Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Days of the Judges

Our current sermon series is through the book of Ruth. Here is a post form our introductory message. You can keep up with the sermons here.

The Book of Ruth is a beautiful story – in fact, I put it up against any Nicholas Spark’s book or Lifetime move – but, it’s much more than that. It’s a true story. But really, it’s even more than that. The Book of Ruth is Scripture. It’s a historical account of something that happened that God wants us to know about. It’s living and active and purposeful and beneficial for us.

Before one can fully grasp how beautiful this book is, we need to set it in its historical context. After all, it’s God who tells us through the human author that this happened in the days of the Judges

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. (Ruth 1:1)
The days of the judges was a period from 1375 – 1055 BC of generally great apostasy, idolatry, and sin with few bright spots sprinkled over the centuries. In Genesis 12 God called Abraham and promised Him a blessing which included his descendants inheriting the land. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, had 12 sons who wound up in Egypt. They multiplied there and eventually became enslaved to Pharaoh. God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and to the land promised to Abraham centuries before.

Moses gets them to the precipice of the land and God’s people grumble and want to head back. They are then punished by having to wander 40 years in the wilderness. When that 40 years is up, Moses dies having handed the reigns of leadership to Joshua. The people of Israel have been divided into 12 tribes according to their lineage to the 12 sons of Jacob. As they begin to conquer the land things go wrong. Then Joshua dies.

To really sum up Judges all we have to do is read its very last verse: (21:25)

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

So, this post is written as a summary of the book of Judges as we prepare to think about what God is doing in the book of Ruth. So, what's going on during the days of the Judges?

(Note: The bible verses are linked so all you have to do is click on them to see the reference)

1. A Compromise with the CanaanitesJudges 1:28

God made it clear through Moses that Israel was to devote the people to destruction and drive them out of the land completely. But what we see in the book of Judges is compromise after compromise. When the people of God attempt compromise with the world, the result is always catastrophic to God’s people and a tarnishing of God’s Name.

2. A Complacency in CatechismJudges 2:10

How could it be that one generation who knew God reared a generation that didn’t know God?

They were complacent in passing on any sort of faith legacy.

Catechism just means asking our children questions about the faith. It’s what we do on Sunday mornings with our kiddos to try and instill the building blocks of truth in their minds so that one day they will repent about believe the gospel.

You see, our children won’t own faith through osmosis. They must be taught.
God has entrusted parents with teaching their children the faith: 

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:-7)
The Israelites would have heard this right before entering the Promised Land but what happened? They grew complacent. They didn’t teach their children.

Let’s make two quick applications for us:

a.) Parents, have your children in church.

"But I don’t want to force them to go to church or anything." You don’t use that argument with school do you? Bring them to church. Even if they don’t want to come.

b.) Train them at home. Between Sunday and Wednesday teach them. Ask them questions. Read the Bible with them. Pray.
3. A Corruption of CultureJudges 2:11

When the people of God compromise with the world and when they fail to train their children in the faith, what can we expect? 

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. -Judges 17:6

When you take God out of morality you are left with only wickedness. When culture begins to define what’s right apart from God’s truth, what do you get? A mess. A sinful and wicked mess.

We see murder, sexual immorality, homosexuality, corrupt leaders, idol worship, and a plethora of other sins in the book of Judges. It’s a complete societal and cultural breakdown and if not for grace, they would have ceased to exist at all.

4. A Capitulation to Worldly CravingsJudges 2:12-13

The Israelites completely surrendered to the lusts of the world. God’s people rejected Him. 

God is faithful. Patient. Longsuffering. And God is good. Paul says in Romans that His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. But what does man do? Tramples on God’s goodness - Rejects His promises for the allurements of the world.

They rejected God covenant. Sure, in the LORD’s presence is fullness of joy. But what do I want? I want joy somewhere else. I want pleasure in earthly things. In Scripture is wisdom. But I want wisdom from Facebook.

5. A Consistency in Crying Judges 3:7-9, 12-15

There is a consistent pattern of Israel sinning against God, being punished, crying out to God, God rescuing them, and then the pattern repeating. J. Sidlow Baxter articulates the pattern like this: Sin, suffering, supplication, salvation.

So, Israel would break God’s Law, then God would punish them, then they would cry out to God, then he would bring salvation in the form of a judge We see this pattern continually repeating itself during this time period. It is a consistent downward spiral away from God and His goodness.

6. A Continual Forsaking of God’s CompanyJudges 8:34
They didn’t merely reject God’s promises, but also His person. They did not remember the LORD who had saved them.

