Tag Archives: Work

Galatians 3:15-18 pt. 1; Brief Thoughts

15To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Old Testament covenants were permanent. They were not simply laid in place until something else came along. Covenants were not easily amended and they were certainly not annulled once they had been confirmed or applied.[1] When one party made a covenant with another, the covenant was confirmed by an action. In the covenant between Johnathan and David, Johnathan confirms the covenant by giving David his armor and robe (1 Sam 18:3-4). The Elders of Hebron confirmed their covenant with David by anointing him with oil (2 Sam 5:3). When God makes His covenant with Noah, he hangs floods the earth to confirm it and then hangs His bow in the sky (Gen. 6 and Gen. 9:8-17)! Further, the nature of the covenant was secured by the character of the strongest party involve. Pause for a moment and consider the implications of God’s character on the security of the covenants He has made. There is no greater name by which a promise can be secure. The God who holds all things together has covenanted with you. The God in whom we live and move and have our being has come down from Heaven and covenanted with people. There is no greater character by which your promises are secure.

The specific covenant Paul references here in this passage is found in Genesis 12. Abram is called by God to go to a new land that God will show him. He is told that God will give his offspring that land and Abram builds an altar in worship to God for the promise (Gen 12:4-7). Three chapters later, God ratifies his covenant with Abram through one of the most beautiful symbols of all Scripture. He has Abram kill and cut in half multiple animals and then line them up with a path through the middle of the split animals. Then Abram has a vision/dream of a torch and smoking pot going through the two halves of the animals.

In the vision, God is represented by the torch and the smoking pot. Abram is watching from the side. In essence, God establishes that He alone is the keeper of the covenant. In this act, God declares if either party breaks the covenant, may He be torn in two like these animals. And so, when humanity breaks the covenant with God, Jesus is rent in two in order to pay the price of the covenant! The ratification of the covenant of Abram is fulfilled and completed in Jesus. God maintains the covenant with those who have faith by dying for us. Oh What a great God who holds us together and lays down His life for our salvation!

So this is the covenant that Paul references in Galatians 3. This is separate from the covenant of Circumcision given to the Jewish people in Genesis 17. That covenant is a covenant based on the behavior of the Jewish people. It requires adherence to the law of God. God is still gracious and offers mercy through the law, but there is no righteousness gained through law. The Law serves only to show man’s sin. The only way to be righteous is to trust in Christ, who tore Himself in two for your salvation! Repent from your sin and confess to Christ that you need Him to save you! The blessing of Abraham is secure for those who have faith in the work of Jesus Christ – The Offspring! He owns the land of salvation! So, when we trust in Christ, we become “fellow heirs” with Jesus and receive the promise of salvation and presence with God (Eph. 3:6; c.f. Romans 8:16-17).

 

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Covenant. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 531). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Galatians 3:10-14; Brief thoughts

10For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” – 14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

There are many who earn their positions of status on earth. They labor and toil to achieve some station of prestige and notoriety. It is the common refrain of humanity to cheer when a man or woman has labored to achieve something. Forcing one’s will by discipline is admirable and garners the praise of man for certain. It is this predisposition to honor merit that makes Paul’s words in Galatians 3:10-14 so difficult to accept. Where the natural response of mankind is to look at the law and strive to be good enough to satisfy it, Paul reminds us that we will not satisfy the law. Then he further explains, if one desires to be righteous by the law, then they must answer the curse.

All mankind is cursed by sin (Rom. 3:23). Sin is pervasive and infects everyone. The curse that results from sin is expounded on in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are cast from the garden and doomed to die. So, now, every person suffers under the curse of the law. Indeed, each individual is judged by the law and they must adhere to that law perfectly or suffer the punishment for breaking the law. What a weight to bear up under! For who can be perfect? Who can satisfy every aspect of the Law and be completely holy? Indeed, it is no wonder that those who rely on the law are under a curse. Anyone who attempts to be righteous by their own works must be perfect.

Perfection according to the law is a tricky thing. It demands perfect obedience, past, present, and future. There can be no mistake. This sounds extreme. However, God’s justice is never without mercy. Within the code of the Law, God made provision for sacrifices that could cleanse, albeit temporarily, one from sins. Even in the Law, God expresses His kindness and mercy and reveals His love for those who wish to know Him. However great the mercy and provision of God is, the Law still cannot save. The Law exists to show humanity where we have failed, and oh how great that failure! The Law can only show us where we do not measure up and, thereby, the Law condemns. While making provision for us, even the provisions display our failure and we remain under the curse of sin and death.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). The law demands perfection, so Christ satisfied that need on our behalf. He lived a perfect life, took our sin upon Himself, and suffered the wrath of judgment on our behalf. Therefore, it is those who trust in Jesus that are redeemed from the curse. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Jesus has taken the curse of the law upon Himself!

