You Gotta Serve Somebody

Well folks, I wrote a nice long blog post on Joshua 24, pulled it up this morning to clean it up and publish, and somehow in the world of WordPress drafts, it went away.  I’m at Together for the Gospel this week so I won’t have time to rewrite it.  Here are three very quick thoughts on Joshua 24. 

You Gotta Serve Somebody
Joshua said it:

“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

‭‭Joshua‬ ‭24:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Jesus said it: 
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Even Bob Dylan said it:
“But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

 You’re gonna have to serve somebody

 Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

 But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”

-Bob Dylan

Ultimately, each of us will serve serve someone or something, and there is no squishy middle.  “It is either evil to serve the Lord in your eyes, or you will serve Him.” Joshua says.

Fervent Commitment is Not Service

Verses 16-28 of the last chapter of Joshua shows the people fervently committing to serve the Lord.  By the end of chapter 1 of Judges (the next book in the story) they have disobeyed God by failing to fully obey His commands.

Beware lest we fall into this trap.  It is easy to swear ourselves to radical obedience.  It is hard to obey radically.  Perhaps this is on my heart because I’m currently at a pastor’s conference.

Joshua Died

The heading of the last section of Joshua 24 struck me.  “Joshua’s Death and Burial.”  Maybe it’s because I was reading at 5:00 AM, but my brain tried to auto correct to “Joshua’s Death, Burial and Resurection.”  But Joshua isn’t Jesus.  He was a great leader, but ultimately the sting of death defeated him as it does every man.

Christ is the true warrior leader of His people who conquered the grave.  He leads us into battle with the war already won.  Someday there will be a chapter written “Johua’s Death, Burial, and Resurection.”  It will be after Christ returns, and all those who hope in Him will have the same chapter in their story.

Sin Matters

NOTE: These notes are my own, but they are meant to supplement Session 5 of the Spring 2016 Gospel Project Chronological curriculum.  

Joshua chapter 6 recounted the incredible display of God’s power through His people at the ancient city of Jericho.  The chapter ended with these words:

“So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.”

(Joshua 6:27 ESV)

Yet within the first ten verses of Joshua chapter 7 we find Joshua in a very different place.

“Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord GOD, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!”

Joshua 7:6-7 ESV

What happened in such a short period of time?  How can the leader of God’s people see such great success and then crash into this kind of despair? Sin. Sin is what happened.  Sin is how God’s people go from victory to defeat.

The story of Achan, found in Joshua 7, is brutal. I really cannot think of another way to describe it.  God’s people are coming off the high of a great victory at Jericho. After sending in a couple of spies and realizing the battle of Ai would be an easy win, Joshua sent a few thousand troops to take over the city.  As they prepare for the victory celebration back home, the soldiers end up coming home with their tails tucked between their legs and about 36 mens bodies on their shoulders.

What exactly happened between the victory at Jericho and defeat at Ai?  Did some pride well up in the peoples hearts keeping them from trusting and listening to God?  Perhaps.  Should Joshua have consulted with the Lord on how to attack instead of depending on his intellect?  Certainly.  Most significantly though, someone in their midst had coveted, idolized money, and stolen from God.  Achan had been strictly commanded not to take anything for himself from the wealth of Jericho, and he chose to disobey that command. Not only that, he refused to admit what he had done until he got caught. The results were devastating.  An embarrassing military defeat, a few dozen dead soldiers, and the death of Achan and his family.

I’m not going to try to figure out why God chose to judge this sin so quickly and harshly.  I am going to note that God is holy, and sin always has serious consequences.  In fact, “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23)  It’s also important to point out that it wasn’t just Achan that suffered from his sin, it was Achan, his family, and all the people of God.

There are many things that we can take away from this story, but I want to point out one that is applicable to a conversation that is ongoing in our body here at Arlington Heights.

