Being holy and sanctified is not what you think.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:3-10

 

Only Jesus Satisfies… is that true?

John 6:41–51

[48] I am the bread of life. [49] Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. [50] This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

 

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Listen every day,

 

ARE YOU LISTENING
Our daily 2 to 4-minute podcast on applied theology. Wake up with us every day.

STRAIGHT OUTTA CONTEXT
Our weekly, Wednesday podcast on how to understand and interpret the bible. 10-20 minutes each week.

THEOLOGY ANSWERS
Our weekly, One Hour podcast dealing with theological issues with hosts Edward Dalcour and James Tippins.

THEOLOGY OnCall
Our weekly Sunday evening Question and Answer Facebook LIVE vidcast. 8PM EST

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Now that’s the standard. As a child I remember well all the times I heard that phrase. My mother’s family was a family of large steel contractors who built commercial brick and metal buildings. There are very few churches and schools in my hometown that don’t have the “Adams” or “Pro Builders” plaque somewhere on the grounds. The standard of workmanship, technique, work ethic and tool quality was always reinforced to me in my youth. One particular was the popular brand of plumbing fixtures that garnished the name “American Standard.” By name, that particular sink or toilet was the standard in America. It was considered the best whether it was is beside the point, they claimed they were, so the professionals that trusted in that claim made them a household name. The standard is that which everything else is to be measured and compared. It is the best experience, ideal, example or quality of something.

Obedience has always been a part of my life. As a child, I was taught that obedience was connected directly to love and fear. If one has a love for an authority they will desire obedience and ‘pleasing’ that individual. On the other hand, if one has fear of that authority they will obey out of a desire to avoid the consequences. So, my question for today is “what is the standard for obedience when it relates to obeying God?”

First, let me make clear that the STANDARD is absolute perfection without which one will never see the Lord apart from His wrath. So, we have the open statement that Jesus the Christ is the standard of obedience in His humanity because on He is perfect. To fail in following the command of God in any way, no matter how small, makes one guilty of violating the glory and holiness of God. Therefore, one must recognize that there is NO SUCH thing as obedience to God in a manner that satisfies God’s demands and therefore there is no obedience from any human (apart from Christ) that makes Him pleased with them.

Now, to the point. Apart from the perfection of Jesus Christ, who is the next best thing? That is my question to people constantly when they come for counsel from feeling the pressure of pleasing God while time and time again are unable to obey fully. For example, many come to me desiring for their internal thoughts and emotions to be more Christ-like while others are just unable to obey the simple aspects of the Christian faith like being in a local assembly of believers under the direction of the Lord’s word through elders. Others are unable to forgive and others are just so caught up in trying to please God they have created their own set of laws and live by them very well. As I ask them to show me the standard each of them are quick to answer Jesus. To which I reply, “Why do you try to be God?”

This, of course, startles them. But in reality, this is exactly what we are trying to do when in any part we think we can come close to the glory of God in perfection. Now some people have been quick to then accuse me as antinomian which in itself proves they are not in the love of God nor do they understand the gospel of grace. And in essence, they hate the rebuke that all of their “holiness” or “obedience” is worthless. It saddens me to see people stuck in this type of thinking but if they are not regenerated there is little to be done to help them see. Thankfully God teaches that He will open the eyes of His people in His timing through the hearing of His word. So, I rest the assurance that the Lord will do what He wishes with His people and I am only a voice for Him. Sola Deo Gloria!

So back to the standard. Let’s review a few of the immovable saints of old and see how they compare and see if we actually desire to be like them:

