Monday, July 28, 2014

CROSS SERIES #4: Surrender to Prayer

In middle school, I remember a persistent cough that my dad couldn’t seem to shake. Something trivial the he and his doctors chalked up to different superficial conditions. However, as time progressed, different people suspected pneumonia as the reason for his problem. It wasn’t until a radiologist finally took an MRI of his chest that the lymphoma was found. My dad had cancer, and what appeared trivial at first was something much more serious, even life-threatening.

Unfortunately, symptoms that appear superficial may, in fact, indicate real problems. This is true not only of our physical bodies, but of the body of Christ. Hesitation, fear, and even disagreement within a local body of believers might appear non-threatening at first; however, upon further investigation, they might be symptoms of the cancer of worry. Worry can kill a church, paralyze a believer, and keep the mission of God from moving forward.

Because of our sin nature we are spiritually predisposed to worry in much the same way some are genetically predisposed to different illnesses. This begs a simple question, “is there something in our strategy as believers to combat this disease?” Thankfully, the answer is yes and Philippians 4:6-7 spells out our prescription.


In the book of Philippians, Paul writes to a stellar group of believers who are running the race of their ministry well. When chapter four of this incredible letter finally rolls around, Paul erupts in a long list of encouragements that he hopes will sustain the already thriving ministry and propel it into the future. One special grouping of these encouragements is found in verses 4-9. All of the encouragements found in this small passage unite around a theme of peace. In verses 4-7, the encouragements speak primarily to situations in life in which peace may be lacking (i.e. “rejoice” in the midst of despair, “let your gentle spirit be made known” in lieu of anger or malice, etc.) However, special attention seems to be given to the third of three commands in vv. 4-7. This command is stated, “Be anxious for nothing” (4:6). Though this is a positive command, “be anxious for,” immediately it is made negative by the adjective, “nothing.” In other words, “worry about nothing.” In life and in ministry, there is nothing that any believer ought to worry or be anxious about.

Similar teachings can be found in Matthew 6:25-34 when Jesus prohibited worry while giving a lengthy lecture series in Galilee. There, He identifies several common carcinogens that often contribute to anxiety: concerns about physical attributes (v.27), clothing (v.28), food and drink (v.31), and the future (v.34). Ultimately, Jesus concludes “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will take care for itself…” (6:34).

Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching and instructs the church at Philippi to be “anxious for nothing.” Though this church was a shining example of ministry in the first century, it is not as though this church was free of any trouble that could cause anxiety or fear among those in its congregation. Just listen to these words of Paul in chapter 3 verse 2.

Philippians 3:2-“Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”

The church of Philippi had its own set of issues to be aware of, but nothing to worry about. Similarly, every church that has ever existed has its own share of issues to be aware of; however, anxiety has no place in the life of a believer, let alone his/her place of worship. The believer ought not worry about anything. However, what prescription does Paul provide when worry does flare up or anxiety comes out of remission?

The answer is as simple as it is profound—surrendering everything in prayer, “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:6b). Prayer is the cure for anxiety. In this one verse, three words are used to describe prayer. The first two provide the method of prayer, indicated by the word “prayer” and “supplication.” “Prayer” is the most general word used for communication with God. In light of this context, curing your problem of anxiety means consulting the great physician, making necessary appointments, and disclosing everything of concern to Him (i.e. every contagion that might be contributing to the symptoms of worry present in your life). However, in these appointments, one must also request treatment. This idea is wrapped up in the word, “supplication,” meaning to ask with urgency based on presumed need.

Everything needs to be brought to God in this way. There is nothing that needs to be left out of.

If you went to an oncologist in order to have cancer treated, you would be asked a series of questions concerning your symptoms, family history, and previous illnesses. How well you answer these questions will determine how well the doctor treats you. Therefore, it would be foolish to leave anything out. Instead, we are encouraged by our physicians to tell them everything. In the same way, God desires for us to bring Him everything that concerns us to Him in prayer. The only difference is, He already knows what ails us and already knows how best to treat us.

Because prayer is the cure for anxiety, it cannot be accompanied with a spirit of worry. Prayers are not a means/excuse to worry more. Instead, they are vehicles used to send and drop off our worries before the Lord. This is why prayer offered to God must be given with an attitude of thanksgiving. It is hard to be anxious when you are thankful. In fact, one might make the case that thankfulness is the furthest attitude from worry. Paul understood that when believers in Philippi adopted a sense of thanksgiving in their prayer lives, they were already on the fast track to having God cure them of their anxiety.

