For Whom Did Jesus Die?

I was recently asked to speak at a Men’s Conference at a nearby church in Nassau. Initially I was told that the theme would be the “Solas” of reformed theology and that my assignment would be to teach on “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone be the glory). Shortly after receiving this assignment, the conference theme changed to: “What Is The Gospel?”. I then came to understand that I was to attempt to answer the question, as best as I could, while staying with my assigned “Sola”.

The audio message below does not provide a comprehensive answer to the question: “What Is The Gospel?”, but it does make the assertion (based on Romans 3) that Christ did not merely die for our sake, but that He died for the sake of His Heavenly Father, and His righteousness.

I am indebted to Pastor John Piper who was the first to highlight for me the God-centredness of the Gospel in his best selling book, “Desiring God”.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Jesus Forsaken For Us

On Maundy Thursday I was interviewed on JCN’s “The Platform” by Wendell Jones and Godfrey Eneas. I was asked to explain why Jesus exclaimed “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” while hanging on the cross. The video above provides part of my answer. The audio below is a more comprehensive answer from my Good Friday message, delivered at St. Andrew’s Kirk, “God Forsaken For Our Sake”.

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Sacrificing For The Mission?

SacrificeThere is a cost for freedom.

On November 11, we set aside time to remember that many gave their lives in order to preserve our national freedom.

Whenever Christians gather at the Lord’s Table we remember that Jesus gave up His life in order to obtain our eternal freedom.

There is a cost for freedom.

You could say that anything worth having, or keeping, comes at a price. There are times when the cost is so high that we term the payment as a sacrifice.

I recently delivered a message, based on Nehemiah 5:1-19, entitled “Sacrificing For The Vision” (audio below). In this message I identify the “sacrifices” made by those charged with rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. I note the sacrifices that Nehemiah makes, giving up certain allowances and privileges and sharing his resources with those in need.

The pattern we see throughout Scripture is that faithfulness to God takes work. We have to give up things. I think it is noteworthy that the Gospels don’t simply say that the first disciples followed Jesus, but we’re told that Simon Peter and Andrew “left their nets and followed (Jesus)” (Mt. 4:20). James and John are said to have “left the boat and their father and followed (Jesus)” (Mt. 4:22).

Indeed, there is a cost to discipleship.

Our role models in this regard are many—Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Nehemiah, the early apostles, are just the first that come to mind when I think of those who gave up much in their effort to honour the Lord.

My encouragement to the people of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk was to prepare themselves to similarly sacrifice for the kingdom of God. I urged them to give time, energy, and resources to help further the Gospel of Christ. In a word, there was a call to sacrifice for the mission.

And yet, part of me blushes to use the word sacrifice. Yes, discipleship is costly, but I think David Livingstone ‘s response to Cambridge University students in 1857 sheds appropriate light for us:

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

It takes considerable commitment and effort to walk the narrow road and to promote the Gospel in the face of persecution, but perhaps we need to choose a word other than sacrifice.

What I can safely say is that we need to move beyond half-measures. Or to quote the great hymn writer, Isaac Watts:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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“Sacrificing For The Vision”, based on Nehemiah 5:1-19, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, October 30, 2011.

Coping with Critics

Chuck Swindoll, in his fine commentary on Nehemiah, asserts that “you haven’t really led until you have become familiar with the stinging barbs of the critic. For the leader, opposition is inevitable.”

You probably know this to be true from experience. Most every leader will eventually be criticized—whether you are the Prime Minister of a nation, a business owner, a store manager, or a leader within a local church. Resistance to leadership is commonplace.

Accordingly, a good leader will be someone who possesses skill in problem-solving.

Nehemiah was such a leader. As Nehemiah led the people of Israel in the reconstruction of Jerusalem, he had to cope with persistent opposition. In Nehemiah, chapter 4, we read about Sanballat and Tobiah openly mocking those engaged in reconstruction. Moreover, Sanballat and Tobiah made a point of recruiting other critics and together they conspired to frustrate and interrupt the work of Nehemiah and his fellow countrymen.

