Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Author: Jason McKnight (page 1 of 17)

Billy Graham: Here am I, Send me.

Finally Home! Billy has been longing to depart this tent of a body for years–ever since his beloved wife Ruth died. And this morning, the Lord has “promoted him to glory” (as they used to say in the Salvation Army). He’s finally home.

I never met Billy.  So, I shouldn’t call him by his first name.  But don’t we all kinda feel like we can? He was a prince of a man, but humble and down home. I think he wouldn’t mind “Billy” from a stranger like me. Yet, not a total stranger – I’ve long been thankful for God’s work in and through him. On this day of his freedom, here are some reflections:

(1) Fire

I heard him preach in Ottawa in 1998 at the Crusade there. He was already showing signs of age. They used a lift to get him on the platform, so he wouldn’t have to navigate the stairs. He was not on the platform for the entire service. He only came near to the time for him to speak. And yet, when he preached, he had power. Conviction. Energy. Fire. Love. Hope. Urgency. And the Spirit of Christ. He was not an old man then. He was simply the vessel of God’s Gospel.  “We hold this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power comes from God, and not from us.” People have said the same thing all through his ministry: when he preaches there is fire.

(2) Marathon

When I read his autobiography, Just As I Am, I was taken with the chapter “Marathon in Manhattan” about the 16 weeks they spent in NYC in the late 50s: Every night at Madison Square Garden, most nights an extra time on the street for the folks who couldn’t get it. They hadn’t planned to go 16 weeks; but folks just kept coming. What impressed me was this: several on the planning team thought they should “quit while they are ahead”–that is, end the crusade after 3 or 4 or 6 weeks and the crowds are still strong. But, Billy and several others thought they should keep going, even if they fail or the crowds dwindle: better to look dumb but get the gospel out, than look like a success and limit God’s grace. So they kept going, night after night, preaching and singing, inviting thousands to surrender to Christ, the only healer! And, when they ended after 16 weeks with a rally at Yankee Stadium, what a joy it was.

They continued to step out in faith, and God continued to build the bridge under them! A marathon in Manhattan… an example to us all.

[Note: When I was about 20, I found a postcard in our family’s home – a postcard from the YMCA in Times Square. Written by my dad to his girlfriend (who became his wife!), telling of how he and a buddy jumped in their car and drove to NYC from Montreal to hear Billy. I still have that postcard – what a link to God’s work through Billy, and God’s work in my own history.]

(3) Partnership and Purity

Though his name is on the door of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, that’s only for marketing purposes! He believed in and lived “team” as long as I’ve known anything about him.  Who could think of Billy without also thinking of Cliff Barrows and Bev Shea? Where would Billy have been without the Wilson Brothers (Grady and TW) leading, helping, administrating behind the scenes. Billy was smart enough to see that God works through teams, and he lived into it. Early on in their ministry and growth, Billy and his team met in Modesto, CA, to make sure they didn’t go off the rails by sin. They developed (and then held to) the Modesto Manifesto for ministry with integrity: Never alone with a woman, never handle donations, never over-inflate publicity (and ‘responses’), and always work with the local church (because that’s where God is working in each locale).

(4) Kingdom, not Empire

Billy was a preacher, but more than that: he was a strategist.

  • He deployed evangelists by the dozens and hundreds through the BGEA.
  • He helped to found Christianity Today–for decades the premier magazine for the evangelical movement.
  • He helped to found Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (my alma mater) to bring world-class theologians together to train generations of pastors/evangelists, and to bring it to New England, which needed this lighthouse in the late 60s.
  • He gathered thousands of evangelists and church planters and pastors and theologians to Lausanne Switzerland in 1974 that together they might better understand the biblical mission, and coordinate their efforts so that the world might hear of Christ. That spawned the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, a group that has hosted 2 further congresses (Manilla in 1989 and Cape Town in 2010), along with countless smaller gatherings. Billy didn’t control it with an iron first, but helped steer that snowball down the mountain, as God added the increase!
  • In the 1980s, when his brother-in-law and VP of the BGEA, Leighton Ford, sensed the call to invest in the younger generation of leaders, Billy blessed him and helped to start that ministry of mentoring/leadership development.

There are many other examples. He simply didn’t care to “run a huge organization”, but he loved to be a spark-plug for ministry endeavors. He didn’t want an empire; he wanted to build the Kingdom. Thanks be to God.

 

(5) Legacy

About 10 years ago, I was talking to some kids in our youth group. And, I mentioned “Billy Graham” as an example of what God can do through someone devoted to the Lord. Blank stares… uncertain looks… “who?” from the kids. Wow. A man who was such a public and positive force in the last half of the 20th century was barely known to Christian kids from a strong church in 2010. Scripture says: “as for man his days are like grass.” Billy wasn’t even gone, and yet he was gone. I can tell you what isn’t gone: the millions of people who came to Christ through his ministry, and the tens of millions of people who met Christ through his associates and all the others he encouraged, deployed, resourced, and opened doors for.

