Friday, January 18, 2019

Don't Misuse "Resisting Gossip"

One of my worries when I was writing Resisting Gossip was that some unscrupulous church leaders would misuse it to silence dissent among their followers. I could foresee insecure and/or controlling pastors piously holding the book up to their people and subtly saying, "See! You shouldn't criticize or disagree with me. I'll decide what gets talked about around here and when. We're going to be a gossip-free church."

Pastors and other church leaders are often the target of a whispering campaign. But not all dissent is unloving or unhealthily pursued. In churches where the leaders seem to be hiding key things or putting a "spin" on all of the information that gets disseminated, it's often difficult for the rest of the church to discern what is going on. Followers should ask their questions openly with respect, care, and love, trusting their leaders as much as they possibly can, but leaders should also bend over backwards to extend grace to those who disagree with them or are concerned about questionable decisions and internal conflicts. If both groups are careful and loving, then the heaviest situations can be successfully navigated. But just because one side is handling things poorly doesn't give the other side a reason to take the lower road.

That's why, in the bonus chapter for church leaders, I included two points about protecting reputations of leaders both within and outside of the local church but also had a point about airing concerns:
8. Open Channels for Airing Concerns
The flip side to the last two points is that leaders must create and sustain open channels of communication in the church for those who have concerns. Sometimes when there is gossip within a church, it is actually the leaders’ fault. Those who are gossiping should not be doing it, but gossip flourishes when there is an oppressive regime and a tyrannical atmosphere of silence.
When was the last time you asked for constructive feedback? Paul told Timothy, “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Tim. 2:24). That does not mean that a good church leader will agree with all the criticisms he receives or will budge on orthodoxy, but he will humble himself to solicit critique. 
Being approachable is easier said than done. I know I have failed to listen more than I have succeeded, but I often quote Proverbs 27:6 to my people: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Hurt me, friend, if I need it. That is love. (Resisting Gossip, pg. 168).
I have no way of telling if my worries have come true and if unhealthy pastors are using my book to shield themselves from accountability. I hope not, but I'm not naive enough to believe it will never happen.

I certainly didn't write it to insulate bad leaders. I wrote it to combat the real sin of gossip which can tear a church from limb to limb. I wrote it in the way I did hoping that unhealthy church leaders would not have another tool in their toolbox for mis-shepherding the flock under their care. May the Chief Shepherd protect His people from both errors and dangers (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Sunday, January 13, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “Living the Last Beatitude”

“Living the Last Beatitude”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
January 13, 2019 :: Matthew 13:53-14:12 

Verse 53 begins with Jesus’ finishing.

Matthew tells us that Jesus finishes telling the parables that we often call the Parables of the Kingdom. That’s what Matthew 13 has been all about. Parables about the upside-down, inside-out Kingdom of God which has come (much smaller than we might have expected), is coming (much slower than we might have expected, though it’s happening all around us), and will come (much greater than we can ever expect)! 

The kingdom is a treasure, and if you find it, you have found everything. If you miss it, you have lost everything, and if you know it, you should share it with everyone.

That’s what Jesus has been teaching about in Matthew 13, using parables.

But not everyone likes it.

Not everyone gets it.

Many don’t want to get it!

One of the big reasons why Jesus taught in parables was so that those who wanted to get the kingdom would get the parables and those who rejected the kingdom would not get the parables.

And from this point on in the Gospel of Matthew there is an obvious growing difference between the two.

We’ve seen it already. Some are receiving King Jesus and some are rejecting King Jesus.

But it’s going to become more and more obvious.

More and more of a stark difference.

Today, I want to look at two stories about rejection.

We’re not going to get very far today, and we’re not going to end on a high note in the Bible. We’re going to end with a death.

I propose we read and study Matthew 13 verse 53 through Matthew 14 verse 12.

It’s all about rejection.

Persecution. Unbelief. Scorn. Violence. Death.

Here’s the title I chose to summarize these two major stories:

“Living the Last Beatitude”

Which is a really a happy title!

Because that’s what beatitude, right?

Remember the beatitudes?

The statements of flourishing.

To be blessed is to be in a state that should be congratulated.

To be in a joyful position.

Do you remember the last beatitude?

They were all upside down.

Jesus keeps telling His disciples to “Good for you when...” and then follows it with things you’d never think to congratulate somebody about!

"Blessed are the poor in spirit...”
“Blessed are those who mourn...”
“Blessed are the meek...”

Do you remember the last one?

It’s in Matthew 5:11&12.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Congratulations, if that is you because you are flourishing and you will flourish!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hear this one.

It doesn’t sound like fun, that’s for sure.

And yet, it does sound good, at least by the end, right?

If Jesus says something is a blessing, then it is, right?

Even if doesn’t seem like it at first.

Even if it’s hard.

Well, today, we have two hard stories, but I think that under and through them both, the last beatitude flows.

The headline of the newspaper says, “Local Boy Makes Good!”

Everybody in Galilee is talking about Jesus. Everybody’s excited because they know this guy. For a couple of decades, he made tools and furniture as an apprentice in Joseph’s carpenter business.

And now Jesus has come back to Nazareth, his hometown, and he’s shown up at the synagogue to teach His popular message.

And Matthew says that the local people were amazed.

But that it wasn’t a good kind of amazement. V.53 again.

“When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. [Listen to their questions. Are these questions about the kingdom of God?] ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. [He isn’t like we remembered him.] ‘Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’”

No, those are not questions about the kingdom.

They are questions about Jesus.

They are the kind of questions the Gospel of Matthew exists to answer.

Who is Jesus?

Matthew is a theological biography of Jesus Christ.

It reveals to us the identity of our Lord.

But these folks could not see it.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

They didn’t buy it that Jesus was Who we believe He is.

Notice that they didn’t think he could be doing these miracles because they had never seen them before.

I think that’s interesting because there are some false gospels from the second and third centuries that say for example that Jesus was doing miracles when He was a little kid. I don’t think so. Not only do those Gnostic gospels not sound like the original gospels but they don’t match the picture we get here.

His hometown community did not think that Jesus was anybody special.

And after hearing Him teaching, they were sure of it.

They rejected Jesus.

That’s what this story is saying. Verse 57.

