How Do I Live Out Radical Discipleship with a Wife and 3 Kids?

radical pictureOur Pastor has been preaching on Mark 8:34-38 over the last two Sundays, and it sounds so radical to our comfortable American Christian ears.  I have had plenty of time to think through what the implications of Jesus’ words are for my life, and to realize that Jesus’ “radical” call to discipleship may not be so radical after all, but rather simply counter-cultural.  So, how do I live out radical discipleship with a wife and 3 kids?

Listen to what Christ calls us all to:  “And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Christ bids me come and die.  This is not new.  “I am crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)  It won’t always be flashy.  It might be putting my 19 month old daughter to bed and singing “Jesus Loves Me” with her.  It might be talking with my 5 year old about Jesus and why He died for us as we read a Bible bed time story.  It might be letting my 5 month old boy know that He is a blessing and loved by changing his diaper with joy.  It might be putting on a towel and pulling out a basin and serving my wife when I get home from a long day at work instead of serving myself, however that looks at any point in our marriage.  This is impossible in my flesh, but easy in the Spirit.

I may not be a foreign missionary.  I may not be a martyr.  I may or may not ever be put in jail for preaching the Gospel.  I may even own a home someday.  But I can still be a radical disciple for Jesus Christ.  If my life is poured out for Christ, if my family knows that I love God, love them, and love our neighbors and the nations more than I love myself, that is radical discipleship.  I do this so imperfectly, but  I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

Jesus, draw me nearer to the cross.  Help me to pour out myself and my family in losing our lives for Your sake and the Gospel’s.

Does “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Really Mean, “Go”?!

picture 17When Jesus commissioned His disciples from a mountain in Galilee with the words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” did He really mean, “go”?  I have often heard it taught that because “go” is actually a participle in Greek, it could more literally be translated, “in your going make disciples.”  This view means that all Christians are to be making disciples, so wherever you go, make disciples–evangelize and teach others to follow Christ no matter where God has placed you.  This understanding of Matthew 28:19 does have a place for international missions because of course some of the Apostles then and some of Jesus’ followers now will want to bring this good news to all nations in light of other Scriptures that speak to people from all nations coming to Christ as their Savior.

While being theologically accurate, I believe that Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19 have a stronger emphasis than this, making modern versions that don’t say, “in your going” accurate, and leaving us to question our hearts perhaps more than we would otherwise about our involvement in missions today.

Every participle in Greek does not need to be translated into English as an “-ing” word such as “going.”  The context and structure of the sentence also plays a part.  “Go” in Matt. 28:19 is closer to the main verb “make disciples” than “baptizing” and “teaching,” and it is also a different form of participle.  Grammarians call this a coordinating participle rather than a subordinate participle.  In other words, “go” must be obeyed and seen as some sort of command to be able to carry out the main command, “make disciples.”  A few examples of this same structure in Matthew makes this extremely clear.  Another king with vastly less authority than Jesus, King Herod, commanded the wise men, “Go and search diligently for the child…” (Matt. 2:8).  While “search diligently” is the main verb, the participle “go” here has such a command force that Matthew said that Herod “sent them to Bethlehem” (Matt. 2:8).  This was not to be understood as simply, “in your going, search carefully for Jesus.”  Just five verses later the angel of the Lord uses the same Greek structure to command Joseph to save baby Jesus’ life: “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…” (Matt. 2:13)  In order to obey the main command, “take the child,” Joseph had to “rise.”  In the Great Commission King Jesus is indeed commanding His disciples to go so that they can obey the command to make disciples of all nations!

As Christians we are to go here (to our community, region, and nation) and there (to the nations), making disciples as we baptize (implying evangelism) and teach what it means to follow Christ.  We are to have a sense of urgency when the risen Christ commands us to go and make disciples.  Let’s not soften it.

