Monday, December 28, 2009

Practicing the Presence of God

Philippians 4:7 is a promise of peace. It promises that God’s peace will guard the heart and mind of the believer who prays instead of worrying. Philippians 4:9 is also a promise of peace. It promises that the God of peace himself will be with the believer who lives out the teachings of our faith. The tension between these two promises is the burden of this message.

Both of these verses promise God’s peace. Verse 7 promises the peace of God. But verse 9 promises the God of peace. The difference is not mere semantics. The peace of God speaks of the resources of God. But the God of peace speaks of relationship with God. There is an important message in the progression of the text: Don’t settle for living on the resources of God. Sure, when worry, fear, and doubt attack, you can pray and God will give you peace. But don’t settle for that. Don’t settle for peace coming to rescue you will when you fall. Nurture your relationship with God so that you can live with the assurance that the God who gives peace is with you.

The Bible has much to say about the God of peace. For instance, Romans 16:20 says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And Hebrews 13:20-21 says, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” There are many people seek peace without God – who is the author of true peace. But that just cannot be done. To know peace, you must know God. I repeat: It is good to have the peace of God. But it is better to have the God of peace. It is good to live on the resources of God. But it is better to live on relationship with God. It is good to access the power of God when you are in trouble. But it is better to practice the presence of God on a day-to-day basis. The question is does one practice the presence of God? Philippians 4:8-9 teaches three principles that will help you live with assurance that God is with you.


Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever us pure, whatever us lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” If you are worried that I am going to use this text to fuss about the music, movies, magazines, and other media you enjoy, don’t worry. I am. But before I do, let me be clear about why I am fussing. I do not stand to defend so called “traditional family values.” And I am not trying to lay any legalistic guilt trip on you. The fact that you do not go to movies or that you only listen to Christian music does not prove that you are godly. Likewise, I do not embrace the position that views popular culture as the inevitable instrument of Satan. Media, like money, is morally neutral. It is either good or evil as it is slanted by the condition of the human heart.

Sure, I believe that we Christians must be more discriminate about the things we expose our minds to. But my concern is not political in the sense of the culture wars. It is political in terms of what it means to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The central issue is this: YOUR THOUGHT LIFE MATTERS TO GOD. Our relationship with God is not based on emotional, mystical, or sensual experiences. Instead, we are commanded to love God with our minds. Your emotions are untrustworthy. Your heart is deceitful. Your feelings are fickle. So the Bible constantly warns us about letting our natural desires govern our lives. And it challenges us to live according to what we know is right, because you cannot live right is your thinking is wrong. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” You cannot practice the presence of God if your lifestyle is shaped by this world’s false value system. You must feed your mind with godly concepts.

A certain mother was peeling vegetables for a salad when her daughter, home from college, casually mentioned that she was going to a questionable movie that evening. The mother suddenly picked up a handful of garbage and threw it in the salad. “Mother!” screamed the shocked girl. “You’re putting garbage in the salad.” “I know,” replied the mother, “but I thought that if you don’t mind putting garbage in your mind, you certainly wouldn’t mind a little in your stomach too!”

This is the sad indictment of our contemporary culture. We have fit bodies, but fat minds – even within the church. Physically, you are what you eat. But spiritually, you are what you think. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. You cannot be grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ if you live on a mental diet of suggestive music, R-rated moves, and trashy talk shows. When you fill your mind with worldly garbage, you poison yourself and lose your appetite for the spiritual nourishment that will help you practice the presence of God. So Philippians 4:8 gives a spiritual MRI of what a Christ-follower’s mind should reflect: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” The term “think” means to calculate, like a workman who takes careful measurements before he begins building. Grammatically, this verb is a present imperative, which means that the text commands us to constantly examine the things we expose our minds to by asking the questions:

• Is it true?
• Is it honorable?
• Is it just?
• Is it pure?
• Is it lovely?
• Is it commendable?
• Is it excellent?
• Is it praiseworthy?

You may ask, “Do you really expect us to run everything we see, hear, and read through the grid given in this verse?” Yes and no. Sure, you ought memorize this verse and hide it in your heart. But I am not going to go through a word-by-word explanation of each of key terms in this verse, because I do not want you to miss the point by getting lost in the details. I want you to heed the call of this verse, not analyze the particulars of it. I think Paul himself would agree with that. I believe he intended this list to be representative, not exhaustive. That is why after giving his list of “whatever” things, he summarizes all he has said and could say with the all-encompassing statement: “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise.” You don’t have to memorize and constantly rehearse these eight terms in order to practice the presence of God. If it will make you feel better, I’ll take all eight terms and replace them with just one – one name. JESUS. This verse has been called the briefest biography of Jesus Christ in scripture. I agree. Jesus Christ himself is the incarnation of truth, honor, justice, purity, and loveliness. There is no better model than Christ. So heed the exhortation of Philippians 2:5 – “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Set your mind on the things of Christ.”

Notice one more thing about this Christian perspective on mental health. The emphasis on the thought life here is offensive, not defensive. This verse does not condemn wrong thinking. It does not protest against sex and violence in the media. Negative thinking is never mentioned. Instead, the verse emphasizes the importance of right thinking. That is not accidental. It is an intentional process for renewing the mind called THE PRINCIPLE OF REPLACEMENT. The reason why some of us cannot break free from sinful, harmful, or negative thought patterns is because we are trying to do it through resistance, not replacement. The church’s first response to sin is always to say, “Stop it.” But simply condemning sin as wrong does not help bring deliverance. Most of us who are doing wrong already know we are doing wrong. And most of us who are doing wrong have tried to stop. But our personal reformation efforts have failed. Why?

In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus tells of an unclean spirit that had left a heart he had made home. Then the house was totally restored, refurbished, and redecorated. When the demon returned, he found it looking like new. But it was still empty. So he got seven worse demons and they reclaimed the house. And Jesus said that the last state of the man was worse than the first. The point is that religious reformation does not bring about spiritual transformation. Just joining the church will not make you a better person if the unclean spirit still has the key to your heart. You cannot change if you allow ungodly thoughts to be at home in your heart and minds. You need a strong man on the inside. You need to expel ungodly thoughts and attitude. Moreover, you need to make Jesus the landlord of your thought life. You need the word of God to dwell in you richly. You need to walk in the Spirit that you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. When Jesus is Lord of your thought life, you will experience the irresistible power of a new affection. That’s the principle of replacement. Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”


Philippians 4:8-9 records two commands. Verse 8 commands us to think right. Verse 9 commands us to do right. The main idea of verse 9 is found in the command to “practice these things.” But before we get to this command, I want us to consider its premise. It is in the opening clause of verse 9 where, before Paul tells them to do what they know, he reminds them how they know what to do: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.” In verse 8, Paul points the church to the spiritual meditations that leads to the God of peace. But in verse 9, he points the church to the incarnational models that lead to the God of peace. Both are necessary for practicing the presence of God.

In Philippians 1:1, Paul addresses the intended recipients of this letter: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” This is the tension of the Christian life. Paul calls the church “saints in Christ Jesus.” But they are saints “who are at Philippi.” Christians are called to be saints. But being a saint is not about retreating to some secluded monastery, surrounding yourself with classic Christian literature, and spending all day in silence as you think great thoughts about God. Rather, our sainthood must be fleshed out in the real world. In Philippi. In Jacksonville. At home or work or school. We are called to be saints right where we are. We are called to practice the presence of God right where we are. To do this we must be connected to godly people who are intentionally, constantly, and obviously growing in Christlikeness. Mark it down. You cannot practice the presence of God if you allow yourself to be influence by people who pull you away from God, rather than leading you closer to him.

Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, not sits in the seat of scoffers.” Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: Band company ruins good morals.” To practice the presence of God, you need to focus your mind on godly companions. You must forget and forsake friendships, associations, and romances that hinder your devotion to God. It may be hard. But you have got to do it. Any person who helps you sin against God is not your real friend. Any romantic relationship that causes you to disobey God is not God’s will for you. Any business association that causes you to hurt your witness will only lead God to curse your blessing. You need godly companions who talk the talk and walk the walk.


In verse 9, Paul says the church learned and received from him. These two terms refer to apostle’s formal, public, and official teaching ministry. Paul was a herald of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. He taught them what it means to follow the one who died on the cross to be our Savior and rose from the dead to be our Lord. And you, too, we need people in your life who will teach you the truth of God’s word. You need to be in a Bible-teaching and biblically functioning church. You need to be in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day to hear the exposition of God word. You need to be in a Bible study fellowship group to learn scripture through instruction and discussion. And you need to build personal relationships with people who are serious about studying, obeying, and sharing the word of God. You need to be under the teaching of God’s word within an organized authority structure of a local church that will hold you accountable.

I used to think that my job as a preacher was just to give you the facts and let you make up your own mind – a kind of “We report. You decide.” philosophy of ministry. I know better now. So let me warn you: I do not preach and teach to merely inform. I preach and teach to persuade. I know that you are smart and educated. You can think rationally and logically. That is why I make sure that I do not stand here unprepared. I respect your ability to think. But I really do not give you credit for being able to make up your own mind. I know this may sound harsh, but it’s true. Until someone indoctrinates you, you do not have much of a mind to make up. Don’t be offended. Just think with me for a moment.

• How do you know that the earth orbits around the sun? Indoctrination.
• How do you know that 2+2=4? Indoctrination.
• How do you know that the sky is blue? Indoctrination.

You don’t know anything by inherent knowledge. Every thing we know, we are taught in some form or another. But when it comes to the things of God, we assume that we can make up our own minds about God without help or interference. But that is just not true. We need to be hooked up with those from whom we can learn and receive the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15 calls the church as “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” When the pillars fall and the foundations cave in, the building will not stand. Likewise, truth cannot stand in your life without the church. The gospel does not make sense with the church that makes it make sense. You need godly companions who talk the talk.


Notice the second set of verbs Paul uses in verse 9. He says the church had heard and seen some things in him. They learned from Paul in the formal settings of teaching and preaching. But they also learned from Paul by just watching what he did and listening to what he said during informal moments. He talked the talk. But he also walked the walk. May the Lord deliver us from people who are just spiritual on Sunday mornings! You do not need those kinds of people in your life. They will not help you practice the presence of God. They will only teach you how to be a hypocrite. You need to be hooked up with people who live out the teachings of their faith on a day-to-day basis.

Let me get in your business for a minute.
• Who are the people in your life who talk about Jesus even when they are not in church?
• Who are the people in your life who you can call if you need someone to pray for you?
• Who are the people in your life who model sacrificial, humble, and joyful Christian service for you?

A church member told his pastor, “We have some neighbors who believe a false gospel. Do you have any literature I can give them?” The pastor opened answered by reading 2 Corinthians 3:2 to him. In the KJV, it says: “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.” His point was that the good literature is not a substitute for your own life. The most powerful weapon against the enemy is not a stirring sermon or a powerful book. It is the godly lives of believers. If you let people see you walk your talk, it will open opportunities to share the gospel with them.



Notice verse 9 again: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Verse 8 stresses the importance of meditating on godly principles. But verse 9 stresses the importance of the application of godly principles. After emphasizing how vital it is to think right, Paul then lets us know that right thinking is not enough to make us sensitive to the presence of God. Learning and receiving and hearing and seeing are not enough. In order to practice the presence of God, you must fortify your mind with godly conduct. OSWALD CHAMBERS wisely said, “The best measure of the spiritual life is not its ecstasies, but its obedience.” You must do what you know is right.

I am burdened by the crisis of biblical illiteracy among Christians. I can intimately identify with the grief expressed in Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” But the longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that biblical illiteracy is not the church’s biggest problem. Our biggest problem is indifference, not illiteracy. There are many people in the church who do not know what is right to do. But there are many more of us who do not do what we know is right. And if God is grieved by those who do not know what pleases him; how much more is God grieved by those of us who will not do what we know is pleasing to God. To practice the presence of God, you must adopt a personal covenant of obedience that says: “If it’s God will, I will.”


Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things now seen.” This verse is good news. But it is not what we really want to hear. We want faith to guarantee that what we desire will come to pass. But faith is not certainty. It is trust. The assurance of things hoped for is not itself the things hoped for. Batter in the bowl is the substance of hoped-for cake. But is not cake. Likewise, the conviction of things not seen does not guarantee what the specific outcome of your circumstances is going to be. Faith does not guarantee that your desires will come to pass. Faith is trusting that God is able and willing to give you the desires of your heart, while conceding that God has the sovereign right to do what he wants to do. And that whatever God’s will is always right. “Faith,” writes PHIL YANCEY, “is trusting in advance, what can only be proven in reverse.” That can be frustrating. But if you trust God enough to do what he says, The God of peace will be with you. Faith honors God. So God honors faith. God honors those who honor him by taking him at his word. Things may not turn out the way you want them to. But the God of peace will be with you. James 1:25 says, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

Let me close by saying that the assurance of God’s favor is not based on a supernatural experience. It is not based on your ability to follow some blessing plan. And it is not based on some preacher laying his hand on you. If you want to know that the God of peace is with you, just do what he says. If you put God’s word into practice, he will make his presence known to you – even if everything around you seems to be going wrong.

That’s what happened in Luke 5:1-11. Simon Peter was a skilled fisherman. But one night he could not catch anything. When morning dawned, his nets were empty. But the Lord Jesus borrowed his boat and made it his pulpit. And when the Lord finished teaching, he told Simon to go out into the deep waters, drop his nets again, and get ready for a big catch of fish. Simon responded, “Lord, we have been fishing all night long and caught nothing. Nevertheless, at your word, we will let down our nets again.” When Simon obeyed, they caught so many fish that their nets broke and their ships began to sink. If you want the God of peace to be with you, you must learn how to say, “Nevertheless, at your word…”



Sunday, December 27, 2009

Notes from the Last Sunday in 2009

Today was the last Sunday of the 2009. God has been faithful. And it was a joy to be in worship again with the saints of Shiloh.

We only had one service today at Shiloh. We met at 9 AM. I do not know if the change of time threw some people off or whether people were out because of the holiday. Regardless, I am grateful for all of the members and guests that pressed their way to worship today.

Our young adult ensemble led the musical praise this morning under the leadership of Reginald Bass. I am grateful and encouraged by the service.

I continued my series of Philippians today with a message from Philippians 4:8-9 that I entitled, “Practicing the Presence of God.”

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church today.

During the invitation, I began to sing, “Lord Keep Me Day By Day.” This song has been in my system for about two weeks. It has been my daily as I end the year and face 2010. Thanks Lance for resurrecting this song for me more than a year ago. Remember?

Thanks K.B. for praying for me this morning. I was desperate. The assurance of your prayers was a great encouragement.

It’s official. I have preached every Sunday in 2010. I preached away from home twice – one Sunday in Los Angeles and one in Chicago. I am have been in my own pulpit every other Sunday. This is not a good thing. I need to take period breaks to care for my own soul and keep my mind fresh. But I am humbled with gratitude for the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord in helping me to carry out my assignment.

Next Sunday’s Sermon: “Have You Learned to be Content?” (Philippians 4:10-13)

If all goes according to schedule, I should be finished with the book of Philippians at the end of January. It has been a fruitful study for me. I hope and pray that it will bear fruit in the life of SMBC to the glory of God.

May the Lord richly bless the ministry and fellowship of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in 2010!

The Dallas cowboys put the smack down on their archrivals, the Washington Redskins. We are headed in the playoffs!!!
The Jaguars were beat down today by the Patriots.

