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Taking the Gospel to the Neighborhoods Around Us

If you’ve been around Grace Life for any extended period of time, you know that one of the rhythms we try to maintain is to do prayer walks around the communities that we live in and are surrounded by.  But what is a prayer walk, why do we do them, and how can you participate?  Although there is no specific biblical precedent for the term “prayer walk”, we see throughout the Scriptures that the mentality of this continual conversation between us and God (as we learned this past Sunday) happens not only in the quiet corners of our lives but also in the active parts of our daily routines.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

From the onset of God’s chosen people, we see a clear command to be in constant conversation about God and what He reveals to us about Him from His word. The depiction of daily recognition of God in all aspects of our life is where a life filled with prayer leads us. We can and should pray individually (certainly Jesus was constantly getting away to pray!) but we also pray together with one another and for one another.  These prayer walks are intended to simply be a time of literally praying as we walk about.  Life is full of distractions, and so prayer walking is not some magical ritual, but instead an intentional opportunity to focus on praying for the lost in our communities, to remind ourselves of the mission set before us in Matthew 28:18-20, and potentially open up the opportunity to have Gospel conversations.

Why do we do these prayer walks? Because it is not only an opportunity to get to know our communities, but also an opportunity to rub shoulders with other brothers and sisters. In both Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1, we see Jesus sending out his disciples in sets of two. Prayer walking is not an activity that we engage in alone, but we partner together and share in this activity, increasing our confidence and speaking with joy the love of Christ for all people. We also know that we are called to proclaim the Gospel to all people.

Colossians 4:3-4 “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

Unlike Paul here in Colossians, we are not stuck in prison- we have the chance to actively seek open doors! And even when we are rejected, which the first disciples also experienced, we know that God hears our prayers and knows the needs of the people we interact with. None of our labor is in vain when we are doing it for the Lord.

So how can you be involved?  This Saturday, November 12th, at 9:45AM  we will gather together in the church building to get our hearts and minds focused, and then we will go on foot into a neighborhood nearby and simply walk, pass out cards with information about our church, and engage with anyone who is willing to talk or be prayed over.  For those who physically may not be able to walk, you can gather with us and pray, drive and give out water bottles, or even just take the time at home around 10 AM to stop and pray that gospel seeds will be planted and watered. We will do another walk in the morning on December 10th, so you can mark your calendars for that as well.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray without ceasing. This is a great opportunity to learn what it means to be in constant prayer through means of setting our minds on God as we take our hands and feet to task. Don’t miss the opportunity for this great blessing both for you and our community.

Love in Christ,


Pastor Ben

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

I’ve (Pastor Matt) been struck recently by one of the incredible truths we’ve learned from Romans 8: we belong to God. The gospel brings us salvation from sin and God’s wrath and it brings us into God’s family. The Holy Spirit testifies that we belong to God. We are His sons and daughters! Which also means, for those who are in Christ, we belong to a family filled with brothers and sisters. 

The New Testament writers frequently referred to their readers as “brothers and sisters” (example seen Galatians 1:11). It’s a phrase that portrays intimacy, closeness, and unity. We are brothers and sisters not by human blood, but by the blood of which purchased our freedom redeemed us from all sin. 

This is what makes a local church so remarkably incredible. People from all different walks of life, of different ages and ethnicities, different career paths and family dynamics, different personalities and passions, brought near to one another by Jesus Christ. Because of who we are together in Christ Jesus, we should see the local church, Grace Life Church, as a people to belong to, a people to live with, not people we occasionally see. 

Church Membership is the invitation to officially belong to a local body of believers. Church membership is putting the needs of the church ahead of our own personal preferences and desires. It’s being faithful to the Lord by being faithful to one another while staying vigilant against division and fighting for unity. We’ve written more about the importance of church membership here.

Being a church member comes with important responsibility, one of which is attending Member meetings when they are scheduled. The next member meeting is this coming Sunday evening. The term “meeting” implies that business will be conducted, which is true. We will consider and vote upon our upcoming 2023 budget as well as vote in new members to our church. While participating in the business of the church is important, we will intentionally take time Sunday evening to worship, pray, celebrate, and look forward to the upcoming year and what we will do as a church to proclaim the name of Jesus to the nations.

