Two Sides of a Fence

The Supreme Court of the United States of America issued a ruling yesterday (June 23, 2022), effectively overturning a previous case (Roe v. Wade) that had stood for exactly 49 years (June 23, 1973). Many people, including pastors, took to social media to voice their own opinions and perspectives on this landmark decision. I confess…I spent some time scrolling through social media feeds reading what people had written. My first impression of what I read may be a bit different than what you would expect: I was sad and conflicted. I read through the comments of people for whom I have the utmost love and respect only to realize these comments were on opposite ends of the same spectrum. I was then presented with a challenging question: How do I respond when there are people for whom I care equally whose perspectives on the same subject are diametrically opposed?

When looking at two sides of a fence, I realized I was the fence. Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I have an opinion. I have a perspective. I hold certain convictions. My beliefs, however, are not the central subject of this post. There are three phenomena which have come to my attention: (1) people assuming the rest of the world is vitally interested in what they think about a particular issue, (2) people (including Christians) treating other people with hatred and disrespect simply because they hold an opposing view on an issue, and (3) Christians (people who have repented of their sins and professed faith in Jesus Christ) who claim to believe in the same Jesus and the same Bible yet have polar opposite beliefs on a particular issue. I’d like to address each of these because they each have me baffled to some degree.

First, there is a growing trend where nearly everyone on social media (not everyone, but what I believe is a majority) seems to believe with certainty that the rest of the world is sitting on pins and needles as they await their opinions on the issues of the day. My observation of social media teaches me that unsolicited opinions comprise much of what is posted on a daily basis. Even news outlets are not immune. Is it even possible to hear an unbiased report of events without a particular spin being attached to the report? I don’t believe it is. One of the unintended consequences of social media is the way it compels people to “overshare” about their lives and opinions as if everyone else in the world will lead incomplete lives until they receive this random personal information. In addition, many people appear to be more than willing to share their own personal opinions while passing them off as irrefutable facts. They do this despite the complete lack of any substantive support from credible, objective sources of truth. Don’t get me wrong…I have opinions…lots of them. I like to share them from time to time. However, I am also fairly confident that the number of people who genuinely care what I think is relatively small in the grand scheme of things. This, by the way, is why I am writing this in a blog rather than posting it directly to social media. If people are uninterested, they don’t have to click the link.

Second, there is a growing trend where fewer and fewer people seem to be able to participate in civil discourse. Most of the exchanges I read on social media are filled with hatred and disrespect for one another, often between people who don’t even know each other very well. Rarely can anyone voice their perspective on any issue without one or more people taking the opportunity to criticize both quickly and decisively the opinions of the author. Part of this trend includes the unfortunate equating of disagreement with hate. I see things differently from you. Therefore, I must hate you and everything about you. One of the most common principles of honest debate is that you confine your comments to the issue in question. You never resort to personal attacks on your opponent. You stay on subject. In fact, failure to do this effectively demonstrates a weaker and less effective argument. If you are unable to stand on the merits of your position (because your position lacks merit), then you resort to attacking the other side personally. You also increase the volume or disrespect of your speech in order to intimidate the other side into silence. The problem (one of them, at least) with this approach is this: volume and passion do not equal truth.

Finally, I have noticed a phenomenon among the so-called Christian community that bears some analysis. First, let me define the Christian community. I am referring to all people who have fallen under the conviction of the Holy Spirit of God and repented of their sins. They have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, trusting only in Him for their forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. They are living each day for the glory of God in Christ, sustained entirely by God’s grace and mercy. They spend time reading and studying the word of God because they understand all wisdom and knowledge is found in Christ. These are the ones to which I refer when I use the term Christians. If all these things are true about a group of people, then it seems almost inconceivable to me how two individuals within this group could arrive at conclusions so diametrically opposed to one another. This final principle is the one that gives me the most difficulty. It causes me to question some things. Are we all reading the same Bible? Are we all being completely objective when we read the Bible or are we subconsciously (or intentionally) bringing our own presuppositions to the text of Scripture? Do we fail to consult Scripture before drawing conclusions and arriving at our opinions?

