Stop being a Christian Superhero!

There are two kinds of people in the world today: those who hate the wave of superhero movies and shows in American culture and those who envision themselves as their favorite Marvel or DC character each night in their dreams. Of course, those who hate the superhero fad should just keep their thoughts to themselves.

I love superheroes! It will not profit us to argue about which one is the best (because everyone knows the Incredible Hulk would crush them all), but it is interesting to think about the draw many of us have towards superheroes. I tend to think that the reasons for it are a bit complicated, but it is worth noting that many Christians can sometimes think of Christian living in terms of superhero and supervillain warfare.

And yet, Christian living is actually quite ordinary. Sure, there are Christian giants that pepper the landscape of human history. There are those men and women who have stood in the face of much opposition and honored Christ with heroic vigor. But, this is not the norm. Most Christians have lived in obscurity, served Christ thanklessly, and witnessed to the glory of God without any fanfare.

Christians can do much good by simply living a God-honoring life in ordinary ways with some consistency. Your co-workers, friends, and especially your family take notice of your life-pattern.

Are you content with God’s provision?

Do you rest in His promises?

Are you submissive to His authority?

Do you show a love for His Word and His people?

We may sometimes fantasize about being a ‘superhero’ Christian, swooping in at the perfect moment to save the world (or at least a small village). But in this fantasy, two things will constantly happen.

First, we will be depressed by our performance. In case you didn’t know, you are not a superhero (not even a Christian one). And second, we will miss out on a thousand daily opportunities to be a real witness for Christ and help to others around us.

We would do well to stop waiting for our ‘moment’ and start enjoying the everyday life God has given us to live. He has given it to us for His glory and for our joy, so we are wise to embrace it and enjoy it.

Who needs Church History? YOU DO!

Church History is a fascinating subject. From the rapid growth of the first century to the prevalent darkness in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the contrasts of liberalism and fundamentalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Church has experienced God’s grace with varying degrees of visibility.  Always the object of God’s mercy and kindness, the Church has appeared to both love and hate the world, to both love and hate the unregenerate, and to both love and hate the very God who bought her from the enslavement of adulterous idolatry.

The Church is an invisible formation of sinful humans; which God uses as living stones in His miraculous construction. The Church is imperfect in her mortal and visible state, but one day She will be arrayed in a glory that was not Her own. The Church shall be presented before Christ as His holy and blemish-free Bride, and such an end is marvelous indeed.  All of Church history is moving Her from one measure of glory to another, and thanks be to God that He is the provider and sustainer of His Church.

The nitty-gritty of Church history has exposed me to some extraordinarily high highs and some shamefully low lows.  The first moment in Church history that captured my attention was a mixture of both.  The Council of Nicaea met in 325 AD in order to discuss the triune Godhead[1] and particularly the hypostatic union[2] of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ.  The council meeting itself was an odd concept. Those men who led the assembly were the objects of great persecution only a short time before. In fact, the very same governing officials who were calling for the convention were the ones who had led the charge against them. This new arrangement (not new to human history, but new to these Church fathers), combining the Church inseparably with the state, was all-too-well embraced by these Christian leaders.  Noll said,

“Nicaea was a turning point that set Christianity on a course that it has only begun to relinquish, and that only reluctantly, over the past two or three centuries.  That course was the addition of concerns for worldly power to its birthright concern for the worship of God.”[3]

While Nicaea certainly did produce some high quality theology, this point in Church history also marked the beginning of a struggle for worldly power and shameful exploitation of such authority by many of the mortal leaders of the most holy terrestrial institution – the Church.

There were perennial moments of both wonder and embarrassment from Nicaea onward, but it seems that one period rises above the rest on the skyline of Church history when it comes to a recapturing of the essence of Christianity.  The Protestant Reformation occurred during a time of deeply rooted corruption and far-reaching opposition.  This reformation of the visible Church had many contributing factors and countless men and women as its champions, but it is nearly undisputed that a single monk with a single mallet swung the first significant blows in the event that would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther grew up in Germany under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church as well as his stern mother and father.  Like any good Roman Catholic of his day, he exhibited both a diligent effort and a healthy distaste for various aspects of religious life.  This lawyer who had become an Augustinian monk finally traveled to Rome in anticipation of gleefully absorbing what he thought would be a hallowed city with devout men serving the holy God and His consecrated Church.  Instead, and to his extreme dismay, what Luther found was a debased city with corrupt men serving themselves in the name of God, and that at the expense of His Church.  Luther was heart-broken and furious at the sight of such a mockery, but his grand protest was actually intended to be something altogether different than what it turned out to be.

Luther composed ninety-five arguments against Papal indulgences, which was a corrupt use of Church authority to raise money for selfish gain.  Luther could not have known the impact he would make by nailing that text to the chapel’s wooden door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.  None of the most astute theologians, sociologists, politicians, psychologists or historians could have possibly understood how great the impact of this event would be.  It essentially marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

The arguments contained in Luther’s 95 theses were symptoms of a viral incompatibility, and Luther could not have known how the technology of his day would be harnessed to spread these ideas so far and wide.  Luther wrote to one publisher of his theses, “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation.”[4]  While Martin Luther may have intended a theological debate among learned church clergy, what he got was a firestorm that recalibrated the visible Church and set Her on a new trajectory for the future.

