When Heaven Celebrates

Jesus tells three stories of lost items – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, better known as the prodigal son.

Each of these parables capture the perilous condition of the unbeliever as “lost,” but also the inexpressible joy in heaven when a person repents.

Luke 15:10 says “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This suggests that angels and saints in heaven rejoice when a person is saved. But more importantly, it teaches that God himself celebrates every time an unbeliever turns from sin and trusts in Jesus.

What a thought! God loves to save people! Are we equally enthusiastic?

Our church is starting a summer series on evangelism that will teach us how to overcome fear and share our faith, with the goal that God would be glorified and more people in our community would be saved. I invite you to follow along online.

The first sermon, “When Heaven Celebrates,” is now available for free download from our church podcast.

Summer Conferences

I’ve noticed there are several great conferences coming up this summer that may interest you. Here’s a list with links to more information. Although I didn’t include it on this list, you may also want to attend the SBC Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting in Phoenix on June 11-14.

Discovering the God of the Bible
Los Angeles, CA – June 9-10
Featuring John MacArthur, Robert Godfrey, and more. Topics include God’s sovereignty, holiness, love, etc.

Great Homeschool Convention
Ontario, CA – June 15-17
Topics: homeschool 101, classical learning, homeschooling teens, planning for college, etc. plus a huge exhibit hall

Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World
Nashville, TN – August 24-26
Topics: raising counter-cultural kids, addressing the problem of porn, championing adoption and foster care, etc.

Biblical Counseling Conference
Laguna Hills, CA – Three weekends available: Aug 25-26, Sep 22-23, Oct 27-28
Topics: how to change, key elements of counseling, issues of the heart, common counseling problems, etc.

Photo credit: Hubspot

From Sadness to Gladness

Last Sunday, we had the joy of observing both Christian ordinances – baptism and the Lord’s supper. It was an extra special day for me because I got to baptize Heidi and watch her share her testimony before the congregation.

I don’t always preach topically on a holiday, but since it was Mother’s Day and we are in-between sermon series right now, I chose to preach on Psalm 113:9, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!”

This passage captures the heartache of barrenness, but also the redemptive love of God, and the power of answered prayer. I was struck how a childless mother illustrates the theme of “great reversal” woven throughout scripture.

It is a painful topic, yet it reminds us God will one day wipe away our tears and correct every injustice. The same God who is “high above all nations” (verse 4) also “raises the poor from the dust” (verse 7).

I loved this note in The ESV Study Bible: “God’s majesty never implies his remoteness from those who look to him; it implies instead his exhaustive attention to detail, and his inexhaustible ability to care for his faithful.” Praise God that he is both transcendent and immanent!

Sunday’s sermon “From Sadness to Gladness” is now available for free download from our church podcast.

Practical Implications of Calvinism

I came across an interesting article this week on Some Practical Implications of Calvinism.

The label Calvinism can be confusing at times so I generally avoid it and prefer the phrase “doctrines of grace.” Calvinism basically teaches that God is sovereign over all things, including salvation. It recognizes we are dead in our sins and that God is the one who initiates and causes us to be saved by his Holy Spirit, apart from any human effort or will.

I personally believe this is what Jesus taught as well as the Apostle Paul. But it became known as Calvinism because it was popularized by the 16th century reformer John Calvin. He thought it through quite carefully and explained it in his commentaries and his multi-volume theology, The Institutes.

Anyway, I liked this article and thought you might enjoy it too. It shows how the doctrines of grace should drive us to humility and an evangelistic zeal, rather than arrogance and indifference toward the lost.

Tom Hicks lists the following nine implications of Calvinism:

1. Calvinism gives us confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency.

2. Calvinism helps calm our anxieties.

3. Calvinism helps prevent us from trying to control others.

4. Calvinism teaches us to love unconditionally.

5. Calvinism makes us bold to obey the Lord.

6. Calvinism supports a heart for missions.

7. Calvinism fosters deep humility.

8. Calvinism undergirds our assurance of salvation.

9. Calvinism leads us to worship.

You can read the whole thing here.