  1. Adam & Eve. Well, we know they were righteous and perfect without sin and depravity and they couldn’t last a day in the garden with Satan. So, we’ll leave them right there. They didn’t have a good standard of obedience to God.
  2. Cain. What? Why him? He didn’t have obedience to God…. yes he did. He offered the first fruits of his labors with all the trimmings. The only difference is he thought of his offering as sufficient because it obeyed the rules given by God when he actually hated God evidenced by his continued measurement of his righteousness by his own standard; the law! He obeyed better than most everyone I know in life over four decades already, so there’s that.
  3. Noah. Well, he wasn’t the patriarch of obedience as most consider him. After all, while he had faith in God, his justification was not granted him by his works as God produced the works unto His own glory in Noah. And then there’s the drunkeness…. “that’s only one thing” people argue. Well, how many of you would look down on your deacon or pastor if it were known they were getting drunk? I rest my case. Noah is not a standard of obedience to God at all.
  4. Abraham. Really? Where did he every obey God? For thirteen years after God saved him and gave him the promise, he walked in obscurity lying and making excuses for his own benefit. But all the while he never trusted in himself but always believed God would be his hope, even when he didn’t live as though he believed it. Abraham never really showed himself the standard of obedience.
  5. Moses. Nope. He started out as a murder in the plan of God and didn’t want to “go”. But God worked in him all that was necessary for God’s redemptive shadow of true salvation; the Gospel of Grace.
  6. David. Please. Obedience to God was not on his radar most of the time, yet, he was a “man after my own heart…” – God.
  7. Oh, let’s talk about Elizabeth and Zachariah. What about John the Baptist? What about the disciples?
  8. Peter. Nope. Peter’s obedience to God was wishy-washy. Hardly ever not fueled by a fleshly zeal.
  9. PAUL!  He’s the one!  No, he isn’t. Paul was a murder, a lost and hopeless cause yet he obeyed the law perfectly, even in his murderous heart he was justified by the law he understood! Paul is not the standard and never will be. Let’s not work to be like the Apostles, as a matter of fact, let us not work at all to be like anyone, even Christ!

That may rock many of you, but in reality, that is the truth of the Scripture. While we may emulate and copy from time-to-time the nature, heart, and mind of Jesus, we will never be like Him until He takes us unto Himself. Being obedient to God is not about perfection, though that is required of us, it is about faith. Our striving and living here is to be a manner worthy of the calling (effectual call of regeneration) that we have been given of course, but it is not a call that leads us to a continued slavery in sin, especially the sin of self-assurance, works-fruitfulness, and most of all, legalistic and judgmental worthlessness. When we fall prey to this way of living we no longer live by faith and then we begin to measure other people by our standards and not the standards of God and His merciful grace. Obedience to God is required of every man and obedience to God is impossible for every man.

We become jaded and find fault with others as we sit thinking we are doing better than they in their walk with Christ. We find ourselves measuring spiritual leaders with a stricter judgment than prescribed in Scripture and in practice we blindly become God in our own minds. I personally believe those that live in this manner, by the evidence that they refuse to hear of the grace of God coupled their hatred of the brethren, are most likely unregenerate. Let’s be certain that we are not counted in that number. Rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Let the word of God dwell in you richly that you may fulfill the perfect work of God by believing only in the name of Jesus Christ!

In closing, we need to realize that obedience is not fully obedience. It is never satisfactory and it is never to be measured by the standards of culture and personal righteousness. If anyone wants a measure of life without discipline let it be seen that we believe in the finished work of Christ; that is the gospel of God who saves His own people from His holy wrath. Let us remember that we are given the Spirit and the thus the mind of Christ and we will love the brethren through teaching and encouragement toward love and good deeds for the benefit of the body of Christ. So often people disfellowship over their version of the law and when doing so, we must be patient, loving, kind and gentle while holding fast to the finished work of Jesus as our assurance, hope, and life. Let the Lord’s discipline work in His people, we are not God. Those who do not see were never His and to that, we pray God will grant them repentance and life so that He would be glorified in our unity, love, worship, and hope! Amen.

The effects of constant turmoil can be burnout. I’ve experienced plenty in my life and in reality, I have “quit” the ministry many many times. The truth is though, I have never told anyone!  This podcast purposes to talk a little about the issue of ministry fatigue, its causes, its purposes and most of all, its remedy.

