How to Break Free from Generational Sin

RedeemingADysfunctionalFamily

This is a sermon rewind – a take-away from this past Sunday’s sermon.  This week, we started a new sermon series from the life of Joseph entitled, “Redeeming a Dysfunctional Family.”

Joseph’s story begins with Abraham – if you’ve spent any time in church – you may have heard the song, “Father Abraham.”  He is more than just a little important in world history – as he is credited with being the fore-father of 3 of the major world religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

God called Abraham out of obscurity, sent him to what is called the Promised Land – called Palestine in our day.  He then promised that Abraham’s descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky – as the sand on the seashore.

Abraham fathered two sons – Ismael and Isaac.  Through Ishmael, Abraham is credited with starting the Arab race.  Through Isaac, Abraham is the father of the Israelites & spiritually of every Christian.

Abraham was a great man of faith – but his family was far from perfect. Not willing to wait on God to fulfill his promise of a family, Abraham fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife – with his wife’s permission. (talk about dysfunction…)  Such foolishness usually leads to tension – ultimately resulting in Abraham having to send his son Ishmael away.

Abraham’s son, Isaac, also showed favoritism. Isaac and his wife Rebekah had twin sons – Esau and Jacob. Esau was a bit of a manly man, and received Isaac’s favor as a result. Rebekah had her own favorite in Jacob. This favoritism again resulted in significant family conflict – leading to Jacob fleeing for his life.

In Genesis 37, you can see that favoritism rears its ugly head once again. Jacob follows the examples of his father and grandfather by showing favoritism to his son, Joseph. This trend towards favoritism is generational – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all showed favoritism to a particular child.

We too have generational sins – we tend to copy the sins of our parents and perpetuate them in our own lives.  What we have to do is break free from generational sin.

By generational sin I mean the type of sin that is perpetuated from parents to children and so on – it could be something as pernicious as alcoholism or materialism or pride.

In this way generational sin is a bit of a family tradition. We all bring traditions into a marriage – into a new family. Traditions are ways in which we believe something that should be done – something that is usually important such as holidays.

Think about your Christmas traditions – do you open one present on Christmas Eve, and then wait for the morning to open the rest? Do you have certain foods that are non-negotiables for your Christmas dinner? In other words, are there things you do or say or eat or read that if you don’t do them, it’s just not Christmas!

Then you get married and realize that your spouse has never correctly celebrated Christmas!

When you join a couple together – each person brings baggage with them – some good and some bad. Sin – generational sin – is one of those things each of you may bring into the relationship. We must break free from Generational Sin.

Abraham favored Isaac over Ishmael – even if he never said so – as evidenced in sending Ismael away. Isaac had his favorite in Esau – meaning that Jacob knew what it was like not to be the one favored by his dad. And yet, Jacob still played favorites among his 12 sons.

It’s incredible how even the objects of sin can perpetuate that sin.

But as Christians we have hope. In Romans 8:2, we are told “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” We are set free from sin through Jesus Christ!

Generational sin has no hold on us – rather than being something we are chained to – it becomes a freedom to embrace. How do we do this?

First, pray for God to help you see sin as he sees your sin. Even then the temptation is there – it is far too easy to believe a lie.

I struggle with the lie that food brings happiness. It provides momentary delight but permanent damage. There are times I believe the lie that to eat this and be happy. It’s a lie that I must confront – and a sin that I must see as God sees because I have zero desire for my boys to have the same struggle that I do.

To break free from generational sin, we must:

Step 1: ask God to help you see sin as he sees your sin.

Step 2: understand that it has no hold on you – you are free from that sin.

Step 3: live in that freedom!  This is the Nike of theology – just do it.

If you don’t, there is a real chance you will perpetuate sin – you will pass down your sin to your kids as an inheritance – as surely as you will any money.

10 Obligations of Every Pastor

1 Peter 5.2-3

This past weekend, Janet and I had the opportunity to attend a pastor & spouse retreat in Texas hill country.  It was a rejuvenating weekend.

Prior to the weekend, we were assigned a bit of homework – to list ten things it is imperative every pastor brings to his church. After a bit of contemplation, here is my list.

I share with you so MABC knows what to expect from me as their pastor.  Of course, I am less than perfect – so I don’t always perfectly do them. However, I am striving to meet these biblical expectations of a pastor.