Consider for a moment the implications of such a Savior. Jesus does not merely make a temporary atonement for your sin in one moment. He does so much more! The curse of the law was the result of sin and was followed by a permanent death sentence. Sin brought a curse of separation, toil, death, and division. Jesus takes upon himself the curse of the law, becoming that curse on our behalf. This is so much more than just taking the blame for you. He actually becomes that curse and defeats the result of your sin bringing life where death reigned. This means you are no longer bound to sin. This means you are free from death. This means where hate and wickedness reigned, now you have been made anew! How tremendous is the freedom wrought in Jesus Christ! Oh, Christian, you are no longer restricted to sin and wickedness! You have been freed from death and raised to walk a new life.

Now live! Live as one who is free from sin and death! Live in grace, led by the Spirit of God. For the presence and connection of God is the blessing of Abraham! Through faith in Christ Jesus, God provides for those on the outside of the camp of Israel to receive the blessing of Abraham. The promise that God will walk with those who are His. The promise of salvation and God’s presence eternally. God fulfills this promise to the Jews and extends it to Gentiles through faith.

If you have not yet trusted in Jesus’ righteousness, I do not know for what you are waiting. He has taken your sin upon himself and you need only turn from trying to be good enough on your own and trust in His goodness. You cannot white knuckle your way into heaven. You must surrender to Him in order to find life. Trust in Him. Make Him your Lord and be rescued from the curse that weighs you down.

Living in the “Afters” of Life

It is difficult living in the “after.” Those most common moments that punctuate our lives seem to dominate our story-telling. We remember the moments and seldom revel in the “after.” Sometimes its tragedy like a death, sometimes it’s a climax like a championship, and sometimes it is a simple moment like a realization on a Tuesday over coffee. We remember the moments. We remember peaks and valleys. It is why men and women speak so openly about days gone by. There is something comforting in the nostalgia of history. A soft blanket of remembrance that allows us to push off whatever troubles we may persist in at this moment. We can be paralyzed by the weight of the past. We can revel in victories of yesteryear. Or, we can push forward and learn to live in the “after.” It is more difficult to learn to live in the after.

Some of our “afters” are filled with despair. Perhaps that is the reason many of us do not strive to live in the after of tragedy? I can remember the months that followed my own father’s passing. I was in high school and I struggled to process. Each day I’d wake with the anticipation that perhaps it was all just a bad dream. Reality would set in quickly and I’d be left again missing my dad. I’d slowly come to grips with the reality that he was gone. Living in the after meant living without the man who had taught me how to live well. It meant accepting the loss, no… it meant embracing the loss. Acceptance merely means that I understood what had happened as a real event. I needed to embrace that event. To move past simple acknowledgment. I needed to learn to live. It took some time to learn to live in the after of death. I accepted it pretty quickly, but it has taken years to learn to embrace it – to derive some semblance of definition from the tragedy. The loss of my dad needed to shape me into something more than I once was… indeed, it has. Living well in the after requires that we embrace the change that has been wrought.

Some of our “afters” come in the wake of success. We win a contest, or graduate a program, or reach a milestone of some sort. Then we stand in the after. The applause has died down, we have a sense of accomplishment, and we return to the mundane. Only now, something has changed. We have become something else, yet we remain the same as we once were. In this “after” we must learn to keep going. No greater picture of this exists than middle-aged men talking about high school sports. That championship they won back in their youth. They remember it like it was yesterday! The sad truth is, often these men have not learned to live in the after. Living in the after means embracing what has happened and then moving on to something greater. The people who live well move on from their successes. Each day presents a new opportunity to grow and learn. Living in the after means we strive to do that. We celebrate successes passed and press forward to future goals. Living in the after means we acknowledge our success, give sufficient time for celebration, then move on to other things.

