Advent, Life, and Death

Advent is at once about life and death. It’s about life in that we celebrate the first advent of Christ into the world. Indeed, the eternal Word–the One who is the way, and the truth, and the life–took on flesh and dwelled among us (Cf., John 1:14; 14:6).

But the first advent of Christ also implies death–the death of us. This is what Jesus meant when he said in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Jesus says, in effect, that the one who follows him will die to self daily. In other words, our priorities, agendas, calendars, and concerns are to be in accord with Christ’s.

This is how the apostle Paul understood the Christian life: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul’s understanding of what happened to him on that fateful day on the road to Damascus was nothing less than death–death to self and his sinful pattern of existence. And it was a death that needed to be allocated daily which is why Paul declared to the Corinthians, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).

This death, however, was not an end in itself. Paul died to self so that he might live to God in Christ Jesus. We are called, after all, to be a living sacrifice (Cf., Romans 6:11; 12:1).

All of this could be summed up by the simple yet profound statement made by John the Baptist at the close of his earthly ministry and the dawn of Christ’s, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). And this is my prayer for Immanuel this Advent season: that we would shine brightly as we collectively live for the increase of Christ.

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Advent Longing

Weihnachtskugel - HintergrundThis coming Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season. I love this time of the year. Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the church since the fourth century has celebrated the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ by focusing attention on the Old Testament promise of His coming, the realization of the promise in His Incarnation, and the blessed hope of our Lord’s Second Coming. Advent is designed to nurture in Christ’s church humble reverence and joyful longing. 

Like last year, I am planning a special pulpit series for Advent. I’m calling it, Advent Longing. Throughout Advent we will consider the revelation of Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18), the triumph of Christ (Colossians 2:13-15), our shameless hope (Romans 5:1-5), and our heavenly home (Philippians 3:20-21).

We will also bring back our Advent wreath with the four candles around the outside of the evergreens and the one white candle in the center. The Advent wreath is a beautiful symbol of the everlasting life that came when the Light of the World entered our sin-darkened existence.

As I type I’m listening to a wonderful rendition of one of my favorite oratorios, Handel’s Messiah. With heavenly beauty, Handel takes us through the Old Testament longings for Messiah (e.g., Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive) to the wonder of the Incarnation (e.g., For Unto Us a Child is Born) to the horror of the cross (e.g., Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs) to the matchless power of the resurrection (e.g., Hallelujah) to the glorious Second Coming (e.g., The Trumpet Shall Sound). By the end Handel knew that everything in us wants to proclaim “Amen” to the glory of God!

Advent declares to the world the wonderful truth that Messiah has come. Indeed, God is with us. And so with humble reverence and joyful longing we sing, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20) and make all things new.

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On the Blessing of Baptism

“Since Jesus commanded His church to baptize (Matt. 28:19), we would expect that there would be a measure of blessing connected with baptism, because all obedience to God by Christians brings God’s favor with it. This obedience is specifically a public act of confessing Jesus as Savior, an act which in itself brings joy and blessing to a believer. Moreover, it is a sign of the believer’s death and resurrection with Christ (see Rom. 6:2-5; Col. 2:12), and it seems fitting that the Holy Spirit would work through such a sign to increase our faith, to increase our experiential realization of death to the power and love of sin in our lives, and to increase our experience of the power of the new resurrection life in Christ that we have as believers. Since baptism is a physical symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ and our participation in them, it should also give additional assurance of union with Christ to all believers who are present. Finally, since water baptism is an outward symbol of an inward spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, we may expect that the Holy Spirit will ordinarily work alongside the baptism, giving to believers an increasing realization of the benefits of the spiritual baptism to which it points.”

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Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 953-54.

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The Drama of Baptism

johnny_baptismI remember well when I was candidating for my current position at Immanuel Bible Church the search committee asking me what I thought of having drama in the church service. I knew what they meant. They were referring to how some churches like to have actors on stage during a worship service performing a skit that “dramatized” some aspect of the gospel. It’s often done as a form of outreach. Not knowing the group in front of me all that well I wondered if any of them were strong advocates for this kind of drama in church. If so, my answer sought to raise the bar.

I remember immediately saying, “I love drama in church (insert dramatic pause), the drama of the Lord’s Supper and baptism.” Thankfully the committee found my answer agreeable not only because it kept me in the hunt for the job, but more importantly because these two sacraments (or ordinances) are high drama at its best.

The Lord’s Supper pictures the drama of Christ’s body broken and blood shed for sinners. And baptism pictures the drama of how a person, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, dies to sin and is raised to new life. While far more could be said about these two dramatic presentations of the gospel, this understanding alone gets me excited for church when either is present.

On Sunday, November 9, I have the privilege of officiating another baptism service at Immanuel. I anticipate having people being baptized as young as six and as old as, well, let’s just say older. What a thrill. For the drama of going under the water and coming up out of it gives picture to the most amazing reality in the universe, namely, the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

Does it get anymore exciting than this?

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For questions about baptism or to express you desire to be baptized on November 9, please contact Pastor Mike at mikep@ibcbellingham.org or at 360.733.0672.

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What We Won’t Regret

Anna_Michael_JohnI love this list of things from Kevin DeYoung about what we won’t regret:

We won’t regret playing hide and seek with our children.

We won’t regret turning off the t.v. and putting the phone away.

We won’t regret that one night (or week, or even season of life) we let the kids get happy meals just so they would be happy and we could survive.

We won’t regret singing the same hymns over and over until they became familiar enough to sing with the saints around a hospital bed.

We won’t regret the time we spent hiding the word in our hearts.

We won’t regret jumping in a pile of leaves every fall.

We won’t regret overlooking a lot of little things that bother us about our spouses.

We won’t regret kissing our spouse in front of the kids.

We won’t regret going to bed with a messy house if that meant we had time to chase the kids around in the backyard.

We won’t regret all the wasted time with friends.

We won’t regret laughing often and laughing loudly.

We won’t regret hugging our kids whenever they’ll let us.

We won’t regret the times the kids slept in our beds and the times in the middle of the night we had to carry them softly back to theirs.

We won’t regret being a little bit goofy.

We won’t regret asking for forgiveness, and we won’t regret forgiving those who ask.

We won’t regret dancing at weddings–fast and silly with our kids, slow and sweet with our spouse.

We won’t regret giving most people the benefit of the doubt.

We won’t regret commiting to a good church and sticking around.

We won’t regret learning to play the piano, read music, or sing in parts.

We won’t regret reading to our children.

We won’t regret time spent in prayer.

We won’t regret going on long road trips filled with frustrations, but full with memories.

We won’t regret letting our kids be kids.

We won’t regret walking with people through suffering.

We won’t regret trusting Jesus.

Thanks, Kevin. I don’t regret taking the time to think about this list. Now for the doing . . .

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Back to School and the School of Christ

lockersLike many parents this time of year, I’m getting my kids ready for their return to school. It’s a bit daunting to think I’ll have a first, sixth, eighth, and ninth grader in school beginning September 2nd. A season of parenthood like this has me much on my knees in prayer. So what am I praying for my children as they go back to school? The same things Julia and I prayed about last year at this time. Here’s a sample:

  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:1-2).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would come to realize still more deeply that the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life (Ps. 63:3).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would seek not the applause of man, but rejoice in the applause of God in Christ (Rom. 2:29).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would shine like lights in the world as they hold fast to the word of life in the halls of Geneva Elementary, Kulshan Middle School, and Bellingham High (Phil. 2:15-16).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would learn more what it means to weep for the enemies of the cross of Christ — that their love for the lost will be deepened (Phil. 3:18; Matt. 9:36).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael will be quicker to consider others more important than themselves as they look to the example of Christ (Phil. 2:1-11).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would grow in their love for their local church as they see the beauty of Christ-centered community against the backdrop of a fallen world (Eph. 4:1-16).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael will learn more of what it means to abide in Christ and walk in step with the Spirit while putting to death the deeds of the flesh (John 15:4; Gal. 5:25; Rom. 8:13).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would do everything, including math and social studies and science and literature and lunch and recess, to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

And even as I pray these things for my children I’m praying this for myself:

Father in heaven, grant me immeasurable wisdom, love, and patience for my children as I seek to point them to Christ as their all-sufficient Savior and Lord. And when I fail, please remind me by Your Spirit that my hope is not in my perfect parenthood, but in my perfect God who is sovereign over all. In the matchless name of Jesus and for His name’s sake. Amen.

As our children go back to school may God be pleased to keep us all in the school of Christ, learning to follow Him all our days until we graduate to glory.

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[photo credit: candrews via photopin cc]

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On “Refined Persecutors,” “Sham Griefs,” and the Reality of Future Glory

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) had a way with words. In fact, few people in the history of the English church have had a better command of the language. It is not hyperbole, perhaps, to say, “What Da Vinci (or Rembrandt or Michelangelo) was to painting, Spurgeon was to rhetoric.”

Thankfully, in the providence of God Spurgeon used his gift of language to communicate grace and truth. One example of this is an entry in a little book given me by a dear friend entitled, Strengthen My Spirit. This compilation of 180 readings from Spurgeon’s sermons and writings is food for the soul. These readings are powerful help as we “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). I offer the following excerpt for your strength.

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Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. -2 Tim. 3:12

“It is by no means pleasant to be opposed in doing right by those who ought to help us in it. It is very painful to flesh and blood to go contrary to those we love. What is more, those who hate Christians have a way of reviling so that they are sure to make us wince. They watch our weak points, and with very wonderful skill, they turn their discoveries to account. If one thing is more provoking than another, they will be sure to say it, and say it when we are least able to bear it.

“It may be that they are very polite people, and if so, your refined persecutors have a very dainty way of cutting to the bone and yet smiling all the while. They can say a malicious thing so delicately that you can neither resent it nor endure it. They are perfect masters of it and know how to make the iron enter into the soul.

“Do not be astonished, therefore, if you are sorely vexed, neither be amazed as though some strange things happened to you. The martyrs did not suffer sham pains; the racks on which they were stretched were not beds of ease, nor were their prisons rooms of comfort. Their pains were agonies; their martyrdoms were torments.

“If you had sham griefs, you might expect counterfeit joys; let the reality of your tribulation assure you of the reality of the coming glory.”
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Charles Spurgeon, Strengthen My Spirit (Barbour Publishing, 2011), p. 93.

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