Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Thanks Clif

For this meditation on the Father's love.

Unexpected Christmas Gift

We hope you experienced much joy celebrating Christ this weekend.

My four-year-old daughter purchased an unexpected gift for me. Tracy took our children to the dollar store, and allowed each of them to pick out a gift for dad (without Tracy's influence on the selections). Kaitlyn bought daddy one of these?!? We've used it...A LOT!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

3:30 PM & Other Important Stuff

Grace Announcements:

1. Upcoming Meeting Schedule:
  • Christmas Eve
    • Prayer = 3:30p
    • Worship = 4-5p
  • New Year's Eve
    • Prayer = 4:30p
    • Worship = 5p
  • January 7
    • Prayer = 9a
    • Worship = 10a
2. Membership Introduction Form
  • The first stage in pursuing membership in Grace is to give our leaders a spiritual introduction of yourself by completing the Membership Introduction Form.
  • Please remember to select a time for your in-home membership interview. The sign up sheet is on the resource tables in the back of the meeting room.
3. Host GraceKids Nursery Training
  • We are looking for at least two venues to conduct this training. The sign-up sheet is on the back tables.
4. Host a Grace Group
  • Lord willing it will not be too long before our first cycle of Grace Groups begin. You can volunteer your home on one of the sign-up sheets on the back table.
5. Lottie Moon
  • Remember to pray for God's global purposes to glorify His name, and give generously.
6. End of year contributions
  • For purposes of contribution credit, all monetary gifts must be received through the offering this Sunday, or in the mail (PO Box 1801, Memphis, 38101) no later than noon on December 28 (Thurs).
Nate, Bryan, GCer's, any other announcements I left out???

The Longest Post Ever :: Ephesians 1:1-14

Lord willing on Christmas Eve I will have the joy of worshipping with Grace (briefly) through Ephesians 1:1-14.

I've pasted below a 15-part series on this text from earlier this year. I pray that these thoughts will help prepare your soul to adore Christ!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Ephesians 1 (1st Meditation)

I'm beginning a series of brief meditations on Ephesians 1. Here's the first:

Ephesians 1:1 - "Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:"

Apostle literally means, "Sent out one." So Paul's opening statement to the Ephesians could read, "Paul, one sent out by the desire and design of God for the purpose of representing Jesus Christ." Although, in my view, the office of apostleship terminated in the first century, the concept of representing God as His ambassador didn't (II Cor 5:20). An important question for contemporary Christians is, "How is Christ being represented by our lives?"

The possessive word "of" occurs twice in this verse; "...OF Jesus Christ...," and, "...the will OF God..." This clearly signifies that in Paul's mind, Christ was the object of his apostolic mission (the purpose he was sent out), and God was the One who planned his apostleship (the cause of his being sent out). The point of Paul's apostleship was to make much of Christ. The origin of Paul's apostleship was the eternal purposes of God to see to it that Christ be made much of! Therefore the beginning and the end of Paul's ministry was God! Oh for a God-encompassed ministry like this!

The word "in" is also very significant. It could be taken in the locative form ("in"), or the dative ("to"), or the instrumental ("by"). I like all three, but the key to interpretation is the intention of the author, which in this case is the Apostle Paul. Because of the remaining context of chapter one (Context is the key to interpreting phrases that can be taken several ways), I am inclined to embrace the instrumental translation, "...the saints at Ephesus and who are faithful BY Christ Jesus." Hopefully my reasoning for this view will be clear in the upcoming meditations on chapter one! Blessings!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ephesians 1:2 - (2nd Meditation)

This is the second meditation on Ephesians chapter one.

1:2 - "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Each of Paul's Epistles opens with "Grace to you." This is proof that God's primary means of grace in our life is His written Word! Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we are desirous of the grace of God in our lives if we are not also diligently seeking Him through His written word. The Word of God is like the great conveyor belt of eternal grace! Live upon it, believe it, pray for eyes to behold the wonders of God in it, and we will be joyful for endless ages! Neglect it, and it will prove to be the most miserable measuring rod on the day of judgment.

"Peace to you" is a wonderful phrase! Paul doesn't say, "Never another non-peaceful circumstance to you," but just, "peace to you!" For the believer, there is no other path to peace than the one marked with difficulty! Over and over again the truth is stated, "...for we rejoice in our sufferings..." (Romans 5:3). What?! It's true, the believing Christian has the grand privilege of being shaped by difficulties, through which God produces greater hope in God (Romans 5:5). Therein lies the only kind of peace that matters! "Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!"

Pronouns are so infinitely important! "OUR Father." Who is the "our" Paul is writing of? The previous verse answers the question. "Those who are faithful in (or, by) Christ Jesus." Indeed, only those who are persevering in the preserving power of the grace of God are those who manifestly have God as their Father! Many can claim God as their Father, but it takes demonstrable living in His grace in order to be included in the Apostle Paul's "our."

Definite articles are infinitely important as well! "THE Lord Jesus Christ." He is THE ONLY Lord! Notice also, that grace and peace are inextricably linked as the provisions of the Trinity. You cannot play favorites with the Persons of the Godhead. He is Three in One, One in Three. Ephesians chapter one is an exaltation of the saving grace of our Triune God (vv 1-14 mentions each Person of the Trinity repetitively).

As I mentioned in the first meditation, I believe the proper translation of verse one would conclude, "...who are faithful BY Jesus Christ." (Yes Greekers, I know that the word in Greek for "in" when used with the dative is to be translated "in" not "by", but isn't every rule made to be broken?). One of the many reasons found in this chapter is here in verse two. We see clearly that grace and peace flow from both the Father and Son toward believers "who are faithful." But why? How was the river of grace opened to us? The reason I believe Christ is mentioned in verse two, instead of only God the Father (Such as in Colossians 1:2, the mirror letter of Ephesians), is because Christ is the one who purchased believers and eternal promises for them through His work on the cross (this is what remains in 1:1-14).

