gospel

Recently, I preached a sermon addressing the subject of Lust and Pornography that so pervades our culture. I’ve heard lust described as seeking to fulfill a God-given desire in a godless way. No doubt in our sex-fueled society, the sin of lust is prevalent.

George Barna research provides details regarding the prevailing challenges of pornographyand sexting.

I’ve counseled couples where a spouse has been controlled by lust which has decimated the intimacy and honesty in their marriage. I’ve spoken with a wife whose husband has been viewing pornography for the nearly 30 years of their marriage. And I’ve experienced the conviction and sorrow at having to confess the lust in my own life. Lust is not an isolated issue. It is a pervasive poison that is never satiated. If left alone, lust leads to perversion, infidelity, brokenness and even abuse. But there is hope. You do not have to remain bound or controlled. I’m not naïve enough to think that a single blogpost will solve your sins (or my own). But we all have to start somewhere. Following are three antidotes to the poison of lust in our lives.

Receive and apply the gospel. You cannot tame lust. You cannot overcome it by being better. Covenants, promises, deals and commitments will not tame lust. You will not overcome it by “doing better, being better, getting stronger, etc.” Lust is an internal, spiritual enemy that is stronger than you are. You need Someonestronger than lust. You need Jesus and his gospel. You need to know that Jesus came, suffered, bled and died for your pornography addiction, your masturbation, your innuendos, your crossing the line with a girlfriend or boyfriend, your fantasies, your graphic romance novels, your incessant desires for sexual thoughts, etc. Jesus died on the cross for all of these sins, all of your sins and all of my sins. To receive and apply the gospel, we must confess (agree with God about our sin) and repent (turn from our sin to Christ).

“Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be ‘healed’ by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death; nothing more and nothing less. …I think too many young Christian fornicators plan that marriage will redeem their sin. Too many young Christian masturbators plan that marriage will redeem their patterns. Too many young Christian internet pornographers thing that having legitimate sex will take away the desire to have illicit sex. They’re wrong. And the marriages that result from this line of thinking are dangerous places. I know, I told my audience, why over 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce: because Christians act as though marriage redeems sin. Marriage does not redeem sin. Only Jesus himself can do that.” – Rosaria Butterfield, whose book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,

The fact of the matter is that God’s expectation for your sexuality and mine is unalterably clear—He expects holiness. We need the gospel. The gospel teaches us that while we cannot be holy, God sent Jesus to be holy on our behalf. Jesus succeeded where we failed. Jesus was pure where we were impure. Jesus was clean where we were soiled. Jesus was impeccable where we were ruined. Jesus, in his glorious, pure and holy state became sin for you and for me. He paid for lust, pornography, adultery, fornication, and all other sexual sins on the cross. And the gospel teaches that when we repent and turn to Jesus in belief, he forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Not only did we need the gospel, but we still need the gospel. The gospel is the primary means for addressing lust in our lives. The gospel teaches us to humbly ask forgiveness. It teaches us to believe in Jesus Christ to forgive, redeem and free. It teaches us that we must be willing to give all of ourselves over to Christ.

Pursue accountability. The sin of lust dominates society today because it stays hidden. Satan will tell you that you have to keep it hidden, you can deal with it on your own, you can face it privately, you can keep it in the dark. Trust me, things hidden in the dark will one day come into the light. You cannot keep it hidden forever. Your spouse will find out. Your parent will find out. The only way to address the sins in the dark is to expose them to the light. It is a lie of the enemy that you are by yourself in this fight. You have help. You have people who love you and support you and care about you. You need to bring your sin into the light, find an accountability partner, confess, repent and shine a light on the sin. Remember this, you cannot bring into the light what God does not already know. Do you realize that if you confess your darkness, Jesus already knew it—already died for it—already provided your forgiveness? Don’t be afraid of admitting your sin. Pursue accountability. Find help.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James 5:16

Do Whatever it takes! Identify triggers and replace habits. To overcome your lust, it is wise to put action steps into place. You need the gospel and you need accountability, but you also need to change habits.

  • What are the triggers that incite lust in your life?
  • Is it late nights surfing the web?
  • Is it streaming mature content on your television?
  • Is it going to bed at a different time and in a different place than your spouse?
  • Is it reading erotic literature on your e-reader?
  • Is it fantasizing about that work colleague or old flame who appears to be everything you wish your spouse was?

Identify your lust triggers. By the help of the Holy Spirit, change your habits. Maybe you will need to let your spouse control the code to the internet at your home. Maybe you need to cancel television altogether. Maybe you need to install covenant eyeson your tablets, computers and smartphones. 

“Keep as far as you can from those temptations that feed and strengthen the sins which you would overcome. Lay siege to your sins, and starve them out, by keeping away the food and fuel which is their maintenance and life.” – Richard Baxter

Parents, you are responsible to your children for the opportunities you give them or things you protect them from. If you have a child/teenager with access to a computer, tablet or phone, take time to create accountability measures for them. Many in-home routers have built-in security and password measures. These can be used to shut off the wi-fi at a certain time or after a certain time. You should know what your children are doing/looking at on their phones. While they’re in your home, their purity is your responsibility. Have candid, age appropriate conversations with your children about sex and lust. Above all pray for them.

 

The history of racism and prejudice in our country is a stain upon the freedoms espoused in the Declaration of Independence “all men are created equal” and the Bill of Rights. In truth one of the great ironies is that a nation founded upon freedom would continue to enslave a people based on skin color. Leaving slavery as an institution was a failure of our nation’s founders. Their inability or the inability of the context to move them to act would result in a great Civil War where hundreds of thousands of Americans would die over the controversial issues of state’s rights and slavery. President Abraham Lincoln rightly understood that slavery was the central instigating factor of the Civil War even if it was not the stated cause. With his emancipation proclamation, Americans can be proud that the first vestiges of slavery were slashed out of our country. But it would be a century more before equality was granted. Rampant prejudice and racism permeated our nation. Not until the Civil Right’s movement of the 1960s did justice and equality come to the South and to the nation. Even today, more than 50 years after the Civil Right’s movement, we still deal with prejudice and incipient racism. It is not something that God tolerates and certainly not present in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a global gospel. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said that the gospel would go to the ends of the world. In Acts 10, the church experienced the first Gentile convert–Cornelius. God is not a respecter of persons. Heritage and color of skin are not factors in God’s great act of love upon the cross. Jesus came to die for the entire human race—all colors, peoples, languages, and nationalities. In Acts 10, we see the incipient racism of the Jewish people blown up by the glorious grace of a sovereign God through the universal message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I trust that we will not only witness the love of God in Acts 10, but the expected response to the gospel that we as its bearers must share to ALL who bear the image of God.

Peter’s vision in Acts 10 related to unclean foods. The Jewish people had received dietary laws from God as a means of spiritual distinction. But here in Acts, Peter saw unclean foods and was told to eat. Following Peter’s vision, Cornelius’ messengers reached Peter and brought Peter to preach to Cornelius, his family, and his friends. These first Gentiles would believe the gospel and receive the Holy Spirit. But what did the food have to do with the Gentiles receiving the gospel? Actually, the vision of food was very important.

John MacArthur observed:

Strict Jews would have nothing to do with Gentiles. They would not be guests in Gentile homes (cf. v. 28) or invite Gentiles to their homes. Dirt from a Gentile country was considered defiled, and a Jew would shake it off his sandals before entering Israel (from which practice the expression ‘shake the dust off’ [Matt. 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5; Acts 13:51] came). Jews would not eat food prepared by Gentile hands. Cooking utensils purchased from a Gentile had to be purified before being used. In short, Gentiles were considered unclean and their presence defiling (MacArthur, Acts, 291).

J.B. Polhill argued:

The Jewish food laws presented a real problem for Jewish Christians in the outreach to the Gentiles. One simply could not dine in a Gentile’s home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or of flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher, i.e., ritually proper, fashion (cf. Acts 15:20). Jesus dealt with the problem of clean and unclean, insisting that external things like foods did not defile a person but the internals of heart and speech and thought render one truly unclean (Mark 7:14–23). In Mark 7:19b Mark added the parenthetical comment that Jesus’ saying ultimately declared all foods clean. This was precisely the point of Peter’s vision: God declared the unclean to be clean. In Mark 7 Jesus’ teaching on clean/unclean was immediately followed by his ministry to a Gentile woman (7:24–30), just as Peter’s vision regarding clean and unclean foods was followed by his witness to a Gentile. It is simply not possible to fully accept someone with whom you are unwilling to share in the intimacy of table fellowship (emphasis mine) (Polhill, Acts, 255-6).