Sometimes I wonder why I ever ended up in the pastorate. From the early days of childhood into high school I desired to be a surgeon, then along came chemistry and I was satisfied in music. Along the way, I’ve become an expert in many subjects and hobbies from illusions/sleight of hand to martial arts. I’ve spent countless hours studying the human mind, quantum physics, defensive logistics, combat theory, chess, and tonal dissonance. Years have taught my body to dance, climb mountains, swim, trackstand on a switchback, and devour ten thousand calories in 24 hours. My mind has learned to foster thought, engage the critics, leave the fight, stay the course, feel the pressure and rest in grace. Skills have prepared me to fix dryers, motherboards, vehicles, bones, restore homes, landscape, hang drywall, frame houses, dig footers, and put in the pipes. I can even sew, hem pants, taper a shirt, prepare a marketing analysis, produce video, graphic design, program websites, and set the clock on the microwave. The point, I’ve done a lot of stuff in my short life and none of it has ever been half-hearted. I don’t understand the purpose of being so-so at anything. Those things that my body did so well have fallen away to a thing called arthritis. What my brain used to manage abruptly wrecked through another harsh and painful experience known as depression. In all of it, I have never found an identity. None.

A common thread has always been stitched into every part of my life. The Word of God, from the earliest of days, has been a source of joy and power for me. It’s a grand example of the grace and mercy of the Lord to work in His children a love for Him through Scripture. For most of my life, I could engage in any forum, any hobby, any point in culture and do well. I’ve learned to shoot, sing, fight, play seven instruments and have done well at a few business ventures but in all of them, I have always found myself in the word, ministering to others, listening and teaching them the truth of Christ. As a matter of honesty, I never really wanted to be a pastor and was content with the idea of being used by the Lord in everything. But God in all His purpose will do with us as He chooses, not how we choose. In the Lord’s “putting” me into the ministry as a vocation I brought a lot of my personality and ‘skills’ to the table. I was taught early on that my ‘tool belt’ was vital to the success of the ministry of the church. Looking to be the best and giving myself the OK to be “all in”, I quickly began to surround myself with successful people who were accomplishing what I felt to be the right fruit.

Historically I have served in many areas of church life having worked with youth, children, music, teaching, seminaries, evangelism, missions, and everything in between. I have witnessed 300 enter the baptismal waters in a year’s time, seen thousands “come to faith” at “services”, and been on staff with church plants and mega-churches, some of the prior becoming the latter. In the end, even “ministry” never became my identity. There is a lot of heartache and pain under my belt for which I am eternally grateful because without it, I would have never truly seen the substance of Christ’s suffering and how we identify with Him. Having written several unpublished works on my journey, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter at the end of all the suffering if we don’t finish well. I’ve also learned that pain is part of progress and thinking that utopic days are our goal is childish and foolish surrealism. There are a few pain points of ministry though that I’ve learned sting much harder than normal. In all the calamities of sorts, nothing has been more hurtful than when friends and loved ones reject the Lord Jesus and love the world more than ever.

  1. When Family Members Claim Christ but Hate Truth
  2. When the Fan Base Becomes the Mob
  3. When the Brother is replaced with Beligerance 

Suppose that a life without Christ was blissful with no pain. No poetry in the heart from the labor of pestilence and persecution. A life with no rejection, separation, angst, or problems appears on the surface to be ideal, but my experience as well as the experience of the record of history, including Scripture, is that pain becomes part of the joy. It is the darkness in our lives that makes the light so glorious. To leave suffering in life would be to leave the fellowship of Christ, and in turn, bring suffering all the more as it became an eternal certainty rather than a light and momentary teacher. When bridled with agony, I have learned to lean into Scripture and thus into Jesus. Nothing can take the burden like Christ and His gospel of peace. Rest well in the power of Christ through His Word. 

