Our Glorious King

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had just finished playing three games of full-court basketball and it was time to leave for work. A young kid challenged me to stay for another game by making some comment about my old(er) age, which give me a fresh motivation to play another game. I told him I would play one more game on one condition: he had to guard me. I scored all 15 of our team’s points. One of my teammates said to that kid after the game, “You shouldn’t have made Craig angry.”  

Last week Asaph told us about the boastful who say, “Hallelujah!” to themselves, and he continues with that theme in Psalm 76 by saying, in essence, “You shouldn’t have made God angry!” 

Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had defeated Babylon and Egypt and had now turned his eye toward Jerusalem. He sent Lachish, his general, to deliver some stinging insults against the people of Judah and even against God Himself.  

I know the Israelites had strayed from God, but the Assyrians made no pretense whatsoever to honor Yahweh, so why was God allowing them to get away with this? Doesn’t it seem sometimes like God is waiting too long to deal with these wicked insulters? 

Many scholars feel that Psalm 76 was written after Sennacherib’s defeat. And make no mistake about this: it was a decisive defeat—God struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers while they slept! Asaph’s song of victory contains two Selah pauses, both of them intended for us to consider the greatness of Yahweh: 

  • one Selah is after verse 3—pause and remember that God is Sovereign and Resplendent in glorious victory 
  • the second Selah is after verse 9—pause and reflect that God’s wrath defeats His enemies and brings forth praise from His people 

The Old Testament gives us actual historical events, but these physical events point to an ultimate spiritual fulfillment. Sennacherib’s physical threats against God’s people are still seen in the devil’s boastful threats against God’s people today.

Look at two attacks against Jesus— 

  • Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. (Luke 16:13-14) 
  • Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:34-35) 

These are the only two times in the New Testament that this Greek word for “sneer” is used. It means to deride, scoff, or mock. But in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the same word that Luke used for sneer is used when God Himself says to Sennacherib, “The Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you” (see 2 Kings 19:20-28). 

Sennacherib thought he was insulting God’s people, but God said, “You are really insulting Me!” Yikes—you shouldn’t make God angry! 

Psalm 76 gives us the same reminder that we read in Revelation 12:10-11—“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” 

We defeat the enemy of our soul not by facing him but by facing our King! 

When we are confronted by the ungodly insults from snarling, scoffing, wicked people, we must Selah to remind ourselves that Yahweh is—

Alpha
Known and Renown
Invincible
Majestic
Awesome
Holy
The Final Judge
Irrefutable
Glorious
Omniscient
Omnipotent
Unrivaled
Undefeated
King of kings
Lord of lords
Sovereign Ruler
Omega
THE Decisive Word

Let me say it again: We defeat the enemy of our soul not by facing him but by facing THIS King of kings!

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find the full list of those messages by clicking here.

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Changing Focus: Measuring The Right Things

I was recently interviewed on The Post Covid Church Podcast

In this episode, Stuart Kellogg and I discuss church leadership, my forthcoming book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, and even how church members can effectively talk to their pastor about some needed changes in their church. The episode is entitled Changing Focus: Measuring The Right Things and you can listen to it by clicking here. Stuart also provided a transcript of the entire interview—

Announcer

Welcome to the post COVID church podcast with your host, Stuart Kellogg.

Stuart Kellogg 0:12

Thank you for joining us. You know, since The Post Covid Church project is all about helping churches…our mission statement is Helping the church share more of the good news in the face of hostility, persecution and disinterest….Well, that can’t be done unless we spend a lot of time talking about leadership. Today, you’ll hear from a leader who’s focusing on helping churches to quit focusing on numbers, and start focusing on what matters.

Craig T. Owens is a pastor of Calvary Assembly of God in Cedar Springs, Michigan, the northern part of that northern state. He’s also worked in a variety of leadership positions in the for profit and nonprofit worlds.  It’s given him a great perspective on how to help The Post Covid Church regain its influence to, as we say, here, not just survive, but thrive. Craig is an accomplished blogger, podcaster and author. He’s also as I mentioned, a pastor.  We’ll be talking about what he’s learned and shared in his book, Shepherd Leadership, The Metrics That Really Matter. Craig and his wife, Betsy have three children. Welcome, Craig to The Post Covid Church Podcast.

Craig T. Owens

Thanks, Stuart. It’s great to be here with you.

Stuart:

Let’s jump right into the tough stuff. You say way, way too many pastors are measuring the wrong things. Please explain.

Craig

Yeah, you know, where this really kind of I guess started for me was when I have some well-meaning friends that would ask me, “You know, how are things going in your church?” And almost before I can answer their follow up question that is in their mind, I guess gauging whether I’m actually doing well or not was, ‘How many are you running on Sunday morning?” And I used to just answer that question. But then after a while, I began to say, “Alright, well, what if I said, 300?” And I get see him get really excited. And then I say, “What if I said, 20.” And they began to look a little confused. And so I said, “Well, let me clarify, what if I said, 300 that only show up on Sunday morning? And that’s it? I don’t see anything else happening the rest of the week. But what if I said 20, that not only showed up on Sunday morning, but throughout the entire week, I see them engaged, living out their faith actively involved. So you know, which would you rather have?” And they’re like, “Well, the 20.” And so I said, “So then why are you asking me? How many is showing up on Sunday morning? That is that the number that really matters? So are we counting the right things that we measuring the right things?” And you know, I just don’t really see when we go through the New Testament, I don’t see like, you know, Paul saying to us, “Hey, your church will be successful. If you’re growing at 7.5% per year in your attendance.” That’s never been the biblical metric for success.

Stuart

Well, is it because we’re in America, and that’s the American way, counting grow?

Craig  3:03

I think that’s part of it. And I think the other part and again, you know, when I wrote the book, I told my editor, I said, right up front, “Listen, check me on this, I don’t want to be on a soapbox sounding like I’m preaching at people, I want to help people.” And so I think a lot of this stuff, people were very well-intentioned. When we look at churches, and even parachurch nonprofit organizations, for the most part, the boards are made up of people from the corporate world. And so their natural mindset, the way that they think all of the time is in those quantifiable things that you can measure, they look at a bottom line, or they look at how many widgets or they look at, you know, they’re things that they can count. And so I think they’re well-intentioned, when they are then speaking to their pastor or the leader of their nonprofit organization and say, “Hey, show us what is how you’re being successful here.” And they’re almost forcing them to start counting things.

Stuart

Well, to use your example, you’re still counting by saying we have 30 who are engaged.  It’s just that you’re counting a different activity.

Craig  4:18

I use the words really, I’m looking for things that are more quality than I am quantity. I mean, quantity’s fine, but not by itself. You know, we could use the example of Philip in the book of Acts. He goes to Samaria and he is preaching there, people are getting saved. Demons are being cast out, people get healed.  And then God takes him from there, out into the wilderness. And at first, it appears to Philip he doesn’t even have a mission. It’s just get on this road that goes to Gaza through the desert. If we’re in worldly standards, you know, we would say Philip looks like he really took a step backwards. He went from a church if you will a congregation of hundreds to go where? But perhaps it was that maybe Philip’s way of talking to that Ethiopian official was the one guy that was going to be able to help him connect.

Here’s what I’m reading in the Old Testament scripture and connect that to Jesus. And so we wouldn’t say that that was a step backwards. That was where God needed Philip to go. But, you know, I, I think that sometimes we just go, well, it’s got to it, things have to keep moving up.  The dollars got to go up, the donors have to go up, the attendance has to go up. But toward what end? What are we trying to accomplish with that?

Stuart

As the church re-gathers now, should leaders start by rethinking their mission, how to impact the culture and make disciples and from that, the numbers will follow?

Craig

Yes. So I think that, especially for leaders of churches, and this is why I called the book Shepherd Leadership, because when you think in terms of a shepherd and a flock, shepherds don’t reproduce more sheep.  The role of the shepherd is to take the sheep to the place where there’s a healthy environment, help the sheep get healthy, so that they can reproduce. And so it’s not necessarily again about, “Okay, how many sheep do I have here?”  Well, you might have a whole bunch of them, and they’re unhealthy. So it’s, how healthy are the sheep? If there’s, if there’s lots of them, great. I’m not, you know, again, I don’t mean to be preaching at somebody and saying, “You should never have a large church or a large organization.” That’s, that’s not it. I’m just saying we shouldn’t say I’m successful, because it’s big. We want it to be really God-honoring healthy sheep-producing sheep.

Stuart  6:53

My guest, Craig T. Owens pastor, author, leadership, podcaster. And about to be published Shepherd Leadership, The Metrics That Really Matter.

George Barna, who has been studying the church for a generation plus, told me one big problem is that senior pastors get their jobs by being really good preachers and teachers, not because they’re great leaders. Do you agree? And if so, what should churches do?

Craig

Yeah, I totally agree. I’ve laughed with people about that before. I’m like, you know, we could spend like hours interviewing a potential pastor for a church. And really it comes down to how does he preach on Sunday? And so you’re like, “So you’re going to pick the way that he can speak publicly for 30 minutes?” Doesn’t necessarily, that’s not an indication of the the rest of the the week that he’s interacting with people.

