If These Walls Could Speak: Graduation and the Gospel

alumni-chapel

If these walls could speak, what would the walls of Alumni Chapel say?

On Friday, December 2 this chapel will be filled with graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The men and women receiving earned degrees from this institution will be dispatched around the world for gospel ministry. With this I think it’s safe to assume the walls of Alumni Chapel are resounding with the following truths:

  • “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). Because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, go to every corner of the globe and make followers of the King! Indeed, the One with all authority is with you. Therefore fear not what may await you in any given field. Your ambition (and priviledge) is to teach the people the glorious gospel of salvation and watch the Lord of the harvest give the increase. He will surely do it. You go and be faithful! 
  • “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:1-5). This charge you have from the Lord: preach the word of God in all its contours and edges and particulars. Do not shrink back from declaring to people anything that is profitable. Of course there will be times when the word of God is not desired or revered. But this does not change your job description. You keep preaching even when it requires suffering in fulfillment of your ministry. 
  • “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Some of you are young in the world’s eye. Do not let anyone look down on you because of your age. By the grace of God expect more from yourself than the world would expect from someone your age. Be a leader in all that you do and say. May the fruit of the Spirit be so abundant in your life and your doctrine so pure that age is not what people see in you, but Christ. 
  • “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil. 3:17-19). Behold the fate of all those who are not in Christ! Know that by making themselves enemies of the Lord their end is certain destruction. Who can stand on the day of God’s wrath? No one. Therefore you must not grow cold to this reality, but with tears lay down your lives for the lost. 
  • “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). Remember that your true citizenship is not of this world–you’re just passing through on your way to the Celestial City. Therefore long for the City of God! And let this longing wean you from this world and all its fleeting pleasures. May your life and ministry smell of heaven and be saturated with a foretaste of the glory yet to come for all God’s people. May your words and deeds display an authentic and compelling restlessness with this world as you worshipfully anticipate the next. 

Praying for our graduates, trusting they will go out from the walls of Alumni Chapel firmly established in the truth of the gospel, empowered by the Spirit, and eager to serve faithfully wherever the Lord leads. May God be glorified in the class of 2016 both now and forever! Amen.

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Running to Stand Still

Horses Wild

On June 4, 2016 I had the honor of saying “I do” to Anna Christine Ovenell. No longer a widower, I have the tremendous privilege and responsibility of loving Anna as Christ loved the church (Cf., Ephesians 5:25). My marriage to Anna is a merciful example of how God is making all things new, now and forever.

Since our wedding day we’ve had the opportunity to travel to the states of Maine, Washington, and Montana. It’s been a “wedding tour” of sorts with family and friends in each location sharing our joy. One of my favorite spots along the way was Bozeman, Montana. Few places in the world, I imagine, can boast such natural beauty. The Gallatin Valley hosts some of the most majestic rivers and lakes. The lush wheat fields blanket the countryside with amber waves of color. The mountains in the distance stand as a fortress keeping watch day and night. And every time I gazed above at the vast expanse I thought to myself, “I see why they call this Big Sky country.”

In a word, Montana is breathtaking.

But as beautiful as Montana is I couldn’t help but think about how even Montana is “groaning” under the curse of sin. The Apostle Paul says as much in Romans 8:18-22:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Along with the rest of creation, Montana longs to be “set free from its bondage to corruption.” Indeed, Bozeman is the wrong city. We seek the city that is to come (Cf., Hebrews 13:14).

The Christian is on a pilgrimage to the City of God, the City the Apostle John had in view when he wrote Revelation 21:1-4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

We know where this whole thing is headed: the glorious City of God where every tear is wiped away; no more mourning, crying, or pain; death swallowed up in victory; uninterrupted communion with God in fullness of joy forever (Cf., Psalm 16:11).

Therefore, we must view ourselves as sojourners in this life; pilgrims unwaveringly moving toward the heavenly city where our true and lasting citizenship resides. Like “Little Christian” in the wonderful rendition of Pilgrim’s Progress I love to read to Michael, we will not be deterred in our pursuit of the City of God. We must be with our King because this world is not our home.

I love the picture above of Montana horses running with such apparent freedom and determination. I want to run like that toward my heavenly home. And by God’s grace I have a new running partner. My bride was born in Bozeman; Anna is a Montana girl. And so together we’re running to stand still in the presence of our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious end of our pursuit.

***

[Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff.]

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Logic on Fire

May the spirit of his ministry permeate the church today!

Logic On Fire: the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from Media Gratiae on Vimeo.

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Let Us Be About Our Father’s Business

ulysses-grantIn his excellent, brief biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Michael Korda argues that among Grant biographers there has been “a widespread failure to understand Grant’s character, which was admittedly complex and always, to some degree, secretive.” Korda continues by contrasting Grant with General Robert E. Lee: “With Lee what you saw was what you got–he was a proud, patrician officer, a beau sabreur, a born commander who expected to be obeyed. With Grant what you saw was what he wanted you to see–a plain, ordinary man with no pretensions to gentility or military glamour.”

So if “a plain, ordinary man” is what people saw, what were they missing? Korda explains:

“But in truth Grant never saw himself as ‘plain’ or ‘ordinary,’ and was always intensely conscious of his rank, his social position, and his gifts as a commander. Grant’s black slouch hat, his omnipresent cigar, and his muddy boots are not so much a pose, like Ike’s not wearing his medal ribbons on his uniform jacket, or Monty’s affecting a beret, baggy corduroy trousers, and a sweater even as a field marshal, but rather a simple lack of interest in military niceties, a fierce concentration on the business of war–which was winning–rather than the display of war, which seemed to him a waste of time and energy.”

I love this description of Grant and could not help applying it to contemporary evangelicalism. What I see far too much of in American religion today is the “display” of ministry rather than “a fierce concentration on the business of [ministry],” namely, the exaltation of the glory of God. In other words, it seems to me that many a minister today loves being dressed in the finest of fabrics, adorned with glossy reminders of his “rank,” and building ever-bigger command centers for his sprawling empire–all the while forgetting that the display of ministry is not the same as the business of ministry.

Longing (and working) for the show to end and for the church to be about our Father’s business.

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Nothing But the Blood

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

~Isaiah 1:18

Snow_2015In the last 36 hours nearly a foot of snow has fallen on Louisville. “Welcome to your new home,” I said to my four school-age kids as they watched through the windows with excitement. For my kids there are few things better than the neighborhood being blanketed in white powder.

There is something particularly beautiful about this winter storm. It hasn’t come with strong winds or freezing rains, but quiet flakes falling gently to the ground. Our suburban cul-de-sac looks like Narnia with the promise of Spring around the corner.

But more than the physical attributes of this snowfall, I’ve been impressed with the perspective of my 7-year-old Michael. As he looked out through the kitchen windows he held up his arms and said, “He’s washed our sins white as snow.”

In the snow, Michael saw the gospel.

Of course, Michael proceeded to get excited about the other implications of the snowfall: sledding, snowball fights, and, of course, the cancellation of school. But I thank God that Michael has been given the grace to see what the snow ultimately points to: the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Thanks to my Michael there’s a song on my heart this morning — a song that sings of forgiveness and the promise of “all things new”:

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus; 
What can make me whole again? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know, 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

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Marvelous, Infinite, Matchless Grace

[Thankfully I’m more amazed at God’s grace at the close of this year than I was at the beginning of 2014. But in 2015 I want to be increasingly stunned by God’s unmerited favor toward me in Christ. So at the dawn of a New Year, I’m revisiting some of the reasons why I love the grace of God. To help you do the same, here’s my list from a year ago. What reason(s) would you add?]

***

This time of year is full of year-end lists. Everything from the top 10 or more books of the year, to movies of the year, to memories of the year. Well, not to be left out of the list mania, here’s my list of 10 reasons why I love the grace of God.

  • Reason #10: By God’s grace I believe (Acts 18:27).
  • Reason #9: I’m standing in God’s grace (Rom. 5:2).
  • Reason #8: I daily receive fresh doses of God’s grace (John 1:16).
  • Reason #7: God’s grace is sufficient for all my needs (2 Cor. 12:9).
  • Reason #6: God’s grace frees me from the tyranny of sin (Rom. 6:14).
  • Reason #5: By God’s grace I have spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6).
  • Reason #4: By God’s grace I can be appropriately bold (Rom. 15:15).
  • Reason #3: I have the daily privilege of growing in God’s grace (2 Pet. 3:18).
  • Reason #2: God’s grace is what builds me up in the faith (Acts 20:32).
  • Reason #1: God’s grace is free (Rom. 3:24).
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What Child is This?

The Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 35-37

Q&A #35

Q. What do you confess when you say: He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary?
A. The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, [1] took upon Himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, [2] through the working of the Holy Spirit. [3] Thus He is also the true seed of David, [4] and like His brothers in every respect, [5] yet without sin. [6]
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[1] John 1:1; 10:30-36; Rom. 1:3; 9:5; Col. 1:15-17; 1 John 5:20. [2] Matt. 1:18-23; John 1:14; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:14. [3] Luke 1:35. [4] 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 132:11; Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32; Rom. 1:3. [5] Phil. 2:7; Heb. 2:17. [6] Heb. 4:15; 7:26, 27.

Q&A #36

Q. What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
A. He is our Mediator, [1] and with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born. [2]
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[1] 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Heb. 9:13-15. [2] Rom. 8:3, 4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 4:4, 5; I Pet. 1:18, 19.

Q&A #37

Q. What do you confess when you say that He suffered?
A. During all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. [1] Thus, by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, [2] He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, [3] and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life. [4]
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[1] Is. 53; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18. [2] Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10. [3] Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:13; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet 1:18, 19. [4] John 3:16; Rom. 3:24-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:15.

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