Our Cackling Little Bubby

Samuel is such a happy little boy (except, of course, when it’s nap time). Lately he’s been hootin’ and hollerin’ and having a grand ol’ time with his newly discovered capacity for cackling. There’s even a brief clip below of daddy helping him learn how to scat. Maybe he’a a jazz singer in the making. It’s hard to believe he’ll be nine months old in two days. He’s an endless source of joy and laughter, and I love him to pieces! Enjoy a few slices of life through a child’s eyes.

Response to mommy coming home from a wedding shower.
Loving life on daddy’s shoulders.
Watch out, Ella Fitzgerald!

And a few pics…

Helping around the house.
First time in a grocery cart.
Just being adorable! 🙂

Salvation Made Visible (Mark 2:1-12 and Selected Verses)

In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus famously healed the paralytic, a man lowered on his mat through someone’s roof because of the crowd. Before Jesus restored his legs, however, he restored his soul, declaring the man’s sins forgiven. Some folks in the crowd fussed at Jesus for saying such a thing because only God himself can forgive a person’s sins. Therefore, Jesus told the man to take up his mat and walk home, in full view of the crowd. To everyone’s amazement, he did. The visible miracle (the healing of his legs) authenticated the invisible miracle (the forgiveness of his sins). In a dramatic display of his own power and authority, then, Jesus made the man’s salvation visible to everyone.

This story teaches us a lot about Jesus, but it also illustrates how God wants a believer’s salvation to be made visible in our day, too. He wants it to be verifiable. He wants it to be evidence by a changed life. The theological word is “sanctification,” which means to be set apart. This message looks at the doctrine of sanctification—the process by which God shapes a believer’s character over time to be more like Christ’s. While justification speaks of the beginning of our salvation, sanctification speaks of the continuing of our salvation. Like the two natures of Christ, they are distinct theological realties, but they cannot be separated.

Justification is about Christ’s work for us on the cross. Sanctification is about Christ’s work in us by the Holy Spirit. Justification is about Christ’s completed work in making us his children forever. Sanctification is about Christ’s continuing work in making us godly in life. Justification is about removing the penalty of sin in our lives. Sanctification is about breaking the power of sin in our lives. Justification is about forgiveness, so that we can come to God. Sanctification is about holiness, so that we can become like God (in character). Justification calls us to believe. Sanctification calls us to behave.

John Calvin explained the relationship between justification and sanctification using the sun as an illustration. He said the sun’s heat and the sun’s light are two distinguishable things. They are not the same, but they are always found together. They both flow from the nature of what the sun is. Moreover, we cannot have the sun’s heat without the suns’ light in the same way that we cannot have justification without sanctification.

Sanctification, then, is progressively growing in the grace we have freely received in Christ. It is the continuing work of God in the life of the believer, making us holy in practice, not merely in position. As Maxie Dunham has said, “We don’t buy a violin today and expect to give a concert in Carnegie Hall tomorrow. Similarly, we may be converted to Christ in a moment, but…walking as a Christian requires discipline and is a lifelong undertaking. As Christians, we do not emerge from our conversion fully grown; we must grow.” The Apostle Peter would agree: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In short, belief behaves.

When we embrace Jesus as the Savior who justifies us, we are at the same time embracing Jesus as the Lord who sanctifies us. The key to sanctification is living up to what we have already attained in Christ (cf. Philippians 3:16).

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Beach Bubby Is Back!

I missed this little guy so much last week while he was at the Outer Banks. From the pictures we received, it looks like he had a great time on his first trip to the beach. He also tasted ice cream for the first time, and the video below registers his verdict. (I may have given him some myself last night while we were watching him for a few hours. Shhh!!!) Oh, and I’ve made about a dozen “Samuel Sandwiches” since his return. 🙂

Bonus

Thank you, Kirby Keller for the new “squish baseball.” Dr. Keller caught it at a recent Reading Phillies game we attended together and gave it to Samuel. This could be the start of something big!

Such Great Faith (Matthew 8:5-13)

There are only two places in the Gospels where we read that Jesus is “amazed” or “astonished” at anything, and they both have to do with faith. The first is in Mark 6, where Jesus comes to his hometown, and he is amazed at the Jewish people’s lack of faith. The second is in Matthew 8, where Jesus is amazed again, this time by the presence of faith—and it’s in a place we might not expect it. 