Church membership is important and if you are a member of Grace Life, we expect you to be there Sunday evening, Lord willing. If you haven’t made the steps to becoming a member of our church, then do so today. We’d love for you to come and be a part of our family. Start that process by attending our upcoming Intro to Grace Life on November 13th.

The Lord has been so faithful to us. Let’s gather together, as members of the church, and celebrate His faithfulness.

 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt and Pastor Ben

Why the Reformation Matters Today

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic Monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of his church. Luther wrote these words out of a deep concern with the Roman Catholic Church’s view on several issues that Luther deemed unBiblical. His efforts led to what is now referred to as the Protestant Reformation.

I don’t want to spend this entire post recounting the historical moments that both preceded and succeeded Luther’s actions on this day. If you want to read more about Reformation Day, I’ll provide a few links at the bottom. You can also read more from this blog post.

What I want to write about is how the Reformation impacts us today. Though they were flawed men and women, the stance taken by the Reformers 500-plus years ago is a model for us today. 

We must take a stand for the Gospel.

After Luther posted his 95 theses, he knew he would have to defend his claims. So he stood before the Emperor of Rome and, knowing he may very well lose his life, stated, “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.”

What Luther was standing for was the Gospel. While the church he served under said salvation can be earned or paid for or you can pay your relatives out of purgatory,  Luther read from the Scriptures that our righteousness was like filthy rags and the only hope for salvation is through Jesus Christ. After years of hating what he was reading in the Scriptures, he fell in love with the righteousness of God. Christ died for our sins and it is his righteousness that is placed on us.

This, among other doctrinal concerns, led Luther to take a stand against the Roman Catholic’s idea of the Gospel. His influence then is an example for us today. In the midst of so many false gospels, we must take a stand for the true Gospel of Jesus Christ; that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The church in Luther’s day wanted to make sinners look good, but as Luther put it: “Sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.”

While we take a stand for the gospel, it also means we take a stand against false gospels taught by churches. Whether it’s the deceitful prosperity Gospel or a works-based gospel, we must take a stand for the Gospel. Taking a stand for the Gospel has never been popular, but if we fail to take a stand, then who will? The apostle Paul took a stand for Gospel priority by calling out those who abandoned the Gospel of Jesus:

[6] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—[7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. [10] For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:6–10)

We must take a stand for the Scriptures.

Luther’s conflict with the church began when the church’s teachings collided with his understanding of the Scripture. He was a Scholar and when he realized that the church was teaching something contrary to the Word of God, he spoke up. He saw God’s Word as authoritative and should be available to all people.

God’s Word must be the authority in our lives. It’s how we learn about God, his grace, and his forgiveness through Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to convict us daily. Limiting its authority is a dangerous step toward apostasy. The church must teach and disciple believers on how to read and study the scriptures.  

We also must make sure that all we do within the church is founded on the teachings of the Bible. Our traditions, our theology, and our individual and corporate practice must be grounded in the Word of God. Luther stood up for the authority of the Scriptures during a time when the Catholic church claimed to hold all authority.

We must take a stand for God’s Glory.

It may sound odd, but the church today needs Jesus. While Luther’s church may have said “Jesus!”, everything else said otherwise. It was about the church, it was about the Pope, it was about money. It was about everything other than Jesus. Unfortunately, too many churches have become about other ideas other than Jesus.

If programs, methods, or anything else becomes more important than Jesus, then we’ve missed it. If we give over to more lights or more buildings or more “attractiveness” and set Jesus to the side, then it’s necessary to evaluate our churches. The Reformers understood that it was through Christ alone and it was for God’s glory alone. They weren’t out to make a name for themselves or for their church, they only desired to make a name for Jesus. 

Here are a few indicators that a reformation may be needed within a church:

  • If the worship is about how well done and entertaining the music is and not about who God is, then a reformation is needed.
  • If the preaching becomes about the speaker’s giftedness or focuses on relative topics and opinions and not about the teaching of God’s Word, then a reformation is needed.
  • If the church becomes inwardly focused and not focused on the spreading of the gospel to people outside the church, then a reformation is needed.

It’s never been about us; it must always be about God’s glory.

So much more could be said about the influence of the Reformers. Their impact 500 years ago should influence us to take a stand for Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, and to the Glory of God Alone. May we all be reformers in our churches.

Happy Reformation Day.

