Jesus Is . . .

There are so many ways a person could finish the title of this post. This week at Casa Berea while working with Juventud Para Cristo (Youth for Christ – Spain), we learned that  Jesus is our teacher; he is love; he is our shepherd; our life; and our friend. As we “searched the globe” for Jesus, we met people each day who had encountered Christ in each of these ways. As the children opened up their lives to us and to the Holy Spirit, they encountered Christ and many lives were changed.

Our daily schedule began at 8am with a leaders’ meeting, which involved a time of Bible study and prayer—Nate, Seth, and I led three of the week’s devotions. We focused on a theme—Faithful Faith Foresees Fruit . . . (1) for the Father’s Fame (Life of Abram,), (2) from the Finished (Life of David), and (3) in the Face of Foes (Life of Nehemiah). The Father is faithful to the glory of his reputation, and when we trust him and participate in his plan to bless, he will be faithful to the glory of his name. He will provide all that we need. We experienced so many provisions on this trip: the funding that provided travel, supplies, decorations, and physical resources; the addition of Cole Manschot to the trip who was an excellent American, Spanish-speaker from Wheaton, plenty of beds, plenty of working cars for transportation, the perfect combination of gifted leaders from West Lisbon and on the Spanish team, words to pray over sick, scared, and sorrow-filled kids, fellowship, the Holy Spirit to go beyond our limitations, rest and recovery from sickness when we needed it.

But there’s even more, we could see how God worked in our past — from the things that he has faithfully finished — in order to supply us with what we needed for this past week at camp. I have been amazed for years at how God has used four years of High School Spanish in my life. How could I have known that God used my teacher at Wheelersburg High School to create a love for language, teach me how to learn a language, give me liberty and courage to “Try it,” and a foundation that has served me pastoral ministry and multiple mission projects. God is in the details of our past, planting seeds, creating experiences, that I believe he will use at a later time. Just like David’s experience as a shepherd boy. God used his experience with the sheep, to prepare him as a soldier and as a king.

Whenever a person or team of people set out to participate in God’s mission, there is always opposition. Nehemiah knew this well. Multiple times throughout the book that bears his name, he faced radical rivalry and opposition to his building project. Nehemiah demonstrated a faith that faithfully saw beyond the opposition to the fruit that would eventually come when the building was finished. God helped me to keep my mind and vision on the people of Spain this week, and what he could possibly do in the future in Spain because of one week spent with 5–11 year olds in the name of Jesus. We faced clear spiritual opposition at times, but God helped us to see the potential fruit, and our minds were fixed on the power of the gospel. On the final day at breakfast, the camp director asked for a showing of hands from the kids who had made any kind of spiritual decision with regard to following Jesus during the week. I personally knew of several, but when we watched so many little hands ascend into the air, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. God is so amazingly faithful.

After our leaders’ meeting, we had breakfast; then, we cleaned our rooms. After that, we had praise and worship, which included a theater piece that developed throughout each morning and night as we searched to know Jesus. Nate and the team also provided music that drew the children into desiring God. Next, the schedule would vary day-by-day. We may go to crafts, workshops, games, or pool time. At around 2pm each day, we ate lunch, which was our largest meal of the day, and it was the meal prior to which we decorated. AND WE WENT ALL OUT WITH THE DECORATIONS! It was awesome, and the kids loved it. After lunch, we had devotions and siesta in our rooms until 4pm, which was followed typically by pool time. After pool time, we either had crafts, games, or special team competitions. Some free time was mixed in before dinner, during which we talked with kids, played basketball or soccer, or perhaps started some kind of spontaneous game on the patio. Dinner and showers preceded our final evening event. On the last night of the week, the children dressed in formal clothing and participated in a talent show — very talented and brave kiddos! It seems that most night we made it to bed around 12:30am.

There are three things that I am taking with me back to the States. First, it was confirmed by the Lord again, that no matter what the differences are that are sprinkled throughout his people across the globe, Jesus’ gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us are the things that we share in common. I’ve met Christians all over the world, and you know when you meet someone who has the Spirit and knows the gospel. I am returning home refreshed by experiencing yet again this powerful unity of the fellowship of the Spirit of God. Second, I am coming back with some amazing new relationships—with the Spanish JPC team, with Cole Manschot, who’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away in Wheaton, and with the boys from my group.

