Your Very Life

Living where Life is

On Babies and Heaven

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[Originally published on October 3, 2015. I republish it because I learned of friends this week who lost their little one in the womb over the summer.]

“Will I see Joshua again?”

Joshua is my son, who died at about 20 weeks of age, inside the womb. He was perfectly formed–4 limbs, ribs, toes, fingers (with fingernails!), hairs on his back, and a beautiful little face. (Insert compelling case for protecting the lives of unborn children here…)

He died at 20 weeks simply because his umbilical cord became tangled and kinked. Our doctor was very quick to shepherd my wife: “there is nothing you did to cause this, and nothing you could have done to prevent this.” He’s right.

My question, “Will I see Joshua again?” is shared by any who have lost babies in the womb, or as newborns and infants. Even at the start of life, we’re still reminded of the brokenness of this world!

Pastor Sam Storms provides a simple case for the fact that God’s mercy extends to those, like Joshua, who die very young, before the so-called ‘age of accountability.’ Click this link for his whole blog post. The best of the reasons are:

“1. In Romans 1:20 Paul describes recipients of general revelation as being “without excuse.” They can’t blame their unbelief on a lack of evidence. There is sufficient revelation of God’s existence in the natural order to establish the moral accountability of all who witness it. Might this imply that those who are not recipients of general revelation (i.e., infants) are therefore not accountable to God or subject to wrath? In other words, wouldn’t those who die in infancy have an “excuse” in that they neither receive general revelation nor have the capacity to respond to it?

“4. There is the consistent testimony of Scripture that people are judged on the basis of sins committed voluntary and consciously in the body (see 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Rev. 20:11–12). In other words, eternal judgment is always based on conscious rejection of divine revelation (whether in creation, conscience, or Christ) and willful disobedience. Are infants capable of either? There is no explicit account in Scripture of any other judgment based on any other grounds. Thus, those dying in infancy are saved because they do not (indeed cannot) satisfy the conditions for divine judgment.

“6. We have what would appear to be clear biblical evidence that at least some infants are regenerate in the womb, such that if they died in their infancy they would be saved. This provides at least a theoretical basis for considering whether the same may be true of all who die in infancy. As Ronald Nash points out, “If this sort of thing happens even once, it can certainly happen in other cases.” Supporting texts include Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:15.

“8. Let me close with an argument that’s entirely subjective (and therefore of questionable evidential value). Given our understanding of God’s character as presented in Scripture, does he appear as the kind of God who would eternally condemn infants on no other ground than that of Adam’s transgression? Again, this is a subjective (and perhaps sentimental) question. But it deserves an answer, nonetheless.”  [http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/do-all-infants-go-to-heaven]

The God of Scripture is gracious and compassionate, and loves us humans dearly. He is just and kind, and will never be unjust. Scripture gives hope to parents who have suffered the death of young ones, that until they consciously choose to rebel, until they understand God’s grace and reject it, God receives them to himself at death.  I take great comfort and joy in the confidence that my son Joshua is with the Lord. Frankly it’s fun to think that my dad who died 30 years ago has gotten to meet one of his grandkids!

The Last will be first First.

arrow_circleYesterday at Grace we learned how Jesus corrects us, comforts us and warns us about (1) what God really thinks of rich people; and (2) how we as his followers make all sorts of judgment calls about how God is being generous to others.

We studied Matthew 19:23-20:16. It was convicting! And encouraging!

Take some time this week to work through this study guide. We prepare it for our housechurches to use following the sermons.  study-guide-2016-09-25

Why “authority” is not a bad word

arrow_circleToday, we jumped back into Matthew’s gospel, and did a 30,000 foot review/preview.

We considered 4 ways that Matthew highlights the authority in Jesus throughout his account. Today, we often think of “authority” as a word that puts us in a straight-jacket. Or, we think of it as corrupt, laughable, cynical.

Matthew demonstrates that Jesus is the greatest authority of all time. And for good reason. You can download the study guide to ‘take home’ what we learned this morning. Study Guide 2016.09.04

As always, leave a comment or ask a question! I’d love to be of help.

Seeing Jesus as the prime “Authentic Authority” will help us immeasurably in daily life, and in the life to come!

If only I’d believed INRIX!

imgres-1Last Friday, we were on I-85, an hour north of Charlotte, heading to a Panthers pre-season game. I saw the DOT sign: “heavy congestion ahead 10 miles.” I didn’t really pay attention. I didn’t really believe it. “Probably someone forgot to change the message. We’re cruising along perfectly… it’s gonna be alright.” I was already tasting the Spaghetti at Sue’s mom’s house.

