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Luke’s Gospel: An Orderly Account (Advent 4)

The following was written for a devotional guide for CityView Church for Advent 2009…

Reading:

Read Luke 1-2 (specifically Luke 1:1-4)

This third week of Advent we’ll be taking a close look at Luke’s account of the birth narrative.  From what we know, Luke was a physician, an amateur historian, and a close friend of the Apostle Paul (see Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24; also, the ‘we’ in the latter part of Acts is Luke and Paul – see chapters 16, 20, 21 especially).  He wrote the New Testament books of Luke and Acts originally as a two-part account of the life of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity.  As such, there are several themes that are woven throughout both books and tell us a lot about the purpose that God accomplishes through Luke and his writings.  While you’re reading, pay attention to the details that Luke highlights:  historical information (people, places, dates, etc.), the role of the Holy Spirit and angels, the major theme of prayer, and the themes of joy and blessing.

That having been said, the first four verses are a very important introduction for how Luke is going to shape his account of the gospel of Jesus.  First we see in verse one that some things have been accomplished among us.  The rest of Luke’s account gives us the details of what exactly he is talking about, but the short version of the incredible heart of the gospel is that Jesus has done it all.  He is the one who was sent by God into the world to be born, live a perfect life, die a horrendous death, and be resurrected to sit at the right hand of the Father.  And the amazing thing is that he did it all for those whom God would call to be followers of Jesus – and we didn’t do one thing to help him!  Salvation was accomplished before you and I were born.  Every sin that you and I have committed was paid for before we ever took a breath.  Just like Jim wrote last week, we are powerless to try and accomplish anything on our own and it’s offensive to God when we do.  So let’s rest in the fact that God has accomplished it all and given us freedom as a free gift because of his grace.

But the story doesn’t stop there – in verse two we see that the things that were accomplished spurred those who saw them to tell others about what happened, and one of those people was Luke.  What Jesus accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection moved people to action, and it resulted in the gospel spreading all over the world.  Think about it – if you’re a Christian, you probably heard about Jesus from someone, and that person heard about Jesus from someone else.  Trace that line of thought all the way back to Jesus’ original disciples and the authors of the books of the Bible.  Now, will that line end with you?  God has moved in history in such a way as to spur dozens of generations of people to tell others about him… who will you tell?  And more importantly, when will you tell them?

After being told about Jesus and becoming a Christian, Luke was led by the Holy Spirit to compile ‘an orderly account’ after ‘having followed all things closely for some time past’ (v.3).  It must’ve taken a lot of work to gather the information, ask the questions, and do the interviews in order to get an accurate record of Jesus’ life (many scholars believe that Luke’s account is based on information contributed by Mary and many other eyewitnesses).  And Luke didn’t just do this because he was bored and didn’t have an X-Box – he did it so that we would have a faith based on good reason and solid evidence (v.4).  This is now the third biblical account of Jesus’ life that we’ve dug into, and there’s one more to go after this week.  God has given us these different writers so that we may have faith when our world turns upside down or someone says the Bible is a work of pure fiction.  We don’t just have a faith that is built on speculation and rumors – rather it’s built on eyewitness testimonies from historically reliable sources and real events.  The gospel is pure Truth delivered to us by a God who loves us dearly and wants us to be encouraged to live in light of that Truth.  Consider that, and be encouraged and strengthened in your faith as you read through this week’s devotionals and the rest of Luke’s gospel account.

Questions:
–    What do your actions and motives say about your relationship with God?  To ask this question another way, are you going to church, reading your Bible, and praying out of an overflow of your heart or out of a sense of obligation to try and earn God’s favor?
–    What does Jesus’ finished work (both the cross and resurrection) mean for your whole life?  How does an already-accomplished peace with God change how you see the world?
–    When was the last time you told someone else about your faith in Jesus?  Has the Lord put someone on your heart to be praying for and share the gospel with?
–    One of the main reasons that Luke includes historical details is so that we would know that God came into history to interact with us.   How is God working in your life right now?

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Twenty-Seven


Another year is behind me and behold, I am twenty-seven as of today.  Life as of late has been quite the interesting experience, and I figured I’d catch up on what I’ve been doing and where God has been leading me these past few months.

While I was 26 I had a good time – In the last year I graduated from seminary, moved to my new home – Springfield, Missouri, and I’ve joined a sweet covenant community of believers at LifePoint Church.  Also, for the first time since I had first moved to Fort Worth, I have my dog Jack with me, and it’s good to have him around.  I’ve lived in Rogersville for the past six months, and the country living has been good.  I experienced fireflies for the first time, and enjoyed a real fall – the trees changing colors are gorgeous here in southern Missouri.

