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The Gospel Never Retreats

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There sat the world’s most outspoken Christian evangelist, chained to two Roman prison guards behind a locked jail cell. If most of us found ourselves in Paul’s shoes in this cell, we’d have thought for sure this was a sad day for the gospel. “Poor gospel”, we’d think. “Your days of victorious spreading have now come to a screeching halt. I guess I might as well just retreat to the cold recesses of this cell and silently go over some memory verses to reassure me. There’s no point trying to preach now.” Yet the Apostle Paul knew better than all this. He wrote to the church of Philippi, "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (Php. 1:12-14).
We may be tempted to see …

Pastors & Spider-Man

The other night my wife and I decided to watch one of the Spiderman movies we owned at the house. During the movie, I felt an odd connection with Peter Parker and his Spiderman persona. It was then that I started thinking about all the ways pastors and Spiderman have a very similar calling. First, like Spiderman, pastors are urged to serve because of the serious need they see around them and the unique calling given them. Whereas Peter Parker is urged by the screams of people who are in danger, we are urged by the lostness around us. When Paul was at Athens, his spirit was provoked when he saw the idols they worshiped (Acts 17:16ff). As pastors, we must never stop seeing the spiritual desperation in people’s lives. All believers are called to serve others for the sake of Christ, but pastors have a unique calling to shepherd their souls as well. Second, both pastors and Spiderman share the struggle of their calling with one woman (our wives, except in the case of Peter Parker). Peter Pa…

What That Verse Really Means- Matthew 18:20

There are a number of Bible verses that well-meaning people often quote at different times which twist Scripture into saying things it never intended to say. Some of us have probably heard or been guilty of using the phrase, “Where two or more are gathered, there am I among them.” This statement of Jesus from Matthew 18:20 is usually quoted when there is low attendance at some church function. Basically, we want to tell each other, “Hey guys, there may only be a handful of us here, but Jesus is with us.” It is true that Christ is among a small group of church members, but Matthew 18:20 isn’t saying it in that way. Many people would be surprised to discover that Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 deal with church discipline. I’ve always heard it said that a text without a context is just a pretext. So let’s look at the context. Context is best found by reading the verses and chapters before and after. To discover what Jesus means in verse 20, we only need to read verses 15 through 20. Jesu…

If Christ Be Not Raised...

Imagine if you woke up in the morning to discover this breaking news on your social media feed and across every major news network: the body of Jesus Christ has been discovered in a tomb near Jerusalem. If somehow this news could be verified, it would mean the end of the Christian faith and a complete repudiation of the Bible’s claim to divine inspiration. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul examines the ramifications of this if it were to be true. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul defends the doctrine of the future, bodily resurrection of believers from the vantage point of Christ’s bodily resurrection. The ESV Study Bible informs us, “Many people in the ancient Greco-Roman world believed that death extinguished life completely or led to a permanent but shadowy and insubstantial existence in the underworld. The concept of a physical, embodied existence after death was known mainly from popular fables and was thought laughable by the educated.” These Corinthian believers wante…

The Bible & The Constitution

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We’ve all been in those Bible studies where a Scripture is read, then everyone takes their turn giving it’s interpretation in their own opinion. The only interpretation outlawed in these settings is one that says someone else’s interpretation is wrong and theirs is right. The idea is that the Bible comes to each of us differently, therefore there is any myriad of possibilities for each text (within reason). The only problem is that Scripture presents itself to us as a meta-narrative (one big story), not as a series of small stories or good little promises. It is the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation, and the central figure of it all is Christ. As Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible, “Every story whispers His name.” Textual criticism and interpretation sounds like an art form reserved for ivory tower theologians, but it has shown up in recent news in a most unlikely place: the supreme court nomination hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch. The question …

The Gospel is for All

All-inclusive. Who doesn’t love to see those words when you’re booking a cruise or going to a vacation resort? When my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Jamaica, we found out how amazing those little words can be. We could eat at all the Sandals restaurants and order whatever we wanted without paying the bill (except for that little bill I paid before we left the States). But then we encountered multiple people on staff at this all-inclusive resort who wanted a tip: the men who put our bags on the bus, the bus driver from the airport to the resort, the bag boy who brought our bags to our room, etc. All the sudden that “all-inclusive” feel was out the window. I felt a little cheated. I’m afraid many of us can preach an all-inclusive gospel that is offered to all, yet we limit this offer in our interactions with those who are different from us. In Galatians 2, we encounter a rare scene where one Apostle publicly rebukes another for conduct that was, “not in step with the truth of th…

Fighting Fear with Fear

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When a forest fire rages out of control, sometimes firefighters must fight fire with fire. By burning the area around the fire, they leave nowhere for the fire to go. When it comes to the fear of man, we must fight fire with fire, by cultivating a healthy fear of God. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” I am a pansy. There, I said it. I’m far too concerned with what people think of me over what God thinks of me. If you’re like me, you are regularly frustrated at how often your decisions in life are based more on the fear of man than the fear of God. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t care about sounding offensive in many situations. I’ve been cussed at, threatened, and insulted by non-believers for sharing the gospel with them and not lost one minute of sleep over it. But when it comes to people I am close with, I hold their opinions often too highly and care more about …

The Cure for Spiritual Amnesia

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Amnesia is a terrible disease usually brought on by some sort of blunt force trauma to the brain. I recently heard the story of a woman who got amnesia when she happily lifted her baby in her arms only to accidentally hit the ceiling fan. While the baby was okay, the motion knocked the fan blade off balance and hit her on the top of her head, leaving her with amnesia. She had to relearn who she was, who her husband was and how she met him, and even who her baby was. Physical amnesia is terrible, but spiritual amnesia is far worse. Those who suffer from spiritual amnesia have forgotten who they are and whose they are, and as a result are incapable of carrying out the mission God has for them. Truth be told, every believer struggles on a regular basis with spiritual amnesia. It happens when we begin to listen to ourselves more than we preach the Gospel to ourselves. It happens when we gradually begin believing the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil over the truth of God’s Word…

What We Can Learn from J.C. Ryle

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“The world will let a man go to hell quietly, and never try to stop him. The world will never let a man go to heaven quietly—they will do all they can to turn him back…let him begin to read his Bible and be diligent in prayers, let him decline worldly amusement and be particular in his employment of time, let him seek an evangelical ministry and live as if he had an immortal soul,-let him do this, and the probability is all his relations and friends will be up in arms…if a man will become a decided evangelical Christian he must make up his mind to lose the world’s favours; he must be content to be thought by many a perfect fool” (Murray, 67). The name J.C. Ryle seemed to be forgotten by the winds of time after his death. For fifty years, Ryle’s work would be left in the dustbin of history. But when the battle for the Bible began raging on and the conservative resurgence took shape, Ryle’s works once again grew in popularity. Now that a new wave of “young, restless, and reformed” have…

God Meant It for Good

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” –Genesis 50:20a Perhaps the biggest issue people have with Christianity is how a good God can coexist with the evil and suffering of this world. More ink has been spilt trying to give a sufficient answer to the question of God’s goodness in an evil world than I could write in ten lifetimes, but in this one verse we find perhaps the best concise explanation. Let’s at least get one thing out of the way before we break down what is going on in this text: the problem of evil cannot really be a problem to God. Were God to face a real dilemma He cannot solve, such as the presence of evil, He would cease to be the sovereign authority of all creation. The problem of evil then is really only a problem from our human perspective. The old saying, “If God is God, He is not good. If God is good He is not God”, from a play by Archibald MacLeish, sums up the belief of many regarding this issue. Yet in the life of Joseph, we encounter …

Keeping in Step with the Spirit

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When my wife and I first married, we would often take walks around a beautiful water reservoir near our apartment in Louisville, KY. When we’d begin walking we wouldn’t always be in step with each other, so I’d do a little foot shuffle until my steps mimicked hers so we could walk hand in hand. If I didn’t do this, either I’d eventually outpace her or she would me and it would lead to some awkward walking. In the Christian life, it is imperative that we strive to keep in step with the Spirit of God, so that we are not running up ahead in self-righteous independence or falling behind in selfish laziness. But what exactly does it look like to, “keep in step with the Spirit” and how does one go about doing this? For this we turn to Galatians 5:16-26.
The problem with legalism and how to combat it
The church at Galatia had a problem running up ahead of the Spirit, so Paul wrote a letter to both warn and remind them. They had begun well and gave evidence that the Spirit was working in thei…

Our Name Changing God

Johnny Cash’s famous hit, “A Boy Named Sue” pokes fun at the significance of names. Nobody wants a name that makes others laugh at them or that reminds people of a negative historical figure. I recently preached a funeral for a deacon in our church with the middle name Adolf, a very popular name before World War II. Now no one names a child Adolf or Judas. This is why expectant mothers and fathers-to-be labor over the name of their progeny. When my wife and I were talking about names for our future children, I liked the name Clark for a boy, after my heroic great uncle, but my wife once babysat a Clark that forever secured in her mind the doctrine of total depravity. Likewise, my wife liked the name Autumn for a girl, but I knew an Autumn who would make you cringe whenever you saw her coming. Names carry a sense of one’s identity. This is why we name children after godly relatives, heroes of the faith, or that remind us of characteristics we hold dear. Why God Changes Our Names Yet in…

The Word that Sparked the Reformation

I’ve heard it said that one spark from a campfire can travel over a mile before burning out. But there is one spark that has managed to travel thousands of miles, even across oceans, and through five centuries of time and has spread a blaze across the world; this spark is the reformation doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The word that sparked this Reformation is the word ‘sola’ or ‘alone’ in English. In his book Faith Alone:The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, R.C. Sproul remarks, “It was the sola of sola fide that was the central point of dispute…Martin Luther and the Reformers insisted that justification is by faith alone. Rome affirms that justification is “by faith,” but not “by faith alone”’ (page 36, 122). How could such a small word carry so much weight and cause so much controversy? Because the word sola differentiated not between two different ways of understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ, but two totally different gospels alt…