The Sabbath rest of God

At HCBC we just kicked off a sermon series in the book of Genesis called, “Foundations.” imagesGenesis lays the foundations for so many of the most important doctrines in the Bible.  However, there was one important foundational thing that I did not have time to get to in my message, hence this blog post.

This past Sunday in my sermon, “Echoes of Eden”, our text was Genesis 1:26-2:17.  In my message I broke down the essence of the Kingdom of God as “God’s People, in God’s place, under God’s rule.”  We see the foundational seed bed of this concept in the very first two chapters of Genesis, where Adam and Eve, (the people of God) live in God’s special place, (Eden) under God’s benevolent rule.

imagesEden, which means “delight”, is the perfect land for Adam and Eve.  In my sermon I described why.  Eden is delightful because of it’s beauty, it’s abundant provision, it’s bountiful food, but most significantly, Eden is delightful because God dwells there with Adam and Eve.  Adam is to “work” and “keep” the garden.  “Work” and “Keep” isn’t simply about gardening (as honorable of a job that is), instead, these words in the Bible are associated with worship.  The garden becomes a proto-temple, where man and God meet, commune, and have fellowship.  The most delightful thing about Eden was that man could commune with, and enjoy, and worship God, who is superior to all of the other treasures and pleasures of Eden.

However, there is another aspect to man’s delightful enjoyment of God hinted at in the text that I did not have an opportunity to mention in my sermon, and that is the dimension of rest.  After describing creation week in Genesis 1, Genesis chapter 2 opens with the following statement:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)

What does it mean, that God “rested?”  Surely it does not mean that after a hard week of creating the universe God needed to wipe the sweat from his brow, take a deep breath, and recline in the easy chair for a breather!  God does not get tired, as Isaiah later tells us,

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary… (Isaiah 40:28)

Commentator Allen Ross provides some helpful thoughts on God’s “rest.”

The key word here is the well-known “rest” [sabat, “to rest”‘ sabbat, “the Sabbath”]…It is not a word that refers to remedying exhaustion after a tiring week of work. Rather, it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion. 

imagesWhat you have in Genesis 1-2 is God spending six days fashioning the heavens, the earth,
and everything in it, and then, on the 7th day, God stands back, as it were, surveying His completed creation, enjoying and delighting in the work of His hands.  This is a rest of achievement as opposed to a rest of inactivity.  God celebrates and takes pleasure in what He has done. The glory of creation redounds back to God, and God exults in that glory.  Along with enjoyment and refreshment in the work God has done, the state of “rest” in the cosmos suggests peace, order, and stability.

It is noteworthy that the 7th day is the only day in Creation Week that does not conclude with “and there was evening and there was morning.”  This may well suggest that the land of Eden, unspoiled by sin, was in a perpetual, ongoing state of blessed, holy rest.  This was, after all, the goal of the original creation.  Adam and Eve, in entering into Eden, enter into the “rest” of God.  This does not mean that they do not work.  It means that they are constantly enjoying God’s rest with God.  They are in a constant state of worship, enjoying and celebrating what God has done.  Yes, I know, that sounds a lot like heaven.  Let’s remember, Genesis is taking us back to the past to give us glimpses of the glorious future He has planned for His people.

This state of paradisiacal bliss in the garden is rudely interrupted by the fall of man and sin in Genesis chapter 3.  Whereas perfect holiness yields a state of restful contentment, sinfulness results in a state of restlessness.  In Genesis 3:17-19, part of God’s curse on sinful humanity is a curse on creation itself.  The land is no longer at rest but resists man’s attempts to yield sustenance from it.

In Genesis 4 part of Cain’s punishment for his sin is to be a restless wanderer.  In the New Testament, Jesus describes Hell as a place of torment  ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:48)  Elsewhere Hell is described as an eternal restlessness where there is a constant “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28)

If this is what damnation looks like, then we should expect salvation to include a return to the “rest” of God.  In my last sermon, I had mentioned how the Bible is full of “Echoes of Eden”, things that remind us of the Edenic state while pointing us forward to a future return to paradise.  Likewise, throughout the Bible there are “Echoes of Rest” that are reminders of what was lost while also being indications of something better to come.

When Moses delivers Israel out of the perpetual restless toil of slavery in Egypt, he gives them the law, which includes a command to observe the Sabbath Day.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:13-15)

Here God grounds the command to rest based on their prior slavery and redemption from it.  The time that they would normally labor should be spent celebrating and enjoying their redemption.  In Exodus God says,

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day…(Exodus 20:9-11)

Here God grounds Sabbath rest in creation.  God commands these Israelites to, every week, image God.  They work and labor for six days and then on the seventh they celebrate what God has done.