A few more minutes passed. A few more miles. Some red tail lights up ahead. Now, red brake lights. But still we’re moving near the speed limit. I checked the INRIX traffic app, and the southbound interstate was red—indicating traffic at a stop—very close to us, but our blue dot was still rolling. I wasn’t convinced INRIX was right, and passed by the exit.

The last exit. Within ¼ mile, we were dead stopped. We’d move a few yards here or there. But it took 8 minutes to go less than half a mile.

I didn’t heed the warnings, I waved them off. Things were going smoothly, we were sailing along. Until it was too late. Now I was stuck in the thick of the traffic jam. Then I finally checked the note on INRIX: “accident at exit 60. 58 minute delay.” (Exit 60 was a good 6 miles ahead).

Lose an HOUR?!?! No way. We can’t afford to. Kickoff is counting down. There was only one way out of this jam: Turn around. At a break in the highway divider, I snuck through, turned our van around, and headed north. I was the 4th car to do so. We took side roads to by-pass the accident.

The only way out of that traffic jam was to turn around. As I was sitting there—with plenty of time to think—it occurred to me: this is a parable of my life. So often I ignore the warning signs of trouble ahead, and I careen right into a traffic jam in life.

  • The kids are pressing my buttons, I can tell they are doing it (they might not even know it), and I blow my top. I knew I was going to.
  • The dumb show or movie that you really shouldn’t watch, but, well, you know, you’re home alone tonight… I’ll just watch the first 5 minutes…
  • The little twinge of jealousy when your boss starts to praise a coworker, or when your neighbor starts to say how great so-and-so is. You drop a little sarcasm to put them down a bit. The rest jump on and it becomes real gossip, real fast.
  • The misunderstanding with your wife. She said, he said. But, really, she needs to come to me to apologize. Though, maybe I was too harsh. Nah, I’m going to bed.

We see the warning signs all over the place… but it seems that we just keep careening into the traffic jam.

The only thing to do is get out. Drive across the grass, through the highway divider, and head north. The bible’s word for this is to “repent”. That means to change your thinking, to turn 180 degrees.

When Peter told the Jerusalem crowd who Jesus REALLY is (The One and Only World-Rescuer), they said, “what do we do?” He answered: “Repent and be baptized. Every one of you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Turn around, trust who Jesus is, and let him get you out of the traffic jam mess your life has become. He’s written the DOT signs and INRIX app that we’ve ignored. But, still, he will help us when we call. Repent: call out to him and say, “I’m on the way wrong direction. Will you take over?”

This is the only doorway to your days being filled with His purposes and your joy. How many more traffic signs will you ignore?

Lost no more!

41Gyiatp+JL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Last week at Grace we considered the journey people often take in coming to Christ. We used the book, “I Once Was Lost” as our learning guide, and discovered that individuals with no real knowledge of Jesus typically come to a point of surrender by passing through 5 thresholds.

Everts and Schaupp discovered these thresholds in their work with thousands of students on college campuses over the past two decades.

To download a pdf of my book notes, click this link: I Once was Lost – Everts and Schaupp.

You can click here to order the book from amazon.

A Prayer for Teachers

images-2The school year is upon us, and teachers, coaches, assistants, specialists & administrators are hard at work. Whether in the public schools, in private schools, homeschools, colleges or tech schools, they are preparing to invest in the next generation.

Here is a prayer to pray for this upcoming year, and to commission teachers et al., to the task ahead.

Father at the start of a new school year, we pause to give thanks: that all knowledge comes from you, all truth, all facts, all wisdom and clarity. They are good gifts from you.

You also have given to us teachers who will help the next generation learn the way your world works, and how you have wired each of them.

Dear Lord, we pray for our teachers, and all in influence over our kids—coaches, assistants, administrators. Will you grant them to have your heart for kids, and for truth.

Grant that each classroom is filled to overflowing with grace, peace, wisdom and truth.

Grant that every homeschool mom and every football coach and everyone in between would exhibit the gentle, strong character of Christ.

We pray for our campuses – that they would be havens in a tough world.

Grant safety, protection, and real goodwill. Grant students to grow into maturity this year.

Grant that the schools in our area would be tops in the state. Lord, that seems like a tough prayer, but you have put in place a teaching faculty of your choosing. Thank you, and use them to form the character of our kids, as well as their educational goals.

We pray that these schools would bring you glory, bring students lasting growth, and bring teachers joy at a job well-done, and because of a calling lived-out by your grace.