****

ARTICLES

What is Reformation Day? – ligonier.com

3 Things Every Christian Should Know About the Reformation. – thegospelcoalition.com

Here We Stood (a brief history of Martin Luther) – desiringgod.org

The Reformation and your Church – 9marks.org (This is a Fall Journal loaded with great articles on the reformation. Save this link and read/watch/listen to everything that is included.

DOCUMENTARIES AND PODCASTS

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer – Watch this documentary in its entirety to discover the events God used in Martin Luther’s life that led him to rediscover the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Luther in Real Time – It’s 1520. Martin Luther has been declared a heretic by Pope Leo X, and his books are being burned. How much longer before Luther himself is thrown into the fire?

Enter the German Reformer’s dramatic story with Luther: In Real Time. First released 500 years after the events described, this podcast allows you to walk in Martin Luther’s footsteps from his heresy charges to his famous stand for the authority of God’s Word at the Diet of Worms. Share this podcast with people of all ages so they can hear—in Luther’s own words—what Protestants are protesting and why it still matters today.

Standing Against A Modern Day Indulgence

From the Elders of Grace Life Church: This post continues a month long look into the Protestant Reformation. See the previous post on “What is the Protestant Reformation?” here. There is much we can learn from church history, mainly, the encouragement from men and women who boldly stood in the face of false teaching. One such example is provided below and written by one of our church members and LifeGroup leader, Josh Bird. 

———

On October 31, 1517, a German monk posted a challenge to debate on the doors of the Wittenberg Church. That German monk was named Martin Luther, and the challenge to debate was on his 95 theses.  Today, the posting of the 95 theses is viewed as the beginning of the Protestant reformation. It certainly wasn’t the beginning of the reformation as several reformers preceded Luther, and it wasn’t Luther’s intent to start a reformation.  

We romanticize the moment in hindsight.  We think of Luther nailing the theses to the door with every hammer blow thunderously shattering against the Catholic church.  But that was not Luther’s intent at all. In fact, Luther posting his theses was like posting on a bulletin board.  Luther did not even post the theses in German, the common language. He posted them originally in Latin, the language of the academics. Some of his students translated his theses into common German, and once the laity were able to read the theses, a spark ignited into a flame which remains unquenched today.

Luther’s intent was to have an open discussion and debate about what he felt were abuses within the church, particularly with the selling of indulgences.  The Catholic catechism defines indulgences as follows: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which as the minister of redemption dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”

Under Catholic theology, when one dies and they are a believer, they are not immediately allowed to enter Heaven. They undergo what is called Purgatory. A Protestant understanding may describe this as further sanctification from sins in purgatory until they are allowed to enter Heaven.  Indulgences were sold by the Catholic church which would allow a reduction in time one had to spend in Purgatory. Indulgences could be bought on one’s behalf, or on behalf of the dead, such as a departed relative. As John Tetzel, a prominent seller of indulgences stated, “as soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

In the early 1500’s, indulgences were sold to help pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s in Rome.  Luther felt that this practice was being abused and that the poor were being taken advantage of.  Luther stated in his theses that “they preach human folly who pretend that as soon as money in the coffer rings a soul from purgatory springs.” 

While the reformation primarily focused on issues of faith and justification, it started as an argument about indulgences.  An argument that Luther eventually seems to have won. The Catholic church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567, though the practice of earning indulgences is alive today.  But while the Reformers battled indulgences and buying God’s favor, today, there is a popular and prominent theology which seems to focus on the worldly. That false teaching has come to be known as the Prosperity Gospel. Prosperity theology teaches that God is predominantly concerned with a believer’s health, wealth, and prosperity is rampant. 

Prosperity theology operates on the assumption that it is God’s will to have financial blessings in this life. Oftentimes this blessing comes in the form of “sowing a seed,” via tithing to the church.  One prominent prosperity teacher stated in 2015 that “Jesus bled and died for us so that we can lay claim to the promise of financial prosperity.” He would delete the statement, but he never actually or formally retracted his statement to my knowledge.  His further writing seems to show he still believes that logic.  He would later go on to say, “He took our sins upon himself and exchanged them for His righteousness so that we could become enriched and abundantly supplied.” 

He looks to 2 Corinthians 8:9 as proof for his assertion which says,

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” But if you read that verse within the context of the entire chapter, it’s easy to see where he gets it wrong. 2 Corinthians 8:1-3 says “we want you to know brothers about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify and beyond their means of their own accord.” (Emphasis added). 