What’s more, the Old Testament promises not just personal rest, but a collective rest of the people of God in a land that God gives to them.  The Old Testament Promised Land is seen as a place whereby God’s people can settle and enjoy God, having rest and safety from their enemies.  Refusal to trust God results in a “barring” from the land and God’s rest.  This is why the first generation of Israelites, after being delivered from Egypt, end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and die without entering the land.  They constantly rebelled against God, Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” (Psalm 95:11)

Once that rebellious generation died out, and the new generation of Israelites were about to enter into the Promised Land, Moses says,

images…when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present…And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants…(Deuteronomy 12:10-12)

“Rest” here is associated with dwelling in God’s place in peace and safety, with worship and rejoicing.  In the book of Joshua, God’s people, under Joshua’s leadership, finally enter into the land and conquer Canaan.  Joshua ends by saying,

the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies… (Joshua 23:1) 

But that rest is short lived.  The book of Judges throws the grim reality of sin back in our faces, and this sin would interrupt God’s people from fully enjoying the “rest” of God.  Even in the best of times, the people experience nothing like the rest that was enjoyed in Eden.  Later on God raises up kings to rule God’s people in Israel.  Through the rule of godly men like David, the people occasionally have glimpses of God’s rest, but would never experience it in it’s fullness.  Still, the Old Testament holds out hopes of a future, perfect, eschatological rest for the people of God.  David himself wrote,

But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. (Psalm 37:11)

Once again, however, sin threatens to obscure any hope of rest and peace in the land as God expels the Jews from the Promised Land because of their sin, and when they finally return, hopes are nearly crushed through Roman oppression.  Will the faithful ever enjoy God’s rest?

thomas_std_tAnd it is at this point where Jesus Christ comes on the scene.  He reaches back to Psalm 37 and not only reiterates the promise, but expands it!  It’s not that the meek will simply inherit the “land” (as in Canaan), instead, he says the meek shall inherit the entire earth! (Matthew 5:5)  What’s more, Jesus Christ comes not only promising a land full of delightful rest in the future, but He comes offering personal rest now.  Jesus came preaching to a people not in slavery to Pharoah in Egypt, but to a people bound in worse chains… slaves to sin and death.  He preached to a guilt-burdened people who labored and toiled to free themselves from sin.  And Jesus turns to them and says,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus reveals Himself to be the ultimate place of rest for His people.  He is our Sabbath rest.  The book of Hebrews says,

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11)

The author of Hebrews is saying that ultimately what keeps people from experiencing the rest of God is hardness of heart and unbelief in His promises.  Of course, it was unbelief that also got Adam and Eve expelled from God’s “rest” in Eden in the first place.  But Hebrews encourages us in that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”  The opportunity to enjoy His rest is not over.  This rest is found ultimately in Christ.  It is belief in God’s promises to us in the gospel that bring us into that state of rest.  In Christ, the believer can experience peace and joy.  In Christ the believer can celebrate and enjoy God’s works.  In fact, that’s what believers do weekly when they gather corporately for worship.  images

As Old Testament Israel observed the 7th day of the week remembering the completion of the old creation and their redemption from slavery, New Covenant believers observe the 1st day of the week marking the beginning of the New Creation which began when Jesus emerged from the tomb on Sunday, which is a sign of the certainty of His redemption of us from slavery to sin.

Finally, in Christ, the restful “appetizers” we enjoy now through God’s grace, will give way to the main course,  a full and complete rest at the end of the age when you and I inherit the earth, just like Jesus promised.  When we are fully made perfect, sinless, and raised from the dead, creation itself will be restored and redeemed as well.  The Bible says,

that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies…. (Romans 8:21-24)

When man fell, creation fell with him. Not only was man outside of God’s rest, but so was imagesthe earth itself.  But when man is fully redeemed and restored, so will creation be.

In the New Heavens and the New Earth, the restful enjoyment and bliss that Adam experienced in the garden will never again be interrupted and spoiled by sin.  In this New World the Bible says that,

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5)

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who knew you could get so much out of 2 Chronicles?

When folks pick up the Bible looking for hope, encouragementBook of 2 Chronicles, and strength, people often go to the Psalms, or to the Gospels, or maybe an epistle.

They don’t go to 2 Chronicles.

2 Chronicles is not typically the “go-to” book for folks who are desperate to hear a word from God.  That’s too bad, because “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  When we skip over large sections of the Bible we are depriving ourselves of rich nourishment and help for our spiritual lives.

I’d like to draw your attention to a rather short but powerful story in the Bible which is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20.  It is about an evil king named Manasseh.  This guy was awful, and he went from bad to worse.

imagesHe forsook God and instituted idol worship throughout the land (v. 3-4).  He built pagan altars in the temple itself (v. 4-5, 7).  He was deeply involved in the occult, sorcery, and necromancy, and he even he even sacrificed his own sons to his gods, offering them up as burnt offerings (v.6).

What’s more, he did not keep his evil to himself, but he led the people of Judah astray, enticing them into a level of evil worse than pagan nations (v.9).

So you’re probably thinking, “Ok Demer, this is a real downer…so why are we here?”  Hang with me.

In verse 10 we are told that, “The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.”  

