Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked

Hebrews 4 talks about rest for God’s people but no rest for the disobedient. Hebrews 4 and 4:5 is a callback to Psalm 95 and Numbers 14. The idea is this; God has rest for people to enter into but the disobedient do not and cannot enter into that rest.

The disobedient are called such because they refused God’s rule and reign. They did not want to submit to God’s authority. They wanted their own way and wanted to kill the leadership because they were tired of being in the desert. God’s rest is not for those who refuse Him, it is for those who follow Him.

What is the rest of God? The word used in Hebrews 4:9 tells us. The word is sabbatismos. In most translations, this is translated to sabbath rest, and the idea is a rest from toils and troubles. And this can look like a few things.

For one it is talking about the final rest we will enter into as God’s people. Revelation talks about the day when God restores all things and gives us rest from all pain and trouble. He will be with us and us with Him. It will be a perfect day (like not ending) that has no trouble in it. We as believers in the Messiah look forward to that day when we will rest with God.

But what about now? What about here? Can we enter that type of rest now? I say yes and we will look at one type of rest. Philippians 4:6 says that for the Christian, the follower of Christ there is a peace that surpasses all understanding. That is a type of rest. Peace is a beautiful thing that gives us rest.

When we follow Jesus, the world does not all of a sudden become perfect, in fact, I would argue that it often gets harder. This is because to accept Christ and the peace He gives and brings is to accept His rule and reign. We now belong to a different kingdom with a whole different set of rules. But we have a secret weapon, sabbatismos.

The rest God gives us can be external and internal. External is His provision. Internal is a peace that comes from following Jesus’ rule. The internal peace that gives us calm in the storm and rest when we are weary. It often comes from doing things that seem country to wisdom.

An example might help. Some years ago, I felt God leading me to leave my job and start a handyman/contracting company. We had one possible job lined up and that was it. To leave my current job meant leaving financial stability which meant my kids might go hungry. However, I was unhappy at work and needed more time for ministry. Once I was certain God was leading me to take this leap, I had immense peace. The money came in as we needed it until it didn’t, but we had peace and saw the hand of God providing. We had rest even though it was scary and hard.

The rest God promises is just that, a promise. We are guaranteed His peace. Jesus says, the Scriptures testify to it, and God keeps His promises.

Just a Thought,

Mike

Titus 1:10-16 – Falsehood and Faith

We have to remember with this section in Titus and the whole Bible that the things we read do not exist in isolation. Last week we looked at what a Christian leader, what the church should look like.

False Teachers / False Teaching 10-12

As God’s people, we need to be able to identify false teaching!

What did the false teachers teach in Paul and Titus’ day?

  • Adhering to the Jewish way of life
    • Dietary rules
      • Keep a kosher diet – no bacon
      Asceticism
      • Don’t touch certain things
      Observance of festivals
      • Sabbaths, new moons, Yom Kippur, Jubilee
    • Circumcised
      • Physical sign of the covenant

These were things you must do to be considered an Israelite. These were the commands from God to Moses to belong to the covenant people Israel. In the minds of the Jewish people teaching this there was no other way to be connected to the promises of God. Judaism was not contextual. The Gospel in its beauty, simplicity, and focus on the person of Christ is amazingly contextual. And that was true.

That was true until Jesus came and established the New Covenant (agreement) by His blood:

“Cancel[ling] the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Col 2:14

What was required is no longer required. Now what is required is faith in the Son of God!

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

If you do this, you are part of the New Covenant

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:33-34

If anyone tells you that you need to do something more than believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to receive Him and be part of this New Agreement with God, then that is false, and they are teaching something false.

Now false teaching and false teachers is bad enough but these leaders in Crete were not just teaching false doctrine they were doing it for money. One is bad enough but the second makes it horrible. This is not something that is absent in our time. There are still those who teach false doctrine to make money. I will not name names, but we still have these people in our day and the antidote to false teaching is found in verses 13-14.

Silence false teachers so they will know the truth 13-14

As God’s people, we need to know the truth and why we speak the truth!

This is both silencing false teachers and proclaiming the truth. In doing this we follow God’s way of doing things. Read the prophets and you will find that God calls out falsehood to bring people back to truth. We silence, rebuke, and correct falsehood so those who believe it will know the truth. What does Scripture say?

“Rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith” Titus 1:13.

Any other motivation is wrong. We are calling people to repentance and reconciliation. We are to be reconciled to God and each other.

False teachers are not the enemy, false doctrine, false teaching, hypocrisy, and deceit these are the enemies. People who teach false teachings either by wrong motives or ignorance are to be instructed in righteousness so that they may know the truth. Do not make the person the enemy, but zealously combat falsehood and false teaching for the sake of truth and so that those who believe or think otherwise will know the truth for their good.

The motivation and the approach make all the difference. This requires a knowledge of truth and the way of righteousness.

Requires an understanding of the truth

To rebuke or silence false teachers requires that you have an understanding of the topic. It presupposes that you know how to handle the Word of God.

We have to remember 2 very important things when we read the book of Titus.

  1. Titus was written to Titus
  2. Titus was also written for us.

Titus was not a new believer or someone unfamiliar in the way of Righteousness. 2 Corinthians chapter 8 tells us that Titus had a history of working in difficult churches with bad or twisted doctrine. This was not his first rodeo. He knew how to rightly divide the Word of God.

How do we know the truth? We know the truth because we read the truth, and God’s word is true.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness 2 Tim 3:16

The Bible does not claim to be a helpful book, the Bible claims to be the Word of God given to us for revelation of who He is and what we need to know about Him.

We can rest in the fact that the Bible is reliable. We believe it because it is true and then we act in faith based on what it says.