Seeing Christ's finished work on the cross as an ocean of purchased benefits for justification, sanctification, and glorification is what Paul is aiming at. "Grace (yet to come) and peace (yet to come) to you from...the Lord Jesus Christ." Christ has indeed purchased sinners as well as infinite storehouses of grace and peace for them through His death, burial, and resurrection! We are faithful "BY" Christ Jesus!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ephesians 1:3 (3rd Meditation) - "Christ IS 'Every Blessing'"

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." - Ephesians 1:3

Meditate on God's inestimable esteem of His Son! When He gave us His Son as our Savior, Lord, and Treasure, in His mind, God gave us "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." That's a mouthful. That's God's perception of the infinite value of His Son! To be loved by God is to have all of the blessings in the heavenly places! To have Christ is to have all blessings in the heavenly places. Christ is the blessing! He is the end, the goal!

Herein lies the heart of Christianity. Is Christ THE Great Attraction of your soul to Christianity?

God indicates that Christ is the source, Christ is the fountain, Christ is the well-spring from which all of His blessings flow! Are you in Him?

God has loved us with the life of His only Son! More, God has given us His resurrected Son to enjoy forever!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ephesians 1 (4th meditation) - "Blessings In Christ"

In this series of meditations on Ephesians chapter one, I've already focused on selected phrases in 1:1-3.

Now, I'd like to worship with you, in this fourth meditation, as we consider the weight of Ephesians 1:3-14 as a whole.

First, we will be helped to realize that verses three through fourteen were originally one long sentence! The Apostle Paul would have miserably failed High School English class because of his propensity to use such sentences (e.g.; Eph 3:14-21). However, the Holy Spirit defies man-made rules, and demonstrates through human writers of Scripture that explosive-spontaneous-Christ-exalting worship knows no grammatical boundaries! Thank God that the writers of Scripture were FIRST worshippers, and a distant second, concerned with grammatical constraints. (It should be noted, however, that the Apostle Paul, though weak in speech (see, II Cor 10:10), was an author par excellence! Being one of the most well trained minds of his day didn't hurt either.)

In the upcoming mediations I plan to unpack some of what follows. But for now, drink deep through Biblical meditation on the following list of "blessings in Christ" which are all found in Ephesians 1:3-14:

(Note: Each of these blessings are flowing out of the key promise in verse three that we, "Have already been given every every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!")

1. Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world! (v. 4)
2. Chosen in Christ...to be holy! (v. 4)
3. Chosen in Christ...to be blameless before God! (v. 4)
4. Predestined for adoption as God's sons (& daughters) through Christ! (v. 5)
5. Blessed with all of God's grace in Christ (v. 6)
6. Redemption through Christ's blood! (v. 7)
7. Forgiveness of our trespasses through Christ's blood! (v. 7)
8. The wise and insightful purposes of God's hidden will, which were set forth clearly for us sinners in Christ (v. 8-9)
9. Cosmic uniting of all things in heaven and on earth in Christ (v. 10)
10. Inheritance in Christ (v. 11)
11. Predestination in Christ according to the purpose of God who works everything after the counsel of His own will! (v. 11)
12. Hope in Christ (v. 12)
13. The praise of the glory of God is our privilege in Christ (v. 12)
14. Upon belief in Christ, we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, Who is the Guarantee of our inheritance in Christ (v. 13)
15. The praise of the glory of God is our Spirit-enabled privilege in Christ (v. 14)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (5th Meditation) - "Christ"

For our 5th meditation on Ephesians chapter one, I'd like to highlight the key Subject of the chapter (which is the same key subject of every portion of Scripture!). I count 15 references in this text that give us the answer to the main point of chapter one: (See if you can notice the clues..hint, hint).

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love
5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace
8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight
9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him
10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him
11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,
14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (6th Meditation) - Who & When

This is the 6th meditation in our series. Now we are beginning to walk through Ephesians 1:3-14 verse by verse and allow the Word of God to provoke us to worship!

Verse three is the fountain of the following 11 verses.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ."

This verse is the fountain of the following 11 verses because the next 11 verses provide additional explanations of verse three's amazing assertion!

Paul is answering the question "Who" in verse three. Who is to be blessed? The answer is God!

In other words, Paul is shouting to his Ephesian readers, "God be praised! Bless God! Bless Him because He's blessed you! God has blessed you with every spiritual blessing by giving you His Son, so bless Him! All of the blessings that are within God's unlimited reach ("in the heavenly places") have come to you in Christ--so bless Him! What are you waiting for? Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!"

In an earlier meditation we've already noted that verses 3-14 is one long sentence in the Greek. The run-on form of this sentence, in my estimation, is an indication of Paul's preoccupation with God (i.e., worship) during the moment he was being the Holy Spirit's inspired conduit of such breathtaking soteriological Himalayas. So my guess is that Paul's emanuensis was probably hearing Paul SHOUT this series of propostitions as he was worshipfully declaring what was to be written. If the Word is intended to compel us to worship God through Christ in the power of the Spirit, then surely the orginal reception of the inspired Word (The Holy Spirit to Paul) would have provoked the inspired human author to worship Him too! Oh, that we would be as awe-struck by the Sovereign God of our salvation as Paul was in this text!

Q: Verse three answers "Who" is to be worshipped.

A: The Triune God of our salvation!

Q: When did God make the plan for sinners to worship Him?

A: "Just as He (God the Father) chose us in Him (Jesus Christ) before the foundation of the world..."

Are you worshipping yet?

Friday, March 31, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (7th Meditation) - Why?

Ephesians 1:4 - "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him."

Solus Christus exists to glorify God by treasuring Jesus Christ and spreading His eternal joy.

We see this as the dominating theme of Bible.

God enables we unworthy criminals to be acquitted, equipped, and inspired to glorify Him through faith in His Son--Who died a substitutionary death for His people and rose victoriously from the dead proving both (a) His ability to justify sinners before God and (b) His absolute reign over all things. The primary way God is glorified in such redeemed sinners is when they, by His grace alone, ever-increasingly prize Jesus Christ as the most dazzling Person in existence. The primary evidence of glorifying God by treasuring His Son is displayed through a life surrendered to advancing Christ's kingdom until He returns. Or, in short, we exist to glorify God by treasuring Jesus Christ and spreading His eternal joy.

This truth is also packed into Ephesians 1:4.

Q: Why did God the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world?
A: That we should be holy and blameless before Him!

Worship as you consider the weight of this truth.

