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

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Why Do You Worship?

Worship BG - Not To Us

This blog post was adapted from a sermon that I gave at the Harvard Avenue Student Ministry youth group on Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Key Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

WHAT IS WORSHIP?

You and I are worshiping every second of every day. We are continually pouring ourselves out for people, causes, things, or experiences. Worship never stops.

So what is worship? It is much more than just singing songs or playing an instrument (though that is certainly part of it). Christian worship is a biblically faithful response to a biblically faithful understanding of God. It is both internal and external. The internal spirit of worship comes from experiencing and treasuring the beauty and worth of God as presented in the Bible. This results in an external response that shows what we have experienced and treasure. Worship begins in the heart as a matter of spirit and truth, and then flows out of the heart to impact every part of our daily life.

The opposite of selfless Christian worship is selfish worship, or idolatry. Idolatry is an unbiblical, unfaithful understanding of God and/or an unbiblical, unfaithful response to Him. Just like true worship, idolatry begins internally long before it manifests itself externally. And like true worship, it eventually flows from our heart to impact every area of our life.

John Calvin famously said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” Because of the sinful tendencies of our heart, we can twist things that are meant to bring glory to God and make them into idols. In other words, sin is not just doing bad things, but also making good things into ultimate things. This turns selfless worship into selfish worship. This is the very issue that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34Read 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

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

Know Your Enemy: The Danger of Underestimating and Accommodating Sin

This blog post was adapted from a sermon that I gave at the Harvard Avenue Student Ministry‘s Winter War Games event on Saturday, February 1, 2014.

Key Texts: Judges 2:11-17; Romans 8:5-13

What is the greatest enemy of the Christian? No doubt there are many enemies we face as believers: Satan, demonic powers, the temptations of the world, and sin just to name a few. Each of these is dangerous and something we should be on guard against.

However, Scripture tells us consistently that our greatest enemy isn’t Satan. It isn’t the demons. The greatest, most dangerous enemy for any Christian is his or her flesh. J.C. Ryle realized this: “Sin and the devil will always find helpers in our hearts.” My greatest enemy is myself. Your greatest enemy is yourself. From the day we are saved until the day we die, our new spiritual nature will be at odds against our old sinful flesh nature. Our hearts are idol factories! (Martin Luther) We must recognize this enemy that lives within us and take it seriously or it will overcome us.

In 1886, Robert Lewis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the book, the respected Dr. Jekyll has an evil living within him that manifests itself periodically in the form of Mr. Hyde who goes on violent, lustful rampages. At first, Dr. Jekyll is appalled by the actions of Mr. Hyde, but as time goes on, he comes to enjoy the release from morality that his evil side offers.

At one point Dr. Jekyll says, “I had learned to dwell with pleasure as a beloved daydream on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities then life would be relieved of all that was unbearable: the unjust might go his way delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin, and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path doing the good things in which he found his pleasure and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.” Thinking he could control the two, he develops a potion that allows him to switch between the good Dr. Jekyll and the evil Mr. Hyde whenever he takes it. However, the more he feeds and enjoys his evil nature, the more it controls him. Eventually, Dr. Jekyll gets to the point where Mr. Hyde takes over at random times and can’t be subdued by the potion. Recognizing that eventually Mr. Hyde will completely consume the once honorable Dr. Jekyll, Jekyll pens a note that ends with “I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end” and commits suicide.

See how deadly our indwelling sin is? It wars against us in our pursuit of holiness. It tries to take us captive, lull us to sleep, and lead us away from the God who redeemed us from the curse. It promises temporary relief and pleasure, and the more we accommodate it like Dr. Jekyll did, the stronger it grows until it eventually kills us.

Let’s look at how this played out in the nation of Israel.  Read more of this post

Movement Requires Action

The Movement.

This blog post was adapted from a sermon that I gave at the Harvard Avenue Student Ministry on Wednesday, September 26, 2013

Key Text: Matthew 11:25-30

Any movement requires some sort of catalyst. As Sir Isaac Newton put it, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If I want a frisbee to move, I can’t just look at it and hope it moves. I have to pick it up, grip it, and throw it. It requires me to act. Movement is the mission; throwing is the catalyst.

The same is true of the Great Commission Movement (Matthew 28:18-20). We, as believers, must take action to keep it moving forward. Disciples make disciples who make disciples. This is the movement! To be a part of the Great Commission, you must be willing to do some work. You can talk about the Great Commission all you want, but until you strap on the yoke of Christ, you aren’t a part of it.

In Matthew 11:25-30, we see two actions that the Great Commission Movement requires. Being a part of Christ’s mission for believers requires the we practice active dependence and active discipline. Let’s look at each in-depth.  Read more of this post

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