Friday Special, September 3

Praise Happens

People don’t have to be told to praise the things they enjoy or value. It is a natural human response to seeing or experiencing something great.The people in the picture above were not prompted by someone to jump up and down and shout and clap. It was their natural response to seeing their sports team accomplish something great.

Our praise of God is no different. Over and over in Scripture we are commanded to praise God. How do we obey these commands? Well, we have to be moved by the greatness of God and all that He is and all that He has done, is doing and will do for us in Christ.

This week as we look at Ephesians 1:1-14, we will see that Paul is describing the past, present and future aspects of God’s plan of salvation with the goal of moving the Ephesians and us to a place of genuine praise and worship of God. We need to continually be amazed at God’s love so that we are moved to praise Him with our lives. Otherwise, we will try to fake a sense of excitement and enjoyment in our relationship with Him, which will lead us to a joyless Christianity that does not glorify God. I would encourage you to read Ephesians 1:1-14 in preparation for worship this week and to pray Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:15-20 for yourself and for our church. Pray that our eyes would be opened to see the greatness of God and that we would respond with the praise that is appropriate.

Friday Special, August 20

The Uncle Rico Syndrome and Christian Boasting

One of my favorite characters in “Napoleon Dynamite ” is Uncle Rico. Uncle Rico is always trying to prove himself by boasting about his abilities. In the video above, Uncle Rico boasts about being able to throw a football a quarter mile and a few minutes later in the movie, Rico swears that if his high school coach had realized his talent and played him more then his life would have been different.  The thing that makes Uncle Rico so funny is that all of us know or have known someone like him at some point in our lives. There are some people who are obsessed with bragging about how great they are at this or that.

Well, Paul’s opponents in the Corinthian church had adopted the Uncle Rico tactic of bragging and boasting in order to try and win the Corinthian’s affections and turn them against Paul. Paul responds by saying that such boasting is foolish and then he goes on to boast a little himself. But, Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 11:30 that “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weaknesses” (ESV). Now, this concept takes the whole concept of boasting and turns it on its head. Rather than boasting in strengths and defending how great we are, Paul says that he would rather boast in his weaknesses.

Why would Paul do such a thing? Why would Christians want to highlight their weaknesses rather than try to prove how great they are? What is at stake if we try to keep up a false sense of strength or importance, rather than admitting our weaknesses? Join us on Sunday in contemporary worship as we wrestle with these questions. If you want to prepare for worship on Sunday, I would encourage you to read 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10. I hope you have a great weekend and that I see you on Sunday.

Friday Special, July 16

‘Just Don’t’ Is Not Enough

In Contemporary Worship, we are in the middle of a new series entitled, “4 Things Christians Are For” and this week we will be talking about the truth that Christians should be known for our commitment to pursuing justice for those who are downtrodden and oppressed. Unfortunately, many of us have boiled down our Christian commitment to a system of morality that could be summed up by the phrase ‘just don’t.’ Just don’t do this or go there or say this or drink this, etc. And while there are many things we should avoid based on Scripture, a Christianity characterized solely by a phrase such as ‘just don’t’ doesn’t fully capture what the Bible says God’s people should be like.

Instead, God shows in Scripture that He is concerned about His people being about the difficult, time consuming, often risky and ultimately joyful pursuit of ending injustices all around us. Join us this week in contemporary worship as we look at what it means for Christians to be about the pursuit of justice in the world and how this affects the way that God views our worship and other forms of Christian devotion. I would encourage you to read Isaiah 1:16-17, Micah 6:8, and James 1:27 as you prepare for worship this week. See you on Sunday!

Friday Special, May 14

Think You’re Greater than Jesus?

Almost none of us would answer the above question in the affirmative. We confess with our mouths that Christ is superior to us in every way. After all, he is the sinless Son of God, the Messiah, our Savior, the One who purchased our salvation through his life, death and resurrection. It would be blasphemous to think or say that we are better than Christ in any way.