After seeing these types of things more often, especially on social media, I have no choice but to draw some conclusions of my own. I conclude that not all who profess to follow Christ are actually following Christ. I conclude that not all who actually read the Bible are reading the Bible with objectivity and an open mind. I conclude that many who profess to follow Christ do not consult Scripture when formulating their worldview or their opinions on particular issues. I also conclude that my three conclusions are extremely problematic for the church in general and for the advance of the gospel in particular. So, this leads me to draw one final conclusion.

We are all free to make our own decisions. We are all free to believe what we want to believe. We are all free to form our own opinions on any issue. However, we are not free to choose the consequences of our decisions. We are not free to choose the implications of our beliefs. We are not free to ascribe biblical authority to our own opinions.

So what do we do about all this? I have a few suggestions. Read the Bible more. Pray more. Enjoy fellowship with a local church more often. Listen more. Speak less. All these disciplines are helpful to a growing Christian, but there is one more that may be the most beneficial. Please hear what I am about to say.

I have been a Pastor for nearly 20 years. I have spent 8 years in theological education earning a Master’s degree and a doctoral degree. I have read lots of books. But throughout all my years of study and reading, I must always remember there is only one primary source. For all the books written ABOUT the Bible (many of which are really good, in my opinion), there is only one BIBLE. There is only one book inspired by God, making it inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient. I believe with great conviction that we can do ourselves (and our theology) great harm by spending too much time reading books ABOUT the Bible and not enough time reading the actual BIBLE. I also believe if a human author is just as influential to you or even more influential to you than the word of God, that is a problem.

The only way to possess a truly biblical worldview is to remember your primary source, the BIBLE. Read the Bible in its context. Follow the sound hermeneutical principles of observation, interpretation, and application. Pray for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit of God. Trust in Christ. Stand on biblical convictions. Preach the gospel. Love others as Christ has loved you. Extend grace as you would hope it would be extended to you. Soli Deo Gloria.

Mike. Out.

Set Apart to Make a Difference

Well, it’s been quite some time since I have written anything on this blog. Life gets busy. Ministry gets busy. Distractions abound. And now it has been three days since the release of a monumental report concerning the Southern Baptist Convention in general and its Executive Committee in particular. The subject of the report revolves around the overall mistreatment and irresponsibility of the Convention’s leadership in dealing with reports of sexual abuse and impropriety. You can read the report in its entirety here. It seems that many pastors and church leaders have taken to the internet and social media to weigh in on the report, its findings, and its repercussions. I have decided not to enter that fray in a conventional sense, but rather to direct my thoughts and comments toward Scripture.

This world is such a difficult place in which to live. Ever since the events recorded in Genesis 3, all of creation has been slowly but surely spiraling toward an unfortunate yet unavoidable end. Sin’s entrance into our lives has had and continues to have devastating effects. One need only look around and observe the current state of affairs in the world to find more than enough evidence of what Paul Tripp refers to as a “broken down house” (Find this book here). The recent events within the Southern Baptist Convention demonstrate very clearly that the people of God are not exempt from bad behavior. All this to say…a particular passage of Scripture came to mind as I reflected on the information I was reading in the Convention report on sexual abuse. Paul’s second (recorded) letter to the church at Corinth speaks to what I believe is a very important aspect of life as Christian in a sinful world. I direct your attention to 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 7:1Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1 (ESV)

It seems no one wants to offend anyone in the society in which we live. Everyone is calling for widespread tolerance. That is, any and all viewpoints must be considered as valid as any other despite internal disagreement. Webster defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” The most intriguing portion of this definition is the word “indulgence.” You see, this word offers a much clearer picture of what tolerance is all about. To indulge is defined by Webster as “to give free rein to; to take unrestrained pleasure in; to yield to the desire of; to treat with excessive leniency, generosity, or consideration.” This really brings the idea into view.