As far as employment goes, I went from being a glorified telemarketer to doing customer service with Wyndham, and it has been nothing short of a huge blessing.  I’ve enjoyed consistent paychecks, excellent benefits, great opportunities for advancement, and gracious management that have all allowed me the peace that a good job affords.  God has also seen fit to bring many good and godly friends into my same workplace, and in so doing has built an atmosphere of missional engagement, encouragement, and deep camaraderie.  I am thankful to not be depressed at work everyday, thankful for not having to drive to Branson, and thankful that I am both encouraged and challenged to do my best for the company that I work for.  Though my first few months in Springfield were rough to say the least, God has now seen fit to bless me with a solid, steady job for this season.

My new home church (LifePoint Church in Ozark, MO) has also been a huge blessing.  The elders there are both wise and godly men who lead their families well.  I have had the joy of learning from them as an elder-in-training for the past several months, and God has also given me an opportunity to use my gifts to encourage and sharpen the congregation.  I have spoken to Apex, the high school student ministry on two occasions, and along with writing several other documents for and with the elders, I will also teach/lead a session at our upcoming Community Group Leaders’ retreat in January.  So God has also seen fit to use me for public ministry in several ways, and I’m very excited for this next year to see how we grow together, and how I can be used of God for the betterment of his Bride.

My personal ministry has also been going well – I’ve been leading a dear younger friend (Logan) through the process of preparing for marriage, growing in the knowledge and application of the Scriptures, and in spiritual leadership.  We’ve had a great time thus far, and I’m both honored to be his mentor, and excited to see him grow and make more disciples himself.  I am further honored to stand at his side during his wedding in April, which will be a great joy.  I’ve known quite a few solid guys in my day, but there are very few that I have more respect for than my dear friend Logan.  He has shown me much about my own sin and walked through it with me, and he has been a gracious disciple as we’ve met and sharpened each other.

Along those same lines, I have been asked to officiate the wedding ceremony of another set of dear friends, Corey and his beautiful fiancée Alli.  I was overjoyed to accept, and am looking forward to seeing what happens in the next few months leading up to their wedding day.  Corey is a dear brother, and when I think back over the long hours of conversation we’ve had about marriage, I believe he will be nothing less than a godly, Christ-emulating, God-glorifying husband for his bride-to-be.

Though things as of late have been going quite well and a calm and comfort has found its way into my life for now, I have noticed a somewhat unsettling trend in the “things I never thought I’d do” category of my life.  For example, I never thought I’d have a job with a cubicle – I have now had two in a row.  I never thought I could have a job where I would be on the phone everyday all day, much less one in telemarketing – but I did serve my time there as well.  I had hoped to never turn in my Texas driver’s license – I have done that (with a bit of reservation).  At one time in my life I never thought I’d move out of Texas, much less enjoy life in another state – I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Missouri, and look forward to the next few years with these dear and precious people.  I also (and feel free to verify this with our lead planter Greg Gaumer) never thought I would plant a church.  I entertained thoughts of re-planting or revitalizing a church, but never planting and starting from the ground up.  I am now a joyful church planter and am passionate about men who feel called to plant churches.  It has been a longer process of thinking church planting appropriate for someone with my gifts, but I feel that God has indeed called me to be a part of a church planting team, and I’m excited to serve him in this way.  It is not an easy calling, but it is a precious one.  It requires of me much endurance, patience, and faith in God’s sovereign plan rather than my own selfish wants and preferences.

The past five years have been fairly challenging and have seen many trials come and go.  Fear, uncertainty, and doubt have plagued me and I have seen my fair share of sorrow.  I don’t know exactly what God has in store for me in the coming months, but I must say that he has chosen to bless me and bring me a certain kind of peace and security as I begin my 27th year under the sun.

I do praise God for this respite, knowing that my journey is far from complete.  I pray that I remember this season of blessing when joy is not as readily accessible and his praises are more seldom found on my lips.


I share a birthday with:
Franz Ferdinand (1863 – whose assassination began World War I),
Charles Wesley (1707 – hymn writer and brother of John Wesley),
Ty Cobb
(1886 – baseball player),
Keith Richards (1943 – of the Rolling Stones),
Steven Spielberg (1947 – amazing director),
Ray Liotta
(1954 – actor),
Brad Pitt
(1965 – actor),
Katie Holmes (1978 – actress),
Christina Aguilera
(1980 – singer).

A bit of trivia for December 18th:
In 1918 the House of Representatives approved the 18th Amendment, enacting Prohibition; in 1865 the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States.