“And they took offense at him. [They were scandalized by Him. They rejected Who He was communicating that He was.] But Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’”

You know, I’ve always thought that Jesus was just kind of smiling and shaking head when He said that.

But this was serious. This isn’t just a joke that people back home never really appreciate it when their favorite son comes back and all they can see when they look at you is little old so-and-so that they used to know when you were little.

This is serious. These people basically decided that Jesus was a false prophet and a false teacher, and they rejected Him.

At some point, maybe right after this, they decided that He was truly trouble and they were going to push him of the side of cliff!

They did not have faith, and it was serious. See the upshot in verse 58?

“And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”

Because they did not believe.
Because they rejected Him.

He wasn’t going to do miracles because they weren’t interested any longer!

What’s going on is that things are progressing towards the Cross.

We all know where this story is going.

I only have two points this morning, and they’re as much from the Last Beatitude as they are from this passage.

#1. EXPECT TO BE REJECTED.

Jesus was.

And Jesus told us that we should not expect better treatment than He got.

In the Last Beatitude, He said, “Blessed are you when (not IF) people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

Expect that that’s going to happen.

The Apostle Paul said that, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted...”

So if we aren’t receiving persecution for living a godly life, maybe we are doing it wrong!

Expect some rejection.

Even from family and friends.

Maybe, especially from family and friends.

These people knew Jesus. He grew up right there.

And they said, “No, I don’t think so.” Even though they had seen some miracles!

Miracles don’t convince people who don’t want to be convinced!

Do you want to live as a follower of Jesus Christ but your family and friends think you’re taking it a little too far?

“You don’t have to be a Jesus Freak!”

“You don’t have quit that!”

“You don’t have get that involved!”

“You don’t have to change that way, do you? Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”

I know that we don’t currently experience extreme persecution in the United States right now.

And I’m thankful for that. There are a lot of reasons for it in the providence of God.

We aren’t supposed to go looking for persecution in the hopes of finding it.

We aren’t supposed to be masochists.

We can pray against persecution and hope that it doesn’t come.

But we should also expect it.

If you follow Jesus, it will get hard at times. It just will.

And at some times, it will get really really hard.

Don’t be surprised.

I think that we are so used to comfortability (I know I am) that we think that if persecution comes, then something has gone wrong with the plan. That God made some mistake.

Joel Michaels has been teaching the Wednesday Prayer Meeting from 1 Peter. Peter says in chapter 4, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ...”

You are living the Last Beatitude!

It’s how they treated the prophets who were before you.

And how they are treated your own Lord.

I know that that story was about Jesus, and of course, He was rejected. But do His followers really need to prepare for that?

Chapter 14, verse 1.

“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’”

Now this can be little confusing so follow along with me here.

This is not Herod the Great who tried to kill baby Jesus after the wise men came.

This is one of Herod’s sons, Herod Antipas who is a “tetrarch,” which is like a governor of a quarter of a territory.

He hears about Jesus. It would be hard not to.

And he gets scared that Jesus is John the Baptist back from the dead.

Which is weird because we didn’t know yet that John had died.

So verses 3 through 12 are a flashback to inform us in how John the Baptist died.

But before we look at that, notice again what the big deal is.

The big deal is, “Who is Jesus?”

Keep your eye on the ball.

That’s the ball in this book.

Who is Jesus?

Herod Antipas superstitiously thinks that Jesus may be John the Baptist come back to haunt him.

Because, sadly, he had had John killed. V.3

“Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him: ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’”

Now, that takes some explaining, too.

And it’s quite the soap opera!

You see Herod Antipas had been married a first time to a princess of the Nabatean kingdom.

But he didn’t like her.

He liked his niece, a woman named Herodias, who was married to his brother, Philip.

So Herod divorced his wife for no biblical reason.

And Herodious divorced Philip for no biblical reason.

And then they got together.

And John said that this was wrong.

And John kept saying it. “It is not lawful for you to have her.”

That is wrong. Leviticus chapter 18 and chapter 20 says so.

This was adultery. This was breaking the seventh commandment.

John was speaking truth to power.

John the Baptist was being John the Baptist.

“Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near.”

And he didn’t change his tune.

Even when he was thrown into prison. V.5

“Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.”

You know why?

Because he was one.

I think it’s really important to see that John does not back down.

He doesn’t bow to political pressure.

He doesn’t just say what Herod and Herodias want to hear.

John could have probably changed his tune and gotten out of there.

If you are careful around powerful people, you can get a lot of favor.

But John was a herald of the kingdom, and he didn’t stop.

He expected to be rejected!

And he even chose it.

He didn’t back down.

Do you need to see that today?

Do you need to be emboldened to speak the truth no matter what the consequences?

Not to become offensive by your manner or because of you opinions.

But to speak out for righteousness.
To speak out for truth.
To speak out for the coming kingdom. It’s near!
To speak out for Jesus.

Is there somebody you need to rebuke?

I hate rebuking someone.

Ugh! It’s not so bad when I can do it from up here and be generic.

But when I need to get into someone I love’s face and call them to repent.

Oh man, I don’t like to do that.

Because I don’t want to be rejected in return.

I don’t want them to put their fingers in their ears like Herod did here.

Like Herodias did, too.

They did not want to hear this.

They had ignored their consciences, and they did not want John to reawaken them.

Turn that around for a second.

Perhaps you are being like Herod and Herodias right now.

You know what is right and what is wrong, but you have chosen the wrong, and you don’t care. And you don’t want to hear about it.

Don’t go there.

Don’t stay there.

Don’t choose that.

It is not safe or good to go against your conscience.

Don’t make up stories about how everybody’s doing it.

Or how science has shown that it’s okay.

Or how you only do it a little.

Don’t make excuses and don’t run from your conscience.

“Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Herod was a very weak man.

He wouldn’t kill John (not because he didn’t want to) but because he was scared to.

But then he was given an opportunity. On his birthday. V.6

“On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias [by her previous marriage] danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked.”

What kind of dance was that?

I’m trying not to imagine.

This was Herod’s niece by marriage and great-niece by blood.

And she was doing what was probably an erotic dance on his birthday, and he was loaded and had no self-control and promised to give this girl whatever she asked.