God, before creating the world, chose to share His joy (1:4) with something outside of Himself. That's amazing! (Because it would not be a big deal if someone who adds no delight to life "graces" you with himself. God, on the other hand, knows it would be infinitely good for us to have Him. So, His choosing of us before the foundation of the world was a sharing of His own joy with others).

God, in "eternity past" although completely satisfied in His Triune relationships, and wholly Self-sufficient lacking nothing, chose us (1:4) in Christ before the foundation of the world. That's amazing!

Jonathan Edwards saw two causes for this choosing, one primary and the other secondary. According the Edwards the primary cause for God's choosing us in Christ before the foundation of the world is owing to the value God places on the relationship He has with Himself. The secondary result of God's valuing His Triune relationship was His creation. He valued His Triune relationships, thus giving rise to creation. I think Edward's nailed it.

Notice also, that Ephesians 1:4 teaches us that God chose us "before" He founded the world, which excludes the possiblity that He decided to save us after the Fall! It was before creation, much less the Fall. That's amazing!

But Why??? So much remains shrouded in mystery--and thank God for an eternity to revel in an awareness of it!--but much is clearly revealed for us in God's Word.

"That we should be holy and blameless before Him!"

That statement reveals three reasons that God chose us in Christ! Only Christ could (1) present us holy before God, (2) present us blameless before God, and (3) only Christ could accomplish the goal of our salvation which is to bring us before God! There's the goal of our salvation! To bring us to God holy and blameless--otherwise, you can't come before Him. But in Christ, we too can enjoy rejoicing in God for eternity--which is what He's been doing for all eternity! That's amazing!

I Peter 3:18 - "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God..."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (8th Meditation) - "Divine Motive"

"In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself." - Ephesians 1:4-5

A brief technical aside:

This verse is a classic example that neither punctuation, nor verse numbering, in the New Testament are inspired. The NT was written in Koine Greek (Common Greek), in all CAPITAL LETTERS, WITHNOSPACINGBETWEENANYOFTHEWORDS
ORANYPUNCTUATIONATTHEENDOFSENTENCES. Weird huh? Well beyond seeming weird to us, it probably provided many difficulties in translation to other languages (Contrary to popular opinion, Peter and Paul did not read the KJV).

Thankfully, the thousands of existing manuscripts of Greek NT writings have been rigorously scrutinized through the science called textual criticism. The Greek New Testament text used in most Seminaries today is a product of this careful scrutiny, and has been supplied with upper and lower case characters, punctuation, and a footnoted apparatus explaining the nuances of variations in texts found in other existing NT manuscripts.

My reason for noting this technicality in the NT is because the punctuation supplied in the Greek Testament has also carried over into our English translations. Ephesians 1:4-5 is an example of a punctuation boo-boo (Yes, that's the technical term).

The encouraging thing, at least to me, is that you don't have to know Greek to pick up on many of these situations. Just meditate on each word of a good English translation of the NT (like the New American Standard, or the English Standard Version), and you too can see the mistake. In some cases, the punctuation does make a difference in what you believe, and therefore, how you worship.

In all of the English translations of Ephesians, the words "In love" are the last two words of verse four. However, they should be the first two words of verse five. Instead of reading, "...that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love," I think it should read, "In love He predestined us to adoption as son through Jesus Christ to Himself."

Does it really matter? I think so.

A brief meditation:

If the words, "in love" are the beginning of verse five, as I believe was Paul's intention, then we are gazing into a window of glory that is almost too much to stomach!

What was God's motive for predestining us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ? LOVE! Love was His motive!

Why does God love? Because He does!

There was nothing else in existence except for the Triune God when He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself (see verse four)! He didn't predestine us because we did something good, or because He "looked into the future" and saw who would choose Him. He just loved! Because He loved, He lovingly predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself!

Let the love of our loving God stimulate us to love Him!

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ....IN LOVE He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (9th Meditation) - "The Dominating Theme"

I was blessed to be able to participate in the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching in the summer of 1998. The high regard for expository preaching held by the late Dr. Olford was a strong shaping influence on many-a-pastor's view of Biblical preaching. Among so many helpful things I learned that summer, one stands out to me more than any other. Dr. Olford taught that students of the Bible should search for three key elements in every passage of Scripture. (Of course his teaching was presented in an alliterated outline - as were the 1000's of sermons he preached prior to his death). He taught that the three key elements one should look for are:

1. The Dominating Theme (Hence, the title of this post)
2. The Integrating Thoughts (Which support the dominate theme)
3. The Motivating Thrusts (Which are usually applications of the dominate theme)

If you were to use this study approach for Ephesians 1:3-14, what are some possible options as to the dominating theme?

There are so many themes repeated in this chapter it may be difficult to discern the dominating theme. Moreover, one could justly argue that there are some texts that have several dominate themes in this text.

My evaluation of the dominating theme of this text would be linked to the ground (or, foundation) for why God has shown us mercy in Christ AND to the goal (or, reason) for which God has shown mercy to us in Christ.

For the purposes of this meditation, let's consider the ground, and in our next meditation, the goal.

What is the fountain out of which all of the blessings of our salvation flow? According to Paul in Ephesians one, the answer is:

  • "The kind intention of God's will" (v. 4)
  • "The riches of God's grace" (v. 7)
  • "God's kind intention" (v. 9)
  • "The purpose of God" (v. 11)

Again, there are so many lofty themes presented in the chapter, but these thoughts seem to be the reason everything else in the text happens. Even being chosen (v. 4), and predestined (v. 5, 11), and our redemption (v. 7), and forgiveness (v. 7), all flow out of the theme(s) mentioned above (Which I would argue, are really ONE theme).

The theme of Ephesians 1:3-14 (remember, this is one sentence in Greek), is the absolutely free exercise of GOD to predestine, choose, redeem, and forgive His own because of His own "grace," "purpose," and "kind intention" (Which the KJV renders as "good pleasure").

It is difficult to refrain from writing the 10th meditation now, which will deal with the goal of God's free agency to act in such a sinner-saving way! Stay tuned...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (10th Meditation) - "The End of God's Saving Purposes"

Our last meditation on Ephesians 1:1-14 sought to worship God by seeing the ground for which He set His saving purposes on His people. This meditation will seek to lovingly and worshipfully embrace His goal for saving us.

