COVID-19 Precautions & Preparations
What steps is Ocean Park taking to protect against COVID-19?
Today the Elders of Ocean Park met and spoke with medical professionals, inquired of the most up-to-date CDC recommendations, and contacted other local churches in order to determine the best course of action for the immediate future. We have created a new "Pandemic Response Policy" that articulates a three-phase plan whenever a pandemic affects Jax Beach. In light of the meeting below are the steps we are taking.
- We have cancelled the Soup & Sing that was scheduled for 3/14.
- There will NO Sunday AM worship on March 15th.
- There will be NO Sunday School, Sunday PM, or Wednesday Evening Activities (Bible Study & AWANA) for now.
- We will be beginning a Wednesday Night Bible study online using Zoom (a.k.a "Zoom Church").
- We highly encourage all "at risk" groups to carefully consider self-isolating. The CDC has determined that "older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like: Heart, Diabetes, and Lung disease" are at greater risk. Please be responsible and watch the live stream from home. This is only a temporary measure and we will be able to join together for worship when the threat has passed.
There will be a member's meeting immediately after church on Sunday (3/15). We will be discussing...
- We need three 'Clean Teams" while we are in Phase 2 to disinfect the sanctuary & nursery after each service.
- How to use Zoom meeting for Wednesday Night Bible study (and Sunday AM in the event of a mandatory quarantine). It is free and rather easy to sign up. Bring your phone, laptop, or tablet for Pastor Chris to set up. ***Also, you need to know your Apple ID and password for downloading APPS. You will need to download the app for Apple or Android.
- Online Giving at www.oceanparkbaptist.com/give.
- Address any member concerns
In times such as this we need to remember that we are not invincible but rather that we are dust. In Psalm 103, David reminds us that in times like this when we feel the fragile, fleeting nature of our life on earth we can find comfort in God's eternal nature and steadfast love for us.
"As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” Psalm 103:15–19
As Christians, we do not need to fear disease, disasters, or destruction, not because we are exempt from but we are secure in the midst of them. There is NOTHING can separate us from the steadfast love of our Heavenly Father. "...Neither angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, (nor hurricanes, nor virus pandemic, nor presidential elections*)...nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39
Brothers and sisters, if the pandemic comes to Jacksonville Beach and we are infected, we can fear the pain, struggle, and treatment...but we do not need to fear being forgotten by our Heavenly Father. He gives us what we need, when we need it, and the amount that we need. Remember that you are not invincible but fleeting, yet our God is sovereign and good. There is nothing can separate you from His steadfast love. Nothing you are about to face is not known by him or able to be overcome by his love.
Here are several good articles to read to consider the Theological Considerations of this Global Pandemic.
- We are not Alone in this Struggle Here is an article from an Italian pastor giving us 8 Things That the Corona Virus Should Teach Us.
- This is Nothing New - Here is a look at how the churches were effected during the Spanish Influenza of 1918.
- How Should We Live - We do not need to live in fear according to C.S. Lewis who wrote about the danger of atomic war.
As of now (Friday 3/14) the elders have implemented Phase 3 of the Ocean Park Pandemic Response Policy.
Phase Phase 3: Severe
- Absenteeism is at 50-60% or state and local authorities call for mandatory isolation.
- Cancel services and restrict all building access.
- Deep clean the entire church facility following CDC recommendations.
- Create a livestream worship service on Sunday morning and mid-week online Bible study.
- Encourage online giving using oceanparkbaptist.com/give
Soli Deo Gloria
Don't Waste Dorian
As we watch the images and await the arrival of the power and fury of Dorian's wind and waves we quickly realize how finite, powerless, and vulnerable we actually are. The normal routine of our daily schedule which lulls us into complacency is interrupted by dire predictions and fear-inducing pronouncements that remind us that we are neither self-sufficient nor impervious to destruction. Hurricanes humble us and remind us of our need.
In the face of the coming storm we do not trust our ability to find shelter or quickly evacuate but trust the words we sang as children, "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so, little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong." When wind speeds, storm-surges, and cones of uncertainty strike fear in our hearts we need to look to the one who is greater than the storm: Jesus Christ. This is not a empty platitude for those in denial or a hollow promise to those who suffer great loss (like our neighbors in the Bahamas). It is a reminder we have a shelter from a storm whose power is greater than ourselves Therefore, we turn our gaze to the storm that we may trust the grace and mercy of the God who "makes the clouds his chariot; [who] rides on the wings of the wind (Psalm 104:3).
With each new storm that lurks offshore we are reminded of two profound realities:
1) Our worth is not in what we own
"Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is." 1 John 3:1-2
Whatever Dorian's fury brings, I belong to Jesus. He loves me and I am safe in his arms.
2) Jesus Christ is the only shelter from the final storm Natural disasters are reminders that a greater storm is coming on the Day of the Lord. A day when God will vanquish his enemies along with sin and sadness, pain and sorrow to the depths of Hell to face the eternal wrath of God (1 Thess 1:9-10;Rev 21:1-8). We are not born as children of God but into the kingdom of darkness. Jesus taught Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3. One is not born again by religious ritual, act of charity, kindness, piety, or penance but by God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The storm of God's wrath will fall upon many who prophesied, cast out demons, and did mighty works in the name of the Lord (Matt 7:22). Yet the promise of the gospel declares that all who find shelter in the cross of Christ will find refuge on the day of the Lord (Rom 5:1). Not because of what they have done but because they trust the promise of God which declares that Christ has absorbed their wrath and given them his righteousness that they may dwell eternally in peace with God (2 Cor 5:21;Romans 8:1). Jesus loves me and I am safe in the shadow of the cross.
Don't Waste DorianLast month Denise purchased "Every Moment Holy" by Douglas McKelvey who has written liturgies (or prayers for us Baptist folk) for both momentous and ordinary occasions of life to remind us that every moment is lived in the presence of God. I would encourage you to read his "Liturgy for Watching Storms" individually or as a family so that you would not waste Dorian but listen to the sermon within the storm that reminds us of the worth we have in Christ and the unfailing shelter of the cross. Soli Deo Gloria! - Pastor Chris
In every storm there is a sermon
playing out in parable across
the canvas of sky,
telling of the awesome power
of one whose judgments are just,
but whose mercies
are thereby all the more
and whose tender love for us
is beyond comprehension.
Praise be to God, for his infinite mercies.
Indeed we praise you, O Lord,
that having both might and right
to crush whatever within us would
assert itself against you,
you instead crushed yourself,
and by that act offered us life,
taking the brunt of such furious judgment
into your own form,
and shielding us forever from what
our treason so rightly deserved.
Thanks be to God, for his unmerited grace.
Now may these mighty winds,
these lightning strikes,
these crashing calls of thunder,
these hard rains,
by their fierce beauty set us in awe—
their witness rightly reminding us
of that just verdict
we will never have to face,
the ferocity of these elements
an inverse testament
to the affections of the one whose
strong love has now become
our shield against the coming storm.
Glory to God, for his sheltering love, extended even to us.
O Christ Who is Our Peace,
cradle us now, even as you will cradle
us at that final reckoning,
calming every fear by your nearness,
as we watch with wondering eyes,
this storm-told story
of a great judgment
and an even greater mercy.
Soli Deo Gloria
Family, Fellowship, and Farewell: A Letter from the Williams
Dear Ocean Park Family,
It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye in this season. We cannot begin to adequately describe the impact the OPBC community has had on our small growing family. You welcomed us with open arms. You mentored us. You encouraged us. And most importantly, you loved us. It truly has blessed us immensely in this last year to be part of this beautiful community where the love and ministry of Jesus was palpable.
We will miss the sweet community of OPBC. Our only sorrow is knowing our family will not be here to grow with you here in the "devotion to teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer". We love you Ocean Park! Please keep us in your prayers and let us know how we can specifically pray for you.
Grant & Stacy Gabriel, Elijah, & Selah Grace
Soli Deo Gloria
Prayer for a New Music Leader
Last night I received the phone call that no pastor wants to receive from his Music Leader. Grant called to tell me that their family was moving to South Carolina for work and that his last week at church will be October 28th. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for the time that Grant has spent at our church and for his faithfulness in serving our congregation by leading and facilitating our music team. He has faithfully prepared and committed himself each week to making our music good, beautiful, and true. I am so thankful for the time that we have had his family at our church and will miss them dearly. However, just as we trusted the Lord to bring Grant to our church we must trust the Lord to bring his replacement. Therefore, in the meantime, trust a Sovereign God who knows what He is doing.
Please begin to pray today for...
1) The Coming Season - The Lord has already begun to move the necessary means to connect use with our next music leader though we don't know how he will do it. I look forward to being able to tell the story of how the Lord led our next music leader to our church and celebrate God's incredible sovereignty over the details of our lives. I know He's working, even though I can't see it yet.
2) The Interim Time - Pray that the Lord would provide musical talent to aid us in our worship, whether it be substitutes from other congregations, Jenny & Olivia, musical recordings, or old-fashioned acapella singing (or a combination of all of these). I pray that our music would be genuine and heartfelt as we seek to make much of who God is and what he has done. There will be bumps along the road but God is not impressed by how polished our music is but the attitude of our hearts as we make a 'joyful noise' to the Lord (Psalm 100:1-5).
3) Faithfulness in Worship - Our Sunday School curriculum 'Gospel Shaped Worship" could not come at a better time. Jarod Wilson reminds us that worship is not the music that we play in service but the worth that we give to God for “worship means to give worth or value to something. It expresses what we find most valuable or satisfying.” Our worship will not suffer because we are losing Grant. In fact I pray that our worship will actually improve. How? Because it will help us realize that worship is more than beautiful notes and lyrical richness but "about knowing and sharing the love of God in our lives at every moment of every day." A member of our congregation encouraged me when he said, "We don't go to church in order to worship. We are worshipping everyday which motivates us to assemble with the people of God." He couldn't be more correct. I pray that this coming season teaches us a deeper understanding of worship that will be transformative for our congregation.
Soli Deo Gloria
VBS Reflections: Crafts, Chaos, & the Spirit of God
The fellowship hall that once overflowed with the shouts of children is now quiet and empty. The decorations that gleamed and sparkled have been packed away. All the songs have been sung, crafts assembled, and snacks devoured. Most importantly, the good news of the gospel has been told. Our work is now done. We can only trust the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit to convict, transform, and encourage the children in their journey of faith in Christ. Will they trust the promise of the gospel in Christ or will they believe the fleeting promises of this world?
The children have heard the call of the gospel this week. The gospel that declares that there is a God who is holy. The one true God who alone is the source of all that is good, beautiful, and true and ‘in [God’s] presence there is fullness of joy;… and pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). Yet mankind has trusted the whispers of the serpent who questioned the character, love, and provision of God when it asked, ‘Did God actually say?…” Gen 3:1 Rather than trusting the love and wisdom of God we trust what our eyes can perceive and our hands can touch. We have shaken our puny fists at the maker of heaven and earth and declared, “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you in charge. I know what is best for me!” Adam’s rebellion that plunged our race into misery, pain, and death has been perpetuated by generation, after generation, after generation, for ‘all have sinned…” Romans 3:23. Sin continues to poison our hearts, destroy our bodies, corrupt our societies, and fracture our relationships. Yet is the lament of the prophet Isaiah that reveals the most devastating effect of man’s rebellion, “…your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” Isaiah 59:2. Though the sin of man was great the love of God is greater. God was not content to leave us in the deserved darkness of judgment but to send his only son, Jesus Christ in order ‘that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17-18). Jesus loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might and loved his neighbor as himself. He was perfectly righteous. Yet in self-sacrificial love he laid down his life on the cross to ‘suffer once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Three days later he was, ‘raised [from the dead] for our justification.” This incredible promise is available to all who respond, not by works that prove our worth, but by faith alone that trusts the completed work of Christ who declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Faith that trusts the promise of the gospel that declares, “Jesus took my punishment on the cross and gave me his righteousness so I can live forever with God.” Faith that turns away from cherished sin in repentance and turns to the rule of Christ in thankful obedience. Faith that no longer cherishes sin but cherishes Christ. Faith that seeks forgiveness, confesses our need for Christ, and follows Christ in baptism. This is the call of the gospel.