The third word used to describe prayer in this verse is “requests.” This is the essence of prayer-- “to let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). However, as “good Christians” we have been taught that filling a prayer with requests is somehow off-putting to God. Though thanksgiving, confession, etc. are championed in different popular works on prayer and encouraged by pastors everywhere, voicing requests is often treated as secondary and less important. This does not seem to be the case in Scripture. Though God does enjoy being praised and thanked and loves to be pursued for forgiveness, I believe that God is equally delighted to hear the believer’s requests and answer his or her needs. Why? It is the very act of bringing a request to God that demonstrates surrender to His supreme power, praises Him for His ability, and confesses dependency on Him in one’s lack. There are fewer things that bring God more pleasure and afford Him more glory than coming through for His people when they ask Him for things that He alone can provide-including a cure for anxiety. (Similarly, there are fewer things that bring a doctor more joy than seeing a patient who is riddled with cancer go into remission after treatment).

In this short verse, the believer finds the answer to the age old question, “Why pray?“ At the very least, prayer (as it is most appropriately exercised under an attitude of thanksgiving), removes worry from the heart of a believer as it is in process. It also allows for requests to be made of God which demonstrate the believer’s inability and God’s supreme ability. This creates a situation in which God is pleased to intervene in order to glorify Himself by doing what only He can do in a multiplicity of scenarios.


In the place of anxiety, prayer yields the “peace of God,” (4:7a). Notice, this is not just any kind of peace; it is the very peace of God—perfect peace from the only One who can give it. Such peace acts as a fortress that “guards...hearts and minds” (4:7a) from anxiety and all other stressors in the life of a believer. Therefore, not only will God cure anxiety in answer to the prayers of His children, He will prevent anxiety in the life of a believer by means of a bulwark of peace. In fact, “guard” in this context is a military term, implying that peace stands on duty to keep out anything that brings worry.

In keeping with our extended metaphor, think of peace as an inoculation a third party (namely, a doctor), provides in order to alleviate the risk of disease. God provides peace as an inoculation against the contagions of the world that desire to wreak havoc on the hearts and minds of believers. However, this inoculation is offered only in His office which can be entered at any time through prayer.

The kind of peace that God provides is not only divine, and not only guards the hearts and minds of individual believers, it also “surpasses all comprehension” (4:7b) or “transcends all understanding.”

Long ago a man sought the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied, he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally the great day of revelation arrived. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered.

The tensions grew. Only two pictures remained veiled. As a judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd. A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy, green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the winner.

The man with the vision uncovered the second painting himself, and the crowd gasped in surprise. Could this be peace? A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky precipice; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy-gray clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power.

A little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil. 

This is the kind of peace that God provides when His people call upon Him. Peace and rest in spite of everything contributing to the contrary—peace that “transcends all understanding.”

 In the biological community there is something called homeostasis.  This term describes a state of equilibrium in living organisms—whether in a single cell or an entire system of living things. Cells or other living things require equilibrium/homeostasis to reproduce and thrive. Therefore living things work hard to maintain optimal temperature, PH, oxygen saturation, and metabolism for that purpose. When something is introduced into the body, cell, or system that disrupts homeostasis, it becomes very difficult to thrive. The same is true in the spiritual lives of believers. God offers believers homeostasis (peace) that allows an individual, a church, or the entire body of Christ to thrive as he/she/it performs his/her/its mission in the world. Because we as believers cannot maintain homeostasis in and of ourselves, God has prescribed prayer as a means through which we can demonstrate our dependency on God for our equilibrium, allowing Him to provide peace, even in the midst of incredible duress.

Such peace, introduced in response to prayer, is only made possible “in Christ Jesus.” In other words, one must be “in Christ Jesus” in order to know peace like this. Actually, one must be “in Christ Jesus” to pray in the first place. Christ, the prince of peace, provides the way of communication to God by means of His death and resurrection. Without this, believers in the church at Philippi or in churches today would still be at odds with God and with no means of communicating with Him. However, thanks to Jesus Christ, the lines are open for those who believe in Him and what He has done to provide salvation. All prayer and all peace is given as a result of Jesus’ work of redemption.

So What?

Inasmuch as believers and this church are predisposed to anxiety because of our sin and the flesh, creating an opportunity for the cancer of worry to kill the progress of the gospel, we must answer the call to prayer as it provides the cure for our distress. In answering our prayers, God provides peace that passes all understanding, providing the right kind of environment for us to thrive and continue the mission He has given us of knowing Him, growing in Him, and showing Him to the world.

Prayer must not be forsaken. Instead, everything needs to be brought before the Lord in humble supplication. Don’t worry, God never tires of hearing your requests. Instead, He delights in seeing you and I depend on Him, and desires to glorify Himself by answering us in our need. Our church must be a place of corporate worship, relationships, obedience to the Word of God, and surrendering to the Lord in prayer. May it never be said of our church that we are a place of anything else.

Isa. 56:7-“…For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”


Monday, July 21, 2014

CROSS Series #3: What is the Word?