The Church continued on this persistently reforming path of orthodox growth for more than a few centuries, and then came liberalism in 1865.  Liberal theology, that is soft and/or hetero-orthodox positions on core Christian doctrines, began to dominate pastoral training institutions as well as pulpits, and the Church has suffered great loss because of it.  “J. Gresham Machen called it a new creedless faith with no relation to biblical Christianity in his popular Christianity and Liberalism (1923).”[5]  Where once the character and nature of God was disputed vehemently among theologians and the cost for error was death, there now stands a plethora of theological leaders unwilling to acknowledge that such things even warrant a discussion at all.  The God who has revealed Himself in special and particular terms has been relegated to the realm of the wholly unknowable. Mankind is left with a god of his own invention who bears no resemblance at all to the God of Scripture, except that it occasionally is labeled with His name.

Before looking more deeply at these points in Church history, and the many others that string along to connect them, I knew that theology was important.  I knew that ecclesiology, soteriology, Christology, missiology, and the relationship between Church and state were significant matters deserving thoughtful investigation.  However, I have seen the fleshing out of what can be the result of erroneous views in one or more of these areas.  The Church today is in dire need of an ongoing reformation – not a single event, but a continual discussion about what it looks like to live out the Faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.

Such a reforming posture seems already to be the stance of many in the visible Church today, but many more are presumably asleep at the wheel.  This generation of pastors, teachers, elders, professors, and leaders (and all those who come after them) would do well to equip Christians to find their place in Church history.

By God’s grace, when Christians recognize their place in God’s plan of redemption they become commendable for eternal glory. But, in God’s providence, when Christians recognize their moment in God’s plan of human history they may become men and women of whom the sinful world is not worthy.




[1] Godhead is a theological term used to refer to the unity of Father, Son, and Spirit in one ontological being.

[2] Hypostatic Union is a theological label used to refer to the joining together of divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. He was and is both God and man; one person with two natures.

[3] Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. doi:WorldCat database. (p. 55).

[4] “How Luther Went Viral. (Martin Luther).” The Economist (US) 401 (2011): 8764. Accessed April 9, 2014. Academic OneFile.

[5] Cairns, Earle Edwin. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1996. (p. 459).

Death is Life’s Definitive Equalizer

Last weekend was emotionally demanding. I received phone calls from two different sources, and each reported the death of a person I knew. A 92-year-old man had been part of my church family for years, and I had spoken with him several times about his impending death. When he died, it was no huge surprise, but it still stings.

The other news of fatal events focused upon one of my younger brothers. He was 29 years old, and he died of a gunshot wound on Saturday.

Saying it out loud and typing it here still feels strange… My brother is dead.

On Saturday night, I was lying in bed beside my 9-year-old son and my wife. I was making some last minute adjustments to my notes in preparation for officiating the older man’s graveside funeral service on Sunday afternoon. My wife and son were playing and talking beside me, and they were not trying hard to keep from distracting me. Once I finished, we talked a bit and prayed together, and then I carried my son to his bed.

Coming back to my own bed, I returned a call from my dad that I had missed a short time earlier. He relayed the terrible news, “Eric was shot, and they could not save him.”

Thoughts raced through my head. I recalled having said (on more than one occasion) that my brother would likely end up dead or in prison if he remained on his current path, but understanding the logical progression does not prepare one to absorb the decisive reality. Eric had been on a path of self-destruction for many years, with varying degrees of vigor. It seems this end, for him, was inevitable, but it is not welcome.

And yet, the middle-class, war veteran, upstanding citizen, nonagenarian still faced the same end as my brother. Of course, the means were quite different. My brother faced an abrupt end while he felt he was at the height of his life’s energy; and the old man died while he rested peacefully in a hospital bed after his days of vitality had long passed. But, the fact remains… Both men died.

This is the haunting reality that every person cannot escape. I will die. You will die. We will all face that dreaded and immediate removal of all of our illusions of power and grandeur. While we may pride ourselves on our ability to elude that final foe thus far, his stamina and success is sure.

This is what makes death life’s definitive equalizer. No matter what you do, you, like everyone else, will face death on equal footing – with your feet planted firmly in midair.

What will you do with this knowledge? How will you ease your anxiety?

The Bible tells us why all humans experience death, and why we all face such an enemy without hope of escape. All humans die (sooner or later) because of our collective rebellion against God’s divine authority (Rom. 5:12). All humans remain under God’s condemnation because of our collective disobedience (Rom. 5:16). Therefore, we are equally guilty before God, and we will face the judgment we deserve – no matter how much we tried to make ourselves believe otherwise in this brief mortal life.

And yet, there is hope. Not a hope in you or me, but hope that comes from God Himself.

God sends grace instead of justice, and provides genuine hope for all those who will trust Him, in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:21).

Jesus, the Son of God and God the Son, was born perfect, and He lived perfectly obedient to God’s authority. This morally pure God-man was counted as the vilest rebel before God who ever existed when He hung on a Roman cross. God poured out His unbridled fury against rebellious sinners on Jesus Christ, and this incomparably gracious substitute died. Jesus died. He, like all humans, died. Ah, but His death was the death of death itself!

In the death of Jesus Christ, the ultimate penalty for sin was paid. All those who look to Christ (who trust in Him as Rescuer, Redeemer, and Ruler) may rest assured that Christ’s death counts for them. Furthermore, Jesus Christ conquered death by resurrecting to eternal life. Indeed, He promises that all who love and trust Him will enjoy the same resurrection He experienced, and such a glorious end is the bedrock of hope.

So, what will you do with this knowledge?

I know what I do with it… I cling tightly to this Christ who has loved me so. I ache to know Him more and long to be with Him in eternal glory. Daily, I recount His promises, contemplate His work, and ponder His character. In times of greatest trial, when I am tempted to despair and even disbelief, I squeeze tighter to the divine hands that always maintain their grip on me.