However, our attitudes and actions sometimes reveal that something different is going on in our hearts. Let me clarify what I mean. In John 13:1-20, John records that Jesus gathered with the disciples before the Passover Feast and while he had them gathered together he did the unthinkable. He got up from the table, took off his outer garments, girded himself with a towel and commenced to washing the disciples’ feet. Jesus Christ the Lord humbled himself and did the lowliest of tasks in order to drive a point home with the disciples; namely, that he came to serve and his disciples are called to do the same.

Then in verse 16, Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16, ESV). If Jesus humbled himself and served the disciples in this manner, then there is no one that you and I should not serve and there is no task that is beneath us. We are not greater than Jesus.

Join us this week in the contemporary worship service at Mountain Brook Baptist as we talk about what it means to follow in Christ’s footsteps and serve one another and the people in our community and our world. We will discover that even though it seems counter intuitive, a life of service will actually bring us the most joy and God the most glory. I encourage you to read John 13:1-20 and Matthew 20:20-28 before Sunday. I hope that you have a great weekend and that I will see you on Sunday for worship.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning?

This past Sunday in the Contemporary Worship service at Mountain Brook Baptist, I preached on John 3:1-15 and the truth that a person must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. I pointed out that being born again is something that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit working in someone who is looking to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ that was on display on the cross.

At the end of the sermon, I mentioned that we could have an entire conference on this idea of being born again and the new life that we are given in Christ. In particular, I would have liked to have covered the topic of what a person’s life should look like if they have been born again. I mentioned I would blog on this subject, so here we go.

The book of 1 John is filled with language about Christians being born again and in it John says that two things in particular should characterize the life of someone who has been born again: a turning away from sin and love.  Here is one passage in 1 John where those two things are mentioned:

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:9-10, ESV)

In today’s post, I want to discuss this idea of the person who has been born again making it a practice of avoiding sin.

In verse 9, John says pretty clearly that no one who is born of God makes a practice of sinning because God’s seed abides in him and he can’t go on sinning. Now, if you are like me, this passage is a little problematic. I have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and have been born again by the Spirit of God. However, I still struggle with sin on a daily basis. I would venture to guess that if you are a Christian, this is your experience as well. So, how are we to understand passages like this one?

I have read two things recently that have helped me think about this issue. The first is John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. In Book 3, chapter 6, Calvin is talking about the Christian life and the need for the Christian to wholeheartedly seek after Christ. But then Calvin states,

“But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.6.5)

All Christians will continue to struggle with sin as long as they live in “this earthly prison of the body” on earth. But, Calvin notes that it is important that we keep on progressing and pushing forward in obedience to the Lord even when it seems like we are wavering, limping and crawling on the ground. Regarding the necessity of pressing on toward the goal of obedience to the Lord Calvin writes,

“Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end; that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.6.5)

So, the Christian life is not one of perfection, but instead it is one of continually striving toward the goal of being more obedient to God’s will for our lives each day.

Another resource that has been helpful for me in thinking about this issue is an article a friend gave me about perfectionism by D.A. Carson. In it Carson discusses the different ways that the Bible talks about the character and moral life of the believer. One the one hand the Bible gives extremely strict moral requirements for those who seek after God and on the other hand it contains stories about saints like David, who was desbribed as a ‘man after God’s own heart’ who made horrible mistakes and committed egregious sins. And David is not alone is this. Abraham, Moses, Peter and other biblical heroes all committed sins that illustrated their humanity and their need for God’s forgiveness and mercy. And Carson notes that it is necessary for the Bible to contain both of these types of literature because they provide a goal for which Christians are to continually strive while at the same time giving us pictures of people who failed miserably over and over and were still restored and used by God. Carson writes,

“We need the unflinching standards of absolute polarities to keep us from moral flabbiness, and in this broken world, we need the candid realism of the narratives to keep us from both arrogance and despair.” (D.A. Caron, Perfectionisms, Themelios, 35.1 (2010): 1-3).

Those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit should strive to grow in godliness and holiness by the power of the Spirit and at the same time realize that we are engaged in a continual battle with sin. Like the saints we read of in Scripture, we will never fully win this battle with our sinful flesh until we are in the presence of God in heaven.

