Evangelistic

Finding Our Voice

One of my favorite cartoons to watch as a kid was the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. For some reason, Lucy thought it would be a good idea to help Charlie Brown overcome his seasonal depression by recruiting him to direct the Christmas play.

Charlie Brown arrives to the set to find chaos. Everyone is basically doing their own thing, and he is having trouble getting the cast to go along with the order of the production. So, to set the mood, and to bring everyone back on the same page, he and Linus go to a Christmas tree lot to select a tree.

The lot, full of beautifully decorated aluminum trees, doesn’t quite have the vibe Charlie Brown was looking for. In fact, the one natural tree that he finds is basically a twig, holding on for dear life. He selects it, and thus today we still refer to it as the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

When his tree is predictably rejected by the cast (as they had all bought into the commercialization of Christmas), Charlie Brown pines, “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is really all about?” To which Linus responded by telling the Christmas story.

Today, Christianity is in a state of disarray in western civilization. We have involved ourselves in pop-culture, politics, have completely reimagined worship services, and have attempted to capture the culture’s attention by having input on every single political and pop-culture trend that arises.

It’s as if we’ve bought into the post-modern ethic that, to have a voice, you must have a take. If you don’t have a take, you don’t have a voice, and thus you don’t really exist at all.

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So, worship teams meet and practice for hours each week, not to pray over the coming service and for God’s Spirit to move (they may include that in their prayers), but rather to plan each intricate detail of the worship performance so that the presentation impresses the congregation, leading them to return next week.

Pastors sit in front of their keyboards, not to pray over the scriptures and write the weekly message, but rather to come up with a blog post that will garner attention and go viral. (The irony is not lost on me).

Congregants plan their activities based on what brings them fulfillment and advances their cause, and involvement in the church or worship attendance is not always high on that priority list.

Then there’s the publications, the media, the movies, and the outreach efforts.

It’s all so crazy and hectic, and everyone is busy doing their own thing. Then, Charlie Brown enters from stage left and says, “Can anybody really tell me what it’s all about?”

And that question demands an answer, because despite all the activity by modern Christianity, the number of Christians in America, at least as a percentage of the population, is declining. Furthermore, the percentage of adults who regularly attend church is declining. To make matters worse, there is not a single county in North America that is seeing an increase in church attendance.

There are megachurches and church plants that arise and grow, but these are anecdotal, and not indicative of overall trends.

One trend is emerging, however, and that is the busier the church gets, the more it declines.

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Now this is not the fault of those promoting contemporary worship, neither is it the fault of the traditionalists. It is the result of a loss of the central message of the church. That is the only logical explanation of the decline of the church in the prosperous West while the church experiences rapid growth in the East, where persecution runs rampant.

The only explanation for the decline of the church in the West while the East grows under rampant persecution is that the East has believed a Gospel that they are willing to die for, while the West barely knows what that Gospel is.

Disagree? If so, ask your average self-identifying Christian what the Gospel is. Odds are, they either won’t be able to tell you, or will give a generic answer about “the good news” or “the story of Jesus.” Both of which are partially correct.

However, the Gospel is clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as “How Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Jesus Christ died for our sins. His death cleared the debt we owed for sin, because in His death, Christ endured the wrath of God on our behalf (Isaiah 53, Romans 5, among others). This is truly a powerful message, because in this message we can wipe away all of our tears, and feel cleansed of all guilt, shame and regret. This is the great reset button one can push in life. To simply trust what Jesus did on the cross.

Not only did Christ clear our guilt and sin-debt on the cross, but He rose from the dead, conquering death, and opening the gates of Heaven, bringing eternal life to all who believe. It is because of the resurrection of Jesus that we have a confident expectation (hope) that we will go to Heaven when we die, and not only that, but we’ll be reunited with our loved ones there.

That message of redemption and eternal hope is what powers believers in the third world to sing praises to God as they are slaughtered for merely mentioning the name of Jesus. That message of redemption is what brings dying hospice patients hope when they realize that their time on earth is nearly done. That message of redemption is likely what powered Dr. King’s “Mountaintop Speech,” as he predicted his death while expressing joy and hope for the future of our nation.

And we believe, at Life Point Baptist Church, that if we are to see a revival in our culture, if we are to see the rapid spread of Christianity in the Western world today, then it will be sparked by the rapid spread of that Gospel. If the church is to find its voice and be relevant again, it will not be because the ministerial staff is up to date on the latest in entertainment or cultural trends. It will be because the staff, and the church, is centered on that Gospel.

Once the church is centered on the Gospel, worship styles, campus design and location, and audio visual tools become irrelevant. The church will see a revival.

