Pastor's Blog

I am the Teaching Pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN, married to Sarah, raising four children (Rachel, William, Lydia, & Kate), and seeking to honor God in all things. I received my Bachelor of Science in Psychology from MTSU, and my Master of Divinity in Biblical Studies and Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament and Greek from...
I am the Teaching Pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN, married to Sarah, raising four children (Rachel, William, Lydia, & Kate), and seeking to honor God in all things. I received my Bachelor of Science in Psychology from MTSU, and my Master of Divinity in Biblical Studies and Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament and Greek from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
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When the Floor Falls In

We were living in my uncle’s rental house that he was so graciously allowing us to use rent free for a time.  Things at the church I had been pastoring hadn’t ended well, and my wife and I found ourselves in the most difficult spiritual and financial season of our marriage.  In hope of sparing both the church and my family as much pain as possible, I chose to resign my position in June 2010 after the Deacon Board gave me the ultimatum, resign or be voted out by the church.

Two years later in September 2012 right before we moved out of the rental house, something seemingly symbolic happened.  We were packing up boxes one evening when three-quarters of our bedroom floor fell in!  It was an old farmhouse, and the termites finally got the best of the floor joists.  I couldn’t help but think of how the “floors” of my ministry had “fallen in” just two years prior.

Resigning from a church you shepherd because of schism is one of the most painful experiences of ministry.  I have known several pastor friends and read about many more who have gone through it, and now I had experienced myself.  But I can say, God uses such pain for glorious things.  Most of these come from my personal experience, but the principles apply to many circumstances.

     1.  Personal Sanctification: At that time, I feared man more than God to the point that I sometimes worried about getting “fired” or having to resign if I were to speak out on all my convictions.  Now, I’m a bolder and better pastor, a better husband, and a better father because of God’s sanctifying grace.  Now my theology of the Church (ecclesiology) is more sound and clear.

     2.  Repentance:  A part of my personal sanctification is repentance.  I don’t write this article out of bitterness but out of the realization that I could have been a more personable and loving pastor to that local church of God.

     3.  Wisdom for Others:  I have a story to share that can be of encouragement and help to other pastors who are in calloused or otherwise difficult churches.  For example, I learned that just because a small group of influential people says the majority of the church wants you gone, it’s not necessarily true.  Since 2010, I have heard from other pastors that experienced this same thing.

Add to this, I have a story to share with churches as to how to go about addressing major differences they have with a pastor.  I actually agree with the deacons of the church I was pastoring that it was probably best that I leave.  That’s a big part of why I resigned.  The issue was the way they went about the process.  (To be clear, the schism was over particular theological points and not any unrepentant or disqualifying sin on my part).

Here are a few words of wisdom for a church having issues with her pastor:

     1.  Be sure to address disagreements, sins, or perceived sins privately.  Jesus commands us in Matthew 18 to address one another privately before getting multiple people involved.  Give the pastor the respect of a proper hearing in private.  This will help clear up any misunderstandings that might be leading you toward the wrong conclusion.  When you give that hearing, be clear about the perceived problem.

2.  Be sure to involve all witnesses that are accusing a pastor of sin.  Beware of entertaining “hearsay” or “secondhand” accusations.  Don’t pass along accusations from others by saying things like, “There’s a family in the Church that said that you said. . . ”  Instead, simply say something like, “There’s a family in the Church that believes you have said . . .  I suggested that they talk to you about it.  Perhaps you should go ahead and reach out to them.”  This is approach is a much better way to guard against gossip, slander, and miscommunication.

     3.  Be sure there are no “secret” meetings of select leaders.  Whether an Elder Board or a Deacon Board, there should never be secret meetings held for the purpose of amassing “evidence” against any leader in the Church.

     4.  Be sure to follow the guidelines outlined in your church’s by-laws.  Some churches fail to realize that the by-laws are a legally binding document.

     5.  Don’t use threats to intimidate a pastor.   Avoid threats like “resign or we’ll vote you out” or declarations like “everybody wants you to leave”.

     6.  Realize it usually takes many months for a pastor to move into a new pastorate.  It took 18 months in my case.  In the meantime, your pastor will likely loose his family’s health insurance, and because church’s don’t pay into the unemployment system, there are no unemployment benefits to lean on.

In the end, resigning or being fired from a church as a pastor because of schism is bitter-sweet.  It’s bitter knowing I could have been a better pastor to that flock.  It’s bitter knowing that the church could have done a better job of handling the situation.  It’s bitter being separated from people with whom you had grown close.

But, it’s sweet to know God gave me an opportunity to repent and grow in spiritual maturity.  It’s sweet knowing my intentions to preach the gospel, see people saved, and disciple men were true, though I fell way short of what I could have been.  My intention in pastoring that flock was true.  It’s also sweet to know that the church I pastored has the opportunity for repentance and growing in spiritual maturity too.  And this is a cause of praising God for His patience and grace demonstrated in His glorious providence!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Fasting according to Jesus

Sad to say, most Christians have neglected the discipline of fasting. There are probably a thousand little reasons this is the case, but there appears to be three big reasons:

Ignorance: Few sermons are preached on it.  Few Bible studies address it.  Therefore, few Christians know what it is and why it is important. Fear: Perhaps some Christians fear being called a “weirdo” or being associated with a religious group outside their own.  Many, however, seem to fear failure Hedonism: Hedonism is basically a love for pleasure that is rooted in sinful desires.  Hedonism is the opposite of fasting.  It is self-gratifying rather than self-denying.

One Bible teacher, Donald Whitney, has said, “Christians in a gluttonous, denial-less, self-indulgent society may struggle to accept and to begin the practice of fasting. Few Disciplines go so radically against the flesh and the mainstream of culture as this one.”

The most basic truth of all about fasting is that Jesus expects us to fast.

Matthew 6:16-18—“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

     Jesus clearly taught use about the legitimacy of godly fasting.  Not only did Jesus Himself fast (Matt.4:2), but in verses 16 and 17, He says, “When you fast,” two times.  Therefore, the expectation is that Christians are to fast.  Jesus goes on to affirm this even more plainly later in Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew 9:14-15— Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

     What is biblical fasting?  Fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from a basic need or some other desirable pleasure.  The point of fasting is to withhold something from the body and the mind that will be sorely missed, especially things that are fundamental to life.  Food and certain drinks are the most commonly withheld items because they are extremely needful, extremely craved after on a daily basis, and extremely missed when withheld.  There are few greater tests of mankind’s character than taking away food and fluids

     What kind of fasts are there?  The Bible teaches at least eight different kinds of fasts:

Normal fast: Abstaining from all food but not water (Mt.4:2) Partial fast: Limitation of the diet but not abstention of all food (Dan.1:12) Absolute fast: Abstaining from all food and fluids (Ezra 10:6; Esth.4:16; Acts 9:9) Supernatural fast: Moses on Mt. Sinai (Deut.9:9) and Elijah’s journey to Horeb (1Kgs.19:8) Private fast: Not publicized (Mt.6:16-18) Congregational fast: A group of God’s people fast together (Joel 2:15-16; Acts13:2) Regular fast: Scheduled on specific days (Lev.16:29-31; Lk.18:12) Occasional fast: Observed on special occasions that arise (Mt.9:15)

What’s the point of fasting?  When we fast, we are saying that we need and desire God more than whatever we are fasting from.  If it is food, we are saying we hunger more for God than bread.  If it is coffee, we are saying we thirst more for God than any pleasure caffeine can bring.  Fasting helps us to remember our relationship with Jesus more throughout the day.  Every hunger pang and every frustrated desire reminds us that Jesus is better.  The result of genuine fasting is greater victories over the flesh.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Fasting helps to discipline the self-indulgent and slothful will which is so reluctant to serve the Lord, and it helps to humiliate and chasten the flesh.”  Do ever feel like you will never win the battle of overeating, losing your temper, or giving in to internet pornography?  Fast and pray, and see what the Holy Spirit will do in your life.

With this foundation built, Jesus warns us not to fast in a way that glorifies man (vv.16-17).  Apparently, people in Jesus’ day used fasting as an opportunity to really put on a show.  They would put on a gloomy face.  The word translated “gloomy” can also be rendered as “sad” or “dark.”  Many interpreters believe  Jesus may be alluding to how some people were even using makeup to change their appearance.  At the least, they were making themselves look miserable.  In verse 16, Jesus confirms this when He says, “for they disfigure their faces so that they may be seen by others.”   The word translated “disfigure” in this context is related to cleanliness, which makes sense because Jesus tells us in verse 17 to wash up when we fast.  In that culture, the daily routine of anointing your head with oil and washing your face constituted the bulk of personal hygiene.

What does this mean?  It means whatever personal hygiene you practice when not fasting is the same personal hygiene you should practice when fasting.  It means, while fasting, we should get up, wash our bodies, wash our hair, shave, put on deodorant, put on clean clothes, and do whatever else that we normally do.

If we fast for the wrong reasons, the consequences are serious.  One consequence is that Jesus calls such people “hypocrites.”  As we have already learned, a “hypocrite” refers to a person that pretends to be one thing but in reality is someone completely different.  Of course, we all must admit we all have some hypocrite in ourselves.  But we must understand that Jesus is using the word here of people who know they are hypocrites and they don’t care.

A second consequence is that such hypocrites “have received their reward” (v.16b).  Now don’t pass over that too quickly.  For a Christian, this means that fasting to be seen of men causes a loss of reward but not of eternal life itself.  For a non-Christian, however, fasting to be seen of men means the only reward they will ever receive is man’s applause and a one-way ticket to hell.

On the other hand, fasting that glorifies God is righteousness (vv.17-18).  Christians are to fast in a way that it brings God all the glory, all the credit.  When we fast, we are to go about our daily routine as if we are not fasting at all, especially regarding our personal hygiene.  Jesus says that secret fasting is the best kind of fasting because it’s strictly between you and God (v.18a).  Obviously, there will be a few people in our lives who might have to know about our fasting—wives, children, close fellow employees.  But for the most part, fasting is something we can do without many people knowing at all.