Sin is really serious.  It can kill the person committing, it can wreck the people of God, and until it is dealt with, God does not give victory.  Michael (our pastor) preached a powerful sermon from 1 Corinthians 5 on church discipline called “Love Hurts” this past Sunday. This story from Joshua 7 points out why dealing with the sin among us matters.  What if before the people were defeated at Ai, one of Achan’s friends or family members would have stepped in and confronted him?  What if two or three would have gone to him and said, “Brother, your disobedience is dangerous, you must stop.”  What if it would have been brought before all of God’s people and with a united voice they would have said, “Stop the insanity Achan, our God is loving, but He is also holy and wrathful, this won’t end well.”  What if God would have used one of those moments of intervention to bring Achan to repentance before there was blood on his hands?  Or, if he didn’t repent, what if the people had said, “Achan, we can’t let you blatantly rebel against God and live among us.”  As tragic as that would have been, it’s better than body bags.  It’s better than defeat.  Of course, at this time, they didn’t have Matthew 18.  Now we do.

The good news is, God is full of grace and always restoring His people.  After the sin was dealt with, the people marched into Ai and took it over.  If we love our brothers and sisters, and love the church, we will extend grace upon grace as Christ does with us.  Yet at the same time, in light of the gospel, we expect grace to be transformative. Let’s be sure we take sin seriously.  Let’s be sure we obey Christ’s command to go to a brother in sin and pursue loving restoration in the way He commands.

 

 

Gospel Project Commentary: The Battle of Jericho

As God’s people entered the land promised to their father Abraham, it was not without opposition.  The great fortress at Jericho stood looming before them as they miraculously crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.

I want to quickly offer three highlights/takeaways from the story of the battle of Jericho.  Bible scholars, this story can be found in Joshua chapter 6.  These notes are my own, but they are meant to supplement Session 4 of the Spring 2016 Gospel Project Chronological curriculum.

God uses the foolish things to shame the wise.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV

Jericho loomed as an impenetrable fortress for the nomadic Israelites, but perhaps with a solid plan, flawless execution, and an extra measure of luck, a take over was possible.  Of course, after the battle, the masterminds of the plan would have boasted in their wisdom.  The soldiers would have told tales of great strength.  And the people would have forgotten their Savior.

So what did God tell the people to do?  March in circles.  Blow some trumpets.  Shout real loud when I tell you.  Why?  Because in choosing a “foolish” plan, the wise man cannot boast, and in choosing a plan that even children could accomplish, the strong man cannot brag.

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.'”

Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV

Faithfullness is better than genius.

If we serve a God who uses the foolish things to shame the wise, then we must be very wary of pragmatism.  Our own wisdom is faulty.  There are times when God would have do things that make no practical sense.  Things like marching around a city 7 times instead of attacking it.  In His wisdom, God has given us rich, practical instruction in His word. Creativity is a wonderful gift from God, but so is the prescriptive nature of the bible.  God’s word gives us bounds for our creativity, sometimes those bounds might not feel “smart” to us.  We must trust that His ways are higher than ours and let Him work through us on His terms.

There is always a thread of redemption.

Rahab the Prostitute.  Now that doesn’t exactly sound like the name of a key player in God’s plan of redemption does it?  If you blink, you might think she’s just the lady who let two strange men stay at her house.  Yet our holy God is not only merciful, He transforms people.  It turns out that “Rahab the Prostitute” gave up her sinful ways and settled down.  She married a man named Salmon and had a son.  His name was Boaz.  Boaz married a lady named Ruth.  (If you know that story, you might ask if Boaz learned his redemptive heart from his dad.) Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed, who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David. Of course being King David’s great great grandmother is a big enough claim to fame, but in His sovereignty God brings His own son into the world through the line of David, through the line of Rahab the Prostitute.

Closing thoughts.

God is always redeeming His people.  That includes Him forgiving our sins.  That includes Him transforming our lives. That includes Him giving us a place in His plan to fill the earth with God worshipers.

If we want to honor God, we will seek to be apart of His work of redemption.  Yet as we seek to be apart of His work, we must remember that it is His work and that He set’s the terms by which we participate.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV

 

Gospel Project Commentary: Resurrection Sunday!

I cannot think of a biblical text that better expresses the wondrous, cosmic u-turn that happens in Jesus’ humiliating descent to the cross then glorious resurrection to the throne room of God than Philippians 2:5-11.  This will be the passage our groups study together this week in Sunday School.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Philippians 2:5-11 ESV

Watch as Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, masterfully takes us on a journey with Christ.  If we believe all of God’s word, then we know that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God…through whom all things that are made were made.”  In other words, Jesus is creator God. Yet here in Philippians, we see radical, willing humility as Jesus steps down from His place as God most high and “does not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”  Not only that, He lowered himself to be one of us.  Creator entered into creation. He left the masters chamber, and entered the servants quarters.  In divine love, His humility doesn’t stop there.

Jesus lowers himself in servant like obedience, and that obedience led Him to the cross.  This path of humility included nakedness, mocking, beatings, excruciating pain and anguish, and ultimately it included the full weight of God’s wrath being poured out on God the Son.  We know how the story unfolds, Jesus’ broken, lifeless body is placed in a tomb.  His disciples mourn His loss and lose hope.  Then three days later, Jesus rises from the grave, victorious over sin and death.  We truly can not appreciate the resurrection of Christ without first remembering the depths to which he fell.

Questions 27 and 28 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism read as follows:

Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition,made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.

Q. 28. Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation?
A. Christ’s exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.

As we consider resurrection Sunday, we dare not forget the lowly Jesus.  Living as a human and bearing the shame of sin on the cross.  We also dare not forget the exalted Jesus!  Through the cross, God saved His people and raised up Jesus as King of all.  At just the mention of His name, every knee should bow in reverence, every tongue should confess Him Lord of all.  Let’s adore our king together this Sunday as we marvel at His humility, and wonder at His great power!

This adoration should go forward from Sunday in a really practical way!  Awe inspiring truth about God never leaves us as it found us.  In fact, Paul’s theology  in this passage is laid out in the midst of very practical instruction.  As we consider how we ought to relate to others, we should be brought to our knees as we consider the humility with which Christ walked on this earth.  Embracing Christ is embracing His way of being exalted.  He did not exalt Himself, but rather served humbly and allowed the Father to exalt Him at the proper time. Will we follow in His footsteps and humbly submit to God’s timing and instruction, or will we seek to exalt ourselves?

This weeks Gospel Project lesson states, “No one was ever lower than Christ at the cross, and no one will be more ultimately exalted than Christ for all time.” The question now is, will you embrace the crucified Savior now in humility and trust Him to exalt you at the proper time, or will you seek to exalt yourself now, and be humbled by the sovereign King who is risen?

“Sing, my tongue, how glorious battle, glorious victory became; and above the cross, his trophy, tell the triumph and the fame: tell how he, the earth’s Redeemer, by his death for man o’er came.” – Fortunatus

 

Wartime Thoughts

The-Bible-Is-Our-Sword“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” – Ephesians 6:11-13 ESV

 

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV

Brothers and sisters, we are at war.  I fear we often forget it.  I fear we rest on our laurels and enjoy playing church.  In the meantime the enemy is diligently doing his work as he devours our friends, neighbors, and, most regrettably, families.

Oh how easily we believe the lie of peacetime.  We  live in an age of extravagant comfort and weaponized distractions.  So very gently we get rocked to sleep as we hear the gentle tune of materialism and shallow Christianity singing us into the night.  As we slumber, the enemy does what he always has: he steals, kills and destroys.   We fake a shocked face and question God’s goodness as we watch our children reject the faith, our marriages fall apart, our churches forget the gospel, and our communities pursue libertine pleasure.  Then we go back to sleep.

Will we ever wake up?  Will the bride of Christ remember the call of the Lord who bought us? Will we remember that the day of the Lord is at hand? Will we remind one another that each of us will give an account before almighty God? Or will we sip on our pornography, dabble in the culture war, and ignore the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” that are destroying us?