There will be times when the after seems like too much. Recognizing the truth is difficult and sometimes unbearable. Still, we must learn to live well in the after and that takes legitimate emotional and psychological effort. To live in the after does not mean that you forget the past. Rather, having embraced what has occurred and moved forward, living well requires us to process what has happened and that sometimes takes a great deal more work. In order to accomplish this, we need to seek help in three ways. First, we need a confidant – someone who can listen to us. A person who can offer an ear to our meandering with the occasional comment. Second, we need a community that knows our past and will walk with us into our future. This needs to be a community that will overlook failures and celebrate success. Third, we need someone to push us. No one likes to be pushed, though everyone likes the result. We all need someone who can encourage us to run further or faster and, in the afters of life, we need just that. Living well in the after is accomplished best in community.

At my church, we are a congregation striving to live in afters. We struggle together and press forward. It is difficult but worth it. If you don’t have a community that will walk through your afters with you, come join us as we all struggle together. For more information about the church go here: sgfbrazoria.org

Difficult Passages? 3 Questions to Ask

Can we agree that the Bible has some weird stories? Is that fair to say? I mean really… there is a story of an ax head that falls into a river and the prophet of God makes it float by throwing a stick into the water (2 Kings 6:1-7). There is another about a patriarch who refuses to give his youngest son in marriage to his widowed daughter-in-law… she pretends to be a prostitute and the patriarch impregnates her (Genesis 38). Yet another, the prophet Elisha is mocked by some teenagers because he is bald… so he calls bears from the wilderness to EAT THEM (2 Kings 2:23-25). There are tons more weird stories in the Bible. Each story bears its own unique difficulties. Sometimes theological, sometimes pragmatic, always frustrating.

As I grew in the Lord and began to read my Bible with greater regularity I began to ask the question, “Why is this in the Bible?” I would find myself reading a story like the aforementioned ax head story and laugh saying to myself, “well, that’s interesting?” I’d struggle to answer the question of, “why does this story matter?” I know that every story has a purpose. God preserved these particular stories to tell us something. Indeed, in the words of the Storybook Bible, I read to my kids, “Every story whispers His name.” Sometimes those are obvious and sometimes they are not so obvious.

Embracing this struggle to understand is the first step in grasping the text of Scripture. Sometimes God lays the answer before us in “bull-horn moments” and sometimes understanding takes a little work on our behalf. As a simple man who strives to hear the voice of God in the pages of Scripture, I’ve developed some questions that help me to hear Him. Maybe you struggle too? If you do, maybe these will help:

  1. What does God do in this story?

Shortly after graduating from seminary, I remember reading a particular passage and asking this question. I sought the insight of some of my former professors on the matter and found their answers helpful. Though all the professors offered insights that I had missed, the best answer came in the form of a question – “What does God do in this story?” On the surface, this question seems simple and easy to answer. But what about the stories where He is not mentioned or does not speak? Genesis 34? The book of Esther? Multiple Judges? But, the Bible’s main character is God. So, He is the chief actor in the story of the Bible. We must seek to see what God is doing. Even in His silence, He is present and active.

  1. What does this passage tell me about the character of God?

In Sunday school as a child, I was taught to think about the Bible in moral terms. What was the Bible saying that I should or shouldn’t do? Now don’t get me wrong, the Bible has something to say about morality and does guide you to what you should do and should not do. Yet, when we moralize the stories of Scripture before asking this question, we inadvertently neglect the primary purpose of the text. The purpose is to teach us about God and His character. It is not a list of right and wrongs, but a guide to knowing God. So, a good question to ask is, “What does this passage say about God?” Your answer should never be, “nothing.” You may have to think heavy and hard about it but the fruit of that labor will be magnificent.

  1. What do other passages say about this one?

“Scripture interprets Scripture!” the professor almost yelled in fervor. His jaw clenched as he decried people who would interpret Scripture by their own experience. If Jesus says a passage in the Old Testament means something, then that is what it means. If Paul applies a text to the church, then that text is to be applied to the church. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. It says what it says. If the Gospels say that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, then Israel is NOT the suffering servant, that title is claimed by the Messiah! This question takes some digging. Get yourself a good cross-reference Bible and dig in. Put in the work, you won’t regret it.

Galatians 3:7-9; Brief Thoughts

7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

In Scripture, Abraham is counted righteous before he is given the law of circumcision. Effectively, he is granted righteousness through faith before he becomes the patriarch of Israel. In Genesis 12, God promises to be Abraham’s shield, give him reward, and offspring (Gen. 12:1, 5). It is in this moment that the Bible makes the declarative statement that, “Abraham believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 12:6). Following this statement, God makes a covenant with Abraham. This is a covenant based on faith, not law. It is a covenant that guarantees salvation for those who believe! Two chapters later, God gives Abraham the covenant of circumcision. Here is a law, two chapters later. Faith saves in chapter 15, the law is given later. The law does not save, it simply sets God’s people apart from the world. Another way to put it – God’s people believe differently than the world and therefore live by a different morality.