You know, you had a previous guest on that was talking about in Ephesians, chapter four, that there are gifts that God gives to the church. And I paraphrase, so this will kind of dated but Dwight Eisenhower when he was President, he said, “If we ever think of the United States as one leader and 158 million followers, it wouldn’t be the United States.” I think the same thing in the church. If we think of it as just being one pastor, one minister, and then the rest of the congregation, t’s not really a healthy church.

I see myself as the shepherd. Yes, I minister to people, but my main goal, according to Ephesians, four, God, Jesus gave these gifts to the church to prepare the people to do the works of service, prepare them to minister. So really, my focus should be on, I want my whole congregation to be ministers. I don’t want them to just think of, “well, Craig Owens, is the minister here.” No, I’m not the minister. I’m one of the ministers. I might be the pastor the shepherd. But I’m not the only minister.

Stuart

So that means giving up control, delegating and finding talent in the pews.

Craig

Absolutely. Because I, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do everything well.   There are some things that the people say, you know, just stop doing that. It’s not very good. And so then there’s other people that God has equipped them and gifted them and say, “Boy, this is right in your strength zone.” This is how you’re going to be a key part of the body of Christ by using your gifts to minister this way.

Stuart:

How can lay leaders or members best take the initiative and help a pastor be a better shepherd leader if the pastor isn’t, or isn’t open to change?

Craig:    9:40

Well, you know, that’s a tough one because I know that there are some pastors that have the mentality that they are the final authority in the church and they’re really not open to input from other people. So I have usually said to people, you know, they’re like, I think I need to leave my church or I want to help my pastor. Change something. And the bottom line is like for myself, I’m not going to change unless I want to change, if I’m open to wanting to change. And if I don’t have that kind of humility, or that posture, the words that other people speak aren’t going to do anything to me.

So I think that that has to be the first spot is that a senior pastor, any senior leader needs to be out among the people all the time and admit your mistakes, and let people know, “Hey, I was no good in this area. That’s why I’m reading this book, or why I’ve gotten a mentor.”  Those kind of things will send the signals, “Hey, I’m teachable. I’m open, I’m willing to hear what other people have to say to me.”   Or, as you mentioned, when a senior pastor gives up some of their authority when they take their hands off some things that sends a signal. So I’d say if somebody’s a leader, a lay leader in a church, and they’re not seeing those kind of things, I’d be really cautious about approaching because, you know, you might be stepping on some toes there. But if you hear those kind of statements coming from that pastor, that leader, then they probably are open to having further conversations.

Stuart

What are some success stories you’ve seen at organizations you’ve consulted with?

Craig

Well, you know, I’ll tell you one of the organizations I just recently worked with, it was really eye-opening for me was, I was seeing it was a pregnancy Resource Center. And I saw this huge disconnect between the staff and the board.  They were all friendly, they all got along, but you could just see that they weren’t on the same page. And as I just kind of sat back during one time, was just kind of observing.  I realized that all of the board members, were all business owners.

And so I spoke to him like this. I said, “You know, in your business, if you made a $10,000 investment in your company to buy a new piece of equipment, or hire somebody or something like that, you would be looking at at the end of your fiscal year, at the bottom line financially, how did that affect us?” And you know, they all kind of agreed with that. So I said, “But now as a board member here, if you go out and raise $10,000, for this pregnancy Resource Center, they’re going to spend all $10,000 there’s not going to be any money left over at the end. But how many women that were abortion-minded? Might they have convinced to keep their child? What value would you put on that life that was saved?” And they just really kind of were all speechless. And so I said, “So that’s where I think that the disconnect is, is you guys are raising money. And then you’re expecting to see something that you can, like, ‘Oh, hey, look at the bottom line.’ And you might not see that, but you do see a life that was saved? And can you put a value on that? Of course, you can’t. It’s, it’s priceless.”

And, and that organization since that time, what’s been amazing, is that when the board went out and started their fundraising efforts, again, they were a now with this total mindset of saying to the staff, “What can we do as we raise this money, so that you can better get the message out to women who are in that crisis place.” And so it was just that little shift of thinking on their part. And then I watched Unity as that that staff in that board then got on the same page, and realize what it was that they were actually working for is not just you know, paying off a mortgage, or, you know, having nicer furniture in there, or that sort of thing.  But it was creating a place where they could change people’s minds who were maybe leaning towards abortion to change the other way. So I think it’s never really been big changes. When I’ve consulted with people, it’s just dropping that one seed, how does it look? And then when people get it, because, as I said earlier, I think those board members, I think a lot of those people, everybody is well-intentioned. They just you just got to get maybe you’re speaking a slightly different accent. Let’s get everybody on the same page. And that’s what I love being able to do.