What also isn’t gone is the Christ-centered influence he brought to the 50 years of his public life–that’s intangible and unmeasurable, but just as real. He stood with Christ, for Christ, in a Christ-like way for a given time in history.

As one Christian Leader said years ago, “God may bury the workman, but the work marches on.” We remember and rejoice in Billy’s life and release. But the work marches on. Who will carry the flag? Who will take up the banner? Who will step into the fray? Who will die to self for the sake of the lost, the sake of the kingdom, the sake of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Here am I, Send me.

That’s all Billy ever said to God: Here am I, Send me.

May we echo that from our hearts.

What else is older than the universe?

Scripture is packed with gems if you are willing to take the time to dig them out. It’s chock full of amazing insights into the nature of our lives and reality. I came across a nugget the other morning with some high school seniors. We meet for “Bojangles and Bible Study” each week and are moving through Proverbs. (I figure every guy–high school age and in their 40s–needs more Proverbs!)

Question: Aside from God, what’s older than the universe?

Proverbs 3:19-20 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.”

God used wisdom as the agent to create the world (See also Proverbs 8:22-31 & Genesis 1, where God creates through Words, which are wisdom that is spoken). Wisdom, understanding & knowledge predate the cosmos.

I often look around at the stars and sunsets, the fields and rivers (and remember the mountains and oceans) and think, “these are so real, so sure, so true, so present.” And, they can seem more real than the life of the mind, than the realm of concepts or thought.

But, Proverbs 3:19-20 say that God’s thoughts and ways for life are more real, or at least are earlier in the scope of reality. The world is real, but God’s ways of thinking are “realer”.

Wisdom is more trustworthy than 13.7billion light years of space and stars. God’s wisdom (and, when you think about it, all wisdom–in order to be wisdom–must cohere with how God thinks! Otherwise it’s foolishness) is the bedrock of reality.

I tell my sons all the time to think through the difference between what humans discover and what we invent. Did we discover or invent the laws of aerodynamics? How about jet engines – discovered or invented? One way you tell the difference is this: are they the same for everyone and in all places? The laws of aerodynamics are the same: thrust + lift always equals flight (if you have enough of both). We discover aerodynamics, but we invent jet engines: you can 20 different types of jets, not to mention propellors and rotors and all that stuff.

God’s wisdom is aerodynamics. Thermodynamics. Gravity. How about this: have we discovered or invented economic laws? Supply and demand always seems to be true; doesn’t seem to be a construct to me. Market principles seem to be a discovery in that they are not only true in one country or era, but have universal application. On the other hand, the stock market is an invention – you could do it 10 different ways (or not do it at all).

How about marriage? Is that invented or discovered? I don’t think there’s a doubt in Scripture that it’s discovered (or “revealed” to use the theological term). God implanted it as the normal, regular way to order families and society. We didn’t invent it; and thus we can’t change it without going against the implanted make-up of the world.

Our lives of wisdom… are we wise if we ignore gravity or aerodynamics? Not at all. Human wisdom means that we align ourselves with God’s wisdom. God’s revealed knowledge and understanding become our play-book for living. Run your own plays at your peril. Interesting.

Before nature, there’s thought. Before the cosmos there’s the mind of the Creator. Before the Wild there’s wisdom. The Lord by wisdom founded the earth. This makes me want to discover as much as I can about the way God created the world, and his character, purposes and ways. And, his calling to me now that he has sent Christ – the Word of God, the Wisdom of God – to rescue us from this fallen world, decomposing and become increasingly foolish the longer it refuses to acknowledge its Wise Creator!

 

Nick Foles and REALLY winning

I’m a Patriots fan.  Lived in Boston 4 years, and… well… what can you say?  But I love what’s coming out of the Philadelphia Championship. These guys are using the platform God has given them to proclaim their followership of Christ.

Check out what Bruce Ashford writes about Nick Foles’ post-game declaration. Read below or click here to see it on FoxNews.com.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles gives America a game plan for life (Bruce Ashford)

In Super Bowl LII, backup quarterback Nick Foles led the Philadelphia Eagles to a 41-33 win over the New England Patriots, outdueling Tom Brady and earning recognition as Most Valuable Player. During the game, Foles—not Brady—earned the highest passer rating in NFL postseason history and completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception as he delivered the Eagles franchise its first championship.

As if that weren’t enough, he caught a touchdown pass thrown by tight end Trey Burton during a specially designed play in which Foles had lined up as an H-back before slipping unnoticed into the end zone for the score. Foles became the first player in NFL history to throw and catch a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.

All of this from a backup quarterback who had been ready to retire from football just two years ago.

But the most amazing thing about Foles’ night may have been his post-game interviews. In the immediate moments after the game, surrounded by dozens of reporters and cameras, this unheralded and until-recently-backup quarterback had the world’s attention.

And in that moment—as he stood front and center on the international stage—he decided to draw attention to God instead of himself, articulating a “game plan for life” to anybody who would listen.

