Ephesians 3 Devotional: Unimaginable

If we could be really honest with ourselves, a God who is not concerned with our plans or feelings is not that attractive. For the most part, we feel confident in our own ability to figure out what is really good for us. We don’t need a God who is going to disrupt the good thing we have going or the plans we have made of ourselves. We literally cannot imagine a better scenario than the dreams and plans we already have. For anyone who has come to know Christ and found ourselves saved by His grace, we have know that God is happy to unravel our future plans and dreams that we may cling to Him. Not only does God often redirect our plans for the future, but He will also use trials and affliction to make us more like Christ, much to our dismay. I have yet to meet the Christian who would like trials and affliction to come their way. Trials and affliction are an acquired taste, as it were, for the Christian. But Paul’s exhortation at the end of Ephesians chapter 3 is extraordinarily helpful for those still baffled by the work of sanctification accomplished through trials and affliction.

He is ABLE

Most of us have been raised with a self-focused understanding of experience. We have been trained to react to fear, pain, struggle, and/or the unexpected in negative ways, namely by avoidance. When I was growing up, I learned quickly (or not so quickly depending on the situation) what behaviors were allowed in our home and what behaviors were not allowed. Wrong behavior was punished and right behavior was either seen as the norm or rewarded. Most people I know can share that type of experience in their home. But even those who had less discipline in their homes learned very early on to avoid situations that would bring negative consequences. All of us learned how to get what we wanted from people or situations. This very often translated into how we wanted to relate with the God of the universe. It did not enter into our wildest dreams that God would ever want to use difficult circumstances in our lives to make us more like Christ. Most of us assumed that becoming Christians would actually make our lives easier because we now had an all-powerful being to help us be happy or good or whatever the goal would be. We may not have verbalized it this way but most of us assumed something along these lines: Christ has taken pain and suffering for me, so that all I get now is comfort and peace. The Bible, along with many other experiences, teaches us that God has a much bigger plan for us than mere happiness or comfort.

One of the most miraculous works that God does in the lives of His children is use difficult experiences for His glory and our good. I know no one likes to hear “Everything happens for a reason” when they’re in the middle of a trial, crisis, or affliction, but there is no denying the truth. There is nothing that touches the life of a believer that is not given by God for a purpose. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” There is no tragedy, no suffering, no affliction, no trial that God does not use to prepare glory for His children. We may not see it or understand it in the moment, but we can trust that He is able to do it.

Beyond Imagination

It goes far beyond our human understanding to think that difficult things, even harmful things, could ever be used for our good. And yet, that is what God has done and will continue to do. To adjust our thinking on this, we need look no further than the Cross. The Cross on which the perfect, spotless Jesus died to redeem His rebellious, wicked enemies. Christ endured what would appear to be the gravest injustice at the hands of the Father — if it had not been for the purpose behind it all. Christ’s suffering and sacrifice purchased sinners – reconciling them back to the Father. Those who were once far off are now able to draw near – those who were in darkness are now walking in light – those who were once dead are now alive. All because Christ endured unimaginable suffering because “it was the will of the Lord to crush Him.” (Isaiah 53:10) We must always hold dearly the suffering of Christ because in it we have joy for eternity. Similarly, in our own sufferings, which do not even begin to compare with Christ’s, we can find joy knowing that they are preparing us heaven. This, simply put, is far beyond what we could ever imagine for our lives.

Growing in Christ is a constant transition from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness – from the avoidance of all suffering and discomfort to the enduring of suffering with joy. Christ has set such an example for us. May the Lord continue to sanctify us in such a way that we see the sufferings of this life as preparation for glory and not the neglect of the Father. He is able to use even the darkest of days to show us the unimaginable brightness of His majesty.