So, enjoy your contemporary service, or your traditional service, but center it on the Gospel, and find your voice.

The Power of Christ

After instituting the Lord’s Supper, and preparing His disciples for His crucifixion, our Lord Jesus lifted up His eyes to our Heavenly Father and began to pray for us. In this prayer, often called the High Priestly Prayer of Christ, or the great intercessory prayer, our Lord prayed that we would be sanctified, protected, and that we would be able to carry our testimonies throughout the world.

True to the form He taught us in the Model Prayer, Christ praised God for all that He had done. In John 17:2, Jesus praised God for the power He gave, saying, “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.”

The power Christ referred to is the authority God gave Him. In fully realizing the beauty of His words, let’s take a closer look at the power God gave.

First, the power (authority) all belongs to God. Psalm 24:1-4 says, ” The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.”

God has all the power in the world because He created the world. He made it, He owns it, He makes the rules.

He spoke the world into existence. He formed man from the dust of the ground. He breathed into our nostrils the breath of life so that we became living souls. He is the source of our life, the source of our consciousness, the source of our creativity, dreams, hope and aspirations. These are all attributes of Him, and characteristics of the life that He has given us.

Therefore, it follows that we actually belong to Him, and that He is in control.

Man’s first act after being created was to rebel against God. Satan tempted Eve in the garden, saying that in the day she disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she and Adam would be as gods. Adam and Eve’s sin of eating the fruit went beyond simple disobedience, it was an all-out rebellion against God’s authority in their lives.

They sought to dethrone God so that they could do as they please. It was a sin similar to Lucifer’s rebellion that led to His ejection from Heaven.

Yet, God, in His power and grace did not expel man the way He did Lucifer and the angels who rebelled. Instead, He gave His only begotten Son in order to redeem man, and create a way for man to ascend into His Holy Hill and stand in His Holy Place.

God’s power and wisdom are infinite, which is why God says His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). That’s why, regardless of how hard it may be to understand what God is doing, it behooves us to trust Him and His plan.

It is that great power and authority that God gave to Jesus. Jesus prayed in John 17:2, “As thou hast given Him power over all flesh.” God has infinite authority over us all, and He gave that authority to Christ.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All power is given unto me in Heaven and in Earth.” That word power means authority. Jesus has all authority over all who live. It is He who will judge us, and He who will hold us accountable for whether we believed, and it is He who will decide whether we enter Heaven.

Jesus was crystal clear in His teachings. Those who believe will be saved, and those who believe will be welcomed into the Kingdom. On that note, we take a look at the power (authority) that He gave us.

In John 1:12, scripture says “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”

To those who believe, that is, those who receive Him, Christ gave the power (authority) to become the sons of God. To those who believe, Christ gave the right to become the sons of God. This is an unalienable right endowed upon us by our creator, and our Lord.

Have you exercised this right? Have you realized this right? Do you know Christ as your Savior?

Furthermore, Christ gave us the authority to further the Kingdom on Earth. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20, ” All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

After proclaiming that God had given Christ all the power (authority) in Heaven and Earth, He commanded us by that authority to make disciples, to baptize the believers, and to teach the disciples all that He taught us. We are to spread His Gospel. Not only are we directed to go, we have been given the authority of the Lord to do so.

Given the power and authority of God, given to Christ and extended to us, where should we place our faith, and what should the focus of our days be?

Except Your Righteousness Exceed That of the Pharisees

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. (Matthew 5:17)”

This verse teaches us that righteousness matters, that obedience to God matters, and that what’s in our hearts matters. Jesus goes on to say, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)”

That’s pretty intimidating, when you consider how religious the Pharisees really were.

If you’ve been around 21st Century Christianity any length of time, you know that Pharisees are often presented in scripture as the bad guys. They hated Jesus because He challenged their pride. They hated poor people because they felt the poor were inferior and not worth their time. They misused and abused people. And their religion was often a show.

The same criticisms, for what it’s worth, have been levelled toward modern churches and Christians. Whether such criticism is warranted or not is a discussion for another day. However, I think we can all agree that Christians have failed from time to time. However, Christianity has done a lot of good in the world.

The same can be said for the Pharisees. Their benevolence (alms) programs raised large amounts of money for the poor. They were very devout in their faith. They prayed constantly and spent their entire lives in the scriptures, and taught others the scriptures.

They desired to strongly adhere to the law of God and to honor Him with their lives. What could be wrong with that?

And it’s that brand of righteousness that Jesus said we must exceed if we want to see the Kingdom of God.

To understand what the Lord was calling us to, we must understand what righteousness is. Thayer’s Bible dictionary defines righteousness (and the Greek word it was translated from) as “the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God.” In other words, righteousness is about gaining God’s approval.

