Mitch on Mission with YWAM in Vancouver

To the Church of West Lisbon,
Thank you so much to everyone who has been praying for me, my team, the ministries we are working with, and the city of Vancouver over the past month or so. I have been seeing incredible things in my first week and a half here, and I cannot wait to see what else God has in store. Yesterday, the other intern, Beth, and I finished our training for the Mission Adventures program and we will hit the ground running starting Monday when our first youth group comes in.

I’m super excited to be working with the team that we have and to be given the opportunity to show Jesus to the high school youth that come into Vancouver. As a lot of you may already know, I came to have a life changing encounter with Jesus through various youth group involvement during my sophomore year in high school that saw me dedicate my life to God and his will for my life, so I am very excited about having the opportunity to share Jesus with nearly 100 high school students I’ll be meeting over the next four weeks.

​Before I left for this trip, I read a book called Gospel Fluency by a pastor named Jeff Vanderstelt. This book taught me that the key to seeing God work in incredible ways in your life is to believe in the gospel and believing in the gospel more deeply will allow God to work deeper and in more powerful ways in your life. I thought that I had a good understanding of the gospel before I left, and I couldn’t wait to see how God could work in that. During my training, I realized that the gospel is way deeper than anything I can know fully. In other words, as long as life isn’t perfect, God can teach us something new about his love for us, and that can change our lives in a deep way.

​I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve definitely experienced discomfort on this trip. Nothing poor has happened. I love my team. I love the city I’m serving in. I love Tim Horton’s (basically Dunkin Donuts, but way better). There’s just something that has me out of my comfort zone, but that’s okay, because I’ve learned that this is where God grows us the most. I was doing some devotional time this morning, and I was reading Matthew 6 and John 15. Matthew 6 is part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, where he encourages us saying that we do not need to worry, because God loves us. John 15 talks about how we cannot do anything beneficial apart from God and that in order to live a life worth living, we need to abide in Him.

​This has definitely been an area in the gospel where God has been growing me over the last week and a half. No matter what the circumstance, no matter where I am or who I’m with, whether I’m in a city like Vancouver or a village like Lisbon, whether I’m in the US or Canada, if I am with God, God is with me and He will produce fruit in me (John 15:4-5). That is a promise from God and something that I can put my hope in. I have nothing to worry about, because God is good. Thank you all so much for your continued prayers and support. I hope to give at least one more update before I am home. I love you all, and I cannot wait to return and tell you all the stories about how incredibly God is working. If you want updated prayer requests, please do not hesitate me to message me on Facebook! I may not get back to you right away, but I will certainly find time to give you prayer requests. Thank you so much for the love you’ve all shown me and your continued support for me in prayer. I love you all! God bless! ​​

-Mitch Friestad

The Torch Race

Lampadedromia

I had the privilege to spend 3 weeks in Athens, Greece last summer as part of a team whose task was to digitize thousands of pages of ancient manuscripts at the National Library in Athens. I was also able to find some time to visit many of the ancient ruins in Athens. I am reminded today of one ancient contest that was popular throughout Greece. You’ll think of the Olympic torch that we continue to watch today in the summer Olympics. Our modern ceremonial (rather than competitive) adaptation, ironically enough, began in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin under Adolf Hitler, who had a fascination with ancient empires and their activities. In ancient times, the torch carrying was actually a ceremony and a competition between the 10 Athenian tribes. Contestants would race with a torch in one hand and many times a shield in the other, from one sacred site to another, at night, as the main event of various festivals. A contestant  or team of contestants, in some cases, won the race by arriving first at the designated finish with the torch still aflame. If the flame were to ever extinguish, then the runner or team disqualified itself. Hence, this is why some of the runners carried a shield—to guard the flame from opposing forces that may extinguish it. By ancient accounts, it was a daring, race. I read in one place that it could be a distance up to two miles. In Greek, the race was called the λαμπαδηδρομία or the “Torch Race.” Lampa meaning torch and dromia from the word for a race circuit or course. So, to win the Torch Race, you had to run hard; you had to run smart; you had to run together; and you had to run to finish.