Lastly, I am returning with a new and bigger vision for partnering with our West Lisbon missionaries. I can’t put into words how impressed I am with Mark and Stephanie Dodrill. The impact of the ministry that the Lord has built through them is immeasurable. For me, this was most obvious in the quality of the 20-something leaders on the Spanish team. The camp, the youth center, the obvious connections, the trust that parents put in Mark and Stephanie – God has truly blessed their work. The Spirit of Christ is so evident in them and in their vision for the youth of Barcelona.

I am so excited at all of the potential, future ways that we can continue to partner with Mark and Stephanie and Juventud Para Cristo. Mark and I talked multiple times about future opportunities in which we (West Lisbon) can continue to deepen our partnership and continue to watch God do amazing things among the youth of Spain. I’m literally bursting with vision! My hope and prayer is that God will lead us into specifics, and continue to allow us to be a part of what he is doing in Barcelona. I can also sense this kind of vision and excitement from our whole team. We all miss our families and are excited for our return; at the same time, we are all coming back sensing that there is more work to do with our friends in Spain.

We can’t wait to tell you more. We’re currently in the air over the Atlantic now, with about 1,500 miles left to fly. Thank you for your prayers, for your amazing generosity, and again for supporting this summer projects over the last three years. God is doing something special among us.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex

Two Cups & the Cup-Bearer: How Can You Be Sure That God Will Come to You in Peace and Not Judgment?

Two Cups

Good Friday is approaching, and in order to taste of its significance, let us turn to God’s word and discover what he has said about two cups. Now, what is a cup? What is the purpose of a cup? The purpose of a cup is to securely hold the contents (usually a liquid for drinking) deposited into it by the one who does the pouring.

The Cup of Wrath

First, consider the cup of wrath. God speaks frequently about this cup in his word. What do you think is inside this cup? The contents of this cup are the terrible wrath and awesome anger of God. Why has he poured such a cup? For whom has he prepared such a cup?

Here are some places in the Bible where the cup of wrath is mentioned or described:

Psalms 75:8 NET

For the LORD holds in his hand a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices, and pours it out. Surely all the wicked of the earth will slurp it up and drink it to its very last drop.

Isaiah 51:17 NET

Wake up! Wake up! Get up, O Jerusalem! You drank from the cup the LORD passed to you, which was full of his anger! You drained dry the goblet full of intoxicating wine.

Jeremiah 25:15–29 NET

So the LORD, the God of Israel, spoke to me in a vision. “Take this cup from my hand. It is filled with the wine of my wrath. Take it and make the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they have drunk it, they will stagger to and fro and act insane. For I will send wars sweeping through them.”

So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand. I made all the nations to whom he sent me drink the wine of his wrath. I made Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and its officials drink it. I did it so Judah would become a ruin. I did it so Judah, its kings, and its officials would become an object of horror and of hissing scorn, an example used in curses. Such is already becoming the case! I made all of these other people drink it: Pharaoh, king of Egypt; his attendants, his officials, his people, the foreigners living in Egypt; all the kings of the land of Uz; all the kings of the land of the Philistines, the people of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, the people who had been left alive from Ashdod; all the people of Edom, Moab, Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon; all the kings of the coastlands along the sea; the people of Dedan, Tema, Buz, all the desert people who cut their hair short at the temples; all the kings of Arabia who live in the desert; all the kings of Zimri; all the kings of Elam; all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, whether near or far from one another; and all the other kingdoms which are on the face of the earth. After all of them have drunk the wine of the LORD’s wrath, the king of Babylon must drink it.

Then the LORD said to me, “Tell them that the LORD God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Drink this cup until you get drunk and vomit. Drink until you fall down and can’t get up. For I will send wars sweeping through you.’ If they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink it, tell them that the LORD who rules over all says ‘You most certainly must drink it! For take note, I am already beginning to bring disaster on the city that I call my own. So how can you possibly avoid being punished? You will not go unpunished! For I am proclaiming war against all who live on the earth. I, the LORD who rules over all, affirm it!’”

When I was nineteen years old, I began reading through the book of Romans. As I read through chapters 1-3, I realized that this cup that securely held the wrath of God was poured by God himself and was intended, not just for nations, but also for me to drink. God the great Judge of men and women demonstrated that I have broken all of his laws and worshiped other gods. As the first half of Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” God poured a cup of wrath for me.