Ok.  That should get our attention and signal something to us about God.  How amazing is it that even after all of the wickedness of Manasseh and after all of the wickedness of the people, God is calling out to them and urging them to repent through His prophets and through His Holy Scriptures?  This speaks to the incredible love and patience of God and His desire to show mercy.  But this verse also speaks to the hard heartedness of man.  As God, through His prophets and through His Word is speaking, the people “paid no attention.”  (v.10)

And yet in 2 Chronicles 33 we learn that God is relentless in His pursuit of those He is determined to save.  God continues to speak, with the intent of saving, but this time He speaks in another way…

Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 33:11)

imagesNow, I suppose our instinct here would be to cheer!  And surely we should cheer when the wicked are defeated.  Manasseh is beginning to get what he deserves, and if he continues to get what he deserves he will be totally humiliated, suffer more, die, and then face an even worse fate in Hell forever.  That’s exactly what Manasseh deserves and God would be just to exact such vengeance upon him.  Now,  how do you think evil Manasseh responds to this affliction?  Often we see the wicked respond to affliction by using it as an excuse to further rage against God.  They intuitively know that God is sovereign over their suffering and so they use that to justify further rebellion against Him, as Elihu once wisely said,

“The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them. (Job 36:13)

Now here is Manasseh, who is literally bound!  What will he do?  And it is here where the story takes a surprising turn.And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  He prayed to him… (2 Chronicles 33:12-13)

What????

And how does God respond?…and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chronicles 33:13)

What????

Here are just a few observations, and then I’ll leave you to ponder and meditate on this passage on your own.

1. Affliction can be a blessing

God employs many means to save His own.  Sometimes God deems it necessary that suffering be one of those means.  We, being hard-hearted sinners, thick-skulled and spiritually deaf, have a hard time hearing God.  We need to hear the Word of God, but the noise of our own sin and rebellion tries to drown out that word.  Sinners by nature suppress the truth of God (Read Romans 1), sticking our fingers in our ears, so to speak, shouting “I can’t hear you!”  When God wants to get through to us, affliction is one way He turns up the volume.

And if they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction, then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.  He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity. (Job 36:8-10)

C.S. Lewis famously said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

imagesSometimes it is not until God graciously brings us to the very bottom that we will actually and finally look up.  If that’s what it takes, then God is loving us in that affliction.  The Scripture says of Manasseh, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD.”  It was the distress that broke him and led him to humbly cry out to God.

He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity. (Job 36:15)

It is the affliction itself that leads to God’s deliverance.  That’s exactly what happened to Manasseh.

2. God loves to save really bad people

How different the Bible’s message is from the false religions of this world.  The world will tell you, “God saves good people, so you better be good or else.”  The Bible says, “There is no one good, not one.”  So if you’re counting on being good to go to heaven, you’re doomed.  What man needs is not to try harder and do better, but to be saved by God’s grace.  Justice means getting what you deserve.  Grace means getting better than you deserve.  Manasseh deserved death.  As he burned up his sons in pagan sacrifice, Manasseh deserved to burn eternally in Hell.  The message of the Bible is that we deserve the same.  We may not have sinned like Manasseh, but our treason against God is manifest in a whole host of other ways, just as abominable and disgusting to God.

Maybe you are well aware of your sin.  Maybe you look back at the deeds you have done and you feel like you’ve been too awful to be saved by God. But the good news of 2 Chronicles 33 is that God loves to save abominable people like you and like me.  Manasseh, even in his evil, could be saved if he would but repent and call on the Lord.  That’s true for all today.

…for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13)

3. God only saves the humble

We are saved by grace through faith, but it takes humility to receive that grace.  Manasseh arrogantly disregarded the Lord and it almost cost him his soul.  It was only when he was humbled by his suffering that he called out to God, recognizing his need.  It takes humility to realize you were wrong, to repent, and acknowledge your need.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

4. God is compassionate and answers prayer

He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chronicles 33:13)

How different God is from the pagan gods.  God is not like the ancient false gods, like Baal imagesor Zeus.  Such gods are capricious, unfeeling towards humanity, cold.  In the mythological realm, if you cross the gods you’re a goner.  The lightning bolts will be hurled at you and you’ll be zapped.  Not so with the one true God.  After patiently enduring Manasseh’s rebellion for many years, after Manasseh shook his fist in God’s face over and over and over again, notice God’s response when Manasseh genuinely humbles himself and calls on God.  The text says that “God was moved” by Manasseh’s prayer.  Wow.  How beautiful is the heart of God?  And not only is God moved, and not only does God hear, but God responds.  Manasseh learned what his forefather King David learned many years before.  David, who also committed heinous and abominable sins before the Lord, humbled himself before God in repentance, and discovered that,

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

5. Genuine saving faith in God is evidenced by repentance 

Perhaps you’ve heard of “fox hole” conversions?  Sometimes people use that phrase to describe people who get into a real bad situation and out of desperation they call on God to get them out of this mess, but in their hearts they aren’t really repentant and they don’t really want God.  They just want relief.  That’s not the kind of faith that saves.  It’s not the kind of faith that receives God’s grace.

