On the way to work this morning, I listened to a sermon by Alistair Begg . He has been doing a series on the Bible story of the prodigal son. This morning’s sermon gave me a fresh perspective on this parable. It’s so much more than a story of a wayward son who has come home.
Take a few minutes to listen to it but be sure and stay until the end. His explanation of the brother who stayed home might surprise you. My favorite part….the Father pursues both sons.
The sermon was aired on August 6, 2013 and is called Amazing Love, Part 4, A.
The second speaker for Verge 2013 was Frances Chan. Just as David Platt left the stage, on walked Frances Chan. The schedule of when each speaker would speak was not in the program. We knew who would speak over the two days, but we didn’t know when. To have Platt and Chan back to back with little introduction was certainly unexpected. You could almost hear the crowd whisper, “First David Platt, now Frances Chan! Wow!” Of course, both of these men quickly put the focus on where it should be, Jesus.
Frances opened up with a prayer. He confessed to God that we trust too little in His Spirit and asked him to restore the joy of our salvation. After Platt reminded us of the cost of following Jesus, Chan reminded us that although it would cost us everything, it would be worth it.
His talk centered on how the love of God should flow so easily through us that when we are gathered together, an outsider could walk in and immediately recognize that the love among us (Christians) was supernatural. They would exclaim, “No way…the only way this is possible is if some supernatural thing happened here.” He reminded us that as we gave it all to Christ and His mission and His priorities, we should draw strength upon one another and demonstrate sacrificial love for one another. What is mine, is yours. If you need something I have, I give it to you without a thought. If you need a place to stay, I make room for you in my home. If you are hungry, I invite you to dinner. That kind of love is compelling. It is attractive. It provides healing. It is supernatural. It is rare. It is a characteristic of a follower of Christ.
Chan reminded us that sadly, some of us have given up on this dream and have turned to other ways to “fill the room”. Instead of building God’s church His way, by loving others as described above, we try to attract people with programs and church growth strategies that may or may not be biblical. He reminded us of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians:
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Philippians 1:27 (NASB)
Chan also impressed upon us that we try too hard to impress others with our intellect. We try to reach others for Him with intellectual arguments. Paul was extremely intelligent. When it was necessary, he used his intelligence to help show the fallacy in other’s logic, but he made it clear in I Corinthians that the simple truth of the cross was enough.
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” I Corinthians 2:2 (NASB)
Paul deliberately chose to know nothing except the cross. He didn’t let his words empty the cross of it’s power. He knew the simple message of the cross was all that was needed to reach others. The message of the cross is used by God to reveal Himself to the lost. It is the Spirit that gives life, not the flesh (our intellect).
He ended his talk by asking us if we have given up on Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. He said, “I’m not talking about strategy. There are things that are non-negotiable. When people in a church aren’t loving one another, it is just sin!”
The 2013 Verge conference started off with a bang. After the Austin Stone Worship band led us in worship, David Platt quietly walked on the stage. Platt would set the tone for the entire two days. He reminded us of the urgency of Christ’s commands. The theme of his message was similar to the one he gave at the 2012 Verge conference. He warned us that there are a whole lot of people who believe they are Christians but don’t really understand the meaning of the word and haven’t counted the cost. Culturally they call themselves Christians, but “Biblically they are not.”
I took notes throughout the two days. I will release them in several blog posts. Below are my notes from David Platt’s sermon.
Platt started by pointing out that when you know Christ, everything changes in your life. Everything changes when you follow this King. He wants us to consider the question, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ.
After studying Matthew he believes that we can get a very good portrait of Christ in the first four chapters of this gospel.
Savior, Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham, center of history, fully human, fully divine, sovereign over the wise, shepherd over the weak, inaugurating a new exodus, He will end our exile, loves His fiercest enemies (sinners like you and me), Savior King, righteous Judge, filled with God the Spirit, Jesus is loved by God the Father, new Adam (doesn’t fall to satan’s temptations), true Israel (faithful and obedient Son who passed the temptation), Light of the world, the Hope for all nations not just Israel.
He then asked and answered the question, what does it mean to follow Jesus?
1. Live with radical abandonment for His Glory.
He reminded us that when Jesus’ disciples chose to follow Jesus, they followed Him with nothing in their hands. In Jesus’ day it was common to follow a “teacher” to step up the ladder. But not this teacher. With this teacher they would lose it all. Christ made it clear. If they followed Him, they must deny themselves. When we decide to follow Christ, comfort and certainty in this world are no longer our concerns. Followers of Christ do not bow down at the alter of safety.