1 Peter 5:2-3

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 

Based on Peter’s teachings, a pastor is to:

  • Protect (Shepherd the flock)

A pastor fulfills this obligation by being a prophetic voice of the pulpit. It is his responsibility to tell the truth, even when it is most difficult, to his congregation.

Included in this responsibility is a protection of the theology of the church – often this shows up as warnings against false teachings and as explanations of the truth according to God’s Word.

Last, the pastor has a responsibility to call his people to repentance when sin is detected.

  • Lead (Exercise Oversight)

One of the most important responsibilities of the pastor is to lead the church. He does so by prayerfully setting vision for the church to fulfill the mission of the church in its community.

The pastor then sets the direction to fulfill that vision, communicating the vision, and empowering staff, deacons, and key leaders to achieve the vision & fulfill God’s mission of the church.

  • Be Willing (not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you)

The pastor must be willing to lead the church.  To do so, he needs to remember the calling of God on his life.  Jesus’ words in Luke 9:62 come to mind, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  While God may call a pastor to some other role in God’s kingdom, in the meantime, the pastor must remember the calling God placed on his life.  This calling should fuel a passion to pastor.

  • Be Selfless (not for shameful gain)

Pastors must be selfless.  The church does not exist for the pastor’s fame or for personal enrichment. It’s all about God’s kingdom, not the pastor’s personal dynasty.

  • Be Eager (but eagerly)

A pastor should never rest on his laurels.  Instead, to borrow a phrase from a mentor, Tommy Teague, the pastor must be a life-long learner. He should be eager to improve, eager to lead, and eagerly follow Christ.

  • Do not domineer (not domineering over those in your charge)

Simply stated, a pastor that is a jerk is a pastor failing God’s expectations of him. Instead, the pastor should cultivate a team, not micro-manage, but instead empower and release leaders.  Of course, he should inspect what he expects, but never humiliate those who fail.  Accountability is important – and the pastor should hold himself, and allow others, to hold him accountable.

  • Lead by example (being examples to the flock)

As a follower of Christ, the pastor must take Christ’s words to heart – that the savior we follow came to this earth to serve, not to be served. So too must the pastors of the church.

As an example to the flock, the pastor must lead from the front – not from his office or the pulpit.  So the pastor must share the gospel, must be an example of a life following Christ, and an example of repentance when falling short or forgiveness when others fall short.


The apostle Paul also speaks of obligations of pastors. Below are two passages with brief explanations of the last three expectations.

1 Timothy 5:17 – 18

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 

  • Preach & Teach

Pastors must consistently preach God’s Word. The content must come from the text and be driven by the text, not the pastor’s opinion. As 2 Timothy 4:3 reminds us, the pastor is responsible to teach the truth, even when it is hard to say or hear, and fails when the sermon merely “tickles the ears” of the hearer.

This responsibility should be a labor of delight in the preaching and teaching of the Scripture.

  • Earn your wages

The pastor must be a hard worker, one who earns his pay. The church is obligated to ensure the wages match the hard work, experience, and education of the pastor.  If the church is led by a lazy bum of a pastor, you should find another church!

Included in this is the responsibility of the pastor to be faithful and diligent in his tasks, entrusting Christ to grow the church. (Matthew 16:18)

1 Timothy 3:4-5

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

  • Love & lead your family 

This is the most important responsibility of the pastor.  He should love his wife, love his children, and discipline them well & appropriately.  The pastor should lead his family in the faith as well as be present in their life.  Pastors – be there for your wife and kids!


Of course, no pastor is perfect.  I will fall short of these obligations, at times, and will be under the conviction of the Spirit.

But this is the target to strive for – to be the very best pastor I can be for Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church & trust Jesus to build our church.

Does God Fit Your Stereotype?

Isaiah 53.5

 

Isaiah is one of the great prophets of the Old Testament. His job was to hear from God and to share what God told him. One role of a prophet was to, for lack of a better term, preach. A preacher takes what God has told us and uses it to either teach or correct. Isaiah would take what God told him and used it as teaching or correction for God’s people.

But a prophet, unlike a preacher, has another job – to prophecy about the future. One great way to discover a false preacher or prophet is when their prophecies are wrong. Isaiah took what God told him about the future and shared it with the people of God.