Stuart

Well, would an analogy in the church be “Christ said the mission is making disciples. So everything we do should be focused on doing that. making disciples.”

Craig 14:51

Yeah, I think that, you know, like I joked with one church, they were like, “Hey, do you have any ideas how to grow the church?” And I said, “Well, define grow for me.”   And they really couldn’t. So I said, I offered a very tongue-in-cheek suggestion I said, “You’re right here on the main road and you have a big marquee out front. So why don’t you put a sign up that says free $50 gift certificate for all first-time visitors, you should have the church packed on Sunday morning.”  And they all were like, “No, no.”   I said, “Oh, that’s not what you meant by grow. Okay, so now that we got that out of the way, you know, let’s focus: What does grow really mean?”

So even if it’s just one person, you know, can you move them to the next step in their leadership development, ultimately, having them become disciple makers themselves and raising up other disciple makers. That, that sounds like a better plan for grow than just, “let’s, you know, turn on the lights and do some really cool stuff that makes people come in and go, ooh, you have a lot of people there.” But are you moving them towards becoming disciple makers?

Stuart

And a key part of what you’re talking about is communication.

Craig

Yes, absolutely. Yep.

Stuart

Craig T. Owens has written Shepherd Leadership, The Metrics That Really Matter. Talk about how confident leaders can balance that confidence with humility.

Craig

I’ve really noticed that leaders tend to gravitate toward one pole or the other. The confident leader, you know, knows that God has a call on their life. I use a simple phrase, God chose me. So I would say, Okay, well, God’s the one who chose me. So I, I’m confident in that. But if that confidence is not balanced by humility, that leader can come across as so hard-charging, so focused on the goal that I think that sometimes people have a hard time approaching or getting around them for fear of, “Well, what if I get in the way am I am I going to get run over?” That would be I’d be the first to admit, that’s the way that I’m naturally wired. So I have to deliberately find ways to serve the servants, I have to find ways to do things that other people find distasteful.  To do whatever that is, you know, certainly serving alongside the church custodians or, you know, you’re just you’re finding your ways to make sure that you’re sending again, that message to everybody else, “Hey, it’s not like I’ve arrived on some level. And these other tasks are beneath me.” Now, if Jesus, who in John chapter 13, it says that he knew that God had placed everything under his power. So John 13 opens with us seeing that Jesus is the most powerful person and he knew it, and his very next action is to stoop down and begin to wash feet.

Did he want to do that? I don’t, you know, that’s not a very pleasant task. But he delighted in being able to serve those people that were around him. And so I think that if you find yourself being that overly confident leader, you know that you tend towards that poll, you’re really going to have to make the extra effort to add humility, to your confidence.

Stuart

You’re a blogger, podcaster writer, you’re also a pastor.  What gives you the greatest joy as a senior pastor?

Craig:

Well, that’s an easy one. I love when I can just sit back and just watch, especially like Sunday morning.   I’ve often joked, like when we kind of have a greeting time, or whatever, and people are going around, even like, the start at the beginning, when people are arriving. If If I didn’t go up front, or send somebody up front and say, “Let’s start now”, they would just keep going all morning. And I just listen in, you know, here’s somebody over here talking about, yeah, I’ve got this medical concern. I’m not sure what’s going on. And a couple people say, well, let’s pray. You know, somebody said, I just got foot surgery coming up. Can we help get to the store to get groceries for you?

You know, I just those are the kinds of conversations that I overhear, or when we’re out in the community, just watching the way that, you know, totally on their own, I watched our youth group, organize a time where they all got garbage bags, and they just went around the school campus and just started picking up all the trash that was around the school campus. That’s the most thrilling thing for me as a pastor to just say, you know, there it is, in a real simple, tangible way. They’re exhibiting the love of Jesus. They’re saying, “This is our community. We didn’t make the mess. We’re more than happy to clean it up, clean it up.” You know, there’s somebody that’s in need, we don’t need to, you know, “Let’s call the church office and organize what we’re right here. Let’s just take care of it. We’ll get meals to that person. We’ll pray for him. We’ll take them to a doctor’s office.” You know what, whatever it is I that is the biggest thrill for me.

Stuart  19:58

That sounds kind of biblical.

Craig

Yeah, just sounds like that Acts chapter 2, you know, when everybody’s together taking care of each other.

Stuart

What a time for that to happen. Thanks for sharing. How can folks find out more about you your ministry and creative work?

Craig:

craigtowens.com is my blog.  Just about every day I’m blogging, devotional thoughts or books I’m reading or different things like that. There’s a separate page on there that talks about that book.