In essence, Jewish believers could not be distinct in their dietary laws and share the gospel or experience fellowship with Gentiles at the same time. So God sent Peter a vision declaring foods clean as he sent Peter to the Gentiles. Acts 10 boldly asserts that the gospel is intended for all who bear the image of God–for the world. Acts 10 also demands that we repudiate racism and prejudice. So let us, God’s image bearers and gospel ambassadors go to the nations with the gospel that is universal.

Francis Schaeffer recognized forty years ago that philosophy and theology follow art. Today, art comes in all forms. Rap songs that glorify sex and violence. Plays that depict the President being assasinated. A comedian holding a mock severed head of the President. Media and movies that stylize filth, debauchery, violence and murder. These are forms of “art” we are told. It is argued that “artists” and “comedians” are supposed to push boundaries, to cross lines, and to challenge comfort zones.

However it is frightening to consider these pieces of “art” might just be real. After all Picasso opined, “When we invented cubism, we had no intention of inventing cubism, but simply of expressing what was in us.”
Are these modern expressions of “art” mere self-expressions? If so, we are in deep trouble. Marcel Duchamps, another 20th century postmodern artist claimed, “It is the viewer that completes the artwork.” Could it be? Could it be that the politcal violence witnessed today with the shooting of a congressman, aides and police officers is the extension into real life of art?

Our only solution is real change. I don’t mean coming together for short moments of unity. But rather a geniune recognition that the deep seated problems with culture, art, politics, and individual citizens are all the same. We were created in God’s image, but have chosen to reject his right to rule us. We chose self, sin, violence, evil. We do not need togetherness. We do not need diligence. In our sinful condition that will ultimately lead to more diligent, unified sinfulness. We need the transforming power of Jesus Christ and his gospel to change us-to change our culture. It is high time we as Christians begin living, expressing, declaring in art, work, politics, philosophy and everyday life what is in us–Jesus Christ.

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This Sunday (Father’s Day) at Wilkesboro Baptist Church, I’ll be preaching this sermon “What We Believe about Baptism and Why it Matters.” This sermon is a part of a larger series addressing important doctrines for our church. Baptism is a vital part of the Christian life.

  • As Baptists, we don’t believe baptism saves you. We believe Jesus saves you and baptism is an outward picture of an inward change (Romans 6).
  • As Baptists, we hold to believer’s baptism. We understand Scriptures to teach that baptism follows conversion as an act of obedience to Jesus, a public profession of faith in Jesus, and identification with a local church.

Since I’m preaching on the subject of baptism, we will celebrate baptism. One of my absolute favorite things to do in ministry is participate in baptism. This Sunday will be exceedingly special as I get the privilege of baptizing my oldest son, Will. After months of discussions and questions, Will trusted Jesus to be his Lord and Savior several weeks ago! Now, he’s ready to announce his faith publicly with baptism. I can’t tell you how thrilled and excited I am as a father and pastor that I get to baptize my son. I’m also very excited for the others that I’ll get to baptize on Sunday.

But even with the excitement that will permeate our church and the families of those being baptized on Sunday, I’m burdened by recent statistics concerning my own denomination—the Southern Baptist Convention. A recent Baptist Press article revealed a decline in baptisms and membership across our denomination. I’m positive the factors in declining membership and baptisms are complex. In some places, theological errors diminish the church’s outreach. In some places, evangelistic apathy hinders the church’s witness. In some places, cultural capitulation mitigates the church’s influence.

The solutions to every challenge faced by our churches and congregations are certainly not simple or easy.But one thing is biblically clear and amazingly simple—“the gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16).

If we want to see people come to faith in Jesus, we must preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If we want our churches to baptize new members, we must preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If we want our denomination to grow and expand, we must preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you are reading this, and you are in ministry, let me ask you to make a commitment. Preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ regularly and clearly.

If you are reading this, and you are a church member, let me ask you to make a commitment. Learn to share the gospel and tell others about Jesus. Invite them to a Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church.

If you are reading this, let me ask you to make a commitment. Pray for lost people. Show them love by praying for them, inviting them to church, and sharing the gospel with them. They are all around us, and if they are going to become followers of Jesus, they need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. It IS God’s power unto salvation. That’s God’s simple solution to the problem of lostness and sin in our world. It has worked for two thousand years. I’m confident God’s solution will not fail. Let us not fail by neglecting to join God in his gospel mission.