The standard for righteousness, what it takes to earn God’s approval, is the law of God. The law of God is summarized in the 10 Commandments, 10 rules that God gave to Israel telling them what standard of righteousness they must hold in order to enter into His presence. For the sake of this study, we will examine the same two commandments that Jesus referenced in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.

That shalt not kill, and thou shalt not commit adultery. Basically, don’t take anyone’s life, and don’t take anyone’s wife. It seems pretty simple. If you haven’t killed anyone, and you haven’t cheated on your spouse, you are well on your way.

However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out that if you have committed these sins in your mind, then you are guilty of them in your heart. Jesus said if you are angry with your brother without cause, you are in danger of the judgment. And, if you have looked upon a woman with lust, you have committed adultery with her in your heart.

In speaking these words, Jesus taught us that righteousness is not just about what you do (or don’t do), but also about what’s in your heart. Therefore, you can do all the right things, but still have the sin in your heart, and still be found unrighteous.

This is a tough truth, because we all have sin in our hearts. That was a problem for the Pharisees too, whom Jesus said were like sepulchres, ornate on the outside, but full of death on the inside.

Romans 7:18 tells us that in our flesh dwells no good thing, and Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

By His teaching in Matthew 5, Jesus has held a spiritual mirror up to our souls to reveal to us our true condition in order to show us the way of salvation, which is through faith in Him.

Galatians 3:24 says the law is our schoolmaster to drive us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Romans 4 tells us that faith is counted as righteousness.

The Pharisees’ faith was in themselves, and their own version of obedience to God. Christ said for true righteousness, one must trust Him. And as Charles Spurgeon said, “Any faith that falls short of the cross will leave you short of Heaven.”

So the way to have the righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees is to trust Jesus for your salvation and righteousness. He will grant you that righteousness if your faith is in Him.

The Hour is Come

In John 17, Jesus is with His disciples in the upper room following their observance of the Passover, and the institution of The Lord’s Supper. Judas has been sent away to betray Christ, and our Lord spent chapters 14-16 preparing His disciples for His crucifixion, and their lives after His ascension into Heaven.

At the conclusion of his discussion with His disciples, Jesus lifts up His eyes to God and says the most epic prayer ever recorded. In opening the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:”

This word, “glorify,” is translated from the Greek word doxoza, which means to honor, to make renown, to make to be well-thought of. Basically, to be made famous in a good way for great things you’ve done. It is from this word comes the title of the hymn, “Doxology,” which is simply referred to in many Christian denominations as “The Doxology.”

Indeed, God’s name has been made great throughout all of human history, from the creation, to redeeming Adam and Eve, to His raising up of Israel, to His chastisement of Israel, to His reconstruction of Israel, to bringing forth Jesus, born of a virgin, and giving Him to be the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. God’s glorification continues with the resurrection of Jesus, His victory over sin, and will come to full fruition when He establishes His Kingdom on Earth.

Jesus prays that God would glorify Him, to make Him great and renown, so that Christ, in turn, can do the same for the Father.

But first, He says, “The hour is come.”

The hour is this moment, when Christ would fulfill the Gospel and redeem His people. God’s entire plan with mankind centered around this moment. This is the moment that Jesus Christ would undo the inherent sin and death brought by Satan into the world. He would undo the damage done by Adam and Eve in the garden.

In this hour, Christ would pay for the sins of the world, bringing forgiveness and redemption to mankind, and saving all those who believe to the eternal life God originally intended back in the beginning. For Jesus, it’s time!

In this hour, mankind had a decision to make. In Luke 19:42 Jesus said, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”

Jesus had come to Jerusalem to complete God’s plan of salvation, but the Pharisees only saw a threat to their personal prestige, power and desires. So, they had Him crucified, and sealed their judgment. Hence, Jesus says in Luke 22:53, as He was being arrested, “When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

To complete the Gospel and pay for the sins of mankind, Christ handed Himself over to sinful man. And man was told He had one hour, to do unto God (who was in the flesh in Jesus) what He wished. Man treated our Lord as shamefully as he could.

No compassion.

No mercy.

The compassion and mercy we desire was denied to Christ, both by man, and by God.

Thus, Isaiah 53:4-6 says, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The punishment Christ endured on the cross settled the sin-debt for all mankind. Man’s rebellion against God came to full fruition on Christ as He was beaten and tortured prior to the crucifixion.

And God’s need for justice was satisfied on the cross, as Isaiah 53:11 says, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” 

Now, with the hour of salvation complete, it’s now your hour, and you have the same choice to make.

Will you see Christ as a threat to your happiness, pleasure, fun, prosperity, autonomy over your life. Is He a buzzkill?