However, the Scripture reveals to us that this same God who is angry and wrathful toward those who break his law is also a God who is merciful and gracious. Yet, how is it that this God has revealed to us that he is merciful and gracious enough that we may escape drinking the cup of his wrath? It’s like Abram in the OT asked, “How can I know that this will happen?” How can I know that God will be merciful?

Our Gracious Cup-Bearer

The cup of God’s wrath appears in the Gospels, but we may be surprised to find the cup in the hand of the Son of God. We may be even more stunned that instead of dishing it out to the nations, he himself drinks it.

Matthew 26:36-42 NET

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will must be done.”

Mark 14:36

He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

John 18:11

But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 19:30

When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

In his mercy and grace, the Father sent His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, out of heaven to earth so that he might drink the cup of wrath as our substitute and Savior. In a sense, he took on the role of servant by becoming the cup-bearer who tasted the devastating cup laced with the wrath of the holiness of God—a cup that was poured for humanity to drink because of our lawlessness and idolatry was consumed by the obedient, faithful, loyal Son of God! And he drank it all, even the dregs that had settled at the bottom of the cup. He drank this cup as he hung on the cross faithfully enduring the wrath of God that had been intended for you and me to drink. When he finished drinking, he said, “It is finished,” and he died. As cup-bearer of the wrath of God, he died in our place.

Because Jesus drank this cup that was poured out for you and for me, we call the Friday of Holy Week Good Friday.

The Cup of Salvation

Earlier, I mentioned that there is also a second cup. This is the cup that we will drink on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. If I may continue the analogy, Jesus is the resurrected cup-bearer who continually extends to us a cup of salvation, a cup of grace. It is not the drink itself that has become salvation for us. The liquid itself has not become the blood of Jesus. Rather, the cup and the bread testify to us down through history that the blood and body of Jesus were given over on the cross for the salvation of all those who put their faith in Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins and in his resurrection for eternal life.

You see, the cup and the bread of the Lord’s Table answer the question for us, “How can I be sure that God will come to me in peace and not in judgment?” I can with all assurance answer, “The Lord Jesus drank for me the cup of God’s wrath that was due me, and now I sit at the table of the Lord Jesus, where he himself extends to me the cup of the new covenant, in which is the forgiveness of sins by his own blood!”

The Heidelberg Catechism states,

First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross . . . Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood.

Come to the Table

If you can say by faith that the Lord Jesus Christ’s body and blood were offered up for you, so that in his death you have the pardon of all your sins before God, and if you by faith can say that in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ you have the hope of eternal life forever with God, then you may partake of the cup and the bread. The Lord’s Table is a table of grace where sinners can come and sit down by faith and testify that they have indeed experienced the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ, because he drank the whole cup of wrath for my sake and now extends to me the cup of salvation. By partaking, we remember and proclaim the Lord Jesus’ death, and we are to do this until he returns for his people. I personally invite you to join us at West Lisbon Church for all of our Holy Week activities beginning this Sunday, April 9th through Easter Sunday, April 16th.

The Epistle of James: Godly Living in an Ungodly World

Epistle of James

Epistle of James: Godly Living in an Ungodly World

On Sunday, we concluded our 5-month study of the Epistle of James. What a challenging message! We explored various themes for Godly Living in an Ungodly World. Here, I am providing the title to each sermon, and the basic outline that accompanied each sermon. I hope you are able to use this in your personal Bible study in James and perhaps as you have opportunities to lead others in the study of this book of the Bible.