There are now no more undefeated teams in the NFL. I can’t believe that the Indianapolis Colts pulled their starters early and chose not to pursue a perfect season.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Good News of the Incarnation

Dad called a family meeting and proclaimed, “Christmas is going to be different this year.” He challenged them to be more disciplined in their time management during the busy season and to curtail excessive spending on gifts. He talked about having a more congenial atmosphere in their home and better relationships with visiting relatives. And he brought his speech to a climax with a final rally cry, “Let’s make this the best Christmas ever!” Then he asked, “Any question?” His second-grade son raised his hand and said “Dad, I don’t see how we could ever improve on the first Christmas?”

That little boy’s complaint is the burden of this sermon.
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when a teenaged virgin gave birth to the infant-God?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when a star led the Magi from the East to worship the baby Christ?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when King Herod went into an infanticidal rage upon hearing of one who was born King of the Jews?
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when an angel of the Lord proclaimed to a group of lowly shepherds: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
• How can you improve on the first Christmas, when an angelic choir sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

No matter how special the gifts you receive or how good the food you enjoy or how warm the fellowship you experience, your celebration of Christmas today can never measure up to that day when Joseph’s virgin betrothed wife gave birth to the Son of God. In fact, your celebration will ultimately be meaningless if it does not flow from your understanding of, faith in, and gratitude for what happened on that first Christmas Day. If you do not acknowledge, believe, and reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas, you will miss the beauty of this day in the clutter of trees, gifts, parties, food, and eggnog. The good news of Christmas is essentially and inextricably tied to the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Incarnation is succinctly explained in the creedal statement of Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” These two verses teach four aspects of the good news of the Incarnation.


The first promise of the coming of Jesus is recorded in the Genesis 3:15. Addressing the Serpent who deceived Eve, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal.” Centuries later, in Genesis 12:1-3, God promised Abraham that he would have a son through which all the earth would be blessed. Several generations later the promise of the coming Savior was given in the words of Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promised David that one day he would have a son on his throne whose reign would be everlasting. And in Daniel 9:24-27, the prophet was given insight into the exact time frame when Christ would come to earth.

The Jews knew these prophecies. And even though they may not have fully understood them, they understood enough to have a deep desire and great expectations for the imminent advent of the Messiah-King. When the Old Testament ends the promise is not fulfilled, even though it is repeated many times. In fact, between the end of the Old Testament in Malachi and the beginning of the New Testament in Matthew, God stopped talking. And when the ministry of John the Baptist began, there had not been a prophetic voice for over four hundred years. When Jesus came on the scene, the Jews – who were under Roman occupation – were desperate for the arrival of the Messiah. It seemed as if God was sitting on his hands, dragging his feet, and wasting time. But that was just from the limited viewpoint of earthbound creatures. Galatians 4:4 declares the truth about the timing of the Incarnation: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”

The Incarnation of Jesus took place according to the sovereign schedule, providential orchestration, and perfect timing of God. Christ was born in the fullness of the time. Admittedly, we do not and cannot know for certain that Jesus was actually born on December 25. But even though we may not know the exact date of Christ’s birth, his coming into the world was so significant that it split history into B.C. and A.D. The life of Christ is the hinge of history. Jesus is the blending of deity and humanity. He is the intersection of earth and heaven. And he is the meeting pace of time and eternity. And the Bible affirms that he invaded history in the fullness of the time, at the right time, at the appointed time.

• It was a time of prophetic fulfillment.
• It was a time of religious fervor.
• It was a time of international peace.
• It was a time of moral decline.
• It was a time of cultural harmony.

In the fullness of time, God sent his Son into the world. The Incarnation was no last minute solution for sin. It was not a hastily thrown together rescue mission. It was not too early or too late. It was the fullness of the time. The good news proclaimed in the Incarnation is that God’s timing is perfect. Because God is God, there are no such things as accidents. Nothing just happens. Everything happens according to God’s sovereign will, schedule, and timetable. And God’s timing is perfect. He is never late and he is never early. He is always right on time. God proved that ultimately by sending his Son in the fullness of the time.

Jesus will come again in the fullness of time. The Old Testament believers were waiting for the Messiah to come. As New Testament believers, we are waiting for the Messiah to come again. Yet the church still wrestles with the same doubts, questions, and impatience. When will the Lord come again? Why has the Lord come again yet to rapture the church, consummate the kingdom, and judge the world? Is there a reason why the coming of the Lord is being delayed? 2 Peter 3:9 answered, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God’s timing is perfect. And Jesus will come again in the fullness of time. But the Lord is delaying because he is being patient toward those who have not repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. In his mercy, the Lord is giving the lost time to defect from the life of sin and to run to the cross to put their faith in blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.



Verse 4 says. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” This clause, “God sent forth his Son,” tells us how much the Incarnation cost God. The term sent forth means to send forth or to send away. It was used to refer to sending an army off to war, commissioning a person for some duty, or even banishing someone. Paul uses it here to speak of the source of Incarnation: God sent forth his Son. This statement assumes the Preexistence of Christ. Christ is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father. And when a Savior was needed to be man’s substitute, God sent his own Son. When a Savior was needed, God gave us his very best. When Adam and Eve rebelled against the government of God, and humanity needed a Savior to restore us to right relationship with God, God did not send Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Isaiah, or Jeremiah. God did not even send an angel. God sent forth his Son.

Matthew 21:33-46 Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a fully equipped vineyard a leased it to tenants. When the season of fruit came, he sent his servants to get his fruit. But the tenants beat one, killed another, and stoned another. The master of the house sent more servants. They did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son, thinking, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they plotted, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him and have his inheritance.” And they killed his son outside of the vineyard. Then Jesus asked, “What do you think the owner of the vineyard is going to do to the tenants when he comes? Everyone knew the answer. Then Jesus quoted scripture to back up his parable: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

When the religious leaders heard these things, they perceived he was talking about them. They would have arrested him on the spot, but they feared the crowds. At least the religious leaders understood the theological implications of Jesus’ life and ministry. If Jesus claimed to be a wise rabbi, a mighty prophet, a miracle worker, a social reformer, or a revolutionary leader, they would have known how to deal with him. But Jesus claimed that he was the Son of God and that God will make sure that everyone answers for how they treat his Son. This is still a scandalous idea. Some ask, “Why did God sent his Son? Did Jesus have to die on the cross? Couldn’t he just declare us forgiven?” The answer is no. To ask this reveals that you do not understand how sinful your sin is to God. Our sin offends the holiness of God and Jesus is the only who is able to satisfy God’s righteous demands. So God sent forth his Son to pay the penalty for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”


A little girl heard sounds in the dark and became afraid. So she rushed into her parent’s bedroom, begging to sleep with them. They refused. Instead, they prayed with her and sent her back to bed, instructing her to remember that God would be with her. She went back to her room and tried to sleep. But it didn’t work. So she went back to her parent’s room, only to be sent away again with the reminder that God was with her. So she went again to her room and tried to sleep. And, again, it didn’t work. So she made her way to her parent’s room one more time. They were less patient with her this time. “Didn’t we pray with you?” they scolded. “Didn’t we tell you that God was with you? What’s the problem?” Her reply was classic: “God doesn’t have any skin on him!”

Before the Incarnation, every method God used to declare his love for humanity was misunderstood. God didn’t have any skin. So his expressions of love – like the Law of Moses, for instance – were viewed as acts of divine tyranny. But in the Incarnation, God perfectly declared his love for us. He spoke in a language that we could understand. He did so by becoming one of us. In fact, that is what the term Incarnation means: “in the flesh.” God took on human form. Paul put it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” Think about that. The statement, “God sent forth his Son,” can only be said of one person – the Lord Jesus Christ. But the phrase “born of woman” can be said of every one of us. So much so that it is ridiculous for Paul to point out that Christ was born of woman if he was no more than a mere man. But the fact is that on Christmas the eternal Son – the second Person of the undivided Trinity became human in the Person of Jesus Christ.

