Isaiah: Free Advent Devotinals

BSFL_Advent_banner-2016.jpeg

I recently wrote a series of devotionals through Isaiah for LifeWay.

Advent is a special and important time to reflect on the birth of Jesus and everything Jesus came to do. The goal for using the devotionals,

  • Draw your family closer around the birth of Christ
  • Help you develop fresh appreciation for why Christ came
  • Adopt a purpose- and mission-filled approach to the busy Christmas season.

I encourage you to not only use it for your family but to share it with other families in your study groups.

You can download them here. 

Eugene Peterson and The Pastoral Imagination

There is something special about pastoring a local church.

Being called to shepherd a local congregation and being a part of a particular church family is a blessing.

In the American church we often hold the megachurch pastors in high esteem becuase of the breadth of their influence. This is something we can be thankful for, if they steward their influence well.

However, let us not forget that the depth of ministry in a local community – through a local congregation – is a powerful witness to the kingdom of God.

While local church ministry happens in obscurity, it has profound implications on eternity.

In the past few years I have come to appreciate the ministry of Eugene Peterson. His writings have profoundly shaped my pastoral imagination.

Take a few minutes and watch this video from Nav Press and you will see why. Also, if you have not read any of Peterson’s books – I encourage you to do so. Here is a link to his Amazon Author’s Page.

The Neglect Of Beauty in Theology

Beauty

The Gospel Coalition just published my newest article titled “5 Reasons Christians Neglect Beauty In Theology“.

To be human is to have a sense of beauty. Beauty demands our attention. There is no way, then, to escape the aesthetic task.

If the practice of aesthetics is the responsibility of every person, it’s especially true of Christians. Doing aesthetics isn’t so much a theological option as a theological necessity.

It’s no stretch to argue that the evangelical church has largely neglected theological inquiry into the nature of beauty and aesthetics. Most reflection and writing on these subjects come from professionals in philosophy and in the specialized field of aesthetics. Christians are largely on the sidelines. This should not be.

Here are the five factors that have contributed to the lack of distinctly evangelical contributions to the conversation. Would love to hear your thoughts!

This Is My Son.

IMG_2443 copy

This is our precious son.

We have taught him about MLK, and that Americans have not always been nice to brown skinned people.

But, it breaks my heart to think that one day I will have to fully explain to him the complex brokenness of our world.

One day I will have to fully explain our country’s disgraceful history of racial discrimination.

One day I will have to help him understand that we, as a country, have not fully moved beyond these racial issues.

Thankfully, I will also get to point him to the coming day that we read about in Revelation 21.

The day when our loving Father “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the former things will have passed away.”

On that day, God will “make all things new.”

On that day every believer, from every “tribe and people”, will “stand before the throne and before the Lamb”, as one (Revelation 7).

How long, O Lord?

Independence Day and Religious Liberty

 

Org Flag 2

“The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.” – James Madison

Independence Day of the United States, also referred to as the Fourth of July in the U.S., is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

On that day, thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire. Central to the foundation of our country is the freedom of religious liberty. On this issue, the first amendment of our constitution is clear.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition.”

The freedom to believe, and the freedom to live out those beliefs is the very cornerstone of a free society. Religious liberty teaches that individuals, institutions, or government should not coerce religious beliefs. As Moore and Walker argue, “…the most biblical form of government is one that’s neither hostile to religion nor too cozy with religion.”

Government is designed to see that laws are followed and that citizens are protected. Government should not invade the free religious conscience of its citizens. The issue central to religious liberty is “to whom do we owe our ultimate allegiance?” To God or state? This is a matter of conscience, and one that should be protected.

This is why we read in Matthew 22:15-22 and Romans 13:1-7 that a government’s role is limited and its authority is delegated. Therefore, religious liberty entails the careful balancing of a government’s duty to uphold public order and the rights of citizens to freely exercise their religion in peaceful ways.

The current state of religious liberty in our country is growing more and more ominous. If this trajectory continues, religious freedoms will soon be limited to the “freedom to worship”. In other words, religious people will be free to worship within the four walls of their church, but will be hindered to act on those beliefs in the public square. However, faith is integrated into all areas of life. We are the church both gathered and scattered. Our theology not only informs our doxology, it also animates our daily living (praxis).