For those of us who are not missionaries, this is a reminder of our responsibility to be involved in the world-wide advance of the Gospel through going (short-term as an encouragement or perhaps long-term), financially supporting missionaries, encouraging and assisting missionaries, and praying for them.  What a wonderful commission from our King!

Do You Care About Propitiation?

picture 16If you are a software programmer, then you have quickly and eagerly learned words like “gigabytes” and “linux.”  If you are a cook, then you will want to understand words like “al dente” and “broil.”  If you are a Christian, you should care about words like “propitiation.”

Propitiation is the word that God chose to communicate “appeasement” or “satisfaction” of God’s holy wrath against sin because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice of Himself on the cross.  Listen to these life-giving descriptions of propitiation:  “He is the propitiation for our sins…” (1 John 2:2)  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Jesus Himself is the sacrifice that satisfies God’s righteous wrath against our sins.  Jesus Himself took our punishment for sin on the cross, where the great exchange happened:  Jesus took our sins, and gave us His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).  If you are in Christ, you no longer have to fear the wrath of God, because Jesus already bore it.  Jesus is your propitiation (notice the present tense in 1 John 2:2).

This idea of turning somebody favorably towards God because of a worthy sacrifice is beautifully illustrated in the Old Testament.  A form of the word “propitiation” was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to talk about the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.  God’s presence, the Shekinah Glory, was above the Mercy Seat, and underneath the Mercy Seat–inside the Ark–was God’s Law.  The sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat on the Day of Atonement went between God and His broken law.  It appeased or satisfied God’s righteous wrath against sin and a sinful people.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the fulfillment of this picture, the final atoning sacrifice for our sins.

So, do you care about propitiation?  You should, because you and I need it.  We need “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 575).  When you sin today, ask Christ to forgive your sin (1 John 1:9), and then praise Him that He is the atoning sacrifice that satisfies God’s wrath against your sin.

[image credit: www.zazzle.com]

Parenting is Hard for a Reason

Christina Fox has a post at The Gospel Coalition blog that encouraged me in my own parenting this week.  I read it yesterday afternoon and then I was tried in it last night.  I love how Fox applies the gospel–as displayed in the cross–to parenting.  I need forgiveness when I see that I sinned in how I parented.  I can teach my children about the gospel and their need for forgiveness in Christ even as I ask for their forgiveness.  As Fox says, parenting is hard for a reason.  It is another reminder of our need for Christ.  Read some excerpts below or click here for the full article.

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It had been a long and trying day where nothing went the way it should.  I must have corrected the kids every five minutes.  After refereeing fights and cleaning up messes all day, I was exhausted, irritated, and impatient.

Sitting at the dinner table that evening, it was my oldest son’s turn to give thanks.  When I heard him say, “And God, could you please help mommy to be patient with us?” I realized I wasn’t the only one affected by our difficult day.  I was part of the problem.

Before I had children, I considered myself a patient person.  Having worked with children professionally, I felt confident in my ability to interact with them.  I assumed that working with troubled children would automatically qualify me for parenting.  It was soon after I had my first child that I realized just how wrong I was.

When my kids were small, I couldn’t understand why things weren’t going as they should.  I read all the books.  I followed each method and step listed on the pages.  I did everything I was told to do.  But my children didn’t always sleep the way the experts said they would.  They didn’t potty train in a day.  I’m not convinced they’ve learned their manners.  And they didn’t (and still don’t) do what I say the first time.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it all.  When parents seek to raise their children in a godly way, how can parenting still be so hard?  But if I believe that God is sovereign, then I must believe he is sovereign even over all the challenges I have with my children.  If they have a rough day, whine, complain, and don’t get along, it is not outside his control.

While I used to despair over my children’s imperfect sleep patterns, rambunctious behavior, and failure to say please and thank you, I now realize there is a greater purpose—my refinement. Each struggle, each exhausting day, each behavioral problem, is an opportunity for me to grow in my faith. God uses my children as mirrors to reflect to me the sin I didn’t realize resides in my heart. He is in fact using my own kids to refine and transform me.