I was always taught that these things were God’s gift for me to use for His glory. Now of course if they are enjoyed they are for His glory, but they are not what is needed by the church. While I have fixed a few computers, renovated a few buildings, and played a few funerals on the saxophone, the purpose of my life is to be a voice that points to the One that matters. Jesus Christ. I had to come to the end of my worth and usefulness and recognize that I was not the powerhouse I was always praised for being. This kind of death is hard on the esteem, but the grace of God, it’s powerful and useful. This means that all those years of training, leadership development, persuasion, influence etc. was all for nothing. Looking back I am thankful for having come through it, but at the time I counted my life as a large failure and a waste of God’s time as far as the ministry was concerned. This type of death makes your ministry history moot. As it should be. After all, didn’t John the Baptist even proclaim that Christ must increase therefore he would decrease? God took his life because the bridegroom gets the bride. So often, the current “church” gets the bride, the groom, the glory and the whole nine yards. They share their programs and people. The music and their measurements as if they are running for Ms. America. After all, isn’t ministry about attracting people to look at us? No. That’s the devil’s job.

Success can be confusing. No matter the field or context of life, measuring success is a dominant desire. This measuring becomes problematic when the matrix is misunderstood. Ignorance of what constitutes success can bring a plethora of issues both externally and internally in the life of an individual or organization. Considering successful ministry can be daunting and I know in my tenure as a pastor I’ve been taught conflicting thoughts on how to know if I am successful. For over 20 years the idea of ‘counting’ heads and money has been the measure of success but if we peer into the pages of scripture, there would be no example of a successful church, pastor, apostle or Savior if that were the case. Others have concluded that success should be based on the experience of the individual or the congregation. They would posit that true success isn’t how many, but rather, how powerful the experience. Again, if this is measured in comparison to the New Testament, there would be no historic picture of success found in these measurements.

There is the room of course, for many conversations of practical wisdom as it relates to dealing with people, communicating, caring and doing life together, but any human being can pull off successful ventures of gathering up people with a common goal or vision. It only takes a brain and a voice. The problem comes when all this discombobulated instruction on success invades the mind of a pastor or congregation and they begin to make strides to ‘measure up’ according to man’s wisdom. While I’ve spoken to these things before, I want to know just put the authority where it should be; the Word of God.

When we want to see an amazing feat we can go to either a magic show, and be deceived and enjoy it, or we can go to a sporting event or daredevil exhibition. Either way, there are many amazing things to behold in the world of daring humanity. If we want our breath to be taken we can listen to a chorale of voices singing the classics of old, a symphony bringing the trills and tonal harmonies to life in our ears, or we can view the grandeur of the sea, the mountains or the beyond! Sadly, all of these things, while awe-inspiring, are not majestic or awesome in comparison to the glory of God. So, in man’s feeble mind, he has tried to find other ways to behold the power of God and then painted the canvas of “worship” and “church” with these silly and boring tactics.

How amazing would it be if I were preaching this Sunday and out of the blue I began to float in the air and fire came from my hands as I read the words of Jesus? People would think they had witnessed a miracle and their hearts and minds would be overpowered by that experience. Likewise, if I walked out into the congregation and touched the ailing and their bodies were actually healed, legs grew back, eyesight restored; people would lose their mind in amazement. What if I were able to know things that were not mine to know or had the ability to provide music that would shudder the soul and cause others to feel, what they thought, the very presence of God? I would submit that all of this, even if it happened in greater detail, would be boring and nothing in comparison to seeing the glory of God face-to-face!

So, if we want to SEE a miracle, it is better to stop looking for the next great “work” of God and realize that there is already a perfect miracle for us to behold every moment of our lives! Jesus in John 6 says, “This is the work of God that you believe in the Son that He has sent.” See, the people of John 6 wanted more miracle food. When Jesus refused to feed them in their hunger and commanded them to be satisfied in Him, they wanted a sign for Jesus to prove Himself as worthy. In the same manner, many professing believers seem to believe in anything they can feel, create, and experience that satisfies their flesh instead of actually believing in Jesus Christ and His finished work of redemption. The point is that success in ministry is not measured by the number of people in the pews, money in the bank, missionaries in the field, miracles on the stage, healings in the clinics, or tongues in the air like cymbals. It is measured by the majesty and glory of God in the face of the people of God, who believe, worship and love each other with all authority. So how then are we to measure this? How is this experienced and evident in the life of the church? Through the Word of God Alone!

