The second commandment is something that many people have questions about often. I wrote an article last year in relation to the question, “Can a Christian Violate the Second Commandment with Pictures of Jesus?” Here is a podcast on that answer.

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

 

I have a problem. Every time I think (which is all day long), I feel compelled to bring every thought to a final point and exhaust all arguments. Because of this, I am often very verbose, and lack the discipline to say things in part due to the fear that I may misapply by redaction, and lead someone to “hear what I have not said.” So, this post, by the Lord’s grace, will be a beginning of the end of such things. I have for months been peeling through my thoughts about saving faith and what that means for the joy and peace of the believer. So, those of you who read this and say I’ve missed so much, you are right. Add your voice to the conversation and as the Lord wills, I will do the same.

Faith is Real

Faith for many people appears to be a mythological or mystical experience. While some facets of faith may impose such things, faith is a very tangible thing. It is a constant hoping, striving, longing, and holding for and toward something that is not currently seen, but is certain and true. Faith is an ongoing reality and it always has an object.  For someone to say, “I have faith” and have no object of faith, have a blind faith. Blind faith is to believe in something but not know what that something is. Real faith is a constant believing in Jesus Christ and all that He is and has done. Jesus Christ is the object of saving faith, in all ways.

Faith is Alive

The writing of James and Paul have been at odds among higher critics and theologians throughout history. While the ‘astute’ reader sees no conflict, the teaching of both Romans and James is true. Faith alone gives life and Faith is not alone as a dead single experience. Faith is a living reality. As people hold to a point in history when they did something, they mistake that doing with believing, while mistaking cognitive affirmation as faith. While all of that embroils faith and belief, the faith of the believer is a living faith, not a historical point or logical affirmation. This means that faith is always at work, it doesn’t get put aside, but rather is exercised during doubt, temptation, unbelief, fear, hopelessness, good days, bad days and every season in between. The faith of Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Peter, John, and Paul all reveal that all of life is lived by faith. To live otherwise is sin. A believer who lives a life of faith is one who trusts and rests in the LIFE of the faithful one, Jesus Christ the Righteous. The believer’s life is lived in Christ who is the centrifugal power and author of all good things.

Faith is a Gift

One has to realize that faith in itself is a gift of God, given only through Jesus Christ. Faith is not something that the natural man, one who is still dead in sin, can accomplish.  Jesus teaches in John 3 that those born in the flesh is flesh. Paul reveals faith as the gift of God in Romans 3, giving all glory to God as the one who is the “justifier” of all who believe. If God is the one making the declaration of justification as an act of mercy, then the work and fruit of faith is also His. Paul teaches this in Ephesians 2 explicitly, that faith is a gift of God so that no one can boast.  In like manner, Jesus (John 3) tells Nicodemus that salvation is the work of God, and that faith (part of good works) is carried out by God. While some hate this truth, those who are saved love this truth because it no longer puts our rest in our ability, but allows the beloved to rest in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Alone.

Faith is the Security

This sufficiency is the point of faith. Jesus Christ has done all that is required for salvation, righteousness, and satisfying the judgment of God. He has secured salvation apart from man’s will and ability and God has granted faith to those who have been born of Him by His Spirit. (John 1) Faith IN the person of Jesus Christ brings security in all things which also reveals a peace that “surpasses all understanding.”

This security is the security of LIFE. Knowing that eternity is secure in Jesus Christ is a grand reality! Peace comes when one has faith that Christ has secured this peace. It is known experientially when life seems to constantly remind us of our sin and separation and in these moments, when we hold fast, pleading and praising the Lord for “His glorious grace”, we see the glorious power of Jesus, who is OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Eph 1) This security of life is the birthplace of joy! JOY in Jesus Christ is the power of God that wipes the fear away and the horror of uncertainty, and brings HOPE in times of hopelessness. So often Christians are distraught concerning their salvation, or they are dull, hoping in their own actions and responses, rather than hoping in Jesus Christ alone. There is no joy where there is no hope, and there is no hope where there is no joy of certainty. Confidence at its root means “with faith.” So, confidence in Christ is wrapped up with HIS giving security of life, joy, hope and ENDURANCE.