How do we know the Bible is true? There are many ways. A few quick points.

  • When comparing manuscripts (copies) they have a 99.5% accuracy
  • There are over 20,000 New Testament manuscripts.
  • We have small manuscripts of the Gospel of John dated to about 100-150 AD
  • The Bible has been studied to show that it is an accurate record of what the original authors wrote.

This means we can trust that what we read is what was meant to be read!

“Faith is relying on what you have reason to believe is true and trustworthy. – JP Moreland.

Just an aside if you ever hear anyone saying, “oh the Bible was written at the Council of Nicaea.” That is 100% false. They did not talk about the Canon of Scripture at Nicaea, they debated Arianism

We need to know what the Bible says, believe what it says, and then teach what it says so that people will be sound in the faith! We must never shy away from the truth.

How does this Play Out?

There is truth, and Truth is important! We as God’s people must be students of truth. We must learn it to protect ourselves and others from falsehood.

  • There is truth
  • Truth is important
  • Truth leads to the way of life
  • Jesus is the way, truth, and the life.

We can read something like rebuking false teachers and some will shy away from that, and others will run to it because they like to fight. Either way, we must come at it from the right motivation. We must first have a desire to know the truth, to be students of truth, and then have a desire to share (in love) the truth of God.

This is not all there is because the Bible connects this idea of silencing false teachers with the right motivation and knowing the truth with a truth about us a people.

Your heart is revealed in your interpretation of life

To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled – Titus 1:15

As God’s people, we need to understand that our heart is revealed by the way we interpret life. If your heart is true and your desire is Christ, His righteousness, and His holiness, then that will be revealed by the way you interpret the world around you. If you have falsehood and deception, then that will come out too. You cannot hide what is in you.

Have you ever met someone who is always accusing someone of something? Usually, they are hiding something. The truth and guilt are trying to get out, so it comes out in perverse ways.

What is in you will come out and when it does it will either

  • set you free and lead to life
  • Come out as a perversion of the truth and keep you in bondage.
  • You choose.

The idea of being pure is of extreme importance. Jesus says that the pure in heart will see God. We need to be pure of heart to see Him because He is pure.

Your faith and works must match.

As God’s people, we need to understand that our faith and actions must match! In fact, your faith and your works will match because one informs the other.

They claim to know God, but they deny him through their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work. Titus 1:16

Just like your heart is revealed by your interpretation of life your faith is revealed by your works. The way you drive, the way you grocery shop, the way you interact with your spouse your kids, your boss, and your employees. If you claim to know God, then do your actions reflect that?

In the secret place, in the dark, is your faith showing?

Paul says to Titus that these false teachers claim to know God, but their actions disprove their claims. Our actions and our words must match.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? James 2:15-16 (NIV)

Remember we have talked about the fact that we are human beings and not human doings. Our doing comes out of our being and our being shows in our doing.

A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Luke 6:45

We cannot say one thing and then do something that is the opposite and expect everything to be ok. The truth will always come out. It always does.

Call to Action

We are to have the truth be real and alive in us just like Titus did before he went and called out falsehood in Crete.

We silence false teachers and false teaching because we know the truth. But that also means we silence the lies in our own life because the enemy has taught us.

  • You are not loved
  • You did too much
  • You cannot come back from that
  • No one likes you
  • You’re not pretty enough
  • You’re not smart enough
  • You’re not strong enough
  • You’re not enough

We rebuke the lies so that the truth will be known. Maybe today some of us need to stop looking around for false teachers and instead look at the lies we believe and tell ourselves to be silent and believe Jesus.

Just like we said with silencing false teachers; The motivation and the approach make all the difference.

Do not condemn yourself but instead tell yourself.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5

Before we run around and look for a false teacher to silence first make sure you kill the lies you believe!

Just a thought,

Mike

Scripture and You

66 Books

About 35-40 authors 

Covering everything from Creation to Final Redemption

About 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek)

Various professions from the writers: Shepherds, prophets, fishermen, and herdsmen.

A wide range of topics and genres. Prophecy, poetry, history, apocalyptic and more.

Depth that is almost beyond understanding. As St Augustine said, “the bible is shallow enough for a child to wade and deep enough for an elephant to swim.”

All with one central theme

He told them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Luke 24:44

The Word of God has brought down rulers and raised up the impoverished. It has been banned and celebrated. It is the most important book in human history but what do we do with it? 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to rightly divide the word of truth. 

Colossians 3:16 says “Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

I would answer the question of “what do we do with it” is this. We get into the Word of God, so the Word of God gets into us. The Word of God teaches us all about Christ and Salvation. It instructs us on righteousness and sanctification. It reveals truth and error. It is alive and it is active. The Word of God gives us access into the stream of God’s presence which is always there but sometimes hidden to us because God desires us to seek Him. If we want to encounter Jesus, if we want to put Jesus first, Scripture reading is an amazing way to enter the stream of God’s presence.

Why do we read it? 

Four brief reasons. 

  1. It is the Word of God. The Bible is everything we need to know regarding God and salvation.
    1. John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
    1. If we want to know God, if we want to know how to live a life that pleases Him, we must know what He has said?
  2. It is accurate and reliable. The Word of God has been studied, tested, and verified more than any other book in history.
    1. There are over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts cataloged, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages[i]
    1. Some of the oldest pieces date to about 125 AD.
  3. Because sometimes God is quiet when we pray and worship. But His Word, His record always speaks.
    1. In times of war, soldiers would write letters to their sweethearts. When they could not hear the voice of the one, they love they could go back and read what their beloved wrote. 
  4. Because it tells us who we are. The Bible, in addition to telling us what we need to know about God, and what we need to know about Jesus, tells us who we are.
    1. Outside of Christ you are lost and dead in your sins.In Christ, you are part of His body and live.
    1. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

We read the Word of God because it is everything we need to know about God, about us, and about the Messiah.

