Articles from April 2020

Treasure Chest of Romans 8

Romans 8 has rightly been called the greatest chapter in all the Bible. There is not a single imperative (command) in this chapter, but only indicatives (statements) of the glories and promises of what it means to be “in Christ.” The Apostle Paul lays out the “Good News” of the Gospel in the first half of the book with the theme introduced in 1:16-17. In chapters 1-3 Paul reveals that all of mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, are sinfully under the wrath of God. But then in chapter 3:21-26 (a dramatic hinge in the book) everything changes as Paul teaches that the wrath of God is propitiated, or appeased, through righteousness which comes not through the Mosaic Law but through faith in Christ. In chapter 4 Paul illustrates through the Patriarch Abraham that faith and not works has always been the means to righteousness. In chapter 5, Paul explains that all of humanity is in Adam and therefore sinful and in need of the blood of Jesus which alone saves us from the wrath of God. Chapters 6 & 7 explain the continuing struggle that those who are saved will experience putting sin to death practically in their lives. And then chapter 8 opens up to every true believer all of the glories and benefits of being saved and being “in Christ.” When Paul says in v. 1 “therefore,” he is linking these blessing back to his entire argument beginning in chapter 1. These treasures are only for the children of God, for those who are in Christ and have the Spirit dwelling within them.

In Christ Jesus & In the Spirit
Remarkably Paul describes believers as being “in Christ” and being “of the Spirit.” It shouldn’t surprise us that Paul mentions the work of the Spirit 20 times in the first 27 verses of Romans 8. As believers we are no longer members of the world’s realm, but we have entered into the realm of the Spirit and the Kingdom of God. There are really only two types of people in the world, those who are in Christ and those who are still separated from Christ (Rom 9:3), those who have the Spirit of Christ and those who don’t, those who are born again, and those who are not. It is only those who are in Christ and have the Spirit who will receive the treasures listed in Romans 8. This ought to cause us to worship and have grateful hearts. We must never forget that we were once separated from Him. We were united with Christ only by the grace of God and our hearts should be overflowing with joy because of all that Christ is willing to give us.

The Treasures
When you open a treasure chest, some of the treasures are certainly tucked away and not seen because of the vastness of them all, and the fact that some may be larger than others. So, like a kid at Christmas, it is best to lay all of the treasures out on the bed so that you can see them clearly (and send a picture to grandparents). It won’t be until many days later, after the dust has settled, that each treasure is looked upon with diligence to see and savor that particular gift, so as to enjoy it fully and embrace all of its implications. But for now, we want to simply lay out all of the treasures Paul lists in chapter 8 clearly so we can see them with a bird’s eye view. Here they are in all their glory:

  • No Wrath: All condemnation, hell, and wrath have been removed forever! (v. 1)
  • No More Slavery: We have been set free from being enslaved to sin. (v. 2)
  • Righteousness: God the Father provided righteousness in Christ to fulfill the requirement of the Law. (v. 4)
  • The Mind of Christ: Every believer has been given a new mind. (v. 5-8)
  • Eternal Life & Peace with God: We are promised heaven and reconciliation with God. (v. 6, 11)
  • Indwelling Spirit: Every believer is permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. (v. 9)
  • Power Over Sin: Every believer is able to mortify the deeds of sin. (v. 12-13)
  • Led by the Spirit: Since we are “Sons of God” we are led by the Spirit. (v. 14)
  • Adopted into God’s Family: Since we received the Spirit we are able to call God our Father! (v. 15)
  • Assurance: The Spirit’s presence bears witness with our spirit that we are truly children of God. (v. 16)
  • Heirs & Future Glory: Because we are in Christ, we will be glorified with Him and receive a grand inheritance. (v. 17-23)
  • Redemption of Our Bodies: We will be fully redeemed and given new glorified bodies. (v. 23)
  • The Holy Spirit Prays for Us: He helps us in our weakness by interceding for us. (v. 26-27)
  • Providential Love: For us who love God, all things work together for good that we might be conformed into the image of Jesus. (v. 28-29)
  • Eternal Security: Because we were foreknown, predestined, called, and justified, we will also be glorified. (v. 30)
  • God is For Us: God promises to give us all things! (v. 31-32)
  • No Charges, No Condemnation: No one can bring a charge against us. (v. 33-34)
  • Prayers of Jesus: Jesus is at the right hand praying for us. (v. 34)
  • No Separation Ever: Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ! (v. 35-39 )
  • Conquerors: Because we are in Christ we will be victorious! (v. 37)
  • Loved: He loves us! (v. 37)

Richest in the Universe
It will take a lifetime and all eternity to understand all that God has given us in Christ Jesus. At times we may not totally understand or even grasp all of the glories of these gifts. But for now, God has told us what we should believe! God has told us what we have received! Never say that you are not rich. If you are in Christ you are among the richest people in the universe! The world may seek worldly wealth, but as believers we know that we have riches in heaven waiting for us! God has revealed all of these wonderful truths to us that they might be an encouragement to us and strengthen us in this difficult journey of life. When you get down, meditate on what God has said that He has given you and provided for you “in Christ” and “in the Spirit!”

 

Habakkuk: Hope in this World

The little Old Testament book of Habakkuk is one of the most remarkable books in all of Scripture, as it contains an extended dialogue between the prophet and God (Habakkuk 1-2). The prophet Habakkuk stood in Jerusalem around 600 BC and pondered the state of his nation, Judah, and was dumbfounded. Evil thrived out in the complete open, but the covenant and faithful God of Israel remained strangely silent. Habakkuk cried out “Where are you God? How long are you going to allow this mess to continue?” (Hab 1:1-3). The content of this book is very relevant in our day as many have questioned God’s silence in the midst of all that is happening in the world today, especially with the coronavirus pandemic creating much heartache in the world. We must learn the valuable lessons Habakkuk learned if we are to have hope in this world.

Two Great Dilemmas
An Apathetic God: As the dialogue progressed between the prophet and God, two major dilemmas were formed in the prophet’s mind. In the first chapter, Habakkuk expresses his confusion, namely with the character of God. He had a strict horizontal perspective and it caused him to look around and worry. Overcome with the situation, he asks God “how long,” and “why?” The prophet was upset because it seemed that God didn’t see or hear what was going on. Destruction and violence were rampant. Justice was perverted. What made matters worse is that it seemed like God was indifferent to it all! All of us can relate to Habakkuk’s questioning. Difficulties in our lives often cause us to ask the same questions.

An Unrighteous God: The second dilemma was formed in the heart of the prophet only after God answered Habakkuk. God told Habakkuk that He had seen and heard, and had already begun to work by raising up the evil Chaldeans to bring judgment upon the evil of Judah (1:12-13). This astonished Habakkuk, and he began to question God about His decision, “Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” What bothered Habakkuk was that a “holy” and “pure” God seemed not to punish the wicked and godless Chaldeans, and instead chose to use them to judge the lesser wicked Judeans. This seemed inconsistent to the nature and character of God. Habakkuk was nearly accusing God of treason to His own character and His covenant promises to His people.

God’s Answer & Our Hope
Habakkuk waited on the Lord after making his complaint against him (2:1). God’s answer may not have been what the prophet wanted to hear, but profound lessons were learned. God’s answers to Habakkuk are the basis for our hope (2:1-20). First, God revealed His sovereignty over all things including evil. While God is not the author of evil and is outside of evil, He still uses evil to accomplish His mysterious purposes. At the same time however, no evil will escape the righteous judgment of God. Second, God’s mysterious purposes and plans are much bigger than our personal problems. We have to consider that God is working in the world. While He is concerned about us as individuals, He also is orchestrating history for His own glory and purpose. Third, in the end God will triumph. God tells Habakkuk, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).

All of these lessons are profound for us today in our particular context. When it seems like the whole world is in chaos, evil is triumphing and the coronavirus is out of control, let not your heart be troubled. “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him” (2:20). There is nothing outside the control of God. Because of these great truths, worry is futile and anxiety is irrational. We don’t have to live hopeless lives!

Our Response
Live by Faith: In the midst of the conversation with the prophet, the Lord tells us exactly how we are to live. The key to the entire book of Habakkuk is found in 2:4 where the Lord says, “Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him, but the righteous will live by his faith.” The one who is righteous will live by trusting in God. This is the very essence of Christianity. Our relationship with God begins, continues and is sustained by faith in Him (Heb 11:6).

