Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore I obey them.
The opening of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.
open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commands.
Our excuses for not reading the Bible are legion. We’re too busy. We don’t enjoy reading. We don’t find it to be interesting. We can’t understand what we’re reading. We’ve tried it before and got nothing out of it. Sound familiar? Yet contrast our mindset with that of Psalm 119. The Psalmist found nothing lacking in God’s Word. On the contrary, he marveled at God’s Word. He received light and guidance from God’s Word. He hungered and thirsted for God’s Word. In short, he craved the Word of God, and he couldn’t get enough of it!
Why are we prone to be so different? I believe the key difference is that we struggle to cultivate sufficient confidence in Scripture. Craving God’s Word results from confidence in God’s Word. We can believe the Bible is “inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, and correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16) without ever cultivating confidence in God’s Word. We can respect the Bible and quote the Bible without ever cultivating confidence in God’s Word. So how can we cultivate more confidence in God’s Word? Keep these principles in mind—
- Value quality over quantity. Many have set out bravely to read the entire Bible using a prescribed reading plan (usually in a year’s time), only to have their earnest efforts dashed upon the shoals of oversaturation. Just because our eyes diligently scan over words doesn’t mean we’re reading with understanding. Bible reading plans can be useful tools, but never let your study of God’s Word be dictated by someone else’s system. Read until you can see how God is connecting his Word to your life. Then stop, pray and apply.
- Watch your attitude. We can approach our Bible reading as either burdensome or beneficial. If we approach the Bible as a burdensome duty, then we’ll receive no help whatsoever. If, however, we approach the Bible with the confidence that the Holy Spirit will speak to us for our good and for his glory, then we’ll reap an abundant harvest of spiritual help.
- Remember: what you feed will grow and what you starve will die. In general, our human nature leads us to act on what we think about the most. If we fixate on the shallow cravings of the flesh, then we’ll satisfy the shallow cravings of the flesh. If, however, we focus on what God says is true, then God’s Word will fortify our lives against the deadly ravages of sin.
I pray Tabernacle would be known as a church where the Word of God is not only read but craved. May the Holy Spirit, therefore, cultivate in us more confidence in God’s Word.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3).
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31, NIV).
Our VBS theme verse shows us what we can expect the Bible to teach us about Jesus. No doubt there are many more things we would love to know about Jesus than the Bible reveals. We might wonder, for example, what did Jesus really look like? What was he doing between the time he was 12-years-old and 30-years-old? Yet John 20:30-31 teaches us the Gospels were not written to satisfy our curiosity. They were written for a specific purpose, namely, to convince us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and to lead us to have eternal life. In other words, the Bible was written so that we might know Jesus firsthand, not merely know about him.
Day 1: Encounter at the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
Jesus knew why he came.
Even as a 12-year-old boy, Jesus demonstrated an unparalleled grasp of God’s truth. Indeed, Jesus confessed to his parents that he knew he must be about his Father’s business. That business, moreover, would eventually lead him to suffer on the cross as the substitute for our sins. May we give thanks that Jesus knew why he came, as well as what it would cost him.
Day 2: Encounter at the River (Matthew 3:1-17)
Jesus is the Son of God.
Despite John the Baptist’s protestations, Jesus was fully committed to his Father’s plan. He underwent baptism as a sign of his identification with the plight of sinners. Consequently, Jesus—the incarnate Son of God—is uniquely able to make God known to us.
Day 3: Encounter on the Water (Matthew 14:22-33)
Jesus proved he is God’s Son.
Jesus didn’t just claim to be the Son of God, he proved it by his command over creation. He could still the waves and walk on the water because he was “in the beginning” with God and because he is God (John 1:1). We can trust Jesus, therefore, to be sovereign over everything in all of creation—no matter how stormy things may appear to us.
Day 4: Encounter at the Tomb (John 20:1-18)
Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus’ sovereign power even extends to our fearsome enemy and the inevitable result of our sin—death. Because Jesus has conquered the grave, we can trust Jesus to give us eternal life in his name.
Day 5: Encounter on the Road (Luke 24:13-35)
The Bible was written so I can believe.
Like those confused travelers on the way to Emmaus, we can often find ourselves wondering where Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. But God has graciously given us his Word to shed the light of faith on our path. By trusting in Christ we can have everything we need and more.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Of all the Beatitudes, the first may be the most counterintuitive. Shouldn’t we strive to be rich in spirit? Surely Jesus wouldn’t want us to go around being “Debbie Downers,” would he?
