By Grant Walker
The Christmas tree at our house is a big deal. When we go to select our tree our official motto is, “go big or go home.” This year we tried to out-do our previous trees, and we almost went so big it didn’t fit in our home.
I’m not sure what your convictions are about having a Christmas tree. The history of Christmas trees has both a pagan and a Christian history. So depending on what your convictions are I think there is freedom in whether or not you celebrate with a tree in your home.
Actually, the first person to bring a Christmas tree into a house may have been Martin Luther. The story goes that one night before Christmas, Martin Luther was walking through a forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the branches of a tree. It was so beautiful that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. And so he went out, chopped it down, and brought it inside.
So it wasn’t just Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation that saw a light coming down from the sky onto the chosen Christmas tree, but possibly Martin Luther as well. There wasn’t a light shining down from heaven on the tree we picked, but the gargantuan tree did catch our eye.
When we asked the owner at the tree farm if the tree could be netted for us, he laughed and shook his head. He assured us that he had the biggest tree netting device they make, and still there was no way that our tree would fit. At this point, I began to get nervous. But we had already cut it down, and there was no way I was going to give up on it.
We did get our tree home and, eventually, inside. It’s really not that tall—about eleven feet high—but the girth is what makes this particular tree impressive. It is about nine to ten feet wide. It has quickly picked up some nicknames—such as monster tree, mega-tree, and the fattest tree anyone has seen indoors.
But here’s why I love making the tree a big deal in our household: it reminds us that the first Adam took and ate from a tree, leading to condemnation for all humanity. It also reminds us that the true and better Adam willingly climbed up on a tree so that there would be no condemnation for those in Christ.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—” (Galatians 3:13, ESV)
It was Jesus, the true and better Adam, climbing up on the tree that has made possible our access once again to the tree of life.
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (Revelation 22:14, ESV)
If you want your tree to be a true and better Christmas tree, it doesn't have to be a monster tree or a mega tree. Whatever shape or size it is, it can remind you of the Gospel. That through man’s disobedience he took and ate from a tree, leading to condemnation and death. But Jesus Christ climbed up onto a tree, in our place, giving us the right to the tree of life in eternal paradise with Him.
Now, I’ll explain why I especially like a BIG tree. Our tree is so large that you can’t do anything in our downstairs without thinking about it or acknowledging it’s presence. It literally affects everything we do. When people enter our home, it is so obvious that is it a big part of our home and friends can’t help but want to talk about and ask questions regarding it. Likewise, I want the Gospel to loom so large in our home that everything we say or do is with the Gospel in mind. I want the Gospel to affect everything my household does.
When people enter our home, I want it to be so obvious that Jesus is celebrated here that friends and family can’t help but ask and question us. Our tree is a mega tree because I need to be reminded of a mega Gospel. I need to be reminded of the true and better Adam. My prayer for your tree is that it would create fun, shared experiences with family and friends, but also that it would ultimately point you to and remind you of the Gospel all of December.
By Grant Walker
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, ESV)
There is One who does fulfill your hopes and desires this Christmas. And there is One who does live up to the anticipation and the hype. You’ve just been anticipating the wrong Advent, the wrong arrival.
You’ve been anticipating the advent or arrival of…
The way we will anticipate Jesus’ arrival at Franklin City Church is by looking back through a few Old Testament characters and learning how they were foreshadowing and pointing to Jesus’ arrival. Jesus affirmed this fact that all of scripture points to and was anticipating his advent, when speaking to some of his disciples after his resurrection:
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27, ESV)
A pastor named M.R. DeHaan once said this, “If we search long enough we shall find upon every page of Scripture, standing somewhere in the shadow, the outline of the central Person of the Book — the Lord Jesus Christ.” He goes on to a godly minister who told him, “Son, you have never found the true interpretation of any passage of the Scriptures until you have found in it somewhere a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you search long enough you will find Him standing somewhere in the background, sometimes clear and unmistakable, sometimes faintly and dimly, but He is there.”
This week we looked at Adam and how we can celebrate the fact that what was lost in the garden was won back by Jesus.
“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 5:14, ESV)
Adam is a type of Christ. This means that his actions, just like Jesus’ actions, would have far reaching consequences and affects. So much so that all humanity is either in Adam or in Christ. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself religious or non-religious. It doesn’t matter if you identify as agnostic or an atheist. It doesn’t matter what philosophical thought you are currently following. The Bible makes it quite simple and clear that you are either in Adam or you are in Christ.
Let us praise God that what was lost in the garden has been won back by Jesus.
By Grant Walker
I have recently been battling a bad case of vertigo. For those that have had episodes like this before, you can sympathize with me. And if you haven’t, put your forehead on the end of a baseball bat, spin 30 times and then go try to live life. The nausea, headaches, and crankiness it causes are awful. But, for me, the worst part about it is the feeling that the world is spinning out of control.
Every step is uncertain. Every position change might make things worse. And it is unknown as to when it will stop. With the tragic shootings that recently happened in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, and with all the devastation happening from hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., one could easily start to feel as if our world is spinning out of control. Every day we turn on the news we almost expect there to be another catastrophe. Its seems we barely have enough time to read the news and catch up on this one before the next one hits.
Many become fearful and want to do something, but don’t know what. We want to get control of our seemingly out of control world. We want the spinning chaos to stop. And so we find different things to do. Some people pray, some politicize, some reach for religion, some reach for rationalism.
What happens when the world is spinning? We cling to something or someone that is not. We need someone to cling to that is unchanging, stable, a rock, a fortress, and always there. While this fear we have in life doesn’t seem right, it does strangely feel like we are to fear something. We just fear the wrong things.
“the fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied”
We are to conduct ourselves with a fear of God. This is not a popular topic to talk about. And it’s definitely not how to draw big crowds to a new church plant. People want to hear about the love of God, talk about the closeness of God, focus on the gentleness and patience of God. These things are all of course true and good. But of this God, we should be in awe and have a healthy fear.
Most of us don’t fear him, but instead we fear everything else in life. Our lives are full of anxieties and fears. We fear not having enough money. We fear people we love dying. We fear terrorist attacks. We fear germs, small spaces, heights, animals, and bugs. We fear glitter (or at least I do).
When we have a healthy fear of our unchanging, good, faithful, loving, and compassionate God we can rest in the reality that the world’s not spinning out of control.
By Grant Walker
1 Peter 1:5 (ESV)
Many years ago, during a time that running and biking felt good (and not a near death experience) I did a triathlon. If you aren’t familiar with triathlons, first you start with the swim and then you bike and then you run. As I started the race, I was feeling pretty confident. I had been consistent in my training, and fairly disciplined in preparing. The first part of the swim was going well. Then midway through the swim, my body began feeling heavier and heavier. My muscles started to tighten up. I started to have intermittent cramping, and my breathing was becoming more labored. My whole body was feeling terrible. But the worst part about it was knowing I still had to bike and run. Yes, my body was tired, but then my mind started going into panic mode because I was having some serious doubts as to whether or not I had the strength to go the distance and actually finish the race.
Church, maybe some of you are sensing emotional fatigue, tightness, and heaviness similar to what I experienced in the swim. Maybe you’re in a hardship and feel like you are just barely staying afloat, gasping for air. Maybe you’ve gone into panic mode and are wondering if you really have the strength to continue on. Spoiler alert, you don’t have the strength. But we have a strong God whose strength is more than enough.
Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)
As the passage in Peter states, how does God guard us? We are being guarded through faith. Having faith in God means so much more than just believing He exists. Faith means to trust, rely, depend, or rest upon. Putting your faith in God means trusting in and resting on who He is and what He has accomplished.
All of us apart from God have trusted, relied, and depended on something or someone, instead of God, to save us. We have trusted our good works or being a moral person. We have rested in the faith of our parents and family. We have depended on jobs or careers to give us our fulfillment. And we have trusted our money and wealth to give us comforts and pleasures. But in Christ we have a new faith.
God guards us by strengthening our faith and he strengthens our faith through hardships. It’s when we experience various trials that our faith is tested, purified, and made stronger.
So, Peter says we are to rejoice in this new life, new hope, and new faith that we have. But he also acknowledges that some stuff is going to happen. Peter is being real with us. He’s not saying that when you come to Jesus, you will always be happy, healthy, and wealthy. Here are three things I would like to point out about trials or hardships we face:
1. We should not be surprised by them.
1 Peter 4:12 (ESV)
Now, if we could be honest, most of us can’t believe it when hit with a hardship or trial. It catches us off guard. When we experience pain, we believe something strange is happening. And we might think: what did I do to deserve this? But Peter says “do not be surprised”, they’re coming.
