I am a wretched man. Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24-25a).
What’s your personality type? If you don’t already know the answer, there are a bewildering number of tests you can take to find out. These tests will analyze you and categorize you (and further subcategorize you) according to your dominant traits and predispositions. Some assessments will even prescribe certain careers that best align with your personality. While these techniques can be exceedingly helpful in identifying our strengths and overall patterns of behavior, they can present a danger Christians need to avoid.
Sometimes our efforts to understand ourselves can lead us to become trapped inside a static framework. We can think, “I am the way I am, and there is no changing that,” or “people are the way they are.” At its worst this mindset contributes toward fatalistic attitudes. For example, “I’m stuck. The die has been cast. I’ve made my bed, so now all I can do is lie in it.” But usually the peril is far more subtle. Without even realizing what we’re doing, we gradually develop habits that solidify our preferred self-understanding. We justify our actions—whether good or bad—using what I’ll call the “I couldn’t help it” standard. According to this standard, we say what we say (or don’t say) and we do what we do (or don’t do) because we can’t change who we are.
Disciples of Jesus, however, need not rely on the prevailing notions of therapeutic psychology to learn who we are. We believe the Living God has said clearly and authoritatively that radical change is both necessary and possible. In other words, change lies at the heart of the gospel. Apart from Christ we are enslaved to the power of sin. Although we might not be as bad as we could be, even the very best we could offer to God would never earn His favor or grace. Consequently, we are fully deserving of God’s just penalty for sin, namely, eternal death. Yet Jesus, the One who knew no sin, absorbed the judgement we deserved so that God’s righteous anger toward sin might be satisfied and so that we might become the righteousness of God (see 2 Cor. 5:21).
This change comes about through the new birth, whereby the Holy Spirit changes the believer from the inside out. Even though perfect righteousness before God will be impossible to attain in this life, the Spirit is fully able to finish what He begins in us (Phil. 1:6). Don’t succumb to cynicism; instead, trust the Lord to make you more and more like Jesus ever day.
I hope you have a lot to give thanks for this year. Above everything else, though, I pray you’ll take time to thank God for the saving transformation available to us through Christ.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. Thus is everyone who has been born of the Spirit (John 3:8).
When I say “born again,” what comes to mind? Most of us, especially if we have any background in an evangelical church, will imagine a high-pressure sermon (“If you died tonight, where would you go? Heaven or hell?”), saying “the sinner’s prayer” and “accepting Jesus” into your heart, walking down the aisle (popularly know as an “altar call”), and being baptized. I praise God for the ways he has used these longstanding means to draw people to Christ and bring about their new birth. It is the nature of sin, however, to manipulate even the best things—including God’s Word (see Genesis 2:2-5). Consequently, I need to warn you about a grave danger that can creep into our understanding of what it means to be born again.
Far too many people have had the gospel presented to them in rigidly formulaic terms. It typically goes something like this, “hear the gospel+say the sinner’s prayer+walk the aisle+get baptized=salvation.” The problem is not the sequence; the problem is the way the sequence is packaged. As a result, two errors come into focus.
First, we risk believing salvation comes down to what we have done instead of what God has done for us. In other words, we’re tempted to think that because we’ve said a certain prayer or taken certain actions, God is thereby obligated to save us. Yet Jesus says the new birth is not subject to human control. Like the wind, the Spirit blows wherever he chooses. Although we can see where the Spirit has been at work, we cannot force the Spirit to do anything. God brings about the new birth, not us.
Second, we risk confusing birth with growth. We think because we have followed the prescribed formula we have sufficiently responded to the gospel. Our ticket to heaven has been punched, we believe, so now we just need to get as many people as possible to get their tickets punched as well. But the new birth is only the beginning of a lifelong process of having the Spirit make us more and more like Christ. We need the same Spirit who gives us new life to help us develop into mature Christians. Sadly, too many Christians remain “mere infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). They genuinely love Jesus, but they lack the wisdom and perspective to faithfully follow Jesus through life’s tumultuous trials.