• God became a fetus.
• The creator of life was created.
• He who is larger than the universe became an embryo.
• The omnipotent one made himself breakable.
• He who had been spirit became pierceable.
• The ancient of days became of the infant of days.
• He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.

The question of the ages is how can one get to know God personally? In Jesus’ day, the answer was shockingly simple: You know him the same you get to know anybody else. You walk up, shake his hand, introduce yourself, and ask how he’s doing. Matthew 1:23 says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” Jesus is the God-Man – fully divine and fully human at the same time. He was born. He grew. He lived. He ate. He drank. He slept. He cried. He even died. The God who fills the universe imploded and became a baby who, like every other infant who ever lived, had to learn how to walk and talk and dress himself. In the Incarnation, God’s Son deliberately handicapped himself, exchanging omniscience for a brain that learned Aramaic, omniscience for two legs and an occasional donkey, and omnipotence for arms strong enough to saw wood but too weak for self-defense. God became a human being.


Salvation comes through faith in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. So the Incarnation is essential to salvation, because it affirms the Person of Christ – who he is. But we must not forget that the hope of salvation rests in both the Person and Work of Christ. The Incarnation alone does not save. According to the Bible, Calvary – not Bethlehem – is the center of Christianity. MARTIN LUTHER hit the nail on the head when he described Christianity theology as “THEOLOGIA CRUXIS” (a theology of the cross). Yes, we praise God for the virgin birth, irreproachable life, matchless teachings, astonishing miracles, and moral example of Jesus. But all of these wonderful things would have availed nothing for our salvation had they not found their consummation in his perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross. So why verse 4 proclaims the timing, sacrifice, and manner of the Incarnation, verse 5 proclaims the purpose of it.


Verse 5 says that God sent forth his son in the fullness of time “to redeem those who were under the law.” The word redeem means to release by paying a ransom price. It is a commercial term that was used of buying slaves or purchasing the freedom of slaves in the marketplace. That is the picture of our sinful condition. In John 8:34 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Sin is bondage from which we cannot get free through our own goodness, wisdom, strength, merit, or resources. Without a Redeemer, the bondage of sin will separate us from God for both time and eternity. In John 8:35-36, Jesus declares, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The only way you can avoid the holy wrath of eternal judgment is if the Son sets you free. That is the purpose of the Incarnation. Jesus was born with an assignment from the Father to die on the cross, where his blood would be the ransom that sets us free from the bondage of sin and its consequences.

• If information was our greatest need, God would have sent an educator.
• If technology was our greatest need, God would have sent us a scientist.
• If money was our greatest need, God would have sent an economist.
• If pleasure was our greatest need, God would have sent an entertainer.
• But our greatest need was salvation, so God sent us a Redeemer.

Matthew 20:28 says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Colossians 1:13-14 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:12 says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” And 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The blood of Jesus was the purchase price for our redemption from sin.

• He stood before God with all our sin on him that we through faith might stand before God with none of our sin on us.
• He who was righteous was judged as unrighteous that we who are unrighteous should be judged before God as righteous.
• He was made for us all that God must judge and by faith we are made in him all that God cannot judge.
• At Calvary, Jesus paid a debt he did not know for those who owed a debt we could not pay.
• On that cross, God treated Jesus as if he had committed all of our ss so that he could treat us as if we had practiced all of the righteousness of Christ.


The doctrine of redemption is three-dimensional. First of all, we are redeemed from something (the bondage of sin and its consequences). We are redeemed by something (the blood and righteousness of Christ). But we are also redeemed unto something (the adoption as sons). Verse 5 says that the purpose of the Incarnation is “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” A man would redeem a slave for only one of two reasons: to set him free or to personally enslave him. But a man would not redeem a slave, take him home, and make him the heir of his estate. But that is the good news of the Incarnation. God dispatched his Son to the marketplace of sin in order to set us free from the bondage of sin. But the grace and mercy of God did not stop there. In Christ, God redeems us and adopts us. The moment you are saved, God takes you from slavery to sonship. He adopts you as his own.

John 1:11-12 says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God.” Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” And Ephesians 1:5-6 says, “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

Do not confuse adoption with regeneration. Regeneration is the act of the Holy Spirit taking a heart that is dead in trespasses and sins and making it alive in Christ. It is the radical change God makes in us so that we can know, acknowledge, and believe the gospel. But adoption speaks of the resulting relationship with God enjoyed by those who receive regeneration. We are adopted into God’s family. And we are adopted as sons. Do not let the desire for inclusive gender language cause you to miss the blessing of this text. Galatians 4:1-3 says: “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” In spite of sin, God has always had children in this world. But they were under bondage. So how would God move his children from where they are to where he wants them to be? Galatians 4:4-5 answers: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” God does not want you to be a slave. So in redemption, he doesn’t just make you his child. He puts you in the place of a son. He makes you an heir. He gives you access to riches, rule, and righteousness.


In closing, let me point out one more word in the text. It is the word “receive.” We receive the adoption as sons. We are not forgiven because we deserve it. We are not saved because we work for it. And we are not redeemed because we earned it. Independent of any good works we do, God adopts us into his family through the agency of Jesus Christ and his perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross. The good news of the Incarnation is that in order to be saved all we have to do is receive by faith what God has doe for us through his Son – Jesus Christ. Only a phony god would be pleased with our self-righteousness. Only a temperamental god would be satisfied with sacrifices. Only a puny god would be impressed with our pain. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidder. And only a holy, sovereign, and gracious God would step out of eternity into time and do for us what we could never do for ourselves. That is what God did for us.

The evangelist, BILLY SUNDAY, was helping workers take down the tent after a meeting, when a young man came running in. Out of breath, the young man said, “I wanted to come to the revival, but I missed the meeting. But please tell me, what must I do to be saved?” Sunday responded, “You’re too late,” and kept taking down the tent. The young man responded, “Just because I missed the meeting, you’re not going to tell me how to be saved?” Sunday answered, “No, you’re too to do anything to be saved, because Jesus did it all almost two thousand years ago. Now you must receive the finished work of Jesus Christ.” What good news! Because of what Jesus did on the cross, you do not have to do anything. God has offered salvation free of charge through the offering of his beloved Son. So do not try to earn his love. Just receive it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

God's Answer For Your Anxiety

Philippians 4:1-9 is a call to Christian steadfastness. Verse 1 exhorts the church to “stand firm in the Lord.” The next eight verses teach practical steps that lead to the steadfastness of faith verse 1 calls for. Our text is a part of this inspired strategy for Christian stability. It begins with a command: “Do not be anxious about anything.” The term anxious means “to deeply care about something or someone.” It can refer to proper or legitimate concern. Paul uses it this way in Philippians 2:20 when he says of Timothy, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” It can also refer to sinful or undue concern. Jesus used the term this way in Luke 10:41, when he told Martha, “You are anxious and troubled about many things.” Our text uses the term in this latter sense. We are not to be carefree or unconcerned about the important things, issues, and people in our lives. But we should not worry about them. And legitimate concern turns into sinful anxiety when we allow our hearts and minds to be pulled into different directions by our circumstances.

Faith pulls in one direction. Doubt pulls in another direction. Hope pulls in one direction. Fear pulls us the opposite direction. Peace pulls is one direction. Confusion pulls in a different direction. And we are pulled apart with worry. Our word WORRY is derived from an Old English word that means, “to strangle.” Yes, worry is internal strangulation. Jesus affirms this in THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER when he speaks of seed being planted among thorns. Matthew 13:22 says, “This is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” So our text says: “do not be anxious about anything.” The verb is in a grammatical emphasis that forbids an action that is already in progress. Literally, God is not saying, “Don’t worry.” He’s saying, “Stop worrying!” Am I talking to you? What are you worrying about? Is it your family? Your health? Your finances? Your job? Your future? Whatever it is, God says stop worrying. But he does not leave you with just a command to obey. He gives you an answer for your anxiety. Here it is: PRAY YOUR WORRIES AWAY!

