Monday, December 20, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 12/19/10

We had a good day of worship yesterday at Shiloh.

The choir sung my “anniversary” song: “The Joy of the Lord.” It is one of my favorite choir songs. And I was blessed beyond words to hear it in worship.

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV)

Grateful for all of our guests who were in worship with us yesterday.

I am continuously amazed by the kindness of people to me. I view it as postcards from heaven that read, “I am still with you.”

I preached from James 1:22-25: “What To Do With What You Hear.”

Preaching through James is hard work – spiritually and homiletically.

I argued that hearing the word of God obligates you to do what it says.

I am still recovering from a cold. Sinus problems continue. But I am feeling much better. Can’t wait to preach again without these symptoms bothering me.

Praise God for those who were added to the church yesterday.

Next Sunday’s Sermon: “Do You Have Good Religion?” (James 1:26-27)

Our entire music department and worship team were in full concert last evening. It was a wonderful time of worship and praise. Hats off to our Music Director, Dr. Roger Sears, and all of our music team leaders and members for a job well done!

The Cowboys beat the Redskins yesterday, 33-30. I do not know what makes me happier – that the Cowboys won or that the Redskins lost. I am still offended that they benched McNabb.

Tough lost for the Jaguars against their arch-nemesis the Colts.

Did you see the New York Giants snatch defeat right out of the jaws of victory again the Eagles?

People had a lot to say when the Miami Heat were losing. Not so much now that they are beating everyone down. Looking forward to the beat down they will give the Lakers for Christmas.

I cannot believe that 100-year-old Bernard Hopkins fought two a majority draw decision Saturday night for the light heavyweight title. This guy is ageless.

Saturday was my wife Crystal’s birthday. I continue to thank God for the gift that she is to me and our children. I married way out of my league. And I am grateful to God for such a wonderful partner. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Breaking the Approval Addiction

When I catch myself comparing myself to others or thinking, I could be happy if only I had what they have, then I know i need to withdraw for a while and listen for another voice. Away from the winds, earthquakes, and fires of human recognition, I can again hear the still, small voice, posing the question it always asks of self-absorbed ministers: What are you doing here?

I reply by whining about some of my Ahabs and Jezebels, And the voice gently reminds me, as it has reminded thousands of Elijahs before me, that I am only a small part of a much larger movement, and at the end of the day there is only one king whose approval will matter.

The voice also whispers, Do not despise your place, your gifts, your voice, for you cannot have another's, and it would not fulfill you if you could. - John Ortberg, Dangers, Toils, & Snares, p. 35

Monday, December 06, 2010

God Is Good All The Time! (James 1:16-18)

In his book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, R. KENT HUGHES tells of a dark night of the soul that he went through and how the Lord brought him out. Kent Hughes had been groomed for success. It was no surprise that he was chosen to plant a new church. Expectations were so high that there were whispers that his new church would soon outgrow the mother church. But several years later, there were very few signs of life, growth, or fruit. In a moment of weakness, Kent said to his wife Barbara, “God has called me to do something he hasn’t give me the gifts to accomplish. Therefore, God is not good.” Barbara assured her him that she still believed in the goodness of God. She encouraged him to hold on to her faith for the night. She had enough faith to believe for the both of them. What do you hold on to when life causes you to question the goodness of God? Let me encourage you to hold fast to the words of James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

The recipients of this letter from James were undergoing trials of various kinds. They needed wisdom to understand their trials and respond to them appropriately. Indeed, both misunderstanding and mishandling trials were both problems for James’ readers. They needed to know that God uses trials test the genuineness of our faith and to nurture our faith to maturity. Because they did not understand this, they were failing these tests of faith. Their trials were becoming temptations to sin. Some were even accusing God of a divine conspiracy in which God was using their trials to set them up to sin. In James 1:13-18, James addresses this matter of God and a case of mistaken identity. In verses 13-15, James argues that God is a holy God that never sends temptation or sin into our lives. Then in verses 16-18, James argues that God is a good God that only sends good and perfect gifts. In clear, graphic, and powerful terms, James makes the point here that God is good all the time. In fact, the English title, “God,” is derived from the German word for “good.” God’s nature and character and ways are all good. WILLIAM TYNDALE said it well: “God’s goodness is the root of all goodness; and our goodness, if we have any, springs out of his goodness.” God is good all the time. James 1:16-18 defends, declares, and demonstrates the goodness of God.


Verse 16 issues a stern warning: “Do not be deceived, by beloved brothers.” This verse is a bridge between what James says about the nature of temptation in verses 13-15 and the character of God in verses 17-18. Both ideas are closely connected. There is an insidious connection between misunderstanding God’s ways and indicting God’s character. So James issues a word of admonition with a word of affection.


James commands, “Do not be deceived.” Do not err. Do not be misled. This Greek verb means to stray or wander away from truth, safety, or virtue. It is the picture of one who is on a journey that is led astray, so that he does not reach his destination. It is the picture of a sheep that wanders off from the shepherd and the flock and becomes lost. It is the picture of a ship that drifts off course and becomes lost at sea. James uses it here to admonish his readers who hold to wrong views about God’s character, purpose, and ways. His concern is more than a simple failure of judgment. It is a deviation from the truth. So James commands, “Do not be deceived.” This command is in a grammatical emphasis that forbids something that is already in progress. Literally, James says, “Stop being deceived.” Genesis 3:13 records God’s confrontation of Eve after her and Adam sinned: “Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” This is the ongoing work of the enemy of our souls. He seeks to deceive us. But in John 8:31-32, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


Verse 16 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” Notice how James blends both sharpness and tenderness as he issues this warning with love, addressing his readers as “my beloved brothers.” In verse 2, James addresses his readers as “my brothers.” As a means of address, “brothers” it is a gender-neutral term that acknowledges his readers to be his brothers and sisters in Christ. But here James fills this phrase out, calling his readers “my beloved brothers.”

This term of endearment tells us something about the recipients of this letter. They were Christians. They were saved, redeemed, born again. They were fellow-members of the family of God. They were brothers and sisters in Christ. They believed in the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Yet they were susceptible to deception about God. So are you. The peril of the unredeemed sinners is unbelief. The peril of the redeemed sinner is misbelief. In A Grief Observed, C.S. LEWIS writes, “The thing I feared is not that I’ll stop believing in God, but that I might begin believing dreadful things about him. Not that I’ll say, ‘There is no God.” But that I’ll say, ‘So what’s what God is really like.’” That can happen to you. So beware that you are not deceived about God, because your view of God is everything. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let know the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

This term of endearment also tells us something about the author of this letter. James was clearly concerned about the truth of God being upheld. But he was also concerned about the people who were affected by error. James reminds us that our concern for what is right does not give us license to treat people wrong. You can win and argument and lose a soul. So we must speak the truth in love. James 5:19-20 says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”


Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” This verse highlights three attributes of God in which you can place your confident trust at all times.


Verse 17a says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Where do good and perfect things come from? They do not come from below or within or around. They come from above. That is, they come from the one who is above. They come from God. God is the source of all that is good. James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” The word “every” is emphatic. Everything that good and perfect is from God. Nothing that is not good and perfect is from God. There are actually two different Greek words in this verse that are both translated gift. The terms are basically used synonymously here. But the nuances of these two terms teach us that the goodness of God is seen in his act of giving and in the nature of his gifts.

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS SEEN IN HIS ACT OF GIVING. When verse 17 speaks of “every good gift,” it focuses on the act of giving. Indeed, the gifts of God are good. But the very act of giving by God is good. This may be an obvious point. But it is not to be overlooked. Not everything act of giving is good. According to 2 Corinthians 9:7, one may give grudgingly or of necessity, rather than giving cheerfully. It happens during Christmas all the time. You may give someone a gift an expression of your love for him. Or you may give someone a gift because they got you one or will be offended if you do not. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS SEEN IN THE NATURE OF HIS GIFTS. Verse 17 says that the gifts of God are both good and perfect. This is the second time James uses the word “perfect” in this letter. Verse 4 says, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” This word “perfect” refers to spiritual maturity, not sinless perfection. It is the picture of a fully developed person who has passed from adolescence to adulthood. The trials of life are designed to nurture our faith to maturity. As the recipients of this letter underwent various trials, some accused God of tempting them to sin. James refutes this error by asserting that God only gives perfect gifts. That is, the gifts of God are always given to build us up, never to knock us down. This does not mean that every gift of God is desirable, comfortable, or pleasurable. But Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

A certain king placed a heavy stone in the road and hid to see who would remove it. The people simply worked their way around it, some loudly blaming the king for not keeping the highways clear. Finally a poor peasant, on his way to town with his burden of vegetables for sale, came upon the stone, laid down his load, and rolled it into out of the way. Then, he saw a purse that had lain right under the stone. He opened it and found it full of gold pieces with a note from the king, saying it was for the one who should remove the stone.