When we look at the entirety of the chapter, it has nothing to do with obtaining worldly wealth, but a wealth of joy at the great news of Jesus Christ. Out of this joy, the Macedonians gave to continue spreading the word of God and help fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who were in need.  

In his book “Your Best Life Now,” Joel Osteen also argues that “God wants us to constantly be increasing, to be rising to new heights. He wants to increase you in His wisdom and help you to make better decisions. God Wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity.” He then goes on to argue that “you must conceive it in your heart and mind before you can receive it. In other words, you must make room for increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those to pass. Until you learn how to enlarge your vision, seeing the future through your eyes of faith, your own wrong thinking will prevent good things from happening in your life.”

Joel Osteen starts out on bad footing.  First, he creates a vision in which a Christian is supposed to be constantly seeking after things of this world, financial gain, promotions, etc. Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12-13, “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.” Contrasted with the constantly seeking more version of Christianity from Joel Osteen, Paul talks of having as much contentment in prison as when he had abundance. Paul can do this because he has Christ.

The next thing to notice about Osteen’s premise, is it’s works-oriented. Notice that we are not responding to God, but it is God who is responding to us.  God will not bless us, we are told, until we have enlarged our vision, increased our thinking, and then God will respond by blessing us with good things in our life. Ignoring that prosperity theology has us focus on the wrong thing, financial and worldly position, it also ignores that we can do no good work but by God acting through us. We can produce no fruit unless we abide in Jesus Christ, the True Vine (John 15:4).  

While our fight may no longer be against indulgences, we fight against the false teachings of the Prosperity Gospel by standing on the right teachings of Scripture. We proclaim the spiritual and eternal “riches of God’s mercy” (Ephesians 2:4-10; Romans 11:33-36) and we trust that the Lord sovereignly cares for us in the abundance and in the little (Matthew 6:25-34; 2 Corinthians 12:9) and our earthly possessions in no way communicate the strength of our faith. We are recipients of saving grace and we testify to the world that the undeserved grace of the forgiveness of sins is far greater than any earthly wealth or prosperity.

As we come up on the anniversary of the Reformation. It is important to remember that we must always be reforming. We do this by remembering the five Solas of the reformation: Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), Sola Fide (“Faith alone”), Sola Gratia (“Grace alone”), Solus Christus (“Christ alone”), and Soli Deo Gloria (“To the Glory of God alone”).  We must remember that the Bible is our highest authority. That we are saved by faith alone. This faith is through grace alone. Christ is our only Lord, Savior, and King. And we must live our lives to the Glory of God alone. As Scripture refers to the Church as Christ’s bridegroom, we must remember that in sickness and in health, in wealth and in poverty, we have all that we need through Christ.

Why we’re studying Galatians in our LifeGroups

Next week, we will begin a new LifeGroup study through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. To help us prepare for the study, our Elders, Pastor Matt and Pastor Ben, sat down together and talked a little about our upcoming study in Galatians.

Listen to their conversation on our main podcast channel or you can listen to it here.

To prepare for our study, go to thegracelifechurch.org/galatians or find our study on Galatians on the Grace Life App.

Blessings!

What is the Protestant Reformation?

While many people are prepping their costumes and candy buckets for Halloween, October 31st marks a significant day in church history. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic Monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of his church. Luther wrote these words out of a deep concern with the Roman Catholic Church’s view on several issues that Luther deemed unBiblical. His efforts led to what is now referred to as the Protestant Reformation. Christians now see October 31st as Reformation Day.

For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at the Reformation and how it impacts us today, 500 plus years later. First, let’s take a brief look at the historical context leading up to the Protestant Reformation. Much has been written on the Reformation, so allow me to give a short summary, specifically looking at Martin Luther’s role in the Reformation. Additional resources will be provided below.

Leading up to the 1500s, The Roman Catholic Church had substantially departed from the teaching of the Apostles recorded in the New Testament and heretical teachings were being promoted by monks all the way to the Pope.

In July of 1505, a young man named Martin Luther was on his way home when he was nearly struck by lightning. Seeing he was in the throes of death, he cried out “Help me, St. Anne! I will become a monk.” And so he did, abandoning his plans to become a lawyer. At 21, Martin Luther kept his vow from that stormy walk home and became an Augustinian Monk.