The worldly culture expects Christians to treat all other viewpoints with tolerance. In other words, we are expected to treat these deviant views “with excessive leniency, generosity, or consideration.” We are expected to give them “free rein.” This all sounds warm and fuzzy except for the fact that Christians are seldom afforded this same “tolerance.” G.K. Chesterton, the early 20th century English writer, made one of the most profound statements of our time concerning this subject when he said, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction.” This is the sad truth we find in many churches today. That is, one reason why so many Christians are expressing such tolerance toward non-Christian viewpoints and ideals is there are many Christians who simply have no convictions. Oh, they call themselves Christians and they identify themselves with a local church, but when it comes to taking a stand against sin in the world the cry becomes “tolerance” and suddenly there is no conviction to be found.

I submit the following suggestions based on the Scripture from 2 Corinthians. First, I believe Christians should refrain from unhealthy relationships. The Apostle Paul gives many examples of why it is illogical, ill-advised, and ultimately detrimental to pursue any type of relationship with someone who has polar opposite beliefs and convictions. He gives two natural examples and three biblical examples (verses 14-16a). The principle Paul presents is fairly straightforward. He gives five clear relationships as comparisons to the prospect of a relationship between a believer and an unbeliever. In fact, one of his examples is the very one of which he is speaking. This defines the precise reason why a relationship between a believer and an unbeliever would be such a mismatch. They have absolutely nothing in common. The only appropriate foundation for a relationship such as this would be that of evangelism and discipleship.

Let me illustrate this point. I once mistakenly filled a gasoline-powered lawn tractor with diesel fuel. Both types of fuel were in the same type of container and I picked up the wrong one because I was not paying close attention. They looked the same on the outside to the untrained eye, but upon closer inspection, one was clearly marked “diesel fuel.” The result was a complete breakdown of the machine. It was designed to use a certain type of fuel and it would only function properly up to its potential when filled with that particular type. The ultimate result of a relationship between a believer and an unbeliever will be a complete breakdown. Eventually, the believer’s loyalties will be pressured to divide, thus producing an unequal division of labor, a mismatch.

Secondly, I believe Christians should recognize their position in Christ. Paul reminds us of the truth that we, as Christians, are the temple of the living God. We have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling inside of us. He directs us back to the relationship between God and His people from the Old Testament found in Leviticus 26:11-12. By reminding us that we are the temple of God, Paul is pointing our attention to the attributes of that temple. The prerequisite for entry into the Old Testament temple complex was being clean and holy, without blemish. This is why only the high priest could enter the most holy place after going through a certain process of cleansing. We are implored by God through the Apostle Paul to not associate with those who might tarnish the name of the Lord. We are urged to separate ourselves from anyone who may be prone to lower the standard of conduct that is given to us in Scripture. We are commanded to remain clean before God by avoiding any contact with the stains of the world.

The underlying principle behind these commands is quite clear. If there is no separation of conduct, behavior, and lifestyle by the Christian relative to the world, then there can be no effectual witness of a changed life for the world to observe. In order for the message of Christ to be communicated verbally with power, it must be accompanied by a nonverbal communication that can speak louder and with more conviction than any word uttered from the Christian’s mouth. Let me illustrate. I can tell my wife I love her fifty times a day. I can say it with a great deal of charm and emotion. However, if there is no accompanying behavior to give effectual power to my words, then my words are empty and meaningless. The verbal witness of the Christian not accompanied by separated behavior will ultimately be empty and meaningless.

Finally, I believe Christians should respond to God’s promises with obedience. The final phrase of verse 18 is perhaps one of the most telling phrases in this verse when considering the promises of God. How can we trust God to keep these promises? How can we be sure He will come through on His part if we are obedient to what He has commanded us? We find the answer in the last four words of this verse. Who has spoken these commands and promises? The Lord Almighty has spoken. This is the same Lord who created the heavens and the earth. This is the same Lord who flooded the earth with judgment during the day of Noah. This is the same Lord who knew no sin and yet became sin on our behalf to that we might be declared righteous before Him. The Lord Almighty always keeps His promises.