Verse 17 states the sovereign source of all goodness: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Then it states the sovereign process by which we receive these good and perfect gifts: “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The verb translated “coming down” is a present participle that describes a continual, never-ending flow of God’s beneficence to his children. Every good and perfect gift is from God above who pours them down in a constant stream that never ceases to flow. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Herein is wise counsel for how to respond to tests, trials, and temptations: Look up! Don’t judge God by what you see around you. Look up! Your outlook is determined by your up-look. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Verse 17 says that every good and perfect comes down from “the Father of lights.” This title, “the Father of lights,” is a typical Jewish circumlocution that speaks of God without directly mentioning his name. Yet this reverent ascription says so much about God. The “lights” mentioned here refer to the heavenly lights – the sun, moon, stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies. To say that God is the “Father” of these lights is to say that God created these heavenly bodies. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavenly declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” God the Father created the heavenly lights. When scripture affirms that God as the creator, there is always an imbedded theological assumption: The one who creates a thing is greater than and thus controls the thing he creates.

When James calls God “the Father of lights,” he is saying that God reigns over these heavenly bodies with sovereign authority. In Joshua 10, Joshua and the fighting men of Israel went to battle against the Kings of the Amorites. God was with them and they routed their enemies. As the enemy fled in defeated, Joshua commanded the sun to stand still. And God caused the sun to stand still until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. I cannot tell you how the sun stood still for Joshua. But I can tell you who brought this supernatural phenomenon to past: “The Father of lights.” King Hezekiah was low-sick. Isaiah the Prophet told him that he would die and not live. But Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to God. God heard him and promised to give him fifteen more years of life. Isaiah told Hezekiah to pick what would be a sign that God would heal him: Did he want Ahaz’s sundial to go forward ten steps or backwards ten steps. Hezekiah said it is easy for the shadow to go forward. So the shadow of the sun went backwards ten degrees. I do not know how that happened. But I know who did it: “the Father of lights.”


Lloyd C. Douglas, author of The Robe and other novels, lived in a boarding house during college. A retired music teacher lived on the first row, with whom he had a daily ritual. Douglas would ask, “What’s the good news today?” The old man would take his tuning fork and strike the side of his wheelchair and said, “That’s is Middle C. It was Middle C yesterday, and it will be Middle C a thousand years from now. The soprano upstairs sings off-key, and the piano across the hall is out of tune. But this is Middle C.”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD NEVER CHANGES. Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation…” The word “variation,” used only here in the New Testament, denotes the constant change of heavenly bodies. The sun, moon, and stars seem to be absolutely stable from out perspective. But there are actually mutations taking placing among them all the time. Variations of different kinds are constantly taking place in the heavens. Not so with God. There is no variation in God. God is immutable. Our God never changes. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The reason why we have not been utterly wiped out is because God is a good God who does not change on us when we change on him. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS CANNOT BE BLOCKED BY ANYTHING THAT CHANGES. God is immutable. God never changes. God is good all the time. But the phrase “shadow due to change” further asserts that nothing that does change can block, hinder, obscure, or eclipse the goodness of God. In other words, life may be hard. But God is still good. The difficulties of life do not cancel out the goodness of God. If you stand in the sun long enough, the shadows around will move. From your perspective, it seems that the sun has moved. But in reality, the planet is moving, but the sun stays right where it is. You moved; the sun didn’t. It is the same way with God. An old couple was riding together, reminiscing about the early days of our relationship. The wife said to her husband, do you remember when we used to sit so close that people couldn’t tell which one of us was driving? Why aren’t we close like that anymore? Her husband replied, “I don’t know. But I haven’t moved.” If God seems far away, guess who moved? It was not God. God is good all the times.



A certain couple bought their young son a new bicycle for his birthday. It was everything a boy could ask for in a bike. They could not wait to see how his reaction. On his birthday, they presented the gift, opened the box, and wheeled out the bike. To their dismay, the little boy looked at it, smiled, and began to play with the box! It took them a while to convince him that the bike, not the box, was the real gift.

James did not want his readers to be so preoccupied with outer wrappings that they miss sight of God’s true gifts. So he specifies the ultimate gift God bestows. Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The phrase, “he brought us forth,” states the doctrine of regeneration. Regeneration is the sovereign and gracious act by which God gives new life to those who are death in sins and trespasses. In John 3:6-8, Jesus explains, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows were it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” This is what God has done for us in Christ: He brought us forth. This verb is the same word used in verse 15 where James says: “and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Sin brings forth death. But God brings us forth to new life. In verse 18, the verb “brought forth” is in a grammatical emphasis that speaks of something that has happened once and for all. That is, you are not born again and again and again. God has brought us forth into new life once and for all. The statement emphasizes three wonderful facts about the new birth.


Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth.” The phrase, “of his own will,” means that God saves us by a deliberate and influenced act of his sovereign grace. This statement of the source of regeneration occupies the place of emphasis in this verse. Before mentioning the fact or means or goal of regeneration, James states the motivation behind it: “Of his own will he brought us forth.” God chose to give us new life. In John 15:16, Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not chose me, but I chose you…” Being dead in trespasses and sin, unbelievers do not have the will or the ability to choose God. A sinner cannot choose God any more than a dead man can choose to walk. God chooses us. And God did not choose us merely because he knew beforehand that we would choose him. God brought us forth by his own will. John 1:11 records a sad indictment against the people of God: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” But there is good news. John 1:12-13 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”


According to verse 18, the means by which God gives new life is “by the word of truth.” Ephesians 1:13 says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” God saves sinners who hear and believe the word of truth. Romans 10:13 is a wonderful promise: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Then verses 14-15 raise several dilemmas that prevent sinners from calling on the Lord for salvation: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” God brings us forth to new life by the word of truth. This affirms the primacy of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ in the life and work of the church. A local congregation is a true church only to the degree it is exposed to and permits its life together to be shaped by the word of God. Likewise, this phrase also reminds us of the great privilege and awesome responsibility given to those who teach and preach the word of God. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Those who teach the truth must make sure that we tell the truth on the truth.


Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” When the harvest would come, the people of the God were to give the firstfruits – the first and best of the harvest - to God. It was to be consecrated to God to acknowledge that God was the source of the harvest and to express confidence in God’s future provisions. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” You cannot beat God giving. And the proof of your confidence in the beneficence of God is to offer God your firstfruits. Here, James uses this familiar image to say that we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are the firstfruits of God’s creatures. God’s redemption of rebellious sinners both affirms what he has done through Jesus Christ and what he will to redeem all creation. Romans 8:19 says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” This reference to the firstfruits emphasizes the fact that salvation is for us, but is not about us. God saves us for his glory.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 11/28/10

I am in St. John’s in Antigua & Barbuda, preaching for the Dr. Hensworth W.C. Jonas and the Baptist Circuit of Churches.

The Baptist Circuit of Churches is made up of three congregations in Antigua led by Dr. Jonah – Central, Tryells, and Covenant Baptist Church.

The mother church, Central Baptist Church, celebrated 45 years of ministry today. The Tryells Baptist Church celebrated 18 years today.

Dr. Jonas is also the founder and principle of the Baptist Academy of Antigua. With over 400 students, it is one of the leading schools in the country.

Today is Harvest Sunday in Antigua. It is their equivalent to our Thanksgiving.

I really missed worshiping with my church family today.

This was the first Sunday my wife was able to attend church since her surgery. Praise God!

Thanks to Pastor Al Letson for ministering the word today.

You can tell how mature a congregation is by how it acts or reacts when the senior pastor is away.

I preached Saturday night for the ECBM leadership banquet.

I preached three times today, at two of the three congregations.

These are well-fed congregations that love the word of God. It was a joy to preach to the saints here this morning.

Tonight’s service was beginning of an evangelistic crusade that will take place at each of the three churches.

Pray that many souls will be reached for Christ during this evangelistic crusade.

Dr. Jonas and one of his deacons tried to convince me today that soccer is the real football. I am not buying it!

My Dallas Cowboys lost to the Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Jaguars lost today to the NY Football Giants. The Jags will have to find a way to get it done on the road.

I am yet to see any of the sites in Antigua. I trust that will change before my trip ends.

There is a KFC here and three Subway sandwich joints. That’s it. Every thing else is local. That’s pretty cool.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 11/14/10

Thanks, again, for your continued prayers for my wife, Crystal.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of my installation as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

I love my congregation.

May the Lord make me into the man and pastor I need to be to lead Shiloh in its next season of ministry.

Hebrews 6:10 kept coming to my mind throughout the day: “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (NKJV)

Throughout the weekend, I having been listening to and singing to myself Minister Thomas Whitfield’s song, “I’m Encouraged.” My testimony!

