Jun 082015
 

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.

Song of Solomon 1:15

I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.

Song of Solomon 2:1

Our Sunday school adventure in the Song of Solomon is a new experience for me. This is the first time in 20 years that I have taught this important book. Shame on me! Our study has drawn me to two books that have been on my shelves for several years which I have never read. Now I have a great excuse to read them, and I have certainly been blessed. The first was published in 2009 and was written by my good friend and mentor, Michael A.G. Haykin. He perhaps, more than any other, had the greatest impact on my spiritual life while in seminary. He wrote a book called The Christian Lover. It a collection of love letters from believers in the past like Luther and his Katie, John Calvin and Idelette, Adoniram and Ann Judson, and many more.

The second book was originally published in 1971 and was reprinted in 2004. It was written by Elisabeth Dodds and the book is called Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards, probably the most brilliant theologian born on American soil, met his match when he met Sarah. He was 20, she was 13. Sarah was such a beautiful girl in every way that he was enamored by her. Being around her made him a different person. He was captivated by her beauty, and he became awkward around her and would stutter in speech. He took to walking past her house at night for a glimpse of a candle flickering behind an upstairs shutter. He would go to the wharf where shipments were delivered hoping to see her as she picked up packages to take home to her family. Here is what he wrote on the front page of his Greek grammar book – his mind most certainly was not on Greek. You get a glimpse of what true beauty is and what captured Jonathan’s heart.

“They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that Almighty Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him – that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up to heaven; being assured that he loves her to well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love, favor and delight, forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and sweetness of temper, uncommon purity in her affections; is most just and praiseworthy in all her actions; and you could not persuade her to do anything thought wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; especially after those times in which this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about, singing sweetly, from place to place; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone and wander in the fields and on the mountains, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.”

In our marriages (and everything), Jesus must be first. He is to be our supreme delight. He is to be our first love. Everything flows from our personal relationship with him. Let us draw close to Christ today. Others will see that we are living in His presence moment by moment. Now that is attractive!

Pastor Bill

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Aug 202013
 

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

Titus 2:1 (ESV)

Titus was a faithful companion and co-laborer of the apostle Paul. God used Titus much to encourage the saints in Corinth. At one point, Titus went Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10), but here, in Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul tells us that he left Titus on the Island of Crete. The only time we see Paul on the Island of Crete is when he’s on his way to Rome (Acts 27:7). Apparently, Titus was with Paul on this trip and, before Paul entered a terrible storm and was ship-wrecked, he left Titus in a storm of a different kind. The believers in Crete had not appointed the proper leadership in the churches, there were false teachers upsetting whole families, and there seemed to be confusion among the believers in Crete as to proper gender relationships in the church and in the home. The believers in Crete did not understand how the Gospel applied to all areas of their lives (Titus 2:11-14).

So Paul tells Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” He makes a sharp contrast between what the false teachers were teaching and what Titus is to teach. Paul links sound doctrine with gender roles, and this is very important.

Some want to say that the gender issues addressed are merely cultural and are not in effect today. Many today claim that these ideas are archaic and old fashioned. But this view is easily debunked because, as you will notice, the gender roles spoken of here are rooted, not in culture, but in sound doctrine. They are rooted in God’s truth. We see other places in Scripture that make it clear that gender roles are traced back to the created order (see 1 Timothy 2:12-15).

The men of RBC have been reading and studying Mark Dever’s Book, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. It is not an exhaustive treatment of everything that the New Testament teaches about a healthy church, but it’s a great start. We see in Paul’s letter to Titus that one of the evidences of a healthy believing community is how that community handles gender roles in the church and at home.

Titus is to address the older men of the congregation. They are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. The men are to lead their homes and their church in this way. As men grow older, a certain responsibility rests upon them. They should not be living in the foolishness of their youth. By this time in life, older believing men should be Christ-like examples to their families and church. As we learned in Richard Phillips’ book, The Masculine Mandate, men are to be builders and keepers, workers and protectors, nurturers and tenders of those around them.

Paul tells Titus to address the older women. They are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands. Older women have an extremely vital role in the church. They are to teach the younger women how to care for their respective domestic responsibilities in the home. Lots can be said about this: notice that young women need to be trained to love their husbands and children. For starters, let me say that when I was a young husband and father, I was not easy to love. I was very immature and I did not love and care for my children as I ought. I could be hard to live with! I don’t think that testimony only applies to me! I think many young husbands and fathers are foolish, and impulsive, and selfish, and inconsiderate. Young wives are often shocked to learn that their “Prince Charming” is not so charming once they are joined together in matrimony. Very often, young wives need to learn a special patience and grace for their husbands. An older and more experienced husband should become easier to live with! The older women are then better equipped to help younger women flourish during that season of their life.

And children…young women not only have to deal with (perhaps) an immature husband, but also immature children. Young mothers have a very difficult task of living what is sometimes a very isolated life in the home with the demands of child-rearing. Older women are to train the younger women how to serve their husbands and children and tend to the home. This does not mean that a woman cannot work outside the home (See Proverbs 31), but it is clear that the woman’s main role is to maintain the home. If work outside the home hinders work inside the home, the work outside should cease. Remember, this is sound doctrine. When the structure of marriage and church is properly in line with Scriptural gender roles, so the marriage and the church will be healthy.