What is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?

All Bible-loving Christians must believe in something commonly referred to as baptism in the Holy Spirit,[1] but there are differences in various definitions and expectations of it. Charismatic Christians sometimes presume that non-Charismatic Christians do not believe in a Holy Spirit baptism, but this is not necessarily justified. I shall seek to explain the biblical meaning of baptism in the Holy Spirit, and I shall argue for the expected and universal experience of this baptism among Christians. I shall also consider and answer some common objections to my argument. Since this is not merely an academic essay, but a work of applied theology, I will begin with a little personal background.

As I was growing up, I experienced times of significant discomfort in church services. My strange feelings arose as a response to some odd sights and sounds. I remember my mother’s body bizarrely shaking, while she shrieked an incomprehensible and chaotic repetition. The image of a church leader spontaneously running across the stage or around the room is easily recalled in my mind. Various members of the congregation would each contribute to a cacophony of noises, which might be described as groaning, wailing, yelling and sometimes laughing. These were common among my childhood and teen experiences with Christianity.

Local churches who experience these kinds of things, and/or many similar experiences, are often called Charismatic. The term “charismata” means divine gifting or empowering, and the Christians who compose these Charismatic congregations affirm the present and ongoing expectation of a certain kind of divine gifts. A major expectation among Charismatic Christians is that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a distinct and subsequent event to Christian conversion. We will seek to understand what biblical relationship there is between Holy Spirit baptism and Christian conversion, so let us turn to the Scriptures.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Seven verses in the New Testament speak about someone being baptized in or by the Holy Spirit. Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33 all record similar recitations of John the Baptizer’s words concerning Jesus and baptism in the Holy Spirit. John said, “I have baptized you with water; but he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 1:8). Two more passages are found in the book of Acts. In Acts 1:5, Jesus reminds His followers about John’s prediction, and He tells them to expect to be baptized in the Holy Spirit “not many days from now.” In Acts 11:16, Peter refers back to Jesus’ words in Acts 1:5, and he marvels at the reality that Gentiles have also received the same baptism as the Jewish believers did on the day of Pentecost (as recorded in Acts 2:1-4). All six of these passages refer to the occurrence of baptism, but – this is important – none of them explain what it is.

The seventh passage in the New Testament that mentions the baptism in the Holy Spirit is 1 Corinthians 12:13. The Apostle Paul says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (RSV). Here, the apostle Paul is talking about what makes all Christians part of the “one body,” namely union with Christ and with one another. He says that the defining moment, the transition from unbelief to belief, is that instant when the Christian is baptized by the Holy Spirit.

This transition is what Christians commonly refer to as conversion or (more theologically termed) regeneration. Allison says, “the conclusion to be drawn from these passages is that one of the aspects of God’s work of saving sinful human beings is Jesus Christ’s baptism of new converts with the Holy Spirit, by which they are incorporated into his body, the church” (Allison, 8). It seems clear from these biblical texts that Allison’s conclusion is accurate; baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs in the life of every Christian as a synchronized event with their conversion.

Some Objections Considered

Many who hold the Charismatic or Pentecostal position will object to such a conclusion, however. They claim that the passage from 1 Corinthians 12 is different from the other six, because the baptizing agent is different in this passage. One might argue that the Holy Spirit is the one doing the baptizing in 1 Corinthians, while Jesus is the one doing the baptizing in the other six verses. However, Grudem refers to this objection when he says,

“although the distinction seems to make sense from some English translations, it really cannot be supported by an examination of the Greek text, for there the expression is almost identical to the expressions we have seen in the other six versus” (Grudem, 1604).

Grudem also points out the translators’ possible goal of avoiding a confusing repetition in 1 Corinthians 12:13. For example, the ESV records, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” The baptism is in one Spirit and also into one body, but both of these together can elicit the question, “Is it a baptism in the Spirit, or into the body?” The only biblical answer is, “Yes… it is both.”

Another objection that is often cited is that of the subsequent occurrence of baptism in the Holy Spirit from the conversion of New Testament believers. There is a record of Christians who were baptized in the Holy Spirit after they believed the Gospel and trusted in Christ. On this basis, it is argued, the Holy Spirit baptism and Christian conversion are explicitly separate events. On the front end, this objection is quite warranted; but we must inevitably ask a big question about what is assumed in this objection: Are these chronologically delayed Holy Spirit baptisms normative or unique? First, let us look at the recorded events themselves.

Jewish believers, who were already Christians, gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. They believed in Christ as Lord and Savior, but they were not baptized in the Holy Spirit until the day of Pentecost, which was clearly after they had first believed (Acts 2:1-4). Furthermore, there are two other occurrences (later in Acts) where believers receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit after they have already believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Acts 8:14-17, we learn that Peter and John encountered some Samarian (half-Jew) Christians who had been “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (they had been water baptized as a sign of repentance and faith), but the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen on any of them” (Acts 8:16). After Peter and John “laid their hands on them,” the Samarian believers “received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17).

A very similar description is given in Acts 19:1-7. However, in this case, we meet believers who are not even half-Jews; they are Ephesian Gentiles. Paul learns the same about these Christians as Peter and John learned about the Samarian ones. They had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but they had not yet experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Paul, like Peter and John, laid his hands upon these believers, and they “began speaking in tongues” as the “Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:6).

A simple explanation can be offered for these delayed experiences, and I will use a three-premised syllogism to build it out.