Ephesians 2 Devotional: Cornerstone

There are many cliché’s out there that go contrary to a lot of our human nature: “No man is an island,” “It takes a village…,” “Happy together,” etc. These clichés speak to our tendency to believe that what we could do on our own would be better with others. American culture often values the individual over the whole so long as the individual somehow manages to elevate the whole through it’s individualism. It’s a confusing prospect to chase your dreams and goals before all others while trying to improve the situations of others who may or may not have the same dreams or goals. The heart of this struggle in the human condition boils down to how we answer one simple question: Who is most important? Our human nature screams at us that we are or rather I am. I am the most important person to my own success and happiness, and that anyone who would be invited into my life must not impede or negatively affect that happiness. Ephesians 2 is going to give us a better way to live.

Christ as Cornerstone

There is no Christian faith without the life, death, and resurrection of the person Jesus Christ. He is the God-Man who has made a way for us to be reconciled to the God with whom we have been an enemy. Our entire belief system revolves around Christ. There is no good without Him. This is the most counter-intuitive and unnatural element of our faith. We are used to our entire existence being about us first and foremost. Our days are filled with ways we can make ourselves more comfortable or meet our own needs. But Christ changes all of that. Christ moves us from self-centeredness to selflessness. We are no longer primarily concerned with ourselves and our preferences. Instead, we look to the interests of others and put other people before ourselves just like Christ did. His example becomes the model for our lives and the most important piece around which God is building the glory of heaven. There is no more important relationship than the one we have with Christ and we are willing to lose everything else so that we might be with Him.

Diversity as Essential

Another tendency that we have is to gravitate towards those who are most like us. Same language, social class, or ethnicity drive people together like few things will. We feel very comfortable in our likeness and often feel very uncomfortable or fearful in diversity. We have trouble understanding people who act, speak, think, or live differently than us. Christ, however, much like He calls us out of selfishness calls us into diversity. Jesus has not simply saved a certain type of person as He has saved a diverse people. A people gathered from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Paul paints the picture of the community of God as if it were a building. As we have mentioned, Christ is the cornerstone, but the structure is made up of God’s people. The building is necessarily diverse with no singular group receiving preference or advantage. If you were to attempt to take a portion of the people out because of some unrighteous prejudice, the structure would not be sound. The unifying element within this diversity is Christ. There is no part of God’s temple that does not value the cornerstone as the most valuable piece of the structure, but there is no denying the value that Christ has placed on the diversity of His people.

Beauty as Result

This vision of what we have been brought into through the work of Christ is most beautiful to those who value Christ above all things. Where we refuse to see Christ as majestic and glorious in His grace, we will naturally diminish the beauty of God’s temple in our own hearts. We often get caught wanting to have the advantages of knowing Christ without having to make Him centrally valuable. Or we want to devalue the diverse people Christ has gathered because they are somehow not like us. The beauty of God’s temple as Paul describes it in Ephesians 2 is that Christ builds it, secures it, and glorifies it. We are not the point at all. He is. Where Christ is most highly esteemed in His beauty, the Church in its diversity will be cherished and loved. May the Lord so work in us, that as we grow to love Christ more deeply, we will grow in loving one another more effectively.

Reflections on Holy Week 3

Reflections on Holy Week 3

We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  – Romans 6:4-5

I must confess – Saturday has to be one of the most neglected days in what we consider holy week. Not to say that people haven’t speculated on what Jesus did for the days He was in the tomb. I’ve often contemplated that question as if Jesus needed to somehow fill His time with something spiritual while in the tomb. Something that has struck me in the past few years is what His disciples must have been going through and how the three days of waiting for Christ’s resurrection must have benefited them, even if they didn’t know it at the time. Here are three things that died along with Christ that should also die in us as we reflect this weekend:

An Earthly Kingdom

One of the biggest misunderstandings about the coming Jewish Messiah was the idea that He would come and destroy the Romans and return Israel to a world power. This power would elevate the lowly state of Israel from being oppressed to being oppressor, from powerless to powerful, from impoverished to prominent. The masses longed for an earthly king and an earthly kingdom that they might live in comfort and security. It is unclear how deeply rooted this idea was in the hearts of Jesus’s disciples, but it is clear that any delusions of grandeur that they may have had in following Jesus died with Him as He hung shamefully on the cross. Likewise, we would do well to allow our earthly constructs of Christ to die. Some popular ones of late are the ideas that Jesus is pro-American, pro-Republican, pro-Democrat, pro-gun, pro-prosperity, and any number of other misunderstandings of the King of kings. We must return to an understanding of Christ as He is revealed in His Word.