Isaiah 53 is a clear example – not of preaching – but of prophecy. Understand that Isaiah didn’t write this after Jesus was alive – he wrote it about 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Also, for the skeptics among us, it would have been an impossible task for the writers of the Gospels in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – to have taken the life of Christ and conformed it according to this passage.

What we have in Isaiah 53 is an incredible, accurate, precise, and insightful account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As we unpack this astonishing prophecy, think of it almost like a song – or a poem. There are 4 stanzas to this poem. Each stanza provides a rich understanding of why Jesus had to come to this earth as God in human form, why Jesus had to suffer and die, and what happened when Jesus rose from the dead.

In this blog post, we are going to dig deeper into the first stanza of that song – Isaiah 53:1-3.  These verses prophecy that Jesus will be our rejected savior.

 


In the previous chapters, God speaks through Isaiah to warn Israel that they have wondered so far from God that God would have to directly intervene. To borrow a phrase from the OT book of Judges – the Israelites would over and over again do what was right in their own eyes. There was nothing that Israel could do to overcome their sin of rejecting God and their relationship with him as God’s people.

The solution would have to come from God alone. So God sends, in verse 1, the arm of the Lord.

What is meant by arm of the Lord? After all, this is an unusual name for Jesus…

The arm of the Lord or the arm of God is often used in the books of Exodus or Deuteronomy to refer to the power of God.  In these books, it is the Arm of God that rescued Israel from Egypt. This conveys God’s power to rescue his people.

In verse 2, we learn that the arm of the Lord “was not the Lord (before him), not expected (out of dry ground), not special (no form or majesty…). Only those to whom the truth was revealed could see that this was the arm of the Lord.”[i]

Isaiah prophesied that many would look at the surface of Jesus Christ – his birth, his hometown, his humility, and rejected him for being ordinary – for not measuring up to their expectations of the Messiah. This is the ultimate example of judging a book by its cover. They never moved passed the surface, and so we are told in verse 3, the world would reject Jesus.

The prophet foresaw that Jesus would be despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, and the people would not only turn from him, but turn on him.[ii]  Jesus would be acquainted with grief simply because “he does not fit the stereotype of the arm of the Lord.”


How often does God not fit your stereotype?

How often do we ask, “God, why is this happening to me?”

Or “God, where are you?”

That is a question that reveals God doesn’t match up with our expectations for him. But the funny thing is, we never – or rarely – ask if we match God’s expectations for us.

How often do we have high expectations for God, but low expectations for ourselves – especially when it comes to our faith? If only we would have the same expectations for ourselves as we do for God! I always expect God to be right there – faithful– and too often to do what I want.

But how often do I despise his expectations of me? To be faithful? To be disciplined? To be even be kind to others – even during rush hour?

Let’s match our expectations of God with our expectations for ourselves. No – don’t lower our expectations of God to our expectations for ourselves – but elevate our faithfulness to God and his commands to the same level that we have for God. This is what we learn from the first stanza of this song – this poem.

We must raise our expectations of our own faithfulness to match our expectations of our God.

 


[i] Motyer, TNTC, 377

[ii] Motyer, TNTC, 377

Two Lost Sons – the Prodigal Son Retold

 

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching on the story of the Prodigal Son.  This parable of Jesus is so familiar that prodigal has become a part of our vernacular – our everyday speech.  A few years ago, Tim Keller wrote, Prodigal God, a helpful retelling of this parable.  In his book, Keller made the salient point that there are two lost sons, not just the prodigal one, and that this should enrich our understanding of sin and lostness.

So I am grateful for Keller’s insights. Let me encourage you to read below to learn more about how the lostness of the “righteous” older brother is just as dangerous (or even more so) than the immorality of the prodigal son.


In Jesus’ parable, the prodigal son requests & receives his inheritance early. Traveling to a far country, this young man squanders his new-found riches on reckless living.  We can only imagine the depths of his depravity.

Just when he wastes all his inheritance, a famine hits, leaving the prodigal son destitute. The only job available to him is as a caretaker of pigs. Seemingly the pay is so poor that the young man has to live and eat alongside the pigs.

Coming to his senses, the prodigal son decides to return to his father and repent of his sin. As he nears home, the Father sees him, runs to him, embraces him, restores him to the family, and throws a party to celebrate his return.

