This morning I turned to the final folio in Matthew’s Gospel—the last two pages. That’s all that’s left to preach in this series.
It has been a wonderful journey—for me personally, hopefully for our congregation as well. Without a doubt, the predominant theme of Matthew’s Gospel has been the kingship and authority of Jesus Christ. The book opens by announcing his birth as the long-awaited king. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (2:2). Jesus launched his ministry by declaring that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He demonstrated his royal authority through his teaching, his healing, and casting out evil spirits. He revealed the hidden nature of the kingdom through his parables. He entered into Jerusalem his final week lauded as a king. Finally, the book closes with Jesus’ own words, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me” (28:18). There is no mistaking the point: Jesus is the King of heaven and earth.
Yet as the book draws to a close, two themes collide that seem otherwise foreign to each other: kingship and cross. We don’t normally see those together. Yet as Matthew’s Gospel concludes, he makes clear that if you don’t understand kingship in light of the cross, then you’ve missed the point of his book. Read more…
Fear. This is the word that seems to best describe the American perspective right now. From mandatory 21-day quarantines for healthcare workers returning from West Africa to New York or New Jersey, to the U.S. Army’s announcement today of the same policy–fear seems to be taking the day.
And understandably so. With a death rate between 50-90%, it’s understandable to be scared of an epidemic getting out of hand. It’s a good thing to plan and prepare for containment.
But are mandatory quarantines really the best solution?The CDC and healthcare professionals with direct experience dealing with (and surviving from) Ebola seem to think not.
How should we think about the Ebola crisis? And how should we think about it from a Christian perspective? These are some of the questions Dr. Rick Sacra, missionary doctor and Ebola survivor, will address during his talk this Sunday night at Westgate Church in Weston, Mass. It’s a free event, from 6:30-8:00 p.m., November 2. Find more information here.
When Dr. Rick Sacra heard the news of his friends and colleagues, Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol, being diagnosed with Ebola while serving in Liberia, he knew immediately that he had to return to Liberia to help fill the gap. He arrived on August 4th to the country that had been home to him and his family for the better part of two decades, where he began providing care for obstetric patients that previously had nowhere to go due to the strain of the Ebola crisis.
Despite extra precautions, Rick developed symptoms on August 29, and three days later was diagnosed with Ebola. He was flown to Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment, where by God’s grace and the fine care of the physicians there, he recovered from a disease that claims the life of somewhere between 50% and 90% of patients. Rick is now home with his wife Debbie and their three boys, continuing to regain strength.
Rick and Debbie have been missionaries of Westgate Church for many years. I met them a year ago at our annual missions conference. We gathered as a church in early September to pray for Rick’s health when news of his diagnosis broke. Now on Sunday night, November 2, from 6:30-8:00 pm, we have the joyful privilege of having Rick and Debbie come share with us Rick’s recent experience working in Liberia, and the story of his own battle with and recovery from the deadly disease.
Please join us if you’re in the Boston area. The event is open to the public and free of charge. We will take a voluntary collection to help SIM and ELWA hospital in their ongoing fight against this devastating epidemic.
Sitting in a comfortable living room while on vacation, it’s hard for me to even begin to process the horror that is happening in Iraq. Christians being exiled, murdered, raped. Christian children being beheaded, cut in half. Fellow members of the family of God. City after city attacked and cleared out, simply because they are known to contain Christians.
It’s hard to process. Almost impossible to know how to help.
Christian Today ran a helpful piece yesterday that I recommend everyone read: “Crisis in Iraq: five things you can ACTUALLY do to help.” The first and most obvious one is prayer. But I would suggest a more specific kind of prayer is also appropriate in this situation: lament. Read more…
This week theaters across the country release Sony Pictures’ Heaven Is for Real, starring Greg Kinnear. The movie is based on the #1 New York Times Bestseller by the same title, written by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. It’s described as the true story of Burpo’s four-year-old son, Colton, who nearly died during an appendix operation, and later told his parents stories of having left his body and visited heaven during that procedure, meeting Jesus and deceased family members, and learning things he would have otherwise never known.
The book has been an incredible success, especially among Christians. It has sold over 8 million copies to date, and has spawned an entire franchise of related titles (Heaven Is for Real for Kids, for Little Ones, a DVD study, a devotional called Heaven Changes Everything), and even a ministry.
The story itself is quite moving, especially the gravity of nearly losing Colton, and the way their church came around them during the trial. It struck a personal cord with me, having lost two children to miscarriage, and having watched several close friends lose or nearly lose their children. Indeed countless readers, especially Christians, have found encouragement in its pages. The reports of heaven touch on several of the questions people are asking—the eternal state of deceased loved ones, the hope of being reunited with them, even the physical likeness of Jesus.
And yet, with anything we read, but especially with books claiming extraordinary encounters with God, we have to ask that awkward question: is it true?
I’m not trying to be a party-pooper or a hater; I’m trying to be a pastor. And weighing the truthfulness of things like this matters, especially when we’re dealing with questions of eternity. Just because somebody says they experienced something doesn’t mean it happened. And we have to keep in mind that there is a boatload of money to be made in trips-to-heaven literature right now (e.g. 90 Minutes in Heaven, Proof of Heaven, To Heaven and Back, My Journey to Heaven, The Boy who Came Back from Heaven, Flight to Heaven, and even 23 Minutes in Hell).
So is the book accurate, and how can we even tell? Read more…
Nailing Today’s Forecast but Missing the Season
This past Sunday at Westgate I preached on Matthew 15:32-16:12 and how Jesus guards his flock against the false teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The passage opens with a story about bread, where Jesus’ miraculously feeds his sheep—4,000 of them—with just seven loaves and few fish (15:32-39). It also closes with a story about bread—not literal bread as the disciples mistook, but the metaphorical leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees—that is, their false teaching, which Jesus warns his sheep against (16:5-12).
In between those two stories we see what Jesus is concerned about, as the Pharisees and Sadducees confront Jesus again, demanding that he perform a sign from heaven in order to prove his divine authority and power (16:1-4). Of course they’re not really interested in another sign (the feeding of 4,000 wasn’t good enough?), and Jesus calls them on it. But does so in a rather playful way.
The Greek word for heaven in 16:1 is the same as the word for sky in vv. 2-3. The religious leaders have asked for a sign from heaven. Jesus says, ‘You see signs in the heavens all the time, and know just how to interpret them. Red evening: sunny day tomorrow. Red morning: storm’s coming.’ They have all these theories on how to read the day’s weather—should I wear my sunglasses or grab my umbrella? But, Jesus says, they have missed the bigger signs—the signs of the seasons, or times. They’re still living like it’s winter in the middle of May. But Aslan is on the move. The winter has ended and the signs of spring are all around—signs of the new work God is doing through Jesus. The religious leaders are blind to these signs.
After Jesus rebukes them, he proceeds to warn his disciples against their false teaching. And as we keep reading the New Testament, we see that false teaching remains an ongoing threat for the church (cf. Acts 20:28-31; 2 Tim. 4:1-4). As I applied this warning in my sermon on Sunday, I noted two mistakes that both the Pharisees and Sadducees make—two things we must guard against: (1) they depart from the Scriptures, either adding to it (e.g. Matt. 15:1-9) or taking away from it (e.g. Acts 23:8); and (2) they therefore miss the one to whom Scripture is pointing, Jesus (Jn. 5:39-40). We then looked at several modern examples of false teaching and how they fail both of these tests, making the point that sound doctrine comes from God’s Word, and points us to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As I continue to reflect on this passage, I think there is yet another way it helps us understand what is wrong with various kinds of false teaching today. That is to apply the very imagery that Jesus uses in 16:1-4 to describe what’s wrong with the Pharisees’ and the Sadducees’ teaching to some of our modern heresies: nailing today’s forecast while missing the season.
Again, the Pharisees and Sadducees knew how to read the day’s weather, but they missed the bigger movement of seasons or times. The analogy of seasons actually provides a helpful metaphor for seeing the story of God’s plan of redemption unfold: from the summer of God’s original creation, to the autumn of humanity’s fall, to the winter of bondage under the law and sin, to the spring of living between the cross and new creation, to the future summer of new creation ahead. Besides departing from Scripture and missing Christ, most modern day heresies are marked by their confusion of the seasons. They fail to read the signs of the times.
Here are some examples of how that plays out, beginning with some of the false teachings we looked at on Sunday, with a few others thrown in for good measure.
(You can chalk this post up to ‘things I wish I had said on Sunday but didn’t think of till Tuesday.’) Read more…
“Once the shining jewel of Western Christendom, the land of joyous Puritanism and nose-to-the-grindstone Protestantism, New England is now the least churched, least religious part of the United States. The land of the Great Awakening is now very much asleep. The place once bathed in springs of Christ-exalting preaching is now very, very dry. . . . But if God’s saving purposes in the gospel are for races, nations, peoples, and therefore lands, we know there is no such thing as a dead-end place. Indeed, since revival presupposes deadness and dryness, New England may be the most ripe place for God’s stirring in America!”
–Jared Wilson, Gospel Deeps
This is our prayer for what God would do in and through Westgate Church, and all the churches throughout the MetroWest. That the gospel of Jesus would take hold of our lives, and that as we hold it high, God would draw men and women to himself.
To encourage and equip us to that end, we’re excited to host our first-annual Life on Mission Conference, coming up Friday-Saturday, March 21-22.
WHAT IS THE CONFERENCE ALL ABOUT?
The purpose of this conference is to help equip each of us to live on mission each day for Christ. Each fall, Westgate has the privilege of connecting with the missionaries and organizations we support through our annual missions conference, when we hear about and celebrate what God is doing through them. The Life on Mission conference is different—it’s all about helping us live on mission right here in the MetroWest. And it’s not only for Westgate, but for any who would like to join us.
The theme for 2014 is Gospel-Centered Mission. On Friday night, pastor and author Jared Wilson will speak on “The Gospel-Wakened Church,” helping us answer the question, Why must we be intentional about the centrality of the gospel when we think about mission?
Then we’ll gather again Saturday morning. Jared will start off by speaking on “Gospel-Shaped Mission,” looking at how the message and power of the gospel should shape our approach to making disciples. After that, pastor and church-planter Bland Mason will address the role that community plays in our effort to make disciples in his talk “Gospel-Shaped Communities on Mission.” We’ll conclude the morning with a time of Q&A with Jared and Bland on “Simple Ways to Live on Mission.” Bland will also be preaching during our regular worship service on Sunday morning.
Childcare will be provided throughout the conference. There is no cost for attending, but please register here to help us with our planning. You can learn more about our speakers and the conference schedule online here.