2. Live with joyful dependence on His grace.
Jesus did not call the disciples because they had a lot to offer. We are all sinners, rebels to the core, running from God. The stunning reality is that Jesus is running after us. Nothing in the Christian faith is born out of our merit.
3. Live with faithful adherence to His person. Christ said, follow Me. I’m the path, I’m the way.
4. Live with urgent obedience to His mission. He stated follow Me and I will make you fishers of men. This is not optional. Followers of Christ will make disciples. We’ve misunderstood what it means to be a follower of Christ. If we fully understood the meaning, we wouldn’t have to be cajoled to go make disciples. No one could hold us back. The cost of non-discipleship is greater. Many people who call themselves Christians are deceived sitting in churches.
David Platt speaks with such authority and humility, a rare combination. I am always challenged when I read or listen to his words.
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been fascinated with the political process. I remember watching both party’s political conventions from gavel to gavel even when I was in elementary school. This fascination grew into a passion. I majored in political science in college and then used this background to teach social studies in middle and high school classrooms.
Knowing this, you can probably imagine that I have been just a bit distracted with the current presidential election. I’ve struggled to find a balance with work, family, and my preoccuation with every single poll that comes out. Is my candidate up or down in the Gallup or Rasmussen poll? What about Ohio? Oh wait, now the race is tightening in Wisconsin and Michigan? I find myself running to Twitter, blogs, and online news sites to see who is up and who is down. This preoccupation has a way of seeping into my subconscious and affecting how I am feeling at the moment. My faith in God knows this is wrong. Scripture reminds me not to worry about anything. It admonishes me to recognize that God is in complete control and that the real solutions to our problems are spiritual, not political.
To try to bring some balance, I joined a 40-day prayer and fast for the election. I gave up Diet Cokes with lime from Sonic. If you knew how addicited I was to them you would see how significant this is! As I prayed for the election I found it hard to pray out-right that my candidate would win. Instead I began to cry out that God would unlesah His Holy Spirit so that we would have a revival in this country. I prayed that God would reveal the truth about both men to the American public. Reveal who they really are, not who their campaign wants us to see. I prayed that God would speak to His people and stir them to get involved in the political process. I also prayed that God would use the process to reveal His glory.
When I keep my mind on these prayers, I remain calm, but when I run to the computer to see what the Real Clear Politics poll average is, I become anxious. That is why Erick Erickson’s post 50,000 Feet Looking Down resonated with me. It’s a great reminder that we have to keep this election in perspective. In the post he states:
What I do know for sure is that I’m headed home to eternity and this world is temporary. So while I like politics and have my side and want it to win, I’m not going to be partying in the street if my side does win and I’m not going to think the end of the world is upon us if my side loses.
Whatever happens with the election doesn’t change the fact that we are here to advance God’s interests, not ours. God uses all circumstances to fulfill His promises and His plan. Erickson reminds us that:
God is sovereign. And whether you are for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, set your sights on God, not November 6th, and be happy. In four years, we really will do this all over again whether right now you think so or not. There is no permanence except in Heaven.
Whether you support President Obama or Governer Romney, I encourage you to read his post. Take a break from brewing over the lastest polls. Go see a movie, read a good book. But…make sure you vote!
Why do we fall into a pattern of committing the same sin over and over? It may be gossiping, sexual sin, pride, coveting, some type of addicition, or a number of other sins. After we realize we’ve fallen into the same trap we cry out to God and ask for forgiveness but next time the same temptation presents itself, we find ourselves repeating the sin. Once we realize what we’ve done we turn to self-loathing because we just can’t seem to rise above this sin. Why? What’s wrong?
We get a glimpse why from Abraham’s story in Genesis 12 and 20. We find in Genesis 12: 10-20, that when Abraham and Sarah traveled to Egypt to escape a famine, Abraham is worried that he will be killed because Pharaoh will find Sarah, his wife, to be so beautiful that he will want her for himself and possibly harm Abraham. To head this off, he tells her to tell Pharaoh that she is his sister and not her husband.
Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” (Genesis 12:13)
How low can a man get? How selfish! ‘Let’s pretend that we aren’t married (Genesis 20:12 tells us that he was actually her half-brother) so that it will go well for me’. What about Sarah? Is this God’s plan? Hadn’t God just told Abraham that God would make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants? Wasn’t he just told by God that He would bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who would curse Abraham?