Originally published at Lifeway’s Pastor’s Today Blog

If your church is like ours, then you have mission trips planned for this summer. We have teams going to West Virginia, Vermont, Honduras, and Kenya. As a missions pastor, I’ve witnessed the power of God on numerous mission trips. There can be no doubt that prayer is the primary ingredient for spiritually successful mission trips. Here are some prayers I’ve learned to pray for our mission teams.

  1. Pray that the mission team will not let the platform take the place of the mission. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissioned us to make disciples. That’s our mission. Oftentimes, compassion ministry, construction, or other need-based ministries are the “platforms” that give opportunity for mission trips. But success in meeting these needs is not our “mission.” Our mission is disciple-making (evangelism, teaching, baptizing) connected to a local church. It is easy to let the need (platform) become the focus. Pray that your mission teams will not forget the “mission” in lieu of meeting the need.
  2. Pray for the spiritual preparation and development of the mission team.There’s a reason Paul’s prayer for spiritual boldness in proclaiming the gospel (Ephesians 6:19) followed his treatment of Christian armor and spiritual warfare. Mission trips are not for the spiritually weak—they require recognition of the spiritual war we are facing. Pray that your teams will be spiritually prepared for the work and war they are sure to face.
  3. Pray for the flexibility of the mission team. Sometimes our mission plans require revision and flexibility. Acts 16:6-10 records Paul’s prevention by the Holy Spirit of going into Asia and the Macedonian call. Mission teams must learn to trust God’s plan, not their own and be spiritually discerning. Pray that your teams will be flexible in their planning and discern what God wants to accomplish on the mission trip.
  4. Pray for the financial support of the mission team. When Jesus sent out his witnesses, he told them to trust the provision offered in the villages for their wages and sustenance (Matthew 10:9-10; Luke 10:4-8). International mission trips cost money. And I believe in a God who owns everything. Pray that God would meet the financial obligations of each team member and mission trip.
  5. Pray for the health, safety, and travel of the mission team. Traveling to mission destinations and encountering new bacteria (internationally) can drastically affect the health and strength of mission team participants. Getting sick is just a normal part of international travel. However there is precedent for praying for the health and safety of mission teams in in travel. Acts 27 records the storm at sea and shipwreck of Paul and his captors. Yet Paul prayed, and God protected all on the ship (Acts 27:24). Pray that your teams will experience safe travel and health protection while on the mission trip.
  6. Pray for the spiritual wisdom and loving service of the mission team. One of Paul’s prayers for the Ephesian church was that they would grow in spiritual wisdom and depth of love (Ephesians 3:14-20). Mission team members need an abundance of wisdom and love, and God desires to provide it. Pray that your team members will be abundantly wise and discerning as well as filled with love for those whom they will serve and share with.
  7. Pray for the Spirit to open blinded eyes and that unbelievers would see Christ in all of his glory. Satan blinds the eyes of unbelievers to the truth of the gospel and the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). It is the Holy Spirit’s role to convict and bring to light the truth and power of the gospel (John 16:8-11). Pray that the Holy Spirit would go ahead of your mission teams and prepare the hearts of the lost to respond to Christ and that the Spirit would draw unbelievers to Christ through the preaching of the gospel.
  8. Pray for the spiritual development, strength, and growth of the partner churches and missions that your teams will work with. Paul encouraged, commended, challenged, and prayed for the churches, elders and leaders of the Ephesian church before he finally parted ways with them. (Acts 20:17-38). Mission teams are only a part of God’s ongoing work in the world. Churches, organizations, pastors, and believers across the globe will continue God’s work far longer than a mission team serves on a mission trip. Pray for the partner churches, pastors, and organizations to have strength, growth, and success in fulfilling God’s disciple-making mission in their context.

On Wednesday evening, November 19 at Mud Creek Baptist Church , we will ordain two men into the gospel ministry—Nathan Byrd and Brian Gordner. I have had the privilege of serving with them on multiple occasions. Most notably, we were in Kenya together earlier this year building homes, sharing the gospel, and experiencing God in powerful ways. I’m nearly as convinced of God’s call on their lives as I am of his call on my life.