You see, we often try to find a way to receive God’s promises, like heaven, without having to deal with God’s person.So basically, give me heaven, but stay out of my life. But the truth is, you will find that it’s a dual package. If you reject one, you reject the other.

The people of Israel broke the covenant of God and rejected the God of the covenant. If you want the promises, you must seek the person.

7. A Confusion about the Lord’s CustomsJudges 13:22-23

The people rejected God’s covenant, and God Himself, so its not surprising that they really didn’t understand God’s ways.When He appeared to them they weren’t sure who He was or how they should really think about it.

Compromise, complacency, corruption, and then the people don’t even realize what revival looks like.The people had invented, and borrowed, and compromised with so many wrong ways of worship that God’s ways were foreign to them.

Do we not see a parallel in our day?

8. A Conjecturing about God’s CommitmentsJudges 16:20

Samson gives us a picture of the nation as a whole. He thought he could live like he wanted and compromise like he wanted and that God would still be committed to him.

But here’s the truth: God is most committed to God. God will never compromise His holiness, His Godness, or His righteous character. The people of God thought they “Hey, God has to be with us no matter what.”

I think churches think that sometimes.

  • “Hey, we have church in our name so God must be for us”
  • “Hey, we are here on Sunday right? So God is obligated to show up.”

But the book of Judges shows us that God will not dwell with a stiff-necked and rebellious people.

God is holy, holy, holy. If he were to compromise His holiness, He would cease to be God. God will not give sin a pass. Don’t conjecture that God is for you, if you consistently desire and choose to reject Him and to do things your way.

9. A Cluelessness of ConsequencesJudges 20:34

Again, we have the tribe of Benjamin serve as a type of the Israelites as a whole. The Benjamites had done a wicked deed but had no concern for the consequences. (Maybe Judges 19 is not the best place for you to begin reading in your first attempt at family worship!) The Benjaminites were clueless as to what was about to happen. They did not know disaster was close upon them. How terrifying! How sobering.

Sin has consequences. - You will not live a life of rejecting God and not answer for it. Even Christians cannot choose to sin without facing consequences.Reject the church, reject Scripture, reject prayer – you’ll see consequences in your life. Not that God is making you face His wrath. That’s taken care of on the cross! But He disciplines His children for our good.

So, these 9 things are what’s happening during the book of Ruth. We don’t exactly know under which Judge this book takes place but we do know it’s in the time period of the Judges.

Right in the middle of Compromising with the Canaanites, complacency with children, corruption of the culture, capitulating to worldly cravings, a consistent crying, a continual forsaking of God’s company, a confusion about the LORD’s customs, conjecturing about God’s commitments, and a cluelessness of consequences, you have the story of Ruth.

And it is in the beautiful story of Ruth that we will see God’s real solution to all the problems of His people and that is, He is going continue the gospel plan. He is going to continue to line of the promised seed.

But more on that later. For today, I want to walk away with 7 quick takeaways in all of this.

Why does the historical context of the book of Judges matter? Why spend a whole sermon making sure we understand the time period in which Ruth takes place? I’m glad you asked! Here are 7 things:

1. Doing what is right in our own eyes is dumb

If you know yourself at all, you know you’re imperfect. You know you’re sinful. You know that you make bad decisions sometimes.What would we expect by creating a culture of just doing what we think is right, or what feels best?

Just follow your heart is terrible advice. We are sinful and broken people. Our hearts are deceitful. Why would we think doing right in our own eyes would work? Stop treating Christianity like a mystic religion. It’s not. It’s based on revealed truth.

Oprah Winfrey said on Sunday (1/7/18): “What I know for sure is speaking ‘your truth’ is the most powerful tool we have.”

No its not. Because there is no such thing as ‘your truth.’ There is truth, period. And that’s what we should seek. And that’s what we should do. Not what’s right in our own eyes.

2. We are wicked and foolish if we abandon Scripture –

It grows old to hear prominent church leaders say things like ‘God told me to say…’ Particularly it seems an alarming trend with women’s ministry leaders. Here’s the deal: God speaks to us in Scripture. We must be people of the Book. 

The Israelites abandoned the teachings of Moses during the time period of the Judges and what happened? Complete chaos and moral degradation. Why would we expect a different result in our lives and churches if we abandon Scripture?

3. Leadership matters
In our churches, in our nation, in our homes: Godly leadership matters. It’s not about being successful in the world’s eyes. We need men to lead our homes, nation, and churches that are seeking God and pursuing holiness.

4. Compromise always breeds worse compromise

When we compromise a little, we always increase that compromise over time, just like Israel spiraled down during the history of the judges. We want to push all the way to the line and then tiptoe over it thinking all will be well. Before we know it, we've fallen headlong into sin and we are stuck.