What is the war?  It is the war of ideas.  The war of belief.  The war of thoughts in your mind and in the minds of your brothers.  The battle ground truly takes place at the idea level.  What do we believe about Christ?  What do we believe about love?  What do we believe about the goodness of God, the wrath of God, or the grace of God?  

I challenge you brother or sister, get in the fight.  Pick up your armor.  Know how to use your sword, which is the word of God, and bring hell fire against the enemy. March forward into the darkness with the gospel of peace.  A day of peace is coming, but today we are at war.

Mouth and Mind

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart 

be acceptable in your sight,

 O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
Psalm 19:14 ESV

I tried to pray Psalm 19 this morning.  I so enjoyed praising God for creation and thanking Him for His word, but I stumbled over this verse that closes the chapter.  I tried a few times to repeat at least the thoughts in Psalm 19:14 in my own words before the Lord, but I just couldn’t get them out.  It’s not that I don’t want this to be true for me.  It’s not that I don’t crave that my words and thoughts honor God. If I am honest, I have trouble believing God would grant this prayer true for me.  

For others I can believe it. For others I can imagine that their words and thoughts might be a sweet smelling aroma to God but not for me.  I know myself too well.  I know my thoughts too intimately.  One moment I am dwelling on precious and magnificent promises; the next moment I’m rolling around in the gutter and enjoying it like a sewer rat.

I have grown horribly intimate with the pain from the lashings the devil unleashes on me after every interaction with another human being. “You sounded arrogant” “You sounded foolish” “You sounded unloving” “You offended that person” “You should have said ______.”  These are the things he says as he laughs at me and mocks my failed attempts at holiness in my speech.

Oh the depth of my depravity.  My words?  My thoughts?  They will never be acceptable before God.  I can’t imagine it.  

But then the ending crescendo.  Those marvelous seven words.  Who is this unimaginable request being lifted up to? “O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”  I’m not asking the one who mocks me to restore me.  I’m not asking one who is quick to anger or reluctant with grace.  I’m asking my God.  I’m asking the rock that I rest on.  I’m asking the one who gave himself for me.  My plea before the throne is not lifted up to some distant ruler in the sky.  It is heard by a gentle savior.  A savior who walked through the absurdities of this life just as I do.  A savior who sympathizes with my temptations and yet never gave himself over to them.  A savior who is righteous.  A savior who is my righteousness.

Let the enemy hear me say, “The words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart are already acceptable in God’s sight because of Jesus Christ the righteous.”  In this grace, there is freedom.  Freedom to speak redeemed words.  Freedom to think redeemed thoughts.  Freedom to fail and still find embrace at the cross of Jesus Christ.

Headed to Haiti

 
Tomorrow morning a group of students from Arlington Heights will be headed to Haiti on a mission trip.  We will be returning on Tuesday, June 23rd.  Our trip is being coordinated through Servant Life, and I couldn’t be more impressed with how much they have helped us thus far.

Our excited group of travelers includes Charles Denis, Adam Easley, Reed Gable, Andres Sanchez, Luis Sanchez, and myself.  We will meet an additional teammate named Lauren in Dallas who will join us for the trip.  Lauren is from the Dallas area and is joining up with us to serve.  We are thrilled to have her!

We’ll be working in Tirolli, Haiti each day and staying just accross the border in the Domincan Republic each night.  Our team of seven will be leading a VBS for approximately 200 children with the help of a few translators.    

After arriving at our mission sight on Monday, June 15th  and getting our bearings straight, we will start working with the children on Tuesday June 16th.  

Please pray that God will bless each student as they go, and that he will go before us and prepare hearts and minds to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  I’ll try to provide a couple of updates and pictures while we are there.  Thank you all so much for your prayers and support!

Don’t Forget the Gospel

Imagine you went to a car dealership and the salesman told you he had a car that had every feature you wanted for a low price.  It has power everything, leather seats, your favorite color, a premium sound system and low mileage.  The body and interior are in excellent condition, and the tires have thousands of miles left on them.  There’s one catch.  This car has no engine.  Would you buy this car?