Standing for the interview, Foles could have told us that he had always believed in himself. He could have used the moment to hot dog or take a few shots at the NFL teams who had rejected him or underestimated his abilities.

He could have told us those things, but he didn’t.

Holding his toddler daughter Lily, he opened the interview by saying “All glory to God”before going on to give credit to his coaching staff and teammates and to acknowledge his wife and family.

To give “glory” to God is to honor God as the source of all good things, including his creation of a world that would have the excitement and pleasure provided by sports such as football.

Eagles fans know that Foles was not posturing. He describes himself on Twitter as a “believer in Jesus Christ, husband, father, son, and brother.” In a pre-game interview, he said that he wants to be a pastor someday and is taking online seminary courses even now. In the same interview, he demonstrated sincerity and humility by saying that he had failed spiritually or morally many times in the past and wanted to help young people not to fall into the same temptations.

Foles’ teammates vouch for his spiritual leadership. A number of them pointed out that he leads Bible study and prayer sessions with the team. Special teams ace Kamu Grugier-Hill even pointed out that Foles memorizes Scripture and uses his knowledge of the Bible to encourage and lead his teammates.

By giving glory to God during the season and especially during the post-game interview, Nick Foles teaches every American a couple of things about football and life.

First, football is more than a mere game. Like other cultural activities, it is an opportunity for athletes to please God by utilizing the talent he’s given them. Football should bring out the best in an athlete, as they compete in the game of football, which is different than every other sport in its combination of goals, rules, obstacles, and options.

Second, football is less than a god. That’s right. We should be careful not to elevate football to the status of a deity in our lives. The Bible teaches that humans often elevate some aspect of God’s creation—sex, money, power, and even sports—to a status of ultimacy that God alone deserves.

And when football is deified, the outcome is obnoxious and even harmful. Some athletes become strutting and preening narcissists, taking every opportunity to perform some type of ego-driven, self-congratulatory ritual. Others feel free to break the rules and ruin the game by taking illegal substances to enhance their natural abilities.

But athletes are not alone in this. Some coaches are tempted to cheat by stealing game plans from opposing teams, by encouraging players to injure their opponents, or by otherwise deflating or altering the game illegally. Commentators and fans often give themselves permissions to ridicule and degrade opposing athletes and coaches on social media, or to do the same to their own teams’ coaches and athletes when their team doesn’t live up to expectations.

So, football is more than a game and less than a god. It is, as Foles put it so well, an opportunity to glorify God.

And for that reason, we should take a moment to tweet out a “thank you” to Nick Foles for reminding us the most important “play” in any American’s gamebook: to glorify God in everything we do.  [Bruce Ashford is Provost and Dean of Faculty at SEBTS]

Editor’s Note: Did you notice Foles wants to serve as a pastor after football? …Maybe he wants to church plant through a dynamite church in Kinston!!

Seven Reasons Grace is Planting Churches

Should churches plant new churches? In addition to the fact that it’s how the gospel grew in the NT and has grown all through history, here are 7 key reasons why Grace is leaning into sending off church planters to establish new local churches:

1) New Churches reach new people. Studies have shown that churches younger than 3 years old reach 300% more non-believers than churches older than 15 years. Plus, surveys showing the “rise of the nones” (i.e., upwards of 25% of Americans not affiliated with any religion) demonstrate a whole bunch of people who are not coming to current churches. New churches reach new people.

2) People Need People in all of life. It’s cliche that “life is a team sport”, but it’s true. First, new converts to Christ need a family, a hospital, a nursery… just as assuredly as a newborn baby does. A church is that family, nursery, hospital. Second, ongoing disciples need each other to grow as God intends. “Churchless Christianity” is not part of the Scriptural vision of following Christ. Believers in real relationship is where grace grows. Third, the lost are hungry for community, and the church is filled with it. “People need people in all of life”… so let’s plant more local bodies.

3) Exponential Potential. A church that grows from 300 to 1000 in ten years is a great thing.  But, if over those same ten years, that church planted one new church every 18 months, and each of the plants did too, you’d have 64 churches in 6 cycles… each with several hundred people. If you run it out to ten planting cycles, you find 1,000 churches (not just 1,000 people in our church). Growth at one location is straight-line growth. Growth that establishes new locations is exponential.

4) It “forces” God to raise up leaders.  If it takes 100 leaders to keep Grace Fellowship moving, then it would take 100,000 leaders to keep those 1,000 churches moving! Same exponential potential. Moreover, the more leaders the more people are relying on God’s Spirit and power to work in their lives. As you step out to lead for Christ, he pours himself into you more and more.

5) More people grow more in lean/young churches. As there are new church plants, new people (not even leaders, necessarily) step up to pitch in, help out, and jump on a team. They take a chance on new things because there’s a ‘pioneer’ spirit that says, just try it! In established or larger churches, there seem to be more people who are timid to jump in or would rather simply stay in the ‘back row’ and receive. That’s not a knock on the larger church; it’s an observation of human nature. Instead of 20% of the people doing 80% of the work, a new or small church has a “pitch in and let’s see waht happens” atmosphere. More people grow more in lean/young churches.