Titus is also to address the young men. They are to be self-controlled. Enough said!

In all of this we should see that the believing community is a beautiful harmonizing of the generations! I take this text to mean that Titus was to teach this in public from the pulpit and privately as the need arose. When they were in church, all age groups would hear the same instruction together. As for Titus, he was to show himself to be a model of good works, teaching with integrity, dignity, sound speech, putting the evil world to shame (verse 7). The young were not primarily to be taught about life from their peers (although they will learn things from peers, either good or bad). Rather, older, more experienced believers in life and in the faith were to train the young.

I love our small groups at RBC. I am so thankful that my children can glean wisdom from older, godly men and women. Older believers that neglect to teach and train younger believers in the church are in great disobedience. And the young should seize every opportunity to learn from and listen to and emulate the more experienced. So, let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together – old and young! And let us spur one another on to love and good deeds. This is how we grow to full maturity in Christ!

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Dec 122012
 

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

2 Corinthians 9:15 (ESV)

There is no question that Christmas has become a selfish desire for material things. We love our “things”. We love them so much we will even fight for them at a department store. Once again, there were many “Black Friday Brawls” all over the country. When I watch the video clips I am in horror. It is almost like we have become like wild, untamed animals. The corruption of the human heart is so evident. One only needs to watch one Black Friday Brawl video (or brave the crowds in person) to see that humanity has a desperate problem.

The only remedy for sin however, comes from the real meaning of Christmas. I’m not against the purchasing and the giving of gifts. Obviously we have gone way over-board in our culture. But, we have salvation because God gave the greatest gift of all – His Son. The Scriptures reveal to us that it is God who is the great Giver. “Every good gift and every perfect is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Romans 3:24 tells us that we are justified, by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

The Greek word for “gift” in that passage means “present” or “without cost or cause”. We did not cause our own salvation, neither did we buy (that is, work for it). “Of His own will he brought us forth (gave us new birth) by the Word of Truth” (James 1:18). Salvation is not your doing. Just as no one chooses to be born, no one chooses on his own to be born again. This is God’s sovereign work. Ephesians 2 says that by grace God made us alive in Christ. Then in verse 8 Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

God, by grace, has also given gifts to His Church. Ephesians 4:7 says that “Grace was given to each one us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” And the apostle Peter says that, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

God has been giving to you, even this very second. He gave you life, breath, and other material blessing. He has been gracious to you. Most of all, He gave us His Son! Only through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on behalf of sinners can our hearts be made new. Will you trust Him today? Don’t gain the whole world (“things”) and forfeit your soul. How foolish to put our hope and trust in “things”. Will you make Jesus Christ your great treasure?

If you are a Christian, your greatest joy came as a gift. Embrace Him with joy and share the gift with others. Remember, as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” No, you don’t have to go over-board, and you shouldn’t, but that does not mean you cannot be thoughtful and generous. There are many ways to give inexpensive gifts that will not take away from the real meaning of Christmas. In all of your purchasing and giving, just don’t forget the greatest Gift of all. To quote Linus, the great theologian from Peanuts, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Giving thanks for God’s inexpressible gift,

Pastor Bill

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Jun 222012
 

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:24-25 (ESV)

We read in Genesis 2 that God made Adam first, then put him to sleep, took one of his ribs and made the woman from it, and then brought the woman to the man (verse 22). In His great wisdom, God has given to mankind the wonderful gift of sexuality and marriage. From the Scriptures we read that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. Let me make it very clear that this is the only way marriage is defined. Any other way is outright rebellion against God. Do not call a “union” between a woman and another woman marriage, neither a “union” between a man and another man. It is not so according to God’s Spirit-inspired, absolutely true and inerrant Word.

Today (June 20, 2012), Beth and I celebrate 20 years of marriage! I can’t believe it has gone by so quickly. In August of 1989, God “put me to sleep” and brought this amazing woman to me. At age 18, when I least expected it, Beth and I met at Toccoa Falls College. Almost 3 years later we would marry. Beth is absolutely a gift from the Lord. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). At the time we married, I thought I could never love her more than I did then. Was I ever wrong! As we have grown and matured, so has our love one for the other. Beth and I can take no credit for this. We know that it is only by His grace that this is true.

We spent much of our afternoon today talking about the things, biblically speaking, that make a godly and Christ-honoring marriage. We actually thought of a scenario: if a young man comes to me or a young woman comes to Beth and asks us what makes the difference in our marriage, what would we say? First of all, let me say that Christian marriages should not only look different, but really BE different from those in the world. I’m not after how your marriage “looks”. You and your spouse can give the appearance of harmony and love when in reality it’s just not there. We are masters of the cover-up. I’m talking about how your marriage really is. There’s a huge difference!

Well, what would we say if we were asked that question? I will let you in on our discussion: What would we say if asked what makes our marriage different and attractive?

First of all, it is of greatest importance to understand that marriage is a covenant union. A covenant is not a contract. A contract is based upon distrust. We draw up contracts because we want to protect ourselves from the other party’s negligence or lack of trustworthiness. A covenant is based on promise.

A covenant union is a primary union. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” As we see from the text, the man is the initiator of the covenant, he leaves mom and dad, and his new primary union is to his wife. The newly married man and woman are certainly thankful for all that mom and dad did for them (generally speaking), but they realize that they now no longer answer to mom and dad! They have made a covenant before God and they now cleave one to another.

A covenant union is a precious union. God designed the man and the woman to fulfill His command to fill the earth through the means of procreation – which means, sex! The fruit of sex is babies![1] In addition to this, God gave sex for pleasure! That’s right! Many of the early Church fathers taught that couples should only have sex for procreation. Thank God for Martin Luther and the Reformation. From the Reformation came a recovery of Biblical marriage as well as the Gospel. God designed sex for marriage, and our sexuality is a precious gift of God. The two become one flesh. They are naked and unashamed. Further, God designed sex for protection. It protects the partners from temptation and from pursuing immorality. Married couples should have sex even when they don’t feel like it. They should not withhold it from each other. If you only have sex when you both “feel” like it, you will find that those times don’t happen very often, meaning that sex doesn’t happen very often, leading to a lack of intimacy in the marriage. There is something powerful in sex that protects your heart in many ways. Maintaining the intimacy will lead to greater affections. I encourage all the married couples out there: “Give it a shot!” For many years I taught abstinence classes in the local Junior High and High schools. I used to tell them, “I don’t believe in abstinence!” They would say, “Why are you here?” I would say, “You see this ring on my finger? I believe in abstinence until marriage, but sex inside of marriage is a most wonderful thing and I would encourage you to wait until you make that covenant commitment. Sex outside of marriage only creates more troubles and heart break. Sex within marriage is a sweet symphony that brings great pleasure to a married couple.”

A covenant union is a permanent union. It’s “until death do us part.” It is not disposable, like the baby’s diapers! It goes beyond your feelings and gives the proper foundation for your marriage. Beth and I talked again about the covenant union we made 20 years ago. When we go through difficult times, we don’t threaten to leave and we don’t point the finger of blame. That’s immaturity and manipulation. These are ungodly responses that reveal a selfish heart. Rather, by grace we press on, remembering the promise we made to stick together, work things out and trust God through difficult times – even if my affections are weak. The covenant will see you through!

Our second response would be that love and covenant must go together. Many people today are cohabiting, even some who are members in evangelical churches! And they think nothing of it! How sad this is. Why? Because, when couples cohabit rather than make a covenant in marriage, they are saying, “I will not close all available options. I will keep the door open for someone or something else.” This type of attitude is not love, is it? No!! Real love is when a man asks a woman, “Will you marry me? I want to make a covenant between God and you that I will be yours and yours only until death do us part.” Now that’s love. Some say, “All I need is love. I don’t need a piece of paper.” Well, the covenant gives evidence that you really do love. To neglect the covenant is to be a user of the other person. It makes a mockery of marriage and makes the relationship self-serving. Beth and I long for Christ to be glorified in our marriage. We do not want to use each other for our own selfish ends. We want to love from the heart and seek, by God’s grace, to honor the commitment we made to each other.

Our third area of discussion would be on the importance of living in our God-designed gender roles. This is huge and could occupy many more posts. Genesis 3 tells us how the entrance of sin brought a corruption of gender roles. “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” I could talk a lot about this but for now let me make clear the following: the Bible teaches that the man is the head of the wife. He is to love His wife as Christ loves the Church. He is to provide, nurture, tend and protect his wife. He is to be gentle with her and love her in words and deeds. O how desperately we need men to repent and seek forgiveness for neglecting to fulfill their God-given role. Also, women must be subject to their husbands in everything. They are to honor and respect their husbands and they should be careful to fight an independent spirit. Ephesians 5:22-33, must however be seen in light of its context. In verse 18, all believers are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit,” and then there are four evidences that this is the case given in verses 19-21. I find very often that when couples have issues, it is because they are not walking with Lord and are not filled with the Spirit as they ought to be. They don’t read their Bibles, they neglect prayer, they neglect fellowship and accountability with other believers, and Christ is not the center of their thoughts or their lips. We cannot submit one to another (Ephesians 5:21) if we are not controlled by God’s Spirit.

Lastly, Beth and I would say that the greatest factor contributing to the strength of our marriage is the transforming power of the Gospel. We are two sinners that have said, “I do.” As Dave Harvey titled his book, When Sinners Say ‘I Do’, that is absolutely true of us. We are sinners by nature and inclined to evil. Our only hope to restore what sin has corrupted and distorted is the Gospel. Only through the Gospel can our marriage picture the love Christ has for His Church. By His Grace, God saves sinners and imputes to them the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ as they come to him by faith. It is not enough for two people simply to profess that they are Christians and think that they will have a great marriage. On the contrary, many who profess Christ have no idea how the Gospel applies to their lives. They give very little thought to it. They do not seek to uncover the hidden sins of the heart, confess and forsake them, and find forgiveness in Christ. After all, who likes having their evil heart exposed? That’s why churches preaching a “feel good” message are full. People run from churches that call believers to search deep within, confess and forsake their sin, and learn how to fight using the Gospel. Understanding the doctrine of justification by faith is critical in the fight for your marriage.