The law cannot save, however beautiful it may be. The law serves to point men to their need for Christ. As a person strives to be righteous by the law, they will inevitably find an inability to save themselves. Thus, it is those who believe the LORD and live in subsequent faith that are recipients of the promise of a better land and offspring of Abraham. Romans 4:13-25 explains that it is not those who strive to be righteous by the law, but those who have faith in Jesus’s righteousness who receive salvation. So here Paul echoes the same truth – that those who believe in Christ are those who are saved. Those that claim some sort of racial or legal right hold no claim to salvation. It is those who trust in Jesus that share in the faith of Abraham.

Paul further explains that Scripture has always testified to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture saw ahead of time that God was going to extend salvation beyond one people group. In His infinite mercy, God has always sought out people who would trust Him for salvation. The message of the Gospel and the forgiveness of God is prevalent from the beginning of the Scriptural record. It has always been the plan to redeem all who have faith through Jesus. How wonderful it is to consider that the faithful have always been in God’s eyes! He has always had in His heart to bless the nations. Indeed, even in choosing a single people group to be His own, God has blessed the nations.

Consider the ramifications of such a truth. God chose a people that would spread His glory, in order that those who were not of that particular group might become chosen. He has set His affections on the faithful from before they could be faithful. His goal has always been to bless the nations through faith. What a tremendous God! He does not depend on your pedigree or your works. Rather, He determines to save those whom He so desires through faith. Faith is the pedigree of salvation. Faith is the identifying mark that allows access. Faith is the entry pass into the Kingdom. By faith, we are called heirs of Abraham’s promise!

Oh Christian, can you see how beautiful this is? God made a way of salvation and then guarded it, keeping it safe for you to access it. He laid down a law that would point to that way of salvation, and He walked in front of you for the glory of His name and the purpose of Salvation. So, when you doubt you are held by the Most High God, remember this great truth – God set forth the promise for you in Abraham. You are a child of God, not because you earned it or have been born into it. You are a child of God because He has chosen you through faith!

Why I Love Children in Worship

I was editing the church podcast this morning and I heard the joyful coo of a baby in the background of the sermon. (If you’re a regular listener, sorry I’m a bit behind on getting those uploaded). I laughed, remembering another time when this sweet boy threw his arms in the air and shouted “tough-down!” while another baby screeched at a pivotally emotional moment in the sermon. It was a sweet, albeit distracting, moment. I love it! (Someday I’ll compile a book of “children in church” moments.)

I love the sound of children in the service! When they cry, I’ve tried to incorporate it into illustrations. I’ve held children that were walking around the front during the service. I’ve simply pressed through and ignored the cries. I often try to remind everyone, “it’s ok, we all love children here.” Sometimes they distract, sometimes they don’t. Always, they are a joy! Here are a few reasons why I love children in the service.