Don’t play with sin. Don’t entertain sin. Don’t capitulate. Don’t compromise the truth in the least. Stand firm.

5. Repentance is always in season

In the book of Judges, every time the people of God repented, there was an amazing reality they noticed: God was gracious!

So, this doesn’t mean presume on God’s kindness, but does mean repent today. Psalm 9:10 says you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. Seek Him! Repent and go to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Change your ways. Cleanse your hands. Real forgiveness, real change, real hope is available in Jesus.

6. God is gloriously patient and holy

You are reading this because God is patient. I’m so glad He is aren’t you? God was patient with the Israelites and was committed to continuing the line of Christ. That’s why we have the book of Ruth! And He is Holy. Don’t presume upon His patience if you are outside of Christ. Judgment is coming. Come to Him today.

7. Jesus is our only hope –

The book of Judges shows us that we have no hope in and of ourselves. It also shows us that left to ourselves society will only spiral downward. But the book of Ruth shows us that God’s big plan for the salvation of the nations is continuing right on through the line of Abraham, Judah, and David.

God is doing a work that is unfathomable to the human brain. God has made a way to uphold His holiness and extend mercy. But this is only in Christ. It’s not what’s right in our own eyes. It’s not in conservative values. It’s not found anywhere or in anyone else except Christ alone.

Jesus is the bread we need to rescue us from our famine. Jesus is the greater Boaz. Jesus leaps off the pages of the story of Ruth.

God punished Jesus in the place of sinners and raised Him the 3rd day in accordance with Scripture so that all who place their faith in Him may be justified – meaning, forgiven of all sins and declared righteous. That’s the biggest message of Ruth: Jesus is our only suitable and all-sufficient Savior. All this over 1,000 years before He even walked the earth as a man. 

The Bible is wonderful.

You can listen to this sermon in its entirety here

Monday, January 15, 2018

How to Change Your Spouse

Just-married bride and groom hold hands on a hill at sunset

I participated in a Q&A recently where a woman anonymously submitted this question: The Word instructs wives to submit to their husband's and RESPECT them. How can I respect a man who is not respectable in my eyes?

First, my big picture advice was this: Be willing to go to your pastor or a godly couple in the church to talk these things through. The local church is designed to help us walk through life issues just like this. Marriage is not easy. It's not float off into the sunset on a Nicholas Sparks's sailboat. Sometimes marriage takes hard work. However, it is good, and it is a sacred bond between a man and a woman that is worth fighting for. I didn't say fighting each other! I mean it is worth making the intentional effort to preserve, no matter what.

Also, sin issues can arise in a marriage that need to be dealt with in a biblical manner in the local church. They need to be lovingly confronted just like any other sin. There may be patterns of behavior that a spouse is exhibiting that others are noticing whereby people in the church are loving enough to confront the sin issue.

More often than not, however, there is something else that can be done. How do we really go about changing our spouse? If the husband isn’t leading well enough or if the wife isn’t submitting well enough, what do we do to fix it? Should the husband just go vent to his guy friends? Does the wife just need a girl's night out to complain a little? Should we call someone else in to prove us right and our spouse wrong?

Here is, in my opinion, some inestimable, biblical, and extremely practical advice:

Take the focus off the other person for a moment. (Maybe a long moment!)

Again, I’m not saying there aren’t serious issues that arise in a marriage that need to be dealt with by going to counseling or even confronting particular sin issues. But here’s what I’m saying for you today: focus on your sanctification for a season. Consider what needs to change in you.

You see, marriage is a beautiful covenant between two broken people. The only marriage ever to occur that was between two non-sinners happened at the end of Genesis 2. And it took less than a whole chapter for that to mess up. Marriage is messy sometimes because people are sinners.

Paul exhorts husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22,25 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”

It's interesting, isn't it, that Paul doesn't say "Wives, work on your husbands" or "Husbands, fix your wives". He addresses the wives to submit, and the husbands to love. Sufficient for the respective spouse is the weight of each command without adding the pressure of carrying the other's failures too. 

Often times in marriage disagreements I hear the wife say something like “I would follow you if you would lead better” or the husband says “I would lead better if you’d submit better.” Yet, here is another important reality of Ephesians 5: There are no exception clauses. Paul doesn’t say only love perfect wives, or only submit to perfect husbands, for if he did, these exhortations would be completely meaningless! It’s not the lovely wives that are to be loved or the respectable husbands that are to be respected. That's not what Paul says. He says Wives, submit to your own husbands and husbands, love your wives. We can’t weasel out of these commands by claiming our spouse is imperfect. 