In our technological world of smartphones and Ipads, it is easy to become consumed with trends that constantly call into question how effectively we are living our lives. This gadget promises to improve your efficiency, this one promises to give you an accurate reading of your health, this new model runs more programs at once, this app can tell you what movies someone with your personality would like to view. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, this predisposition to the “latest and greatest” in our technological world has infiltrated the church. In some circles, ministry is not viewed as effective unless it incorporates these three new ideas, worship services must have these new songs in order to be relevant, and buildings must have a coffee shop feel to attract new followers to Christ, etc. Although there is a proper place for innovation and change in the church, there are those things that I believe are unchanging priorities that should be involved any ministry strategy. We have already looked at a couple of them in our series (corporate worship and relationships) and defended their legitimacy. These priorities are foundational to the mission of God. However, how do we know this? Perhaps the third element of our strategy can answer this for us. Today’s sermon is brought to you by the letter “O” for “Obedience to the Word of God.” The Word of God is the very reason we know that corporate worship and relationships are important to the mission of God. In fact, we would not know the mission of God in the first place (to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world) without the Word of God! Therefore, today we are going to take a look at what the Word of God says about itself from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and how this should impact the way we accomplish our God-given mission here at Crystal Spring Baptist Church.


 Having served the Lord faithfully for many years through world travels, church-planting, mentoring young ministers, and prolific letter-writing, Paul pens 2 Timothy from the perspective of a seasoned and trial-tested apostle. However, at this point in Paul’s ministry, he is nearing the end, awaiting his execution in prison for his persistence in sharing the gospel. In spite of his precarious position, Paul finds it in himself to take advantage of the opportunity he has to write one more letter to his “son in the faith.” Throughout this letter, we get a sense of the paternal connection Paul had with this young minister in Ephesus as he speaks candidly and communicates a litany of encouragements that are not unlike what a father might share with his son upon nearing the end of his life. Interestingly, Paul’s complex writing style is simplified in this letter. However, though his words lack the embellishment that other letters contain, Paul’s words are no less profound.

Immediately before 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul has made several comments concerning the Scripture’s effect on Timothy’s life. In light of the difficult times Timothy would face, Paul draws attention to the firm convictions upon which this young minister stood, saying, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of,…” (3:14). Truly, Timothy had learned the gospel and its demands from a sterling groups of teachers (including Paul himself). These instructors had not only taught him the gospel’s message, but they also assured him of its truthfulness. Also, from a young boy, Timothy had been instructed in the “sacred writings” and had, as a result, apprehended “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15).

After having commented on the effect the Scriptures had on Timothy’s life, Paul is compelled to let Timothy know that the Scriptures can be trusted and that he “need not search out new novelties on which he might squander his energies but to remain in the truths he had learned” (Lea and Griffin, 233).  This is why Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (3:16). However, what is Paul referring to when he says “Scripture”? Up to this point, only the Old Testament existed as an accepted grouping of divine texts. Is Paul only suggesting that these 39 books are inspired? Paul’s words seem to be more broad that this. In fact, elements of the New Testament were already being circulated in the early church by this time and were regarded by those that used them as God’s authoritative word. Therefore, Paul is saying “all writings that are Scripture are inspired by God.” One commentator has said, “if we affirm that each part of Scripture is inspired, we come eventually to assert that its entire content is inspired.” Through the miracle of progressive revelation, what Paul said about all Scripture that came before him, applies to all that would come after he penned these famous words.

But what does it mean for Scripture to be “inspired”? “Inspired” in Greek is an amalgamation of two words qeoV (God) and pneustoV (breath). This is where the term, “God-breathed” comes from in some translations. To be “God-breathed” means that the Scriptures have their origin in the mind of God and are given through those that He has appointed to write them down all under control of the Holy Spirit. This is what distinguishes the Bible from all other texts.

In Creation, God breathed life into man, rendering us distinct from all other creatures and His representation (icon) on the earth. Similarly, God breathed His message to the world, distinguishing the Scriptures from all other writings as the representation of His plan through words.

That the Scriptures are “inspired” means that they are from God, and therefore totally trustworthy. However, it also means that they are incredibly useful.

Paul delineates the Scriptures’ usefulness for Timothy, a young and promising minister, in order that he might put the Scriptures to good use in His church and ministry. First, Paul suggests that the Scriptures are “profitable for teaching.” This means that Scripture is a positive source of Christian doctrine. Because of the proliferation of heresy in the early church, Paul emphasized the importance of good teaching (using the term “teaching” no less than 15 times in the Pastoral Epistles). Against all of the heresy in the world, and in contrast to all of the falsities of inferior belief systems, the Bible as God’s inspired Word is useful in that it provides the true knowledge about God and the world through the various doctrines it presents (Creation, Redemption, Sin, Man, etc.).  Do you want to know what to believe? Look no further than the Word of God.