In thinking about their ordination service, I was reminded of my own. My uncle, James Hefner preached and Todd Edmiston gave the charge. I’ll never forget being admonished by them both to take my calling seriously and to fulfill it faithfully. I’ve never forgotten the encouragement, challenge, and benefit of my ordination experience.

In some ways, being ordained, called, and set apart for the gospel ministry can be boiled down to Paul’s demand of Timothy in his first letter to the young pastor: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). In this clarified command Paul warns that ministry failing occurs with regard to one’s character or his doctrine. In the final part of the verse, Paul is not talking about spiritual salvation in the sense that good ministry will save ourselves or others, but rather he is making the point that preaching the saving gospel message is intricately connected to the minister’s life and message. A failure in character can result in a diminished gospel influence in our ministry. A serious flaw in our doctrine can dilute or distract from the message of the gospel.

Paul’s admonition is important. Character counts. Doctrine is vital. The basis for both is found in the Bible. As ministers, we should dissect our doctrine by the Word of God, but not just allow the Bible to be an academic or theological text. God also intended (and maybe more importantly), the Bible to reform and correct us. God’s Word is our guidebook, our manual for living that shows us our sin and the gospel solution to our sin.

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I recently completed a study in my Sunday School class on the 10 Commandments titled “Rules for the Rescued.” God rescued his people from the land of Egypt and gave them the commandments to distinguish them from the pagan nations of Canaan. Both the first and last commands address the heart or the attitude of the redeemed child of God. The commands are found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The first command, “Have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3; Deut. 5:7) highlights the importance of recognizing the unique nature of God himself. He is the only God, and therefore no other god (idol) should ever exist in his place. The final command, “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17; Deut. 5:21) highlights covetousness as the foundational attitude that forms the basis for many other sins.

These two attitude commands are the basis for the rest of the commandments as we relate to God and to others. Rejecting the attitude of idolatry by worshiping God alone is of primary importance. Obeying command #1 protects us from disobeying God in making idols, taking his name in vain, and breaking the Sabbath day (commands 2-4). Rejecting the attitude of covetousness is central to treating others respectfully. Obeying command #10 protects us in relation to honoring our parents, not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, and not being dishonest (commands 5-9). Addressing these attitude rules by focusing the heart on correct worship and redeemed desires is the first way in which we deal with sinful actions.

Interestingly, Paul in his letter to the Colossians identifies covetousness with idolatry (3:5). I believe his point is that covetousness is the attitude that forms the basis for idolatry. Examples follow. When we desire something with so much passion that we steal it, we have made it an idol replacing God’s promise of provision. When we obsess over some condition, quality, or possession such that it controls our thoughts we engage in covetousness that is really idolatry (wanting or worshiping something more than God). The attitude of covetousness is actually replacing God as the central figure and focus in our lives. Modern day idolatry is generally not exhibited in bowing down to some graven statue, but rather replacing God (who alone is worthy of our total attention, love, devotion, obsession, and worship) with something, someone, or some dream.

And how in the world do we hope to address our failure to obey these rules (primarily the two that deal with the attitudes of our heart—coveting and idolatry)? Do we focus ourselves more severely to obey the commands? Do we set up more rules for ourselves as fences to make sure we are not breaking these commands? No, I believe our flaws in keeping the rules have been tried and have consistently fallen short throughout the history of God’s people. How we learn to keep these rules is actually not ultimately through our own efforts. We learn to keep them by applying our rescue and redemption (the gospel) to our lives on a daily basis.

God did not give Israel these rules nor does he give them to us as prerequisites to becoming his people. He gave the rules because we ARE his people. Redemption preceded these commands. Rescue came before the rules. The rules are not meant to MAKE us God’s people; rather they are meant to REFLECT us as God’s people. So when you come face to face with your own covetousness and idolatry (as I have done during this study), apply the gospel to yourself.

  1. Recognize that God is your holy Creator and Redeemer and that he has every right to expect perfect holiness from you.
  2. Repent of your sinful attitudes and actions as you view them in light of God’s holiness (which are displayed in the commands).
  3. Receive God’s gracious forgiveness by means of the cross of Christ.
  4. Renew your commitment to live in obedience as a reflection of your salvation not a means to it.

Sounds a lot like when you received Christ for the very first time, doesn’t it? It should. Our growth process, especially when identifying and dealing with our sin, flows from applying the gospel to our daily lives.