Our children’s choir rocked!

Praise God for those who were baptized in worship.

Grateful for the guests who joined us in worship.

I preached from James 1:12 – “A Blessing for the Steadfast”

I argued that Christian steadfastness transforms burdens into blessings.

I outlined the text in terms of (1) a present and (2) future blessing for the steadfast.

Studying James is exposing to me how much I need to grow as an expositor and preacher. I am up for the challenge.

Next week’s sermon: “The Truth About Temptation” (James 1:13-15). Sorry GEH for stealing your title.

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

HBC3 and I caught the Jaguars-Texans game this afternoon. Great game. Even better time with my son.

My beloved Dallas Cowboys defeated the New York Football Giants 33-20. Does this mean that Wade Phillips was actually the problem?

I do not have a dog in the fight, with my USC Trojans under NCAA sanctions. But I am really enjoy the college football season.

I am so glad that I did not waste my time or money on the Pacquiao-Margarito fight. Either make Pacquiao-Mayweather happen or boxing is dead.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Long Series and Short Attention Spans

People have short attention spans. You cannot preach long series any more. It is best to keep sermon series short – six weeks at the most.

Many who preach and many who teach preaching have concluded that society in general and congregations in particular have short attention spans. Churches cannot endure long sermon series anymore, they say. This conclusion is stated as an irrefutable fact. And it goes unchallenged. But is it true?

Every pastor must make a personal decision about how long to spend on a particular book, theme, or biography. And there are many factors that go into this decision.

A sermon series can definitely go too long. Genesis and Psalms and Matthew and Romans and Revelation are great books to preach. But it may not be wise to spend multiple years analyzing the details of them. You may cause your congregation to miss the forest for the trees, if you go too slowly through a book.

But who determined that a pastor had better keep a series under seven messages or risk experiencing a mass exodus of protesting members?

There are many good preachers who preach long series. Expository series. Doctrinal series, even. When I hear this short series theory stated dogmatically, I smile as I think of strong preachers in growing churches around the country who do not subscribe to this theory.

Let me offer an alternative theory: People will endure whatever they become accustomed to.

If you only preach short series, the idea that you can only preach short series becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if you take a shot at a longer series, making sure that every sermon is a solid biblical message that can stand on its own, your congregation very well may keep coming and keep growing.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 11/7/10

It was coooooold yesterday!!!

We had a good day of worship at Shiloh.

Thanks for your continued prayers and many expressions of kindness as Crystal recovers from her surgery. Please continue to cover her with your prayers.

Throughout the day, I was praying for three pastors I know of around the country who were beginning officially started new churches yesterday.

I was also praying for the Diamond family and the Abyssinia Church, who funeralized their long time pastor, Dr. Tom Diamond, Saturday morning.

I really enjoyed my time with the New Members Class yesterday. We discussed the good news of Jesus Christ. What a privilege to explain the message of the gospel of salving by grace through faith in Christ!

Praise God for the celebration of the Lord’s Table yesterday as a church family.

Grateful for our deacons and deaconess who serve in our congregation’s celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And grateful for all who serve behind the scenes in the church.

We began using video announcements for the first time. It was different, but cool. We’ll see how it goes.
It was good to have many guests in worship with us.

I continued my study of the book of James with a message on James 1:9-11 that I call, “Boasting In What Money Cannot Buy.”

I saw two main ideas in the text: (1) Mature Christians boast in spite of their poverty (1:9), and (2) mature Christians do not boast in their wealth (1:10-11).

“Any trial that weans us away from the love of passing things and sets our affections on things above is a blessing in disguise.” – William McDonald

James is a hard saying. We do not often think or act as James prescribes here. It was very challenging to meditate on this passage over the course of the week.

I introduced the sermon with one of my dad’s stories. In the 10 AM service, I abandoned by planned conclusion and closed with another one of my dad’s story. Got away with it. But I wish I could tell them they way he used to tell them.

I look forward to preaching on James 1:12 next Sunday, which announces a blessing to those who hang in there.

Praise the Lord for those who were saved and added to the church yesterday.

My beloved Dallas Cowboys lost last night to the Green Bay Packers 7-45. The free-fall continues. When will it end?

Even though the Cowboys are losing, this has been a good NFL season. I am enjoying the competition.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 10/31/10

CRYSTAL UPDATE: Crystal is having good days and some bad days. But, overall, her recovery is progression with no major complications. Thanks, again, for your prayers, concern, and support.

Today is Reformation Sunday. By grace alone! Through faith alone! According to scripture alone! In Christ alone! To the glory of God alone!

We have a good day of worship at Shiloh today.

Grateful for the guests we had in worship today. I even met a guest who watches our services from Canada. Way cool.

We sung “Come Thy Fount Of Every Blessing” as a congregation this morning. Glorious!

Our women’s chorus led the music today. They did a great job. And Gloria sung one a song that I love, “I Believe God.” God be praised!

I continued my new series on James with a message of James 1:5-8 entitled, “Praying for Wisdom.”

I argued that God freely provides wisdom to face life’s trials to all who come to him in believing prayer.

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

Studying James is renewing my spiritual passion.

Next Sunday’s sermon: “The Great Reversal” (James 1:9-11).

My USC Trojans put up a good fight Saturday night. But it was not meant to be. At least they were beat by the #1 team in the nation.

The Jacksonville Jaguars absolutely stomped down my Dallas Cowboys 35-17. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 10/24/10

CRYSTAL UPDATE: Thanks for your ongoing prayers for Crystal. She still cannot move around much. But there have been no complications from her surgery. And her recovery is coming along as scheduled. Praise God.

Good day of worship at Shiloh yesterday.

Our youth and young adults led the music yesterday. Good job.

Thankful for all of our guests yesterday.

God bless the families who participated in our parent-child dedication yesterday.

I began a new series on the Epistle of James yesterday. I preached from James 1:1-4 and called the message, “Taking Advantage of your Trials.”

I have been looking forward to preaching the book of James for many years now. I hope to learn a lot from it. And I pray that my labors will bear fruit in the pulpit.

I had been working on an introductory sermon on James. I decided Thursday evening that was not the best way to go. So I had to bunker down to do an exegesis of verses 1-4. It wiped me God. But I am glad I did.

I am really looking forward to the study of James and pray that it will mark a special time of growth and fruitfulness in the life of Shiloh.

Next week’s sermon: “Praying for Wisdom” (James 1:1-4).

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

Sunday afternoon, I preached for my friend Brodes Perry at the Philippi Baptist Church here in Jacksonville. Brodes is a godly young pastor and a faithful preacher. I was glad to be there. I preached Romans 8:28. Thanks, Shiloh, for your presence. You’re the best.

I did not realize it until Brodes mentioned it to me, but yesterday was the third straight Sunday afternoon I have preached.

Congratulations to my friend, John Fils-Aime, on his pastoral installation yesterday in New York.

The San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers are going to the World Series It should be absolutely boring without the New York Yankees.

It seems no one wants to be #1 in college football. But who cares, since the USC Trojans are nowhere near the top.

I am not a UFC fan. But I was absolutely shocked by the news that Brock Lesner was knocked-out in the first round of his match Saturday night.

The Jaguars were beat up pretty bad by the Chiefs.

My Dallas Cowboys MUST defeat the New York Giants tonight! Are you ready for some football!!!

Can you believe the movie "Back To the Future" is 25 years old?

How’s Lido! Lido, our family dog, got a haircut this weekend. He is feeling good and looking good.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 10/17/10

Thank you to all of you who have been praying for my family this past week. Crystal surgery this weekend was a success. I brought her home late Saturday night. Please continue to pray for her that she will have a full and speedy recovery.

Thanks, again, for all of your kindness and concern.

Two of Crystal’s adopted mothers – Beverly and Lisa – came to town from Los Angeles to be with her. I am grateful for what their presence has meant to Crystal.

Praise God for those who were baptized today.

Our music department was on fire today. What a blessing!

Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church is a great place to preach. I am grateful for the privilege to feed and lead this wonderful congregation.

I basically preached a “devotional” message today from a text I had been meditating on this week – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. I called the message, “We Do Not Lose Heart.”

I love 2 Corinthians.

The “melodic line” (R. Kent Hughes) is that our weakness is a platform for God’s strength and our suffering is a platform for God’s glory.

I read this week very helpful sermons online on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 by John MacArthur, John Piper, and Ray Pritchard. Praise God for those who are generous enough to share their hard work for the benefit of others. May their tribe increase!

I wanted to stay with Crystal today. But she made me got to church to preach. I am glad she did.

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

This afternoon, I preached for Pastor Jeffrey Robinson and the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church of Daytona Beach. I was wiped out. But the Lord was kind to give me strength to preach again. It was a good time of worship and fellowship.