If the story was only about the lostness of one son, the parable would end there.  But Jesus continues the story telling us that the elder brother learns of the prodigal son’s return. That a celebration ensued infuriates the elder brother, believing that the Father is playing favorites.

But when the Father learns that the elder brother is upset, he goes to his son, entreating him to join the celebration, which the elder brother refuses to do. His self-righteousness will not allow him to celebrate the return of the prodigal son.


The younger son easily fits into our typical understanding of lostness – he runs away, is completely selfish, and pursues seemingly every type of overt sin.   We typically understand lostness, in other words someone who isn’t a Christian , as immorality. Those who are immoral are those who reject Christ.

But a little harder to see is that his older brother is just as lost.  He is just as isolated from his father as the little brother. Immorality that separates us from God is obvious – what is less obvious and just as separating is self-righteous morality.

I imagine that some of you are skeptical at this point – so let me take a moment to further explain.

In Isaiah 25:6, heaven is compared to a lavish banquet, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  In Jesus’ parable – the reconciliation between the younger son and the Father is celebrated with a feast.  The Feast is a metaphor for eternal life – all those reconciled to the Father will celebrate for eternity.

But the self-righteous son refuses to go to the feast because of who else will be there!

Tim Keller explains it this way; “The elder brother is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it. It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it’s the pride he has in his (morality); it’s not his wrongdoing but his (self-) righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of his father.”[i]

The prodigal son first rejects his father – wants his father’s stuff, rather than his father – this was his first, and greatest sin. But the prodigal son repents, and his relationship with the Father is restored.

Notice that the older son is just as fixated on his father’s stuff – the older son complained in verse 29 and 30 that he never had a party of his own, he’s mad that his dad gave-in by giving the inheritance, and he’s mad that the fattened calf is now gone.  He even claims that he never disobeyed one of his father’s commands. It’s at this point that we see that the elder brother is the epitome of self-righteousness.

This self-righteousness reminds me of a real person – one that Jesus encountered – one who also believed that his morality would save him. In Mark 10, we are told of a rich young man who approaches Jesus and asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responds with, “keep all of the commandments.”

The young man responds, “all of these I have kept since I was a youth.”

“I never disobeyed a command” – claimed the older brother.

“I have kept all of the commandments” – claimed the Rich Young Ruler.

Both the older brother and the Rich Young Ruler missed out on the Father’s banquet – one in a story, and one in reality & for eternity.


The danger of older-brother righteousness is that you will fail to realize you are in need of the Father.

Again, Tim Keller is helpful on this, “the younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not. That’s why elder-brother lostness is so dangerous. Elder brothers don’t go to God and beg for healing from their condition. They see nothing wrong with their condition, and that can be fatal.”[ii]

Each of us needs to do a self-diagnosis – am I an older brother?  Is my self-righteousness putting me in danger of missing out on the eternal banquet?

Here’s some diagnostic questions we must ask ourselves:

 

  • Do I care more about appearances than content and character?
  • When life doesn’t go as I want, do I think God owes me something better?
  • Do I feel superior to others – especially sinners? – like the Pharisees and scribes did?
  • Am I condescending? Condemning? Anxious? Insecure? Joyless? Quick to anger?
  • Do I want things from God, rather than God himself?

If you answered yes to these questions, let me entreat you to examine your heart. You too may be in danger of wanting what the Father gives, rather than the Father himself.  And if so, you are in danger of missing out on an eternity of living in the presence of God our Father.

 

 

 

[i] Keller, Prodigal God, 35

[ii] Ibid., 66.

How I Reacted to the Election – aka Love God and Love Others

cover-slide

 

This past Sunday kicked-off Missions Week at Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church.  Each day this week, our church is praying for a gospel partner throughout the world.  If you would like to follow along and pray, you can catch the prayer cards on our Facebook page – facebook.com/MABC.us.

I faced a challenge in preparing the sermon this past Sunday.  We planned for several weeks for missions Sunday.  In addition to passing out prayer cards, we launched the Empower offering in which a portion goes to missions, we collected Operation Christmas Child boxes, and had multi-cultural worship.

Now, some pastors changed what they planned to preach about this past Sunday in light of the current climate of our country due to the election.  But I couldn’t very well change due, in part, to the planning poured into last Sunday.

