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A Vision for the Glory of God

As we work to articulate an updated statement of our mission, vision and values as a church, it’s important to remember that our ultimate purpose and our marching orders are clear. Every Biblical church shares the ultimate purpose of glorifying God above all things and of obeying the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. The question is, “What does it look like in this place, in this time, for us to glorify God and make disciples of all nations?”

This video summary from John Piper is one of the best clips I’ve seen to summarize that ultimate purpose or vision. What does it mean to glorify God? How does that relate to our inevitable human desire to be happy? Is it possible to pursue our happiness precisely by bringing glory to God?

The key line is this: “God is more glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” What brings the most honor to anyone – dutiful service or passionate enjoyment? Clearly a wife would much prefer her husband to delight in being with her much more than having him go through the motions of serving her needs. The same is true of parents toward their children and friends toward one another. Enjoyment conveys far greater honor than duty.

Yet when it comes to God, we usually default to dutiful service and struggle to experience passionate delight. Here is the key that unlocks joy in this life and that best unveils what heaven will be about: God’s glory and my joy are not at odds with each other as if I must choose between them; they are one in Christ! I glorify God by enjoying Him forever. He is my greatest joy and by finding my highest delight in Him, I bring the greatest honor to Him.

God’s eternal existence has been the passionate delight of Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveling in the excellencies of one another. History has been the gradual unveiling of these glories of our Triune God, first to the people of God in the Old Testament and then to all nations in the New.

The Gospel is God’s open invitation to all who will hear and respond: come to the fountain of living water! Come and find rest for your soul! Taste and see that the Lord is good! Eat and be satisfied with the richest of food. Stop digging wells in the desert that cannot truly make you happy and come to the only One who can fill you to overflowing with love, joy, peace and power.

This is our vision as a church: to bring glory to God by “spreading a passion for the supremacy of Christ in all things, for the joy of all peoples” (another John Piper quote). We want to create a culture of joy in our church that celebrates the wondrous glory of God and invites people to trade their empty worship of false gods for the soul-satisfying worship of Jesus Christ. We want to lift up the name of Jesus in our city so that more people will hear the good news of His saving work and His name will be increasingly honored. We want to invest in global missions so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will spread to all peoples and nations, inviting as many people as possible to join in this everlasting celebration of the supremacy of Christ.

A Brief History of the EFCA

Four streams flowed together to create our movement. The first was home-based Bible studies and communion celebrations “for all believers but believers only,” at a time when attendance in the Lutheran state churches of Sweden and Norway was required by law. When these finally organized as churches they were “free” from the control of the Lutheran state church. The second stream was the spiritual life of the Pietists in Europe in the 1800s, reinforced by the third stream – the revival fires of the Second Great Awakening in America. The final tributary was the political and economic distress throughout Scandinavia in the late 1800s that led over 2 million Swedes and nearly 1 million Norwegians and Danes to cross the ocean and come to America.

The official birthday of the Evangelical Free Church in the United States was 1884, when a meeting was held in Boone, Iowa. The sole intent of coming together was to be more effective in evangelism and missions, as reflected by the sending of the first missionary (J.H. Von Qualen) to Canton, China, in 1887.

“The Free Church was not organized as a denomination. Primarily it was intended to be a missionary enterprise… Although no definite organization was accomplished [at the 1884 Boone meeting], yet enough was done to mark the beginning of a more definite work… All were alive to the blessings bestowed; all were thrilled by the precious light shed upon and through the prophetic word, and all were on fire for the saving of as many souls as possible, and in as short a time as possible. Jesus was coming soon – that was the heart-throb back of it all. And that was sufficient.”[1]

As wave after wave of immigrants came to the U.S., most Free Church work was dedicated to reaching these first generation families who still spoke their mother tongue. So it wasn’t until World War I brought a stop to immigration that the churches began to consider doing their worship services in English. By the 1930s and 40s most Free Churches had made the change, so a merger of the Swedish and Norwegian-Danish Free Churches (until that time mostly independent even from each other) was achieved in 1950 and the Evangelical Free Church of America was born.

For more details read: EFCAHistory

[1] The Golden Jubilee, E.A.Halleen, p. 27, 1934.

The Weight of Glory

C.S. Lewis first preached this message in Oxford on June 8, 1942, yet it remains insightful and relevant today both as a corrective to misplaced loves among believers and as a winsome appeal to those who don’t yet know Jesus in the full wonder of His glory.

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promises in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Yes, Jesus promises rewards – “treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy,” and in fact rewards of immeasurable value so it would be foolish not to sell all you have to get the “treasure in the field” or the “pearl of great price.” And don’t our own desires and pleasures – and how they end so quickly or evade us entirely – point us to some greater reality we were made to enjoy?