I plan to begin a new Sunday morning series on the Epistle of James next Sunday. Please pray for my preparation and for the presentation of the word to forth with faithfulness, clarity, and power.

The NCAA football rankings are in absolute chaos. And I love it! May the #1s keep going down.

The Dallas Cowboys lost to the Minnesota Vikings 24-21 to fall to 1-4 for the season. Please, Jerry Jones, fire somebody. Please!

May the Jaguars whip the Titans tomorrow night!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Assembly Required" (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Acts 2 records the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 believers who were assembled in the Upper Room. It also records the growth process of the infant church. On the Day of Pentecost, about 3000 people believed the gospel, repented of their sins, and were baptized as followers of Jesus Christ. Acts 2:42 says: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And the last sentence of Acts 2:47 reports, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Notice that God did not add people to the church without saving them. And God did not save them without adding them to the church. This organic union of personal salvation and church membership is the unchanging pattern of the New Testament. And throughout church history, whenever biblical Christianity has been practiced, Christians have had a high view of the church. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the day and times in which we live.

There are many today – both unbelievers and professing Christians – who question the necessity, relevance, and importance of the local church. And our generation has created a new category that biblical and historical Christianity never conceived of: UNCHURCHED CHRISTIANS. In contrast, the position of historic Christianity can be summarized in the words of CYPRIAN who said, “Outside the church there is no salvation.” In other words, the biblical answer to the question “Who needs the church?” is this: Whoever wants to be saved. This does not mean that church membership, attendance, and participation can save you. God forgives our sins by grace alone through faith alone because of Jesus Christ alone. But God has made the church the stewards of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So a person can be a church member without being a Christian. But I am not sure a person can be a healthy, growing, fruitful Christian without being a participating member of a local church. Christian assembly is a biblical requirement for Christians. Hebrews 10:24-25 gives four biblical reasons why Christian assembly is a requirement for every follower of Jesus Christ.

THE CONFESSION OF SALVATION REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. The Epistle of Hebrews was written to a group of at-risk Jewish Christians who were tempted to turn away from Christ because of severe persecution. The anonymous author of Hebrews wrote this letter to challenge them to persevere in their faith. He does this by emphasizing one word: BETTER. He wants them to know that what they have in the Lord Jesus Christ is better than what they had in the religious system of Judaism. In Hebrews 10:19-21, the writer summarizes the argument he has been making since chapter three; the Lord Jesus himself is our great High Priest and perfect atoning sacrifice, who has established for us a new and living way to God through his own blood. Then, on the basis of the Person and Work of Christ, he calls the readers to hold fast to Christ with three commands that begin with words “Let us.” THE FIRST COMMAND RELATES TO GOD. Verse 22 says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” THE SECOND COMMAND RELATES TO SELF. Verse 23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” THE THIRD COMMAND RELATES TO OTHER BELIEVERS. Our text, says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” What do you say to a person who is ready to give up on Jesus? This chapter gives divinely inspired instructions for those who are ready to throw in the towel. Specifically, our text teaches that you need to commit yourself to some local assembly of believers, so that you can submit to the accountability and responsibility that will help you to persevere in faith. Then verses 26-27 issues a warning about apostasy: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

This warning about apostasy does not mean that it is possible to lose your salvation. God’s preserving graces ensures that every true believer is eternally secure, which means that true believers will not apostatize or fall away from Christ. They will endure until the end. But the perseverance of the saints is not only tied to the preservation of the saints. It is also tied to the partnership of the saints. Church membership, corporate worship, and Christian fellowship are primary means through which God’s preserving grace sustains true believers. This refutes those who say that church does not have anything to do with salvation. The fact is that it has everything to do with your salvation. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul says, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The pillar and foundation of a building hold it up. If the foundation gives or the pillars fall, the building will not stand. Likewise, the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Your faith in the truth of the gospel will not be able to stand without the church in your life. Or as WILLIAM WILLIMON puts it: “The gospel does not make sense without the church that makes it make sense.” The confession of salvation requires Christian assembly.

I learned about the spiritual epidemic called “MORBUS SABBATICUS.” In laymen’s terms, it is known as “Sunday Morning Sickness.” The symptoms are quite interesting. It never interferes with the appetite or affects the eyes. The Sunday newspaper can be read with no pain. And watching television seems to help the victim. The only symptom is that you cannot get up and go to church. Strangely you usually do not feel it on Saturday. But it hits when the morning comes. And it never lasts more than 24 hours. About the time Sunday morning services are over, the patient feels better. Monday morning, the patient is able to get up and go to work. But it has a way of striking again the next Sunday. And after a few weekly “attacks,” it may become chronic. I am talking to someone who suffers from MORBUS SABBATICUS. And I stand to tell you that you need to ask the Great Physician to heal you today, once and for all, from the dreaded disease that can strike a deathblow to your faith walk with Jesus Christ.

THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. California redwood trees are the tallest and oldest trees in the world. They stand hundreds of feet high and some of them are said to be over 2,500 years old. As a result, you would think that redwoods have tremendous root systems reaching deep down into the earth. But compared to other trees, redwoods do not have many roots and they do not go very deep. Yet the redwoods have stood for centuries, because their roots are intertwined and interwoven with each other. So when the winds blow, the redwoods stand, because they are linked and locked to each other, holding one another up. That is the way Christians stand against the storms of life that assault our faith in Jesus Christ: We hold each other up. THE APOSTLE’S CREED refers to this as “the communions of the saints.” It is the internal disposition and external demonstration of Christian fellowship that is succinctly summarized in verse 24: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”

THE INTERNAL DISPOSITION OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP. Verse 24 commands us to consider one another. The verb “consider” means to perceive clearly, understand fully, or consider closely. It is the same word used in Hebrews 3:1, which says: “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” You must set your mind on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ if your faith is to be strong, stable, and secure. But our text teaches us that Christians should also set their minds on one another. And this verb “continue” is in a grammatical emphasis that denotes continual or repeated action. Literally, the reading is, “And let us constantly consider one another…” Just as we are to always be thinking about Jesus, we also are to always be thinking about one another. The important point to get from this term is that Christian fellowship is – primarily, essentially, and ultimately – an internal reality. Fundamentally, our fellowship is not geographic, social, organizational, institutional, or programmatic. It is an internal disposition of care, concern, and compassion for one another that results in words, decisions, and actions that express the love of Jesus Christ.

1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” True Christian love will not only lead you to attend and participate in corporate worship, it will also lead you to prayerfully consider the needs, growth, and concerns of your brothers and sisters in Christ even when you are not physically together.

This biblical emphasis rebukes those who would say, “Well, I read Christian books, watch religious television, and listen to teaching tapes. Doesn’t that count?” NO! Do not misunderstand me. Those things can be helpful supplements to what you receive by being a participating member of a local church. However, if you are able to get up and out, you must make sure that supplements to corporate worship do not become substitutes for corporate worship, because your fellowship with God must never be self-centered. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” 1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” And Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.”

THE EXTERNAL DEMONSTRATION OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP. After commanding us to consider one another, verse 24 tells us why we should do this: “to stir up one another to love and good works.” The church is to be marked by love and good works. However, love and good works are not automatic parts of church life. Every Christian is called to love and good works. But you cannot fulfill this calling on your own. You need others to “stir up” love and good works in and through you. The KJV uses the term “provoke.” The NASB uses the word “stimulate.” The NIV uses the word “spur.” These different terms translate a Greek term from which we get our English term “PAROXYSM.” It refers to a sudden outbreak of sickness, symptoms, or spasms. Usually, this term has a negative connotation, meaning something like “irritation” or “exasperation.” In fact, the only other time it is used in the New Testament, it is used negatively. Explaining Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement over whether to take John Mark on their second missionary journey, Acts 15:39 records, “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.”

But while Luke says that paroxusmos caused Paul and Barnabas to separate from one another, our text says that paroxusmos ought to bring Christians together. Yet the negative connotations of the term should not be dismissed here. If need be, we should irritate one another to love and good works. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” You do not sharpen iron by hugging, caressing, or pampering it. You sharpen iron by getting another piece of iron and rubbing it the wrong way. Likewise, your true friends are not the people who always agree with you, cosign your agenda, and stay out of your way. Your best friends are the ones who make you better. That involves times when friends put a supportive arm around your shoulder and times when they put a scolding finger in your face. You need both the comfort of tender love and the confrontation of tough love. You need to be with brothers and sisters in Christ who think enough of you to stir you up to love and good works.