And what is the result of this kind of fasting?  Jesus says, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v.18b).  Man’s applause and approving words will no longer be of any concern of yours so long as God gets the glory!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Wisdom of a Church Covenant

In a world  often confused about personal accountability, some churches have seen fit to abolish what has been a historic mainstay, namely the Church Covenant.  At Grace Life Baptist Church, we recently renewed our covenant commitment as a church family, and we discussed why having and holding onto such a covenant is wise.  We defined a biblical covenant this way: A covenant is a God-initiated agreement between He and His people, established with mutual obligations for His glory and their joy

Before I offer you 4  reasons for having a church covenant, let me make one clarifying note. I must admit there’s no biblical command prescribing that a local church have a church covenant.  Therefore, a church should never present a covenant as anything more than a descriptive document of what the Bible teaches about living the Christian life in relation to Christ and a local body of His disciples.

With that said, there are biblical principles in Scripture that make a church covenant wise.

1)  A covenant summarizes what it means to be in fellowship with Christ and His Church.  The Bible is our only authority in matters of doctrine and practice; but the Bible is a big book and a summary statement is helpful, especially for new believers.  Our church covenant is a reasonable way to define God’s expectations of us in the New Covenant.

2)  A covenant clarifies accountability.  Without mutual accountability, you don’t have a church because you won’t have unity of faith and practice—everyone would just do whatever’s right in their own eyes.  Without accountability, sheep and elders won’t get along—both will vie for control.  Using our covenant, we can hold each other accountable while still allowing for lots of grace, patience, and understanding toward each other.

3)  A covenant protects the Church from wolves.  Our covenant is threatening to potential new members that are just church-hopping, trouble-makers because they’re less likely to join a church that tells them up front what is expected.  It warns them of the consequences of not walking in humility before Christ and His people.  Our covenant threatens to expose wolves for who they really are.

4)  A covenant limits personal preference.  You may prefer 1,001 things, but most of your preferences are irrelevant to the gospel.  Perhaps you prefer dressing up for church or dressing down.  Or you prefer 20-minute sermons instead of 40-minute ones.  The list could go on.  Your preferences are important, but important doesn’t equal biblical or helpful.

For example, the trending craze todayis having churches for specialty groups like hipsters, homeschoolers, cowboys, or bikers, etc.  Are these preferences important?  Yes, it’s a part of who these people are.  But none of these is the defining mark of what it means to be a Christian committed to a local church.

The defining mark of the Church is the gospel.  At Grace Life, we advertise our purpose as Proclaiming God’s Glory in Christ because that’s at the heart of the gospel.  God’s glory is best magnified when the Church is like a prism refracting and reflecting all the colors of the spectrum—the hipsters, homeschoolers, cowboys, bikers, and on it could go.  May the Lord continue to build His Church with a beautiful array of people.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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The Gospel Call to Pharisees

Our fourth sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life helps us to see Jesus’ warning, yet tender call, to the Pharisees who are the proverbial elder sons standing outside the father’s house refusing to come into the party.

The Gospel Call to Pharisees
Luke 15:1-2, 25-32

When we study the Bible as a church and as individual Christians, it’s essential that we examine a passage within its context.  When we’ve completed our study of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it’s my hope that we’ll know with full awareness how important the surrounding context is to interpreting God’s Word with precision.  Luke’s introduction to the Prodigal Son parable gives us all the context we need to accomplish this.

Luke 15:1-2— Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees and scribes are furious that Jesus is receiving sinners and eating with them!  Therefore, the purpose of the Prodigal Son Parable is to give a proper response to their griping.  With this emphasis in mind, let’s look again at the fascinating main characters and images Jesus incorporates.  These characters and images are illustrations and metaphors that symbolize deeper, spiritual meanings.  We shouldn’t go to extremes and try to spiritualize every part of a parable but only the most important ones that push us toward the main point.

1)  Father:  The father represents God the Father.  And Jesus, as the Son of God, came to represent the character and purpose of God the Father (so by extension, Jesus could be said to be the father figure in the story).

2)  Younger Son:  The younger son represents rebellious sinners like the tax collectors and sinners mentioned in verse 1.  By extension, he represents all human sinners because we’ve all rebelled against God our Father.

3)  Elder Son:  The elder son represents the Pharisees and scribes mentioned in verse 2.  They were the religious elite among the Jews that considered themselves moral and righteous.  By extension, the elder son represents all human sinners because we’ve all pretended to love God the Father just to make ourselves appear righteous.

4)  Robe, Ring, Shoes, and Fattened Calf (vv.22-23):  The gifts the father gives to the younger son represent God’s salvation of lost sinners.  They are pictures of restoration to a right relation-ship with God and reception into His family.  We don’t want to go too far with this, but each gift likely symbolizes various facets of salvation.  The robe is a picture of our filthy sin-rags being replaced with Christ’s righteousness.  The ring symbolizes our new status as sons and daughters in God’s family.  The shoes speak of our new relationship with God in which we now walk with Him.  The fattened calf points to God the Father’s sacrifice for us as He slaughtered Jesus on the cross like a calf.

As we’ve concluded, the Pharisees are the self-righteous elder brothers that hate to see undeserving, riff-raff sinners repent and welcomed into God’s family.  Therefore, this parable is especially for people like most of us here—we’ve been believers for a while, and it’s easy to slip into a coldhearted attitude toward unbelievers.  Let’s put a label on the elder son’s self-righteous attitude.  Legal-ism: the belief system that says we can become righteous and earn salvation through our good works.

1.  Legalism is based on a slave-master relationship to God (v.29).  We see this in the elder son’s three complaints to the father: “ ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I have never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends’ ” (v.29).  That’s not how a son who loves his father talks to his father.  That’s slave talk.  God doesn’t need slaves to serve Him.  He’s not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts.17:25).

2.  Legalism craves recognition (v.29).  The elder son demanded his father acknowledge and appreciate him for his many years of service and obedience.  This same craving for recognition is what motivated the Pharisees.

Matthew 23:5a—“They [the Pharisees] do all their deeds to be seen by others. . .”

Craving for attention is still around today.  It’s present when you want others to see and hear about all you’re doing for the Lord in the Church, or when you complain that no one is paying you enough attention or is saying “thank you” for your “service”.

3.  Legalism harbors disgust toward sinners rather than consistent compassion.  You know you’re being an self-righteous jerk when you’re more concerned about the sin of others than your own sin.  Our disgust over other people’s sins will manifest itself in bitter words, angry outbursts, gossip, slander, and blame shifting.  The reason legalists do these things is they’re trying to earn salvation through good works.  They’re trying to make their own sin look tiny by overacting to the sin of others.

Some examples of this that stand out in the Bible include: 1) Adam blaming Eve;  2) Jonah’s anger at God for showing mercy to the Ninevites; and  3) Esau’s frothing anger toward Jacob.  The similarities between these Old Testament people and the two prodigal sons is no coincidence.  Jesus knows that the Pharisees know the Old Testament inside-out.  So, undoubtedly the Pharisees would make the connections, especially with Esau and Jacob.

4.  Legalism turns personal convictions into God’s standard for others. The elder son was right to consider the younger son’s sin to be sin, but he was wrong to withhold forgiveness from his younger brother who repentantly and humbly came home to the father.  The elder son’s personal conviction was that such sin and sinners were beyond forgiveness and restoration.  He then took this personal conviction and called it God’s law.

Too often we too are prone to elevate a personal conviction to equivalent status with God’s Word, and then we feel justified in condemning others for disobedience to our personal conviction.  This is where most of the muck hits the fan in the local church.  Most disunity will not be directly over core Bible doctrine but how we apply to living it out together, which inevitably will affect core doctrine.

Here are 10 statements that will arise on occasion that can begin as a small ripple but end up a tsunami if we don’t stay grounded in Scripture.  Each one usually begins with “I think” or “I believe”.

“I believe we should sing the old hymns from hymn books.” “I believe we should sing new songs projected on a screen.” “I believe we should use the King James Bible.” “I believe we should boycott Disney movies.” “I believe we shouldn’t have body piercings or tattoos.” “I believe church members should stay away from alcohol.” “I believe we should campaign for Republican candidates.” “I believe people should participate in more church activities.” “I believe we should have more things for the children.”

The problem with such statements is there is no scriptural basis for any of them.  They’re all based on personal opinions, and once you draw a line on personal opinions, you’ll have to draw more lines to keep you farther and farther away from your line.  Let me show you what I mean by using three of these same examples again:

1)  What most people mean by “old hymns” are hymns written in the 1700-1900s?  What about the hymns from 1400-1600s or the centuries before that?  Your line can be moved.

2)  You want to boycott Disney movies?  What about the other major companies that Disney owns—Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, Pixar, ABC, The History Channel, and ESPN?  Your line can be moved.

3) You don’t believe in body piercings?  Ladies, what about the 1 or 2 holes you have in your ear?  Is there a real difference in righteousness between 1 or 2 piercings in the ear versus 1 or 2 in the lip or 5 or 10 scattered around?  Your line can be moved.

We all have some personal convictions that we abide by in our walk with the Lord that are not equivalent with God’s Word.  And we cannot use any of them as a measure of someone else’s right standing with God.  Here is where the wisdom of organizing Christian belief and practice into three categories can be helpful for protecting us from self-righteousness toward other sinners.  The three categories are primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrine.

Primary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible in which there is no room for disagreement without departing from Christianity altogether.  Examples include: salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ alone apart from works of the law; Jesus is the eternal Son of God, without sin, He died in our place on the cross, and was raised from the dead; Heaven and Hell are for real—repentant believers go to Heaven for eternity and unrepentant unbelievers go to Hell for eternity.  Primary doctrine is essential to being a Christian.

Secondary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible rooted in primary doctrine but leaving room for some disagreement among Christians without departing from Christianity.  Examples of include: baptism of believers versus baptism of babies; pretribulation return of Jesus versus a posttribulation return; a plurality of pastors versus having a singular pastor. Secondary doctrine is non-essential to salvation.

