Biblical Evangelism

BrownBibleGod is the Author of biblical evangelism. And one of the key texts on how evangelistic means are used to bring the lost to salvation is found in Romans 10, verses 9-15.

Romans 10 begins with Paul’s heart desire and prayer to God for the salvation of his kinsmen Israel. As Israelites, they are members of the external, “ethnic covenant,” they are descendants of Abraham, and they have God’s law and even a knowledge of God in some sense… but they are lost in terms of salvation. So Paul is pleading for them in Romans 10.

At the beginning of Romans 9, in verse 3, Paul refers to them as his brothers “my kinsmen according to the flesh.” And the fact that Israel isn’t responding to the gospel in large numbers doesn’t mean God’s Word has failed to accomplish His design. Just the opposite.

In Romans 10:2, he says Israel has a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. They’re ignorant of God’s righteousness and they try in vain to establish their own righteousness through the Law.

Then, in Romans 10:6, he quotes from Deuteronomy 30:12-13 about ascending to heaven or descending into the depths of the sea (in Deut 30:13 “depths” refers to the sea; in Rom 10:7 “abyss” refers to the grave).

The point is, true faith doesn’t require an arduous quest to locate Christ; rather authentic belief (trust) confidently asserts the true Word of the true faith… and that brings us to verse 9.

This is where belief and faith and evangelism are all linked together.

Romans 10 beautifully describes the means God employs to reach His chosen people with the good news about His Son; means such as hearing, and preaching, and sending to make Christ and His gospel known.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:7 and employs this metaphor to say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the gospel of good news.” The message is what makes the messenger’s feet or cadence so beautiful to those who are impacted by it.

The gospel is decisive news of victory that Christ has given His people to tell the world. Making Christ known to all is the joyful privilege and responsibility of every believer in Jesus Christ.

I use the word responsibility for a reason: we need to understand that evangelism isn’t optional for us as believers. The church is, after all, an evangelistic enterprise – and evangelism is one of the few projects we can do better on earth than we can in heaven.

If worship for the glory of Jesus Christ is the ultimate mission of the church, then evangelism becomes the penultimate mission of the church because evangelism is the means God has ordained to fulfill the ultimate purpose… to bring in worshipers to glorify His name, beginning on the earth and culminating forever in heaven.

Our mission is not merely to make converts, but to make genuine disciples of Jesus Christ who are truly regenerated, growing in their faith, and able to make more disciples.

It may help to think of evangelism as the means God uses to make Christ known to those who don’t know Him. It can refer to everything that God uses to bring about true regeneration. We’re talking here about gospel encounters with people.

It can refer to witnessing, one-on-one conversations talking about the gospel; quoting Scripture; preaching Scripture; using Scripture-saturated tracts that cross the language barrier and so forth.

Evangelism encompasses every wise, legitimate, and biblical means of reaching the lost with the truth about Jesus Christ. Even grief and tragedy have been great evangelists in the cause of God throughout redemptive history. That’s what Romans 8:28 is all about.

And the reason evangelism is so important is that it’s the prerequisite for making disciples… and that’s the Great Commission. Making disciples begins with evangelism and leads to growing conformity to Christ for the remainder of life.

Evangelism is one of the ways God’s people are reminded of the need to continually sow gospel seeds, where in America, even many churches are like mission fields where the lost need to hear and believe the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

The scope of evangelism encompasses every human being. We don’t know whom God has chosen for salvation or not. Our charge is to obey our Master who gave a very clear commission.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [On that basis…] 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus told His followers to go into all the world… that’s the missionary enterprise of crossing into other cultures to make the saving gospel message known to every individual within every culture.

Evangelism aims at regeneration with a view toward making disciples. But it doesn’t require a positive outcome (in terms of having someone receive Christ with you on the spot) in order to be deemed effective or successful. One sows, another waters, but God must give the increase (1 Cor 3:6). Man sows, but only God saves.

In other words, when you present the gospel faithfully and accurately, even if people do not come to Christ and do not respond affirmatively to your faithful presentation of the gospel, that doesn’t mean you have failed as an evangelist. That’s the confidence of knowing your mission.