6) The US church is no longer a chaplain to our culture, it’s a mission force within it. If there was a time when the US was a “Christian” culture, then the church’s role was often to hold culture’s hand, and help it along. They would look to foreign fields to do missions… among the pagans who don’t know of Jesus. Well, increasingly the pagans who don’t know of Jesus are our neighbors and people in this country! The “missions” calling now includes our own communities. We are no longer chaplains, but missionaries at home. Let’s start reaching out like missionaries… establishing new Christian community outposts (aka local churches).

7) Grace Fellowship’s DNA is primed to plant churches. We prize authenticity in relationships centered on Christ. Our HouseChurch model means we have ten leadership laboratories  and a decentralized, agile structure. We are a body that practices sacrificial discipleship, consistently giving and serving and pouring out for others. We have a leadership culture at Grace–so many gifted leaders in the community, in business, in the professions, in academics, and in ministry. And, we have a missions heart, given to us by God. Why do you think? so we would be burdened wherever we’d find a mission field.

God is on the move… in Grace, in the world, in this country, and in our own mission strategy and ministry vision. I can’t wait to watch God raise up, train up and send out church planters over the next decade. To reach countless thousands for the gospel.

(This post was originally published in June 2017)

3 Keys for your Money

When I meet with engaged couples for pre-marital counseling, one area we always cover is money. The reality is that personal finances are a stressor for many people and households… and it never solves itself on its own. It’s always tempting to think, “when I make more, this will work itself out.” But that’s not true. Witness the number of people earning huge amounts, only to see their stress increase.

Whether you are newlyweds or married for 20 years, it’s worth coming back to the basics every once in a while. There are principles that always work – whether you are in your first job or making your tenth million! Simply put, we have to tackle 3 basics, in this order:

(1) Your Financial Mindset. What’s your general view of money. What is it? What do we use it for? Why? Here are a few key portions that every financial outlook has to account for:

  • Money is a tool. Much or little, it’s just a tool. It’s not to be sought after, but neither is it to be avoided. It doesn’t really matter if you have oodles of it or barely any. What matters is how you use the tool.
  • Settle who owns our money and stuff: us, God, or someone else. Now live in that reality. If it’s God (and it is!), we adopt a steward/manager mindset, not an owner mindset. That changes how we think about everything else.
  • Settle if God is going to get the first-fruits or not. Is giving to the Lord and his Work primary or down the line? Is it non-negotiable or merely a good thing to do? This is global mindset stuff.
  • Jesus in the Gospels calls us to a radical lifestyle because the Kingdom is here. The Proverbs call us to a prudent lifestyle of diligence to be prepared for unexpected hard times. The Epistles call us to a generous lifestyle because of God’s grace. These might seem paradoxical, but each of them is Scripture’s calling for us.  Radically prudent generosity.  Generously radical prudence. You get the idea.
  • Here’s one that might sound controversial, but is really common sense: If you are married, live on one income. If both of you work, bank the second – using it for retirement, one-off items, generous gifts, or upping savings. Don’t work your monthly budget from both incomes. That way if one of you loses or gives up your job, you won’t also have to sell a car & move from your house, etc.

(2) Your Financial Goals. These are the things we do or aim to do that will enact our mindset. Since God owns this tool, and since he calls us to use it radically, prudently and generously, the question becomes: what are we aiming at, and how do we get there?

Goals like short-term an emergency fund. Life goals like regular, consistent and growing patterns in our giving. Fun goals like a vacation to Disney or cruise. Goals like “after 2019, no car loans ever again”  “pay off our house 8 years early” “never carry a credit card balance” “give more on my raise than ever.”

Goals can be process-oriented (“getting on a bill-pay system”) or achievement oriented (“save $5,000 in emergency cushion”). Either way, we need them. We’ll never get anywhere if we don’t know where we are going.

(3) Your Financial Processes. How are we going to do life each month, and how are we going to progress toward the goals? This is where the nuts-and-bolts processes come in. What happens as each paycheck or bill comes in.

  • Designate one person to administrate your family budget. This does not mean they are in control of it. It just means they are the executors of the plan. It takes time to keep up with things. The person who is not serving as the “administrator” must make sure they encourage the one who is.
  • Know the conditions of your flocks, says Proverbs. Spend some time noting everything you spend.  You’ll be surprised. But you will be armed with real data (not wishful thinking). Perhaps 3 months is enough to get a sense.
  • Know your expenses and obligations. List them. Measure them against the income you can count on. Change things if there are more expenses than income. Don’t hedge on this one.
  • Write your first check to the Lord’s Work, and your second check to your savings. Everything else will take care of itself.
  • If things are tight, pay cash for things. Do it until your situation changes. Every study has shown that credit/debit cards do not hinder our spending as much as handing over greenbacks.
  • If things are flush or relaxed, don’t assume they always will be. Prepare yourself for the rainy day, even while you enjoy the sun!
  • Processes really do work. Trust a good process. Work a wise process. You don’t see the harvest the day after you plant the seed… but you know it’s coming.
  • Know the difference between needs, wants and desires. (“I need a car, I want a new car, I desire a Porsche”). Until things are relaxed, say no to desires, yes to needs, and weigh your wants very carefully.