So she asked Mommy. And Mommy said, “Let’s kill John.” v.8

“Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.’ The king was distressed [and should have repented of his oath], but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.”

This really happened.

It’s gruesome and ghoulish.

And wrong.

Herod was ruled by his lust and pride and fear.

He looked like the most powerful person in the room, but he was really the weakest.

Don’t allow yourself to be ruled by your lust and pride and fear and hate.

And he had John killed and the party screeched to a halt as they brought his severed head in on a platter.

And then the band started back up, and the party went on.

And, friends, this is what happens right now while we wait for the kingdom to come in all of its fullness.

Expect to be rejected.

Choose to be rejected! Even if it means going against your friends and family and community.

And especially if it means choosing the kingdom of God over the kingdoms of this world.

Speak out for truth.
Speak out for the coming kingdom. It’s near!
Speak out for Jesus. He’s the king.

But don’t expect everybody to like it.

Expect at least at times to be rejected.

That’s how they treated the prophets who were before you.

Now, this is the end of our story for today.

And it’s a sad place to end. It ends with a burial. V.12

“John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”

And it’s going to make Jesus very sad, as well.

But it’s not the end of John the Baptist story.

Not the very end.

Is it?

No, they had done their worst, and it was only a beheading.

Remember what Jesus told the disciples before their missions trip?

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

That’s what John did.

John had the fear of the Lord.

So he didn’t have the fear of Herod.

That’s why he could be so bold.

And he knew the promise of God.

He knew the flipside of the Last Beatitude.

#2. EXPECT TO BE REWARDED.

Listen again to the Last Beatitude:

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven...”

We tend to think that the worst thing that could ever happen to us is that we would be beheaded.

But the worst thing would be if we weren’t beheaded because we had denied King Jesus!

One day, John the Baptist will rise again.

Herod was right about that though he was wrong to think that who Jesus was.

But one day John the Baptist will have a whole new body in a whole new world.

Right now, he enjoys living in the presence of God.

“Great is his reward in heaven” because He was faithful!

And great will be his reward in the new heavens and new earth.

We can’t wrap our minds around that, but we should try.

And we should live for that day right now.

You know, all of this prefigures, both the Cross and the Resurrection.

Jesus was rejected, not just by His hometown, but by everyone who should have received Him.

“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

He died and then He rose again.

He was rejected, and then He was restored.

And, amazingly, we get the reward!

Jesus lived the Last Beatitude perfectly, and it has made all of the difference.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom

Friday, January 11, 2019

Blacksmithing vs. Bladesmithing

Guest Post by Andrew Mitchell of Anuron Ironworks

Contrary to what some people believe, not all blacksmiths are bladesmiths. Blacksmithing is a wider category than bladesmithing, encompassing architectural and artistic work, bladesmithing and toolmaking, and a couple other categories. In fact some of the best blacksmiths in the world have never made a knife in their lives.

Bladesmithing is the art and craft of making blades, specifically, using heated metal to shape bladed objects. Despite this, making a blade usually requires a large amount of grinding. Establishing bevels, cutting in profiles, and shaping handles are often done on the grinder. There are many types of blades that the bladesmith can forge. Beyond just knives there are axes, chisels, swords, and many other tools and weapons to be made. Bladesmithing is versatile and has many purposes but is still only one subset of the expansive craft of blacksmithing.

Blacksmithing is the art and craft of shaping hot steel. Most forging is done with a hammer and anvil, beating the steel into the desired shape. Rivets, tongs, firepokers, gates, and all the blades mentioned before are made by blacksmiths. Blacksmithing tends to be more focused on the heat-and-beat aspect of metal work rather than all the grinding that goes into bladesmithing, but it’s not uncommon for blacksmiths to expand their knowledge to cover many crafts. The category of blacksmithing contains bladesmithing but is not limited to it.

The confusion among the layfolk is understandable. There are similarities. Both, for example, are metalwork. Blades are forged using techniques of blacksmithing, hot steel and hammers. Many blacksmiths are also bladesmiths and all bladesmiths are blacksmiths. If that’s confusing enough. Alec Steele, the premier blacksmith on YouTube, is known for forging everything from shelf brackets to claymores. Confusing the craft(s?) is easy. And some aspects of them are actually the same thing, and therefore can correctly be lumped under that same label.

Not all blacksmiths are bladesmiths. It may be accurate to say that someone is blacksmithing when they are making a blade, but please don’t assume that all blacksmiths also makes knives. It won’t hurt anyone to use the wrong word, but maintaining correct terminology can be important if you want to avoid ridicule and not annoy the blacksmith.

***


Editor's note: This article was originally a brief compare and contrast writing assignment. I enjoyed the cranky-old-man feel of it so much I got permission to publish it here. For more about my son the blacksmith and his work, check out his YouTube Channel and popular Etsy shop. He is both a blacksmith and a bladesmith! In this video, he makes the "Toucan" Knife pictured above.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “The Treasure of the Kingdom”

“The Treasure of the Kingdom”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
January 6, 2019 :: Matthew 13:44-52 

It’s been a few weeks since we were in Matthew 13 together. We were in Matthew last week for the baptisms, but we jumped to the end of the book. The week before that was Christmas Sunday. So it has been a couple of weeks since were in Matthew 13 together.

You can sum up Matthew 13 with four words: “Parable. Of. The. Kingdom.”

Matthew crams 7 or 8 of Jesus’ parables into one chapter. The third major block of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew. At this point in His ministry, Jesus almost exclusively using parables–enigmatic stories, riddles, short allegories to teach about Jesus’ favorite subject.

Let me ask you a question:

What was Jesus’ favorite subject to teach on?

It wasn’t the Cross.

You could say that it was His identity. Because that pops up again and again.

But I think that Jesus would answer that question with these four words:

The. Kingdom. Of. Heaven.

The Kingdom of God was Jesus’ favorite subject to teach on.

Remember how He began His ministry?

“Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near.”

And remember the Sermon the Mount?

That was a like a Kingdom Manifesto!

He described how He wants us to live as citizens of the upside-down, inside-out Kingdom of Heaven.

And He taught us to pray to our Heavenly Father, “Your kingdom come!”