Epistle of James: Sermon Series Titles and Outline

Introduction: Explore Godly Living in an Ungodly World (1:1) 
  • The Author: James, the brother of Jesus Christ
  • The Date & Place of Writing: Mid-forties A.D. from Palestine
  • The Setting in Life: The difficulties, persecution, economic oppression, and community disharmony of Palestinian and scattered Jewish Christians in the 1st century Roman world.
  • The Form & Content of the Letter: The letter appears to be an edition of James’ own sermons covering such themes as suffering, wisdom, regeneration, a primitive Christology and eschatology echoing the teachings and sayings of Jesus himself, poverty & wealth, the tongue, and the relationship of law, grace, faith, and works of charity. James’ use of “my brothers” or “brothers” is a notable feature and guide throughout the letter.
The Godly Person Endures Tests Joyfully for Maturity (1:2–4).
  • Don’t Divert, but Direct Your Thinking During Tests (1:2–3).
  • Don’t Divert, But Develop Your Endurance During Tests (1:4).
The Godly Person Stays on Track to Maturity by Praying for Wisdom in Testing (1:5–8).
  • Two Problems May Derail Maturing Faith in Testing (1:5a, 6b–8).
  • Two Solutions Will Keep You on Track to Maturing Faith in Testing (1:5b–6a).
The Godly Person Calculates Life by Eternal, Not Temporal, Wealth (1:9–11).
  • The Poor Christian Must Look for Godly Glory Because of Eternal Renewal (1:9, 11).
  • The Rich Person Must Look for Godly Dependance Because of the Eternal Reversal (1:10–11).
The Godly Person Perseveres to Eternal Life through Testing by the New Birth (1:12–18).
  • Persevere to Eternal Life (1:12).
  • Persevere Through Internal Temptation (1:13–15).
  • Persevere by the Internal Transformation of the New Birth (1:16–18).
The Godly Person Heeds Wisdom’s Warning about Anger by Hospitably Hosting the Gospel (1:19–21).
  • Heed Wisdom’s Warning about Anger (1:19).
  • Hunger for God’s Justice Instead of Anger (1:20).
  • Hospitably Host the Regenerating Word for Transformation (1:21).
The Godly Person Perseveres Beyond Hearing to Doing the Word (1:22–25).
  • Beware Deception about the Regenerating Word (1:22).
  • Blessing Belongs to Those Who Persevere Beyond Hearing to Doing (1:23–25).
The Godly Person Awakes to Regenerate Religion (1:26–27).
  • Wake Up from Dead Religion (1:26).
  • Wake Up to Living Religion (1:27).
The Godly Person Pulverizes Partiality Out of His/Her Faith – Part 1 (2:1–7).
  • Heal Community Poverty (2:1–7).
    • Let Jesus Level You (2:1).
    • Obey Your Calling As a Good Judge (2:2–4).
    • Share God’s Burden for the Poor (2:5).
    • Evaluate Whose Side You’re On (2:6–7).
The Godly Person Pulverizes Partiality Out of His/Her Faith – Part 2 (2:8–13).
  • Heal Spiritual Poverty (2:8–13).
    • Live Under the Royal Law of Liberty (2:8–12).
    • Love Mercy More Than Strict Justice (2:13).
The Godly Person Has a Regenerate Faith That Extends Life (2:14–17).
  • Into Eternity (2:14).
  • To Others (2:15–16).
  • By Works (2:17).
The Godly Person Proves His/Her Faith Profession by Corresponding Works (2:18–26).
  • Close the Gap between Faith and Works (2:18).
  • Complete Your Faith (2:19–25).
  • Capture the Correlation (2:26).
The Godly Person Steers the Tongue to Arrive at Maturity by Limiting and Harnessing It (3:1–5a).
  • Limit Tongues That Teach (3:1–2).
  • Harness the Tongue’s Teaching Influence (3:3–5a).
The Godly Person Sparks a Revival of Words (3:5b–12).
  • Trade Hell’s Spark for Heaven’s Spark (3:5b–6).
  • Trade Hell’s Tongue for Heaven’s Tongue (3:7–12).
  • Trade Hell’s Heart for Heaven’s Heart (cf. 1:18, 21; Mt. 15:7–20).
The Godly Person Harvests Harmony with Heaven’s Wisdom (3:13–18).
  • Evidence Your Leadership (3:13).
  • Evict the Party Spirit (3:14–16).
  • Exchange for Heaven’s Wisdom (3:17).
The Godly Person Weeps over His Words Today for a Better Harvest Tomorrow (4:1–10).
  • Weep over Your Desires for War in the Congregation (4:1–3).
  • Weep Like an Adulterer Discovered by a Jealous Spouse (4:4–5).
  • Weep to Find Grace for a Better Harvest (4:6–10).
The Godly Person Places His Words Under God’s Authority (4:11–17).
  • Place Your Social Words Under God’s Authority (4:11–12).
  • Place Your Vocational Words Under God’s Authority (4:13–17).
The Godly Person B.A.N.K.S. on God’s Justice for the Oppressed (5:1–6).
  • Beware the Miseries of Wealth Gained by Exploitation (5:1–3).
  • Attend to the Cries of the Oppressed (5:4).
  • Neglect Luxury, Not Justice (5:5).
  • Keep the Lord Jesus in View (5:6).
The Godly Person Energizes Endurance in the Church by Elevating Faith in Christ’s Return (5:7–12).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Perseverance of the Saints (5:7–8).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Community Harmony (5:9).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Ancient Hope (5:10–11).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Daily Truthfulness (5:12)
The Godly Person Cares for the Condition of the Congregation (5:13–20 & Conclusion).
  • Cry Out with the Sufferer (5:13a).
  • Cheer with the Cheerful (5:13b).
  • Confess with the Sick (5:13c–16b).
  • Consider the Powerful Prophet (5:16c–18).
  • Call the Wanderer Home (5:19–20).

