A New Book! Expressions: Church Poems

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This year, as resolutions swirled in my head and evaluations of the previous year set me into a constant state of pensive self-examination, I wanted to challenge myself to write and complete a book of poetry and art in one week. I knew the difficulty that it would entail and I knew the joy of completing the process.

2018 seemed like a marathon through the mud. As a pastor, I trudged a great deal and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwas often fighting my own depression and difficulties as I helped to shoulder the burdens of others. It was a good year, but it was a long and exhausting year too. We came through it tired but victorious and ready to run some more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

As I sat, laboring to understand and process 2018, I found a need to express. I needed to express my love for the church. I needed to express the wrestling with depression in a real and spiritual manner. I needed to express the “striving together” that is the church community. I needed to lay down on paper the weight of what my community has carried together. All the imperfections and struggle to understand grace.

All the pains and joys of community and weight of self. I needed to express them all. I needed to express the song of the church. So, I set out to draw a few sketches and lay down a few verses.

“Expressions” is the result. (Credit to Logan Doak for the title.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Expressions: Poems of the Church is available for $7 on Amazon.com and Lulu.com

 

I hope you will enjoy this work. It is short, 48 pages, and is a square shape. It is intended to be a book of pictures and poetry that you will pick up and read once in a while. The art is simple and quick sketches that were drawn in a week (with the exception of “Halos of the Church” and “Death to Life,” which were drawn in 2018 when processing some difficulties). I have endeavored to exalt Christ in the church through this work. Please use it for the gospel ministry.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two quick encouragements:

Challenge yourself. Challenge yourself to do something. Something difficult. Last year I was enjoying my morning coffee while I watched the birds flit and flutter on my porch. Inspired I wrote a short poem and then started drawing some pictures. At the same time, I was working through the book of Ephesians for my second published work. I challenged myself to write a short book, complete with artwork and be ready to publish it in a 7 day period. The result was “The Bird’s Psalm.” This year I wrote a little more… next year I will challenge myself to do the same.

Use your talents for the Kingdom of God. I am not a great artist, but I have some talent. I am not a great poet, but I can write a poem or two. I am not a great writer, but I can write stuff down in an organized form. The Lord has blessed me with some ability, it is my responsibility to use that for the Kingdom. What are your talents? Are you using them for the Kingdom? I hope you see through my work that you CAN do something for the Kingdom. I hope you will be inspired to do something… something worthwhile. Something for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:8-9; Brief thoughts

8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

The Gospel is simple. The Gospel is Jesus, come to earth, died for sins, rose up conquering death, and is coming back. It can be reduced to one profound and yet simple statement: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. The profundity is discovered as the words are unpacked. The simplicity is that there is nothing else to do than believe this. If you could simply believe that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, then you could have eternal life. Not merely life after this physical life, but much more! You can have life where death has reigned. Where the requirements of law and the bondage of sinfulness have restricted your own ability to love, you could have life and freedom from the dictates of the adversary. You could be free if you simply believe the gospel.

The gospel preached by Paul and his fellow-laborers to the Galatians churches was one of such magnificent simplicity. It requires nothing and costs everything. It is freedom and yet, if truly believe it, results in surrendering everything. Everything. All your good deeds and self-righteousness. All your worldly desires and self-interest. Everything. The gospel demands nothing, yet we are compelled to give everything out of a deep sense that joy is found in the surrender. So Paul called the Galatians to leave their legalism, their paganism, and their idolatrous attempts to find righteousness on their own. Yet, someone has come to teach them that they must submit again to a yoke of slavery to the law. These vile false teachers have taken the gospel and added the clause: you must obey the law. So their message became, in order to follow Christ you had to become Jewish first. They were teaching that one must be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be saved by Christ.

In righteous fury, Paul lovingly admonishes the Galatian believers telling them that anyone who would pervert the gospel ought to be cut off from the Kingdom of God. He uses the Greek word ‘Anathema’ meaning “cursed, cut-off,” or “banned from the camp.” This word implies damnation. The perversion of the gospel is so severe that it demands hell as punishment. Consider this illustration: You have labored for years to provide for your children. In love, you labored before their birth to give them everything they would need to live a lavish and comfortable life. You built them a home with a never-ending supply of food and delights. You serve them and raise them to see the wonderful gifts that you have for them. Then they come along and add locks on all the cabinets and refrigerator. They put requirements on their younger siblings. Requirements you did not impose. They say, “if you want to have Daddy’s love you must obey these rules that He did not impose and yet to which we hold.” Consider the gravity of such an offense. They have stolen your love for your children and turned it into something unrecognizable. They have perverted your love. So it is with the gospel and the Galatians. They have listened to a gospel that added locks to the open door. Paul is shattering the locks in this letter.

Take note of some specifics with regard to Paul’s words. Even if another gospel is proclaimed from heaven, it is not to be received! The power of the cross is so great that even the Heavens cannot proclaim another gospel. No angel, no heavenly being can change what God has done. Jesus is Savior and Lord and none can take that from Him. Second, not even Paul can change the gospel message. If Paul came and said, “that’s what I said, but now I’ve changed my mind,” then Paul would be wrong. Stick to the gospel that was taught at the beginning! Finally, if the new message contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is to be rejected.

Three simple ways to recognize false gospels.

