Can You Know For Sure?

It was the question that sparked debate between myself and my family members when I first became a follower of Jesus. It was the question that sparked debate between various church members when I was in college. It was the question that sparked debate between denominations when I was in Seminary.

Can you know for sure that you are saved? Adopted in to God’s Family? Guaranteed a spot in heaven? Your sins are completely and irrevocably washed away and you are forgiven? Can you really have that kind of assurance.

I thought the answer was pretty clear early on in my Christian walk but others certainly did not. When I was in Seminary and Youth Pastoring in Springfield, MO I recall attending funerals of teenagers every quarter for one and a half years straight. Most of the teens claimed to be Christian. At least one was a pastor’s kid. More than one committed suicide if my memory serves me correct. Tragedies! For all involved.

One of the beauties of Biblical Theology is how it answers questions without having to rely upon proof texts. In my early days as a Christian I would banter back and forth with others and we would simply sling proof texts at each other. Unfortunately, I still occasionally revert to this tactic (that is rarely beneficial).

One of the things I’ve learned from Scripture is that this question is really more about the character of God than anything else (and the reliability of Scripture I guess!). The other thing I’ve tried to help people understand is that you must use the clear teachings of Scripture to help you understand those that are not so clear – not the other way around.

From beginning to end, God’s desire for His Presence to be with His People has been of paramount importance. Adam and Eve lost this presence when they were kicked out of the garden. Saul lost this Presence when he turned from God. Sampson lost this Presence when he turned from God. BUT God brought His Presence back to mankind in the Person of Jesus Christ. And then God bestowed His Presence inside mankind in the Person of the Holy Spirit. The same power that Jesus was bestowed with at His baptism was then distributed to His followers at Pentecost and ever after!

The Presence of God – indwelling mankind. Not simply the Presence that could be visited at the Tabernacle or the Presence that came ‘upon’ people and they prophecies (like Saul in the Old Testament) or the Presence that came upon people for power but could leave them (like Sampson). No, this Presence indwells, seals, is a down payment. This Presence is a Comforter that teaches, guides, instructs, leads – all the way to where Jesus is – with the Father. That we too may call Him Father, that Jesus may have many brothers in the Kingdom (His followers).

Oh, the Perfect One and His Presence – the Present you don’t want to be without – the One you cant’ be without if you are a genuine follower of Jesus (Romans 8). The internal sign of being permanently adopted and joined into the family of God (Ephesians 1). The one held steadfastly in the Father’s hand (John 10). The One of whom John the Apostle and Beloved of Jesus wrote of (Gospel of John) and the One whom John claimed to have fellowship with and said we could too (1 John).

Oh, you can know for sure because God is not a man that He should lie. God is not fickle, changing His mind. God is steadfast and sure with a covenant love for thousands of generations.

Oh, you can know for sure because God has remained faithful even when mankind has not (be it Abraham, Moses, David or any other ‘hero’ of the Bible). It’s not your actions alone that demonstrate the surety, it’s God’s character that makes it sure.

Oh, you can know for sure because God has said it and the Scriptures are literally God-breathed (1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). It’s not your word (or prayer) that makes is sure, it’s God’s Word that makes it sure.

Oh, you can know for sure because Jesus didn’t die to halfway purchase our freedom. He completely purchased our freedom and once it’s applied to us we are white as snow, clean as clean can be!

Oh, you can know for sure because God is for sure!

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Urban Ministry is Different…..Maybe.

My journey into urban ministry was not immediate. I was raised in a religious home in which regular church attendance was the norm. However, it was not made clear to me that salvation was a gift of God that I received rather than worked for until I was a college freshman.

The fall of 1993 is when I was adopted into the family of God and within a year I sensed a desire (calling) to teach and preach. In 1996 I headed to Bible College. This was followed by Seminary. During these years my understanding of ministry was greatly expanded and I began to be burdened for the need to start new churches and then to start new churches in urban areas as it seemed the need was greater and most people wanted to go start churches in the suburbs.

At each stage of my transformation I felt like a whole new world had opened up to me that I knew nothing about. So, I did what I’ve always done – I read – and bought books  – and read some more.

By the time I finished my M.Div in 2005 I was convinced that I should plant churches in urban contexts but I had also become convinced I should not do this alone. So with my degree finished I moved to Orlando to teach at a  Christian school. I was able to help with a satellite church plant there.

A few years later I transitioned to a different school which resulted in the opportunity to begin an urban church plant in western Orlando. And that’s when the real education began.

The understanding that urban ministry was different than suburban ministry became evident in the manner in which my time was spent. Just recently for instance I stood in for a parent at a parent-teacher conference for a second grader. This was a first for the teacher and myself. I’ve been called to bring students to school that missed the bus. I’ve picked up kids that I happened to see at the gas station and brought them to school because they missed the bus. I’ve brought parents and children to doctor’s appointments, the ER on many occasions, helped people move, find jobs, tutor, been interrupted from a discipleship meeting by the arrival of DCF and the police, visited people in jail, written letters of recommendation for defendants in court, helped people attempt to get reprieve from back taxes that piled up due to a series of crazy circumstances, listened to elementary school kids tell me all the drug dealing details of the ‘hood and the stories of gun battles they’ve seen, called 911 as we attempted to keep two teens we knew from fighting (as a crowd of 20+ people gathered) following one of our Church in the Park services, and more.

But I think what I’ve come to realize is that while I know very little about urban ministry other than that where you have more people you have more brokenness, the thing about urban ministry is that while it is different than many other types of ministry, in reality I think it’s just contextualized discipleship.

Yes, it’s different. Yes, solutions take longer (more on that in another post maybe). Yes, it’s more difficult (in some respects). But at the end of the day it’s still bringing the message of reconciliation to broken situations while building relational bridges with us and God.

Contextualized Discipleship…or just plain discipleship the way it’s meant to be – life on life.

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Glory Revealed?

My eyes have seen the glory of the Lord – or have they?

Why is it that we don’t like some people? That some people drive us nuts?

Maybe it’s because we’re too focused on US – ourselves, our desire, our wants, our expectations – what we think they should be like, etc. We think they should be more ______ or less ________ or this or that. Suddenly we’ve become god. We’ve taken the place of the one who made them in His own image. We’ve hijacked the great and good God. We’ve become a terrorist. We’re about to cause an explosion in the sky but it’s not the beauty of the sun, it’s a bomb.

What is going on here?

We’ve tried to replace the Great Artist with our puny amateur attempt. We’re trying to re-create what the Artist has already made – like a child attempting to “fix” a Van Gough.

Because we have fallen out of love with the Great Artist Himself. For if we loved the Artist, we would attempt to understand His piece of artwork. What/Where is the beauty that He has created here? How is He making Himself glorious, great, and good in this masterpiece He has created (for we are all His masterpiece, His work of art).

When we love the Artist and His greatness, His goodness, His grandeur…then we will realize it is US, it is our eyes that need adjusting. We have been living in the dark and need to re-adjust, to squint as it were, to re-focus on the Artist Himself and then…maybe in His goodness and grace He will reveal to us the beauty of Himself that is reflected in this work of art called…image of God, person, human, representative on earth…one who once found IN Christ will judge the angels and creation beside HIM! This too is a mystery to behold.

Surely, my original impression of this person was wrong. I was blind. My taste buds were off. My ADD needed a dose of reality. I needed to pause…to linger…to dwell on what the Maker of Heaven and Earth who makes all things good had made – standing before me – that my ill perceiving senses are missing.

And then, as I re-align myself with my Maker, The Creator…when I remember His grace, goodness, gentleness to me I will then realize that as I saw this person – He has never seen me, no never. Because as He made me and saw me as a reflection of Himself, as a grand work of art – so too are they – and suddenly light the morning sun breaking through the dawn, I realize – I begin to see, just bits and pieces at first, but pieces nonetheless – that yes, they too are scattered beams of the glory of the Son!

Inspired and Adapted from chapter 6 of Look and Live by Matt Papa (a great read).

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Over 100 FREE e-books TODAY only.

If you are interested in books in the Wesleyan tradition, Seedbed has all their e-books for FREE TODAY only in honor of their birthday. Most of the books are already set for e-book default, others you simply have to select the e-book format instead of the default print. There’s over 100 FREE books TODAY only!

I would also point you to Tim Challies A LA Carte List for today with over 100 Kindle deals. To see a Google spreadsheet of the titles and prices go here.

I think the NAC Theology Series for Kindle is also still on sale at Amazon for $4.99 each.


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Start the New Year on the Right Foot

2015 is here and the resolutions will begin to fly. I want to encourage you to do two things this year – (1) Simplify and (2) Spiritualize!

On the first, I would encourage you to re-evaluate your lifestyle, especially your social media consumption. During the last week of December as I was laying sick in bed I began unsubscribing from 10 emails per day. I have unsubscribed from about 40 so far (I think) and I plan to continue to whittle this down. For me, this is even including unsubscribing from email lists that update me about book sales – the fact is, I just can’t keep buying books and the sales are very tempting so in the spirit of simplifying and being a better steward I recommend unsubscribing as part of simplifying.

On the second I want to recommend two apps  (FREE) that I have been utilizing over the past month or so and one app I just discovered today (also FREE). The first app is GoTandem and this is a fantastic app. Research indicates that the number one spiritual growth indicator, bar none, is at least 4 engagements with the Bible each week. GoTandem sends you as many ‘engagements’ per day as you want – by topic you choose or otherwise. The great thing about the app is that the verses come with questions to make you actually engage with God, not just read them. Get the app. It is awesome!