James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, said,

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19)

In other words, mere lip service means nothing.  A superficial acknowledgement of God does nothing.  Even demons do that and they certainly aren’t saved!  Instead, genuine faith is manifested in repentance, which is an acknowledgement of the sinfulness of doing life your way, combined with a desire to turn around and go God’s way.  If you don’t want to go God’s way, you don’t really trust God.  You lack faith.  That’s why James says,

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26)

As you keep reading through 2 Chronicles 33, you see that Manasseh wasn’t just experiencing a “fox-hole” conversion to get out of a tight spot.  He wasn’t like the demons who merely say they believe in God while remaining in their rebellion.  Manasseh was serious.  He began to reverse his evil deeds.  He cleared the temple of God of idols and threw them away (v. 15).  He restored the altar of God, he reinstated proper sacrifices to God, and he even became an evangelist, urging the people to return to the one true God. (v.16)

6. Christ must finally come for Manasseh, and us, to be saved

2 Chronicles 33 does not mention Jesus explicitly, but, like so much of the Old Testament, this story leaves us longing for something more.  The Kings of Judah were meant to be “Messiahs.” Messiah means “Anointed One.”  The King was to be God’s representative to the people and simultaneously be the people’s representative to God.  In the Old Testament, David was the greatest of these kings.  And yet the hope of Israel was that one even greater than David would come, bringing righteousness and justice, along with global blessing and worldwide rule.

Not only did Manasseh not live up to these expectations, but even David, the best of these kings, failed to be the perfect Messiah.  All of these “Messiahs” fell short.  It would take another to fulfill such Messianic expectations.  No mere man could do this.  It would take a God-Man. Years later Jesus, God in the flesh, would come into the world, and many believed that He was indeed the long promised Messiah and thus they believed the time for world-wide rule was at hand.  Jesus would bring justice to the evildoers and establish his global reign at long last.

imagesBut the shocking part of the story is that Jesus’ first step in bringing justice to the world was by dying on a cross for the sins of Manasseh, and for all of His people.  Surely you did not think that Manasseh’s sins of idolatry, sorcery, and child-sacrifice would go unpunished did you?  Surely you did not think that Manasseh or anyone else would be able to enjoy the blessings and joys of Jesus’ future, world-wide reign, while still being dirty and stained with sin?  Surely you did not think that the guilty would go free with God pretending that sin never happened?

No, our God is not like that.  The loving, compassionate, kind God who was moved by Manasseh’s prayer hates and despises sin.  He is a God of justice that must punish evil.  When God forgave Manasseh, he wasn’t sweeping all of his evil deeds under the rug.  The only reason He could forgive Manasseh for sacrificing his son is because God the Father was about to sacrifice His own Son.

On the cross we see the justice of God.  Jesus became a substitute for Manasseh and for millions of other sinners.  On the cross, the sin of His people was put on Himself, and those sins…all of them… were fully punished in Jesus.  Jesu
s experienced the Hell that Manasseh, and you, and me deserve, so that all who believe in Him don’t have to go there and pay for their sins themselves.

When Manasseh repented, one of the ways he would have shown that repentance would be by offering up a sacrifice in the temple.  As he offered up that sacrificial lamb, he, in essence, acknowledged that the wages of in is death and imagesit should be his throat slit and his body consumed by the flames, and that the only way he can live is if a substitute dies in his place.  He trusted that God would provide atonement for his sins and so when Jesus, the Lamb of God, came into the world and his blood was shed on the cross… and his body and soul endured the Hellish wrath of God… that payment was officially applied to Manasseh’s account.  God knew it would happen and so through Manasseh’s faith in that provision, God could count him as “not guilty.”

Manasseh looked forward to God’s provision.  Today we look back.  As you and I look back to Christ on the cross and trust in His provision, we too are acknowledging that the wages of sin is death and it should be us and not Jesus, enduring the wrath of God, but we recognize that the only way we can live and be at peace with God is because of the substitute that dies in our place.  And when we place our trust in that work on the cross, that payment is officially applied to our account.  We become “debt free” and therefore God can count us as not guilty.

And now you, me, and Manasseh, look forward to the day when the resurrected Jesus, the true and better Messiah, will come a second time and establish His kingdom fully and finally.  We look forward to the fulfillment of that great Messianic Psalm, Psalm 72, which declares,

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! …May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight…May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed! Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! (Psalm 72:8-19)

Who knew you could get so much out of 2 Chronicles 33?

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming soon: Men’s Discipleship Groups!

Scripture says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Prov 27:17)

Pastor Steve and I are looking for some men in our church that would be interested in receiving some “sharpening.”images

By sharpening I mean spiritual mentoring, discipleship, accountability, and mutual encouragement and edification.  We really believe these are some of the main means that God uses to facilitate stronger and healthier spiritual lives.

At the beginning of 2016, we launched our Men’s Discipleship Groups (MDGs)  Several men got involved and I believe it was an encouraging and profitable experience.  In September we’ll be relaunching these groups.

Whether you’ve been a Christian for a little while or you’ve been journeying for a long time, it would be our privilege to journey with you on a more personal basis.

MDGs consists of very small groups of men meeting weekly or bi-weekly.  Each group would include one of the pastors, (Steve or me).  We know that different people have different times that work best for them, and Steve and I want to be flexible and we’ll try to form groups that meet at times that are convenient for everyone who is interested.

While I envision some common denominators between these groups that would include prayer, Bible, and general spiritual accountability and support, what each group will specifically do will be largely dependent on who is in these groups, and what the specific needs and interests are of the men who want to be a part of a group.

For example, if there are men who are interested in more theological training, Steve or myself might take a couple of guys through a study using Wayne Grudem’s book, “Systematic Theology.”

If there are men in the church who want help being a better husband, Steve and I would make sure when meeting with those men that there would be some sort of focus or study on marriage that would be included in at least a part of our meetings.