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Jesus: the Light (Advent 2)

The following was written for a devotional guide for CityView Church for Advent 2009…

Reading:
John 1:4-9; see also 1 John 1:5-10, 2 Corinthians 4:6

One of the most significant titles that John uses for Jesus is ‘Light’ (see John 1:4, 9; 8:12; 9:5), which carries an immense amount of meaning, both in a biblical context and for us today.  In these few verses, Jesus is shown to be the ‘light of men’ (v.4), meaning that he is the true representation of life – a shining example of perfection in a world full of disobedient sinners.  Not only does he serve as an example, but he also teaches and gives insight into (‘enlightens,’ v.9) how to live life on earth.  In other words, John is telling us that the key to life is both to follow and to learn from Jesus.  Not only that, but in 2 Corinthians 4 (specifically v.6), God tells us through Paul that he has given Christians this ability to have faith by shining the light of Christ into our hearts and letting us know the grace that we’ve been given through Jesus.

Because God has given us this shining light in Christ who brings insight, makes all things known, and reveals Truth, we know that God is light, and as Christians we should walk in the light, not in darkness (1 John 1:5-10).  This means that we should confess sin, repent (turn away from sinful pursuits and turn toward God), and trust that God’s grace is fully realized in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  This also means that we shouldn’t be walking in consistent sin, enslaved to wickedness and shameful pursuits that both dishonor our God and warp our minds to the point that we think sin is awesome and God is some divine buzzkill.  Jesus came to bring us an abundant life, not a repressed, bitter existence that’s merely endured.

God is the Creator of the universe, and the Bible tells us that he knows us more intimately than we know ourselves (Psalm 139).  Therefore, since he is both sovereign and good, we can and should trust the way he wired the world to work and live accordingly.  You see, God’s glory and our joy are not mutually exclusive.  When we live in harmony with God’s design, we experience peace, true joy, God’s glory, and our greater good.  God gives life; sin destroys it.  God gives joy and peace; sin breeds bitterness and discord.

This joy and peace doesn’t just end with us, though.  We Christians must pour our lives out in worship to God by following him faithfully and by sharing that faith with others.  Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).  That means that we should reflect God’s glory to a dark world and do our best to push back the darkness of sin wherever we find it.  We engage sin and darkness by sharing the gospel, by serving our community in beneficial ways, and by actively praying for our leaders and non-Christians in our spheres of influence.

Questions:
1.    Are you walking in darkness (sin/disobedience) in any part of your life?  How will you go about confessing, repenting, and walking in the light?
2.    What are areas of darkness that you can begin pushing back in your own life (at work, with your wife, etc.), in your family (generational sins, etc.), and with your home group (community service opportunities, etc.).
3.    What has God shown you about himself and his character in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ?
4.    Do you see God’s commands as life-giving or life-draining?  How do your thoughts line up with what the Bible says?

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Jesus: the Christ (Advent 1)

The following was written for a devotional guide for CityView Church for Advent 2009…

Reading:
Matthew 1:1-17 and John 4:25, 11:27

Throughout the New Testament one of the most common names for Jesus is the “Christ” which is a Greek word meaning ‘anointed one.’  This title is full of meaning from the Old Testament (the Hebrew word is ‘Messiah’ which is translated in our English Bible as ‘savior’) and communicates much about the nature and character of Jesus.  The Christ or Messiah figure from the Old Testament is one who was prophesied to deliver God’s people from oppression and slavery.  We can see from specific prophecies that he was supposed to restore the Kingdom of David (Jeremiah 23:5, 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23), restore the Temple (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1; Zechariah 6:13; Ezekiel 37:26-28), regather his people – the exiled Jews (described in Isaiah 11:12 and 43:5-6), and usher in world peace (Isaiah 2:4) among many others.

One of the reasons that the New Testament writers saw such significance in using Christ to talk about Jesus is that he fulfills all of the prophecies perfectly and delivers us from our slavery to sin.  As the King of kings Jesus reigns as the perfect, sovereign, everlasting ruler that no earthly king could be.  As our High Priest Jesus also restores and enables right spiritual worship of God (the book of Hebrews goes in-depth on this idea), brings us peace with God, and gathers us together in gospel-centered community (the Church).  There are so many other things that we could learn about this title for Jesus, but the most incredible thing is that this Christ who came to save humanity and reconcile us to God came not in his full glory (like we see in Revelation 19:11-16), but rather in human form as a baby boy.

As God in the flesh, Jesus reveals to us more about God than anything else in all of history could (see Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1), and he accomplishes more than we could ever dream.  He has fulfilled God’s promises of deliverance, broken the dominion of sin in the hearts and lives of Christians, given his people a reason to hope in the living God, brought new life into sinners who were dead in sin, and guaranteed that those who put their faith in him and live their lives in obedience to his Word will never taste death.  So when we see this unique title for Jesus as the Christ, we should be mindful of the immense significance that Jesus has in human history and God’s redemption story.