Even though the exact nature of how the Spirit transforms a rebellious sinner into a redeemed child of God will remain a mystery, we can be assured of the fact that the Spirit’s work is unmistakable (see Galatians 5:22-26). I hope you’ll join me in praying for the Holy Spirit to move powerfully throughout our church family and beyond.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born of water and Spirit, he or she will not be able to enter the Kingdom of God. What is born of flesh is flesh; and what is born of Spirit is spirit. You should not be shocked at my saying to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7).
Getting-to-know-one-another questions are pretty predictable: Where are you from? Do you have siblings? Career plans? Favorite food? That’s the kind of thing I was expecting to hear while Scott and I were cooling down after running laps around the Havelock High School track. Since Scott was a 6’8” scholarship-bound senior on the basketball team, I was humbled that he would befriend a lowly freshman like me. We were both active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and he knew my Dad was a pastor. Nevertheless, as we crossed the 200 meter mark on the track, he asked me a question I will never forget: “Have you been born again?”
Some of us might consider that question to be too personal and bordering on intrusive. We consider “are you a Christian?” or “where do you go to church?” to be far safer questions. Our fear of confrontation makes us shy away from Scott’s pointedness. But lately the Spirit has impressed upon my heart both the indispensability and the urgency of this question. It is, after all, the key thing Jesus said to Nicodemus.
Using the “good person” index, Nicodemus ranked highly. He was a man who sought to do right by God and people. As a Pharisee, he not only knew God’s Word, he devoted his life to upholding its commands in scrupulous detail. He even recognized Jesus as a unique teacher from God (John 3:1-2). Yet Jesus told him the primary issue was whether or not the Spirit had brought about a new birth in him. Without embarrassment or apology Jesus said there is no access to God’s Kingdom without being born again.
Despite the distance of nearly two thousand years, the basis of entry hasn’t changed. Nothing short of new birth will suffice. To make it personal, I might say, “Jesus, I’ve given my utmost to ‘rightly divide the Word of truth.’ I’ve faithfully called people to repent and believe the gospel. I’ve been ready ‘in season and out of season.’ Surely that shows how much I love you.” In response, I hear the same response Nicodemus received, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God…”
I pray the Holy Spirit would lead Tabernacle to become a church where being born again is seen for what it is, namely, the most critical issue any person will ever face. Likewise, may the Lord save us from becoming a church of Nicodemuses—merely filling the pews and going through the motions of religion.
What does it mean to be born again, you ask? To be continued…
Every day they met together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with joyful and humble hearts, praising God and having the favor of all the people (Acts 2:46-47a).
What are your expectations for worship services? If we were to survey our congregation, I suspect we would find a bewildering number of different responses. Some of us key on the music. We expect to know the songs, and we expect them to be performed with excellence. We wonder about the sound and size of the choir—is it improving and growing? Will there be special music that adds variety to the service? Others key on the sermon. Will it be interesting and relevant to my life—or dull and boring? Will the preacher be funny and entertaining? Will it be finished in time for my lunch plans? Still others key on the social dimension. Who is here? Who isn’t here? Why is that person in my pew!
To some extent these are human thoughts that will inevitably cross our minds at some point. We can’t help it. Yet if these remain our only expectations for worship services then we have gravely missed the point of worship. We may enter a worship service having our expectations shaped “according to the flesh” (i.e. by what we want, how we want it, and when we want it), but we must guard against continuing to think along those lines.
How different were our spiritual ancestors in the book of Acts? They understood in a profound way that worship is all about God—not us. We tend to think of ourselves as the audience and whatever happens on stage as the show. In reality, however, God is the primary audience. Everything we say and do in a worship service represents an offering to God. When we sing, we’re singing to God. When we pray, we’re praying to God. When we give our tithes and offerings, we’re giving to support God’s work in the world. When I preach, I’m hoping to preach in a way that honors the God who called me to preach. While my words are addressed to the individuals sitting before me, I try to remain keenly aware of how the Holy Spirit is present and working.