When Luther was given the tasks to lead in his first Mass, he was overcome by his sinfulness and God’s greatness. He was barely able to make it through Mass and considered running away from his duties in fear of again being confronted by a Holy God. But he kept to his commitment and continued on, despite the insistent reign of fear of God in his life. 

Luther was very much in tune with the depravity of his own soul, spending hours and hours in the confessional booth. He wrote later on in his life, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction” (Selections, 12).

While Luther was deep in despair over his unworthiness, a close friend, Johannes von Staupitz, gave Luther several opportunities to teach from God’s Word and soon became a theological professor at Wittenberg University in Germany. It was through his preparations for his classes that the Holy Spirit struck the heart of the German monk and confronted him about his unrighteousness. It had been clear to this point that Luther despised all teachings on righteousness because he fully believed it was impossible to obtain it. It was here when he realized that righteousness comes by faith alone, Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.

This life changing gift of salvation spurred Martin Luther to eventually forsake the teachings of the Catholic church and stand firm to the teachings of Scripture. He proclaimed that justification came by faith alone in Christ alone and that no one deserved grace, let alone could earn it or pay for it. His teachings on the truth of Scripture caused an uproar within the Catholic Church, leading the Pope to admittedly deny Luther’s, and ultimately the Scripture’s, teachings as “A cesspool of heresies”. Luther didn’t care and stated as much when he nailed his 95 Thesis to the doors of his church.

Two great issues were at stake during the Reformation, justification by faith alone (sola fide) and the authority of Scripture alone in the life of the church and the believer (sola Scriptura). The efforts to return to the Apostolic teachings contained within the 66 books of the Bible was at the forefront of the Reformation. Men Like Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and so many others wanted to see the church reformed or changed in such a way that tradition became secondary and God’s Word became primary.

Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and when asked to recant his teachings at the Diet of Worms in 1521, Martin Luther stated,

“If, then, I am not convinced by testimonies of Scripture or by clear rational arguments—for I do not believe in the pope or in councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted each other—I am bound by the Bible texts that I have quoted. And as long as my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot nor do I want to retract anything when things become doubtful. Salvation will be threatened if you go against your conscience. Here I stand; I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”

The life of Martin Luther and the men of the Reformation is a reminder that we too must stand firm on the teachings of God’s Word in the face of heretical malpractice and cultural denial. It is from God’s Word we know the universal need for salvation from God’s wrath and sin and it is from God’s Word we learn that this precious salvation comes to us through Christ and Christ alone. There is no other Savior. Here we stand.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

What is Reformation Day? – ligonier.com

3 Things Every Christian Should Know About the Reformation. – thegospelcoalition.com

Here We Stood (a brief history of Martin Luther) – desiringgod.org

Luther at the Diet of Worms. – Crossway.org

The Reformation and your Church – 9marks.org (This is a Fall Journal loaded with great articles on the reformation. Save this link and read/watch/listen to everything that is included.)

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer – Watch this documentary in its entirety to discover the events God used in Martin Luther’s life that led him to rediscover the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Luther in Real Time – It’s 1520. Martin Luther has been declared a heretic by Pope Leo X, and his books are being burned. How much longer before Luther himself is thrown into the fire? Enter the German Reformer’s dramatic story with Luther: In Real Time. First released 500 years after the events described, this podcast allows you to walk in Martin Luther’s footsteps from his heresy charges to his famous stand for the authority of God’s Word at the Diet of Worms. Share this podcast with people of all ages so they can hear—in Luther’s own words—what Protestants are protesting and why it still matters today.

The Importance of Congregational Singing

Throughout church history, one of the primary elements of the gathered church has been to worship through music. Whether led by an organ, a piano, a band, or a cantor, to go to a Sunday gathering of the church and not participate in music in some form would be quite strange. Some point to handwritten collections of songs from the Middle Ages as the earliest types of hymnals, but these people forget an even earlier source: the book of Psalms! In fact, certain editions of the Bible make it clear that it’s actually a collection of five sets of songs (1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150). So why have these included in the Bible? What’s the big deal about singing?

We are commanded to sing.

Psalm 96:1-2 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.