The Race of Life

One ancient author reflecting near the end of his life wrote, “I have struggled/fought the good/worthy struggle; I have finished the race course; I have guarded the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). This particular writer saw himself as a servant to his particular God, and in the previous context, he wrote that his life was like a drink offering, being poured out in service. Seeing that only drops of life remained, he reflected on his struggle, his race, and his faith. He described his struggle or fight as good, excellent, or useful. Opposition is implied. According to the University of Penn, another fascinating feature of the Torch Race is that if those who had lost the flame of their torch could overtake a runner who still possessed his torch, the torch would have to be surrendered to the prevailing runner. For these runners, the struggle was real. It took great skill and fight to endure.
Author Irving Stone has spent a lifetime studying greatness, writing novelized biographies of such men as Michelangelo and Vincent van Gogh. Stone was once asked if he had found a thread that runs through the lives of these exceptional people. He said,
I write about people who sometime in their life. . . have a vision or dream of something that should be accomplished . . . and they go to work. They are beaten over the head, knocked down, vilified and for years they get nowhere. But every time they’re knocked down they stand up. You cannot destroy these people. And at the end of their lives they’ve accomplished some modest part of what they set out to do. (Crossroads, Issue No. 7, p. 18.)
The author next states that he had finished his race course. It’s interesting to me that he didn’t use any of the possible Greek words that mean “to win” or “to gain victory.” This author demonstrates knowledge of such vocabulary in his other writings, but here he chooses the verb “to finish.” Perhaps, he chooses this word to maintain the metaphor of pouring out his life in service. Winning doesn’t quite fit as well as finishing or completing.
Two men among several traveled 674 miles from Nenana to Nome, Alaska in the 1925 serum run known as the Great Race of Mercy. They aimed to deliver medicine to a large diphtheria epidemic. Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog Togo covered the most hazardous and longest stretch of 91 miles, and the Norwegian, Gunnar Kaasen, and his lead dog Balto arrived on Front Street in Nome on February 2 at 5:30 a.m., just five and a half days later. These teams were trying to finish their race in service to others.
Lastly, the author writes that he has guarded the faith. The Torch Race image of the runner using his shield to guard and protect the flame of his torch. Without a lit torch at the end, a runner could not complete the Torch Race. The faith for this particular author referred to the total body of belief that he held concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The faith that he guarded was his most precious, most valuable possession.
He believed that his fight, his race, and his aflame faith would receive a crown from the one who had the true worth and authority to reward contestants. At the end of the Torch Race, the victor received a major award. I read one account where I believe the victor received one bull and 100 drachma ($2500).

Season of Accomplishment

In all seriousness, my hope is that this graduation season encourages you on to more and greater things. No doubt you have fought to get here, and I hope that the struggle has proved useful for the next arena. Many of you reading this have finished and completed several years of school and coursework, and as someone who has spent many years in school, that is always something worth celebrating! I hope too that you have guarded something in your finishing. Like this ancient author, I hope that you too have kept the integrity of your faith aflame. Regardless of your background, I think that we can all agree that there are precious things, like faith, integrity, honesty, hope, peace, and so on, that must accompany us to the finished line in order to make the finish line all that it is meant to be.
So, I pray now that you will endure the struggle ahead—looking for the meaning and the profit of the struggle, determine to finish your race, and figure out the most precious things in life and guard those things as you go. And as you pour out your life, may your reward be blessed.

Abram: Believer, Worshiper, & Proclaimer

The song titled “I’ve Been Everywhere” sparks a connection for most to Johnny Cash. Cash recorded the song in 1996. However, the song has a long history and broad impact. It was originally written by Geoff Mack, an Australian country singer, in 1959 and made popular by Lucky Starr in 1962. In the U.S.A., the song was made popular first by Hank Snow (1962), then Lynn Anderson (1970), long before Johnny Cash gave it a go. In addition to North America and Australia, the song also took flight in New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, parts of Asia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and a number of other places. Literally, the song has been everywhere (Yes, I did use wikipedia for this info ;-)).

In his day, Abram was a globetrotter. His family’s journey to follow the Lord (cf. Josh. 24:2; Gen. 31:53) took them on a +1,000 mile journey from the Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan, and eventually into Egypt and back to Canaan. We know that there was a stop at Haran along the way (11:31–32), where Terah spent his final days. In Haran, Abram received the call from the Lord, apparently the God of his father Terah, to leave his familiar land, relatives, and reputation and trust the Lord to give him a new land, a new people, and a new reputation. (12:1–2). The Lord then commanded him to be a blessing, promising that he would bless those who blessed Abram, curse those who took Abram too lightly, and that in him, the Lord would bless all the families of the earth. Later on as Scripture unfolds (cf. Matthew 1; Luke 3; Romans 4; Galatians 3–4), we learn that Jesus Christ is the divine aim of this promise, in whom God would succeed in bringing blessing to all the families of the earth.