This command to stir up one another to love and good works confronts those who may say, “Church is boring. I don’t really get anything out of it. It doesn’t meet my needs.” SO WHAT? If you practice a spiritual discipline solely for personal benefit, you pervert the discipline, rob yourself of its true benefit, and God is not pleased. That includes corporate worship. Football has been described as 22 men on a field in desperate need of rest, being watched by 22,000 people in the stands in desperate need of exercise. The sad fact is that most churches operate just like that. But corporate worship is not a spectator sport where you simply show up, receive the ministry of others, give an offering, greet a few acquaintances and friends, and then go home thinking and talking about how whether the service suited your tastes, touched your emotions, and met your needs. Corporate worship is three-dimensional. God blesses us and we bless God. But it doesn’t stop there. In corporate worship we also bless one another by saying and doing those things that stir up love and good works.

THE COMMAND OF SCRIPTURE REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. Verse 25 teaches us that, if you are a follower of Christ, your presence and participation in corporate worship are mandatory.

YOUR PRESENCE IS MANDATORY. If you were to ask me for one verse that commands to go to church, I would give you Hebrews 10:25. But the truth is that this verse does not technically command us to go to church. It commands us not to forsake Christian assembly. Yet in commanding the reader not to forsake the assembly, the text assumes a previously established commitment to corporate worship. So it tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. The word “neglecting” is emphatic and intensive, meaning to totally abandon or to utterly forsake. This term is used in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, where Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 4:9, where he describes himself as “persecuted, but not forsaken.” It is also used in Hebrews 13:5, in the promise of God that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And the writer uses it in our text to tell us that we are not to forsake, abandon, or desert the gathering together of the church. Every Christian should be marked present when the church assembles on the Lord’s Day.

This call to weekly corporate worship attendance may sound legalistic, pedantic, and impractical. But such a high view of corporate worship is warranted in light of verse 25b: “as is the habit of some.” Some people had already started missing the meetings. And the word “habit” tells us that their habitual absence had become customary. Remember why some people were missing the meetings. They were facing persecution because of their faith in Christ. Their lives were on the lines every time they met together. But God still said to them, do not neglect to meet together. If God did not excuse these ancient believers, even though the may be martyred if they showed up, then I know that God does not excuse us for the sinful, selfish, silly, and superficial reasons we come up with for missing church. Does this mean that you should attend every meeting, function, and service the church holds? Let me answer that by laying down a principle: If you are absent, and others do not know where you are, but they are not surprised by your absence, you are probably out of the will of God on this matter. If you can miss church without being missed at church, something is missing. And if you can miss church without missing church, something is missing.

An elderly saint had lost his hearing and his eyes had grown dim with age. But he never stopped attending church. One intrigued individual finally asked the obvious, “Why do continue attending church when you can’t see or hear what’s going on?” The old man replied, “I want to show everybody whose side I’m on!” And that ought to be your attitude. You presence in corporate worship ought to show your family and friends whose side you’re on. Your presence ought to show neighbors and coworkers whose sign your own. Your presence ought you show the principalities and powers in the unseen realm what side you’re on.

YOUR PARTICIPATION IS MANDATORY. Notice verse 25 again: “not neglecting to meet to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Note that the contrast is not between showing up and not showing up. It is between not neglecting the meeting and encouraging one another. This text calls for more than just your presence in the meetings of the church. It calls for your participation. Consequently, there are those of you who have forsaken the assembly, even though you attend the worship meetings on a regular basis. You neglect the meeting when you show up late and leave early every week. You neglect the meeting when you get to church and hang outside, rather than coming in. You neglect the meeting when you show up with a bad attitude. You forsake the assembly when you are inhospitably, critical, and irreverent. You neglect the meeting when you spend the service sleeping, walking, talking, or passing notes. You neglect the meeting when what you have on or don’t have on distracts others from worship. You neglect the meeting when you are filling out an envelope during prayer or reading the bulleting during the sermon.

God demands your presence and your participation in the worship meetings of the local church. Unfortunately, many Christians are ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas – and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you’re one your own! I may even sue you.” That is the way many people treat the church. They say, “You worship. You serve. You give. You pray. You support. And if you do it well enough, I’ll come along for the ride. But don’t expect anything from me. And know that if things don’t suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.” But I submit to you that it is not God’s will for you to be a church-hopping hitchhiker. God want you to be a participating member of a local assembly. Many churches buildings have signs that say, “Enter to worship; depart to serve.” But that is a false dichotomy. We are to enter to worship and serve and then we leave to keep on worshiping and serving.

THE COMING OF THE SAVIOR REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. In every congregation, there are those who believe the church meets together too much. And from a carnal-minded, flesh-dominated, self-centered point of view, that may be true. But notice verse 25 one more time: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” While some would say the church meets too much, God says that we need to assemble even more than we do, so that we might encourage one another. Hebrews 3:12-13 says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You may think it is too much to go to church every Sunday. But the Bible says you really need Christian exhortation every day, so that sin does not harden your heart. As we see the Day of the Lord’s return drawing near, we need to meet together as much as possible to exhort, encourage, and admonish one another to remain faithful.

One survey reports that 66% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth someday – yet one third of those people say they never attend church. That is a blatant contradiction. The imminent return of the Lord Jesus is biblical motivation for being faithful to Christian assembly. In fact, the word translated “meet together” (or “assembling”) in verse 25 is only used twice in the New Testament – here, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where Paul speaks of “the coming of tour Lord Jesus Christ and our bring gathered together to him.” Those who expect to meet Christ in heaven ought to be meeting with other Christians on earth. Here’s why: The closer we get to the Lord’s return, the worse things are going to get for the church in this world.

There are those who talk about a great end time revival. But they do not get that from scripture. The New Testament consistently speaks of end time apostasy among those who claim the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, God gives you strength to persevere. But God gives that strength by using other believers to come alongside of us to help us hang in there. So he says we are to be “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The word “encouraging” (or “exhorting”) means, “to call alongside.” The noun form is used in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus as our Advocate with the Father. It is also used in John 14:16 to refer to the Holy Spirit who is our Helper or Comforter. Just as Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit come alongside of us to help us, we as brothers and sisters in Christ are to come alongside one another to exhort one another.

Usually, when I am preaching away from home, I stay in my room reading and resting until time for church. Except for those special times when I am preaching for a pastor that I really enjoy spending time with. That’s what happened on one occasion. So much so, that my host talked me into to working out with him just hours before preaching time. After giving me a general tour of the facilities, he marched me to the weight-lifting area. Now, I can sit on a stationary bike and read with the best of them. But I don’t mess around with weights. So honesty, fear, and pride forced me to be tell him straight out, “I really don’t do weights.” But, again, he talked me into it. For my sake, he started with lighter weights. And I stood back and watched, and he bench-pressed the weights effortlessly. When he finished his reps, he got up and I got on the bench. But rather than standing back and watching, my host went on the other side of the bars to “spot” me or watch me just in case I needed help. And I did it. And when he added more weight, I lifted that too. In fact, everything he lifted, I lifted, even though he was a much bigger man than I am. I had no idea that I was that strong. And I never would have known it, had it not been for this brother who came alongside to help me. And you will not ever know how strong you are spiritually if you don’t have other believers who will come alongside to exhort, encourage, and admonish you.





Monday, October 11, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 10/10/10

Good day of worship and fellowship at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Grateful for all the guests who joined us in worship.

Our children's choir led in song during our 10 AM service.

Our mass choir looks beautiful in their new robes.

Carlton Burgess led the song of preparation at 10 AM. His medley of old hymns was moving.

Praise God for those who were baptized.

I preached a message from Hebrews 10:24-25 that I entitled "Assembly required."

I argued that Christian assembly is required for all Christians.

I am very passionate about this subject. I believe that growing Christians much be participant members of a local church.

"The gospel does not make sense without the gospel that does not make sense." - William H. Willimon

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

In two weeks, I plan begin a verse-by-verse exposition of the Epistle of James. Please pray for my preparation.

Saturday afternoon we worshiped with the Abyssinia Baptist Church to celebrate the 13th pastoral celebration of Dr. Eugene Diamond.

I am a sucker for a church that loves its pastor!

I preached from one of my favorite verses, Galatians 6:9. I needed that message more than anyone else.

The Jaguars beat up the Bills 36-26. That's two in a row for the Jags. 3-2 for the season.

My Dallas Cowboys lost to the Titans 34-27 to go 1-3 for the season. It seems like the only way my boys will make it to the Super Bowl is to get free passes. At Cowboy Stadium!!!

The USC Trojans lost to Stanford 37-35. Well, at least we do not have to worry about going to a bowl game this season.