What Is Revival?

Revival

Growing up in Scioto County, Ohio, I remember many little churches decorating the landscape. Every now and then, you would see on the outdoor church sign something like this: “Revival! Sunday through Friday! 7pm each night! Come on out and join us!” As a kid, teenager, and young adult, I attended many of these meetings. There was a very predictable format—a special and very dynamic speaker would be invited; the revival was scheduled; many times special musicians were also brought in, and the altar calls didn’t end until somebody made their way down the aisle.

I think that I was part of a real revival once in that Appalachian country. However, it wasn’t scheduled or coordinated. It also happened at multiple places, rather than at one local church. It wasn’t the result of a solitary, drawn out altar call. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Lord may very well use all of those things—and has before—but the revival I think that I was a part of didn’t fit that repeatable, copyable, scheduled pattern employed over and over again by churches in my hometown area.

Tim Keller spoke on A Biblical Theology of Revival (a.k.a. What Is Revival?) at the 2013 The Gospel Coalition Conference. It is definitely worth an hour of your time. If it doesn’t stir your heart into longing for revival, then maybe you should check your pulse! I’d like to summarize and share some of my own thoughts from Keller’s comments on biblical revival.

Since there are many descriptions and definitions out there on revival, it helps to begin with the same: Biblical revival is “the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit” (Keller). So, it is the Holy Spirit doing what he already does, but in a more intense way. What are these ordinary operations? There are 4 that Keller highlights: (1) conviction of sin (John 16:7–11), (2) conversion (Acts 16:14–15; Titus 3:3–7), (3) giving of assurance (Ephesians 1:13–14), and (4) sanctification (growth in holiness) (Romans 8:1–11). The Holy Spirit certainly does more than this in the Christian life, but these are the intensified Holy Spirit operations when there is revival.

When the Holy Spirit intensifies these operations of his, three things seem to happen. First, sleepy Christians wake up. Sleepy Christians are neither happy nor sad enough, Therefore, they do not experience high assurance of salvation (the Spirit bears witness to my spirit — Romans 8:16), nor do they experience deep repentance (godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation — 2 Corinthians 7:10). The difference between a sleepy Christian and an awake Christian can be illustrated in the relationship of a father and a son. A father and a son share a legal relationship. It can be declared that the son is in fact the son of the father and vice versa. I can be officially documented on the birth certificate. Now, imagine when a father embraces his son. The son is not legally more a son, but he is certainly experiencing sonship in more than a legal way.

Second, the nominal Christians get converted. Nominal Christians are those who are baptized, church attending people, but during revival they will come and say, “I was never really a Christian.” These are surprising conversions: church leaders, spouses, long-time members, etc. During times of revival, the Holy Spirit goes through the church, and this is consistent with the pattern of Scripture. When God wants to do a fresh work—be it for judgment or for redemption—he starts with his people.

Third, hard or seemingly impossible to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. Those dear ones out on the fringes that seem beyond the reach of the church and even God encounter the long arm of God, and the Holy Spirit generously and gloriously converts their souls by the gospel. When sleepy Christians wake up and nominal Christians are converted, the Holy Spirit beautifies the church, even to non-Christians.

Revival, brothers and sisters, is what we need, because it results in both adoration and attraction. An internal shift occurs in our posture toward God resulting in changed lives. If this is what you long for, then the best thing to do is to ask God for it in your own life. Pray for God to wake up, convert, and to reach out. Better still, start a prayer meeting with others to pray for revival. If we ask, seek, and knock, perhaps the Lord will kindly unlock an entry for us into such an experience (Col. 4:2–6).