During the gospel presentation a three-year old boy turned to his leader and said, “I want Jesus to be in charge of my life.” May that confession be strong when he is tempted by his peers to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh and when the world calls him a fool for trusting Christ.
Another boy came to me after the lesson and confessed, “I trust in Jesus!” I pray that his bold proclamation continues when he is twenty, forty, and sixty years old.
May we soon rejoice to witness the baptisms of the children who trust Christ and follow Christ’s call to follow him through the waters of baptism that was reiterated at VBS.
May the children who didn't seem to be paying attention, the ones who were surely, and the ones who didn't want to be there come to know the truth of the promise of the gospel through brief moments of truth that penetrated their staunch defenses and distracted minds. The Spirit of God has changed the hearts of much stauncher opponents of the gospel (e.g. Saul). May it also be in our church!
May the teen workers be reminded by the gospel this week to find their identity not in their image, bodies, relationships, academics, or activities but in their relationship with Christ alone. May they ‘consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Phil 3:10)
May we as parents be faithful to shepherd the hearts of our children and foster a home where Christ is treasured. May we as a community of faith be willing to invest in the lives of the children who we share community with. Men may we be examples to the boys of what it means to be a man who loves Christ and honors him with our mind, body, and actions. Ladies, may you be faithful to adorn your lives with modesty and self-control so that our girls see how a women who loves Christ lives.
VBS is not a program to manufacture a product, bolster our church’s reputation, or make our children ‘moral’. VBS is a means to plant into the hearts of our children a love and trust for Christ. As we faithfully proclaim the gospel, the Holy Spirit was working amidst the glitter, music, and chaos of VBS. The Holy Spirit is able to produce what no man can: spiritual life.
It is my prayer that as we watch these children grow we will be have the privilege to echo the thanksgiving of Paul…
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth…” Colossians 1:3-7
Ocean Park, thank you for giving our your time and energy to invest in these children that they may come to saving trust in Christ. May God be glorified in our church now and forevermore!
Soli Deo Gloria
Musings and Ruminations Forty Years in the Making
Today is my 40th birthday and with it comes large amounts of food, well wishes, and some really horrible singing. I’ve been blessed the to steal away with Denise to St. Augustine for a few days of rest and relaxation. While I’m fine with the whole ‘turning 40’ thing, it has caused me to stop and consider what I have learned on the first half of my journey of life and prepare for what lies on the ‘other side of the hill’. Here are a few of my musings and ruminations...
I’m not who I was and I am not who I will be I am so thankful for this truth. I so often cringe when I consider the mean, cruel, and thoughtless words spoken in haste and impatience. When I think back on the cruel things I did to classmates and rivals I am ashamed. I wish I could take back the hurt and heartache I caused. Far too often my actions and words were unbecoming of someone who claims the name of Christ. I’m am very sorry. By God’s grace, I am no longer that person. Yet, I am not what I will be. Each day I am waging war on my selfishness, pride, and vanity. I am clinging to the promise that the Lord has given me the Holy Spirit who is making me more and more like Jesus in my thoughts, actions, and motivations. There will be a day that my sin is wiped away and my body is clothed with the glorious righteousness of Christ. Yet until that day, I will cling to the promise that the Holy Spirit is transforming me into the image of Christ. My prayer is the prayer of David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” Ps. 51:10.
I overestimate my ability and underestimate God’s ability I cannot tell you how many times in my forty years I have bitten off more than I can chew, made a hash of something by my delusions of grandeur, or my innate propensity to only finish 80% of a project. Yet in my 40 orbits around the sun I have learned that God always does what is right. God provided faithfully during the lean years of my childhood, the day-to-day needs of my young family, and lavishly during Crosby’s adoption. He gives me what I need, when I need it, and in the proper amount. I will never be in error when I wait on him (Is 40:31; Ps 57). His grace is amazing, his strength unflinching, and his mercies unending. May I wait upon the Lord to renew my strength, satisfy my soul, and lead me in paths of life everlasting in these years to come.
I am not able but Christ is able - Recently, at a local pastor’s forum I sat down with a retiring pastor who was asked, “What do you want to tell these young pastors that will better equip them for ministry?” Wilth tears in his eyes he said this, “I am not able, but Christ is.” No truer words could have been said. I am not able to love my family, care for my flock, or guard my own heart like Jesus can. I must trust him for my daily bread and for those in my care. Though I am prone to wander, the Good Shepherd is quick to retrieve that which has wandered. My prayer is that I always have an attentive ear for the voice of the Shepherd, for when I am in his sight there is nothing I could possibly want.
My life is not my own I did not give myself life and I will not choose when it is over. Why do I think I am sovereign over the time in between? I don’t want to live my life as if my comfort, my pleasure, or my desires are ultimate but rather live it for the glory of Christ. To follow Christ we must die to selfish ambition, personal comforts, and individual goals. We follow his example by not demanding what is our due but willingly laying down our rights in service of others (Phil 2:6-7). My prayer for my remaining years is for the grace to, “not...think of [myself] more highly than [I] ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” Rom 12:3. May I lay my dreams, desires, and goals down that I may be satisfied by the greater and more satisfying purposes of Christ and His kingdom.
I don’t want to waste my life - I have been given a sound mind, able body, and satisfied soul. I don’t want to fritter away my time on silly things or waste my mind, body, and soul on fleeting things but invest each moment of things that are beautiful, good, and true. I pray that I would put down the phone, turn off the TV, and get off the couch. That I would play with my children, talk to my wife, read my Bible, and love my neighbor. May I invest in eternal and satisfying things so that I will not be ashamed when I stand before my maker to give an account of how I invested each precious second. My pray is that “whatever [I] do, in word or deed, [I] do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” Col 3:17.
I will be forgotten When I was a boy I used to dream of being rich and famous, recognized by many and appreciated by multitudes. I realize now how vain and dangerous that thinking was to my life and soul. By God’s grace, I have been brought to the comforting realization that I will be forgotten. Memories of me will fade within a few generations of my passing. All those who knew me and loved me will cry a tear, say kind words (hopefully), and move on with their lives. Yet the impact I have on future generations will not be my wisdom, efforts, or love. It will be how effective I was to point those I love toward Christ. He is eternal. He is everlasting. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I will have been a success in life if I have sowed the gospel of Jesus Christ into the hearts of my wife, children, grandchildren, and my congregation, for Christ will remain long after I am a forgotten footnote in the pages of history. May I be humbled by this truth when I am riding high in the saddle of self-congratulations and encouraged by it when I am downtrodden by the heaviness of life. My prayer echoes the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” John 3:30.
Time is fleeting and God’s blessings are sweet Forty years have come and gone in a blur. Just yesterday, I was a little boy in Hebron, CT, lost in the imaginary world I created in the backyard of my parents home. Just yesterday, I was a clumsy kid running the halls at Cornerstone. Just yesterday, I saw my radiant bride in her wedding dress and promised her my life. Just yesterday, I was holding my newborn children in my arms for the first time. Just yesterday, I was a new pastor. Turning 40 will soon become a “just yesterday” as well as so many other wonderful moments. I pray that I will stop to savor each moment and savor the sweetness of God’s grace. May each blessing, large and small, turn my heart toward my Heavenly Father who gives good gifts to His children. May my prayer be, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” Lam 3:22-23.
I want to finish well - I am now the age of the adults I knew as a child. My teachers, my friends parents, and the adults from my church family. As I have gotten older I have witnesses the deaths of those precious people. Mr. McCauley, Pastor Beliasov, Robert Konemann, Mrs Ralston, Mr Edwards (CCS janitor), Auntie Grace, Dr. And Mrs Lapp. I remember their love for Christ in life and cherish their faithfulness in death. I have also seen others whose faith in Christ grow cold, hearts become unresponsive to the gospel, and love for Christ fade. I desperately want to finish well! Whether I die at a young age or live to see my great grandchildren, may it be said of me, “His faith Christ, hope in the gospel, and love for the brothers persevered to the end” (Col 1:3-5). I pray the words of the Psalmist for my remaining days, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24).
No one is guaranteed tomorrow (I know because I almost didn’t make it to this day). I am so grateful for the grace of my Savior, love of my wife, blessing of my children, and friends to share life with. I am truly a blessed man! May God be glorified in my life ‘over the hill’! .
Soli Deo Gloria
The Songs of Worship
"Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!" Psalm 96:1-3
500 years ago Martin Luther shocked the religious establishment when he did the unthinkable...he led his congregations in the singing of German language hymns (the 95 thesis was sort of a big deal too). It was rare in the 16th century that the congregation would ever speak, let alone sing, in church. On rare occasions, the congregation would sing during processionals and festivals but only in the sacred language of the church, Latin. Luther, wanting to teach his people the truth of God’s word. So he embraced the power of music to communicate the character of God and comfort the hearts of his people in times of trouble. Thus he wrote Christian hymns in the common tongue of the German people. In 1527, as the Great plague was approaching Germany he wrote the words of his classic hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’. Intertwining the picture of a sovereign God from Psalm 46, ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble...’ with a traditional German melody, thus the classic hymn was born. Luther’s new hymns gave the people a reason to sing as they boldly clung to the truth of a Sovereign God in the face of opposition. The song became the anthem of the Reformation. ‘It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death’ Luther, using the medium of music, was able to communicate the richness of the truth of God to the people in a new and powerful musical expression.
The same can be said of every generation of hymn writers and musicians. I cannot tell you how the songs of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Bob Kauflin, and Keith Getty have encouraged, comforted, and corrected me through dark valleys and high mountains. These songs have comforted me at the gravesides of loved ones, aided me as I taught my children the gospel, and gave words to the overwhelming joy of my salvation. Music is a powerful tool used for teaching the greatness of our God and proclaiming the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At Ocean Park we are beginning a new chapter in our ‘church music’. We are not rolling out fog machines and lasers or hiring Animal from the Muppets to play drums (he wasn’t available). God has blessed our congregation with a new music leader, Grant Williams, who desires to lead the congregation in God-centered and Gospel-exalting songs, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16). Yet with every season of change there are those who celebrate it and those who fear it. Therefore, we must view change through the lens of the gospel rather than the lens of personal preference. For if you only view life through the lens of personal preference you will allow chronological snobbery to take root in your heart and the heart of our church (see my previous post ‘The Cure for Chronological Snobbery’). This subtle form of pride will only splinter, fracture, and divide the body of Christ. Ocean Park we must not allow this to happen!
Therefore, Grant and I will be very deliberate in the songs and style of music we choose in the worship of Ocean Park. We have been reading the book 'Doxology & Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader’ by Matt Boswell. Boswell lays forth the Five Marks of the Worship of the Church that Grant and I will utilize as we seek to lead the congregation in worship.