Do you see the place now where I desire to preach/write for hours on these glorious and beautiful things! May the Lord place in us the desire to get into His word and seek these truths for our growth and for His glory! Faith is ALL OF CHRIST, and none of man. While we exercise faith, it is clearly a gift from God and most assuredly, we have the peace that comes from faith in that the object of our faith is immovable, eternal, and omnipotent. Jesus in all His glorious power is able to do all that is required to keep us in Himself. I have recently been learning the song, “He will hold me fast” to be sung during our assembly. The truths of this sing to my soul, and my soul is at peace and “it is well.” This truth is taught by Jesus Christ in John 6, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  Until we talk again, let’s keep working out our faith by the power of God, which is trusting in ALL OF CHRIST, all the time, for all of eternity.

“When I fear my faith will fail Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold He must hold me fast”

Those He saves are His delight Christ will hold me fast
Precious in His holy sight He will hold me fast
He’ll not let my soul be lost His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost He will hold me fast

For my life He bled and died Christ will hold me fast
Justice has been satisfied He will hold me fast
Raised with Him to endless life He will hold me fast
Till our faith is turned to sight When he comes at last

He will hold us fast beloved. HE WILL!

Pastor James

As another Christmas comes to a close, the effects of the flesh and fallenness of humanity are very visible. The very idea that the Christmas holiday centers on the advent of Jesus Christ into this world is a bit offputting for those who read his word often and are amazed by his glory, beauty, and grace. Laying all that aside, let’s suppose for a moment that we did indeed celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as a culture. What is it that we are celebrating? What is it that we believe happened some 2000 years ago? Who is this Jesus? And why does it matter?

I could create a list of numerous ways that Christmas reveals a disregard for the teachings of the New Testament. The way the holiday is exercised and celebrated in our culture promotes materialism, breeds covetousness, expresses entitlement, harbors resentment, purveys a compulsion of reciprocation even when one has no resources to do so, and is often a reflection of one’s stewardship, affection, drive, and heart. A better use of a Christian’s time and resources would be to honor Christ by helping each other, sharing the gospel, and living with a divine purpose and power that could only come from Christ. For those who are in Christ Jesus, the celebration of his Advent includes the celebration of his living righteously before God. The life of Jesus Christ in obedience to the holy commands of Scripture is what gives his sacrifice the value of atonement. Jesus Christ can redeem his people because his death held power and value and worth that pleases God the Father and appeases his righteous wrath.

Jesus Christ was sent to earth so that he might save sinners. So, if Jesus is to save sinners, how he was conceived and born is just as essential as how he lived and died. Jesus birth is of the gravest importance because if he was not born sinless, he could not die sinless. If Jesus the Christ did not die pure, he was raised from the grave for nothing except to ascend into heaven only to face the judgment of God.  While many people would say that the virgin birth is a given, there are pastors, even this weekend who have refuted the validity and the importance of Jesus being born of a virgin and conceived of the spirit. Consider these few thoughts and do not seek a “medicine” for your religion by simply glazing over deep things of God that are plain in the Holy Writ.

BIBLICAL AUTHORITY

When the Things taught in Scripture are invalidated by those who stand in pulpits, what they do not realize is that they are undermining the very authority of God who speaks through Scripture. By doing this, they allow a listener to come to terms with whatever doctrine they do not like by dismissing it as myth. While things in Scripture can be difficult to believe because of their mystery, they are not up for consideration without calling into question every aspect of the Scriptures which include salvation. The very nature of God as revealed through his word becomes fair game, and a reader can now discern, based on his intellect, as to whether or not God’s revelation is through Scripture. God promised the “seed of a woman” would crush the head of the serpent and He who is able, not conditioned toward sin, is Jesus Christ. Dismissing the validity of the virgin birth creates havoc against ALL the promises found in scripture and eliminates all hope for the elect of God by argument.

ATONEMENT

The atonement is necessary because of the sinfulness of humanity. 1 John 1:7 teaches that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness. This cleansing is not a “mending” or a “betterment,” but it is a grand security that one who was once born of the flesh in Adam, dead in his trespasses and sins, has been made alive through Jesus Christ and are now At One with the Father. Man in the natural flesh cannot take away his brother’s sins. It is impossible. This idea is the heresy of absolution perpetrated by the Roman church for centuries. God promised the Messiah, who would be the victor of His people through the sufficient sacrifice. A part of such atoning worth is that Jesus Christ propitiated for us, that is He satisfied the wrath of God’s righteousness for us in full. If Christ was not born of God but had an Earthly Father, He could not satisfy God’s judgment, and He could not bring us to the Father.

TITLE OF JESUS

Jesus is His name, Christ is His title, Lord is His office! He is Jesus, the Holy Anointed One of God who is the Ruler of all things! If Jesus is a mere man infused with Spiritual power, then He is not the Christ, for He did not come from God. If He is just a man conceived in adultery, then He is worthy of damnation like the rest of humanity and is subject to the Law of God as a guilty person; thus He could not be the Lord of the Law. (Jesus said He was the Lord of the Sabbath) So the very name of Jesus, His very title is embroiled into the essence of His birth.