Returning to Genesis 12:4–9, we find an example of obedient faith in Abram, in spite of tremendous obstacles—Sarah’s barrenness (11:30), Abram’s age (12:4), the pagan religion that permeated Canaan (12:6), and later on a forbidding famine (12:9). Not only do we see obedient faith in his leaving and clinging to the new things God promised him, but also we see two expressions of faith as he travels through the land of Canaan.

First, Abram worshiped God in a hostile environment. While he was surrounded by people who worshiped other so-called gods, Abram built altars in their midst as visible markers and expressions of his faith in the Lord. He built altars in 12:7 and in 12:8. The altar he built in Shechem, near the oak of Moreh, is significant for a number of reasons. First, he built it in response to God appearing to him. It marked God’s confirmation of his verbal calling to Abram while he was in Haran. Second, his worship was significant because of what the Lord promised—offspring and land—neither of which Abram had in his possession at that time. Third, his altar was significant because of where he built it. The oak of Moreh was most likely the location of a Canaanite shrine of worship. Abram was expressing his faith in the Lord in a very bold way. Lastly, his worship is significant because this place would not be forgotten by his descendants. His worship became legendary. Joshua would choose this place to call Israel to covenant renewal with the Lord at this same location (Josh. 24). The location of Abram’s second altar—between Bethel and Ai—would also not be far from the Israelite reader’s mind, as they recalled significant events that unfolded in those cities. Bethel, “the house of God,” was where Jacob had his dream (28:10–22) and became a place of covenant renewal for him (35:1–15). Ai recalls the battle that stifled Israel’s confident conquest due to disobedience and led to another time of covenant renewal (Joshua 7–8).

Second, Abram not only worshiped the Lord, but he also proclaimed the name of the Lord. This is most likely the meaning of the phrase “called upon the name of the Lord” in 12:8. Two commentators—Cassuto and Ross—believe that Abram had a history of proselytizing even before this. They understand the phrase “the people that they had acquired” in 12:5 to refer to proselytes, not to slaves or servants, because of the use of the Hebrew word nepes for “people.”

The beginning of Abram’s story is remarkable. It’s no wonder that Israel and the Church look to him as the quintessential father of faith. He left the familiar. He believed in the face of amazing obstacles. God spoke; Abram obeyed. He worshiped openly. He proclaimed so that others knew the Lord. He did all of this in a hostile environment and as he waited for God to accomplish what was yet unseen to him. Saint Augustine is quoted as having said,

God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.

Now, we are not Abram. Abram is a unique, one-of-a-kind figure in Scripture. If you don’t think so, when was the last time God asked you to do what he asked Abram to do in Genesis 22? The answer is never! Nor would he. God was doing something special in and through Abram. Something that you and I benefit from by being found in Christ—the long-awaited “seed of Abraham” (Romans 4; Galatians 3–4). We also benefit from Abram’s example in spiritual living. It is impossible to please God—no matter who you are—without faith. Genuine faith obeys God’s word. Faith many times forces us to leave what is familiar to meet and serve God in something new. It has been said that the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of nearly 35 feet in a single bound! Yet these amazing animals can be kept in an enclosure in a zoo with even a short, solid wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. There are always obstacles to trusting God—infertility, age, health, finances, hostile work or family environments, foggy futures, unexpected catastrophes. Abram shows us how to worship and proclaim the name of the Lord by faith, when the solutions and provisions are still distant and haven’t yet taken shape.

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.

Home: The Elusive Search for Place, Belonging, Rest, & Origin

Home

Where Is Home?

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Hebrews 11:10 ESV)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines home in multiple ways:

  • one’s place of residence
  • the social unit formed by a family living together
  • a familiar or usual setting,” related to this is the idiom at home, which means “relaxed or comfortable, in harmony with the surroundings, or on familiar ground
  • a place of origin

What about you? How would you define home? The dictionary definitions may be narrowed even further to (1) a location, (2) a people, (3) rest and harmony, and (4) origin.

