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10 Reflections on 10 Years

NOLA Baptist Church covenanted together with eight members on August 31, 2013. 10 years later, God has been pleased to sustain and grow our church. Below are 10 reflections on the last 10 years of ministry in New Orleans.

A humble and happy witness is effective

There are many ways to communicate the good news of the gospel to those who do not believe. A faithful witness for Christ must verbally communicate the propositional truth claims of the gospel, and that communication of the gospel is most effective when it is proclaimed with humility and joy. An effective witness shows the non-believer that Jesus is real and worthy by the happiness and humility of his people. We have Christ! The “self” has been crucified and pride has been slain. We have Christ! The greatest treasure, reward, and gain.

The corporate worship gathering is central

The Sunday morning worship gathering proves to be the most central aspect of the life of our church. People attend corporate worship more than anything else. Non-members are willing to visit the worship gathering more than other gatherings. People long for the eternal. They long to sing, they long to hear the prayers of his people, and they long to hear the Word read and preached.

God’s glory is the goal

The ultimate goal for our church is to glorify God. That is the single unifying purpose for everything that we do. The goal is not effective strategies to grow the church, relevant ministries to appease people, or to fit some religious/traditional mold. The goal is to do God’s will, his way, for his glory. When this settles in the minds and hearts of leaders and congregants, the church is set on course and set free to do good works in his name. We serve God, not man.

People are the prize

We labor in evangelism, preaching and teaching, and discipleship for the eternal good of people. A church’s ministry is a ministry of and to people. We labor so that people would see God. We labor so that people would be born again. We labor so that people would repent and believe. We labor so that people would love Jesus and one another in the faith. We labor so that people would be equipped to do the work of the ministry. A church is a people; not a place and not a set of programs.

The joys are greater than the sorrows

The sorrows of ministry can be back-breaking at times. However, the sorrows only last for the night, but joy always comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). There have been some sorrows over the last 10 years, but they pale in comparison to the joys. The joys of seeing God save and transform people, the joys of experiencing his love and faithfulness, and the joys of sweet fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. These joys are precious gifts and reminders that God is faithful and will be faithful in the future.

Embrace being a strange & supernatural people

A biblical church is a supernatural people created by God’s supernatural grace and power. Therefore, we now live for Jesus and his supernatural purposes (2 Corinthians 5:15) and by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, Romans 15:13). To the natural man, this is strange. Be strange. Let the grace of God be evident in your life. Be other-worldly and different. No one will give glory to God for naturalistic people living naturalistic lives. But when we shine the light of supernatural grace before others and they see an other-worldly life they will give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

The Bible is sufficient

The Scriptures possess a glory that no other wisdom or philosophy or teaching possess. To lean on human wisdom, human teachings, human philosophies, or human strategies is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. To lean on the Bible is like bringing a nuclear bomb to a gunfight. As Thomas Manton said, “The Spirit of God rides most triumphantly in his own chariot.”

Prayer is powerful

Regular gathering for prayer, at the very least by the elders of the church, is essential. Prayer is not what we do before we do the work of the ministry, prayer is the work of the ministry. All that we do is for naught unless the Lord puts his hand to it and blesses it. Therefore, the chief work of our ministry is asking God to do all of the work! This requires faith that God will move mightily on our behalf and for his name’s sake.

Waiting is not waning

If we labor in faith for the supernatural fruit that only God can produce, we will also wait in faith. We will be tempted to see times of waiting as times of waning,  inactivity, fruitlessness, and waste. This is far from the truth. God is never inactive. He is never waning or wasteful. Everything he does is loaded with meaning and purpose. While we wait he is sanctifying us. While we wait he equipping us. While we wait he is teaching us. While we wait he is accomplishing many things that we cannot see. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:25).

God supplies for what he appoints

It seems that God prefers not to stockpile resources for his people. One of my mentors says that God utilizes a “just in time inventory” approach. He gives us what we need just in time to do the works that he has appointed us to do. God has never been late in 10 years, nor has he ever failed to provide what we need. His provision has been miraculous and a demonstration of his steadfast love and promise keeping power. We can be sure, if he has called us to do something, he will give us everything we need to do it.

In all, the last 10 years have been a front row seat to the goodness and greatness of God. Lord willing, the next 10 years will be full of the same.

Simplicity For Complexity’s Sake

The image above is not ancient hieroglyphics, it is a quantum physics equation. It’s a math equation attempting to understand the complexities of God’s vast creation. Complex realities of physics require complex math in order to test theories. This is why scientific discovery is a relatively slow process: Complex ends are attained by complex means.

Imagine if the vast complexities of quantum physics could be understood by simple math. Imagine the scientific advancements we could make if complex realities of physics could be grasped by 1+1 or if complex problems could be solved by 3-2. That’s nonsense, of course, because we know that complex ends require complex means.

God’s ends are infinitely more complex than that of quantum physics. God’s ends involve the fate and destiny of every person in history, even all of history itself. One day, God will transform all of reality as we know it and create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-5). No matter how complex, no math equation can grasp or affect these future realities.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

This is true for his future works and also for his present works. Even now, God’s mission for the church pursues complex ends. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This command seeks complex ends on two levels.