Our Self-Righteousness

Humans in general have traded the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1). We have rebelled against God’s Word, trusting our own wisdom and abilities over what He has proclaimed. In this, we have attempted to build our own tower to heaven despite the warnings that there is only one way to heaven. And yet, human history, indeed the history of every human being, has proven that we are determined to try and make it to heaven on our own. We have come up with our own plans and at times twisted God’s plan in order to achieve salvation for ourselves. Christ’s death on the cross speaks for all eternity that He is the only way to reconciliation with the Father. The people of Israel had historically attempted to use the law as a means of earning right relationship with God, although the law was never meant to save. Jesus work on behalf of sinners as the perfect sacrifice for our sin kills any self-righteousness we might attempt to present as enough for entrance into glory. As we remember the Cross this weekend, remember that it stands as the final resting place of any form of self-righteousness that we may have achieved in our lives. At the Cross there is no longer a record of wrongs or rights done in hope of earning salvation.

Our Self-Preservation

Much like the misunderstandings of Christ’s Kingdom that we’ve mentioned above, the Cross kills in us any hope of self-preservation. When Christ is our example of how to be obedient to the Father, we are left with no chance for preserving our self-glorifying hopes and dreams of comfort and security. We will constantly be called to service, sacrifice, humility, and self-control. All of these contradict our natural bent towards self-preservation. Our hopes that this life will be comfortable, neat, and profitable for us must be buried with Christ as He shows us a better way. Any thought that the disciples had that Jesus’s words about dying to themselves, being hated by the world, and the like were somehow figurative or abstract were dashed as Christ died upon the Cross. We must allow our hope of self-preservation to be buried with Christ and stay with Him as we are raise to a hope beyond this life.

There were many things that died with Christ on the Cross. The misconceptions of who He was and what He was about were buried with Him. His disciples faced nagging questions about who He really was and how they would proceed. They were forced to wrestle with questions of whether His words about resurrection were true – whether the life to come was really worth throwing away comforts and self-righteousness here. We must wrestle with the same. One this Saturday of holy week, may we wrestle with our own preconceived notions of Christ and what He has purchased for us in His life, death, and resurrection. Lord, may allow our misunderstandings of Christ to die with Him and awaken us to the glory of who He truly is. Amen.

Reflections on Holy Week 2

Reflections on Holy Week 2

It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of robbers.   Luke 19:46

One of the most memorable moments of holy week has to be when Jesus enters the temple and starts turning tables and driving out money-changers. Many people celebrate this as an overthrow of religious abuse. Many rejoice that Jesus gives what’s coming to the crooked, greedy religious authorities who have abused God’s house for monetary gain. All this is right and good, but neglects an important aspect of Christ’s rebuke. Christ’s primary concern is not for the physical temple and the ceremonies that surrounded it. Christ’s primary concern is the heart of the people, and specifically the failure at their mission. Christ was fully aware that His life, death, and resurrection would dramatically change the worship of His people. He also knew and had announced the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-2). Jesus primary concern in overturning the tables was the view of God projected by the people who claimed His name.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 56 as He forcibly removes the money-changers and their tables. Most people don’t know the context of Jesus’s quote and therefore misunderstand the heart of Jesus’s gesture. Here are three points that helps us understand Jesus’s disgust with those in the temple that day:

A Heart for God’s Glory

The money-changers and the current religious system was first and foremost an affront to God’s glory. They were using the things of God for personal gain with no regard for how it made God look to true worshippers or those outside of the covenant people. This is what is referred to as blasphemy in the Old Testament. Jesus in quoting Isaiah and physically dealing with the blasphemers shows us how seriously Christ took the glory of God.

