Thanksgiving for the Supernatural

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

-2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

Happy Thanksgiving!  This year we are enjoying this unique holiday with our family in Georgia.  That means last night we regrettably missed our GPBC/HBC Thanksgiving Eve service.  That has to be one of my favorite services of the year, because of the testimonies of the church about how God has been working in our lives.  I love hearing the stories of God’s faithfulness to us in spiritual growth!

Spiritual growth is naturally impossible.  No person can simply decide to grow spiritually.  The Spirit of God must be at work for our faith to grow.  This is one reason why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 that we should give thanks for faith that is growing and love that is increasing.

Spiritual growth starts when the Holy Spirit resurrects a person to spiritual life.  It continues as the Spirit teaches, instructs, convicts of sin, and guides the believer through God’s word and through the community of the church.  Any growth of faith is supernatural, and a primary reason to give thanks to God.

Growing Faith

I have seen faith growing in our church body as we learn more about who God is and what he is doing.  The Bible is our resource here, and the better we know our great God, the better we are able to believe him rather than the world around us.  It’s not just about learning, it’s about increasing in our love for God because we know him better.  I thank God because he is graciously growing our faith!

Increasing Love

I have seen love increasing in our church body as we relate to one another and to people in our community.  Whether it’s a prayer of encouragement or meeting a practical need, our church’s love for others is visibly increasing.  The testimonies of those who have experienced this love is humbling.  I thank God because he is increasing our love for others.

Even in Trial

Supernatural spiritual growth is validated as we face tough times.  Paul recognizes that the Thessalonians’ faith was steadfast through persecutions and afflictions.  This testimony through times of trial was another reason to give thanks for their growing faith.  Many in our church have faced/are facing significant trials.  I thank God because their faith has been steadfast through these turbulent times.

I thank God that our church is filled with growing followers of Jesus.  I can think of so many specific names and faces who bring joy to my heart because of their spiritual growth, some who have been Christians for longer than I’ve been alive and some who are brand new believers.  God is doing a supernatural work in our midst: we are growing in faith and increasing in love.  It is only appropriate that we thank the source of that growth.  Happy Thanksgiving!


So That You May Believe

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

-John 20:30-31

We are headed at full speed into the holiday season.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us, and between Starbucks cups and black Friday advertising, we can’t escape it.  As is our custom at GPBC/HBC, we will be starting a new sermon series that focuses on passages from the Bible that relate to the first advent of Jesus.  This year our text will be the gospel of John 1:1-18.

John wrote his gospel with one clear, unambiguous purpose:

…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

-John 20:31.

Every syllable in his gospel is aimed at the mark of faith.  Every story contributes to this purpose, including the first eighteen verses which describe Jesus’ arrival on earth.

John doesn’t launch his gospel with the earthly details of Jesus’ birth, but rather with the theological details.  Who is this Jesus who was born?  As he addresses this question in John 1:1-18, he challenges the reader to not only understand, but to believe.

This year, as you and your family celebrate Christmas with all of your traditions, don’t miss the point.  We remember that Jesus was born so that we may believe that he is the Messiah, the very Son of God, and by faith in Jesus, we receive life in his name.

As a bonus, after Christmas we will be continuing in the gospel of John.  What did Jesus do after he arrived on earth?  Why does it matter to us?  What does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God?

Our gospel of John series starts December 4th at both the Green Pond and Highlands campuses.  Join us as we take a much needed look at the glory of Jesus Christ through the lens of the gospel of John, so that we may believe.



On the Eve of the Worst Election Ever

We are on the eve of what feels like the worst election ever. Yay kingdom of democracy. We will wake up on Wednesday to one of two pretty terrible options. As hard as this election has been, how we respond to the results is the next great challenge.

Two Kingdom Living

This election has tested the faith of Christians in ways we could not have anticipated.   On a daily basis we balance the reality of living in one kingdom while our priority is another. This is not a new struggle.  While Israel was in exile they faced this very dilemma.  The prophet Daniel was given a vision of wild beasts representing different earthly kingdoms.  One replaced the other, then as now, in a seemingly endless see-saw of godless rulers.  In the middle of this vision, however, God gives Daniel a glimpse of a better king and kingdom:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13 -14

What Now?