And the prayer group on Wednesday night just went back over what we are to seek first, above everything else that we might be tempted to run after. What was it?

“Seek first _____________” The kingdom!

Jesus loved to talk about the kingdom of heaven.

And in chapter 13, He has been using parables to do it.

Jesus told His disciples that He was using parables so much because parables were the perfect kind of stories to both reveal His kingdom to those who trust and follow Him and to conceal His kingdom from those who do not want it.

For those who want the kingdom, they “get” the parables, and they get the kingdom.

For those who reject the kingdom, they don’t “get” the parables, and they certainly don’t get the kingdom.

Strangely enough, these parables that Jesus taught reveal to us what is really going on in our world.

Because things are not as they might seem.

Last time, we looked the parables in verses 24 through 43, and we learned that the kingdom has come, is coming, and one day will come in all of its fullness.

This kingdom does not operate on our time schedule.

This kingdom does not operate as we might expect.

But it has come (however small at first, a small as divinely conceived embryo), is coming (slowly but surely), and one day will come in all of its fullness.

In verse 43 Jesus said, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” That’s what’s really going on!

Now, today, I just want us to look at verses 44 through 52.

There are 4 more parables here, and they go over some of the same territory as the ones we’ve already been studying so far in chapter 13.

They bring this section of Jesus’ Parabolic Teaching to a fitting conclusion.

And there is one major idea about the kingdom that is really emphasized in these 9 verses.

And that is this–that the kingdom of heaven is a treasure.

The kingdom of heaven is of supreme value.

The kingdom of heaven is unimaginably precious.

That’s the main idea especially of these first two parables.

Now, this is a crazy little story.

It’s really fun. We just studied it together in-depth a year and a half ago at Family Bible Week 2017 when we did the geocaching, remember?

It’s a very short story, but there’s a lot in there.

A treasure is hidden in a field.
A man finds it in the field.
The man hides it again in the field.
The happy man sells all of his stuff and buys the field.
End of story.

Now, don’t get hung up on the legality of what the man did in this story.

This parable is not here to teach the ethics of finding buried treasure.

Jesus is not teaching about what to do or what not to do if you find a treasure buried in a field.

It was definitely legal and depending on the situation could have been ethical, too, but even if not, it’s not the point.

It’s just a detail of the story, not the point.

The point is just how valuable the treasure was.

Did you see that?

This guy was so happy to have found this treasure, that He went and sold how much of his stuff?

All that he had.

Can you imagine?

What all do you have?

Imagine liquidating everything you have.

You go to the bank, and you withdraw all of your money.

You sell your house, your vehicles; you cash in your retirement plan.

You put every single thing you have into one cashier’s check, and you go to the realtor’s office, and you put it down on that one field.

Because it has that one treasure that’s worth it all!

That’s what this man did!

Now, what is the treasure?

Some people think that we are the treasure, and Jesus is the man in the story.

And I get why they say that. Because He gave us His all for us.

And, of course, we could never purchase our salvation either.

But I don’t think that’s where Jesus is going with this.

All of the clues point towards the treasure being the kingdom itself.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.”

Now, before we camp on the idea of the supreme value of the kingdom, I want to point out again that the kingdom is hidden.

Hidden like a seed in the ground. Remember that from the other parables?

Hidden like yeast in the bread.

This whole chapter has been about how the kingdom has a hiddenness to it.

Let me put it this way: The kingdom of heaven is miss-able.

It is find-able, but it is also miss-able.

The kingdom in its present form can be overlooked.

It can be missed.

It’s hidden in plain sight. But it can also be easily overlooked.

Think about how many people might have walked right on by this treasure in this field.

It was there all the time.

But this guy stumbled upon it.

Can you see the kingdom of heaven right now?

A lot of people don’t.

One day it will be unmistakable. When the mustard seed grows into the mustard tree and the birds of the air nest in its branches.

But right now, there is a hiddenness to it.

In the next story, the main character is actually searching.

The first guy just stumbled upon the treasure by accident.

But this guy was looking for something special. V.45

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Here’s point number one:

#1. IF YOU FIND THE KINGDOM, YOU HAVE FOUND EVERYTHING.

This merchant was willing to part with everything he had to possess that one pearl.

It was priceless.

That’s the kingdom!

If you find the kingdom of heaven, you have found everything.

Now the point here is not that we gain the kingdom by buying it with everything we have.

We cannot earn the kingdom.

That’s impossible!

Jesus is not teaching us how to gain the kingdom but just how valuable it is.

It’s worth absolutely everything.

So the point is to treat kingdom with the all-surpassing value that it truly has.

To cherish the kingdom as the treasure that it really is.

Do you have the kingdom?

Then you have everything!

Rejoice!

And don’t value anything above it.

What is your favorite Christmas gift this year?

I’m guessing that everybody got something for Christmas this year even if you have had to buy it and wrap it for yourself.

“Ooo. I’ll get myself a little something.”

Which present is your favorite? Don’t say it out loud or you might disappoint or anger your neighbor.

Now how much is that present worth to you?

Is it worth more than all of the other presents?

Is it worth more than your house or your family or your job?

You see the kingdom of heaven, the active reign and rule of King Jesus over His joyful people and over all of His renewed creation is worth more than anything else.

Because if you have this kingdom, you have everything.

The question is do we treasure the kingdom?

Do we act as if the kingdom is our treasure?

Not “Can we buy the kingdom by selling all that we have?”

If we could, we should. Because it’s worth that!

But we can’t.

But what can we do to show that we value it above everything else?

Well, one thing we can do is to live out its values.

We treasure the kingdom when we live as citizens of the kingdom.

When we live out the Sermon on the Mount for example.

Upside-down. Inside-out.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Upside-down. Inside-out.

From the heart out.

Where is your treasure?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We treasure the kingdom when we live as citizens of the kingdom.

And yes, when we give of our time, talents, and other treasures.

The question is do we live our lives as if the kingdom was our all-surpassing treasure?

Do we live as if the King of this kingdom, King Jesus, was the most important Person in our lives?

This is the first Sunday of 2019.

What needs to change in your life and mine in 2019 to show the world that the kingdom of heaven is our greatest treasure?

That we have found it?

We get it!

We’ve found it!