Above every other expectation we may have for worship services, this one should be paramount: we yearn to encounter the living God. The same God who brought the world into existence has purchased our redemption through Christ Jesus and promises to meet us when we come before him in worship. “Where two or more gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20). This is a mind-blowing truth that filled the earliest disciples with unwavering joy and praise. May the Spirit reshape our expectations so that we see worship in the same way—as an awesome opportunity to experience the glorious greatness of our God.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
Admit it: if I say the word “fellowship” you immediately think “food.” Food may not be the only thing we associate with fellowship, but the two things are no doubt inseparable in our minds. Why is this? At least part of the reason is because eating food at church has become so ingrained in our church culture (especially in a Baptist church culture!). It’s one of the things we do as often as we can together. But there’s also a far more important reason to associate fellowship with food.
Eating food with other people—no matter how different the individuals might be—illustrates a key element standing behind the biblical concept of koinonia, (i.e. fellowship). The root comes from the word koinos, which is often translated as “common” or “shared.” Thus, koinonia pertains to what we have in common with each other. Sharing a meal, moreover, tends to have a leveling effect as we become keenly aware of what unites us as human beings. We ALL need food for survival.
Yet sharing a meal with other believers symbolizes far more than our common humanity. It teaches us and reminds us of our shared partnership in Christ. Every individual who has been born again through the Holy Spirit’s work is grafted into the Body of Christ. As a result, here’s what we have in common:
- We share the same basis of entry. Admittance into the company of the redeemed cannot be inherited, bought, sold, earned, or taken by force. It can only be received. We all enter the same way, namely, through the shed blood of Jesus on our behalf.
- We share the same responsibility. We are all responsible for ensuring Christ’s church is growing in healthy ways. Although we might have different gifts to contribute, we’re all responsible for contributing what we can.
- We share the same mission. The church exists to reach those who are not currently members of the church. We’re called to do everything we can to take the Gospel to the farthest corners of the earth. Missions work is not optional for the believer.
- We share the same hope. Ultimately, we are citizens of heaven, not earth. Consequently, we put our trust in Christ and long for the day when our Father’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
While food has always been a key draw to bring believers together, let’s make sure we know fellowship isn’t limited to the food. The food merely represents our partnership. It’s a partnership I pray we never take for granted. We need each and every member of the Body.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And every soul was in awe at the many signs and wonders being done through the apostles (Acts 2:42-43).
“Did you know we have prayer warriors in our church?” That’s how my ninth grade Sunday School teacher began his lesson one week. “We do,” he said with a believe it-or-not confidence. Since I grew up in a church filled with military personnel, especially gung ho Marines, I felt sure I knew what a “warrior” looked like. But what he said next puzzled me: “A couple of them are sitting in that little office down the hallway.” He pointed to a nook where our two Sunday School secretaries diligently collected attendance sheets and offerings. I knew them as Mrs. Ruth and Mrs. Eunice, two saints whom I can best describe as “sweet little old ladies.” While I certainly held them up as models of mature Christian discipleship, I struggled to consider them as “warriors.” Nevertheless, my teacher described how those dear sisters in Christ had “prayed him through” several tumultuous trials. I discovered I had a lot to learn about the power of prayer.
As evidenced in Acts, our Christian ancestors were convinced prayer is never a waste of time. They believed prayer represented one of the church’s most essential tasks. Indeed, prayer has left an indelible mark upon all the great revivals of history. John Wesley, one of the key leaders of what is known as the First Great Awakening in the 18th century, was known to say he thought very little of a person who didn’t spend at least four hours in prayer every day!
How different is our usual practice today? Far too often we flippantly and reflexively offer our “thoughts and prayers” after any crisis or tragedy. We see it as a mere formality, as something to express our concern. But the kind of prayer demonstrated by the apostles in Acts is far more aggressive—far more warrior-like.