As I prepared the sermon, I came to the realization that I could not have preached on a better topic than missions for two reasons:

First, mission unifies.  When we are working all together, on God’s mission, we are unified.

Unity should – MUST – begin in the church. It must begin in the worship hour. The church is the place where black, brown white, Hispanic, Asian, and Arab come together in the same family. The church is the place where Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and Independent worship together.

As Ed Stetzer tweeted, A divided nation needs a unified church focused on a common mission.  This common mission is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Second, mission reminds us of what is actually transformative – what actually brings change. The good news of Jesus Christ makes the blind see, the lame walk; makes the poor rich; gives hope to the hopeless, gives peace to the restless; gives salvation to the lost.

The gospel makes a group of people that the world says shouldn’t be united into one family. It is our only hope for real, meaningful, and lasting change in our country.

The gospel’s advance is our mission.

But the interesting thing about the gospel is this – Its foundation is built on loving God and loving others.  Jesus explains, in Matthew 22:34-40, that we cannot love God without also loving our neighbor.[i]


 

In Matthew 22, Jesus doesn’t define neighbor because he has already done so in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

If you remember the parable, a Jewish man, who is traveling, is beaten, robbed and left for dead. Two religious leaders pass by and don’t help this Jewish man – but instead, a Samaritan stops and renders great help to the Jew. Samaritans and Jews despised each other – so it was almost unthinkable that a Samaritan would help a Jew.

Jesus’ point, in that parable and in this passage, is that our neighborly love extends to every person – because everyone is equally made in God’s image.

 

Bear with me for a moment because this is something I feel strongly about – and I think we need to digest this biblical truth.

Trump’s election left me with three feelings.

The first is relief. I feel relieved that religious liberty has potentially a 4-year reprieve.  I’ve been concerned for a while now that those pastors and churches who believe that God’s plan for marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman would be required to perform same-sex marriages or face consequences – consequences including branding that type of ideology as hate-speech.

But relief was not my only emotion.

The second is fear. I fear that the hope for racial reconciliation and racial justice will at the very least be ignored or downplayed and at the worst, discarded by Christians. That my brothers and sisters in Christ who are black or brown, Asian or Arab, or whatever would believe that their white brothers and sisters have abandoned them.

The third emotion is worry. I worry that those Christians who voted for Trump will be deceived into thinking that politics is once again the solution for what ails our country – when the only hope for our country is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus tells us here in Matthew 22 that every color, every culture, should be loved as much as we love our own.  It is great sin to claim to love God and yet hate your neighbor – this includes thinking that you love black people but hate black culture. Or saying you love white people but hate white culture.

Now there are some things in each culture that need to change because they are sin. But before you condemn a culture, make sure you take the plank out of the eye of your culture first!

To love God means to love our neighbor.  It means to love every color, every culture, as we love our own. It means that we gather together, every race, color, or political party, and worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

To love our neighbor means to advance the cause of the gospel. Because this is the only hope our country, our state, our community, and our world.


[i] Tasker, TNTC, 212

 

70 Days is Over – What’s Next?

mabc-web-banner-70-days

Pastors are great at telling people what to do.  It’s one of the perks of being a pastor. And, of course, the pastor’s church always follows through.

But, I don’t want to be a pastor that just tells people what to do.  Especially because this rarely works and is typically unhelpful.  Instead, a pastor should not only share what God’s Word says we should do – the pastor should also equip the church to that end & to hold the church accountable. (while being held accountable to it too)

At MABC, we must be a people who consistently and daily read the Bible. This was the impetus for 70 Days in the Books of John where our church family was given a bookmark with a daily reading schedule, a devotional to help understand each chapter, and held gently accountable by reminding the church (during the weekly worship service) where we are in the reading plan.

But now we are winding down with 70 Days in the Books of John.  And because my responsibility to equip the church for daily Bible reading doesn’t end with the last chapter of Revelation, below are three reading plan options.  I’ve included a picture of each for an example of the content of each plan.

As you settle on a Bible reading plan, my friend, Scott Maze, has a few words of advice on how to ensure that you not just start, but finish, your reading plan. You can check out that advice here: scottmaze.com.

 

 

52-week-bible-reading-plan

Download the 52 Week Bible Reading Plan here: 52 Week.

straight-through

Download the Straight Through the Bible Reading Plan here: Straight Through.