God-centered - When the church gathers together we are to sing in a way that glorifies the nature and work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We sing to Him and for Him. We are not coming to church to be entertained but to make much of the God who has granted us life and salvation. We are to follow the admonition in Ephesians 5:19 , “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When God is lifted up, it edifies the body, strengthens disciples, and evangelizes the lost.
Biblically Formed - Without the wisdom of the Father, the work of the Son, and the presence of the Spirit we cannot worship. Without the guidance of Scripture we are like a rudderless ship in a sea of emotion and relativity. Therefore, worship must conform to the pattern of scripture.
Gospel Wrought - Scripture tells us that the Gospel shapes the content, informs the message, and prompts our hearts to passionately pursue truth. We are commanded to ascribe greatness to God, bring worshipful offerings to God, and to tremble before his holiness. Each week Grant has the responsibility to remember the Gospel and remind our congregation of the value and beauty of the Gospel.
Congregational - We don’t gather on Sunday’s for pageantry or performance. We gather to worship as a people who have been redeemed by the power of the cross. If the church is not singing together as one, the church is not worshipping.
Missional - Biblical worship that is aimed at God strengthens believers but it also has an evangelistic purpose. If an unbeliever walks into our sanctuary they should be able to learn the gospel and be directed toward the only one who can save them from their sin: Jesus Christ.
This is the standard by which we will measure the music at Ocean Park. I believe that when you embrace these standards you will be enriched, edified, and encouraged in our worship. We will embrace the richness of the tradition that has been handed down by the faithful pilgrims that have gone before and express it afresh in this new generation. This will cause songs from the 18th century like Holy, Holy, Holy and songs from the 21st Century like In Christ Alone to be transformational as they point us toward the only hope in life and death: Jesus Christ.
 Louis Benson as quoted by Tim Challies in Hymn Stories: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Soli Deo Gloria
The Blessing of Baptism
“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-17)
This coming Sunday, July 23rd, we will celebrate the baptism of those who have heeded the call of Jesus Christ to, “Follow Me”. Baptism holds great significance in the life of a Christian and in the life of a church as a whole.
First, baptism is an outward symbol of an inward union with Christ. We are New Covenant people who have been brought into a relationship by the work of the Holy Spirit. Colossians 2:11-12 reveals the inner working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of Christians, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” We are joined to the New Covenant of Jesus Christ by the inward work of the Holy Spirit. This spiritual circumcision made without hands is the New testament equivalent to the physical circumcision of the Old Testament. It is the God who gives us new spiritual hearts (Ezekiel 11:19), puts His Spirit within us (Ezekiel 36:27), and shines on us spiritual light to illuminate the truth of the gospel (John 1:9-14). This is the inward work of the Spirit that brings us into relationship. When the Spirit works in our hearts it is expressed through faith. Faith is the means that God prescribes for us to reconciled us back to Himself. The mark that a person’s heart has been regenerated by the spiritual circumcision of the Holy Spirit is that they respond in faith to the Gospel. Faith sees Christ for who He is. Faith believes the promises of God that Christ took the wrath we deserved. Faith leaves everything behind to follow Jesus. Faith believes that we will follow Christ by being raised to eternal life. When a person goes into baptism they are communicating that they believe the good news of the gospel and they are forsaking the things of the world for the eternal satisfaction of following Christ. Just as my wedding ring is a symbol of the promise I made to Denise, baptism is a symbol of the faith that was sown into my heart by the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the outward sign of inward faith is baptism.
Second, baptism is a command of Jesus. As Evangelicals we have put far too much emphasis on prayers, decisions, and alter calls at the expense of the act of baptism. Jesus never tells us to lead a person in a scripted ‘sinners’ prayer at the end of a gospel tract. Jesus commands us to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching (Matt 28:19-20). The apostles themselves preached the commandment for believers to be baptized. In Acts 2:37-41 the Holy Spirit began to move in the hearts of those listening to the Word of God being preached which prompted the people to ask Peter, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter prescribed two ways that faith in the Gospel is demonstrated: “Repent and be baptized”. We know that those who listened to Peter had faith in their heart because verse 41 says they, “received his word [and] were baptized”. There is no such thing in the New Testament as an ‘unbaptized’ believer. Those who believe the gospel express their faith in baptism. If we value the call of the Gospel and obedience to Christ we will follow Him in baptism.
Third, Baptism brings us into the Covenant Community. All throughout the New Testament you see Christians living together in a community bound by the New Covenant of Christ’s body and blood. The mark of being apart of the family of God is a shared baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism itself is a dramatization of the radical transformation of an individual. Immersion into the water symbolizes our spiritual death and association with the Christ’s atoning death. As we are raised up out of the water, we symbolize the new spiritual life that Christ has imparted to us and the new nature we now possess. A nature that brings forth the fruit of the Spirit, a desire to follow Christ, and to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. This new life we possess is not lived in isolation but apart of the faith community. Many people say that I do not have to be a ‘church member’ to be a Christian. However, there is never mention of a Christian in isolation from other Christians or apart from a fellowship of believers. New Testament believers were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42). Even in remote parts of the earth the goal of missionaries is to plant churches where the fellowship of Christ can be enjoyed and cherished. The metaphors that are used of a Christian’s new life are a spiritual body, temple, and household to name a few. None of these can be done in isolation, we need one another. Therefore, baptism is the means by which we are brought into communion with other believers, a local expression of the universal body of Christ (local church), and the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper. The more I meditate on the significance of baptism the more I am thankful for the Gospel which it symbolizes. May we at Ocean Park be faithful to live out the Great Commission and make disciples by calling those in our homes, work, and community to follow Christ in Baptism.
*The July 23rd Baptismal service will be at 6:00 at the 16th Ave S Beach not in the sanctuary.
Soli Deo Gloria
Love the One You're With
Article by Jon Bloom
It can be really hard to love the church. Every Christian, who’s been one for very long, knows this.
The earthly church has always been a motley crew. It’s never been ideal. The New Testament exists because churches, to differing degrees, have always been a mess — a glorious mess of saints still polluted by remaining sin, affected by defective genes, brains, and bodies, and influenced by life-shaping pasts.
This mess rarely looks glorious to us up close. It looks like a lot of sin and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears invested into a lot of futility. It often looks like something we’d rather escape than join.
But this is the way it’s supposed to be. Because the mess is what draws out the one thing that advances the church’s mission more than anything else. And this one thing is why we must not, for selfish reasons, leave the church. The Church We Didn’t Choose
Jesus’s very first disciples didn’t get to choose each other. Jesus chose them (John 15:16). They just found themselves thrown together.
The very next generation of early Christians didn’t get to choose each other either. They too were thrown together with others they likely wouldn’t have chosen: Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews, Jews and Gentiles, educated and uneducated, slaves and slave owners, impoverished and aristocrats, former zealots and former tax collectors, former prostitutes and former Pharisees.
And Jesus gave these early disciples, and all disciples afterward, an impossible command: love one another (John 15:17). It had to be impossible to obey in mere human power because this love was meant to bear witness of Jesus in the world (John 13:35), and to give visible evidence of the invisible God (1 John 4:12). It had to demonstrate that “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
And Jesus gave his disciples an impossible context in which to carry out this impossible command: the church (Matthew 16:18) — a community of diverse, sin-polluted, defective individuals from all sorts of life-shaping pasts living life together in an impossible love.
Then Jesus gave his church an impossible mission: preach the gospel throughout the whole, God-rejecting, Christ-hating world (Luke 21:17; John 15:18), and plant impossible communities among every people where diverse, sin-polluted, defective individuals from all sorts of life-shaping pasts would live out Jesus’s impossible command to love one another (Matthew 28:19–20).
Impossible love, impossible community, and impossible mission: this is a plan doomed to fail. There’s no way this works, unless a God exists who makes possible the humanly impossible.
And here we are, two thousand years later. The impossible mission has produced impossible communities carrying out this impossible command throughout much of the world. For all the church’s problems, and they are legion, something miraculous is at work here. Miraculous, Struggling Community
But the church rarely looks miraculous at any given moment. “The church,” as we most directly experience it, looks like the less-than-ideal local church we belong to, made up of ordinary people struggling to get along, struggling to figure out how to “do church” in a world of constant change, and struggling to do its part to fulfill the Great Commission.
Struggling doesn’t look or feel miraculous. It’s fatiguing, frustrating, and at times exasperating. Struggling can make us want to give up.
But we must not give up on the church. Because it’s the messy things — those extraordinarily difficult and painful things that can drive us crazy — that provide the very opportunities for the humanly impossible love of Christ to be exercised, giving visibility to the existence of the invisible God.
According to the New Testament, a church’s success is not measured by the number of its attenders, the size of its budget, the excellence of its event production, or the scope of its public influence. Its success is measured by the quality of its love. A church that most effectively witnesses Jesus in the world pursues love through:
- Honoring each other (Romans 12:10)
- Contributing to meet each other’s needs (Romans 12:13)
- Showing hospitality to one another (Romans 12:13)
- Rejoicing over each other’s joys (Romans 12:15)
- Weeping over each other’s griefs (Romans 12:15)
- Pursuing harmony with each other in spite of differences (Romans 12:16)
- Not excluding the lowliest members (Romans 12:16)
- Submitting to each other (Ephesians 5:21)
- Persistently striving for agreement over thorny issues (2 Corinthians 13:11)
- Using individual freedom in Christ to serve each other (Galatians 5:13)
- Bearing with each other’s weaknesses, foibles, and immaturity (Ephesians 4:2)
- Covering each other’s multitudinous sins with forgiveness (1 Peter 4:8; Colossians 3:13)
- Stirring up each other to press on in the mission of love (Hebrews 10:24)
- And not neglecting to meet regularly together (Hebrews 10:25).
And what calls such love out? Read each line again and ask what situations prompt such opportunities to love. The short answer is: lots of various kinds of struggling. It’s the messy struggles that call out love.
Churches are designed to be communities of impossible love that only work if God is real, and Christ’s sacrifice is real, and heaven is real. In void of love, the community falls apart or degrades into consumer event products, empty formalism, formless “spirituality,” social advocacy groups, or essentially civic gatherings — all dying or dead remains of a past vitality. Graciously Disappointing Community
Jesus did not design the church to be a place where our dreams come true. Actually, it’s where many of our dreams are disappointed and die. And this is more of a grace to us than we likely realize, because our dreams are often much more selfish than we discern.
Our personal expectations easily become tyrants to everyone else, because everyone else fails to meet them. When we are more focused on how others’ failings and foibles obstruct the ideal community we want to pursue than we are on serving those others and pursuing their good and joy, our expectations can kill love, which impedes the real mission.
Jesus designed the church to be a place where love comes true, where we lay our preferences aside out of deference to others. It is meant to be a living laboratory of love, a place where there are so many opportunities, big and small, to lay down our lives for each other that the love of Christ becomes a public spectacle.
That’s why when it comes to church in this age, the picture of community we should have in our minds is not some utopian harmony, but Golgotha. In living life together, we die every day (1 Corinthians 15:31). We lay down our lives for each other (1 John 3:16). Love the One You’re With
Over forty years ago, Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” Though he certainly didn’t write this with the church in mind, we can draw a redemptive application.
There are numerous legitimate reasons to leave a church, and departures are one more messy opportunity to extend gracious love. But we must have a healthy suspicion of our motives if disillusionment, restlessness, boredom, discontentment, burnout, relational conflict, and disappointed expectations are fueling our impulse to leave. Often these fruits have roots in selfish soil. We must not love the church we can’t be with — that idealized community of our imagination. We must love the one we’re with.