The evangelist is not responsible for the final outcome of the harvest; the evangelist is only responsible for the faithful sowing of the seed. Therefore, be faithful to the truth of Christ revealed in Scripture and you cannot fail as an evangelist.

All for His glory,
Pastor Kevin

 

 

 

When God Says “No”

“As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged Him that he might be with Him.” [Mark 5:18]

The man who had been possessed with demons begged Jesus that he might be with Him. That’s all he wanted after spending so long under the tyranny of Satan.

All he now wants is to be a disciple of Jesus and stay with Him wherever He goes. Jesus has already been begged by the demons to enter the pigs… and what did our Lord say to the demons? “Yes.” He gave them permission.

When the Gentile townspeople begged Jesus to depart from their region, what did Jesus say to their request? According to verse 18, He said “yes” by implication that He got back into the boat to leave.

Now we have this third begging request and it’s from a man who’s just been set free from bondage to Satan and all he wants is to be with Jesus.

And what is Jesus’ answer to this newly redeemed man?

Surprisingly, Jesus said “no.” This is the only request that Jesus denied in this passage.

But which of these three petitioners do you suppose Jesus loved the most?

Well, we know it wasn’t the demons… but He told them yes.

And we’re pretty confident He didn’t have greater love for the Gentile townspeople who rejected Him. But He also told them yes when they begged Him to leave.

In an incredibly poignant irony, Jesus says “no” to the request of the one He loves more than the others who received a “yes” from Him.

Often in our relationship with God, “No” is a far more loving response than “Yes” when our present desires cannot encompass the full magnificence of His will for our lives.

When God saves you and has a purpose for your future that is really good; when He has plans to bless you beyond anything you can presently imagine, He is more likely to tell His children “no” to certain things that seem well and good to us in the temporal realm.

And that’s because He’s working out for us something infinitely better in the eternal realm than our temporal desires can understand or explain or accommodate.

Verse 19 says, And [Jesus] did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.”

This formerly demon-possessed Gentile man becomes the first commissioned preacher to the land of the Gentiles in the NT. Before Jesus commissioned the 70 and before He sent the Apostles to preach in His name, this man was sent by Jesus to preach.

He is the first Gentile missionary to other Gentiles. And this is his mission:

“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

And what happened?  Did he become angry that Jesus denied his request?

No… it says in verse 20 “And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.”

This word for “proclaim” in verse 20 is the word κηρύσσειν which means to preach.

He began to preach. This man demonstrated his salvation by obediently embracing the Lord’s “no” to his request and by doing exactly what Jesus told him to do.

He didn’t sulk. He didn’t argue. But he apparently saw in the eyes of Jesus a love that is so deep that His “no” became as sweet as honey to this trusting, newly redeemed heart.

Even when Jesus denies our temporal requests, it is always for our better interests and always for His greater glory.

We should always remember that there is an eternal “Yes!” behind every temporal “No” in God’s redemptive purpose for our blessing.

With joy in His purposes,
Pastor Kevin

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Advent of the Second Adam

It’s Christmas season again and this is the time when we remind ourselves of the reason Jesus came to the earth.

The Bible refers to Jesus Christ as the Second Adam. He came to accomplish what the first Adam failed to accomplish. Christ’s Advent refers to His entrance into human history through the womb of the Virgin Mary. He is the Second Adam – fully God and fully man.

The first Adam was created, but not born.

The Second Adam (our Lord) was born, but He wasn’t created.

When you were born, you had no choice in the matter. You didn’t choose your parents. You didn’t control the time or circumstances surrounding your birth. But Jesus did.

Jesus was the only baby who chose His own mother. In fact, He knitted His mother together in her mother’s womb! For He created all things.

Colossians 1:16 tells us,

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him.”

So when we come to study the incarnation of Jesus in Matthew 1, we’re studying a birth like none other. Matthew 1:18 conveys the simplicity of the account… the virgin birth is simply stated as a fact with no arguments or embellishments.

This observation is one of the strongest arguments for the divine revelation of these verses.

If sinful men wanted to invent or concoct a story of God becoming a man through a virgin conception, it would end up being a long, well-padded, even defensive account of how it happened.

But that’s not what we have. There’s no long account; no arguments; no embellishments. Just a simple statement of the facts.