I know that Satan will do all he can to destroy our marriages. We have an adversary who despises the biblical picture of marriage. He cannot stand to look upon a union that pictures Christ and His Church. So, I encourage all of us to guard our hearts and our marriages. Please do not take them for granted. Remember the covenant you made before God, your friends and family, and each other. Look to the cross! Mortify the flesh and put off anger, bitterness, resentment, selfishness, unkindness, rudeness, unforgiveness, etc., and put on love, forgiveness, understanding, gentleness, graciousness, and humility. Time is too short to hold on to resentment, pettiness, and unforgiveness. Renounce those things and fight your tendency to go in that direction. Learn patience and fight for genuine, deep affections. I want our marriages to be different, to picture the Gospel. Our community and our world is watching us. Do our marriages reflect the difference the biblical Gospel – the Doctrines of Grace – has made in our lives?

How do I know if my marriage doesn’t just look healthy, but actually is healthy? Try this: have someone ask your spouse how you really are doing, telling the spouse not to try to protect your image. To tell it straight. Can your spouse do that in absolute truth or does the spouse have to lie to maintain your good image?

Every day that Beth and I share is a gift of God’s grace. It is a great privilege and joy for me to go on this journey of grace with her. Jonathan Edwards dubbed his union with his wife Sarah as an “Uncommon Union.” Our lives and our marriage are in His hands and for as long as He will grant, I want this to be true of us and of you.

– * –

[1] Notice in Genesis 2:24 the mention of “father and mother.” Remember, Adam and Eve did not have a human father and mother. But children would naturally be the fruit of the union between a man and a woman! It is this pastor’s opinion that couples should marry with the intention of bearing children. God, in His providence, may not open the womb for His sovereign purposes, but couples should seek to procreate. It is my view that deliberate childlessness is a sin against God’s design for marriage. In other words, my position is that it is a sin for a couple to get married and then do all they can to prevent conception because they simply do not want the inconvenience of raising children. No – biblically, we get married to have sex and have children!

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Apr 182012
 

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV)

Tonight, the men of our church will begin a new study based on Richard Phillips’ book, The Masculine Mandate. Our men’s and women’s small groups meet the 1st, 3rd and 5th Wednesday nights of the month, while our prayer meetings are held the 2nd and 4th Wednesday nights. Our women will be studying Jerry Bridges’ book, The Discipline of Grace. I’m excited about what both groups will be learning. I desire for myself and for the men of RBC to grow in Biblical manhood. But what is Biblical manhood? What does it mean, as Paul addressed to the men in 1 Corinthians 16:13, to “Act like men”? The word is ἀνδρίζεσθε, which is an imperative form of ἀνδρίζομαι. It is rooted in the word for “male” or “husband.” This is a word that describes manly characteristics. Men are to be brave, valiant, and courageous. Men need to step up in their God-given role and exhibit Biblical, manly characteristics. There are other qualities and principles, however that the Scriptures teach regarding Biblical manhood.

Phillips’ book takes us back to Genesis to demonstrate from Scripture what it means to be a man. He then applies Biblical masculinity as it relates to the covenantal relationships that God has placed in a man’s life. Those include marriage, children, church family, work relationships and friends. Last year, my accountability partner (Christopher Sgambati) and I read through this book together and we found ourselves challenged with every page. The book helped me immensely and I really wanted all of the men at RBC to read it and discuss it so that we will grow as godly men. I do not want to give away at this point the main message of the book. But I do want to challenge the men of RBC to be open and honest, to be humble and teachable, to be loving and kind, to be strong and to stand firm, to lead with courage and faith, to be gracious and meek, and to pursue Christ with all our hearts. God is giving us this opportunity to grow together and I pray we will seize it and pursue true, Biblical masculinity. Men of RBC, do not neglect this!

I find it very helpful for my spiritual well-being, and the well-being of my home and church, to share my life with many men. I want my life to be an open-book, not to only a few, to all the godly men that God brings into my life. I want them all to know my struggles and fears. I want them to know what is going on in my life. I do not want to broadcast an image that appears healthy and strong when it is not.

What I want to do now is mention the names of the men that God has placed in my life right now. My dad, Willi Schakat, who just turned 75 years old on Monday! My two brothers in the flesh and Spirit, Tim Schakat and Tom Schakat. My father-in-law Robert Busbee, and my brothers-in law, Chris and Jason Busbee. I’m thankful I can be close to all my blood-kin. All are filled with wisdom and I know I can call them at any time.