The word sing appears in the scriptures over 400 times and at least 50 are commands. Singing is a uniquely human activity, and it connects our breath and body to the outside world in a way nothing else can. It does not matter how good we believe our voice is. Much like faith, it is the object of our singing, not the quality of the voice, that matters. Singing and music allows us to express something beyond just words. And imagine this scene from after the last supper:

Matthew 26:30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The disciples are not professionally trained musicians. But under the leadership of Jesus, they sang together as an act of worship. So if we are to follow Christ’s example, then this practice of singing with His disciples is further proof of obedience to a command. We also know that singing will be part of our eternal lives, as shown in Revelation 5:11-13.

When we sing, we connect our hearts to deep theological truths.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

It is no accident that singing is found in this list that begins with “let the word of Christ dwell in your richly.” Singing brings an aspect of memory that can help us align our hearts if those lyrics come out of the Bible (or at least Biblical truths). As we jump into the Romans 8 series, we are intentionally singing some songs that are Scripture passages set to music. How powerful to have these tunes playing in our heads and hearts as we go through the week!

When we sing, we connect to those we are singing with.

Ephesians 5:15-21 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. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 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, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Both this passage and the one from Colossians 3 have an important phrase- they both have an element of “one another.” Singing in a group is powerful, because it reminds us that we are not alone, and helps to draw our attention to God as the aim of our praises or pleas. There is value in music used for personal worship time, but the encouragement from the church raising voices together gives gusto to the soul and gladdens the heart. The passage here contrasts the goodness of music to the deceitful “pleasures” or the world. A heart brimming with joy for the Lord cannot help but express itself.

When we sing, we outwardly proclaim the truth of God’s Word.

Acts 16:25  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

Singing hymns and spiritual songs are a witness not only to the church but also to the outside world.  When our lives are filled with music that points us to Jesus, then when others enter into our lives, they cannot help but see how different and unselfish the music liturgy of the church is to most other music available. That doesn’t mean that we must go around and sing aloud in all of our daily tasks. But if we allow the music of God’s people to permeate our consciousness, then it will not be a surprise when you find yourself humming or singing quietly a song that orients your heart towards Jesus.

This is why we make singing a priority in our Sunday morning gatherings. We don’t pretend to be the best, but we bring our best in pointing to THE best, Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And when we consider His sacrifice for us, His love, His patience, His grace and mercy, how can we help ourselves but to sing? No matter how bad you may think your voice is, it is more encouraging to hear an authentic cry of praise than the most beautiful singing without knowing Jesus. Remember that our singing is not ultimately about us, but about God and how we can connect to Him and His people. So, sing! Sing to God! Sing to one another!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Ben

The Greatest Chapter in the Bible

A few months ago, my family found a documentary series on the International Space Station. Since then, we’ve been pretty enamored by space. We’ve woken up early to see the space station passing by us and we’ve prepared to watch the recent Artemis mission launch, but it was rescheduled to launch later this month. Along the way, we learned more about the James Webb Space Telescope, which NASA launched in December of last year. The JWST is 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope and uses infrared light to peer through dense layers of space dust. 

In July, NASA released the very first images captured by this telescope. You can look at these remarkable images here, all of them displaying God’s magnificent creation.

The enormity of the universe is virtually impossible to grasp. NASA explains that the SMACS 0723 image is “approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length.” So, find a grain of sand, hold it up to the night sky, and imagine that in it are thousands of galaxies we can see with the most powerful telescope we’ve ever constructed—and certainly countless more galaxies we cannot yet see. You can read more about it here.

I look at these pictures and I think of the enormous depths of space and think, how big is our God, the creator of it all! These pictures show us the glorious depths of God’s creation. And yet, the glorious God behind the great depths of space is not beyond them. He is near. While there are deep pockets of space we won’t see on this side of heaven, the glorious depths of God’s Gospel can be known and there are glorious depths to God’s gospel that we must search and discover for our own souls. 

But we don’t need a telescope or a microscope even; we have the book of Romans, which church history has called, “The greatest letter ever written”. Within the greatest letter ever written is what many, myself included, have called “The greatest chapter in the Bible”, Romans 8.

The Letter of Romans gives us the glorious depths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are some of you here who are (1) questioning this gospel and maybe skeptical of it, (2) just dipping your toes into grace, or (3) ready to dive into the depths of God’s grace. No matter where you are, my prayer for you is to me amazed by the splendor of our God. It’s what Paul writes in Romans 11:33-36,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:33–36

The entire letter shares with us that God has revealed the gracious depths of His righteousness to us. 