Ephesians chapter one is untouchable. A great deal of the chapter is given to what is known as the mysterious work of God in salvation. In other words, Ephesians one discusses the aspect of our salvation that we have absolutely nothing to do with - that which occurred in eternity past!

As we've considered (8th Meditation), God was motivated by love to predestine us to adoption as sons (v.5). There is nothing unloving about predestination - God's choosing of individuals for salvation is wrought in love!

We also considered that there were several ground reasons, or motives (9th Meditation), that God was moved to lovingly predestine us. Yes, something preceded even our being predestined (v.5) and chosen (v. 4).

That "something" was, as Paul said; "the kind intention of God's will" (v. 5), "the riches of God's grace" (v. 7), "God's kind intention which He purposed in Christ" (v. 9), "God's purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (v. 11).

But why? What is God's cheif end in saving sinners? Why did He decide to perform this work of redeeming love...at the expense of the life of His only Son?

I'm glad you asked! Paul uses five statements between verses 4-14 that clearly answer our question. Apostle Paul, take it away...

  • That we would be holy and blameless before Him (v. 4) (See also, 7th Meditation).
  • That we will eternally praise the glory of His grace (v. 5).
  • That all things will be summed up in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth(v. 10).
  • To the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory(v. 12).
  • That the Pledge of our inheritance that was given to us (THE HOLY SPIRIT!) will result in our being redeemed as God's own possession, to the praise of His glory!(v. 14).

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (11th Meditation) - "The Means of God's Saving Purposes"

Ephesians chapter one prompts me to worship GOD.

We've already considered that genuine salvation, according to Ephesians one, is God's plan to bring us to Himself. He is the goal of His saving purposes. But what means does He use to bring us to Himself?

When I consider the dual truths that (1) God is holy, and (2) the the way in which He operates is equally as holy, I am drawn by His Spirit to evaluate personal holiness (or the lack thereof) (See Leviticus 11:44; Psalm 77:13).

Though we may not think about it often, it is needful to meditate on the fact that God's modus operandi is holiness. He is holy in His Person, and He is holy in His actions. Not only does He want to bring us to Himself (goal) but He also wants to bring us to Himself by holy measures (means). What sort of means could possibly be as holy as God? Ephesians answers this question, but first, think about this...

Paris Reidhead, in his classic sermon, Ten Shekles and a Shirt, accurately asessed a crucial problem in our religious climate when he spoke against "utilitarian religion," "a useful God," and "expedient Christianity." Reidhead was arguing against the thought of a "Christian" using God as a means for selfish gain rather than as his most desired End. I agree with Reidhead's asessment. But, have you ever felt the weight of God's means to get us to Himself?

Now to our question. Ephesians teaches us that there is a sense in which the Bible clearly portrays God BOTH as the End (He is the Goal) of our salvation AND the means (He is the way to get to the Goal). Otherwise, there would be no adequate answer to the question. Only God is as holy as God. Therefore, only God could be the means that bring us to God. Now worship as Ephesians unfolds this great truth.

In Ephesians chapter one, the Holy Spirit describes the means with God uses to bring us to Himself in an abundantly clear fashion. I marveled this morning as I meditated on these verses:

He (The Father) chose us in Him (the Son) - Ephesians 1:4
Clearly, in the verse above, the Son is the Means through which God chose us (see also, John 14:6 for another familiar verse where Christ offers a similiar description of Himself as the Means by which a person comes to God as the Great End of salvation).

Notice the litany of verses in Ephesians 1 showing Christ to be God's means to get us to Himself.
  • He (The Father) predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself - Ephesians 1:5
  • The glory of His (The Father's) grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Christ) - Ephesians 1:6-7
  • In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses - Ephesians 1:7
  • He (The Father) made known to us the mystery of His will (The Father's), according to His (The Father's) kind intention which He (The Father) purposed in Him (Christ) - Ephesians 1:9
Ephesians chapter one displays Jesus Christ ("Very God of Very God" - Nicene Creed) as the means of God's saving purposes.

Here's how my heart is prompted to worship God as I consider Christ as God's means for our salvation:

As we grow in our awareness of what we are saved from (The Righteous wrath of GOD) and what we are saved to (Eternal fellowship with GOD), then we will increasingly marvel at HOW God has chosen to save us (GOD provided His only Son, Jesus Christ)!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (12th Meditation) - "The Life of God in the Soul of Man"

Henry Scougal, a puritan pastor, was vexed by the question, "How can someone know for sure if he belongs to the Lord?" Needless to say, he wasn't content to point to a one-time experience that yeilded little-to-no sanctifying effects. Are you?

The title of Scougal's book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, is the answer to his question. He embraced that answer (and book title) after much biblical meditation. The book is simply the fruit of his meditation. Aren't you glad he wrote it! Perhaps you wouldn't be a believer today if he didn't. Think that's an overstatement? Consider your spiritual heritage. Someone had to tell you about Christ...someone had to tell them about Christ...etc...

How does Scougal's book fit into your conversion (assuming you are the Lord's)? Well, the greatest preacher ever to step foot on American soil was converted as a result of reading Scougal's book.

When he was 17 he entered Pembroke College at Oxford in November, 1732. He was gradually drawn from former sinful associates, and after a year, he met John and Charles Wesley and joined the Holy Club. Charles Wesley loaned him a book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man. This book--plus a severe sickness which resulted because of long and painful periods of spiritual struggle--finally resulted in his conversion. This was in 1735. He said many years later:

I know the place...Whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help running to the spot where Jesus Christ first revealed him- self to me, and gave me the new birth.

If you are a Westerner, you would be hard-pressed to convince any honest historian that Whitefield's influence had no effect on those who have passed the gospel down to you.

Why share this historical aside in a meditation on Ephesians chapter one? Because it is the best way I know of describing the majesty of what God reveals in Ephesians 1:13-14. READ IT SLOWLY. See it? More importantly, can you identify with it?

GOD lives inside of His people! The Holy Spirit is given as a pledge of our inheritance...to the praise of His glory! Believers have GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT living inside of them.

So, Scougal was right.

Q: How can someone know if he belongs to the Lord?
A: "The Life of God is in the soul of the man." - or, God lives in you.

Now would be a good time to be preoccupied with the God of your salvation (worship) - Who lives within you!