We must desire to read the Word of God. In marriage is it about devotion or service? Is it about love or provision? Is it about fulfilling needs or providing affection? The truth is it is about all of that. The same action can be done with different motivations and that produces different results. I can do the dishes or clean the house, so my bride does not have to because I love her, and I know she has a lot going on. Or I clean the house because I want to show her, I do things and I do it better than her anyway. The result is the house is clean, but the true result is my love either feels appreciated and loved or insecure because I made her feel that I don’t like the way she cleans. We can read the Word of God out of duty or out of reverence and love.

So how do we read it? 

Understand there are 2 basic ways of reading Scripture for the believer. You can read the Bible for information, and I have. But we are talking about interacting with the text not writing a report about it.

Devotionally & Instructionally – Generally people fall into one of two camps when it comes to Scripture. They either fall too heavily into devotion and look at the Bible as a source of inspiration or they fall too heavily into instruction where the Bible is wisdom. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Devotionally

You can read the Bible devotionally which means you are devoting yourself to a time of prayer, transformation, receiving, correction, worship, healing, or communion with God. 

Instructionally 

Reading the Bible instructionally is to read the Bible with a different set of questions. It is to ask what I am supposed to know about this and what do I do with it? Devotion can and does often overlap. When we need help, when we are confused, when we are seeking wisdom from Jesus we turn to the Word of God and read. Sometimes to see what He has said and done in other situations. Either way the point is this; To make Jesus first by turning our attention and desires towards Him.

Romans 12:2 says

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

To read the Bible is to place yourself in the hands of God and say, “transform me, Lord.” To read the Bible devotionally or instructionally is to read with an attitude and heart of Shema! Shema is Hebrew for Listen, but it is more than listen it is Listen and Obey.

The idea comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

It is to say I might not like what I read, I might not agree with what I read, I might not fully understand what I read, but I am willing to be molded by you Lord.

Practical Tools

Whether Devotionally or Instructionally I think these are two great tools you can use. These tools are just that tools. There is no magic formula. We must remember that the focus, the goal is Christ. Union, submission, and fellowship with Him. When we as followers of the Messiah read the Word of God we are reading because we want to place Jesus First and see Him first. We want to be with Him and more like Him.

We read it together

As we mentioned we are part of the body so one thing we can do is read it together. We read and study the Bible together in community. In Christ, you are part of His body and live.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 1 Peter 2:9

Understand Hyperbolic Discounting.

The larger or further away the goal the harder it is to achieve it. 

If you have never read the Bible or barely read it the challenge of reading the entire thing straight through can be such a great challenge you may fail, then feel defeated, then stop reading. 

Break It Up

Instead, break it up. Read a smaller book, and break that book up into chapters. Read sections. The Bible was not written with chapters and verses so while each book or section might be a cohesive thought it was generally not broken up the way we have it today. So, take chunks if you need to. If you are good at reading, then read whole books at a time.

Diver Deeper

  1. You can learn what different genres there are.
  2. You can read it with a notebook to write things down.
  3. You can highlight and write in it?

Information that Drives Devotion and Instruction 

When we read the Bible, we have to understand a few things.

  • Not everything written was written to you
    • It might be written for your information, for your understanding, for you to know history, or for God’s character but it does not mean it was written for you to do something.
  • Some things are prescriptive and some things are descriptive
  • Not everything in the Bible that is a promise is a promise to you
    • Not everything is a promise

We need to understand a few things as best as we can. I have heard people tell me “I don’t need to know all that stuff; the Holy Spirit will teach me.” True enough but God also gave you a brain and I think He expects you to use it.

I want to give you two tools that are amazing and can take your Scripture reading that capture the essence of what it means to read instructionally and devotionally. They are different but once you have been doing them for a little while they begin to bleed together and create something new and beautiful.  

You can learn The basic Interpretive Journey (Duvall and Hays) which involves five steps:

  1. Step 1: Grasping the Text in Their Town
    1. Question: What did the text mean to the biblical audience?
  2. Step 2: Measuring the Width of the River to Cross
    1. Question: What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?
  3. Step 3: Crossing the Principlizing Bridge
    1. Question: What is the theological principle in this text?
  4. Step 4: Consult the Biblical Map
    1. Question: How does our theological principle fit with the rest of the Bible?
  5. Step 5: Grasping the Text in Our Town
    1. Question: How should individual Christians today live out the theological principles?

Second is Lectio Divina:

This method of reading is quite different but very valuable. Christopher Jamison, former Abbot of Worth Abbey said of Scripture and reading this way ““the text is seen as a gift to be received, not a problem to be dissected….. let the text come to you” The goal is to interact with God through His Holy Word.

In school, I struggled with reading the Bible devotionally this way because all of my time was spent reading to write papers. Reading for instruction, learning the authors, dates, main points, and so on. I read because I was required to read and because I needed to be able to produce a result. This method throws that out the window and asks God to make the Bible come alive for you. To do this is to take it slow.

  • Select a Scripture passage upon which to reflect. …
  • Read the passage — preferably out loud — two or three times. …
  • Meditate on the word or phrase that stood out to you. …
  • Respond to God who has been speaking to you. …
  • Still yourself and rest in the loving embrace of your Maker.[1]


Again, the main point of this endeavor is to seek God and enter into His presence. To place Jesus first in all we do and seek Him above all else.