Returning to my story, once I—a nominal Christian—was truly converted, I returned to the church of my youth to discover that a number of my peers had experienced the same thing. I would describe some of the older Christians around me at that time as having been awakened from slumber! In a very small, rural church, I became one of seven men, who felt a call into full-time gospel ministry. It was very unusual. To my knowledge, five of those seven are still serving in ministry in some capacity. We wouldn’t have probably described it as revival back in those days, because revival to us was predictable and scheduled. However, looking back and knowing what I know now about revival, I think that I experienced a small taste of it, and I long for it again.

Lent and Repentance in the Spiritual Life

A Historical Look at the Season of Lent

On Wednesday, we entered the 40-day journey toward Easter weekend. This period has historically been referred to as Lent. Earle E. Cairns in Christianity through the Centuries writes about the origin of the Lenten season,

The emergence of a cycle of feasts in the church year may be noted in this era (100–313 A.D.). Easter, originating in the application of the Jewish Passover to the resurrection of Christ, seems to have been the earliest of the festivals. Not until after 350 was Christmas adopted in the West as a Christian festival and purged of its pagan elements. Lent, a forty-day period of penitence and restraint on bodily appetites preceding Easter, had been accepted earlier as a part of the churches’ cycle of worship before the adoption of Christmas (116, parentheses mine).

In Devotions for Lent from the Mosaic Study Bible (https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/105-devotions-for-lent-from-holy-bible-mosaic), the Introduction provides us with both the aim and the fit of Lent into the rhythm of the Christian annual calendar,

Lent is the season when Christians have historically prepared their hearts for Easter with reflection, repentance, and prayer. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and proceeds for forty days, culminating in Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Since Sundays are weekly celebrations of the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays in Lent are not counted as part of the forty-day season. Many Christians choose to fast throughout the season of Lent, but the focus is not so much on depriving themselves of something as it is on devoting themselves to God and his purposes in the world.

Here is a look at the Christian calendar and Lent’s place in the mix:

2015–2016 Christian Calendar

Seasons Beginning Dates Purpose
Advent November 29, 2015 Focuses on the anticipation of God’s coming into the world, both in the incarnation and at Christ’s 2nd coming
Christmas December 25th, 2015 Concentrates on the birth of Christ
Epiphany January 6th, 2016 Centers itself in the light of God’s presence shining in the world
Lent February 10, 2016 Directs our attention toward human mortality, sin, and God’s gracious solution in Christ
Easter March 27, 2016 Celebrates resurrection life in Christ
Ascension May 5th, 2016 Turns attention to the benefits toward the believer because of Christ’s ascension to the Father
Pentecost May 15th, 2016 Helps us to remember and participate in the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit in the world

There are times in the history of the church, particularly during the Middle Ages, that the seasons of the Christian calendar have served to restrain or even abuse real spiritual growth. A Young Calvinist blogger named Justin Smidstra notes,

Many of us may not have paid much attention to this, since the church year and the “liturgical seasons” do not play a very large role in the Reformed churches and many other Protestant churches as well. There are some historic and sound reasons for this. During the middle ages the observance of Lent became an excessive practice, which emphasized works righteousness, and came to be associated with all sorts of superstitious beliefs. The Reformers condemned these abuses and for this reason rejected most of the Lenten practices of their day, such as the mandatory forty day fast. We do not dispute their wisdom in this.

Certainly the Puritan in us shouts, “Lent is everyday. Easter is everyday. Incarnation is everyday. We do not need a seasonal calendar; rather we preach the full gospel to ourselves and others daily.”

So, what do we do with Lent and the rest of the seasons? To practice, or not to practice? I personally think there is a balance that can be found. The benefits of the Christian calendar are its organization, its simplicity, and its strict focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ. The dangers of the Christian calendar are those about which the early Reformers warn—developing a mindset that grace from God is somehow gained or missed depending on my faithfulness to the calendar or superstitious beliefs becoming attached to the practice. However, the former can be remedied by faithful teaching about saving grace coming to us through Christ’s faithful work alone. The latter problem of superstition has always been a problem the church has faced. As early as the days of the papyrus copies of the New Testament, we have evidence that Christians would copy for themselves a portion of the Gospels or Acts where healing, miracles, or great power was demonstrated by Jesus or the apostles. They would “roll it up” and keep it with them as an amulet, which they believed would keep them free from sickness, demons, and other dangers. The cure for superstition isn’t necessarily an avoidance of the Calendar, nor an avoidance of the Scriptures, but rather quality discipleship in the truths and doctrines of Scripture for the Christian life.