First, Peter told his hearers that the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which occurred at Pentecost, was the fulfillment of the prophecy Joel wrote many years before. Through the prophet Joel, God promised to “pour out [His] Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17), as opposed to only sending the Holy Spirit to select individuals and for certain tasks throughout the Old Testament. Grudem says, “the day of Pentecost was the point of transition between the Old Covenant work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant work in the ministry of the Holy Spirit” (Grudem, 1612). Pentecost, then, was that predicted outpouring, and it was a unique event in human history.

Second, the New Covenant in Christ Jesus brought the realization of that spiritual union that was promised, and it also brought about a highlighted ethnic expansion. The promise of God’s blessing was always for the offspring of Abraham and extending to the whole world (Gen. 12:1-3), but it was only after the coming of Christ this offspring blessing was emphasized as a spiritual lineage or heritage. The Apostle Paul says, for example, “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring” (Gal. 3:29). This was a fact in the Old Testament as well (Gen. 12:2-3), but its prominence is greater in New Testament.

Third, we see a progressive ethnic expansion of God baptizing believers in the Holy Spirit as a testimony of His blessing upon all peoples. Notice that all of the believers who were baptized in the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 were Jewish (Acts 2:1-4, cf. Acts 11:17-18). In Acts 8:14-17, Samarians (half-Jews) were baptized in the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10:1-48, we read of a God-fearing Gentile (an Italian centurion) and his family who received the Gospel, and “the Holy Spirit fell” upon them (Acts 10:44). Finally, in Acts 19:1-7, we read about Ephesian Gentiles who had believed the Gospel and experience water baptism, but when the Apostle Paul “laid hands on them” they too were baptized in the Holy Spirit. These demonstrate an intentional expansion, both on God’s working in human history and Luke’s record of these events.

Therefore, we are to understand that the application Peter made on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) is carried over to the subsequent experiences (Acts 8, 10, 19) of the same unique fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Peter tells us, I believe, that these occurrences are collectively that of which the prophet Joel spoke. God promised to pour out His Spirit upon all peoples, and that is exactly what He progressively did. Let me be clear; I do not merely tolerate these experiences of baptism in the Holy Spirit subsequent to Christian conversion during the time period of the early church. I celebrate these emphatic and unique baptisms in the Holy Spirit, for these are God’s own witness of His fulfilled promise of blessing to all peoples through Christ Jesus.


Far from believing that the baptism in the Holy Spirit has somehow stopped, I believe that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is essential to every Christian. The Holy Spirit baptism is not reserved for only a select few Christians or some elite spiritual group, but this baptism is the defining mark of every believer. God miraculously brings sinners into union with Christ by baptizing them in the Holy Spirit, and this life-giving event happens the very moment the Christian – every Christian – believes.


[1]I understand an interchangeable use of the terms “in” and “with,” as they relate to Holy Spirit baptism, so I use “in” throughout this essay. For a more thorough examination, see Grudem’s Systematic Theology, especially chapter 39.



Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, vol. 16, no. 4 (Winter 2012).

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.


Do you think too little of Jesus? Possibly…

In our day of 140 character tweets and eye-catching promos, we are accustomed the seeing just about everything through the lenses of reductionism. “Reduce what you want me to know to the least possible amount of information so that I will be able to quickly assimilate, assess, and (of course) accept or reject it.”

Even in Christian circles, it has become tolerable and sometimes admirable to reduce the Gospel itself to some minimalistic form. Just ask several Christians to describe who Jesus is according to the Bible, and you are likely to hear what I mean. “Jesus is the savior of sinners;” “Jesus is the lover of the outcast;” “Jesus is the Son of God;” and one of my personal favorites, “Jesus is my homeboy.”

Christianity centers upon Jesus Christ (just think of the first five letters of “Christianity“), so it is critical that the Christian think deeply and thoroughly about Jesus. Who is He? What did He do? What does He still do? What has He promised He will do in the future?

There are many dangers of thinking too little of Jesus, but consider the following:

If we think only on the babe in a manger, then we forget that God the Son was with the Father before the world began. We forget that the Son is the One through whom all things were created and the One in whom all things exist.

If we focus too much on Jesus’ obscure childhood, then we venture into pure speculation, and tread on ground that God did not provide for any sturdy follower.

If we see Jesus only as the tender friend to sinners, then we may be surprised to catch a glimpse of Him beating and throwing out the money changers.

If we attune our ears to Jesus’ words of love and peace, such that we cannot hear the fullness of their meaning, then we may forget that God disciplines those He loves.

If we affix our eyes upon the suffering Savior, hanging upon that Roman cross, we may be tempted to think that He has lost His power to rule the world.

If we celebrate only that Jesus arose from the dead, then we may lose sight of His miraculous ascension and think little of His intercession on our behalf this day.

If we idly await the day when Christ returns, and think only of Him as a distant King, then we may forget that He is right with us through the good times and bad in this life.

If we only refer to Jesus as someone we invited into our lives at some point in the past, then we may be surprised to learn that He is our Lord, King, Master, and Savior at this very moment.

We may see, then, that knowing Christ is much more encompassing than most of us might imagine. Cover to cover, the Bible speaks of the person and work of Christ. We ought to love and know Jesus as fully as we are capable; for our joy is made complete in the knowledge of Him.

Despair, Outrage, or Something Else?

In the last couple of weeks there has been enough bad news to test the strongest emotional fortitude. There have been appalling assaults on law enforcers, heartbreaking examples of societal dysfunction, and more disastrous terrorist attacks… These are perilous times to be sure.