We see from Romans 1:1-7 that the Apostle Paul is the author of this letter to the house churches in Rome. He wrote this letter in roughly AD 56 during his third missionary journey while he was in Corinth (Italy) on his way to Jerusalem. You have to look at the final chapters to see a few of the reasons why he wrote this letter. He wrote this letter to (1) unite the Jews and Gentiles and (2) raise money for his mission trip to Spain, in which he hoped to stop by to see these brothers and sisters in Rome (Romans 15:24-25). 

It’s really by reading the entirety of the letter that we see why Paul wrote this letter to these Christians: he wanted them to explore the depths of the gospel.

This letter is a gospel treatise, an overflowing fountain of grace and mercy. It is saturated with Gospel goodness. It is rich in Gospel hope. And Paul invites his readers then and his readers now to discover the depths of Christ’s Gospel. Because A heart that has explored the depths of the gospel is a heart that overflows with gospel joy.

Paul encourages to keep going deeper into the endless wells of God’s grace to scrape the barrels dry only to discover it never does run empty. The depths of this gospel of grace that never ends is the theme of the entire letter. Grace upon grace from the God who is rich in grace. Not only is the gospel the central theme of this letter, but it must be the central theme of our lives. And for the gospel to be the central theme in our lives, then we must dive deep. And when we do, we can along with Paul declare, 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16–17

The gospel is Paul’s reason not only for writing, but for living! This gospel message is not just interesting information, but a transforming declaration! As we dive into the depths of God’s righteousness over the next several weeks, I pray the Lord will continue to stir within our hearts an overflowing joy for who He is and all that He has done for us. 

If you missed Sunday’s sermon, be sure to listen to it here.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

Community Matters: The Importance of LifeGroups

One of my favorite questions that I’ve heard over the past few weeks has been “When do LifeGroups start back up?” I love this because it shows the love that the people of Grace Life have for one another, the desire to step into deep community and to both encourage and be encouraged by the family into which God has brought us. This week resumes that practice of gathering together outside of Sunday morning, perhaps sharing a meal, and definitely sharing what Christ is doing in our lives and the struggles that come in facing this fallen world. So, as we get back into the weekly routine of LifeGroups, I want to remind you of why community matters and encourage those of you who maybe have not been a part of a LifeGroup lately (or ever!) to join in.

Gospel community matters because we are designed to do life together.

Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

From creation, man was never meant to be alone. Adam had all of creation to name, and communion with God, and yet God says that it is not good for him to be by himself. The directives that come to Adam and Eve as well as Noah after the flood are to populate the earth with more human beings. Humans need other humans! And Christians need other Christians, which why the writer of Hebrews says this:

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

To neglect to be with God’s people is a loss not only of how you might be encouraged and stirred up to love and good works, but also that you miss the opportunity to do that for others. This is one of the basic functions of the church.

Gospel community matters because we need to be reminded of the Gospel.

1 Peter 1:22-23 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

The family of God we enter is connected solely through the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Who else can you talk to about such spiritual things if not spiritual people? The world seeks to confuse us, to ridicule us, or perhaps to leave us to our own “foolish” devices. But the community of fellow believers shares the perspective of seeing the truth about our world and how it works. God’s people are not exempt from struggles, and in those difficult times, the church reminds us of God’s ever-present help in those times. We get to share the reminder of God’s promise of new mercies every morning, of no condemnation for we who are in Christ, that God is working everything out for our good and His glory.

Gospel community matters because we need a place to confess and repent of our sins.

Galatians 6:1-4 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.

We are not perfect people. We mess up. We do harm to others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. And we need to have a place where we can seek forgiveness without judgment. The beauty of being saved by Christ means that another who is also saved has seen their own deep faults and can offer forgiveness in light of that.

But the other side of the coin is that we have to be willing to forgive others in our faith tribe as well. We have to take stock in the great sin that seeks to destroy us and realize just how good Jesus is in forgiving all of those thoughts and actions known only to God. And from that realization, there is no offense to great that man can put on us that we cannot forgive, and to do so in a spirit of gentleness.

Gospel community matters because God calls us to be there for each other.

Colossians 3:12-15 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

This is not a suggestion, or just a good idea. We as the church are called locally to a people gathered together because of what Christ has done in our lives, and the picture of how we treat one another is found in the way in which we strive to love each other as Christ has loved us. This doesn’t mean that we will connect deeply with every single person, but it does remind us that whether we know a fellow believer a little or a lot, our posture should always be one of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love.

If you feel alone, if this type of community is tugging at your heart, if the Spirit is calling out your fear of being known which is causing you to miss out on the joy of being loved, join a LifeGroup. The imperfect people of God come together in a way that no other community can. You can find more information about LifeGroups by clicking here.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Ben

Resources for Christian Parenting

In January of this year, a news story broke of a 12 year old young girl who attempted to seriously harm herself. After the parents did some investigating, they learned that the school counselor allegedly encouraged this young girl to transition. The parents alleged their daughter was given a new name and they were never informed about it, which they believe led to their daughter’s pain.

A story like this is unfortunately very familiar to us now. We’ve read and watched with our own eyes as kids are encouraged to attend drag shows, read essentially pornographic material as they explore their bodies, and consider abandoning the design God has for them. We respond with anger and sadness and deep concern, but as we watch and read, we internally say, “That wouldn’t happen here.”

 

Except the story above comes to you from a school in our own county. 

 

In the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4, the Lord confronts Cain regarding his offering and says to him, 

“but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it’.” (Genesis 4:5–7)

Sin and evil is crouching at the door waiting to attack. Sin’s desire is to take us out and to rule over us. And the devil himself, while not omnipresent, is seeking to devour us. It’s why Peter says,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

As parents, we have been given the responsibility to care, protect, and disciple our children. We have been entrusted by their Creator to nurture them and raise them up to know the Lord. And I think we can all be honest in saying, parenting today is challenging! But what I want to encourage us today is parenting has been the same for all of history. The distractions are different, the culture is different, and the temptations are different, yet at the core is the same root issue: your child is a depraved sinner. (Romans 5:12) 

This past Sunday, we looked at Deuteronomy 6:1-9 to see what the Bible has to say about Christian parenting. We looked at this text because it is not helpful to give you five steps to better parenting because those steps often treat the symptoms and not the disease. I wanted to give you a Biblical foundation to your parenting. 

Parenting in a hyper-sexual culture is not for the faint of heart. Boys and girls are introduced to some form of pornography between the ages of 5 and 10. From a Christian perspective, the goal is not just to prevent porn exposure, but rather to teach God’s design for sex, establish clear and open communication, and acknowledge the dangers.

There is a difference between not allowing access to YouTube, social media, or even iPhones or iPads and teaching them God’s design for sex. Instead of a mindset of preventing porn exposure, we need to have a mindset of preparing for porn exposure. This provides action steps when your child is “accidentally” exposed to pornographic material (whether explicit or inexplicit such as provocative television commercials) or their eyes begin wandering at the pool or beach. Yes, we prevent, but we also prepare.

We prepare them for porn exposure by teaching them the truths of Scripture and the importance of accountability. If you notice, we take the same first measures in our parenting as we do in our personal fight against sexual sin.

Scripture teaches our children God’s design.  Our children need to know that sex is God’s design between a married man and woman for life. We are proclaiming God’s design for marriage, sex, and gender because it is God’s design that is actively being attacked in our culture. We fight the lies of Satan with the truth of God. Any conversation concerning sex should be grounded in Scripture and celebrated as a gift from the Lord for a husband and wife. Read to them God’s design for sex and marriage from Genesis 1-2.

Open communication leads to intentional accountability – Talking to your children about sex in an age appropriate manner makes you the expert on the topic. They hear it from you first before they hear it on the playground or in a video game chat. Most importantly, they hear the truth behind sex found in God’s Word. Regardless of the topic, teaching the truth of God’s Word to our children before they hear the lies of the world will serve them well.

As you seek to be Biblically grounded parents, take the time to open the Bible and candidly talk to your children about God’s design for sex and their bodies. Here are a few additional resources that will help you in this conversation:

The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality by Luke Gilkerson

God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds by Kristen Jenson (Ages 3-6)

Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen Jenson

Raising Teens in a Hyper-sexualized World by Eliza Huie

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON GENDER AND SEXUALITY

God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew Walker

Good God, Gay Girl by Jackie Hill Perry

Transgender by Vaughan Roberts

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

I pray the truths from Scripture and these resources will encourage you in your parenting. And as always, if you ever need help, please let me know.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt