Category Archives: Exhortations

Grief With Hope: An Exhortation on Death

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep…Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17)

Psalm 116:15 says that the death of his saints is precious in his sight. This past week, God beheld a beautiful sight in the death of Jan McDonough. It is good for us to experience the sadness and grief of the loss of our dear friend and sister in Christ. Yet, that is not the end of our emotions. Mixed with it is a sense of wonder that she is now seeing Jesus face to face. This is a beautiful thing. She left her cancer ridden body and awoke to her faith now made sight.
We grieve, but we do not grieve without hope. What is our hope in now? It is not shallow sentiments by saying that she’s in a better place. Our hope is not in merely saying that we are glad her suffering is now over. Our hope is in God’s Word. We take hope in the fact that Jesus died and rose again and because of that we who trust in Jesus; though we die, yet will we live.
The gospel of Jesus Christ does not only forgive us of our sins, although that is amazing. Paul reminds us here that because of Jesus’ perfect life, agonizing death, and glorious resurrection, we have a hope that we will be with him forever in heaven. Heaven! A place where there will be no more cancer-ravaged bodies or souls that have to fight sin. Heaven! A place where we will have no more pain and we will be in the presence of Jesus.
Jan McDonough sat in these rows. She sang with us. She prayed with us. She heard the Bible preached with us. And now she is seeing Jesus face to face. Yes, we are to grieve with Ed in the loss of Jan. Yet, we are to hope because the best is yet to come. And our hope is not because of something we’ve read on a nice Hallmark card. Our hope is in the unshakeable truths of God’s Word. The truth that we have in I Thessalonians 4:13-14 is unshakeable.
Come before God this morning and confess your sins. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension paid the debt of our sins and conquered the grave. This is not earned. This is given to those who trust in Jesus. Those who trust in Jesus can sing (as we will soon) it is not death to die.

IT IS NOT DEATH TO DIE

VERSE 1
It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

CHORUS
O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

VERSE 2
It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

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Death by Tradition

Each week our church has a part in the service where the congregation is exhorted (an urgent reminder) to remember and cling to the gospel. Below is my exhortation for November 20, 2016.

Grace Church, the exhortation is the part in our service whereby we remind ourselves that we are acceptable to God and forgiven of our sins only because of our trust in Jesus, and him alone. This part of the service is meant to remind you of your need for the gospel, your need to confess your sins before God, and the joy we have in right relationship with God because of the gospel.
Yet there is a danger here. The danger is that which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of in Matthew 15. They were obeying God’s commands and even doing right things yet they made void the word of God. You could write a check to me for a million dollars, but if you write “void” across it, the check is worthless. What they were doing didn’t matter because it was voided out by their cold hearts.
The danger is that you can see this exhortation as a voided tradition. You can see it as just something we do every week and miss out on the riches of it. You can do and say the right things yet have them mean absolutely nothing if your heart is far from God. If you are feeling coldness or numbness right now, in this exhortation, ask God to change your heart. The Pharisees didn’t care that their hearts were cold. They preferred their dead traditions over the living God. Don’t be like them!
If you heart is cold or numb this morning, that is bad news. The good news is that you can’t change it on your own. Come before God and ask him to set your heart on fire with a renewed passion and love for the gospel. I can’t do any better than reading to you Titus 3:4-7. Take this into our time of confession and plead for God to plunge you deeper into the truths of God that abide still.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”


The Grand Tetons and The Gospel

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Exhortation for Grace Church

“By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established mountains, being girded with might…so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.” Psalm 65:5-6, 8