God’s word faithfully proclaimed is the only measure of successful ministry.

2 Timothy 3:[16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

ὠφέλιμος – means valuable, profitable, having worth and bringing a yield. So, the word of God, which is God speaking, is profitable for all things that the church needs. It teaches (doctrine), reproofs (disapproves), corrects (sets right), and trains in righteousness (teaches Christ). The successful pastor is equipped for every good work through the Scripture. That is the miracle of God and a display of His creative power at work. His word being taught, His sheep hearing and heeding, and His people being governed by the Miracle of New Life by His everlasting Grace. Anything else is just boring and of lesser awe than this!  Stop seeking out the devil’s measure of majesty and rest in the revelation of God to you.

Rest in Christ!

With today’s culture of constant interaction, information, and interruption, getting ‘away’ from it all has taken many forms. It appears as if instead of scheduling time away through short trips or vacations periodically, most people feel the need to ‘vacate’ every day. With every week containing 168 hours, most people spend 40 laboring to live. That leaves 128 hours of time that has to encompass sleep, eating, restroom breaks, bathing, preparation, and relationships. Let’s take 56 out for sleeping 8 hours per day leaving 72 hours every single week for necessities and obligations. For the Christian, there should be a minimum of 3 to 4 hours a week in fellowship, if we never make excuses to miss work, we should not make excuses to miss fellowship with the saints, it’s actually stupid to do so.

So now we’re down to 68 hours.  That’s time enough to take on another FULL-TIME job still leaving 28 hours to spare.  Where does the time go? Well, I could write for ages on the wasters of time in the name of profitable things. How many of us have one full book of the bible memorized? OK, how about one chapter? Maybe one portion, let’s say the introduction to the Gospel of John? That’s 18 verses… I know for a fact there are several people recently who know each lyric of each song on their iPhone. That equates to five verses of music times 400 to 600.  Why?  I know many people who know the lines out of movies verbatim. But can’t tell a clear story of Jesus life and ministry.  A movie that takes two hours vs. a story that takes 25 minutes? The problem here is not time, it’s idolatry. But that’s not the point of my writing.

Out of all this waste of time, it seems that people want to meddle in worthless areas of life while professing that Christ is enough. See, the scripture shows us what to do when we feel overwhelmed, broken, fearful, worried, angry, forgotten, martyred, etc.  We are to “think on the things that are eternal….”  The matter is simple. When we want to “escape” we often pray that God would help us get out of the matter at hand or change our circumstances, our hearts, or our minds. The conflict arises out of a misunderstanding of how to pray and how to listen to the scripture. See, getting away from everything can be found in books, media, movies, sports, vacations, games, etc., but those things are just temporary deflections. They do not actually set us in any real place or give us any real benefit at all. Without quoting myriads of research on the matter, psychologists have long known the effects of constant avoidance of life through natural or ‘artificial’ means. They have a word for it, addiction.

Addiction to stuff, feelings, thoughts, stories, interaction, social media, phones, games, sports, solitude, or whatever robs us as believers of the core of God’s presence which is found in the Bible. Some argue, “well, I read other books and the bible, can’t I just enjoy escape in reading, after-all, the bible is a book right?” No, is my answer. NO! The Bible, while a book in its form, is not a book. It is God’s word, thus it is the utterance of God speaking to us. Scripture teaches that the basics of salvation come through hearing the Bible (Rom 10:17) and that comfort comes from putting our minds on the scriptures. The error rests in the attitude of approach. That is that so many times we just peek into the bible for answers rather than digest the scripture in order to be intimate with Jesus Christ. Scripture reading is intimacy. So putting our minds on eternity is to literally put our minds on the teaching of the truth of Jesus. Who He is and what He’s done. We don’t run after Jesus in the biblical texts to find His “message” about our problems, we run into Jesus through the Holy Writ because while we read God the Spirit interacts with us. So, reading Scripture puts our mind on the very thing that we will ETERNALLY be focused on: Jesus Christ and HIS GLORY!