• Don’t worry. Pray!
• Turn your worries into prayers.
• Take everything off of your worry list and put it on your prayer list.
• Whenever you start to worry, stop and pray.
• Give each worry – one by one – to God in prayer.

“I have a mountain of credit card debt,” one man told another. “I’ve lost my job, my car is being repossessed, and our house is in foreclosure. But I’m not worried about it.” “Not worried about it!” exclaimed his friend. “No. I’ve hired a professional worrier. He does all my worrying for me so I don’t have to think about it.” Playing along, the friend asked, “How much does your professional worrier charge?” “$50,000 a year,” replied the first man. “$50,000! Where are you going to get that kind of money?” “I don’t know,” came the reply. “That’s for him to worry about.”

In a real sense, we – as followers of Christ – have the services of a professional worrier. 1 Peter 5:7 says: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Have you ever thought about that? GOD IS WORRIED ABOUT YOU!

• He’s worried about your sin – That’s why he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for your sins.
• He’s worried about your sickness – That’s why he has declared himself to be “Jehovah-Roa,” the God that heals.
• He’s worried about the daily affairs of your life – That’s why he’s the Good Shepherd who leads us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
• He’s worried about your spiritual growth – That’s why he has given the Holy Spirit and scripture to facilitate your development in Christlikeness.
• He’s worried about your future – That’s why he announced that he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

God is worried about you. Of course, God doesn’t worry as we do – pacing the floor, scratching his head, and biting his fingernails. God is sovereign, holy, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. So God cannot have panic attacks. But he is worried about you in the sense that he his intimately aware of what your dealing with. He cares about your situation. And he is actively at work on your behalf. Jeremiah 29:11 puts it this way: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” If that is true, what in the world are you worrying about? Pray your troubles away. Let me show you how to do it.


Verse 6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” This verse succinctly states the privilege of prayer with two words: in everything. Feel the tension of the text. Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything. Nothing is worth worrying about. Everything is worth praying about. Did you get that? Worry and prayer cannot coexist. Worry and prayer are two great opposing forces. BENGEL said, “Anxiety and prayer are more opposed to each other than fire and water.” So this verse teaches us that the way to be anxious for nothing is to be prayerful in everything. And the word everything literally means everything. There’s no fine print, qualifiers, loopholes, or exceptions. We are to come to God about everything. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” God has an open door policy with those who trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to hold anything back. And you don’t have to keep your worries to yourself. Our heavenly Father is interested in every detail of our lives. He has flung wide the gates of his presence and says, “Come and tell me all about it.”


Not some things. Certain things. Or spiritual things. Everything! Take everything to God in prayer. No request is too small, difficult, or inconsequential to God. We are to talk to the Lord about everything in our lives. Nothing should be left out. Here are two reasons why:


A woman once asked G. CAMPBELL MORGAN, “Dr. Morgan, do you think we should pray about the little things in our lives?” He answered, “Madam, can you mention anything in our life that is big to God?” There is nothing too big for God to handle. Whatever it is, God can handle it! JOHN NEWTON said it well:


Whatever it is, God can handle it. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:27 says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” Luke 1:37 says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 18:27 says, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”


The Lord is dynamically involved in the monumental decisions, problems, and issues of our lives. The Lord also gets down into the nuts and bolts of life. God is the one flung the sun, moon, and stars out into space. He is also the one who has numbered the hairs on your head. God is the one who owns all the silver and gold. He is also the one who monitors the falling of every two-bit sparrow. God is the one who parted the waters in creation. He is also the one who turned water into wine for a newlywed couple who didn’t order enough wine for the wedding reception. There is nothing too small for God to care about.

• God cares about the things that embarrass you.
• God cares about your appliances that keep breaking down.
• God cares about those lost keys that made you late.
• God cares about those extra few minutes of sleep you need in the morning.
• God cares about the things that you think are too silly to share with anybody else.



A soldier was court-marshaled after his superiors found him apparently sleeping on his post. His defense was that he was not sleep. He was praying. Of course, the authorities didn’t buy that story. During the hearing, the prosecutor mockingly challenged him to pray right there in court. And he did. Right there, he passionately and confidently prayed to God. When he finished, the case was thrown out. It was concluded that he never would have been able to pray like that under pressure, if he hadn’t been practicing that kind of prayer before the pressure.

If you are going to be able to pray your worries away, you must learn how to practice the discipline of prayer before problems arise, pressures attack, and pain afflict you. The text teaches three ways to discipline your prayer life.


Verse 6 says: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The word prayer translates a Greek noun that is the broad, generic, all-encompassing word for prayer in the New Testament. It speaks of the act of addressing God. It is conversation and communion with God. It’s the prayer that enjoys the presence of God and honors him in worship. Paul uses it here to teach us that believing prayer involves time with God. When Paul says, “By prayer… let your requests be known to God,” he is saying that prayer should involve more than making requests to God. Prayer should be more than offering petitions. Prayers should be more than the presentation of your sanctified wish list. You should pray in order to spend time in personal, deliberate, and intimate communion with God - not just to get God to do something for you.

Daniel’s enemies were jealous of his promotion. So they plotted against him. But they soon found out that Daniel could not be bribed, tempted, or discredited. He was too devoted to God. So they determined that if they couldn’t get Daniel to break his devotion to God, they would set him up based on his devotion to God. They convinced King Darius to sign a decree prohibiting his subjects from praying to any God but him for the thirty days. But Daniel 6:10 reports, “When Daniel knew that the document had been sighed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber opened toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave hanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Don’t miss that last line. Daniel prayed, as was his custom. He did not start praying when he heard the decree was signed. He was already praying. So rather than worrying, he just kept doing what he had already been doing. He prayed! That may be why your prayers don’t work. Many of us are practical atheists. We don’t formally deny the existence of God. But we live as if he doesn’t exist. We forget God when life gets good.

• Our prayers become perfunctory.
• Our church attendance becomes sporadic.
• Our giving becomes a tip rather than a tithe.
• Our service becomes inconsistent.
• Our time in the word becomes nonexistent.

But when your money gets funny, your body gets sick, or your loved-ones start tripping, then you rush to God for strength, guidance, and comfort. But “crisis Christianity” doesn’t work. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” You can’t plant sinful seeds and then quickly turn to God when you see that your harvest didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. I am not saying that God cannot hear emergency prayers. I am saying that prayer without commitment is presumption. Prayer is not some spiritual 9-1-1. You try that and you may get put on hold like 9-1-1. Prayer is like two lovers getting together. They really don’t have to go anywhere special; they just want to be together. And they don’t have to have anything special to talk about. But they stay on the phone because they don’t want to hang up. Pray should be like. Authentic prayer involves time with God.


Verse 6 says: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The word supplication refers to the act of seeking, entreaty or asking. The picture is that of an inferior bringing a petition to a superior. It is to pray with a sense of need. But supplication is not just about the act of taking your needs to God in prayer. It’s about the implication of that act. By taking your need to God in prayer, you are not informing God of something he does not know. God is omniscient. God knows everything known, unknown, and knowable. You cannot inform God of anything. By taking your needs to God in prayer, you are affirming that God is the one who is able to meet need. Supplication is a statement of trust in God. It is a declaration of dependence upon God. It’s the simple act confessing to God that you are going to trust God with your situation. Jesus taught this in Matthew 6:25-34. It is the section of THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT where Jesus directly addresses the issue of worry. His position on worry is clear and simple: Don’t do it. Don’t worry about what you will eat, drink, or wear. And don’t worry about tomorrow. GERALD MANN suggests that Jesus really doesn’t tell us not to worry, as much as he tells us to wait to worry.