Questions:
•    Where in the Bible can you see God as the one who delivers Israel from a bad situation?  What does this tell us about how Jesus delivers us?
•    What has Jesus freed or delivered you from?  What has Jesus restored in your life?
•    What does Jesus’ life and character tell us about God?  How does that fit with what God tells us about himself in Exodus 34:5-7?

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Mercy in Loneliness

The following was written on March 13, 2008…

 

Real as a prayer on a lonely night,
sure as the ocean tide
oh love, oh love
oh the many colors that you’re made of
you heal and you bleed
you’re the simple truth and you’re the biggest mystery
— “Oh Love” —
by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood

Who doesn’t long for someone to hold?
Who knows how to love you without being told?
Somebody tell me why I’m on my own,
If there’s a soulmate for everyone.
— “Soulmate” —
by Natasha Bedingfield

Well, I think I’ve finally come to the place where I know at least some part of the answer to some questions that have rested on my soul for the longest time.  Disclaimer: by no means does this mean I have it ‘figured out’ or even have peace in my heart – it means only that God has spoken Truth into my life and allowed me a slight glimpse into my own life from His perspective.  Before I go any further, allow me to elaborate on what I’m actually talking about.

Ever since the day I figured out girls were cool and that I wanted one, I’ve longed to be married.  From then on, I’ve schemed, planned, strategized, and tactically approached dating relationships, and all manner of communication in relation to them.  Many a late night during my college years was spent hunched over cheap coffee, either dissecting the latest philosophy and/or theology of dating and marriage.  Still more were spent engaging in conversation with any number of my peers as we lamented, celebrated, theorized, and advised each other about the many intricacies of dating life, the opposite sex, and what God thought about all of it.  Through it all, I’ve had one constant desire on my heart – to be a husband, a father, and a provider for my future family.

That having been said, my last official relationship ended between 4 and 5 years ago, and I’ve been pondering life, marriage, relationships, and theology ever since.  The past two years have been especially fruitful and formative for where I believe I’m headed for the rest of my life, and without getting sidetracked there, I’ll say that they have been an immense blessing despite tough times and long nights.   I’ve oscillated drastically from near certainty that a relationship would blossom out of a friendship to nearly vowing celibacy and denying what God has put in my heart for me to do.  Through thick and thin, laughter and pain, one constant staccato of questions has ached my soul and been a heavy ballast in my heart:  When, where, and how will I meet my future wife… and who is she?  I know well the dark nights of the soul when prayers hit the ceiling and the only thing on the other end of the phone line is voice mail.  The questions, the uncertainty, the insecurity… all of them welled up within me to the breaking point when I found myself crying out like David, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me?”

It is in the still quietness following that silent crescendo in my heart that I found myself praying constantly for my future wife and kids, for myself, for anything at all that would relieve me of my angst.  As the months wore on, God began to show me more of myself, which was a scary thing for me to see.  Small faults, hidden insecurities, erroneous presuppositions about the way relationships and marriage and myself worked.  These discoveries were all good and well, but deliverance from the ache of missing someone I hadn’t even met still eluded me.  Pain.  Turmoil.  Isolation.  Why would God put those into my life if He wired me for marriage and community?  What would be the purpose in not having that venue to glorify Him?  I had my stuff together, I had my priorities in line, and I was ready, right?  Absolutely wrong.  What follows is the result of the last couple of days in my meditations on this subject, and they are by no means infallible.  I do believe that God has given me insight into my own situation, and therefore I’ve chosen to put it down here.  Do with it what you will.

Yesterday as I was driving home from class, I continued on the line of thinking that I’d entertained earlier that morning, namely my future family (or lack thereof) and the omnipresence of those who had found precisely what I longed for.  As I plumbed these depths for the millionth time, I had an epiphany.  If God would have given me who I wanted (and still very much want) when I wanted her, I would have taken advantage of her, taken her for granted, and failed to appreciate her – or perhaps more accurately, God working through her.  Basically, I came face-to-face with the reality that God – in His infinite mercy and wisdom – was allowing me to endure the pain of loneliness for my own good… because as a wise pastor once said, it is much better to be lonely outside of a relationship than lonely inside a marriage.   Now, I’ll admit that I’m not much closer to having this figured out than I was yesterday, but I do realize the game I’m playing now.  Until I’m ready to lay down all that I dream on the altar of God’s will for me, I will continue to be frustrated, lonely, and wholly unattractive to the kind of woman I pray that I’ll marry.  So for now, I’m content to work on that which is in me that is fractured and would do massive damage to a marriage were it given the opportunity.  I lean wholly on God’s guidance through Scripture, prayer, and godly wisdom/advice/experience, and thus far have found it to be immensely sanctifying, humbling, and hopefully rewarding than even I thought it would be.

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