God is faithful to His plan even if Abraham wasn’t. God struck Pharaoh’s house with great plagues, which led Pharaoh to confront Abraham, and eventually let both of them leave Egypt unharmed.
Twenty-five years later we find Abraham falling into this same trap. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, Abraham and Sarah travel to Gerar. Again, Abraham is afraid that the king of Gerar, Abimelech, will kill Abraham so that he can have Sarah as his wife. This leads Abraham to use the same lie he used in Egypt twenty-five years earlier. This time, God came to Abimelech in a dream and warned him not to sleep with Sarah or he would die. When Abimelech wakes up he immediately tells his servants what God told him and then confronts Abraham.
…What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” Genesis 20:9
Abraham uses the same rationale he gave in Genesis 12. He told Abimelech that he thought ‘there was no fear of God in this place and they will kill me because of my wife’. He goes on to reveal that this premeditated sin was actually concocted over twenty-five ago when they left his father’s home.
…And it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, “he is my brother.” (Genesis 20: 13)
Abraham was afraid that Abimelech had no fear of God. How ironic. In his actions, it is Abraham that demonstrates that he has no fear of God. Fear of man, yes. Fear of God, no!
In Matthew Henry’s commentary on this portion of scripture he declares that “fear of man and faith in God cannot dwell together in the same heart.”
The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25
Abraham failed to judge his sin and forsake it in Genesis 12. Because of this, he falls into the same trap later in his life.
It’s easy for us to look at Abraham and judge him for his pattern of sin; however, we do this too. We sin, we are deeply sorry, we ask for forgiveness but do we examine, judge, and then forsake it? The Hebrew word for forsake means to abandon, leave, stop, and let it go.
If we find ourselves committing the same sin over and over, it’s time to stop and really examine why. What’s the root cause? Is it my lack of fear of God? Is it my lack of faith in His promises? Is it my selfish ambition? Is it my pride? We must ask God to examine our heart and show us what’s causing us to stumble time and time again. Once we feel satisfied that God has revealed the cause it’s time to repent and then turn. Leave, abandon, and let it go! Until we do this, the pattern will continue.
The most beautiful truth is that once we repent and abandon the sin, God provides mercy. Oh that is such good news!
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” Proverbs 28:13)
Go and sin no more!
I wrote the following post on my Facebook page on October 13, 2007. I’m studying this passage of Scripture again so I revised it for this blog.
We have all experienced times when our past had too much influence in our present and future. We’ve had friendships that led us down a path that brought anguish and heartache. We stayed too long in a romantic relationship that brought mental and emotional pain. We kept working in a job that no longer brought us joy or fulfillment. A loved one’s destructive choices weighed so heavy on our hearts that our worrying about them robbed our joy. At these times we are unable to let go of the very thing that is destroying us. We find ourselves having a hard time putting the past behind and moving on.
Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had this problem. When he moved to Sodom it was already known as a city where the men were “wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). Lot settled his family there and began to assimilate into the culture. Sodom is used throughout scripture as an example of how corrupt a culture can become when they turn away from God and follow their own selfish pursuits. Lot should have left Sodom long before God decided to destroy the city because “their sin is exceedingly grave” (Gen. 18: 20).
We get a glimpse into why he had a hard time leaving Sodom in Genesis 13. Before Lot moved to Sodom, it is revealed that Abraham and Lot decided that their present location wasn’t big enough for both of their families. Abraham took Lot aside and told him to choose the land he wanted, and that Abraham would take the land Lot didn’t choose. Lot chose for himself the land that was well watered and fertile. Lot’s motives were self-serving. He wanted the best land even if it meant he would have to settle near Sodom. When we start making choices based on how it will serve our interests instead of how it will affect our relationship with God, we begin to separate ourselves from the very one who gives us the wisdom we need to make choices that will bring long-term contentment and satisfaction with our life.
This separation doesn’t come over-night. Casting Crowns’ song, “Slow Fade”, speaks to this truth. The group sings about the “slow fade” where “black and white turn to gray”. The song continues by saying that “people never crumble in a day”. A person doesn’t stop being obedient to the call of the Father in one moment. It starts with one wrong decision that is followed by another. These decisions build on each other and soon we find ourselves doing things we never thought we would.