• Worry when it will feed and clothe you.
• Worry when it will make you live longer or grow taller.
• Worry when you want to know how people who don’t God react to problems.
• Worry when you want to make tomorrow to be worse than it’s already going to be.

Otherwise, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33). Mark it down: Worry is like sitting in a rocking chair: It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. So just trust God.




One reason why many of us worry so much is because we are ungrateful people. We don’t thank God enough. And because we are often short on praise, we are short on peace. MARTIN LUTHER wisely asserted that if God was stingy, close-handed, and inconsistent in blessing us, we would be more grateful for every single thing he did. However, we respond to God’s extravagant grace with indifference. Consequently, we spend more time rehearsing what’s not going right in our lives, rather than rejoicing over the undeserved goodness of God. But I dare you to make thanksgiving a habit. Your worries would vanish. Your fears would subside.

Verse 6 says that we are to make our requests to God with thanksgiving. And note that Paul is not saying that when God answers your prayer, go back and thank him. On the contrary, the phrase with thanksgiving means that gratitude is to characterize the very act of prayer – not just the answer to it. When you make your requests – right then and there – thank God. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”



I have good news and bad news for you. I’ll give you the good news first. When you go to God in believing prayer, you can expect God to respond to your prayer. God hears. God knows. God cares. God answers. God responds when you pray. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he may not respond the way you want him to. Verse 7 records a beautiful promise that affirms God will respond when you pray. But it does not promise that God will change your circumstances. No healings. No supernatural debt cancellation. No promotion. No Mr. or Miss Right. No miracles. The verse does not promise DIVINE INTERVENTION for your circumstances. But it does promise DIVINE INSULATION for your heart and mind.
This is not to say that God is unable or unwilling to move in your circumstances. He is. But that’s not point here. The point is that God is more concerned about what’s on within you than he is about what’s going on around you. God is more concerned about what’s happening in you than he is what’s happening to you. So verse 7 makes a wonderful promise: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Have things really changes? Not necessarily. You may still be in a war zone. The battle may still be raging. The enemy may still be advancing. But even though war is raging around you, something has happened within you. God has dispatched his peace to guard your heart and mind. That’s the promise of the text. In fact, that’s God’s promise throughout scripture. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” And Colossians 3:15 says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

In Daniel 6, King Darius issued a decree prohibiting his subjects from praying to anyone but him for 30 days. But that didn’t stop Daniel from going to his room and praying to the true God, as he had always done. And Daniel got the death penalty for it. Darius put him in a lion’s den and put a stone on the mouth of the den, so he couldn’t escape. And Daniel 6:18 says, “Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.” He was in the palace, but he couldn’t sleep. He was surrounded by luxuries, but he couldn’t sleep. He was protected by armed soldiers and trained guards, but he couldn’t sleep. He stayed up all night long. The next morning he rushed down to the lion’s den and called out to Daniel. To his surprise, Daniel answered. Daniel 6:22 says, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths.” The king couldn’t sleep all night. But at the same time, God was keeping the lions quiet so that his child could rest in safety. That’s what the peace of God will do for you, if you take your worries to God in prayer.

A ship was wrecked in a furious storm and the only survivor was a little boy who was swept by the waves unto a rock. He sat there all night long, until he was spotted and rescued the next morning. “Did you tremble while you were on the rock during the night?” someone asked. “Yes,” said the boy. “I trembled all night. But the rock didn’t.



Sunday, December 20, 2009

Notes from Sunday - 12/20/09

It was a cold but beautiful day in Jacksonville and a warm day of worship at Shiloh.

As always, I am grateful for the guests who joined us in worship today.

Our choir really lifted us in worship today. I am grateful for their ministry.

I preached a message today from Philippians 4:6-7 that I entitled “God’s Answer for Your Anxiety.”

Here is God’s answer for your anxieties: Pray your worries away! Don’t worry. Pray. Turn your worries into prayers. Take everything off of your worry list and put it on your prayer list. Bring all of your worries – one by one – to God in prayer.

I was absolutely confident that this was a message for my congregation. But I think I needed the message more than anyone else.

Shiloh is such a wonderful place to preach each week. What a church!

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church today.

Next Sunday’s message: “Practicing the Presence of God” (Philippians 4:8-9).

During lunch, Natalie said she knew why I preached so hard this morning – because I knew that I was going on vacation when I finished preaching. She may be on to something.

How ‘bout them Cowboys!?!?

Pastoral Risk Factors

Many people view pastors as a caricature. Pastors are seen through the lens of communications kings, so “mega-church pastors, and all the religious hypocrites who masquerade as men of God. But this is not the reality. All of this country, there are sincere, godly, faithful men who persevere in guarding their lifestyle and their doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). But, of course, these are not the men who get most of the attention. A pastor usually has to be a great success or a miserable failure for people to notice him. And this leaves out the vast majority who are humble, unassuming, devoted shepherds who lead and feed their flocks with the truth and love of Christ.

These “ordinary” pastors need your prayers. All pastors need your prayers. Here’s why. Believe it or not, your pastor is… wait for it… human. Yes. Pastors are to be men of God. But that does not stop them from being men. People. Humans. Or to put it in theological terms, sinners – saved, sanctified, called, used, and kept by grace.

Those who are called to pastoral ministry are given a wonderful privilege and an awesome responsibility. And it is not easy for them to be holy and human in the fish bowl that is pastoral ministry. Consider these results from a survey about the personal and professional lives of clergy conducted by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth in 1991.

• For those who think pastors don’t have a real job: 90% of pastors work more than 46 hours a week.

• For those who think how wonderful it must be to work in the church fulltime: 80% believed that pastoral ministry affected their families negatively.

• For those who think ministry families are better off: 33% said that being in ministry was an outright hazard to their family.

• For those who think that pastors don’t have problems at work like others do: 75% reported a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.

• For those who think pastors are confident about their work: 50% felt unable to meet the needs of the job.

• 90% felt they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands.

• 70% say they have a lower self-esteem now then when they started out.

• 40% reported serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

• For those who think that pastors don’t struggle with temptation: 37% confessed having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church.

• For those who think pastors have better relationships: 70% do not have someone who they consider a close friend.

I agree with Mark Twain, who famously declared that there are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics. So I do not expect you to read these surveys conclusions as if they are divinely inspired truth. But these numbers should be a warning to you: Your pastor is on the front lines of spiritual warfare. Make sure you keep him covered in believing prayer.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't Let It Stress You Out!

In his book Spiritual Burnout, MALCOLM SMITH writes of taking a walk one morning in the Catskill Mountains of New York. As he rested near an algae-covered pool, he was treated to an incredible sight. Mosquitoes danced near the surface of the water. Dragonflies darted between the reeds. Then his attention was captured by a frog sunbathing on a partially submerged rock out in the center of the pool. Something was happening to the frog. Before his very eyes, it collapsed – not falling over, but deflating like a balloon with a slow leak. It finally lay in a dreadful crumbled heap of frog skin, its insides completely gone! It was only then that he noticed the killer. A giant water bug had bitten the frog, injecting it with a substance that dissolved its insides. Then he had proceeded to suck out the inside of the frog, leaving the skin like an empty grocery bag on the rock.

• Is that you?
• Is there something draining the life and vitality out of you?
• Are you spiritually drained?
• Have your thoughts become poisoned, negative and cynical?
• Are you bitter, resentful, or unforgiving?
• Does God seem far away?
• Are you stressed out?