After we cast our vote, the only thing we can do is respond to the results.  As Christians, our response must be a two kingdom response.  I think there are four primary ways we will be tempted to respond sinfully to the election results, but by maintaining our focus on Jesus, the Son of Man, and his kingdom, we can avoid each.

1.  Fear/Anxiety- Some will be tempted to wander down paths of speculation: what will happen to our nation?  To the supreme court?  To our economy (read: our jobs)?  To our religious freedom?  Rather than fret, we can look to our Sovereign God in faith.  Jesus’ kingdom will not pass away.

2.  Despair/Apathy- Some will be tempted to crawl into the dark cave of hopelessness.  We will want to throw up our hands, move to Canada, and declare that the world is lost.  Well, the world is lost, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is still our hope.  As long as we proclaim this good news, there will always be light in this dark world.

3.  Anger- Some will be tempted to lash out in anger against those who disagree with us or those who identify with the winner of the election.  We may use our words as weapons rather than build up others and offer true hope.  The Son of Man is not only our Savior, but also the eternal Judge.  He will make wrongs right in the end; vengeance is his.

4.  Arrogance- Some will be tempted to triumphant claims of glory.  We may mistakenly believe that the solution to life’s greatest problems can be solved by a certain leader or even a political process.  We must remember that only God’s kingdom will endure, and thus we should conduct ourselves with humility and grace.

Your Kingdom Come

As of Wednesday, Jesus will still have died for our sins and have risen from the dead.  The gospel message of repentance and faith is just as needed and relevant as it has ever been. On the eve of this worst of elections I’ve got good news: the kingdom of the Son of Man will last much longer than four years.  May his kingdom come!


Voting & God’s Purposes for Government

Every election year there’s drama.  This year is no exception!  What has been unexpected is the evangelical polarization over how to approach elections.  Here’s my take on the two main approaches:

1.  Elections are holy (character and issue absolutism).  This group is in severe mourning over the lack of Christian character in both parties’ candidates.  Their voting strategy is to vote for the most Christian candidate and if our political parties don’t nominate one then write one in or don’t vote in protest of immorality.  The candidate analysis equation here multiplies character by issues, and no doubt this year despair is the only conclusion.  (Check out Al Mohler  for a sample of this perspective).

The problem with this view is that elections aren’t holy.  Our government, although founded on freedom of worship and a broadly Christian worldview, is not explicitly Christ centered and does not exist to make and mature disciples of Jesus.  As Kevin DeYoung said,

…we should realize that if we vote at all we are voting for less than our ideal candidate. As long as Jesus isn’t on the ballot every Christian is voting for someone less than our perfect candidate.

In every single election we could write in a candidate with better character than the given options.

2.  Elections are unholy (functionalism or pragmatism).  This group says, essentially, we shouldn’t expect a Christian candidate, so we should vote for the lesser of two evils.  It has been accused of being pragmatic and de-emphasizing character.  Nonetheless, some theological heavyweights have landed here (check out Wayne Grudem’s post).

The problem with this view is that elections are holy.  Our Christian faith should influence how we vote.  Character does matter.

Perhaps we’re missing another set of Biblical truths to help us wade through this moral crisis.  In the Bible we find not only the character requirements for followers of Christ, but also God’s purposes for government.  The New Testament passages that touch on government assume that said government will be filled with rulers who do not have faith in Jesus.  Yet such a government can still fulfill God’s purposes for government in general.

When we understand God’s purposes  for government, we can ask the most important question of a candidate: will they effectively lead our government in fulfilling these purposes?  It is possible that the candidate best capable to lead our government to this ends is not a Christian.

From the Bible, we learn that government exists to:

1. Foster Good for Society (Romans 13:3-4a)

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.

2.  Enable Worship (1Tim. 2:1-2)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, or kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

3. Punish the Wicked (Romans 13:4)

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

4. Uphold Justice (Micah 3:1)

Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel!  Is it not for you to know justice?

5. Protect the Weak (Ps. 82:3-4)

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

I would be thrilled if the best candidate was a legit, born again disciple of Jesus.  I would love for our president to be a person of high integrity, and a role model for our children.  Would a Spirit filled Christian be ideal to lead a government in fulfilling those purposes?  Absolutely.  Yet, as you know, most of the time those candidates aren’t nominated.