What else? What other keys do you know? Do you have a sense of being out of control or needing a little bit of help? Call a friend or stop by at church. We have folks who will walk with you (confidentially), and help you put into practice God’s mindset so that you can reach godly goals by a godly process.

Life’s Best Teachers

“We learn from our mistakes.” Hopefully that’s true in most cases. But, It is not automatic. Not every mistake teaches you and saves you from making it again. Generally, it bears out in life: experience is a tough teacher, but an effective one.  Mistakes hurt and we don’t repeat them if we can help it.

What other teachers are available to us? What does the Bible say? I’ve found at least seven different teachers in Scripture. We learn from…

1) Our parents – All through Deuteronomy parents are called on to teach their children the Gracious Instruction of the Lord (The Law). “You shall teach them to your children,” Dt 4:7 says. All through Proverbs children are called to hear and obey the voice of their parents. Malachi 2:15 says that God gave us marriage (in part) to have “godly offspring.” We learn cognitively and pre-cognitively from our parents.

2) Our sufferings – Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” He was in no way deficient. And yet, he too learned while on earth. His suffering introduced him to a new experience, a new reality. He ‘learned’ something he had not been through before. Our sufferings, trials and difficult times are tremendous teachers. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

3) The Holy Spirit – Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes he will teach you all things… guide you into all truth… remind you of what I have said (John 14 & 16). Imagine that the God of the Universe would live inside of you, to guide, encourage, cheer and convict you! Stop to listen, repeatedly ask: “Speak to me, O Lord!”

4) The Word – We could pick a million verses here, but settle for Psalm 119:66 – “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.” When we put our faith in God’s Word, he will teach us (from it) not only the things we ought to know, but also the wise way to live (“good judgment”). God’s Word instructs us in everything God wants us to know about his Character, purposes and ways. The investment of time in his Word will always pay the biggest dividends, compound interest and capital gains!

5) Our friends as they confront – Each of us needs Nathan in our lives. He confronted King David after the sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam 11-12). David came clean at Nathan’s verdict: “You are the man!” There are times when a loving, trusted & godly friend can speak a word that punctures the false reality I’m rationalizing around my actions! “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Prov 27:6). Do you trust them? If so, you will learn from them.

6) Silence – Proverbs 18:2 observes, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Folly in Proverbs–the worst of the villains in that book–is characterized as willful ignorance, along with a purposeful avoiding of correction. The best way to avoid correction is to keep on talking! Holding your tongue will bring an increase in understanding. What’s that old saying about two ears and one mouth and listening twice as much as talking…

7) The Fear of the Lord – Prov 1:9 says that it is the beginning of knowledge. Fear of the Lord is reverence and awe of God and his instruction to us. The proud never humble themselves before the Lord, and they never really learn in life. The more humble we are before God, the more he will lift us up. Fear of the Lord leads to true knowledge and wisdom… and life.

Seven great teachers (apart from our mistakes). Of course the caveat in all of these is a willingness to learn. A willingness to say, “I don’t yet know it all, but I want to grow.” A willingness to avoid being (or remaining?) a fool! God is ready to teach us his ways and will use many different instructors. Are you ready to learn?

What other teachers are out there?  Comment and teach us!

Live-streaming church is great, but there is something even better

At Grace we have been live-streaming our services for several years now. I remember once I had done a wedding in the mountains, and we were driving back to Kinston on Sunday morning. We tuned in from the road; it was so great to be with the body—in some way—even though we were 300 miles apart.

We are seeing steady growth in the number of people who live-stream or watch the archived services. It’s a tremendous tool. Even two weeks ago, when the snow/ice/cold were a factor, almost three times the usual number joined in the gathering at 10:30 on Sunday from their homes. I love that folks were hungry to ‘be together’ even if they couldn’t get out of their driveways!

I rejoice in this use of technology and the internet for the gospel. It’s especially gratifying for Grace folks who work shifts, and now can grow with the rest of the body. Or, for newcomers who are wondering what kind of service and teaching we have. Live-streaming is a fantastic tool.

But I also have a question or two. I think there are good number of people who—when looking for spiritual teaching—rely almost solely on podcasts, web-based sermons, or other virtual church offerings. I’m not talking about ‘tuning in while returning from a trip’ or catching up because of shift work. I’m thinking of folks for whom the internet is the main connection to your church, or the main source of their Spiritual teaching.

I want to offer 4 reasons why being together at church really beats live-streaming the service. The other way to say this is, Why do we come to church?