“We remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy… A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”

Yes, we long for something and Lewis suggests at the center of that longing is the desire for glory. Of course we abuse that desire in the here and now, seeking attention in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons but that only proves the point that we long for it. But this world was not meant to satisfy the deepest longing that can only be fulfilled by that wondrous phrase Jesus utters: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Oh to return to the simple and unapologetic pursuit of a child in trying to please her father.

“In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us.

“It is written that we shall ‘stand before’ Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

And this is the very thing we know deep down is missing here in this life: deep, lasting acceptance.

“But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, longing to be acknowledged… the promise of glory becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”

Doesn’t your mind almost blister with longing for this, even as it eludes comprehension? But then a shadow falls on our hearts and a chill settles on our minds as we contemplate the terrifying alternative.

“We are warned that it may happen to any one of us to appear at last before the face of God and hear only the appalling words: ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me.’ In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all. We can be left utterly and absolutely outside – repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored.

“On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged. We walk every day on the razor edge between these two incredible possibilities. Apparently then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”

 

Is Worrying a Sin?

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The most commonly stated command in Scripture is not “worship the Lord,” “serve the Lord” or “love the Lord.” Five times more often stated than any of these commands and more than double all three of them combined is the command, “Do not be afraid” (or variations on it such as “Do not worry” or “Do not be anxious”). Pastor Rick Warren has pointed out how there are 365 of these commands in the Bible – one for every day of the year!

“Do not be anxious about anything…” (Philippians 4:6) is one of those clear directives, echoing Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the mount, “Do not worry about your life” (Matt. 6:25). Jesus’ point is that his followers shouldn’t worry because our Father in heaven knows what we need and will take care of us – so we should let our trust in God move us to WORK – “seek first His kingdom” (6:33) – instead of wasting our time and energy in worry.

Paul’s thinking is similar in Philippians, as he has just exhorted Euodia and syntyche – his fellow workers in the gospel – to agree in the Lord so they can get back to work and stop hindering the church there (Php. 4:2-3). But Paul takes a slightly different angle by saying “don’t worry… instead pray.” Turn your worries into prayers and God will turn them into peace.

Based on these clear instructions from Jesus and Paul (and 363 commands just like these elsewhere in the Bible) we must conclude that it is a sin to worry since, “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). It is not a sin to struggle with the temptation to worry. The sin is choosing to dwell on our worries rather than turning them over to the Lord in prayer. God has promised us His peace. He has even promised to take care of all the little things we stress about. So let’s not deceive ourselves by thinking of worry as an “acceptable sin.” Rather, let’s repent of our lack of faith and fight the sin of fear by bringing our worries and concerns continually to the Lord in prayer, freeing us up to get about the business of serving Him and sharing the Good News that peace with God is available through Jesus!

Apply the Gospel to your Heart!

Whatever your struggle or temptation, the way to move forward is to “apply the gospel to your heart and then live in the power of the Holy Spirit” (from Jonathan Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship). Consider this chart by Dr. Scott Lothery, the Executive Pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Chicago.

In it he presents the 13 virtues of Christ in contrast to the 13 ways we all fall miserably short of His glory. For example, Jesus is love while we are callous, hardened and insensitive to the needs of others. The result of this sin is that we are alienated both from God and from one another.

Doesn’t this exactly describe the horrific shooting at the Texas church yesterday? Instead of exercising other-centered love like Jesus, this disturbed, hard-hearted young man took the lives of 26 people and injured many others.

But notice how the gospel speaks even to this terrible situation. Due to his sinful and callous heart, this young man experienced the consequences of his sin – alienation from people (including one armed resident who was courageous enough to fight him and chase him off) and ultimately from God. He placed himself under the justice of God and is now beginning to face eternal punishment for his immorality, forever enduring God’s wrath. God’s justice and wrath are an expression of His goodness in contrast to human immorality which results in corruption – darkened thinking that leads to twisted and violent behaviors.

For any who might now feel discouraged (pessimistic in the chart), lift your eyes to consider the hopefulness of Jesus Christ. Though we deserve physical death, Jesus endured death on our behalf and conquered it through his resurrection. And so our response of faith is to share this good news, spreading the hope of Jesus to a world increasingly filled with darkness, evil and despair.

What are you struggling with today? What symptoms are you experiencing? Shift your focus from yourself to Jesus and meditate on His glorious perfections. Let that move you to confess how far you fall short of His glory, repenting of your sin and thereby seeing more clearly how the Gospel applies to you – directly to your situation right now. Then exercise intentional faith, responding with joy to what Jesus has done for you despite how utterly undeserving you are of that grace.