2-year-bible-reading-plan

Download the 2 Year Bible Reading Plan here: 2 Year.

Holloween Outreach at MABC

Are you like me and have fond memories of dressing up on Halloween and going trick ‘r treating with family?  I don’t really remember the costumes, but I do remember standing on doorsteps in eager anticipation.  Going trick ‘r treating with my Dad is a fond memory.

Fast forward with me several years.  Janet and my first house was in the middle of a hotbed neighborhood for trick ‘r treating.  People from all over Fort Worth would drive to our neighborhood. And yet, I had to drive away from all those people – all those opportunities to connect with people – in order to serve at the church’s fall festival.

So on the night that people are out of their homes, knocking on doors – Like Mormon missionaries, but in reverse – Christians are simply not around. Rather than being in the world as salt and light, rather than being good neighbors,  Christians have sequestered themselves on their church campuses on Halloween night.

So here is what I propose for MABC – and it may be unpopular – this year, let’s stay home. Let’s be a presence in our community for the gospel.  Let’s be good neighbors.

Let’s also be intentional. Below is a copy of the Halloween Handout similar to the one passed out at MABC on October 23.  Please give it a read.

web_2016_Halloween_Outreach_poster.png

 

If you dislike this idea, I kinda understand.  But I do have a request, let’s give it a chance this year – just this once – and see how it goes.

As you do so, take a couple pictures, probably not of kids that aren’t yours, but of how you prepared to be a good neighbor or how you’re going the extra mile.  Please post your picture to Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag, #MABCOutreach, so that we can easily find and share the pictures of our church’s Halloween Outreach this year.

 

Making Disciples at MABC – a vision for our church

mabclongwhite-2016

Before my sermon this past Sunday, I took a moment to share a little bit of my vision for this church – particularly a vision for how Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church makes disciples.  As really my first opportunity to share vision, I want to emphasize the discipleship ministry because it is so crucial to the life of a church.  If a church isn’t making disciples, it isn’t fulfilling the command of Jesus, in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.

Part of my history is working in discipleship and church education – meaning that I have a bit of experience and a great interest in how our church will make disciples of Christ. So yes, I am a bit biased towards disciple-making, but as one passionate for missions, it fits there too.  After all, we are not called to make converts, we are called & commanded to make disciples.

My vision for MABC is for discipleship to occur on three different levels:

One on Many

One on Few

One on One.

Now, in case it isn’t obvious, God is the One.  He is the great disciple-maker. Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, explains, the “needed change within us is God’s work, not ours . . . we cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God; it is a grace that is given.” Thus, discipleship is really just placing ourselves in a position for God to transform us into the likeness of his Son.

Now that we understand that God is the One – the great discipler – let’s explore the first part of the vision for making disciples at MABC: One on Many.

When we gather as a community of Christians each Sunday morning in the worship service, we are experiencing the discipleship of One on Many. As we worship God through song, through tithe, and through word, God is making us more like his son.

This is why we are called to not neglect the gathering of the body – for if we neglect to participate in a worship service, we neglect to be discipled in the level of the One on Many. And if we consistently neglect it, we will miss out on an important means to become more like Christ.


I’m going to skip One on Few for a moment.

The third level is One on One.  70 Days in the Books of John, a Bible reading plan and devotional that MABC is currently following,  is a great example of One on One discipleship.  As we, individually, meet with God on a one-on-one basis, God makes us into his disciples.

I’ve said before, and will say many times more, I believe that the pastor or the church shouldn’t just tell you what to do – we should also equip you to do it and hold each other accountable.

In 70 Days, we are asking you (telling you, really) to read God’s Word, equipping you to read his Word through a reading plan and devotional, and gently holding you accountable by reminding where we are in the worship service each Sunday.  We are almost half-way through 70 Days, and as we get closer to the finish line, I will share with you plans for the next One on One endeavor.


Now, back to One on Few for a moment.

It is important to understand that in order for us to follow Christ – to be one of his disciples – that we can’t neglect any one of these three levels.

One on Few is the Sunday School ministry of this church.  This is a (at least) weekly gathering with a small group of people your age or your life stage.  The goal of this group is to become your closest group of friends in the church – you will, obviously, also be encouraged to invite friends, neighbors, colleagues, classmates, etc. who don’t go to church to be a part of this group.