So just in a review of the Scripture, the Atoning power of Christ’s death and the name and title of Jesus we can see that the virgin birth is of grave importance. Think deeply how the teaching of the Bible would be moot if Jesus conception were not divine. Consider your justification. How can God declare us justified if there is no worthy sacrifice for sin? How are we to be made and matured to the “likeness of Christ” if He is just an excellent and highly moral man? What reconciliation is in effect toward God if Jesus needed His debt to paid as a sinner? (Hebrews 7:26-27) How can we be adopted as sons and daughters in Christ Jesus if Jesus is a brother in the lineage of Adam? How then can we have a High Priest who continues the work of advocacy if Jesus is just like all the other priests of man? How is God not a liar if He promised “Emmanuel” (God with us) through the Son and He sent a man to do the work of perfection?  What about John’s gospel that says, “These things are written that you may believe on the Son and have life in His name” if Jesus is not the Word of God made flesh?

People calmly and passively accept anything they hear with no discrimination (discernment), and it is the time to hope not with our eyes and ears. Jesus is the God of Heaven who created all the cosmos and who came to Earth through the womb HE created and took human form while remaining sinless.  Jesus had no sin, but He became sin by taking on the guilt of all who believe so that God would be JUST in forgiving them. So, as Satan acts out this grand play of deception in your presence as the scene downplays the necessity of the virgin birth, scream BLASPHEMY and with tears plead with those around you to hear the truth.  Who might purvey such a damnable lie? Many who sit in the most famous pulpits of our nation. 1 John 4:1-3 teaches that anyone who denies the truth of Christ deity and humanity is anti-christ. So those who preach such things are to avoided and rebuked as publicly as they spew such treacherous heresy. Lord have mercy.

Jesus is GOD, evidenced by Scripture and vindicated by His resurrection. Jesus is also MAN, evidenced by His birth, and His crucifixion. Know Him, Love Him, Worship Him… He is God become man so we might be made worthy of the presence of Father blameless.

…Pondering the ineffable glory until I see Him face to face!

Pastor James

locked-church-doors

This question makes me cringe. Primarily because it says a good deal about the one who asks it and is difficult to answer without getting into the meat of who the Church is and what she is to be doing. The quick answer is, “You should “skip” (miss) gathering with the Saints as little as possible, but if necessary, only if you would also skip work, pleasure, family, vacation, etc. for the same reason.” When you are ill, contagious, etc. you should feel greived that you cannot make the assembly. The problem isn’t knowing when to miss gathering together, the problem is in the fact that so often professing believers seem to think that the local assembly (the church) is a social function.

The church is (are) the called of God who are redeemed in Christ Jesus for the sake of God’s glory and who are sealed with the Holy Spirit who LIVES within them. If that is you, then the rest of this article will surely apply; if not, then you’re under no obligation to your siblings in Christ, because you are not alive in Christ. To that end, please seek salvation through Jesus Christ Alone, by Faith Alone, not of your own doing but believing fully that God has come in the Flesh in the Son Jesus and has paid the ransom of your sins. Now back to a few questions that come to mind in response to this question by believers. Keep in mind that the church is THOSE GATHERED, not a place… so, on the onset, correct this in your mind.

Why would it cross your mind to “miss/skip” gathering WITH the rest of church?

The body of Christ is compelled to honor and glorify Him at all times and in all things by the NEW MIND and NEW HEART we have been given (which is your in Christ Jesus) through which we are enabled and find great affection for the LORD and the Lord’s PEOPLE – the church. So to have the Lord means to be driven by the Lord, who has us. Therefore, our desire to be in fellowship with other believers as a family is one of our TOP PRIORITIES in life.  This is above all things because the body and its gathering is eternally driven.  All other relationships in this life are temporal and fleeting.

What else would be more beneficial in life than being with the Lord’s people and under His word?

Seriously, where else do we want to be? What else do we want to be doing? Why are those things HIGHER in affection that Christ? Oh, you don’t see it that way, then beloved it’s time you understood the point. Christ saved a people in order that He might be glorified in them and that through His manifold wisdom He would put to shame and dumbfound the powers of darkness. This is seen fully in the love for the church. (the assembled) Anything else that pulls your heart strings away from God’s people is an idol or an excuse to live in unbelief and idolatry.