First, the command to make disciples is qualitatively complex. What are disciples? The gospel of Matthew tells us a disciple is someone who follows Jesus (4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:34), who confesses Jesus as Lord (16:16), and who regards Jesus as his master and himself as Jesus’ servant (10:24-25). Most importantly, a disciple loves Jesus (10:37, 22:37) and worships him (2:11, 14:33, 28:9). Therefore, a disciple is someone who follows, confesses, regards, loves, and worships Jesus from the heart. This is qualitatively complex because human hearts are complex. How can a church hope to make true disciples from the heart?

Second, the command to make disciples of all nations is quantitatively complex. Nations, cultures, societies, communities, and individuals are vastly different. How can churches take the single message of Jesus Christ to the roughly 13,000 different people groups in the world? How can local churches hope to make any sort of impact among the nearly 8 billion people worldwide? Jesus diagnoses the situation as follows: “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (9:37).

Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 to make disciples of all nations is qualitatively and quantitatively complex. Who is sufficient for these things? In Matthew 19:24 Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were astonished by the complexity of such a statement (19.25), but Jesus reveals that reality is actually far more difficult than complex. He states in 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Jesus admitted that with man the ends and outcomes of Matthew 28:18-20 are impossible. How then can the qualitative and quantitative impossibility of making disciples of all nations be accomplished by local churches?

In the temporal world, complex ends are accomplished by complex means. In God’s kingdom and economy, where all things are possible, he has graciously deemed that his complex ends are accomplished by very simple means. As we look to Scripture, God provides churches two simple means to accomplish his great ends: Prayer and the ministry of the word.

The apostles summed up their ministry as follows: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Inspired by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, they utilized the simple means of prayer and the ministry of Scripture as the means by which they would make disciples of all nations.

They devoted themselves to the ministry of the word because the word has great power. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 28:20, explaining how we make disciples, “teach(ing) them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The ministry of the word is certainly preaching from a pulpit, but it is also counseling from the Scriptures. It is sharing the gospel with non-Christians from the testimony of Scripture. We teach the Bible, declaring the glory and goodness of God. And with the Bible we equip the saints for the work of the ministry that goes out to all nations.

They devoted themselves to prayer because they knew God hears and acts. All things are possible with God, so, we pray. We cannot change a human heart, so, we pray. All of our efforts to proclaim the word are feeble, so, we pray. Jesus told us to pray in response to the quantitative impossibility of the gospel mission: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37).

Can it really be that the complex and impossible mission of Matthew 28:18-20 can be accomplished by such simple means as prayer and the ministry of the word? This is so simple that God’s given strategy for local churches to reach the nations is literally: 1) Repeat what I have already said (ministry of the word) and then 2) ask me to do everything (prayer). Can that really be sufficient for the ministry of a local church?

Yes. When the finite wisdom of man fails to achieve the complex and impossible ends of God, and it will, the only place to turn is the infinite wisdom of God. How great is God that he would be pleased to accomplish such wonderful things through such simple tasks! How great is our God that he would give us such simple tasks, tasks that do not require talent and skill, but faith in the power of God.

This of course leaves no room for human boasting. These two simple means (Repeat what I have already said & ask me to do everything) are meant to unseat and destroy any self-confidence, self-reliance, and pride. Because of such simple means, no church, no pastor, no Christian can say, “Look at what I did!” Our only boast is in the Lord. It is by humble faith that we take hold of these simple means that we might witness God glorify his great name.

All of our energies, efforts, and labors in prayer and the ministry of the word are like Moses hiding himself in the cleft of the rock and declaring to God, “Show me your glory!”

Woe to those pastors and churches who seek to accomplish God’s ends by man’s means. Woe to those churches and pastors that put their faith in their skills and strategies, in pursuit of their own glory. Woe to those churches and pastors who trust in their own wisdom and the world’s wisdom by pursuing worldly means to attract people, rather than trusting in God’s wisdom by pursuing supernatural means to transform people. Woe to those pastors and churches that twist and pervert the Scriptures for their own evil gain. Woe to those churches and pastors who are prayerless and unwilling to trust God for the harvest. They will reap what they sow.

These simple means result in less of us, but they also mean more of God and more of his supernatural power. This is not just a principle, it is a promise. A promise laid out for us at the end of Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

No Regrets In That Day

The Bible speaks of the future “day of the Lord;” a day where everyone who ever lived will stand before Jesus. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

There will be two types of people in that day. There will be those who receive the resurrection of life and those who receive the resurrection of judgment (John 5:25-29). We will be like the 10 virgins waiting for the bridegroom in Matthew 25:1-13. There will be those like the 5 wise virgins who brought extra oil for their lamps and then there will be those like the 5 foolish virgins who brought none.