I have participated in Lent some years and not other years. There is no law or command in Scripture that demands such participation. In fact, Paul writes in Colossians 2:16–17, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” That is to say, all festivals, special days, and spiritual disciplines with food and drink find their substance in Christ. He is the fulfillment of all these things, the end of them if you will. Therefore, the Puritans and Reformers have a point. However, I would say that Paul is not condemning the practice of festivals and the like, rather he is saying that we should not pass judgment on one another or from one church to another regarding these things. Brothers and sisters, we are free to gather and worship Christ in all the fullness of truth and love that we can muster by the Spirit’s help. Calendar or no calendar.

Lent Reminds Us to Practice Repentance and Repentance Is Good

Wherever you find yourself traditionally this Lenten season, I hope you will embrace a regular practice of repentance. It is good to question the appetites of the sinful flesh and to bring them under the control of the Spirit, be it through fasting, prayer and meditation on the Scriptures, silence, or solitude. Romans 6:11 teaches us, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” As you practice the “mortification of your sins” in Christ’s death, also remember the hope and life and power we have because Christ has risen from the dead. For we need not only confession and repentance, but resurrection power to break the chains of slavery that sin has had over us.

Allow me to point you to two places in Scripture that can guide you in the development of regular rhythms of repentance. Let me also call attention to this. It is very appropriate to seek both community repentance and personal repentance from God. For example, our nation needs the gift of repentance from God. The churches in our nation need the gift of repentance from God—both for past sins of commission and omission and for present sins. For this community-approach toward repentance, I turn to Daniel 9:1–23. I have broken down this passage on repentance into 7 parts:

  • The Provocation to Repentance (vv.1–2) — The word of God provokes repentance as it reveals truth and grace to us.
  • The Posture of Repentance (v. 3) — Genuine repentance seems to be marked by common postures: prayer, fasting, lament (sackcloth and ashes), pleas for mercy.
  • The Confession of Repentance (vv. 4–6) — The confession acknowledges God’s faithfulness and love while it also agrees with God about our sinful deeds and our unwillingness to listen to his word. Notice the community and personal aspects in Daniel’s use of the personal plural pronouns.
  • The Humility of Repentance (vv. 7–12) — Humility is honest. It lacks prideful attempts to justify. Daniel humbly admits his and the people’s need for the righteousness, mercy, and forgiveness that belong to the Lord and admits their ownership of the shame they have brought on themselves.
  • The Resistance to Repentance (vv. 13–15) — While this continues Daniel’s humility, it is specifically highlighting their resistance to “entreat the favor of the Lord.” There is a fight that must take place within repentance. We must fight against resistance and submission to it.
  • The Petition of Repentance (vv. 16–19) — Here Daniel finds what we must all find in the process of repentance—a petition based in the will of God for his own glory. Repentance happens when we truly desire God’s will above our own. In the New Testament, we call this dying to self and coming alive unto God. Notice how many times Daniel uses the pronoun “your.” In a quick look in my ESV Bible, I counted 16. He recognizes that God is both the source of the chastisement and the source of their healing.
  • The Answer to Repentance (vv. 20–23) — Remember, Daniel started praying because of a prophecy of Jeremiah that provoked him (v. 2). God answers Daniel’s repentance with further insight and revelation into his plan and will. Notice that Daniel’s prayer was heard from the very beginning (v. 23). The answer confirmed God’s love for him, and brought him further understanding.

The second place in Scripture to which I direct you is the temptation of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13; cf. Heb. 2:18; 4:15). Jesus’ forty days and forty nights of fasting and facing the Tempter is typically thought to be the foundation for the 40-day period of Lent. Consider the opportunities for repentance based upon Jesus’ faithfulness:

  • Opportunity #1: Is the Word of God Sufficient to Me (Mt. 4:1–4)?
  • Opportunity #2: Do I Fear God in Such a Way That Avoids Presumptuous Testing of God in My Decision Making (Mt. 4:5–7)?
  • Opportunity #3: Do I Worship God with Submissive Service to His Plan for My Life (Mt. 4:8–11)?

I hope that this has challenged you to feel the necessity of a regular rhythm and seeking of repentance. Repentance is a treasure and a gift from God. May this treasure be yours and mine today and in the days ahead.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex

All Things New

Friends,

What an amazing week in NYC. There are so many stories and experiences to share. I want to try to give you a glimpse of what I saw God do this week. 