Parenthood is tilling the soil in my heart, weeding out the sins that keep me from growing in faith. Some of the roots run deep and have entangled themselves around my heart. Before having children, I didn’t realize how deeply rooted sins like impatience, selfishness, and irritability grew in the sin-fertilized soil of my heart. It took the challenges of raising children to reveal them to me.

But even as God reveals my sins of impatience, irritability, and selfishness, he also reveals his grace. When my children are easily distracted and I respond with impatience, not only does the Spirit reveal that sin to me, he also points out to me all the ways God is patient with my own distracted heart. When struggles in parenting reveal my sin of irritability, it also shows me God’s endless forbearance. When the weeds of selfishness become apparent in my heart, I also see how selfless Christ was for me at the cross.

Time and again, the gospel of grace covers my sin, bringing me back to the cross of Christ. Jesus knew I could never be a perfect mom. He knew I couldn’t respond to my children with love and grace at every moment. He knew I’d have days where I would fail. And that’s why he came. At the cross he suffered for every time I am impatient, for every time I fail to teach and train my children, and for every time I don’t love them as he loves them.

That day when I came face to face with my sins at the dinner table, I count it as grace. For it is God’s gracious love that desires to rid me of the sins that keep me from him. And after my son prayed, I asked him for grace and forgiveness for my impatience that day. Reminding him that I am sinner just as he is, I used the opportunity to point him to the grace of Christ who bore all our sins on the cross.


HT: Christina Fox

The Big Picture of the Bible in Four Movements

Just as in a great symphony there are different movements that make up the entire masterpiece, in the Bible there are four great movements or stories that make up the whole.  Creation.  Fall.  Cross.  New Creation.  Put together, these four themes can give us the big picture of the entire Bible.  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, and we simply need to step back and take in what God has done and is doing.  I hope that this will help you rejoice in His amazing and sovereign plan that is for our salvation and His glory!

Creation.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1) are such familiar words as almost every English version of the Bible translates this first verse the exact same way.  God created all things, showing both ownership and care for what He had made.  His great plan had begun!

Fall.  The Bible wastes no time in presenting the great predicament that mankind has found himself in since the beginning.  At the start of Genesis chapter 3 Adam and Eve are already presented with an opportunity to sin, and they turn from God to sin and death.  So do we: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).

Cross.  God’s solution to His creation turning from Him and the fact of their spiritual and physical death is effected in His Son, through His death on the cross.  The One promised from the moment of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) came as the God-man who alone could atone for our sin.  “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14)  Christ and His work on the cross is looked forward to throughout the Old Testament and looked back upon throughout the New Testament.

New Creation.  The last “event” in all of history as we know it will be the New Creation, when God will consummate all things by abolishing sin, evil, and death.  Those who are in Christ will enjoy a New Heaven and New Earth in new bodies that will never be tainted by sin or its’ effects.  God will be worshiped and we will enjoy Him and His creation forever with joy that we can only imagine now.  God’s plan for our salvation and His glory will have been realized as He exclaims at the end of the Bible: “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6b)

May we respond to the big picture of the Bible as John did at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

Sermon: The Great Exchange, 2 Corinthians 5:21

Second Corinthians 5:21 has long been a favorite verse of mine: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  This passage became more and more beloved to me the longer I studied and meditated on it.  I will never get over this and I pray that you won’t either.  Christ actually took our sin (if you are saved, if you are in Christ) and gave us His righteousness!  My favorite point right now from this sermon is “The Sinner’s Standing.”  The fact that God actually sees me before Him clothed in the righteousness of Christ is unbelievable and one of many reasons that He is worthy of all of our worship, praise, and to live our lives for Him.  One of the main reasons that Christ died on the cross was “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  Sermon Preached July 1, 2012 candidating at Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham, WA for Pastor of Family Ministries.