The 13th meditation will be a meditation on 1:13, and will lean on the thesis of Scougal's book; "The worth and excellence of a soul is to be measured by the object of it's love."

Is this true?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ephesians 1 - (13th Meditation) - "The Worth of Your Soul"

As I mentioned in the previous meditation, I will now lean on Scougal's thesis statement;

"The worth and excellence of a soul is to be measured by the object of it's love."
Think about that for a second.

If Scougal is right, then right now you can calculate the value of your own soul. I think he's right. Your worth is equivalent to what you supremely value. Have you checked your price tag recently?

I saw a cover of Entertainment Weekly this week that asked, "Is Tom Cruise Really Worth $100,000,000?" Frankly, I don't care. Obviously pop culture does, and that would be one reason I've not been sought after as a cover writer for EW.

Although I don't know the answer to EW's question, I do know this: Tom, and you, and I are all going to stand before the same Awesome Standard some day, and the crux of the matter in that moment will not be the number of Washington's we had in a safety deposit box.

So, how much is your soul worth? Scougal said you can know the answer by looking to what your soul supremely values.

What (or whom, or, Whom) is the most supremly valuable object in the life of your affections. Making the assumption that people are honest (perhaps quite a stretch), here are the responses that I imagine would be fairly common in our culture:
  1. Myself.
  2. My partner (Spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, live-in, fling, etc...).
  3. My kids.
  4. My stuff.
  5. My career.
  6. My reputation.
  7. My portfolio.
  8. My leisure time (golf, vacations, games, sports, etc...).
Given the assumption that the Bible is true (which is no stretch at all!), here is only response that will appraise your soul infinitely valuable:
1. King Jesus Christ.
If you love an item on the first list supremely, then, there you go...you've figured out that "the worth and excellence of your soul" is finite.

However, if you love Christ supremely, then, there you go...you've figured out that "the worth and excellence of your soul" is infinite.

The main reason that I don't care about Tom's "value" is because his monetary value is not actually valuable - in the scope of eternity. Someday every last dollar will rot. Christ never will!

Ephesians 1:1-14 ends with this summation:
And you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who was given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. - vv. 13-14
When Paul emphasizes that the Ephesians have "believed" in Him he is saying to them, "You are of infinite value because you supremely value the Most Valuable of All, King Jesus." (Notice in the ESV, the belief is in Christ, not just the gospel - a subtle, but vital point [The ESV translation of vv. 12-13 is more in keeping with the wording of the GNT than is the NASB translation of the same verses]).

In short, the worth and excellence of "those who are faithful by Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 1:2) is infinte because GOD is of infinite value, and He, in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, stands as the centerpiece of their heart's affections! (That's the way I'd sum up verses 12-14. Although the Holy Spirit is the most mentioned Person of the Trinity on those verses, both systematic and biblical theology teach us that the Spirit's vocation is make God's people treasure Jesus most, not Himself [See John 16:14]).

So, my next question would be, "What is the value of God?" According to Scougal's formula, we would first have to know what He supremely values. Thoughts?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ephesians 1:1-14 (Final Meditation) - "So Bless Him!"

Ephesians 1:1-14 searches so deeply into the mysterious work of God in human salvation that it is nearly untouchable. The Solus Christus meditations on this text are at best surface-scratching. Take a moment and read this breath-taking passage again.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.
I see verse 3 (in red) as the main thought in Paul's mind. That's hard for me to say for a number of reasons, but I think it is right. This is hard to say because there are so many major thoughts in Paul's mind in this text; not the least of which are:
    • Being chosen by God before the foundation of the world.
    • Being chosen for holiness and blamelesness before God.
    • Being a receipeient of God's predestining love.
    • Being adopted by God as His sons.
    • Having Christ's blood redemption.
    • Being released to join God in the praise of His glorious grace.
    • Being given God Himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
So why are these elevated thoughts not the main thought in Paul's mind? Because these are evidences of why we should obey verse 3.

Verse 3 is a trumpet blast from Paul saying, "So bless Him already!" In Christ, God has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (cf. the summary points above). What is the appropriate response to this reality? It is not arguing about views of predestination, or noting the long sentence structure. It is praising God who has blessed you with all of His blessings by giving you His only Son - and nothing less!

So what are you waiting for? Bless Him!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry CHRISTmas from the GC Pastors & Wives

1st Annual Grace Staff Christmas Party - 12.19.06
During picture: Each belly full of Nathan's shrimp dip, mystery dip, deer steak, pork tenderloin, potato salad, and fire-daddy dessert, and Kenyan coffee. Each heart full of deep thankfulness to God for allowing us to walk this journey with Christ!

Softened or Broken

What are you expecting as you anticipate the preached Word each Sunday?

Read John 7:40-52.

This passage is clearly full of much more than will be mentioned in this simple blog, but for posting purposes let's focus on just a few statements or words. The background and context can be read as a whole but let's concentrate on only two verses (46-47). In the small conversation between the pagan officers and the externally holy Pharisees, I hope we will be awakened to a tradgedy that could dwell among us. The union of these two groups never ceases to amaze me in the gospels, and how the Pharisees maintained their prideful arrogance while associating with such a rugged group of folks as these has always assisted me in disassociating myself with the Pharisees. Fortunately for me and my pride, God breaks this filthy heart by allowing me to see myself in the Pharisees shoes more often than I would care to admit. However, they are actually not the group that stood out to me this morning in study. Despite the Pharisees wrongfully resting in their outward appearance and deeds, their arrogance is well understood and their position is almost predictable from this point forward in Scripture. You can expect them to utterly oppose the person of Jesus Christ in the face of clear evidence that Christ is God. Speaking to the officers, the Pharisees say, "You have not also been led astray, have you?" I was expecting that statement from them, they hate Christ, the oppose Him, always. In a sense, I know where they stand. But look at the statement preceding that one from the officers who were sent to arrest Christ (another failed attempt because God's timing had not yet come). Listen to the officers report to the Pharisees, "Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks." They had obviously seen and heard a sermon or teaching from Jesus firsthand upon the arrest attempt; were clearly stopped and stunned by the teaching (all of them); and being amazed by the depth and heart wrenching extent of the words they heard made a group decision not to arrest Christ. If they were subdued by the word, why did they not repent and give themselves wholly to God? Because although, they admired the teaching of God, they were not willing to yield to Christ. What a tradgedy! O, that we are never softened by God's words, instead of being broken by God's words. I pray that we do not fall into the trap of admiring a softening of the heart. As painful as the breaking of the heart is, it is necessary and best for your soul. Pray to this end.