To understand Jesus’ meaning, we need to consider the Old Testament background. While Scripture can describe poverty in solely economic terms, the prophets frequently linked economic poverty with spiritual lowliness. “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them” (Is. 41:17, NIV). In this case, the “poor and needy” are those who are desperate for God’s intervention. Likewise, God says through Isaiah, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Is. 57:15, NIV). It is the nature of the Lord God Almighty, the high and holy One, to redeem those who are distraught and downtrodden.
There is nothing about material poverty that guarantees God’s blessing. Yet Jesus does warn us that material wealth can breed a kind of self-sufficiency, which in turn can lead us to doubt the absolute necessity of God’s grace (Matt. 19:23-26). Consequently, the spiritually poor—like the materially poor—are desperate and dependent. These are the qualities Jesus is commending.
God gives his Kingdom to those who wholeheartedly and unreservedly confess their spiritual bankruptcy before him. The poor in spirit are those who acknowledge they can offer absolutely nothing to earn God’s favor. The poor in spirit are those who know they are sinners fully deserving of God’s holy wrath.
Contrast what Jesus commends in the Beatitudes with what he condemns in the church of Laodicea: “You say, ‘I am rich, and I have acquired wealth and do not need anything.’ But you do not know you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you might become rich” (Rev. 3:17-18a). Everything in our sinful human nature finds desperation and dependency revolting. We want to be satisfied and independent. We want just enough help from God to live safely and comfortably.
Yet the reward of such striving eventually proves to be fool’s gold. Real wealth is only found by surrendering to the One who, “though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). To receive his riches is blessed indeed.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind
Sight, riches, healing of the mind
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:1-3).
We live in a world marred by chaos. It’s a truth reinforced by headline after headline, bombing after bombing, shooting after shooting. Violence appears to be
more lethal than ever. Hatred appears to be more entrenched than ever. Turmoil appears to be more unruly than ever. We all wonder, “What is going on these days?”
Yet the biblical worldview teaches us this isn’t a new problem. In fact, it’s as old as the human race. While some of the forms chaos takes may change, the fundamental nature of chaos remains the same. Chaos follows in the wake of sin and always brings formlessness, emptiness, darkness, and lifelessness—a reversal of God’s creative project. God is not to blame, we are.
After creating everything out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo), the Triune God’s next sovereign act was to bring order out of the raw, disordered elements of the universe. The Lord God Almighty spoke into existence a realm that was inhabitable and life-giving for plants, fish, birds, animals of all kinds, and—ultimately—human beings created in his own image (Genesis 1:1-27). Formlessness gave way to beauty, emptiness gave way to excellence, darkness gave way to light, and lifelessness gave way to life—all to the glory of God!
What is more, God gave our ancestors the freedom to enjoy his presence inside the boundaries of what he declared to be good and right (Genesis 2:15-17). Instead of fulfilling their divinely-assigned task to extend the Creator’s rule to the ends of the earth, however, our ancestors abdicated their privileges by doing what seemed good and right in their own eyes. Consequently, they faced God’s just judgment: “Cursed is the ground because of you…” (Genesis 3:17b). Like our ancestors, we’ve all “sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23), and like our ancestors we live “east of Eden,” where we face the daily ravages of chaos.
Some will dismiss this worldview as hopelessly antiquated mythology. But I believe we cannot fully understand ourselves or our world without it. “For God who
said, ‘Let light shine from darkness,’ has made his light shine in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Far from abandoning his creation, God sent his Son into the chaos in order to triumph over the chaos. Jesus suffered the disfiguring of formlessness, the abyss of emptiness, the desertion of darkness, and the agony of death—all so that sinners might see the light of God’s glory once again. Be encouraged, God’s light is not hidden. We just need to know where to look.
Jesus, therefore, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” (John 18:4).
Here’s what one of my college professors concluded about Jesus: “He was simply a pilgrim who had a horrible weekend in Jerusalem.” He went on to explain the only remnant of the Apostles’ Creed he could still confess was that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried.” Jesus, according to this version of Easter, was a passive victim of circumstances. Events spiraled out of his control, and he had no choice but to be bounced from one trial to the next until he was executed in grisly fashion.
