Swallowed up in Grace

I have the privilege of serving at Vine Street Baptist Church here in Louisville. This past Sunday night I got to preach. Over the course of the semester I will be preaching about 4 times, and I decided to preach through the book of Jonah. Here’s my mostly unedited sermon notes. The actual audio should be posted later this week. This isn’t really a manuscript, but just some thoughts that I prepared for the actual sermon.

Swallowed Up in Grace
Jonah 1

Starting Points:
Why Jonah? 1. I’m translating it in Hebrew Class 2. It is a great treasure that teaches us as believers how gracious our God is, not only toward his children, but also to those that are perishing.

Jonah is Historical and True:
1. The OT Speaks of him in 2 Kings 14:25
“He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.” (ESV)

2. Jesus Speaks of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-41
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (ESV)

*This will ultimately leave us interpreting Jonah as a picture of the coming Christ who will put death in the grave.

Matthew Henry says, “Those prophecies (Jonah’s concerning Israel) were not committed to writing, but this against Nineveh was, chiefly for the sake of the story that depends upon it, and that is recorded chiefly for the sake of Christ, of whom Jonah was a type; it contains also very remarkable instances of human infirmity in Jonah; and of God’s mercy, both in pardoning repenting sinners, witness Nineveh, and in bearing with repining saints, witness Jonah.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible)

1. The call of God demands obedience for the sake of the gospel. (v.1-2)
The call of God to go to Nineveh was shocking to Jonah. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian nation, the worst possible enemy for the Israelites. Since taking over the Promised Land, Assyria had been a threat from the North. Not only that, but they did not worship the One True God. Their evil was an affront to God. Verse 2 says, “for their evil has come up before me.” The Hebrew means their evil had come up to the face of Yahweh. In today’s terms this would have been like God calling us, not just to the Muslim world, but to the heart of an Al Qaeda training camp. Jonah had spoken of God to Israel, the people of God, but this new assignment was more than his prideful heart could take. Could God really be a God to ALL people? Could God REALLY extend his forgiveness to the vilest of humanity? Jonah will answer this in chapter 4:2 “O LORD, is not this why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” The Lord’s grace should ready us to battle against evil for the souls of sinful men. For were we not in the same situation before the Lord snatched us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into his everlasting kingdom of light?

2. Disobedience to God’s Word…
a. Is denial of your confession (v.3,9)
Verse 3 tells us that Jonah fled to Tarshish “from the presence of the Lord.” There’s debate as to where Tarshish was. It was possibly on the western coast of Spain. Regardless of where it is, it is not only not Nineveh, but it’s in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah was clearly trying to go so far away from where he was supposed to be that the Lord would be forced to call on someone else, to raise a new prophet, to choose anyone but Jonah. In verse 9, in the midst of the storm that God sent to bring Jonah to his senses, Jonah tells the sailors, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” As Jonah was running from the Lord, and Satan was orchestrating a master escape plan (which he will readily do), he had forgotten that God was sovereign over all things: Israel, the Mediterranean Sea, and even that unreliable ship that “threatened to break up” despite her sailors’ best efforts to “dig in” and make it through the storm on their own.

After just returning from East Asia, I found myself headed here to Louisville, after one of the hardest weeks of my life. I was certain the Lord was calling me to live in Jackson, TN, and had more than one promising job offer. All of these fell through, and I was mad at God. I had 4.5 hours from Jackson to Louisville to stew on this and yell at God. I distinctly remember pointing my finger in the direction of the sky and saying, “You dropped the ball, God! You sent me to East Asia, and now you’ve left me out to dry.” I had forgotten my confession. Sin makes us stupid, and the Word of God that has been hidden in our hearts fades away.

b. Separates us from fellowship of believers (v.3)
I want to just touch briefly on this. Primarily because I think most of you here tonight aren’t
guilty of this. If I’ve learned anything from Vine Street this semester, it’s that you certainly love being together. But notice in verse 3, “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish.” The command was to “Arise and go to Nineveh,” but instead he immediately set himself towards distant lands. When we are caught up in sin, we will forsake meeting with other believers. This is why the author of Hebrews says in 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The church was made for a reason. Together we are growing in grace. The church is the measure of grace by which the Groom is perfecting his Bride. When the temptation to sin overwhelms, run to the Cross, run to the Word, and run to the fellowship of believers. Jonah set sail with pagan sailors, hoping they wouldn’t point him to the Lord. We’ll see in a minute how wrong he was.