The second way in which the Scripture can be used is “for reproof” or “rebuke” (3:16c). This term means to expose error, whether in wrong teaching or in one’s personal life. Therefore, Scripture is able to expose failures, clarify mistakes, and point the way out of sin. No other book can do this! Only God’s inspired word convicts the misguided and disobedient of their errors and restores them to the right path.

Thirdly, Paul says that the Scriptures are useful “for correction” (3:16d). This is the first of two positive ways in which the Scriptures can be utilized. “This term, ‘correction,’ used only here in the New Testament, suggests that Scripture helps individuals to restore their doctrine or personal practice to a right state before God” (Lea and Griffin, 237). What a great grace the Word of God is, for it not only exposes shortcomings, but points the way to correction. 

One other way in which the Bible is useful is “for training in righteousness” (3:16e) –that is moral training for righteous living. “Training” denotes a system of discipline that a parent might use to teach a child Christian character. Applied to the Scriptures, the Word itself provides a system of discipline that encourages holiness. The Word of God might be likened to dumbbells in the gym of sanctification as it provides the work out necessary for the believers to get into spiritual shape.

Paul desires for Timothy to understand the incredible authority and usefulness of the Word of God so that He might take full advantage of it in his life and ministry. Its inspiration is timeless and its usefulness gives it eternal relevance.

Think of a Swiss Army Knife. This timeless tool, though a singular object, has many different applications (a spoon, a knife, a screw, a toothpick, etc.). These tools are also timeless and will never be out of date. We will always eat with spoons, have use for knives, and get food stuck in our teeth. It is a timeless and useful tool in the wilderness. A similar treatment might be given to “irreplaceable” smart phones complete with all of their necessary apps. The same can be said of the Word of God on a much deeper level. Though a single book, it has many different applications (teaching, reproof, correction, and training) that will never become obsolete. This renders it an essential tool for the believer as he or she lives and ministers in this wicked world.

What do all of these applications work toward in the life of the believer? The answer is found as Paul communicates the purpose of the Word of God to Timothy in verse 17.


One of the reasons that the Word of God has been given with all of these applications is “so that the man of God may be adequate” (3:17). This is a veiled reference to Timothy himself, rendering this a very personal encouragement to a close friend. Paul wants Timothy to make the most of the Word of God and all it has to offer so that He might be adequate to the task that he has been given in the church that he leads in Ephesus.

This principle applies to all disciples in their own ministries. Whether God has called upon a disciple to pastor a church or minister to a shut-in, or faithfully serve in the church, all disciples have been called to a task(s) in their lives that they are not prepared for in and of themselves. The Word of God’s teaches what their task might be, rebukes them when they fail to complete it or veer from it, corrects them back to it, and trains them for it in the first place. Therefore, the Word of God is the educational, disciplinary, correctional, and training system through which each disciple is prepared for his or her calling.

However, just because the Bible sits there on a dusty coffee table or leans on a populated bookshelf does not mean that it is effective in this endeavor. Notice the mood of the verb “may be” before “adequate.” Though the Bible is a powerful and life-changing resource, it must be read, studied, obeyed, and applied for it to make a man or a woman of God adequate to the task they have been handed. The Bible’s usefulness is dependent on the believer’s acquisition, apprehension, and application of it.

What does it mean to be “adequate” for the task at hand? Thankfully, Paul gives the answer to Timothy when he says, “equipped for every good work” (3:17). The implied idea here is that if Timothy would “nurture his spiritual life in the Scriptures…, he would be fully qualified and prepared to undertake whatever task God put before him” (Lea and Griffin, 238). It would prove tragic for Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus if he was not spiritually prepared for the task at hand, especially since he had everything he needed to prepare himself when he had the Scriptures.

The same is true of believers today in their own lives and ministries. When believers fail to obey the Word of God and take advantage of all it has to offer, they will ultimately find themselves ill-prepared for the world in which they live. This would be similar to a student taking a final exam without every reading the textbook, a pianist at a recital without ever rehearsing, or an individual at the starting line of a marathon without ever having trained. A student cannot hope to do well unless he has studied. A musician cannot hope to sound pleasing unless he or she has practiced. A runner cannot hope to finish a marathon without proper training. Similarly, a believer cannot be expected to be used of God to do good works in any meaningful way unless he or she obeys God’s Word.

So What?

Obedience to the Word of God, according to Paul, is not only a resource to be used to know God, it is a transformative agent that God uses to help believers grow in Him so that they might be used of God to show good works to the world (Know, Grow, and Show). If Timothy took full advantage of all that the Bible is and does he could expect to be adequate to the task God called upon him to perform in the world and equipped for every corresponding good work. This was Paul’s wish for his “son in the faith.” This is also God’s wish for every believer. The Bible is God’s timeless and useful message in all situations. It will never become obsolete and will never loose staying power. Truly, the Word of God is not only the manual for survival in the life of every believer and every church, it is God’s prescriptive plan for thriving in the midst of this evil world. Its applications never need updating, it never needs to be replaced by a newer model, will never run the risk of crashing, and requires no warranty. When was the last time you immersed yourself in its pages, meditated on its words, and studied its passages?