We have found Jesus and His kingdom, and our lives show it.

Because there is flipside to this truth, and Jesus gives it as a warning in the next parable. V.47

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Let’s put it this way.  If you find the kingdom, you have found everything, but:

#2. IF YOU MISS THE KINGDOM, YOU HAVE LOST EVERYTHING.

This parable is a lot like the one about the wheat and weeds, isn’t it?

It’s just fishing not farming.

And it’s focused on the of the story which is the end of history when the kingdom comes.

There will be a great sorting.

This dragnet goes down in the water and brings everything up.

And then there is a sorting, a judgment.

Good fish in baskets.
Bad fish (unclean, inedible, rotten, whatever, bad fish) thrown away.

And Jesus explains it very clearly.

The good fish are the righteous.

And the bad fish are the wicked.

The righteous are those who belong to the kingdom.

They are the ones who are trusting in Jesus and cherishing Jesus and treasuring Jesu and His kingdom.

And the wicked couldn’t care less.

They are the ones who have rejected the kingdom, overlooked the kingdom, didn’t “get” the kingdom, didn’t want the kingdom and didn’t live out the values of the kingdom.

They lived what seemed right-side-up to them and from the outside only.

And Jesus says that they will go into a fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

If you miss the kingdom, you have lost everything.

Don’t miss it.

Turn from your sins and trust in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

He died for sinners like you and me.

The kingdom is given to those who know they are not worthy of it, but still want it.

And trust in the King and His sacrifice to give it to them.

Remember, the kingdom may be hidden now, but it is find-able.

And one day, it will be all that there is.

And those who have not joined the kingdom now will not be a part of it then.

One more.

Jesus asks them a question. V.51

“‘Have you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked. ‘Yes,’ they replied. [And I think they are probably overestimating how much they truly understand. But they are beginning to get it, too, I think. [Okay. Jesus says. V.52] He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”

Last parable. Here’s the point:

#3. IF YOU KNOW THE KINGDOM, YOU SHOULD SHARE IT WITH EVERYONE.

Jesus says, “It’s great that you’ve got it. The mysteries of the kingdom are opening to you, but you’re not supposed to keep them to yourself.”

If you know the kingdom, you should share it with everyone who needs to hear about it.

“[E]very teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven [that’s you know. You’ve been told about the kingdom...] is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”

“Let me show you what I got in here!”

I’ve got some great old stuff.

I think that’s the Old Testament.

All of the promises in it are true and coming true.

All of what the Old Testament taught about the kingdom will be fulfilled.

“But that’s not all I’ve got in here. Let me show you this treasure.”

You see that word “treasure?”

“I’ve got some new stuff here. Parables. Parables that say that the kingdom may not come like you would have expected by reading your Old Testament.

It’s all that. But it’s also hidden. Miss-able. Quiet. Like a seed. Like yeast. Like treasure buried in a field. Like a pearl among a bunch of other pearls.

It’s like that, too.

But let me tell you about it so you see it, too.

Let me tell you about it so you find it, too.

Let me tell you about this treasure so you treasure it, too.”

Friends, in 2019, let’s tell the world about the kingdom of heaven.

Let’s not keep this to ourselves.

It’s too good to keep to ourselves!

Let’s pull out the old and the new and tell people about the treasure of the kingdom.

***

Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples

Monday, December 31, 2018

Books I Read in 2018

Recently I've been posting my end-of-the-year book lists: my top Christian nonfiction books of 2018, other highly recommended books I read, a special focus on race, racism, and racial reconciliation, and my favorite novels read in 2018.

Today, I'm posting the full list of books I completed* this year:

1. As You Wish by Cary Elwes
2. Repentance and the 21st Century Man by C. John Miller
3. A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles [my review, a top book of 2018]
4. The Problem of God by Mark Clark [my review]
6. Big Money by P.G. Wodehouse
6. Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson [my review, a top book of 2018]
7. Deep Work by Cal Newport [my review]
8. Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr. [my review]
9. The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse
10. Do We Not Bleed? by Daniel Taylor [my review, favorite fiction of 2018]
11. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline [my review]
12. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Samantha Clarke
13. He Who Gives Life by Graham Cole [my review, a top book of 2018]
14. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass [my review]
15. Forged by Liam Hoffman [my review]
16. Reset by David Murray [my reviewa top book of 2018]
17. The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson [my review]
18. A Well-Regulated Militia by Saul Cornell [my review]
19. Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie [my review]
20. A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card [my review]
21. Camino Island by John Grisham
22. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon [my review]
23. Those Who Hope by Tim Stafford [my reviewfavorite fiction of 2018]
24. Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse
25. The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross by Patrick Schreiner [my review]
26. Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings [my reviewa top book of 2018]
27. iGen by Jean Twenge [my review]
28. Fallen Into A Pit by Ellis Peters
29. Not Yet Married by Marshall Segal [my review]
30. Death and the Joyful Woman by Ellis Peters
31. The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield [my reviewa top book of 2018]
32. The Lions of Lucerne by Brad Thor
33. Trust and Obey by Michael Youssef
34. Once a Spy by Keith Thomson
35. Money for Nothing by P.G. Wodehouse
36. Same-Sex Attraction and the Church by Ed Shaw [my review]
37. A Higher Loyalty by James Comey
38. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles [my reviewfavorite fiction of 2018]
39. Flight of a Witch by Ellis Peters
40. All the World’s a Stage by Boris Akunin
41. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
42. The Sermon on the Mount by D.A. Carson
43. The Sermon on the Mount by Charles Quarles
44. The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing by Jonathan Pennington [a top book of 2018]
45. Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein
46. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
47. The Humans by Matt Haig
48. Spiritual Gifts by Thomas Schreiner
49. The Small Bachelor by P.G. Wodehouse
50. Transgender by Vaughan Roberts
51. Clinch by Zachary Bartels
52. All Saints Day by Zachary Bartels
53. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
54. Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel
55. All That Is in God by James Dolezal
56. The Piper on the Mountain by Ellis Peters
57. Grief: Walking with Jesus by Bob Kelleman [my review]
58. Superheroes Can’t Save You by Todd Miles [my review, a top book of 2018]
59. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
60. Sam the Sudden by P.G. Wodehouse
61. Virgil Wander by Leif Enger [my reviewfavorite fiction of 2018]
62. On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior
63. The Irregular by H.B. Lyle
64. None Like Him by Jen Wilkin [my review]
65. Black Is the Colour of My True Love’s Heart by Ellis Peters
66. Wings of Fire by Charles Todd
67. Sleep No More by P.D. James
68. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
69. Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
70. Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson
71. After an Affair: Pursuing Restoration by Michael Gembola
72. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe


***

* As in previous years, these are books I finished reading in 2018, not the ones I started or the ones I didn't get done. That list would be a LOT longer! I read a bunch of them for escapist fun, a few for/with my family, and a lot of them just to learn and grow. They aren't listed (perfectly) in the order I read them. Some of them I am reading for a second or third time (or more!).