The fundamental problem, I believe, is that our prayers today are almost always defensive prayers and rarely, if ever, offensive prayers. We typically pray in response to something that’s happened, instead of praying proactively. When we pray exclusively defensive prayers we’re implicitly denying what God’s Word promises about prayer—“the prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b). Our spiritual growth and health as a Christian will always be a reflection of our prayer life. Don’t leave this power untapped; it’s freely available to every disciple. Ask! Seek! Knock!
As your pastor, I want you to know I’m praying God would bless you, protect you, and equip you to serve Christ wholeheartedly. I also want you to know how much I appreciate your prayers for me and my family. May the Lord encourage our prayer warriors and raise up more!
All the believers were together, and they kept everything in common. They were selling their property and possessions and giving the proceeds to anyone who was in need (Acts 2:44-45).
Giving has played an integral role in the Christian faith from the start. How can we explain this? There was no budget, and there were no pledges toward a budget. There was no stewardship campaign. There was no fiery sermon on the requirement to give a tenth of one’s income (i.e. the tithe). There was no pleading. There was no begging. Yet our Christian ancestors, as recorded in Acts, gave with lavish enthusiasm. Why?
I believe at least part of the reason is because they took the following truth to heart: God doesn’t need our money; it’s already his—all of it. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). All that we have and all that we are belongs to the Sovereign Lord who brought the world into existence. So, if God doesn’t need our money, does that mean we’re absolved from any responsibility to give? On the contrary, this is why the believer must give!
God doesn’t need our money, but he has temporarily entrusted us with whatever we have so that we can make Kingdom-building investments. These investments, in turn, reflect glory back onto the One who gave the “seed money” (cf. Matt. 25:14-30). Such is God’s economy. The disciple’s privilege, therefore, is to pour as much as we can into God’s ordained instrument for carrying out the Great Commission, namely, the Church. In keeping with his character revealed throughout the Scriptures, God has graciously chosen to use a perennially-flawed organization filled with broken vessels to bring about his Kingdom on earth. So how can we exercise this privilege?
1. Give regularly (1 Cor. 16:2). As evidenced by the column to the right, summers can be brutal for churches. God’s Mission doesn’t take a summer break. The expenses required to support ministers, ministries, and missionaries are yearlong. May we give accordingly.
2. Give cheerfully (2 Cor. 8:1-5). Don’t give because of guilt or angst. That’s not the point of this column. Give because you have the privilege to give. Give because of what you’ve been given through Christ—salvation from the penalty of sin and eternal life.
3. Give generously (2 Cor. 9:6-11). We worship a God who is unfathomably generous in mercy and grace. So much so that Christ Jesus, the Son of God, became not only a human being but a forsaken human condemned to die a tortuous death. “Although he was rich, he become poor for your sake, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9b). I pray our giving would mirror at least a fraction of the generosity we’ve been shown in Christ.
They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles…(Acts 2:42a)
It’s no coincidence that immediately after Luke reports the conversion of over three thousand people he describes what these new disciples were taught (Acts 2:41-42). This is the sequence we find in the Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Thus, sound doctrinal teaching lies at the heart of what it means to be a church that is growing in healthy ways.
But, let’s be honest, many of us equate teaching with tediously theoretical issues. The word “doctrine” itself may turn us off because we associate it with a disproportionately intellectual faith disconnected from the practical problems of life. Some, for example, might say, “Why can’t we just keep it simple. Love God and love your neighbor. Isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Let’s not make it more complicated than it needs to be.”
While the Lord Jesus provided us with a helpful means of prioritizing our biblical interpretations around loving God and loving neighbors, he was not giving us a free pass on wrestling with the whole counsel of God. Such reductionistic views of the faith are founded upon the ever-shifting sands of human opinion, not the Rock of our salvation. God has been gracious enough to preserve and to deliver a robust body of teaching contained in the 66 books of the Bible. Not only that, he has promised the ultimate Author—the Holy Spirit—will continue to help us understand what we need to know. To be sure, there’s a lot we don’t know and will never know in this life. Yet we can’t allow what we don’t know to keep us from studying and obeying what God has clearly stated in his Word.
