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Category: worship

What Does The Baptism of Christ Mean?

Image sources:, Artist: Daniel Bonnell

I was reading my Bible plan on youversion the other day when it led me to the baptism of Christ. I’d never thought much of the event before, but this time it stood out.

Why did Jesus submit to baptism? There are two parts to this answer we should explore: the role of baptism in Jewish life; and what baptism seems to represent in the New Testament Scripture. We will look only at the second for now.

Baptism represents several things. I believe that baptism is representative of repentance from sin, and it prepares our souls for public affiliation with Christ. But why would Christ himself need to be baptized? Is he not sinless? Is he not our master, the one by whom we are named? What is the significance of his act?

While thinking about this and reading a couple articles about this passage, I think that baptism is representative of work that is public and work that is private. Or maybe I’m more correct to say that Christ’s baptism reflected both private and public reality simultaneously. More than this, it referred to Christ’s present and future work, simultaneously.

In Matthew when Jesus says that his baptism fulfills all righteousness, that is a present reality. The reality of the death of Christ is already present to him and he is already working in the task he has been prepared for. It is like a war. When we speak of World War II, or Haiti’s War of Independence, we can think of it as a series of battles, but it is all one event historically. All of these events come together as a unified whole. This is how God sees the work of Christ. In submitting to baptism, Christ also indicates-privately since no one else has knowledge of the event at the time-his obedience to the Father’s plan for redemption of man. This is why He says He is well pleased with His Son. His Son has accepted the cross, and descending and ascending into and from the waters symbolizes his descent to and resurrection from death on the cross.

It is public because everyone witnesses these events. The completion and fulfillment of God’s plan is announced. But it is also indicative of future work. It points in human time to a future reality that will be fulfilled 3.5 years later at the conclusion of his public ministry. The baptism is a symbol that promises the completion of a future reality.

Therefore, the baptism is important because it is yet another testimony of God’s faithfulness to Himself and His promises. To Him, He has already completed His work in you, and your salvation and glorification is one complete and unified event. But he is also promising the fulfillment of a future reality. That you will be presented along with His Son faultless before the throne. It is private because your baptism indicates your obedient acceptance and participation in His plan. But it is public because you declare your identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.

Present and future, public and private.

Peace and blessings.

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From Sacred Space to Public Grace

I was at a Christmas party with my kids this past holiday season and I was conflicted. The music was hot, the kids were eating well, and everyone was merry. Problem was, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was trying to figure out why. I mean, I like rap, I like R&B, I like Bruno mars and Beyonce, but today I was unable to enjoy their music. Why? Because this party was in church.

I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t enjoy myself:
-Was I taking a holier than thou attitude?
-Was I being hypocritcal?
-Don’t I hear this music in other places, like the gym?
-Would Jesus even care? Would he be that offended?

Then it hit me: this is supposed to be a sacred space. Then I had to think to myself, what is the role of the sacred in our lives? Why do we distinguish the sacred from the everyday, quotidan, profane?

The sacred is a display of public grace.

What do we mean when we say something is a public grace? Grace is displayed:
-because the sacred indicates our sense of God’s existence
-because the sacred indicates our need for God’s presence
-the sacred displays our desire to know and experience God
-the sacred expresses our submission to His perfections
-the sacred indicates our awareness of sin and need for purity
-the sacred reinforces our hope in the transcendent

When we say that something is profane, on the other hand, we mean to prioritize the lowly over the heavenly, the immediate over the right, the tangible over transcendent. Profanity obscures God, while the sacred is meant to reveal Him.

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What’s behind the door?

Imagine that you were standing in front of a door that had everything you have ever desired or wanted behind it. If you were told you could have everything behind the door, would you be able to open it?

This is one of the illustrations James K.A. Smith uses when he tries to convince us that we are fundamentally lovers, not thinkers. In his lecture “You Are What You Love,” he makes a compelling case that we are creatures of desire. The narratives that arouse the most desire in us are the ones that direct our thoughts and actions. These desires are so deep that we are not always aware of them. So, while we know what we should say when someone asks us what we should desire, chances are that we love something altogether different. For most people, this should be a harrowing idea.

I’m not sure I would have the courage to open the door. 

I know what I should say when someone asks me what I love. I love the Lord Jesus Christ and want to see Him glorified. I love my wife and my kids and want to give selflessly to them. I love other people and want to see their lives improved. But when I actually reflect on what my actions say about who I love, I love myself. I want to be king over my life, unconditionally. I want my kids to do what I say as soon as I say it. I want my wife to do what I want. I want to be served and not to serve anyone else.

In light of Christ’s commands, I don’t want to open that door. Especially not in front of Him.