As I say each and every year--I'm not endorsing these books just because they are listed here. Some of them are really good and some are really bad. Most are somewhere in between. Read with discernment.

Here's the article where I explain why I post these.

Lists from previous years:

2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008 (first half, second half)
2007 (first half, second half)
2006 (first half, second half)
2005 (first half, second half)

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Favorite Fiction of 2018

The last few days, I've been sharing my favorite reads of 2018 [top 7, another great 8].

But I don't just read Christian nonfiction books. I also get to read novels, short stories, and other fiction. A lot of what I read is escapist fiction just for fun and relaxation. For that purpose, I especially enjoy murder mysteries and science fiction thrillers. But in the course of a year, I also get to read some really good novels that are good for more than just escaping into another world. For example, I just finished Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin which shouldn't have surprised me at being so good as it was the best-selling American book of the 19th century, but it was a real page turner (and I got to see what was so explosive about it in the lead-up to the Civil War). Speaking of the Civil War, I also read Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels which I couldn't put down. I read it in every free moment over about four days. Shaara tells the story of the battle of Gettsyburg from the perspective of the commanders, and the way he does it--you'd think he had been there inside of their heads. It won a Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1975.

Here my top four newer novels which I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing in 2018:

4. Those Who Hope by Tim Stafford

I'm a big fan of Tim Stafford's writing, so I was interested to see what he would do with a book set in an urban gospel mission among the homeless, hurting, and addicted.

I think I can say that I enjoyed reading Those Who Hope, though I’m not sure that “enjoy” is the right word. Stafford has written a book that is good art–it makes you think and feel meaningful things about the world–but the things it makes you think and feel are uncomfortable, unpeaceful, not pleasurable. The characters in this book experience suffering and are often the cause of their own suffering, their own worst enemies. And Stafford shows how relentless that sin and suffering cycle can be. He captures the very real and very heartbreaking pattern of addiction. Even the most virtuous main character feels always ready to succumb once more.

There is hope in this book, and not just in the title. But the hope is not Pollyanna-ish. It’s a chastened hope. There is no over-realized eschatology where the characters stop being fallen and hurting people and everything is happy-ever-after. That day is still in the future in reality and in this work of art. The recovery (and redemption) is very realistic.

As I said in my fuller review of this self-published novel, Those Who Hope is "recommended for those who appreciate satisfying art about the unsatisfying parts of life."

3. Do We Not Bleed? by Daniel Taylor

I loved Daniel Taylor’s first Jon Mote mystery, especially getting inside the voice-filled head of the main character with all of his seemingly random yet deeply insightful (and completely hilarious!) thoughts vectoring off in all directions and leaving no allusion unturned. I also loved meeting Jon’s special and sweet sister, Judy, who, though limited and hurt in obvious ways, was also more able than most people to see things as they are really are and to trust Jesus no matter what. It wasn’t perfect (the murder mystery plot kind of fizzled), but it was deeply satisfying and thought provoking.

It seemed, however, unrepeatable. Boy, I’m glad I was wrong about that!

Jon Mote is back again. A little more “hinged” this time. A little more “together.” But not all the way there. You feel the whole time like he might be pulled under by the currents in his own mind. This time, there is a murder among the residents of the group home at which Judy lives and Jon works. The setting is perfect for sharp thinking about disability, personhood, dignity, and the image of God. It’s also good for guffaws and belly laughs. Taylor’s mind is very nimble! I disappeared into this book for several hours and came out with a big grin on my face.  [Read the rest of my review here including my disclaimers of who should or shouldn't read Do We Not Bleed?]

2. Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Leif Enger is one of my top 5 fiction authors of all time. Heather and I come back to his first two novels again and again and love to read them out loud to each other on couch-dates. So I was incredibly excited to learn that he had come out with a new book.

I was not disappointed, though I'm not sure at all how to summarize it in a review. So far all I've been able to say is:

"Fulsome, toothsome, and gentle.

This is my first experience of Virgil Wander, and I hope he’d appreciate these adjectives."

As Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young, and Handsome, Enger's newest book also defies description and categorization. Read it for yourself.

[By the way, treat yourself by listening to this superb lecture by Leif Enger on why we need to read for pleasure.]

1. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The playful prose is what hooks you.

But the fascinating cast of characters intertwining their lives of both joy and sorrow in surprising ways is what keeps you reading.

And before you know it, you are carried away in a tide of beautiful storytelling to the gratifying conclusion.

A Gentleman in Moscow was my absolute favorite read of 2018. It was perfectly delightful. The author turns words into gold.

Read my full review which was also one of my favorites to write in 2018.

[Matt's Messages] "Baptizing the Disciples"

“Baptizing the Disciples”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
December 30, 2018 :: Matthew 28:16-20 

Well, I know that we want to get to the testimonies and the dunkings, but first I want to say a few words drawn from Matthew chapter 28, verse 19 this morning before we do.

So, if you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to the end of the gospel of Matthew.

The very last chapter, the very last paragraph, where this whole book we’ve been studying is driving towards.

Matthew chapter 28, verses 16 through 20, especially verse 19.

Because I want to say a word about what is going on up here with all of this water and this dunking and these testimonies and this thing called “Christian baptism.”

What is that?

And what isn’t that?

Whenever I teach my baptism class (and these two have recently gone through it with me), we always start with a little thing where I say what baptism is NOT.

Baptism is NOT necessary for salvation nor saving in itself.

