Wednesday, December 28, 2016

53 Days


That's the number of players NFL teams are allowed to have on their active roster. 

It is also a pivotal chapter in the book of Isaiah. 

And most relevant to this post, it is the number of Sundays for 2017. 

In the providence of God, we not only have 53 Sundays this year, but both the 1st and the last day of 2017 are on a Sunday. This hasn't happened since 2006 and won't happen again until 2023. 

What might you do with 53 Sundays? 

How will you begin and end 2017?

I consider it a special grace that the Lord has given us for this coming year to begin it gathering with His people in corporate worship. I wonder if you will take this opportunity to be intentional with the blessing God has given us. 

You could commit right now at the end of 2016, to take full advantage of each Sunday God graces you with in 2017. All 53 of them. That you will use each of these gifts to not forsake the assembling of God's people but rather to encourage other Believers and worship the Lord of heaven and earth at your local church. Every. Single. Sunday. 

It's possible in God's providence that you will be sick or out of town some time in 2017. It's even possible that the Lord will come back or that we might not get to see all 53 Sundays of 2017. But God's prerogatives aside, will you resolve to make it your prerogative to be wholly committed to the local church this coming year? 

Christ loves His church. He died for His church. And He is using His church to further His glory among the nations. Isn't the local church the place our Christian hearts long to be in tangible fellowship with? 

What an opportunity we have this Sunday to begin on the proverbial right foot!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

22 Thoughts on Bible Reading

I think the New Year is a great time to contemplate how one will improve their Bible intake and so I want to offer some thoughts that will hopefully be helpful as you consider this matter of great importance! These are things I've picked up on and am still growing in:

1. There are certain principles taught in Scripture about Bible intake but there is no cookie cutter approach. In other words, don't feel guilty for not doing it exactly like someone else. 

2. With that being said, you should be reading the Bible more than you currently are. (Probably)

3. I think every Believer should read through the whole bible at least once every few years. Once a year is more doable than you think. It would take all of 15 minutes a day. But, there are also good reasons to space that further out too. See below. 

4. Multiple readings of one book is highly beneficial. So, even if you do a read the Bible in a year plan, leave time to read certain books multiple times (as in say 15-20x at least) throughout the year. If you can't read the whole bible in a year AND books multiple times, then opt for reading books multiple times and read the whole bible every 2 years (or 18 months or even 3 years). 

5. New Testament books are helpful for reading multiple times. Or even sections of the New Testament like the Sermon on the Mount. 

6. Don't neglect the Old Testament. 

7. Learn the history of the Old Testament. The Books aren't in chronological order. That's a huge key in unlocking your understanding of it!

8. Meditate more. This is slowing down and thinking more focused thoughts about a shorter passage of Scripture. Find a section within your daily readings. 

9. Link your meditations. In other words, as you think about these individual passages, what does that tell you more about the Book or Books as a whole? 

10. Mark in your Bible. Seriously. Do it. If you don't feel comfortable marking in the Bible you have, buy one specifically for that purpose. It isn't 'holier' to not mark in a Bible. It's extremely beneficial. Underline. Draw boxes. Make squiggly lines. Circle stuff. Write cross references. Write thoughts. Use multiple colors. Write prayers. 

11. Journal your thoughts. 

12. I can't emphasize enough how much reading the whole bible through has helped me. It connects themes, shows God's greatness, reveals Truth. Commit to doing it in a year or year and a half. After you've gone through once you can spread that our longer if you'd like. But commit to getting through it once at a decent pace. 

13. Read the Bible every day. We have apps on our phones. Commit yourself to not going a day without reading a portion of God's Word. Even if you've neglected to read it during the day, read a Psalm before you go to bed. 

14. Start your day with reading. Maybe that doesn't work for some people but I think it's the best approach for most. Again, there's no cookie cutter approach.

15. Read the Bible with your family. Take a short passage that you've read and read it to your kids. Offer a few thoughts or praises to God. 

16. Listen to the Bible. Again, we have apps. Use an app while mowing or driving or jogging. 

17. Remember what you've read. Memorize verses. Understand where things are in the Bible so you can go back to them during a discussion with someone. 

18. Read the Bible more than you currently are! (See point 2)

19. Reading the Bible is chiefly about God showing us who He is that we might adore Him more. We are reading for transformation. 

20. Pray through portions of Scripture. Use God's own words to speak to Him. 

21. Understand the theme of the gospel that runs from Genesis to Revelation. Every passage either shows our need for Jesus or anticipates Jesus or shows what Jesus has done or glories in Jesus. 