Maybe there are guys who want to be stronger in the area of sexual purity.  We want to help men grow in that area.

imagesPerhaps you don’t have specific preferences or ideas of what you want to focus on.  That’s fine.  some of these groups may simply go through a book of the Bible together.  Steve and I love doing that.

Regardless, Steve and I are eager to connect with the men of the church and shepherd you in a more direct and personal way.  We want to encourage you in the Lord and help you grow in Christ in any way we can, and we count it as a privilege to invest in your lives.

Some of you are already part of a Men’s Discipleship Group and those groups will continue until you finish your current study.

However, if you are not presently part of a group, and would like to join one, please email me at demerwebb@gmail.com.  There will also be a signup sheet in the back of the sanctuary on Sunday.  Just let us know your availability, and if you’d like to be in a group with a specific topical focus such as theological training, marriage, or anything else.  If you just want to get with some guys and you don’t care about the specific focus, that’s great.  We’ll find a group to connect you with.

Steve and I are looking forward to connecting with more of our men and be a source of encouragement and edification for you.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

HCBC set to Visit the Most Diverse Square Mile in the World.

The HCBC College and Career Group will be visiting the town of Clarkston, on Saturday the 20th, but everyone from Harbins Church is invited to participate in this “vision trip.”

Here are a few thoughts from Todd Harrison, one of our College and Career group leaders, regarding the mission significance of Clarkston, why HCBC is going, and what we will be doing there.

imagesClarkston has been called by New York Times Magazine, the “most diverse square mile
in the world.”  Why?  Every year over 2500 refugees from around the globe are resettled there by the US Government due to affordable housing, ease of walking, and close employment.  These refugees come from war torn regions and they are here because their lives are in danger back in their home countries. Many of them have spent years in refugee camps before coming to Clarkston from Iraq, Burma, Nepal, Syria, Africa and many other places.

Why should we care about Clarkston?  Well, for everyone that has ever desired to go to the mission field you now don’t need a passport!  Foreign missions can happen right here – 30 miles from our church.  Many churches, individuals, businesses and organizations work and minister in Clarkston.  But the need for more help – specifically help that makes a long term commitment – is vitally necessary.  The ways to minister are as diverse as the people groups of Clarkston – teaching English, helping with homework, helping with shopping and getting acclimated, helping with jobs, providing loving relationships, and more.

Harbins Church is exploring how we might get involved in Clarkston-taking the love of Jesus to the world, right here in our city.

The date for HCBC’s vision trip to Clarkston is Saturday, August 20th.  We will have a 2 hour tour with the Executive Director of Friends of Refugees and learn about the plight of refugees in Clarkston, what others are doing to help, and how Harbins might be involved in this gospel opportunity.

Join us at the church at 8am.  We will carpool to Clarkston.  Our tour will be from 9-11am and we will end with lunch at Merhaba Shwarma- a local restaurant run by Manna, a Christian refugee from Eritrea.  It’s the best food you will ever eat.  We plan on being back to the church by or before 2pm.

If you are interested in going, please call or text Todd at 404-660-1673.  The sooner we can get a count on how many people will participate, the better.  All are invited, so come join us!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer and Todd H.

Treasuring Christ In Sunday School (2016-2017)

Friends,

Last year we unveiled a brand new curriculum for thomas_std_tpreschool through high school, and based on feedback I’ve heard from students and teachers, our Sunday School ministry was a great success.  I’m excited to tell you we’ll be relaunching Sunday School on August 21st, at 9:30am.

The Treasuring Christ Curriculum is a comprehensive, unified curriculum from preschool through High School.  The curriculum’s vision is to spread the fame of God by equipping godly generations to treasure Christ through a Gospel-centered curriculum for the church, the home, and the nations, as children and students learn the narrative of the gospel as it unfolds from Genesis to Revelation.  A few of my favorite things about this curriculum include the following:

  • As opposed to seeing the Bible stories as disconnected tales with little moral lessons, Treasuring Christ helps us to scropped-images7.jpgee the individual parts of Scripture in light of the whole.  The smaller narratives are seen and understood through the larger narrative of God’s plan of redemption through Christ.
  • This is a unified curriculum.  That means every child and student at Harbins will be learning the exact same passage every week.  On the first day of class, we’ll pick up right where we left off last semester.  We finished Exodus in the spring, which means on August 21st our preschoolers, our high schoolers, and everyone in between will begin looking at Leviticus and seeing how this oft-neglected book is connected to Christ.  For parents with multiple children, you’ll know everyone is on the same page, learning the same thing, which makes family group discussions at home a bit easier.
  • Speaking of family discussions, the folks who produced Treasuring Christ are staunch believers that Sunday School should not replace the role that parents have to equip and disciple their own children.  I agree with that. Dads and Moms need to lead the way in teaching their kids, with your Sunday School teachers providing imagessupplementary support.  For this reason, this curriculum has produced a feature I love, called “Connecting Church and Home.” (CCH)  Every week the church will provide parents (through a hardcopy, an email, and a Facebook link) with the weekly CCH resource. This simple tool allows parents and churches to work out of the same playbook to grow Christ-treasurers. It helps parents bridge the gap between what their children will learn the following Sunday at church and how they can instruct their children to begin living out those truths at home right now. I hope the parents at Harbins will take advantage of this resource and find it helpful.  CCH will include discussion ideas, prayer points, and more.

