Saturday, May 31, 2008

How Should the Church Be? Part 2

This one is also extremely easy to agree with.  The church should obviously be Christ-centered. When Paul went to the church in Corinth he was concerned about being single-minded. He writes in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." Paul's number one proclamation for the church is Jesus Christ. However, it's not just about Jesus Christ, it's about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I have heard people say that we need to be careful talking about the cross for this reason of that. The bottom line is that the cross of Jesus Christ is everything for those who believe. If it were not for the cross, there would be no church. The Bible is completely about Jesus Christ. It's the unfolding of God's gracious promise to redeem sinners after the fall. So a Biblical church will be focused upon Christ and Him crucified.
A church who is centered on anything else will have all it's affections on the wrong thing. At the same time, this must be true for each individual. The church is the gathering of individual believers who have covenanted together to walk in love and in Christlikeness and to help each other do the same. May we all guard our hearts, minds, affections, attitudes, devotions, friendships, marriages, and anything else we can think of to be Christ-centered. He is to be treasured above all things. He is to be honored in our every thought.
God help me (us) to live for your glory by treasuring Christ above everything else. God help us to put Christ first and to be magnified in our lives and throughout the nations. Help your church be filled with Christ-centered born-again people. Send your Spirit to point us to Christ.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thank God for Good Friends

I have been thinking lately about the grace that God displays through giving us true Christian friends. Not only those who are there when things are good or even when things get rough. I'm talking about those who love you enough to hold you accountable before God. Those who care enough about your sanctification that they will help you see your sin and pray with you for strength from God to fight against it. Those who find ways to point you to Christ and to let you know that no matter what happens the cross is to remain central and reconciliation is possible through the cross. Those who you trust enough to share your deepest struggles with and who will lovingly help you see how you can honor God with your life. Those who are there for you with grace in the tough times when everything else seems to go against you. Those who care about you because they care first about the glory of God.

There are many more things that could be said about good friends, but there can only be a few genuine relationships that happen on this level. I plan to post a few posts about some friends in my life that I would put in this category. These friendships have withstood the test of time and many hardships. So for this post I thank God for my good friend Wil Owens. I first met Wil as he was preaching at a youth ski retreat in January 1999. I am not sure about anything more than meeting him at that point, and then again one year later in January 2000. At this point I was a few months from getting married starting college at The College at Southeastern. Again, I'm not sure how much we communicated at this time, but when I began college Wil was in Seminary there. His wonderful wife, Summer, and my wife, Shannon, became friends as well which enabled us to hang out together (mostly at Dairy Queen in Wake Forest which I dearly want as I type this). That January we all went on a vacation together and that is when our friendship began to develop.

At this time ministry began to be planned together. Wil had been to India several times for missions and was heading back in April 2001. This was his first trip to Andrah Pradesh and by God's grace and provision I was able to go with him. While not very edifying, I still remember Wil pointing out that he knew that my life long goal was to show the world I was an idiot and I was starting with India. Please know this was in humor and fun and nothing negative (I hope). Our friendship at this point became one of accountability in some ways and theological encouragement in many ways.
In April 2005 I resigned from being a student pastor in Rocky Mount, NC to assist Wil in a church plant. Over these last three years I realized what a true friend looks like. There was stress on my side, sin to be sure, and a lack of love for my brother. Wil was a rock of faith that has made me refocus on Christ and the gospel. I can remember Wil helping me to work through some of my toughest theological questions (Wil if you read this, I still hold to my understanding of the Angel of the Lord!), and he was even gracious enough to help me see some areas that I have struggled in greatly. However, it wasn't until after I left Grace Covenant Community Church to pastor that I realized how good of a friend he is. Wil Owens has been used by God in my life for my personal sanctification. Wil has been an instrument in God's hand that causes me to marvel at the glory of God. While many people will come and go throughout one's life, I thank God greatly for my dear brother Wil Owens.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How Should the Church Be? Part 1

Over the past several months I have thought a lot about what the church is supposed to be. I am sure there are several opinions about this, but I plan to post a few thoughts in the next couple of weeks. Right now my schedule is slammed with this summer class, but I hope for a break this weekend. For tonight I will simply say that the church is supposed to be Biblically saturated. If it's true that all Scripture is God-breathed, then shouldn't we take seriously what it says? Over the past several years I have been faced with having my preconceived thoughts about the teachings of Scripture challenged because I believe it's His Word and it means something specific and we are to obey it. God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity in a special way called the Word of God. Jesus had a high view of Scripture which is evidenced in the fact that He quoted Deuteronomy to combat the temptation of Satan. He also explained to the disciples on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament is about Him. There is much to be said here, but if the Bible is not primary, where else do you get your authority? Before you say from Jesus, I trust that that is based on your understanding from the Bible.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Prison?

As I have studied more of Philippians 1:12-18 for tonight, I have asked myself this question over and over again, "What would you do if you were imprisoned for the gospel?" Or to put it another way, "Would you keep preaching the gospel if you were already imprisoned for preaching and that you knew you may receive the death penalty for doing so?"
There is another question that has arisen for me in this text, "Would you preach the gospel with more boldness if your mentor had already been arrested for preaching?" In verse 14 Paul says, "And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." Did you notice that? They became confident, not discouraged, by the imprisonment of Paul. So what would you do for the gospel?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Providence of God

Tomorrow night we will pick back up in Philippians. I am excited to see the group after taken last Tuesday off to celebrate my anniversary with my wife. As usual, when studying the Scriptures God convicts hearts and attitudes. It's amazing to me that Paul's imprisonment in Philippi is actually used by God for the furtherance of the gospel. Paul says that what has happened to him has really served to advance the gospel. This the single mindedness of Paul. I'm suffering and imprisoned for the gospel, so I keep preaching! God was not caught off guard by Paul being in prison. In Acts 16 Paul was forbade by the Holy Spirit to go into Asia Minor because He had a plan in Macedonia. Here in Philippians Paul is imprisoned and recognizes that it's for the advancement of the gospel. God has providentially worked in the life of Paul to accomplish the advancement of the gospel to the whole imperial guard. O to have the joy and assurance in Christ as Paul did.  O to trust in the providence of God in all situations.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today is our eighth anniversary.  I want to publicly say that my wife is the greatest.  She was very instrumental in my coming to Christ ten years ago.  She has been a godly woman who has known me for over half my life.  Words cannot express how thankful to God I am for my wife.  I love you Shannon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Missing my Sister

Sabrina Renee Alston went to be the Lord on this day in 1987.  As the years go by I miss her more and more.  I long for the day when I too will be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. - Philippians 1:23

Praying for Others

Last night we finished looking at Philppians 1:1-11 and there was some emphasis on the need to pray for others.  I am thinking that I may (emphasis on may) start posting more about Philippians throughout the week, but for now I want to talk about a lesson we (Christians) should learn from Paul.  In verses 3-11 Paul talks about his joyful prayer on behalf of all the Christians at Philippi.  In verses 3-4 Paul says, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy."  So we noticed last week that Paul remembers the believers at Philippi and offers up thanksgiving to his God (notice the personal relationship of Paul with his God) and that he prays for them with joy.  And then in verse 5 he gives the reason for why he remembers them and thanks God for them, "because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now."  His joyful prayers of thanksgiving on behalf of those at Philippi are because they are partners with him in the gospel.  This is Biblical fellowship.  It is deeply rooted in and around the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In verse 6 Paul deals with the fact that God began a good work in Philippi and will complete what He began.  In Acts 16 the Holy Spirit forbade Paul and the others to go into Asia Minor to preach the gospel because God was going to do a work in Macedonia, and particularly in Philippi.  God opened Lydia's heart, He freed a demon possessed woman, and He saved a jailor and his family.  God also used the Philippian church to minister to Paul by sending gifts out of poverty and great tribulation (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).
Last night we noticed that Paul had a deep yearning affection for them.  In fact, it was rooted in his walk with Christ.  His affection is described in verse 8 as the affection of Christ Jesus.  Wow!  We should all pray that we walk so closely with the Lord that His affection working through us will be aimed at others.  That is why Paul can pray for them with joy.  He loves the church.  He has confidence in God.  And so He prays that God will help them abound in love more and more.  This is a prayer for every church.  May we learn to pray for others within our local churches, and others within the church around the world.  May we learn to pray for others and yearn for them with the affection of Jesus Christ.  May we learn to pray that others will be filled with knowledge and discernment so that they will be pure and blameless before God.  May we pray for others that they will be filled with fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.  May our prayers be such that we want others to live in such a way that God receives glory and praise through their lives.  Let's learn to pray for others the way Paul prayed for those in Philippi.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Where is your Confidence?

As I have been preparing for our Bible study tomorrow night, I have been overwhelmed and convicted by Paul's confidence.  When Paul wants to encourage the church in Philippi he says in chapter 1 verse 6, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus."  The word for sure means that Paul was convinced or persuaded of this truth.  I think there are two ways that we Christians can mess up with our walks with God.
1.  Often times Christians are guilty of putting a lot emphasis on what the person has to do.  In other words, the Bible is clear that we are to repent and believe the gospel.  The Bible is clear that we are to bear fruit.  The Bible makes it clear that we are to persevere in our faith to the end.  The Bible makes it clear that we must place all of our trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  However, at the risk of missing other Scriptures there is too much placed into the hands of the created.
2.  But there are some who sometimes fall to the other side.  What I mean is that there are some who falsely understand God's grace and God's sovereignty to mean that there is not responsibility of man.  In this situation people miss the point of works that belongs to the created. 
I think those are extremes and most people I know fall in between those.  But you understand my point.  Here is the predicament we sometimes find ourselves in.  We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Let us never forget that the Christian life is a life of hard work.  We must discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.  And yet, we will fail!  So we must never forget that as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, it is God who is at work both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Now back to Philippians 1:6.  The reason Paul could say that he was sure that he who began a good work would complete it is two-fold.  First of all, when God starts something He will finish it...period!  Salvation begins with God.  Jesus is building His church.  The first convert in Philippi was Lydia and the Bible is clear that she is saved because God opened her heart to believe.  All of this is because God starts it, so it is easy to see that God will finish it.  On the other side of that, Paul can be confident because those in Philippi have given evidence of God's work in their life.  The church has now grown and the believers have rallied together to send gifts to the apostle Paul.  They are demonstrating their love for both God and neighbor in the way they act and the deeds they do.  So Paul can be confident that God has begun this work because he can see the works in their lives.
So where is your confidence?  If you have faith, without works, that faith is dead (nonexistent).  And if you have works, without faith, they accomplish nothing.  Work hard in all that you do that you might glorify God with your life, but never ever ever put your confidence in anything other than God who is at work within you.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Busy Tuesday Nights?

This past Tuesday we began our Bible study of the book of Philippians.  We had a good crowd for it, but we would love to see more.  If you are interested, we would love to have you come over at 7:00 as we seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pursue Humility

In C. J. Mahaney's book Humility: True Greatness he recalls talking with Don Carson who had sat down with the late Carl Henry and asked how he was able remain humble for so many decades.  Carl Henry's response is one we should all think about daily, "How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?"  Oh to stand and gaze upon the Savior who paid the ransom for sinners!  Let us be humble.