March 26, 2015

Killing Lazarus

I don’t remember ever hearing a message about “the plot to kill Lazarus.”

What happened earlier is more familiar. The death and resurrection of Jesus’ close friend Lazarus is recorded in John 11:1-44. Jesus heard that Lazarus was dying but waited an extra two days before he headed off to see him. But the time Jesus arrived Lazarus had been dead four days and was already starting to decompose. As the KJV puts it, “by this time he stinketh.” The extra time had allowed many people to arrive to mourn Lazarus’ death. Then Jesus commanded the stone in front of the cave to be rolled away. Jesus prayed out loud to the Father and said that this was so “that they may believe that you [God the Father] sent me.” Then Jesus commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead and come out. And he did. 

The raising of Lazarus is a familiar story but I had never paid much attention to the “plot to kill Lazarus” tucked away in the next chapter:

“When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” –John 12:9-11

It takes a lot of nerve to plot to kill a guy just after he was brought back from the dead! What was the reason that people wanted to kill Lazarus? Was it because they had something against Lazarus personally? No. People wanted to kill Lazarus because his physical resurrection was undeniable evidence that Jesus was who He claimed to be. That miracle was very public and obvious. Many people knew Lazarus had been dead. Now they could see he was alive. People were coming to faith in Jesus because they saw the signs of life in Lazarus. The enemies of the light wanted to put an end to that.

If that is the case with Lazarus, what should we expect?

There is such as things as physical resurrection, but there is also spiritual resurrection. Physical resurrection is when someone is physically dead but is brought back to physical life. On the other hand, spiritual resurrection is when someone is spiritually dead and is brought back to life spiritually. This happens at the moment of salvation. Ephesians 2:1 says that we “were dead in the trespasses and sins” in which we once walked. Ever since Adam's rebellion, each of us come into this world spiritually dead—separated from the life of God because of sin. Even Christians were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3) Thankfully, God did something about this. The next verse says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” This is spiritual resurrection. Salvation is being made alive again.

When God raised Lazarus there were obvious signs of life. He wasn't just laying there anymore. People could tell that he was no longer dead. In the same way, people should also be able to see signs of life when someone receives spiritual resurrection. It doesn’t outwardly look the same for everyone, but at salvation God starts the process of changing us from the inside out. We receive a new heart. New affections start growing—new loves. Sins we used to love become bitter. The things of God that we used to find dull turn from black and white to color. Some people are able to say goodbye to deep sinful habits. Others start to struggle against them—when there wasn’t even a struggle before. People find themselves wanting to read God’s Word, go to church, and pray and worship…not because they have to, but now because they want to. These changes are noticeable.   

Our lives should be a testimony to what God has done. It takes a miracle to physically raise someone from the dead and it also takes a straight-out miracle to raise someone to life spiritually. That new life did not come from the corpse. Corpses don’t do anything. God did it and God gets all the glory. Whether the changes seem big or small, fast or gradual, people see them. Some people will be happy with what they see. Others won’t.

Are you living a life that God’s enemies would be worried about? Or not? Does your life give evidence to the world that Jesus Christ saves and changes lives . . . or does your life, so far, give little or no evidence of Christ’s work?

They wanted to kill Lazarus. If we are living changed lives we should expect that some people won't like it. Darkness hates the light. Sin hates a contrast. Sinners like other people to sin with them because it helps down out feelings of guilt. Those who hate Jesus won't like it. Satan certainly isn’t going to like it. He doesn't want more people to put their trust in Christ. Satan doesn’t want people to look at your life and see undeniable evidence of Jesus’ power to give new life. The enemies of the light want to cover that up. Expect that. Prepare for that. But don’t let it happen.

February 6, 2015

Don't Be a Baby: Marks of Spiritual Maturing

Jesus taught that we must be born again. We start our Christian lives as spiritual babies but we shouldn’t stay there. But unlike physical growth, spiritual growth does not happen automatically. Too many Christians grow up to be “adult babies.” Paul complained about this with the Christians at Corinth. He wrote, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Cor. 3:1-2; see also Hebrews 5:11-14).

It may not be possible to pinpoint your spiritual age, but I think that there are markers that we can look for. Just as we see certain things happen in the physical growth of a baby, we can also look for certain markers as a baby Christian grows toward maturity. Here are a few:

      Learn to feed yourself.

Babies need milk to grow, but eventually they need to move on to solid food. A Hebrews 5:14 states, “solid food is for the mature.” But another mark of spiritual growth is being able to feed yourself rather than being spoon fed.  

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” -1 Peter 2:2

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” –2 Timothy 2:15

      Stop messing yourself.

We expect that babies are going to mess their diapers. In time, however, that should stop. In the same way, new Christians need to stop messing their lives as they did before they knew Christ. None of us reach perfection in this life, but we need to start trying to keep clean.

“For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” -1 Peter 4:3

      Stop crying when you don’t get your way.

How do you react when things don’t go your own way? Do you pinch a fit or do you see yourself growing in peace, patience, gentleness and self-control?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” –Galatians 5:22-23

      Stop hitting.

Paul taught that the fighting among the Corinthians Christians was a mark of their immaturity. If we hit—with our fists, our words, or our actions—we are acting like bratty children.  

“infants in Christ . . . for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” -1 Cor. 3:1,3

      Learn to walk.

The Bible often uses walking as a metaphor for the Christian life. After we become Christians, we need to start living the way that Christians ought to live.

“…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” –Colossians 1:10

      Lean to speak.

We need to learn to open our mouths to talk about Jesus Christ and our relationship to him. We need to learn to use our words for good. We need to learn to verbalize our faith and have the confidence to speak and pray in front of others.  