In the midst of all this, there is no shortage of voices calling for an extreme response. From my perspective, there are really two options presented with great frequency and volume.

On one hand, we may feel angry and defensive, and thus react with outrage. Such outrage is mostly verbal, and often quite ambiguous, but lashing out in some way seems to be a primary response on the part of many.

On the other hand, we may feel alone and fearful, and thus withdraw in despair. The world we thought we knew has become unfamiliar and too scary. Many people are feeling as though these days are the worst of all human history, and they are drawing back from the world.

And yet, we may turn to Scripture for a rebuke of both responses. Peter, writing to persecuted and exiled Christians, said, “[Have] unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and [humility]. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1Pet3.8-9).

In this we may hear a charge to engage the world around us and a call to do so with humble sobriety. We are neither to separate ourselves from the world, nor to scream out in rage as we walk through it. We must not seek an earthly refuge away from the perils of life, nor depend on earthly powers of political, economic, or social force to minimize those perils.

We do not get to choose the period of history in which we live, but we do have the same opportunity that all other saints have had before us. We have received blessing and grace from God above, and we may now offer blessing and hope to those around us who are now overwhelmed with fear and fury.

Our hope is not that this world will one day become safer or more comfortable for us! Our hope is that this world will one day be remade and so shall all those who love and trust the Savior of guilty sinners like us! Our hope is that one day the King of glory will break open the sky and bring perfect justice and perfect peace! Our hope is that this same King is at work among His people even now to bring about His glorious ends, and we are participants in the greatest story of all time.

May God bring us comfort when we are falling into despair. May He give us wisdom when we are angered by the sinful actions of others. And may God grant His grace to many more sinners as He hastens the day of Christ’s return.

What does “Life on Mission” mean?

Christians are notorious for having a vocabulary that sometimes confuses the non-Christian world. Christians may talk about the time they “walked an aisle” or how they “feel led” to do this thing or that thing. As curious or confusing as phrases like these might be to someone who doesn’t know the lingo, there is a term that has become increasingly more popular (and potentially more confusing) in recent times: MISSION.

A Mission is an assigned task to be carried out for a particular purpose. This is certainly in focus when a Christian refers to “missional living” or “life on mission.” However, in Christian circles the term “mission” was once reserved for specific people who crossed ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and/or geographical barriers for the sake of the Gospel.

In other words, mission is what missionaries do. This perspective has changed, and I think this is generally a good thing.

Since mission is no longer attached only to missionaries, it is helpful to define what we actually mean by the term now. In order to help further the conversation and to encourage active participation in the mission, I would like to offer the following as a brief introduction to the terms, phrases, and concepts that now set the parameters of the wide discussion about MISSION.


The Father’s Mission: Mission, in its broadest sense, encompasses all that the triune God is and has been doing in the world to bring about His intended purpose of creating a people for Himself and for His glory. From Genesis 3:15, God has been revealing His mission and displaying His glory in the rescue of sinners by the means of a Savior who is both God and man (King of glory and ‘offspring of woman’). This mission culminates in the eternal glory of the new heavens and new earth, addressed in Revelation 21-22. John wrote, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1–2). The intimate and glorious relationship between God and man is restored through the outwork of God’s mission in real human history.

Christ’s Mission: Mission, in another sense, focuses upon Christ’s person and work in redeeming sinners. Of course, as I stated above, God’s mission to redeem sinners did not begin with the miraculous conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. And yet, the focal point of Christ’s person and work in human history is the apex of God’s missional work on earth (Col. 1:21-22). Jesus Christ is the supreme Prophet (revealing God’s majestic character and holy nature), He is the perfect Priest (mediating peace between God and man), and He is the most gracious King (providing benevolent authority and making perfect provision for His people). As Prophet, Priest, and King, Christ’s mission put human flesh upon the mission of the triune God; and Christ continues to operate in this three-fold office in His mission to redeem sinners to the glory of God (Jn. 6:38-40; cf. Heb. 8:1-2; Col. 3:1-4).

The Spirit’s Mission: Mission, in still another sense, focuses upon the Holy Spirit’s work of applying the work of Christ, as well as completing the mission of the Father. The word or message of God is proclaimed in the world, and it is the Spirit of God who applies that word to sinful humans (Eph. 1:13, cf. Jn. 3:3). The Holy Spirit makes dead sinners live, and brings them into the universal (spiritual) body of Christ (Eph. 2:1-10; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). Initiation into the body of Christ is not the end of Christian living, it is the beginning; and the Holy Spirit continually sanctifies the Christian (shapes him/her into the likeness of Christ’s character) throughout his/her mortal life (1 Cor. 6:11). This process of progressive sanctification is perfectly complete when the Christian enters into the glorious life to come (1 Thess. 5:23; cf. Rom. 8:29-30).

The Christian’s Mission: Mission, in relationship to the the individual Christian and the collection of all Christ’s disciples on earth, refers to the involvement of Christ’s followers in the mission of God. This concept is quite broad, and the term “mission” (as applied in this sense) may include a whole host of things (anything that embodies the concept of “lights in the world” [Phil. 2:15]). However, it is important to note that all of the things that may be included under the heading of “Christian Mission” must necessarily be accompanied by the qualifying mark of Gospel motivation and proclamation.

The Christian’s Mission is not primarily to make a better world, but to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of Christ.

As the Gospel motivates Christian engagement with the world, so too should that engagement produce positive results in the world. But when the positive results are the main goal, then the Gospel loses its primacy and the mission is no longer Christian, and, therefore, no longer participation in God’s Mission.