Matthew opens with 17 verses to disclose the human genealogy of Jesus, but only one verse to reveal His divine ancestry: “Before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (1:18).

It was the Holy Spirit who placed the divine seed into the body of Mary.

This is a unique place where theology overshadows biology.

That’s what makes this a miracle. The virgin conception can’t be explained by natural means. The Holy Spirit is named as the supernatural means. She is pregnant… while still a virgin.

“Before they came together” means they had no sexual union.

Over the years, I’ve actually heard some people say, “What difference does it make if Mary was a virgin? Who cares if Joseph was His father or even another man…?”

They say, “Isn’t His life and teaching what counts most?” The answer is no; because the life and teaching of Jesus are inextricably bound to His person and His origin.

If Jesus had been the offspring of a human father, He could not have been our Savior. He would not have been divine.

He could not have lived a sinless life or died a substitutionary death. He would merely be another child of the first Adam, and like the rest of us, dead in trespasses and sins.

Furthermore, it would mean Jesus was a fraud who lied about His eternality, who lied about His oneness with the Father and His sinless nature. We would have no Savior and we would still be lost in our sins with no hope for heaven after death.

But the Bible proves that it matters a great deal who Jesus really is and how He came into this world. It actually happened as Scripture records. Jesus was born of a virgin.

We worship a God who has invaded time and space with the reality of who He is!

So as we prepare to begin 2018, I encourage you to pause and let the wonder of these incarnation realities change your perspectives on life and God’s purpose for you in the coming year.

With joy in Christ,
Pastor Kevin

 

 

Photo by Aaron Burden

 

 

Always Giving Thanks

At this time of year it’s natural to think about the virtue of giving thanks to God. On the surface, it sounds so easy.

Perhaps we think of Thanksgiving as the most “tame” and harmless of all holidays with little at stake (except perhaps that of overeating!). But that’s far from the reality of the matter.

As Christians, the foundation of what we believe every day of the year — in sickness and in health — in good times and in bad — comes to the surface at Thanksgiving.

I am convinced that our circumstances have almost nothing to do with our ability or inability to give thanks to God.

Some of the most joyful, gracious, and thankful Christians I know happen to live with chronic illness and pains and losses that would stagger most people. Their ability to give thanks every single day has nothing to do with their circumstances or their comfort.

On the other hand, I also know people with pains and illnesses who feel angry toward God. They talk as if God has unfairly dealt them an undue measure of pain and sorrow in this life. They spend their time complaining and grumbling with no thanksgiving.

So I am convinced that our circumstances have little or nothing to do with our ability or inability to give thanks to God. Rather, our theological perspective on our circumstances has everything to do with whether we are thankful to God with joy in His goodness… or not.

If we truly believe that as fallen creatures living in a fallen creation that disease and death should be the exception and not the rule, we are going to be sadly disappointed. Jesus even told us, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Ever since the fall of humanity into sin and corruption “the whole creation groans” (Romans 8:22).

“And we ourselves, who already have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

Now there is a way of complaining to God that exists within the realm and jurisdiction of faith. But there is a sinister complaining about God that exists only in the realm and neighborhood of unbelief.

If I see my chronic illness and sickness and brokenness in this life as an exception that is unfair, my heart will become increasingly bitter and thankless over time.

But if I understand at the outset that in this life of sin and disease, we are all going to eventually have pains and losses and brokenness and blindness and cancers and griefs and death until we get home, then I can stand on the promise of Romans 8:28 and in my broken heart through tears write “GOOD” over every disease and loss.

Understand, I don’t want these things to happen to me any more than you want them to happen to you. We would never choose to suffer if we could avoid it and still grow in sanctification and still be conformed more and more into the image of Christ. But Jesus is producing something in us through these afflictions that comfort could never produce.

Knowing that God is sovereign over every good and bad thing that enters my life prepares me to take heart in the goodness of His purpose in my heartbreak and illness and pain until He brings me home to be with Himself.

In this way, what I believe from Scripture about God’s purpose in my hurts and the evils I may suffer in this life allows me to trust Him in the darkness until He finally brings me into the light.