I want to offer you something to consider. Nehemiah was someone who was experiencing God’s abundant blessing and ongoing favour. And yet, Nehemiah still has to deal with fierce opposition. Just as God cleared a path for Nehemiah to travel to Jerusalem, He could have also made smooth the path for Jerusalem’s reconstruction.

What we see here is that God’s favour upon Nehemiah does not preclude Nehemiah from having to face serious adversity.

This leads me to conclude that, while facing opposition is highly unpleasant, there must be something positive in it.

Could it be that God allows us to face opposition, purposing us to draw closer to Him?

As we read on, I am inspired by Nehemiah’s instinct to pray and to keep working. Nehemiah’s approach to leadership is a delightful balance between being highly spiritual and immensely practical.

The temptation, when we are criticized, is to give up the work. For the leader, this is not a viable option. Nehemiah shows us a better way. Nehemiah continues to move the mission forward through earnest prayer and resolute effort.

The balance between these two approaches will be the key to our success.

Prayer without pragmatics is presumption. Prayer without a security plan is going to get someone hurt.

On the other hand, pragmatics without prayer flows from pride. To attempt to engage our critics without Divine assistance is to court disaster.

If God has called us to a significant work, history teaches us that we will eventually face opposition. But this opposition has been designed by God to shape our character and to further His purposes (Rom. 8:28). For this reason, we do not run from adversity, but rather, we greet it with earnest prayer and a steady determination to stay with the work.

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“Implementing A Vision Amid Opposition”, based on Nehemiah 4:1-9, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, October 16, 2011.

Work Together

Have you ever found yourself saying to a colleague, or partner, “Never mind, I will do it myself”?

Many of us have learned the hard way that delegation doesn’t always work. And working as a team isn’t always an easy alternative either. Many of us know, first hand, the “too many chefs in the kitchen” principle. Sometimes it’s just easier to “fly solo”.

I am well acquainted with the temptation to work alone (and often give into to it), but this temptation must be resisted. The kind of work that God has ordained for His people is designed to be completed by a group.

The apostle Paul declares that we “are the body of Christ, and each one of (us) is a part of it” (1Cor. 12:27). Some of us are the “eyes”, some the “ears”, some the “hands”, some the “feet” (1Cor. 12:14-26). Individually, none of us are the body. We are parts. Only together can we be “the body of Christ”.

I must resist every inclination to be “a lone ranger”. A do-it-yourself attitude may work with your home renovation, but it will not work with the church’s transformation of a community. Accordingly, we can do far more together than we can do on our own. God’s designed it this way.

Nearly, 2,500 years ago, Nehemiah came to a point where he had to enlist others in order to succeed with his vision to rebuild Jerusalem. He had done so much on his own. He prayed. He planned. He acquired all the necessary documents and permissions to travel and begin rebuilding. But, eventually, Nehemiah had to present his vision to others because what was required was beyond him.

In Nehemiah 2:17ff, we read about that presentation. The response of the people is so immediate and so positive that we risk missing the profundity of the response. It’s not as if Nehemiah was presenting to a bunch of people with nothing better to do. This was an agricultural society—if you weren’t working, you weren’t eating.

These folks were up to their eyeballs with things to do. Signing on to Nehemiah’s vision would require putting some very important things on hold. Furthermore, many of these people were no longer even living in Jerusalem. Signing on would mean significant time away from home.

In short, working together would require sacrifice. And yet, there is no sign of hesitation. The immediate response is “‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work” (Neh. 2:18).

There is a sense in which the things we are called to today are beyond us, just as rebuilding Jerusalem was beyond Nehemiah’s individual abilities. To maximize our growth in Christ-likeness, to most effectively spread the Gospel, to facilitate kingdom advancement and community transformation, we need one another.

We were never meant to do this Christianity thing on our own. The faith given to us it not reducible to a “Jesus and me” equation. We are called to be a part within a body. We are called to play a particular position on a team.

Nehemiah understood this and succeeded. Jerusalem was rebuilt on the back of a team whose members were committed to God and to one another.

My hope and prayer is that today’s Church will mirror that wisdom and resolve. Accordingly, I urge you: Go find your position. Do your part. Work together.

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“Implementing A Vision Together”, based on Nehemiah 2:11-20, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, October 9, 2011.