Tertiary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible that may or may not be rooted in primary and secondary doctrine but are completely open for disagreement because they are non-essential to being a Christian.  Examples include: men’s facial hair, length of skirts for women, partaking in secular entertainments, controlled use of alcohol, and eating pork and catfish.  How we understand these issues is important, but they’re not essential to salvation itself.  The only way these become a salvation issue is if your reason for believing what you believe comes from a prodigal heart: a heart of rebellion or a heart of legalism.

5.  Legalism can twist freedom in Christ into a law.  Here is where things get interesting.  Did you know that being anti-legalistic can itself be a form of legalism?  If you get angry at other people because you believe they’re acting like self-righteous hypocrites, then how are your behaviors and attitudes any better than the self-righteous elder brother?  Beware of your reaction to sin and sinners being a default anger.  God’s grace softens our hearts, and our new default reaction will be compassion.

There’s enough room in God’s family for rebellious younger sons and self-righteous elder sons.  The Father runs to the rebels and brings them home; and the Father goes outside the house to the self-righteous and invites them inside!  There’s enough gospel for us all.  So, who are you begrudging in our church?  Won’t you repent of your anger today?

 

 

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The Other Prodigal Son

Our third sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life focuses on the oft-overlooked elder son and the self-righteousness with which he reacts to the father’s compassion for the younger son.  You can also download the audio version of this sermon at www.gracelifelebanon.com or find us on Sermon Audio.

The Other Prodigal Son
Luke 15:25-32

What happens when God pushes us out of our comfort zone as individual Christians and as a church family?  A man dressed in rags, wreaking of sweat and alcohol walks in and sits down next to you during the service, or maybe a wealthy lady comes in that’s a known advocate for abortion.  A person with different skin color come forward for baptism, or maybe a known criminal just released from prison shows up.

These may seem like farfetched or unreasonable situations, but are they really?  Isn’t the story of the prodigal son meant to awaken our thoughts to the incredible reality that Christ died for every kind of sinner?  The Pharisees and scribes are mad at Jesus for “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (vv.1-2).  But really, they’re mad that reprobates are repenting of their sin.  Jesus gives three parables as a witness.  All three have the same outline: something is lost, then found, followed by a celebration.

We’ve followed the prodigal on his descent into sin as he left home and pursued a lifestyle of wastefulness resulting in devasta-tion and destruction.  This is what it looks like to be lost.  But then we get to see what it looks like to be found by God.  God turns the prodigal around, demonstrated through the prodigal’s repentance.  We learned two aspects of repentance: repentance is a gift of God’s mercy and grace; and repentance is more than admitting you’ve done wrong—it’s a change of mind that leads to a changed way of living.

The prodigal returns home, and the father’s waiting; his posture toward him is predetermined mercy and grace before the son was even able to finish his words of repentance, even before the son had returned “to himself”.  And the father responds with joy!  This is the picture of what God the Father is really like: He predestines our repentance according to His sovereign grace, and He rejoices “over one sinner who repents” (v.7, 10).  Therefore, we ought to be happy too win sinners come home.

So, all is well again in the prodigal’s family.  The sinning son has come home.  And everyone is happy—or are they?

Luke 15:25-32—“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

At the beginning of the parable, you’re thinking this is a classic case of good versus evil, the good brother and the bad brother.  The bad brother despises his father by demanding the inheritance and abandoning his dad.  The good brother stays home working for his dad, never demanding anything, and always “respecting” his authority.

Most often, preachers emphasize the sinfulness of the younger son—and reasonably so because his sins are blatant rebellion.  And then they tack on a few superficial words about the elder son’s anger, often saying something like, “You can’t really blame him”.  And if we’re honest, we can see how the elder son would appear to be more of a sinner than a saint.  He has served his father faithfully many years.  But, if we play off the elder son’s anger this way, we’ve missed the whole reason for Jesus telling this story.

In the context of the parable, it’s obvious that the elder brother is anything but good.  In fact, Jesus uses the elder son to show us the malignant, black heart underneath the skin of sin.  Sin is more than surface behavior like we see from the younger brother.  Sin runs deep, and the elder brother’s sin is just as prevalent and malevolent.

Be assured, both sons are prodigals.  The younger pursued happiness through open rebellion and self-discovery.  The older pursued happiness through the appearance of outward moralism.  But both sons love themselves more than the father.  Therefore, both are self-righteousness.  Today, we’ll be identifying the elder brother’s core characteristics of self-righteousness.  This is important so that we can examine our own testimony as followers of Christ to be sure that our lives look more like the repentant prodigal and not his moralistic but unrepentant older brother.

     1.  Anger is the disposition of moralistic prodigals (vv.25-28). The older son had been working in his father’s field, and “he heard music and dancing” as “he drew near to the house” (v.25).  He asks a hired servant about it ( v.26).  The servant “said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound’ ” (v.27).  A lost brother has come home alive, not in a body bag!  This is reason to celebrate!  Instead, “he was angry and refused to go in” (v.28a).

The elder brother’s refusal to go in to the party is every bit as offensive as the younger brother’s refusal to stay at home with the father.  Both are an affront to the father’s goodness and authority.  Both are a means of shaming the father.  What is the elder brother so angry about?

     2.  God’s grace angers moralistic prodigals (vv.28-30).  Listen to the oozing bitterness and seething anger from the lips of the elder son: “His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ ” (vv.28a-30).

The elder brother uses the word “never” to make himself look more mistreated.  And especially important, he brings up the “fattened calf”.  Jesus mentions the calf three times in the parable, so it must be important.  It was rare for families to eat meat in that day.  And the fattened calf was the most luxurious of all luxuries if you had one.  You would slaughter one only for the most important reasons, perhaps weddings or the birth of a baby.

The elder brother is basically blubbering, “It’s not fair!”  I agree.  It’s not fair.  But grace is never fair, at least not in the way most people use that word.  Grace is grace, it’s unmerited, unearnable, and unattainable through our best efforts.  Grace is God’s prerogative.  Only God’s vote matters.  The moralistic prodigal is angered by God’s grace.

Anger is a serious sin.  It’s not always expressed in flyoff the handle fits of rage.  Anger most often comes in the form of simple complaints that we disguise as hurt feelings or frustrations.  Anger itself is sinful, but the root underneath is even deadlier.  Little of our anger is righteous because most of it is centered on ourselves; and self-centeredness is by its very nature dissatisfaction with God and His grace.  Have you noticed we love God’s grace when we’re the ones receiving it, but when it comes to others we deem unwor-thy of His grace, how quickly resentment emerges?  Why does the elder brother hate God’s grace toward his younger brother?

     3.  Moralistic prodigals believe they have earned a right standing with God (vv.29-30).  There’s plenty of evidence from the elder son’s tirade against his father that proves he believes he has earned his place with the father.  Three phrases in particular stand out: (1) “Look, these many years I have served you” (v.29a); (2) “I have never disobeyed your command” (v.29b); (3) “You never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends” (v.29c).

Each argument is about quantity and quality, and moralistic prodigals still use these types of justifications in the Church today.  Some trust in the quantity of years they’ve been a part of the Church or the quantity of hours they’ve served in the Church or (most frequent of all) the quantity of money they’ve invested in the Church.  Be careful about declaring, “I support the Church with my offerings.”  If someone thinks the offering money they give is theirs, then they have a serious misunderstanding of God’s grace.

Moralistic prodigals not only trust in the quantity of their service but also the quality of their service.  Most don’t think they’re sinless, but they do think themselves sinless enough to be accepted by God.  And they certainly think themselves less sinful than other Christians.

     4.  Moralistic prodigals see themselves as morally superior to other sinners (v.30).  Notice how snootily the elder son talks about his brother.  “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (v.30).  The elder son refuses even to acknowledge the younger son as his brother; and he refuses to acknowledge the property the younger son squandered was his to squander.  All the while, the elder son fails to see the seriousness of his own sin, and in doing so, he fails to see the goodness of God, which is the gravest sin of all.

     5.  Moralistic prodigals see themselves as morally superior to God Himself (vv.31-32).  “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v.31).  The father’s reminder that “you are always with me” stands in contrast to the elder son’s claims to being mistreated.  The father is the greatest treasure both sons have; and when you have the father, you have everything the father has.  Therefore, the elder son has experienced no loss at all; and by complaining to the father, he is accusing the father of sinning.

In the same way, beware of an angry, complaining spirit about God’s grace toward sinners you believe are unworthy of forgiveness.  Your anger is ultimately an accusation that God has sinned against you.  Rather, remember that when we have God the Father, we have it all.  And when prodigal sinners get saved, we have nothing to feel threatened about.  Instead, we must have the same attitude of the father toward his prodigal sons.  “ ‘It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found’ ” (v.32).  What self-righteousness do we need to repent of today?

 

 

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Repentant Sinners and a Joyful Father

Our second sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life zooms in on the nature of sin and the character of God the Father who loves to see sinners come home.

Repentant Sinners and a Joyful Father
Luke 15:13-24

We began the prodigal son parable by looking at the context and seeing that the Pharisees and scribes are offended that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus responds to their grip-ing by giving them three parables.  All three have the same basic outline: something is lost, then found, followed by a celebration.

The prodigal son is the more detailed and intimate of the three parables.  The prodigal’s sin is evident as he demands his inheri-tance, leaves home, and pursues a lifestyle of wastefulness resulting in devastation and destruction.  This is what it looks like to be lost.

Luke 15:13-24—Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The prodigal has hit bottom.  He’s penniless and abandoned.  But it’s at the bottom that he realizes there’s something far worse than pigs and poverty—the prodigal has abandoned his father.  “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17).

“ ‘But when he came to himself’ ” (v.17a).  That’s a colorful way of describing repentance.  Repentance is one of the missing links for most people that think they’re a Christian but really aren’t.  So, it’s important that we know what it is.

   1.  Repentance is returning to “yourself” (v.17). Sin is senseless, and sin mars the image of God in which we’ve been created.  Repentance is a return to your senses, to yourself (not to selfishness).