I know that my inner life needs to be renovated and re-created. I want my desires to truly be re-made before I come to see Him. If I can be honest, the thought of divine judgment is terrifying because I know that I would hesitate to open that door.

It’s a good thing that God knows we would hesitate. James K.A. Smith paraphrases an important Biblical command by saying “The beginning of all wisdom is to know we don’t desire God.” At this point, it is clear to us that we cannot do this on our own–we need the Holy Sprit’s intervention. We need Him to help us imitate the desires of Christ. Ultimately, this is the goal of Christian discipleship, that our desires would be the same as those of the Lord Jesus Christ. The loves that drive us would be the same as His loves. Our deepest unconscious desires would glorify Him by second-nature.

While I would be absolutely terrified to open the door today, the song “Just Want You” by Travis Greene is my prayer today. Would you make it yours?

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Book Review: Battling Unbelief by John Piper

The premise of this book is that we are tempted to unbelief when we fail to live by faith in the future grace of God. It is the promise of God, in every situation, that inspires the believer to live in radical obedience because we trust in Him. Our trust in His promises sustain us in the present. The introduction of the book gives several examples of the promises of God that sustain us in difficult or ordinary situations:

And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (Psalm 23:6)

No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)

Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you by my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)

For surely I am with you, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Neither death, nor life…  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)

These are given to us as examples to demonstrate to us the grace of God in Christ Jesus that sustains us in every situation. And, these are examples of foundational promises of God’s presence and His good gifts in the future.

There are eight specific areas in which we fail to trust in future grace and fall into unbelief, thereby further falling into sin: anxiety, pride, misplaced shame, impatience, covetousness, bitterness, despondency, and lust. It is not the place to discuss the specific definition of each of these here. Moreover, each manifests itself differently, requiring very different approaches to deal with its effects and restore the believer after the believer has fallen into it. This will also not be discussed here. Instead, we will list the Scripture guidance that prefaces each chapter in order to guide our future thinking on these topics, and to help identify ways in which we might fail to trust in God’s future grace concerning each.

  1. Anxiety–The root of anxiety is inadequate future faith in God’s provision and protection.
    1. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3)
    2. Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you (I Peter 5:7)
    3. Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)
  2. Pride–The root of pride is the lack of satisfaction in God and His Son, Jesus. When we are dissatisfied with God, we seek satisfaction in the things of man.
    1. Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, nor the mighty man boast in his might, nor the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
    2. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time. (I Peter 5:6)
  3. Misplaced Shame– “Shame is a painful emotion caused by a consciousness of guilt or shortcoming or impropriety. The pain is caused not merely by our own failures but by the awareness that others see them.” Piper goes on to say that the placement of shame is determined appropriate based on the subject’s attitude towards God. If they are shamed by something that brings glory to God (such as awareness by unbelievers that they firmly believe) this brings misplaced shame and we need to pursue God’s future grace in our vindication. If we are shamed by something that repulses God or is sin, this is proper shame.
    1. I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:12)
    2. Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame. (Romans 10:11)
  4. Impatience– “Impatience is a form of unbelief we begin to feel when we start to doubt the wisdom of God’s timing or the goodness of God’s guidance. It springs up in our hearts when our plan is interrupted or shattered… The opposite of impatience is not a glib denial of loss. It’s a deepening, ripening, peaceful willingness to wait for God in the unplanned place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience–to wait in His place, and go at His pace.”
    1. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him. (Lamentations 3:25)
    2. Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord… As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:7-11)
  5. Covetousness– “Covetousness is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God. The opposite of covetousness is contentment in God.”
    1. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
    2. I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
    3. There is great gain in godliness with contentment. (1 Timothy 6:6)
  6. Bitterness– “Living by faith in future grace involves overcoming vengeance and bitterness by trusting God to settle all our accounts justly.”
    1. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
  7. Despondency–Despondency is not depression, per se, because depression connotes a clinical condition in our day. It is a sense of spiritual depression that occupies the broad space between a bad day and clinical depression.
    1. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation. (Psalm 42:5)
    2. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
  8. Lust–There are many confessing Christians who disconnect the threats in the Bible from their conduct in real life, thus nullifying-in their minds-the need to be holy. When we do not believe that God gives victory over sin, and not just tolerating it, we can fall into lust.
    1. If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
    2. He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:4)

NOTE: In the chapter on pride, GK Chesterton is quoted: “What we suffer from is… humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt–the Divine Reason.

NOTE: In the chapter on bitterness, Piper quotes himself: “The dark-valley breath of bitterness cannot survive the high paths of faith in future grace. Grudges demand the valley-vapors of self-pity and fear and emptiness. They cannot survive the contentment and confidence and fullness of joy that come from satisfaction in the forgiving God of future grace.”