If so, I have some godly advice for you: Don’t let people or things or circumstances stress you out. Whatever you are dealing with in your life right now, don’t let it stress you out. An old proverb that says: “The bow that is always bent will soon break.” That’s true. Constant pressure naturally leads to spiritual burnout. However, the pressures of life do not have to overwhelm or undermine your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

• You don’t have to be stressed out by your PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITIES.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your PHYSICAL CONDITION.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your FAMILY PROBLEMS.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your FINANCIAL SITUATION.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your WORK ENVIRONMENT.

If God were to add to the Ten Commandments and asked my advice on what that eleventh commandment should be, I would recommend: “THOU SHALT LET IT STRESS YOU OUT.” Philippians 4:4-5 teach three basic Christian attitudes that confront, counter-attack, and conquer the pressures of life.


Philippians 3:1 says, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Apparently, Paul really didn’t mind repeating himself, for in Philippians 4:4 he exhorts them again: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Then he adds for emphasis: “again I will say, rejoice” It is as if Paul says, “Just in case you missed it the first time or thought I was kidding or whatever…I’ll say it again: Rejoice!” This call to joy is repeated and emphasized here because God knows that we will inevitably live in frustration, anxiety, and discouragement, unless we develop and maintain the spiritual discipline of Christian joy. Christians do not have to be stressed out by the realities of life. We are people of stubborn joy. And our joy is not hypocrisy. It does not deny the facts. And it is not merely optimism or positive thinking. Christian joy is real and rational. We rejoice in the Lord always.


This verb “rejoice” is in the IMPERATIVE MOOD, which means it’s a command. It is not a suggestion or a recommendation or an encouraging piece of advice. God the Holy Spirit moved Paul to order the church to rejoice. It doesn’t matter if you feel like it. It doesn’t matter what’s happening to you or around you. And it doesn’t matter what you’re going through. God commands you to rejoice. And if we are commanded to rejoice, then to fail to do so is a sin. Of course, there will inevitably be things that get you down. But you must not stay there. You must keep lifting praise to God, even when the circumstances of life get you down.

Also take note of the fact that the verb “rejoice” is in the PRESENT TENSE, which denotes repeated or continuous action. It speaks of that which is done so habitually that it can be rightly characterized as a way of life. The idea is that joy is to be the Christian’s lifestyle. And that’s not just hidden in the grammar. It’s clearly stated in text. Not only does Paul tell us what to do (“rejoice in the Lord…”), he also tells us when to do it (“always…”). The term “always” is all-inclusive. It means that our joy is not limited to good days, special occasion, or fruitful seasons. We are commanded to practice a lifestyle of joy no matter when it is, no matter what we are going through, and no matter where we find ourselves in life. The point is that joy is a choice! It is an intentional attitude. It is not dependent on circumstances. Christian joy is not what the world calls happiness. Happiness is fleeting – it’s an outside job. Joy is perpetual – it’s an inside job. You may have absolutely no control over what is happening to you. But you are not helpless. You are not a victim. You are don’t have to be stressed out by the people and things you are dealing with.

• It’s your choice to rejoice.
• No one can make you miserable without your permission.
• The devil can’t take your joy; you have to give it to him.
• You don’t have to live under the circumstances. You can live above them.
• Regardless of your circumstances, you can choose to be joyful.

Psalm 34:1-2 says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.” Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no heard in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” And James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces patience.”


The opening verses of Philippians 4 show us some of the benefits of being in the Lord. Verse 1 says, “Stand firm in the Lord.” That means Jesus is the source and sphere of CHRISTIAN STEADFASTNESS. In verse 2, Paul calls on two women in the church to agree to “agree in the Lord.” That means Jesus is the source and sphere of CHRISTIAN UNITY. And here in verse 4 we are called to “rejoice in the Lord.” That means Jesus is the source and sphere of CHRISTIAN JOY. The fact that we know, trust, love, serve, and worship Jesus Christ enables us to have stubborn joy. Psalm 144:15b says, “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord! It’s like two lovers. They always enjoy being together, no matter where they are. Followers of Jesus Christ do not have to stop and count their money before they can rejoice. We do no rejoice in our jobs or in our families or in our possessions. You can lose jobs. You can lose families. And you can lose possessions. But the joy that we have, the world didn’t give it, and the world can’t take it away. Nehemiah 8:10 puts it best: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

• We don’t base our joy on the size of our bank accounts.
• We don’t base our joy on the model car we drive.
• We don’t base our joy on the style of clothes we wear.
• We don’t base our joy on the degree of education we have.
• We don’t base our joy on the type of work we do.

Our joy is not tied to temporal possessions, finite people, or favorable circumstances. We rejoice in the Lord. And because Jesus is the infinite center of our joy, we are able to rejoice no matter what is happening in our lives. No. Things don’t always go our way. Yes. We are subject to face pain, rejection, and disappointment just like everyone else. But even still, we rejoice, because our joy is not is in the things of this world. It’s in the Lord who does not change.

The king of a particular country traveled often, but one day a man living near the palace remarked to a friend, “Well, it looks like the king is home tonight.” “How do you know?” asked the other. The man pointed up toward the castle. “Because when the king is home,” he said, “the palace is all lit up!” That’s the way it is with Christian joy. Joy is the flag the flies over the believer’s heart signify that the King is in residence.


Philippians 4:5a says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” The word the ESV translates “reasonableness” is a rather broad term that WILLIAM BARCLAY calls one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words. It generally refers to one who does not insist on the letter of the law, but treats others with an attitude that is gentle, fair-minded, and charitable. It describes someone who is willing to yield his or her rights to show consideration to others. It is a person who is willing to accept less what is due them for the sake of others. Matthew Arnold translates the term “sweet reasonableness.” 1 Timothy 3:3 says that overseers – the men who lead the church – should not be violent but gentle. Titus 3:2 exhorts the entire church to be gentle. James 3:17 teaches that the true wisdom – wisdom from above – is gentle. And Philippians 4:5 commands, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”

I submit to you that a reasonable attitude toward others will protect you from becoming stressed out about how other people treat you. And take note of the fact that gentleness, like joy, is an intentional attitude. It’s a personal choice. It’s an inside job. The call to be reasonable is a call to treat others with love, fairness, and compassion that is independent of how they treat you in return. Gentleness involves controlling your reaction to people. It means choosing your own response to people rather than simply reacting to them. And when the reasonableness abounds in us…

• Anger is driven out, and kindness replaces it.
• Animosity is driven out, and peace replaces it.
• Impatience is driven out, and patience replaces it.
• Pride is driven out, and humility replaces it.
• Self-centeredness is taken out, and concern for others replaces it.

It’s the radical love Jesus taught in Matthew 5:39-41, where he says, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” I know this sounds crazy to many of us. We wouldn’t dare respond to getting hit by putting ourselves in a position to get hit again. In fact, the motto of many is, “If you hit me once, that’s your fault. But if I let you hit me again, that’s my fault.” Consequently, you walk around like a paranoid cowboy with an itchy trigger finger. You are loaded with a short temper, angry words, hurt feelings, painful memories, and a bunch of folk to blame your problems on. And the people in your way are just one look, one word, or one deed away from being blown to “smithereens.” Some people don’t even wait to actually be attacked. Just the feeling that their territory is being threatened – be it real or imagined – is sufficient cause for them to take matters into their own hands.

• No wonder you can’t get along with your family and friends!
• No wonder your coworkers and classmates make you want to go postal!
• No wonder you keep telling yourself that all church folk are hypocrites, so that you’ll have a ready excuse for not making a real commitment to godly people who can hold you accountable for your profession of faith!
• No wonder your romantic relationships never seem to work, mature, or last!
• No wonder it’s so easy for people you don’t even to push your buttons!

But there is another way – a better way. Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your reasonableness be know to everyone.” EUGENE PETERSON’S The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.” Did you get that? The text is not merely calling us to practice gentleness. It is calling us to practice gentleness in such an intentional, consistent, and obvious manner that it becomes evident to every person in our sphere of influence. Get that. Christians should be known for their gentleness. Let me ask you a question? What do you want to be known for?

• Do you want to be known for your good looks?
• Do you want to be known for your quit wit, your wealth, or your connections?
• Do you want to be known for your money, your education, or your family?
• Or perhaps you are more pious and want to be known for you prayer life, or your generous giving, or your Bible knowledge?

Well, I submit to you that all of these things are selfish, worldly, and unacceptable motivations for Christians! God calls us to a higher and nobler calling. And here it is: Be known for your gentleness.

Peter Miller had a neighbor lived near a man who hated him intensely because of his Christian life and testimony. The man violently opposed Miller and sought to do him great harm. But one day this unbeliever was found guilty of treason and was sentenced to death. Upon hearing this, Miller set out on foot to meet with George Washington to intercede on behalf of the man and plead for his life. The general listened to the minister’s earnest pleas but told him he did not believe he should pardon his friend. “My friend? He is not my friend,” answered Miller. “In fact, he’s my worst enemy. “What?” said Washington. “You have walked sixty miles to save the life of your enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant your request.” So with pardon in hand, Miller hastened to the place where his adversary was to be executed, arriving just as the condemned prisoner was walking to the scaffold to be hanged. When the traitor saw Miller, he exclaimed with bitter anger, “Old Peter Miller has come to seek his revenge by watching me hang!" But to his astonishment, he watched the minister step out of the crowd and produce the pardon that spared his life.

This is the attitude Christians should be known for. And if this sounds unreasonable to you, remember that this is exactly how the God the Father has treated you through Jesus Christ. You had a death penalty over your head because of sin. But God has pardoned us through the bloody cross and empty tomb of Christ. Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”


Philippians 4:5 summarizes both the HORIZONTAL DIMENSION and the VERTICAL DYNAMIC of the Christian attitude. The horizontal dimension is summarized in verse 5a: “Let your reasonableness be known to all men.” The vertical dynamic is summarized in verse 5b: “The Lord is at hand.” What a statement! The Lord is at hand. The Lord is near. We can practice sweet reasonableness because we are focused the Lord is at hand. The Greek term translated “at hand” is used spatially and temporarily. It can speak of time to say that Christmas is near. Or it can speak of space to say that the chair is near. Commentators disagree about which meaning is intended here. But both implications are true. Jesus Christ is the ever-present Lord whose personal return may occur any time. Therefore, we don’t have to be stressed out. We can overcome the pressures of life by focusing on the fact that the Lord is at hand.


Let me give some good news to the believers here and a warning to the unbelievers: Jesus Christ is coming again soon. Scripture does not tell us exactly when he is coming. But it does tell us that it is imminent. It can happen at any moment. The Lord could come back for us before I finish preaching this sermon. The Lord is at hand. He is near. The fact that the Lord is coming soon holds us accountable for how we live our lives. James 5:8-9 says, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing at the door!” 1 Peter 4:7 says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” And 1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

During an expedition to the Antarctic, SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON left some of his men on Elephant Island with the intent of returning for them and carrying them back to England. But he was delayed. By the time he could go back for them the sea had frozen and he had no access to the island. Three times he tried to reach them, but was prevented by the ice. Finally, on his fourth try, he broke through and found a narrow channel. Much to his surprise, he found the crewmen waiting for him, supplies packed and ready to board. They were soon on their way beck to England. He asked them how they knew to be ready for him. They told him that they didn’t know when he would return, but they were sure he would. So every morning, the leader rolled up his bag and packed his gear and told the crew to do the same saying, “Get things ready, boys, the boss may come today.” In that same spirit I declare to you today: “YOU BETTER GET THE THINGS IN YOUR LIFE IN ORDER. THE LORD MAY COME TODAY!”


Let me close by saying that not only is Jesus on his way back. But in a real sense, he’s already here. The Lord encompasses us with his presence. His center is everywhere and his circumference is nowhere. And he will never leave us nor forsake us. Jesus is on his way. But he is already here. He is with you no matter what the situation is. He with you right now, whether you feel him or not. And that’s why we are confident. Psalm 119:151 says, “Your are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are truth.” Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” And Matthew 28:20a says, “And, lo, I am with you, always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus says…

• When you are sick, I am with you.
• When your heart is broken, I am with you.
• When family and friends forsake you, I am with you.
• When you’re broke, I am with you.
• When you don’t know which way to go, I am with you.
• When the enemy of attacks you, I am with you.
• When you feel as if you are all alone, I am with you.


During the filming of the famous movie Ben Hur, It is said that during filming, Charleton Heston had trouble learning to drive a chariot. With much practice he was finally able to control the vehicle, but still had some doubts. He reportedly explained his concerns to the director, Cecil B. DeMille, by saying, “I think I can drive the chariot, but I’m not sure I can win the race.” DeMille responded, “You just stay in the race and I’ll make sure you win.”


Monday, December 14, 2009

Notes from Sunday - 12/13/09

Let me begin with a note from Saturday. On December 12, my wife and I celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary. How time flies! I am unspeakably grateful for the precious gift the Lord has given me in Crystal. She has been a consistent channel of the love and grace of God in my life. And our relationship has been both a God-given means and motivation for sanctification. I married way out of my league. And being married to Crystal inspires me to keep striving to be a better man. I love her. I thank God for our marriage and all of its attending blessings. And I pray the Lord will give us many more blessed years - no, decades - together. Proverbs 18:22!

Early Sunday morning, I checked the weather report for the day (something I rarely ever do). The forecast predicted that it would rain all day long. It rained all day Saturday. So I assumed it was a fair guess that it would do the same Sunday. Wrong! As the day went on, the rain stopped, the clouds passed over, and it ended up being a beautiful, sunny day here in Jacksonville.

Our children's choir participated in our worship service and blessed us with their service, as always.

I thank God for all the guests who were with us in worship.

In our 10 AM service, I led the congregation in singing, "Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee." This is one of my favorite prayer hymns. I enjoyed leading the congregation is singing praise to God.

I preached a message from Philippians 4:4-5 that I entitled, "Don't Let it Stress You Out!"

May the Lord help me in my preaching!

Next Sunday's Message: "God's Answer for Your Anxieties" (Philippians 4:6-7).

Thank God for those who were added to the church today.

Last evening, the worship arts ministries of SMBC were in full concert. Shiloh is blessed to have many gifted and talented people in our music department who love Jesus Christ and are faithful in their service for Christ. Our children's choir, youth choir, young adult choir, men's chorus, praise ensemble, dance teams, and mass choir - along with our wonderful musicians - led us in a time of musical praise in celebration of the birth of Christ the King. I am grateful for the leadership of Roger Sears and very proud of our entire team.

The Dallas Cowboys lost 17-20 at home last night to the San Diego Chargers. I am disappointed. But I am going to cheer our team to victory this weekend over the undefeated New Orleans Saints. Yeah, I said it!

The Jacksonville Jaguars, who have been doing well in recent weeks, lost 10-14 at home to the Miami Dolphins.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Speaking @ Good Shepherd in Petersburg

I am on my way home this morning from Petersburg, VA - near Richmond. I spoke last night night at the closing service of the Fall Family Fellowship for Pastor Jeffrey L. Reaves, Sr. and the Good Shepherd Baptist Church.

The Lord is doing a great work in and through Good Shepherd. Several years ago, Pastor Reaves led the congregation in a relocation process. And they are using their new campus to make a real difference in their community and beyond for Jesus' sake.

It was an honor to have been invited to minister the word to this great congregation. And I praise the Lord for giving me strength to preach... and for who were added to the church and strengthened in their faith through the ministry of the word.

Please remember Pastor Reaves and the Good Shepherd Baptist Church in your prayers.