In fact, in other places in Scripture, all Christians are told to submit to governmental leaders (1 Peter 2:13ff) and we know that the leaders of the New Testament era were certainly not Christians. The point being, instead of waiting around on your spouse to do what they are supposed to do, first focus on doing what you are supposed to do, as plainly revealed in the Bible. You don't have to pray about God's will for how He wants you to act in your marriage - He's already shown you!

Let the fullness of Christ in you spill over into your marriage relationship. Focus on being the spouse God has called you to be first, in your particular role. No, you can’t be perfect, but there are areas we can all grow in. Wives, follow your husband’s leadership even if it is imperfect. This doesn’t mean you have to be a ‘slave’ or do something that Christ forbids, but it does mean that you can follow in areas your husband is leading even if you don’t always agree. Honor him. Encourage him. Don't make his obedience to Christ, or lack thereof, your joy, or lack thereof. Cultivate joy in Christ above all else.

Husbands, love your wives even if they are contentious (My friend Jim Elliff recently wrote an excellent article about the sad story of James Fraser) Does not Christ continually love the church even though she is imperfect? Is He not full of grace toward Her? Did He not give up His life for Her? Strive to love your wife that way, even if she balks sometimes. You keep doing what God has called you to do. Encourage her. Buy her small gifts unexpectedly. Send her thoughtful text messages.

None of this is to imply that the other person doesn’t need work too. In fact, I may not know your spouse personally, but I already know this one truth: he or she does need work. Why? Your wife, or your husband, is a fallen human being! If he or she is a Christian though, I am certain that your joy in Christ will eventually rub off  (of course, marriage counseling might be a tremendous help too. And there is no shame in wanting to work on your marriage through biblical counseling!). Let your fullness in Christ spill over. Let your meditations on Scripture, and prayer, and love for the local church pour over in your life so that your husband or wife sees your joy and love for Christ. May your witness show them that obedience to Christ brings delight. If they are not a Christian, your fullness in Christ might just win them to the Lord (see 1 Peter 3:1).

Now, don't try this for two weeks and then say "Well, I tried to change you by changing me and not even that worked!" First and foremost do this for the glory of God. Wives, submit to your husbands for the glory of God. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church for the glory of God. Commit yourself to being the godliest spouse you can be for the glory of God. And as you strive to do what Scripture teaches regarding your specific role in marriage, pray for your spouse. Pray that they would understand the role God has for them as well. Pray that the gospel would continually work in their hearts. Pray that you would love and cherish them as the gift they really are to you. Pray that they would seek to live for God's glory too.

Finally, let me appeal to you that you need help outside of your marriage. Even the best and godliest marriages need the consistent encouragement, exhortations, and examples of other marriages within the local church. They need regular fellowship with other godly couples, and men need time with men, and women with women, to grow in godliness in the context of our respective marriage roles and life in Christ in general. Additionally, the regular intake of Scripture in the context of the corporate gathering of the local church is vital to any marriage. Furthermore, there are seasons where godly counseling, a marriage retreat, or an intentional date night/getaway is needed. Be willing to be humble enough to invest in your marriage in all of these areas. It's that important. If your spouse isn't willing to commit to these things, you must not walk away. You keep pursuing Christ. And thank the Lord for giving you such an instrument of sanctfiication in your life!

Marriage is hard work sometimes. But sometimes the hardest work might be overcoming your own pride and seeking the Lord to work in your life before you worry about what your spouse needs to fix. In all of this, however, it is worth it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From Death to Life: How Salvation Works - A Book Update

(Photo Credit: Stephen J. Melniszyn

I'm pretty new to this book writing thing. Not that I haven't wanted to write before, but wanting to write a book and actually completing one are two totally different things. And guess what? I'm still not done!

I've been kicked in the shins a few times, disappointed a few times, frustrated a few times, and almost given up a few times! But overall I have been vastly encouraged by folks. If you are one of those people, thank you.

This project has gone through several 'soft' edits from many friends and acquaintances (and my lovely wife!). Now, it is with a professional editor and once that gets finished I'll talk with my publishing friend, and hopefully, some more 'endorsers', find someone to write a foreword and publish this beast.

So, yeah, we are close, but still, a little ways to go! I'm writing this post to just keep those in the know that want to be in the know, and to have the rest of you pray that this project would see completion. I know there will also be some more cost issues arise so you can pray that the Lord would work those situations out too. Putting this out there helps me promote the book but it also holds me accountable to keep pressing on with the work. I'd like to get it done in a timely manner but also do it well.

So, what is this book about and who is it for?