In the parable, the bridegroom delays in appearing at his marriage feast. All 10 virgins fall asleep waiting for him to come. When the bridegroom arrives at midnight, the 5 who brought extra oil are immediately able to rise and go into the feast, for they were ready. The 5 who did not bring extra oil, not worrying about being ready, ran in a panic to buy more oil for their lamps. Unfortunately, the doors to the marriage feast are shut, and they are not allowed inside.

I find myself reflecting on this parable regularly. I imagine how the foolish virgins mock the 5 wise virgins for their preparedness. If this were a modern-day parable, perhaps one of the foolish virgins would say, “Chill out!” Or another would say, “Take some Xanax!” But the wise virgins keep their eyes on the prize. There is a feast promised to those who are ready. When they enter into the banquet, they will not regret being prepared. They will rejoice and be glad.

I believe this perspective is essential for believers in Jesus as we fight sin, seek righteousness, devote ourselves to prayer, and live on mission for God. In that day, we will not regret making ourselves ready, we will only praise God and rejoice.

“For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:11).

If you believe in him, you will not be put to shame. This means you will not regret trusting in him and living for him. For in that day you will be in his presence and you will see him at the right hand of the Father. “For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

In that day, you will not wish you would have had more of what the world offers. You will not wish that you had chilled more. You will not wish that you had partied more or gotten drunk more. You will not wish that you would have had more sex or viewed more pornography. You will not wish that you made more money and spent it on yourself. You will not wish that you watched more Netflix or spent more time on your phone. You will not wish you ate more or slept more. You will not wish that more people liked you or that you were famous and successful. You will not look on any of those things with regret, for you will be with Jesus and you will have his reward for all eternity.

“In that day the LORD of hosts will be a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to the remnant of his people” (Isaiah 28:5).

And in that day, you will not regret living a life of faith and obedience. You will not regret being a cheerful giver of your money. You will not regret that you devoted yourself to prayer. You will not regret consuming the Bible daily. You will not regret being a faithful member of your church. You will not regret fighting temptation and pursuing godliness. You will not regret spending time with your children and discipling them. You will not regret sharing the gospel with people and being considered a fool or perhaps evil for Jesus’ sake. You will not regret supporting missionaries or being a missionary for life. You will not regret the pains you have endured for Jesus’ sake, the things you repented of, and the good things that you pursued for his glory. There will be no regrets, only praise and joy.

“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.’ And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Revelation 19:6-9).

Therefore, friends, hold fast to the lamp and oil of faith. What Jesus has in store for you is far greater than anything this world can give. And God will see you through until the end. Notice that the bride makes herself ready because it was “granted her to clothe herself with fine linen.” God is with us. He will keep us. He has granted that we will cross the finish line. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

With such great promises before us and the reality of no regrets in that day, we should strive in the present to live by faith in these promises and in that future reality of no regrets. You will not regret living for God’s glory and the good of others around you, but you will regret living for yourself and for sin.

Oh Lord, open our eyes to see what is true and eternal. Help us to believe that if we love and save our life now we will lose it, but if we lose our life now for your sake and the gospel’s we will save it. Give us grace to live for what really matters, because we know that in that day there will no regret, but only praise and joy.

Good Friday’s Glory

The church has always confessed Jesus to be fully God and fully man. What an awesome reality to try to comprehend. I have difficulty wrapping my mind around what it means that Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). Jesus was not created. He has no beginning and he has no end. “From everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

Jesus humbled himself, emptying himself of the heavenly glory that he embodied and received, in order to become a man. Why would he do this? The only answer is; there was a glory to be revealed and for Jesus to receive by being born a man. By being born in the likeness of men, he did not lose the glory he had in heaven, he fulfilled that glory by accomplishing the work that the Father gave him to do (John 17:1-5).

And what was that work? The apostle Paul continues in Philippians 2:8-11, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Because Jesus accomplished the work that the Father gave him to do – dying on a cross – his name has now been revealed to be the name above all names. “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).  

The cross was the revelation of the Son of God to all creation, that everyone might know, believe, and glory in the name above all names. The mystery is no longer hidden (Colossians 2:2). For in the cross, Jesus has been revealed, his victory has been proclaimed, and now people from all nations praise his name.

Philippians 2:10-11 ensures that all creation will one day bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord. This will be the great and terrible day of the Lord. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord either by faith and joyful praise now, or by force and in terror in the day to come. I plead with you friends, please call upon the name of Jesus while there is still time.

The cross revealed the name above all names. This was the highest purpose of the cross, but it was not its only purpose. Romans 5:6-8 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The cross not only declared the name above all names, it also demonstrated God’s love for sinners. It was the greatest display of love in all of history because Jesus died for the ungodly. He did not die for righteous people. This means that the objects of his love are unworthy of it.

Even still, Jesus was satisfied to bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11). The Bible is explicitly clear: all who call upon Jesus, trusting in him as their only Savior and surrendering their life to him as their only Lord will be saved from hell, forgiven of sin, and made God’s children as opposed to his enemies.