Note to Grace Church folks: Continue to prepare your hearts for the preaching of the Word each Sunday, we are encouraged as pastors and much is being done in your soul when you arrive bathed in the sermon text. How glorious would it be to be broken before the Word is preached? How much more might we be filled?

"Surely I have spoken, surely I will bring it to pass" - The Lord God

Christianity is not a blind faith. Christians are not weak-minded pitiable souls who cannot make it through life without a religious crutch.

Literally hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, God began promising that He would send His only Son to be the Messiah. The manger is not "cute." Don't look at a manger scene and think to yourself, "Oh, that's so nice." The birth of Christ was not nice, He is necessary. For without the incarnation, there would be no possibility for your salvation. Hope in Christ! Celebrate Christ! Treasure Christ!

Virgin conception

Seed of a woman

Seed of Abraham

Seed of Isaac and Jacob

Of the tribe of Judah

Son of David

Born in Bethlehem

God became flesh

Infant in Egypt

Massacre of children

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's helped us be more aware of our responsibility to direct people's hearts and minds each Sunday to our glorious Savior

That title is an excerpt from the following thoughts on corporate worship from Bob Kauflin.

Q&A Fridays - Preparing for and Evaluating Sundays

I received this question a while back:

Do you happen to have anything that you have given out to worship leaders as far as a
check-list of items to review as they are preparing for a Sunday morning?

The simple answer to this would be “no.” However, a few years ago C.J. Mahaney and I put together ten questions for evaluating corporate worship, which might serve as a memory jogger.

1. Is our Savior's substitutionary sacrifice on the Cross clearly and repeatedly presented through song lyrics and exhortations as central to our worship and the means by which we approach God?

2. Is it evident to the church and guests that all we do is rooted in Scripture and in response to Scripture?

3. Do we devote sufficient time to preparation and practice prior to Sunday, and encouragement and evaluation after Sunday?

4. Is there a recognizable theme for our corporate worship which is clearly communicated and grounded in objective truth about God?

5. Are we listening for and responsive to the spontaneous direction of the Holy Spirit during corporate worship?

6. Do our spoken and musical transitions serve to connect different elements of corporate worship in a natural and meaningful way?

7. Has our song selection and presentation become predictable? Does our song repertoire reflect songs of different styles, emphases, and lengths?

8. Are the pastors and worship team an example to the church of passionate, expressive, and responsive worship?

9. Are we aware of and appropriately sensitive to guests who may not be familiar with our terminology, style and practice?

10. Does our description and expression of corporate worship reinforce the understanding that it complements, rather than replaces, a lifestyle of worship?

I could comment on any one of these, but that would be unwise...Let me just suggest that if you're a leader, I'd suggest you apply #3 immediately if you're not doing it already. Here's how it's worked for us.

We now have two meetings on Sunday mornings, at 9 and 11:30 AM. They each last about 90 minutes. Rehearsal typically takes place on Saturday night from 6:30-8:00. That way we can come in Sunday mornings at 8 for 30 minutes of tweaking. Practicing the night before has enabled us to keep things fresh in our minds for Sunday morning.

Our musicians meet on stage after our first meeting each Sunday to talk about what went well and what didn't. We've tried to cultivate a culture of humility and encouragement that enables people to point out where others did something right and eagerly receive input when they didn't do something well. I might comment on the drummer's tempo, a bad transition, or commend the group for following a change in the plan. No one is looking to "pin the blame" on anyone. We frequently laugh at how things didn't working out quite like we practiced, knowing that God is gracious to use idiots like us! We try to learn from our mistakes and repeat what we do right. There are times we're not quite sure what went wrong. But the cumulative effect of those evaluation times have been invaluable.In addition our pastoral team reviews each Sunday on Wednesday mornings. We don't take a lot of time to nit-pick, but we do talk about what was effective and what wasn't. It's helped us be more aware of our responsibility to direct people's hearts and minds each Sunday to our glorious Savior. If you have other questions that you or others have asked, feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Very Very Smart Man

Hurry, hurry, hurry... send your kids to college so they can learn smart things from smart people...

Usually in fights people are kicked when they fall over and one of the ways to reduce kicking is to reduce severe intoxication because fewer people would fall over
Professor Jonathan Shepherd

What Good?

"What good is it to have a God with whom you have nothing to do?"
- John Calvin, Institutes, Book 1

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good... Psalm 73:28

Saturday, December 16, 2006

8 Years In Romans

For over eight years, John Piper has been preaching his way through Paul's letter to the Romans. You can read or listen to selected highlights here, or the entire series here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Church Card Correction

At Grace, we hand out a "Church Card" that indentifies the upcoming sermon texts. Our very first one had mistakes!? (Established churches, thank God now for your Admin. Assistant!)

The card should read as follows:
  • December 17 - Psalm 73:25-28
  • December 24 - Ephesians 1:1-14 (I)
  • December 31 - Ephesians 1:1-14 (II)
  • January 7 - Revelation 4
  • January 14 - Isaiah 52:13-53:12
The remainder of the texts and dates are correct.

Charles Simeon

Christ Community Church in New Albany, MS blessed me last week with Charles Simeon's out-of-print 21-Volumes of Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible. Oh, Simeon was so full of love to Christ!

As a means of inviting you to celebrate with me on this blessed occasion, I invite you to listen to or read, Brother's we must not mind a little suffering, which is an audio biography of Simeon done at a pastor's conference by John Piper in 1989.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Questions For The Church

Last Saturday, Richard Owen Roberts asked a group of current and future church leaders these searching questions about our churches. May God make Grace pleasing to Himself!