NOTE: Piper quotes Edward John Carnell in the chapter on bitterness: “We cannot ignore inconsiderate acts in others; yet we cannot execute the penalty of law. We have no right to complete the moral cycle… Although we sense no spiritual inhibition against crying out against injustice, the purity of our moral life deteriorates the moment we attempt to administer justice.”

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Count Not Just the Cost, But Also The Worth

We have been writing Lenten devotionals in our church’s Foreign Missions Ministry. This post was originally written to be published on our minstry’s blog, but it was not required. I think that I’d like to share it with you all on my personal blog, so here goes…

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 14:28-33

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?    For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,    saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?    If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.    In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

During my discipleship class this week, we were discussing this passage. If you turn to Luke 14 in your Bible, and start reading from verse 25, you will see that Jesus had been followed by very large crowds. Seeing the condition of their (and our) hearts, He says to them “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.    And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” These are probably among the most famous words in the Bible. Jesus is clearly telling us that it will cost us everything to follow Him.

But this time, reading this passage, I couldn’t help feeling that we were missing something.

I think that Jesus knew we’d miss the point, so He uses a parable to explain why it is that it is worth giving up everything.  This pair of parables is our Scripture focus today.  First, Jesus compares to a builder who “estimates the cost” of his building and evaluates the plans that have been established. Second, Jesus compares to a king who is about to go to war and considers “whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand.” This is strikingly different than what Jesus says above in that we must “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…” How does the “hate” meet up with “estimate the cost.”

I believe Jesus uses these parables to show us that our focus should not be on what we are losing, but what we are gaining! The point is not to fail to build the house, but to make sure your secure the mortgage before you start! The point is not to stay home from war, but to make sure you have 20,000 troops or alliances that will protect you!

So, what am I saying. Why does God tell us count the cost? Because we are to clearly see that God’s life, and life with God is much more valuable than anything that we currently have.  This is the goal. And anything less than life with God is like building on a foundation without securing the mortgage. Living this life without rebirth in Jesus is like us in our will and wisdom (10,000 men) going up against God and His holiness in eternity (20,000 men).  The foolishness of this task is just as clear as the folly shown by the foolish builder or the foolish king. This foolishness is compounded by the fact that the solution is simple in both cases.  Consider buying a home: very few of us have the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars required to build a home. However, the value of home ownership for building wealth is worth so much to many people in our culture that we see clearly the advantage of committing to a debt greater than a substantial part of our financial worth in order to pursue the vision of homeownership. While many of us will spend the majority of our working adult lives paying down our mortgages, it is not seen as a sacrifice at all.  Consider the king going to war. If one can’t defeat his adversary, he goes to him and makes terms of peace. One will have to give up his autonomy and live under the King’s authority, but it is infinitely worth it. If we make peace with God, we will be part of His Kingdom!

Of course, to make peace with God, we must give up everything that we have (v. 33). But, in view of the alternatives, this is not a sacrifice at all! We are the opposing king who has just been made an ally in the most powerful kingdom in all eternity!

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In Christ, We are God’s Righteousness #NPBCSetApart

I was reviewing some memory verses and after a brief review of 2 Corinthians 5:17 in context, I came to the following passage at the end:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20, 21 NIV)

I find that amazing. In Christ, we are God’s righteousness. This is why our self-righteousness is so destructive. Our righteousness is not restorative, but vindictive, not patient, but judgmental. We do not have righteousness that serves others, but that serves ourselves. We don’t carry others’ burdens in our righteousness; rather we make others’ unrighteousness plain to all. We expose rather than cover up. We dispense authority rather than mutual submission. In all ways, God’s righteousness is superior, and He demonstrates His righteousness in assembling His church and reconciling it to Himself in Christ.

In Christ we are a new creation. Be reconciled to God. Watch Him make you His righteousness.

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Bring Him What You Have

[I originally posted these thoughts on my running blog. I’m sharing them here a couple weeks later.]

Yesterday I was reading in Matthew and came to the Scripture in which Jesus is walking on water out to the disciples near Genessaret. But just before that, he had been teaching all day and felt compassion on his students whom had not eaten all day.

At that point, he tells his disciples, feed the people. They respond out of what they don’t have. In response to their incredulity, he says, bring me what you have: five loaves and two fish. Jesus then gives thanks for what they do have, and he proceeds to feed the people with it.

Then it dawned on me. God says to us to bring him what we have, give thanks for what we have, and watch him work with it. He works with what you’ve got, not your worries about what you don’t.

It’s important we catch this lesson and trust him with our resources.

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Join me in supporting @WorldRelief at the 2012 #BaltimoreMarathon. #standwiththevulnerable

As some of you may know, I am in training for the Baltimore Marathon this year, October 13, 2012. This has been an exciting year, and the marathon will be run one week before we celebrate my son’s first birthday.