So here’s the point: Read Scripture for your escape. It will not rob you of glory and power but will put you in an intimate place with God. Through scripture, God will speak, settle us, and give us the ability to rest in His promises as He comforts us. Our relationship with God is only found in His word. And for those who are constantly reading, listening, gleaning, and hounding after other “theological” arguments, stop that also. Find more time in the word so that your joy will be full.  “These things are written…”  This is found many times in Scripture to the following end: that you may BELIEVE in Jesus Christ and so have ETERNAL LIFE. This life beloved is NOT eternal and I think it’s time that we as the church spend out time thinking on better things.

Exodus 20:4-6

[4] “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. [5] You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, [6] but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

YOU SHALL NOT

The language in the Hebrew, lo, prescribes an ABSOLUTE prohibition of any image of God set before men. The commandment here is TWO-FOLD:

  1. You SHALL ABSOLUTELY NOT make an image of GOD for any purpose.
  2. You SHALL ABSOLUTELY NOT worship any image.
    • This means that an image that reflects the nature of the Lord in one’s mind would invade their worship.(fondness, remembrance etc).

For the sake of understanding, the Lord prohibits any use or existence of Him as an image. In Deuteronomy 4:15-16 Moses instructs God’s people to have a fondness of the Lord in the heart and to never paint Him with the eye. God is Spirit and has no form, thus He must be worshiped in Spirit. His self-revelation can be understood through Jesus, who has a body and a form. Jesus’ body though, is no longer in the world, but in the abode of God as Jesus has ascended into Heaven. Paul says that Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. So, as God desires to be known, Christ makes Him known. The fulness of God’s glory is revealed in Jesus (John 1:14, Col 1, Heb 1, 2 Cor 4:6) and NO OTHER means of identifying God’s likeness is allowed, period, in any manner. Scripture, the Logos, or word, reveals Jesus perfectly to us. A picture of Jesus on film or canvas can teach something about Jesus contrary to the Scripture, and worse, cause us to consider what we know and love about Jesus to be aroused by what we see, rather than the Truth of Christ’s word.

UNCLE BILLY

The blond blue-eyed man seen adorning the relics of history has no resemblance to the historical Jesus. Or course, Jesus was not caucasian nor was he was not European. These images were birthed in the mid-third century when depictions of the ‘roles’ of Jesus began to arise. (ie. the good shepherd) Once Constantine embraced Christianity, pictures of Jesus became common and were central to worship and adoration. Historians reveal narratives of parishioners bowing down to these images symbolically as a representative of Jesus Christ. Depictions of Jesus originally were clean-shaven and youthful but by the fifth century, these depictions began to portray long hair in relation to the pagan gods of Greece, namely, the sun god Apollo, as a symbol of rule. As time progressed, artists wanted to “capture” and portray the different roles and attributes of Jesus. In doing so, His image changed and continually molded until the embodiment and knowledge of Jesus came from these pictorial attributes. A beard was added later in history to reveal strength like Jupiter and Neptune, eventually, the progressive combination of a slender, effeminate, bearded man with long hair took root. Once European influence captured much of the world’s art, the result is the man most people show today as Jesus. He looks just like a man I once knew who was a hippie named Billy, so that’s what a few us call that picture, “Uncle Billy”.  It is not, in any form, a depiction of Jesus but it is in every form, a direct violation of God’s word to call it Jesus. By the fact that the depiction is recognized by so many as Jesus reveals the idolatry of the image.

SPIRIT & TRUTH

Jesus teaches in John 4 that true worshipers worship in Spirit and Truth. Jesus reduces the precepts of any religious experience as the potential for being idolatrous-such as the temple and speaks strongly that those who worship God will only do so through the Son. God chooses to reveal Himself fully through His Son and because the Son has ascended, the only means of seeing and knowing Jesus is through the Scriptures. To invade the glorious view of what Scripture reveals with a man-made fondness is to rob God of His intended glory. Ultimately people are unable to avoid associating what they see with their eyes as a representation of what they hold fondly in their hearts. For example, when we read a book, we envision the characters in the book, we involve our minds into the fantasy as we read. Then if a movie is released, it never ‘seems’ right…. If we see the movie first, the book reveals itself in relation to the images that we have in our mind’s eye. In a very similar way, but more tragic way, depictions of Jesus can reversely be idolatrous unaware. If you love the Lord Jesus and you’re walking along in town and observe a painting of Jesus through a gallery window, you may feel joyful or emotional. At that moment you have worshiped a graven image and that is why depictions not derived from God’s prescribed revelation are forbidden.