A Heart for the Nations

The nation of Israel, as the covenant people of God under the Law, were supposed to missionally engage the nations first and foremost by being obedient to God’s Law. The obedience and justice that was to be represented in the nation of Israel was intended to reach other nations who would then be drawn to the God of Israel by His work through His people as they obeyed His Law. Israel’s history is littered with failures in following His Law leading to God’s judgment. Whenever God’s people blasphemed His name to the nations, God often responded with wrath that caused the nations to fear Him despite the failure of His people. Jesus in dealing with the money-changers not only addresses blasphemous disobedience of His people but also reveals the Father’s heart in wanting to draw the nations into worship through His people.

A Heart for His People

Christ, in His unique way, also condemns the leaders of Israel for their allowance of such blasphemous practices. This condemnation reveals God’s heart for those who would truly desire to worship Him. There are many times in the Scriptures that we see men abusing leadership among God’s people. Men who would lead people away from true and right worship of God into something that was more profitable for them personally. God is seen throughout the Scriptures to have great care and compassion for those who are preyed upon by societal leaders. Christ shows great concern for those afflicted by the leaders who would not only allow but encourage such practices in God’s house.

Christ’s life is an example that we are to follow. Just like in our previous reflection, we must look to Christ and be ready to stand where He stands. Many of us are so caught up in the distractions of our world that we do not often notice when God’s glory is blasphemed, when the nations are neglected by our disobedience, or when people are disregarded for the sake of convenience or tradition. May this story constantly remind us of our call to obedience, compassion, and especially concern for the glory of God for the sake of His people and the nations.

Reflections on Holy Week 1

Reflections on Holy Week 1

He set His face to go to Jerusalem… Luke 9:51

One of the most difficult realities of the Cross is Jesus’ journey to it. He knew what was waiting for Him in Jerusalem. He had been preparing His disciples for the trial ahead. He was undeterred by their misunderstanding and rebuke. They could not conceive of Him being arrested much less killed. Christ was resolute. His path was set. He would go to the Cross. Where things get difficult for us is when we are called to our cross as well. Many people in the church today have no problem with Christ taking His Cross for us, but we have major problems when we are called to our own. Jesus says in Luke 9:23, just before Luke recounts Christ’s resolve to go to Jerusalem, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”(emphasis added) Many people in the church today love Christ until it is time to bear their cross.

Unfortunately, many of us misunderstood what following Jesus was going to be. Some of us were told that life would be better with Jesus. Some of us were told that Jesus would heal all of our wounds. Some of us came to Christ looking for His forgiveness and unconditional love. Some of us came because we needed something and weren’t finding it on our own. The message we heard was rarely, “All who are ready, come down the aisle and receive your cross.” I don’t think many churches would baptize as many people as they do with that message. Many of us came to Christ under the illusion that the road before us would be easy and prosperous not difficult and dangerous. But Christ, in setting His face to Jerusalem, has paved a different path for us.

Our journey in following Christ is not meant to be easy here. The promise for the Christian is not wealth, health, and prosperity. It’s not that everyone will like us and we will live out our days in relative peace and harmony with this world. In fact, Christ tells us that we will have trouble in this world. This trouble will not simply be that every now and then we won’t be able to purchase the new car we’ve always wanted. The trouble Jesus talks about isn’t that we won’t be able to retire at 55 or that our work won’t get a promotion. When Jesus says we will have trouble, He means we will be opposed, unwanted, hated even because of Him. If we truly follow Him, this world and those who love it will hate us because of Christ. They hated Him, why would we expect them to love us?

As we prepare to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Christ this year, let us take time to examine our lives. Have we bought in to the lie that we can follow Jesus without having to bear our cross? Have we imagined that day to day inconveniences in life must be the cross that Jesus was referring to? Have we traded the mission of a holy God for our own comfort and security? As we reflect on the work of Christ on the Cross, may we remember that He has called us to follow Him. Our lives should reflect His. Our lives should show the immeasurable worth of Heaven over every other thing. The road will be difficult at times, but take heart, our Savior has gone before us.