The second app is called PrayerMate and I’ve used it for the past couple months, though not as regularly as I should. It enables you to create prayer lists and then indicate how many of the people/items on the list to pray for each day. So if there are 50 people are your friend list for instance, you can pray for 7 per day to (almost) get through them all in a week or you could do 3 per day and take two weeks to get through that particular list.

The third app I’ve just discovered today but it looks good for keeping track of your Bible reading (not just Bible engagement like GoTandem). The Bible Companion App  helps create and maintain good Bible reading habits by tracking your Bible readings with consistency meters, progress bars, and reading stats displayed within daily, weekly, & monthly charts. Other tracking features include setting goals for prayer, reflection, community, Bible Study, and other readings. The BCA does not contain the Scriptures. You are free to read from the Bible and medium of your choice.

So for 2015 start right – simplify and spiritualize – and grab a friend to do this together with and you’re likely to enjoy greater success and encouragement.

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New Books and a Sale or Two

The books are endless and with e-books and e-delivery the pace is almost unsettling, nevertheless here’s a few more to catch your fancy.

Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood is a new eBook from Desiring God. It is a compilation of writings related to Gospel life as a Man and Woman under Christ. It is available for free in pdf, EPUB and MOBI formats. Of related note, check out the similar Twitter or Facebook feed.

Get J. Ligon Duncan’s Exposition on Romans free e-book from Monergism Books.

WTS is offering the book On Guard for 35%-60% off depending on how many you purchase. This book deals with preventing and responding to child abuse in the church.

Practical Shepherding has three e-books on sale also: Practical Shepherding for $3.99, Visit the Sick for $2.99, Prepare Them to Shepherd for $2.99 and Conduct Gospel Centered Funerals for $2.99.

New in Print

G. K. Beale’s newest book Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery was released this month, Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin: Theological, Biblical, and Scientific Perspectives from Baker Academic was just released and James Hamilton’s With the Clouds of Heaven: The book of Daniel in biblical theology (New Studies in Biblical Theology Series) was released the end of August. I am currently reading Hamilton as I’m teaching through Daniel with our kids and teens this fall. It’s good.

J. A. Medders has a new book, Gospel Formed releasing Nov. 27th. You can find the information here. Also, G. K. Beale has another new book; God Dwells Among Us: Expanding to the Ends of the Earth releasing in December.

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Growth: Miles or Millimeters?

Everyone wants to grow – in some fashion or other. Children want to be teenagers. Teenagers want to be Adults. Adults (wish they were kids!) want to be better able to hand pressure, stress, life, money, etc.

As Christians, we desire to be like our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. We desire to be there today but we know we are not. For those of us discipling someone (which should be all of us), we often wish for faster growth in our ‘pupil’.

And yet it is often the little things in life that are the most meaningful; the lazy afternoon with the kids or a loved one, the flowers brought home, the breakfast in bed, the extra hug, the “I love you”.

Little things can have a powerful impact. How else can you explain the impact a little red fire ant that is often no more than a few millimeters take down a grown man. Considering that a fire ant (no larger than 6 mm or 1/4 inch long) could potentially take down a 6 feet man, who is 288 times larger, I would say little things can have a big impact. Being personally allergic to fire ants, I know the pain they can cause.

Bees, Hornets and wasps are another one. This past weekend while enjoying my anniversary with my wife I accidentally put my hand down on the side of the pool, right on top of a hornet/wasp (I really don’t know which!). Three days later my hand still has a swollen spot and is sore – from a little flying insect! Little things can make a big difference.

One last illustration: One Degree – just one degree – the difference between boiling water and not boiling water – the difference between having steam and not having steam (which can power all sorts of things). The difference between ending up in one destination or another (over a period of miles) on a nautical journey. Little things can make a big difference.

And when it comes to growing in Christ-likeness it is the little things, done over a long period of time that make the difference. That is our responsibility. That is our expectation. Big changes – to the degree of miles, in contrast to millimeters, are the work of God. Those are putting the Holy Spirit inside us – that’s mile change, not millimeter change. But then when the Holy Spirit says “Do this” or “Don’t do that” on a daily basis – those are the millimeter decisions we make that set the course for our future growth on earth.

While Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither are we transformed in a day (in the earthly sense) and so we need to learn to celebrate the millimeters because the millimeters become meters and meters become miles and that is simply a work of God. So stick to the Little Things that God tells you to do each day and let Him take care of the Big things that are out of your control anyway. He has promised to complete the work He began in us (Phil. 1:6), now let’s stick to working out what He’s already worked in us (Phil. 2:12).

And if you’re discipling someone and feeling frustrated, focus on faithfully encouraging the millimeters and let God take care of the miles. Difficult to understand sometimes, but the grace of God is SO much more than we can fathom – it was sufficient for Moses and Abraham, David and Solomon, Peter and Paul, and it is sufficient for us as well.

Let’s get them millimeters in!

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