Can you think of anybody in the New Testament who was saved and became a follower of Christ and was NOT baptized?

I can. It’s hard to do, because the normal pattern in the New Testament is to trust in Jesus, become saved, and then get baptized. It happens over and over again in the Book of Acts.

But what about the thief on the Cross?

Did he believe? Yes, he did.

Did his life change? Yes, it did. He went from hurling insults at Jesus to asking Jesus to remember him when He came into his kingdom.

And what did Jesus say? “I’m sorry, buddy, but you never got baptized, so you can’t be saved.”

No, that’s not what He said. He said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

So baptism doesn’t save you. It’s not magic. It doesn’t transform you from unsaved to saved.

Jesus does that! The amazing grace of Jesus does that through faith in Jesus.

Baptism is not necessary for salvation nor saving in itself.

So why do we do it?

Why are Dottie and Keith doing this today?

Answer: Because Jesus says so.

I love how authentic the Gospel of Matthew is.

If I were writing this, if it was the "Gospel of Matthew Mitchell," I would never have included verse 17. All that stuff about doubt.

“Then the eleven disciples [minus Judas now] went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go [just after he had been resurrected]. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

I love that!

Not because they doubted, but because it tells us the real history. Some of them did.

The way I picture it, they are approaching slowly, not quite believing what their eyes are telling them.

“Can Jesus really be alive?”

“I know that He was dead. Can this be true?”

And it is.

Because He speaks. V.18

“Then Jesus came to them [He walks right up them] and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Stop right there.

Do you remember how Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7)?

As One with authority.

Remember the authority we saw Jesus exercise in Matthew chapters 8, 9, 10, 11?

Well, on this side of the resurrection Jesus says that He has ALL of the authority that there is.

And what does King Jesus, with all of that authority command His followers to do?

Go and make disciples.

Go and make more followers of King Jesus.

What has been the title of our sermon series for this last year?

What has been the title of this series we’re doing on the Gospel of Matthew?

First slide every Sunday?

“Following Jesus”

That’s what we’re doing and what we’re helping others to do.

Our first Hide the Word verse for 2018?

Matthew 4:19, “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’"

That’s our mission.

That’s what we are here to do.

Make disciples of Jesus Christ under the complete authority of Jesus Christ.

Now, how do you do that?

Well, there’s a lot to it. The Gospel of Matthew has a lot so say here.

But it probably starts with what Jesus started with.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Turn from your sins and trust in the King.

And how do you mark that?

We come to verse 19.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations [all people groups around the world], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...”

There you go.

That’s what are doing this morning.

We are publicly marking out these 2 people as disciples of Jesus Christ.

And we’re doing it because Jesus said to.

Did you notice who is supposed to be baptized according to verse 19?

Is everyone supposed to be baptized?

No. It says to baptize the disciples. V.19 again.

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them [who’s the “them?” it’s the newly made disciples from the nations, baptizing the newly made disciples] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...”

Now, both of these people were raised in traditions that performed a rite of “baptism” on them when they were infants. Not just a baby dedication or a baby blessing like we did last week, but baptism that included water.

And Christians have been doing that in various traditions for over a thousand years.

Perhaps you experienced that yourself in a previous church tradition.

And perhaps you believe it to be a biblical practice.

Some of my best friends, including my pastor friends, believe the same way.

And by being baptized today, neither Dottie nor Keith intend any disrespect to their parents or to any of their brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree on this point of theology. They are thankful for those who loved them and took them faithfully to church way back then.

But both of them have come to be convinced of what is called “believer’s baptism” or “disciple’s baptism” which I, too, think is the more biblical practice.

The command given to the apostles and the church in the Great Commission is to make disciples and baptize the disciples.

Not people you want to become disciples.

But those who you believe have become disciples.

We don’t stand up at the Marketplace with Supersoakers and spray folks as they come out from buying their groceries and say, “Hey! You’re baptized!”

No, we tell people about Jesus. They repent of their sins and trust in Jesus and begin to follow Jesus and then we say, “Hooray! You’re a disciple! You need to be baptized as one!”

That’s what we are doing here today.

We believe that these two people are disciples, faith-followers of Jesus Christ.

And they have come to the church and said, “Please mark us out as disciples. We want to go public with our discipleship.

We want to follow Jesus in water baptism.”

Remember when Jesus was baptized in chapter 3?

He did it to identify with us.

We get baptized now to identify with Him! V.19 again.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them [the disciples] in the name [one name] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...”

Interesting isn’t it?

Three names but one name?

What does that remind you of?

Remember Who was there at Jesus’ baptism?

Jesus, the Son.
The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
And the Father with His booming voice, “This is My Son whom I love, with Him I am well pleased.”

Now, Jesus says, “Use this name when you baptize these disciples. The name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Baptism is identifying with the Triune God.

When Dottie and Keith are laid back into the water, they are identify with the Triune God, especially with the Son of God in His death and resurrection.

Buried into His death.
Resurrected into His life.

This, of course, is not the END of their discipleship but a symbol of its beginning.

I’ll let them tell their own stories, but both of them have actually known the Lord for some time.

They just have never told the world in the way that Jesus here commands.

And they want to fix that.

So they are getting baptized.

But this is a symbol of their discipleship.

Because Jesus doesn’t stop with their baptism, and neither should the church.

Because verse 20 follows verse 19.

“...baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AND teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...”

That’s what a disciple does.

A disciple learns to obey everything Jesus says to do.

Not just the stuff that we want to do.

Everything.

Even take up our own crosses.

That’s our current Hide the Word verse. Isn’t it? Matthew 16:24

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”

These two have counted the cost of discipleship and have said, “Count me in.”

It will not always be easy.

They will also not be alone.

Because Jesus ended verse 20 by saying, “And surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.”

Dottie and Keith, as you take this step of discipleship, and this church affirms your discipleship, you can know that you are never going to be alone.

We will walk with you in following Jesus.

And more importantly, Jesus will walk with you, ALWAYS to the very end of the age.

Let’s pray for these two as they come up here and then they can share their stories with us.