If the highest purpose of the cross is to glorify the name of Jesus above all other names, then the demonstration of God’s love for sinners in the cross is the primary means of securing that glory. What an amazing God we have! Of all the ways he could determine to get glory, the Father was pleased to get his glory by the Son dying in the place of sinners.

God could have gotten his glory through judgment. Jesus could have come wielding a sword instead of bearing a cross. But his plan was to get his glory through the death of his Son; pouring out his love on sinners as he poured out his wrath on the Son.

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10)

God is so good and kind that both his eternal glory and our eternal good have both been satisfied by the cross. Jesus, the name above all names, stands now as both our Lord and our Savior; welcoming the ungodly and sinners of all stripes to rest in his glory and grace.

As we take time to remember Jesus and the cross, examine your heart. Have you called upon the name of Jesus? Have you received by faith all that he accomplished for his name’s sake and for your eternal good? Are you rejecting his love for you by holding tightly to your independence and sin?

Remember the cross, friends. Remember his love for you and glory in his name.

What If A Film Crew Followed You For A Day?

Imagine if a film crew followed you for an entire day, filming you from the moment you woke up until the moment you went to sleep. Imagine that they would feature you in their documentary, a documentary that tens millions of people would watch. Their goal is to observe you in a typical day; observing how you eat, how you exercise and take care of your body, how you interact with people, your work ethic, how you treat your spouse and your children. The goal of the documentary is to capture a glimpse of what kind of person you are.

Now, how different would this day look from an ordinary non-documented day? I bet it would look very different. The morning of the filming you would likely rise early and go for a jog, followed by a morning devotion as you sip your coffee. As you drive to work you would be courteous to other drivers and wave at them (with all five fingers this time!). While at work, you would be as diligent and productive as possible. No time wasted on Youtube or Facebook. Or if you are a student, you would present yourself as disciplined, studious, and prepared. If you are a parent, you would give your children your utmost attention instead of zoning out on your phone. You would not be harsh, but gracious and sensitive. You would be proactive in teaching them what is right and true, perhaps leading your family in a devotion after you eat dinner together. Later on in the evening, you may work a little longer or you may read a book, since vegging out on Netflix is just a waste of time. Then you brush (and even floss) your teeth before you lay in bed, where you rest satisfied that it was documented that you put your best foot forward.

If a film crew followed you for a day, you would give them your absolute best. And why is that? It’s very simple; when we know people are watching we will give them our best so that they will approve of us, and in turn, praise us. We want people to think highly of us, our motivations, and our actions. Therefore, when we know they are watching, we give them our very best.

This may be human nature, but it is also fruit of unbelief. By giving our very best only when people are watching, we deny that God is always watching. We deny that he sees (Psalm 94:7) and we deny that his approval is our greatest pursuit (Psalm 63:3). This is like those described in John 9:24 who, “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” We must be set free from this unbelieving perspective!

There is a verse that wakes us up from this particular unbelief. In 2 Chronicles 16:9, the prophet Hanani tells Asa king of Judah, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is completely his.”

I remember the first time I heard this verse. As the preacher read this verse and applied it to our lives I saw God as big, mighty, wise, and gracious. This one little verse establishes at least 3 foundational realities for our lives.

God sees our hearts. God sees all people, at all times, and in all places. “For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17). We may only give our best when people are watching, but what about God? The Creator of the universe is always watching. How much more should we strive to give him our best?

God judges our hearts. “And no creature is hidden from his sight but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). God doesn’t just watch us as a passive observer, he watches us as our Judge. His judgments go beyond our outward actions to our very motivations and desires. We can fool a film crew, but we cannot fool the living God.

God strengthens our hearts. Did you see the purpose for why God sees and judges our hearts? The last part of the verse says, “to give strong support to those whose heart is completely his.” God looks for faithfulness that he might grant more faithfulness. God looks for those whose hearts are completely his, that he might empower them to be even more committed to him.

When the Holy Spirit burdens your heart to talk to your friends about Jesus and you obey by faith, God sees it, is pleased by it, and will give you supernatural strength as you talk to them.

When you repent of sin because you want to honor Jesus, God sees it, is pleased by it, and will give you supernatural strength to fight that sin in the future.

When you seek to know the Bible and understand it because you hunger and thirst for God, he sees it, is pleased by it, and will give you supernatural wisdom and understanding.

The principle and reality that undergirds 2 Chronicles 16:9 is this: What God demands, he supplies. Don’t be deceived, friends, God demands our very best. He deserves our very best. He is looking and judging to see if our hearts are fully his. Where he finds such submission and faith, he supplies strong support that enables even greater faithfulness.

Beware of the lie that grace means that God does not want us to actively give him our best. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” God will bless such faithfulness with strength to be even more faithful for his glory.

In Luke 8:16-18 Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed,” This is what it is like when we don’t give God our best as blood-bought believers in Jesus. Instead of shining bright for him to the world, we cover it up with laziness, apathy, and mediocrity.  Instead, the born-again believer “puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

Let us take care how we hear today. Let us live for the glory that comes from God, who sees, judges, and strengthens. Let’s give him and the works he has called us to do our absolute best today. What he demands, he will supply!