This is my first 26.2, and I’ll be wearing a WorldRelief jersey and standing with others from Baltimore who want to support World Relief in their missionary work around the globe. I have had a chance to meet some of the men who work in this organization, some of whom will also be racing, and I am excited to ask you to consider financially supporting their work by visiting my support page:

“If you run without a reason, you are just chasing the wind.” –Wesley Korir, 2012 Boston Marathon Champion

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nurture your first love

So, someone asked me this week while I was in a meeting, “Do you get the runner’s high?” I replied, I’m not quite sure what that is. I can say, however, that running has captured my competitive instinct (at least what’s left of it), and my drive to push myself to new levels has taken me to levels of commitment I could never have imagined. I enjoy exercising quite a lot, and I especially enjoy the rewards of building and executing a training program from research and reflection. I am training for the Baltimore Marathon after having run the Baltimore 10-miler (2 yrs in a row, now) and the Dreaded Druid Hills 10K. Exercise and competition has always had a large role in my life, and I have already started to select some challenging running goals for 2013.

This running thing is part of the reason I’ve failed to write consistently on this blog. There’s only so much time to be distributed among my wife, my son, my work, and my running. Most everything else comes somewhere below that.

If you’ve been reading this blog (or if you casually peruse some of the recent entries), you’ll be able to guess that I’m not totally comfortable with the last sentence of my last paragraph. Because, in that paragraph was no mention of my Bible study. Ever since planning to take a break from more intense study back in May, I just have not gotten back into it. And I’m certainly feeling the effects.

We all have that time in our lives where we tell ourselves that we’ve been pushing it, and we just need to take a break from that discipline that has been consuming us. We do so only to find that the discipline we’ve pushed aside is the very thing that has kept us going. That keeps us in joy and at peace. And that keeps us in communion with God.

While I’m writing these words, I’m being reminded of a conversation I had with my discipleship group at church. We were discussing various things, but when the issue of discipline came up, I told them I think a lot of our success in spiritual discipline comes from God’s release into that practice. For some of us, we are gifted and dedicated prayer warriors who never grow weary at waiting and listening for God while opening their hearts to Him; others are sublime in their service to their communities and the Body; others are natural worshipers, practicing the Presence of God in every moment and can draw others near as the Sprit moves freely through Him; others voraciously read the Word of God, while being given profound insights to encourage, instruct, correct, and exhort themselves and others. While every believer has all of these things in some measure, when we go out of our personality to pursue something for some wrong motive, we distance ourselves from God’s move in our lives.

I feel like I was doing that a bit in moving from my discipline of study. While I was, and do, feel that I am lacking in worship or prayer, part of that is discipline on my part while part is that God has not released me into those special roles. He has, however, given me a life and a personality that empowers me to spend large blocks of time in His Word. While I need to open my soul and seek God for a heart of Worship and incessant prayer, I must do these things in addition to the disciplined and organized study of His Word.

That was a long way to say: “first things first!” I guess I can sum it up by saying that there’s always a place for rest and a break, but be sure to have a plan for how that break will end.

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don’t be ridiculous… don’t waste your life

I was listening to TD Jakes this morning with my wife while preparing for my trip to Australia. He was preaching from the story of David and Goliath, specifically the part of the account when Eliab, David’s brother, rebukes him for urging the men to fight against the undefeated Philistine champion.

Although I thought I’d heard this story before, I was totally unprepared for the sermon that followed. Bishop Jakes asked his congregation, “Is there not a cause?” I suppose this question came from his observation that, as David pointed out, Israel’s armies were the army of the Most High God and this ‘uncircumcised Philistine’ was taunting and mocking him. No matter how great a champion, God will not allow His name to be profaned, and He would protect any warrior who confronted the giant on His behalf. Clearly, this was a cause worth fighting for.

Instead, the armies of Israel considered God as one who would not look out for His name, and the soldiers decided to look out for themselves. Not even God Almighty was a cause large enough for them to seek God’s glory and not their own.

So, TD Jakes confronts us the same way. Is there not a cause that urges us to interests other than our own aggrandizement? Whom are we living for? Are we growing fat on God’s blessings? Are we calling God a liar when He assures us protection if we take risks for the Name?

It was a difficult sermon for me to hear, because even in the small things, I am living for myself. When you think about it, that is a truly ridiculous way to live, but I can’t seem to shake it. I want to live for others, but I find it difficult to discipline myself to look after the needs of others first. Lord, do I need the grace to make that transformation, before I’ve been disqualified for everything God wants me to do. I know that I’ve probably disqualified myself from some things through disobedience, but I hope I can change and be changed before my youth and my life is wasted.

I am not quite sure how to end this post. Let me do so by asking you to pray for me in this regard, and if you would like prayer from me, just let me know in the comments.