Redeeming Union Square

The first time I attended the Spread Truth NYC trip, Union Square ate me for lunch. We are typically out in a park from 10-4pm with a break for lunch. In the parks, we do surveys like this, “Hello, my name is Rex, and I am with a group in the park today who is trying to find out what New Yorkers think about four worldview questions. Would have time to participate?” The last time I was in Union Square in 2011, I had two, very long, discouraging conversations – one before lunch  and one after. There were some others I think, but those two beat me down.

So this year as a Cord/Team leader and knowing that Union Square was our team’s first stop, I prayed for the Lord to open hearts to pay attention and to show me favor. He did. He redeemed my Union Square experience – I had a number of thoughtful, serious conversations about God’s Story. My favorite was with Ian, who once we finished said that our conversation was “refreshing.” Another conversation with Aster and Kevin ended with them saying that they wanted to consider more what we shared with them. 

Worshipping with the Redeemed at Brooklyn Tabernacle

I felt like I saw a glimpse of heaven – people from every race, land, language, background, and social class lifting their voices in song and prayer so that the balcony where we were sitting literally trembled. The Brooklyn Tab choir was a sea of joy filled faces. We learned together about the life of faith from Pastor Jim Cymbala’s sermon. All this started with a solid 30 minutes to quiet ourselves before God to pray and read his word. If this was what heaven will be like, I look forward to that day with great anticipation.

Fellowship with the Redeemed

Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer (Romans 12:12).

Not everything that happened was pleasant and easy. Some of our team members, including me, had some very difficult conversations with folks. Like one gentleman I prayed for in the Bronx who was planning to divorce his wife that week. Or the president of the Muslim block association in Harlem, who sought to deceive our team to make us feel that we hadn’t gone through the proper channels to get permission to be in the neighborhood. 

However, as I heard our West Lisbon brothers and sisters share their hope and suffering throughout the week, I watched God weld our fellowship stronger. God has given us a memorable experience together that has forever changed our worship, mission, and fellowship. We grew stronger in him and in our bond together. We wept with one another and prayed for one another and encouraged one another. Wow. 

All the other leaders commended the faith and love of our teens to me. I am blessed, so blessed. Our adult leaders loved on the kids, and they sought God in their own experiences too. We had a few late night conversations together that were a blessing. How good it has been to serve with them on mission for Jesus.

The Story Doesn’t Stop Now

Even this morning as I was packing up and taking my luggage to the necessary location, God had a divine appointment for me. There’s a particular bell man at the hotel who has been so kind to us all week. He and I had some time to talk today, and he was asking questions about our ministry and the gospel. He called our ministry and the gospel “beautiful” after we visited.

Pray for this man and his beautiful family. He is a married father of four boys. One of his boys just this week was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. He’s walking with his son through this with compassion and faithfulness. 

Heading Home with Redemption in Our Minds and Hearts

We’ll be home soon, and thoughts about wanting those in our own community to know God’s Story are already processing. Thank you again for your prayers and support.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex

Two Ways: The Perseverance of the Blessed or the Brevity of the Wicked

Thoughts on Psalm One

Psalm 1 begins with a description of the “Blessed Man” (vv. 1–2). Notice that the man is “blessed,” which is a statement of God’s grace. Blessing only comes from heaven, not manufactured by the hands of men. The text lists negations and positive statements that make up the full description. Next, the “Blessed Man” is contrasted against the “Wicked,” specifically the endurance of each way of life is compared—wherein the “Blessed Man” produces a timelessly prospering life, but the “Wicked’s” life is soon driven away by “the wind” (vv. 3–4). Maybe it is nothing, but in my own devotional time here in Psalm 1, I found the proportion interesting—the “Blessed Man” is grammatically singular whereas the “Wicked” is plural; that is to say, the “Wicked” out number the “Blessed.” Finally, the destiny of every man is a meeting & reckoning with the Lord. The final destiny of the “Blessed Man” will find favor and protection from the Lord. The “Wicked” faces a final destiny fixed with crippling judgment, deplorable shame, and certain death (vv. 5–6).

A Prayer from Psalm One

Oh Lord, by your grace in the riches of Christ, please make me a Blessed Person! Set me free in every way from the route of the wicked and set my feet firmly on the road of the righteous. Make me blessed and a blessing to all those around me for your glory and praise. In Christ’s name and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.