Because God has promised such wonderful things to His children, because we are dearly loved by Him, because He expects our obedience, the Apostle Paul concludes with a final series of commands (7:1). This is a picture of what the temple of the living God is supposed to look like. There should be no blemish, spot or wrinkle. It is to be completely cleansed and purified. It is to be holy and blameless before God. The only way we will attain holiness is through cleansing ourselves from ALL defilement of flesh and spirit while operating in a holy fear and reverence for the Lord Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Christians must fulfill their responsibility as the temple of God by refraining from mismatched relationships with unbelievers, recognizing their place as a child of God, and responding to God’s promises with obedience.

I believe there has never been a more crucial time for followers of Christ to distinguish themselves from everyone else in this world. We must not be content to simply talk a good game. We must back up our profession faith with a lifestyle that corroborates rather than conflicts. I pray all who claim the name of Christ, beginning with myself, will strive to live a life of distinction consistent with God’s Word. Only then will we display the credible witness so desperately needed in the world.

By His grace and for His glory,

Mike. Out.

I don’t know what to do, 2nd edition

Well, this is odd. It’s late at night on Saturday and I am feeling particularly worthless. Not only that, I know exactly what I should be doing (probably), but I can’t do it. I should be praying and seeking the face of God, but there is just one problem: I don’t know where to start. I just can’t seem to find the words. I feel miserable. I feel as if I am letting down everyone in my life. I suppose you could say I am having a good old fashioned pity party.. so what do I do next? How do I get out of this funk?

I started writing. I didn’t know what else to do. I can’t pray. I tried. I can’t talk to anyone in my family. So I just started writing…trying to get my thoughts out any way I could. Let me tell you one thing: anyone who believes pastors are more spiritual than other people or that pastors have their lives together and don’t deal with the same problems they do is sadly mistaken. I am neck deep in a spiritual battle and I feel like I’m losing ground. How am I supposed to try to help others when I can’t even help myself? And there it is…the solution to my problem. God just led me straight to it. I CAN’T help myself. I must fully surrender to the God who is able to help me.

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul was suffering from a thorn in the flesh which God had given him. The Bible says he pleaded with the Lord to take it away from him, but he would not. He simply said, “ My grace is sufficient for you.” That’s it. That’s all he said. Wait. That’s not ALL he said. He also told Paul that his power was made perfect in Paul’s weakness. So here is Paul suffering from some sort of “thorn in the flesh” and God does not offer to take it away. God reminds Paul (and me) that his power will only come through in its fullest strength when we are resigned to the fact that we are weak individuals in desperate need of divine assistance.

So I suppose that’s about it. When I am at my weakest, as I feel I am right now, I must call on Jesus so he might fight the battle on my behalf. This is the path to victory. This is the path to peace. Lord, please lead me and guide me on this path.

Mike. Out.

What is Truth?

This was the question asked by Pilate so many years ago as he questioned Jesus of Nazareth concerning the charges brought against him by the Jewish religious leaders (John 18:38). It seems not much has changed in the past 2,000 years as many are still asking the same question. There appears to be an endless quest to find the truth, but there also appears to be much disagreement concerning the source one may use to find it. This is where the word of God comes in. Scripture is not simply the truth. It is the standard by which all truth is judged. Allow me to elaborate.

Certainly the Bible is not a book about Physics or Mathematics or Science or Geography. So, one would not necessarily consult the Scriptures in order to solve an algorithm or find the capital of Zimbabwe. However, when it comes to spiritual matters…faith and practice…life and things that really matter, God’s word is absolutely indispensable. God’s word is faithful and trustworthy. There is no other book like it on earth. Even the most trusted works of literature which are taught in schools and commonly accepted as accurate do not come close to the mountain of evidence for the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.