Ephesians 1 Devotional: Wanted

Christians often and rightly look forward to the reward we have in Christ. We love to think and dream about heaven. We sing songs about it, read books on it, and long for the day we get to be with Christ in glory. I’ve heard some Christians contrast these thoughts of heaven with a kind of heaviness of their lives here and now. They often bemoan their current condition and will even question God’s desire for them in their present state. Many Christians that I’ve known, including myself, struggle to understand how God views us as His children. We often view God as simply tolerating us until we get to heaven. In other words, we often think that God will finally make us likeable in heaven because He won’t have to deal with our mistakes. In the meantime, we continue to be an inconvenient disappointment to Him. Beloved Child, God is not simply tolerating you, and you are not a disappointment to Him.

He Chose Us

Paul’s words in verse 4 should be a healing balm to our tortured hearts. We so often want to pit our behavior against God’s feelings for us. We feel proud and pleased when we are “doing well,” so naturally we believe that God feels the same way towards us. When we are not doing well, we often believe that God is upset with us and will most likely punish us at some point or stop talking to us because we’ve done something wrong. What we forget in both our moments of pride and our moments of regret is that God has not loved us because of anything we have done. We didn’t figure out how to get love from Him by our behavior or our choices. He chose us. When we were dead in our trespasses, He chose us. When we were lost in our sin, He chose us. When we were at war and in open rebellion against Him, He chose us. And if He chose us despite our behavior, we will not lose His love because of our behavior.

Inheritance in the Saints

Many people know or are at least willing to articulate God’s love for them. They are often quite confident in His love. But as we’ve already uncovered, we too often base God’s love on our own behavior or goodness. God loves us as we are for no other reason than He wants to. God loves to love His children. He does not give His love to His children begrudgingly and He does not withhold it at any time. God’s love for those who believe is ever-present in its fullness. It does not wax or wane. He delights in us (Zephaniah 3:17). And He will delight in us for eternity. Paul says that God thinks of us as “riches” and a “glorious inheritance.” This is how God thinks of His children. This should humble us, ignite praise within us, and lead us to self-denying service of Him.

In Christ

All this love – all this grace – all this overlooking of our sin and rebellion is only possible through the work of Christ. Eleven times in chapter 1, Paul writes that what we receive in the grace of God is received in or through Christ. We do not obtain or earn any of it. Christ has done the work that we could not and would not do on our own. Because of Christ’s wrath-absorbing sacrifice, we are able to walk in the love and delight of a holy God. We cannot boast in being chosen or in our position as chosen because we have not accomplished it. Christ has. When we are in Him – submitting ourselves to His commands out of love for Him – we have hope in this life and will receive the reward of heaven. God has caused us to be saved through the work of Christ and chosen us to receive love and grace.

Live in this truth. There is no greater calling than to walk every day in this Gospel. We will be tempted to stray. Our feelings will doubt His love. Our circumstances will distract us from it. May we trust His Word to us and cease our striving to earn His love. The cross of Christ stands as the reminder that we are wanted.

Our Story

Our Story

John and Amy’s church-planting journey started while they were living in Suwon, South Korea back in 2009. The Lord began moving in their hearts and gave them a deep love for the Word and for the local church. The next few years would form in them a vision for the local church as the Lord sanctified them for the work of planting. In the Spring of 2012, the Lord pressed upon Jon’s hear the call to pastor a church in Cleburne, TX – a church built upon the Gospel, focused on biblical community, and purposeful local and foreign missions.

John and Amy have committed themselves to following the Lord wherever He leads. The Lord has opened doors for them to minister in Thailand, China, South Korea, Tanzania, and Mexico. John and Amy long to see Christ exalted among the nations and in local churches. As a part of this calling that the Lord has placed upon their lives, John and Amy hope to see the City of Cleburne thrive as they establish the Hill Church. It is their firm belief that where the local church is effective in ministry, the city that church is in will flourish as the Gospel takes root. John and Amy desire to see Cleburne built up in all aspects of society that it may be a blessing to the surrounding areas as the Lord leads and guides.