c. Is sin, which leads to death (v.4-16)
Jonah sets sail in Joppa, in hopes to flee from the Lord. On the open seas, though, God hurls a
storm upon the ship that will certainly leave the crew and passengers dead at the bottom of the
Mediterranean. The sailors begin to throw everything that’s not tied down overboard. Meanwhile, our brother Jonah is snoozing from sin exhaustion in the belly of the ship. The sailors begin to cry out to pagan gods to save them, but the storm only intensifies. The captain notices Jonah is missing and goes down to find him. “Get up! Our prayers aren’t working, try your God.” The men decide to cast lots, a common practice of the day, to see who’s fault this is. The sovereign God of the universe identifies Jonah, and the sailors start their questions. What’s your job? Where are you from? What people do you belong to? The truth comes out. Jonah knows he’s caught. More importantly, he knows the consequences of his actions. The men who were merely afraid at the storm, are terrified at this man, the prophet of Yahweh, the rebel of God. In verse 12, Jonah makes the best decision of the chapter, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down fro you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” This only scares the pagan sailors more, but they eventually do it. They pick up Jonah, ask the Lord’s forgiveness, and toss Jonah into the depths.

This is indeed our curse. The wages of sin is death.

3. The Grace of God…
a. Will call us to him if we are true believers (v.4ff)
There is no question that Jonah was a prophet of God. But like all men, Jonah let sin infiltrate his life and take over all logic and actions. But if you’ll think through Scripture, and even your own life, you’ll notice that God continually calls his children back to himself. Solomon, in Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” God will correct the paths of his children. In the life of Jonah, God hurled a storm at a ship on the sea. He will do no less for you. Be sure though, there is a difference in suffering for the sake of Christ and suffering under the discipline of the Lord because of your disobedience. Both bring him glory, but the only the former advances the gospel. When I preach next, Lord willing, we will look at chapter 2 at Jonah’s prayer and his last minute cry to the Lord more in depth. Let me exhort you now, though, to turn to the Lord before it comes to the storm, but if your sin blinds you until the storm is hurled upon you, the Lord will still deliver you, in fact, the storm itself is to bring back to God and make you look more like Christ.

b. Uses any means necessary to right our course, even pagans (v.6, 11, 14-16)
An interesting element to this part of the story in Jonah is the way God uses the sailors to call Jonah back to himself. They go get Jonah, and they beg him to join in crying out to God. The
Lord then reveals to them, through the casting of lots, that Jonah is the cause of this great storm. They put him on trial, and they are afraid of this Yahweh. They see his sovereignty, and in their fear, Jonah remembers the God he serves: the omnipotent, omnipresent true God. Jonah’s surrender to the Lord, will bring these men to their knees before the Lord.

c. Will rescue us from death (v.17)
Look with me at verse 17: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah
was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” We have marred the story of Jonah. As a child, a remember learning this story about a man who got swallowed by a whale because he didn’t listen to God. The truth, however, is that Jonah got swallowed by a fish because we serve a gracious, merciful God. As the sailors were bowing down in worship to the Lord on the now calm waters, Jonah was sinking to his death. We will touch more on this when we look at chapter 2 together, but just as Jonah’s body was settling on what would seem to be his burial spot on the sea, the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah, where he stayed for three days, and three nights. Does that sound familiar? I hope it does. For this is the sign of Jonah: A greater One came. He too was entombed for three days and three nights. Those who witnessed this had the same thoughts that those sailors must have had: “He’s gone forever.” But praise be to God, three days later the Great One, the Christ, the Word of God made flesh, rose from the grave, and death was put to death. God’s grace will and has rescued us from death. This is the message of Jonah.

What Now?
As we close tonight, I want you to know that this story applies to you. Like Jonah, we all go astray.
There is no second of your life in which you do not sin. But thanks be to God, he is gracious, and he
continually calls us to himself. So when temptation creeps in this week, brothers and sisters, don’t flee to
Tarshish, run to God. This week, when God puts you in the paths of those that do not know him,
proclaim the gospel. This week follow the Lord your God, lest his strong hand of discipline come upon you. May his kindness and grace lead us to faithfully and joyfully serve him.


Conviction, Confession and Carnival Cruises?

A Southern Gospel Cruise? Ok ok, it wasn’t like the whole cruise was singing amazing grace…but yes that was the group I was in. Just like any cruise ship though, Carnival’s newest addition, the Magic, had everything we could ask for.

Great food, Free food, water park, wonderful food, putt-putt, great food, and 2 stops in the Bahamas. I even had a lady in Nassau shout out “Come get your bahama mama,”

I was uncertain what she meant but was sure I didn’t want one. I set back towards the ship instead.

It was indeed Magic.

I know what you’re thinking though still…Southern Gospel? I understand. Southern Gospel has indeed tainted itself with story after story of tragic infidelity and marital failure. Often the singers themselves are denoted as “fake” or “made-up”, just out to charm a few old folks and take their money.

Not this cruise and not these singers.

Before singing their next “number”, one of the groups’ members stood up and started sharing. However, what he shared was not cheesy nor for show. He told of his own moral failure. He did not glorify it but rather said with tear-filled eyes of how he had failed his family, lost his wife and kids, and his ministry. The silence was deafening.

But he continued. He said something that we all need to hear more of. He told of his guilt, and the shame that resulted. He wallowed in it, as most of us would. He considered himself useless to God. He then said, however, that the Holy Spirit continued to work in his life and he realized something that caught my ear.

“Shame is not of God…guilt should not lead there in Christ. Conviction, Repentance and Renewal are from God.”

He had revealed something that many of us struggle with. Confession is necessary. And here’s why…

What he did in that moment was recognize and glorify God’s victory over his sin. His sin was real. His shame was real. Satan would love for believers to live in shame. Shame from secret sin that we carry, whether current or past. The enemy would relish the opportunity to render us “unable” to serve because we are wrecked with shame. In Christ we have conquered the grave, sin and the shame of sin. We do not have to and SHOULD NOT live in shame. But in order for that to have its full affect in our lives, we must confess.

What we realize upon confession, is that we are not confessing sin at all. That would be both shaming to us and glorifying to the sin. But rather we are declaring Christ’s victory in our lives and confessing his glorious victory over sin.

Few of us need more Cruises, Most of us need current Conviction, and I would venture to say we all need to practice more Confession.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

You can confess that all day folks (spoken like a southern preacher)

Disaster Relief is Gospel Proclamation

Clay, Alabama, is a community tucked away in the very last foothills of the Appalachians that rest in the central part of the state. It’s an unsuspecting place, quiet, and beautiful. The high school is a source of intense pride. We’re proud to be from Clay-Chalkville. You may have never heard of us, but that won’t diminish the pride. That quiet community, however, gained a national spotlight last Monday.

Before the sun could do it’s job in bringing light and life on that Monday morning, terror and disaster awoke Clay’s residents. A tornado touched down and destruction ensued. The event itself wasn’t long, but the impact will last forever.

I had the opportunity to travel back to my Alabama roots. It was painful. Gut-wrenching doesn’t quite describe the feeling of seeing the things you once knew so well left in a pile of debris. Praise God my family was ok, and, for all practical purposes, left untouched by the destruction. My neighbors aren’t, though. They’re picking up the pieces of their lives. Literally.

Survivors guilt. Why was I spared? Why is my stuff ok? Why aren’t my childhood memories scattered across the neighbor’s yard, tossed about carelessly like a child’s legos? It’s a feeling the Lord is making all too real in my life. You see, tornadoes aren’t new to me. As a student at Union University in 2008, a tornado hit our campus, removing 80% of the residence life buildings and leaving 40 million dollars in damage. I was in the 20%. I didn’t lose anything. Let me share what I gained though, and what, once again, another tornado reminded me of.

Storms are a reminder of the gospel. They are a part of the gospel story. Prior to sin, destruction wasn’t there. But sin entered the world, and so did tornadoes. Storms are a reminder that the world is not right. We as humans are not right. We live under the curse.

An interesting thing happens, though, in a tornado and the days that follow. I experienced it at Union, and I experienced it in Clay. The sun comes up. The body comes together. Hope is born. Do you see the gospel there?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, says “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

As believers we hope in the coming resurrection. We will be raised with him. To what? Look at Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'” There will be a day, when things will be right again.

While they are not, though, preach the gospel. Don’t cower down to destruction. In the wake of the storm, point to Christ. Preach the gospel. It’s the only thing that can truly put a life back together. The blood of Jesus saves sin cursed people. The gospel is the best disaster relief there ever will be.

The Hunger Games

If you have not read these books but wish to, I suggest you not read this post. If you have read the books….

I won’t bore you rehashing the details. These books are fantastic. Intrigue. Love. Heroism. Suspense. Action.

It’s easy to understand why Suzanne Collins (or Aunt Suzanne as I sometimes refer to her) has taken the young adult and teenage readership by storm. The trilogy’s first part was published in 2008, the original 50,000 copies having doubled twice since then.

However, if you have read the Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole, there is something missing.

Book 1 – Leaves you hopeful

Book 2 – Leaves you confused but triumphant

Book 3 – Leaves you despairing in one key fact. Katniss failed.

She does not truly resolve her relationship with Peeta and Gail. Only through her arch enemy does she realize that she’s given control to a government who’s leader is as morally corrupt and power hungry as the last. Even after killing Coin, there is no firmly established government that believes itself to be able to enact permanent change. In fact Plutarch admits he thinks the “fickle stupid beings” will fail again. She is estranged from her mother. Haymitch goes right back to his drunken stupor. Gail’s fate is only mentioned in a line, and Katniss’ reaction to the absence of her life-long friend? RELIEF. All that to end the book with a page and a half long epilogue that declares “but maybe there is good in the world”. But you doubt it…you must…Suzanne has already done her job. And if there was any hope you had left you remember the one thing that destroys that whole philosophy.

Prim is dead.

Katniss failed. The very thing she set out to do, she can’t. She steps in, as a sacrifice for her sister, taking her place. But it wasn’t permanent, it wasn’t enough.

As a reader you should feel the emptiness that this brings. Don’t write it off as someone’s philosophy or personality and try to come to “grips” with it. There is something not right about the way this story ends.

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we know what the problem is sin. Collins’ paints a morbid but accurate picture of sin. But her worldview will not allow her to solve it. Almost unwittingly she presents Katniss as a saving figure. But that figure fails, her sacrifice is not enough.

Praise be, this is not how our story ends. Jesus Christ died, sacrificing himself for us, of his own choice, he took up the cross paying once and for all a PERMANENT price for our sin so that we would never have to die. As believers we have to recognize that people are looking for this solution, the solution of “savior” in everything but Jesus. We must bring them Jesus.

Those who do not have Christ are seeking something. They have the law of God written on their hearts. Deep down they know something is wrong. But they have been blinded. They seek after a savior in pornography, alcohol, government, materialism, until finally they are left with the conclusion that history is doomed to repeat itself and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

As pastors and believers, we need to recognize that this makes the task of spreading the name of Christ so very urgent. When we see the alcoholic who’s lost his wife, what he needs is Jesus. When we find the broken single mother who has just lost her job, what she needs is Jesus. It won’t take you long to convince them that their world is broken…they already know. It similarly won’t take much for them to admit that they’d love for it to be different. They have seen all the elements of the Gospel…Creator, Sin Death, Need to be Saved. The difference is that you have good news. A perfect sacrifice once and for all. You have the truth. He is the one that makes a dead heart beat again. His name is Jesus. He’s the River of Life. They don’t have to be thirsty. The Bread of Life.

They don’t have to be Hungry.

Missions – How?

How does someone become a christian?

Let’s look at Ezekiel 37

1 The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”

It would be tempting to stop after verse 10…to say they are living and breathing. After all, we can place ourselves in Ezekiel’s shoes and say, “we can preach the word, and we can even pray and ask the Lord to grant them true life.” However, lest we fall into the temptation to think that we somehow attained something, the Lord sets our hearts upon Him who truly deserves the Glory in verse 11. Only God can open the grave, having conquered it himself. Only the Lord God can put his spirit in a human being. We cannot control the spirit of God nor command it where to go. Our Lord is sovereign and thank goodness it is so.

A missionary once told me, “if I didn’t believe that God was the only one who could awaken a soul to life, I would leave the mission field right now.” This type of attitude comes from the realization that we are merely instruments. We do not save people for the Lord…the Lord brings people to himself. Sin is totally destructive. Therefore those who are lost need total reconstruction. Praise be to God He and He alone is mighty to pull them out of darkness into His marvelous light.

If sin and darkness hold us captive can another sinful man set one man free? Then how does a man get saved? There is only one explanation…and it doesn’t start with us…it starts like this

For God…..John 3:16

Missions – What?

“What are you going to say?”

“Not sure, I guess i’ll figure it out as I go.”

This conversation took place subconsciously between my dad and myself across the room from one another. We were packed in a 12×8 square foot room with nearly seventy-five others. In this abandoned soviet school, this was the only remaining room with a fire stove. At -5 outside, I deemed it a good location choice.  Suddenly, midst  the freezing cold, language barriers and new surroundings of this village , it became apparent that in the absence of their usual preacher, my father was being called upon to preach. There was no further instruction (at least that we could understand) but only to begin whenever he was ready.

I have no doubt that the idea of being ready was the furthest thing from my dad’s mind. His intention on this trek was to meet some new believers in an attempt to connect them with some already existing churches. Needless to say he was not “ready”. However, in perhaps the proudest moment I can recall of sitting under my father, he began to preach. There was no exegetical discourse, nor was there any attempt at alliteration. What proceeded from his mouth rather was an overflow of a heart that Christ had won, purchased and was always changing to be made more like him. Thus his word was simple, “Isn’t it great that we can have peace in Christ.”

After a few minutes of expounding, and reading a few verses, he sat down. There was no alter call, nor were there any conversions. What there were, however, were men and women who had lost their homes, livelihood, and families who heard a message of hope in the name of a Savior.

Once we reconcile that we MUST go…we must preach. It is difficult to feel qualified to do so. The call to preach the gospel seems overwhelming to us because often times we know not what to say, or how to say it. Whether it be in a village of Croatia or the city of Louisville KY, we have a temptation to try and provide the lost with something that will catch their eye, prick their ear, just enough to where they will come to church and perhaps they might be saved.

This is why Paul ends his thought in Romans 10 about going and preaching and hearing with the statement in verse 17, “So faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”

We have not been commanded to go and preach anything other than the word of Christ. To know anything among the nations except Christ and Him crucified. Like the demon-possessed man, we are commanded to go “and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

What we have in Missions is the promise that it works. This word of Christ, and the message of what He has done for us…that IS the message the Holy Spirit uses to open eyes, and open ears, and open hearts to see Christ for who He truly is.

What are you going to say? You need not fear…Christ has said it. Merely preach what He has spoken.

“I have come to seek and save that which is lost”

The Death of a Saint

Wednesday, in the still darkness before the sun brought the world to life, a dear saint of God breathed her last breath. Death, sickness, and sin all seemed to win this one. Grief began to sit in, first in family members, then friends, and dear brothers and sisters in the faith who knew her well. There was, no doubt and rightly so, a sense of hopelessness in her lifeless body.

Something greater was happening in that body, though. Her sin cursed body was finished, but her Blood bought soul was freed. You see, at some point in her life, Mary Elizabeth Vann was seeking self righteousness, attempting to fix herself. In one instant, though, the Spirit of God fell on her, snatched her from the burning fires of death, and presented her with Christ, the One who bought her on the cross. In an irresistible moment of the purest grace, she ran into freedom in the kingdom of God.

The Lord began working in her, moving her new heart of flesh towards Himself. She grew in the knowledge and wisdom of the Word. The Great Comission wasn’t a story in a book, it was a command the Lord God had given her. She deeply desired that her brothers and sisters knew it was theirs too. The gospel must be advanced, and that task belongs to us.

Today we mourn that this one is gone. We talk of her passing and our laying her body to rest. The real truth though, is that this saint isn’t past. She’s more alive than we’ve ever been. She’s found rest, but it’s in the presence of Christ. Her body will continue to decay on this earth, but don’t stand too close when the Day comes. You see, that body’s coming up out of the ground and it’s going to be made new.
So friends, mourn that sin curses, but rejoice. We’re headed to endless freedom too. Life will be eternal, and everyday it will be greater than the day before.

A Time of Hope

Last night and today I had the opportunity to visit my parents’ church in Birmingham. Both services had me in tears at least once. As I looked out over the congregation, many of whom I’ve known since birth, I saw many who were celebrating Christmas with the groans of creation.

There were at least three widows experiencing their first Christmas without their husbands, all well over 30 years. One mother, who has meant a lot to me since I was a teenager, was celebrating Christmas while her two sons were both away for the first time in their lives. There were cancer patients, others with various illnesses, and many who were, no doubt, tangled in sin. All these pointed to the painful truth that the world is messed up. But in the midst of despair and groans, the celebration of Christmas brings hope.

While much of our language, actions, and overall culture points out the loneliness of some, financial burdens of others, and dirtiness of sin in the face of light in many, Christmas should be a time of hope. There’s really no point in overlooking the sorrow, it’s a part of the human condition. We must, however, point to the hope of Jesus.

Jesus has brought hope, but he’s still bringing more. He brought hope that first Christmas morning when God laid in that manger. He gave even more hope in his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection three days later. He’s promised to return though and finish what he started. He’s coming back as our Warrior King. He’s going to slay the Dragon. We’ll celebrate his birth, death, resurrection, but sickness, death, and sin won’t creep in. We’ll be more alive than ever before.

As Christmas comes to a close, think about these things. The world as messed up. That’s why we’re going into the ministry. The Messiah came, though, and he’s coming again. So pastor the hurting, but point them to the hope to come.

Missions – Why?

The Following is the first in a series regarding Missions. What is it? Why do we do it? Who does it involve? Hopefully this will be encouraging and helpful.

Romans 10: 13-17

“For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved”. But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.

Take that last verse and stick it in your back pocket for next time. For now lets answer the question of why we would do missions? It may seem self-explanatory, but at the simple risk of encouraging us all the more to pursue the spread of God’s gospel…here we go 🙂

I Peter tells us that it is the will of the Father that all might be saved. We know however that this is not the case for everyone. There will be those that perish without the salvation of Jesus Christ and His Righteousness. However, Paul affirms here a solid truth that as believers we must hold on to when he quotes the prophet Joel by saying that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This is amazing!!! In this we find the will of the Father come to fruition and we rejoice at the thought that all tribes and nations and tongues will be represented one day before the throne…why? Because ANYONE who calls will be saved.

However, we also find from scripture that those without Christ are spiritually dead. A dead man cannot call out. They are ensnared and under capture of the Evil One (2 Timothy 2:26). Thus the dilemma. Our brother Paul gives the solution.

They cannot call upon him in whom they have not believed – ok…makes sense if they don’t actually believe in Christ…they won’t call upon Him to be saved

They cannot believe in Him of whom they have not heard –  This also fits. You can’t possibly believe in something you do not know about.

How are they to hear without someone preaching – Incredibly enough this fits as well. Someone (in whatever avenue of communication) has to actually inform you for you to “hear” and comprehend.

How are they to preach unless they are sent – We have to GO to people to tell them the good news

The conclusion from Paul’s walk through is simple. Those who are lost in darkness cannot call out and be saved unless we go. Unless we are sending (Whether in official capacity or earnestly encouraging one another to go to our neighbors) and going, we cannot tell anyone of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. If we do not tell them, they won’t hear. If they don’t hear, they will not believe. And if they don’t believe, they will not call. And if they don’t call they will NOT BE SAVED.

So why Missions? Because when it comes to the Lost being Found,

The Church is God’s plan for His Mission

Discussion: Small Groups

Ok, so many of us agree that believers need to be a part of a small group, but what does that mean. What would it mean to go into an existing “traditional” churches and slowly change the church culture to small groups. What do you think? I’m leaving it open for now and will come back with a post after some response with my thoughts.