Where in the world will you find strength apart from God’s word and accountability and encouragement apart from God’s people?

You won’t. Plain and simple. There is no real wisdom, no real love, no real encouragement, no real worship, no real relationship with Christ apart from His bride. It is our continual striving together that makes Christ glorified. When you feel like you just can’t face another moment, when sin seems to have you by the throat, when you just don’t have enough strength to move another muscle, it is then you should be with God’s people the most. If your assembly doesn’t offer such a refuge, maybe it’s time you find a body that will honor Christ in your gathering… another point later in the year.

What reveals your true affections more than being assembled at the cost of unbelievers or young believers?

Skip church and show them that your relationship with the Christ is only a convenient thing OR tell them that nothing will interfere with the majesty of God and that they are welcome to join you in worship or sit at home and become second, as they should be. There is never a time to allow others to dictate our following of Christ and our joyful response to grace with God’s people. While some may read these words and disagree, I implore you to examine your heart. We are not bound to rules, we are bound to Christ and LOVE HIM with all the affection of God as we love each other with all the affection of Christ! If you have never looked at your Christian life in this way, I’m sorry that you have stayed so segmented and I pray that you would endeavor to quit placing Christ on aspects of your life but that He would be found in all corners, cracks and crevices of your soul.

Why should holidays put our faith on hold, especially those holidays that supposedly are about Jesus?

Oh my, haven’t we expressed this enough? I cringe again. As this year happens to see a holiday on the Lord’s day, it would be a tragic blasphemy of grand proportions to refuse to worship together in place of pagan traditions, family gatherings, and materialistic gain while saying that such holiday is about Jesus Christ.  Don’t get me started… I’ll write about Christmas later. I guess the point should be to ask, “What do I love most?” If you do not love the church, then you cannot love Christ. Something is greatly wrong in your heart if this is the case. And when I say the church, remember I am not talking about the things done, place attended, or programs employed; I am saying the PEOPLE OF GOD who are your eternal siblings.

Does it really matter?

As I have said before, it matters because it is reflective. Our love for God is directly relative for our love for the body. Jesus says it first and all the apostles concur. It matters that your heart is right because NOT being with the body regularly is the POINT of Hebrews 10:19-39. (take a look) – and it matters because so much is at stake, our joy, our hope, our prayers, the sharing of our faith etc. It matters because where there is no commitment, there is no transformed heart. The first century church saw explosive change in culture because when God saves His people, they leave the world’s ways and have no more affection for it. Imagine if every Christian daily laid their thoughts, lives, hearts, money and purpose captive to Christ. The world as we know it would be change.

What do you do if you don’t have this affection? Well, it may be because you’re with the body of Christ once a month or less. In 20 years I have been out of the pulpit once. We scheduled all trips and time off where I would only be gone no more than two Sundays in a row and then I was teaching elsewhere. Why? Because I cannot imagine not seeing my spiritual family for which I live, labor and thrive to see joyful in Christ. Sadly, most church goers would not tolerate an 80% commitment from their pastors but expect him to tolerate much less from them.  Brother Tom Ascol (Founders.org) made a comment recently on Facebook that “…what I have found even more egregious, to argue loudly for regenerate church membership and to remain undisturbed as a member or pastor for years in a church with 50-70% of its membership unwilling even to show up for worship on the Lord’s Day.”

The uncommitted mindset of Christians is ultimately a matter of discipline and in the same sense, should be corrected through discipline. Anyone who cries legalist should silent that ignorant claim and read the New Testament for a change where a life of transformation is evidence of a life redeemed and a loving brother is one who rightly opposes worldliness and friends, skipping the assembly on purpose is worldliness, just like drunkenness, adultery, malice and greed. Let’s be in fellowship tomorrow and every opportunity we have to the PRAISE of HIS glorious grace.

Pastor James

Over a decade ago we painfully transitioned to integrated family worship. This means that all people who are part of the family of faith, all ages, sit together under the preaching of the word of God. The first year or two it was difficult for many reasons: we couldn’t handle our children, other people didn’t know what to do about a kid who may make a noise, it was different, visitors were caught off guard…. the list could go on. But ten years later, while there are always matters to deal with along with 30 children sitting in the services at any given time and three infants on the way in the fall, we have seen so much more blessings from this decision than any of these pains would discourage us. And every now and then we see a little light and encouragement on how God teaches children in the midst of the church.