22. Thank God today for the tremendous blessing we have in owning a copy of the Scriptures in our own language. And take advantage of this! (Luke 12:48)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Christmas Card from Jonah

In 2010, something like 1.5 billion Christmas Cards were sent in the United States. If you're anything like the Nelsons, not many of those were yours! It seems like every year we are determined to send out cards and we fall short, every. single. time! For what it's worth, we've actually ordered and have in hand family photo cards this year! We are going to do it! (*nervous confidence*)

So, Christmas Cards are just a way to show you care, keep in touch, and maybe even remind folks about the true importance of Christmas. As our local church body is currently walking through the book of Jonah, I thought, as we came to Jonah 1:17, it would be interesting to contemplate what Jonah might include on a Christmas Card.

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Now, I realize there aren't any post offices in the belly of a whale. And it's not my desire to twist any passage of Scripture. But, let's pretend for a moment that Jonah was to send us a Christmas Card this year. Based on this text, here are 4 things I think he would want us to know:


I. Remembers Runaways

Jonah had physically removed Himself from God’s place of blessing. He fled Israel and headed to Tarshish. In the midst of a terrible storm, Jonah was fast asleep. He had done all he could to run away from and forget about God.

But God hadn’t forgotten about Jonah. He appointed a great fish...

The idea Scripture is communicating to us here is that God is Sovereign. Sovereign over the wind and waves and fish and every circumstance of Jonah’s and our life. Jonah thought his running from God meant that God would let him go. But for the Believer, this is never true is it? God will not let us go. God will not forget us.

God Remembers Runaways. – The Lord appointed a great fish! This fish didn't just happen to be there that day to swallow Jonah. There's no such thing as luck or chance. God appointed the fish because God remembered Jonah.

Physically, maybe you are in the right place today - at work or home or whatever location the Lord would have you to be. But I wonder if you could say the same spiritually? Disobedience to God is running away even if you haven’t physically yet boarded a ship to Tarshish.

• Is your life characterized by pursuing obedience to Christ and submitting to His will for your life?
• Are you listening and reading and meditating on His Word?
• Are you walking with Him in the fullness of joy?

Maybe your response is: "Well, no I’m not, but God doesn’t really care about me. I’m just one person. Surely there are bigger issues in the world." Ah, my brother or sister, God remembered Jonah. And He remembers you. He cares about you AND your holiness in Him.

When we stop our running we often think it’s a long way back to God. But that’s not true. The truth is, when we finally turn around we see that though we’ve run from Him, He’s pursued us the whole time, just like He pursued Jonah. He will not forget His own.

Let me make another note here, and this isn't specifically tied to the text, but it does have to do with this time of year: Maybe you aren’t running away but you still feel as though God has forgotten you.
Maybe you have lost someone recently or even a while ago and this time of year brings a lot of pain and sadness for you and you think: Does God still care? Can I gently remind you today that He does? He does care. He has not forgotten you. And more than that, He can identify with your pain. Trust Him.

Now on to our second reminder from Jonah. God:

II. Rescues Resisters

I think that the book of Jonah, and particularly this part of Jonah has been misrepresented at times. It is most definitely true that God was teaching Jonah some things here, but I do not see this fish as a tool of judgment but rather an instrument of mercy.

The fish isn’t a ‘gotcha!’ moment but part of a bigger picture of what God was doing in Jonah’s life. Sometimes we think of God as 'up there' with a lightning bolt ready to strike us when we mess up. And I think the way the book of Jonah is portrayed sometimes plays into that. But consider this:

Killing Jonah would have been easy. Let him drown. But instead, God appoints a great fish to save him from the depths because he was rescuing and restoring Jonah. He cared too much for Jonah to leave him in the state that he was.

Jonah had resisted God’s call to go to Nineveh, he resigned his prophetic office, and left town. Surely he was now beyond the hope of rescue. But just as the saltwater went up his nostrils and as he flailed for his life in that great big ocean, Jonah, the resister, was rescued.

You see, Jonah had not fallen into God’s ocean of condemnation, but rather His Ocean of Mercy. Instead of letting Jonah sink like a rock to the depths of the sea and meet his demise, God sovereignly appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah so he would be rescued. There are two things I think we can see from this:

1. God is a God of means – 

God can work by Himself. I mean He spoke and the Universe was created. But often, God chooses to work through various means. Here, it is a great fish (and I don't think over speculating on the species of fish or whether it was a whale or not is all that important).

In Scripture, the Lord uses kings, and peasants, animals, and forces of nature, plants and plagues to bring about His sovereign purposes. Go read Isaiah 46:8-11.

And God isn’t just ‘foreseeing’ what will happen and then responding. Rather, He has decreed and declared, appointed, and ordained in such a way that He will bring about His purposes through various means. This brings me to my second observation:

2. God Rescues in Unexpected Ways –

Sometimes as Believers we wonder: Why is this happening to me? Sometimes we don’t have an answer. It’s not because we’ve done anything wrong, it’s simply part of life in a fallen world. However, we can be confident of this: That nothing is meaningless and that God is lovingly and intentionally using all circumstances in our life to conform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28). We can look at the big picture of our life and say that everything God allows and everything God directly brings in, is serving a higher purpose even if it’s painful at times. He is sovereign, and this is good news for His people. God is proactively using all things in a Believer’s life to conform us to Christ.

Now, in Jonah’s case, Jonah had fled. He had deliberately disobeyed God’s call and ran the other direction. And God got His attention, didn’t He? Our God is a rescuing God. Perhaps Jonah wouldn't have signed up for being swallowed by a fish, but it was through this fish that he was rescued. Sometimes uncomfortable and even painful circumstances arise in our life and once we've gone through them we realize, it was actually God rescuing us, even if it was in an unexpected way or a way that we might not would have necessarily 'volunteered' for. 

Maybe you think “This time, I’ve gone too far and God is ready to just give up on me.” Not true. God is ready to rescue you. When God brings conviction or situations into your life to get your attention and expose your sin, it’s not because He hates you. One of the chief means God uses in our lives in exposing sin is His written Word. We need to read the word, meditate on the word, and hear the word preached because God uses it in our lives to show us areas we need to change. Of course, this isn't the only means God uses. A healthier understanding of providence would help us see that God is always at work in our life and He is using a variety of things to show us His glory and to bring us back to Him, conforming us evermore into the image of Jesus. And God does this because He loves you. He loves you enough not to leave you where you are. He loves you enough not to let His own keep resisting and running away.

This doesn’t mean God is ok with your sin. Don’t think that. And it doesn’t mean God won’t go to great lengths in your life to prune you and shape you into the person He would have you be. In fact, the greatest length He went to was to send His own Son in our likeness. This leads us to our next point. God:

III. Redeems Rebels – 

Even in the belly of the fish Jonah knew that salvation belongs to the Lord! (2:9) Yet, at that point in redemptive history, he had no way of knowing just how glorious the salvation of mankind would be when it was realized in the person and work of Christ.

And what’s beautiful about Jonah’s luxurious 3 day and 3 night paid stay at the fish hotel is that Jesus actually says it’s a type of Him. 

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jonah left Israel fleeing God and eventually found Himself in the belly of a fish. But the Son of God left the glories of heaven in the perfect will of God. He took on Human flesh and entered into our turf.

As we celebrate this time of year, He was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived obediently before God the Father and then He was crucified on the Cross for sinners, bearing God’s punishment for those who repent and believe. And then, He was laid in a tomb.

Jonah emerged from the belly of the fish preaching truth and the Ninevites believed.

But Someone greater than Jonah has come! God Himself has come to us, took on flesh, conquered the sting of death. He entered the tomb but He did not stay there! Truth incarnate rose again victorious over sin, death, and hell. Deliverance from our circumstances isn't our greatest need. Mankind’s greatest need is redemption from the wrath of God rightly due our sin.

Because God is holy, we must give account for our sin. But, for all who look to Christ in faith, God has accomplished our redemption through the Cross. Jesus has borne the wrath of God for us so that we can find reconciliation with God in Him. God Redeems Rebels.

We are undeserving. But God has made provision for our sin by sending His own sin to take it upon Himself so that by faith in Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness and have perfect standing before God.

Christmas is a wonderful time to remind us of this great truth! And Jonah's stay in the belly of the fish is a giant arrow pointing us to this gospel. 

And finally, here's the last note in Jonah's Christmas Card. God:

IV. Receives Repenters

I think this is a beautiful reminder from Jonah and it’s a beautiful time of year to be reminded about it. The foundation of our reconciliation with God is the person and work of Christ. The means by which this is applied to us is by the gift of faith - And repentance is always a part of faith.

Jonah cried out to the Lord in faith, and God answered him. And I think we see evidence of repentance in Jonah.  Repentance is not merely saying you’re sorry. Repentance is an attitude of the heart. It is owning your sin and even accepting the consequences of it. (See for example, Jonah 1:12).

I think we confuse feeling sorrow for sin with repentance. Feeling guilty for sin is part of being made in the image of God. We see this a lot in our culture today. So many people are fighting for acceptance of their sinful behavior because when left to themselves, they know they are guilty.

But, sorrow for sin doesn’t necessarily mean repentance. True repentance is understanding our sin as an offense against a holy God and rightly deserving of His eternal judgment. It is seeing God’s way as right and your way as wrong. It is then turning from sin and seeking to walk in newness of life.

And did you know that repentance isn’t just for unbelievers? The life of a Believer is to be a lifestyle of repentance. To walk in newness of life. Christians are habitual repenters.

Believer, is there an area you’ve been disobedient to God or running from God or trying to ignore God? Have you been negligent of His Word, His ways, or His will? Will you repent? Will you confess your sin to God and turn from it? Why would you hold on to sin? Why would you not trust the goodness of God? Don’t you see His mercy?

Can I assure you of something? God is faithful and just to forgive you because it’s not based on how good do it, but based on the finished work of Christ. And will you believe this morning that God receives repenters?

A person who stubbornly refuses to repent of known sin is not the characteristic of a Christian. Believer, don’t hold on to your sin. Repent. And find that God is ready and willing to receive you again.

God received Jonah didn't he? In fact, God gives him a second chance as we see in Chapter 3 where the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Oh, how glorious is God's grace to His children! I'm thankful for God's patience and mercy, aren't you? Oh soul! Be confident today that God receives repenters. Whatever you may be holding onto, turn from it, and turn to Jesus once again.

Now, perchance (except no such thing as chance, right?), an unbeliever is reading this post. Let me speak to you for a moment:

I believe you’ve read the gospel here and seen the character of God in this text today. Do you know that the very smallest of your sins are worth an eternity in hell? God is Holy and will not compromise His holiness for you.

However, He has displayed the full measure of His Justice on Calvary. By means of the cross you can find forgiveness.

• Will you repent of your sin and place your faith in Christ?
• Will you see God’s ocean of mercy today and dive in?
• Will you see the futility of rebellion against God?
• Will you see that forgiveness is full and free for those who will lay hold of it by faith?
• Will you come to Christ this Christmas season as your only suitable and all sufficient Savior?

Jonah has given us much to consider in his little Christmas reminder. Take a few moments today and consider how God might have you respond to His Word.

This comes from a sermon preached at Perryville Second Baptist Church on 12/11/16. You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Better than an Audible Voice

I'm not exactly sure my motivations but when I was a child I remember praying one time and asking God to be a Prophet. I'm sure the allure of God audibly speaking to me was compelling to me as a young boy.

Right now I'm reading through the Book of Ezekiel. Like the other books in both the major and minor prophets there is an oft repeated phrase I come across in my reading: "The word of the LORD came..."

Amazing isn't it? God spoke to Ezekiel His special message for His people. 

I think many in the church are infatuated with the idea of God's audible voice coming to them. I remember another time when I was a teenager pleading with God to speak audibly. I don't think the motivations for this are necessarily always wrong. Those who love God want to hear Him. God would you just speak to me and show me what to do!? But let's step back from that for a moment and consider the bigger picture. 

You and I have more access to the word of the LORD than any prophet ever did. Yup. It's true. This is why we must understand the nature of Scripture. 

God has given us a divinely breathed book made up of 66 books that is His very word. The audible voice of God doesn't carry greater weight, sufficiency, or authority than the written word of God. God is the author of both. In the former days He chose to speak audibly to His prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). So, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, et al, had access to what God had spoken in the past, and they had access to what God was speaking to them then. But they did not have access to the whole word of the Lord. They didn't have access to a completed Bible. They didn't have access to the gospel of Matthew or the epistle to the Romans or 3 John. 

You see, beloved, we have a completed canon of Scripture. We have the entirety of God's word for His people literally at our finger tips. More than a desire to hear God speak audibly, we should have a desire to consume all that He has already spoken to us through the authors of the Bible. I promise you, you're not ready for more revelation! Nor is there any need for more revelation because what we have is wholly sufficient. 

Imagine what it would be like if God opened up the heavens right now and spoke to you! Well, that's exactly what He has done in the Bible. The Triune God of the universe has given us His Word. He has spoken to us. Don't take this wonderful blessing lightly! 

One final note before closing. I think it's unhelpful at best and in actuality downright dangerous to claim God audibly speaks to you. When you hear this or that teacher make that claim, run away. We don't need God to speak to us audibly because He's given us something better! His voice in written word.  For one, an audible voice can't be authenticated. How do I know it was God who said that? Secondly, this is often used as a trump card. "God told me so who are you to question it!"  But even more serious, this is a direct attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. It is saying there is something lacking in the Bible that you need for your growth and relationship with the Lord. Not true. I'll end with a quote from John Piper:

"It is a great wonder that God still speaks today through the Bible with greater force and greater glory and greater assurance and greater sweetness and greater hope and greater guidance and greater transforming power and greater Christ-exalting truth than can be heard through any voice in any human soul on the planet from outside the Bible."