Does God Control Our Thoughts?

This week, during a family devotion, we discussed the story of the man born blind in John 9. The disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus says in verse 3, “It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” We discussed that God made this man blind from birth for the sole purpose that he would encounter Jesus and be healed which would then bring glory to God. What a remarkable window into the mind and purposes of God.

My oldest daughter, Laynie, thinking about all of this, asked the question, “Does God control our every thought? If a thought comes into our mind is it because God put it there or is it because we created it?” What a great question! A serious question like this demands a serious answer. So, below is my attempt to bring together some Scriptures that may provide an answer. This is not an exhaustive list. However, I believe these verses paint a clear picture of the relationship between God, our thoughts, and our freedom.

Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” People are responsible for the thoughts of their hearts. God sees our thoughts and judges them as our own thoughts.

Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph’s brothers acted independently (you meant…) but God meant their evil for good. This is not making lemonade out of lemons, this is God’s divine will at work. What they intended for their evil purposes was actually intended by God for his good purposes.

Exodus 4:21, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” God actively controls Pharaoh’s thoughts so that Pharaoh doesn’t let Israel go.

Exodus 8:15, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Even though it says pharaoh hardened his heart, it only happens “as the LORD had said.” In other words, Pharaoh is going as God has determined. Prophetic Word dictates how Pharaoh thinks and acts.

Romans 9:16-21, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” God has every right to do whatever he wants with our lives.

Ezra 6:22, “And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” Ezra 7:27, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem,” God puts the thought and desire into the heart of the king to do what he wants him to do. The implication is that unless God had done this, the king would not have allowed it. Therefore God controlled his mind and changed history.

Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” The promise of the new birth of the New Covenant is a radical and fundamental transformation of the heart. God takes away old ways of thinking and desiring and gives us new ones. God puts to death the old thinking, old desires, and old will and gives us a new heart and a new spirit. He does not ask for permission to do this – it is a miraculous and supernatural intervention. He puts to death and he makes alive.

Revelation 17:17, “For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” Like Ezra 6:22 & 7:27, God puts into their hearts to do something until the words of God are fulfilled. The prophetic word of God dictates what people do, not their independent will. The declared Word of God stands over the will of man.

Jeremiah 10:23, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” The way of man = the acts of a person. Man does not derive this way from within. This means that even as we exercise our will, the origin of that will is not from within ourselves but actually from God. People act as God permits.

Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth.” Believers are called to exercise their minds/will to think about the things of God, not the things of the world. So, God calls us to intentionally exercise our will/thoughts. This means that we have the ability to control our thoughts and are expected to do so.

Matthew 12:36, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” This verse places responsibility on people and the words they choose to speak.

So, there are verses that teach that God controls the thoughts of man. This is not an exception but the rule. However, Scripture also teaches that we are responsible for our thoughts as our own thoughts. How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory verses?

In God’s economy, he rules and determines the destiny of every single molecule in creation. There is no situation in which anything or anyone in creation could act or think or speak apart from what he has permitted or ordained. Therefore, even our thoughts, which God knows them all (Psalm 137:4), pass through the filter of his will and are ordained and permitted. This is how Satan is permitted to act in evil ways, yet still be under God and even serve God’s ultimate purposes (Revelation 13:7). This is how the greatest evil ever committed (the cross) accomplished the greatest good ever accomplished.

This begs the question, are there acts that we theoretically could commit that God does not allow us to commit? Are there thoughts that we theoretically could think that God does not allow us to think? We know that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” Which means that there are temptations that could come upon us that would certainly destroy us, but God is faithful and would not allow it to happen (1 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, we are not ultimately free and autonomous. Even in our sinful rebellion, God is constraining our sinful will for our good! See what Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32; ensuring him that he would not allow his faith to fail even as Satan tempted him.

So, yes, God has ordained all our thoughts. He has permitted every thought. In this way, all our thoughts are determined by him. There is no such thing as a rogue thought to God – every thought has has ever been or will ever be has passed through his filter and been permitted according to his perfect will. At the same time, these thoughts are still our thoughts, whether good or bad, and we will be responsible for them. Scripture seems clear on both points.

Acts 17:26-27 combines these two realities in one glorious thought: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,”

Common Grace Versus Special Grace

Most mornings I drive my girls to school. The 20-minute drive to school is our time to talk and to pray together. Yesterday morning, after I dropped them off, thinking about how blessed I am to be their dad, I saw another father with his daughter on their way to school. As I watched them talk and laugh while reflecting on my relationship with my daughters, I could not help but become emotional, grateful, and in awe of God’s grace to give his creation such wonderful gifts.

God has filled this world with wonderful gifts of grace. God grants these gifts to all people in all places. Beautiful scenery. The companionship of a pet. The thrill of falling in love. Ecosystems that sustain and cause life to thrive. Mathematical, biological, and scientific realities by which, we (through the intellectual faculties he has given us) are able to meet many needs. God gives to all people the gifts of family friends, and food.  