This term is probably most familiar to those who have been involved in Christian community for some time. “Missions” has been used, nearly exclusively, to refer to short and longterm missionary engagement across ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and/or geographical barriers. Professional missionaries (those who are financially supported by others and sent for Gospel engagement) and average churchgoers have been involved in missions for a long time now. Missionary families and individuals have relocated for significant periods of time in order to make a Gospel impact on a certain people group. Average families and individuals have left home for short periods of time in order to support and compliment the efforts of missionaries.

In more recent years, this term has also gained a new usage for geographically localized Gospel engagement as well. Local Missions efforts may be distinguished from the Global Missions strategy, but it has been helpful (in my opinion) to understand these two as significantly related. Therefore, it may be helpful to define “missions” as any Christian effort to engage a people group, for the purposes of Gospel proclamation and instruction, that is culturally or linguistically distinct from the active Christian effort.


Like the term above, the phrases “Missional Living” and “Life on Mission” are applied in a very broad way in Christian circles today. The differentiating element of these phrases from the term above (missions) is the reality that all Christians everywhere are intended to live as “missionaries” in the world. Too long, Christians have comfortably left the job of evangelism and disciple-making to “professionals.” Pastors, missionaries, and evangelists have been commissioned by local churches, and many of the Christians who have commissioned them have imagined that their part of the missional task is complete.

And yet, in recent years many Christian have come to realize that they too are responsible for making disciples. This rediscovery of biblical truth, commonly understood among Christ’s followers at various points of human history, has sent rippling effects throughout the Christian communities in America. Christian moms and dads are realizing their responsibility to disciple their children. Christian young people are grasping their obligation to evangelize their schoolmates. Christian employees are taking the initiative to engage their coworkers on spiritual and biblical matters. Christian business owners are looking for ways to sow Gospel seeds into to those under their influence. Christian families are opening their homes and lives to their non-Christian neighbors in order to make opportunities for Gospel conversations. All of this, and more, is Life on Mission.

Missional Living (1) the understanding that Christ has commissioned all Christians to be about the task of disciple-making, and (2) intentional and active participating in that task.


These definitions are not authoritative, but I believe they are accurate and helpful to those who participate in any conversation about mission. The most important takeaway from this article, however, is not what terms we use or how we use them. Rather, if you are a Christian, you must ask yourself, “Am I a participant in the mission of God?”

May God cause every Christian to be ignited by a passion to participate and live Life on Mission, for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of Christ.


How are you living a life on mission? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

Don’t Waste Your Summer!

So often, we come to the end of the summer with little to show for it (except maybe some unsightly tan-lines). Christians have historically been a people marked by diligence and intentionality, so I’d like to offer some things that we might do to use our summer wisely. Whether your family is big, small, older, younger, grown and gone, or just beginning, you can greatly benefit from investing intentional time in one another.

Here are FIVE things you can do to make sure you don’t waste your summer:

1. Read a short book from the New Testament.

It is no secret that many Christian families do not read their Bible together nearly as often as they should. However, you can take advantage of the summer schedule and add Bible reading to your family routine. No apologies necessary for neglecting this essential aspect of Christian family discipleship… Just get started, and make summer the occasion for kicking it off.

You can read together as a family on weekday evenings after dinner, mornings (before everyone goes their separate ways), or gathered together just before bed. Choose one of the short books from the New Testament (like Ephesians, Colossians, James, or 1 John), and read a chapter each day. It shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes to read a single chapter, and if you read it each day, you’ll be done in about a week. At that point, you can celebrate the family accomplishment and choose where to go from there. I think reading the same book a few times in a row would be fantastic, but you may also move on to another short book and enjoy the reality that you are reading the Bible together as a family.

2. Pray for and write a letter to your church family.

Summers are notorious seasons of lower attendance and lacking involvement in the weekly church schedule. Additionally, some of you church family may be going through a difficult time with their health, causing them to be unable to participate. It is also quite likely that there are several single moms, older couples, and some widows among the people who make up your church membership. You can be an encouragement to these, you can help them sustain a sense of connectedness to the church family, and you can pray for their benefit.

Ask your pastor or church administrator for a list of names and contact info for those with whom you especially want to connect. Don’t try to contact every person or family on your membership roster (especially if your church family is a large one), but prayerfully select a handful of people that you want to engage over the summer. Initially, write a letter of encouragement, or send a card to let them know you are praying for them. Ask them if there is anything of special concern that they would like you to include in your prayers. Share your own joys, and let them know how glad you are to be part of the same church family.

3. Invite your neighbor’s or coworker’s family over for dinner.

Who doesn’t like the taste of just about anything fresh off of the grill?! Summer is a great time to invite others over for a time of outdoor activity and simple hospitality. Think about a coworker that you know has an aversion to attending a church service. An invitation to Sunday worship might not be welcomed, but an invitation to Saturday lunch at your house is sure to get a great response. Maybe you haven’t really gotten to know your neighbor very well, and you need to have deeper conversation with them than their dog or lawn care issues.

Christians are supposed to be the most hospitable people in the world (Rom. 12:13). Don’t let this summer go by without opening your home, your yard, and your life to others around you. You (and they) will be glad you made the effort to connect more deeply.

4. Learn about and pray for an “Unengaged” people group.

Did you know that there are some people groups (see definition below) in the world today that have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ? This is a tragedy, and as Christians this reality should be unbearable. I don’t mean that it should cause us to despair; I mean that it should irresistibly rouse us to action.