   2.  Repentance is confessing the foolishness of your sin (v.17).  “ ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17b).  The pro-digal was once elevated above his father’s servants, but he renounced his privileged position as son to pursue “independence”.  The repentant person recognizes the stupidity of exchanging God as their greatest treasure for cheap reproductions.

   3.  Repentance is turning from sin to God (v.18).  “ ‘I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” ’ ” (v.18).  It’s pivotal to your salvation that you understand that true repentance isn’t merely saying, “Dear Jesus, I am sinner.  Come into my heart and save me.”  The prodigal demonstrates that words of true repentance will be followed by actions of true repentance.

True repentance is turning away from living life your way and toward living life God’s way.  True repentance includes a hatred for your sin and a love for the Father and a love for obeying Him.  True repentance is a lifestyle.  Martin Luther writes, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt.4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

   4.  Repentance is a sovereign gift of God’s mercy and grace (vv.19-23). “ ‘ “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” ’ ” (v.19).  This is the consistent testimony of the true convert.  Christians know they’re “unworthy to be called” sons and daughters of God.  Therefore, they’re con-tent with serving in the humblest positions in the Church with or without recognition as long as they can be in good relations with God the Father.

Jesus says the prodigal “arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (v.20).  Typically, father’s in that culture didn’t run like this.  It was undignified.  And fathers didn’t forgive such sins of a son in that culture.  It was disgraceful.  But this father is different.  He runs to the son and slobbers him with kisses.

This is an illustration of what our Father God is really like.  He isn’t the angry deity that unbelievers imagine.  God is angry with sinners every day and there is an eternal judgment for persistent rebels, but God doesn’t need anger management classes.  He’s slow to anger and quick to show mercy, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here right now.

This is why I can’t overstress the weight of the phrase “while he was still a long way off” (v.20a) because it highlights the supernatural reality of repentance.  Jesus is making the point that the father already had a predetermined plan to extend mercy and grace to the son prior to his actual repentance.  Mercy is receiving undeserved forgiveness from God.  Grace is receiving undeserved life and righteousness from God through Jesus Christ.  The idea that God the Father plans to forgive and save specific sinners even before they repent corresponds with what we read in Isaiah.

Isaiah 65:24—“Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

Therefore, repentance is not self-induced regret but a miracle performed by God according to His sovereign mercy and grace. Two passages make this especially clear.

Acts 11:15-18—As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

2 Timothy 2:24-25—And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Because repentance ultimately depends on God, repentance is always relational in nature—meaning we relationally turn to God through faith in Jesus, and we live out our faith relationally with a local church family.

Repentance is seeing traces of God’s mercy and grace in everything, even the hard things.  For example, who brought the famine to the far country?  God.  What would have happened had God not ordained that famine?  The prodigal might have found a way to be prosperous again and die in his prosperity—or else he would have died of malnutrition.  As John Calvin said, God’s ordained miseries are His “invitation” to repent and find life.

   5.  Repentance produces full restoration to God (vv.21-24). “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’ ” (v.21).  Only people with this humble attitude can be fully restored because the idea of God’s grace either makes you mad or makes you glad because His grace gives undeserving sinners eternal blessing in place of eternal damnation.

Notice what full restoration looks like for the prodigal.  “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate’ ” (vv.22-23).  The robe, ring, and shoes are all precious pictures of how God’s salvation restores our status as sons and daughters.  At the cross, Jesus exchanged our filthy rags, ring-less finger, and bare feet with His royal robe, ring, and shoes of sonship that sets us apart from the world.

If these images weren’t powerful enough, we get the strongest of all. “ ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’ ” (v.24a).  Sin is so devastating and destructive that it leaves us spiritually dead.  But God’s mercy and grace are so powerful that He raises us up to spiritual life.  We were lost in our sin and couldn’t find our way out—worse yet, we didn’t want out.  We loved our lives of sin every bit as much as the prodigal loved his.  But God intervened, breathed eternal life into our souls, and gave us the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

   6.  Repentance is a cause of celebration (v.24).  “And they began to celebrate” (v.24b).  This is both our last point and basically the introduction for the next sermon.  When lost sinners confess Christ as Lord, follow Him in baptism, and become a faithful member of His Church, we ought to be happy.  Serving up the fattened calf back in verse 23 shows us just how overjoyed the father is.

Celebration over sinners come home will be different for each of us.  For some it means clapping or shouting.  For others it may be quiet tears or simple smiles.  But nothing should excite or motivate us more than seeing a lost sinner found!  Have you lost your joy over sinners coming home?  Perhaps you’re the one still lost in your prodigal sinning?  Won’t you repent and come home to God?

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The Enslaving Devastations of Sin

At Grace Life Baptist Church we have recently begun a short sermon series on The Parable of the Prodigal Son.  I write this post for the benefit of Grace Life, but my prayer is that the sermon will be used to encourage a wider audience.  You can also download the audio version of this sermon at www.gracelifelebanon.com or find us on Sermon Audio

The Enslaving Devastations of Sin
Luke 15:1-16

Jesus is the master storyteller, and His parables create compelling images in our minds.  The goal of the parables in the Bible is to use ordinary people, activities, and topics to illustrate deeper, spiritual truths to those who have hears to ear.  Jesus’ sheep hear His voice in the parables, but goats either can’t hear His voice or else stop up their ears so they can’t.

Two of Jesus’ parables stand out in the memories of most: the Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.  Before we get to the prodigal son story, we need to understand why Jesus told it in the first place.  Examining the context is one of the first steps when studying Scripture.

Luke 15:1-2— Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

What’s this scene about?  Tax collectors and sinners are “drawing near to hear” Jesus, and the Jewish religious leaders (the Pharisees and scribes) are grumbling about it (cf. 5:27-32; 7:39; 19:7), and some would say with good reason.  The tax collectors of that day were subcontracted by the Roman government.  They put in bids for how much they would charge to collect taxes for the Romans.  If they got the job, they collected the taxes plus a percentage for themselves.  The practice itself isn’t wrong.  The problem was the lack of regulations on how much they could collect, and tax collectors were known for massive corruption.

The classification of sinners in verse 1 is a broad category.  In the Parable of the Great Banquet in the previous chapter, Luke gives a more specific rundown of what kind of sinners we’re talking about.

Luke 14:21—“So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servants, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ ”

Jesus is eating with the outcasts of His day: tax collectors, the poor, crippled, blind, and lame (and prostitutes were often mentioned in the Gospels too).  Although economics had something to do with the disdain the Jews had for these kinds of people, it was mostly about perceived moral superiority.

The Jews were right to consider the lifestyles of the outcasts as immoral, and they were right to neither condone nor participate in their sins.  But they were wrong to shun them completely.  Of course, some take Jesus’ practice too far and use it as an excuse to party with the heathen.  Jesus was simply eating food with them as an opportunity to teach them the way of salvation.

Jesus answers the Pharisees and scribes’ grumbly question with three parables: the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, and the Lost Son.  Let’s read about the lost sheep and coins first.

Luke 15:3-10—So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

These first two parables are nearly identical.  The major difference is what’s lost—a sheep versus coins.  So the basics of the parables are threefold: something’s lost, then found, and then a celebration follows.  Jesus uses the familiarity of sheep and coins to illustrate the deeper spiritual truths that God (along with all the angels) rejoices when a lost sinner is found.

In fact, look how happy God is: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v.7).  “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v.10).  Does Jesus mean there are people who are righteous and don’t have any sin to repent of?  Of course not!  He’s saying there are people who think they don’t need to repent because they think they are righteous.

The illustration of lost sheep and coins introduces the longer and more intimate parable of the lost son.

Luke 15:11-16—And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless liv-ing. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

To help us digest this simple yet elaborate parable we’re going to break down our study into three segments; and today’s segment is mainly about the characteristics of sin that are evident in the prodigal son and serve as examples and warnings to all of us.

   1.  Sin is pride and rebellion (vv.12-13).  Whatever else may be going on in the prodigal’s mind, pride is at the heart of his motivations.  He comes to his father and says, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me” (v.12).  Notice how demanding he is.  He seems to think he deserves the inheritance from his father, but really what does he deserve?  Nothing.  The son’s pride is evidence that he loves the daddy’s riches but not his daddy.

Yet, the father grants his son’s depraved demand and “divides his property between them” (v.12), that is between the two sons though the father would continue to hold legal rights over the inhe-ritance until he died.  Based on Deuteronomy 21:17, the older son was to receive a “double portion” of the inheritance—that works out to two-thirds for the older son and one-third for the younger.

Pride always produces some form of rebellion that has a hatred for authority.  We know the prodigal wants to be “free” from the authority of his father because of his prompt action after receiving his inheritance.  “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country” (v.13a).

   2.  Sin is devotion to depravity (v.13).  Notice again, the prodigal “took a journey into a far country” (v.13).  Sin always takes you farther from home than you expect and makes you stay longer than you ever wanted.  Teenagers and young adults, please beware of chasing the wind like the prodigal did.  In our society, you’ve been taught that you’re “missing out” if you don’t sow some wild oats while you can.  In reality, you may find yourself missing out on going to Heaven if you walk away from God even for one frolic with sin.  In God’s kindness, He lovingly warns us not to chase after youthful lusts.

Ecclesiastes 12:1— Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”.

   3.  Sin is wastefulness and foolishness (v.13).  While in the far country, Jesus says the prodigal “squandered his property in reckless living” (v.13).  The word “reckless” in verse 13 was translated in the Latin Bible as wasteful, and it’s from this Latin word we get the word prodigal.  The prodigal son is the wasteful son, and he certainly lived up to this name!

Sin is such a total waste of your life that we can only call it foolishness.  Sin is foolish in many ways and for many reasons.  For one, it’s deceptive.  It always feels liberating at first, like you’re “discovering” yourself; but sin only leaves you feeling empty and depressed.  It’s like snorting cocaine or popping pills.  The euphoric feelings are real, and the feelings are good until the drugs dissipate and lay you low, hungry for another high.  Sudden-ly, your supposed freedom turns to bondage and you look foolish.

