On Mission.

“Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34)

Sometimes we can be tempted to pit the need to be on mission with the study of God’s word. We feel as though we either need to focus our attention as a group on evangelism or we need to be serious about God’s word, so that we can be motivated and focused on one or the other. But our primary focus in both is not self-motivation but the worship of God. Jesus said this in his encounter to the woman of Samaria at the well, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. Reference is made here not only to “God,” but to the “Father.” The Father is seeking such people to worship him. This is personal.

As Michael Reeves states in his book ‘delighting in the Trinity,’

“Evangelism or being on mission is not, then that God lounges back in heaven, simply phoning in his order so that we get on with evangelism so that he might get more servants. If that were the case, evangelism would take a lot of self-motivation-and you can always tell when the church thinks like that, for that’s when evangelism gets left to the more adrenaline-stoked salespeople/professionals.” But the reality is so different.

“To be on mission means to share in doing the Father’s will. God is already on mission, and has sent his Son and his Spirit to do accomplish His mission. So we share in this mission when we go outside the camp and join Jesus in reconciling sinners to the Father (Heb 13:12-13).”

So what’s the motivation? Why did the Father send the Son?

Because the Father so enjoyed loving the Son that he wanted his love to be in others. John 17:25-26 says, “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

 The Son came to make the Father known; a Father that loved him.

 And why did the Son go?

Because, he says, I love the Father and…I do exactly what my Father has commanded me (John 14:31).

Mission comes from the overflow of love, from the uncontainable enjoyment of the fellowship between the Father and the Son.

Why then do we need the Spirit?

The Spirit enables us to share in their pleasure, and it is that delight in them that fuels us to want to make them known. We rely on the Spirit, not as a force, but as a person. As we relate and rely on him and turn from our sin that he illumines to us, we have our attention drawn to the love of the Father given to us in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Father’s gift to us, the seal of his eternal favor toward us (2 Cor 1:22). And so when we meet together we must ask the Spirit to draw us to have our love rekindled for the Father and the Son. If we are treasuring Jesus Christ we know the Spirit is at work in us, since he works to create in us the same desires as our heavenly Father, who also treasures Him above all others (John 6:27).

The Puritan Richard Sibbes once said that a Christian singing God’s praises to the world is like a bird singing. Birds sing loudest, he said, when the sun rises and warms them; and so it is with Christians: when they are warmed by the Light of the world, by the love of God in Christ, that is when they sing loudest.

He writes, “as the shining of the sun enlarges the spirit of the poor creatures, the birds, in the spring time, to sing, so proportionably the apprehension of the sweet love of God in Christ enlarges the spirit of a man, and makes him full of joy and thanksgiving. He breaks forth into joy, so that his whole life is a matter of joy and thanksgiving.”

It’s not and either/or but a matter of worship. Worship is the goal of our bible study and the motive for our witness. I continue to be in prayer that the Spirit might give us such a rich relationship with the Father and the Son so that we might live among our neighbors, work colleagues, friends and family in this way.

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What Must I do to be Saved?

“Sir’s what must I do to be saved?” – Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:30)

It’s not an understatement to say that this question is the most significant question that a person can ask in this life. It’s a question that has eternal value, and many if not most people are kept from asking it and giving any real thought as to it’s value. The fact that the Philippian jailer even asked it was part of God’s providence. Prior to the earthquake in the prison (see surrounding verses for context), he hadn’t even considered it. But now, things were different, and in a moment of despair he was led to ask it. To be led to ask such a question is a good thing.

And yet at that moment of desperation the jailer’s true belief was revealed.

How so?

By way of his question. What must I do to be saved?

The emphasis of the question is the default belief of every religion outside of Christianity. The emphasis of every religion is on what I must do to be saved. For example, many adopt the belief that salvation is achieved by being a good humanitarian, others through achieving harmony with nature and the world around them, other’s upon the exercise of faithful citizenship and allegiance to their country, and still other’s by enforcing their percieved revelation even if it involves hostility toward others. The whole question is framed at what I must do to be saved. It begins and ends with man and his works. Not so Christianity. Christianity is entirely different. Christianity takes the emphasis off of man altogether and asserts that man can do nothing with regard to inheriting salvation. There is nothing that man can do to earn salvation and make one right with the One who made them. Instead Christianity says, salvation is not about what man must do, rather it is about what has been done on man’s behalf by Jesus Christ. Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Encompassed in those few simple words lies salvation and is the essence of Christianity. Christ has done what mankind could not do for him or herself and it’s the merit of Jesus Christ who had to die and shed his blood for us that makes us right with our Creator. The God-man Jesus Christ had to die because it required One who possessed eternal life to swallow up eternal death and satisfy divine justice (not our percieved sense of justice) so as to present sinners as free. His merit secured your freedom. Believe that (and we never stop needing to be reminded) and I assure you, it will change your life not only now, but also into the next.

