What the Church Ought to be FOR Today

As I write this, it’s the morning after a dozen police officers were shot, five of them fatally, sacrificing themselves to defend the freedom of people to protest. It’s been a terrible few days for America.

Ironically, before any of this began, I had begun preparing the first sermon in a new series of messages we’ll be preaching at Grace Hills starting on Sunday, July 17 called What We Stand FOR. In a time when the church’s brand seems to have developed around all the stuff we’re against, what are the things that we, as followers of Jesus, are actually for?

I wanted our church to speak prophetically, with truth, grace, and hope, to our community and our culture in one of the craziest election years in the last century of American history. I’m realizing now that the timing of the series is a gift from the Holy Spirit. There’s never been a more appropriate time for us, as Christians, to ask ourselves what Jesus wants his movement, his people, his Kingdom to stand for.

The four major topics, again, chosen before the events of this week, seem quite appropriate for us to re-discover. I believe they reflect the values of Scripture, as modeled and taught by Jesus, and as exemplified by a freshly commissioned early New Testament church. They are timeless values that have the power to bring redemption and healing to a broken humanity…

Equality. Justice. Mercy. Liberty.

These are all good ideas. And they were originally God’s ideas.

We stand for Equality

God thought up humanity. He thought you up, along with every other person on the planet. And because we all bear God’s image – old, young, born, unborn, rich, poor, male, female, slave, free – we possess inherent dignity, worth and value. So the church, carrying out the mission of Jesus in this world, stands for the equality of all people. We’re all precious to the Creator – so much so that he sent his Son, Jesus, to pay a ransom for all of us!

James the Just, the brother of Jesus, understood the principle of equality and drove it home in his general epistle to the dispersed Christians of his day. He challenged us to reject favoritism and prejudice and to practice something America needs now more than ever – empathy. We are increasingly, as a society, slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to get angry. But James urged the opposite. Be quick to listen. Be slow to speak. Be slow to get angry.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, all human life is precious.

We stand for Justice

It was the prophet Amos 5:24 that Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted when he said, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (NRSV) God is just, and justice was his idea. Not only will God render justice for all of the sins of humanity, he will bring to justice all who oppress the disadvantaged. We stand for justice, especially on behalf of those who can’t stand up for themselves.

We stand for Mercy

Mercy is the act of giving good things, including forgiveness, to those who don’t deserve it or who can’t pay it back. God spares us because he loves us, out of mercy. And he commissions us to go and be agents of his mercy to the rest of the world. We stand for mercy for the oppressed. We believe in mercy so much, in fact, that we give our time, our talent, and our treasure to serving people and helping people who can’t necessarily help themselves.

We stand for Liberty

Jesus was the great Liberator, setting free all who were enslaved by sin who would come to him by faith. We believe in liberty and in freedom. And we also believe in restricting our personal freedom, of our own free will, for the good of other people. The church is on a mission to free captives, whether those in literal slavery or those living under the weight of spiritual bondage and addiction.

In times like ours, we need the Prince of Peace more than ever. And he has commissioned us to go in his place, as his hands and feet, and extend the reach of his Kingdom and its values to everyone who will hear us. We carry out the ministry of the Anointed One…

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.

– Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Let the church rise up to speak truth, extend grace, and show radical love to everyone around us so that all the world will know the One whom we follow!

God Has a Great Big Plan for His People, And It’s Good

One of the most popular Bible verses in the Old Testament is found in Jeremiah 29:11 which says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'” (NLT) It’s a beautiful verse that holds tremendous promise for those who understand its deep meaning, but it’s often misunderstood.

Jeremiah was prophesying destruction for any nation that refused to submit to God’s chastisement through the nation of Babylon. To the Jews who remained in Jerusalem, the message was quite the opposite. Because of their stubbornness and unrepentance, they would experience God’s judgment. But to those who spent seventy years in Babylonian captivity obediently serving God with patient endurance, God’s plans were good. In other words, this verse can’t just be applied to all people without understanding the other messages that surround it in its context in Jeremiah’s prophecies.

God’s plans are good for those who repent of their sins and trust in Him. He will spare from judgment any and all who look to Him for mercy. And His plans are good in the eventual sense, but included for the repentant Jews seventy years of slavery. Even God’s good plans can include long periods of extreme discomfort, especially when His purpose is to purge and refine us into the people of God He desires for us to be.

The great and lasting promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is that for any who are willing to turn to God in repentance and humility, to place their faith in Him alone for salvation, and who are willing to endure hardship and difficulty in the short term of this present life, His eventual plans are good and are filled with hope. God has a great big plan for His people, and it’s good.

Where Exactly Do We Stand?

Grace Based LivingEven though none of us actually plays by the rules (according to Romans 3:10, 23), we still try rather hard to do so. We’ve all sinned and fallen short, but in our broken condition, we just keep on plugging away in hopes that in eternity all of our trying and fighting and working will somehow qualify us for heaven in God’s eyes.

Most of us find ourselves living a rules-based life. We have an assumption that our Creator will someday evaluate our performance to see if we’ve measured up to His standard. If we’ve been mostly good, we’re in! But Scripture is clear that God has already evaluated our performance. And the bad news is that He has already concluded that we don’t measure up. So that issue is settled. We can stop trying, stop fighting, and stop working.

When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, he expounded significantly on the subject of the grace of God. In chapter five, he proclaims that, “since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1 NLT)

Think about those words. We have been made right in God’s sight… not by our trying, working, and fighting, but because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

Instead of struggling to produce a strong performance, we can fling ourselves at the foot of the cross and trust in the mercy and grace of God to save us and sustain us. Let me challenge you to make an enormous and monumental shift in your life – from performance-based living to grace-based living. I can stand before God in my own righteousness, and I’ll never measure up. Or I can stand before God in the righteousness of Christ and be accepted on the basis of His performance.

John Phillips points out about this passage that there is a difference between our standing and our state. We live in a state of struggling and progress. But if we’ve trusted in Christ alone to save and sustain us, we have a right standing before God, regardless of the state in which we find ourselves.

To have a right standing with God – to stand confidently before Him someday – trust in the performance of Jesus Christ on the cross when He paid the penalty for all of our sins. Enjoy the journey of a grace-based life!

What I Really Deserve

Nice FruitThis week, I’m staying in a nice hotel in Ocala, Florida, driving around in a rented Camaro, and eating fresh fruit – all sweet gifts from The Church at the Springs where Pastor Ron Sylvia and others are hosting Nuts & Bolts, a conference for church planters. I feel very blessed to be here. I don’t deserve it.

What I do deserve is the full weight of the wrath of God toward sin for my rebellion against God. I learned a huge lesson a long time ago from my friend, Bobby Conway. I walked into a nice hotel with Bobby where we were hosting him while he preached a revival at our church. He looked up at his beautiful surroundings and exclaimed, “I deserve hell, and I’m staying here?” That line deeply impacted me. I am not entitled to any of the good and gracious gifts of God.

I don’t deserve nice surroundings. I don’t deserve my awesome, loving wife. I don’t deserve my precious kids that make me smile daily. Life, for most of us, especially in America, is cushy. If we ever get the impression we deserve any of it, we’re sorely mistaken. Instead, we need to understand that each next breath is a gracious gift of a very forgiving God.

Not only have I been spared from ever seeing the wrath of God toward sin, I also get to enjoy the bounty of the goodness of God. Why? Because of what the prophet Isaiah foretold about Jesus: “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT)

I’m not saying at all that we should refuse to enjoy good things. That would demonstrate ingratitude toward the Creator and Savior of the world. What I am saying is that every time we enjoy even the smallest of gifts, our hearts should be reminded of the price Jesus paid on the cross so that we might enjoy the freedom and promise of eternal, abundant life.

The old phrase is “never forget where you came from.” That’s a good starting place, but I like the way the apostle Paul put it even better…

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world… All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else… But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!

~ Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

Look around, and be thankful. You and I deserve hell, but the offer is freely on the table for anyone in all the earth to receive complete forgiveness of sin because of the price Jesus paid for us when He died on the cross. If you aren’t sure what to make of that, let’s talk.

Spurgeon on Preaching to the Will of the Listener

W. A. Criswell defined teaching (from the pulpit) as “instructing a man in the will and ways of the Lord,” and preaching as “seeking to drive a man’s will God-ward.” There is a raging debate today over how much freedom people really have. A renewed fascination with Calvinism has brought this debate to the forefront. I’m not opening the whole can of worms here – just this one point. Preaching should be directed to the will of a person. Decisions count.

If you carry Calvinism as far as many, you’ll begin to say that there is no free will or free agency with man. This morning I read from Spurgeon’s evening sermon from December 27th, 1874 called Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth. Spurgeon never started a sermon softly. The second sentence declares “This every Christian minister must do if he would make full proof of his ministry, and if he would be clear of the blood of his hearers at the last great day.”

What Spurgeon said just moments later, however, issues a clarion call for addressing the will of our human hearers…

Remember, dear hearers, if the preacher does not push you to this–that you shall be converted, or he will know the reason why; if he does not drive you to this–that you shall either willfully reject, or cheerfully accept Christ, he has not yet known how rightly to handle the great ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’

We all do what we want every moment of the day. We make choices and decisions that impact eternity and preaching that does not appeal to the will of man fails to satisfy the expectations of the Great Commission. In case you wonder where I stand on the issue of God’s grace and His role in our salvation, I agree just as strongly with what Spurgeon said later in the same message:

The Lord alone must save you as a work of gratis mercy, not because you deserve it, but because he wills to do it to magnify his abundant love.


The sovereignty of God is an ever-mysterious issue that we must struggle with and come to terms with as we seek to have an understanding of God’s role. Salvation is all of Him and not of us at all. But there is a receiving, an accepting of Him that must be decided in the human heart upon the call of one sent with the gospel.

Preach to change the mind. Preach to move the emotions. And preach to drive the will of man God-ward.

Find Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia at Amazon.com

The Lord Who Heals and the People Who Worship

I must confess, as a Baptist, it took me a rather long time to come to understand the healing nature of God. We Baptists, as Adrian Rogers put it, “believe in miracles, but trust in Jesus.” I still believe this is best. But I also freely admit that in our reaction to the extremism of “healing evangelists” like Binny Hinn and other obvious hucksters and false prophets, that we have a tendency to write off all supposed healings as a mere charade.

Scripture, however, clearly teaches that the Great Physician, through His miraculous touch, heals the bodies of many people. Such was the case for the entire camp of Israelites in the wilderness when they reached the bitter waters of Marah. I’m inclined to believe that these poisonous waters made many of the people quite ill. So God steps into the picture, sweetens the waters, and heals the people. So He reveals to them another title for Himself – Jehovah who heals you.

Fast-forward about fifteen hundred years to Matthew, chapter fifteen. A Gentile woman comes to Jesus and His disciples, begging for a demon to be cast out of her daughter. I am especially moved by her form of worship. First, the text declares that she “cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is demon-possessed.'” Amazingly, “He answered her not a word.” She chases God and He delights in the pursuit. She was apparently persistent for the disciples asked Jesus to dismiss her, saying, “for she cries out after us.”

Jesus continues to stonewall her by explaining that He was sent with Israel as His first priority, so why should He perform miracles for a Gentile woman? His remaining just beyond her reach is really an attempt to lead her on in her pursuit of the Almighty, and of course it works. “Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'”

Instead of responding to her cry, Jesus argues that He really shouldn’t be casting such great miracles before the dogs of the Gentiles. She wisely continues her pursuit, presenting a responding argument that as a dog, she’ll gladly take the crumbs that fall to her. What a great lesson she teaches us. Our worship must always have a heartfelt ring of “Whatever, whenever, however God, just bless me!” to it. So He gives in and heals her, thrilled at her great and faith-filled pursuit. Oh, for such demanding hunger that argues with God for His blessings!

In the next paragraph, Matthew records for us that multitudes came to Him and were healed, “so the multitude marveled when they say the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.”

Jesus is the Great Physician, the mighty Healer of the children of men. I find it sad how we overlook the miraculous nature of God. We like to bring Him down to our level. “Well, you know I just think that in modern times, He heals through modern medicine…” Yes, He invented all of it and yes, He uses it, but let us never forget to look for the miraculous and to ask, to beg, to plead for His blessing.

I had a conversation a couple of years ago with a good friend who used to sit under my preaching every week, but who had moved to another town, gotten married, and attended a church of a different denomination. He related to me the story of a funeral that he attended. As he watched the mourners pass the casket to pay their last respects, his heart cried out within him, “Why did nobody ask God even once to heal her?”

Our answer, as good traditional Baptists, might be, “Well, it was just her time, it just wasn’t God’s will to heal her.” Though my friend and I may not agree on all things, I support his question. Why do we no think to ask, to beg, to plead with a worshipful heart to the Almighty Healer to perform miracles. I don’t believe He will always heal, for people do get sick and die, but shouldn’t we at least ask Him?

The theological argument that has arisen from this issue relates to the atonement, and whether or not physical healing for all of God’s people was purchased at the cross or not. I think it’s a moot point either way. The cross proves He heals in the ultimate way, spiritually and eternally. Healing didn’t necessarily have to be purchased, in the sense of a financial transaction, by His atoning death. He was already able to heal, but His atoning death was the ultimate picture of the great work of an Almighty Physician to heal the diseases of the spirit, the soul, and the body.

I think we have naturalized God and have forgotten that He’s a God of tremendous power, who is overwhelmed with compassion, and who desires to give unspeakable peace and joy to His children. He is just as alive and well today as He was in the days of Moses and Jesus. As the old song puts it, “He is able to deliver thee!” So ask, pray, beg, be an intercessor, anoint with oil, believe that He will work miracles, but ultimately trust His decisions no matter what.

Our Tough & Tender God

“As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the Lord alone did lead him,… To me belongeth vengeance and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.” -Deuteronomy 32:11-12, 35

Isn’t it amazing that God can be both the mother eagle, caring for her young, and also the awesome God who takes vengeance on those who reject Him at the same time? It isn’t in our natures to be like God, so it’s difficult to understand, but notice that in the very same chapter of the Bible there is a picture of God as Provider as well as a picture of God as Destroyer. The first passage describes Him in His tender care for Israel. The second passage was the text of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

This is our God. He’s the One who knew us before the foundation of the world, set His affection upon us, brought us into the world, provides for our needs, protects us from the enemy, grows us spiritually, and secures us in Christ for all eternity. But He’s also the One who cannot leave sin unpunished, created a lake of fire for those who sin against Him, and who will someday sit upon a throne in final judgment. If I’m His child, He’s my caregiver. If I’m His enemy, He’s my ultimate Judge.

What is God to you? Your Father? Your caregiver? Or is He your Judge, the One who will take vengeance on your life? He has a right to punish our sin, so He did so in Jesus for all who will look to Him for salvation. Look to Him today, and live!