Just a thought,

Mike


[1] https://www.pbrenewalcenter.org/blog/contemplative-prayer-the-five-steps-of-lectio-divina/


[i] Wikipedia

Party and Salvation

People in NOLA love to party and we love to throw parties. Recently we had a block party and the turnout was great. We had about 150 people, 300 pulled pork sandwiches, bounce houses, music, and a salvation.

We don’t always think of a party as a spiritual event but heaven seems like it will be a party to me. After all we will spend eternity with God with no pain, no suffering, no worries, no war, just us and God. Sounds good to me. A lady came to our party and started talking to Andre and Julie. As the conversation progressed she talked about not knowing if she would go to heaven. After listening to her a bit more they simply asked her if she would like to know she can have eternal security and she said yes! Andre and Julie prayed with her and she received Jesus. It was an amazing time and makes us want to party!

Sealing of the Holy Spirit, pt 2

Ephesians 1:13-14

In Him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.

In the last post we started looking at these verses, today we will continue.

The sealing of the Holy Spirit is also part of the filling of the Holy Spirit. God gives us His Holy Spirit that we might be able to live the life we are called to live. As children of God, we are not left alone to figure this out. We are not left orphans but as Jesus promised another is here.

The sealing of the Holy Spirit empowers us and gives us the way to move forward as we follow God.

2 Peter 1:3 says,

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

The sealing of the Holy Spirit gives us the power to continue to follow after God. God marks us as His own and then gives us what we need to follow Him. We have power as God’s children. We have authority as His marked ones. We have access to everything we need because of the sealing of the Holy Spirit.

This marking gives us security, marks us as authentically Gods, and gives us what we need to follow after God. This in total gives us identity. Our identity is found in our markedness. When we are marked by God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, labeled as God’s chosen ones we have an identity that is unchangeable. Just like in a museum we see things that belonged to people and look at them in awe, wonder, or amazement because they belonged to a specific person, we have value because we are sealed, marked, and chosen by God. It is not in our own strength, power, or wisdom but because we are marked by God.

Our identity is in our belonging to God. This means you do not have to strive, vie, or insist on value it belongs to you because you belong to God. You belong to the King. You are a son or daughter of the Most High!

All people have value as image-bearers of God but as sealed ones, we have an unchangeable identity.

Next, what does it mean to mean that the Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance? Because we are owned and marked by the Creator we have more coming to us. God sets His seal upon us because of Christ’s work on the cross and rising from the grave. There is more coming.

As amazing as it is to be sealed by the Holy Spirit and to be empowered to live the life God calls us to it is only a shadow of what is to come. We have an unchangeable identity and destiny. In this world, we have trouble and tribulation. We have sickness. We have issues, to say the least, but the Holy Spirit is a promise that more and better is to come. Paul writes here and says that the Holy Spirit is a down payment. The sealing is not the full measure of what is to come but a promise that greater is coming.

When we think about the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, the signs the wonders, the healings, the power that is displayed we should see a picture of what is to come. On this side of eternity, we have pain, but the gifts are in part meant to show what is to come. What is to come is perfection, completion, total restoration. We should seek the gifts but we seek them to build up the church! (! Cor 14:12

We have the gifts now because we live in a world that requires gifts. When Christ comes back, we do not need those things because everything will be made new. We need the right view of eschatology. That is a fancy theology word for the end times. Sometimes people think that the end will come, and God will destroy everything, but it is more of a restoration, a reconciliation, a recreation. God will make heaven on earth. It will all be new, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit is a promise that we are included in that.

I mentioned this earlier, but I want to close with this reminder:

The sealing of the Holy Spirit gives us the power to continue to follow after God. God marks us as His own and then gives us what we need to follow Him. We have power as God’s children. We have authority as His marked ones. We have access to everything we need because of the sealing of the Holy Spirit. And we have a promise of what is to come.

If you are here and you have never trusted in Christ and received the Gospel. If you have not repented, believed, and received then I beg you know do that. We will have some people upfront and if you need to do this come forward. If you need to have someone pray with you so you can walk in the sealing, you have come forward. If you need prayer for anything else, come forward now.

  [1] African Bible Commentary, 1428

Just a thought,

Mike

Sealing of the Holy Spirit, pt 1

Ephesians 1:13-14

In Him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.

If you give me an opportunity to speak about the Holy Spirit, I am instantly a little giddy. But I am going to resist temptation and stay on point. This passage talks about the Holy Spirit and while His gifts and fruit are always a part of the conversation there are some large topics at play here.

I want to answer the question what does this passage have to do with me?

In short; God seals and marks us as His own and gives us the power to follow Him

Mystery is inherently part of the Christian faith and message. We can only explain so much and that is ok. It is ok to not have all the answers and it is ok to be left with questions. It is ok to only understand some things in part because the questions before us are God-sized questions. I struggle with this, but my wife has helped me tremendously.

In this passage, there are I believe there are some important things we can and should take away.

One question before us is this: Does God keep His people? You might have heard the phrase, “once saved always saved” or the classical doctrine “the perseverance of the saints.” But what does that mean?

God is able to keep what He owns. I cannot tell how you many times as a pastor, preacher, and leader people have asked me if once saved always saved is true. I get random messages from people I have not spoken to in years asking me this, and I always reply the same way. The right question is can God keep you? My answer is, you could not save yourself so you cannot keep yourself. This I believe allows for God to remain in control and you to still have your part. I believe the Bible teaches there are two parts although they are not equal. God seals us with the Holy Spirit and keeps us.

This passage teaches us that first that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and second that the Holy Spirit is a down payment for what comes next.