Jeff Robinson, my friend for many years, is a constant encouragement and support. Baseball brought us together (through the Cincinnati Reds), but God’s Spirit has given us a true brotherhood. My accountability partner and friend, Christopher Sgambati, who meets with me virtually every Friday morning at 6:45! He prays for me faithfully and gives me the hard words when necessary. All of the men at RBC. I so appreciate your friendship (Doug, Michael, Wally, Scott, Jimbo, Mike F., Jim, Jim Jr., Bill, Joey, Kevin). I also need to mention two brothers, Byron and Howard McCombs for their listening ear and godly insight. Both of you are treasured friends.

I feel very blessed to have these men in my life. As you can see, many that I mentioned do not attend RBC. That’s a great thing. But for those who do, I want us to get to know each other better during this study. I desire a true brotherhood to flourish that will produce much fruit for Christ’s Kingdom. Ladies of RBC, we will pray for you, that Biblical femininity will flourish too. We pray your study in sanctification will be a blessing in your life. Again, do not neglect God’s means of grace to you. Make every effort to participate. These studies will take us deeper in the Word and, I pray, will cause us to do much needed self-examination. I pray that we will all learn to cherish the Gospel more each day for we know that it is only by His Grace that we stand.

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Jan 262012
 

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:15-17

Last year, I spoke with a woman that held liberal views regarding abortion. She knew my stance as one devoted to the sanctity of human life. She had heard me speak on the issue before. It was her view that since many babies are unwanted and parents in many cases can not afford them, the children become a burden on society. Therefore, in her mind, it was better that the life of an unborn child be taken than for that child to be born and raised in poverty.

I was horrified. Is life only significant for the rich and healthy? Is it only for the privileged? Is it ethical to destroy life that God created (Psalm 139) simply because the child might be a “burden” on society? I say an emphatic “NO!”

Women need to know that there are alternatives to abortion. The unborn child is made in the image of God. God fashions the child so wondrously and quickly in the womb. By day 5, the child’s gender can already be determined, by day 18, the heart and eyes begin to form and by day 22 the heart begins to beat. By the time a woman realizes she is pregnant, the child’s heart is already beating. This child’s life does not have to end. There are alternatives. One such alternative is adoption. There are thousands of couples either considering or presently pursuing adoption.

In recent years, there has been a push, and I feel it is a very positive push, for evangelicals to make themselves available to adopt children. We say we desire this alternative to abortion, and refuse to avail ourselves of the opportunity to actually do it? I want to mention two great examples of evangelicals getting involved in this issue.

First, Focus on the Family, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Co., has made an initiative with the state to find homes for foster children. They called the initiative Wait No More, and in Colorado alone, Focus on the Family has moved about 500 of the 800 children in foster care into permanent homes in less than two years.[1] The effort has helped both infertile couples desperate for children and children needing homes. The families are now very often multi-racial and the children are varied in age. When these families come to church, the church then also becomes multi-racial. What a beautiful picture of the Gospel.

Secondly, Dr. Russell Moore, Academic Dean and Vice President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, has written a book to spur on evangelicals to adopt. It is called Adopted for Life. Dr. Moore and his wife Maria, have adopted children. Other professors and administrators of the seminary have done the same. It is a movement that has spread through Dr. Moore’s church, Highview Baptist. In the last 5 years, Highview has brought 140 adopted children into their congregation. Since I lived in Louisville, I know of many couples, directly or indirectly related to the seminary, who have adopted or are in the process of adopting.

Evangelicals understand that adoption pictures the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one is born a Christian! No one is born into the Kingdom of God by virtue of ethnicity or parents. We are all born sinners. We are all in Adam and hence we are outside of the family of God. But in the Gospel, God has predestined us for adoption as sons (Eph. 1:5). He has given us His Spirit of adoption. By being born again of the Spirit, we are now adopted into God’s family. Adoption is the only way in! By nature we are enemies of God and do not have fellowship with Him. Through Jesus Christ however, we have been brought near. We belong to Him. We are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

As I write this, I must ask myself, “What about me and my family? Do we need to adopt? Will we make ourselves available to do this? Has God called us to participate?” Tough questions for sure! I do want to be available if God so desires. How about you?

For all those that believe in the sanctity of life and see adoption as a wonderful and necessary alternative to abortion, will we support this ministry? Will we pray for couples seeking to adopt? Remember, adoption is not only for infertile couples, but also for those with natural children. Can we welcome other children into our families and treat them as natural sons? That’s what God does for us, and it’s our only hope.

Pray for the children, both born and unborn. God bless.

– * –

[1] Wall Street Journal, “Adoption Season for Evangelicals”, September 24, 2010.

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Jan 242012
 

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 17:6 (ESV)

We live in a day of moral relativism. Our culture has defined morality based on what everyone sees as right in his own eyes, rather than upon the Word of God. Let me give you an example: in cases where a pregnant mother is killed and the baby is therefore killed, the person doing the killing is charged with double homicide. The unborn child is considered a person. But when the mother wants to “terminate” her pregnancy for any reason, it is legal to murder the unborn baby. The only difference is the will of the mother. This is how a post-modern world, awash in moral relativism, reasons.

Notice the relativism in their arguments:

1. We must protect every woman’s right to control her own body. The right to privacy, and ultimately, the right to abortion is necessary for “equality” in reproductive freedom.