Nonetheless, every election is an opportunity to nudge our government, by small degrees, towards God’s purposes.  So, rather than take my ballot and go home, I choose to cast my vote for the candidate I believe will best lead our country’s government in fulfilling God’s purposes for government.

In the end, elections are both holy and unholy.  As we vote, we must remember to trust our sovereign God with regard to his plan for the universe and these United States:

Dan. 2:20-22
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things,
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.

GPBC Team Europe: Vilseck Update Part 3

Today we enjoyed an excellent American worship service… 4,000 miles from the United States.  The church body at High Point Baptist in Vilseck is filled with young families (mostly military).  We had a great time worshipping with them.  Kelli, Sarah, and Lindsay gave their children’s church workers a break for the week.

As you think about Keith and Diana, here are a few prayer requests:

  • Pray for continued transition to life in Germany.  The first year transitioning to life in a cross cultural ministry context is usually the most challenging.  Please pray for the Edwards family as they adjust to life in Germany.  Two of the Edwards family, Molly and Caleb, are in college and high school (respectively).  Pray for their continued success at school.
  • Pray for the start of a Word of Life Bible Club on base.  Keith and Diana have secured permission to operate a WOL club on base.  This is a great opportunity for outreach.  Pray as they get this club up and running.
  • Pray for outreach to local Syrian refugees.  By God’s sovereign grace, many refugee families have been housed in former US military housing.  God has brought the nations to the gospel once again.  Pray as High Point considers how to reach out to these families.
  • Pray for possible expansion of their facilities.  Currently they rent their meeting space and have 2 services.  They have several options, and they need God’s wisdom as they consider what to do in the future to make room for their church body.

Keith and Diana expressed how perfect the timing of our trip was for them.  We were their first ministry partners to visit since arriving in Germnay last December.  They send their greetings to the church at Green Pond. 

Speaking of which- we miss the saints at Green Pond and Highlands!  Even so, we praise God for the making and maturing of disciples of Jesus at High Point.

(Keith and Diana Edwards).


GPBC Team Europe: Vilseck Update Part 2

Today we spent some quality time with Keith and Diana Edwards visiting Flossenburg Concentration Camp, one of the primary forced labor camps the SS used during World War 2.  This was where German pastor Deitricht Bonhoeffer was hanged for his refusal to support the Nazi regime and his participation in rescuing Jews and a plot to assassinate Hitler.  

Bonhoeffer once wrote, 

Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.

This radical discipleship, for which he was famous, cost him his life.  Tragically, he was executed two weeks before the US Army reached Flossenburg.  His legacy is a call to that kind of commitment to Christ and his kingdom.  On a personal note, this theme has resonated strongly with me.  

It has been refreshing to consider what undistracted discipleship looks like.  How many Christians do you know who are ready to be hanged rather than compromise their fidelity to Jesus?  How many distractions do we face that make it difficult (or nearly impossible) to put Christ and his kingdom first?  

Today was a sobering day.  I hope that I left Flossenburg a more devoted disciple of Jesus.

(The courtyard where Bonhoeffer was hanged).


GPBC Team Europe: Vilseck Update Part 1

After a day of rest and a day of travel, we arrived safely in Vilseck, Germany (near Nuremburg).  We left Italy the day before the recent earthquake, and we have been in touch with the Fiores and Shaasfmas in Milan.  They are far from the epicenter, and asked us to pray for those in mourning.

Here in Vilseck, Keith and Diana serve at High Point Baptist Church, an English speaking congregation that serves the many Americans who live in this area due to the US Army base here.  Upon arriving in Vilseck, Diana picked us up and we headed straight onto the base where Keith was refereeing flag football.  This is one of his ministries where he is able to get to know active duty soldiers.   

The ministry here reminded me of ministry to English refugees in Geneva in the 16th century.  The Edwards serve a chunk of English speakers as a subculture in the local German community.  Almost everyone is either active military or works at a job related to the US Army being here.  For that reason, there is an extremely high rate of turnover.  Essentially, the church is “new” every 3-4 years.

This brings many challenges both in developing leadership and maintaining ministries that require volunteers (e.g., youth staff).  By God’s grace, both Keith and Diana have experience in the Army and understand well the unique challenges of military life.  We are looking forward to worshipping with the church body on Sunday.