A couple of weeks ago our family went on a two week road trip to Oregon. As we drove across 3,700 miles of our country we saw national parks, historical markers, rivers, gorges, woods and all sorts of animals. Yet one of the experiences that stands out to us the most is the Grand Tetons.
Our first glimpse of the their peaks was when we camped near them in Wilson, Wyoming. We could just see them over the treetops as the sun was setting. The next day, we packed up our campsite, and started driving towards them. As got closer, we could see more and more of their towering beauty. We could see more details about the mountains, and the closer we got, the greater we realized they actually were. They towered over the prairies and wildlife and trees and everything else around them.
Something happened to all of us in that van as we got closer and closer to these rocks that were 13,000 feet in the air. We were overcome with a sense of awe. No park ranger had to tell us that we should be amazed or stunned by their beauty and majesty. The closer we got the more realized we were in the presence of something awe-inspiring.
And so it is with the salvation of our God. His deeds are awesome. His signs are awe-inspiring. And just as our Honda Odyssey was the vehicle by which we were able to be brought to the base of these mountains, so church is one of the vehicles by which we see the awesomeness of God’s salvation.
We aren’t only receiving instruction today, or meeting friends, or any number of things that happen when we gather together. We are being shown the awesomeness of God’s salvation. He is the hope for the ends of the earth. So as we move into a time of confessing our sins, spend 30 seconds seriously thinking about your sins. Be sober-minded about it. And when you are done, lift your heart and voice in the praise and thankfulness to God for what he has done for you.
The reason you are able to stand in the towering presence of the One who girded the mountains with might is only because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection is the way in which we have access to fellowship with him. This doesn’t come through good works but comes through the Spirit wrought work in our hearts of being able to see and savor the awesomeness of the God of our salvation.


Between Two Worlds

On Wednesday of this week an officer with the St. Anthony police department did a traffic stop on a car in which Philando Castile was in. We know hardly any of the details about what happened on the traffic stop, other than it ended with the officer shooting and killing Philando. The following evening as I was getting ready to go to bed and my news alert sounded on my phone. It said that 3-6 officers had been shot in Dallas while providing security at a Black Lives Matter rally. I couldn’t sleep, so I watched the news come in on TV as it turned from cops shot to cops killed. I woke up the next morning to the news that a total of five cops were killed.

As a cop who has a family pursuing an adoption of a black child, Johanna and I find each other living in two different worlds. The adoption world tends to be skeptical at best and hateful at worst of law enforcement. The law enforcement world tends to be skeptical at best and hateful at worst of Black Lives Matter or other organizations or people who criticize them in these officer involved shootings.

There’s so much I could say on this, but here’s briefly what I want to say to you this morning Grace Church; you who are my people. A couple of years ago I started reading books that pushed me outside of my law enforcement comfort zone that were written by people that loved the gospel. What do people who love Jesus yet disagree with me have to say about their perspective on these types of racial divides?

I think most people in this church tend to fall on the side of supporting law enforcement. I am thankful for that. However, there are people who really love Jesus and the Bible that disagree with me and aren’t so trusting of cops. I’ve intentionally read blogs by Thatbiti Anyabwile or John Piper and the book Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson to try and learn from them. These are men who love Jesus and the gospel and think black men are being shot unjustifiably. At times their writings have frustrated me. At times I’ve learned from them.

It is really, really, really easy to dig our heels into our own camps when a Philando Castile shooting happens or when cops are shot. What is really, really hard is to mourn with those we disagree with that are hurting. For my brothers and sisters in Christ, mourn with the mourning. Not just with those you agree with.

Pray for Philando’s family. Pray for the cop that shot him. Pray for the families of the cops that were killed in Dallas. Who does this except for those who love Jesus? This is the aroma of Jesus Christ to a world that is perishing. Mourn with those who mourn. Don’t just mourn with those you agree with or those who have not done anything wrong. In humility, count others more significant than ourselves. Thank God, that Jesus Christ emptied himself by taking the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. He didn’t save us after we got our lives fixed up. He saved us while we were still enemies to him.

The world can’t do this. They can’t in humility pray for those that they disagree with. We can though because we are being transformed into the image of the one who left heaven and took on the likeness of men- Jesus. The gospel is the only remedy that is the cure for this mess we are swimming in. “We are neither Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Col. 3:11).”


As A Runner, Look To The Forerunner

Grace Church, the exhortation this morning is from I Corinthians 9:24-27. I love that God’s Word uses visible things and experiences to communicate invisible truths. How kind of God to do that. He makes this world to declare his glory and we can learn more about who he is and who we are by observing it and reading his Word. That’s massive.
Here Paul uses the visible experience of running to communicate how we should live out our Christian faith. Use self-control. Remember that it is an everlasting reward you are running after. Don’t run aimlessly. Discipline in the Christian life is critical.
Running is on my mind because Pastor Dave and I ran a race yesterday. The sun was out, the humidity was high, and the heat was fatiguing. At each mile marker there were water and aid stations where volunteers would hand out cold water, ice, and sponges soaked with water. At each water station I would stop running, walk through them, get refueled, and start running the next mile. I couldn’t have finished the race without that.
Your following of Jesus is like a runner in a race, but the prize is infinitely better. This exhortation, the songs, the sermons, and your fellowship with the saints is meant to help you run a disciplined, self-controlled race. You need the proclaiming of the gospel week after week to cascade over you like those water sponges did on my head. You need to drink from the refreshing streams of God’s Word through the preaching and singing on Sunday mornings.
So don’t go through this morning as just another morning. Take stock of your week. Where did you run your race well and where did you blow it? Come this morning and drink from the pools of God’s grace and go into this week, by his power, to run your race well.
Jesus was our forerunner who ran his race perfectly. Where you ran well this week, thank him. Where you failed, ask for forgiveness and grace and strength for the future. For we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf (Hebrews 6:19-20).


Disappointment and All-Sufficiency

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:26, 28)

My flesh and my heart may fail. There is not much life that needs to be lived before you discover that things begin to fail. When you’re a child the new toy that you’ve been wanting for such a long time breaks. When you’re a teenager the friends that you thought were there for you let you down and even hurt you. As an adult, your spouse doesn’t live up to your expectations and disappoints you.

This past week you’ve walked through a world that has and will always fail you. It lets you down. It disappoints you. It will never and can never measure up to expectations. This past week I was hoping to get a job assignment at work that I had been waiting three years for, but it was given to someone else. I was disappointed about that.

On a bigger scale, at some point your heart will fail too. That muscle inside your chest beats 100,000 times a day, 35 million times a year, and on average 2.5 billion times in a lifetime. It is amazingly reliable but at some point in will stop beating and you will die.

Consider this- not only were you disappointed this week but you were also probably a disappoint to someone else. You didn’t live up to or measure up to someones expectations of you. I’ve failed this week in doing things I should have done as a follower of Jesus and have disappointed others.

This can be crushing. But God. Two of the most wonderful words in Scripture. God is our strength and our portion forever. The reason you can come into his presence this morning amidst all the disappointment swirling around is because of the all-sufficient work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus purchased the promise of Psalm 73:26 for you through his death, burial and resurrection. If there was no cross then there would be no “but God.” He never disappoints, never fails and will never disappoint or fail in the future. He is our portion forever.

It is good for you to be near God this morning and look to him for a refuge, through the never-disappointing, all-sufficient work on the cross.

Father, I can come to You
And boast of deeds I’ve done
In my pride I strive to earn
The favor Christ has won
He alone pleads my acceptance
All my works aside
So I come with empty hands
And I cling to Christ


This Victory

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” I Corinthians 15:56-58

Consider the reaction we have at the sense of victory. What happens to you when your sports team clinches the championship in the final seconds? Or when you get that promotion you have been working towards for years? Or when you get the notice from your doctor that you have beaten cancer? What happens in the soul? Celebration. Elation. Joy.
Now consider this- what was the greatest victory that was ever accomplished in human history? It wasn’t a sickness cured or a victim rescued or a war won. It was the victory that Jesus Christ purchased for believers at calvary. It was an actual event that is the greatest story that has ever been told. Jesus was an actual man, who really lived, who really bled, and who really hung on a tree, and who really bore the full wrath of God to purchase redemption for us.
This victory was planned before the formation of the world. This victory was foretold after the first sin entered the world and corrupted all of creation. This victory was the substance of the shadow of bulls and sheep that were sacrificed. This victory was looked for by a longing people who read of the prophecies of a coming Messiah. This victory entered the world as a baby born of a virgin, adopted by a simple carpenter. This victory was the greatest act of injustice as a perfectly innocent Jesus was tried, flogged and executed. This victory was secured when he defeated death by stepping on the neck of Satan and rising from the dead.
This victory was given to us by grace through faith. He gave us the victory.

Because of our sinful offenses towards a perfectly just and holy God we deserve hell. All of us. For all of eternity. Yet, for those who would look to the cross and trust in this victory, nothing in this life is in vain. Therefore, today, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord (through his victory) your labor is not in vain. Your life means something because of the victory in Christ Jesus.
You can only come before God today because of the complete, perfect and joyful victory that Jesus secured for you. So celebrate it and take joy in this victory this morning. He is risen indeed!