2. Every child has a right to be wanted and loved. It is therefore wrong to force a woman to bear a child that she is not ready/willing/able to care for, especially in cases of rape, incest, a deformed baby, poverty, or threat to the mother’s life.

3. It is wrong to force a woman to have a child and give it up for adoption because this adds the pain of giving up a child to the difficulty of carrying/bearing a child, not even considering possible additional difficulties surrounding the conception (rape/incest, etc.).

4. Since abortions will occur anyway, abortion should be made safe, legal and rare. Legalized abortion may be seen as the lesser of two evils.

5. Personhood: the fetus is not a person in the early stages. In later stages, the fetus’ claim to personhood is not as strong as the mother’s claim or “rights.”

I want to give you an example of what moral relativism is doing to the African-Americans in New York City. These statistics tell the story (scroll down to pages 84-88 in the linked document).

Six out of every ten abortions in New York City is an African-American baby. Our moral relativism is destroying an entire race of people. Yesterday, I watched the March for Life Rally in Washington, D.C. on CSPAN for about 30 minutes. It was very moving. The media, as usual, hardly even mentioned it. I finally heard an African-American preacher speaking about the atrocities that are occurring in New York City to his own people. I don’t know his name, but he spoke truth. Who will defend the unborn and speak against this sordid practice that is destroying African-Americans? Of course, we know that abortion is affecting all races, but this is appalling.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we must fight this battle. We must, as Proverbs 31:8 commands, open our mouths for those who cannot speak for themselves.

What does the Bible say to counter-act the relativistic arguments above?

1. Human life begins at conception, and should be protected and treated with dignity and sanctity. The unborn are human beings that must be protected, especially since they are weak and vulnerable (Psalm 82:3-4, Proverbs 24:11-12, 31:8-9). Abortion violates a basic sense of justice: the weak, innocent and defenseless are singled out for destruction simply because they are unloved, unwanted (as in Nazism – Hitler killed over 5,000 of Germany’s needy and weak children to make room in hospitals for soldiers), or abnormal.

2. The Bible reveals that God is the giver of life (Psalm 127:3-5, Genesis 1-2, Acts 17:25). Abortion is a rejection and refusal of life given by God and an assault upon God’s little ones.

3. God forbids the taking of innocent human life (Exodus 20:13, 21:22-25, Amos 1:11, Micah 3:1-4). Only God has the right to intervene to take life.

4. The greatest of all commandments are those which teach us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

5. The fetus is a human being made in God’s image, and abortion is thus an affront against God (Genesis 1:27, 5:1-3, 9:6).

There are many other arguments against the relativist position. Randy Alcorn has written a great book called Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments. This is a great resource for believers. Let us remember: a fetus is a person! He or she does not have to be outside the womb to be a person. I leave you today with this quote from Gilbert Meilaender from his book, Bioethics (pages 31-32): “At one or two weeks after conception, a person does not yet look much like us, but he/she looks very much like we did when we were that age.” To go further, from the moment of conception, we all looked the same!

Will you pray for the unborn today? Will you pray that the lies of the enemy would be shattered, and that our culture would turn from relativism to the truth found in God’s Word?

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Nov 252011
 

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4 (ESV)

There are some things that absolutely do not go together: You have heard it said that oil and water do not mix. That’s true. This is rivalry week in college football. One cannot be an Ohio State fan and a Michigan fan at the same time. One cannot be an Auburn fan and an Alabama fan at the same time. One cannot be a Georgia fan and a Georgia Tech fan at the same time. These things just don’t mix. As much as I love bratwurst and sauerkraut, that just does not fit with Thanksgiving! We were meant to eat turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and pecan pie on Thanksgiving! Anything thing else just does not seem right to me.

There is something that the apostle Paul cannot imagine fitting together: one who proclaims the name of Christ while their mouth is filled with filthiness, foolish talk and crude joking. The Apostle Paul was instrumental in teaching and leading the church in Ephesus (See Acts 18:24-20:36). He taught the word earnestly for three years, admonishing them with tears. He poured his heart into these believers. Now, while Paul is in a Roman prison, he addresses an issue that must be evident among the believers in Ephesus. He had to admonish them again to be imitators of God and to walk in love as Christ loved them. He warned them against the dangers of sexual immorality and he says that immorality should not even be named among them. Perhaps from Timothy, Paul hears about their language. The words that he hears that are coming out of their mouths is unbecoming as a Christian. Their minds are filled with filth and they were telling crude jokes and laughing about those said by others. Apparently, they would not take a stand against those that spoke this way, and hence they communicated that it was no big deal. It was just innocent fun.

But Paul makes very clear that these things are out of place. Filthiness and foolish talk and crude joking are never appropriate for God’s people. Filthy talk reveals what is inside the heart. Paul wants them to think before they speak. He wants to put a check in their spirit when they are tempted to tell a crude joke to get a laugh from their friends. The jokes really are not funny and they do not edify. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Do you know what is fitting for a Christian to say? Paul says that our mouths should be filled with thanksgiving! Now those go together! Christians should be the most thankful people on the earth. Praise and thanksgiving should abound in our hearts and subsequently on our lips. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will he brought us forth by the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” God has been so good to us. Anything less than thanksgiving comes from a heart filled with pride and self-sufficiency. All that we have and all that we enjoy comes from His gracious hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day of 2011 and the days that follow, let thanksgiving be spoken among you. Let your children hear the words of life. Let them hear you speak of God’s greatness and grace. Let us be known as thankful people.