Or will you see Him as salvation, the source of life, and the One to whom you will give your faith and trust?

What is your decision?

Having proclaimed that the hour has come, Jesus then prayed that God would glorify Him so that the glory could be returned to God. God answered that prayer by resurrecting our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because of the resurrection, the Gospel was spread throughout the world, and the name of Jesus Christ has been remembered throughout the centuries.

Because of the resurrection, we have a confident expectation of salvation, of eternal life in the Kingdom of God, and a life without pain, sin or adversity in His Heaven.

Because of the resurrection, we can comfort each other at funerals.

Again, there is a choice to be made here. To believe, or to reject. What is yours?

Praying for Glory, How Jesus Opened the Most Epic Prayer

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As Jesus prepared for His arrest and crucifixion, He lifted up His eyes to God and prayed the most epic prayer. Recorded in John 17, this is often referred to as “The High Priestly Prayer.” In it, Jesus prays for the glorification of God and Himself through the crucifixion, and He prays for His disciples that God would protect and maintain them in His absence.

It is really profound that our Lord, Who was God in flesh, lifted up such a prayer. It teaches us of the role prayer plays in our faith. It is an exercise of faith, and it is an alignment of our thoughts, desires and plans with God’s. To see Christ, Himself, do it is truly powerful.

Jesus opens this prayer in John 17:1 by saying, “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:”

He prays that the plan of salvation, our redemption through the cross, would truly be glorifying to God. And when you discuss the glory of God, truly you must discuss the cross, because it is in the cross that the full righteousness of God is on full display (Romans 1:16-17), and in the cross that God obtains final victory over Satan.

It is in the cross that our hope lies, for without the cross, we have nothing beyond this life to look forward to. Without the cross, we are left as enemies to God, living a life of frustrated divine conflict before a death leading to eternal punishment. However, with the cross, we are redeemed and reconciled to God, made friends of God, blessed to live life in His presence with His provision and guidance, before a death that leads to eternal blessings in His Kingdom.

The glory of the Lord is ubiquitous in scripture, and throughout all of human history. God was glorified in the creation. He was glorified in the creation of man. He was glorified in ejecting Satan from heaven following his revolution there. He was glorified in providing man a way of salvation after man joined Satan in that rebellion. He was glorified in raising up a nation after Himself, then using the enemies of that nation to refine them into the people He intended on them being. He was glorified in how He led them out of Egypt, and how He led them into the promised land.

God was glorified in the birth of Jesus Christ, the ministry of Jesus Christ, and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His glory is such that, even non-believers have to acknowledge the incredible events that He performed, from the darkness on the earth when Jesus was on the cross, to the resurrection, to the impact Christ had on human history, even from a secular point of view.

And in the Gospel of John, we’ll see that glory come to it’s apex when Jesus pays for our sins on the cross. The glory of the Lord will come full circle when He returns and establishes His Kingdom on earth. This is deliverance for us, which should have us all praying for the glory of God. For it’s only in that glory that we have any hope.

Unto us… hope!

In Isaiah 9, God is promising hope to a nation that had been walking in darkness. Their struggles would soon end and a new era of peace and prosperity would ensue.

This new era would be ushered in by the Christ, whom Isaiah 9:6 said would be born, and would rule and reign. Such news was welcome for a nation divided and degraded by sin and evil.

Unto us would be born a child, meaning the Christ would be human like the rest of us. But, He would also be the Son given, that is, the Son of God given for the redemption and deliverance of the nation. This verse speaks to the divinity and the humanity of Christ.

The humanity of Christ allows Him to relate to our struggles, and qualifies Him to take our punishment upon Himself, thus delivering us from condemnation. The divinity of Christ marks Him as sinless, perfect, and righteous. Further, the divinity of Christ gives Him the power and authority to endure the wrath of God before rising from the grave and conquering death.

Therefore, this verse taught Israel that all of their hope, that is, confident expectation of redemption, is completely accessed through Christ. And we know that 2,000 years ago, that Child was born, and God’s Son was given for our redemption.

It’s easy to forget this during our day to day lives, but the season of Advent gives us the opportunity to remember the hope we have in Jesus Christ, and to renew our faith in Him and recenter our lives on Him.

Like Israel during Isaiah’s day, our nation is deeply divided and has been degraded by sin and evil. However, we can experience national healing and revival if we remember our hope, our confident expectation is in Him. Therefore Advent reminds us not only that Christ came, but that He’s coming again. Therefore we should be eagerly looking forward to His return, knowing that His return brings the deliverance, peace and prosperity of His Kingdom, if we know Him as Savior. If we believe.

May the Lord give you peace this season as you remember Him and look forward to His return.