Obedience to the word of God is essential to the task of the church, for the mission of God is one of the Word of God’s commands. How well you are obeying God’s Word can be directly connected to how well you are pursuing the mission of God in this world.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

CROSS Series Wee 2: Relationships that Matter

Last week we looked at the phenomenon of corporate worship and appreciated all that Jesus did so that we might have the chance to meet together like this in collective praise and adoration of the Father by means of drawing near to God, holding fast to His convictions, and spurring each other on in the assembly. We learned that corporate worship is not a mundane ritual, but an integral part of our mission to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ in this world. Today, as we continue our series and journey through the acronym C.R.O.S.S. we arrive at another phenomenon that is often under-appreciated and misunderstood. This phenomenon is indicated by the letter “R” which refers to “Relationships.”

Relationships have proven absolutely essential in my life. In fact, the old adage, “it is not what you know; it is who you know” helped give me several jobs, recruit workers for this church, and accomplish different tasks and responsibilities in life. This same can be true of my spiritual development and the general spiritual development of this church. When it comes to the second part of our mission, growing in Christ, what we know AND who we know are vitally important. Paul understood this when he wrote to the church in Thessalonica, a small church in a brave new world (sound familiar). In 1 Thessalonians 5:8-11, Paul presents three elements of relationships that are important for us to keep in mind as we work to accomplish the greatest mission ever given.

I. ELEMENT #1: The Occasion for Relationship-5:8

The verses leading up to this passage address the coming age, “the times and the epochs” (5:1). In these times, Paul predicts that the Lord will come like a thief in the night, there will be destruction, and darkness will sweep across the planet. However, those to whom this letter is addressed (the church body in Thessalonica), need not worry, for they are called, “sons of light,…” (1 Thess. 5:5). Therefore, Paul says “since we are children of the day…” there are certain encouragements necessary for the ministry to go forward during the difficult days to come. To be a person of the day means to be illuminated with the life of Christ, who is “the light.”

John 14:6-“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."

Those who have the light of Christ are called to live in the coming age (the age in which we are living right now) conspicuously different from the world around them.

Sons and daughters of light are to live “soberly” in a world that is out of control. This word means to be in complete control over one’s thought processes and thus not in danger of irrational thinking.

Consider what people are like when they are inebriated. Often when people are drunk they are inhibition free, willing to do embarrassing or even dangerous stunts on a whim or a dare. Often this ends in disaster. Stammering around, those who are drunk yield control of their mind to alcohol, rendering them open to irrational and nonsensical thinking.

This is prohibited for those who are sons and daughters of light. And before you redact this command to literal sobriety from alcohol, consider the general principle to which this image is pointing. Christians are not to yield control of their minds over to anyone or anything except the Holy Spirit. In other words, alcohol is not the only thing Christians can get drunk on or a buzz from. Success, possessions, image, money, sex, etc. The call of Paul for the church in Thessalonica is to be sober in all of these areas. In a world of stammering drunks, believers are to remain clear-headed and steadfastly focused.

What causes this level of focus in a world that is like a bar offering an assortment of spirits? Paul quickly changes metaphors to answer this question, “having put on the breast-plate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation…” (5:8). Standing on the threshold of the coming age, complete with destruction and darkness, and drunkenness, Christians should arm themselves for action with self-control by means of a breast-plate and helmet.

The Roman breastplate referred to here would have covered a soldier from his neck to his waist and protected his most vital organs. This is what “faith and love” does for the believer’s spiritual lives. Faith and love protect the believer from the coming onslaught of evil.

Consider the nature of these two terms for a moment. Both faith and love are transitive, meaning they require an understood object as the recipient for the action they imply. A disciple cannot exercise faith without placing that faith in something or someone. Similarly, a disciple cannot love without an understood person or object receiving and reciprocating that love. Already, a relationship with God as the object of faith and love is being subtly referenced by Paul with these words.

While the breastplate protects the vital organs, the helmet protects the head, the seat of the mind and reason. In the believer’s case, protection comes in the form of hope through salvation. The salvation of the disciple was the source of hope for all in the early church and remains the most appropriate source of hope for the believer today. The church at Thessalonica would have to rely on the hope of their salvation when things would get rough, and so should we.

Sobriety and hope provide an opportunity for relationship to take place in the life of Jesus’ disciples. It is hard to have a functional relationship with a drunk or someone who battles depression. Sobriety, faith, love, and hope create an amazing opportunity for believers to have a relationship with God and with other disciples. However, what makes this possible in the first place?

II. ELEMENT #2: The Allowance for Relationship-5:9-10

“For God has not destined us for wrath” (5:9a). The disciple is allowed to enjoy relationship with God because God has not and will not assign wrath to them. Why would He spill out His wrath on those that He has saved? Why would He punish those who have apprehended the grace of Christ. The wrath that is to come upon the world in the days that Paul predicts here will pass over those who already belong to God.
This is not unlike what took place for the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. In the same way God’s wrath passed over the doors of the Hebrew slaves, His wrath passes over His children in the last days, rendering a relationship with Him possible and welcome.

In the place of deserved wrath, God provides the ultimate gift, “obtaining salvation” (1 Thess. 5:9). This is the antithesis of wrath reserved for those who are in the faith. For Jesus’ disciples, the greatest judgment is usurped by the greatest grace, punishment and penalty is overwhelmed by love and welcome. God’s gift of salvation is the definition of supererogation. (Take time to define supererogation).

This greatest of all gifts was given by means of the greatest of all acts, the Passion of Jesus Christ, “through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us…” (1 Thess. 5:9c-10). The cross is where light shined in the darkness to bring the opportunity of faith to the faithless world, love in the midst of hate, and hope in the growing despair.  

Paul concludes this thought by giving the reason for the salvific work of Christ in the first place—relationship, “so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him…”(1 Thess. 5:10b). If salvation is word we assign to a relationship with God, Jesus and His cross is its source. However, what does Paul mean by “whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him…”? A clue to the meaning of this is given in verse 6.

1 Thess. 5:6-so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

Paul’s point here is that Christians are assured of life together with God, whether they are spiritually watchful or not. The relationship given to believers through Christ’s sacrifice is unconditional—there are no strings attached. Does this then give the believer’s license to act poorly? Absolutely not! (mh ginoita-to adopt another Pauling word). Instead, the unconditional nature of this precious gift should motivate disciples to holiness and appreciation as they make the most of the relationship that has been made possible through Jesus.

III. ELEMENT #3: The Command for Relationship-5:11

One way for the disciple to make the most of their relationship with God is to capitalize of his or her relationships with others in the body of Christ, “Therefore, encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing…”(5:11). The command here is to “be actively consoling one another through various means, building each other up.” It describes a vibrant community of like-minded people spurring each other on as the world continues to propel itself toward destruction. This is something that Paul wanted to continue to see in the church of Thessalonica and it is something that he commends of them as well, “just as you also are doing.” Evidence that this church was already excelling in this endeavor can be seen earlier in Paul’s letter.

1 Thess. 4:9-10-“Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more,…

The church of Thessalonica made it their habit to be about the business of building each other up and encouraging one another. This phenomenon of mutual encouragement, through vibrant relationships within the body of Christ, is built on the foundation of their collective relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Paul says to this church, “keep doing what you’re doing because of what Christ has done for you.”

So What?

This calling upon the church of Thessalonica is not unlike the calling that has been placed upon us here in South Roanoke. As Jesus’ disciples, we are commanded to make the most of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ by giving ourselves to meaningful relationship with our brothers and sisters here in this local body. This is one way in which we will grow in Christ (the second part of our mission as a church). But what is Crystal Spring doing to help foster this kind of community? What are we doing here to help you make the most of each other?

The answer is found in our more intimate group settings, both in the Sunday morning hour at 10:00am and on Wednesday nights at 7:00pm. These two groups meet not because we fell like we have to do something at those times or because we want to be like other churches or for my own health. We offer these opportunities for your benefit as times in which you can learn from each other, encourage one another through prayer, and build each other up as we all strive to live soberly in this world around us. Our commitment is to do the best we can to make these groups assessable, approachable, and worth your time. Are you making the most of what is being offered whenever you can? You are not making the most of your relationship with God if you are not making the most of your relationship with the body.

One way in which we accomplish our mission, (growing in Christ), is by giving ourselves to one another in this way. Can’t make it on Wednesday night or early Sunday morning? Start a group with a couple of others and make it whenever and wherever you can. But whatever you do, don’t miss out on all that God would have you gain through this phenomenon called relationship.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

CROSS Series Week 1: Attendance Required

As we take a break from the book of John for several weeks I thought it would be appropriate to remind us of the mission that is set before us as a church: Crystal Spring Baptist Church exists for people to KNOW Christ, GROW in Christ, and SHOW Christ to others. Though this is a clever reflection of the very real biblical mandate for all disciples, a mission statement is merely a goal or intention if it is without a strategy to accomplish it. Therefore, I want to take a few weeks to demonstrate what I believe the Bible says is necessary to accomplish this mission in South Roanoke and around the world. (“Your direction not your intention determines your destination”-Andy Stanley)

In order to help us remember the important principles that we will learn in this series, I have decided to adopt and acrostic: C.R.O.S.S. to guide us through our series. Today we will be dealing with the C, which in this case stands for Corporate Worship. Corporate worship is something that Crystal Spring Baptist Church gives herself to and it is something I believe the Bible mandates, in part, to help move the mission of God forward. However, why is corporate worship worth our time? How vital is it? Where does the Bible say I have to go to church? In what ways does what we do on Sunday morning help us accomplish our goal? The answers to these questions are found in three elements found in Hebrews 10:19-25.

I. ELEMENT#1: The Conditions for Corporate Worship-10:19-21 & 22b-c

Hebrews 10:19-22 constitutes one long sentence (rendering especially difficult to diagram J). The length of this sentence does not merely emote complexity of thought, but intensity of appeal. The author of Hebrews begins a new thought in verse 19 as indicated by “therefore, brethren” and introduces something in response to what has just been discussed (namely, the superiority of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ). Having established that Jesus Christ is the greatest ever sacrifice and that His sacrifice was sufficient once for all, the author moves to encourage his audience in light of the supremacy of Jesus. First, he encourages an active, vibrant, corporate worship life.

However, before the content of this encouragement is made known, the author establishes the conditions that render corporate worship a possibility in the first place. In his mind, the encouragement he hopes to bring will have more staying power if he first reveals what has been done to make it possible. First, he suggests that a corporate worship life has been made available by means of the blood of Jesus (i.e. spilled during the sacrifice he has just finished discussing), “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (10:19). The key word in this passage is “confidence,” meaning “authorization” to enter into the holy place. Whereas before Jesus’ death, the holy place was reserved for the select few who were appointed as high priests, all believers because of the sacrifice of Jesus are able to confidently enter into the presence of God because of the blood of Christ (emphasized as the last word in the phrase). Though today we take corporate worship and the free worship of God in His presence for granted, for those in this author’s audience, this was a relatively revolutionary idea! Jesus’ blood is the believer’s pass into the presence of God. Our worship of God is a most wondrous privilege that we can only dream of enjoying because of the most expensive tickets ever purchased, salvation through the blood of Jesus.                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The author continues to explain why the believer has confidence to enter into worship of God in verse 20, “by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh…”  Jesus Himself is the “new and living way” through which believers have access to the Father. This idea of Jesus as the “way” evokes the idea of an entrance or doorway. Interestingly enough, these concepts of a new and living way and a door are in keeping with what we have been learning in John.

John 14:6-“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes unto the Father except through Me.”

John 10:9-"I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture”

A simple illustration of Jesus’ role in creating this confidence before the presence of God might involve a first date with a potential mate. Though previously intimidated by his/her presence and perhaps even kept at an arm’s length because of who he or she is, someone who knows the person personally might sacrifices his/her time and energy to make it possible for you to sit down with this individual. Not only that, but when you arrive to speak with this man or woman, your friend walks with you and introduces you, giving you all the confidence in the world that you will not be turned away and every reason to enjoy your time with that person without fear. This is similar to what Jesus has done for every believer. Jesus has sacrificed a lot to make it available for disciples to meet God and worship Him and has even ushered them into His presence. This should give all believers confidence, rendering their worship possible and vibrant.

Confidence is the first condition of our worship. In part, disciples worship because they have confidence in the presence of almighty God through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is no true worship of God without confidence in His presence.

However, not only has Jesus gone ahead and paid for our meal and introduced us to our date, He is a mediator and advocate for us in his/her midst. The second reason why believers can worship God in a meaningful way is because they have a cleric, “and since we have a great priest over the house of God” (10:21). Jesus as “a great high priest” is the mediator between us and God—the bridge between God and man—the advocate pleading the disciple’s case. Without Him, God would dismiss each disciple from His presence. However, Jesus steps in, speaks for them, and defends their legitimacy as worshippers, thereby captivating the almighty’s attention.

Confidence is the first condition of a believer’s worship. The second is a supreme cleric who acts as the believer’s greatest defense. Without Him, God would not give us the time of day. However, there is a third condition the writer of Hebrews spells out for worship.

The third condition of worship is “cleansing” (having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience) (10:22b).  This act of spiritual cleansing happens on two levels. First, the heart is cleansed from an evil conscience. This describes a washing of the inner self, complete with its nefarious motives, impurities, and general predisposition toward sin. This radical cleansing of the inner man is accomplished through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ described earlier in Hebrews 10 and echoed in Psalm 51:2.

Psalm 51:2-“Wash me thorough from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

However, not only has the heart been cleansed of Jesus, so has the body, “and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22c). Parallel to “hearts sprinkled clean” this describes a consecration of the flesh as well or the outer man. Though this remains to be realized existentially, essentially God looks upon believers as those who are totally pure because of Jesus sacrifice (inside and out).

Jesus Christ has not only sacrificed Himself to set us up with God and advocated on our behalf in His presence, He has clothed us with righteousness, rendering us suitable for the occasion of true worship. This is not unlike a friend who makes you a reservation with a girl or boy of your interest, takes time to advocate on your behalf to him or her, and makes sure you look appropriate for your first date.