What is the sealing that is spoken of in this passage? Well to start with there are many nuances in this idea that I will try to look at as best as possible. What does it mean to be sealed by the Holy Spirit? First, we must understand that this sealing is for those who have heard the Gospel and believed. This is an important distinction because the sealing applies only to those who have heard and believed. No assurance is guaranteed outside of those conditions.

There is salvation in no other name than Jesus. As Paul says in Romans 10:9

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord, “and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

Peter in Acts 2:38 says that we must repent and then we can receive the Holy Spirit. To receive the message of the Gospel is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of our sins.

John in his Gospel (1:12) says,

“But to all who did receive Him, 

He gave them the right to be children of God, 

to those who believe in His name,”

The formula (if I may) is to repent, believe, receive. There is nothing else. Repent, believe, receive. That is, it. It is as simple as simple can be because we as humans tend to overcomplicate and exacerbate everything so God has made it as simple as can be.

The sealing of the Holy Spirit is only available to those who have heard the Gospel and received it. Once that occurs, the very moment it happens, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. We are marked as God’s and we join the worldwide body of Christ. We are in a moment saved and sealed as God’s people.

In the ancient world, they fully understood the idea of sealing because it was a common practice. Things, letters, and correspondence were sent on long journeys. Once they reached their destination people would look and see if the seal was still intact. If it was then the one who received the item or letter would know this was from the person who sent it. It was a mark of authenticity. The sealing of the Holy Spirit is a mark of authenticity.

It was also a mark of security. Depending on who sent the item you would not dear break the seal because they might have your head (quite literally). If the person sending the sealed item was of power, then you know the sealed item was protected. The seal meant it carried the security of the person sending it.

The Igbo people in Nigeria seal a visitor with a chalk mark on their wrist and this tells the whole community that this person “is to enjoy the privileges and protection of the community.”[1] A seal is a mark of authenticity and security. The sealing of the Holy Spirit is a permanent mark on a person that they belong to God and are entitled to the privilege and protection of God.

Paul writing in Romans 8:38-39 expounds on this idea and says:

For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Once we are marked as God’s people we are under the protection of God. We are His and we can always call on that sealing.

As an American, you are protected by the American Government. If you are overseas somewhere and people are chasing, you. You can run to the American consulate and be granted access. Once there you are on American soil and the enemy who is chasing you cannot enter. They are outside the protection and security of the place you ran to for safety because you are sealed as one who can enter. Nothing can change that.

So, what is the sealing of the Holy Spirit, it is you being marked as God’s person! You are marked as one who is authentically and securely protected by God. God is able to keep His own. 

To be continued.

Commissioning, Instruction, and Mission

Luke chapter 10 has the sending of the 70 or 72. There is debate as to whether it was 70 or 72 because some older manuscripts have one or the other. The table of nations in Genesis 10 records 70 nations. There is also 70 people who go to Egypt with Jacob in Genesis 46:27. 70 in the Bible is a number of completion. This has given rise to two interpretational theories. Some scholars suggest that Jesus sent 70 and others say that 72 is the correct number because it is a reference to the Table of Nations and to you and I. This interpretation leads to a symbolic idea that Jesus is saying everyone is included in the sending. This means you and I as well. We could spend more time here but the important thing for either number is that Jesus sent. I prefer the 72 and say this suggests we are, in a very real sense included in the mission. Not the exact mission but the broader mission as we will see below.

The 72 go out with purpose and intentionality. They have marching orders. They are called to a mission. Jesus sent them out. Just like in the calling of the Disciples it is Jesus who calls and Jesus who sends. The job of the disciple is to respond to the call of the Master. The disciples did not create this mission on their own, but they were sent. They were commissioned for a specific mission. But what is the mission they were sent on?

First, we can break this passage and sending into three parts. The first is the commissioning which we just looked at. The second is the instructions. In verses 2-6 we see the instructions Jesus gives the new missionaries. We see the plan of how they are to go out.

The first instruction is to pray. Jesus says the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers or workers are few. There is a great need in the world. In my area of New Orleans, there are nearly one million people. Most of them have no religious affiliation, attend no church, have no relationship with Christ, and have no eternal hope. In many other places around the globe, this is a common theme. People are lost and feed their lostness. They have an emptiness and they feed that emptiness. I think it was Pastor John Mark Comer who said people are looking for a savior in the culture, we just have to see it (paraphrased). People are looking to be saved so they turn to all sorts of things. Sports, sex, drugs, money, public service, helping the poor, good deeds, and so on. I recently spoke with a young man who was living in a gym in Mobile Alabama. He thought he could find help in Austin so he took the little money he had and flew to Austin where he knew no one just because he thought he could find help there. I met two young men one night in Knoxville that were recently homeless. They had everything they could carry and needed a ride so they could catch the public transportation. One of them told me “If we can just get to the KAT, we will be ok.” He was not only desperate but certain this was their salvation from the situation. People are looking for salvation. This is what Jesus means by the harvest is plentiful.

Because of this, we need to pray for workers. It is a command from Christ to pray for them. We must have more men and women who are willing to work the harvest. Too many are lost to the enemy. Too many walk around unknowing. Too many suffer needlessly. A great English preacher Charles Spurgeon said “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” We must pray for workers. We must pray. I was able to share the Gospel with the people in these stories but how many more countless stories like this exist without someone to share the Good News that sin, and death have been defeated by Christ on the cross and His empty grave?

The second instruction is to stay focused and be wise. The 72 and us are to be wise in a difficult and hard world. The task of carrying the Gospel requires wisdom and carefulness. Many are ok with you being a Christian as long as you stay lukewarm. The moment you begin to proclaim the Gospel you become an enemy to the world. This does not mean you need to be difficult. We must always be careful to ensure we are walking like our Lord, in grace and truth. One of the hardest things we can do is to be careful not to mix ourselves with the Gospel. If someone rejects the Gospel make sure they are rejecting it and not your presentation of it. The only way to do this is to be wise and stay prayerful.