Now, I could write for pages and pages, explaining all the intricate details of the statement I have made concerning the accuracy, reliability, and truth of the Bible. That, however, is not my intention in this particular post. I need to say some things about the truth according to Scripture as it pertains to the most important subject: salvation. I intend to assert some axioms of biblical Christianity, not according to the church, but according to the Bible…not according to what man says, but according to what God says.

First, the human race is made of sinners who are separated from God. As Mark Driscoll once said, “There are not good people and bad people; there are bad people and Jesus.” The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Ever since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled against the authority of God, the human race has been under a curse which separates us from God. We all have an incurable disease that is passed down from generation to generation. No human possesses the capability to remedy this problem apart from divine intervention. Thankfully, God made a provision for this problem before the foundation of the world. God is sovereign. We are not.

Second, Jesus Christ, who is himself God, took on the form of a human and inserted himself into our world so that he could do some things we are incapable of doing. He lived a life free from sin. We can’t do that. He fulfilled God’s righteous requirements completely. We can’t do that. He paid the penalty for sin by willingly subjecting himself to torture and ultimately death. We aren’t prepared to do that. Before I get ahead of myself, here are some Scripture references that speak to these truths:

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:1-4).

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21).

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Third, Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation. We cannot earn salvation and forgiveness. It is completely a gift of God’s free grace. All those who receive God’s gracious gift of life by believing in Jesus, trusting in him completely for salvation and forgiveness will be saved for all eternity. This concept proves difficult for many to comprehend, especially in a culture that constantly teaches independence and self-sufficiency. The Bible, however, teaches this truth very clearly. Consider these examples:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”” (John 3:3).

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Rom 10:9-10).

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved”” (Rom 10:12-13).

Finally, you must respond to the grace and mercy of God in Christ. These Scripture passages listed above (plus numerous others) show us a couple things about salvation and forgiveness. They do show us that Jesus accomplished redemption on the cross, in our place, on our behalf. They also show us, however, that we must believe in Jesus. We must receive the free gift he offers. We must trust in him completely as the only source of forgiveness and eternal life. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit of God enables us to hear with our ears, see with our eyes, understand with our minds, and feel with our hearts such that we are convicted of our sins, realize our need for a Savior, and place our faith in Jesus Christ as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. Salvation, from beginning to end, is a work of God.

These are not my opinions. These are the words of God.

“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

“And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13).

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart. Today is the day of salvation. Trust in Jesus.

Mike. Out.

I don’t know what to do

As we find ourselves in unprecedented circumstances, attempting to navigate through virus-infected waters, it would not be surprising at all to feel like we just don’t know what to do. I have been pondering this same question over the past several months with regards to the local church God has given me the privilege of serving. What are we supposed to do? What is the best thing to do in these circumstances? Well, after laboring over those questions through prayer and wise counsel, I believe I have an answer, at least as far as the church is concerned.

I believe God has given his children some very specific instructions about what we should be doing right now. These instructions do not include any phrase resembling, “if you feel like it,” “if it’s convenient for you,” or “as long there are no challenging circumstances in the world.” The body of Christ, for whom He shed His blood on the cross of Calvary, has been commanded to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The church, which is made up of the people of God, is supposed to be preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ with love and compassion.

Now, if someone on the street asked you to explain the Gospel message, would you be able to do it? Let’s think about that for a moment. How would you respond? What would you say? What facts would you include? What would you leave out? How simple would you make it? Would you talk about sin and the need for forgiveness? Would you discuss the love of God? Would you mention heaven and hell? More importantly, shouldn’t every Christian be able to explain the Gospel? After all, you have to understand the Gospel in order to believe the Gospel, and you have to believe the Gospel in order to be saved from your sin. I firmly believe every person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus must be able to share the Gospel and point someone else to Jesus.