  1. Is Christ truly its Builder? Matthew 16:18
  2. Is the God of the Bible truly worshipped? Matthew 15:7-9
  3. Is our church functioning as Christ's body with Christ as the Head? Ephesians 1:22
  4. Is the glory of God the dominate issue in the life of the church? Ephesians 3:18
  5. Is your church bound by the moral law of God? Exodus 20; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
  6. Is prayer the lifeblood of your church? Acts 1:14
  7. Is the church being led by the Spirit of God? Romans 8:14
  8. Are the Scriptures publicly read and faithfully proclaimed? 1 Timothy 4:13
  9. Is the whole counsel of God declared and His manifold wisdom made known? Acts 20
  10. Are the ancient paths carefully sought and distinctly followed? Jeremiah 6:16
  11. Is Christ actually present in the services? Isaiah 63:10, 19
  12. Is the focus of the church on the lesser or the greater baptism? Luke 3:16
  13. Is the peace, unity, and power of the Holy Spirit present? John 17
  14. Is the church marked by humility? James 4:6
  15. Are people being regenerated by the Holy Spirit? Ephesians 2:1-9
  16. Is the church making a clear distinction between the two kingdoms (world, Christ)? Matthew 4:17
  17. Is the leadership of the church holy--beyond the pastors? 1 Timothy 3
  18. Are the people of the church godly? 1 Timothy 4:7
  19. Are the gifts of repentance and faith on the increase? Acts 11:18; Romans 12:3; 2 Timothy 2:25
  20. Are all the people in the church being personally pastored? Ezekiel 34; John 10
  21. Are believers truly growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ? 2 Peter 3:18
  22. Is our church living up to its name (Grace)? Ephesians 4:1
  23. Is the church governed biblically? 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5
  24. Is Christian love prevailing? 1 John 3
  25. Is godly fear evident? Acts 9:31
  26. Is the table of the Lord fenced? 1 Corinthians 11
  27. Is New Testament church discipline practiced? Matthew 18:15-17
  28. Is our church gripped with a world vision? Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21
  29. Is our church aggressively evangelistic? 2 Timothy 4:5
  30. Are we affected by strong social consciousness? Matthew 25
  31. Is ungodly preferential treatment given to groups? James 2
  32. Is the divine economy faithfully followed (Biblical gender complimentarity)? 1 Corinthians 11; 1 Timothy 2
  33. Is persecution for righteousness sake taking place? Matthew 5:10-12; 2 Timothy 3:12
  34. Is our church handling internal judicial matters rightly? 1 Corinthians 6
  35. Is our church teaching and practicing good stewardship? Malachi 3
  36. Is our church in true fellowship with all of God's children? 1 John 4

Under Construction

Along with the Grace Church website, Solus Christus is under construction at least until the beginning of the year. The blog will be usable. The website will not be usable until sometime around January 1.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Letters of Rutherford

My gift to myself at Christmas is rereading portions of Rutherford's letters. What a Christlike soul shepherd!
Till now I knew not the pain, labour, nor difficulty that there is to win at home: nor did I understand so well, before this, what this means, "The righteous shall scarcely be saved." Oh, how many a poor professor's candle is blown out, and never lighted again! I see that a mere profession, and to be ranked amongst the children of God, and to have a name among men, is now thought good enough to carry professors to heaven. But certainly a name is nothing but a name, and will never last through a blast of God's storm. I counsel you not to give your soul or Christ rest, nor your eyes sleep, till you have gotten something that will endure the fire, and stand the storm.
- Excerpt from Letters

Charnock--Finish Strong

pp. 178-193--Application

Dear brother Stephen has been a blessing to my soul!

Psalm 73-Watson, Edwards, Simeon and a Seminary Student

As I'm worshipping Christ this week through Psalm 73 in preparation to preach Sunday at Grace, I've been especially helped by a few brothers in Christ.

Also my friend Matthew Crawford's sermon on Psalm 73 is good food. Matthew was selected to preach this sermon in chapel at Southern Seminary where he is a student. (To find the sermon, you will need to scroll down to: Tuesday April 25, 2006)

Note: Don't make this an academic excercise. Take time to prepare your heart, as you would for corporate worship, before you read/listen to these helpful soul-physicians.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

MacArthur Stirring The Pot

This is sure to cause more ripple effects in the days to come.

(HT: Jim Suggs)

Part 2-Don't Ignore Doubt

Are you a Christian? Do you love Jesus Christ. Love Him? Are you currently clinging to Jesus Christ as your only hope for pleasing God and for the fulfillment of all of God's promises to you, even eternal life?

Part One of this series on spiritual doubt, I tried guide us through three potential sources for why true Christians will struggle with doubting their salvation. The introduction focused on our need to be known by God. Here, in Part two of this three part series, I want to address the deceived non-Christian.

Resting in a false hope of salvation, with no doubts, is worse than being tormented by an accusing conscience. Becuase you don't doubt your salvation doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't! Perhpas you do battle with doubt? Maybe your accusing conscience will stimulate genuine repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Being comforted by a false assurance will only damn.

So I must ask again, on what grounds do you set your eternal hope of favor with God? Thinking you are a Christian is not enough. Knowing right doctrine is not enough. Knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent is essential. Do you know God? Do you doubt if you know God? Although an accusing conscience doesn't always equal lostness, it certainly could. If it's there, please don't ignore the doubt.

Based on my experiences with professing Christians, it would not surprise me if the majority of professing Christians who read this post have recently struggled with spiritual doubt. Doubt is common. Ignoring it is crazy. Doubt or no doubt, every person who names the Name of Christ should regularly "examine himself" to see if he is truly in the faith. Are you in the faith?

Doubter: What NOT to do:

Ignore doubt

Of course, doubt is there for a reason. Tend to it.

Nail it down
In my estimation this approach is nothing more than a mockery of Christ's cross, making Jesus a means rather than an end. To say to someone, "Just re-do it and everything will be cool between you and God" is a sure indication of a wrong understanding of the gospel. Isn't that the same thing as saying, "Hey, I know what will get God off of your back so you can go back to living the uninterrupted good life."

Get busy

A common response. Fill up life with other distractions so as to satiate the nagging conscience.

Get more religious

Read the bible more. Attend church more. Do more good things for people. Pray a bit more. But remaining empty.

Change your words

Use new words in your spiritual talk to make yourself sound more spiritual than you are. Another common, but wrong, response to doubt.

Look at others

Begin measuring your spiritual "health" according the standard of other professing believers (who may in fact be unbelievers) rather than measuring yourself according to Christ.