2. Trials are temporary
3. Trials test, purify, and strengthen our faith
When you are happy, healthy, wealthy and comfortable, you might not realize the heart issues that you actually have. But when a trial puts you under stress; watch the anger that rises up; watch the anxiety that leaks out of your heart; and watch the selfishness that flares. Here’s where we misunderstand things a lot of the time: It’s not the trial that is making you angry—you have anger in your heart that is being revealed by the trial. It’s not the trial that is making you anxious—you have anxiety in your heart that is being revealed by the trial. It’s not the trial that is making you selfish—you have selfishness in your heart that is being revealed by the trial. God uses trials to expose our heart issues, so that those issues can be dealt with, repented of, and redeemed. In this way our faith will be strengthened.
Praise God! We are guarded through a faith that is strengthened by trials.
By Grant Walker
Dear Refugee Royalty,
Seems like a weird way to address followers of Jesus doesn’t it? Well, this is how Peter opens up his letter to Christians. He calls them “Elect Exiles.”
1 Peter 1:1–2 (ESV)
He says he is writing this to those who are elect exiles. This phrase elect exiles is kind of an odd phrase because it is really an oxymoron, right? The words elect and exiles seem to contradict one another. Why even address Christians this way? He could have said, “hey, this is Peter writing to all Christians.” Why does he say, “to those who are elect exiles”? Well, you see, Peter even in his greeting, is teaching us some rich truth that can be enjoyed by looking at this phrase. These truths will provide clarity as to who God is, who we are, and why we experience hardship and suffering.
Look at this phrase “elect exiles.” Let’s start with exiles.
This word exiles could also be translated “strangers”, “foreigners”, “sojourners”, “aliens”, “refugees”, or “pilgrims”. It is a term that refers to a temporary resident in a foreign place. This term has a rich history when referring to the people of God. God’s people, starting back with Abraham, have been referred to as “sojourners”, “foreigners”, and “exiles”.
Hebrews 11:13 (ESV)
Peter also says “exiles of the dispersion”. The dispersion was the term used by Greek-speaking Jews to refer to Jewish people scattered throughout the nations. Peter is using some old phrases that should remind us of the nation of Israel and the people of God as being “exiles” and “sojourners” and having an identity as temporary residents in a foreign place.
But he is writing to Jewish and gentile Christians. The gentile Christians he was writing to weren’t part of the the Jewish dispersion. So the terms “exiles” and “exiles of the dispersion” are not just referring to the Jews that are scattered. He is also helping both Jews and Gentiles realize that, as Christians, they are also dispersed and scattered throughout the world. They are (and we are) living away from our true home in heaven.
Philippians 3:20 (ESV)
As followers of Christ we are exiles in this world, we are sojourners, we are aliens, we are refugees, we don’t conform and fit the values and worldview of the culture we live in. And it’s always been like that for the people of God.
Remember that you are temporary residents in a foreign place. That doesn’t mean we shouldn't be good citizens here. We are residents here. We should contribute to society, vote, volunteer and bless our city and community. But we ultimately know that our primary citizenship is in heaven and we are part of a kingdom that is not of this world.
Don’t behave like this is your home and this is your kingdom. The decisions you make, the job you pursue, the house you buy, the things you collect, the activities you give your time to should reflect the understanding that your citizenship is in heaven and you are an exile, or a sojourner, here. Remember that you are a temporary resident in a foreign place and you will likely be despised, looked down upon, and mistreated for not conforming to the values and world view of our culture.
We need to understand that our citizenship is in heaven. And we shouldn’t be surprised when we are mistreated or looked down upon. But Peter doesn't just address this to the Exiles. He addresses it to the elect exiles.
This word “elect” is used 22 times in the New Testament and it refers to people that are chosen by God. It is also a cool word because, in the same way the word “exiles” conjured up memories of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, so too this word “elect” or “chosen” should remind us of the people of God in the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 7:6 (ESV)
In Christ, all of us are now part of the people of God. And just like we are exiles and sojourners as they were, we are also elect and chosen.
Ephesians 1:4 (ESV)
This phrase elect exiles is so crazy, right? We are temporary residents, despised, made fun of, persecuted, and looked down upon by the rest of the world. Yet we are also chosen, elect, royal, and, in Christ, we are the most blessed and richest people in the world.
We are like refugee royalty. This is not our home. We are foreigners here. We often feel like, and are treated like, we don’t belong. But, in Christ, we do belong somewhere. We have been adopted into a royal family, whose kingdom will not end.
So take heart when you are treated or feel like exiles or refugees. Cling to the hope that, in Christ, you are chosen, elect, and royal. And you have an inheritance awaiting you in Jesus’ kingdom.