Feeling ‘disheartened’ or got questions regarding God’s plan in this election?

Jesus’ disciples did too. Their question? How could life or the political stage at that time get any better if Jesus the ‘Messiah’ (their candidate) was planning to leave them?

John 16:16 says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”
John 16:18-21 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”
Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’?
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

What Jesus would go on to accomplish on the cross, resulted in the greatest paradox in history, namely, that death is necessary for life. Today, like any other day we die to trusting in the things of this world (Psalm 146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save). We die, so as to find life and hope in Jesus Christ by faith . What is life-giving about Him you ask?

We are reminded that He is the only One who rules with perfect justice and compassion. He is the only One who exercises authority, by speaking and regenerating individuals, without prejudice, leavening the masses like yeast in a batch of dough. He is the One whose rule is universal, providing a basis for unity, and yet whose rule is also wise, understanding every situation in particular. His governance is efficient and a source of hope, since he has all wisdom and knowledge in himself and can be trusted to exercise it with grace and truth. He has been proven, since he has fulfilled his campaign, exercising servanthood and sacrifice for the sake of others (Luke 4:18-19). And unlike others, his mission is not that which consists merely in a “system”, but is motivated by love, not wishing any to perish, but to have eternal life (John 3:16). He is a King that leaves his people’s souls restful day after day, knowing that there is no one else more qualified for the job than He is, knowing and trusting that everything done by Him is carried out for good.

This is a kingdom which at this time in history is currently observed only by faith, and because of that we often find reason to grieve and lament at the imperfections of a fallen world and system. And yet the reason for joy is that this kingdom of heaven is one that will one day become plain by sight. In the meantime, we continue to put one foot in front of the next (as hard as or easy as it might be, depending on how you view the election result) and seek to live as he lived, for the good and welfare of the nation(s) in which we live. We strive ever so imperfectly for that which we possess by faith.

Fellowship and the Need for Gospel Salt.

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” – Luke 14:34-35.

Jesus is clear in these words that salt can lose it saltiness and flavor. A formal, legalistic religion that is not abiding in Jesus will soon find itself without any flavor. Why? Because it turns God’s law into something manageable by reducing it to one’s own standard of righteousness. It gives the sense that a person is beyond their need for Christ’s atoning blood, while agreeing that it’s others who need it.

When we meet together in fellowship with one another, we’re admitting our need for gospel salt. We’re admitting our need for the gospel flavor that only Jesus can provide. It’s the greatest preservative we have from the flesh, the world and the devil. Such is our need for Divine love that if we’re not receiving it we will begin to lose our flavor and be rendered ineffective in our service for the kingdom. In certain seasons we may find ourselves somewhat dry. We may seem to lack the time, energy or resources we desire in order to receive this added flavor, and yet Christ’s love is great and his Spirit powerful. He knows your needs and circumstances. Just as a small amount of seasoning with potency can have a great effect on the food being seasoned, so the Spirit can use even a few words with great potency —words spoken to us by God, to bring about great nourishment and impact.

And like salt, once he gives you a taste of it, you will often find yourself hungry for more. That God himself would speak to you through his revealed Word is beyond amazing, but likewise as the Spirit gives you a taste of the transforming glory of Christ, you likewise will find your spiritual tastebuds longing for more.

How did Jesus grow in Grace?

Over the summer I’ve been asking God for a greater understanding into the person and work of the Holy Spirit. One of the questions I’ve sought to understand more fully is – How did Jesus grow in grace?

There are many things that could be said about this, but I want to name three pivotal exercises that the Holy Spirit used in the life of Jesus, which also pertain to His work in us.

  1. Filling and Receiving of Grace.

We read that Jesus himself grew in grace. Luke 2:40 says, “the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” And “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

This doesn’t mean that Jesus was somehow morally imperfect, what it means is that he was perfect at every stage in his life in keeping with his human nature.

John Owen writes, “He was continually filling and tilled with new degrees of wisdom, as the rational faculties of his mind were capable of it. And this growth in grace and wisdom was the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit; for as the faculties of his mind were gradually enlarged, he filled them with grace for actual obedience.”

So Jesus applied himself to growing in knowledge and wisdom. And as he grew, he was constantly faced with the challenge of submitting them to God or using them for self-seeking ends. The Holy Spirit filled his faculties with grace, which led to his obedience.

We’re reminded here that the means of grace are essential for maturity, namely, reading the Word of God, engaging in Prayer, and partaking of the Sacraments in communion with other believers.

  1. Integration with Life, Meditation and Obedience.

 There is also a subjective component to growing in maturity, which comes through life- experience in the form of suffering. Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Heb 5:8).

As Sinclair Ferguson writes,

“the obedience he (Jesus) gave to God as a seven year old boy was as perfect as the obedience he showed when he willingly died on the cross and suffered in order to fulfill his Father’s will. But his obedience on the cross, while no more perfect, was far, far greater than the kind of obedience which was appropriate to his life as a boy. This is what Luke means when he says that even as a young boy Christ’s spiritual growth could be seen, and what Paul means when he says that this obedience reached its height on the cross when Christ became obedient even to the point of dying in great shame” (Phil 2:8).

What this means is that Jesus experienced the Father’s love in new degrees through his suffering. The Father always loved the Son perfectly, and yet as Jesus suffered, the Father’s love was expressed and experienced by the Son in new ways and in new measure.

Ferguson continues by saying,

“the ‘perfect’ love, which a newly engaged couple shares together, is still capable of reaching new depths of fullness when they are married. Once married they will find new reasons for love.”

In other words, there is an experimental aspect to growing in grace. There is a depth to God’s love which varies by degree, not in actuality, but to our experience, which in turn has an impact on our ability to obey. Truth must be integrated with life, which means that when the Spirit is at work, believers will be continually applying the truth of God to their experiences and day-to-day lives, and through trials and suffering will come to understand new exercises of grace.

  1. Sustenance, Encouragement, Faithfulness

 Jesus was sustained, comforted and directed by the Holy Spirit.

John Owen states, “By him [the Spirit] he was directed, strengthened, and comforted in his whole course in all his temptations, troubles, and sufferings from first to last; for there was a confluence (integration) of them upon him in his whole way and work; a great part of his humiliation for our sakes consisting in these things.”

In other words the Spirit strengthened Jesus in all that he faced, in his temptations, in his troubles, and in his sufferings. And the same is true for us. Jesus sent his Spirit so that we might draw on his strength for our growth. The Holy Spirit is the power source for our growth in grace. Our faith can only receive what grace provides and can only believe what Scripture reveals. But faith should receive everything grace provides and Scripture reveals.

There is much to take comfort in when we know that as underserving as we are, the same Spirit who filled Christ, is also at work in us who believe.  He has seen fit to fill our faculties with grace, to use our everyday experiences to give us fresh glimpses and depths of his favor, and who uses this favor and love to sustain, encourage, and equip us for every good work.

 

Community and Shame.

There is a profound link between shame and community, shame being that which often causes isolation, and community and relational intimacy being that which fosters transparency and a sharing of the heart. Ultimately our souls find rest from shame in an abiding fellowship with Christ and his cleansing power.

The link below offers some great insight into the nature of shame and offers 10 things we should know about shame and how the gospel offers us the rich resources of hope and beauty in Christ to combat and wage war against it.

See the extent of the article ’10 Things You Should Know about Shame’

(APC website users… sorry the link doesn’t work. Google the article from crossway with the above title to see the article)

Navigating through Ministry Highs and Lows with Hope.

When we find ourselves struggling in ministry, with the demands, time, and resources required of us, there can be something in us, and rightly so, insofar as Christ stated it, which says, “we just need to bear our cross.” But then there are times when we find rich resources in community, and we find ourselves nourished and strengthened to the point that we can say we enjoy it, and enjoy pursuing it. And that also is right insofar as Christ modeled it, and said, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So which is it? Do we bear our cross, or do we pursue the enjoyment of those in our midst? What’s the relationship?

Jesus was the one who modeled both humiliation and exaltation. He humbled himself in taking on human likeness — even to the point of death. But he also rose to newness of life, which consisted of his human nature rising to heaven in order to enjoy the pleasure of being in God’s presence. But how was he sustained in the midst of it all? We see the answer in John 5:19 and other passages, saying, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” The answer is therefore found in the Divine life. Note the present tense, “sees the Father doing”.  Jesus was also God, and in that sense he was fed during his earthly ministry by his communion with the Father (see also Luke 4:4). It was this that led him to do what he did, and do it in the way that he did it, and it was also this that sustained him in the ministry that he did.

There are therefore times when in the context of community you will be required to bear your cross for the sake of those in it. The apostle Paul talks about the need to bear one another burdens, which can only really be done if we are prepared to take on some of that burden ourselves. In those times there is much gained in feeding upon Christ’s glory by way of meditating on his humiliation. We might look to all that he endured and denied himself of, for our sake, so as to take our nature into union with himself (so as to take us into a covenantal relationship, likened to marriage). There is much nourishment, power and life found in feeding upon his glory in this way.
There are also times when in the context of community you will be given the joy of seeing fruit, and the precious moments of seeing people grow in faith, and the appetite to live and give of themselves for the Lord. In those times much is gained by feeding upon Christ’s glory by way of meditating on his exaltation and what he has accomplished and won for us, by means of his mediating for us in heaven.

In times of both humiliation (the lows) and exaltation (the highs) we can take strength and courage in feeding upon the glory of Christ. In all things we are storing up for ourselves something beyond the here and now — we are laying up treasures in heaven, since we are confident that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Such work, gifted and applied to us in this way by the Spirit, enables us to continue on in our endevours with hope, confidence and joy.