Although I don’t like to publicize my own frailties, it sometimes helps people to understand my context when I mention the perspective from which I write and preach. Otherwise, you might think of me what Shakespeare said of Mercutio: “He jests at scars who never felt a wound!” Nothing could be further from the truth.

In addition, I also endure the same viruses and plagues and griefs that sweep through our community just like everybody else.  So I am united with you in physical afflictions, both seen and unseen. I write with this in mind.

Understanding our personal struggle enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. We must be compassionate toward the hurting as Jesus taught us when He rebuked the religious leaders for their lack of compassion on those who are afflicted physically (Luke 13:10-17).

God is also glorified by the tears of His faith-filled people when their hearts and bodies are broken with grief and pain in this life. In this world, there will be pains and tears of suffering. But in His presence there is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11)!

That’s why Thanksgiving is such a profound mark of faith in the presence of illness and disability… and of disease and death. Our ability to give thanks to God has almost nothing to do with our circumstances; it has everything to do with our theological perspective on our circumstances.

This is the triumph of faith in a fallen world!

With joy in our Savior,
Pastor Kevin

 

500th Anniversary

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It’s a landmark worth remembering.

Although we often go back to Martin Luther nailing his protest to the church door at Wittenburg as the start of the Reformation, the movement itself is much larger than one man — and its beginning is much bigger than a single action.

 

The Real Story

The real story of the Reformation played out in various ways, through different men across the centuries. Each man played a role.

Some were less-known, but every actor was used by God to advance the recovery of biblical justification as revealed in Scripture alone.

What happened 500 years ago changed history forever. It has shaped Western civilization more than any other single movement.

In light of the Reformation, our call as Christians is clear: as ambassadors of Christ, we present the good news about Jesus Christ and we tear down false ideas that stand between the saving message and an individual’s faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

The world hates our message, but we must not flinch or back down. Luther said,

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

 

Why Reform was Needed

Before the time of Luther’s reforms, the Roman Catholic religion kept its members in deep spiritual darkness. They prayed to relics and hoped in superstitions.

During those spiritually dark ages before 1517, the Bible was closed to the population. The Catholic Church wouldn’t allow the people to read the Bible. It was a closed book in the Latin tongue of the clergy.

Yet even most of the priests had no knowledge of Scripture or the meaning of its doctrines. For this reason, spiritual darkness dominated the hearts and minds of the Roman Church and the population under its dominion.

 

A Religion Without Salvation

In the Roman Catholic religion, salvation as taught in the Bible – through faith in Christ alone apart from any works of ours – had long since been abandoned.

Instead, within the Catholic religion, the way of salvation through faith in Christ has been — and remains — diverted to faith in their seven sacraments with prayers to the Virgin Mary and prayers to the saints of ages past rather than prayers exclusively to God as revealed in Scripture.

 

Works Without Faith

In a 1981 book that was officially approved and authorized by the Vatican called “The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism,” question 462 asks…

How does the Church communicate the merits of Christ’s mercy to sinners?

Answer: “The Church communicates the merits of Christ’s mercy to sinners through the Mass and the sacraments and all the prayers and good works of the faithful.”

Are the sacraments necessary for salvation?

Answer: “According to the way God has willed that we be saved the sacraments are necessary for salvation.”

This is sacramentalism.

Sacramentalism is the position that one can and must be progressively justified by partaking of the sacraments. This is another gospel entirely.

 

A Religion that Curses the Gospel

Not only does Roman Catholicism continue to have no gospel and no way of salvation within its system, it also condemns the biblical gospel in the Council of Trent, which is the formal response of the Vatican to the Reformers.

Look at this official Catholic dogma. Council of Trent Session 6, chapter 16; canon 9–

“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

That completely contradicts Ephesians 2:8-9.  Here’s another one:

“If anyone says that the righteousness received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained and not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.”

Over and over again, the Catholic Church is pronouncing a damnation on the gospel of Jesus Christ. To believe Catholic doctrine is to deny and reject the gospel of Christ. Our Catholic friends and family members need to be warned of this.

Trent remains the official position of the Roman Catholic Church against the doctrine of the justification of sinners through faith alone apart from works.

 

Why Reform is Still Needed

Today, we still need faithful men and women who will fearlessly and lovingly inform the church as to why the Reformation was needed in the first place.