And then unbeknownst to them, I’ve also asked a couple of their friends and loved ones to share a little a testimony of what they have seen of God’s work in their lives.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

More Good Books from 2018

Yesterday, I named seven of my "top books of 2018." Today, I want to share several of the other good nonfiction books that I had the privilege of reading in the last twelve months.

These eight books may not have affected me as deeply or tripped as significant change as yesterday's list, but they are all books that I highly appreciated and highly recommend, filling an important hole in the literature and meeting specific needs of the church.


I haven't gotten to write a formal review of this one, but it is definitely one of the best books on this topic in print (and I've read a good number of them).

The subtitle says so much, "The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life." 

Shaw speaks from personal experience and biblical conviction. He examines nine common missteps and myths with clarity, compassion, and persuasiveness and then also lays out a positive case for the biblical position.

Several times as I read I said out loud, "Aha." and "Right. That's the way to say that."

I will be giving it away to many others.

He Who Gives Life by Graham Cole

Last Spring, our Stay Sharp district theology conference was about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. To prepare my mind, I read Graham Cole's book on the subject in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series.

In my review, I emphasized how it is a model of theological methodology:
I learned not only from what he wrote but how he wrote it. It’s careful, learned, and cheerful. He does an excellent job of providing balancing perspectives on the many controversial questions about the Holy Spirit. At times, I wished he was more decisive and less tentative about his exegetical and theological decisions, but that just shows how difficult some of the judgment calls are to make in this arena. Wherever a strong conclusion was required by the either the importance of the question or the preponderance of the biblical evidence, Cole did not hesitate to reach it or state it. If I could write a book on this level, I would want to do it on this model.

Even though it was Jesus' favorite thing to teach on, there is surprisingly too little written by evangelicals about the kingdom of God. Schreiner not only does a fine job of doing biblical theology on the subject, showing how the kingdom doctrine develops throughout  unfolding redemptive history.

I especially appreciated how he connected the dots between parts of the Bible that often get overlooked when talking about the kingdom.

But the best part for me was how he tied the doctrine of the kingdom to the doctrine of the atonement. I said it this way in my review:
At first I thought that Schreiner had forgotten his subtitle. The cross is hardly mentioned in the introduction and isn’t mentioned by name in the first chapter. But it’s always there, just being progressively revealed. I think Schreiner was intentionally building towards the cross to mirror the way the Bible itself reveals it. So in the first chapter, he shows in the Law how “sacrifice is at the center of the kingdom plan,” in the second chapter in the Prophets he talks about the suffering servant, in the third chapter on the Writings, he talks about righteous suffering.
And then in the New Testament section, the cross comes more clearly into focus.
The book concludes with a reflective chapter bringing the twin foci of kingdom and cross together. “The kingdom is not a higher or more important theme than the cross. These two realities are forever joined; separating them is an act of violence. If the kingdom is the goal, then the cross is the means. But this does not mean that the cross simply falls between the ages. Rather, it is the wheel that shifts one age into another; it is the great transition place, the turn of the ages for the people of God seeking their place” (pg.136-137).
Amen!

Not Yet Married by Marshall Segal

I have four teenagers, ages 14-18. I want to prepare them for being Christian adults and give them a biblical worldview out of which to operate in the whole sphere of singleness, dating, courtship, and preparing for marriage.

This is the book for that.

It's been a while since I read very much for young adults focused on relationships. What I really appreciated about Segal's book (which you can download for FREE at DesiringGod!) is that it isn't focused on dos-and-donts (even though they are in there) but more about walking with the Lord in that season of life (however long) in which you are single and walking with the Lord in that season of your life (if it comes) in which you are moving towards marriage with someone. 

This is a book about wisdom.

None Like Him by Jen Wilkin

Wilkin surprised me by writing a book about how I am not God.

(I'm afraid I definitely needed the reminder.)

I thought she was writing a book about the incommunicable attributes of God. And she was. She writes about how "God is self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, infinite, and incomprehensible."

But then I thought she would explain how those attributes affect us today. And she was. But they way she did it was to develop how much you and I are not self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, infinite, and incomprehensible and what a difference that makes for us.

That was a unique take on the application of this theology, and it was very challenging and encouraging to my faith.

Grief: Walking with Jesus by Bob Kelleman

I expected a book about comfort but found a book that was first and foremost about Jesus. (Which was comforting but also challenging!)

This was the first book I got to read in the new 31 Day Devotional for Life series from P&R. I'm slowly working through the rest of them (the one on pursuing restoration after an affair is particularly good, as well.) I was thankful that my friend Bob sent me an advanced copy of this one to read before they came out [read the first chapter on his website].

Because it was focused on Jesus's whole life story with a specific focus on the Man of Sorrow's experience of grief, Kelleman's book was full of surprises, especially how much it emphasized loving others while experiencing loss and also "holy disappointment"--an idea we don't normally think much about.

I will be giving this one away regularly because, sadly, until Jesus returns the experience of loss will be universal.

The Problem of God by Mark Clark

I thoroughly enjoyed this new apologetics book by Pastor Mark Clark. Clark tackles some of the toughest challenges thrown at Christianity with reasonable, thoughtful, and readable(!) answers. It's definitely written for skeptics, not for the already-convinced (though we can profit from reading it, too). And there is a good dose of self-deprecating humor.

The thing I liked the best about The Problem of God was how up-to-date and relevant it is. Some of the skeptical arguments were ones that I've never seen addressed in a book-length treatment before. (ex. theories about the "Christ myth"). But I hear young people asking these very questions. It doesn't feel like "your father's apologetics book." 

I also appreciated that Clark didn't just deal with evidential or philosophical objections--but also personal roadblocks to belief like hypocrisy among Christians. One of the longest and best chapters is the one on Christianity and sex.

The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson

Wilson's book is a different angle on discipleship--the angle of grace. 

He says, “I want to, by God’s grace, give you the freedom to own up to your not having your act together. I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that make us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed” (pg. 230)

As I said in my review, "It’s not that he doesn’t encourage people to do Bible study, prayer, fellowship, confession, etc. He does. But he also shows how we do those things by grace and to access grace and how we aren’t measured at all by our performance of them. It’s not a practical how-to book but instead a very mind-orienting one."

Our small group read and discussed this book together over a few months and came away encouraged.

Tolle lege!