Thanks for the concern and kindness you have shown for my wife Crystal. Please remember my family in your prayers this week.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Count Your Blessings


Ephesians 1:3-14 records what is called THE HYMN OF GRACE. It is so because scholars tell us that these verses record an actual hymn of praise that was sung in worship by the early church. Whether or not this is true, the content of this passage is still accurately labeled a hymn of grace. In the original Greek text, these twelve verses comprise only one sentence, even though no English versions translate it that way. In some remarkable way, this complex passage was one simple exclamation of praise in Paul’s mind. And this high praise is offered to almighty God for the sovereign grace by which he gives sinful people a new position in Christ. Verses 4-6 praise God the Father for choosing us for salvation. Verses 7-12 praise God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for purchasing our salvation with his own lifeblood. And verses 13-14 praise God the Holy Spirit for sealing our salvation.This passage is a careful explanation of the God-centered, God-exalting nature of the Christian message of salvation. But this explanation begins with a celebration. Verse 3 says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

What does it mean to be blessed? This is one of the fast-growing list of words in the Christian lexicon that is often used, seldom explained, and very misunderstood. Consequently, there are many believers who spend their energy chasing down the seemingly-elusive blessings of God. And there is much jealousy, rivalry, and disunity in the church, as children of God quietly compete for supposedly bigger and better blessings. And then there’s the great cover-up of breaking news that we do not really talk about; namely, that the material and financial things we so desperately crave as blessings from God do not really satisfy. In the process, God’s sheepfold has become a zoo, filled with professing Christians whose view of life is no different than the people of the world who do not know God. So I raise this question with confidence that the right answer can change our lives, revive our church, and strengthen our witness. What does it mean to be blessed? Ephesians 1:3 provides a clear and comprehensive answer: “Bless be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Chris who has bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

I submit to you that every person who is united to Christ by faith is already richly blessed. Notice that this verse does not promise that God will bless us. And it does not announce that God is in the process of blessing us right now. It declares that God has already blessed us. It is a done deal, a settled reality, and an unimpeachable position. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are sovereignly, abundantly, and eternally blessed. TOM JULIEN writes: “Some seek blessings and miss Christ. Others seek him and find both.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are richly blessed beyond measure. Now, I did not say that you will always feel blessed. The fact is that there will be times when you will feel abandoned, frustrated, hurt, neglected, and overwhelmed – anything but blessed. But your changing feelings have absolutely no affect on the reality, prosperity, and security of your blessed position in Christ. My wife has a sign on the refrigerator door that says, “I’M TOO BLESSED TO BE STRESSED.” But that’s not my testimony. I’ve discovered that you can be blessed and stressed at the same time. And the only way to handle some stressful situations is to remind yourself that you are blessed in spite of the stress. JOHN OATMAN JR. gave us some wise advice when he wrote:


R. KENT HUGHES rightly asks, “The Devil may curse us, but if God blesses us, what does it matter? If you are united to Christ by faith, you are already richly blessed of God. And Ephesians 1:3 highlights three dynamics of the blessed life that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.


What is the proper response to the blessings of God? There are several ways to respond to God’s blessings on the believer’s life. For instance, it would have been proper for this declaration of blessing to say, “Trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Or, it would have been proper for this declaration of blessing to say, “Serve the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” But Paul did not choose these or any of the other legitimate responses to the God’s blessings we could mention. Instead, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

The NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION translates this verse: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in order to avoid the potential confusion of the repeated use of the word blessed. But in so doing, it robs the reader of the beautiful play on words here. Literally, the verse says that we ought to bless God because God has blessed us. This word “blessed” literally means, “to speak well of” someone. It is the Greek term from which we get our word “eulogy.” Paul says that we ought to eulogize God! We ought to speak well of God. We ought to declare good things about God in grateful praise to him. In Mark 10:18, Jesus declares, “No one is good except God alone.” And since God alone is truly good, he is supremely and exclusively worthy of our highest expressions of praise. We ought to bless God with our praise for all his blessings toward us.

The same root word for blessing is used throughout this verse. But there is a difference between how we bless and how God blesses us. When God blesses us, it is both gracious and effectual. It is gracious in that God does not speak well of us because we deserve it. God blesses us because he is good and in spite of the fact that we are not good. Likewise, his blessings are effectual. When God declares his goodwill on us, his sovereign authority fully accomplishes everything he decrees. Paul affirms this by calling him “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In calling him God, Paul declares that he is our SOVEREIGN CREATOR. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” God is our sovereign Creator. And note that Paul says he is “the God,” meaning that he is God all by himself. But not only is God our Creator; he is also our SOVEREIGN REDEEMER. Paul calls also him “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In verse 2, he is “our Father.” But now he is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This description states the unique relationship between God the Father and God the Son. It declares Jesus Christ to be the only and eternally begotten Son of God. And God loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, adopt us into his family, and qualify us for eternal blessings.

So when God blesses us, it is gracious and effectual. However, when we bless God it is deserved and useless. It is deserved in that we speak well of God because he is worthy to be praised. Or as WALTER WINK defines it, “To worship is to remember who owns the house.” And to say that it is useless is to say that our blessing God does not contribute anything to God in any way. We are wrong when we speak of magnifying God, exalting God, or lifting him up in any way that suggests we make God bigger with our praise. If God needs us to make him bigger, then he is no God at all. The biblical idea of magnifying God is that we are to treat God with the glorious magnificence that he rightly deserves. MARVA DAWN calls worship “a royal waste of time.” By this she means that worship is not a means to an end; it’s an end in itself. God alone is the SUBJECT and OBJECT of true worship. And we ought to bless him for blessing us.

This doxology teaches us much about true worship. First of all, it teaches us that true worship is to be God-centered, not man-centered. Real worship is not about who you are, what you have, or how you feel. It’s about who God is and what God has done for you through Jesus Christ. So when our worship begins to lapse, we really cannot blame the preacher, the music, or the atmosphere. When you find it difficult to worship God, it only means that we have forgotten what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. If you consider the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ, you can praise God no matter what. John 4:24 says: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” That is, true worship must be with head and heart. We see that here in THE HYMN OF GRACE, where Paul is filled with both joyful exuberance and theological reflection. Likewise, our worship will have a proper balance of God-entranced joy and God-centered truth when we learn to bless God for Jesus Christ. May our prayer be:



Again, Ephesians 1:3 declares: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” That phrase, “in Christ,” is a succinct statement of the dominating theme of THE EPISTLE OF EPHESIANS. It, or some variation of it, is used more than thirty-five times in this letter. This phrase, “in Christ,” is theological shorthand that describes the believer’s spiritual union to, intimate relationship with, and new identity in Christ. In fact, the early Christians would begin their answer to the question, “Who are you?” with this simple phrase: EN CHRISTO – “in Christ.”

This phrase is, first of all, a statement about Christ himself. On one hand, it affirms the exclusivity of Christ. ST. AUGUSTINE was right: God is more anxious to bestow his blessings on us than we are to receive them. But God’s blessings can only be received in Christ. Note that Paul did not say we are blessed in Christ and something or someone else. Christ alone is the only means to spiritual blessings. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus Christ is the only way to the blessings of God. On the other hand, this phrase also affirms the sufficiency of Christ. That is, if you are in Christ, you already have full and free access to the God’s blessings. There is absolutely nothing lacking from your salvation. But this phrase is also a statement the Christian. It tells us that if we you are in Christ, you don’t have to be governed by your past, haunted by your mistakes, bound by your limitations, afraid of your weaknesses, or handicapped by your pain. You have a brand new identity in Christ.

In his book, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?, JOHN POWELL writes of asking that question in a classroom. “Do you want my answer?” asked a student.” “Yes, of course I do,” responded Dr. Powell. “I am afraid to tell you who I am, because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.”

In the same way, many of us find it difficult to live authentically before others out of fear that others people will not like who we are. In fact, some of us are afraid to live authentically with ourselves out of fear that we will not like ourselves. But 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If you are in Christ, you have a brand new identity. You are blessed in Christ. Verse 3 is a celebration of our blessings in Christ. But verses 4-12 are an exposition of our blessings in Christ. Verse 4 says you have been chosen by God. Verse 5 says you have been predestined and adoption. Verse 6 says we are blessed, accepted, graciously endowed by God. Verse 7 says you have been redeemed and forgiven. Verse 13 says you have been sealed. And verse 14 says that you have received the guarantee, the down payment of the Spirit. In Christ, we are richly blessed.


The infinite scope of our spiritual blessings in Christ is described three ways in this verse.

OUR BLESSING IN CHRIST IS SUFFICIENT. In verse 3b, Paul declares that God is the one “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Even though most versions translate this phrase to read “every spiritual blessing”; the original text actually reads all, not every. The intended idea is that there is one blessing that God gives the believer in Christ of which there is nothing lacking. It’s not that there is a series of individual blessings that God promises to give. There is no first, second, or third blessing that God gives us in Christ. There is just one blessing that is first, full, and final. MATTHEW HENRY wrote: “Those whom God blessed with some he blesses with all spiritual blessings.” Our blessing is Christ is sufficient. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Colossians 2:10 says: “and you have been filled in him.” And 2 Peter 1:3-4 says: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Our blessing in Christ is sufficient.