Sin is so deceptive that lost people don’t even know they’re lost.  Lost sheep and lost coins don’t know they’re lost, and lost sons don’t either.  Ironically, the farther we run away from God the farther we ran from ourselves, from our true identity as created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with Him.

   4.  Sin is devastating and destructive (vv.14-16).  After the money is gone and a severe famine strikes in the far country, the prodigal begins “to be in need” (v.14).  In reality, he had always been in need, he just didn’t know it.  “So he went and hired himself out” to a pig farmer (v.15).  For a Jew, nothing worse could be imagined—living in a Gentile country, working for a pig farmer.  It was so bad that the prodigal “was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (v.16).

The prodigal has hit the bottom.  He’s penniless and abandoned by everyone including his so-called party friends.  The prodigal stands to remind us that no one’s fit to govern their own soul.  He’s a picture of what we look like apart from God’s mercy in Christ.

But it’s at the bottom that the prodigal realizes there’s something much worse than pigs and poverty.  “But when he came to himself” (v.17a).  That’s a vivid way of describing repentance, which will be our focus next week.  The prodigal realizes that he has abandoned his father.  He says, “ ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17b).  The prodigal remembers the goodness of his father.

In the same way, sinners like us enslaved to their sin need to be freed and reconciled to God the Father.  How?  By repenting of our love for sin and trusting in Jesus who died in our place on the cross.

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Two Shall Become One

Having just preached on one of Jesus’ more controversial teachings, I wanted to make my manuscript available to the faithful believers at Southside Baptist Church so that it may be of help to them–and hopefully it will be of help to others as well.  Ironically, this is around the 15th anniversary of a seminary paper I wrote on this same topic while in a New Testament Survey class under one of my father’s in the faith, Dr. Ken Easley.

May the Lord be pleased to expand our understanding of His glory and our need of Him!

Two Shall become One (Mark.10:1-12)

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Self-Induced Faith

There’s a lot of confusion out there when it comes to the word “faith”.  Most of it creeps in over time as people become increasingly removed from the biblical concept.  Of course, some use the Bible to justify their self-revelatory versions of “faith”.  And everyone but atheists (whose “faith” is in “nothing-ness”) seem to have some kind of “faith,” usually affectionately termed “my faith”.

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Southside Baptist’s Website

I’m very excited and thankful for the launching of Southside Baptist Church’s website.  It still needs a little work, but for the most part it’s ready to go.  I encourage you to look it over.  We pray it will be blessing to many!  If we can be of any help to you in your walk with Jesus, please let us know.

http://www.ssbclebanon.com

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Santa Would Make a Horrible god

Have you ever really thought about it that way: that Santa would make a horrible god?  He would.  Receiving good things from Santa requires you to be “nice” rather than “naughty”, “good” rather than “bad”.  In some ways, that is similar to the true God of Christianity.  God does reward the righteous.

But what is Santa’s definition, or standard, of “good”?  If the definition of good is when a person’s “good” deeds outweigh his bad, then I guess Santa then must make distinctions between those whose “good” deeds are at 51% versus those at 63%, 75%, and 81%, etc.  Shouldn’t those with more “goodness” get more “good” things?  And I guess, all those who fall below the 51% mark get nothing.  Those that come in at 49% get the same nothing as those who are only 1% “good”.

What a horrible god Santa would make.  I imagine many a million kids on Christmas morning discover that apparently they’re not “good” enough, that they just didn’t measure up to Santa’s standard of righteousness.  And what hope do they have?  None, because Santa would make a horrible god.  They have no way of knowing what 51% looks like.  Worse yet, why would anyone think that 51% good is good enough, or even 99% for that matter?  Is a glass of water with only 1% pig manure “good” enough.  This is why we need Jesus so desperately.

Jesus didn’t come into the world to just make it possible for us to be righteous.  Jesus came into the world to be our righteousness through His perfectly obedient life, His perfect substitutionary death on the cross, and His perfect victory over sin and death.  All who put their faith in Jesus as there only hope, turning from their sin and turning to Him, will receive His imputed righteousness.  The gift of Heaven is not based on being naughty or nice; it’s based on the perfection of Christ on our behalf and distributed according to the riches of God’s grace and mercy in accordance with His sovereign purpose.  May God be gracious to us and our children as we teach them to treasure Jesus this Christmas.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Antinomianism: Still Extant and Slippery

I am recently finishing up an interesting book I wanted to recommend to those interested in the topic of Antinomianism.  Mark Jones has written an excellent historical and theological analysis of the subject in his book “Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?”

The most significant take away of the book is how the Antinomian view of sanctification claims a high Christology in regards to God’s grace and justification by faith alone yet falls desperately short of the Christo-centric approach to which they claim to hold.

Read it for yourself, and be challenged by its conclusion that justification by faith alone in no way does away with the reality of a grace-fueled sanctification of a faith that works hard to kill indwelling sin and obey God.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Man-Centered Methods in Parenting

As discussed in the previous article Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart, parenting is no easy task because we are not just dealing with our children that sin.  We are also dealing with our own sinful hearts.  In order to discipline our children biblically, we must be aware of the ways in which our sinful pride manifests itself in our parenting.  At the end of the day, our sin is pride and can be rightly described as very much man-centered rather than Christ-centered.  Here are what seem to be the primary manifestations of prideful discipline in parenting.

1.  Anger: Unrighteous anger is probably the greatest obstacle to godly parenting.  I would also include the use of threats in this category because of their close relationship.  In just one outburst of sinful anger, we can destroy days or weeks of godly parenting.  Anger is a man-centered method of parenting because it puts the focus on fear of the parent rather than fear of God.  Using anger as a parenting method usually only leads to bitterness in the hearts of both child and parent.  Sinful anger is very critical, demanding, harsh, and the child will struggle to see any real love in dad or mom.  There is such a thing as righteous anger, but parents must be prudent.

2.  Humiliation: Humiliation in parenting is when the parent plays on the child’s emotions in order to induce “feelings” of repentance in the child.  The problem with the use of humiliation is that it produces only a worldly sorrow rather than a godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).  Further, it only serves to debase the child and produce bitterness in them.  Remembering the Golden Rule is crucial for avoiding the humiliation of our children in the process of disciplining (Matt. 7:12).

2 Corinthians 7:10—For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,  whereas worldly grief produces death.

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

3.  Delayed Obedience:  Another common mistake that Christian parents make is in substituting the requirement of biblical obedience for a lesser form of obedience that is delayed.  We would never want our children to be delayed in their obedience about crossing a street, touching a hot stove, or snorting cocaine because the damage will already have been done.  The same is true with all issues of obedience.  While grace should abound toward the child, parents must insist that their children do what they say, when they say it, with an attitude of respect.  Delayed obedience is really just a more subtle form of making threats.

4.  Bribery:  The use of bribery in parenting is the attempt of the parent to change a child’s behavior through the use of enticement.  The problem with this man-centered method is that the parent is appealing to the child’s sin-nature.  In effect, the child’s selfishness is being fertilized.  They are being taught to obey for the sake of getting something they want and not simply for the joy of knowing that they have done what is right.  Here we must make a difference between bribery and reward.  Bribery is always negative because of its aim to entice.  Rewards, however, can be a good way of showing grace and appreciation to a child.  Normally, rewards should not be pre-announced to the child but should be a kind of surprising-grace.

Undoubtedly, there are other man-centered methods of discipline in parenting, but these should help Christians recognize the more prominent ones.  By God's grace, may we discipline our children in a Christ-like way.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Man-Centered Methods in Parenting

As discussed in the previous article Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart, parenting is no easy task because we are not just dealing with our children that sin.  We are also dealing with our own sinful hearts.  In order to discipline our children biblically, we must be aware of the ways in which our sinful pride manifests itself in our parenting.  At the end of the day, our sin is pride and can be rightly described as very much man-centered rather than Christ-centered.  Here are what seem to be the primary manifestations of prideful discipline in parenting.

1.  Anger: Unrighteous anger is probably the greatest obstacle to godly parenting.  I would also include the use of threats in this category because of their close relationship.  In just one outburst of sinful anger, we can destroy days or weeks of godly parenting.  Anger is a man-centered method of parenting because it puts the focus on fear of the parent rather than fear of God.  Using anger as a parenting method usually only leads to bitterness in the hearts of both child and parent.  Sinful anger is very critical, demanding, harsh, and the child will struggle to see any real love in dad or mom.  There is such a thing as righteous anger, but parents must be prudent.

2.  Humiliation: Humiliation in parenting is when the parent plays on the child’s emotions in order to induce “feelings” of repentance in the child.  The problem with the use of humiliation is that it produces only a worldly sorrow rather than a godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).  Further, it only serves to debase the child and produce bitterness in them.  Remembering the Golden Rule is crucial for avoiding the humiliation of our children in the process of disciplining (Matt. 7:12).

2 Corinthians 7:10—For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,  whereas worldly grief produces death.

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

3.  Delayed Obedience:  Another common mistake that Christian parents make is in substituting the requirement of biblical obedience for a lesser form of obedience that is delayed.  We would never want our children to be delayed in their obedience about crossing a street, touching a hot stove, or snorting cocaine because the damage will already have been done.  The same is true with all issues of obedience.  While grace should abound toward the child, parents must insist that their children do what they say, when they say it, with an attitude of respect.  Delayed obedience is really just a more subtle form of making threats.

4.  Bribery:  The use of bribery in parenting is the attempt of the parent to change a child’s behavior through the use of enticement.  The problem with this man-centered method is that the parent is appealing to the child’s sin-nature.  In effect, the child’s selfishness is being fertilized.  They are being taught to obey for the sake of getting something they want and not simply for the joy of knowing that they have done what is right.  Here we must make a difference between bribery and reward.  Bribery is always negative because of its aim to entice.  Rewards, however, can be a good way of showing grace and appreciation to a child.  Normally, rewards should not be pre-announced to the child but should be a kind of surprising-grace.