In verse 4 Jesus tells the 72 and us to not worry about possessions or what we need. God will provide what is needed for the journey. We must stay focused and preserve. We are called to the mission not to worry about everything along the way. Faith is paramount!

The third instruction is to be on the lookout for a person of peace. A person of peace is someone God has primed for the Gospel. Someone who is ready and can take you in. In our Western world, this often means someone of influence who receives the Gospel and can then carry it to others you would not have the ability to reach. I know many persons of peace. I have seen what happens when a person of peace receives the Gospel. I have seen churches nearly double in size because one of these people receives the Gospel with joy. We should all be looking for and praying for a person of peace. It is a marvelous thing to behold. When you encounter a person of peace stay with them. Invest in them. Pour into them. Disciple them. Stick with them.

Some will reject you and the Gospel. This is sad but it will happen. When it does, don’t worry as long as you are presenting it with grace and truth you have done what you need to.

Next, we move on to the mission itself. Up to this point, we have looked at the commissioning and the instructions. Now we see the mission they were called to. We have alluded to it but to be clear it is to heal the sick and proclaim the Gospel. Healing the sick is something that can only be done by the filling, equipping, and power of the Holy Spirit. It is not something that we have within us on our own to do. The Holy Spirit is the one who does the healing, we are merely the tools He uses. Here we must deal with a difficult topic. The disciples were sent out to heal and I am saying that we are called to a similar mission. But we do not all have the gift of healing, so what do we do?

I have prayed for the gift of healing for years and it is not a gift a see active in my life. I desire the gift to glorify God and yet it is not active. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 that not all have all the gifts. He says a little further up that “the Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as he wills.” So, what am I do to do what are you to do? The first thing is that we are to pray for the gifts needed for the work God calls us to. There is a saying “God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” I cannot control the call of God or the gifting of God, but I can submit to the call, pray for the needed gifts, and welcome the Spirit in my life. I am commanded to respond to the call.

Maybe it is better if we ask who are the sick Jesus sent the disciples to and who are the sick in our day. First, there is the physically sick. There are many especially in our world who are sick from cancer, COVID, and many other illnesses. Some have mental disorders. Some have missing limbs, bad eyes, and so on. One article I read said there are roughly 10,000 diseases in the world, and while many are rare that is still a large number. Add in everything else that can cause a person to be sick or weak and we get the picture. When the disciples returned they said that even the devils responded to Jesus’ name. What we see then is that everything was subject to Jesus’ name and the disciples went out doing the work of God by the power of Jesus name.

So how do we go out and heal the sick if we do not all have the power of healing? In the same way, the disciples went out. They went out working in the name of Jesus! Maybe this means healing the sick maybe it is praying for those who need freedom in their minds, maybe casting off years of generational curses, maybe discernment. Whatever it is do it in Jesus name and let the Spirit work through you in the situation you are in.

Second, we have that Jesus commanded them to tell that the Kingdom of God is at hand. What is the kingdom of God? It is the rule and reign of God. Could there be a more Gospel-centric message? Jesus is the king and what we are to proclaim is the Kingdom of God. Jesus ruling and reigning. When we submit to Christ, we make Him Lord over everything. Part of the call of the Christian is to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to make it a reality. This is not a political kingdom but to allow the truth of God to permeate our lives. When we are called into the kingdom, we are called to be ambassadors of that kingdom here on earth (2 Cor 5:20). 

This is the call Jesus gave to the 72, this is the call Jesus gives to us. We are called to heal the sick and announce the kingdom. To call people to repentance. To announce that Jesus has come, and freedom has come with Him. The Bible says where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Freedom in Jesus name! Freedom from sickness, freedom from sexual sin, freedom from addiction, freedom from past pain, freedom from whatever holds you in bondage! Freedom has come. You are free in Jesus name. 

Just A thought,

Mike

New Word and New Year

It’s time for a new year so it’s time for a new word. If you are new to this idea the word of the year was something I was introduced to about a decade or so ago. The idea is that resolutions can be easy to accomplish or easy to fail at. Also, unless you are really good at crafting it then it probably only applies to one or two areas of your life. A word however can be far-reaching.

Last year my word was “willing”, and it was a good year to be willing. I wanted to be willing to do bigger things for God, willing to go deeper, be more obedient, or whatever else God wanted to do in and through me. I wanted to be willing to take chances in my relationships with my wife, daughter, friends, and so on. I wanted to be willing to try new things. Willing was good but if I am honest willing played to my strengths. I am naturally looking for a change and a little crazy. It is not a hard thing for me to be willing. It is not a bad thing to play to your strengths because they need work too. If we put all our energy into our weaknesses, then our strengths can start to wane. For this new year, the new and exciting 2022 I desire to stretch myself.

My word for this year is not a strength but a weakness. This year I will be intentional. I am naturally pretty good at reacting. I am pretty good at responding to something and getting things done. I am a doer. I am a mover and a shaker. I am not nearly as intentional as I would like. So, this year will be the year of intentionality.

I want to be intentional in my time with God, my wife, my daughter, my boys, my friends, my quiet time. At the end of the year, I want to be a more intentional person.

Jesus is a great example when we think about intentionality. In Luke 9:51 it says that Jesus set His face towards Jerusalem, but some translations add a little spice and say He was steadfast (KJV), resolute (BSB), fixed (LSV), either way, you slice it Jesus was determined and intentional, He was going to Jerusalem to take His cross and die for the sins of the world.