I'm glad you asked!

Here's the synopsis:

Any serious-minded reader of Scripture has most likely observed that the current evangelical culture’s definition of what constitutes a Christian stands in stark contrast to the Bible’s description of true believers. There are several streams that feed into this river of deception, but a key contributor is an inaccurate understanding of how a person actually becomes a Christian. In From Death to Life: How Salvation Works, Pastor Allen Nelson puts forth a biblical case for how a person passes from the realm of being an unbeliever, into the Kingdom of light. In doing so, Nelson shows that a proper understanding of how a person moves from spiritual death to life must be derived from Scripture rather than tradition. Far from being a mere academic exercise, this work shows that such a biblical understanding has many practical ramifications for local churches as well as individual evangelistic endeavors. How a person gets saved is a subject important enough to spend some serious time thinking through and here is a gospel-focused, biblically oriented book that will lead readers to do just that. Pastors, laypersons, and even unbelievers will benefit from carefully thinking through these pages and examining its contents in light of Scripture.
And, here are a couple endorsements:

From Death to Life is a beautiful, biblical explanation of what truly happens when a person is saved by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The clarity of this writing can lead people to a much deeper understanding of what happens when this takes place in a believer’s life, not only at the moment of conversion but also in the time following until the Lord calls us home. I pray this will be of great value as you seek a better understanding of this most important doctrine of salvation.

Kallem Hill
Associate Pastor / Youth Pastor, FBC Oppelo, Arkansas
"I've seen in Allen Nelson a passion for souls, which shows up in an intense desire to make Jesus Christ's saving message plainly known to everyone he can reach. From Death to Life: How Salvation Works makes every key gospel theme clear and, with God's blessing, will be a real eye-opener, not only to many who have not yet heard the gospel, but to a multitude of churchgoers who think they know it but have missed these indispensable root-of-the-matter issues. It's a book that will also greatly sharpen any new believer's grasp of our great salvation."
-- Dennis Gundersen, Grace Bible Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma

So, if you've made it this far, I hope this post has built a little excitement and intrigue in you. And finally, here are a few ways you could help me if interested:

  1. Pray (as mentioned above)
  2. Pass along this post to others
  3. If there are any bloggers willing to write an honest review, let me know and I might be able to get you a copy.
  4. Put a few bucks back and buy yourself a copy or two when it comes out ;-) 
  5. As I said, I'm a novice, so if you are willing to share any advice about this whole process, I'm willing to listen.

How to Recover from Declining Grace

Decorated sword in the grass field at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park

Yesterday, we examined William Gurnall's symptoms of declining grace. If we find ourselves in a situation whereby we aren't where we want to be (or once were) in our walk with the Lord, how do we recover.?

Gurnall answers, but first, he reminds us how our armor becomes impaired in the first place:

"The Christian's armor becomes damaged in two ways. The first is by violent assault - when you are overcome by temptation to sin. The second is by neglect - when you fail to perform those duties which, like oil, keep your armor polished and shining."

I. How to Recover when Sin is the Cause:

1. Renew Your Repentance:
"Here is Christ's counsel to the church at Ephesus: 'Repent, and do the first works' (Rev. 2:5). Go and search your heart as diligently as you would your house if you suspected a murderer was hiding, waiting to cut your throat in the night. When you have found the sin that has done the mischief, fill your heart with shame for it and indignation against it. Cast it before the Lord in a heartbreaking confession."

No doubt the Puritans are sometimes criticized for an overemphasis on introspection. I think those criticisms are occasionally warranted. But I also think there is a Biblical precedent and prescription for asking the Lord to search our hearts and show us sin so that we may kill it (see Psalm 139:23, and Romans 8:13).

Don't continue in sin. Repent. The glory of the gospel is that Christians are forgiven in Christ. His blood is wholly sufficient and we have already been declared righteous in Him by faith. So, why would you stay in sin? Seek and destroy. Kill it in repentance.

2. Reaffirm Your Faith:

"When you have renewed your repentance, then renew your faith in God's promise to pardon (1 John 1:9)." As mentioned above, we can recover from declining grace by clinging to the gospel. This is why we need daily reminders of God's work in Christ. We need a daily reminder of our position in Christ and what God has done for us through Him. Paul wants the Ephesians to "know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18). Set your heart and mind there.

3. Renounce Your Lusts:
"Having repented and claimed God's promise of forgiveness, back up your actions by rooting out sin wherever it threatens to crop up. Where weeds thrive, flowers die."  As mentioned yesterday, we too often think of the Christian life as one that is passive. We think we will grow in sanctification simply by virtue of our aging physically. This is perhaps why some older Christians are not as mature in the faith as they are in age. Scripture calls us to actively fight sin. Yes, we rest in the gospel, but this resting is also one that requires a sharp sword and resolute heart.