  1. They make me a better worshiper. Worship is a skill that is developed with practice. I want to learn to do it well! As a fellow worshiper, the cries and grunts of little ones push me to work harder to worship well. Just as when standing next to someone who can’t seem to sing on key or keep the rhythm, I am pressed to focus on Christ and press through distraction. Similar to sitting next to one who can’t stop fidgeting, so a child squirming forces me to work harder to focus. Often I’m convicted that the little one that is laughing or crying and the person who cannot seem to stay on key are both worshiping with greater abandon than I am able to muster. So, I have to press harder into Christ and I am grateful for the “joyful noise” that I must learn to worship through.
  2. Children remind me that worship is a corporate activity. Their sweet noises inspire me to love God with greater abandon and remind me that worship is corporate, not simply individual. We are a body of believers gathered together to worship. We are to work for the good of one another. So children are part of that body. I have an obligation to figure out how to worship with the hand and the feet of Christ! I cannot simply expect the feet to not dance while I am exercising the mouth. We are a body together, we worship together. Sometimes that worship looks like a peaceful pasture, sometimes it looks like a thunderstorm, always it is worship. So my goal must be to work in worship WITH the entire body.
  3. A child’s need to cry reminds me of my own need to cry out to God! I can often be too intellectual. I forget that my heart and Spirit groan with words un-utterable. A baby has a way of jarring me from my emotionally detached state and reminding me of my need. As a pastor, their cries remind me that Jesus answers my own cries. Their laughter delights my soul and I see the delight of God in the joy of children. It’s no wonder that Jesus says, “let the little children come to me!” When I hear the cry of a child, I am reminded of the gospel given to me, a child. I am held in my Father’s arms as His greatness is proclaimed!
  4. Children remind me that I am only one voice in the body. Their noises challenge me to remember that I am not the most important person in the room and the voice of the Lord extends to all ages! Preachers get this twisted on occasion. We start to think that what we have to say is more important than anything else. But, the Spirit sometimes wants to work in the voice of the baby, not the scholar. My voice is not the only voice proclaiming the greatness of God today. If a church begins to think that the pastor is the sole voice proclaiming worship, then that church needs to learn more about worship.
  5. Finally, children inspire admiration in me for the parents. What a joy it is for me to preach and worship with parents who work so hard to train their children in the Lord! If you struggle with children being in worship, I get it… it’s hard and it is OK for you to have difficulty. If you are a parent striving to raise even your babies in the corporate worship setting, you’re amazing! Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to see your struggle and help when I am able. Thank you for pressing into the community despite the awkwardness. Thank you for coming, even though it is hard to manage. I appreciate you. We know it is difficult. We know you are tired. We want to help and lift you up.

Full disclosure: At SGF we have a nursery for 3 and under during the sermon only. We ask that parents keep their kids in the service for the music, scripture reading, and prayer. We recognize this is difficult for some, but at SGF we are all in this together. So, if you come to visit, we will embrace your children being in the service. Occasionally we will not have nursery and just press through the difficulties children sometimes present, because we love them and we love you. We all love children… we’ll help as best we can… Thanks for reading.

Galatians 3:1-6; Brief Thoughts

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? 5Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – 6just as Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

When Jesus addressed the greed of the Pharisees in Luke 16:14-31, He concluded His discourse by explaining that the Pharisees would not believe even “if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). It is pent up in the heart of man to pursue self-righteousness. The appeal of the I saved myself posture is tremendous. Likewise, it is equally appealing to feel a great sense of self-exalted pride in our faulty attempts to garner some sort of leverage above those around us.

Indeed, that is the quandary facing the Galatian believers. They are striving to be proven holy on their own terms rather than trusting completely in Christ for their righteousness. They have decided that they need to add some sort of pious action to their already redeemed state. Yet, this is the struggle of the Pharisee in Luke, the pre-resurrection disciple in John, and in the anticipating crowds of Matthew. Humanity strives to prove itself. Born in the human spirit is a need to be right with God. Equally prevalent in the heart of man is a propensity toward law in an effort to answer the need and an unwillingness to surrender that need to God.

Paul is shocked by his brothers and sisters. Surely those who have seen the messiah crucified before their own eyes would not turn back to the religious system that demanded such a sacrifice when the sacrifice has been paid! His shock is warranted and understandable. What fool would surrender the gift of grace for the regulation of law!? So Paul poses the question in verse two, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” His assertion is clear – the Galatians received the miraculous salvation through no work of their own. They did not become believers because they somehow earned it or by some merit of their own doing. They became believers because they heard the gospel and believed it. The Spirit did not come to them because they were good enough. He came precisely because they were not good enough and Christ was good in their place! Christians enter into the sanctification process by the power of the Holy Spirit, a relationship that is initiated and completed by the Spirit (Philippians 1:6). Paul’s shock is manifest in three questions – 1. Who initiated your salvation? 2. Was your suffering vain? 3. Who enables and empowers your sanctification?

The Spirit begins the work and the Spirit completes the work. Thus, the correct course of action in a believer’s life is an abandonment of self-righteous attempts towards righteousness in favor of obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This striving to follow the Lord may look similar to an attempt to live according to the Law. Indeed, people who strive to follow the Spirit will often strive towards holiness and those who seek to follow the law are seeking to live holy lives. However, there is a distinction – The pursuit of the law is a pursuit of self-exalting works in an effort to be saved. In contrast, a pursuit of the Spirit is a laying down of self-exaltation in order to love and know Christ more. The one pursuing holiness by the Law submits to laws that claim to make them righteous and are subsequently condemned by that law. The one pursuing holiness by the Spirit is set free from restrictions and is enabled to be righteousness because they are able!