Our class age and teacher breakdown is identical to last year. Here’s what we’re looking at for this semester:

Ages 2-4  (Marietta Pritchett)

Ages 5-8 (Helen Diaz)

Ages 9-12 (Demer Webb)

Ages 13 + (Cary Rosbury)

This is not meant to be overly rigid.  Ultimately I want parents to decide which group would be best for their children to be in.  For example, if you have a 12 year old and you feel that they should be in Cary’s class, then go for it.  The above breakdown is just a general guideline we’re shooting for but parents will know their children best.  Regardless, however, because this curriculum is unified, everyone is going to be learning the same Scriptures at the same time.

What would be a big help is if you can let us know if we should expect your child in class this fall.  If so, please email me at demerwebb@gmail.com and let me know which class your child would be in.

The Bible says that,

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)images

I want our church’s young people to grow into greater Christ-Treasurers, don’t you?  Indeed, I want that for myself and for all of us at Harbins.  My prayer is that this fall we’ll grow in this area together.

Learning to Treasure Christ together with you,

Pastor Demer

Fall 2016 Community Groups Coming Soon!

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It’s hard to believe, but summer is winding down.  But while summer winds down, activities and opportunities for further fellowship, growth, and discipleship at Harbins Church begin winding up!  We are just weeks away from relaunching our weeknight Community Groups.  Pastor Steve and I believe these groups play a vital role in our spiritual health and we urge everyone to select one and plug in.  In these groups you’ll find fellowship, encouragement, ministry for your soul, a means for you to bless others, and a means to better see and savor Jesus Christ.  As always, we have some outstanding study options.  Some we’ve offered before, and some are brand new.  Your five study choices are:

1) Battling Unbelief- Launches Tuesday, Sept 6th, at two locations:  Location #1 Demer and Dana Webb’s home, 7pm.  514 Bentley Circle, Bethlehem.  Led by Demer Webb.  Location #2 Barbara Coleman’s home, 1830 Jessica Way, Winder.  Led by Steve Doyle

images“When faith flickers, stoke the fire!  No one sins out of duty.  We sin because it offers some promise of happiness.  That promise enslaves us-until we believe that God is more desirable than life itself (Psalm 63:3).  Only the power of God’s superior promises in the gospel can emancipate our hearts from servitude to the shallow promises and fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Battling Unbelief, one of the most powerful and popular studies ever done at Harbins Church, is being offered for a 4th time for believers who seek greater growth in godliness and greater power to kill sin in their lives.  Pastor Demer, with help from John Piper, will help you battle the destructive, joy-killing sins of anxiety, pride, impatience, covetousness, lust, and more.  Many have experienced a revolution in their spiritual lives through this study.  Will you be the next to be transformed?

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to purchase the study guide!

 

images2) What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage- Launches Wednesday, Sept 7th, at Matt and Marietta Pritchett’s home, 7pm.  2290 Marshland Court, Suwannee.  Led by Mark Pierce.

“It won’t take long for you to be disappointed in marriage. It won’t take long for your dreams to be dashed. The reality is that you can’t escape the brokenness of this world. You won’t be able to avoid the sin of your spouse.

The Bible teaches that we all bring something destructive into our relationships – sin. But as Paul David Tripp explains, we buy into the delusion that our biggest problem is outside of us. We blame our spouse. We blame our circumstances. We rarely take seriously the nature of our own sin.

‘What Did You Expect?’ challenges you to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see yourself with clarity. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you love yourself more than your spouse. Maybe you love your little kingdom more than God’s big Kingdom. When you reach that level of honesty, you’re at the edge of real good things for your marriage.

Start working on a marriage of unity, understanding, and love.”

Here is the trailer for the book:

So what are you waiting for?  The next step in strengthening your marriage can be signing up now!

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to download your FREE study guide! (required)

Click here to go deeper and order the book! (optional but recommended)

 

3) Praying with Paul- Launches Wednesday, Sept 7th, at Gabe and Aida Bruzzi’s home, 7pm. 2850 Crystal Ridge Drive, Dacula.  Led by Jeff Thomas

imagesIt’s doubtful that there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising nor depressing: it is not surprising, because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing, because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn. God doesn’t demand hectic church programs and frenetic schedules; he only wants his people to know him more intimately. The apostle Paul found the kind of spiritual closeness in his own fellowship with the Father that is available to all of us.

“Praying with Paul” leads group members into the Epistles to see what Paul taught in his “school of prayer.” Group members will be exposed to the priorities of prayer, a God-centered framework for prayer, and practices for a more meaningful and dynamic prayer life. Christians today can still achieve the confidence Paul enjoyed by following his life-shaping principles and searching for a deeper devotional experience.

Here’s author and teacher DA Carson sharing a bit about this great study.

We have heard from more than one person how this study has resulted in a strengthened and more vibrant prayer life.  Who wouldn’t want that?  If you are ready to deepen your prayer life, you’ve just found your study, so……….

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required study guide!

4) Behold Your God- Launches Thursday, Sept 8th, at Todd and Carol Harrison’s home, 7pm. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.  Led by Todd Harrison.