First, We come to worship the Great King in the company of his people. When you enter the Sanctuary and the worship team is leading songs and Scripture that elevate Christ and ignite our worship of him… that just simply trumps my watching it on my tablet. God inhabits the praises of his people. He does that in your home as you worship him. But consider how much more of him can inhabit two or three hundred people! You experience God in greater degree as we worship him corporately.

Second, We come together in life-changing fellowship. The Body of Christ is an amazing thing. We are not Christian silos, pointing up and relating only to God. We are an interconnected network, a family, an organism. The more we are together, the more we are healthy and holy. You never know when you will have the conversation on a Sunday morning that will change your life or theirs. You cannot predict or orchestrate the multi-directional blessings that God gives to and through you. Fellowship—true, mutual, Christ-oriented & empowered relationship—is only found in one place: with God’s people. Get there and you will get life.

Third, We come to sit under the authority of God’s Word. When we stop everything else, open Scripture together and position ourselves so that God’s voice will be the greatest voice in our present, this is spiritual victory. The Christian life is a battle, and the enemy wants us distracted, multi-tasking, approaching God on our terms or in our comfort. He does not want us clearly hearing the Marching Orders from heaven! When we arrive in a church or chapel, and all of us together seek his truth in our lives, something powerful happens. Perhaps not all at once, but definitely over time: the Scriptures form us as we dwell in them, Marva Dawn has said.

Fourth, We change our character as we come to church consistently. When church attendance is a matter of my convenience, that will show through in the rest of my life. I’ll pursue Christ only when convenient… why? Because I’ve trained myself that convenience is the highest good. When I set the most important pieces in my weekly schedule as immoveable, and when one of those pieces is church and another is HouseChurch (small group), my life will trend in the God-pleasing direction. Our choices form our characters, and where we spend our time will make all the difference.

To those who make live-streaming their church, let me encourage you to consider these 4 insights. Let’s use live-streaming for what it is – a connection when you absolutely can’t be with the body of Christ. But, otherwise, let’s be together with the body as often as we can. This is where life is.

Seven Reasons I rejoice in the Virgin Birth

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matt 1:23)

Jesus was born of a virgin. This is part of the Christmas story, the Gospel story. This is what Scripture clearly declares.

Yet, it’s hard to wrap our minds around. Virgin births just don’t happen. In fact, many thinkers over the last two centuries have used this doctrine to reject the truthfulness of Scripture itself: “Absolutely not. It’s a cover-up job because this unmarried woman is pregnant.” “Not a virgin birth, but wishful thinking.” “A few generations after Jesus, they fabricated this to help the church worship Jesus.” (Don’t miss the irony: fabricate a story to worship him who claims to be the truth. It’s OK to lie/exaggerate as long as you are magnifying Jesus. Really? They call this a “pious fraud”… and, with that fine-sounding name, tell us truth doesn’t matter).

The Virgin Birth IS an anomaly. In all of history, no one is born of a virgin, save Jesus. No one is born without the need of a father’s seed. Except Jesus.

Why is Jesus born of a virgin, and why does this matter? Let me offer several reasons why it matters, why it happened, why we need not be embarrassed about it, and rather, why we can worship the Lord with even more abandon because of it! (Several of these reasons are adapted from Wayne Grudem, Marv Rosenthal, and others).

First, To show that Salvation is from the Lord. This birth is utterly impossible except by God’s intervention. So is salvation. God must step in to provide the way of salvation, the offer of salvation, the grace for salvation. It’s all on him. Even the birth of the Savior he sent is a miracle that can only be attributed to God’s activity. Sounds like a sign-post to the Divine Initiative to rescue us from our sins.

Second, In the Incarnation of Jesus through the virgin birth, we can grasp (sort-of) that which we otherwise couldn’t grasp at all: How Jesus is both God and man. If God had sent his Son as an angelic being, we couldn’t relate to him at all as ‘one of us’; he’d be so far above us, unapproachable. And, he’d still be “outside of humanity”… and thus unable to redeem us. If God had sent his Son through the normal relations of husband and wife, he’d have no claim to divinity: he’d have the same birth story as us all. No uniqueness there, no pointer to his prior existence, no clear break from the rest of humanity. He’d be one of us, but not God. Jesus is the God-man. One hundred percent God, and one hundred percent man. Unique in all of history & eternity. His birth points to this.

Third, By being born of a virgin, there is a break with the inherited sin of Adam. Adam & Eve both sinned in the garden of Eden. They disobeyed God’s command, followed their own pride/ambition, and fell from a state of innocence to a state of bondage to that pride/ambition. All through Scripture, God speaks of humanity being “in Adam”… that is, in the sin of Adam, the guilt of Adam, the doom of Adam. God looks at all humanity as inheriting the sinful state of Adam, the man in the garden. Only one of all the billions who have ever lived has been born outside of Adam’s fatherly line. The One who was “born of a woman.” The Virgin birth of Jesus points to his unique position of being born of a woman. (It’s true that you could go back one generation to Mary’s birth and say, “but she is in Adam!” Fine. However, the theological point is made: There’s one–and only one–born without a man’s help: Jesus. There is a break in the ‘line of Adam’. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church handles this by their doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary – that she was conceived without sin. This is unscriptural. And, unwarranted.)