The threats to religious liberty are serious even though they are not evenly distributed throughout society yet. While the threats are serious, we also understand that our God is sovereign over all of human history. As the church proclaims that Jesus is Lord, we are trumping all other claims made by a governmental institutions and by elected officials. When the church proclaims Jesus is Lord, we are also pledging our ultimate allegiance to Him – in trust and prayer.

As the church, we need to pray for our temporary home, the United States of America. Yet, we do so with the balanced understanding that we are ultimately citizens of the greater Kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 11:16). We must also trust that God will sustain and empower us to remain faithful regardless of how our society regards religion. Even so, as citizens of this country, let us continue to uphold and defend the religious liberty of all American citizens.

The Sin of Retaliation

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

The natural mode of our hearts is expressed well in the Latin phrase lex talionis, which means “the law of retaliation.” When someone crosses us or makes demands on us our initial reaction is to respond in the same way. Why not? This is the way we’ve heard that the world works. Right? Retaliation is sinfully seductive and bitterly sweet.

However, as Christians we operate by the laws of a different world, the Kingdom of God. This is why in Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus says, “you have heard it said … but I tell you.” What does he tell us? Jesus demands that when someone insults us, we should not respond in a way that escalates violence. Instead, we should respond in love towards our attacker, in a way that prevents further attacks or stops the progression of violence.

Moreover, when someone takes your possessions, Jesus calls us to respond in the way of love, namely, to go the extra mile, to give freely to those in need. In many cases, those who pursue our possessions have an actual need they are trying to meet.

Doesn’t Jesus call us to give to those who are truly in need?

Now, we can split hairs on this passage and develop numerous scenarios where helping can hurt. Or we can think of many modifiers to these words in order to show how these things may or may not play out. But I think that misses the point of the passage.

In fact, the initial response of counting the costs to respond this way shows that retaliation is our natural desire.

However, Jesus calls us to think differently. Moreover, His Spirit enables us to respond differently.

In a unnatural way – better yet, a supernatural way – our need for retaliation and personal justice is not bound by the “pay out” on this earth.

If our self-esteem is found in our stance before God, we can lovingly stand in the face of sinful insults. If our treasure is found in the inheritance we have as children of God, we are not devastated when our earthly belongings are taken. This is the power of the gospel.

The Deadliness of Lust

Lust

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

Lust is not a new problem; it’s as ancient as the post-Eden condition. Human lust for covenant-breaking sexuality is rooted in the fallen passions of our heart (Matthew 5:27-28). However, the problem of lust has been exasperated in the age of the Internet beyond what anyone could have imagined. And while pornography is an issue of public morality, it’s often shrouded in the secrecy of personal privacy. Our sinful lust is easily fed by the Internet, which offers an easily found image, an easily accessible video.

Though no sin is safely hidden from the eyes of our Savior. Even more so, Jesus died to pay the price for our sinful indulgence of lust. Therefore, God takes the sin of lust seriously. And so should we. According to Jesus, indulged lust is equal to adultery. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). This is an issue of the heart.

Lust begins in the heart, the center of a person’s being. It is not enough to maintain physical purity alone, for many Christians adultery is easily avoidable. Jesus calls us to guard against engaging in lust mentally, a heart act of unfaithfulness.

The imagery of “tearing out one’s eye” is a deliberate overstatement to emphasize the importance of purity. Those claim to be children of God should be willing to go above and beyond in order to avoid becoming ensnared by sexual sin that finds its origins in the pits of hell. Lustful intent promises satisfaction, but delivers death. The pornography industry is empowered by the fires of hell.

Thankfully, in Christ there is salvation from the snares of indulged lust. Even more so, by the power of the Spirit, there is the offer of salvation from sinful patterns of unfaithfulness to God and one’s spouse.

The Good News of the gospel is that when we take sin seriously, God will deal with us graciously. In Christ there is true satisfaction of our deepest desires.

%d bloggers like this: