Each claims the name Christian, and holds to a particular rule or philosophy, though he may not have arrived at such a position consciously or be able to articulate it clearly.

The first man lives by the rule “Christianity is a means by which I can live a peaceful life — one that minimizes pain while maximizing pleasure.” On the surface, he claims to hold to the basic tenets of the faith. He will tell you that he believes in Jesus. He will tell you the Bible is the word of God. He may even read his Bible regularly, but his is a faith of convenience. Put him in another context, where another faith is the dominant religion, and he will align himself with it. He is a religious chameleon, taking the faith of the culture around him. He has not really examined the truthfulness of the claims of Christianity — he just has grown accustomed to it. His faith has never really been challenged because it’s so benignly personal. Christianity leads to a healthy, happy life, but how it does, he has not considered. Christianity allows him to avoid many of the negative consequences of living a godless life. Loving his wife avoids the ugliness of divorce; being honest on his taxes keeps him from going to jail; doing all things in moderation avoids obesity, heart disease, and liver failure. Him we may call the Christian Epicurean.

The second man lives by the rule “I will embrace Christianity in so far as it gives me what I want; when it doesn’t, I will do as I please.” Like the Epicurean, he aligns himself with the Christian name. On a practical level, in most cases, Christianity is the best, most pleasant way to live — until, that is, it becomes difficult or too demanding. He is an ethical Christian businessman, until a desired promotion demands that he fudge on an important report. He is a generous believer, insisting that while God is holy, and he would like his children to be, he is not such an ogre that he would actually demand obedience. He’s a 21st century Ananias, who has sold the property, skimmed his share off the top, and convinced himself that God doesn’t operate the way he used to in the Bible days. Him we may call the Christian Atheist. He claims there is a God, but when push comes to shove, he lives as if there is not. He is similar to the Christian Epicurean, but the difference is in the degree. The Christian Epicurean may become the Christian Atheist; the Christian Atheist may have been a Christian Epicurean. The Christian Epicurean still holds that the commands of God are desirable. The Christian Atheist believes they are desirable until they are inconvenient.

The third man lives by the rule “I believe in Jesus, I know the gospel is right and true, but I can’t expect much joy in this life.” This man lives a life of drudgery. Faith is bare obedience to the precepts of God, stripped of the thrill of enjoying the presence of God. He must obey because it is right, not because it is good. If he has some temporal joy in life, he is anxiously waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. He has taken the truth about the vanity of this life to such an extreme that he misses the eternity present in it. Feeling the life-giving sun on his face, he can only think of skin cancer. Seeing only the brokenness of the world, he misses the beauty. Enjoying a delicious meal, he feels guilt at the supposed excess, which robs him of the opportunity to thank God for the simple gift of taste. He is as pleasant as a toothache. Him we may call the Christian Eeyore.

The fourth man lives by the rule “My greatest joy in life is God’s greatest glory.” John Piper has written much about this man, and has given him the title “the Christian Hedonist.” This man actually believes the psalm that says “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” This man believes the gospel message: that although he was a sinner, Jesus died for his sin, and that by faith and repentance in Jesus, he has been born anew, has been made a new creation, has been forgiven of all of his sin, has been made holy in God’s sight, and has been assured a fixed eternity in the presence of God. He has also come to know the truth as Jesus declared it: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Of course, the term “Christian Epicurean” is an oxymoron, as is “Christian Atheist” or “Christian Eeyore.” You cannot add the adjective “Christian” to something that stands in contradiction to it. (For a defense of the term “Christian Hedonist,” I would refer you to Piper’s book, Desiring God.) What’s more, the adjective “Christian” doesn’t just add to what follows — it changes it completely and identifies it wholly. If I say “I am a Christian American” (which I believe is the proper word order), I am making a statement of identity and ultimate allegiance, by which I can truthfully — and, I believe, biblically — say that I have more in common with a Christian Russian, a Christian Ukrainian, a Christian Israeli, or a Christian Palestinian, than I do with a non-Christian American.

We live in a world where people are afraid to draw solid lines. Everything has become fuzzy and gray. In an ironic mix of charity and arrogance, people quickly, uncritically defend anyone’s claim to be a Christian, but dismissively label “narrow” and “mean-spirited” those bold enough to assert that certain truth claims and evidence, or fruit, should be expected of any who call themselves Christian.

It seems pretty clear in the New Testament that Jesus and the Apostles were not afraid to draw lines dark and thick:

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34)

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” (2 Peter 2:1)

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ…Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. “(Jude 3-4, 11-13)

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (1 Timothy 1:13-14)

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:12-17)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:15-19)

So, what is the point of all this? Is it to point fingers at those who claim to be something they are not? No. My desire is twofold.

First, that in looking at these four men, we would examine our own hearts. Am I a Christian because I truly believe the gospel and love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? Or, have I made up a religion of my own by creating a god in my image and simply painting it over with a Christian coating? If it suddenly became difficult to bear the name “Christian” (and I mean really difficult, in that it may cost me everything), would I still hold fast? Would I, like Peter, say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

Second, let us not be afraid to defend the truth — to lovingly, graciously, but firmly clarify what Scripture teaches about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The Enemy’s most effective deceptions are the ones most subtle. He is clever. He will dress up a deception so that it looks as much as the real thing without being the real thing, and thus lead many astray. To allow another human to go along in the belief that he is saved, when in fact he is fooled by a lie, is neither kind nor loving. Let’s love enough to stand up for the truth.

–Pastor Dave

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Published in: | on June 4th, 2014 | Comments Off

The Gospel is not . . . (Part Two)

Pastor Steve recently posted an article in which he highlighted some timely warnings from D.A. Carson against confusing the effects of the gospel with the gospel itself. (Click here to read that post, entitled “The Gospel is Not . . .”).

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on a similar theme a few weeks ago. He deals explicitly with the issue of moralism, and contrasts it with the gospel message. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Mohler’s article:

Just as parents rightly teach their children to obey moral instruction, the church also bears responsibility to teach its own the moral commands of God and to bear witness to the larger society of what God has declared to be right and good for His human creatures.

But these impulses, right and necessary as they are, are not the Gospel. Indeed, one of the most insidious false gospels is a moralism that promises the favor of God and the satisfaction of God’s righteousness to sinners if they will only behave and commit themselves to moral improvement.

The moralist impulse in the church reduces the Bible to a codebook for human behavior and substitutes moral instruction for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Far too many evangelical pulpits are given over to moralistic messages rather than the preaching of the Gospel.

The corrective to moralism comes directly from the Apostle Paul when he insists that “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Salvation comes to those who are “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” [Gal. 2:16]

We sin against Christ and we misrepresent the Gospel when we suggest to sinners that what God demands of them is moral improvement in accordance with the Law. Moralism makes sense to sinners, for it is but an expansion of what we have been taught from our earliest days. But moralism is not the Gospel, and it will not save. The only gospel that saves is the Gospel of Christ. As Paul reminded the Galatians, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” [Gal. 4:4-5]

We are justified by faith alone, saved by grace alone, and redeemed from our sin by Christ alone. Moralism produces sinners who are (potentially) better behaved. The Gospel of Christ transforms sinners into the adopted sons and daughters of God.

(Click here to read Dr. Mohler’s entire article).

We must always be careful to stay true to the gospel. There are so many subtle (and insidious!) ways to lose sight of it, and to exchange it for something else. Perhaps now would be a good time for us to prayerfully meditate on a passage like Ephesians 2:1-10 or Colossians 2:13-14 or Titus 3:4-7 and again preach the gospel to ourselves.

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on May 21st, 2014 | Comments Off