Fourth, On the day sin entered the world, God promised that the Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Jesus is the only one who can legitimately claim to the be Seed of the Woman alone. He’s the Serpent Crusher.

Fifth, Isaiah 7:14 says that “The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and he shall be called Immanuel.” (that name means ‘God with us’.) It’s been in vogue to argue that the Hebrew word almah (virgin) can really mean “young woman.” And, much ink has been spilt in some circles claiming this proves the early church read more into things than history warrants: “Isaiah only predicted a ‘young woman’… no need for a virgin birth.” However, 200 years before Christ, when 70 Jewish scholars met to translate the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) into Greek, they used the Greek word parthenos in this passage for “virgin.” Parthenos is the straight up Greek term for a young woman, whose never been married, and is a virgin. (In fact, when one visits Athens today, the greatest temple is the Parthenon… a temple to Athena the Virgin goddess of Wisdom.) The 70 Jewish Scholars had no desire to build the case for Jesus, who in any event was 200 years after this translation effort.

Sixth, Jesus Legal and Physical Genealogies. [You can skip down to #7 if you want. This gets a little involved. However, if you have your bible and take a look at the references, you will be blessed!]

Matthew 1 holds the genealogy of Jesus in three parts: 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the Exile, 14 from the Exile to Jesus. The third section begins with “Jeconiah” (son of Josiah) who was deported in the Exile to Babylon. Jeconiah is the same king as “Coniah” (ie., without the ‘Jeh’) in Jeremiah 22:24-30. In these verses God says that “none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.” Matthew’s record includes this “dead end” stump in the  genealogy of Jesus the True King, Son of David.

Matthew does two things: (1) He traces the legal claim to the throne, and Jesus’ legal family is Joseph’s. Joseph adopts Jesus, bestowing on him all his legal rights. Joseph is of the line of David, Mt 1 clearly says. (2) Matthew also reminds us of the sin of God’s people–highlighting the exile, and even this king who is cut off.  There will be no son/offspring/seed of Jeconiah ever to sit on the throne. The legal throne line of David is a dead end.

But it’s also different than physical descent. Matt 1 records the legal descent of Jesus. Luke 3 records the physical genealogy of Jesus. And Luke works backward through Mary’s bloodline. She descends from David through his son Nathan (not the legal line of Kings through Solomon & the cursed Jeconiah). Jesus is the Son of David, but through a different son than the ones on the throne. Note that while Matthew records 42 generations from Jesus to Abraham, Luke records 56. Why the discrepancy? The legal line in Matthew simply needs to establish continuity, but need not be exhaustive. The physical line is father to son.

Seventh, the ultimate reason that we hold humbly, simply and clearly to the Virgin Birth is that Scripture teaches it. You cannot read Matthew 1 and Luke 1 without seeing how vital to the story is Mary’s virginity. It underlies her own questions in Luke 1. It is the security God gives to Joseph to move forward with this marriage (Matt1). It is spoken of by the narrators, the Angels, Mary and Joseph themselves in the story. It’s just simply part of the story.

And now we know why: Jesus is unique & unparalleled. Even in his birth, he is unique and unparalleled. His birth fulfills the promises of God to David (and the curse on Jeconiah). It breaks with Adam’s sin even while identifying with Adam’s race. It is a pointer to the reality of God & Man dwelling in one. And, it reminds us that Salvation–like this pregnancy–can only be a divine initiative of Grace.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his son. Born of a woman, born under law to redeem those who were under the law that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5). This Jesus is born of a woman to redeem us, and adopt us as Sons of his Father. That’s A Christmas Miracle!

How to Prepare for Christmas

It’s so easy to get off track in the pre-Christmas season, and lose sight of why we’re doing all the things we are doing. We get frazzled, overbooked, over-fed and frustrated.

Let me offer six quick words to help us ready ourselves to celebrate Christ’s birth.

(1) Anticipate. It’s human and helpful to hope. We long for what’s not yet. We see a future that is coming. Anticipation is wrapped up in our belief that God is up to something. Christmas is a time to strain forward; today is not all there is. Christ came to earth as a baby, he will come again as the Redeemer and Judge of all things!

(2) Discipline. The way our culture does Christmas is EXCESS: more music, more food, more drink, more presents. More, more, more. As people of the Cross who anticipate a future “more”, let us be counter-cultural in our disciplined lives. More is not gain; godliness with contentment is great gain (Paul says this in 1 Timothy 6). This means knowing our limits and living into them (dollar limits to spend on gifts, calorie limits at feasting, time limits if we just can’t make every get-together, etc.). Just like a backyard fence brings freedom for a toddler, so discipline brings freedom for us all.