A Roman centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant, acknowledging that he didn’t even need to be present in his home to make it happen. “Just say the word,” he said, “and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 10:8). Jesus “was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith’” (Matthew 8:10). 

What made the centurion’s faith “great”? Not the amount of it but the object of it. Indeed, the greatness of your faith depends on the greatness of its object. And Jesus is the greatest of all time. Faith in him is never wasted. How much faith did the centurion need for his servant to be healed? Just enough to call on Jesus. He did call, and he got his miracle. The grace of Jesus extended beyond the borders of his own country all the way to the pagans, which surely must have infuriated many in the religious establishment.

We might wonder why miracles seem to be somewhat rare in our day. Whatever the answer to that question, we do know that the miracles of Jesus were a sign of who he was in the world. They were also a sign of where he was taking the world—to a grand telos or goal of perfect peace and restoration of God’s good creation. It will be a time when all that is wrong in the world will be made right again, and all that is sad will come untrue (Tolkein). As Tim Keller has said, “Miracles are not primarily suspensions of natural laws. They’re the restoration of natural laws. Death and decay and suffering are the suspensions of God’s natural laws, and Jesus—when he was here—started putting them back.”

For now, we walk by faith in Christ, trusting that he will assuredly accomplish his grand telos. To be part of that telos, we must recognize who Jesus is—not just a great moral teacher but the divine Savior. We must also respond to who Jesus is—not just with idle curiosity but with saving faith. They key is to call on him. Regardless of how much faith we may have.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Squeezed, Part 3: So, All This Was Planned? (Philemon 1:15-25)

All the characters in this short letter get “squeezed” by the gospel. Onesimus gets squeezed by having to take responsibility for his crimes against Philemon and make an effort to be reconciled to him. Philemon gets squeezed by having to accept Onesimus back into his home after the whole family was offended by his departure. Paul gets squeezed by having to navigate the social customs of his day as well as the relational tension between two people he deeply cares about. It’s a classic case of triangulation, and the path forward for everyone is both challenging and awkward.

In this final message of the series, we look at who is doing the squeezing. If everyone in this situation gets squeezed, we have to ask, who does the squeezing? Who is putting the pressure on all the people involved? A careful reading of the passage shows us it’s the character who never comes on stage. He’s the silent showstopper who never delivers a line. He’s also the script writer and the wise director of the whole production. 

Paul knows who he is. He writes to Philemon, “Perhaps the reason Onesimus was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16). Philemon might have thought to himself, “Was separated?” What do you mean, “Was separated (passive voice)? The kid ran away (active voice)!” 

Paul is introducing yet another character into the story. Not only does he introduce this additional character, he also introduces a higher purpose. Paul is essentially saying, “Philemon, I want you to consider something in this whole mess that you might not have considered up to this point. Someone came and parted Onesimus from you in order for a greater purpose to be served—namely that you get him back for good as a true believer and a brother in the Lord.” That someone is God himself.

Paul goes beyond all secondary causes of the situation right up to the primary cause of all situations—God himself. Paul understands that God is sovereign; he is above all circumstances, and yet he is in those circumstances at the same time—letting Philemon and Onesimus be parted for a greater ending to the story. 

Grammatically, we call it “the divine passive.” That is, God is the agent behind the event, playing 3D chess in the world to bring about his perfect plan. Indeed, all the events of this world have their origin in—and are superintended by—the all-wise, infinitely good God whose name is “Love.” That means life is not a series of blind chances or accidents. God leverages the contingencies of this world, including its resident evil and the free choices of fallen human beings, to bring history to its rightful conclusion.

Peter brings these two paradoxical realities together in his Pentecost sermon: “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:23-24). God in his sovereignty used fee human choices to pull the greatest good in history out of the worst crime in history. The result was “God and sinners reconciled.” That’s the motivation for Philemon and Onesimus themselves to be reconciled.

Quite significantly, Paul tells Philemon, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me” (Philemon 1:18). That’s a tiny picture of the gospel. Onesimus has a debt toward Philemon he cannot pay, and Paul offers to pay it. Fallen human beings have a debt toward God we cannot pay, so Jesus offered to pay it. He was squeezed when he was on the cross, and what came out was pure love and forgiveness. May the same be true of us when we get squeezed.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.