And then I’m more than happy to I love dialoguing with people. My email is real simple. It’s just craig@craigtowens.com

Stuart

The contact information will be in the transcript of this podcast.  Just go to the website, www.thepostcovidchurch.com, click on the title, Changing Focus Measuring the Right Things. There it is. Thank you, Craig, for joining me today.

Craig

My pleasure.

Stuart

This is the 50th Post Covid Church episode. Thank you for taking part and listening. I’d love to hear from you. Ideas feedback, anything: stuart@thepostcovidchurch.org  I mentioned the website wwwthepostcovidchurch.com  You can go there and find all the archive material from the last year. I so appreciate your support. I’m Stuart Kellogg.

Announcer

Thank you for listening to The Post Covid Church Podcast. You can find much more at The Post Covid Church group on Facebook or on the website, http://www.thepostcovidchurch.com

Thursdays With Spurgeon—It’s Not About Me

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

It’s Not About Me

Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:22 NKJV)

     To whom does God tell us to look for salvation? Oh, does it not lower the pride of man when we hear the Lord say, ‘Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth’? … How frequently you who are coming to Christ look to yourselves. ‘Oh!’ you say, ‘I do not repent enough.’ That is looking to yourself. ‘I do not believe enough.’ That is looking to yourself. ‘I am not worthy.’ That is looking to yourself. 

     ‘I cannot discover,’ says another, ‘that I have any righteousness.’ It is quite right to say that you have not any righteousness. But it is quite wrong to look for any. It is ‘Look to Me.’ God will have you turn your eye off yourself and look to Him. The hardest thing in the world is to turn a man’s eye off himself. As long as he lives, he always has a predilection to turn his eye inside and look at himself, whereas God says, ‘Look to Me.’ … 

     It is not a consideration of what you are but a consideration of what God is and what Christ is that can save you.

     For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all (Romans 11:32). He has passed a sentence of condemnation on all so that the free grace of God might come upon many to salvation. ‘Look! Look! Look!’ This is the simple method of salvation. ‘Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth!’

From Sovereignty And Salvation

One of the greatest—and most effective—lies that satan keeps whispering is that you have to do something to be saved. Or you have to do something to stay in God’s favor. Or your salvation is hanging by a flimsy thread. 

No, no, no! A thousand times no! 

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant just that: everything is done. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace extended to you through faith in Jesus alone. Jesus paid it all, so there is absolutely nothing you or I can add to it. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

Tell the devil he is a liar. Then, as Spurgeon said, look away from yourself and what you think you have to do and look only to the completed work of Calvary. True freedom and eternal joy come to the heart that looks away from itself and keeps its gaze on its Savior! When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant it! It is no longer what I must do, but what Jesus already did!

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The Fame Of God’s Name

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

In You, Lord, I have taken refuge … Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Psalm 31:1, 24). 

The bookend verses of Psalm 31 speak to the security we have when we are IN God: “IN You and all you who hope IN the Lord.” 

Jesus taught us to pray for Our Father’s name to be hallowed—for His fame to be as great on earth as it is in heaven. Those who are called CHRISTians literally carry the name of Christ IN themselves everywhere they go. Granted, there are some who will carry the name but not the character of Christ. To those people, Jesus will one day say, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.”  

But for those Jesus does know—those who carry IN themselves both the name and the character of Christ, those who have made their place IN God their utter dependence—there are amazing blessings that hallow God’s name. David lists blessings like:

  • being free from shame
  • answers to prayer
  • guidance 
  • deliverance from entrapments 
  • stores of abundantly good things 
  • protection from slander
  • preserved for all of eternity

God will cause His name to be hallowed and glorified through those who remain IN Him. We are not only recipients of His favor, but we also become conduits of His favor that make His name as great on earth as it is in Heaven! 

Thanks be to Jesus who has made us accepted in the Beloved, and has taken us IN Himself so that we can remain IN the Father (Ephesians 1:6; John 14:20)! Father, I pray that You will always find me IN You so that You can glorify Your name THROUGH me. Amen! 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Joyful Journey To Realization

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

The Joyful Journey To Realization

And [Abram] believed in the Lord, and [God] accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) 

     Brothers and sisters, this everyday faith is the faith of God’s elect! There are persons who imagine saving faith to be a barren conviction of the truth of certain abstract propositions, leading only to a quiet contemplation upon certain delightful topics, or separating ourselves from all sympathy with our fellow creatures. But it is not so! Faith, restricted merely to religious exercise, is not Christian faith. It must show itself in everything. … 