Are we sure that the God we serve is the imagesGod described in Scripture? Is rethinking Him biblically really necessary? How do we do it? How would it affect our views of Christ, the gospel, holiness, worship, evangelism, service, and revival?

Behold Your God is a 12-week study that focuses on God’s self-revelation in the Bible, helping the believer to apply the descriptions of God to all of life. Each week features a short biographical sketch of the life of a significant figure from Christian history whose ministry illustrates the truths that you will be studying weekly.  They include A. W. TozerGeorge MullerRobert Murray M’CheyneCharles Spurgeon,  Jonathan Edwards, and more.

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In addition, each week’s lesson will reinforce what you have been studying in the Bible on your own time throughout that week.  Finally, you will be able to listen to highlights from interviews with contemporary ministers whose lives and labors reflect these same truths. These include Paul Washer, Andrew Davies, Conrad Mbewe, and more. Comments from men whose gospel labors range from Peru, Ethiopia, Virginia, and Memphis to New Zealand, England, Wales, Ireland, and Zambia help to show that these are eternal truths about an eternal God who is not altered by any temporal or geographical context.

Many in our day are tired and disillusioned because they have consistently hoped in the next new idea. It is just this kind of day that makes Christians stop running on their religious hamster-wheels and ask “Why are we doing these programs?” and “Why doesn’t God ever really seem to show up and effectively work in our churches?” Hard questions often lead to right answers. This study is written with the conviction that our fundamental need in Western Christianity is to repent of our low and unworthy views of God, to return to the biblical descriptions of the true God, and to risk it all in order to live upon Who He is. Nothing in this study is new truth.  Instead, everything is meant only to help you to take the biblical descriptions of God seriously and to see how they form the foundation of Christian living.

Whet your appetite with the trailer here:

Ok, I’m ready to sign up now!  But I can’t, because I’m teaching my own study.  But the good news is that YOU can be a part of this incredible group by signing up today!

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required daily devotional!

To preserve strong group dynamics and intimacy, Pastor Steve and I are trying to keep the groups from becoming too large.  Therefore, our preference is to have a maximum of 12 participants per group.  (This does not of course, include babies and other children who won’t really be participating in the study!) With that said, we want to make sure everyone is in a group, so if there is only one that you are able to participate in due to day of the week, location, etc, then we will of course increase the size of any group to make sure that everyone is included.  With that said, please let us know as early as you can which group you’d like to participate in.

I’m excited as I’ve ever been about our lineup of studies available to you.  You can’t go wrong with any of the five options available, and I am excited to see and hear how God will use the Harbins Community Group ministry in your life in the months to come.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

You’re not the main character (Identity Matters)

This article continues an ongoing blog series, called “Identity Matters” which is takiimagesng us expositionally through the book of Ephesians.

Back in my younger years, I used to view life as a story and guess who the star of the show was?  Me!  That’s right.   And you would have been supporting cast. It was all about me.

I fear that sometimes I can still slip into that mindset even though I may not articulte it quite that way. We all have a tendency to become self-focused and everyone around us becomes merely supporting cast, including God.  For some, God may be a background character that occasionally makes a cameo. For others, God may be a very important character, just not the central role.  God may be the co-pilot, but we’re flying the plane and charting the course.

In our ongoing, expositional journey through the book of Ephesians, we are learning a lot about our identity and who we really are.  In my last post, we reveled in the glorious truth that as redeemed children of God we are not guilty.  That is a truth to be celebrated.  However, what we are discovering in Ephesians chapter 1 is another truth that isn’t as fervently celebrated, but should be.  Namely, that you are not the main character of the story.

imagesNow, we are right in viewing life as a story, but the apostle Paul is going to remind us of something very important. Paul is going to put us in our proper place and show us that Jesus Christ is at center stage.  What’s more, He’s not just at the center of your story.  Instead, the destiny of the entire Cosmos revolves around and is summed up in Jesus Christ.  God is,

making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

In the New Testament, Paul likes to use the word “mystery” to describe a secret that was once hidden or vaguely understood, but now has been fully disclosed and revealed in light of what Christ has done through the gospel.

And what is this mystery? What is this secret that God has graciously allowed us in on? Paul says God has a purpose.  A plan for the fullness of time.  God is sovereignly moving history in a specific direction towards a specific goal.  And what is that goal?  Paul says in verse 10 that the goal is to unite all things in Jesus Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.

The Greek word translated as “unite” is anakephalaiosis.   It’s basic meaning is “to bring something to a main point” or “to sum up.” The word connotes the idea of a re-unification or a re-establishing of harmony where discord and division once existed.

That describes beautifully where history is headed.

Ages ago, when God created the heavens and the earth, everything was in harmony and united under Jesus Christ. All of the angelic powers obeyed God. Man was perfect and holy and at peace with God in submission to His will, dwelling in a garden paradise where there was no pain or sorrow or death.  The earth was totally perfect.

imagesBut at some point in the distant past things went terribly wrong. One of the angelic powers launched a cosmic conspiracy against God and he led Adam, the first man, to commit treason and join the revolt. The reverberations of Adam’s sin were nothing short of cataclysmic. Man became alienated from God and banished from paradise, and all of Adam’s descendants have continued in that sinful rebellion against Him.   Man also became alienated from man. From the discord we see between Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, to Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis 4, to all of the racism and wars and conflicts and division we see everywhere among people today, no matter where we look, we see the cataclysmic effects of the fall of man.