Which of these do you find most helpful, or perhaps even surprising?

Firstborn From the Dead

Every baseball is made with exact specifications. 108 red stitches woven in a trademark figure-eight pattern. A horsehide or cowhide cover. Then a series of independent windings of yarn that, if held end-to-end, would stretch the length of almost four football fields. Near the center of the ball are layers of red and black rubber, and then, in the very middle, is a cork core, roughly the size of a bouncy ball you’d get out of a gumball machine.

You’ll probably never see the inside of a baseball while it is in play, but it could be said what is inside that sphere is what makes the entire game of baseball possible. One could even argue it is the most important part of the game.

If we could draw a spiritual lesson, it would be this: what is at the center of your life is the most important thing about you. Last Sunday, we explored this theme from Colossians 1.

According to the Apostle Paul, the central focus of our lives and of the church must be Jesus Christ. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…he is the head…that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col. 1:17-18).

This profound passage was likely an early church hymn, and provided much encouragement for us on Easter Sunday. We learned that Jesus is firstborn from the dead (the hope and firstfruits of our own resurrection), and because of that fact, he deserves to rule at the core of our lives.

The message is now available for free download via our church podcast page.

Sale on Bruce and Moo NT Commentaries

Logos Bible Software just concluded their March Madness competition, and the winners this year are Doug Moo and FF Bruce.

For a limited time, you can buy Dr. Bruce’s works at 60% off retail price, and Dr. Moo’s at 70% off retail price. Some great deals especially on commentaries. If you are interested in building a digital library I would highly recommend:

· Hard Sayings of the Bible

· NICNT Acts

· NICNT Romans

· NICNT Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians

· Pillar NTC Colossians and Philemon

· NICNT Hebrews

· Pillar NTC James

· NIVAC 2 Peter and Jude

· Canon of Scripture

People often think Logos is too expensive to get started, but you can buy the Logos Starter library for less than $200 (even lower with Academic discount). Payment plans are also available to spread the cost over several months.

The Lost Art of Listening

“My wife said I never listen to her… At least I think that’s what she said.”

The quip would be funny if it wasn’t so true. Many of us have lost the ability to listen.

Cable news has replaced thoughtful analysis with senseless shouting. Universities have substituted civil dialogue with violent protests. If our nation is to live up to its name and once again be the “United States,” we must rediscover the art of listening. Here are three keys to better listening.

1. Listening must be cultivated. King Solomon introduced his son to the idea of “making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2). What a concept! Talk is easy; listening is hard. We love to make our voice heard. Listening, on the other hand, takes discipline. It involves humbling ourselves, admitting there may information we still lack, or an alternate perspective we can benefit from. In the rare times we do listen, we tend to surround ourselves with people who think and act just like us, re-enforcing our own biases. But that’s not necessarily listening. We must also be willing to engage opposing viewpoints, to avoid stereotypes, and to look for areas of common ground. God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Maybe that’s because he wants us to spend twice as much time listening as talking.

2. Listening must be compassionate. It is a simple expression of Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” When we listen, we are trying to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. Our first goal is not to win an argument; it’s to understand the other side. Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests there are five levels of listening. Lower stages include hearing a voice, but only pretending to listen. Or practicing selective listening while forming a rebuttal. But true listening is empathetic listening. It is listening with an intent to understand, to get inside their frame of reference and understand them both intellectually and emotionally. That’s true listening.

3. Listening must be critical. Not mean-spirited, but with discernment. Learn to be a critical thinker. “Test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). I think some people are afraid to listen because they think listening is the same as agreement. But the two are not the same. When listening, we’re just trying to better understand the other person, and giving them the same respect we’d ask them to give us. Hear them out. It may even be helpful to ask follow-up questions, or re-phrase their statement into our own words to make sure we heard it right. Only then can we decide whether we agree or disagree with their viewpoint, and why.

