I Am Barabbas

Las cadenas se cortan por el eslabón mas débil / Chains break by the weakest link

I am Barabbas.

Who’s Barabbas? He’s an often overlooked, relatively minor, character in the events leading up to the death of Jesus on Good Friday. Many of us, myself included, tend to breeze past Barabbas as we read the Passion Week narrative. However, as I was listening to a sermon by Mark Dever a few days ago, he made a passing comment about Barabbas (38:45) that struck me: Barabbas is a preview of what we find in the gospel.

Like Barabbas, I was guilty of insurrection, rebelling against the lordship and sovereignty of a holy God.

Like Barabbas, I was imprisoned as a result of my sin and unable to free myself from its chains.

Like Barabbas, I was as good as dead as I awaited the just punishment for my rebellion.

This is a picture of the hopeless situation that Barabbas (and I) was in. But then, one day, a man named Jesus showed up and turned things around:  Read more of this post

Reverse the Curse

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:1, 31) What a beautiful picture of God’s original creation: organized around the magnification of His creative glory and untainted by the destruction of sin with everything operating at the apex of its created purpose. This is how God intended the world to be.

However, since the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3, “creation was subjected to futility…groaning together” (Romans 8:20, 22) for a return to its original condition. No aspect of the creation has escaped the distorting effects of sin’s curse. In particular, men and women, alone created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), have suffered greatly.

In the first chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul describes the extent to which sin has affected each and every human being. Paul highlights three aspects of our humanity in particular that have been distorted by sin:  Read more of this post

8 Characteristics of a Godly Decision Maker

Compass

God’s will is something that everybody wants to know. Where will I live when I grow up? Where will I work? Who will I marry? The list goes on and on.

Why do we want to know all of these things anyway? Probably because we want “peace” about a decision or want to have a life free of uncertainty and with minimal risk. While that’s understandable, it’s not necessarily the way God’s will works. As RC Sproul said, “Many Christians become preoccupied or even obsessed with finding the ‘will’ of God for their lives…. Far from being a mark of spirituality, the quest for God’s secret will is an unwarranted invasion of God’s privacy. God’s secret counsel is none of our business.” Too often we spend so much time trying to figure out the parts of God’s will that He doesn’t want us to know yet, that we forget to do the things He has already clearly told us to do. Burk Parsons puts it this way: “So many are looking for special revelation from God while it sits on their shelves gathering dust.”

How should we seek God’s will then? Romans 12:2 gives us a hint: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”   Read more of this post

Follow Me: The Command to Disciple

This is the third of three lessons in the “Follow Me” discipleship series from the 2014 Harvard Avenue College/Career Ministry Spring Retreat.

In this series, we’ve explored what it means to be a disciple of Christ. We looked at Jesus calling His first disciples and saw that the call of discipleship is initiated by God towards rebels dead in sin unto adoption as sons. This involves both belief and repentance. Next, we saw that the cost of discipleship requires loving family less than Jesus, bearing our cross, and relinquishing everything. Even though this cost seems high, what we get in return is infinitely more valuable: the righteousness of Christ.

We’re going to wrap up our “Follow Me” study by looking at one of the first and last things Jesus gave to His disciples while on the earth: the command to make disciples. True disciples of Jesus Christ are supernaturally compelled to make more disciples.

Commanded and Accompanied

READ Matthew 4:19; 28:18-20

Notice in these two passages that Jesus doesn’t suggest that His followers make disciples. He doesn’t highly recommend it. He didn’t teach them the latest evangelism technique or instruct them on how to be a role model. No, Jesus gave them a clear command: “Go and make”. From the very beginning, Jesus intended for every disciples to make more disciples.

It is also important to note that He doesn’t give them this command and leave them to figure it out on their own. On our own, we are destined to fail. That’s what’s great about being a follower of Christ: He doesn’t leave us alone! The commands that Jesus gives His disciples can only be accomplished by the work that He does in them. In Matthew 4, He promises to make them fishers of men while in Matthew 28, Jesus tells His followers that He may be leaving them physically, but He will always be with them in the presence of the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit continues to mold and shape us into the image of the ultimate Disciplemaker.

The Motivation for Disciple-making

What then is our motivation to make disciples? Should we do it because we feel guilty if we don’t? Should we do it to check off that box on our Heaven Admission Form? Not at all! Look at the Apostles: they were supernaturally compelled to tell others about Jesus. As a result, not even death could stop them from obeying this command.  Read more of this post

He is Risen: 5 Reasons the Resurrection Matters

 

West Country Safari

This Sunday is the highlight of the Christian year: Easter. Even though Christmas gets most of the attention, Easter is just as, if not more, important. It is the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior from the dead, a feat that no other person has ever accomplished on their own. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus three days after His crucifixion is the event that our entire faith and hope hinges on. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to it as a matter of “first importance” and says that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain.”