As you gather as friends, you will open God’s Word.  The One on Few or Sunday School ministry of this church is crucial in helping each of us grow into Christ-likeness.  This group will help you in time of need – they will encourage you when you are at your lowest – and celebrate with you when you are at your best.

If you are not a part of a Sunday School class, let me encourage you with the strongest encouragement I can to become part of one.  You may join this church because you like the worship service, or the location, or the Kids ministry – or whatever.  But you will stay because of the friendship you build in the One on Few ministries of this church.

To this end – because the One on Few ministry is so important – we need someone on staff who is responsible for it. Since I arrived in late July, I have been responsible for this ministry – this is because sadly, the minister responsible for it – moved away in May.

I need someone who is directly responsible for it – someone who can help the leaders of our church encourage the building of relationships, the study of God’s word, the gathering of small groups in Sunday School.

In case you don’t receive the weekly On the Avenue e-newsletter – you can subscribe here – the Personnel committee and I have been meeting and will be ready, Lord-willing – to present a candidate who will be responsible for the education and administration ministries of this church.   And because I prefer the short and simple to the long and complicated – rather than call this person the Pastor of Education and Administration, we will give him the title of Executive Pastor.

I ask you to join with us in prayer for this person – the candidate we have is the perfect fit for the ministry and for our church.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at the church office or email mspence@mabc.us.

God is at work at MABC and it is exciting to be a part of it. If you are interested in joining a church that puts us in a place to become more like Christ, let me invite you to join us at Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church.

Bring Joy to God

Luke 15.7

If you have been following this blog at all, you know that this spring we took a family trip to Disney World – this was the entire family – Janet and I with our two boys, Parker and Jonathan.   My parents and my in-laws joined us as well.  Over the course of the week at Disney, we made many memories.

Two memories from this trip stick out in regards to joy.  Parker had his first ever root beer float. He had only recently discovered root beer, and the fact he could add ice cream into the mix caused him to become giddy with joy.

Jonathan provided the second example.  He was finally tall enough to ride all the roller coasters.  As he rode, he would laugh, cackle, cheer, scream, and at the end of the ride, ask to do it all over again.  Roller coasters brought joy to Jay.

You expect to bring your kids joy at Disney World. But what I didn’t expect, in preparing for my first sermon at Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church last week, was to discover how you and I can bring great joy to God.


In Luke 15:1-10, Jesus shares two parables that answer the question of how we can give God joy.  The first parable is about a shepherd who lost one sheep out of his herd of 100.  This shepherd drops what he is doing, finds the one sheep, and when he returns with it, celebrates finding what was lost with friends and family.

The second story is similar.  A woman has ten coins, loses one, and also drops what she is doing to scour the house until she finds her lost coin. Once she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors to her house and celebrates the discovery of her lost coin.

But we not only see joy in this passage, we see the complete opposite too.  In the introduction to these parables, the Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling over the fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.

What’s the big deal, you ask?  Why care about who Jesus eats with?

Tax collectors were considered traitors as they helped the Roman Empire, who occupied Jesus’ homeland. Some even exploited their fellow Jews for their own financial gain. As traitors and exploiters, tax collectors were “regarded as outcasts (especially) by the religious.”[i] Furthermore, “The sinners were the immoral or those who followed occupations that the religious regarded as incompatible with the law.”[ii]

The Pharisees and scribes were furious that Jesus chose to eat with such people.

The same thing might happen today if you were to see someone you love and respect – at a restaurant eating with a couple who is LGBTQ – or with someone drinking a glass of wine – or even worse – with someone wearing a Chiefs jersey. Even if the reasons for eating with them is right, you may feel scandalized – even when you shouldn’t!

That the Pharisees and scribes grumbled about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners reveals that they held a fundamental misunderstanding of God. They believed that God would never seek out a sinner or a tax collector.  They had a hard time understanding “that God is a seeking God, a God who takes the initiative” to reach the lost.[iii]  Jesus is the ultimate example of God taking the initiative to seek and to save the lost.

So Jesus shares two parables to straighten them out.


One purpose of these stories was to help the Pharisees (and us!) understand that God desires for the outcasts of the world to come to repentance and faith in God.  And, to go a step further, that the religious leaders (and us!) should celebrate the return of sinners to God – rather than grumble.