We ask this in the matchless name of The Teacher of Righteousness, even Christ Jesus. Amen.

God’s Grace and Porn

imgres-1Friends,

Many, way too many, are fighting this battle. All of us are tempted to sin–this is universal. And different sins lure us with greater or lesser strength. For some, it’s envy. For others, it’s bitterness. For many it’s lust.

The inner drive (which is from God–he created sex, after all), the Fall into sin which warps all of God’s good gifts, the cultural moment of highlighting the human body and sexuality, and the near-universality of private and portable screens… well, these 4 factors combine to make porn and lust a real problem for so many.

Three tools for you today:

A) At Grace today, we tackled this subject.  You can watch the sermon by clicking here.

B) We also emailed out the following to our congregation. Read it and take it to heart.

Grace family,

Today, as part of the “Any Questions” series, Jason addressed pornography and God’s grace.  We want you to know that there is hope and help in this area of struggle.

If you would like help, there are several ways you can get started.

  1. Personal assessment: There is a downloadable pdf available on our website. Just scroll to the bottom and you’ll see it. www.gracekinston.org
  1. Accountability: We find greater success in this battle when we are not in it alone.There are caring, grace-filled folks at Grace who would come along side in accountability with you. If you’re interested in getting an accountability partner, you can email kent@gracekinston.org (men) orSusan@gracekinston.org (women), and they will connect you confidentially with someone.
  1. Further resources: 

At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry – Steve Gallagher (Pure Life Ministries). A simple and helpful introduction to the dynamics of sexual sin, and how God brings us toward Christlikeness. 

Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain – William M. Struthers (Intervarsity Press). A focused look at how porn re-wires (physiologically) the male brain, and how God’s grace can un-wire it!

Grace for Shame: The forgotten gospel – John Forrester (Pastor’s Attic). Porn is like many sins, it brings a deep sense of shame. While the ‘gospel of forgiveness’ is crucial, it’s also rational and often doesn’t touch our inner sense of shame. The gospel is also ‘acceptance’ before God… not based on what we’ve done, but based on God’s grace.  It’s God’s grace for our shame.  This book is not strictly about porn or sexual sin, but is a real help for apprehending a the fulness of the gospel’s blessings.   [end of church email]

C) Don’t miss investigating and installing filters and blockers and parental guides on your screens.

  • Covenant Eyes or x3watch are two tools for computers.
  • SafeTeens is a service that allows you (as a parent) to know exactly what activity is happening on your teen’s phone (sent and received: texts & photos, deleted texts/photos, etc.).
  • Netflix, Hulu – install the parental guides and keep the code a secret.
  • Computer, phones and TVs in a public place at home. Bedrooms and screens are too tempting.

These are helps for the journey.

The biggest help is this: you are not alone… so talk to someone about your own struggle. Get a Christ-following friend in this with you, and together you will see God’s grace and growth in this area. (listen to the sermon for more on this!)

Let’s watch God grow us into greater Christlikeness, more victory over sin, and greater reliance on him.

A Pastoral Letter about Human Sexuality

imgresAttached is a letter for the body of Christ at Grace Fellowship Church.

The elders are Grace are shepherds first–our desire is that each believer grows in Christ, and is protected from harm.

To that end, I drafted this letter, and the elders & staff & a few friends have made edits & suggestions.

It is filled with hope, truth, guidance and the grace of the gospel. I encourage you to read it, to pray through it, and to ask God to lead us into greater alignment with his will (aka, obedience in our lives!).

Click this link to read or download the pdf.  Human Sexuality

The Captured Thought Life

pastor_flowers_final[This originally appeared in the Kinston Free Press, July 30, 2016]

This past Thursday, I had the privilege of joining with brothers and sisters at Church of Faith and Deliverance’s noontime service. Pastor John Flowers  (pictured with his wife) is a dear brother in Christ, and a strong leader for the gospel in our community.

Again and again, I’m so thankful to serve alongside so many gifted ministers in this town! Men and women who long for Christ to be All in All in our community. Pastors who shepherd—in a dozen different church traditions—but all with a desire that the good news of Jesus’ rescue is available to all!

Pastor Flowers brought us truth and grace from 2 Corinthians 10:5 – “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. And we take captive every thought to make it obedience to Christ.”

He drove home the idea that that so much of the battle in our lives is won or lost in the minds. The battle with hate. The battle with anger. The battle with greed, pride, lust, envy, jealousy, bitterness. The battle with prejudice. We each win or lose it in our minds.