Undoubtedly, there are other man-centered methods of discipline in parenting, but these should help Christians recognize the more prominent ones.  By God’s grace, may we discipline our children in a Christ-like way.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Precious Babies

Among the most sensitive issues with which pastors must deal is the question of salvation regarding babies and very young children that die, whether in utero, infancy, or prior to conscious awareness of sin.  (I would also include here the mentally impaired/special needs person, but for the sake of this article I will simply use the terms baby/babies.)  Because of the deeply personal sensitivity of this issue, I will make four clear and concise statements that I believe are plainly supported by God’s Word.

1.  Babies are not innocent:  This is harshest of the four, but the Bible teaches that there is no such category as an innocent person.  Not only are we born sinful, but we are conceived in the womb as sinful (Jn. 3:1-12; Eph. 2:1-5; Ps. 51:5).  Sin was imputed to us through our ancestor Adam (Rom. 5:12-21).  Physical death, no matter how early or late in life, demonstrates we are connected to the guilt of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:13-14).

Psalm 51:5—Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 58:3—The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

Romans 5:12-14— Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Romans 9:10-13—And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born

2.  Babies are incapable of seeing the revelation of God through conscienceBabies have Adam's sin-nature, but at least two passages of Scripture in the New Testament give us hope for babies.  Both John 9:41 and Romans 1:20 teach that people will be judged for their sin because they are naturally capable of seeing God’s revelation yet reject this knowledge of God.  Thus, we may safely conclude that because babies are incapable of seeing or knowing God’s revelation through conscience, God will extend His grace to them in the same way that He extends grace to conscience sinners, delivering them from spiritual blindness.

John 9:41—Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

Romans 1:20—For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse

3.  Babies that die will be saved by grace: While there is no proof-text verse that we can turn to in the Bible that babies that die will go to heaven, I do believe they will be saved based on principles found throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  The following verses lend themselves in support of this conviction (bold type is added for emphasis).

2 Samuel 12:21-23— Then his servants said to him [David] , “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”  He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

Psalm 22:9-10—Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breast.  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Luke 1:15—“For he [John the Baptist] will be great before the Lord.  And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

4.  Those who never hear the gospel will be damned eternally:  I have added this fourth statement because talking about babies as being "ignorant" of their need for salvation inevitably leads some to conclude that people who never have an opportunity to hear the gospel will either be saved or at least given a future opportunity to believe.

This category of the “ignorant”, however, is different than babies.  People who never hear the gospel are not ignorant of God’s existence or their sin against Him (Rom. 1).  Although these people are ignorant of God’s saving work through Jesus, they are guilty and accountable because both creation and their own conscience bear witness of God and His righteousness (Rom. 1).  The evidence of their judgment is physical death (Rom. 5:14).

Death’s reign over mankind spares no one.  The good news is that babies are covered by the blood of Jesus by God's grace.  The bad news is that people who never hear the gospel aren't.  Why?  Because those who sinned between Adam and Moses are examples of what happens to people who never hear God’s truth.  They are held accountable for their sin even though they do not sin in the same way as Adam, that is by disobeying a direct command (Rom.5:14).  Yet, they are held accountable because they have a universal God-consciousness written on their hearts.

Romans 2:12a, 14-15—For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, . . . For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

By no means do I think I'm an authority on the issue of what happens to babies that die, but I do believe the Bible gives enough clues to conclude that in God’s mysterious providence they are a part of God's elect and precious in His sight.  It is my prayer that families who have faced the loss of a baby would find hope and peace in the words of Jesus: "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.19:13).

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Precious Babies

Among the most sensitive issues with which pastors must deal is the question of salvation regarding babies and very young children that die, whether in utero, infancy, or prior to conscious awareness of sin.  (I would also include here the mentally impaired/special needs person, but for the sake of this article I will simply use the terms baby/babies.)  Because of the deeply personal sensitivity of this issue, I will make four clear and concise statements that I believe are plainly supported by God’s Word.

1.  Babies are not innocent:  This is harshest of the four, but the Bible teaches that there is no such category as an innocent person.  Not only are we born sinful, but we are conceived in the womb as sinful (Jn. 3:1-12; Eph. 2:1-5; Ps. 51:5).  Sin was imputed to us through our ancestor Adam (Rom. 5:12-21).  Physical death, no matter how early or late in life, demonstrates we are connected to the guilt of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:13-14).

Psalm 51:5—Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 58:3—The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

Romans 5:12-14— Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Romans 9:10-13—And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born

2.  Babies are incapable of seeing the revelation of God through conscience:  Babies have Adam’s sin-nature, but at least two passages of Scripture in the New Testament give us hope for babies.  Both John 9:41 and Romans 1:20 teach that people will be judged for their sin because they are naturally capable of seeing God’s revelation yet reject this knowledge of God.  Thus, we may safely conclude that because babies are incapable of seeing or knowing God’s revelation through conscience, God will extend His grace to them in the same way that He extends grace to conscience sinners, delivering them from spiritual blindness.

John 9:41—Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

Romans 1:20—For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse

3.  Babies that die will be saved by grace: While there is no proof-text verse that we can turn to in the Bible that babies that die will go to heaven, I do believe they will be saved based on principles found throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  The following verses lend themselves in support of this conviction (bold type is added for emphasis).

2 Samuel 12:21-23— Then his servants said to him [David] , “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”  He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Psalm 22:9-10—Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breast.  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

Luke 1:15—“For he [John the Baptist] will be great before the Lord.  And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

4.  Those who never hear the gospel will be damned eternally:  I have added this fourth statement because talking about babies as being “ignorant” of their need for salvation inevitably leads some to conclude that people who never have an opportunity to hear the gospel will either be saved or at least given a future opportunity to believe.

This category of the “ignorant”, however, is different than babies.  People who never hear the gospel are not ignorant of God’s existence or their sin against Him (Rom. 1).  Although these people are ignorant of God’s saving work through Jesus, they are guilty and accountable because both creation and their own conscience bear witness of God and His righteousness (Rom. 1).  The evidence of their judgment is physical death (Rom. 5:14).

Death’s reign over mankind spares no one.  The good news is that babies are covered by the blood of Jesus by God’s grace.  The bad news is that people who never hear the gospel aren’t.  Why?  Because those who sinned between Adam and Moses are examples of what happens to people who never hear God’s truth.  They are held accountable for their sin even though they do not sin in the same way as Adam, that is by disobeying a direct command (Rom.5:14).  Yet, they are held accountable because they have a universal God-consciousness written on their hearts.

Romans 2:12a, 14-15—For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, . . . For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

By no means do I think I’m an authority on the issue of what happens to babies that die, but I do believe the Bible gives enough clues to conclude that in God’s mysterious providence they are a part of God’s elect and precious in His sight.  It is my prayer that families who have faced the loss of a baby would find hope and peace in the words of Jesus: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.19:13).

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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How NOT to Leave a Church

Here's an article that I've been wanting to write for years, but there's never seemed to be a good time to do so because I always felt like someone who has left the church recently might think I'm talking about them.  But I've come to realize that I'll never be able to write this article if I continue to worry like this because there's always people coming to and leaving the church.

DISCLAIMER: So, if you're reading this and feel like I'm targeting you, then please understand that I have no one in particular in mind.

As a person who has grown up in the church and has now pastored for nearly ten years, I've heard a lot of people give their reasons for leaving the church.  Unfortunately, most of the reasons have been, what I would deem, unbiblical.  Here's my top eight.  If you have heard some different ones, feel free to leave a comment.

1.  "It's nothing personal."  This one I've heard in combination with some of the other reasons.  I don't think a person who says this really grasps what the church is.  The church is God's chosen people who has been set apart by His grace and redeemed by Jesus.  As such, the church is God's family that loves and serves one another.  Therefore, leaving a church, even for biblical reasons, is a deeply personal thing.

2.  "I'm not mad at anybody."  This one I've heard several times.  Most of the times it was in months following an argument or disagreement with another church member(s).  Seeing it in others and dealing with my own anger at times, I've found that the "I'm not mad" reason is really just a way to make us feel better about ourselves even though our hearts are bitter.

3.  "There's not enough activities for the kids."  This one ranks pretty high on the list among the most frequent reasons for leaving the church, primarily among thirty-somethings.  While there is part of me that sympathizes with this one, my ecclesiology kicks in and reminds me that the Bible doesn't place children/teenagers at the center of church life.  When the corporate church gathers it is for the purpose of worship through prayer, preaching, and Holy Communion.  "Activities" should be a natural overflow of our worship together and should manifest themselves in living our lives together outside of the corporate gathering.  That may mean having an organized children's/youth program or it might mean children hanging out together while Dad and Mom are hanging out with other church members.

4.  "My kids don't have any friends."  This is similar to the previous one.  Again, I have some sympathies here having grown up in a church where I was the only kid who went to school in the next county over.  The friendships I had through church were never as deep as they could have been had I went to school with them, but at the end of the day it's still no reason to leave a church.  The Bible doesn't place children/teenagers at the center of church life.  Besides, children are under the authority of their parents.  Parents that move churches based primarily on their child's wants are making a grave mistake.  At the least, they are teaching their children that church is all about getting what we want out of it rather than finding ways to serve others.  It's a very self-serving attitude.

5.  "I don't like the preaching."  This is one that I've heard several times, sometimes referring to my pastor's preaching and sometimes referring to my own!  There's nothing more humbling than being told "your preaching stinks."  Sometimes leaving the church because of the preaching is a good thing, if that preaching is unbiblical or if the pastor is biblically unqualified.  But even in these cases, I would say that patience and loving dialogue with your pastor is prerequisite to you leaving.  In my experience, most of the people who say "I don't like the preaching" are under deep conviction of sin as result of the preaching.  I'm not sure if I could say that anyone I've known who has used this reason had a passion for knowing and obeying the Bible.

6.  "I don't like the music."  This one is like the previous.  If the music is unbiblical or the person(s) leading the music is biblically unqualified, then leaving the church might be acceptable.  But again, patience and loving dialogue with church leadership is prerequisite.  But in my experience, people who have left the church over the music have been generally selfish.  They want the songs that they want played on the kind of instruments that they want without taking into account the preference of the rest of the church.  Worship is not about "me".  It's about "we," God's people gathering together to worship HIM!