Be Real: Faith and prayer do not necessarily eliminate emotions. After hearing all that God said, Habakkuk said that his body trembled, lips quivered, rottenness entered into his bones, and his legs trembled as he waited for God to unfold His plan (3:16). The prophet had terror and trust mixed together. It’s important to be honest with God about how we feel.

Rejoice & Hope in the Lord: In the end, Habakkuk rejoiced and hoped in God. In spite of the circumstances of life, the prophet’s faith was manifested through worship and praise to God. Even though everything around him was unraveling, he said, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength” (3:18-19).

No one would have ever dreamed a year ago that the world would be in the state that it is in today. Where is God in all of this? He is not silent, nor indifferent. Our God is working in the world. Those who are righteous will live by faith in Him and will worship Him in the midst of devastation. He alone is our only hope in this world who sent Jesus to be the Savior of the world.

 

Good Friday & Extraordinary Grace

About a year ago, I was witnessing to a young woman at the AT&T store while our family was getting help setting up a phone. I’ll never forget the response that the young woman gave me when I told her about God’s saving grace for sinners. She responded by saying she could not believe that God would forgive and pardon a murderer or a child molester. In her mind, these were the worst of sinners who deserved nothing but God’s wrath. And in fact, she went on to say that forgiveness by God would make him outrageously horrible. Well the woman rightly understood the justice of God, but what she did not understand was the mercy of God. She also failed to understand that all sin is equally wicked before God so that every sinful human deserves the wrath of God (Rom 3:23).

From a human perspective it does seem that God’s grace toward the worst of sinners would be unbalanced. But this is the message of the cross and the message of Good Friday. As a child, one of the first questions I asked about Passion Week was, “Why is Friday called ‘Good Friday?’” It didn’t seem like a good day at all! Jesus, the greatest man who ever lived, was crucified on a horrible cross unjustly. But when you understand the story, it is clear that the “good” part of Friday is that Jesus provides forgiving and extravagant grace to sinners, yes even to the worst of sinners. The valuable lesson we learn from the Good Friday story is that God’s grace is extravagant! The cross of Christ makes grace available to all sinners regardless of their wickedness saving them not by works but through faith in Christ alone (Rom 5:10, Eph 2:8-9, Tit 3:5)!

Biblical Illustration
There is no greater story to display this extravagant grace than the story of the two thieves who hung on the cross next to Jesus on that “Good Friday.” The criminals were hung on the cross with Jesus from the third hour (9am) to the ninth hour (3pm) for a totally of 6 hours (Mark 15:15, 33). They were both there, suffering the just punishment of their sins, while Jesus suffered unjustly. Both of the thieves were sentenced to death because of their wicked deeds. Luke tells us that both of the men were criminals (Luke 23:32). Mark’s Gospel tell us that these men were “rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7). So, these men were the worst of men (Is 53:12).

And yet over those six hours, one criminal’s heart began to change. And in the last hours of his life, one criminal began to seek the Lord’s forgiveness and began to exercise faith in Christ. While the man did not hear a sermon, he certainly had seen the placard that was put above the head of Jesus declaring Jesus to be the “King of the Jews.” He had probably also heard about all the miracles that Jesus had done. It would be difficult to believe that anyone in Israel had not heard about Jesus, His words and His works. And also, the criminal heard firsthand the soft gentle words of Jesus asking His heavenly Father to forgive those who were killing Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In a moment, this one criminal began to exercise faith in Christ. His faith is evidenced in a couple of ways.

Repentance of Sinfulness: First, the criminal’s mind and heart began to change about his own sinfulness. He began to recognize and acknowledge his own wretchedness. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that at first the man began to hurl insults at Jesus (Mt 27:44). But then something radically changed in his heart. When the other criminal began to mock Jesus, this criminal began to rebuke him saying, “Don’t you even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:39-41). What a change! This man now began to have a sense of the holiness of God. As he hung there naked, he began to fear God, maybe for the very first time realizing his own sinfulness. And his repentance was further evidenced by his efforts to witness to the other criminal.

Recognition of Jesus: Second, the man’s faith began to understand who Jesus truly was. First, the man acknowledged that Jesus was innocent. Second, He recognized that Jesus was truly a King. About three hours before his death (at the 6th hour), the man made a remarkable request. He begged Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). The criminal acknowledged by this statement that he truly believed that Jesus was a king and had a future kingdom.

Extraordinary Grace
Now this is where the story turns dramatically. Humanly speaking we would expect condemnation. But Jesus extends grace to this wretched sinner in the last moments of his life. The criminal’s faith was small at best, and only had a few hours of works to prove itself. But it was enough for Jesus to tell him emphatically, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). Jesus promised him salvation immediately. Instead of going to Hell, this man was going to be with Jesus in heaven for all eternity.

Both men died along with Jesus. But their eternal destinies were totally different. The unrepentant criminal died and immediately went to hell, while the repentant criminal who had put his faith in Christ went straight to heaven. Steve Lawson said, “People who go to hell deserve to be there. People who go to heaven do not deserve to be there. The first is justice, the second is grace.”

There are many valuable lessons from this story. For sure, as long any one has breath, there is opportunity to repent and believe on Jesus Christ for salvation. It is never too late, until death comes. But the major lesson of this story is about the extraordinary grace of Christ to even the worst of sinners. This story teaches us that the blood of Jesus is greater than all our sin. There is never a sin too great for the blood of Jesus to forgive (except the rejection of Jesus). Yes, even murderers can be forgiven of their sin (1 Tim 1:12-17).

This story should help us understand why “Good Friday” is good! It is good for wretched sinners who put their trust in the cross work of Jesus and His atonement for sin. It is good because sinners can be saved by extravagant grace. While the world may not forgive, God is both just and the justifier of those who put their faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:26). Just like the criminal, we are all saved by grace alone.

What Is God Doing?

You may not have asked the question but you have surely thought it, “What is God doing in the world these days?” In my previous post, I addressed the fact that God is in control. It is clear from Scripture that God completely governs, sustains and cares for His world. Because of that great truth, we can trust our heavenly Father who is working out all things according to His all wise plan. In this post I want to answer the question of whether there is purpose behind what God is doing. And the obvious answer is that God is not capricious; He does not act without purpose. But can we know for certain what God is doing today?

Understanding God’s Will
As we think about what God does in the world, we must understand that God has a will by which he “approves and determines to bring about every action necessary for the existence and activity of Himself and all creation” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 211). For sure God’s will alone sovereignly determines the outcome of all things throughout history. The Psalmist said, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (Ps 115:3). The Apostle Paul said succinctly that God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). “All things” means everything that exists or everything in creation. In our current coronavirus context, it would certainly include pestilence. God clearly determines the beginning from the end of all things, ensuring that all of His purposes come to pass (Is 14:24, 46:8-11) including horrible calamity (Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6, Lam 3:37).

To understand the will of God as described in Scripture, consider four distinctions: 1) God’s necessary will, 2) God’s free will, 3) God’s revealed will, and 4) God’s secret will (Grudem, 212-213). God’s necessary will includes everything that He must do because of His character. God cannot act contrary to His own nature. But God also acts freely without obligation throughout history according to His free choice without restrain or coercion (i.e. creation, redemption).

God’s will can also be categorized as revealed or secret. Clearly God revealed His will through the written Word of God, but He also revealed His will through the prophets. Many times, throughout the Old Testament God brought judgment upon His people and disclosed His will to select prophets who in turn proclaimed it to Israel. For example, God told the prophet Habakkuk, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own” (Hab 1:5-6, see the entire chapter). God revealed to the prophet Habakkuk that He Himself was raising up and bringing the evil Chaldeans to judge His people harshly. His purpose in bringing calamity was clearly spoken through the prophet. But we must also not be ignorant that there is an aspect of God’s will that is secretive. Moses said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut 29:29). For certain, God reveals all that we need to know. He has revealed primarily the mystery of our great redemption which is found solely in His Son, Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3-14). While revealing the pertinent things, sometimes God chooses not to reveal how He secretly governs the universe and determines everything that happens (see James 4:15, 1 Cor 4:19, Rom 9:18, Acts 4:28).

It is important to note that God is not obligated to reveal to us His secret will. This was the case with Job. Prior to the patriarchal period (during the time of Genesis 1-11), Job was struck with horrible calamity (chapters 1-2). There was no prophet in that day to reveal the will of God to Job. God purposefully hid His secret will from him. After Job begins to question God about the calamity, God confronts Job’s questioning with a barrage of His own questions, telling Job essentially that He did not have the right to question the infinite wisdom of God (chapters 38-41). After listening to the all wise God, Job responds back to God by saying, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3). Job repented of his questioning and acknowledged the great wisdom and secretive will of God.