Jesus has given His disciples confidence, He acts as Cleric, and has Cleansed believers so that they might worship appropriately, rendering us capable of answering the call to worship.

II. ELEMENT#2: The Call to Corporate Worship-10:22a, 23-24

In light of the conditions given, the author of Hebrews moves to capitalize on the sense of wonder and awe created by what Jesus has done by calling all disciples to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (10:22a). This is the imperative upon which all of the conditions hang. In other words, the appropriate response to what Jesus has done is to make the most of the relationship He has paved the way for by drawing near to God with total assurance of faith, sincere in heart because, as stated earlier, the heart has been cleansed by Jesus.

The plural form of the verb for draw near (“let us draw near”) suggests that this date with God is a group date, to be enjoyed by all of the disciples that the author of Hebrews is encouraging.

Therefore, corporate worship involves drawing near to God with faithful assurance because of a cleansed heart. Drawing near to God identifies the vertical direction of worship (knowing Him).

The second part of the call to worship involves “hold[ing] fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful” (10:23). Not only are disciples to draw to God in worship together because of a clean heart, they are instructed here to hold fast to their hope in light of the confidence that Jesus has provided. Agreeing in form and function of the imperative before it (let us draw near), this word means to continue to believe, with the implication of acting in accordance with such belief. Continuing in belief implies a love for understanding and growth of knowledge of the things of God (growing in God). Because “the one who promised is faithful,” the believer has every confidence in their relationship with God and can unswervingly hold to the hope that comes with such a bond—the hope of eternity, the hope of life, the hope of blessing, etc.

Therefore, worship also involves inward conviction of the promises of God. Holding fast the confession of hope identifies the inward direction of worship (growing in Him).

However, there is a third part of worship, the aspect directed towards others, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24). This solidifies the corporate aspect of worship within the context of this passage and the occasion of Hebrews as a whole. Not only are believers to draw near (disciple-God) and hold fast (disciple-self), they are to be about the business of spurring each other on to love and good deeds (disciple-disciple). The kind of activity described here, of actively encouraging one another toward love and good deeds seems to support a communal aspect of worship that has more recently been vilified.

Perhaps ever since Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura idea was promulgated and mis-appropriated, the church has value personal pursuit of God over and above a corporate pursuit of God. This has led to an unhealthy and unbiblical view of spiritual autonomy that is never described in Scripture. The writer of Hebrews seems to say that part of true worship of God involves a dynamic community of people who are encouraging one another to the things of God (love and good deeds).

Therefore, the worship that has been made possible by all that Jesus has provided (confidence, a cleric, and cleansing), is upward focused (drawing near to God {knowing Him}), inward focused (holding fast to the confidence {growing in Him}), and outward focused (stimulating one another on {showing Him}). However, how is this supposed to be done?

III. ELEMENT #3: The Character of Corporate Worship-10:25

The third element answers this question as it provides the character of corporate worship, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (10:25a). Regular assembly is one way in which this kind of worship is accomplished.  Forsaking the opportunity of meeting together, as is the habit of some (according to the writer), is prohibited as it dilutes the worship experience and fails to take advantage of Jesus has provided. The character of corporate worship (the upward, inward, and outward elements [knowing God, growing in God, and showing God]) requires the assembly of believers.

If forsaking the assembly of believers is forbidden, what is called for? The answer is found in the end of verse 25, “but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” “Showing God” to others is not limited to demonstrating Him to unbelievers. It includes showing God to those inside the faith, providing encouragement to one another. This is especially significant in light of the end that is drawing near. As the world heads toward its end, the author of Hebrews, even 2000 years ago, understood the vital role encouragement of the saints would be.

So What?

The conditions, the call, and the characteristics of corporate worship all point to its significance in the life of a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. The conditions cause us to appreciate all that Jesus has done to allow for the corporate worship of God; the call to corporate worship commands us to give ourselves readily to drawing near, holding fast, and encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ; and the characteristics compel us not to forsake this opportunity, but to, whenever possible, assemble together for the purposes of encouraging one another through knowing God, growing in Him and showing Him to others through love and good deeds.  

When we think about the nature of God, the significance of corporate worship should not surprise us. He Himself is in relationship with Himself in the Trinity and is constantly in a state of corporate worship. As those who are made in His image and those who have had their image renewed by Jesus Christ, one way that we reflect Him is by meeting together and worshipping Him corporately.

Therefore, your attendance in this assembly, is not based on tradition, ritual, or casual organization. It is an opportunity paid for by Christ’s blood for you to worship God as a community. DO NOT NEGLECT IT. God needs to be worshipped, and you and I need to be encouraged as the world draws near to its end as we know it. Our corporate worship is not just a routine, but an active way Crystal Spring Baptist Church seeks to accomplish the Mission of God to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to others.