My personal experience, which I realize that everyone may not share, is that home can be elusive. Here is what I mean. As you get older, home changes . . . locations may change; the people who make up home may change; the familiar expectation of rest and harmony may change too. However, young people and children can also experience these changes to home. Sometimes the changes that come upon a home are a calling into a new adventure and opportunity for growth — for example, higher education, an opportunity to advance a career, serving God’s mission, building a new house, an adoption or foster care, etc. Yet, sometimes the changes that come upon a home are the result of unexpected tragedies or unplanned invasions into the dreams that you had — death of a loved one, a house that burned down, divorce, job loss, abuse of all kinds, disease that requires special care, etc. Maybe you haven’t been able to put words to the feeling before, but I bet in some way or fashion many of us have asked, “Where is home?”

Another element of elusiveness is added when you begin to follow Jesus as a Christian. Perhaps the old Southern Gospel song, “This World Is Not My Home” says it best,

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus
O Lord, You know I have no friend like You,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am and weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Just up in glory-land, we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

For the Christian, there is a search for a new location to call home; there is a search to belong to a family that isn’t bound by a loyalty made merely of earthly flesh and blood (c.f., Mark 3:31–35); there is a longing for true rest and perfect harmony. I would even say that there is an ancient longing of origin—when a person comes to know God as Creator, Father, and Savior, the idea of origin and returning to a place and people of origin takes on a new meaning. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13–16 ESV).

Abraham, for example, searched for this city— “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). Was Canaan all that Abraham searched for? Was Sinai all that Moses and Israel searched for?

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear (Hebrews 12:18–21 ESV).

Even the earthly Jerusalem on Mt. Zion appears to have been only a pattern shaped after a better city of promise,

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God (Psalms 87:1–3 ESV).

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18–24 ESV).

If you look closely, you’ll see in the previous verses that there is (1) a location—the heavenly Jerusalem, (2) a community—innumerable angels, the assembly of the firstborn, and the spirits of the righteous, (3) rest and harmony—festal gathering, made perfect, the mediator of a new covenant. We may even see a hint of origin and return here with the mention of “the city of the living God.” Perhaps, this new Jerusalem is something like Eden was meant to be.

The writer of Hebrews indicates that “passage” into the city that the Christian seeks actually requires a journey “outside the camp.” The way of Jesus is outside the gate, outside the camp. For the audience of the writer to the Hebrews, this meant choosing Christ by faith, which was a confession that he was better than Moses, better than the temple, better than the sacrifices, better than the High Priest, and offered a better home than Jerusalem. The road that leads to the city we seek is marked with suffering, reproach, and sacrifice.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:12–16 ESV).

The final words of Scripture to us about this new city are found in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1–4 ESV).

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9–14 ESV).

Where is home? Home is “the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). It is an ancient city that God has been building for ages, and he invites us into this home. He built its gates out of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He built its foundation out of the apostles. Jesus Christ is its cornerstone. He’s still building it out of the supply of “living stones” in the church (1 Pet. 2:4). The location of this home is now heavenly, but there will one day be a move to earth, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come,” and “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” There is a social, family unit forming, held together by our common faith and fellowship in Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. You can feel the true rest and perfect harmony when John writes, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Doesn’t dwelling with God in the new heaven and new earth also remind us of Genesis in the Garden of Eden?

So what? Home is a residence, a community to which you belong, rest and harmony, and a place of origin. For many people, home is elusive. The heart awakened by the gospel begins to reimagine what home is, and the two views of the earthly home and the heaven. Home begins to orient itself around God—his city, his people, his rest and harmony, and a return to his purpose for humanity.

I think that this gospel reorientation of home is practical in four ways.

Enemies of Home

First, it exposes sin, Satan, and death as the enemies of home. They destroy locations, divide families, make us restless and interrupt our harmony, and blind us toward God’s purpose in creating us.

Grace at Home

Second, the gospel reorientation of home allows us to have grace with our current home situation, empathizing with and understanding its imperfections and limitations and rejoicing in the glimpses it gives us of our future home.

Hope for Home

Third, we have a future hope in a dwelling, community, rest & harmony, that will fulfill God’s purpose for us and that will be free from the threats of sin, death, and Satan.

Church as Home

Lastly, I think that the closest place we can experience anything like that future home is in the church—a location of assembly, a community and family united in Christ by God’s Spirit made up of many fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, spiritual rest and peace in Christ, and a place of fellowship around God’s purposes for our lives. Let’s be the best home we can, with God’s help, at West Lisbon.

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).