Why? Because thoughts pass in and through our minds so quickly, we have no control over them as they enter in. We do have control over how long they stay there, and how much credence we give to them! I remember someone saying it this way: you can’t stop the birds from flying through the tree, but you can stop them from building a nest.

So he challenged us to focus our minds on the grace of Christ. “Salvation is our weapon.” That God would adopt you or me into his family truly is astounding. That he would invite us, while we are still rebels to him, to receive grace and kindness from him is unbelievable. “This is too good to be true,” as one of my co-workers told me 20 years ago. That he would change hearts and lives from self-centered to Christ-centered and then other-focused is truly a miracle of his grace. (I know how selfish I am! I won’t judge you though…)

And Pastor Flowers urged us with this: when you are facing hopeless situations, intractable people, dire circumstances, “if God was able to change you, why do you think he can’t change someone else?” Amen and amen.

I agree with Pastor Flowers and St Paul in 2 Corinthians 10. The battle over sin is won or lost in the mind. I suppose that’s why the New Testament so often challenges us to “fix your eyes on Jesus” (Heb 12:2), and “have this mind among you that was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5), and “set your minds on things above where Christ is seated.”

I bet more of us fill our minds with banal stuff, set our minds on my agenda, and allow our minds to wander to dead end streets. How are you at taking your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ?

The Greatest Gospel, the Greatest Medicine

prescription-orderI remember the first time I was challenged to define precisely what the gospel is. It was 20 years ago, and I replied something like this: “It’s admitting you are a sinner, and receiving forgiveness from God because of Jesus’ death.” Definitely Good News!

That day, I was challenged: is this the sum total of the gospel as Scripture lays it out?  In fact, you might term what I wrote above as “the plan of salvation”… which, again, is good news. But is it the WHOLE of the Good Announcement in Scripture?

Over the last two decades, we’ve seen a lot on a deeper and fuller grasp of the Gospel. In the NT, it’s an announcement (Jesus is Lord!), it’s an event in history (the death, resurrection, & ascension of Christ that changes everything), it’s an invitation (the plan of salvation above), it’s everything. John Piper wrote a book a few years back entitled, “God is the Gospel”.  All true.

So, over the years, I’ve tried to conceive of the good news in different ways. I thought of it this way the other day:

The Gospel is this: “In Christ, God did for us what we could never do: he brought us to himself.” 

“In Christ” It all centers on Christ. No Christ, no good news. This is the event part… The Cross is our forgiveness, the resurrection is our power and guarantee, the ascension of Jesus to the Right Hand of God is our hope that he will take care of all things well. The gospel is always, only, fully, greatly Jesus Christ! Amen and Amen.

“God did for us…” The gospel is start to finish God’s work. He thought it up, he accomplished it at the cross, he applies it by his Spirit. He woos us and brings us to the point of surrender. We were dead in sins… can’t make ourselves alive. We were rebels in heart… wouldn’t consider terms of peace. We were lost, blind and stubborn… no chance on our own.  So, “God did for us what we could never do…” The gospel is God moving toward us.  Amen and Amen.

“He brought us to himself” This points to the actual and eternal benefits of the gospel: forgiveness of sins (clearing the way to come to him), adoption into his family (giving us an eternal belonging), indwelling of the Spirit (giving us a guide, a power, and a friend), sanctifying us (so we CAN please him in our lives), giving us Spiritual gifts (so we can make a different in this world with him) seating us with Christ in the heavenly places (hope and confidence forever).  Union with Christ is the greatest and most fundamental benefit of God’s action on our behalf, and we rejoice in its many fruits!

Ok.  So, when you think about ‘sharing the gospel’ or ‘sharing your testimony’, anytime you are pointing out Christ’s life, death and resurrection, you are sharing the good news. Anytime you are pointing out how God has met you, healed you, led you, provided for you (because you belong to Christ) you are sharing the good news. Anytime you are pointing out the forgiveness, adoption and all the other benefits of belonging to Christ, you are sharing the good news.

One final thought: who can you share part of God’s story in your life with today or this week? Take the chance and watch God lead through you. And, in that sharing, invite them to surrender to God like you have. At the end of the day, the gospel is news that changes the world… IF someone steps into it. Invite them into it. Powerful medicine on the counter is useless; it’s got to get into the one who is sick. “Why don’t you come to church with me this week?” or “Would you read the story of Jesus’ life?” (and direct them to Mark’s gospel in a bible app.) or “have you ever thought about this? does it make sense? Do you want to think more about it?” Be courageous and ASK the question you want to ask.

Watch God do miracles as you bear witness to him! He’s in the business of using the gospel to change the world. Are you?

 

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