Let us reflect on God’s goodness to us. As the hymn tells us, and I believe rightly so, “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your many blessings, see what God has done. Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Oct 262011
 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1

My teaching for the men’s group this week begins with this verse from the 12th chapter of Hebrews. The great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us are those immediately mentioned previously in the 11th chapter. Of course, it also refers to all those that have died trusting in Jesus Christ. This verse does not mean that the dead saints are “looking down” on us and they are watching us and cheering us on. The verse is a call for believers to look back at the heroes of the faith and to imitate their hope and trust in God. When you read the end of chapter 10 and all of chapter 11, you cannot help but see that these were extraordinary people, men “of whom the world was not worthy.” From 10:34, they helped their brothers and sisters in prison, and while they were out, they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. I do wish that we were such people of faith; that we might love Christ more than our things. The saints of old did not put their hope in earthly places or things. They knew they were strangers on earth and they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one (v. 16). By faith Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. He left Egypt, not fearing the king. By faith, God delivered some and by faith God did not deliver some (see 11:32-39).

I want to highlight this verse because yesterday, October 24, was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s leaving this world and entering into the glory of her Lord. She is part of that great cloud. I look back on her life and I thank God that He blessed me with her. I want to mention quickly two things that I desire to imitate in her life. There are many more, but I don’t want to write a book right now, and you probably do not want to read one!

First of all, my mom loved the local church. She grew up as a PK (pastor’s kid). Her father had planted a church in Birmingham, AL, when my mother was born. There was never a time in her life that she was not in the house of God! From birth to death, except on rare occasions, she was in His house with other believers. During my entire life, there has never been a time when I have not been in fellowship with other believers. The importance of the local church was ingrained in me. There was never another place I wanted to be on Lord’s Day but in the house of God. Now that I have studied church history and I’m pastoring RBC, the local church is even more precious to me. The local church is God’s plan for evangelism and discipleship. It is the “ark of safety” for believers. To use the imagery of Pilgrim’s Progress, it is that Palace Beautiful. So many today have spoken ill of the church. But Christ loves the church and He gave His life for her. I actually heard someone say, “I love Jesus but hate the Church.” No, this person does not know Jesus! A person who says they love Jesus should love that which Jesus loves, and that is His Church. Christ is building His Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. My mom didn’t worship the church. She worshiped her Savior through the God-ordained means of the local church, the visible manifestation of the body of Christ. She was deeply committed to her brothers and sisters in Christ.

Secondly, my mom loved music. From her earliest days she learned to read music and play the piano. She also had a beautiful soprano voice. Do you remember when CB radios were popular? Her CB handle was “High C”! She could hit the high notes! I still hear her voice in many hymns that I sing today. I miss her voice. When my mother was a young girl, she and her sisters would take an afternoon and sing through the entire hymnbook! She was the choir director at church for years. After her death, we found some annual letters that she had written to the choir members. They were filled with Scripture and communicated her love for God and her thankfulness for the gift of music. When I was a boy, she tried to teach me to play the piano. Sadly, I was too restless and I gave her a hard time during lessons. I regret that today. But I do love music of all kinds, and especially music that is Gospel-centered. At the time of her death, my mother was singing in a choral group that performed with the Cincinnati Symphony. It was a great honor to be a part of that. Mom inspired me to keep a song in my heart and I try to do that every day. This morning it was As Long as You are Glorified. We sang this song Sunday, and I can’t get it out of my head. That is a very good thing and I believe my mom can be credited with training my mind for music.

I could say many more things about her, but I want to close with the rest of the verse above. Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. What can we learn from their example? There are three things:

1. Let us also lay aside every weight. Notice that it doesn’t say “lay aside every sin” yet. That is coming. But the author directs our attention to things that may not be bad in and of themselves, but are like a weight that slows our spiritual progress. Let me get very practical here. Here are some possible weights that you might be carrying. They might not be weights for everyone, but they just might be something that takes much of your time and attention: cell phones, internet, Facebook, iPods, cameras, cars, magazines, shopping, friendships, etc. Are there things in your life now that are not necessarily bad, but are taking time away from your walk with Christ? The writer of Hebrews tells us that people of faith strive to rid themselves of these weights. Examine yourself today. What is weighing you down and hindering your progress in the faith?

2. Let us also lay aside the sin which clings so closely. How diligent are we in our struggle against sin? How are we trying to cast off things that cling to us? Sin is like a dryer sheet that clings to your clean clothes. You can go half-way through the day and you finally realize that what is itching your leg is a dryer sheet stuck inside your pants. Sin clings to and entangles us. It trips us up and causes us to stumble. One of the themes of Hebrews is that Jesus is our Mediator, our great High Priest (4:14-16). We have one that prays for us and, by one single offering, has perfected for all time those that are being sanctified (10:14). That is a verse that gives me hope in the struggle to lay sin aside.