The Complex Place of the Heart of Soldiers and Veterans

Veteran
This is a piece that I wrote for our 2016 Memorial Day Service at West Lisbon Cemetery. Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served and sacrificed for our country!

Intro

Decoration Day began in 1868 after the American Civil War to remember those solders who gave their lives in the conflict and to decorate their graves. The holiday eventually extended to the remembrance of all our fallen soldiers.

Family

 
I never served in the military. As a boy, I do remember feeling a certain awe and wonder about the life of a soldier. I took a shot at the ASVAB In high school, because of that wonder, and if I’m honest, because of the potential financial help for college, but it never went any further than that.
The wonder and awe that I felt as a boy came from the stories that my father and grandfather would tell about their experiences in the military. These men were giants to me. Both of them were in the army. My father didn’t serve in a conflict, but served in Germany during peace-time. My grandfather served as military police at the end of WWII. Most of their stories told of their experiences in a different culture, rather than battle at the front lines. Grandpa could describe the post-war scene, but he hadn’t been there for much of the fighting.
However, there was one more man in my family that had seen the reality of war. My uncle, Bill Pennington, fought in the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945), which was toward the end of the war. The Germans pulled off a surprise attack on the Allied forces; however, the Allies were able to recover and organize themselves and win the battle, which depleted the German forces to such an extent that some credit it as the battle that ended the war.
My uncle Bill is a large man, tall and broad as a house. He’s a fox hunter, fox hounds and all. When he told me stories as boy, I felt that I gazed into the soul of a man who had experienced something too great for words. This man would cry when he spoke about the things he saw. At the same time, war had left him extremely gentle and tender, especially to children, and vulgar and hard when it comes to even a sniff of injustice. Uncle Bill scared me and comforted me at the same time. He scared me because he spoke of a world that was awesome and terrible. He comforted me because I knew he, and other men like him, would protect me.

The Hearts of Soldiers and Veterans

 
As I talk and listen to soldiers whom I know, I discover that the heart of a soldier is a complex place, where deep thoughts about God and the world reside. In 1 Samuel 17:38–40, we find part of a very, very familiar story. Which of us upon hearing the story of David and Goliath have not imagined ourselves, sling in hand, launching a single stone at the giant, and knocking him straight dead? Prior to the battle, remember the scene where David is trying out Saul’s armor. 
Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
Have you ever read the story of David and Goliath and wondered, “Why wouldn’t anyone except David approach this brute?” I mean, yes, he was big, but surely out of the whole army of Israel there was someone who would go at this guy, right? In his book Manners and Customs of Bible Times, Ralph Gower tells us something going on behind the scenes, 
Saul’s helmet and armor were probably almost unique in Israel at the time, available to him because he was king. It was not at all unusual for a soldier to be armed with only a weapon such as a sling. Saul was anxious to protect David with the armor because it was a custom that champions should decide the outcome of slavery rather than a general battle in which the majority of the opposition would be maimed or killed. Saul wanted to take no chances (233).
The Israelite soldiers were not merely scared of losing a single battle to Goliath, but they carried the burden of possible failure that would lead to the subjection of their families to slavery.  No one wants to be responsible for bringing such a thing on the people, so they altogether as one man hesitated. Into this scene, steps David, the young shepherd who had looked into the eyes of lions and bears, and fought them off to protect the sheep. He knew that Goliath wasn’t going away. No doubt, he had not planned to go to battle that day when he first set out to deliver provisions to his brothers. But the giant was like a lion or bear who had his prey right where he wanted it. David trusted the Lord to accomplish his will through him, and he desired freedom for his people rather than slavery to fear or to the Philistines.
Saul tried to take every precaution to protect David, but the armor didn’t fit. Yet David in that moment had all that he needed. He had the heart of a soldier, a heart that was willing to encourage a nation, a heart that was willing to stand in the way of the oncoming enemy, and a heart that trusted God with the outcome for his own glory and purposes. The heart of a soldier plunges into deep places, where heavy costs are calculated.

Closing

 
As we remember those soldiers who are no longer with us, may we give thanks for their burden and struggle, for they carried it for our sakes. May we also consider the living soldiers among us. Both those who are here with us, our veterans, but also those who are active and on duty somewhere in our world. You may ask, “What can I do?” My pastoral counsel would be to regularly pray and give to them God’s word, because God affects and transforms the heart. Since soldiering requires so much heart, pray and give them God’s word.