Here are five reasons that the resurrection matters:

  1. Ensures our faith is legit
    The entirety of the Christian faith is dependent on the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:12-26). We believe in a living, reigning Savior who is now the exalted head of the church, who is to be trusted, worshiped, and adored, and who will some day return in power and glory to gather His Bride the Church and reign as King over the earth.
  2. Ensures our regeneration
    In His resurrection, Jesus secured for us a new life like His: a human body and spirit perfectly suited for fellowship and obedience to God forever  (1 Peter 1:2-5). We have been “made alive together with Christ and raised up with Him” (Ephesians 2:5-6). The reality of the resurrection gives us the power needed for Christian ministry and obedience to God (Philippians 3:10). This resurrection power also allows us to gain more and more victory over the sin that remains in our lives (Romans 6:14; 1 Corinthians 15:17). In baptism, we see this pictured (Romans 6:4,11).
  3. Ensures our justification
    By raising Jesus from the dead, God declared His approval of Christ’s work of redemption on the cross (Romans 4:25). God was essentially saying there was no penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath to bear, and no more guilt or punishment. All had been completely paid for by the substitionary, atoning death of Jesus. In saving us, by virtue of our union with Christ, God’s declaration of approval of Jesus is also His declaration of approval of us.
  4. Ensures our future resurrection
    Jesus is the “first fruits” of the new humanity, with bodies that have been made perfect and are no longer subject to weakness, aging, or death (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, 42-44, 53). In fact, Jesus refers to Himself as the “resurrection and the life” in John 11:25-26. The New Testament connects Jesus’ resurrection with our final bodily resurrection several times (1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:12-58; 2 Corinthians 4:14)
  5. Ensures our eternal reward
    Because of the resurrection, everything we do on earth has eternal significance, both for us and for others. Though we may face struggles and trials here on earth, we are promised a heavenly reward where our suffering for Christ will be repaid (Colossians 3:1-4).

This Easter, remember the vital importance of what we are celebrating: Christ, as an innocent substitute, died the death that we should have died for our sins and then, to show His acceptance of this sacrifice, God the Father raised Jesus from the grave three days later, accomplishing the final victory over sin and death and making the reconciliation between God and humanity possible. What an amazing day!

-Lawson
Learn It. Love It. Live It.

[image credit: Wurz on Flickr]

Follow Me: The Cost of Discipleship

This is the second of three lessons in the “Follow Me” discipleship series from the 2014 Harvard Avenue College/Career Ministry Spring Retreat.

How would you respond if someone asked you: “How do I become a Christian”?

There are two ways to reply when asked this question: 1) Tell someone how easy it is: just acknowledge a few truths about God and then pray a prayer and you’re set! 2) Tell the person that the call to discipleship is a call to die so that they can live.

So, which of these is correct? What does it mean to truly, biblically follow Christ? Does it look different in a third world country as opposed to America? What does it mean to know Jesus and identify your life with His? In other words, what does it mean to be a Christian?

The first lesson outlined the two elements of the call to discipleship (repentance and belief) and then defined the call to discipleship as initiated by God towards rebels dead in sin unto adoption as sons. This lesson will focus on answering the question “What does it mean to follow Christ?”

Three Costs of Discipleship
In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus addresses three costs associated with being a disciple:  Read more of this post

Follow Me: The Call to Discipleship

This is the first of three lessons in the “Follow Me” discipleship series from the 2014 Harvard Avenue College/Career Ministry Spring Retreat.

What Does it Mean to Follow Jesus?

Jesus first spoke the words, “Follow me” to twelve ordinary men two thousand years ago. They answered the call, leaving behind their families, friends, and jobs, to follow a Man who would give them a new family, new friends, and a new mission.

Ever since that time, Jesus has called out to millions with the same two words: “Follow me.” Men and women, rich and poor, young and old, red, yellow, black, and white have responded to this summons.

But what is Jesus asking us to do when he says “Follow me”? Is it simply to “pray and ask Jesus into your heart”?  Do we just have to gain an understanding of who Jesus is and what He did? Or is it something more?

This series of blog posts will be looking at three components of Jesus’ call to “Follow me”: the call to discipleship, the cost of discipleship, and the command to disciple. Along the way, we will see not only the gravity of what we must forsake in this world but also the greatness of the One we follow in this world. In Him is found indescribable joy, deep satisfaction, and an eternal purpose.

Becoming a Disciple

The first component of following Jesus is the call to discipleship. (Read Matthew 4:17-22)

Two elements of becoming a disciple:

  1. Belief (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9)
    Believing Jesus is fundamental to following Jesus. Becoming and being a disciple of Jesus involves far more than mere intellectual belief in Him (the demons even believe that Jesus died and rose again-James 2:19), but it certainly doesn’t involve anything less than that. Many profess publicly to a belief that they don’t actually have personally (Matthew 7:21-23).
    To believe in Jesus requires an obedience that encompasses trusting the claims He made about Himself, relying on the promises He made to those who would follow Him, and being devoted to the very words He spoke (John 8:31-38, 14:26). As we continue to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1-2), we gain a deeper and deeper understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done on our behalf.
  2. Repentance (v. 17; Acts 2:37-38; Galatians 2:20)
    On the other side of the discipleship coin is repentance. When someone repents, there is a foundational transformation in the person’s mind, heart, and life. Like the disciples that Jesus called, a repentant man or woman willingly leaves behind their former way of life with its idols, sins, and self-righteousness in order to run to answer the call of a new way of life as a follower of Jesus. For every Christian in every culture, repentance is a necessary element of discipleship.

Discipleship Defined

The call to discipleship is:

  • Initiated by God… (v. 18, 21; John 6:65, 15:16; Romans 9; Ephesians 1; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2)
    There are few doctrines more despised by the prideful human mind than the truth that God is absolutely sovereign. However, this truth is seen over and over throughout the pages of Scripture. Like the nation of Israel in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) and the four Apostles in this Matthew passage, God initiates the call to discipleship. He does so based on His mercy not because of who they are, but often in spite of who they are. Like a Good Shepherd, He goes searching for the sheep that belong in His fold (John 10:1-18). He has to.
  • …Towards Rebels Dead in Sin… (v. 18-19, 21; Romans 3:9-12, 23; 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-3)
    The reason that God has to initiate discipleship is because in our natural sinful state, not even one person willingly seeks for God. Our identity is too wrapped up in our jobs, family, social status, pleasure, and self-righteousness. In fact, we sin has distorted us so much that the Bible refers to everyone’s natural state as “dead in sin.” Because of this sinfulness, we are under the just wrath of God. The penalty for this sin isn’t determined by our measure of it, but instead the penalty is determined by the magnitude of the one who is sinned against. So our problem isn’t so much that we’ve made bad decisions or messed up, but that we have rebelled against God and as a result are utterly unable to turn to Him.
  • …Unto Adoption as Sons. (v. 20, 22; Romans 8:12-17; Galatians 4:1-7; Ephesians 1)
    Adoption is at the heart of Christianity. God not only takes initiative, He takes initiative towards people in rebellion to Him. His aim isn’t to capture these rebels as P.O.W.s, but to bring them into His very own family so that they cry out “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). Before we were even born and while we were lying alone in the depth of our sin, God was planning and working to adopt us.

So then the call of discipleship is initiated by God towards rebels dead in sin unto adoption as sons. The disciple’s journey begins not with his pursuit of Christ, but Christ’s pursuit of him. It doesn’t start with us inviting Jesus into our heart, but Jesus inviting us into His family.  The wonderful love behind this call is entirely beyond our imagination and completely out of our control. Just like Jesus called His first disciples, He has called out to us as well: “Follow me!”

-Lawson
Learn It. Love It. Live It.

For more on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, check out David Platt’s book Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live. 

BONUS: Pictures from the 2014 HACM Spring Retreat

Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

 

...Hope...

Tragedy is never something that we look forward to, especially when it is unexpected. Whether it is a personal tragedy or one that affects a whole community, often our first instinct is to shrink back, ask questions, and lose hope.

This weekend, a young lady passed away at my alma mater. It is one of several tragic events that have happened in the Siloam community over the past six years that I’ve lived here. In a small community like JBU or Siloam Springs, everyone is affected to some degree. People always deal with suffering caused by these events in different ways.

What should be the Christian’s response in times like these? Read more of this post

Work, Ministry, and the Gospel

“If there’s anything in life that we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel.  And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others. I mean passionate about thinking about it, dwelling on it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world.  Only one thing can be of first importance to each of us.  And only the gospel ought to be.” -C.J. Mahaney

The False Dicotomy: Work vs Ministry

Too often, I’ve heard a Christian friend or adult say, “I have a normal job and I enjoy it, but ministry always comes second. I just wish I could have a ministry job where I can devote all my time to God and ministry.”

While this sounds spiritual, it leads to three common misconceptions of the relationship between the gospel and our work:  Read more of this post

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

Palm Sunday 2007

Today Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday, kicking off what is known as Holy Week. The week begins with the commemoration of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey with crowds waving palm branches, laying down their coats, and shouting “Hosanna!” (Matt 21:9). Other days during Holy Week have significant meanings: Maundy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper, Good Friday reflects on the trial and death of Jesus on the cross at Calvary, and Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

One of the sobering things about Holy Week is the attitude of the crowds toward Jesus. As you read from Matthew 21 to Matthew 28, the crowds of people go from enthusiastically chanting “Hosanna!” to angrily yelling “Crucify Him!”  What caused this sudden change?

A Grand Entrance

Imagine the scene recounted in Matthew 21:1-11. The city of Jerusalem is a bustle of energy as Jews from all over the Mediterranean area are in town for the upcoming Passover celebration. The sound of animals can be heard all over the city as traders bring their livestock to sell in order to be sacrificed as an offering to the Lord. Vendors are crowd the streets selling their goods to all the visitors to the city. Priests and religious leaders are hustling around getting the Temple ready for the big day. Read more of this post

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