When Jesus was starving in the desert, Satan tempted him to cave in to his human craving for food. In response, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3— “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:1-4). As Jesus’ disciples today, we’re called to digest the same spiritual diet. It’s the same diet that has nourished disciples for two thousand years! To disregard it by only sampling meager portions on the weekends will inevitably result in scrawny, underdeveloped disciples.
Mature, muscular discipleship comes from regularly feasting on the abundance of God’s Word. “Solid food is for the mature, for those who through diligent practice have learned to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Let’s pay more attention to what we’re consuming spiritually. It will make all the difference between feeling famished and feeling “strong in the Lord.”
Our second Community Night was a big success! About 50 people gathered on our front lawn to watch “Moana” and enjoy hot dogs, drinks, and popcorn. The host for the evening was our Minister of Families, Trevor MacPherson, who came in native Polynesian wear. Several volunteers distributed a lei to each guest, grilled the hot dogs, and made the popcorn. And we had several visitors from our local community, which was our plan!
(You can click on the pictures to see larger versions.)
On a daily basis the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
What causes churches to grow numerically? Is it the preaching? The music? The programs? The special events? The staff? The website? The social media engagement? The missions projects? The overall friendliness? I could go on and on! From a sociological standpoint, each of these variables no doubt plays a role in determining whether or not people will “show up.” Consequently, churches can become obsessed with trying to pinpoint exactly what changes will produce the greatest growth in the shortest amount of time.
Despite the attention we give to this issue, it doesn’t seem to have been a problem that troubled our Christian ancestors in the Book of Acts. We never find Peter, James, or Paul wringing their hands and wondering, “What can we do to increase attendance?!” Granted, someone might argue, “Of course they didn’t need to worry about numbers when over three thousand people were being saved at one time!” But this objection overlooks a crucial detail. The Holy Spirit, speaking to us through Luke, always notes God gave the growth. No one else can claim credit.
Does that mean we don’t need to concern ourselves with trying to improve the effectiveness of our services, ministries, and programs? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we should strive for nothing less than excellence in everything we do. The key factor is to ensure we’re using biblical criteria—and only biblical criteria—to measure our effectiveness. Our job is to ask, “Are we doing what our Lord expects his church to be doing?”
To be clear, numbers matter. We can, and we should, use them to evaluate ourselves. Yet our Lord didn’t commission us to go and see how big of a crowd we could assemble. (If he had, I can think of so many other things we could be doing to provide better entertainment!) Christ commanded us to “make disciples of all nations.” That means even if our pews were to be packed, our budget overflowing with surplus funds, our buildings multiplying, and our ministries reaching the multitudes, we could still fail to fulfill our mission.
Imagine: Jesus returns and visits Tabernacle. What do you think he would be most pleased to see? The amount of land we own? The percentage increase in worship attendance? The number of well-attended events we’ve scheduled? The quality of our fellowship? The size and quantity of our buildings? What if Jesus said, “That’s all well and good. Just one question, have you made any disciples?”
So how do we make disciples? This is what we need to ask. I hope to address it in the coming weeks based on the model we find in Acts 2:42-47. Stay tuned!
Our Minister of Families, Trevor MacPherson, took this group of young people and chaperones on a missions trip to Charleston, South Carolina during the week of July 9 – 13. They enjoyed times of worship and devotions, study, missions activities, and recreation — on an average of 3 hours sleep each night!
Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything which I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Who is the default pray-er in your family? When everyone gathers around a table to enjoy a holiday meal, for example, I’m guessing there’s someone who is usually called upon to offer a prayer. As you can imagine, this lot often falls to me. Invariably, after I conclude my prayer, someone will say, “Well, it sure is nice to have a professional around!” While I appreciate the humor, I can’t help but wonder whether or not this comment reveals a problem that has plagued churches since the time of the apostles.
Believe it or not, it’s a persistent threat our own church faces. I’ll call it the myth of the Christian professional. According to this train of thought, Christians can be divided along the lines of a caste system. On the upper tier are those such as pastors, missionaries, and others who’ve been called to vocational ministry. The myth tells us these individuals are not only to exemplify the highest standards of Christian conduct, they’re also to be held exclusively accountable for the church’s growth and ministry.
On the lower tier we find all the other “regular Christians.” Their role, says the myth, is to play the part of a captive audience. They’re called to show up and to give their money, but only to the extent that they’re getting something they value from the professionals. If what the professionals are offering fails to meet their standards—i.e. it feels boring, irrelevant, and generally unexciting—the “regular Christians” can either change “Christian professionals” or find other “Christian professionals” more to their liking.
My prayer is for the Lord to protect us from such pernicious lore. As a symptom of our consumeristic culture, it holds out grim prospects for the churches and church members who fall prey to its allure. To fortify our hearts and minds, we need the Holy Spirit to infuse us with a renewed commitment to respond to our Lord’s Great Commission. Jesus entrusted his marching orders to every single believer. Consequently, we are ALL responsible for its fulfillment.
There is no caste system in the Body of Christ. There are no professional Christians. There are no regular Christians. There are only believers purchased by the blood of Jesus and charged with a God-sized mission to see our Father’s glory exalted throughout the nations. May the Spirit show us how to apply our individual gifts to our unified effort to carry out the Great Commission.
We were pleased to have our Chapel Choir and Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Ernie Rushing, present a patriotic musical – Sweet Land of Liberty – to our community on Sunday, July 1. It was a meaningful and grateful tribute to our great country, our Armed Forces and veterans, and to those who have given their lives in service to our country. And then afterward, we celebrated with hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream!
Everyone should be in submission to the governing authorities. For there is no authority apart from God, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1-2).
Our government’s deterrence-aimed policy of separating migrant children from their parents has been roundly—and rightly—reviled. Punishing children for the decisions of their parents is beyond the pale of any Christ-centered understanding of biblical ethics. Yet confusion persists because Romans 13 undeniably admonishes us to show proper respect for civil government. Likewise, the Lord Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). A line of demarcation exists between Christ and Caesar, but what do we do when our loyalty to Christ collides with our loyalty to our nation state?
Historically, Christians have fallen into one of two camps when it comes to Romans 13 and debating government policy. On the one hand are those who utilize Romans 13 to enforce law-abidance and to squelch dissent. Disobeying the government’s laws, this camp says, is equivalent to disobeying God. On the other hand, those who oppose the government’s actions tend to downplay the import of Romans 13. Sometimes they sideline Romans 13 in favor of passages more conducive to the themes of love and mercy. At other times, they argue Romans 13 is only applicable if a government’s laws are just.
Over against these timeworn options, I want to offer a way to give full-throated endorsement to Romans 13 while simultaneously acknowledging that even the most just governments can be guilty of committing injustices. Such perennial tension is never easy to unravel, but I hope these principles derived from Romans 13:1-7 will help us honor God by doing everything we can to live peaceably and honorably as American citizens.
1. Submission need not entail unquestioning obedience. Paul was careful to always show respect to Roman authorities (even in the face of martyrdom!). Indeed, without the roads connecting the Roman empire, without shipping lanes free from piracy, and without Roman administration, Paul’s missionary journeys may have been severely limited.
2. Seeking a change in government need not entail rebellious anarchy. We can vote, advocate, and even fight for righteous causes without succumbing to the chaotic danger of anarchy. Granted, tyrants do not give way easily, and so sometimes revolution for the sake of just government is the only viable alternative (e.g. the ancient Israelites in Egypt).
3. Paying our dues to the government need not entail shortchanging God. God raises up governments and tears them down (Dan. 2:21). Our part is to do everything we can to honor authority while remaining focused on our primary mission to see God’s Kingdom realized on earth as it is in Heaven.
His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3, CSB).
Our VBS theme verse points to the all-encompassing nature of what God has provided for us in Christ. While we certainly never have everything we want, 2 Peter 1:3 promises us that knowledge of Christ can give us everything required for life. By outlining the daily lessons we covered during VBS, I hope to encourage us to depend more fully upon Jesus to receive everything we need.
*Day 1: Jesus cares about me
Bible Story—Luke 15:1-7 (The Parable of the Lost Sheep)
Just as the shepherd in Jesus’ parable goes after the one sheep who was lost, so also the God who rules the universe pursues sinners. We all long to be known. Yet that natural craving often leads us to look for recognition in the wrong ways and in the wrong places. The Holy Spirit summons us from our fruitless pursuits and redirects our desires toward the One who truly cares about us.
*Day 2: Jesus gives me hope
Bible Story—John 11:1-44 (The Raising of Lazarus)
The story of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead shows us that Jesus is powerful enough to give eternal life to those who trust in him. As Lord of both life and death, Jesus has proven his superiority over everything that might threaten our hope.
*Day 3: Jesus helps me believe
Bible Story—John 20:19-31 (Thomas Believes in Jesus)
Even though we cannot see him in person as Thomas did, Jesus promised us we can still know him through faith. In order to put our faith in Christ, we’re called to seek a living and dynamic relationship with Christ.
*Day 4: Jesus loves me
Bible Story—John 13:1-35; 19:25-27; 21:15-25 (The Apostle John sees Jesus’ love firsthand)
By humbly serving his disciples—to the point of dying in their place—Jesus showed us how much he loves us. Jesus’ love isn’t something for us to question or doubt; on the contrary, he has proven his love for us “in that while we were still sinners” Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
*Day 5: Jesus gives me joy
Bible Story—Acts 16:23-34 (Paul and Silas in Prison)
The same joy that inspired Paul and Silas to sing as they remained locked in prison became evident in the Philippian jailer when he learned the secret to ultimate joy, namely, trusting Jesus—and Jesus alone—for our salvation. Such joy can be ours as well!
As they came to the edge of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. So they passed by Mysia and traveled down to Troas. In the night a vision appeared to Paul—a man of Macedonia was standing and pleading with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:7-9).
On Thursday, May 17, I gathered with some participants of our Golden Hearts ministry at 118 S. Person Street. Tabernacle veterans will, of course, recognize that address as our church’s former downtown location. Believe it or not, a thriving congregation filled with young professionals and college students has been meeting in the building since 2015. It’s called Vintage Church, and they offer three worship services on Sundays. We were all encouraged to see how God is working in and through Vintage Church.
Still, we might wonder, “I thought part of the reason Tabernacle moved to Leesville Road was because downtown Raleigh was suffering from a declining population, but clearly this church is flourishing now that downtown is being revitalized. Did God move Tabernacle out of the way to make room for Vintage Church?” Maybe. But in light of Acts 16:6-10, I want to share another perspective on what has transpired (a perspective I offered during our worship service in Tabernacle’s old building): God uses human setbacks to multiply gospel impact.
Acts 16 is written with the benefit of inspired hindsight. In the moment, Paul and his missionary companions no doubt viewed their setbacks as failures and disappointments. Looking back, however, they could see how God was saying “no” to Asia and Mysia in order to say “yes” to spreading the gospel in Philippi. And look at what came from those setbacks—the Philippian church was formed, Paul’s “joy and crown”! (cf. Phil. 4:1) Consequently, let’s remember these truths as we face setbacks of various kinds.
1. Never use God’s “no” as an excuse to give up on gospel faithfulness; instead, keep working diligently. God directs our paths and gives growth. Our part is to remain unwavering in carrying out our mission.
2. Prioritize the lost. When setbacks send us back to the drawing board, watch for opportunities to share the Good News with those who, like “the man of Macedonia,” need our help. Look for the lost, the hurting, and the forgotten—both near and far.
3. Learn to appreciate that the Holy Spirit’s agenda is sovereign enough to encompass more than we can imagine. Because the Holy Spirit said “no” to Tabernacle downtown, the Lordship of Jesus is being proclaimed at both 118 S. Person Street and 8304 Leesville Road! To God be the glory forever and ever!