We don’t get to choose the disciples we live with; Jesus does. We get thrown into a motley group of sin-polluted, defective saints, among whom, in our own ways, we are the polluted, defective foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).
What we get is the incredible privilege of and plethora of opportunities for loving these fellow disciples like Jesus loved us. We get to love them, warts and all. Because it is through the mutually self-dying, forbearing, forgiving love warty disciples have for one another that Jesus is most clearly shown to the world and his mission is most powerfully advanced.
Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife live in the Twin Cities with their five children.
Soli Deo Gloria
The Dreaded Holiday Schedule
John Lydgate once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. As a pastor I know this all too well. I often have to make decisions that some people love and other people loathe. The dreaded Holiday service schedule is always one of them. I heard rumbles from people who disapproved of cancelling some services while others were annoyed they have to come to church on Christmas. Sometimes pastors can't win. :)
To the "Why do we have to have church on Christmas!?!" guy - I get it. It throws your holiday routine into chaos. Getting the kids to church on a regular Sunday is hard enough, but with all the hustle and bustle of Christmas morning it's crazy. Yes.Yes it is. However, I would imagine that you've told your child all Christmas season that 'Jesus is the reason for the season' but if you skip church on Sunday because of family obligations, what type of message are you sending? When your kid looks you in the eye and says, "If Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, why did we not go to church?" How will you answer? Parents, show your children the value of Christ by making worship on Christmas a priority. I would encourage you to wake up early on Christmas morning to open gifts, worship as a family @ 11:00, and then for the rest of the day celebrate the blessings of another year with your family and friends.
To the "Why would he cancel services during the holidays!?!" guy - I've been pastor long enough to know that certain times of the year attendance ALWAYS goes down. The Holidays are one of those times. Family and friends are a gift; enjoy them. We are not justified by God on the basis of how faithful we are to attend services when the doors are open. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Not having Wednesday services for a few weeks will not cause anyone mortal peril and cancelling a Sunday Night service will not spell doom for our church. In fact, this is a perfect time to open your home and have people over. Take the next few Wednesday night to have people in your home. Hear their life stories, laugh with them, and pray with them. If you do this you may be surprised how much your relationships grow when you are not worried about your responsibilities at the church. I promise you won't be disappointed when you open your home and open your hearts. Here is the perfect opportunity!
For these reasons and more, we have a 'holiday' worship schedule. I purposefully streamline the services for the holidays because it is a hectic time. The last thing I want to do is make coming to church a drag. This gives you time to rest, love, and enjoy your friends and family. However, I refuse to rob of you the blessing of celebrating the birth of Christ on the Lord's day even if it does make Christmas a bit hectic.
I hope to see you Christmas Morning at 11:00 a.m. to celebrate the advent of our Lord Jesus. It will be a wonderful blessing to celebrate, "Good News of Great Joy that will be for all people!" with you.
p.s. Here is an article by Kevin DeYoung titled, "Don't Cancel Church on Christmas" that went into my thinking and my decision to cut back on the holiday schedule but maintain worship on Christmas.
Soli Deo Gloria
A Wedding Shower Blessing
[This is a devotion that Denise Partyka gave at a wedding shower for Grace Konemann. Denise taught Grace in Sunday School class when she was only 3 years old and had the privilege to watch her grow up into a beautiful young woman ]
What a sweet privilege it is for me to be encouraging you regarding marriage. However, it's a little difficult to wrap my head around the fact we've arrived here so quickly, while it seems only a short time ago that I was teaching you, Haley and Kayla in preschool Sunday School. I have to confess I have felt a bit inadequate finding just the right words of wisdom and encouragement because what do I say to a young woman, regarding marriage, who has been an eyewitness her entire life to such a beautifully faithful God-honoring marriage? Your parents are my heroes in marriage, ministry and this Christian life so this seems full circle for me to be serving you in this way. My hope and prayer is that you will be encouraged, not necessarily by anything newly profound that I have to say but that you will be reminded of God's loving kindness and faithfulness in giving you a husband so while my words maybe inadequate to fully communicate that, Christ certainly is not.
I have chosen 3 words I'd like you to remember and encourage you with:
I'd like to encourage you to have joy: joy in your marriage and joy in our faithful God who grants such sweet gifts. Ps 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Marriage is for the purpose of glorifying God. Enjoy your husband. We know "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Marriage can be such a beautiful expression of this purpose lived out. Have joy in our good God who has given you the gift of a husband. He has given you a partner in this life to walk by your side, not leaving you alone to celebrate life's sweetest joys or to carry the heaviest of burdens alone.
God has expressed the tenderness of His sovereignty in the midst of the rain by bringing Jeff into your life when He did. It's not often that a couple begins their dating relationship under the difficult and painful circumstances that you and Jeff did. Rarely does a first date begin with the young man meeting his date's father for the first time in a hospital room. You have learned quickly the treasure of having a partner to help carry the heaviest of burdens. While I wish so very much your experience would have been different and your dating relationship free of such hard lessons, I rejoice with you over God's faithful provision in your life. There is no question Jeff's strength of character has been proven during such times. As the clouds of grief begin to thin, I trust that God will also give you many moments in your marriage to enjoy your husband in the brightness of the sun. "My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." Psalm 63:5-8
Proverbs 5:18 says, "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth..."
We can understand this to mean 'husband of your youth' as well. As Jeff's wife be his strongest supporter and greatest champion. This will prove to be most helpful as you learn to encourage Jeff especially in his ministry, while there are great and many blessings in serving the body of Christ, some of the greatest in fact, there will come hard disappointments as well. Jeff will need you to be a reliable source of encouragement. Try very hard not fall into the temptation of being critical. Your mom gave me some of the wisest counsel many years ago specifically regarding how to respond to my husband's sermons and it really proves to be good counsel all around. She said there will be plenty of people offering criticism, some helpful and some not unhelpful, but nonetheless criticism. Always find words of encouragement for him. Romans 12:10 says, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor". Make it your practice to outdo Jeff in showing honor. What I know of Jeff and observed in how he loves and serves you this will be a challenging task but you're a woman who seems to be up for a challenge. Be ever mindful that Jeff will be the living image and representative of Christ in your home and being his steadfast champion will allow him the freedom and encouragement to fulfill that role. Therefore, be Jeff's champion!
"Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart" Psalm 119:111. There is a great void with the absence of your Dad, those that knew him and love him feel that void for you and for ourselves. His presence was large so the void is equally as large but in the midst of your grief and tears look to Christ for the source of your joy so that you don't miss the beauty and excitement of this time. I'm fairly certain your Dad would have encouraged you to do the same and I know your Heavenly Father desires it of you. No one, in my opinion, was a more faithful example of having and expressing joy in His savior during great pain and suffering than your father. You have a rich and beautiful heritage, look to it for your inspiration and launching pad for your own marriage and draw your strength and delight in the God who gives good gifts such as marriage.
Gracious Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your goodness and faithfulness expressed in the gift of marriage. Thank you for the years of faithful marriages that Grace can look to for a source of encouragement that are represented in this room today. We thank you for your perfect providence in bringing Grace and Jeff together. Cause Grace to find great joy in being Jeff's wife. May she be a wife that faithfully provides encouragement and support to her husband and may she draw strength and inspiration from the beautiful heritage you have given her from her grandparents and parents. Bless Grace and Jeff with love for one another that flows from their love from Christ and may their home be a home where the conversations drip with the truths of scripture, where the gospel is central and where the name of Christ is glorified. In Christ's name Amen
Denise Partyka ~ December 10, 2016
Soli Deo Gloria
Watch & Pray in the Midst of Matthew
Hurricanes have always fascinated me. The raw power of their wind, the intriguing beauty of satellite photos, and the unpredictability of their path both captivate my attention and impart a sense of awe and wonder. Yet Hurricane Matthew is different. Matthew has his sights set on my home and my church. I have always watched hurricanes from a safe distance inland. Warning cones, wind speed probabilities, and rainfall predictions have always been mere data to be consumed and tracked. Not anymore. Last year we moved to a home at Jax Beach and I pastor a church that sits only a few blocks from the ocean. In the summer time it's a fabulous place to be but in hurricane season...not so much.
Now the people and place that I love are threatened and there is little that I can do. I have followed the evacuation orders of local authorities, gathered supplies for when the power goes out, and prepared the house for the storm. Yet despite my most ardent efforts, Matthew has caused me to feel the weakness of my humanity. The reality is no matter how much I 'prepare' there is little that I can do to change my situation. The only thing we can do it 'watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation' (Matthew 26:41). Yet how often do we do everything but watch and pray? We live in a time of unprecedented technological advancement. God's common grace has gifted man with the technology that has saved millions of lives by providing reliable and early warning of impending dangers. Yet despite all these technological advances, man remains powerless to resist the power of the wind and the rain. Nevertheless, we put our faith in our data, meteorologists, and preparation. We think somehow that the more information we gather, we will enable us to withstand the power and intensity of the storm. We fail to 'watch and pray'. Like Peter in the garden we succumb to the flesh and fail to heed the words of Christ. We wield our puny sword of self reliance against an enemy we are powerless to defeat (not just hurricanes). When scripture calls us to watch and pray it is not calling us to resign ourselves to defeat or swallow the bitter pill of fate. Scripture calls us to trust the maker of heaven and earth, at all times because of who God is. The God to whom we pray to is the God who,'rides on the wings of the wind' (Psalm 104:3). Scripture continually declares that no enemy can compare to the omnipotent power that God wields with precision and wisdom. All things are under His control and all things are guided by His wisdom... even category four hurricanes. David knew the power and promise of our God when he wrote the words of Psalm 18...
"In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked because he was angry...He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew;
I confess that with each update from the National Hurricane Center I grow more and more fearful about our home and the church, while having to work harder to muster up feeble prayers. My fears begin to concoct doomsday scenarios full of 'what ifs...' and 'I don't know what we'll do...". With each faithless fear, I doubt the power and wisdom of the Almighty God. Yet there is a fundamental reminder that is forgotten when I read through the promises of God's power and wisdom. I will not be exempt from hardship. I will not be free from struggle. I will not be free from pain. Just as David throughout his life and reign suffered defeats and disappointments, our enemies will inflict painful blows and stinging harms. However, the temporary pain my enemies inflict cannot short-circuit the security and victory that is found in the God who rides on the wings of the wind. David humbly confessed that his hope was not in his own ability, strength, or wisdom but in the power of the Lord. "This God - his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him" (Psalm 18:30). The promises of God's Word are true because the power of God is infinite and his wisdom is complete. This does not take Him by surprise. He ordains the end and controls the means. God knows how my home and my church will fare against the fury of Matthew. He knows if I will lose everything or nothing. He knows the struggle with evacuations, preparations, and watching from a distance. In His perfect wisdom He knows what I need, when I need it. He knows if my trust in Him is contingent upon my possessions rather than on the wisdom of God. God knows if I need to be taught to put my trust in Him by losing the fleeting things of this earth and the security that my heart craves. I will trust the God of power and wisdom. As I watch I pray that God will do for me what he did for David, to make 'my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze' (Psalm 18:33-34). I pray that God would keep those I love safe in the midst of the storm and train me to battle the fear that my enemies threaten me with. I pray that my heart would faithfully cling to my rock and my refuge during the storm and most importantly...after. God is wise and He is powerful. He knows what He is doing. In the midst of the storm He is teaching His people to put their trust in Him and revealing the futility of trusting anyone or anything but Him. When the rage of Matthew is over and I see the damage he has inflicted I pray that I will trust in the wisdom of the Lord, whatever He may will. In the meantime I will 'watch and pray'.
Soli Deo Gloria
Robert Konemann: 1962-2016
Robert Konemann was a pastor and teacher in Jacksonville, FL and Louisville, KY. He loved the Word of God while living and dying for the glory of a good and sovereign God. May these final words spoken at his memorial service cause us to trust our sovereign God who knows what He is doing. He is not a novice.
Robert was born on October 1, 1962 in the outskirts of Atlanta, GA. Growing up, life was difficult for Robert. To this world Robert was a ‘throw away’ kid. To our heavenly Father he was a precious son, ‘chosen before the foundations of the earth’. Robert’s life bore the inexplicably fingerprints of grace, was guided by the Hand of Providence, and loved by the heart of our Heavenly Father. The journey of His life would take him down many dark valleys before a seemingly frowning Providence. Yet, at every turn it was evident that the grace of God, was guiding and equipping him for his journey. Robert possessed an incredibly fortitude, an unbreakable spirit, and a vivid imagination that would serve him all the days of his life. It was the merciful hand of God that guided his steps even in the darkest days. The hand of Providence was especially seen one cold winter night when Robert was only 10 years old. Driven away by cruel words and heartless punishment he ran away from his home with only a handful of dollar bills. He escaped on a Greyhound bus and hitch-hiked even farther. His aimless journey led him to the bottom of a rock quarry where he collapsed in exhaustion wishing for death. He was a cold, hopeless, and desperate ten-year-old boy. Yet he was not alone. As snow began to fall, God’s hand stirred him to life and moved him to hope. By God’s grace, Robert made his way back home and was given strength to endure the remaining days of his childhood.
Robert’s family moved from Atlanta to Clearwater, Florida and it was there in the Sunshine State where a brilliant ray of light burst into his dark world. Robert found his way to Clearwater Baptist Church and dove in headlong into the youth group. Robert’s youth pastor, Barry Shettel, took Robert under his wing and saw in Robert what no one had ever seen before: character and value. Here Robert’s love for the Word of God began to grow and blossom because someone took the time to love him and value him. The dark clouds of his childhood where beginning to dissipate. Yet that was only the beginning.
One summer afternoon Robert boarded the Youth bus for what he thought was an ordinary day of fun at Six Flags in Atlanta. Little did he know that on that bus he would find a life-time of love. As Robert boarded the bus his eye caught glimpse of the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on; Becky Lapp. It was love at first sight…almost. There was a slight problem. She sat in her seat with a pair of crutches by her side and a broken toe. Inside Robert’s mind a battle raged: hang out with Becky and miss out on the Six flags fun or stay with his buddies and enjoy a day of roller coasters and fried food. He chose Six Flags! Thankfully, this poor choice did not cost him, for on the way home he secured a seat near to Becky. After finding the courage to speak with her he opened up his Bible and read Becky Isaiah chapter 40 and challenged her to memorize Isaiah 40:31. It was Robert’s way of getting a second date…helping Becky memorize scripture. A win-win! It was the beginning of a classic love story.
There have been few love stories written like Robert and Becky’s. Neither Romeo and Juliet, Darcy and Elizabeth, Rhett & Scarlett couldn’t compare with their love. Robert’s love for Becky is enough to last her entire lifetime. He loved her with a passionate affection and unwavering commitment. They were simply meant to be together. However, the first time Robert came to her parent home for a date (‘to memorize scripture’)Dr. and Mrs. Lapp weren’t as convinced. Rather than coming to the door, Robert pulled his car into the driveway and honked the horn. Becky waived to her parents and jumped into the car as Robert squealed the tires as he drove away. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best first impression with the future in-laws. However when Dr. and Mrs. Lapp, spoke with Robert’s youth pastor. Yet, much to their amazement, Barry reassured their anxious hearts, “Of all the young men I have ever known, I would want my daughters to marry a man like Robert.” The rest was history. The Lapps embraced Robert as their own son. Their house was a safe refuge for Robert as he went to High School while working forty hours a week busting concrete. Many nights he would come to the Lapps, eat dinner, and crash on their couch for hours. The Lapp’s home was Robert’s home and in the twilight of their lives Robert repaid their loyalty by giving the Lapps a place in his home. They were parents to him and he was a son to them.
Robert & Becky’s love for one another grew deeper and deeper with every passing day. It was inevitable that they would spend the rest of their lives together. One day in the stairwell of the church Youth building Robert looked at Becky and said, “I’m gonna marry you Becky.” She simply answered, “Duh!” There was never a question that they were destined for each other. On the night of Robert’s high school graduation in Dunedin, FL he brought Becky to Valley’s Steak House and asked her to be his wife. Immediately she said, “Yes!” and then promptly spilled her water all over the table. Hollywood couldn’t write a better story that was unfolding before their eyes. On February 21, 1981 Robert and Becky stood before their friends and family and promised their lives to each other. A promise that was never broken.
The next chapter of their life took place in a tiny trailer on the Westside of Jacksonville. Married life was simple and life was good at the end of Snellgrove Road. Robert tried several different vocations but was never able to find the right fit. He didn’t care where he worked as long as it was Becky he could come home to. She was his life and his love. The love they shared multiplied with five beautiful children: Melissa, Caleb, Grace, Calvin, and Josh. Robert adored being a Father and loved his children well. He set aside Fridays as ‘family day’ and loved to take the family on picnics in the park or down by the beach, feasting Little Debbie’s, Caprice Suns, and Sunkist as they laughed and played. They were simple days. They were special days. Vacations were spent at Stone Mountain and Crooked River with Dr. and Mrs. Lapp. Robert loved the chance to ‘unplug’ from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life and focus on his family. One of the favorite memories that the children cherished was ‘pajama raids’. Robert and Becky would tuck the children into bed and just as they began to fall asleep Robert would rush into their rooms, flip on the lights, and yell, ‘Pajama raids’. The pajama clad children would squeal with delight as they piled into the minivan and headed for ice cream. Life was simple. Life was good.
Holidays were special times for Robert because it provided him an opportunity to express his profound love for his children and to those he held dear. At Christmas he refused to let Becky do the Christmas shopping without him because he always wanted to be apart of finding the perfect gift for each child. On Christmas Eve, the Konemann’s would bake mountains of baked goodies for church members and deliver them to each home. On Christmas mornings before the gifts were unwrapped, he would read the children the Christmas story and give thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ. Robert was deliberate in everything he did. Deliberate to show his love. Deliberate to point his children toward Christ. As the children grew so did Robert’s love for them. Robert loved to watch his children pursue their dreams and found joy in watching them achieve their goals. Whether it was Melissa’s artwork, Caleb’s football, Grace’s dance, Calvin’s cheering, or Josh’s basketball, Robert selflessly would do whatever it took to enable them to pursue their dreams. Robert literally wore holes in his shoes so his kids could have piano lessons, ballet slippers, and football cleats. Robert was selfless and his children held a special place in his heart.
Robert loved Becky. Robert loved his children. Yet above all else Robert loved Christ. Robert’s ministry began as the singles pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church and led him to plant Christ Fellowship. His ministry was marked by a love for the Word of God and a passion for His glory. Robert used his mind for the glory of God and His body for the service of the church. Robert was more than a preacher. He was a friend, brother, teacher, prophet, safety net, and protector. He was there when you needed him. Whether it was physical sickness, the death of a spouse, the loss of a parent, the birth of children, trips to college, marriage counseling, or hospital visits Robert was quick to serve. He became all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. He was a mechanic, builder, mover, teacher, and most of all friend. He taught us the meaning of love simply by his presence in our lives. Robert was there in the significant moments of Denise & my life: rejoicing with us and weeping with us. He performed our marriage counseling, officiated at our wedding, and rejoiced when our children were born. I still remember turning around to see Robert’s face on the other side of the nursery glass the morning Anna was born. He always found time for a pastor visit. I remember all the bbq napkins he scribbled theological phrases and greek words, the stacks of books he pushed aside whenever I stopped by his office to talk, and the rickety ole’ ‘Hooptie’ truck he drove around town with Caleb at shotgun. Robert truly had the heart of a pastor.
If I could sum up Robert’s ministry in one word it would be ‘passion’. It was never God, Family, Church. It was all God…in everything. Robert had an insatiable appetite for the things of the Lord. He loved his Word, he loved his church, and he loved his people. This passion was manifest as his countenance would light up when he spoke of the treasure of the kingdom of God, the fury with which he preached, and the theological firehouse he unleashes when he begins to teach. His prayers resonated as a man who knew God as a friend. Those prayers were a cup of cold water in a dry and thirsty land. Christ Fellowship was led by a man of incredible intellect and an intensely tender heart sold out for Christ.
When the Hand of Providence brought to a close the ministry at Christ Fellowship it was devastating to Robert and Becky and to all who shared its fellowship. It was as if a member of the family had died. Yet the Lord sweetly sustained their hearts with His Word and prepared Robert for the next chapter in this storybook written by the hand of God. The Konemann’s moved to Taylorsville and settled down in their little log cabin on the hill. It was here they said goodbye to his parents and in-laws and they watched the children grow and begin lives of their own. Robert was blessed with a new name: ‘Grandfather’. He loved his little grandsons: Titus, Levi, and Jentezen, who were the apple of his eyes. Robert began working at Southern and once again found purpose and significance in building and creating. However, despite his title of ‘project manager’ he never replaced his former one, ‘pastor’. Robert loved people and loved the gospel. You could never separate him from his pastoral calling. He shared Christ with whoever would listen, no matter how large or small a role they played on campus. With professors he wrestled with weighty theological matters and with employees he tenderly shared the love of Christ where they were. Robert’s faithfulness was seen in how he treated everyone with compassion, love, and respect. Security guards, window contractors, and custodians loved to work with Robert because he treated them as the image bearers of God they were. Robert possessed a genuine love for the gospel that motivated him towards loving his neighbor. Robert was intentional, genuine, and loving in every everything he did. The man he was at home was the man he was in public.
The Hand of Providence once again moved in Robert’s life and led him to Fisherville Baptist Church. Fisherville needed Robert and Robert needed Fisherville. It was at Fisherville where Robert found a place to teach alongside a like-minded partner in ministry, Brian Payne. Robert & Brian shared a pastor’s heart, a love for God’s word, and a shalom that brought balance and perspective to one another’s ministries. They shared a special bond that will last for eternity because it is founded on the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ.
We all watched Robert and witness the promise of scripture to be true. God is faithful though He moves in mysterious ways. Robert was confident that this brain tumor was apart of God’s sovereign plan and will be used for His glory. The words of William Cowper’s hymn faithfully reminded him of God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea; And rides upon the storm. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” The smile of God’s grace never failed him. Robert saddled up the horses in God’s word and rode with courage into a frowning Providence, always trusting the God who holds the universe in His hand. He boldly declared "Our God is not a novice. He knows what he is doing!" Over the last eighteen months Robert’s body slowly began to fail. But His God never did. Morning by morning new mercies Robert saw. Encouraging verses via texts and facebook posts. Daily visits from friends, coworkers, and church members. The laughter of silly jokes. Sugar free strawberry trifle. The Great Hymns of the Faith that soothed his weary soul. But most of all, the faithful love of Becky who never left his side. These were mercies of God poured out lavishly upon Robert as his body was ravished by cancer. Robert would ultimately succumb to cancer but because of the his love for the gospel, death was no longer a cruel taskmaster but rather a humble servant that ushered Robert into the presence of his Master and Lord Jesus Christ. August 1, 2016 was not the end of Robert Konemann. It was the beginning of eternity. The great evangelist D.L. Moody once told his congregation, “Some day you will read in the papers, 'D. L. Moody is dead.' Don't you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.” This couldn’t be more true of Robert. Because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, Robert is alive. Because Jesus Christ took the punishment for his sin on the cross: Robert is alive. Because Robert trust only in the work of Christ by faith: Robert is alive. Because Christ has clothed him with a righteousness that is not his own: Robert is alive.