II. How to Recover when Neglect is the Cause:

"When the armor of God which girds your soul is rusty from disuse, rather than tarnished by wilful sin, follow God's instructions for the strengthening of grace. If a fire goes out for lack of wood, the only solution is to lay on more wood. Likewise with grace; if neglect of your Christian duties causes its decline, you must restore those duties which kindled a fire under your grace in the first place. I refer you to four principal duties:"

1. Read Your Bible
Were you expecting something more profound? "Perhaps you say, 'Oh but I do read God's Word.' Then read it more! The Word shows your graces a perfect picture of the object of their affections - Christ."

Sure, it's the Sunday School answer, but it's still the right answer. Scripture is necessary and sufficient for our Christian growth. God speaks to us in Scripture. Too many Believers are spiritually famished because that are looking for God to speak in ways outside of the Bible. They are reading this or that book, or trying this or that practice, or just praying that He would audibly talk to them. Yet, He's already spoken and still speaks in His Word. Take up and read. (We recently podcasted about this here.)

When we read the Bible we see that it gives us a clear picture of both Christ, and ourselves. This is exactly what we need for growth in the Lord. "Just as a young man's heart leaps at the sight of his beloved, so your graces come to life when they behold the Christ who loved you and gave Himself for you. At the same time, when you see what your sins cost CHrist, it should produce in you a godly sorrow and a hatred for sin."

2. Meditate
"Meditation is to grace as bellows are to a fire. It revives the languishing soul with fresh thoughts of God. As you ponder over them, a holy fire will burn and your heart will grow warm within you."

Biblical meditation isn't emptying our mind. It is filling it with truth. Don't just read the Bible, think over it deeply. Turn its words over and over in your mind. Commit them to memory. Reflect upon the gospel truths revealed in Scripture and accordingly, reflect upon "your own behavior" and "what it has been toward God and toward man during the day".  First, think about what a passage means then think about how it applies to you. Don't rush too quickly into making the text about you. Think about what it says about God, or what it says about man in general, or what it shows us about the work of Christ. Chew on that, and then consider how it must apply to your own heart and walk with God. Rightly understand God's promises, and set your hope on them.

3. Pray
Yup. Sunday School answers. Read your Bible and pray. Sometimes we just think we are 'missing' something about the Christian life when its right there in front of us the whole time. If you have declined in your walk with God, don't expect that to be remedied apart from God's grace working through Bible intake and prayer.

This is why Gurnall emphasized mediation. "A soul in meditation is on its way to prayer." Scripture is actually fuel for our prayer. There are no better prayers out there than the ones fueled by the inspired Word.  Prayer doesn't always come easy. In fact, it's often hard work. Sometimes we expect that once we start praying we will change immediately. This is not always the case. "How often in the Psalms (eg., Psalm 56) do we see a dark cloud upon David's spirit at the beginning of his prayer. But before he has finished talking with the Father, his spirit has soared to new heights of faith and high acclamations of praise!" It might not necessarily be like this for you when you pray, but what is the answer? Keep on praying. Keep seeking God's face. Remind yourself of this truth: "you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you" (Psalm 9:10)

4. Fellowship with Other Christians
I'm so grateful Gurnall included this because it is spot on. Many Believers think that their walk with the Lord is merely a 'personal' one. Don't get me wrong, we must have a personal faith in Christ, but in no way is the Christian life about a 'personal' relationship only.

"If you keep your distance from the saints, Satan can more easily sabotage you.,,When you forsake the communion of saints, you take a dangerous step toward apostasy."

The local church is not an optional part of the Christian life. If you are not regularly in fellowship and deeply committed to a local body of Believers, you are in grave danger. Find a faithful local church as soon as possible. You were not meant to do Christianity alone. Not only do you need the local church, but the local church needs you. Fellowship with other Christians strengthens both your soul and theirs.

So, we've now seen Gurnall's take on symptoms of a Christian's decline, but also how we may recover. One big takeaway I hope you see is that the Christian life is not a ride off into the sunset. We have a real enemy and there are real consequences to neglecting this truth. Sin continues to linger in us and we take a perilous risk to let it simmer unattended. The gospel needs to be consistently applied to our hearts. We need to be ever ready to do battle with our own lusts. We need to keep a loving, watchful eye over our fellow Believers to help them in this battle just like we need their eyes over us. We need to be students of the Word and to daily drink from its fountains of grace. We need to regularly commune with God in secret prayer. We need to be Christians in complete armor.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Geniune Symptoms of Declining Grace

black and white portrait of a man in Medieval armor, getting ready to swing a sword.