One who trusts in the law for their salvation nullifies the grace of Jesus. If you trust in the law for your salvation, you will not be saved. But, if by faith you place your trust in the work of Jesus Christ you will be saved from the wrath of God. All the suffering and struggles that the Galatian believers endured validate and prove their faith. They suffered because they shifted from Judaism or Paganism respectively and surrendered to Christ. Their society rejected them, their prior religious organizations rejected them, and many lost family and friends for the sake of the gospel. So Paul asks, was it in vain? This question cuts to the heart. If one returns to religion for salvation, then they are spurning the grace of the gospel and all that early suffering was for naught.

Finally, Paul asks who it is that enables the miraculous, life-shifting, change that they are experiencing. It is not the Law that brings the miraculous. It is not the law that changes hearts. It is not the law that is manifest in their community. It is the Spirit of God. To add a requirement of obedience to the law is to credit the law for the work of the Spirit. So, Paul challenges the reader to abandon the law as a means of salvation and trust the Spirit.

Our example in this text is Abram who was counted righteous apart from circumcision (the law). God makes his covenant with Abram before He institutes a law. Abram is counted righteous before God because “he believed the LORD” (Gen. 15:6). According to Romans 4, believers share in this kind of salvation. We are counted righteous because we share in this same faithful belief that Abram exemplifies.

Oh dear Christian, do not return to a yoke of slavery by instituting a law over your soul. Trust in Christ and in Christ alone for your salvation and do not add to the work of the Spirit. Only in trusting Christ will you be able to pursue a holy life.

8 Qualities to Develop Before Going into Ministry.

I am a young pastor. As a result, other young men look at me and ask about going into pastoral ministry. One of the common things people will ask is what they need to be good at before they start training to go into ministry. In my 17 years of ministry, I would say these are things that one needs to be good at before start training for church ministry. They are necessary disciplines BEFORE one starts trying to lead others. They are things God can teach you along the way, but they are best as disciplines you implement before the pressures of ministry are added. So, if you want to be in ministry, here’s my list. Every pastor has a list of things they look for in younger ministers… Take mine with a grain of salt… before I went into ministry I was pretty solid on 5 of these… the other three I have grown in. It might be that you follow the Lord and He grows you in these places as you work. But, when I am asked what qualities need to be in a young man before ministry, these are the ones that come to mind.

  1. Attend church. If you will not be disciplined to attend church before you are in leadership, then you probably are not ready to be in leadership. The fortitude to attend church when you’re not in leadership is the same fortitude that will enable you to persist among dry seasons and difficulties. Many young men think that they will be good leaders in church ministry, but then they refuse to discipline themselves to attend church with any regularity. If one will not discipline themselves to attend church when they are not in leadership, then it is highly unlikely that they will have the discipline to lead a congregation.
  2. Read your Bible. Ministry is the work of the study and teaching of the Word. So, you need to read the Bible. You don’t need to know the original languages before starting in ministry, though it is helpful. You don’t need to be able to preach wonderfully, though that is an advantage. You don’t even need to have large portions memorized! But, you do need a love for the Word of God. If you cannot discipline yourself to study and read the Word, then you will not discipline yourself to teach it. So, read it… every day.
  3. Worship well privately. Part of leading in ministry is leading other people to have a deep personal relationship with the Living God! As a manifestation of that relationship, there ought to be some sort of private worship that you regularly engage in. This private worship is what will save you in moments of despair in the ministry. It will be the balm necessary for you to press through difficult situations. This private worship is a pre-requisite for survival in your training. Every church has dry spells. We cannot always depend on the community to fuel our worship. We must learn to fuel our Spirits. Only then will we be able to lead others.
  4. Worship well corporately. One of the marks of Christianity is corporate worship. In Acts 2, the first church begins in corporate worship. Church History records corporate worship as an act that EVERY church engaged in regularly. Preaching, singing, prayer, and feasting all were weekly and normative in the church. The best people to worship with are those who are totally absorbed in worshiping the living God. I stood next to a young man who couldn’t sing well and was constantly bumping into the person next to him (me). At first, I was bothered and considered his zeal an impediment to my ability to worship. I grumbled quietly and moved a few inches. Suddenly I was bumped again. Slightly irritated I turned to look at him, determined to say something. As I turned I felt his arm wrap around my shoulders, eyes filled with tears, he was singing at the top of his lungs and I was drawn into the presence of the Living God! This young man worshiped with abandon and it was contagious. Immediately I forgot my shame and joined in the worship. Be like that before you try to lead others to be that way.
  5. Learn to be wrong. I am wrong often and I know it. I am comfortable with being wrong. I learned early to accept when I am wrong and move forward. I will seek to see the truth and, if someone presents a better case, I’ll gladly say I was wrong. As a pastor, you need to be able to be wrong. Churches will often prove you wrong. You’ll be wrong about people, passages, policy, and even Jesus. A good leader will recognize when they are wrong, apologize, and figure out how to move forward. If a pastor cannot admit when he is wrong, then he will not be able to lead people.
  6. Learn to be wrong, when you’re probably right. I distinctly remember being scolded by a person about something I said in a sermon. I was young and their statement was false. They accused me of something I had not said and misunderstood something I had said in the message. I apologized for what they heard me say and simply said, “That was not right of me, please forgive me.” I was pretty certain I hadn’t said what they accused me of so, afterward, I went back and listened to the sermon. Indeed, they were wrong. I had never said what they accused me of saying. However, they heard what they heard and as a leader, it is not mine to correct perception. My job is to help people move beyond perceived offense and model granting grace. If I had to be known as right or gracious, I’ll choose gracious. So, I’ll be happy to be wrong if it means I can model grace to those who believe themselves to be right even if they are wrong.
  7. Learn to listen. It is difficult to listen when you know things. Perhaps the first step in listening is recognizing that we don’t know everything. I have a dear brother who always says, “Better to stay silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.” The Proverbs put it this way, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). Being silent and listen. Prove that you can learn before you start trying to teach.
  8. Learn grace extended. This is perhaps the chief and most helpful perspective I had before training for ministry. To read more about it go here.