(3) Vision & Perspective. The pressure of others can lead us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t. Don’t lose perspective. Be who God made you to be, and live where God called you to live. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones, or make up for last year, or spend a ‘coming bonus’. Have a clear-eyed vision of where God has you & why.

(4) Encouragement. When was the last time you allowed God to encourage you? To build you up? Ponder: God sent his Son, born to a peasant, and laid in a manger… to “save his people from their sins.” Be encouraged: God is for you. He loves you. He set his love on you before you knew he was there! Repeatedly let the gift in the Manger be the encouragement of God in your heart.

(5) Nativity. This is the center of the whole season, the climax of everything in December. It’s all for naught if we forget the nativity. Refresh yourself with the Story of Christmas (Luke 1-2, Matthew 1-2). Rejoice in the ‘invasion’ from eternity, and the reclaiming of his fallen world by its rightful owner and king. All of this begun as a baby asleep on the hay! Our Christmas season will never be centered if the Nativity is not in the center of it!

(6) Trust. All of life is trust. We trust the chair we sit in, the car we drive in, the plane we board to visit relatives. We trust our boss to pay us, our bank to release the funds, our mortgage company to reduce our loan. We trust our friends to help us, our church body to love us, our government to maintain the peace. All of life is trust. Why? Because that’s the only way we can relate to God.

 

Anticipation, Discipline, Vision, Encouragement, Nativity, Trust. A six-fold orientation us in these December days. You might have noticed they spell ADVENT. I trust you can use them to be a pilgrim through Advent on the way to December 25, and not a passenger carried along by the world!

“Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” Amen and Amen.

Meet: Amy Gannett

It is a joy to introduce you to Amy Gannett.  Amy and her husband Austin moved to Kinston to be part of Grace Fellowship’s Church Planting Ministry. Austin is on staff at Grace developing the CP program, and learning the ins-and-outs of pastoring as they prepare to plant a church.

Amy has two jobs right now: Marketing Director for locally-owned Mother Earth Brewing Company, and Founder/Director of Take Root Ministries, a ministry to help every member of the household of faith deepen their faith! She’s hosted several day-long conferences in Colorado on how to “take root” in Scripture for yourself. (They moved to Kinston from Fort Collins.)

Amy has produced an Advent Devotional Study called Grafted In. It looks at the family tree of Christ. I’ve looked through it, and am thrilled to see such quality insights/questions ready to lead YOU deeper into Christ.  It’s primarily written for women.  (But the man who takes this journey will be blessed.)

I asked her a few questions yesterday:

JASON:  Amy, you have a heart to help women study Scripture well. Where does that come from?

AMY:  The Scriptures are at the heart of the Christian life. They are the source of our understanding of God, His character, and His activity in the world. The Scriptures also teach us about ourselves–who God created us to be and how He would have us, as Christians, live in this world. Because of this, there is no more vital resource for God’s people than God’s Word! I am deeply grateful that I was able to attend Bible school and seminary. As a learner at heart, both experiences shaped and equipped me to be a student of the Word, taught me how to explore topics that I didn’t understand, and how to break down complex passages in ways that helped me understand them. This kind of rich, exegetical Bible study has been a game-changer for me, and helped me root my whole life on the Word of God – and that is a skill set I want to share with others. 

How have you seen God open doors for this ministry?

If there is one lesson I have learned through starting Take Root Ministries it is this: our gifts don’t open doors for us – God does. God has been so gracious in providing opportunities for me to share my heartbeat for teaching women to study and teach the Bible. And the response from women has been overwhelming! Women’s ministries all over the country have been asking how they can equip their women with biblical literacy, and I’m deeply grateful for each and every church that has invited me to be a part of that process. 

In the Christmas story, it’s hard to miss the fact that women are center stage—Mary, Elizabeth, even Anna. Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) is rich with biblical imagery. As you wrote Grafted In how do you hope God will meet someone as they go through it?

It’s easy for us as modern readers to forget that women were considered second-class citizens at the time the genealogy of Christ was written. They were often considered so inconsequential, in fact, that they were very rarely included in family records. But, in the family line of Christ we read the names of four women. Four! And though their stories are very different we read throughout their lives the resounding narrative of God’s constant intentionality to bring outsiders into His family. 

We, as Gentiles, were once outside the family of God, too (something that is particularly easy to forget during the Christmas season). But in Christ, as Paul says in Romans 11, we have been “grafted in” to God’s family tree. It is my hope that this Advent season we are reminded that our God sought us out and made us His children. Not because of anything we have done but by His lavish grace. 

Thanks Amy. I know that folks who read this blog are interested in growing in just the ways you have noted. I hope many people take the Grafted In journey!

 

If you want to order Grafted In, click here.

For more information on Amy’s ministry, visit amygannett.com.  You can read her blogs and articles, as well as shop or book her to speak.

It’s amazing to see God build his kingdom through folks like Austin & Amy… and YOU and me!

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