Most Christians don’t understand that the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t rejected any of its former views as published in the Council of Trent.

That key document condemns anyone who believes in justification through faith in Christ alone, as noted above. In other words, Roman Catholicism still condemns anyone who believes the gospel as revealed in Holy Scripture.

This remains true to the present hour… and Catholics need the gospel!

Inasmuch as Roman Catholicism rejects the only way of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone apart from any works, they remain under the strongest condemnation from God Himself.

Remember, all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).

 

What Jesus Said

Those who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write down God’s Word have given to us the mind of God in written form. Christ was speaking to the church through the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1:8-9 when He said,

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

This is Christ’s double-curse upon all false gospels.

 

Two Things to Know

For this reason, reformation in the church of today remains the duty of every faithful believer who understands these two things: (1) the true gospel… and (2) anything about the most prominent counterfeit of that gospel as currently believed by 1.2 billion souls today.

Please pray for their salvation and take every opportunity to speak the truth to those who remain in this (or any) religion of works and rituals without the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Kevin

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One Small Light

A lot is said about light in the New Testament. The power of one small light was brought home to me recently.

A negative example

In our bedroom, there now happens to be a small, but bright light that really pierces the darkness. It’s just what you don’t want in your room at night when you need to go to sleep. It’s on a device that’s plugged in so it runs constantly beside our clock.

Now since I’m trying to sleep at night, this little light has become an irritating nuisance to me. It keeps me awake for way longer than a totally dark room would.

To say that this small light pierces the darkness is just to affirm the fundamental nature of light.

Light always overcomes darkness. And the greater and deeper the darkness is, the smaller a light needs to be to overcome that darkness.

This bedroom LED is a negative example of the power and influence of one small light.

 

A positive example

The positive analogies drawn from the power of light over darkness are numerous. As Christians, we may often feel like a very small and meager light when it comes to overcoming the evil in the world around us. I often feel this way myself.

But think of the brightness of even a reflected light.

On many nights, I’ve been able to see where I’m walking only because the moon above was full enough to cast a veil of light all across the ground.

Although the moon has no light of its own, it was made to reflect the light of the sun and cast its light.

The moon is a natural illustration of the way our Christian lives should be. Christ shines and we reflect Him in the world. 

As redeemed sinners, we have no natural light of our own; but in Jesus, we are to reflect the light of the Son on the dark world around us.

 

Our Influence

The fact is, we have no idea how much influence our little light in the world really has compared to the deepening darkness that gathers around us in society.

Jesus said it would be this way.

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In other words, the way we live, how we respond to the sins of others, makes His light shine through the darkness.

So be encouraged with your seemingly little light.

Through Christ. you’re much brighter than you feel! And the greater the darkness gets, the brighter and more powerful even a very small light becomes.

 

All for His glory
Pastor Kevin

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When God Says No

When God says “no” to our requests, there is always a greater “yes” that He’s advancing for us.

Do you believe this to be true?

We pray but then we get distracted when God answers our prayer, perhaps in a different way than we expected.

Or we pray for something else, and things appear to worsen. What is God doing in these instances?

Does He hear us?  Does He care?  The answer to both questions is “yes.’

If that’s true, then we might ask, “Why would He not grant our requests in exactly the way we asked Him or in a swift and obvious way?”

Well, He’s growing us, for starters.

We need growth in our relationship with Him. This is far more valuable than the answer to anything about which we may be praying.

He’s also building our faith in Him through the trials of life.

And He’s always giving us something better than that for which we asked… even when it doesn’t seem better from our finite perspective. We may be asking for things of copper, figuratively speaking, when He grants us things of finest gold!

I’m comforted by this thought when my prayers seem to go unanswered by God.

God hears all of the prayers of His redeemed people. He loves His sheep. And like a good father, He doesn’t give us bad things even when they are earnestly sought and desired by His short-sighted children.

You recall what Jesus said in Matthew 7:9-11…

“…which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Do you see what our Lord is saying here? God always gives good things to His children.  This is true even when our prayer for something that we think to be good is not granted in the way that we had hoped.

It’s not that our prayers are always unreasonable. We are often asking for very good things. But there are far too many factors involved for us to understand every reason for the way an infinite God responds to the prayers of His people.