Again, take these with a grain of salt, I learned many of these growing up. Some I still grow in. If you’re a pastor, what’s your list to give to young men who ask what they need to be before they go into ministry? Leave it in comments.

Make the Climb- 2020 exhortation

The sky breaks just over the mountain. It’s beautiful this time of year. The urge to climb the mountain is sometimes overwhelming, especially among the young. There is something majestic about climbing to the break of the sky. The noble trudge up the hill and exhausting toil of the climb leads to tremendous beauty. In the young, the mountain is a challenge. It taunts, calling to the observer, “I dare you to scale the heights!” Many will climb the peak and feel the sense of victory as they stand atop the mountain. They imagine during the climb that they will insist that the mountain remain under them. Yet, something mysterious happens at the top of the mountain. The victorious do not stand in triumph over their conquered prey. Rather, they are suddenly conscious of their smallness. Confronted by the overwhelming reality of their own inadequacies, they stand at the top of the mountain they’ve conquered only to gaze upon the immensity of the world around them. The majestic reality will remain with them forever. They will become the wise man who stands at the bottom of the mountain and reflects on the glory and immensity of its size while making the slow deliberate hike. No longer the sprinting youth, they become the seasoned warrior who knows the challenge of the mountain and respects its strength and size. They have been to the top, they know the glory.

This time of year leads many of us to examine the new year with boldness. Like the youthful climber, we declare that we are going to conquer the mountains that lay before us and we set goals and aspirations to accomplish those goals. This is a beautiful character trait of youth. Some of us are cynical, having tried to climb mountains in the past and failed. Yet, we must not let our past failures dictate our futures. We must become the seasoned climber who slowly and deliberately climbs to the crest. So we make reasonable goals and lay out resolutions to conquer. With joy and zeal, we start the climb. We read the first book on our list, we wake early to spend time in devotion, we eat right/exercise each day for a time. We long to conquer. We long to be victorious. We long to see the view from the mountain. Many will stop their resolutions and become disillusioned with the climb. Some will check off their lists and move on to the next adventure without pause. But for those who climb the mountain and stop to observe the view, we are reminded of our smallness. Our successes become the ground upon which we see the glory of the heavens. Our failures become another rock to walk past along the path to the summit. We climb to be reminded of the greatness of the God above and the smallness of our own frame. Though we have laid the mountain beneath our feet, the view is so magnificent that it silences our boast.