A faithful but struggling missionary candidate finally raised enough funds to purchase a ticket overseas on a cruise ship. And when he packed his bags, he includes enough cheese and crackers to get him through the entire trip. And at every mealtime, while the rest of the passengers went to the dining room to eat, this missionary would go to the deck of the ship and eat cheese and crackers from a brown paper bag. Every meal, he would sit on the deck eating cheese and crackers. Finally, some one asked him why he kept sitting on the deck eating cheese and crackers during each meal. He explained that he barely had enough money to purchase his ticket. He definitely didn’t have the money to pay for the expensive meals that they were serving in the dining room. And he was shocked to discover that once he had paid for the ticket; the meals were provided for free.

I submit to you that we don’t really know how blessed we are. You can tell it in how we pray. We often pray for spiritual blessings that already ours in Christ. We sometimes pray for the love of God. But Romans 5:5 says “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” We sometimes pray for peace. But in John 14:27, Jesus 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.” We sometimes pray for joy. But in John 15:11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Sometimes we pray for strength. But Philippians 4:13 declares, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

WE HAVE A SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Again, verse 4 declares that God has blessed us in Christ with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This word spiritual has two implications. First, it means that our blessings in Christ come from the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13-14 says: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” The wonderful Holy Spirit is the agent who delivers, affirms, and secures our spiritual blessings in Christ. But this term spiritual is also a reference to the nature of our blessing in Christ. That is, the blessing in Christ is spiritual, rather than material. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God promises material blessings to the obedient children of Israel. If the members of the old covenant kept God’s law, the Lord would reward them with long life, a large family, abundant crops, and protection from their enemies, among other things. But the obedient Jew could only enjoy certain spiritual blessings.
But in the new covenant, God does not promise Christians guaranteed or uninterrupted health and wealth. But he does bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Now, this is not to say that God does not bless his children materially. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 declares: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” And Philippians 4:19 is true: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Now, God doesn’t promise to supply all of your greeds. But God will meet your needs. In fact, let me stop here give some advice to someone who may be having a hard time with limited resources:


God can, does, and will bless you materially. However, even more than scripture promises God’s material blessings, it warns us about the spiritual dangers of material prosperity. In Luke 12:15, Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In a letter to his followers from prison, former televangelist JIM BAKKER wrote: “There is no way, if you take the whole counsel of God’s Word, that you can equate riches or material things as a sign of God’s blessing.”

WE HAVE A SECURE BLESSING IN CHRIST. Again, this verse declares that God has “blessed us in him with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This phrase “the heavenly places” (or the heavenlies) does not refer to heaven itself, the glorious dwelling place of almighty God. It speaks of a real environment of spiritual activity that is beyond the physical ordering of the created universe. JOHN R.W. STOTT calls it “the unseen world of spiritual reality.” And that may be the best definition for the heavenly places. It’s the place of spiritual reality beyond the physical realm. And Paul introduces us to it in the verse to declare to us that our blessings in Christ are secure. They are secure because Ephesians 1:20 says that God has raised up Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is name, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And Ephesians 2:6 says that God raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And Ephesians 3:10 says that through the church the manifold wisdom of God is now made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Now, this does mean that the believer can enjoy a life without any struggles. Ephesians 6:10-12 says: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I must warn you that if you determine to walk in the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ, the devil will fight back. However, the good is that God has already provided everything you need to stand in victory. Ephesians 6:13 says: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” You can stand firm with the spiritual armor that God has given you in Christ.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Having Possessions and Being Possessed

Matthew 6:19-21 marks a transition in THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. In the first half of this chapter, Jesus explains how righteous people practice religion. Verses 1-4 address how righteous people give. Verse 5-15 address how righteous people pray. Verses 16-18 address how righteous people fast. In the later half of this chapter, Jesus moves from warning his disciples about the consequences of hypocrisy to calling his disciples to embrace the values of the kingdom of heaven. Verses 19-34 make it clear that true righteousness transcends religious activity. To be a citizen of the kingdom is to adopt a countercultural mindset toward material possessions. In other words, righteous people do not, cannot live for the Lord on Sundays and live for money the rest of the week. We show where our devotion rests by seeking the eternal rewards of heaven rather than the passing riches of this life. This does not mean that Christians must be poor to be righteous. The Lord does not condemn giving, having, or using material possessions. Money is morally neutral. It is our attitude toward money that is either godly or evil. And having material possessions is not a sin. But being materialistic is.

A rich man with a miserable attitude visited the local minister who lived a simple life. They were not together long before the minister got a wonderful idea on how to illustrate to the man that his attitude was wrong. He led him over to his window and said, “Look out the window and tell me what you see.” The said, “I see some men and women and children.” “Fine.” Then minister then led him across the room to a mirror. “Now tell me what you see.” The man frowned and said, “Obviously, I see myself.” “Interesting,” replied the minister. “In the window there is glass, in the mirror there is glass, but the glass of the mirror is covered with a little bit of silver. And no sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others, only yourself.”

If the Lord allows you to see financial prosperity, you are blessed. But it is a curse if that is all you can see. We must seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and trust that God will take care of our needs. That is what Jesus is teaching here in this text. Go ahead. Lay up treasure for yourself. Just make sure you lay it up in the right place. Do nit live for material possessions that will not last. Live for what 1 Peter 1:4 calls “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Let me bottom-line this for you. It is not wrong for you to have possessions; it is wrong for your possessions to have you. In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus teaches us how to have possessions without being possessed by our possessions.


Verse 19 issues a prohibition: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” In the ancient Near East, one’s wardrobe was considered a part of one’s wealth. In 2 Kings 5:22, Gehazi attempted to swindle Namaan out of two changes of clothes. And In Joshua 7:21, Achan sinned by stealing a beautiful cloak from Jericho. Fine clothes were considered great wealth. But Jesus says do not treasure your clothes, because moth will destroy then. Likewise, precious metals were considered a part of one’s wealth. But Jesus warns not to treasure precious metals, because rust will destroy it. And whatever other valuables you has stashed in your house, don’t treasure them. Thieves will break through the mud walls and steal them.

Then verse 20 gives a parallel exhortation: “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither most nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Notice that the issue Jesus addresses here is not whether you lay up a treasure. The issue is where your treasure resides. And the location of your treasure – earth or heaven – indicates the character of your treasure – worldly or spiritual. Laying up treasures on earth speaks of worldliness, materialism, and covetousness. Laying up treasure in heaven speaks of trust in God, communion with God, and blessings from God. The point is that in order to have possessions without possessions being possessed by them, you must have a godly value system. You must make sure your priorities are in order. You must adopt a heavenly attitude toward earthly things.

There is an important play on words here. More literally, verse 18 reads, “Do not treasure your treasures on earth. But treasure your treasures in heaven.” And in verse 19 is in a grammatical emphasis that forbids an action that is already in progress. In other words, Jesus says, “Stop treasuring your treasures on earth. But continue to treasure your treasures in heaven.” If you are not going to be possessed by your possession, you must resist treasuring worldly things, and persist in treasuring spiritual things. Proverbs 23:4-5 says: “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When yours eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his good income; this also is vanity.” And in Matthew 16:26, Jesus says: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?”

Mark it down.
• Money can buy amusement, but not joy.
• Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.
• Money can buy companions, but not friends.
• Money can buy a house, but not peace.
• Money can buy a medicine, but not health.
• Money can buy sex, but not intimacy.
• Money can buy therapy, but not redemption.

Matthew 19:16-21 records the story of a young man came to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit the heavenly treasure of eternal life. Jesus told him, in essence, to obey THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Interestingly, though, Jesus skipped over the first commandments that deal with how we should relate to God. And he only mentions the later commandments that deal with how we should relate to our neighbor. But this guy totally missed the point. And he replied, “I learned those commandments when I was a little boy. And I’ve been keeping them all of my life.” Jesus said, “Good, but there is still something missing. Go sell all your stuff and give the money to the poor and come follow me. And if you do this, you will have treasure in heaven.”

In Matthew 16:21, Jesus explicitly told this man how to have treasure in heaven, which refers to eternal life. But this guy refused to follow Jesus’ instructions. Matthew 16:22 says that he walked away in great sorrow, because he had a lot of stuff. Or, according to the CHARLES INTERNATIONAL VERSION: “His stuff had him.” Now, when Jesus told this young man to divest himself of his wealth, he was not condemning the rich of calling for charity toward the poor. Jesus was addressing what was most important to this guy. Although the young man said he wanted eternal life, the truth was that he wanted his stuff more than he wanted eternal life. And that’s the danger and power of materialism. The quest to get, have, and spend money can so pull you away from God that you can get to a place where you don’t really even care whether you go to heaven or hell – as long has you can have your cash, cars, clothes, and other stuff in this life. That’s why Jesus says stop treasuring your treasures on heart and keep treasuring your treasures in heaven.