This past Lord’s day one such example was given and in my experience, it was the youngest example of “listening” I have ever seen.  My two year old daughter was doing her usual: sitting with grandparents and back and two between folks in the church trying to “talk quietly” and “listen.” Usually this is cemented with a well-placed snack. (meh).  The text for the day was 1 Thessalonians 4:15 – “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” For the introduction and then as a reminder halfway through the message (63 minutes this day), I was making the case that our natural instinct when hurt is to hurt back. I used the illustration of how our children, even at a young age reveal depravity and sinfulness even though they do not know or recognize it as rebellion. I was discussing how we are patient with them as they progress and grow and in the same manner God has been patient with us and even patient with “vessels of destruction.”  Either way, God is patient and we are patient.

I alluded to a basic expression of rebellion that most children do, the crying for no reason, the testing, looking, whining etc. and in the midst of this example my two year old looks at those around her and says, “My daddy’s talking about me.”  A low chuckle birthed from that area of the congregation and an epiphany was born. We know that God is sovereign to teach through the word and no matter what “educators” teach, God is greater than our ability to teach. The New Testament shows us that children flocked to Jesus as He taught ALL PEOPLE; and they understood Him. We learned by statements like this that children hear, listen and by the grace of God, understand. Not only was Abby listening (even though it appeared she wasn’t), she resonated with the experience of her sinful actions as they were illustrated, without the use of her name.

Remember beloved, our God is gracious and can pierce the hearts and minds of the infantile, the ignorant, the young, the old, the stubborn and the incapable. He is mighty to save and reveal even those things that are impossible to see. Scripture teaches through the mouth of Jesus that unless our faith be like the little children we cannot inherit the kingdom of Heaven. This shows us that ALL OF THE WORK of salvation is God’s doing, not man’s. Glory be to God for His faithfulness. I have hundreds of examples like this of children hearing and understanding deep things, but this is by far the youngest and I thought I would share.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor James

Worship by definition is to acclaim and make much of one or thing that is worthy of praise, honor, glory, attention or focus. Worship sits deep within the heart and when given opportunity, explodes with expression, not just about that which is worthy, but in honor of and toward such worth. Think about this, do you worship Christ or something/someone else? Are you invested with every fiber of your being in the glory of Jesus Christ? When you gather with the Saints of Christ each week, do  you come to make much of and hear Christ?

Jesus says that out of the abundance of the heart that one speaks from the mouth. So, when preachers preach, that which come from their mouths is what they worship. It is becoming more difficult to hear Christ and His truth and see His face in preaching. When Christ is absent from the text which reveals Him, the one proclaiming such fails to herald the One of true worth and instead places his own treasure at the heart of all things. Paul says in Romans 1 that people suppress the truth by unrighteousness and worship created things. I believe that many Christians love themselves and “church work” over Christ, thus, they keep sitting and maintaining worldliness as religion instead of true worship. So often one can hear sermons centered on man’s work, man’s worth and man’s well-being which are guilty of promoting idolatry. Beloved, learn to hear truth and lies and know the difference. Sinner, come to the One who alone is worthy of all praise.

An old hymn rings true to my ears each day I ponder the glory of Jesus Christ… “And the things of Earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and and grace.”  So how do you know? Well, when you stand in awe of God, nothing else is in focus. Not even you! Praise not the content, pastor, service, music, feeling, friends, or anything else. Praise the ONE who is HOLY and who is Worthy of Praise. Run from anything else, it is a terrible thing to worship idols.

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 ESV)

For His Glory by His Grace,

James

…………………… these are the thoughts of Easter as I ponder the history of my own life, mediate on the practices, consider the purpose…..  I am without any coherent thought on these things.

Easter, as it is, seems to confuse me. It doesn’t fall into any form of the biblical practice of the church and over the last twenty years, I have had a difficult time finding the place for it among the community of faith. While many congregations make much of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on this day, I am still unable to discern why it is tied to a date, day, season, festival, or tradition. A brother recently asked what we were doing on Easter Sunday to which I pondered puzzled. “We are in 1 Thessalonians, and whatever the Lord has for us there is what we’ll do.”  Thinking about breaking out of the glorious heart of voice of Christ (Rom 10:17; John 1) for the sake of the church troubles me and I find no prescription for it. In all reality, I think that if ONE day out of the many days that are the Lord’s is set apart and esteemed, it is probably out of the heart of idolatry, not worship.

Why do we take a worldly practice and turn it into opportunity for that one day to preach the truth? The better question is why do pastors and congregants subject boring and ill-effective half-truths as normative the rest of the year.  Oh yeah, there is the Mass of Christ… my point made.