Soli Deo Gloria
A Gospel Response to Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas
Monday evening my newsfeed was filled with photographs and videos of fireworks, sparklers, and roman candles as our nation celebrated 240 years of Independence. However, the euphoria and gaiety would evaporate almost instantly as FB, Twitter, and news outlets across the country watched in stunned silence as Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground by two police office and suddenly shots were fired. Sterling lay there lifeless and bloody. A few hours later the collective consciousness of our nation was seared as we watched Sterling’s 15-year-old son cry out, “I miss my Dad!” as he sobbed beside his grief stricken mother left to raise five children alone. Our hearts should weep for them. Less than 24 hours later during a routine traffic stop Philando Castile, while he was reaching for his license, was shot four times by a police officer. Millions watched live on Facebook as he moaned, bloodstained, and dying. His fiancée wept as the tiny voice of their four-year-old daughter reassured her, “It’s ok I’m her for you.” Our hearts should weep for them. The black community once again mourning the loss of one of its young men organized a peaceful rally in downtown Dallas in order to protest the black lives lost. However, Micah Johnson, fueled by anger and hate brandished a sniper rifle with the intent of, ‘kill[ing] white people, especially white officers.” In cold blood he ambushed twelve Dallas police officers, killing five. Brent Thompson, 43, married for only two weeks was a father and grandfather. Michael Krol, 40, worked hard to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a police officer. Patrick Zamarripa, 32, was married and the father of a 2 young children. Lorne Ahrens, 48, was a valued co-worker. Michael Smith, 55, was married 17 years and a father of two young boys. Our hearts should weep for them. The prophetic words of Isaiah that showered down on Israel over two and half millennia ago are a stinging indictment on our own country…
“ Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity….Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.” Isaiah 59:1-4,7-8
Throughout the week I watched social media responded with careless indifference to the shootings with thoughtless, flippant, and unloving words. “He should have complied.” “He had a criminal record.” As five officers sacrificed their lives to protect 800 protesters, social media responded with, “They got what they deserved”, “I wish the shooter lived because I’d serve him.” Democrats were pitted against Republicans. Whites were pitted against Blacks. Pro-cop people were pitted against pro-black people. Articles were posted to discredit the claims of the other side. Tweets defiantly declared allegiance to one side with a hashtag and promise that anyone who had the audacity to disagree would be unfriended, unfollowed, or blocked. People smear their opponents and ‘exposed’ their hypocrisy with callous disregard to their plight. We demand justice but we refuse to seek peace. We chastise, criticize, and dehumanize when we should open our hearts and weep for the victims, for the oppressed, and for the broken-hearted. It is no wonder that the words of Isaiah 59:9-13 not only describe ancient Israel but modern day America…
“Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the LORD, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.”
My heart weeps while I watch our society stumble through life desperately groping for something to hold on to. We clamor for 2nd amendment rights, gun control, government regulation and oversight, protests, denial of a problem, body cameras, political power, or even violent revenge. Nothing satisfies. Nothing changes man’s heart. Nothing brings healing. Shootings keep happening. Black men keep dying. Cops are being assassinated. All the while pundits are screaming. Protesters are marching. Children are growing up without fathers. Women are being made widows. Parents are burying their kids. Collectively our country spirals out of control. Isaiah 59:14-15 reads as an epitaph for our nation…
 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
This comes as no surprise in scripture. The Bible testifies that the Almighty God of the universe created heaven and earth for his glory. He created man and women, black and white, Asian & Latino in his own image to reflect his glory in our love and relationships, our work and creativity, our families and societies (Genesis 1:28). Yet the Bible doesn’t whitewash the reality that mankind is fallen into sin, for we have traded the glory of God, wisdom of God, love of God, and the satisfaction of pursing God for 30 shekels of silver. We crave our own selfish pride (Romans 1:23), our own foolish wisdom, our own self love, and the fleeting satisfaction of the pleasures of this world. Sin has not only severed our relationship with God but it has caused us to hate our neighbor rather than love him. It has caused us to be jealous of our neighbor rather than seek his good. Sin has built resentment between genders, walls of hostility between ethnicities, and has deeply scarred our beautiful planet. The stain of sin has seeped into the deepest reaches of our hearts and expresses itself in hate, murder, exploitation, and racism. Rather than seeking the glory of God that brings life, freedom, and satisfaction, ‘every man does what is right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25). This week we watched in horror as seven men bled to death as a result of the sin that has corrupted the hearts of all mankind. As I watched these men died my soul cried out, “How Long, O Lord?” I felt the agony of the Psalmist, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept…” (Psalm 137). For a fleeting moment, I understood the raw emotion of Psalm 137:8, “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall be he who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks!” The words of utter hopelessness. Sheer despair. Unreserved bitterness. I watched in horror as my nation was fragmented by the deep wounds of sin. ‘One nation under God’ erupted in an uncivil war. I starred in silence as I pleaded in my heart, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”
All week I struggled in my head, “Do I address this or not?” “Is there any words that I can say that can bring calm? Any insight that can bring perspective? Any hope that can encourage despairing hearts?” “Will my congregation listen or will they shut me off?” As I sat down at my desk and look at the words of Isaiah 59 beckoned…
 The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives.
There is an answer to the hate, oppression, and sin that mars our world: The Gospel. The Gospel is the only answer to the blight of racism, abuse of power, the senselessness of violence, and the apathy of pride that is tearing our nation apart. Isaiah 59 promises that the Lord Himself will be the one who will deal with the sin that plagues our world and our hearts. Every man and woman will answer for the injustice that plagues our streets, our homes, and our hearts. God will judge sin with zeal. His wrath he will pour out and His vengeance will be unleashed upon his enemies. God is not silent. He will will answer. In chapter 60 the darkness of the world of Isaiah 59 is contrasted with the radiance of the glory of Zion, the promised city of God where He dwells with his people. A city without violence, devastation, or destruction. A city where men will be free of nagging fear. A city where violence will not spontaneously erupt. A city where women will not weep in the streets for their slain husbands. A city where little boys and little girls will not have to watch their Daddy die before their eyes. A city where men and women will not live in the isolation because they fear retaliation. It is for that city I ache…
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Rev 21:1-4
This city is not a distant fantasy. This city is closer than you think. Scripture promises that this city will be inaugurated by an anointed preacher, the Messiah. In fact the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 has already been fulfilled.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;  to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor…”
These are words that Jesus read as he declared that God ha s indeed come to save. To bring freedom and liberty to those in bondage and oppression. Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The Anointed one has come, Immanuel ‘God with us.” We are not forgotten. We are not alone. Though our sins have cast us from the presence of a holy God, He has not left us to grope in darkness. He has come to us. His love and mercy shines bright in the darkness of our streets, homes, and hearts. He has rescued us from our pride, racism, fear, and rebellion. This is the promise of the Gospel, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Is. 1:18). Brothers and sisters Jesus Christ has come and inaugurate the kingdom of God. A kingdom where the wolf will lay down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the child will play with the cobra. A kingdom where the poor receive justice, the oppressed enjoy freedom, and the lonely will find family. In this kingdom Jew and Gentile will be one. Black and white will live in love and respect. Men and women will thrive in perfect harmony. This kingdom is promised in Ephesians 2:11-22. The hostility that exists between ethnicities and genders has been abolished by the completed work of Christ on the cross. Turn with me to the hope of the Gospel that Ephesians 2:13 declares. [p. 976]
“ But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, God’s promised wrath, once promised for the people of God for their sin, has been absorbed. Those whose put their faith in Christ are now apart are ‘one’ body (vs. 15). Verse 21 tells us that this body is the very temple of God when the Spirit of God dwells. A body whose primary citizenship is in the city of God and are fellow members of the household of God. Black, White, Asian, Latino, Man, Women, Rich, Poor, Educated, and Uneducated. If this is so. If these words are true. How can we cling to the sins of the world that seek to divide us? Why do we continue to treasure the sin that drives a wedge between the body of Christ? Why don’t we do under others that which we want done unto us? These were just a few of the thousands of questions that hung in my mind as I watched violence, bitterness, and apathy rage throughout the news outlets, tv stations, and social media. How long, O Lord?
I believe there is hope. All is not lost. ‘It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin that the gospel shines forth. Not until [sin] has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until [sin] has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free.’ (Stott) That kingdom city of Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21 has begun to unfold in the hearts of God’s people. The very first recorded words of Jesus in the book of Mark cry out to our nation, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. We need to remember that we are citizens of the kingdom of God. Our constitution is the Word of God. Our king is Jesus Christ who laid His life down to bring us into the kingdom.
But how does the ethics of a heavenly kingdom influence those of us who live in a 21st century kingdom? Furthermore, what do I know as a middle aged white man who grew up in suburban Connecticut know about what it means to be a black man in America or a police officer on the front lines of law enforcement? To the former: everything. To the latter: nothing at all. But this is what I know…
 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ESV)
As Christians, who been reconciled to God, we are called to further the work of reconciliation. To seek peace and pursue it. To seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We pray with our Lord, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” As new creations entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation we seek to further the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That is why the gospel matters in Baton Rouge, LA in Falcon Heights, MN and in Dallas, TX. As Christians, we are to live according to an ethic that is driven, not by the values of the kingdom of this world, but by the ethics of the kingdom of heaven. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, mercy, gentleness, and self-control. Our hope is in the gospel, not in the things of this world. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians have resorted to the twisted ethics of the world rather than setting their minds on things above. Therefore, I humbly present four kingdom principles as we seek to promote reconciliation of lost souls to God and seeking God’s kingdom here on earth.
First, all mankind is created in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”(Gen 1:27). How easily we forget this when we bash the president, slander the candidates, and belittle those who don’t share our ideology. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were created in the image of God and therefore their deaths should be mourned not discounted because of their so called ‘criminal record’. Black lives matter because they are image bearers of God. The five police officers who were assassinated by the ‘vicious, calculated, and despicable attack’ (Obama) are mourned because they were image bearers of God. Blue lives matter because they are created in the image of God. The image of God is what gives all life value and should be protected at all costs. The image of God is why we call ourselves, ‘Pro-Life’. We are pro-‘image of God’. Being pro-life doesn’t stop when a child is born. Pro-life means that we seek to protect life inside the womb and work to see life flourish outside the womb. The two are never pitted against each other. It is always ‘both and’ never ‘either or’. The image of God is to be protected from the abortionist’s scalpel, the abuser’s fist, the drug dealer’s syringe, and the brutality of the police officer who abuses the power of the badge. Don’t diminish the image of God in others because of the color of their skin or the color of their uniform. Every human life is precious because it is created in the image of God.
Second, ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). The African American community far too often has to bury the bodies of their husbands, sons, and grandsons far too young. Mourn with them. Some of you know the anguish of burying your child. Weep with them. Black brothers and sisters are hurting but often we are quicker to call their children ‘thugs’ or ‘punks’ and forget that someone calls them ‘Daddy’ or ‘son’. I watched as Philando Castile died in his car. I cried tears of anguish when I heard the voice of his little girl cry out from the back seat. My heart was grieved when the 15-year-old son of Alton Sterling wept on his mother’s shoulder. When we see black men and women hurting it should be the body of Christ that reaches out with love and compassion to comfort rather than prideful apathy that wounds. Likewise, we mourn when the lives of police officers who laid down their life in the line of service, when 49 homosexual men and women are gunned down in a club, when 187 Iraqis are killed by car bombs, and when Bengali Muslims are attacked and murdered while they peacefully prayed. "The Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn't tell us to judge whether they should be weeping” (H.B. Charles) If you cannot mourn with those who mourn I question if we really know the gospel.