3. Let us run the race that is set before us with endurance. Each one of us has different obstacles, but believers are called to endure. The race often seems very long and the finish line is a faint image. But the finish line will get here sooner than you think (James says “life is a vapor”). My prayer today for all of us is for endurance. Let us not throw away our confidence, but let us hold fast to Christ. Christ is the Great Shepherd of the sheep (13:20). The message of Hebrews 11 and 12 is that God designs difficulties for a purpose. Look at 12:7: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” So friend, do not despise the Lord’s discipline. It is evidence of His love for you. Verse 11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

My mom’s race ended sometime in the early morning of October 24, 2005. I don’t know when my race will be over, but I have need of endurance. How about you? O, Lord, please tear me from the love of this world. Help me never to be comfortable in this world, but to forsake the things that are hindering me in my race. Having the things of this world torn from me is painful, but please give grace and healing. I’m thankful for the life of my mom. She now lives in your presence. That confidence is a gift of your grace and I give you all the praise. In Jesus name, Amen.

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Oct 052011
 

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and to keep it.

Genesis 2:15 (ESV)

I am not a big movie watcher although I am not against film or the arts. I am not one to say, “Go see this,” or “Go see that,” but Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia has produced yet another film that I pray will literally impact millions. It really does have a great message. Fireproof was an excellent movie regarding faithfulness in marriage – “until death do us part.” Their new film, Courageous, centers on the theme of the crucial role a father plays in the life of his family. This is a movie that causes me to say, “Go see it!”

Over the last several months, I have been reading a book with my accountability partner entitled The Masculine Mandate, written by Richard D. Phillips. Every page has helped me in some way. So it has been good to take it slow, learn from the Scriptures, and apply what I have learned in my life and family. This book stands in stark contrast to a very popular book for men by John Eldridge entitled Wild at Heart. Eldridge argues that God created the woman inside the garden, but the man was created outside the garden. Hence, a man finds his identity outside the garden in wilderness quests. Men are free to be who they are. He says, “The core of a man’s heart is undomesticated.” But Eldridge totally misses the point and the whole premise of his book misses the teaching of Scripture. Look at Genesis 2:15. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden.

Listen to Phillips here: “The point of Genesis 2:8 (and verse 15) is that God has put the man into the garden, into the world of covenantal relationships and duties, in order to gain and act out his God-given identity there. If God intends men to be wild at heart, how strange that he placed man in the garden where his life would be shaped not by self-centered identity quests but by covenantal bonds and blessings.”

The mandate given to Adam, and to all men, is to work and keep. To work is to labor to make things grow and be productive. There should be no passivity in work. A task is given, and a man should set out to accomplish the task. It takes planning and discipline, but a diligent man reaps great rewards. God has called all men to be builders, and I don’t mean just building houses. But men are called to work and build into their wives and families. A man’s work does not end when he comes home from “work”. No, his work continues. He is called to build up and invest in his wife and family. All that he does should be intentional and with a direction to lead those closest to him in the ways of the Lord. God has placed the man as head of the home. Because of our sin nature (see Genesis 3), men are usually either too overbearing on their wife and children, or they are too passive, and the wife takes the lead. But through the power of the Gospel, God’s design for marriage and family can be restored. By God’s grace, a man can look at every moment he has to be one of building and growing and leading and loving.

To keep means to nurture and tend and protect. What a mandate God has given to men! Very often, when we think of nurturing, we imagine that it is what a woman is supposed to do, or at least what she is better suited to do. But men, that’s what YOU are called to do. Men, figuratively speaking (and literally if you have a garden), we must keep the weeds out of our gardens. A garden left untended is a mess. Nothing good grows. It takes work to weed, but it yields a better crop. Men are called by God to protect their families from things that are destructive and harmful. Men are to set an example of what real Biblical manhood is. Fathers are called to teach their sons the masculine mandate of Scripture and help them see what a man is supposed to be. A father should emulate the kind of man that he would want his own daughter to marry.

God has placed men in the garden of covenantal relationships. In all of these relationships he is called to build and keep. That includes marriage and family, leading in the church, places of employment, coaching youth sports, teaching and encouraging music lessons, choosing the educational direction of the children, and many, many other areas.

I see the Courageous movie as a means to continue the discussion of Biblical manhood and womanhood. I’m thankful for it and I pray its influence will touch many homes. The movie was the 5th top-grossing movie of the week. It grossed $9,063,147. The movie’s budget was $11 million. Not bad for the first three days. I write this, not so that we would be impressed with the money Sherwood Baptist Church and others will make on it, but to show that there is great interest in a movie that deals with fathers courageously leading their homes. Men, let’s build and keep! That is what God has called us to do. No doubt we need God’s grace and help to do it. Please pray for me and I’ll pray for you. I get one chance to build and keep my wife and kids. By God’s grace, I want to make the most of each joy and trial for the glory of Christ.

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