SEEING WHAT IS NOT SEEN

The scripture says that God has shown us the fulness of His glory in the Face of Jesus Christ. Paul says that we hope in what we CANNOT now see but we love Jesus anyway as we peer into the Word of God. One day we will see face to face, until then, we do ourselves a great injustice to recognize Jesus from any portion of man’s caricature, whether in words or depictions. The Apostles teach continually about the hope of what is ‘unseen’ in contrast to that which is seen. John expounds on the reality that they have seen Christ, touched Him, and heard Him in the flesh, but that they now manifest Him to “you” through the writing of Scripture. This writing, proclamation of the eternal life is what brings communion with God, not the description or paintings of their memories. Peter explains to his readers that they do not believe in clever myths when discussing the truth of the resurrected Lord. He continues to say that their eyewitness accounts are not valid proof of their claims, but that the Scriptures stand as the better and sure evidence of the Lord’s coming and return to which his readers would “do well to pay attention.”

Seeing pictures representing Jesus is damaging to the body of Christ because it belittles the glorious and makes it an image of man. I won’t go into how this sits squarely in Romans chapter one, but it would be wise to admonish us from that text. The flesh resolves to find hope, warmth, and adoration in what can be seen but as I’ve already stated, this contradicts what God has established through His commands for our good, and when so often we find ourselves fighting for the rights against the Lord’s commands, it is proof positive that we love our flesh, revealing that we have no hope for eternal life apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The images of Jesus are so affirmed as such that when people cross our paths with beards and long hair the first thing that pops into our minds is, “they look like Jesus.” We are far better served with the words of God from Scripture working through our minds instead of the emotional attachment to the experiences of the sensory. Images of Jesus offer a fleshly assistance to our devotion which is idolatry.

EVEN IF

Even if we are not captured by the aforementioned fodder, we do well by our brethren to be careful of their stumbling. In California, a dear brother brought some pictures of “Jesus” to hang around the property. These images were installed without the knowledge of the elders before service presenting a large picture of “Uncle Billy” at the entrance of the main doors. Just seconds before the service began, a dear sister, who was raised Catholic, ran in exclaiming of her horror to see such a demonic relic hanging near where we would worship the True God of Scripture, not the one made by the hands of men.

Let us keep ourselves from idols. Including our weak understanding of the severity of those who used to worship them. Images of Jesus lie to us. They teach us to know Christ in a way that we should not know Him, in error and caricature. God understands our need to see and has given us His Spirit that we might see what we cannot see through the pages of Scripture. This isn’t only talking about pictures, but movies, images, caricatures, statues, or books that teach something about Jesus that is not found in Scripture. Be discerning beloved.

LOSING SIGHT BY SEEING

I added this note as I sat in my truck this morning (3/2) while considering the implications of adoring visual representations of a so-called Jesus. Paul teaches that through all the affliction of his ministry he is able to stand firm and see what is unseen. Therefore he doesn’t lose heart. So, the alternative to looking to the unseen is to look at what is seen, even those relics and images that offer help in our time of need are of no help and ultimately cause us to be shaken. We cannot look to the God of scripture by looking at His picture or even a symbol of His work or history. We must be able to see and savor the living God who lives within us through the word He’s left for us. Otherwise, we not only lose heart, we lose hope.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Rest well beloved.

Pastor James

 

People are always in need of help. It’s a fact of life. Finding the right type of help can be difficult for most. It’s difficult to choose from all the noise offering to change lives for the better. What form of ‘help’ is the right form? Should one seek some counseling? If so, then what type? Even counseling is vast in its practice. There is biblical counseling, therapeutic, psychological, psychiatric, self-motivating and there are a million divisions of these types of help. For many Christians, they look to the church hoping to find help through their pastor or a small group or even a friend. The trend in preaching has taken this approach as well and is viewed by many as just another arm of help in a time of need. If people in large number are seeking to be helped by preaching, then what constitutes a sermon that helps? How should pastors focus their teaching for the sake of their congregation?

A Helpful Sermon Carries Great Assumptions

Visions of grandeur often accompany many well-meaning pastors. They think that if they don’t say the right thing or if they are not creative enough, then church members are going to be lacking. It should be understood that God is supreme over all circumstances and when it comes to His own, He uses all things, good and bad, for their good. So, there is nothing that takes place in this life that is outside the eternal decrees of God. Preaching then must assume this reality, speak from this authority and provide exactly what God has chosen as an answer. Preaching that changes in content depending on the seasons or culture is not preaching. The preacher has become the pundit and no longer has any power to offer help. God alone helps. His word alone is all counsel for good and profit.  (2 Timothy 3:16) Another assumption that the scripture offers is its audience. Not one point of the Holy Writ was composed or sent to unbelieving people. The Scripture is for the church and it only useful for the people of God, those who are in Jesus Christ.

A Helpful Sermon is Contextual

If the above assumptions are cemented helpful preaching should flow naturally from the text of Scripture. Often pastors feel the need to ‘invent’ something that is not seen in the text or even ‘expound’ philosophically on items related to the text. While this is good practice as needed (if the text speaks to the matter), it should be very minimal. What God’s word says has the power to change, not what we are thinking about what God’s word says. Contextual preaching then is the means through which the pastor will most benefit the church. A helpful sermon is one that stands within the text of Scripture and never pulls away from the original meaning. God alone shows what He is saying, He doesn’t need us to break into His mind and offer assistance to Him. Using a sentence out of context is not only ‘unhelpful’ but it is a very prideful engagement. It often shows either a lack of maturity on the part of a pastor, a lack of esteem for the Word of God, or a lack of discernment. Either way, it should be corrected and God’s word should be allowed to do what it was sent to do. (Isaiah 55:11; Hebrews 4:12)

A Helpful Sermon Brings Maturity

Most circumstances in life are out of the control of the ones experiencing them. So, to teach people to do something that is out of their control is a waste of time. It also brings the hearer to a place of despair or worse, a place of false hope. Paul teaches the Ephesian church to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) and the church will mature. What is the truth? The truth is spoken when each believer teaches the word of God to each other. It is spoken when it is ‘out of season’ and not received very well for the benefit and joy of another. It is spoken when preaching centers on the purpose of growing the church, which is inclusive of being able to ‘endure’ problems and ‘overcome’ circumstances that are out of their control. It often appears that pastors want to change people’s lives by changing the way they act or think. Scripture changes people’s lives, actions, and thoughts by showing them the power of God and His purposes in all things, even bad ones. True help is growth in grace, growth in Christ, growth in joy and all of these come through God’s word being taught as it is written. A helpful sermon can never point to what man can do or change in order to create the environment or circumstances for help. It must always point to the sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His power, purpose, and provision in all things.

A Helpful sermon continually focuses on the person of Christ and His work of atonement. God alone purposes the assembly and preaching for one reason, that He is glorified in His people. While the Scripture is used to preach Christ unto Salvation, that is done through right teaching of Christ, not through placating to felt-needs and ‘helps’ that have no eternal interests or glory in them. God’s word is the ONLY authority on all matters related to the church. God can do more in one second than all the helpful quippy and creative pep-talks combined in the world over a million years. Teaching God’s word not only helps, it teaches the church to hear the Lord, eat on their own, and to also help others with Scripture. Preaching out of context robs the body of Christ of all the blessings that Scripture brings.

Colossians 3:16-17

[16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV)

God alone speaks with authority. He is the Helper. He uses finite men to open their mouths and proclaim His word through which He brings the message of hope and life!

Preach hard, pray with peace, and exalt the Christ brethren.

Pastor James