One of my best Christmas presents I received in 2015 was the 3-Volume Set of William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armor. For various reasons, I didn't get around to actually digging into it until recently (yikes!). However, I just finished Volume 1. I can't recommend this highly enough! Spurgeon says of the book:

"Gurnall's work is peerless and priceless; every line is full of wisdom; every sentence is suggestive. The whole book has been preached over scores of times, and is, in our judgment, the best thought-breeder in all our library." 

Hearty praise! 

What I want to do today is lay out three warnings Gurnall gives as symptoms for spiritual backsliding. I will do a follow-up post on How to Recover in the near future.

So, what are symptoms of declining grace? (The headings and quotes are Gurnall's words)

1. A Careless Attitude Toward Temptation -

"Has your conscience become so inattentive and drowsy that you give little thought to the devil's snares?" In other words, are you aware that temptation is real, and that we have a great enemy prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8)? "When a person's conscience is numb to temptation, his graces are in critical condition." A drowsy conscience is a lazy conscience. What situations arise during your day that tempts you to complain? Be lazy? Lust? Think through those and be on guard! If you're unconcerned about them, this is a symptom of spiritual sickness.

But what about if you do recognize temptations? If you're not fighting against them, you're still in danger. "If your conscience is alert to temptation but heartless to fight against it, your graces must still be listed as very ill. A man who lets temptation loiter along the borders of his conscience proves himself a poor guardian of his godliness. If you do not take up arms against your enemy and seek God earnestly and fervently for deliverance, you may be sure that lust will soon gain the advantage over grace." 

Sin is not something to be trifled with. Don't put yourself at risk. Don't see how far you can go in this or that scenario without sinning. Be alert that slothfulness, lust, anger, pride, and a litany of other sins are crouching at the door and ready to pounce if we exhibit carelessness toward them!

It's also important to note that the motivation for resisting temptation should be "God's reputation" as "He is the one most offended by your sin." In other words, it's not "God's grace in you" to resist temptation "if all you care about is your own reputation." Recognize and fight temptation for the glory of God and the good our your soul.

2. An Inantentive Attitude in Worship and Service - 

We all go through seasons where corporate worship and personal time with the Lord are especially sweet. Gurnall warns us of the dangers of declining grace when "you find yourself going about your spiritual tasks out of habit rather than love." 

"To hunger and thirst after righteousness is a sign of health, for a craving soul is a thriving soul. On the other hand, the soul that does not constantly cry out to God for spiritual food will grow weaker by the day." Man shall not live by bread alone (Deut. 8:3)! Are you in the Scriptures regularly because of your love for Christ?

Believers need a regular intake of God's Word and regular time alone with God. Furthermore, we need regular time with other Believers in the local church. When we begin to merely go through the motions of these duties or neglect them altogether, it is a symptom of 'declining grace.' As a pastor, one of the telltale indicators that something is spiritually out of sorts with a congregant is when they miss a few worship gatherings. The sobering reality is that the missing of corporate worship is a fruit issue of whatever is going on. In other words, the Christian can fade for some time before actually missing church. So, the point is to be aware enough of our spiritual state to know when it is "time to repair your armor."

I would also note that because of the depravity of the human heart, we need other mature Believers regularly speaking into our lives as a way to help us avoid 'backsliding' (see Heb. 3:12-13 for example). My sinful eyes aren't quite enough to watch over my own soul. I need others willing to help me, and so do you.

3.  An Obsessive Attitude Toward your Work -

"How easy it is to let the responsibilities of job and family leave us in a less spiritual frame of mind than we once possessed. If we let them, the cares of this world will follow us into our prayer closets and cleave to our spirits, giving a stale, earthly odor to our prayers and meditation." 

Concern for good things can become a problem when it is obsessive. When we take our eyes off of Christ and begin to "put too much stock in our worldly estate" we are in danger spiritual decline. 

"If you will labor less to promote your earthly account and pray harder to improve your fund of grace, you will soon find your soul at peace with God's providence."

What do you think of Gurnall's warnings? Sadly, we often posit a view of the Christian life that is way too passive. As if we just pray this prayer one time, and then continue on in life unconcerned about our walk with the Lord until we die and go to heaven. The reality is, the Christian life is a battle. While all true Believers will endure to the end, this doesn't mean that spiritual decline won't result in dire consequences for us and those around us (the quickest example I can think of off the top of my head is David's sin with Bathsheba). 

We often use the excuse of "everybody sins" to justify our bad habits or even sinful practices. But Gurnall warns us to take note of our spiritual state and to strive to "stand firm" in grace so that we might not be maimed by the continual onslaught the devil throws our way and so that we may be wary of the snares he lays before us regularly.

Take account of your walk with the Lord. Are any of the above symptoms noticeable in your life? If so, don't stay in such a dreadful state! Go to Christ, go to Scripture, and consult with mature Christians that you may be a Christian in complete armor. 

A follow-up post will elaborate more on How to Recover from Declining Grace

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Calling Upon the Name of the Lord (Eddie Ragsdale)

A black phone in a red vintage phone box

Today's post is from my friend Eddie Ragsdale, pastor of First Baptist Church in Marshall, Arkansas. He's the husband of Laura and father of Brady and Corey. He is a wonderful brother in Christ and my fellow podcaster! It's always worth listening to what he has to say. His words are below:

There is an interesting phrase found first in the scriptures at the end of Genesis 4. It says there that at that time people first began to “call upon the name of the Lord.” This wording is used several times in the scriptures. Another notable occurrence is found in the book of Joel. In Joel’s prophecy scripture states that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved! Peter at Pentecost proclaims that the amazing display of power and efficacy in their preaching was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and reiterates the invitation to those hearing this early gospel message to know that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” 

If these references were not enough Paul picks up this phrase in Romans chapter 10:13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Wow! What an amazing promise. That everyone, that is every single person, who calls upon the name of the Lord will (for sure) be saved. It is staggering to think about the mercy, grace, and love of God displayed in this statement that every wicked sinner who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Every struggling addict, every self-righteous religionist, every idolater, every liar, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

But all of this begs one question: What does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord? The weight and gravity of this promise is incalculable but what does it mean? Possibly you are saying “well it’s obvious it means that everyone who calls out to God will be saved.” Ok. But that isn’t exactly what it said. Certainly, it is true that every person that truly calls out to God asking to be saved out of the convicting and transformative work of the Holy Spirit is saved but is that what this text is about? As we begin to track the way the phrase has been used throughout the bible going all the way back to Genesis 4 and considering the linguistic choices of both the Greek and Hebrew writers it is probably better to interpret this as meaning worship of the Lord. I know that for many years my assumption has been that this phrase, especially as it is used in Acts and Romans, just referred to the initial act of calling out to God for salvation at our conversion. However, upon further study and meditation, it seems clear that those who will be saved are those who become “God worshippers” and to be even more specific to the New Testament passages those who confess Jesus as Lord and trust in Christ alone. 

The point I’m making is that calling upon the name of the Lord is not just something that you did to get saved. No as a disciple, follower, and worshipper of Jesus, calling upon the name of the Lord is what you continue to do and will always do. As a matter of fact, throughout all eternity, we will be calling upon the name of the Lord and worshipping Him as trophies of His grace and eternal evidence of His saving power. So let us all call upon the name of the Lord and the true and living God! Let me urge you if you are not a worshipper of Christ then you are not a believer in Christ. Please turn from your sin and trust Christ! Call upon the name of the Lord today and you will be saved!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Question of the Week - 2018

I'm going to try a new ministry format in 2018 where I will take a question or two each week and answer them on Thursdays at 12pm via Facebook Live. I want to answer in this post why I'm doing it and how you can submit a question.


It is true that technology can be used in a bad way. It's also true though that technology is a gift of God that can be used in a Christ-honoring way. That's my goal with this project. As a pastor, I get questions quite often about life issues that I think would be edifying to others. So, the goal is to honor Christ and help others as they think through questions regarding Scripture, theology, life, the church, discipleship, family, etc.

I am not an expert. I think this exercise will help me as I grow in my faith to think through issues from a biblical perspective. So, ask away as we seek to find biblical solutions together.


You can submit a question completely anonymously using Google Forms. Here is the link: Question of the Week.

The reason I want it anonymous is because it gives you the freedom to ask what's on your heart. And if you have the question, I'm sure others have considered it before too. If you want to leave your name, you can, but you don't have to. And, there's no limit to how many questions you can ask since I don't know who's asking them.

No question is off limits. However, priority will be given to questions that are most pertinent to life and ministry here in Perryville, AR. Also, I obviously reserve the right to not answer every question submitted. It may be that so many questions are asked that I don't get to them all. Or it may be that I find a particular question confusing or even inappropriate. And if there is a really good question that is above me, I may pass it along to someone else to answer.

So, let's see how this plays out. I hope we all find it useful as we seek to follow Christ in 2018. To Him be the glory forever.

Question of the Week link