The church should be about living and glorying in the risen Lord each day, each gathering, each moment and at every opportunity. Instead, she seems to be drawn in by social justice, politics, public service, philanthropy, humanistic self-help, fragmented doctrine and socialization in the name of peace. The reason that the church is so apt to adopt the human invention of Easter and make it as if it were a celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ, is due to the failing of the shepherds of Christ’s people to make much of Jesus in this way each day. We cater as previously listed, to the human nature instead of giving the power of God through Jesus Christ who IS the living word.

So, the reason Easter holds no love in my heart is that it seems to detract from the normal, passionate, continual celebration of Christ and His living reign that should be just as grand every other day of this life. Spurgeon remarks,

“There is no ordinance in Scripture of any one Lord’s-day in the year being set apart to commemorate the rising of Christ from the dead, for this reason, that every Lord’s-day is the memorial of our Lord’s resurrection. Wake up any Lord’s-day you please, whether in the depth of winter, or in the warmth of summer, and you may sing:
“To day he rose and left the dead, And Satan’s empire fell; To day the saints his triumph spread, And all his wonders tell.”
To set apart an Easter Sunday for special memory of the resurrection is a human device, for which there is no Scriptural command, but to make every Lord’s-day an Easter Sunday is due to him who rose early on the first day of the week.

And it so happens that our text this week in 1 Thessalonians, as the last three weeks, reminds us of the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lord!

[8] For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. [9] For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, [10] and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 ESV)

Ineffable.

Thinking on such seems foolish.

Considering the task surely a fool’s errand.

Subject this to the God of Heaven.  Unknown, Unknowable, Indescribable.

YET, He who is at His side makes Him known.

The SON perfectly knows the MIND of the FATHER.

The Spirit is GIVEN the Son without Measure.

The Spirit and the Son give life.

The Spirit Prays for us.

The Spirit reveals God to Us.

The Spirit rebirths us.

So, the worship of God is fully known in the face of the LOGOS come to Earth, Jesus, the Eternal Son who is GOD!

But even in knowing, ETERNAL LIFE GIVEN CERTAINLY, there is an inability to FULLY encapsulate the essence of the nature of the glory of God. Therefore, looking, seeing, knowing, believing, loving, hoping… they all are still yet a shadow.

Why? Because even when the fullest of our minds and souls see and savor, we are awestruck, unable to speak past the whispers of wonder locked behind our language and thought.

Now to HIM who is able to do far more than ANYTHING we could ever THINK or ASK…

We worship in SPIRIT and we worship in TRUTH. THe spirit alone allows a peek into the unknowable. Jesus reveals fully. He is truth. And when we are unable to see what we can see and unable to relay… we see and are satisfied knowing that our bold affection is that given to us by GOD. Through God the Spirit. God the Son.

I digress that I may rest in the unfathomable; knowing what I know of that which is not knowable yet known… 🙂 I love this. No, I love Jesus.

 

broken church building

Pastors, never forget the fragile state in which we live and serve. We are flesh, all of us, and must depend upon the mighty hand of God in all things. It is God who keeps us and holds us from the schemes of the enemy, the attacks of the world and the lust of the flesh. God in Christ Jesus seals us in holiness and steadfastness, gives us a heart to love the church of Christ with all the affection of Christ and allows us to find the greatest satisfaction amongst the deepest of suffering. We must never move our eyes from the glory of the one who can sit us upon the rock of righteousness and who has snatched us out of death, out of darkness and transferred us to the light of the Son and to the Kingdom therein. When this life is “able” we fail. When we look to our own holiness, we fail. When we feel content in our walk with Christ, we fail. When we subject our calling to the ways and ideals of this world, we fail. But even then oh brothers, Christ cannot fail and He will rescue us from the mundane, the philosophy of our minds, the brokenness of our discipline and the lacking of our zeal. Then our broken shards will cut through the dead flesh of men by the proclamation of Christ who sets the prisoners free by the blood poured from His own broken body. Remember that it is a gift of the miraculous grace of God when we suffer, when we mourn, when we are lowly so that our pride is put behind us and our very souls are endeavored to rest in His supreme hand.

May our boasting be in Christ and may our lives be a sacrifice to the praise of HIS glorious grace; not our own lest we labor for nothing.  It is far better to be no one in any historical sense and to have the mount of calvary as our epitaph in an unmarked grave than to be honored by men and praised through generations only to realize we left trash to be burned at the coming of the Lord.

Rise up pastor, bow down pastor… the Lord is true.

Pastor James