Usually when we begin the “slow fade” we are surrounded by those who have never had a relationship with Jesus or who have begun to distance themselves from Him. Taking ourselves away from those who will be honest with us and hold us accountable when we begin to compromise make it easier for us hasten the “fade”. Sodom was such a wicked city that God couldn’t even find 10 righteous men (Gen. 18: 23-33). 2 Peter 2:7-8 tells us that “Lot was oppressed by the sensual conduct of men” and that his soul was “tormented day after day by their lawless deeds”. Lot was in great need of a friend that would tell him he was making poor choices and he needed to leave Sodom behind even if he lost some possessions, land, and social status.
Lot didn’t leave. He stayed too long. He and his family’s life was at stake but he became accustomed to his surroundings and wasn’t aware of the dangers that were all around. Abraham asked God not to destroy Lot when Sodom was swept away so God sent two angels to Sodom to get Lot’s family out of the city before God destroyed it. Lot’s future sons-in-law laughed at Lot when he told them of the impending destruction. Even Lot hesitated when it came to leave so the Angels literally had to take him by the hand and lead him, his wife, and two daughters out of the city. The angels gave them one warning: do not look back. You know what happens, Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.
We don’t know exactly why she looked back but I have a few ideas. I know a few reasons why I have kept looking back. There were times when I really didn’t want to leave friends or situations that God was leading me away from. I was actually enjoying the relationships or the situations even though they were leading me further away from God. The pull of the world can be strong. God knows this. That is why there are times when He tells us to let go and not look back. He knows that even looking back keeps us involved in the very activities or relationships that He knows we must let go lest we begin the “slow fade”.
In Luke 17: 33, Jesus reminds us that, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” The bottom line is that we must be willing to let go of ANYTHING that gets in the way of our relationship with Him. If we stubbornly try to hold on to our life, we actually lose it. We become enslaved to sinful patterns that slowly choke out any real joy that God so desires for us to experience.
I am reminded in another song, this one sung by the David Crowder Band, that even though God sometimes calls us to let go of certain habits, relationships, worries, or sins, that God will never let go of us. Never. Our letting go of this life is really the only way to live life abundantly now and eternally.
*Scripture quoted from the New American Standard Bible
*Casting Crowns “Slow Fade” on The Altar and the Door CD
*David Crowder Band, “Never Let Go” on the Remedy CD
For most of King David’s life he desired to build a temple for God but God had other plans. David had too much blood on his hands to build God’s Temple (1 Chronicles 22:8). God wanted His house to be built in the context of peace and rest, not in the midst of struggle.God used David to establish a long period of peace for Israel in which his son, Solomon, would rule. The absence of war and strife allowed Solomon the ability to concentrate on building God’s temple. He did this by giving Solomon rest, peace, and quiet.
Behold a son will be born to you, who shall be a man of rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days.” 1 Chronicles 22:9 (NASB)
The Hebrew word for “rest” denotes a presence of security. It is also used where peace, quiet, and trust are present. It’s hard to rest when we are afraid or worried about circumstances in our lives. God knew this. He knew that Solomon would need to devote all of his attention to the details of the construction. If there were external wars or turmoil in Israel, his attention would be divided so God gave “peace and quiet to Israel in his days”.
The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom”. Two-thirds of the occurrences of shalom in the Old Testament describe a state of fulfillment that is the result of God’s presence. It is the result of God’s activities. Any peace that we establish will be short-lived. God’s peace is characterized as a state of wholeness and unity. It involves relationships that are harmonious. It isn’t just a cease-fire. There is real community.
What is needed to make us men and women of rest characterized by a spirit of peace?
First, we must have a profound conviction that God is working. We aren’t shaken when life’s storms come because we know that there is a strong and experienced hand at the helm. Second, we must surrender entirely to His will. God’s will is certain to mean the destruction of our fleshly desires and plans. We must yield to Him if we desire to live a life of peace and rest. Third, we must realize that we are not required to originate or initiate any great plans to further God’s work. He already has the plan. He is already working to further His glory and His kingdom. We just have to be prepared to join the work when prompted.
Finally, what was true for Solomon is true for those building God’s church today. We must pray for the pastoral staff, their families, and the congregants of our churches. God has work for us to do. We need God’s peace and rest so that our attention is not diverted from building His church. Men and women of rest are the builders of the most lasting “structures”.