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” –Ephesians 4:29

      Learn right from wrong.

Children need to be taught what is right and what is wrong. Christians need to learn what God says is right and wrong. If we don’t do this, we will listen to the world and keep believing that evil is good and good is evil.

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” –Hebrews 5:14

      Learn to get dressed.

There are two parts to this: Getting undressed and getting dressed. Christians are called to “take off” the practices of the old self and to “put on” the practices of the new self.

“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator . . . Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” –Colossians 3:9-10,12

      Take responsibility for yourself.

As kids get older they need to learn responsibility so that one day they can live without Mom packing their lunch every day and reminding them to do their homework. As Christians grow, they need to take responsibility for their own Christian lives. If someone still has to “make” you go to church and read the Bible and to serve, it isn’t looking good for your spiritual maturity!

 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” –Ephesians 5:8-10

      Take responsibility for others.

Not every person is mature enough to babysit or to be a good parent. A sign of even more maturity is that a person not only takes care of his or her own self, but now also takes care of other people. God wants us to move beyond our own needs so that we can help other people to grow toward spiritual maturity.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”   
–Philippians 2:3-5

      Be able to reproduce!

Part of physical maturity is being able to reproduce. The same is true spiritually. A mature Christian should be able and willing to explain the message of salvation to another person. God wants to use you to help make new baby Christians!

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . .” –Matthew 28:19

      Learn to make wise decisions.

Eventually kids leave the house. They need to be able to make good decisions on their own. (Although sometimes wisdom means knowing when to ask for advice!) Growing in wisdom means being able apply the right Biblical principles to your situation in life. It means planning long-term for the best goals. It means seeing the difference—not only between right and wrong, but between good, better, and best.  

 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” –Ephesians 5:15-17

This is a very incomplete list, but these are some of the marks that show that a person is growing toward Christian maturity. 

February 5, 2015

Isaiah 40 and Our Incomparable God

I recently finished a series of teachings from the book of Isaiah. In the last four messages I preached through Isaiah 40, focusing on the incomparable greatness of God. (The third one, "Incomparable Craftsmanship" is probably the best of the bunch.)

Isaiah 40:1-8. Because God knows the future with certainty, His Word will stands firm and we can take comfort in it.

Isaiah 40:9-17. Behold our God who can hold the oceans in the hollow of His hand.

Isaiah 40:19-26. Behold the incomparable God who created the stars.

Isaiah 40:27-31. Incomparable endurance comes from the incomparable God.

February 4, 2015

Pulling Down Idols

An idol is anything in our lives that has more of our ultimate loyalty than God. Idols need to be recognized, repositioned and replaced. 

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
    and compare me, that we may be alike?
Those who lavish gold from the purse,
    and weigh out silver in the scales,
hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
    then they fall down and worship!

They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,
    they set it in its place, and it stands there;
    it cannot move from its place.
If one cries to it, it does not answer
    or save him from his trouble."

-Isaiah 46:5-7

If you would like to see the first of the two messages on idolatry, click here. (I apologize that the video quality is a bit jumpy. We have improved our equipment since this recording.)

January 19, 2015

If Matt Stafford was a Cartoon Character...

Just something I noticed.

You can't tell me it isn't true.

December 31, 2014


I haven't blogged much in 2014 but I have an excuse.

2014 was a crazy year. It was a year I could not have predicted. When 2014 started I was between ministries and in the middle of writing my PhD dissertation on the Providence of God. We were living off of savings and I had no idea what to expect except that God had a plan and that it would probably be something I could never have guessed in advance. I was right about that.

In January I stated teaching Christian Belief and History for Cornerstone University as an adjunct. In February, we learned that the church we were attending was suddenly losing their Senior Pastor along with much of their staff due to a conflict that we had no idea about. It was a very difficult time for this church, but the handwriting was on the wall that we were there for a purpose. By April I was teaching as a volunteer for their student ministry while continuing to teach for Cornerstone. In May, the congregation voted to bring me on as the Interim Associate Pastor, starting after I would teach Systematic Theology II for Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in June.

One thing led to another and by fall I was officially installed as the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Middleville--a faithful and loving church that is a better doctrinal match for us, and two and a half miles closer to our home that our previous church. And by "coincidence" before my first regular sermon in November, I also finished and submitted all 301 pages of my doctoral dissertation on the Providence of God. (I will defend it in January.)

That's why I haven't been blogging much this year. I've been busy writing about God's Providence and living it out.

God is faithful.

June 5, 2014

The Most Beautiful Painting in the World

Imagine that you were the owner of the most beautiful painting in the world. Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful work of art ever to be created. It brings joy and delight to everyone who looks at it. When people behold this magnificent work of art, their lives are forever changed because of the breathtaking beauty of this work.

Now, if you were the owner of this painting, what would be the more loving thing to do? Would it be more loving to take that painting and lock it in a big vault in your attic where it will be kept safe and where no one but you could every look at it? Or, would it be more loving to put the painting on display for everyone who is willing to come and delight in its beauty, and then to go out encouraging others to come and to behold the life-changing beauty of the painting?  

Now consider this: It’s not merely as if God has the most beautiful painting in the world; God is the most beautiful being in the world! Therefore, the most loving thing for God to do would be to put His magnificence on display for everyone to see. The most loving thing for Him to do would be to exalt Himself and insist that people come and find their delight in Him. God is the source of infinite and eternal joy.

God is glorified when people's hearts delight in Him. For God to be glorified is appropriate and God-honoring, because God deserves it. It is also the most loving thing for God to offer people.

"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord..." 
-Psalm 27:4

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