What We Do Know
While it seems best to categorize the coronavirus events under the secretive will of God, we are not left without a general idea of what God is doing in the world. We can deduce the following three conclusions:

  • God’s perfect will is being accomplished according to His sovereign control.
  • God is going to be glorified through all of His work. The ultimate goal of God’s will is to bring glory to Himself. In the end we must simply acknowledge that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His wisdom is far beyond our understanding. (Is 43:6-7, 48:9-11, Eph 1:6, 12, 14, Matt 5:16, 1 Cor 10:31)
  • God’s people are going to be blessed by God’s will. God always works for His glory and the good of His people. God’s people must always remember that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

So How is This Good for Us?
Since we know that God works all things for His glory and the good of His people, what is it that God wants us to learn in this time? How can all of this bad stuff really be good for us? Let me give you a short list of ways God is working in His people’s lives through this coronavirus pandemic (John MacArthur, Finding Security in a Troubled World).

  • God uses trouble to test the strength of our faith. (Ex 16:4, Deut 8:1-2, 2 Chron 32:31, 1 Pet 1:6-7)
  • God uses trouble to humble us. (2 Cor 12:7-10)
  • God uses trouble to wean us from earthly things. (Col 3:2-17)
  • God uses trouble to call us to heavenly hope. (2 Cor 4:16-18)
  • God uses trouble to reveal what we really love. (Gen 22:9-14, Deut 13:3)
  • God uses trouble to enable us to help others in their trials. (Luke 22:31-32)

As children of God, we must remember that God never does anything without purpose! Hopefully as we continue through this great trial, we will be shaped into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). God’s work in the world today is not without purpose. While it may be secretive, God’s will is to bring good to His people.

 

This Season at Ebenezer

Updated: 1/12/2021

Our Elders have decided that Ebenezer will continue with our current Covid safety measures at least through the end of March 2021. Sunday morning worship services, Sunday school, and many of our small-group events will continue to be held in person. We will continue to recommend social distancing, hand sanitizing, low-touch measures, and the wearing of face masks until you are seated.


Sunday Morning Worship Services:

8:30am & 11:15am
Our in-person worship services have limited seating available in the sanctuary with overflow seating in the gym (live video of service provided). Social distancing is encouraged, “low-touch” methods are in place, face masks are recommended and may be removed once seated, socializing is encouraged to be done outdoors. A digital attendance & connection form is available on the mobile app and website.  For those needing to worship at home, our Live Simulcast is available online at 8:30am, with the recording available anytime afterward.


Children’s Programs During Worship Services:

  • During 1st Service, 8:30 am:
    – Early Childhood (2-3 year-olds), Room 8
  • During 2nd Service, 11:15 am:
    – Nursery (0-23 mos), Main Lobby
    – Early Childhood (2-3 year-olds), Room 8
    – Children’s Church (Age 4-K), Room 16/18


Sunday School:

10:05 – 11:00 am
The following classes are being provided. Masks or face shields are recommended for children age 4 – grade 5 (where social distancing is difficult and many teachers are at-risk individuals). Grades 6 and up will encourage social distancing with masks recommended until seated. CLICK HERE for a letter to parents from our Children’s Ministry Director.

  • Nursery (0-23 mos)
  • Early Childhood (2-3 year-olds) (Room 8)
  • 4 Year-Olds & Kindergarten (Room 17)
  • 1st & 2nd Grade (Room 15)
  • 3rd – 5th Grade (Room 16/18)
  • Youth, grades 6-12 (Room 12/13)
  • College-Age (Room 20) (Begins Oct. 4)


Sunday Adult Electives:

10:05 – 10:45 am
The Adult Elective classes meet in the gym, and end at 10:45am so that we have time to sanitize everything before Second Service. Social distancing is encouraged and masks are recommended until you are seated.

Jan 10 – June 6, 2021 – Two classes are being offered:
1) Minor Prophets – Taught by Scott Holwick, Gym-North
2) 1 & 2 Corinthians – Taught by Marcus Brunstetter, Gym-South


Additional Events:

Please check out our Events Page or Calendar for additional events, Bible Studies, and activities being offered at this time.