Why I Am Glad I Took My Son With Me to the Mechanic

I could tell you about so many times that I have not been as patient as I should as a parent, or times that I have had to ask my son forgiveness for getting angry, but today I don’t think that would be very edifying for you.  But I would like to tell you about a recent trip to the mechanic with my son that God turned into a Gospel moment.  I hope that this may encourage you to pursue more of these types of opportunities with your children.

I almost didn’t bring my son with me to the mechanic this week because I had some studying to do, but I realized that he needed to get out of the apartment and that it would be good to have some time together, so I brought him along.  We had a great time.  He got to watch a few kids’ shows while we were waiting, I got a little studying done, we bought a bag of chips from the man that pushes the little cart down the street, and we talked about the area as we walked around a bit.

After spending 3 1/2 hours together, we were sitting outside on a bench waiting for the car to pull out of the shop when for some reason he asked me to tell him the story “about your fish that you used to carry around in a bottle.”  So I told him the story of my pet goldfish that I brought back from Israel again, but I was sure to make it dramatic since we had time.  At the end of the story Tobias asked, “And then he died?”  I told him that the goldfish did die about a year after he came with me on the airplane from Israel.  I explained to him that goldfish don’t live as long as cats, knowing that he was thinking of our pet cat that recently passed away.  “I guess everything dies,” Tobias concluded.

For the next three minutes, my four and a half year old listened intently as I explained to him as simply as I could that although everything dies, Jesus died so that everything can be made new.  And that we can live after we die–live eternally.  He even listened closely as I explained briefly about sin, repentance and asking Christ to save us.  I would have missed that Gospel moment if I had not brought Tobias with me to the mechanic.  Although he does listen and probably catches more than we think when we are purposefully teaching him about the Bible, his ears were especially open that day because it was something that he was thinking and asking about as we went through our day together.  The Bible and the Gospel were connecting with his life.

I am thankful that the Lord gave me that Gospel moment with Tobias that day.  As parents we need to be actively looking for those opportunities.  Sometimes we teach and teach our kids and make sure they are in Sunday School, but we also need to be looking more for those teachable moments that God naturally gives us which is when we often get a “window into their soul.”  Another way of saying this is shepherding their hearts, all day.  This is what God commanded the Israelite parents in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, a principle that is just as much of a command for us with our children today: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Moms, be encouraged because statistically speaking you probably get more of these everyday Gospel opportunities.  Look for them, and use them to teach your kids about God and the Gospel.  Dads, are you spending enough time with your kids so that you have these opportunities?  Take advantage of every one of them, even if it is because you took your child to the mechanic.

What is the Gospel?

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There is way too much confusion about the Gospel.  If we as Christians are basing our entire lives on the truth of the Gospel, should it not be crystal clear in our minds?  I am embarrassed to tell you one of my moments of un-clarity regarding the Gospel:  the Pastor that I worked with in New Mexico asked me one day how I would share the Gospel with somebody that I was sitting next to in an airplane if the plane was going to crash.  I had been in full-time ministry for over 3 years at that point and let me tell you, I was hoping that imaginary airplane was flying high at cruising altitude when the engines failed!  I was able to share it biblically faithfully as I had many times when the Lord gave me opportunities, but not concisely.

How about you?  When you have only a few minutes but a clear opportunity or even someone asking you to share the Gospel, do you know where to start and finish?  What are the non-negotiables that they need to know in order to truly be saved?  Are you teaching the Gospel to your children constantly?  Do you thank God regularly for what He has done for you in Christ because it is often on your mind?  We need the Gospel to be emblazoned upon our hearts and ready on our lips!