7.  "It's just time to move on."  I've heard this one a lot over the years.  It's probably the most troubling because you generally know your fellow church members well enough to know that it's really a cover for, "I'm not happy," or "Someone hurt my feelings," or something similar.

8.  Don't just disappear.  This one is the most frustrating and probably the most selfish.  For the church, it's like having a limb removed without anesthesia because the person who leaves doesn't prepare the church for the pain but simply cuts the body.  I understand that some people have a hard time with good-byes, but no matter how hard it can be, love says "good-bye."  For others, they're embarrassed about leaving, possibly because they have one of the other 7 "reasons" for leaving.

In the end, a few minutes of good-bye tears will be much more therapeutic than the days, weeks, or even years of bitterness that can result from just disappearing from the body.  My suggestion is that you talk to your pastor(s), your small group, and your closest friends about the possibility of leaving and ask for their prayers.  This simple step can go a long way toward a less painful departure.

In light of all of these reasons people give for leaving a church, might I offer some biblical reasons one might leave?

1.  The Word of God is held in little esteem.  The church may say it believes the Bible but few people are demonstrating hunger and thirst for it.  The preacher may say he preaches the Bible but his sermons are really not much more than reading a text and departing never to return thereafter; or reading a string of texts that may or may not be related; or continually preaching "turn or burn messages" that appear more hateful than helpful.

2.  The driving force is something other than Jesus Himself.  The church may say Jesus is its main priority but it turns to forms of entertainment, manipulation, and various other shenanigans rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to both attract an audience and convert a people for Jesus' glory.  Some may say this is too passive of a view.  To the contrary, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to be the church: preaching, teaching, worshipping, praying, giving, and serving one another.  Jesus said that unbelievers will know that we're His disciples by our love for one another (Jn.13:35), not by how entertaining of an event we can put on.  [For the record, I'm not against programs and events, but I am against them if our trust is in them rather than the power of the Spirit]

3.  The majority of interpretations of Scripture are rooted in legalism rather than grace.  The church may say that it believes in salvation by God's grace alone but the "air" may be thick with legalism: do this/don't do that; shape up or ship out; turn or burn; be present every time the doors are open; you can't wear this; you can't drink that . . . .

4.  Holy living is sparse at best.  While legalism is satanic, holy living is Jesus-like.  We cannot save ourselves or stay saved by being good enough, yet all believers who have been justified by faith will live a godly life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The church may say that they believe in holy living by God's grace, but the "air" may be thick with carnality--"holy" on Sunday but helly the rest of the week!

I hope this helps us minister to our fellow church members who are considering a church change.  May God grant us grace to be biblical in our decision making when it comes to whether we stay or go.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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How NOT to Leave a Church

Here’s an article that I’ve been wanting to write for years, but there’s never seemed to be a good time to do so because I always felt like someone who has left the church recently might think I’m talking about them.  But I’ve come to realize that I’ll never be able to write this article if I continue to worry like this because there’s always people coming to and leaving the church.

DISCLAIMER: So, if you’re reading this and feel like I’m targeting you, then please understand that I have no one in particular in mind.

As a person who has grown up in the church and has now pastored for nearly ten years, I’ve heard a lot of people give their reasons for leaving the church.  Unfortunately, most of the reasons have been, what I would deem, unbiblical.  Here’s my top eight.  If you have heard some different ones, feel free to leave a comment.

1.  “It’s nothing personal.”  This one I’ve heard in combination with some of the other reasons.  I don’t think a person who says this really grasps what the church is.  The church is God’s chosen people who has been set apart by His grace and redeemed by Jesus.  As such, the church is God’s family that loves and serves one another.  Therefore, leaving a church, even for biblical reasons, is a deeply personal thing.

2.  “I’m not mad at anybody.”  This one I’ve heard several times.  Most of the times it was in months following an argument or disagreement with another church member(s).  Seeing it in others and dealing with my own anger at times, I’ve found that the “I’m not mad” reason is really just a way to make us feel better about ourselves even though our hearts are bitter.

3.  “There’s not enough activities for the kids.”  This one ranks pretty high on the list among the most frequent reasons for leaving the church, primarily among thirty-somethings.  While there is part of me that sympathizes with this one, my ecclesiology kicks in and reminds me that the Bible doesn’t place children/teenagers at the center of church life.  When the corporate church gathers it is for the purpose of worship through prayer, preaching, and Holy Communion.  “Activities” should be a natural overflow of our worship together and should manifest themselves in living our lives together outside of the corporate gathering.  That may mean having an organized children’s/youth program or it might mean children hanging out together while Dad and Mom are hanging out with other church members.

4.  “My kids don’t have any friends.”  This is similar to the previous one.  Again, I have some sympathies here having grown up in a church where I was the only kid who went to school in the next county over.  The friendships I had through church were never as deep as they could have been had I went to school with them, but at the end of the day it’s still no reason to leave a church.  The Bible doesn’t place children/teenagers at the center of church life.  Besides, children are under the authority of their parents.  Parents that move churches based primarily on their child’s wants are making a grave mistake.  At the least, they are teaching their children that church is all about getting what we want out of it rather than finding ways to serve others.  It’s a very self-serving attitude.

5.  “I don’t like the preaching.”  This is one that I’ve heard several times, sometimes referring to my pastor’s preaching and sometimes referring to my own!  There’s nothing more humbling than being told “your preaching stinks.”  Sometimes leaving the church because of the preaching is a good thing, if that preaching is unbiblical or if the pastor is biblically unqualified.  But even in these cases, I would say that patience and loving dialogue with your pastor is prerequisite to you leaving.  In my experience, most of the people who say “I don’t like the preaching” are under deep conviction of sin as result of the preaching.  I’m not sure if I could say that anyone I’ve known who has used this reason had a passion for knowing and obeying the Bible.

6.  “I don’t like the music.”  This one is like the previous.  If the music is unbiblical or the person(s) leading the music is biblically unqualified, then leaving the church might be acceptable.  But again, patience and loving dialogue with church leadership is prerequisite.  But in my experience, people who have left the church over the music have been generally selfish.  They want the songs that they want played on the kind of instruments that they want without taking into account the preference of the rest of the church.  Worship is not about “me”.  It’s about “we,” God’s people gathering together to worship HIM!

7.  “It’s just time to move on.”  I’ve heard this one a lot over the years.  It’s probably the most troubling because you generally know your fellow church members well enough to know that it’s really a cover for, “I’m not happy,” or “Someone hurt my feelings,” or something similar.

8.  Don’t just disappear.  This one is the most frustrating and probably the most selfish.  For the church, it’s like having a limb removed without anesthesia because the person who leaves doesn’t prepare the church for the pain but simply cuts the body.  I understand that some people have a hard time with good-byes, but no matter how hard it can be, love says “good-bye.”  For others, they’re embarrassed about leaving, possibly because they have one of the other 7 “reasons” for leaving.

In the end, a few minutes of good-bye tears will be much more therapeutic than the days, weeks, or even years of bitterness that can result from just disappearing from the body.  My suggestion is that you talk to your pastor(s), your small group, and your closest friends about the possibility of leaving and ask for their prayers.  This simple step can go a long way toward a less painful departure.

In light of all of these reasons people give for leaving a church, might I offer some biblical reasons one might leave?

1.  The Word of God is held in little esteem.  The church may say it believes the Bible but few people are demonstrating hunger and thirst for it.  The preacher may say he preaches the Bible but his sermons are really not much more than reading a text and departing never to return thereafter; or reading a string of texts that may or may not be related; or continually preaching “turn or burn messages” that appear more hateful than helpful.

2.  The driving force is something other than Jesus Himself.  The church may say Jesus is its main priority but it turns to forms of entertainment, manipulation, and various other shenanigans rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to both attract an audience and convert a people for Jesus’ glory.  Some may say this is too passive of a view.  To the contrary, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to be the church: preaching, teaching, worshipping, praying, giving, and serving one another.  Jesus said that unbelievers will know that we’re His disciples by our love for one another (Jn.13:35), not by how entertaining of an event we can put on.  [For the record, I’m not against programs and events, but I am against them if our trust is in them rather than the power of the Spirit]

3.  The majority of interpretations of Scripture are rooted in legalism rather than grace.  The church may say that it believes in salvation by God’s grace alone but the “air” may be thick with legalism: do this/don’t do that; shape up or ship out; turn or burn; be present every time the doors are open; you can’t wear this; you can’t drink that . . . .

4.  Holy living is sparse at best.  While legalism is satanic, holy living is Jesus-like.  We cannot save ourselves or stay saved by being good enough, yet all believers who have been justified by faith will live a godly life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The church may say that they believe in holy living by God’s grace, but the “air” may be thick with carnality–“holy” on Sunday but helly the rest of the week!

I hope this helps us minister to our fellow church members who are considering a church change.  May God grant us grace to be biblical in our decision making when it comes to whether we stay or go.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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Communication and Correction

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph.6:4).  Ephesians 6:4 sums up so much of what parenting is all about, including communication and correction.  When it comes to correcting our children, it seems that too many of us are correction-heavy and communication-light.


Now, when I say that we are communication-light, I do not mean to say that we communicate too little.  But I mean to say that we communicate inappropriately.  The reality is this: we as parents are always communicating with our children.  The question is not whether we're communicating but what we are communicating.


Therefore, both good communication and biblical correction are crucial aspects of discipline that have three primary stages of discipline.  It is important to note that these three stages can overlap at different times and in different ways depending on the individual family dynamics.  Today we will look at the first stage.


Discipline Stage of Child Rearing
The discipline stage is what some have termed the give me your attention  stage.  It is most crucial in the first 5-8 years of childhood.  Having corrupt hearts, we are born as me-centered sinners. The discipline stage is when parents should use communication and correction to say “give me your attention,” and it should begin very early.  Take, for example, the changing-table situation in which an infant is demonstrating anger.  While it is not appropriate that you spank an infant, simply placing a gentle but firm hand on their chest or legs accompanied by a firm but gentle voice can do wonders.  Regular spankings of a child may be used as soon as the child is able to understand  a simple command and demonstrate defiance to that command.