The New Testament, however, portrays Jesus as fully in control of his circumstances. Indeed, as Judas and his posse approached him carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons, Jesus neither shirked away nor equivocated. Jesus didn’t wait to be identified. On the contrary, he stepped forward and questioned those who sought to question him. Why? Because Jesus already knew everything that was going to happen to him. Far from being a pawn who was duped by his enemies, Jesus is the Sovereign King who always knows exactly what he’s doing.
He knew he would be betrayed by one of his own. He knew he would be arrested and handed over to the Gentiles. He knew he would suffer in a uniquely Roman way—crucifixion. He knew he would die as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” And he knew death wouldn’t have the last word, that he would be exalted to the right hand of God the Father.
But for the believer, here’s the most astounding thing he knew: Jesus knew all along he was doing everything for sinners like us. He knew exactly how prone we are to go our own way. He knew exactly how stubborn and prideful we are. He knew how often we would deny him and fail him. He knew he was dying in the place of rebellious and disobedient people. Yet he still stepped forward in the darkness of Gethsemane and said to those complicit in murdering him, “Whom do you seek?”
Thus we can see how magnifying Jesus’ knowledge simultaneously magnifies Jesus’ love for sinners. Suffering is miserable. Period. But there’s all the difference in the world between passively suffering in ignorance and willingly suffering for people who hate you. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Such is the love Christ has for his bride, the Church. Jesus knew us. He knew what he needed to do to reconcile us to our holy and righteous Creator, and he left nothing undone. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
We invite you to participate in our Holy Week activities:
April 14, Palm Sunday
9:45 a.m. Sunday School / Bible Study
11:00 a.m. Worship Service with Children’s Choir
April 18, Maundy Thursday
6:00 p.m. Fellowship Meal*
7:00 p.m. Maundy Thursday Service with Communion (Childcare Provided)
April 19, Good Friday
3:00 p.m. Good Friday Service
April 21, Easter Sunday
8:00 – 8:30 a.m. Early Easter Service (held outside, weather permitting)
8:35 – 9:40 a.m. Easter Breakfast*
9:45 – 10:40 a.m. Sunday School / Bible Study
11:00 a.m. Worship Service (Childcare Provided)
*Sign up for the Maundy Thursday Meal and Easter Breakfast in your Sunday School class or on the table in the Gathering Place.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and these are the ones that bear witness about me (John 5:39).
Most congregations expect preachers and teachers to base their sermons/lessons on the Bible. Regardless of whether a church exhibits a “low” view of biblical authority (i.e. the Bible is merely a collection of ancient documents through which God continues to speak) or a “high” view (i.e. the Bible is the written Word of God), most Christians would take offense if a preacher never read or referenced Scripture. What many fail to realize, however, is that a sermon/Bible study can be thoroughly biblical without ever proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.
How so? Even the most well-intentioned expository preachers and teachers can sometimes fall into the trap of confusing gospel preaching with biblical commentary. They assume if they have accurately interpreted a passage and if they have faithfully applied the passage’s teaching to life, then their job is done. Yet our calling is to preach “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). We aren’t finished preparing a sermon or a Bible study until we can show the ways in which any given text testifies to Christ.
We need to ask, for example, is there a promise here that God fulfilled in Christ? Is there a foreshadowing of something Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection? Who does this passage reveal Jesus to be? What does this text tell us about how we are to live in light of what Christ has done for us? How can we live with hope because of what this verse assures us about Jesus’ return?
Jesus pointedly addressed this issue with his opponents when he said he—not the Scriptures—possesses power to give eternal life. The whole Bible bears witness to Christ and coheres around Christ. It really doesn’t make sense as a collective whole apart from Christ. Trying to read the Bible without reference to the person and work of Christ is like trying to read a series of chapters without any overarching plotline.
All of this shows that the only way to gain true and saving knowledge of Jesus is ultimately through studying Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (the One who inspired the sacred writings in the first place). I believe, moreover, the most fruitful way to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ is to preach the Bible expositionally—book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, word by word. The form in which Scripture has come to us is no accident; it is the Lord’s gift to build up his people in faith and to equip them for ministry.
May the Spirit use our Bible study, therefore, to fill us “with the fruit of righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11).
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not from works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
One of the earliest lessons parents try to teach children is that good behavior leads to rewards and bad behavior leads to punishments. “Just follow the rules,” we say, “and everything will go well. But if you break the rules, there will be consequences.” Such thinking can become virtually hardwired into our sense of what is just and equitable. While this paradigm may serve to steer human behavior in the right direction, it is fundamentally anti-gospel. Why? For this reason: before a holy and righteous God, we can never be good enough.
