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christ-less preaching

“You need to love more!” “You shouldn’t lie!” “You have to give more!” Sounds about right, doesn’t it? No one would be jumping out of their seats shouting “blasphemy!” if they heard the preacher saying these things. But the truth is, when these imperatives are void of Christ and His gospel, shouting blasphemy may in fact be appropriate. Such sermons are nothing more than talks that focus on man’s behaviors or feelings and result in nothing more than rebuking people into temporal modification. In other words, do you struggle with anger? Well such preaching would say stop being angry, it’s a sin, and God doesn’t like it when you’re angry! It fails to dig deeper and cause a person to consider the why of their feelings and behavior. It fails to challenge one to wrestle with the idols in their lives or the false beliefs that they hold. It fails to consider their lack of dependency on the person and work of Jesus in confronting these sins. Instead, such sermons preach morality. “Good Christians must and must not…” And the preacher leads his people into a life of legalistic spirituality where man and what he must do matters more than Jesus and what He has done.

What’s wrong with these sermons besides being ineffective and a waste of time? It lacks Jesus and His gospel. Such sermons might as well be preached in a mosque or a temple, because the person and work of Jesus is irrelevant to what is being taught.

Moralistic sermons attack the symptoms, Christ-centered preaching addresses the cause. Moralistic sermons focus on man’s effort and failures while Christ-centered preaching focuses on Jesus’ work on the cross and His victory. Moralistic preaching causes one to focus solely on the gap between them and God, but Christ-centered preaching reminds us how Jesus has filled that gap. Moralistic preaching calls people to produce their own righteousness while Christ-centered preaching calls people to trust in Christ’s imputed righteousness. Moralistic preaching treats Jesus simply as an example of who we’re called to be, Christ-centered preaching declares Jesus to be the source of our change. Moralistic preaching leaves us trying to keep the law, while Christ-centered preaching causes us to die to the law and live by faith in Jesus.

May we never be satisfied with Christ-less, gospel-less preaching and teaching. May our mouths never instruct others to trust in themselves rather than Jesus. May Christ and his work never be just be peripheral to our message. May our preaching and teaching make much of Jesus and remind us of our condition apart from Him.

May our desire and approach reflect Paul’s:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)

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Sarah Noelle Abraham

Our beautiful daughter, Sarah Noelle, came into this world on Monday, April 5 at 4:48 pm. She weighed in at 5 lbs 10 ounces and is 18.5 inches long. She’s perfect (if I may say so myself). Mom and baby are doing great. We find ourselves watching her sleep, being overwhelmed by her smile (or whatever she’s doing with her face), and trying to soak in this indescribable experience.

These first few days have been full of joy, challenge, amazement, and adjustment. A baby is absolutely an instrument of sanctification – and Sarah has helped us to hit the ground running. There’s so much that we don’t know, and a lot that we have already learned. Each day is a new opportunity to trust more in Jesus. Please pray that we continue to grow in our love for Jesus and that the gospel would be applied to all of our circumstances.

I’m sure that I’ll have a lot more to say in the days to come, but for now, I’d rather sleep.

Thanks for praying. Please continue to pray as you remember.

cain vs. Jesus

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  (1 John 3:12, 16)

Our Bible study at church is currently reflecting on John’s teaching on love in his first epistle. When I first read this text, I oversimplified the contrast between Cain and Jesus. One was obviously sinful and a murderer, while the other was sinless and murdered. But as I continued to dig deeper into Cain’s life and compared it to the life of Jesus, it was amazing to see how completely different these two men are, and how we’re able to more clearly realize the nature of love through comparing their lives.

Here’s a sample of what we came up with:

Cain Jesus
Killed the righteous

“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:12)

Killed for the unrighteous

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

Punished for his sin

“And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” (Genesis 4:10-13)

Punished for other’s sins

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Driven by pride

“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

Humbled Himself

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

Hated his brother

“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8)

Loved those who hated Him

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” (Colossians 1:21-22)

Given grace in spite of his sin

“If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” (Genesis 4:15)

Gives grace in spite of our sin

“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (Romans 5:15)

imminent

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed… (1 Corinthians 15:51)

This is what we’ve been told. In a few weeks, God willing, we will be experiencing this “mystery” through the birth of our newborn child. Paul eloquently describes to the church in Corinth the wonderful experience of having a child (my interpretation may be a little off ): not much sleep (for us) and a lot of changing (of our lives and his/her diapers).

We’re excited, scared, anxious, etc. for the arrival of our baby. Sherin has been doing great and our baby continues to remain active (especially throughout the night – oh boy).

We always get asked “So are you guys ready?” and we never know how to respond. We can either sound overconfident and answer “yes, of course” or unprepared and say “no, not really.” So we usually don’t say anything. Sure the baby room is finally coming together and the hospital bag is packed, but how can we be fully prepared for something as life-transforming as this?

And so we’re taking it one day at a time. I keep my cellphone close by me. We’re enjoying the calm before the storm. And when he/she comes, we will be depending on Him who creates life to also sustain it.

Please pray.

Our circumstances do not determine the nature or character of God. Regardless of our situation, He remains worthy of our worship. God is good and does good. When you and I begin to believe that truth, it changes everything. Even our suffering, though difficult, is seen as an opportunity to trust more, love deeper, and depend greater on Him. This may sound foolish, and indeed it may be to some, but our ability to find joy in suffering comes only when we find greatest satisfaction in Jesus. When He is understood to be of utmost worth, all other things are valued in light of Him.

This truth is illustrated through the lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When King Nebuchadnezzar threatens to throw them into a furnace of blazing fire if they refuse to worship idols, the three men respond by saying:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

“But even if He does not…” consider that for a moment. They realize that their God is able to save, but even if He chooses not to, they’re content. Why? Because they have found God to be of utmost worth. They would rather lose their lives than to deny the treasure they have found in Him. Their circumstance does not change who they know God to be. They refuse to bow down to a golden imitation when they have found true riches in YHWH.

We will only begin to properly evaluate and respond to the circumstances of our life when we find all delight in Jesus. Apart from Him, our suffering truly is without hope, purpose. or joy.

good father

…you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs,

I am he,

I am he who will sustain you. 

I have made you and I will carry you; 

I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

 “To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?”

Isaiah 46:3-5

Sex in the City

A friend of mine informed me of a conference that’s being held at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philly on March 5-7. The conference will discuss difficult topics such as “God’s Good Plan for Sex,” “Sex and the Silence of the Church,” and “Fighting Lust.” The speakers for the conference include Joshua Harris, John Freeman, and Paul Tripp.

Pre-registration for the conference ended March 1, but you can still purchase tickets at the door.

I encourage you to also check out a blog by Tenth titled Passion and Purity which discusses various issues of sexuality in our culture.

mission

The following sermon was preached by Ajay at Seven Mile Road Church in Philly.

It is the final message of a 7-part series titled The Seven Mile Road based on Luke 24:13-33. I share this sermon with you because it challenged me to consider the urgency, cost, and joy of living in mission. May we too respond as did the men travelling with Jesus on the road to Emmaus…

Mile Seven: Mission

seed

There’s something manly about having a well-maintained lawn. That may sound ridiculous, but if you’ve ever maintained a lawn and you’re a man, you know what I’m talking about. Imagine plush, bright green, thick lawn. The kind that’s strong enough to play football on but soft enough to protect a child.

Such lawn doesn’t come easy. It requires just the right amount of seeding, watering, fertilizing, and mowing at just the right time of year. Being a new home owner, this was a project that I just couldn’t wait to get started on. I began working on my lawn this past June. It was a mess. It was full of weeds, rocks, and dead patches. There were large sections of my backyard that looked like the Mojave. It was a bit overwhelming. This yard was far from the picturesque backyards that I’ve seen on HGTV.  But I was determined to do what it takes. I was intent on restoring this yard.

And so I cleared out the weeds. I tilled the soil. I scattered seeds. I watered. And I waited. And waited. And waited.

The results weren’t what I had expected. Some sections grew while others didn’t. Some areas were dense while others remained sparse. Some grass was high and some barely came out of the soil.  

I didn’t understand why. I had done the same work for all the areas. Seed was evenly spread throughout. I had watered regularly. Yet the results varied. And so I repeated the steps, hoping for better results the second time around. Sadly there was no change and there still remains much to be tackled next summer.

This is a lot like the seed of the gospel.

“[Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

Believing this truth leads us to some key realizations:

  1. We’re called to be faithful in sharing the gospel. The seeds of the gospel are scattered over the hearts of men through our words and life. Yet it germinates mysteriously. We may plant seeds, we may water it, but we have no control over its growth. The growth of the seed has nothing to do with the sower.
  2. We must remember that the Kingdom is indeed God’s. In His wisdom, grace, and righteousness, he decides which seeds will sprout and grow.
  3. Frustration or discouragement from a lack of life transformation in others is the result of a prideful view of our own role in such transformation. Jesus says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows…” Let’s be careful not to give ourselves undue credit for things we can’t do.  
  4. The truth of the gospel – that Jesus demonstrated his holiness, love, justice, righteousness, humility,  mercy, grace etc. by dying on the cross, being buried, and resurrecting from the dead for our sins so that we may live life in restored relationship to God through Jesus, glorifying and delighting in Him forever – is what changes lives. Not you or I.

Praise God for his sovereignty over the souls of men.

The following post is by Dr. Ray Ortlund, Pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville.

“. . . a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”  Luke 7:34

What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered?  That’s a popular concept these days.  Good.  What if we were scrambling to be law-centered?  But the difference is not so easy in real terms.

A gospel-centered church holds together two things.  One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of grace — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe.  Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us.  Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us.  Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige.  The good news of substitution.  The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone.  Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there.  That message, that awareness, that clarity.  Every Sunday.

Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into its sociology.  The good news of God’s grace beautifies how we treat one another.  In fact, the horizontal reveals the vertical.  How we treat one another reveals what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe.  It is possible to say, “We are a gospel-centered church,” and sincerely mean it, while we make our church into a law-centered social environment.  We see God above lowering his gun, and we breathe a sigh of relief.  But if we are trigger-happy toward one another, we don’t really get it yet.

A gospel-centered church looks something like this album cover — my all-time favorite.  A gospel-centered church is a variegated collection of sinners.  They come together and stick together because they have nothing to fear from their message or their culture.  The theology creates the sociology, and the sociology incarnates the theology.

The one deal-breaker in a gospel-centered church: anyone for any reason turning it into a culture of legal demandingness and negative scrutiny.  Few would do that in the theology, of course.  But still, a church with a message of grace can stop being gospel-centered in real terms.

A major part of pastoral ministry is preaching the doctrines of grace and managing an environment of grace.  The latter is harder to accomplish than the former.  It is more intuitive.  It requires more humility and self-awareness.

May the Friend of sinners grant beautiful gospel-centricity in all our churches.

Gospel Coalition Website