Remember the time

When you were in your room and prayed with your mom, or talked to the pastor about your salvation, or attended that camp, or had that experience when you were "saved." After all, you wrote the date down in the front of your bible, right?

Of course, the list could go on and on...

Doubter: What TO do:

Don't ignore it!

Consider the source of the doubt. Ask God for help in discerning the root cause.

Evaluate your present hope

Are you, right
now, in this moment, hoping fully in Christ Jesus for your eternal salvation? Are you so tightly clinging to Christ alone, that you will never be saved if Christ is not the Way--because all of your hope is completely in Him? A previous "conversion" experience means little if you are not presently hoping in Christ--which is the best indication that your "conversion" was indeed genuine!

Look to Christ

Those who seek assurance of salvation will ultimately find themselves in hell. The same fate is true for those who seek peace, or joy, or hope. But those who seek
Christ--with all their heart--will find Him, and He will bring all of the aforementioned blessings to bear on the soul with Him. He will be found by those who seek Him. As Nathan Sawyer said a few weeks ago, "God will never say, 'Seek My Face,' in vain." Is Christ the ground of all your hopes? Is Christ the source of your assurance? Is Christ the fountain of your joys? Is Christ the ocean of your confidence before Holy God? Is Christ the highest love of your soul? He will be loved by His own. Do you love Him?

Doubter, seek Christ. Non-doubter, seek Christ.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Church Membership - Love & Lies

To be a member of Christ's universal Church, and one of His local churches, is a grand privilege. To belong to Christ, and to His body, is a blessing from on high. The spiritual nurture, care, love and support that goes hand-in-hand with covenant membership in a local church carries more benefits than can be articulated.

At Grace, we look forward with great eagerness to having a formal membership. Though our process for pursuing membership may be unfamiliar to many, it is rooted in love. Rooted in a love that compels the pastors to want to responsibly care for the souls of men and women. Each individual soul. To know the sheep, and their spiritual history. To be able to pray--in an informed way--for each member is our strong desire.

Because church membership has been trifled with in so many churches, and for so long a time, it is difficult for some to imagine--without accusation of judgmentalism--the notion of anyone inspecting your life as a requisite for church membership. Though judging it may be, it is judgment in a good, healthy, and biblical way. The non-discretionary, "Judge not" motto of today's lost culture is out of step with Christ's teaching. It was in the same breath when Christ taught His disciples to look at a person's fruit to recognize a "sheep in wolves clothing." "Judge with righteous judgement" is the motto of Christ's economy. Spiritual fruit, according to Christ, is one of the indications of the presence of true Christianity. No fruit=no Christianity (e.g.; here, here, here, here, here, and here).

That's where the waters of church membership have become so muddied in our day. How many people, after walking an aisle, have been instantaneously welcomed into church membership on no other basis than "umm humm?" A well-intentioned minister may ask, "Do you believe in Jesus?" "Umm humm." "Do you want Him to save you?" "Umm humm." "Do you want to join this church?" "Umm humm." A shaky ground--to say the best--for church membership wouldn't you say? It's hog wash. It simply isn't God-honoring. (To heighten the argument, even Jesus taught for people not to believe He is God on the basis of His words alone!) The statement, "I'm saved, and would like to join this church," is not sufficient grounds for embracing that one as a covenant member--in spite of, "That's the way we've always done it around here."

When nearly everyone we meet in the American South claims present membership in some church (Or, as some, in several churches), the percentages of those same lives that are lying about the gospel is staggering. True Christianity produces noticable, recognizable, visible, apparent (and every other way to say "obvious") spiritual fruit.

To welcome into the membership of a church a fruitless individual is to contaminate the culture of the church with unregenerate souls. A move that will inescapably have detrimental effects on the ethos of the fellowship. On the other hand, witholding church membership from a fruitless person could prove to be the loving grace of the Lord that leads him or her to genuine repentance and faith in Christ. However, to welcome such a fruitless person into the membership of the church under the auspices of hope that they will be converted to Christ is more likely to fortify them in their pride by erecting thick walls of false security called "church membership."

For the true Christian however, church membership is a glorious blessing. The benefits reaped are immense, but they are a two-way street. Every blessing the member receives is intended by God not as an end in itself, but to be reproduced in the fellowship for His glory. Realizing that we are not consumeristic machines, but created for the mutual edification and joy of our brothers and sisters in corporate pursuit of Christ is freeing indeed. Membership is important for many reasons, one of which is to know who we are called to love, pray for, and minister to and with for the glory of God. Knowing that every other person in the church's membership has discussed his or her conversion with your pastors bolsters hope of their conversion. Anyone can be fooled. Pastors are not inerrant. But, Lord willing, He will supply the necessary spiritual sensitivity to discern the spiritual whereabouts of those who inquire for membership.

A process for pursuing church membership that, at the very least, calls for genuine Christianity to be visible in the life of the inquirer is not too unloving after all. As a church member, you need to have good reason to believe that every other member is regenerate! Knowing that a member of a church is unregenerate is a biblical oxymoron. Holding to the biblical pattern of the entire congregation's responsibility to seek, enjoy, and follow the Living God, presupposes that every member must be regenerate.

So, potential members of Grace, your pastors pray that you will feel loved as we pray for you. For each and every one of you. As we get to know you. As we get to know how God has been at work in you. We pray, in the event that you are encouraged to continue seeking the Lord for a season and hold off on pursuing membership, that it would stimulate you to genuinely seek His face and find lasting rest in Christ (or be convinced that rest in Him has indeed been found!) then covenant with our family of believers. We do love you. We do look forward to God adding souls to the membership of Grace.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Pray For The Men

Who will assemble this evening and tomorrow morning in New Albany, MS to seek the Lord of hosts.

Is. 55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
Is. 55:7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Turn From Their Wicked Ways

Last evening's session was devoted to applying the phrase in 2 Chronicles 7:14; "Turn from their wicked ways."

One of the many convicting portions of the message that stood out to me was...

If the drawing near of God--in a manifest, reviving way--were dependent on the present-day fervency of my prayer life, forsaking of sin, turning to and yearning for God, etc... would there be any hope for genuine revival?

Though God's gracious work will indeed march on in spite of me, Oh to go hard after God today!

Who knows, whether He will turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him? (From Joel 2)