The International Mission Board (the missions arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) has categorized the various people groups of the world into 3 designated segments. A people group is labeled “Reached” where there is a professing Christian population of 2% or more. The expectation is that the Christians among this group will be actively engaging their neighbors and friends. “Unreached” people groups are defined as those who have an active Christian influence, but the population of Christians remains less than 2%. “Unengaged Unreached People Groups” (UUPGs) are those who have no known Christian activity at this time. People in UUPGs are born, they live, and they die without ever hearing about or knowing of a Savior.

You and your family can select one of these groups and make these people the focus of much prayer and investigation. Some creativity may help, but simply searching for information should be fairly straightforward. Pray for the people, pray that God would send missionaries, and consider what you might be able to do to encourage and support Gospel efforts to these people. The minimum effort you can give is prayer, but God is able to do exceedingly more than we can imagine when we cry out to Him. God delights in giving good gifts to His children, and I can think of no greater gift than the salvation of a lost sinner.

*A people group is an ethnolinguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members.

5. Do something different, and point to the goodness of God in it.

Summer offers many things, but one of the simplest things the season offers is a change of pace. Kids are out of school, days are longer, and the general speed of life often slows a bit for many people. During this time, take the opportunity to do something different – maybe even spontaneous.

Go get ice-cream or a slushy, and ask your kids 100 questions for a change. Stay up late, and play games or have a slumber party in the living room. Go camping, and eat smores by the fire. Drive a little distance with the windows down and the radio loud, while you listen to songs your kids enjoy. These and a host of other things will be memorable joys for your family, and you can take a moment to remind them that God delights in His children even more than you do. These object lessons will go further than you think.



What are some things you have done to make the most of summer?

Does the Bible really approve of Polygamy?

Throughout this year, I have been preaching through the book of Genesis with my congregation. Last Sunday we arrived at Genesis chapter 16, where polygamy is mentioned for the second time in the Bible. Earlier in the Bible (and in human history), we read about a man named “Lamech” who had two wives (Gen. 4:19-24). The context of Genesis 4, however, is easily perceived as negative. That is: “Lamech was a bad man; and this bad man did multiple bad things, including the taking of more than one wife.”

Genesis 16 records polygamy in the household of an essential character in the Biblical storyline (even a “good guy”), Abraham.  This is often a topic that becomes quite problematic for many Christians who want to be consistent in their adherence to and affirmation of the Bible.

Since the Bible tells us that polygamy was practiced by some of the most important leaders of the Judeo-Christian Faith, how can any Bible-believing Christian argue for monogamous marriage today?

Well, here are seven points of consideration that will help us gain a better perspective and help us have a good answer to the big question:

  1. The Bible consistently affirms Monogamous Marriage
    • The Bible clearly institutes and defends monogamous marriage defined as a lifelong partnership between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:21-25).
    • Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 2:21-25) is undoubtedly the first wedding ceremony, and God divinely institutes and defines marriage at that point.
    • Both Jesus (Matt. 19) and Paul (1 Cor. 7) refer back to Genesis 2 in reference to defining and regulating marriage.
    • When the Bible speaks positively about marriage (particularly in any imperative or didactic way) it consistently affirms monogamous, lifelong, male-female relationships.
  2. Abram and Sarai are clearly depicted as disobeying God in Genesis 16
    • Ancient pagan and common customs at the time of Abram and Sarai did allow for (at times even obligate) a polygamous method of procreation.
    • Hammurabi’s Code, a reference to “brides” and “slaves” in a Nuzi text, and an Old Assyrian marriage contract all confirm that what we see in Genesis 16 was common in that period.
    • However, the addition of Hagar to the marital relationship between Abram and Sarai is clearly undesirable from the perspective of the text.
    • It is precisely on the matter of polygamy that Abram and Sarai are taking God’s promise into their own hands and proving themselves to be disobedient.
  3. Abram’s union to Hagar (Gen. 16:3) is a mockery of the original marriage ceremony (Gen. 2:21-25).
    • “Sarai, Abram’s wife, took (grasped, seized) Hagar” and “gave (give, hand down) her to Abram”
      • God formed a woman and “brought (bring, lead in) her to the man [Adam]”
    • Hagar is never once a volitional person in this exchange, but simply an object to be used by others
      • Adam’s wife is raised to an equal status with the apex of God’s creation, when Adam says, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”
    • Hagar is called Abram’s “wife” (iššā), but only in a utilitarian sense; there is no mention of anything more than procreative intent here.
      • When God give Adam his wife, he celebrates in poetic song and gives her a new name.
  4. The voice of God in the passage rejects Hagar’s status of “wife” (iššā).
    • The “angel of the Lord” (mysteriously speaking with divine authority) refers to Hagar as “servant of Sarai” (v8)
    • Of course, this is an argument from silence, but it does demonstrate that God knows Hagar’s status and omits any affirmation of her as Abram’s wife.
  5. God commands Hagar to return to Sarai, not Abram.
    • The “angel of the Lord” commands Hagar to “return” and “submit” to Sarai, not Abram (v9).
    • This is more compelling, as it affirms Hagar’s relationship to Sarai as her proper abode, rather than Hagar’s recent polygamous marriage to Abram.
    • Properly, Hagar would have been under Abram’s provision as his wife, but this command provides compelling evidence that God did not approve of such a union.
  6. Genesis 16 is all about family dysfunction, not marital bliss among alternate models of marriage.
    • The capstone of Genesis 16 is the last 2 verses, which clearly articulate a disjuncture in familial progression (Genesis 16:15-16).
    • These lines might as well read, “Ishmael was Hagar’s son by Abram, but Ishmael was not Abram’s son of promise because he was borne out of a disobedient relationship.”
  7. The Bible simply never approves of polygamy.
    • The entire Old Testament records several instances of polygamy and the use of concubines, but it never speaks of such things in an affirmative light (Gen. 4:23-24; 26:34; 1 Sam. 13; 1 Kings 11:1-3).