“No” is a perfectly good and loving answer to the often misguided requests of a finite creature. But here’s the hard thing: “no” is sometimes the best answer to some of our most noble and heartfelt requests as well.

“No” is often the most loving answer to some of my prayers. And other times, what feels like a “no” is in reality a “not yet” or a “not in that way” kind of response.

There are many times when I must say “no” to my children. It is good and loving for me to deny certain requests that would lead to their harm or would endanger them in some way. We understand those denials.

I think in a figuarative sense, there have been times in my prayers that I have unknowingly asked God for stones, but in His love He has given me the bread I really need. Or I have ignorantly asked Him for what amounts to a snake, but He has lovingly given me the fish I need instead.

We do the same thing with our children because we love them.

I must sometimes say “no” to my children when a request doesn’t promote the greater good of the family or otherwise increases the likelihood of unintended consequences.

It is the relationship between the giver and the receiver that determines how we deal with those kinds of denials.

Do we really trust that God is the Giver of every good and perfect gift?  We when trust Him, it flavors and seasons the way we pray.

So as we pray to God and don’t see Him answering some of our prayers in the way that we might wish, bear in mind that He never denies us any good thing. He always promotes that which is superior and best for our greatest good forever.

And this is very good news for us.

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Blindness

In February of 2014, I woke up one morning and couldn’t see very well. I later came to learn that I had gone 70% blind in my left eye.

My world changed suddenly.

For days, I couldn’t get medical attention because ophthalmologists in our region didn’t have available time to see a new patient – even one with an urgent problem. We then considered going out of state to get help – any help.

Finally, an optometrist in Tulsa agreed to check out my situation. My left optic nerve was swollen “off the charts,” they said.  It was in the process of dying due to a lack of blood supply.  They didn’t know what was causing it.

For some reason, they couldn’t get me in to see the specialist who worked in the same practice and office building just a few doors down and was familiar with the realm where my problem was centered: he was a diabetic eye specialist.

Instead, they sent me on a wild ride of medical tests at the local hospitals including an MRI, a neurologist, and a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

At the end of all of those procedures and multiple visual field tests, I had none of the most-dreaded problems that were suspected to be causing my partial blindness (like multiple sclerosis or a brain tumor), and yet I was still partially blind.

And even now, my vision continues to slowly weaken. My eyeglasses prescriptions can’t keep up with my declining vision. I now preach using electronic notes on a tablet with ever-increasing fonts.

All of this background is to say that God has full control of my vision. God has lovingly ordained this trial for my good and for the good of my family.

Like Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:1-10), I have prayed multiple times that the Lord would remove this thorn and restore my sight. I know He is able to do so. But I also know that He has multiple purposes in all of our afflictions that will be our resounding themes of glory in the age to come.

But for now we live in this valley of the shadow of death; and yet, we may fear no evil (at least, no ultimate evil) for the Lord Himself is with us. He is present in our afflictions. He is with us in our darkness and disabilities.

The purposes of Christ for His people are always exceedingly good.  Yet in this life, they are seldom easy to bear or appealing to our flesh.

And that’s the point… or that’s at least one of the points. You and I were not made to live forever in this fallen present world.

We were created by God to live with Him forever in a new world without sin, without sickness, and without death. No more fears, no more losses, and no more tears.

The trials of this present life serve to make us homesick for the life to come.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!

Rejoice, believer! God is on His throne and the best is yet to come!

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Fatherhood

As the father of five children, you might think I have some profound insights into the parenting and disciplining of children. But I’m actually on a steep learning-curve myself.

Over the years, I’ve seen the failing results of some self-styled “parenting experts,” and have decided to never put myself in the humiliating position of being a discredited expert in that area.

Instead, I’ve decided to embrace the position of fellow-struggler with other struggling parents in this fallen world.

Real life has a way of knocking our parenting delusions off of their pedestals… and that’s a good thing.

It reminds me of the Scottish minister who had six children.  He said when he was a single man, he had six theories on how to raise children; but once he had a family of his own, he had six children and no theories.

In the middle of the messiness, the chaos, and the noise of daily life, I’m convinced that parenting and fatherhood are far beyond my own abilities. And that’s an understatement!