We are refugee royalty.
By Grant Walker
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
Uh, what was that? A delight in His holiness? That seems like a bold statement. There are probably a lot of other attributes of God that one might naturally delight in before His holiness. What about His love, or grace, or mercy, or kindness, or generosity. Don’t those seem like better places to start in developing a love of God. Maybe after reading this quote you have questions like… “Shouldn’t we introduce people to some of his more ‘safe’ attributes before introducing them to His holiness?” “Weren’t people destroyed in the presence of a Holy God?” “How are we able to delight in His holiness?” In order to look into God’s holiness, let’s enter into the throne room and look at Isaiah 6.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
In biblical writing, repetition of words was a way of emphasizing a point to make sure you pay attention. The repetition makes it stand out as important. If Jesus said, “truly, truly I say to you”, then you better pay attention. Here we see triple repetition. “Holy” is repeated three times. This indicates that God is absolutely holy and the source of holiness.
So, what does holy mean? We might say it a lot in church and sing it in songs. But what is the definition? It can be hard to understand and describe because God is the only holy, holy, holy One. First, to be Holy is to be pure, clean, and righteous. Second, to be holy is to be set apart and unique. Finally, in the New Testament the Greek word used could be translated “the awful thing” or “full of awething.”
The Bible speaks of a lot of holy things. Here is where we need to understand the two ways that the Bible uses the word. It uses “holy” in reference to God, the Holy one who is holy, holy, holy, meaning that he is absolutely holy and is the source of holiness. And then it also uses the word “holy” for people, places, or things that are holy by association or have holiness imparted to them.
God is the only absolutely Holy One and He is the source of all holiness. But then we see this strange thing happen: wherever God is and whatever he touches receive a holiness by association.
When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, God said, “take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Was there anything special about that dirt or sand? No, not in and of itself. But the source of holiness was there and had touched it; therefore, it was set apart and unique by association. And we see the Bible refer to holy cities, or holy people, or holy days. These are all set apart because they have received a holiness outside of themselves. But there is only One who is pure, perfect, set apart, full of awe—the Holy One, our God.
In Isaiah 6, we understand Isaiah is in the presence of the absolutely pure, perfect, full of awe, set apart, Holy One. What is his response?
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)
Isaiah knows the ceremonial laws. Only the high priest can, once a year, go into the Holy of Holies. And only after doing all God tells him to ritually purify himself and the people. Even then, a rope was tied around his ankle in case he was destroyed in God’s presence (so his dead body could be pulled back out). Isaiah knows the law and, therefore, when he sees he is in the presence of the Holy One, he knows it’s game over.
He says “Woe is me! I am lost”; meaning I am undone…I am ruined…I am silenced…I am a dead man…I am destroyed.
Some people who do not know God talk about how they will act when standing in His presence. Some people have said, “God is going to have a lot explaining to do,” or “I’ll be the one asking the questions.” But any encounter humans have had with the Holy God has not gone this way. And one glimpse of God puts us in our place and reveals our true reality.
“Accordingly, until God reveals himself to us, we do not think that we are men, or rather, we think that we are gods; but when we have seen God, we then begin to feel and know what we are. Hence springs true humility, which consists in this, that a man makes no claims for himself, and depends wholly on God; …Our life, therefore, until our minds earnestly draw near to God, is a vain delusion.”
Until we behold the true and living, Holy God, not only is our own life a delusion, but also the rest of God’s character and his actions are distorted and don’t make sense to us.
Because if you don’t understand his holiness, you won’t understand the rest of his character.
If you don’t understand that God is holy, you might be deluded to think that God is mean and cruel. You might be thinking, “I’m generally a good person. I follow the laws, I try to do good things, I’m not more selfish than anyone else. I’m trying my best. Why would I be destroyed in the presence of this Holy God?”
You might be asking, “Was Isaiah really that bad? Am I really so bad that I would be destroyed in His presence? You might say, God sounds mean, God sounds cruel.” No, God is Holy.
Or you might be reading the story about the poor levite who died from touching the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant, the mobile hotspot of the presence of God, was traveling through the desert with the Israelites when the oxen stumbled. And when this guy reaches out to catch it, he is struck dead. Man, God sounds mean, God sounds cruel. No… God is Holy.
Let’s look at it another way. Absolute goodness and absolute purity and absolute light will crush any spot, blemish or darkness in it’s path. If you don’t believe me, do an experiment by turning on a light in a dark room. What happens? The light obliterates the darkness. The darkness is overcome and overrun by the light.