In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus is blessing children. The disciples in their grand wisdom try and stop this but Jesus was intentionally doing what He wanted so he became indignant. We could go on and on, but the point is Jesus was intentional about everything He did. There is also the thing about being conformed into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29) so it is not just a word but an attempt to be more like the Lord I love.

I would highly encourage you to pick a word. Find something that can fit into as many areas of life as possible and then go after it. An example would be healthy. Healthy while usually thought of in terms of physical can mean healthy relationships and a healthy view of God. You are only limited by your imagination and prayer life. So, find a word, and explore the possibilities.

Just a thought,

Mike

Caesar’s Household – Church Planting in NOLA

Below is text from a college I spoke at in Memphis. If you need a speaker for your school, church, or group click here.

Philippians 4:22

All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.

I highlight this verse before talking to you about church planting in New Orleans because today we expect to find Christians everywhere. Especially here in the Bible Belt. You can go to the mall and meet Christians, you can go to a store and hear Christian music, you can go almost anywhere, do almost anything and run into Christians or a minimum a Christian influence. There are some places in the world where that is not the case and Caesar’s house would have been a place like that. You would not expect to meet a follower of Jesus. You would not expect to see the influence of the Gospel and yet it was there. Making cracks in the Roman foundation, starting to grow and reproduce. No matter how hard they tried to stop it, the Gospel because was taking root in the home of Caesar.

Let’s say Philippians was written sometime in the mid-60s. At that time there were Christians in Caesar’s house. It was not until about 313 AD that Christianity was officially tolerated in Rome. It took 248 years from there being just a few Christians in Caesars house to it being tolerated and then a decade or so later being adopted as the official religion of Rome.  

On one hand that is a long time, on the other hand, that is a blink of an eye and it happened because Christians were willing to go to the hard places and do the hard things.

When I started seriously thinking about planting a church about 5 years ago my requirements were not where do I want to be. It was not where would I like to live. Those are fine questions and to some extend played a part but my main question, my wife’s main question was where are we needed? Where can we go that needs a church? That was the question. That was the drawstring to our bow. We spent time in France. We were about to move to North Africa. We talked about Las Vegas, and we looked at some other locations. They all had one thing in common; there was a need.

In New Orleans, there is a need. In New Orleans, there is a spiritual heaviness. It is a bit dirty; sin is common, people are a little rough and rude, and you do not drive by a lot of churches. Just this past Sunday after church I saw a guy in the Walmart parking lot kick a car because he didn’t like how close they parked to his car.

The Christian community that is there is a bit tightknit. And most people in leadership know each other. There is also a heritage of Catholicism there, but it is somewhat of a memory. When I invite people to church, they are a bit shocked. I invited a young man at Target to church the other day and he was grateful and surprised. Church, the Gospel, and Christians are not expected there. 

Some of the churches we do have are either closing or close to dead. This makes me incredibly sad. I hate seeing a church die.

When my family got close to the point of moving, we sat down and talked about it and realized that we were going to have to think about NOLA as a mission’s field. And that was a blessing from God because it is very much like a mission’s field. And that is OK.

I asked John what he wanted me to talk about and he said, Passion for church planting in New Orleans, challenges, opportunities, and victories.

Passion is easy and that is what I started with. I have passion for church planting because I spent my formative years in New England outside of Boston. I had a troubled childhood to say the least and to my knowledge I never knew a Christian and I was never invited to church. I have a passion for church planting in hard places because I believe that is where they are needed most.

If I could elaborate a little more, I would say I feel compelled. Paul says in 1 Cor 9:16 woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel. Four years ago, I went to New Orleans for the first time, and instantly I knew I wanted to do ministry there. I felt it in my bones. We took and family trip and it did not look like it was going to happen. Four years later and many other changed plans later and we are there. It is hard, it is tiring, I work 60+ hours a week between the church and another job, but I know I am doing what I should be doing.

I am happy and willing to lay down my life, time, and desires to serve in New Orleans because the work is needed. One study I heard said there are not enough evangelical Christians to fill the Superdome. Which by the way was recently bought by Caesars Entertainment? So now, New Orleans is home to Caesar.

I could honestly spend our entire time together talking about my passion for church planting in New Orleans and my passion for church planting in general. But I want to share some things with you about how we see God moving.

When Hurricane Ida hit it felt like a pause and to be clear it was. My family lost our home, the church building was damaged, people were left abandoned to the elements, and worse. But it was also an opportunity. In two weekends with the help of other churches from the Gulf area, we served around 10k meals, gave away tens of thousands of supplies ranging from food to cleaning products, tarped roofs, cleaned debris, fixed fences, and more. What looked like a pause was an invitation to get to know people that we would have never met before.

We can make a lot of plans, but we must remain flexible. There are two verses that I believe are important to remember when thinking about missions and church planting

James 4:15 says

Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Ecclesiastes 11:6

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hand rest, because you don’t know which will succeed, whether one or the other, or if both of them will be equally good.

We had planned our big grand opening on September 12th to try and introduce the community to the new church. Our plans changed but for the better in my opinion.

We had two teams from the Gulf come in and for two weekends we served 10k meals. It was insane and awesome. One day for lunch we ran out of food in record time. Numerous people told us they had not eaten in a few days, and they were just so grateful. But this day we went through our 1000 meals at lunch in 45 minutes max. All of a sudden, this lady we had never met before pulls up and brings $2000 worth of food and made-up quick lunch bags for a few more hundred people.

One night after the dinner rush a lady came who had a premature baby during the hurricane. She had nothing for this baby. The team told her we did not have anything but would find it. 20 minutes later a guy showed up out of nowhere with preemie supplies and asked if we needed them. God is on the move. I could go on, but we have seen God move in crazy ways!