Defining Discipline
1) Positive in nature :  Defining discipline can be difficult because many consider it to be negative and confuse discipline with punishment or retribution.  Biblical discipline, however, is always positive even when a spanking is involved.  God’s word tells us this plainly:


Proverbs 3:12-13—“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reprove, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”


Proverbs 23:13-14—“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.  14 If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul form Sheol.”


Hebrew 12:7-11—“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”


2) Love-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of love rather than sinful anger.  If we are angry about our children’s disobedience, then we are likely disciplining out of retribution rather than reconciliation.  The goal of discipline is to reconcile children to God and to others.  Therefore, we should be grieved by our child’s disobedience rather than angered.


1 Corinthians 13:4-6—“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”


1 Corinthians 5:1-2—“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  2 And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.


3) Heart-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of a concern for our child’s heart and not simply his behavior.  We must focus our attention on “Why?” a child did what he did and not simply on “What?” he did.  Dealing only with behavior can quickly turn children into hypocrites, who either become manipulators or fearful of punishment rather than God.


Matthew 15:19—“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”


4) Instruction-oriented:  Discipline must be saturated with instruction in righteousness and the gospel of Christ.  This is where communication plays a crucial role.


Ephesians 6:4—“Fathers, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”


Kinds of Discipline
1) Formative instruction (offense): This kind of discipline is primarily preventative in nature and can  be both formal (Scripture, catechisms, prayers, Christian literature) and informal (using teachable moments throughout the day).  This is the foundation of everything that a Christian parent  does.  Just as in sports, we want to spend more time on offense than  defense in our parenting.   For example, the best way to deal with a child who runs away from you when you call them at the grocery store is by practicing this at home through formative discipline.


Proverbs 1:8-9—“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,    9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”


Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart      from it.”


2) Corrective discipline (defense): This kind of discipline is primarily reactive in nature and should be used frequently in the discipline stage when formative instruction has been ignored.  Sometimes only a verbal reproof is needed, such as when: the child has not been informed of the parent’s standard; or the child is not characterized by the sin in which he is caught.  In many cases, however, a spanking should be given.  Formative instruction should always precede and follow a spanking, though it should be brief because neither the child nor the parent is in their best form.


Proverb 22:15—“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Pr. 22:15).


Proverbs 29:15—“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”


Steps in Corrective Discipline


1) Examine your motives:  Ask yourself a series of questions such as the following.


--Am I doing this because my will has been violated or God’s will has been violated?


--Am I doing this because my child has sinned against God or because his behavior has caused me some personal discomfort, embarrassment, or trouble?


 --Am I doing this out of love and kindness?  (beware of unkind comments like, “I can’t believe you are so inconsiderate,” and replace them with more positive comments like, “Do you think it is kind or rude for you to . . . ?)


 2) Choose the right time and place:  Whatever you do, don’t embarrass your child because this shifts the focus to humiliation rather than repentance.  While discipline should be swift, it should also be prudent.  Therefore, do not spank your child in public or even in front of his siblings.


3) Choose the right words, not substitutes:  In describing your child’s disobedience, avoid words such as mean, stupid, or telling a story and replace them with the biblical words unkind, unwise, and lying.


4) Choose the right tone of voice:  Do not scold your child and demean him, but be self-controlled and respectful toward him.  Remember the Golden Rule:


Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.


5) Bring Scripture to bear:  Give them God’s standard and show them how they have fallen short of that standard.  Show them that only Jesus can meet this standard and that we must turn from our sin and trust in Him as our only help for obeying God.


6) Administer the spanking:  Give 1-5 swats on the bottom or upper thigh (the number will depend on their age and the nature of the disobedience, and make sure you tell your child how many swats they will be receiving). The spanking should be significant enough to inflict pain but should be controlled (as should dad or mom’s temper).  After the spanking, comfort your child and tell them that you forgive them and that forgiveness from God is possible through faith in Jesus. Tell them that Jesus died for this kind of disobedience.  Whenever possible, pray with your child after the spanking is complete.


7) Be prepared to suggest a biblical solution:  Help the child work through what a biblical response would have been and have the child follow through with it.  If they have sinned against someone, have them go to that person, apologize to them, and make restitution.


Obviously, there are many variables when it comes to corrective discipline, but prayerfully what we I have written here will be of help to parents as they strive to raise their children to know Jesus.


Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Communication and Correction

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph.6:4).  Ephesians 6:4 sums up so much of what parenting is all about, including communication and correction.  When it comes to correcting our children, it seems that too many of us are correction-heavy and communication-light.

Now, when I say that we are communication-light, I do not mean to say that we communicate too little.  But I mean to say that we communicate inappropriately.  The reality is this: we as parents are always communicating with our children.  The question is not whether we’re communicating but what we are communicating.

Therefore, both good communication and biblical correction are crucial aspects of discipline that have three primary stages of discipline.  It is important to note that these three stages can overlap at different times and in different ways depending on the individual family dynamics.  Today we will look at the first stage.

Discipline Stage of Child Rearing
The discipline stage is what some have termed the give me your attention  stage.  It is most crucial in the first 5-8 years of childhood.  Having corrupt hearts, we are born as me-centered sinners. The discipline stage is when parents should use communication and correction to say “give me your attention,” and it should begin very early.  Take, for example, the changing-table situation in which an infant is demonstrating anger.  While it is not appropriate that you spank an infant, simply placing a gentle but firm hand on their chest or legs accompanied by a firm but gentle voice can do wonders.  Regular spankings of a child may be used as soon as the child is able to understand  a simple command and demonstrate defiance to that command.

Defining Discipline
1) Positive in nature :  Defining discipline can be difficult because many consider it to be negative and confuse discipline with punishment or retribution.  Biblical discipline, however, is always positive even when a spanking is involved.  God’s word tells us this plainly:

Proverbs 3:12-13—“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reprove, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Proverbs 23:13-14—“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.  14 If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul form Sheol.”

Hebrew 12:7-11—“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

2) Love-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of love rather than sinful anger.  If we are angry about our children’s disobedience, then we are likely disciplining out of retribution rather than reconciliation.  The goal of discipline is to reconcile children to God and to others.  Therefore, we should be grieved by our child’s disobedience rather than angered.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6—“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”

1 Corinthians 5:1-2—“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  2 And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3) Heart-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of a concern for our child’s heart and not simply his behavior.  We must focus our attention on “Why?” a child did what he did and not simply on “What?” he did.  Dealing only with behavior can quickly turn children into hypocrites, who either become manipulators or fearful of punishment rather than God.

Matthew 15:19—“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

4) Instruction-oriented:  Discipline must be saturated with instruction in righteousness and the gospel of Christ.  This is where communication plays a crucial role.

Ephesians 6:4—“Fathers, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Kinds of Discipline
1) Formative instruction (offense): This kind of discipline is primarily preventative in nature and can  be both formal (Scripture, catechisms, prayers, Christian literature) and informal (using teachable moments throughout the day).  This is the foundation of everything that a Christian parent  does.  Just as in sports, we want to spend more time on offense than  defense in our parenting.   For example, the best way to deal with a child who runs away from you when you call them at the grocery store is by practicing this at home through formative discipline.

Proverbs 1:8-9—“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,    9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”

Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart      from it.”

2) Corrective discipline (defense): This kind of discipline is primarily reactive in nature and should be used frequently in the discipline stage when formative instruction has been ignored.  Sometimes only a verbal reproof is needed, such as when: the child has not been informed of the parent’s standard; or the child is not characterized by the sin in which he is caught.  In many cases, however, a spanking should be given.  Formative instruction should always precede and follow a spanking, though it should be brief because neither the child nor the parent is in their best form.

Proverb 22:15—“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Pr. 22:15).

Proverbs 29:15—“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”

Steps in Corrective Discipline

1) Examine your motives:  Ask yourself a series of questions such as the following.

–Am I doing this because my will has been violated or God’s will has been violated?

–Am I doing this because my child has sinned against God or because his behavior has caused me some personal discomfort, embarrassment, or trouble?

 –Am I doing this out of love and kindness?  (beware of unkind comments like, “I can’t believe you are so inconsiderate,” and replace them with more positive comments like, “Do you think it is kind or rude for you to . . . ?)

 2) Choose the right time and place:  Whatever you do, don’t embarrass your child because this shifts the focus to humiliation rather than repentance.  While discipline should be swift, it should also be prudent.  Therefore, do not spank your child in public or even in front of his siblings.

3) Choose the right words, not substitutes:  In describing your child’s disobedience, avoid words such as mean, stupid, or telling a story and replace them with the biblical words unkind, unwise, and lying.

4) Choose the right tone of voice:  Do not scold your child and demean him, but be self-controlled and respectful toward him.  Remember the Golden Rule:

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

5) Bring Scripture to bear:  Give them God’s standard and show them how they have fallen short of that standard.  Show them that only Jesus can meet this standard and that we must turn from our sin and trust in Him as our only help for obeying God.

6) Administer the spanking:  Give 1-5 swats on the bottom or upper thigh (the number will depend on their age and the nature of the disobedience, and make sure you tell your child how many swats they will be receiving). The spanking should be significant enough to inflict pain but should be controlled (as should dad or mom’s temper).  After the spanking, comfort your child and tell them that you forgive them and that forgiveness from God is possible through faith in Jesus. Tell them that Jesus died for this kind of disobedience.  Whenever possible, pray with your child after the spanking is complete.

7) Be prepared to suggest a biblical solution:  Help the child work through what a biblical response would have been and have the child follow through with it.  If they have sinned against someone, have them go to that person, apologize to them, and make restitution.

Obviously, there are many variables when it comes to corrective discipline, but prayerfully what we I have written here will be of help to parents as they strive to raise their children to know Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta


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