Consider the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve disobeyed and sinned against God, he sent them out of the garden—out of paradise. One mistake, one strike and they’re out. Doesn’t it sound mean? Doesn’t God sound cruel? No… God is Holy.
“What his Holiness has required, His grace has provided.”
You see, Isaiah needed a holiness by association. He needed holiness that was imparted to him. He needed something beyond himself to save him. And here we see a glimpse of the salvation that was to be, once and for all, accomplished by Jesus.
In order for us to delight in His presence and not be destroyed our sin had to be atoned for and our guilt taken away. This is the Gospel—the good news that God saves sinners. This salvation was accomplished by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It is a salvation that is received by grace through faith.
In Christ, we can now delight in His holiness. The holiness of God does not contradict all of his other attributes. It only enriches them.
When you begin understanding the holiness of God is when you can really start to enjoy the love of God on a deeper level. When you understand the heights of holiness, you can then fully understand the depths of his grace. When you understand the uniqueness of the holiness of God, you can appreciate the uniqueness of his mercy. When you grasp his holiness is when you can start grasp his goodness. His wrath no longer seems mean or cruel in light of his holiness. His immensity, his immanence, his perfection, his knowledge, his sovereignty, his supremacy, and his patience become much more sweet and enjoyable when you first understand his holiness. We must first understand his holiness in order to enjoy the rest of his attributes in depth and clarity.
So may we be a people who delight in His Holiness. Let us enjoy and rest in the fact that what his Holiness has required, His grace has provided.
By Grant Walker
To behold is to see or perceive something or someone with intelligence or by experience. A desire to behold God is a longing that we all have because not only do we have a desire to know and be known, but we love to behold and gaze at beautiful, amazing, and great things. Don’t you have a desire to be filled with awe? To have your breath taken away? To sit at the ocean and ponder its immensity? To look into the night sky and to contemplate the vastness of the universe?
It is a beautiful gift that humanity has—this built in desire to behold greatness. Unfortunately, this desire to behold greatness is frequently misdirected to lesser things. We behold great musicians, actors, athletes, and communicators. A God-given desire to behold our great God has been temporarily satisfied and distracted by lesser things to behold. Our phones, tablets, and our entertainment industry has been successful at putting anything and everything in front of our faces except… the one thing we were meant to behold.
Church, before you start to get out your soap boxes out to stand on and point at everyone else, I’m mainly talking to you! When we gather together, who are we mainly beholding? I would challenge you that many times we are beholding ourselves more than we are beholding God. A concerning trend in the church is that, in an attempt to be practical and relevant, we have stopped beholding the One we were created to behold.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think practical sermons are necessary. I think application is important. But let us not abandon the primary thing for these secondary issues. We are primarily beholders and worshippers.
Let us not, as churches, give people what they want, abandoning what they need.
We need God. The city needs God. The church needs God. The self righteous religious person needs God. The prodigal needs God. Those who are hurting need God. The comfortable need God. My prayer is that the Church would give them God.
This is what has fueled my call to ministry. It is my prayer that, by the grace of God, our new local
church would not just “tickle ears”, but would “feed sheep” by putting God and His word on display. Lasting transformation and refreshment will not come from beholding a great preacher or great musicians. No, it will only come by beholding a great God. To grow in a knowledge of Him. To experience Him. To see Him as He truly is.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
The trend to be practical and relevant has sprung up to meet people’s desire for transformation. Most of us desire change and want to become the best possible version of ourselves. But our error is thinking that beholding ourselves will cause this transformation. Many will tell you to “take care of yourself,” have some “me time,” and to think about yourself more.
I would argue this is a miserable way to live. And it’s why so many lack hope, have lost purpose, and have questioned identity. It’s not because they haven’t thought about themselves enough. It’s because they have been beholding themselves too much—not beholding God enough. One glimpse of God would be more valuable and transformative than a library of self help books.
All vain-glory, ambition, ignorance, and pride, would be done away by one view of Christ in his glory.”
The Gospel frees us from beholding ourselves and allows us to start beholding God. The gospel is the good news that God saves sinners. This salvation was accomplished through Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection, and it is received by grace through faith.
As followers of Jesus, we are saved to stop beholding ourselves and start beholding God. So when we gather corporately, we remind ourselves to stop beholding and worshipping ourselves and to start beholding and worshipping God. That is what brings lasting refreshment, transformation, and life to a worship gathering and to a church.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.