Third, ‘be quick to hear, and slow to speak’ these words in James 1:19-20 imparts a kingdom principle that is vital for the task of reconciliation. I do not know what it is like to be a black man in the United States. Therefore, how can I carelessly dismiss the fears and experiences of those my black brothers and sisters? Just because Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Congress ratified the 14th amendment, and the civil rights act of 1964 was passed, the sin of 350 years of rational oppression was not neatly washed away immediately. As a nation we can’t just ‘get over it’. The scars of longstanding injustices take generations to heal and pockets of infection often lie hidden deep below the surface. As a nation we have come so far: We have an African American President, Attorney General, Supreme court justices, and congressmen and senators. Yet weeks like this past week remind us of how far we still have to go. We simply cannot say, “I’m sorry” and move on. We must not be like Job’s foolish friends who did not recognize the immensity of the struggle happening around them and speak, post, or tweat foolish, careless words. Therefore, I would encourage you to sit down with a black brother and sister (and all ethnicities) and ask them about their experience…and listen. Listen to their fears, listen to their dreams, and listen for their hearts. Rejoice with them. Cry with them. Some things they say will make you uncomfortable. Some things will enlighten you. Some things will upset you. Listen anyway. When you are slow to speak, slow to post your FB article, and slow to dismiss someone else’s experience, you will be better equipped to love them well and accomplish the kingdom work of reconciliation.
Finally, the most important kingdom principle is this: Point them to Jesus. To my African American brother, “I don’t know how it feels to be black in America. To be looked upon with distrust and bigotry…but Jesus does. He was reviled but he reviled not in return. Jesus knows the ugliness of racial tension that divided Jews, Samaritans, and Romans. Jesus knows what is means to be falsely accused, lied about, and framed for something that he did not do. Jesus knows the pain of lynching, the agony of beatings, and the ruthlessness of his oppressors. Jesus knows your weakness and he knows how to sympathize with you. Jesus knows all this because he endured all this to save you from your sins. He died to reconcile you to the Father. To make you an heir not a slave. A son not an orphan. An overcomer not a victim. Put your faith in the one who knows your suffering, hardship, and pain. His love is deep, unconditional, and faithful… trust him.
To the many good and decent police officers that keep us safe I don’t know what it feels like to be jeered at, hated, and demonized…but Jesus does. He has experienced the jeers of the crowd, the calls for his execution, and the joy in his pain. He knows the burden of laying his life down for people who do not recognize or appreciate the cost. He knows what it is like to be in isolation and consternation. Jesus knows what it is like to live in a wicked world. I pray that you would trust him with the burden you carry. Trust his wisdom to guide you on your beat, protect you in times of harm, and give you eyes of compassion on a world that in bondage to sin.
Brothers and sisters. Our world is hurting. Our world needs the gospel. As Christians we are called to be agents of reconciliation as we bring the gospel to the nations. May we recognize the image of god in all men, weep with those who weep, be slow to speak and quick to hear, and finally point a hurting world to the only source of lasting hope and heart change; Come quickly, Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria
The Second 'Last Word' of Christ: Luke 23:35-43
To the one side of Jesus hung a desperate criminal whose heart overflowed with anger, bitterness, and rage. “Are you not the Christ?” He demanded for he had heard the fantastic stories that rippled through Jerusalem. Stories that this Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah; the Christ. People claimed he restored sight to the blind, caused the lame to rise and walk, made lepers whole, and opened the ears of the deaf. Even more incredible were stories that by a simple word or the mere touch of his hand the dead were raised to life. This king who preached the good news of the Kingdom of God to the poor now hung beside him, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. This king was humiliated, weak, and hanging naked on a criminal’s cross. Where was his power now? Where were the king’s faithful to defend him? Where was that penetrating voice that chided the self-righteousness and perplexed the indecisive? “Save yourself and us!” He cried in desperation. This criminal felt the pain of his hopeless estate and at this point Jesus was his only ticket out. Yet Jesus just hung there. With every labored breath, every pity filled glance towards his executioners, and every prayer of forgiveness to the Father, the criminal grew more angry, more hostile, and more blasphemous. Jesus was not giving him what he demanded. Jesus, the king, was dying.
To the other side of Jesus hung a second criminal. A guilty, hopeless, wretched criminal. This criminal joined in the chorus of derision hurled at the suffering king as well. Yet as he watched Jesus die, his lips began to fall silent. With every hateful scream the blood-thirsty bystanders threw, arrows of grace began to pierce his wicked heart. He began to see Jesus not as a fraud who needed to prove himself or as some type of supernatural deliverer but as the righteous King of glory who was about to enter his eternal kingdom. He began to see Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords whose condemnation was unjust and whose innocence genuine. As the picture of Christ’s infinite righteousness grew so did the weight of the conviction for his own sin. This criminal cried out to rebuke the other, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man had done nothing wrong.” They deserved this death. Not Jesus. They deserved the words of ridicule. Not Jesus. They deserved the agony of crucifixion. Not Jesus. In the midst of his death sentence the criminal looked at Jesus and uttered the simple plea, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He knew the king who hung beside him was about to enter his kingdom and only by his mercy and grace would be remembered. He could do no acts of righteousness, charity, or faith. He could only confess Christ’s worth and his unworthiness. The criminal’s faith was simple yet profound. Jesus was the Christ. Jesus was the King. Jesus was returning to his eternal throne. Jesus was his only hope for him as he was dying.
Between two criminals the King of Glory hung. His sacred head wounded, his shoulders weighed down by the grief and shame of the sin of the world. Anguish, abuse, and scorn were heaped upon him as his earthly life ebbed away. Yet with eyes full of love he turned toward the criminal and uttered the promise, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This is grace. Amazing Grace. The Almighty King who laid down his life as an atonement for sin extends his grace to an unworthy criminal. The love of Christ plucks an unworthy sinner from the flames of eternity and ushers him into the eternal fellowship of the Godhead. The perfect unity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the people who are called by His grace. His grace was greater than even the most wretched of sinners.
Brothers and sisters, as our hearts consider the words of the crucified Lord, the promise of the gospel remains today. Look to the cross, see the crucified Lord who was pierced for your transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The crucified Lord whose chastisements brings us peace and by whose wounds we are healed. He is sovereign. He is exalted. He conquered death with death. He is our only hope in life and death. Turn to Him in faith. Many voices today still scream blasphemies at the crucified King, for his death is foolishness to them. They require He perform signs and wonders. They expect Jesus to answer to their beck and call. Yet when he fails to indulge their demands their blasphemies intensify. However, those who see Christ’s holiness and their own sinfulness and turn to Christ in faith are those who have received the grace of God. May our hearts each day turn away from our sin and turn to Christ by faith that we may be with Christ in paradise.
This meditation will be given as a part of the Good Friday "Last Words of Jesus" at the Beaches Museum Chapel led by David Ball of Church of Our Savior, Allen Cagle of Sunrise Community Church, and Chris Partyka of Ocean Park Baptist Church. The service will begin on Good Friday, (March 25, 2016) at 12:00 p.m. at 505 Beach Blvd. All are welcome!
Soli Deo Gloria
Robert Konemann: A Passion for God's Glory
The initial memory I have of Robert was while Denise and I were dating at the Moody Bible Institute. She spoke of him with the love and respect one has for a noble father. It was Robert she called in times of confusion and his wise voice helped calm her waves of doubt. It was Robert she called when her school bill was due and there was no money in her savings account to pay for it. It was Robert she called when she cried, when she needed a biblical perspective, or needed guidance on what to make of a particular boy from Connecticut who was pursuing her (a.k.a Home Skillet). He genuinely cared for Denise and the singles of Hillcrest as his own. He comforted them with strong support, passionate teaching, and loving presence. Robert gave of himself that his flock would know Jesus.
The first snapshot in my memory of Robert was on a sun-drenched spring day sixteen years ago when I was honored to meet him for the first time. I remember shaking his strong hand and hearing him introduce himself simply as, “Robert Konemann”. He was an imposing man with broad shoulders, neatly trimmed beard, and dark brown hair slowly revealing an honorable crown of white. He was incredibly strong yet remarkably unassuming. He was never a person to seek the limelight nor draw attention to himself. In large crowds he would often be found off-to-the-side encouraging a person or imparting practical biblical wisdom. He was quick to listen and ever quicker to point a person to the hope found in scripture. We spent the afternoon talking and laughing; the genesis of what would become a Paul & Timothy relationship. Little did I know, that on that brisk Chicago afternoon, the trajectory of my life and ministry would be forever altered.
The next snapshot of Robert was our time at Christ Fellowship. After graduation, and the realization that the cost of seminary was too great, Denise and I decided to move to Jacksonville. Robert agreed to begin the process of mentoring me while we attended Christ Fellowship. Robert was more than a preacher. He was a friend, brother, teacher, prophet, safety net, and protector. He was there when you needed him. Whether it was physical sickness, the death of a spouse, the loss of a parent, the birth of children, trips to college, marriage counseling, or hospital visits Robert was quick to serve. Robert’s ministry was marked by service. He became all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. He was a mechanic, builder, mover, treacher, and most of all friend. He taught us the meaning of love simply by his presence in our lives. Robert was there in the significant moments of Denise & my life: rejoicing with us and weeping with us. He performed our marriage counseling, officiated at our wedding, and rejoiced when our children were born. I still remember turning around to see Robert’s face on the other side of the nursery glass the morning Anna was born. He always found time for a pastor visit. I remember all the bbq napkins he scribbled theological phrases and greek words, the stacks of books he pushed aside whenever I stopped by his office to talk, and the rickety ole’ ‘Hooptie’ truck he drove around town with Caleb at shotgun. All snapshots frozen in time. Each one a trigger that unleashes a flood of comforting and instructive memories into my consciousness.
Our time at Christ Fellowship was not only a time of found memories but a formative time for my pastoral ministry. If I could sum up Robert’s ministry in one word it would be ‘passion’. Robert has an insatiable appetite for the things of the Lord. He loves his Word, he loves his church, and he loves his people. This passion was manifest as his countenance would light up when he spoke of the treasure of the kingdom of God, the fury with which he preaches, and the theological firehose he unleashes when he begins to teach. His prayers resonated as a man who knew God as a friend. They were a cup of cold water in a dry and thirsty land. Christ Fellowship was led by a man of incredible intellect and an intensely tender heart sold out for Christ.
Yet it was not on the mountain-top where I learned the most significant lessons from Robert. It was in the valleys. No picture of Robert’s ministry would be complete without the scars. His ministry was evidence of God’s grace because of the suffering. When people were petty, ruthless, and self-serving he refused to revile but rather turned the other cheek. Robert chose to trust his soul to a Sovereign God who leads his people in triumphant procession. One of the final sermons Robert preached at Christ Fellowship was from Habbakuk 3:17-19, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places.” Robert knew the bitterness of a fruitless tree and empty vine yet he found joy in the God of his salvation. He passionately clung to the rock of his salvation. Christ Fellowship will forever be a haven of sweet rest and a lighthouse for my soul because Robert pointed me toward Jesus, the rock of my salvation. As Robert often says, “Those [days at Christ Fellowship] were good and glorious days basking in the glory of God.”