Joy and grumbling are on opposite extremes.  One can’t be filled with joy and grumble. It is near impossible to both grumble and to bring joy to God.

In these two parables, we learn how we have the capacity to bring joy to God.  In order to understand how, let’s look deeper at these two parables:

In both stories, we see that the search becomes a priority.[iv]  Both the shepherd and the woman stop everything that they are doing to find what is lost. The shepherd leaves the herd – most likely with a helper – in order to find the one that is lost. The woman drops what she is doing and looks for the coin.

But the search wasn’t an easy one, it takes work.[v]  It wasn’t easy for the shepherd to search for the sheep. There was always potential for danger as he wandered back into the wilderness to find the lost sheep. It wasn’t easy for the woman to find the coin. She had to light a lamp and sweep the house, until she found it.

While the search took work, it was all worth it in the end as the recovery causes rejoicing.[vi]


Jesus finishes each parable by explaining that God is the one doing the seeking – he is the shepherd, he is the seeker of the coin – and that when the lost is found, there is great rejoicing in heaven.

Notice too that there is an option for us – either we, as followers of Christ, become those who seek the lost OR we are those who grumble.  Each of us will find ourselves in this parable. Either we are the ones causing the rejoicing or we are the ones who are grumbling.

Share your faith with someone this week.  If you are unsure who, pray about who that person should be, and expend great effort to bring the gospel to them that we may bring great joy to God.

 

 


[i] Morris, TNTC, 255

[ii] Morris, TNTC, 255

[iii] Morris, TNTC, 255

[iv] Bock, NIVAC, 408

[v] Bock, NIVAC, 408

[vi] Bock, NIVAC, 408

Petty Irritants & Great Faith

James 5.8

 

I struggle mightily with the petty impatience of every day life – those little irritants that greatly annoy such as slow drivers, clueless people in the self-checkout line, and Janet’s kids (they’re my kids when they behave) – these are fine sand-papers of my life that drive me more than a little crazy.

Last Sunday, I preached out of James 5:7-11 on patience.  The patience that James speaks to is not necessarily patience with minor irritants.  Instead, he focuses on patience from a 30,000-foot perspective. Using James 5 as a guide, we are going to zoom out on patience and impatience so that we can better understand what is at their core.

When we understand the 30,000-foot view of patience and impatience, we will be able to deal with the petty irritants of daily life.


In James 5, we learn a great deal about patience and how to become more patient.  At the core – the main take-away, if you will – is that faith is at the core of patience.  The inverse is also true. Disbelief is at the core of impatience. As God’s people in the USA, we are fortunate enough to live in a place where we experience infrequent opposition.

What we struggle with are those petty impatients – those small irritants that in the grand scheme do not matter.  But there is a chance – a greater than ever before chance – that we may be headed for days in which we will face persecution – especially due to our adherence to what Jesus teaches on love.

The danger, then, will not be that those small things that make us impatient will go away – oppression amplifies our impatience – faith minimizes impatience, and impatience often leads to grumbling against others.

In James 5:9, we are commanded not to grumble.  The danger is that if you grumble now, you will grumble even greater when real oppression hits.

To grumble less, we must grow in faith, and as a result, we will be better prepared for the greater oppression we may experience.


We like to say patience is a virtue. But we tend to see virtues as optional, as something we’d like to attain one day, but maybe not all that crucial to daily life.

Since faith is at the core of patience, disbelief, then, is at the core of impatience.Therefore, because disbelief is at the core of impatience[i], patience, then, is not optional.

But you may be like me – I find it hard to wait on God.   It is likely as much a sign of my arrogance as it is my impatience, but I don’t like to wait around – I like to get on with things. This is an example of “The impetuous side of impatience. This is where many of us sin almost daily: charging ahead in our own plans without stopping to consult the Lord.”[ii]

The blessing we receive when we wait on the Lord to act is greater than any blessing we could try to create on our own.  When we take our lives into our own hands, according to our own plans, we will inevitably and always come well short of what God would have for us if we only had waited on him.

Grow strong in your belief that God’s plans for you are better than your plans for yourself – in other words – grow in faith and you will grow in patience.

 


[i] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/battling-the-unbelief-of-impatience

[ii] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/battling-the-unbelief-of-impatience