I long for the silent aw of the mountain-top view that God has for us. I long to stand in victorious climb at the top of the cliff and see the greatness of God. To be reminded of my smallness. And to know that my smallness does not hinder me from seeing God. Not because I climbed the mountain, but because He made the mountain available to climb. In Exodus God gives us a picture of the mountain. The people encamp at the bottom of the mountain and God’s presence remains at the peak. A storm cloud of holy purity, He warns the people not to touch the mountain or they will die. Moses and Joshua alone are permitted to make the climb. Yet, for you and me, Christ has climbed the mountain of God on our behalf and has made a way for us to commune with the Most High God! You have been granted access to God by God-come-down, Jesus Christ! You could not climb the summit to see God. So God, in His infinite mercy, came down to you and made a way for you. So, climb! Gather up your zeal and all the energy you can! Strive to know Jesus this year. Strive because He has made a way and you CAN know Him! Stake claim that you are going to climb the difficult mountains and stand in awe at the Lord of glory from the summit!

I want to encourage you to climb the mountain this year in a very specific way. I don’t believe that you should simply set some random goal (though goals are good things). Physical goals are fine… physical training is of some value, but Godliness is greater in every way (1 Timothy 4:8). So, aim high! Aim to be like Christ in everything. Strive to commune with the Lord on such a level that you overflow with the Love that only He can give! Climb. Seek joy. Then, when you reach the top of your mountain, look around and be reminded of the glory of God how much more there is to see and glorify!

Read your Bible daily. Pray in every moment. Keep a list of prayer needs and address them daily. Challenge yourself to find your entertainment in Christ and knowing Him. Make your moments matter. Invest in a brother or sister in Christ. Create great works of art in praise to God’s glory. Write the book God laid on your heart. Share the Gospel with one person a day. But, above all else: STRIVE TO KNOW CHRIST!

Climb the mountain with me. Let’s do this.

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 2:18-21 pt. 2

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

“There is no more pointed statement that Paul’s above. He clearly shows that it is not by his own efforts that he is saved, but by the death of himself to the law and Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of the believer. Now when someone dies, so goes their life. Someone who is dead does not continue to live. They are dead. Further, Paul asserts that Christians are humiliated in conversion. They don’t just die but hang on a tree through Christ. Deut. 21:22-23 explains that anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed. So Paul’s statement of conversion is not evidently of glorious blessing, but of a cursed man who hung on a tree. “Crucified with Christ” is a phrase we put on tee shirts and sell as if it is something to be proud of. Yet, Christ was cursed. Thus in our conversion, we are asking to share in that curse. Trusting that His cursed state is enough to cover our cursing state. In believing in Christ we are seeking to know Him and be like Him in His suffering (Phil. 3:10). Believer, if you seek to live as a Christian, you must needs prepare to suffer and share in Christ’s suffering.

Crucifixion hurts. The removal of sin and the attempt to live holy is never quite as wonderful as we think. No, Christ’s call on our life is to take up our cross and die with Him (Mat. 16:24, Lk. 9:23). Suffer humiliation, be beaten, have everyone reject you, and be cursed. Further, it took effort for Christ to accomplish His end. Radical obedience and extreme effort are exemplified in Christ’s life. To live a holy life is to reject all efforts of synchronism (the blending of cultures/religions). To live a holy life is to be consumed by the singular message of Christ. To live and breathe His words. To pursue who Christ is and appropriate His work.

Crucifixion ends in death. It astonishes me how many of us want to say that our flesh has been crucified (Galatians 5:24) and yet, at some point, we convince ourselves that the flesh keeps coming down off the cross. Oh dear confused believer, if your flesh keeps coming down off the cross, then it was never crucified. Holiness in a Christian’s life is demanded, not requested. If you live a life ruled by the flesh then you have not been crucified and ought to question whether or not you have ever repented and believed. Paul was not overstating, the flesh is crucified and dead. The flesh no longer lives. So, if you have believed in Christ and have surrendered and have been drawn to Him. Stop living as if you still are of the flesh. The flesh is dead and believers do not walk by the flesh but by the spirit (Romans 8).

Not only are you to deny yourself worldly pleasures or sinful activities, you must also be conformed to the life of Christ. Worldly pleasures can be a blatant denial of God’s law, such as sexual immorality, and they can be self-glorifying religious activities. Both are equally disgusting to God. To be conformed to the life of Christ, one must strive to live as He did. We must do what the Father had admonished us to do. (Lev. 11:44) We must strive for holiness.

This is going to hurt. Self-denial is never a fun thing. And when it requires complete transparency and humility in addition, well, that’s just downright humiliating. Exposing all our flaws and waywardness.” (Excerpt from “Consumed” by J. Novis Elkins)