Apply the Gospel to your heart!

 

Jesus is Better

The battle with temptation and sin is the battle to believe that Jesus is better. Every temptation holds out a promise of something better: a superior pleasure, a preferable path to happiness, a safer choice, a more comfortable option.

The very first temptation the serpent used with Adam and Eve was the “look what you’ll get” offer of superior knowledge. The devil first raised doubts about the Word of God (“did God really say…?”) and then questioned the good promises of God – showing Adam and Eve what appeared to them to be a better promise.

The devil’s playbook is very consistent. He still tries to get us to question God’s Word and doubt the goodness of God’s promises. So just as Jesus answered the enemy’s temptations by quoting Scripture (to remain anchored in the truth and not swayed by deception) and holding fast to the better promises of God, we must reject the false promises of sin and cling to the One who is better.

When we are tempted by the lusts of the flesh, let’s remember that Jesus is sweeter.

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” Psalm 84:10-12

When we are tempted to trust in our own efforts and put confidence in our flesh, let’s remember that Jesus is better.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Hebrews 1:3-4

And when we are tempted to rely on our own wisdom and power, let’s remember that Jesus is stronger.

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Colossians 1:17-19

Whatever your temptation or struggle, identify the false promise underneath it and then search the Scriptures to find the better promises in God’s Word. (For more on this see John Piper’s helpful and inspiring book Battling Unbelief.)

The Legacy of Sovereign Joy

My primary source as I preached on Joyful Ministry yesterday was John Piper’s The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. In this inspiring little book, Piper traces the connections from Saint Augustine in the early 400s to Martin Luther and John Calvin in the early to mid 1500s.

This was the first book in Piper’s series The Swans are not Silent. The title derives from Augustine’s retirement after forty years of ministry in Hippo, North Africa. His apprentice, a young priest named Eraclius, looked over at the brilliant and godly Bishop sitting down and said, “The cricket chirps, the swan is silent.”

Next to giants of the faith like Saint Augustine we all feel like chirping crickets. But the truth is that the swans of history are not silent, for they speak through all of us who carry on their legacy.

Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk – so his focus of study and teaching was the voluminous writings of Saint Augustine. Luther, very much a product of his age, was enslaved by his fears and superstitions, consumed by his terror at the just wrath of God that surely would come for him at any moment. This fear drove him to the monastery following a fierce thunderstorm. And this fear drove him constantly to the confession booth where he never felt his contrition was sufficient.

Finally, Luther’s mentor, Dr. Staupitz, directed him away from his efforts to identify every tiny little sin and instead to consider his overall condition or nature – a very Augustinian approach. “To treat smallpox,” Luther later reflected, “You need not examine every tiny pustule but rather treat the overall disease.” The teachings of Augustine were uniquely suited to help Luther diagnose his fundamental disease of slavery to sin.

1,100 years before Luther, Augustine wrote: “O Lord, my Helper and my Redeemer, I shall now tell and confess to the glory of your name how you released me from the fetters of lust which held me so tightly shackled and from the slavery to the things of this world” (Piper 51). Luther became a herald of Augustine’s theology of total depravity and salvation as entirely the work of God, lest man rob God of His glory.

Luther wrote: “Man cannot by his own power purify his heart and bring forth godly gifts, such as true repentance for sins, a true, as over against an artificial, fear of God, true faith, sincere love…” (109)

“I condemn and reject as nothing but error all doctrines which exalt our ‘free will’ as being directly opposed to this mediation and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. For since, apart from Christ, sin and death are our masters and the devil is our god and prince, there can be no strength or power, no wit or wisdom, by which we can fit or fashion ourselves for righteousness and life.” (110)

This flows directly from the thought of Augustine: “A man’s free will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth; and even after his duty and his proper aim shall begin to become known to him, unless he also take delight in and feel a love for it, he neither does his duty, nor sets about it, nor lives rightly. Now, in order that such a course may engage our affections, God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us.’ (Rom. 5:5).” (60)

Augustine described his conversion from slavery to sin to joyful new life in Christ: “During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke? …How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! …You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves…. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.” (57)

Luther’s experience, when finally the truth of Romans 1:17 illumined his heart and mind, was very similar as joy in the Lord overcame all of his fears and competing desires: “There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith… Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”(92)

Here was the legacy of Saint Augustine and the rallying cry of the Reformation: sovereign joy – a delight in God that reigns supreme over all other desires in our hearts.

Augustine:

  • “You yourself [O God] are their joy. Happiness is to rejoice in you and for you and because of you. This is true happiness and there is no other.” (67)
  • “He is happy who possesses God.” (68)
  • “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace till they rest in you.” (68)

May we invite the Holy Spirit to kindle this single-minded, sovereign joy in our hearts and lives – may we, tiny crickets though we are, boldly chirp the song that God alone can fulfill the deep desires for happiness built into us all.