As a Christian, my only reliable source of truth is the Bible. It’s the gold standard by which all truth claims must be judged. So a helpful follow up question to ask is, “What does the Bible say?” Like the Berean church in Acts 17:11, we should examine the scriptures daily, to see if these things are so. The more we get to know our Bibles, the better we can navigate the murky waters of ideas and competing worldviews.

Cultivate a listening ear. Be compassionate. Think critically. If we all practice these keys to better listening, perhaps we’ll see a bit of civility restored to public discourse.

Today’s post first appeared in the Thursday edition of our local newspaper, The Hi Desert Star.

Photo credit: Olaf Meyer via Flickr

Leave Your Mark

Few things bring more joy than watching young people worship the Lord.

A couple weeks ago, we had a “Youth Recognition Sunday” at church, with our youth group providing the scripture reading, meditation on the attributes of God, and special music. This was completely the idea of our youth leaders, and I’m so thankful they did it!

Since we just completed our study through the Gospel of Mark, I decided to bring a message geared directly at our young people — encouraging them not to squander these years of singleness, but rather to be an example to the rest of the body of Christ.

I didn’t get a chance to say it during the message, but this passage became a kind of “life verse” for me and Natalie during our dating years in college. It helped us stay pure and kept our focus on the Lord as we walked through life together and moved steadily toward marriage. As both a pastor and husband, it has become a special portion of Scripture to me.

The sermon “Leave Your Mark” is now available on our church podcast, or you can listen using the media player below.

The Power of Example

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

The past couple years, our family has been planning a trip to Medieval Times. Finally, last Sunday night, that dream became a reality. After church, we drove to Buena Park for the 5 pm show. The kids had a blast. The entertainment was great, food was surprisingly good with generous portions, and most importantly, we had a great time together as family.

The next afternoon, I noticed the kids were out in the front yard re-enacting the jousting they had seen the night before. Bicycle helmets served as armor. Sticks were now swords. Velcro mitts were shields. And jump ropes were now maces.

As I watched the kids slash and dodge, yell and laugh, I was reminded how impressionable children are, and of the power of example.

It’s a good reminder to us parents that our kids are always watching. It’s a warning to be careful what forms of media and hero figures we put in front of them. It’s also a reminder that our personal lives and conduct may be our most important instruction of all.

Our children learn to pray by listening to us pray (and getting their own turns to pray). They learn how to trust God by watching us trust God (and building their own trust muscles). They learn how to work by watching us work (and pitching in with a few chores around the house). Biblical instruction is important, and godly discipline is an important tool in our toolbox. But never underestimate the power of example.

Parents, you are setting an example every day for your kids. They will likely remember more of what they saw than what they heard. The best form of instruction is where biblical teaching is joined together with modeling. Imitation is powerful because we see gospel truths fleshed out.

If we wish to raise modern day knights and virtuous princesses, we should remember the power of example right in our own castles called home.

He Has Risen!

Mark 16 has the most peculiar ending of all four Gospels.

The first eight verses contain no actual appearance of Jesus, but rather describe a baffling scene at the garden tomb. And with scant manuscript evidence, many scholars doubt whether verses 9-20 belong in the New Testament canon at all.

The mystery of Mark 16 may never be fully unraveled this side of heaven, but one fact is indisputable. Jesus truly rose from the dead (Matt. 28:9; Jn. 20:19-20). And this proves once and for all he is God’s beloved Son. Note the connection in Romans 1:3-4:

Concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

He Has Risen!” the angel announced from the empty tomb (Mk. 16:6). This statement, along with Jesus’ words “It is Finished!” (John 19:30) stand as the two great pillars of our faith.

Sunday’s sermon on the empty tomb is now available on our church podcast, or you can stream it using the media player below.

Related posts:

The Blog of Stephen Jones