     There may be some of you here today who have been called by divine grace from darkness into marvelous light. You have been led to look to Jesus and you believe you have received pardon of your sin, and yet, for lack of knowledge, you know little of the sweet meaning of such words as these: ‘accepted in the Beloved’ (Ephesians 1:6); ‘perfect in Christ Jesus’ (Colossians 1:28); ‘complete in Him’ (Colossians 2:10). You are doubtless justified, though you scarcely understand what justification means. And you are accepted, though you have not realized your acceptance. And you are complete in Jesus Christ, though you have, today, a far deeper sense of your personal incompleteness than of the all-sufficiency of Jesus. … 

     But there will come a time, beloved, when you who are called will clearly realize your justification and will rejoice in it! It will be intelligently understood by you and will become a matter of transporting delight—lifting you to a higher platform of experience and enabling you to walk with a firmer step, sing with a merrier voice, and triumph with an enlarged heart!  

From Justification By Faith

I was once asked, “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” After a moment’s thought, I answered, “I’d like the power to just go <poof> for someone and they would be able to fully comprehended God’s love for them, or they would instantly realize how to live out their Christian faith.” 

Alas, there is no such superpower. But you and I have something far, far better: the Holy Spirit! 

Abram (who would later become Abraham) obediently followed God, even though the Bible said he didn’t fully grasp where he was going nor how God was going to give him many descendants. But he followed, and he trusted, and he listened, and slowly God began to reveal more and more to him. 

Jesus said the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. He didn’t say, “The Holy Spirit will go <poof> and you will immediately and fully understand everything.” Like Abram, we believe what God says about us, we follow, we trust, we listen, we obey, and the Spirit will begin to illuminate God’s Word to us. We’ll discover more each day what He’s asking of us, and we will notice that both our joy in Him and our effectiveness for the Kingdom of God are increasing along the journey! 

Don’t bail out early! Stick with it! I promise you that the joy still to be revealed along this journey is beyond compare with anything which would tempt you to stay behind to acquire.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

 

God Is One, God Is Love

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

There is a common characteristic among every human civilization: they all have had a pantheon of gods. It seems that no one god could capture all of the attributes each civilization thought were important, so they created multiple gods to help fill in the gaps. 

Onto the world scene comes the account recorded for us in the Bible of a God who creates the universe. The Hebrew word for this God is elohiym which means “a divine one.” This name is used throughout the Creation story in Genesis 1. 

Then in Genesis 2:4, a new name appears, one that is used over 6500 times in the Bible. It is the unpronounceable name YHWH: often pronounced Yahweh or substituted with the word Jehovah. In most Bible translations this name is designated by all capital letters: LORD. Yahweh or Jehovah means “the existing One.” 

The first part of our second foundational truth states, “The one true God has revealed Himself as the eternally self-existent ‘I AM,’ the Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of mankind.” This Creator is uncreated: He sustains the universe without needing to be replenished Himself. He is utterly complete in Himself; hence, His name means I AM (see Exodus 3:13-15). 

The second part of this foundational truth statement says, “He has further revealed Himself as embodying the principles of relationship and association as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” 

The I AM is One (see Deuteronomy 6:4), but He reveals Himself in three Persons—Father, Son, Spirit—that we call the Trinity (although this is not a word found in the Bible). 

Sometimes Christians have done a disservice to the I AM by making it appear He is divided. For instance, we might say, “The Father is the Creator, the Son is the Redeemer, and the Spirit is the Regenerator.” But remember that our One God is not a pantheon of gods; He is One. We see the fullness of the Trinity operating in every area. Here’s just a short sampling:  

  • The creation of the universe—Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:15-16; Psalm 104:30 
  • The creation of man—Genesis 1:26-27 
  • A prophecy about Jesus’ advent—Isaiah 9:6 
  • The incarnation of Jesus—Luke 1:35 
  • The baptism of Jesus—Matthew 3:16-17
  • The resurrection of Jesus—Acts 2:32; John 10:18; Romans 1:4 
  • Our atonement—Hebrews 9:14 
  • A Christian’s baptism in the Holy Spirit—John 14:16 

(You can read all of these verses for yourself by clicking here.) 

A good question for us to ponder is: Why would this I AM God create humans? If He needs nothing to complete Himself or sustain Himself, why make us? 

The apostle John captures the essence of the Trinity in three words: God is love.

God created us out of an overflow of His love so that we too could enjoy the intimate, eternal pleasure of being at-onement with Him forever. God then wants our love to overflow to everyone around us, so that they will also be drawn into this at-oneness with the I AM. 

When Jesus was asked to state the greatest commandment, He first quoted from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD [Yahweh] our God, the LORD [Yahweh] is one.” Christ’s conclusion was for us to love this All-Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then Jesus added an obvious overflow of that love: “And love your neighbor as yourself” (see Mark 12:29-31).