  1. Read the Bible and compare what you hear to what it says. Take the Bible for what it says and test all things by what it says (be like the Bereans, Acts 17:11).
  2. If the gospel message taught does not confess Jesus Christ came in the flesh and literally died and rose again, it is a false gospel (c.f. 1 John 4:1-6).
  3. If the gospel message is not evidenced by a life of love, then it is not the gospel (c.f. John 13:34-35).

There are certainly other ways to ensure that you will not be blown off course by false teaching, but none are so definite as knowing the scripture.

 

Galatians 1:6-7; Brief Thoughts

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 

There are many modern gospels in the world in which we live. Many are obvious, insidious corruptions of the truth of the gospel. Often, false gospels bear an additional moniker at the beginning such as, “prosperity gospel,” “poverty gospel,” or “justice gospel.” These gospels obviously make Jesus secondary to another issue and contort the word of God to proclaim something other than Christ as ultimate. Anytime a word proceeds gospel, it is reducing the majesty of the gospel itself. These can be quickly identified and rejected soundly.

Some false gospels are less obvious. These are ones that espouse a Jesus plus something for salvation. Paul is dealing with this kind of false gospel in Galatians. The believers in Galatia were being instructed that they needed Jesus plus the law. Some Jewish brothers had arrived and were trying to blend Judaism with Christianity, insisting that Christians needed to adhere to the law of Moses in order to be saved from the wrath of God. Yet the gospel requires no law, no works to merit salvation, no extraneous duty laid upon vessels of mercy. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that He has done the work for you. You have only to trust in His righteousness for your salvation. Repent from sin and believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and God resurrected Him from the dead that you might have life!

Knowing that the gospel is a message of grace alone, it is only natural that Paul would be “astonished” (v.6). Indeed, why would anyone desert the one true God “who called [to them] in the grace of Christ”(v.6)? Notice the assumption in Paul’s language: believers are “called… in grace!” The very calling to faith has been an act of grace and is accomplished by Christ. The gospel is given freely to believers by the grace of Jesus Christ alone! Oh, dear believer, it is not your righteous behavior that grants you the grace of Christ, but it is the work and love of Christ! Not only is your own work not sufficient, but your own motivation is also insufficient to draw you to the gospel. In Romans 3:10-20 Paul explains the reality that no one actually seeks after God and even the base desire of humanity is one that denies the glory of God. So, if someone has been transformed by the gospel of Jesus, then it is astonishing that such a person would revert to so wretched a state.

The adversary cannot truly invent a different gospel. The work of the enemy is one of contortion of truth, not creation. No one can create out of nothing but God. Likewise, no one can bring salvation from death except God! He brings life from the dead and light out of darkness. He transforms the souls of men, redeeming the unredeemable. No, the adversary cannot create a new gospel, he must distort the truth and deceive the hearer. His tactics have not changed from Genesis 3. He still asks, “has God really said..?” (Gen. 3:1). He still adds a simple word to the consequence saying, “you shall NOT surely die” (Gen. 3:4). False gospels are dangerous because of one word misstated or one truth slightly slanted from the plumb-line. They distort the Word of God by simple and slight adjustment.

This is why it is so important for the believer to study the Word of God with great attention to what it says. The Word of God means what it says. It ought not to be dismissed or restated to mean something else. The Bible must be taken for what it says. I can remember a Sunday School class in which the teacher quoted Jesus and then stated, “that doesn’t mean what it says.” I have heard other preachers say such things as, “if this passage meant what it says, then we would have a serious problem.” In casual discussion with other theologically minded people I have been told, “I cannot accept what the Bible says about that because of my understanding of Jesus.” This is the way the gospel becomes distorted. The Bible means what it says. If you cannot accept what the Bible says, then you are beginning to believe a false gospel. Repent, believe the Bible.

Here are three recommended habits for developing a healthy understanding of the gospel.

  1. Do a “quiet time” or devotional daily. If you will simply read a little of the Bible each day, you will begin to see SOME growth in your life. Devotions are not intended for deep study, they are intended for setting your mind to follow after God. As you read, you will find that the message of the gospel becomes normative in your thought processes.
  2. Do a deep study once a week. People usually object to this one on two bases. So let’s address these.
    1. You have time for this. Don’t lie to yourself and say, “I do not have time to study the Bible in depth!” Do you have a regular show you watch? Do you have a regular activity that takes 30 minutes? You have time.
    2. Some people argue that they don’t have an understanding of how to do deep study. Well, go ask your pastor to help. In western churches, we have more resources than any other time or place in history. Buy good books and read good blogs that can help! (I recommend Precept Ministries International’s study materials for learning how to study your bible. You can find them here).

Get some material to help, set aside some time and get to work. Deep study is a delight to the heart of a Christian! Take some time each week and delight yourself in God’s word! In doing so you will develop a deep and mature understanding of the gospel.

  1. Attend and be involved in a church community. God designed the gospel to be lived out on this earth. You need other people to do that. One of the greatest and easiest ways to grow in your faith is to attend church and Bible studies. That’s right, attend. Attendance is the key. You cannot be successfully involved in a church community if you do not attend. Make the effort and attend. Otherwise, you will find your heart drifting away from the community of faith, no matter how dedicated they are to meet your needs outside of regularly scheduled gatherings. Attend a church community and do so faithfully. As you attend and intertwine your life with the lives of others, you will find that some people frustrate you, some bless you, some drive you insane, and some people are just kind of there. This is a tool for your growth, do not abandon the plate because you don’t like the vegetables. It is good for you, suck it up and keep going, eat the whole plate of food.