Yet so much supposedly Christian preaching follows a moralistic trajectory. We’re given a moral lesson from the Bible and told to change our behavior accordingly. Of course we’re drawn to such preaching because it fits within our childhood-implanted framework—learn the rules and follow the rules. We’re also prone to confuse gospel preaching and moralistic preaching because moralistic messages can appear to be thoroughly biblical and Christ-centered. We’re told about Jesus’ exemplary life and character, and we’re admonished to live like Jesus. What
could possibly be wrong with that?
Our problem is we can never live the righteous life Jesus lived on the basis of our own willpower, intelligence, and fortitude. We need Jesus’ goodness to be given to us and infused into our lives. The gospel, therefore, is that God has done this very thing by sending Jesus to die as our
substitute on the cross. “God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that in him we might become the
righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). By grace and through faith we exchange the filthy rags of our best efforts to live as “good” people and receive the gift of Jesus’ perfect life.
Preaching, and more broadly our reading of the Bible, will either highlight what we need to do (moralism) or what God has done for us in Christ (the gospel). Does this mean we should abandon the moral teaching of the Bible or that it doesn’t matter how we live? Absolutely not! It means we see the Bible’s moral teaching as serving two purposes: (1) showing us how far we and the world fall short of God’s holy standards (Rom. 7:7) and (2) revealing how the Holy Spirit enables us to live as born again, redeemed children of God (Rom. 8:1-8).
It’s absolutely critical to distinguish these two forms of preaching because moralism eventually results in proud, self-satisfied individuals and churches. Gospel preaching, on the other hand, results in humble, Spirit-empowered,
Great Commission-focused, and Great Commandment-following disciples of Jesus Christ. Let’s pray together for the Spirit to renew our passion to proclaim and to embody the gospel.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
Here’s a tough truth to accept: what we ought to eat and what we want to eat can be polar opposites. From a nutritional standpoint, it’s not rocket science—we ought to eat more fruits and vegetables. But we want to eat foods filled with sodium, sugar, cholesterol, and fat. Even when we know all about the risks resulting from high blood pressure and clogged arteries, we still indulge whatever our palates prefer.
Don’t worry, though, this isn’t a column about healthy eating. What concerns me far more is the discrepancy between what ought to happen when a preacher enters the pulpit and what we so often want to happen when a preacher enters the pulpit. What we focus on more than anything else are the superficial dimensions: we note the preacher’s tone and mannerisms, we wait for interesting anecdotes, we chuckle at the humorous, we crave uplifting encouragement, and—maybe most crucial of all—we expect everything to wrap up by 12:00 sharp!
We want preaching to address our felt needs—things like hope, guidance, love, peace, community, etc. So much preaching, moreover, caters to this desire by offering felt need sermons. The train of thought goes something like this, “Are you feeling hopeless, lonely, and discouraged? Then come to Christ and let him help you and give you a positive outlook to face life’s challenges.” Of course such a therapeutic message appeals to our therapeutic culture. Here’s how one popular, felt need preacher of an earlier generation characterized his approach— “Preaching is personal counseling on a group basis” (Harry Emerson Fosdick).
One critical question can distinguish felt need preaching from gospel preaching: are we in sin or are we just sinners? Many would confess they’re a sinner. After all, no one is perfect. But confessing we are in sin means acknowledging we stand in opposition to God and are thereby justly deserving of God’s eternal punishment. If we’re in sin then our thoughts and feelings are inherently disordered. Our ways and our thoughts couldn’t be more divergent from God’s. Our needs must be completely reordered, not merely met. The good news, therefore, is Jesus died and rose again to save us from the penalty of our sin and to convert us from being children of wrath into children of God (Jn. 3:36). Don’t be deceived, Jesus didn’t
shed his precious blood so sinners could be more happy and self-fulfilled. He came to save us from hell.
What does such preaching look like? “I preached as never sure to preach again. And as a dying man to dying men” (Richard Baxter). Let’s not settle for anything less. Lives are hanging in the balance.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
“Jesus is Lord.” This was, is, and will always be the foundational claim of the Christian faith. It is both exclusive (i.e. if Jesus is Lord then no one else is) and all- encompassing (i.e. Jesus is Lord of all—without qualification). We know such truth demands more than lip service; it calls for a wholehearted, full-time devotion.