Parenting is beyond my personal and natural abilities. I need the Lord to do this. I need the Lord in every aspect of parenting.

While the challenge of raising godly children is beyond our human abilities, parenting itself is not unsuited for us, nor are we for it. The exact opposite is true.

God has given us the very children we have according to His good and perfect design. It is God who made us the parents of this child or these children with all of their problems, fears, sinfulness, and disabilities that challenge our faith as we walk with God.

Because I’m a father, I have regular discipleship and evangelistic opportunities right in my own home.

Because I’m a father, I have the built-in accountability of matching my words with my actions and attitudes every day.

Because I’m a father, I live with the consequences of my parenting decisions – and those choices have an immediate impact on the management of our home.

The reason parenting hurts is because we fail in it in multiple ways. Sometimes I have put my face into my hands and just wept over my failures as a parent.

Parenting is not supposed to make us feel comfortable. It’s not meant to enhance our self-fulfillment. Rather, God is growing our faith through the daily struggles of parenting.

We are being forced to depend more and more on Christ. We are being taught to forsake the sinful ways and methods of the world and to prepare our children for eternity.

But appearances can be deceiving. Not everyone who is smiling and looking clean on the surface is living that way in private.

Thirty-one years ago, now-disgraced comedian Bill Cosby had a book attributed to him called “Fatherhood.”  It was a light-hearted survey of the humor involved in being a dad.

Today, Bill Cosby’s sad debacle reminds all of us that parenting and fatherhood have much more to do with what happens in our hearts before God – and behind closed doors – than about what the public sees on the surface.

As our nation celebrates another Father’s Day, I want to encourage all of the dads (and moms) who privately struggle with the challenge of raising kids in a fallen world. The parenting battle really begins in our own hearts.

Although God’s purpose for us as parents is not always pleasant, it is always good for us in Christ.

Ultimately, the parenting task should bring us to our knees and draw us closer to our Savior in this fleeting vapor called life.

 

 

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Reformation

The word “reformed” is a buzzword in Christian circles. But the term is seldom defined and it therefore has a wide range of meanings among those who use it.

In general, when we speak of reformation in a biblical sense, we mean to turn away from faulty beliefs & practices… and back to the standards set forth in Scripture.

Such a return was the heart-cry of the early reformers, “ad fontes!,”  meaning, “back to the sources!” It meant that the key to true Christian reformation is nothing less than a return to the Bible. The meaning of Scripture is the heart of the reformation.

The idea of theological reform is such a hopeful concept for Christians today. Reform is necessary for our churches, for our families, and for us as individuals. Why even have a church if the Bible and its precepts aren’t shaping its mission?

The idea of going back to Scripture for how we function in the church and how we relate to the world around us brings renewal of purpose and clarity of mission.

Because 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, many Christians are reexamining what it means to be continually engaged in the process of daily reformation.

When enough individuals get serious about obeying Scripture, it will inevitably shape the churches they attend, their leadership, and their outreach to the world.

Spiritual erosion and theological drift are still rampant in our day. Such demise is the natural pattern for all churches, families, and individuals when daily reformation is not preventing it. When a belief or practice is contrary to Scripture, it isn’t reformed. And if a belief or practice is superfluous to Scripture, it also isn’t reformed.

So being “reformed” is not simply a theological label with a narrow set of beliefs… it’s intrinsically connected to the meaning of Scripture itself. It’s a heart transformed by the Word of God with an awakened mind that’s being renewed daily by Scripture.

When our hearts are being conformed and shaped by Scripture, we are being reformed. When the truth of Scripture grips our heart, it shows in the way we love and serve in our local churches. We move from being Christian consumers to being joyful ministers who serve others as our general calling in Christ.

When our doctrine is defined by the teaching of Scripture, it reforms our priorities. When our churches are governed by biblical standards with biblical practices, they are being reformed. And when a family is being daily taught the meaning of God’s Word and seeing it lived out in the common hours of the day, that family is being reformed.

What about you? Are you living a life marked by biblical reformation? It begins by going back to the Bible… letting Scripture shape your beliefs, practices, and priorities.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” [Colossians 3:15-17]

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