Carson closes his article with these words about the importance of always looking at our struggle with sin in light of the cross of Christ,

“The intensity of the struggle against sin easily generates boundless distortions when we do not return, again and again, to God’s love for us manifested on the cross. There alone is the hope we need, the cleansing we need, the grace we need. Any pursuit of perfection that is not awash in the grace of God displayed on a little hill outside Jerusalem is bound to trip us up.” (D.A. Caron, Perfectionisms, Themelios, 35.1 (2010): 1-3).

Surely this is what John meant in 1 John 3. Those who have been born again must not make a practice of sinning. Our goal must be to live a life of obedience to the Lord. And when (not if) we fail we must continually bring ourselves back to the cross of Christ, repent of our sins and trust that God in his grace, love and mercy will forgive us, cleanse us and continue to use us in the work of the Kingdom.

The other characteristic John gives of those who have been born again is living a life characterized by love. I will discuss this characteristic in another post on Friday.

Friday Special, April 30

The Baffling Barrier of Being Born Again

People expend a great amount of time and energy in life working to be ‘in.’ This may mean working to make good grades so that you can get ‘in’ to the college of your choice, obtaining a job that allows you to make enough money to be ‘in’ the neighborhood or club of your choice,  practicing hours on end to be ‘in’ the championship game of your respective sport, or even dressing a certain way to be ‘in’ the popular social group at school. In all of these endeavors there are certain barriers one must overcome in order to be ‘in’.

One of the questions that has been the subject of much debate throughout the history of man is, “How does someone get ‘in’ God’s Kingdom? Nicodemus came to Jesus one night and got into an interesting conversation about how one accomplishes this. I don’t think Nicodemus anticipated this conversation and he was obviously confused about much that Jesus said. But, I think he walked away with a clear understanding that being ‘in’ the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with your ethnicity, being obedient to a set of rules or your religious standing in society. These would all be barriers that would be easy to measure and would help us easily identify who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’

However, Jesus gave Nicodemus a baffling barrier to enter the Kingdom of God. He told him that in order to see the Kingdom of God a person had to be born again. And to muddy the waters even more Jesus said that this process of being born again was a mysterious process accomplished by the Spirit. So, when thinking about whether or not we are ‘in’ the Kingdom of God, we must ask whether or not we have been born again.

What does it mean to be born again? What are the characteristics of those who have been born again? If you don’t think you have been born again, how do you initiate the process of new birth? Join us this Sunday in the Contemporary Worship Service at Mountain Brook Baptist as we wrestle with these questions in light of John 3:1-15 and a few passages in the book of 1 John. I hope that you have a great weekend and that I see you on Sunday.

Friday Special, April 23

The Magnificent Mission of Making Him Known

“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” John 1:18, ESV

In the movie “Field of Dreams” Kevin Costner plays an Iowan corn farmer named Ray Kinsella, who hears a voice in his cornfield one day. The voice gives him the following cryptic message, “If you build it, he will come.” Eventually Kinsella figures out that he is supposed to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield so that a dead baseball player named “Shoeless” Joe Jackson can come back and play. So, he builds the field and sure enough Jackson and other dead baseball players come back and play on the field. The only catch is that not everyone can see the players. In fact, most people can’t see them and everyone thinks that Kinsella and his family are crazy for sitting on the bleachers staring at an empty baseball diamond.

In John 1:18, John writes that no one has ever seen God. God is invisible in the sense that we can’t physically lay our eyes on him or take people to God and show them that he exists. However, John also says that Jesus Christ has made God known to us. Jesus came to the earth and became a human in order to show us what God is like. But, Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of God and no longer dwells on earth in bodily form. So, how are people to know what God is like now that they can’t see Jesus Christ? Well, the Church, the Body of Christ, has been given the magnificent mission of making God known in the world. We are supposed to bear witness to the reality of God and the work of salvation that he accomplished through Jesus Christ. I think that our mission of making God known should make us seem strange to those who do not believe that he exists. They should be baffled that we are living our lives for someone that they can’t see. So, the question is, “How do we go about such an important task?” Join us this Sunday in Contemporary Worship as we answer this important question.

I would encourage you to read John 1:1-18 as you prepare for worship on Sunday. Ask God to begin to give you a vision for ways that you can make him known in the world. I hope to see you on Sunday.

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