So, just to be sure we are all on the same page, here is a summary of the Gospel message: “God the Father, who is holy and righteous in all his ways, is angry with sinners and will punish sin. Man, who disobeys the rule of God, is alienated from the love of God and is in danger of an eternal and agonizing condemnation at the hands of God. But God, who is also rich in mercy, because of his great love, sent his eternal Son born by the Virgin Mary, to die as a ransom and a substitute for the sins of rebellious people. And now, through the perfect obedience of the Son of God and his willing death on the cross as payment for our sins, all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ, following him as Savior and Lord, will be saved from the wrath of God to come, be declared just in his sight, have eternal life, and receive the Spirit of God as a foretaste of the glories of heaven with God himself” (Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member, 40-41).

This is the message of the Bible. This is the message of love and forgiveness. This is a message of freedom from sin and its consequences. Hear me, all you people of God: this is what we are supposed to be doing, now, more than ever. We are called and commanded to testify to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life. He died a sinner’s death. He rose victoriously from the grave and he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He is Lord of all and he offers the free gift of salvation to all who would repent and believe, by grace through faith. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. I beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Mike. Out.

Freedom in Christ

What does it mean to be free? Merriam-Webster defines “free” as having the legal and political rights of a citizen or not subject to the control or domination of another. Living in the United States of America is supposed to afford us all the opportunity to realize what it means to be free. Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen have fought, bled, and died to secure and preserve the freedom which was intended to be enjoyed by all the citizens of this nation. We all should be thankful for the sacrifices of those who have gone before us and we should strive to make sure every citizen of this country has equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There is, however, a more precious freedom available to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, sent His one and only Son to the earth in order to fulfill completely and perfectly the righteous requirements of God’s law. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, then willingly and obediently laid down His life on the cross of Calvary, rising again victoriously on the third day. He did this in order to purchase redemption and eternal life for all who would trust in Him alone by grace through faith. This is the good news of the gospel according to Scripture. At this point, we should ask ourselves a few questions:  Are we sinners, totally lost and separated from God, and by nature deserving the full wrath of God? (See Ephesians 2:1-3) Are we unable to do anything at all to help ourselves, make ourselves better, or save ourselves from sin and death? (See Ephesians 2:8-9) Did Jesus Christ perfectly fulfill the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf by dying in our place for our sins on the cross? (See Romans 5:8, 6:23, & 8:1-4)

Now if you answered yes to all three of those questions (and I sincerely hope you did because they are all true), then there is only one appropriate response in light of these biblical truths. We should be humble and broken in the presence of Almighty God who has saved us from our sin by the shed blood of His perfect Son. There should be an overflow of gratitude and thanksgiving directed toward our loving Father who set us free when we were faced with eternal condemnation. This gratitude and thanksgiving should find expression in our actions as we strive to live in a manner “worthy of the calling [we] have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Our worship should overflow as well when we consider the beauty and the majesty of King Jesus. Ultimately, this should affect the way we treat others and the way we stand against injustice.

True freedom does not consist of doing whatever we want to do. True freedom is the ability to do what is right in the sight of God. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Mike. Out.

The Long-Suffering of God

The God of the Bible has may characteristics. Honestly, one could use a considerable amount of time simply listing the character traits of God, much less thoroughly defining each one. There is one quality, though, that has been on my heart and mind quite a bit lately. I suppose the reason I have been thinking about it so much is because of how often I need God to exercise this particular quality when dealing with me. I am speaking of the seldom used word, “long-suffering.”

I believe the word “long-suffering” was once used more frequently than it is in today’s culture. I find that I run across this word more often in reading than I do in conversations. Observation tells me that people may tend to use the word “patience” where previous generations may have said “long-suffering.” I believe, however, this word does a much better job of describing the character of God. I believe it reaches a depth not found in the word “patience.”

The definition of “patience,” according to Merriam-Webster, is “bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint.” Now, that is all well and good, but it seems to me this definition would apply more readily to humans than it would the Sovereign God of the universe. Consider the definition of “long-suffering” from the same source. Long-suffering is defined as “patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship.” Now we are getting somewhere. You will notice the word “patient” is used in the meaning of “long-suffering” so there is certainly a connection between the two words. But I believe the distinction is found in the word “offense.”

The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit, reminds us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24, CSB). Knowing all have sinned is important, especially when considering the meaning of sin and how it alters one’s relationship with God. The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament defines sin [Greek = hamartia] as “primarily a failure to achieve a standard (whether culpable or unintentional) in the broadest sense, both as deed and as the nature of the deed.” The key word here is “standard” because…whose standard is it? It is the standard of Jesus Christ.

You see, this is why I am constantly (it seems) being reminded of the long-suffering of God. Every time I personally “fall short” and fail to meet God’s standard in Christ I go through this process of conviction, guilt, self-pity, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and gratitude. It truly is quite the vicious cycle. God is abundantly long-suffering toward His children despite the “lasting offense” they keep causing by sinning against an infinitely holy God. It is this realization to which I came this afternoon. I received a lesson from the Holy Spirit regarding prayer, trust, and faith. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have been taught this lesson. You would think I would have learned it by now. Hence, my reflection on the long-suffering of God.

So the next time you fail God’s standard of His perfect Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, I offer you this counsel: confess your sin, repent, seek forgiveness, and thank God for his abundant grace and mercy. I serve an awesome, long-suffering God and I am so thankful.

Mike. Out.

The Main Event

Church culture can be captivating. There are typically so many things happening that something is bound to get your attention. In fact, if you were to take a moment to consider the church you currently attend, you would most likely be able to pinpoint the particular thing that was most significant in leading you to unite with that spiritual family. Nevertheless, there is one task charged to every gospel-centered church that stands above the rest. “The fundamental reason your church exists is to make disciples of Jesus” (Geiger, et al., Transformational Discipleship, 10).

Two specific passages of Scripture come to mind on this subject: Matthew 28:18-20 and Colossians 1:25-29. The first passage is a pretty obvious choice if you have been exposed to spiritual things at all. “The Great Commission,” as it is often called, tells us very clearly we are to “make disciples of all nations.” The other passage, however, is a little less well-known in the discipleship conversation. We read some key words within the Colossians passage in verse 28. Paul writes, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

The word “complete” can be understood to mean “mature.” In other words, Paul’s purpose in teaching was to see every believer growing in Christ to the point that they were mature. Why is this important? I’m glad you asked. The necessity of making disciples at Berlin Baptist Church or any other church cannot be overstated. Eric Geiger and company explain, “For a church to be deficient in discipleship is to be deficient in its fundamental reason for existence. If any organization is careless in its core reason for existence, it doesn’t matter if the organization excels at other things” (Transformational Discipleship, 11).

So what’s the bottom line? Again, I’m glad you asked. Here it is: There are many things churches CAN do in ministry, but there are plain few things that churches MUST do in ministry. Making disciples is near the top of the list of things the church MUST do. Please let that sink in. If we do nothing else, we MUST preach the gospel and make disciples. Otherwise, we will fail to fulfill our reason for existence. How do we know if we are succeeding? We need only to look at ourselves and each other. “The end result of discipleship is not merely the knowledge of all Jesus commanded but the obedience to all Jesus commanded” (Transformational Discipleship, 18).

Are we growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ? Are there observable differences in our lives based upon our profession of faith? Are we influencing the culture for the glory of God? Let us pray together that the answers to these questions will all be yes in Jesus’ name.

Mike. Out.

The Deeper Life

One of the things that brings me the greatest joy is to see followers of Christ growing in their spiritual walk. I love when believers get closer and closer to Jesus. This includes me, too! It is always so exciting when the Lord draws me into His Word and teaches me something I haven’t noticed before. Times like these continue to build up my faith in Christ and encourage me in my walk with Him.

Reading the Bible is an indispensable ingredient when it comes to spiritual growth and walking with Jesus. In addition, it can prove helpful to read other books written by godly men and women who share your desire to go deeper in their relationship with Christ. This is one of the main reasons I frequently include excerpts from books in my newsletter articles. My goal is always to think critically about what I read and do my best to insure the information I pass on to others is both biblically faithful as well as practically encouraging. I hope to inspire others perhaps to want to read further in one of the books from which I quote.

A.W. Tozer is an author I enjoy reading very much. He was a powerful preacher from the 20th Century and his writing has had a definite impact on my spiritual life. In his book, The Radical Cross, Tozer writes about this “deeper life” and why believers should seek it. He explains, “The fact that so many professed Christians should be concerned with a ‘deeper life’ is tacit evidence that their spiritual experience has not been satisfactory. Many have looked themselves over and have turned away disappointed. When they talked to other professed Christians, they discovered that others were no better off than themselves” (15).

Have you ever been there? Have you ever done an assessment of your spiritual life and not been satisfied? If you have, then you are not alone. All believers will inevitably pass through times of self-conscious doubt. The important thing to remember is we do not need to stay in that place. Tozer gives us some direction on seeking a deeper relationship with Christ. He writes, “To enter upon such a life, seekers must be ready to accept without question the New Testament as the one final authority on spiritual matters. They must be willing to make Christ the one supreme Lord and ruler in their lives. They must surrender their whole being to the destructive power of the cross, to die not only to their sins but to their righteousness as well as to everything in which they formerly prided themselves” (16).

Folks, this is a tall order. It is incredibly challenging. All I can tell you is that it is totally worth it. To find grace and forgiveness from the One who shed His own blood for our sins, the Lord Jesus Christ has every right to require of us anything He chooses. He also has the abundant love and mercy to bless us with anything He chooses. Jesus has never failed to keep a promise. He promises eternal life to those who believe in Him. Trust Him. Follow Him. Seek the deeper life. You will be so glad you did.

Mike. Out.

The Joy of Christ(mas)

As many of you may know from experience, God’s Word is a splendid place to begin when searching for answers to the question, “What is God like?” We can observe much concerning His characteristics and attributes by simply looking around at the world He has created. Psalm 19:1 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” The glory of God is all around us. We see it in a beautiful sunrise. We see it in the vast array of stars in the sky on a clear night. We hear it in the crash of the waves on a peaceful, sandy beach. God is good and He is glorious.

It is at this time of year, however, that we are reminded much more of God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. We can see these things as we think about the incarnation of the Son of God. We remember these things as we ponder the biblical truth of Jesus Christ taking human form in order to live a sinless life and die a sinner’s death on our behalf. The story of Christmas is woven throughout the whole fabric of the Scriptures. The Psalmist writes, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope…O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption” (Psalm 130:3–5, 7).

As we approach this Christmas season, my prayer for myself and for each one of you is that we might spend more time pondering the goodness and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray we will take time often to consider the true meaning of this wonderful celebration. I would encourage you to find a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church in your area and attend their worship gatherings throughout this month of December so that you might take full advantage of every opportunity to draw closer to the Messiah. I would like to invite you personally to Berlin Baptist Church on December 22nd and December 29th at 11:00am and 6:00pm as we conclude our Advent series and look forward to God’s vision for His church during this next year and decade. You are always welcome at Berlin Baptist, but the important thing is for you to choose a biblical church and attend faithfully.

I pray you will be filled with great awe and wonder as you try “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge” (Eph 3:18–19). Having known the love of God, I pray we all will turn to Him both at Christmas and always. A.W. Tozer, in his book, “The Knowledge of the Holy,” concludes, “How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.” This time of year is certainly as good a time as any to turn to experience salvation and forgiveness by surrendering your life to Jesus.

From my family to yours, we wish you a Christ-filled, merry Christmas and a glorious new year!