When I recently attended the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church where we are members, I had a list of several kinds of books that I was looking for at the Conference Book Store.  At the top of my list was a book about the Gospel.  I knew that after 4 1/2 years of studying more than I thought possible to be as equipped as I could be for full-time ministry, that I needed to step back and see the big picture.  I also knew that I want to be laser-sharp on what the Gospel is in my ministries now and as I look ahead to full-time ministry.  If I could go back and change only one thing in the almost 6 wonderful years of being a Youth Pastor before seminary, it would be to preach and explain the Gospel more often and more clearly.  Paul the Apostle taught the whole counsel of God, and yet there was a sense in which he could say to the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

I found exactly the book that I was looking for in the little book What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.  So, what IS the Gospel??  This is the most important question that you will ever ask, as well as the most important question that you will ever answer.  I agree with Gilbert as he shows that Scripture breaks it into 4 basic truths:

1) God.  We are accountable to the God who created us.  He is both Creator, and holy and righteous (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 24:1, Matthew 5:48).

2) Man.  We have sinned against that God and will be judged (Romans 3:10, 6:23; Isaiah 59:2).

3) Christ.  But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us.  God sent Christ as both fully God and fully man, and as God’s perfect Son He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and then rose from the dead (Colossians 2:9, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:4).

4) Response.  We take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus (Isaiah 55:7, Luke 9:23, Romans 10:9, Acts 17:30).

Look at all 4 principles laid out clearly in Romans 3:23-25a, “…for all have sinned and fall short [man] of the glory of God [God], and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus , whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood [Christ], to be received by faith [response]…”

It was said in many different ways all throughout God’s Word.  Sometimes it was assumed that part of it was already believed, such as that God was Creator and Judge to a Jewish audience.  But these 4 basic principles are always in the background or in the forefront of a complete Gospel presentation.

As Gilbert points out, another way of looking at these 4 truths is how they answer 4 crucial questions that Paul lays out in Romans 1-4:

“1) Who made us, and to whom are we accountable? [God]

2) What is our problem?  In other words, are we in trouble and why? [Man]

3) What is God’s solution to that problem?  How has he acted to save us from it? [Christ]

4) How do I–myself, right here, right now–how do I come to be included in that salvation?  What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? [Response]”

As I look at the precious and glorious answers to those four questions, I am reminded of the simplicity of the Gospel and yet its’ profundity.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is simple enough for a child to understand, and yet complex enough to write a doctoral dissertation on each of these points and still not plumb the depths!

It is also easy to notice that the Gospel is made up of both bad news AND good news.  In our society of “whatever you believe is true, is true for you” philosophy, and generous tolerance of any belief except for Christianity, I am afraid that we are too ready to soften the parts about us being accountable to God the Creator, the depth of our sin, or the fact that our King was crucified on a wooden Roman instrument of torture over two thousand years ago and then actually rose from the dead.  It is especially hard for people who have been taught all of their lives that man is essentially good to understand what they need to be saved from.  It is equally hard in our day to explain to those who have a “Santa Claus” view of God that He is not only a God of unfathomable love but also unfathomable holiness, and their Judge.  Yet that is exactly what people need to hear.  The whole, simple, profound, true, cutting, crushing, revealing, surprising, loving, saving, and gracious Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Let’s take note of Gilbert’s alarm: “Indeed I believe one of the greatest dangers the body of Christ faces today is the temptation to rethink and rearticulate the gospel in a way that makes its’ center something other than the death of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners.”

If you teach Sunday School, if you have children, if you preach, if you have neighbors or co-workers or relatives who need to hear the Gospel (we all do), or if you just need to think clearly and deeply about the Gospel (we all do), I encourage you to read this book, and soon!  I know that you will devour it as I did, and that it will result in more praise to Jesus Christ.  As Gilbert explains, “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship.  It lowers our eyes from God to self and cheapens what God has accomplished for us in Christ.  The biblical gospel, by contrast, is like fuel in the furnace of worship.”  I am thankful for this book, because having a precise and lucid understanding of the biblical Gospel “calls us forward to that final day when heaven will be filled with the roaring noise of millions upon millions of forgiven voices hailing him as crucified Savior and risen King.”