Piper: “Once we see Augustine’s vision of grace as ‘sovereign joy,’ the lessons of Luther’s study will strengthen it by the Word of God, and the lessons of Calvin’s preaching will spread it to the ends of the earth” (12). Amen. Let it be so!

Because you are…

Because you are loved                                         –             live a life of love

Because you were chosen                                   –             live at peace

Because you are justified                                    –             live gratefully

Because you are blessed                                      –             live joyfully

Because you are a child of God                          –             live in obedience

Because you are a citizen of heaven                  –             live with hope

Because you are holy                                            –             live with purity

Because you have the Holy Spirit                      –             live in His power

Because you are forgiven                                    –             be quick to forgive

Because you were reconciled                             –             live in unity

Because you were served                                    –             live a life of service

Because you have a mission                               –             live boldly for Christ

Because you received grace                                –             be active in sharing the gospel of grace

Because you are saved                                         –             live worthy of that salvation

Religion v. The Gospel

The good news of Jesus Christ is the message that all who believe in Him are saved entirely by grace and not at all by our own efforts. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Yet many people today believe they are saved by living a “good enough” life. They think that if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds God will surely accept them into heaven in the end. Some add to this “good enough” theology, religious efforts such as prayer, church attendance, giving to charity, etc. Whether it is just moral effort or good works combined with religious efforts, this is the path of self-reliant religion: I do good works in order to be saved.

In stark contrast to this works-based salvation, the Bible teaches that “None is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). You simply can’t be good enough to earn your way to heaven because the standard God uses for entrance into heaven is perfection not 51% goodness. “Therefore you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)

But the amazing good news of the gospel is that Jesus offers us HIS perfection if we simply come to Him humble enough to ask for it. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13)

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:20,23-24

That word “justified” means declared righteous: not only forgiven for all of your sins but actually given full credit for the perfection of Jesus. So we do good works as followers of Jesus not in order to be saved but because we are saved.

Working in order to be saved is a relentlessly exhausting uphill climb and you will never know if you have climbed high enough or worked hard enough. Working for Jesus because you are saved is not easy all the time but in contrast to self-reliant religion it is like a downhill stroll because Jesus has done the hard work of paying for sin and earning perfect righteousness, and He walks with us, giving us the desire and the power to obey His commands.

“For it is God who works in you” giving you the desire and the ability to live “for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  May the gospel fill us with gratitude and joy to obey Jesus with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength!

Downward Mobility

Philippians 2 challenges followers of Jesus to “count others more significant than yourselves,” (v. 3) by embracing the mindset of Jesus.

Though Jesus was (and is) of the same substance and nature as God, he did not cling to his status and rights but instead “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Jesus followed a downward path from heaven to earth, to Bethlehem, to an unresponsive people in Israel and finally to the cross. You can visualize the pathway of Jesus with the downward arrow of the incarnation representing his condescension to the limitations of a fully human body, the humble service of his life and ministry and the sacrificial suffering he endured that ultimately led to his crucifixion.

But at this point in the text the active agent changes and God the Father takes over from the the Son, restoring Jesus to his rightful position as the supreme ruler over all things before whom all people will one day bow. That is the path Jesus walked and it is the path all Christians are called to follow, for “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

The alternative, and the consistent path taken by our culture today, is to follow the way of Lucifer. Though he was the most glorious of angels, he wanted even greater power and recognition. So he staged an uprising and tried to overthrow God. “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high… I will make myself like the Most High.”

This is the path of self-exaltation that seeks to avoid service and suffering, that looks for a way around the cross. This is the path of self-indulgence so often glorified today as “following your heart.” But notice the warning in Matthew 23:12 and the outcome for the devil. “You are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit… you are cast out… like a dead body trampled underfoot” (Isaiah 14:13-14,15,19).

Which mindset will we choose? The mind of Christ who relinquished his rights and laid down his life or the mind of satan who demanded more than his rights and sought to overthrow God?

Let’s step back from our daily life to see ourselves clearly in the light of the glory of God. Next to other people you may look pretty impressive.

But next to Jesus, we are all microscopic specks of dust. 1.3 million earths can fit into the sun. Jesus created the sun in the same moment he made all of the stars in the heavens, simply saying, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens” (Gen. 1:14-18). If we can see ourselves for the finite, fleeting and fallen creatures we are… If we can appreciate the all-surpassing glories of Jesus and all he has done for us… then we can begin to obey Philippians 2:3, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Whose path will you follow today?