Love to God and from God should overflow from us to others to bring them into the One God who is love itself.  

The more we understand this love that the I AM has for us: (1) the better able we will be to love and worship Him, (2) the more we will love others out of this overflow of love, and (3) the more glory our awesome GOD will receive. Which is exactly what the apostle Paul prayed for us in Ephesians 3:14-19. 

This idea of an I AM God who reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit has been described by the Latin phrase mysterium tremendum. It is indeed a mystery: not one that frightens and confuses, but one that energizes and enlivens. Pray Paul’s prayer for yourself, so that you can see more dimensions of this awesome love that God has for you! 

If you missed any parts of this series exploring our foundational belief statements, you can check out the full list by clicking here.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Adopted By God

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Adopted By God

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. (Ephesians 1:3-5) 

     It is at once a doctrine of Scripture and of common sense that whatever God does in time, He predestined to do in eternity. …  

     Adoption is that act of God whereby men who were by nature the children of wrath, even as others, and were of the lost and ruined family of Adam, are from no reason in themselves, but entirely of the pure grace of God, translated out of the evil and dark family of satan and brought actually and virtually into the family of God. … This is an act of pure grace. …  

     [God] found a rebellious child, a filthy, frightful, ugly child. He took him to His bosom and said, ‘Evil though you are, you are comely in my eyes through my Son Jesus. Unworthy though you are, yet I cover you with His robe, and in your Brother’s garments I accept you.’ …  

     His only begotten and well-beloved Son was quite enough for Him. … And His own omnipotence was adequate enough to have created a race of beings far superior to us. He stood in no need whatever of any to be His darlings. It was, then, an act of simple, pure, gratuitous grace—and of nothing else—because He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and because He delights to show the marvelous character of His condescension.

From Adoption

I love that thought that “whatever God does in time, He predestined to do in eternity.” When Adam and Eve sinned, God wasn’t scrambling to fix the sin problem. When He said that a remedy for sin was coming (Genesis 3:15), He was talking about a plan that was already in place. 

When John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), he was only announcing what was a fact from before time began, where the apostle John described Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 5:12, 13:8)! And the apostle Paul said God “chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world”! 

Friends, think of what this means: God saw a relationship with you—saw you adopted into His family—before you were born, even before the universe was created! What indescribable love! What amazing grace! 

Do you realize your value in God’s eyes? He didn’t have to send Jesus, but He did. He didn’t have to lavish His love on you, but He does. He didn’t have to adopt you into His family, but what He has done in time, He predestined to do in eternity—from before He even said, “Let there be light” at the moment of creation. 

Don’t ever buy into the lies of satan that you’re nothing special, when, in fact, you mean more to God than you can possibly comprehend!

Learning Life’s Lessons

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Have you heard the cliché, “Experience is the best teacher”? I don’t think that’s really true. I’ve known a lot of people who have had some huge experiences but haven’t learned a single lesson from them. Honestly this is the better statement: Evaluated and recalled experience is the best teacher. 

Many of my “life lessons” have cost me money. For instance, I was told numerous times by my parents, grandparents, and my driving instructor not to speed, but I didn’t learn that lesson the easy way. It cost me financially. I recovered from that, and I’ve only had one speeding ticket in the 40 years that followed! 

Most of us can recover from a financial loss. But other life lessons cost us more dearly: our broken physical health, lost intimacy in a relationship, a damaged reputation, or missed opportunities. Then we walk around with the weight of guilt, baggage, second-guessing, and regret. Jesus didn’t die on a Cross for us to live weighed down like this! 

God wants to help us! So why do we wait to call on Him until after we’ve tried to do it ourselves? Or until after we’re so deep in trouble or weighed down with baggage? Perhaps we think, “This is such a tiny thing. I can handle it myself.” 

  • Solomon said it was the tiny things that brought ruin 
  • God told Cain that it was the sin that was crouching at his door that wanted to take him down 
  • The devil prowls around and looks for the most opportune time to pounce on us 
  • Which is why Paul tells us to put on all of God’s armor and prayer all the time (see Song 2:15; Genesis 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; Luke 4:13; Ephesians 6:10-11, 18) 

Portia Nelson summed it up well in her short story that I think all of us can relate to…

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I fall in.
   I am lost… I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I pretend I don’t see it.
   I fall in, again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place. But it isn’t my fault.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I see it is there.
   I still fall in… it’s a habit… but my eyes are open, I know where I am.
It’s my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down another street.
    —Portia Nelson

Prayer helps us avoid the holes in our sidewalk, the crouching sin at our door, the prowling devil, and the lurking temptations. But more than that, prayer puts us on the right path to avoid all of these things in the first place (see Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 30:21; 2 Samuel 22:34, 37)! 