Let us note with all honesty and humility that the Bible does address issues that sometimes make us uncomfortable. Surely, I would have been so happy to learn that the line of Biblical characters were righteous beacons among a dark world, but this is not the picture we get. The Bible tells an honest story of a believable human history, and the people we meet are just as rebellious and sin-ridden as the people we know today. But, this is exactly the point of the Bible!

The Bible is not a religious book that tells good people how to be better. It does not tell bad people how to be good. No! The Bible tells bad people how the gracious God averted His justice by pouring out His wrath on a substitute. The Bible tells broken people how their Creator God has the ability and the intention of making them new and whole and satisfied in Him. The Bible tells hopeless people how God intends to give them an eternal dwelling with Him forever, and His plan has been a long time coming.

Let me know if this article has been a help to you. May God bless the efforts and time invested here.

Forgetful People need Reminders… Don’t you?

You know a lot of things, don’t you? You know the stove is hot (when it’s turned on); you know that speeding will likely earn you a ticket and a fine; you know that spending more money than you make will result in oppressive debt. And yet, you have likely acted contrary to what you know on numerous occasions. Have you ever burned yourself on the stove? Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? Have you ever wondered how you were going to get out from under a mountain of debt? If you are honest, the answer is likely “yes” to at least one of these.

There are many ways we might demonstrate the reality that we often forget what we know. Just because we know something doesn’t mean we act accordingly with any consistency. In fact, the opposite is actually true for most people. We often act inconsistently and out of step with what we know to be true. Generally, we act based on feelings and circumstances much more than we act on known truth and thoughtful consideration.

Christians are not immune from this way of acting out of step with knowing, and that is why the Bible is full of occasions when the people of God are forcefully reminded about what they already know to be true. As a matter of fact, the whole book of Deuteronomy is just such an occasion. Let’s briefly consider the setting, and then let’s consider what the people of God were reminded about.

The Setting

The Hebrew people had been slaves to an Egyptian Pharaoh for a long time, and they had lost all hope in the promise God had made to their forefather, Abraham. God had promised prosperity, land, and (most importantly) His presence among them. But their experience was the opposite.

Then God sends Moses to be His instrument of deliverance from bondage, and the Hebrew people were free from the oppression they once endured. On their way into this new era of fulfilled promise, the Hebrew people demonstrate skepticism and obstinance all along the way. For these reasons, God delayed their entry into the land He had promised them. For an entire generation, the Hebrew people wondered about the desert, and God graciously continued to provide for their every need.

Finally, the time came for the Hebrew people to enter into the land of promise, and the book of Deuteronomy records the speech Moses gave them prior to entry. Before they went in, there were things they knew, but these things would need to be remembered. In particular, there were two big reminders.

The Reminders

Moses reminded God’s people of their history and of God’s law. Both of these are important to prepare them to enter the Promised Land. The people of God would face significant opposition, experiences that would test their trust in God’s character. Is God truly faithful? Is God really holy? These were questions that they would need to answer with conviction in the face of their trying circumstances.

God is faithful. He had demonstrated His faithfulness in delivering the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt, in His provision in the wilderness, and in His miraculous defeat of worldly powers that might have threatened His people. Not only had God been incredibly faithful, but He had demonstrated His fidelity in direct contrast to the infidelity of His people. They were ungrateful, promiscuous, and rebellious. These were all powerful and vivid reminders of God’s past faithfulness, and these would be important reasons to trust that God would remain faithful in the future.

God is holy. He had demonstrated His holiness in the separation of Himself from creation and in the separation of His people from other groups. God made His presence near to the Hebrew people, but this was not an unqualified intimacy. At Mt. Sinai only a select few representatives were allowed into the presence of God, and when God’s presence came to dwell among His people in the tent of meeting Moses and Aaron were still commissioned with the task of protecting the people from God’s holy presence. Furthermore, God had issues a litany of specific laws and ceremonial observances that would make His people stand out among the rest of humanity. God is holy, and His people are to be holy too; and this would prove an important reminder of such things when the people of God would be tempted to think otherwise.

Be Reminded Today

God is faithful. All believers will do well to remember what God has done and what they have done. God has been faithful and they have not. In our lives we are most consistently faithless and rebellious. And yet, God is faithful! He has promised to save guilty sinners, He has performed the task of salvation in real human history, and He has applied that work to the hearts and lives of all those who love and trust Him. God is truly faithful.

God is holy. All believers will also do well to remember the holiness of God (particularly as observed in the moral law or 10 commandments). Here is where we behold the character and nature of God (among other things). It is a travesty today that many Christians seem utterly oblivious to the beauty and benefits of knowing and observing the moral law of God. Want to know what God thinks is important? Want to know what God is like? Check out the 10 commandments… Carefully read the preamble, opening at Exodus 20… Thoughtfully consider what is commanded and what is forbidden in each of these…  There you will see the character and nature of God on display.

Do not give in to the temptation to believe that this world’s patterns are for God’s people to follow, and do not distrust the promises of God simply because your circumstances are difficult.

Remember that God is faithful and God is holy.

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