Genesis 1 tells us that God declared that his creation was “good” or “habitable.” This begs the question: good or habitable for whom? The sixth day answers that question. God has made a good and habitable creation for mankind. This is grace from God to create and to actively sustain what he has created. Read Job 38-39 to see God’s sustaining grace over all of creation and read what Jesus says about God’s provision for ravens or lilies in Matthew 6.

Theologians call this grace, “common grace.” Common grace is grace that God gives to all of creation. “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:9). For example, it is by God’s grace that Christians, Buddhists, atheists, and Muslims all over the world have air to breathe and lungs to breathe it. This grace is common to all. In his grace he creates and sustains our ability to breathe. God’s common grace meets many of our needs, is a source of great joy, and gives us numerous reasons to worship him; just as I rejoiced and worshipped God for the gift of my family.

There is another kind of grace that we see in the Bible. In fact, this grace is the kind of grace that is most emphasized in the Bible. Theologians call this grace, “special grace.” Special grace is grace that creates and sustains an eternal relationship with the living God. Special grace is grace that enables us to know and to follow Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Special grace is the grace that causes a person to be born-again. Special grace is the grace that causes a person to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Special grace is the grace that enables a believer to repent of sin and to love and live for God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Special grace is the grace that causes the gospel to go forth in power to all nations, to overcome powers and principalities in the heavenly places, and to endure trials of various kinds.  

Muslims cannot experience the special grace of God as Muslims. Atheists cannot experience the special grace of God as Atheists. Buddhists cannot experience the special grace of God as Buddhists. Nor can nominal or cultural Christians experience the special grace of God. Only repentant believers in Jesus who are supernaturally born again by the Spirit of God can experience his special grace.

This does not mean that common grace is not grounds for joy or praise. It most certainly is. However, God did not create us merely to receive common grace – but to receive the special grace of knowing Jesus by faith. Whereas common grace gives temporal gifts, special grace gives eternally enduring gifts.

As I praised God and thanked him for his common grace yesterday morning, I thought to myself, “If the common grace of being a father brings me so much joy and fulfillment – how much more joy and fulfillment is there to be found in God’s special grace?” Or to put it another way: If the normal and common gifts of this life can give me so much joy and satisfaction, then how much more should the supernatural and eternal gift of knowing and worshipping Jesus bring me joy and satisfaction? I prayed, “O Lord, give me eyes to see!”

In John 4, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. Jesus tells the woman in verse 10, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Do you see what Jesus is saying to her? He is contrasting common grace with special grace. Physical water (common grace) is not her greatest need, nor should it be her ultimate desire. Jesus, God the Son, can give her living water (special grace). “Everyone who drinks of this water (physical water) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

In John 6, after Jesus supernaturally feeds 5,000 people, he says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27).

If we only drink common grace water we will be thirsty again and common grace bread will perish, but the special grace that Jesus, the Son of Man, will give to us will become a spring welling up and enduring to eternal life.

If common grace gifts like food, family, and friends gives us joy and satisfaction, even though they will not endure to eternal life, then how much more will the special grace gift of knowing and following Jesus give us reason to rejoice? How much more will he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead also give life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in us? (Romans 8:11) Therefore, seek Jesus today, friends. Take hold of what special grace has secured for you. Fellowship with the Spirit of God by faith in Jesus Christ. Obey him with gladness. Commune with him in prayer. Hear from him in his Word. Love, serve, and evangelize in his name. Taste and see that the Lord is good!

Simeon, The Man Of Supernatural Faith

The Christmas narratives in Matthew and Luke tell us about a good number of people besides Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Zechariah and Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s parents), the shepherds, the wise men from the east, king Herod, and angels are all important and memorable figures. They are so memorable that all of these figures, except Herod, are now figurines that you can buy at your local Hobby Lobby!

There are other figures in the Christmas narratives that are not as memorable; such as Simeon. I have never seen a figurine of Simeon, artwork depicting Simeon, nor have I ever seen Simeon in a Christmas play. Nevertheless, Simeon serves as a wonderful example of faith; of one who hopes in God and rejoices in God’s saving plan for the nations.

Simeon – A Man of Supernatural Faith

Luke 2:25 tells us, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” This is all of the background information that Luke gives us about Simeon. Luke tells us 3 things about Simeon. First, Luke tells us that he was righteous and devout. Simeon possessed true faith. This faith was evidenced by obedience and love for God. He actively sought to live a righteous life – fighting sin, loving the truth, and delighting in the things of God.

Second, Luke tells us Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Simeon believed the promises of God. You don’t wait for something unless you believe it is true. This is why I described his righteousness and devotion as faith. Simeon’s faith in God and his promises was the foundation for his entire life. What promise was Simeon believing and waiting for? The promise of Israel’s King, Savior, and Messiah.

Third, Luke tells us “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” This shows us that Simeon’s faith, evidenced by righteousness and devotion was all a result of supernatural grace and power. How did Simeon hope in God and wait for him to fulfill his promises? He did so by the power of the Holy Spirit. Supernatural grace and power produced supernatural living. Supernatural grace had also given Simeon supernatural eyes and ears: “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

Simeon’s life is a reminder that waiting on God to fulfill his promises is not a state of stagnation but of supernatural faith and empowerment. Sometimes, perhaps more than we think, God wants us to wait on him and to wait for the Holy Spirit to act. Waiting on God by faith fights self-reliance and recognizes that God’s supernatural plans and purposes are right and good.

Self-reliance is a great deception. It is rooted in the false belief that what is material is all there is. Many in Simeon’s day were not content to wait on God to fulfill his promise. They had plans to overthrow their Roman oppressors and to take Israel back by their own hands. All they saw was the material – the nation and land of Israel. Simeon saw a greater reality. He saw beyond land and nation to see God’s eternal purposes in Christ. He saw that what God had planned could only be accomplished by God himself. Waiting by faith is the fruit of supernatural grace and power.

God’s Eternal Purposes In Christ

Simeon’s waiting by faith is rewarded. Luke 2:27-29 tells us, “And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;”

What a reward! To see and hold Jesus the Messiah. His faith’s reward is so great, Simeon can say, “Now I can die in peace.” Jesus is so great and glorious that to behold him is life’s greatest reward. Do you see Jesus as the greatest reward this Christmas? Like Simeon do you see beyond the materialistic things of this world to see Jesus the Christ, and more importantly, do you believe in and live for Jesus?

Or, like many in Simeon’s day, is your heart hijacked by a false hope; a hope that hopes only in the material things, material purposes, and material outcomes of the world? Is your hope in money? Is your hope in health? Is your hope in success? Is your hope in your personal and political freedoms? Is your hope in safety and security?

Simeon possessed a Christmas hope for a reality far greater than the material blessings of this world. Simeon believed in the promises of God. These promises had nothing to do with the political nation of Israel or the land. Instead, these promises were for the whole world: Luke 2:30-32, “For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon did not wait in vain. He did not believe in vain. He did not pray and worship in vain. Simeon saw God’s world-wide purposes and plans as he beheld Jesus. Likewise, we behold Jesus and God’s world-wide purposes and plans in the Bible. The Spirit of God uses the Bible to give us supernatural grace and power to believe, like Simeon. The Spirit’s goal in giving us this faith-enabling grace is the same as it was with Simeon: that we hope in Jesus, that we wait for Jesus, and that we give our lives to God’s world-wide purposes and plans.

A Christmas Prayer

You could use Simeon’s life as a template for a Christmas prayer. It could go something like this:

“God of grace, please give me your Holy Spirit in abundance so that I will possess supernatural faith like Simeon. Like the Jews in Simeon’s day, I confess that I am tempted to look to the material rewards of this life. Open my eyes to see Jesus as the greatest reward and my only hope. I am tempted to labor for material and worldly purposes and plans, which results in me being self-reliant and fleshly. Open my eyes to see and cause my heart to be captured by your plans and your purposes so that I will labor for them by faith. As Simeon waited, so I will wait for you and hope in you. For with you there is steadfast love, and with you there is redemption. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.”

A Sure Way To Know You Are Thankful

Another year, another Thanksgiving, and another day to remember to be thankful. The Bible commands us to be thankful (Colossians 3:15), but I have always had a difficult time assessing gratitude. Is gratitude a feeling? Is gratitude merely the courtesy of saying “Thank you” to God before a meal?

How can I be sure that I am grateful in a way that is authentic and pleasing to God? Does the Bible demonstrate normative ways that gratitude is made manifest in our lives? I believe it does. One way gratitude overflows out of our hearts and manifests in our daily lives is by a joyful desire to share the gospel with people around us.

Who Then Is This?

Jesus had just calmed the storm with a word. His disciples fearfully exclaimed, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” Indeed, who is this? As they run ashore, still trying to wrap their brains around what they just witnessed, Jesus demonstrates his glory once again. They are met immediately by a man possessed by thousands of demons.

Great detail is given about the power of the demons in this man. “He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him” (Mark 5:3-4).

Chains could not bind him and no man had the power to subdue him. Common human means were powerless and ineffective. Jesus is no common man. Look at how the man full of demons reacts to Jesus: “And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:6-7).

Who is this that the winds and waves obey his voice and who thousands of demons bow at his feet and beg him for mercy? The demons declare who he is. He is Son of the Most High God.

Tell Them How Much The Lord Has Done For You

Jesus gives the evil spirits permission to enter into a large herd of pigs. The people of the region find the man sitting with Jesus, set free from the power of demons, and in his right mind.

O how grateful he must have been for Jesus! The text tells us that while the demons possessed him, “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:5). Then Jesus showed up and shattered their power. He rescued him and gave him a new life. The man was so changed that he begged Jesus that he might be one of his disciples.

Jesus told the man, “‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:19-20). *Notice how “the Lord” and “Jesus” are synonymous in these verses.

Jesus had supernaturally set him free and poured supernatural grace into his heart. The result of such grace and mercy is overflowing gratitude and love for Jesus. The overflow of this gratitude manifests in the joyful desire to proclaim Jesus to everyone.

Evangelism Is A True Measure Of Gratitude

Our gratitude will be proportionate with our evangelism, that is, our desire and efforts to share Jesus with the people around us. Little desire and effort to tell others about him and what he has done for us reveals very little gratitude. Our gratitude is cheap and superficial if it is not evidenced by a heart to proclaim Jesus.

Imagine you have a friend that rarely speaks about his wife. If he does speak he only speaks in matter of fact ways; such as, “My wife has 3 sisters” or “my wife is from Texas.” Then you finally meet his wife and you are blown away by her kindness, her sense of humor, her grace, her beauty, and her love for your friend. You would say to yourself, “He didn’t tell us how great she is! Isn’t he grateful that he has such an amazing wife?”

If a great wife is grounds for gratitude and proclamation, how much more an infinitely great Savior who rescues and redeems our life from the tombs?

How thankful are you this Thanksgiving? Is it evident by your readiness to share the gospel with the people around you? If so, praise Jesus for his grace. Ask him to fill your heart with more gratitude and your lips with more proclamation. If not, ask Jesus to open your eyes to all he has done for you and to give you overflowing gratitude that manifests in evangelism.

Just In Time Grace

Tracy, my mentor and the pastor of the church that planted our church, likens God’s way of provision to the “just in time” (JIT) inventory method in business management. The just in time method is an approach to inventory that keeps a needed amount of supplies in stock and orders new inventory as supplies are sold. The purpose of this method is to keep only what is needed and sufficient.

Tracy would say, “God provides what we need, when we need it.” Over the last 8 years since we planted NOLA Baptist Church, this principle has proven to be true. I can list instance after instance where God has supernaturally provided precisely what we needed, when we needed it – whether that be people, opportunities, or money.

I admit, in my flesh, I would love for God to stockpile resources for our church like a warehouse. In my flesh, I would love the certainty of an enormous pile of cash in the bank, or the reserve of hundreds or thousands of people in the pews. That is appealing to my flesh because a stockpile of resources does not require faith.

Let’s be honest with ourselves; if God gave us an abundance of temporal resources would we still depend on him? Would we still call out to him fervently in prayer? I don’t think so. We might become prideful like Israel (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) or idolatrous like the rich man (Luke 12:19-21).

God provides what we need, when we need it. Whether that is a ram in the thicket (Genesis 22:13-14) or seven loaves and a few fish (Matthew 15:34), he supernaturally meets our need and proves himself to be faithful and great.

Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Just in time, God will give us grace to meet our need. This means that whatever our need may be (financial, relational, physical, spiritual, emotional) supernatural grace from God is our ultimate resource.

And God gives the resource of his grace in abundance. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

This is a remarkable verse. We come to God with our need and God responds with grace, but not a limited amount of grace. Paul says God responds with “all grace” and he causes this supernatural grace to “abound” to us. This means as we draw near to God he will draw near to us with the fullness of his immeasurable grace.

However, notice that the outpouring of immeasurable grace is made manifest in measurable ways. Paul says, “so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times…” The temporal resource that God provides will be sufficient for our need. If our need is financial, God may provide exactly what we need; not one cent more. If a friend is what we need, God will provide sufficient companionship. His grace abounds, and what he provides will be sufficient to meet our need.

God will do this because his immeasurable grace to sufficiently meet our measurable need serves his good purposes: “so that…you may abound in every good work.” God gives supernatural grace, just in time, so that we will have exactly what we need to do every good work that he has appointed us to do.

Immeasurable grace meets measurable need so that we can do appointed works. Therefore, life is not meant to be lived anxiously. God does not want us to worry about temporal resources.

Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).

As we focus our lives on his kingdom and his righteousness and every good work he has for us, God will provide what we need, when we need it. Scripture tells us to wait on the Lord. “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:25-26).

Waiting is itself instructive. If we are not careful, we will see ourselves as the “inventory managers” of our own lives. God may supply the inventory but we are tempted to see it as our job to tell him what we need and when we need it. We put the order in, and God sends it promptly!

But waiting doesn’t work that way. We cannot be the managers of our lives because we don’t know what is best for our lives nor do we know God’s plan. We can’t begin to fathom all that God is doing. This is why we say, “If the Lord wills…” (James 4:15). Waiting humbles us so that we learn to trust that God knows what we need and when we need it in accordance with his perfect will.

Romans 8:26-27 pictures the Holy Spirit as our inventory manager. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

We are not competent inventory managers of our lives. We are those who look to the living God. We are those who wait for him. We are those who groan, not knowing how to pray, dependent upon the Holy Spirit to intercede for us.

Waiting and groaning seems futile to a self-reliant and resource-obsessed world, but not to those who trust in the Triune God. To those who trust in the God of immeasurable grace, it is not futility – it is freedom. Freedom from anxiety, worry, fear, self-reliance, and dependence on worldly resources. Therefore, set your heart on the God who is able to make all grace abound to you!

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” (Lamentations 3:22-24).