God doesn’t have to get ready to help us; He’s already ready to help us. He’s just waiting for us to ask for His help. 

No matter how little or big the challenges, with God I can overcome! 

No matter how obvious or hidden the hole is, with God I can go down the right street! 

No matter how many times I fall in the hole, God can get me out! 

No matter how much the devil wants to bring me down, with God I can live righteously! 

No matter how many times sin pounces on me and I give in to it, God can forgive me! 

Don’t wait a moment longer to call on your heavenly Father in prayer. Let Him hear your voice early and often—He loves to hear from you and respond to you! 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on prayed called Be A First Responder, you can find the full list by clicking here.

Godly Anger

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

…his anger was aroused… (Job 32:5).

Throughout the story of Job, there is very little insight from the story’s narrator. Other than the first two chapters which set up the story, and the epilogue in the last chapter, the narrator barely utters a word.

That is until a fourth man, who has been on the scene the whole time Job and his friends have been debating, finally cannot help but speak out. His name is Elihu. 

Elihu has been present the whole time Job has been speaking with his other friends, but because Elihu is the youngest, he has held his tongue, awaiting an opportunity to speak. Now the narrator tells us that Elihu “became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. … When he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused. 

The phrase “anger was aroused” is used 31 times in the Bible. Every single instance refers to God’s anger except here. In fact, God uses the same phrase in chapter 42 that Elihu uses here. 

Two things seem to arouse the anger of both God and Elihu (whose name, but the way, means “He is my God”): 

  1. Job justifying himself rather than God 
  2. Job’s friends condemning Job without evidence; in other words, they put themselves in the place of God the Judge  

Here’s what Elihu knew—

To not get angry at the things that anger God is itself a sin.

I need to pay attention to my anger, and I need to express my anger in a respectful, appropriate way. It is wrong to ignore or suppress godly anger, but it is equally wrong to sin in the way that I express godly anger. Remember that the apostle Paul doesn’t say, “Don’t get angry,” but he says, “When you get angry, do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). 

When God finally speaks in this story, He expresses His anger at the same things Elihu addressed. Interestingly, God says to the oldest friend Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends,” but God doesn’t call out Elihu for any of his words.  

God gets angry, perhaps more than anyone else in the Bible does, but He never sins in the expression of His anger. We need to make sure that what makes us angry is also what makes God angry. And we need to make sure that our anger is never expressed sinfully. 

Spirit-Empowered To Do Good Works

Micah the prophet’s name means who is like God, or more literally: “who but God?” The implied answer, of course, is no one! 

Micah opens his letter by telling us his name, and then he closes his prophetic words with a play on his name when he says, “Who is a God like You?” (7:18-20). Who else but God could…

  • …pardon sin?
  • …forgive transgressions? 
  • …not stay angry at sinners? 
  • …delight to show mercy? 
  • …have such boundless compassion? 
  • …tread our sins under His foot?
  • …hurl our iniquities into the sea?  

NO ONE! 

In light of this, how should we respond to this amazing God? Micah asks a series of rhetorical questions about what sort of religious practices would somehow “balance the scales” for God’s amazing gifts to us. But here’s the deal: there is no way for us to balance the scales! Instead, Micah tells us this, “God has showed you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

In other words, our response to God’s invaluable gifts must transition from a have to lifestyle to a get to lifestyle! Micah makes it clear that God’s Spirit empowers us to live this way (Micah 3:8). 

It is the Holy Spirit who empowers Christians to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. 

The apostle Paul agrees with Micah, even echoing some of Micah’s own phrases—God’s great love, His rich mercy, His unearned grace, His forgiveness of sin, His kindness, and His salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10). Why did God do all of this? So that we could “do good works”—like acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly—“which God prepared in advance for us to do”!

I am saved by grace SO THAT I am free to do grace-filled, Spirit-empowered, good things. 

All of this prompts me to ask myself three introspective questions:

  1. Do I continually remind myself that I was saved by grace and not by works? I need to check my have to vs. get to attitude. 
  2. Am I aware that people are watching me? What are they seeing? Do they see godly justice, loving mercy, and humility? 
  3. Am I living like Jesus? Peter explained that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Can that be said of me too? 

Who but God could call us, forgive us, and forget our sins? NO ONE! 

Who but God could empower us to live in such a way that others see His greatness too? NO ONE! 

Let’s never, ever become self-reliant or works-dependent (that’s have to living), but let’s stay so Spirit-reliant that we cannot help be get to people! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series about major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

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