The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, led Robert to Louisville, KY to study at Southern Seminary. Though our homes were hundreds of miles apart our hearts were knitted together. Speaking with Robert was like picking up where yesterday’s conversation left off. We watched his children marry, welcomed the arrival of his grandchildren, and said goodbye to his parents & inlaws. I was always jealous of the young men of Southern who were graced with his wisdom and soaked up his pastoral insight. Robert did not have the credentials of academic institutions or education from the Ivy leagues, yet his pastoral wisdom, theological insight, and compassionate heart dwarf most who do. I will never understood why he never again ‘received a call’ to pastoral ministry after Christ Fellowship. However, the past six months has revealed an army of men and women impacted by his passion and whose hearts have been ignited for God’s glory. Furthermore, I have seen Robert’s fingerprints in how I handle scripture, communicate God’s truths, and think through challenges of this life. The impact of his ministry has been invaluable on my ministry and the ministries of many other pastors from Jacksonville to Louisville. It is this impact that makes me struggle with his diagnosis yet at the same time find comfort. As in all things of his life, He is not wasting his suffering. He is redeeming his brain tumor for God’s glory. In our last visit he looked me in the eye and said, “Chris, this tumor may very well be the thing that takes me out. I promise you that it won’t go down without a fight.” This brain tumor is apart of God’s sovereign plan and will be used for His glory. Robert is saddling up his horse and riding into this apparent frowning Providence always trusting the God who holds the universe in His hand. The fight is not over.
The lasting snapshot that is frozen into my memory was on a rainy August afternoon as he sat in my home. His strong hands weakened by the stroke that would have rendered lesser men helpless. A newsboy hat covered the bald head where he once proudly wore a thick plume of white hair. He called me to his side, looked deep into my soul, and with tears in his eyes he said, “I want you to tell [the people of Ocean Park] that the Word of God sustains you. Tell them that Psalm 119:50 is true! [‘This is my comfort in my affliction, That your word has revived me.’] I want you to tell them because I know it’s true.” There was no hesitation. No doubt. No bitterness. His words were infused with the confidence that only first hand experience can provide. He assured me that our suffering is not meaningless but in the midst of suffering there is something cosmic going on. Something eternal. Something glorious. “Suffering teaches us to lean into the Lion of Judah. To trust our Heavenly Father when he says, ‘I will not fail you’. One thing that I want you to know Chris, is that is that I believed and trusted Christ. He has never failed me.” It was in Robert that I witnessed firsthand this to be true. God is faithful though he moves in mysterious ways. That conversation between Robert and I will forever be etched into the fabric of my memory. I have played it over and over again. It is apart of me.
Robert Konemann is a man with the strength and presence of a lion, yet the compassion and tenderness of a lamb. I will forever be indebted to Robert’s life and ministry as I journey along this pilgrimage of life. His words, laughter, passion, and wounds will forever be guiding lights in my life and ministry. However, outweighing all of what Robert has done for me is the clearer picture of God he has given me. Not a shallow God of health, wealth, and prosperity. Not a cold and distant God who cares little for his creation. Rather, a strong and tender God who is intimately involved in the life of His people. A God who shepherds, provides, and comforts His people. A God who is working all things for good despite the fact that not all things are not good. A God who we can trust. A God who is not a novice. He knows what He is doing.
Thank you my friend for not wasting your tumor. You are my hero.
Soli Deo Gloria
Families Worshipping Together
Soli Deo Gloria
People Do What People Want to Do
“Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:7-8
Soli Deo Gloria
The Ultimate Passover Lamb
First, we need to understand the meaning of Passover. God made a covenant to Abraham in Genesis 12 that promised that all the nations of the world would be blessed through one of his descendants. Miraculously, the man who was nearly a centenarian had a son and was blessed with innumerable descendants. However, subsequent generations found themselves held in the bondage of slavery to their Egyptian masters. Yet, God remembered his promise to Abraham and commanded Moses to instruct Pharaoh to allow the people freedom to worship. However, despite nine epic plagues, Pharaoh's hard heart refused to obey the command of the Lord. The final plague was the angel of death passing throughout Egypt, killing the firstborn of every family as judgement for refusing to obey the command of Yahweh. However, God in his grace provided a way for the Hebrew people to avoid the judgement of death upon their families. A lamb would be slain and its blood spread on the doorposts and lintels. When the angel came to the house he saw the blood of the lamb and death ‘passed over’ the inhabitants of the home. The feast of Passover became a permanent reminder of the work that God wrought on behalf of Israel.
Second, as Christians, we must remember the Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies serve as picture or a shadow of the things to come (Hebrews 10:1). Ultimately, on the first Passover God provided a lamb to die in the place of His people, as He did previously for Abraham (Gen 22) and on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). In the passover we see the significance of God providing a means to preserve the life of His people while bringing wrath upon those who refused to follow His commands. Consequently, Jesus takes the Passover meal and infuses it with a new significance as the symbol of the New Covenant (Jer 31; Luke 22:20). The bread symbolizes His body and the wine (or juice for us Baptists) His blood. Jesus takes the shadow that was the Passover celebration and reveals the substance to which it points to: Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’ who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:36). So in essence we are continuing the festival of Passover in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Just as the sacrifices of the Old Testament were a shadows of the ‘once-for-all’ sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10:12). Jesus tells us that the Passover is not simply a meal to remember the deliverance of the Hebrews from bondage of Egypt but now has transformed it into a communion meal to remember His body & blood that were slain to deliver His people (Jew & Gentile) from the bondage of sin. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are celebrating Jesus as the lamb that was slain at Calvary so that the wrath of God would ‘passover’ all who were ‘in Christ’ (Rev 5:12).
Finally, Jesus did not abolish the sacrifices and festivals but fulfilled the purpose of them so that they were no longer necessary (Matt 5:17). They were pointing to the one who would come. Now that Christ has arrived; their purpose has been fulfilled and their practice is no longer necessary. It is as if a bride came to her wedding and refused to go to the ceremony because she was too busy reading her groom’s love letters. She no longer needs the love letters because her groom is present. The bride joyfully lays the letters aside in order to be in the presence of her beloved. The letters were valued because they were reflections of the love of her distant groom but now that he has arrived they pale in comparison to his presence. In the same way, the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament have accomplished their purpose of pointing people toward Christ. As Christians, we follow the instruction of Jesus Christ to remember the sacrifice of the ultimate Passover lamb that was slain so that we would not taste death but be delivered unto everlasting life. One day we will arrive in the rest of the Promised Land of Christ’s eternal kingdom (Hebrews 4:11-16). As Christians, we can appreciate the richness of the historical & theological significance of the Passover but we must never forget to what it is pointing; the death of Christ for the sins of the world (1 Timothy 1:15). He is the ultimate passover lamb that we celebrate.
Soli Deo Gloria
The Value of Christ
Last Sunday afternoon the image of 21 Egyptian Christians on a rocky beach in Lybia came across my twitter feed. The caption at the bottom of the picture read, “The people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” Subsequent photos communicated that these maniacal killers had beheaded the 21 men as their blood was washed away into the tide of the Mediterranean Sea. As these 21 men lived the last few moments of their lives they prayed, sang, and cried out, “Oh Jesus” before their heads were savagely torn from their shoulders. I have look at this picture all week. Some bowed their heads in quiet prayer, others stared into the distance with solemn acceptance of their fate, others recoiled at the cold touch of their hardened killers. I cursed the cowards who could perpetuate such evil to these men for simply being, “People of the Cross”. As this image sunk deep into my soul, the Holy Spirit laid Hebrews 11:38 on my heart, “They were…of whom the world was not worthy…” The death of these 21 men is incredibly significant. They were killed because of their desire to follow Christ and demonstrated it in the fact that they laid down their life to attain it. As they looked their murders in the eyes they did not plead for their freedom but called out to Christ because He was their only hope in life AND death.
The deaths of these men should serve as a sobering reminder of the value of following Christ. However, in a world 5,000 miles removed from ISIS, the pursuit of Christ looks very different in our cultural context. Rather than choosing between the desire to live and the desire to be faithful to Christ we are torn between the subtly attractions that our culture dangles in front of us; sports, news, leisure, money, entertainment, and health (to name a few). There is very real danger that the good things, which were meant to be reflections of God’s glory, become ultimate things replacing God’s glory. Without even realizing it we unconsciously renounce Christ by constantly choosing to follow the desires of the world rather than pursuing Christ. However, the death of these 21 men was a sobering wake-up call to reassess our priorities. When someone forces us to choose between the pleasures of this world and the pleasure of following Christ how will we respond? Will we cling to Christ or sheepishly tuck our tails and run? We don’t endure persecution, both large and small, for things that are meaningless. If something is of value than it is worth the struggle to attain. For example; Anna is willing to endure the pain of squats, sprints, and sore legs in exchange for the joy of playing volleyball. Andrew will endure the heat of August practices, the coach’s wrath, and physical fatigue because he loves the joy strapping on the pads and hitting someone. To both their desire to play overrides their desire for comfort. Their sport is shown to be more valuable than the desire for leisure or the desire for comfort because they chose to pursue it. In the same manner, we demonstrate the value of Christ when we choose to pursue Him rather than the desires of this world. May we, like the 21 Egyptians, have the courage to pursue Christ above all! Each day we are forced to choose between the desire of Christ and the desires of this world. I pray that we would answer as Peter did in John 6, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” rather than how he responded in Luke 22, “Woman, I do not know him.” I want to promise you this morning that Jesus is more valuable than anything that this world can offer; the vain things, the good things; even life itself.
A fisherman once told me that laziness when the sea is calm makes things deadly when the ocean sea is rough. I want to show you now when the waters of life are calm to be diligent to pursue Christ so that, when the thunderclouds of persecution pour down and sorrows like sea billows roll, your feet will stand firm on the rock of Jesus Christ. There is nothing like the strength that Christ provides, nor is there anything that can provide such satisfaction to our souls. This all comes because Jesus has brought us peace with God (Romans 5:1). We are no longer vessels of wrath following the passions of the world. We are chosen, called, converted, and united with Christ to the Father. The completed work of Christ is the means to peace with God. We cannot improve upon, add to, or change what Christ has accomplished. Hebrews 12:2 tells of the greatness of this work, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus has finished the race, He has paid the price, He has won the victory, and now sits in the place of utmost honor. It is in this place of honor and authority that He calls us to follow him, to keep running, to keep holding on, and not to give up. When we pursue Christ we receive eternal satisfaction that even the most decadent pleasures of this world can never provide. Christ infuses every work, action, pursuit, and pleasure with God-glorifying significance that can be found nowhere else. Most of us will never have to choose between keeping your life and following Christ. However, you will be asked to choose between the desires of this life and the desire for Christ. As we run through the difficulties, struggles, and pains of this life, where do you look for strength? Who is it that you turn for salvation? Where is your strength and hope? Will you find significance in your career or Christ? Family or Christ? Leisure or Christ? Functional saviors like drugs, sex, alcohol, people or in Christ alone? or the good things in life like family, relationships, and community? Jesus Christ is more valuable than any of these because it brings us into fellowship and peace with God. Ocean Park, may we choose Christ above everything else. May we, like the 21 Egyptian Christians, be faithful to Jesus until the very end. May the dangers of this world cause us to put our faith in the hope of the Gospel and look to the value of peace with God that only Christ can bring.
Soli Deo Gloria