Imagine you went into a church that had everything you wanted.  Great programs, exactly your “style” of worship music (whatever that means) and the best facilities you can imagine.  The age demographic is just what you’re looking for, Sunday School teachers are really nice and lot’s of fun, and the people act super holy, vote republican and have strong morals.  There’s one catch.  The church has no gospel.  Would you go to this church?

A car with every feature under the sun isn’t worth much if it has no engine is it?  It can’t go anywhere or do anything.  It sits there and looks flashy and pretty, but ultimately it’s ineffective for it’s intended purpose.

I worry that in the church, we look for the features, programs, ministries, and styles that suit us best, but we forget to ask the most important question.  Is the gospel at the center of what we’re doing?  On a smaller scale, is my Sunday School lesson, my small group, or my service team built around the gospel?

A car’s engine is what makes a car a car. The good news of God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ is what makes the church the church.  As we move forward as a church, we want to have programs and ministries that serve Jesus bride well, but ultimately, we must have the gospel.  It must be at the center.  Without it, we have to ask if what we’re doing is distinctly Christian.

 

Disciple Now 2015

IMG_3592

This past weekend the Arlington Heights Students participated in a Disciple Now Weekend hosted by FBC Pascagoula.  We had a great time and learned a lot.  A big thanks John Vickers and the folks over at FBC for inviting us. We also couldn’t have done it without Mike and Candice Howell and Peyton and Kayla Kelly opening their homes to us for the weekend!  We also were blessed in a major way by our small group leaders Ike Armour and Liz Wright.  Thanks to all for sacrificing your weekend and loving our students so well!

Please pray for the students that participated as they take the truths they learned this weekend home with them.

PS: The video below is my first attempt at using the Adobe Creative software our church recently bought.  Most of the editing happened after midnight so don’t judge.

On Leaving Chevron

9231153-largeSome decisions in life are complicated.  How do I invest for retirement?  What type of vehicle should I buy?  Where should I send my kids to school?  Decisions like these require careful analysis and consideration, but once the best alternative appears, moving ahead is relatively easy.

Some decisions are not complicated, but they are hard.  Do I really need another scoop of ice cream?  Is getting up for my workout this morning really necessary?  It’s not that these decisions are complex.  We usually know the right answer. It’s just hard to do the right thing sometimes.

Leaving Chevron was a hard decision. God has been leading leading me into full time church work for some time now, and my wife Taylor is 100% on board.  My sense of calling has been very clear for a number of years, but recently that calling received some clear direction.  God opened doors for me to go on staff at Arlington Heights and serve with a staff that I already love dearly and work well with.  Simple decision right?  Yes, but hard.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being an engineer at Chevron. I have had the opportunity to learn from and work with some of the best in the business.  I’ve made many friends, and had opportunities that a small percentage of people will ever have.  I’ve been well treated, well developed (they tried anyway), and well cared for.  With all that said, it became clear a few months ago that now was the time to part ways.  April 16th will be my final day at the refinery.

While leaving is certainly hard, I am very excited about the doors that God is opening, and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes my family and me.  I will start as an associate pastor at Arlington Heights Baptist Church in early May.  My job function will be somewhat broad, but I will be focusing on family ministry, Christian education, and missions coordination. To put it more simply, I’ll be helping spread the name of Jesus in every way I know how.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to many people in this process.  Both the folks at Arlington Heights and Chevron have been very understanding during this transition.  My wife has been incredibly supportive despite the obvious upheaval my family will experience in this transition.  Most of all, I’m thankful to Jesus Christ for giving me grace and the opportunity to serve Him in a new way.

If you are reading this, I covet your prayers for my family as we seek to step out in faith and obedience.  If I can ever serve you in any way please feel free to reach out to me.  To my Chevron friends, come see me at the church sometime.  We’re right next door!

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” Psalm 67:1-2 ESV