Yet how often do we try to live as part-time Christians? We want the benefits of faith but not the costly burdens of discipleship. We want access to a Higher Power who can help us in our times of need but not the Master’s absolute authority over us. We try to compartmentalize our lives by separating the spiritual and the secular. We’ve become adept at playing the part of the faithful churchgoer. We know the lingo. We know the routines. We know the songs. We know our favorite parts of the Bible. We know church culture so well that it’s virtually become a part of our DNA. While such pretensions may fool others, God knows our hearts and the corruption that naturally grows beneath our thinly disguised veneer.
In reality there are no part-time Christians, only full-time Christians. What’s the difference? First, the full-time Christian understands that if Jesus is Lord, then the most valuable thing in the entire universe is the unrivaled renown of the God revealed in Jesus. The Bible calls this God’s “glory.” Our lives, our plans, our hopes, and our happiness are all subordinate to God’s reputation.
Second, the full-time Christian’s aim is to glorify God in everything. If “the heavens declare the glory of God,” then our goal is to use our voices and actions to magnify the greatness of our God (Ps. 19:1-2) “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” says the Westminster Catechism. Real joy results from fulfilling our God-ordained purpose.
Third, we can make much of God’s fame anywhere and anytime. For the full-time Christian, there is no hard and fast distinction between the spiritual and the secular. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…” (Ps. 24:1a). We can glorify God at church and at work. We can glorify God in the extraordinary and in the mundane. We can glorify God on the mountaintop and in the valley. We can glorify God in how we live and in how we die.
How do we do this? We pray for the Holy Spirit to give us a heightened awareness of God’s omnipresence, and we seek to honor him in everything we do. “You are not your own. You were bought with a price. So honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19b-20). May the Holy Spirit lead us to repent of the part-time Christian charade. It’s an exhausting act to keep up, and there’s no reward. Instead, let’s surrender every facet of our lives to the Lordship of Jesus.
I waited patiently for the LORD. He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me from the pit of destruction, out of the slimy hole. He set my feet on a rock, and he gave me a secure place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD (Psalm 40:1-3).
Do you struggle with patience? I certainly do. While restlessness is not new to 2019, it does seem to be the case that we’re living in especially restless times. Maybe some of it has to do with having more at our fingertips than we can handle—more technology, more information, more news, more opinions (coupled with exponentially more forums for arguing!), more luxury and more convenience. Maybe some of it has to do with shifting expectations—when we know what we want, we expect to get what we want in a timely fashion. Fundamentally, however, our problem with patience pertains to something inherent to our fallen human nature.
Our patience is threadbare, if not non-existent, because we’re continually waiting for our hopes to be fulfilled and our needs to be met. We wait for flourishing finances, successful business endeavors, harmonious relationships and marriages, improved health and healing, the eventual triumph of our preferred political causes, etc. etc. Although none of these hopes or needs is necessarily wrong, they each fall short of where the author of Psalm 40 directed his waiting. He waited patiently for the Lord. He was aware of his need for deliverance, but he trusted God to act in God’s own way and in God’s own timing.
Consequently, whenever we feel the rush of restlessness overtaking our hearts and minds we’re called to look beyond our immediate desires. Only God can truly satisfy our deepest longings. We need to check our intentions, therefore, by asking ourselves if our preoccupations have been surrendered to the Lord or not. Are we ready to embrace the truth that it is God’s prerogative to bring about the total opposite of what we would prefer God to do? Does this sound nearly impossible? It is. Patience is one “fruit of the Spirit,” which means only the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit can transform our restless hearts and help us find rest in Jesus (Gal. 5:22-25).
Make no mistake, God can be trusted to save. No matter how deep our “pit” seems, and no matter how overwhelming our circumstances might become, the God revealed in Christ Jesus can lift us out and put us on solid ground. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then we can trust God to make a way where there is no way.
So let’s wait patiently for the Lord— “His will be done, not ours.” And may He put a new song in a our mouths, a song of redemption and hope. It’s worth the wait.
I am the vine. You are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
Have you made your New Year’s resolution yet? It’s time! There’s something uniquely motivating about starting a new year. Whatever forms of self-improvement we may have been putting off for months (or years!) suddenly seem within reach. Now that another year has rolled around we’re ready to eat more healthily, to exercise more regularly, to manage our schedules more effectively, to make more time for family and the things that matter most, etc. Even though the likelihood is that nothing has substantially changed about us from 2018 to 2019 (i.e. we have the same habits and tendencies, as well as the same problems and dilemmas), we can feel a renewed buoyancy when the calendar turns over.