Luke 12:13-21 records how Jesus responded to a guy who interrupted his teaching and asked him to settle a financial dispute he was in with his brother. “Make my brother split the inheritance with me,” he said. Jesus replied, “What do you thing this is? The People’s Court? Who made me a judge of an arbitrator over you?” And in Luke 12:15, Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then Jesus illustrated warning point with a parable. Once upon a time, there was a man who had a great harvest. His bumper crop was so plentiful that he didn’t have room to store it all. And with that premise, the story proceeds to show us the smallest package in the world – a man wrapped up in himself. He didn’t know what to do with his great harvest. So he went into counsel with himself and said, “Self, we’re rich! We’re loaded. In fact, we’re overloaded. What will we do? Where will we put it all? Yeah. That’s a great idea. Let’s demolish these barns and build bigger ones. We can store our harvest and we won’t have to worry about anything for years to come. We can just eat, drink, and be merry.”

But while he toasting himself for his great business savvy, God intruded into the conference room of this man’s heart, and said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus called this man a fool, because he was shortsighted. He cared about his bankbook, but not his soul. He thought about tomorrow, but not eternity. He knew what he would do if there was a drought next season, but he did not know what he would do when he had to stand before God. So God called him a fool. And in Luke 12:21, Jesus warns: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” That’s a disturbing statement, because we here this story all the time. The media regularly spotlights the stories of people who live, act, and think just like this man. But the world calls these celebrities smart, stars, and successful. But God calls them fools.

Indeed, the world around us is filled with people who are doomed, because they have embraced two foolish myths: more is better and now is better. But there is one big problem with our “get-more-and-get-it-now” way of life: the material things of this life do not last. Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where most and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

When Jesus commands us to lay up treasures in heaven, he is not in any way suggesting that one can earn his salvation by the performance of good works. Romans 3:23-25 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Sinners are saved from eternal judgment by trusting what God has done for us through the blood and righteousness of Christ – not by anything we do or do not do. So Jesus is not teaching a works salvation here. He is teaching that there are those who are saved by grace through faith should live in light of the fact that there is coming a day of reckoning and reward.

1 Corinthians 3:11-14 says, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.” The matter that is before us in our text is this: make sure you are investing your life in things that will last. In his book, The Treasure Principle, RANDY ALCORN sums it up neatly: “You cannot take it with you, but you can send it ahead of you.” If that is true, then you should only invest your life in things that are going to last.

• How important will your house be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your car be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your diploma be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your career be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your accomplishments be a hundred years from now?

Some things we invest so much of ourselves into will not really matter ten years from now, much less a hundred years from now. How about 100 million trillion years from now?

In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus declares the FACT of life’s loses. The old saying jokes that the one who has the most stuff when he dies wins. But the serious question is, wins what? In Job 1:21, Job confesses, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The inevitable reality is that earthly treasures do not last. This may be the most valuable lesson of the board game, MONOPOLY. At the end of the game, the board is folded, everything is put away, and the lid is placed on top of the box. It’s a little reminder that someday our lives will be over as well. Then it will hardly matter who owned how many railroads and utilities, or who owned boardwalk. Earthly treasures do not last. Likewise, Jesus declares the FACTORS of life’s losses. Verses 19-20 name three factors that guarantee the loss of material possessions: moth, rust, and thieves. Moth speaks of nature: tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc. Rust speaks of time (depreciation, wear-and-tear, out-datedness, etc. And thieves speak of people: swindlers, car-jackers, family members, televangelists.

Furthermore, Jesus declares the FORCE of life’s losses. Jesus mentions three factors that he places into two groups: moth and rust being one; thieves being the other. Moth and rust destroying your stuff says that some things we will lose passively, subtly and eventually. But thieves digging through and stealing says that we will lose some things abruptly, immediately, violently. The point is that, be it over years or overnight, earthly treasures do not last. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly live.” If you are going to have possessions without possessions having you, you must be committed to treasures that remain.


MARTIN LUTHER, the father of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, coined a slogan. In Latin, the statement is: Sacra Scriptura sui interpres. It means: “Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter.” That is, the word of God explains itself. I wholeheartedly agree. Consequently, a significant part of my personal Bible study involves the process of discovering what the rest of scripture has to say about the specific passage of scripture I am studying. And I did that in my study of Matthew 6:19-21. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a big book of cross-references, is the primary resource I use during this part of my study. The first passage it mentions in relation to Matthew 6:21 is Genesis 21:14. It says: “So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.” This reference is a backdoor into the meaning of Matthew 6:21.

God called Abraham away from his family and homeland in order to walk with him. This call was accompanied by the promise that God would make a great nation through Abraham seed. Abraham trusted God and obeyed. But after years of following God, Abraham still did not have a son, his wife Sarah was barren, and old age was gaining on him. So Sarah devised a plan where Abraham would have a son through her maid Hagar, before it was too late. He did. But that was not the son that God had promised. God intended to give Abraham a son through his wife, Sarah. And sure enough the Lord visited Sarah and she conceived and had a son named Isaac. After this, it did not take long for the already-present tension between Sarah and Hagar to grow, concerning the respective boys they had borne to Abraham. And Sarah demanded that Abraham kick Hagar and Ishmael out. Abraham’s heart was distressed, to say the least. But God told him to do what his wife said. Genesis 21:14 records that early the next morning, Abraham prepared a meal, gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent them away.

Sarah represents the sovereign and guaranteed promises of God to bless Abraham. Hagar represents Abraham’s doubt-filled and flesh-centered attempt to do what God promised to do. Juggling these two realities brought inevitable distress to Abraham’s heart, because the two realities couldn’t live together under the same roof. It would have confused and compromised God’s plans for Abraham. Likewise, you are I today are either standing on the sovereign promises of God, or we are attempting to accomplish in the flesh what God has promised to do if we trust and obey him. Both realities cannot live in the same heart. The only way to ensure that you do not confuse or compromise God’s plans for your life is to heed the voice of Jesus: “For where your treasures is, there your heart will be also.”

When the heart is mentioned in scripture metaphorically, as it is here, it refers to the seat of personhood, the totality of our inward being, who we are underneath the skin – the mind, the will, and the emotions. So when Jesus says that your heart follows your treasure, the point is clear, precise, and stinging. Your treasure is revealed by what you think about the most. Your treasure is revealed by what you choose to do and do not do. And your treasure is revealed by what you are passionate about. R. KENT HUGHES said it well: “If anything in this world is everything to you, it is an earthly treasure.” In order to have possessions without your possessions having you, you must be concerned about what your treasures reveal. And note that Jesus makes this statement to his own disciples. But even though the disciples were following Jesus, their hearts could still be lead astray into an ungodly fixation with things. And the same thing can happen to you. 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” So you must be careful about what your treasures reveal.

Acts 8:14-25 records how the church at Jerusalem sent Peter and John to verify what was going on, after the Holy Spirit fell on the Samaritans. When they saw that the Lord was now moving among the Samaritans, they affirmed it by the laying on of hands. A magician named Simon watched all of this curiously. And he offered the apostles money if they would show him how to do that “laying-on-of-hands” trick. Acts 8:20-21 records, “But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.’” I submit to you that we need people today who are courageous enough to say to this covetous generation of so-called Christians, who are only concerned about health-and-wealth. “Your heart is not right.” Be careful about what your treasure reveals. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” In Matthew 12:35, Jesus says: “The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” And Hebrews 3:12 says: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” I repeat: Be concerned about what you treasure reveals.

When I first engaged this text in a meaningful way, it had a radical and revolutionary effect on my view of life. I assumed that your treasure follows your heart. That made perfect sense to me. You invest in that which you love. Your resources follow your affections. That makes perfect sense to me. Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also. But Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Counter-intuitively, Jesus teaches us not to invest in earthly treasures – be it a goal or relationship – that you do not want to love. Only invest in that which is worth loving. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The more I invest in the kingdom of heaven, the more my heart will be drawn toward God the Father. But if I only invest in earthly things, then my heart will never be drawn toward the things of God. So let me challenge you to make a new commitment today to invest your life in the things of God. May FANNY J. CROSBY’S song be your prayer:


One day, a shipwrecked sailor was seized by the natives, hoisted on their shoulders, and carried to the village, and set on a throne. He later learned that it was their custom once each year to make some man a king. King for a year. He liked it until he began to wonder what happened to all the former kings. Soon he discovered that every year when his kingship was ended, the king was banished to an island, where he starved to death. The sailor did not like that, but he was smart and he was king for the year. SO he put his carpenters to work making boats, his farmers to work transplanting fruit trees to the island, farmers growing crops, masons building houses. So when his kingship was over, he was banished, not to a barren island, but an island of abundance.