In everything we see God moving.

Four months ago, I began praying for a new worship leader. I knew the guy who was there was going to be leaving and we were going to have an opening. After the storm, a friend of mine called me and said he wanted to come down and serve for a week. He took a week off work and came down. He had been praying about moving down and thought he would come to serve first. We got to talking and while he was a rapper, he has been leaning more towards worship. He moves down in late November and will start helping out with worship for us. I would have never guessed he would be on the team, but God is good!

I met a guy in Houston when we evacuated, and he happens to live just down the road from us. I have been inviting him to church for a month and he finally came.

God is moving and in the moving, we need to be actively following and seeking Him.

See we are not trying to grow a church for the sake of growing a church but change two cultures and bring light to the darkness.

The first culture is in our church itself and with other Christians in the area. Inviting people to church, outreach, evangelism, these things are not generally on the radar. One way to do this is like old quote says, “if you set yourself on fire the whole world will come to watch you burn.” So that is exactly what we are doing. We are first setting ourselves ablaze and telling the Holy Spirit to have His way with us.

We are trying to help people who know Christ set themselves on fire for the Gospel and to ignite others.

The second culture is the outside world and for that we need help. Drug abuse, sexual sin, moral failures, mental illness, poverty, these things are all common down there. It is life. We have a guy who regularly gets high and hangs out at the church property. We have had to call the cops at the church on other people. It is not an easy place. I tell you this for two reasons. One I don’t want to paint some pretty picture and make someone think they should come down and it’s going to be easy. But two there is someone or someones who hear this and think YES, I WANT THAT! It is not all crazy but crazy is there.

We need Christians to come and serve and work. We need a move of the Holy Spirit. We need to see workers come and work the harvest.

I can fully understand the sentiment and energy behind Isaiah 6:8

Who will I send? Who will go for us? I said: Here I am. Send me.

We need workers, who are willing to come and put their hands to the work. People who can bring in fresh energy, fire, passion, ideas, and talents. There are only so many people I can invite to church on my own. There are only so many people I can meet and invite into life with me. I am not one to just invite people to church. That is good, needed, and helpful, but I want to invite people into life. I want to invite them into my home and get to know them and grow with them. I want to see them see Jesus on Monday and Thursday and not just Sunday. We need others who are willing to come and do that.

We want to see people come to Christ and experience life change. The church needs workers, but we also need people to find faith in Jesus who provides life change. As a leadership team, our goal is to see people set free by faith in Jesus.

Just a thought,

Mike

Looking out for Others

For me and a lot of you, life gets busy. Between work, family, gym, hobbies, or whatever else you are into life is busy. We wake up and hit the ground running. I read one article that said the average American sleeps eight hours and has five hours of leisure time a day. I am not sure who these people are but good for them (I guess). I and a lot of you are probably not average. We are taxed to the max. I am chugging a Cotton Candy Bang at Nine AM as I write this.

I read another article that said the average American spends $164.55 a day. This total is from everything to housing, gas, groceries, masks (let’s be honest COVID is costly), coffee, and more. I am not complaining I am just pointing out that we spend a lot of time, money, and energy every day on things we need and have to do. This is fine, and I have no major issues with this (maybe I do). What I am reminded of today is Philippians 2:4 which says, “Everyone should look out not only for his own interest but also the interest of others.”

Because we are so busy and must spend so much money to live in this great country of ours, we can easily forget to look out not only for our own interest but also the interest of others. We need to pay attention to the things we need to do. We have to go to work, pay bills, pick the kids up from school, etc. We even need that leisure time we all keep hearing about. These things must get done and that is ok but we have to remember that other people are doing it too and I think that is how we remember to look out for others.  

If we remember that other people are also doing the same thing we are, if others are striving for the same things we are, if we remember that other people are annoyed with the check line length then we can remember to look out for their interest as well. When we keep people as a priority, we can look out for them.

I ride a motorcycle and I love the bumper stickers that say lookout for motorcycles. What I love even more is when people look out for my motorcycle. The idea is nice, but I much prefer the action of people looking out for me. When can notice people and that is great but if we do not act on that then we are not really doing anything. So how do we make people a priority and look out for their interests as well as our own?

I think really it is a culmination of a lot of little things. Saying hi to the cashier, smiling at someone, letting someone merge into traffic, letting someone with one item go in front of you at the store, not yelling at other drivers, and so on. If in the little things, we slow down and look out for the people around us then we start to do something amazing. We have to be intentional because by nature we are selfish. Human nature prioritizes self-preservation and self-focus. That is just one of a thousand reasons we need Jesus to save and sanctify us. And looking out for the interest of others is part of the sanctification process, the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in us conforming us to the image of Christ. That is why right after Paul writes this he jumps into Christ’s humility and exaltation. It is part of a larger process.

These little actions start to build into something larger, they start to accumulate in you. If we do ten little random things a day for other people to look out for them it might not make a huge difference in those ten people, but it does make a huge difference in you.

At some time or another many of us have thought about what we do if we won the lottery. Maybe we think about the charities we would give to, the family and friends we would help, the cars we would buy (let’s be honest). We think about what we would do with all that money, but what can we do with the time we have today? What can we do with the money we have in our wallets? It is great to dream but it is better to act. We have the opportunity every day to do something for someone, to look out for the interest of someone else but it starts with making people a priority.

Here is what I propose as you go through your day today notice someone else who is going through their day and imagine what it would be like if someone made you a priority at that moment. How would it change your day, hour, or ten minutes if someone looked out for your interest and then try to do that thing? If you do this it might help them but it will definitely help you become more like Christ as you walk out your faith.

Just a thought,

Mike