I wish you all the best as you seek to harness that optimism in pursuit of a fruitful 2019. But before we get too far into the new year, I hope we’ll all carefully consider how the Lord Jesus defined fruitfulness. According to Jesus, real and lasting fruitfulness is inseparable from faithfulness to him. To our hears, Jesus’ words— “Apart from me you can do nothing”—may sound blunt and possibly even offensive. Our human pride wonders, “Is Jesus questioning the unconquerable human spirit? How dare he insult such a self-evident truth!”
Yet Jesus isn’t saying we aren’t capable of extraordinary achievements. Rather, Jesus is cautioning us against falsely believing we can ever obtain anything of eternal significance apart from him. Unless our fruitfulness derives from a relationship with Christ, it will count for nothing in the end. That means even if somehow we managed to check off all of our New Year’s resolutions, and even if our lives appeared to be marked by prosperity and personal triumph, we might still fail to be fruitful. Our fruitfulness and unfruitfulness in 2019 will be determined by the extent to which we are faithful or unfaithful to Jesus.
So does that mean we shouldn’t bother with resolutions and attempts at self-improvement in 2019? Not at all! Go for it! Just make sure you have your priorities straight. Our relationship with Jesus comes first. Only Jesus can save us, and so real fruitfulness and success must always be measured by our obedience to him. Using any other criteria to measure ourselves, our church, or other people will inevitably lead to misunderstandings and miscalculations. When we stand before the judgement seat of Christ—and we all will—only one thing will suffice, namely, a living and dynamic relationship with Christ. It won’t be our list of accomplishments, no matter how lengthy and impressive.
May the Spirit, therefore, help us cling to Jesus in 2019 and beyond.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory—glory as of the Father’s only Son—full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
“The Word became flesh…” Each of these words is chock full of life-changing significance. While a column like this can only touch the surface of their meaning, I hope the following reflections will serve to increase your love of our Incarnate Savior this Christmas.
The Word… From the first verses of Scripture, we learn that the God of Israel is One who speaks (Genesis 1:1-3). God reveals not only information about His identity but also declares what is good and pleasing in His sight (Genesis 1:4). To hear and obey God’s Word is to believe that what God says “proves true” (Proverbs 30:5) and that God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalms 119:105). What God says to us shapes the course of our lives together as God’s people. Indeed this Word is not far from us (Deuteronomy 30:11-14), and the Word is described as “coming” to the Lord’s prophets, who in turn proclaim God’s Word to God’s people (see Jeremiah 1:2; Ezekiel 1:3; Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1). While flowers, grass, people, and everything else in God’s creation will shrivel and fade, “the Word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 4:8). But this Word is more than a concept to be analyzed and dissected. On the contrary, this Word is ultimately a Person—God the Son, who was in the beginning with God and who is, in fact, fully God. “Through him all things were made…” (John 1:1-2).
…became flesh… Although this same Word was “in very nature God, He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Rather, he emptied himself by taking the very form of a servant, being made in human likeness…” (Philippians 2:6-7). Without ever ceasing to be God the Son, the Word became a human being—Jesus of Nazareth—and was born of the virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the Son knew the full breadth of the human experience. He was like us in every way—except He did not succumb to temptation and sin (Hebrews 4:15). His hunger and thirst were just as real as ours, even as His tears of sorrow were just as painful as ours. Most importantly, His shed blood—though infinitely precious—was just as real as ours.
…and dwelt among us… Because the Word became flesh, salvation is both possible and available! In the Word we have more than the perfect leader or teacher; we have Someone who is uniquely capable of saving us from the just penalty of our sins. In the Word made flesh we have more than a fellow traveler on the path of life; we have a High Priest who can offer to God what we could never offer ourselves—namely, a pure and undefiled life.
Hallelujah! What a Savior! Merry Christmas!
At our last Youth Lunch before the holidays, we served barbecue chicken, homemade fries, baked beans, chips and Christmas cookies to 56 students from Leesville Road High School – our largest group so far! The meal was prepared and served by our Associate Minister of Families, Trevor MacPherson, and two members of the church – Dottie Fogg and Beth Obenschain. The Youth Lunches will resume in 2019 – date to be announced.
On Sunday evening, December 16, our Chapel Choir and Orchestra presented “A Celebration of Christmas.” The Choir met for final instructions before the concert with the director, Dr. Ernie Rushing, and they were joined for a few minutes by a special guest. The concert began with familiar Christmas songs sung in a street scene and was followed by a more traditional performance of sacred Christmas songs. Afterward, we enjoyed a reception and fellowship with our many guests.
(You can click on the pictures to see a larger version.)
A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse, and a Branch from his roots will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1).
Evidence of the world’s brokenness is painfully apparent. Surely we can resonate with the cynicism expressed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow when he penned the following lyrics during the Civil War:
“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”
It seems as if our holiday festivities cannot escape an ever-threatening “yet.”
With the Nicene Creed we confess our hope that the same Jesus who “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and became incarnate through the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary” will come again one day. Yet we’re also tempted to believe, “Where is this coming he promised? For ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4).
With Isaiah we confess that peace on earth is possible because the “Prince of Peace” has arrived (Isaiah 9:6). Yet we’re also tempted to believe our conflicts—both personal and global—are simply intractable.
With the angels we confess that the birth of Jesus, our Savior, is the source of “great joy for all people” (Luke 2:11). Yet we’re also tempted to believe joy is something we can only experience in fits and starts depending on how we’re feeling on any given day.
With the Gospel of John we confess that God’s love for the world is such that “He sent His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yet we’re also tempted to believe (and we often act as though) God’s love is something to be earned or lost depending on our own efforts.
Is there any escape from this “yet”? According to the Holy Spirit speaking to us through Isaiah, this “yet” can be pictured as a stump, i.e. an impasse, an insurmountable obstacle, a dead end. God had promised to provide a dynasty to rule Israel in David’s stead. Yet centuries of civil wars, invasions, and exiles had caused this promise to look like a pipe dream. The God of Israel, however, is in the business of bringing forth life from the stumps left in the wake of our sin. Indeed, there is no “yet” that can stand in the way of the glorious truth announced 2,000 years ago: “Today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). It is a truth to be received humbly, celebrated joyfully, and proclaimed boldly. It cannot be improved upon or negated by our circumstances. May we, therefore, give thanks for what only God can do with a stump!
On Sunday evening, December 2, our Children’s Choir presented their musical “Angels Say What?!” They prepared for several weeks and concluded their preparation with a final dress rehearsal. Before the musical, they played two Christmas carols with bells and chimes, and a trio of choir members performed a Christmas Medley on their violins. Our thanks to the children and their director, Ernie Rushing, for their musical contribution to this Christmas season.
(You can click on the pictures to see larger versions.)
“This child will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give to him the throne of David, his father, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33).
According to our 2018 calendars the Advent season will begin on Sunday, December 2. Yet believe it or not, we have actually been celebrating Advent for months now. How so, you ask? To read 1 Samuel is to read about the precursor of the Lord Jesus’ arrival, namely, David. Indeed, we will never fully grasp the significance of the nativity unless the grasp the significance of David. The story of Jesus is tightly intertwined with the story of David. Check out these additional references to see for yourself:
- This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1, NIV).
- Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah (Matthew 1:17, NIV).
- In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary (Luke 1:26-27, NIV).
- He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (Luke 1:69, NIV).
- But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20, NIV).
- So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David (Luke 2:4, NIV).
- Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:11, NIV).
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, he stepped onto a stage centuries in the making. Faithful Israelites during the first century were not just watching and waiting for any king; they were hoping and praying for God to provide none other than a king like David. As we make our annual trek back to the manger in Bethlehem, therefore, we need to know both what God promised and what God fulfilled in the birth of King Jesus.
Like Israel in the days of Samuel and Saul, as well as Israel during the days of Caesar Augustus, our world desperately needs a King who will reign with justice and righteousness. We need none other than the One who is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6b). May He reign forever and ever—starting in our hearts!
Our Associate Minister of Families, Trevor MacPherson, was ordained to the Gospel Ministry at Morning Star Baptist Church in Hickory, NC on November 18, 2018. The service was led by the church’s pastor, Rev. David E. Roberts, II. During the service, Trevor was prayed for by our pastor at Tabernacle Baptist church, Rev. Dane Hadley, by all of the ordained pastors attending, and by his mother, Ms. Beverly Snowden. Several members from Tabernacle traveled to Hickory to participate in the service, including special members from the Tabernacle Student Ministry.
Our congratulations to Trevor on this milestone in his ministry, and our prayers for God’s blessing on him as he serves in our church and community.