The Bible says that sin also ruptured the fabric of the universe. Creation itself was spoiled. The earth that yielded its produce for Adam before sin, now resists him, producing thorns and thistles.   A world that used to be at peace now produces earthquakes and tornadoes and floods.  When Adam fell, all of creation fell with him. We have a Cosmos in revolt against its original design. Man shakes his fist at God and fellow-man,  Satan is described in the Scriptures as the god of this world, and death reigns.

When we think of salvation and redemption we tend to personalize it.  We tend to make it about us, as if we’re the main character in the story.   But the mystery that God has revealed to us is showing us that the stakes are much bigger than we think.  God’s redemptive plan includes more than we realize.  It’s not ultimately about you.   It’s instead about God taking a universe that is being torn apart and fractured by sin and bringing all things back into their proper place again.  He has set in motion a plan where he is now gathering all things together in Jesus.  Though things are now out of alignment due to sin, God is realigning the universe towards a proper relationship to Jesus.

How?  Through the gospel of Christ.  Paul writes,

For in himimages all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Through the blood of Jesus man can be reconciled to God.  We’ve already seen this truth earlier in Ephesians 1.  But Paul, going into chapter 2, will remind his Jewish and Gentile readers that while their races have been marked with discord and division, the two sides have been brought near to one another “by the blood of Christ.”

Jesus is recreating the harmony between humans that once existed in the garden.

In addition, redemption includes a restructuring and recreation of the entire universe. The entire planet, which Paul describes in Romans as “groaning” under the weight of sin’s curse will groan no more when Jesus comes and restructures the Cosmos into the paradise it once was, ushering His people back into the paradise that was lost.

But what about the enemies of God? What about humans that persist in their rebellion, refusing to bend the knee to Jesus Christ and acknowledge His Lordship? What about Satan and his wicked angels who instigated the revolt in the first place?

There are two ways that Christ will create peace and harmony according to the Scriptures. One, is through the removal of hostility and corruption through redemption and the gracious forgiveness of sins.

The other way is through conquest.

The reconciliation that happens through the blood of His cross is expressed in salvation for those who believe, but for the Satanic powers it is expressed through their shameful defeat and disarmament as Christ triumphs over them. (Col 2:15)  What’s more, the triumph that began at the cross will be fully consumated at the end of history.

The Bible is clear that the Lord Jesus Christ will return, and as in ancient times you would have the conquered publicly acknowledge before everyone the lordship of the conqueror and begrudgingly pay homage to Him, you have the Bible giving us this same kind of picture of what’s to come at the end of the age in Philippians 2, where Paul declares that God has highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

There is a time of reckoning coming. Jesus Christ is Lord. All will acknowledge it sooner or later. You will acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord now, with joy and gladness, or you will be forced to your knees when the King returns and rounds up all the traitors and rebels.  In the end, even the most powerful of the rebels, Satan himself, will drop to his knee as a conquered foe, bowing low in homage, and will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.images

When you and I live like we are the main character in the story, we’re not just being naively self-centered, we are being Satanic.  Self-centeredness is a form of idolatry as it makes life all about me.  I am putting me and my efforts and my glory at the center of all things and that is a the heart of Satanism.

The Scriptures are telling us a different story.  A better story.   Jesus Christ is the star of the movie. He’s the main character.  He’s the hero.  He’s the King.  He’s the center of all things, and from eternity past the plan of God has always been the enthronement and exaltation of His Son.

If the core of your identity is bound up in yourself.  If you are moving through life with tunnel vision as if it’s all about you, that’s going to have dramatic consequences in your life and in the lives of those around you.

But if we see ourselves rightly, and put our lives in context, then the story of our lives must always be viewed within the greater context of God’s amazing and beautiful and eternal story of Redemption, which is His plan to unite and reconcile all things to Jesus in heaven and on earth.  Knowing that changes everything.

Are you grieved over broken relationships? Are you mourning injustice? Are you weary of the heartbreak in this world? Are you broken by sickness and living in the shadow of death?  Take heart that we are moving towards a time where all things will be made right and new.

So we do not lose heart… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 )

Oh how we must have an eternal perspective and remember that the things that grieve our hearts so much are not the end of the story!  Instead, the Scriptures tell us,

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death… (1 Cor 15:21-25)

imagesAll of history is marching forward to a specific destination determined by God, and God is orchestrating everything in a way that is getting us closer and closer to that end. History has a destination, and that destination is Jesus, with the entire Cosmos submitted to His Lordship.  A Cosmos that will be remade, renewed, and restored.  Paradise lost in the garden will be regained in the New Heavens and New Earth where there will be no more pain or sorrow or sickness or death.  (Rev 21:4)

None of that can happen if God is only your co-pilot.  Thank God that He is calling the shots and not us!

Your identity, your story, your very life, is bound up in the bigger and grander and more glorious story of Jesus, our King and Savior and Hero. He has graciously chosen to let you in on this beautiful mystery that assures us that something much better is coming for all who believe.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer