First Born

In reading through the Bible, I came across some verses in Numbers 3 that intrigued me.  In Numbers 3:40-43 God tells Moses that the Levites will be set apart to serve God as an offering in place of the first born male child of the other 11 tribes.  In Exodus 13:13 God tells Moses that the first born son of every family belongs to Him.  So in Numbers, God instructs Moses that the Levites are to become a living sacrifice on behalf of all the first born sons of Israel.

Wait, wasn't that the purpose of the Passover?  Yes...No.  What?  Yes, the passover lamb we read about in Exodus 12 died in place of the first born sons of the Israelite families.  The death angel "passed over" the homes where the blood of the sacrificed lambs were applied to the doorposts.  No, in that this sacrifice only covered that generation of sons.  These sacrifices of the first Passover lambs did not cover future generations.  The first Passover lambs were only for the first born sons of the Exodus generation.

Numbers 3 reveals God's plan for future generations.  The first born male children of all future generations were redeemed through an offering that was brought to the temple and through the service of all the male children of the tribe of the Levites.  Question one, why this focus on the first born male child?  Question two, and why would God use a combination of a lamb being slain for the first generation of sons and then use the sons of the tribe of Levites as living sacrifices for all the future generations of first born male sons?

Question one, the Old Testament is a prophetic picture of God's plan to save the world through Jesus.  The emphasis on the first born male child all throughout the Mosaic law is God teaching us the principle of the redemptive power of the first born male child.  Have you ever wondered why the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12 was only sacrificed on behalf of the first born son of each household?  If every person in every household was sinful (Romans 3:23), why was it that the Passover Lamb was only redemptive in relation to the first born son?  Because if the first born son is redeemed, the whole household is redeemed!  You see, the first 9 plagues were all punitive.  What does that mean.  It means that the first 9 plagues all carry the same message, that the cost of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).  The tenth plague is redemptive.  The tenth plague is teaching us about the power of the first born to redeem the whole house.  You see where this going right?  Jesus!  He is the only Son of God which also makes Him the first Son!  Jesus, through His death, made a way for the whole house (all of humanity) to be redeemed (Romans 6:23b)!

But I emphasize "made a way."  Universalism is the false teaching that everyone is saved because of the redemptive power of Jesus.  But Romans 10:9-10 is very clear that we have to appropriate that redemptive power through a vow of devotion to Christ.  Everyone is part of God's creation but everyone is not part of God's family.  John 1:12-13 is also very clear.  We come into God's family through a confession of faith (a vow of devotion) to Jesus.  The redemptive power of Jesus' death as the first born Son of God is clarified through the system of sacrifice that God instituted in Exodus 12 and Numbers 3.  Which means that the redemptive power of the first born son is limited to their respective household.  Until I am a part for God's household, I am not a benefactor of Jesus' redemptive sacrifice.

Question two, So why did God transition to the Levites as a living sacrifice (Numbers 3) instead of just continuing the practice of the Passover (Exodus 12)?  You might argue that Passover was continued every year.  It was.  But I would argue that every Passover after the Exodus 12 Passover was no longer effectual.  It was commemorative.  Read Exodus 12.  God is clear that future Israelite generations are to practice the annual Passover to remember.  The death angel does not come every year thereafter.  Were there other sacrifices that were effectual?  Yes.  There was an entire system of sacrifices that Israelites used to expiate their sin.  In addition, on The Day of Atonement one sacrifice was made on behalf of their entire nation.  But at the center of the entire Mosaic system of sacrifices was still the living sacrifice of the Levites.  They, as prescribed in Numbers 3, became the first born sons of a nation, living sacrifices to God so the whole of the nation could be redeemed.

I believe the imagery of the Levites as living sacrifices is exactly what the Apostle Paul was envisioning when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write Romans 12:1.  As devoted followers of Jesus, we are a living sacrifice on behalf of all of humanity.  Isn't this Peter's intent, equally inspired by the Holy Spirit, in 1 Peter 2:9 when he writes that we are royal priesthood?  Doesn't this verse speak to our mission?  " you can show others the goodness of God..."  Are you a Christian just so you can go to Heaven or are you embracing the mandate you have been given by God?

Do you think it is a coincidence that the Holy Spirit inspired the writer of Hebrews 12:23 to refer to the church as the "church of the firstborn?"  Unlike the Levites, it is not our natural ancestry that carries redemptive power.  2 Corinthians 4:7 calls to us to never forget that within these earthen vessels there is the treasure of the message of Christ and His power to save us!

Let's make 2018 a year of redemption!  Who are you telling about the saving power of Jesus?

Pastor Fred

Sacred Places

Think about the farthest you have ever been away from your family and the longest you have been separated from them.  This is what we know...the longer you are geographically disconnected the more emotionally distant you become. tells us:  "Families face a number of challenges before, during, and after deployment...As departure grows closer, a period of detachment and withdrawal may occur.  This can happen to prepare for the person being physically gone."

I believe that people too often feel emotionally distant from God because they have embraced a false belief that God is far away.  But verses like Jeremiah 23:23-24, Acts 17:27, and Psalm 16:8 are powerful verses that remind us of God's abiding presence.

So where doest this belief that God is far away come from?  The Bible!  Verses like Psalm 11:4, Isaiah 6:1, Revelation 4:1-6, Psalm 103:19 seem to say that God is in Heaven, on His throne, watching everything from afar.  John in his vision from Revelation says that John had to "come up here" meaning that John had to leave earth to find God.

But then we find verses like 1 Kings 8:27 and Isaiah 57:15.  These verses remind us that God is both near and far because the truth is that God is EVERYWHERE!  This is hard for us.  We are finite beings that live in a finite world but everything about God is infinite.  So how do people begin to believe that God is everywhere?

What I have found is that people will not believe that God is everywhere until they encounter Him somewhere.  City Life is a church with many assignments but one of them is most certainly to be a certain place where people can come with faith filled expectation to encounter the presence of a living God!  The famous verse that speaks to one of the ways faith grows in our hearts is found in Romans 10:17.  Faith comes by hearing God's Word!  But if we back it up a little and read Romans 10:13-16 we find that Paul always intended that great verse about faith to be understood as a commission.  We as devoted followers of Christ are supposed to be in our world telling other people about our experiences with Christ in a way that begins to inspire faith in their hearts to believe that life with God is for them too!  And one of the ways we share our faith is to invite people to places where they too can encounter God's presence!

Have you ever noticed all throughout the Bible God calls people to certain places to encounter His presence?  Have you noticed that when God makes Himself known spontaneously to an individual, He manifests Himself without any prior announcement?  He just shows up!  But when God reveals Himself to a large group of people, He tends to first invite them to a certain place.  And only after that group comes to this pre-determined certain place does God reveal Himself. Now there are exceptions to this but those exceptions are infrequent.

And those certain places become sacred places when certain scared practices are experienced there.  In Exodus 3:12 we find that God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and instructed him to bring all of the Hebrew people back to this very mountain, Sinai, to worship Him.  They were to gather at a certain place.  The story picks up in Exodus 19.  Moses climbs the mountain three different times receiving various instruction from God for what everyone should do in preparation for God revealing Himself to them.  And what do we find...our Pathways!  They gathered, which is itself a sacred practice.  Ceremonial washing in ancient times was a preparation for worship and prayer.  They were asked to serve and help prepare for the promised encounter with God's presence.  There was fasting.  There was reaching (Moses being told to bring Aaron up on the mountain).  There was Scripture.  Even though a written Bible did not yet exist...instruction from God had begun!  All of these sacred practices made a certain place a sacred place!  (If you want to learn more about this story of Moses at Sinai, you can list or watch the message from our Newport News campus.)

Are you going to a certain place every week to encounter God's presence?  Are you engaging in sacred practices before and during your time there?  Those sacred practices still make certain places sacred places!  Sacred practices prepare our hearts to encounter the presence of our living God!  You might be thinking that you can encounter God's presence by yourself.  That is true.  You can.  But if you never get a vision for gathering with the people of God every week, you lack a vision to help create a place for other people to encounter God!  Remember, people will not believe that God is everywhere until they encounter Him somewhere.  If we took a survey of everyone who has regular encounters with God in their personal life, I am convinced we would find that the majority of those people had their first life transforming, faith inspiring encounter with God's presence in a church setting.  

2 Corinthians 6:1 compels us not to ignore this great gift of salvation we have received from God through Jesus.  What does Paul mean by "ignoring" this gift?  He tells us in 2 Corinthians 5...that we have a responsibility to be ambassadors for Christ in our world!  Are you helping to make a certain place a sacred place so others can find this marvelous gift of salvation that we all so deeply cherish?  If you would describe your commitment to gather weekly with your church family as infrequent, you aren't just neglecting your own spiritual well being.  You are neglecting your responsibility of adding to the vibrancy of that gathering through the unique gifts that God has deposited in you (1 Corinthians 12).  And let's admit, it's hard to bring people and be an ambassador for Christ when you are absent!

I am believing that 2018 is going to be an incredible year of reaching and gathering for City Life Church!  This year we are going to encounter His presence, embrace His family, and engage His mission like never before!

Pastor Fred


If You Believe

In reading Acts 13:26-52, I am struck at how similar the predicament of Paul's Jewish audience in Pisidian Antioch is to so many people in our time.

The people to whom Paul was speaking had in their possession the Holy Scriptures of their day, for us, that would have been the Old Testament since much of the New Testament had not even been written, much less canonized. And in the Old Testament Scriptures, as Paul so aptly identifies, Christ is clearly identified as the Messiah. Yet, even when confronted plainly with the truth, a life altering response is not forthcoming from the crowd.

I meet few people who do not embrace a belief that the Bible is sacred and from God. I meet few people who do not embrace a belief that Jesus is divine, lived a perfect life, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and will one day judge us to determine our eternity. Yet, I meet many people, as with Paul's day, whose beliefs do not alter their existence.

What of the Bible do we believe? How have those beliefs changed our lives? Paul speaks plainly in his second letter to the church of Corinth when he wrote in the fifth chapter, the seventeenth verse, "Therefore, if any person is in Christ, they are a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."

If you believe, what old things for you have passed away, what new things have come...and may it be that the passing away of the old and the coming of the new never cease as long as we have breath! May that which we declare to believe forever define us as we live!


Pastor Fred


Here is the final installment in this series on temptation.  If you want to read more about Stress or Anger, then check out part one and part two in this series.

Just as brief recap...check out Proverbs 14:11-12 and discover something about temptation.  Temptation never comes to us and says "Hey, let me help you ruin your life and destroy your family!"  No.  On the outset, temptation appears to be pleasing.  The lure of something promising gratification but ultimately only bringing brokenness and destruction.  

In the first post, I talked about Sal or Tessio being one of my favorite characters from The Godfather because of the insight his role provides for understanding temptation.  Sal was an underboss for the Corleone crime family but when it appeared they had lost power, he betrayed them and conspired with a rival family.  This is what temptation is in our's opportunistic, crafty, devious, and always scheming for a way to take advantage of us...and Lust is certainly one of those temptations lurking outside the perimeter of our self-control trying to invade our lives.

The best book I have ever read about sexuality as it relates to men is "Sex, Men, and God" by Doug Weiss.  This is a must read for any man and if you are married, you should read this book together like my wife and I did about 12 years ago.  If you have male children, you are responsible for not only understanding your own sexuality but you are responsible for teaching them!  Don't fail them as too many fathers have before us.  He also has a book for women entitled "She Has A Secret."  Even if you would not characterize your temptation as an addiction, these resources are a must read to truly understand how God created you as a sexual being and the right way to celebrate our capacity for pleasure.

2 Samuel 11:1-4 gives us three powerful insights into how men fall prey to the temptation of lust.  In the account of David's horrific actions pursuing Bathsheba, committing adultery, and eventually murder in an attempt to hide his transgressions, we can see how temptation led to these egregious trespasses.  I want to talk specifically to men today...

The first clue is in verse one where the Bible tells us "...David stayed..."  meaning that David should have been with his men at war instead of remaining in Jerusalem.  Isolation will always lead to vulnerability to temptation.  If your life isn't immersed in relationships with other Christian men, you are vulnerable to the temptation of lust!  And our personalities must stop being permission to withdraw from the depth of relationships that we need in order to build up our defenses.  Even the most introverted person should have a few men who they know at a deeply personal level and who know him at a deeply personal level.  Every man should also have some men in their life who are a little farther along in their spiritual journey who they can trust and rely upon when they need to talk about their struggles.  Those conversations about struggles should take place with their core group of friends and those they trust to lead them.  Men, you are responsible to pursue these relationships.  Passivity will trap you in a place of always waiting for these relationships to form...and they never will if you don't engage.  Make room in your schedule for men's groups, be at church every weekend, serve in ministry, go on missions trips, and participate in special events.  If you don't share time and space with other Christian men, you are not creating the opportunity for deeper relationships to form.

The next clue is in verse two where the Bible tells us "...David looked..." meaning that David allowed his eyes to intently gaze upon an image he knew would would be sexually arousing.  Men, the rooftop of our modern world is technology.  If you don't have a plan to limit your access to everything you could see, you are vulnerable to the temptation of lust.  Pride needs to stop being permission giving in your life!  Pride keeps us from asking for help!  The web link above for Dr. Weiss will offer you a myriad of resources to help limit your access.  If you have a modern cable service for home entertainment, they come with a multitude of parental controls and ratings/channel blocks.  If this is a struggle in  your life, set up these restrictions and give the passcode to your wife.  Pride is cowardice!  I'm telling you men...if you don't take these steps and you fall prey to the temptation of lust because you didn't limit your access then you will never lead your family as strong as you should because you will feel morally compromised.  Your eyes must be tethered directly to your will.  What you see is your responsibility.  If my vision (eyesight) is not under the control of my will that is in turn committed to pleasing God then my life's vision (direction in life) will be misguided by lust.

The final clue is in verse four where the Bible tells us "...David sent..." meaning that David had a sense of entitlement to satisfy his sexual pleasures.  Sexual pleasure is not a right.  Sexual pleasure is a privilege.  This privilege does not belong to me.  The privilege of sexual pleasure belongs to my wife.  This is what the Apostle Paul was trying to communicate to the Church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4.  Until you see your capacity for sexual pleasure as a responsibility to protect instead of a desire to satisfy, you are vulnerable to the temptation of lust.  And if you are not married, your capacity for sexual pleasure belongs to your future wife.  And if you have no plans to ever be married, then your capacity for sexual pleasure becomes a sacrifice to God.  We are bombarded every day through entertainment, creative arts, advertising, opinions of popular figures, and a collective societal view that misleads us in our beliefs about sexual pleasure.  If you are one of those men who diminish the success of other men because you think your libido is just too strong to resist, you are demeaning yourself.  Check out 1 Corinthians 10:13 and see that every person is expected to resist every temptation because God does not allow us to be tempted beyond your ability to overcome.  Let's stop being entitled and start being responsible.

So let me make you an offer that you can't refuse.  No, not the kind from The Godfather that is coercion.  This offer is from Jesus and is irresistibly good!  John 10:10 promises us a life lived to the fullest possible measure!  We have been created by God with a heart for an appetite for life that will only ever be fully satisfied when we are fully committed to a life of devotion to Jesus!

Pastor Fred  


Welcome to part two of a three part series on temptation, specifically Stress, Anger, and Lust.  If you want to read more about Stress, then check out the post Stress in the this series.  Here is a brief introduction and an excerpt from that post...

Check out Proverbs 14:11-12 and discover something about temptation.  Temptation never comes to us and says "Hey, let me help you ruin your life and destroy your family!"  No.  On the outset, temptation appears to be pleasing.  The lure of something promising gratification but ultimately only bringing brokenness and destruction.

Anger.  Gary Chapman is wonderful author whose works continue to help scores of people grow and mature in their relationships with one another and with God.  The Five Love Languages was ground breaking in its contribution to romantic relationships, family relationships, and even friendships.  He has another exceptional work exploring the emotion of anger.  Listen to what he says in Anger, Taming A Powerful Emotion.

"Anger is a cruel task master.  If you struggle even a little with anger, you know how it feels to get mad too easily.  To lash out at someone you hold onto frustration.  You might even notice others seem uneasy around you.  You know anger is hurting your life, but you don't know how to fix it.  There is hope.  When you understand why you get angry and what to do about it, you can change the course of your life for the better.  Whether your anger is quiet or explosive, if it's clouding your judgment and hurting your relationships, it needs to go.  Learn to handle anger in healthy ways, starting today."

If you feel like anger is something of a temptation for you or if you are way beyond temptation because this emotional trap has a grip on your life, then Chapman's book would be a great start for you!

People have always struggled with the temptation of anger.  Consider Cain and Abel.  The first children of the world, Adam and Eve's two sons, record the first murder of history...anger.  From the Old Testament to the New Testament, we find guidance for how to deal with this ancient temptation.  I love Paul's encouragement to young Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5, "But you should keep a clear mind in every situation.  Don't be afraid of suffering for the Lord.  Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you."  (NLT)  

Paul knew that Timothy would be tempted by anger, especially in the face of brutal persecution.  His instruction to "keep a clear mind" was a warning to not capitulate to the emotion of the moment.  And Paul's directive here is not a list of miscellaneous tasks.  Paul is teaching Timothy and us there is a causal relationship between having a clear, calm mind and being diligent in pursuing our assignment!  So many times, the anger that is manifesting in a situation is born out of frustration with ourselves because deep inside we know we are neglecting something that God is asking of us.  Too often, the anger of the moment is bleeding over from a separate circumstance.  Paul is reminding Timothy that life is going to bring enough temptation for anger.  And that if he becomes negligent in his calling, his assignment, that internal frustration will make him even more vulnerable to anger.

Verses like these are an opportunity for us to examine our lives and see if we are truly submitted to the authority of Scripture.  I can believe the Bible is true.  I can value the wisdom I find there.  I can feel loved because of the great many promises God speaks over me in His verses.  But at some point I must reconcile my life to the boundaries of God's Word.  Scripture is instruction, sacred instruction from our perfect God.  And here in 2 Timothy, we find a profound insight for dealing with anger.  Ask yourself, "Am I neglecting anything that I know God expects of me?"  If you can answer yes to that question, you are vulnerable to the temptation of anger.

There is no easy fix to dealing with the temptation of anger, especially if this has been a struggle for you.  Temptations can become patterns in our lives.  Our humanity can grow familiar with certain temptations like anger to the point we become accustomed to acquiescing instead of resisting.  But there has to be a starting point for your counter attack!  And I believe that for many, that starting point is to find your resolve to recommit yourself to whatever expectation from God you have been forsaking!

In 1991, my first year as a devoted follower of Jesus, I began to read the Bible in earnest for the first time in my life.  I began to read with a heart that was ready to embrace the authoritative voice Scripture must be for us all.  And I remember coming to Exodus 34:6 and I can't recall the version I was reading that day but I memorized this rendering about God, "a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, rich in steadfast love and truth."  

May we all be a better reflection of His character to our world...slow to anger.

Pastor Fred



This is part one of three part series inspired by the message I shared on Father's Day weekend at our Newport News Campus.  The focus of that message was directed toward men but the challenge these three temptations present are true for both men and women.  If you are struggling with any of these three temptations, I hope these words encourage and motivate you to lean into the wisdom and Scripture and the insights of some authors I will recommend.

Sal or Tessio is one of my favorite characters from The Godfather because of the insight his role provides for understanding temptation.  Sal was an underboss for the Corleone crime family but when it appeared they had lost power, he betrayed them and conspired with a rival family.  This is what temptation is in our's opportunistic, crafty, devious, and always scheming for a way to take advantage of us!

Check out Proverbs 14:11-12 and discover something about temptation.  Temptation never comes to us and says "Hey, let me help you ruin your life and destroy your family!"  No.  On the outset, temptation appears to be pleasing.  The lure of something promising gratification but ultimately only bringing brokenness and destruction.

SAL has put out a hit on the character of men and women and their names are stress, anger, and lust!  I first heard these three temptations shared together at a men's breakfast sponsored by our church, City Life Church.  One of the men who shared talked openly about his struggle with each of them.  I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me that Saturday, "Talk about these on Father's Day weekend."  I felt that same whisper last weekend..."Keep talking about these!"

Stress.  Some of you are so stressed out you are finding it difficult to sit still to focus on this blog.  Don't relent to the temptation to stop reading!  The temptation of stress doesn't want you to be free from it's treacherous grip!

A Stanford neuroscientist, Robert Sapolsky writes,

"Stess hormones are brilliant, adapted to help you survive an unexpected threat.  You mobilize energy in your thigh muscles, you increase your blood pressure and turn off everything that's not essential to surviving, such as digestion, growth, and reproduction systems in your body.  You think more clearly, and certain aspects of learning and memory are enhanced.  But non-life-threatening stressors, such as constantly worrying about money or pleasing your boss, also trigger the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones, which, over time, can have devastating consequences to your health.  If you turn on the stress response chronically for purely psychological reasons, you increase your risk of adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other health risks."

First, consider picking up a copy of John Ortberg's book "Soul Keeping" as it is a wonderful resource that not only talks about dealing with stress but also how important it is for each of us to be good stewards of our own well-being.  So often people are so consumed with caring for others, they neglect themselves.

What about Scripture?  Does the Bible have anything to say about stress?  Yes!  Here are three ways I defend against the temptation of stress in my own life:  prayer, power, and people.

Prayer.  Philippians 4:6-7 must be a mainstay in every Christian's battle against stress.  The temptation of stress lures us into a place of worry over things we cannot control.  The simple difference between praying and worrying is talking to God instead of yourself when facing something beyond your control.  We have all been in those places where we are obsessing over a situation.  Thoughts are flooding our minds at times seemingly uncontrollably.  A situation just keeps replaying in our heads, an unrelenting hounding.  Prayer is how we are supposed to deal with situations like this.  We turn that worry into prayer by converting obsessing into praying!  Direct your thoughts to God.  Talk to Him out loud if that helps you.  Ask someone to spend some time in prayer with you.  Prayer reminds us that God is sovereign and in control of our lives and every situation affecting us.  We may not see an immediate change in our situation but there will be a change in our outlook and emotions.  The peace that we read about in Philippians 4 begins to displace stress and worry because we are connecting our sense to peace to God and not to our circumstance.

Power.  Colossians 3:15 is a powerful verse challenging us to take control of ourselves.  The temptation of stress lures us into a place of believing we can't control the impact of our emotions.  This is one of the devil's most insidious strategies.  He wants us to obsess over things we can't control and ignore the areas of our lives that we can control.  In Colossians 3 note two words, "let" and "rule" are keys to this verse.  First, we must "let" or choose to resist stress.  We can't avoid the onset of emotions.  That is part of the human experience.  But we must control their impact and our actions in response to those emotions.  If the peace of Christ is going to "rule" in our heats as commanded in Colossians 3 then we must believe that we have power to control how our emotions direct us.  God gave us emotions to serve us and enrich our lives.  We are not supposed to be a slave to our emotions.  They are to serve us!  Some people have diagnosable chemical imbalances in there lives.  Others may be dealing with conditions like PTSD...those situations need professional help and oftentimes life long assistance.  But if our situation does not fall into one of those exceptions or something similar, we must find a place of power over our emotional life if we are going to resist the temptation of stress!

People.  Proverbs 12:25 reminds us we need the encouragement of others.  The temptation of stress lures us into a place of false loyalty to relationships that are unhealthy.  People tend to hold onto relationships longer than they should because they are more concerned about their image than they are their character.  Sometimes you need to change your crowd if you are going to change your outlook on life.  Surround yourself with people who are hopeful about the future because of what they believe about the goodness of God!  Now all you evangelists out there might cringe at this advice because you feel this will undermine people's efforts to reach others with the love of God.  On the contrary.  I am not suggesting isolation from everyone except those who can encourage us.  I am saying that we must be wise in regards to who is in which circle of relationship.  I should have an inner circle of people who I can trust and can lean into when I am struggling with the temptation of stress.  These people need to be mature Christians who can offer the word of encouragement referenced in Proverbs 12.  I still need to have people I am trying reach with the love of God, being careful in those circles to be the one doing the influencing!

My prayer today is that you find the peace of Christ and not be overcome any longer by the temptation of stress!  Stop giving stress permission to wreak havoc in your life!  Prayer, power, and people are an impenetrable defense!

Pastor Fred


Jesus' conversation with Peter in Luke 22:31-34 fascinates me.  I can't help but wonder why God would give Satan an audience with Himself.  And based on the events that follow, it appears that God grants Satan his request!  Imagine there is a knock at your front door and you discover that the individual standing there is someone you know with certainty is trying to destroy your children.  You invite them inside as your wife is coming around the corner.  She exclaims, "What are you doing!"  And you say, "I think we should at least hear what he has to say."  Now I don't know about your house but at that point, I am now outside knocking on the door!

The act of sifting was an agricultural process of separating at harvest the useful, consumable portion from the parts that would be discarded.  Satan's implication is that some of the disciples were not worthy and the only reason they had been faithful to date was because God was an overly protective parent.  Satan is challenging their character.  He wants to be given access to them to prove their "faith will fail."  The Expositor's Bible Commentary points out that "you" in verse 31 is plural in the Greek (hymas) which reveals Jesus' warning to Peter is for all the disciples.  But then in verse 32 "you" is singular in the Greek (sou) so Jesus' focus has now shifted to Peter directly.  Does this mean God only granted Satan access to Peter?  Does this mean Jesus did not pray for the other disciples?  Does this mean I should take a morning break and drive to Krispy Kreme to see if the hot sign is on (sorry I was momentarily distracted)?  Because Luke is the only Gospel writer that gives us the details of this conversation, we are left with several questions because Luke does not offer any further explanation.

The truth I draw from this exchange is that we must remember there is difference between failing in a moment and failing in our faith.  I am writing this morning because I believe that someone reading this has failed in some moment in their past and has been held captive by their mistake.  You have believed a lie from Satan that because you failed in a moment, overcome by some temptation, became weak resulting in some feel as though you have failed in faith.  Watch the transition from the beginning of verse 32 to the second half.  Jesus says that he has prayed for Peter that his faith should not fail.  And then Jesus goes on to say, "So when you have repented and turn to me again..."  So if Jesus prays for Peter, shouldn't that be enough?  If Jesus prays for Peter to not fail in his faith, why would Peter need to repent?  Not failing in his faith does not equate to resisting the temptation.  Not failing in our faith means that we don't abandon our pursuit of being a disciple of Jesus when we fail in resisting temptation!  Faith does not keep us perfect in moments of temptation!  Faith moves us to repent when we fail.  And we will all fail!  Sometimes those failings are when we do the bad things we shouldn't do and sometimes those failings are when we don't do the good things we ought to do.  Failing in our faith means we don't repent.  We don't accept responsibility for failing.  We don't ask for God's forgiveness or the forgiveness of others if our failing involved people.  We don't work to build personal accountability into our lives to be better prepared for temptation next time.  We don't...and the list continues...that is failing in our faith.  Failing in a moment is inevitable.  What we do in the aftermath of those moments determines if we fail in our faith.  That was Jesus' prayer and if we read Acts chapter 2 then we know Jesus' prayer from Luke 22 was effectual...because there we find Peter giving the very first sermon of the Christian Church!

I love that Jesus tells Peter that after he repents and returns to his pursuit of being a disciple of Jesus, his priority should be the strengthen his brothers, the other disciples.  If you disengage for the being in community from other disciples, this too is failing in your faith.  Discipleship isn't just about my relationship with Jesus!  It is also about my relationship with other disciples!  If I isolate myself from Jesus, resist Him, run from Him...I am failing in my faith.  If I repent and turn to Him but isolate myself from other disciples of Jesus, resist them, rum from them...I am still failing in my faith.  Failing in moments are not failing in faith unless I allow them to rob me of being reconciled to Jesus and being restored to community!

Satan wants to sift each of us.  Jesus is continually praying for each of us.  Satan is great at temptation...Jesus is even better at prayer.  We are all going to fail in moments...but we never have to fail in our faith!

Pastor Fred

"All of this..."

As I was reading yesterday, I was struck by the the phrase "All of this..." we find in verse 22 of Matthew 1.  I have read that verse many times in my life and have never stopped to consider their implication.  Of course we know the first chapter of Matthew 1 chronicles for us the genealogy of Christ through Joseph and also gives us details about how Joseph learned she was pregnant with the Messiah.  The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to write those words in verse 22 because He wanted the world to know everything that is about to follow in the story of Jesus in this gospel (and all the gospels) is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  Matthew1:22-23 is a grand declaration of the sovereignty of God at work to save the world!

But yesterday when I was reading, I realized "All of this..." wasn't just referring to the details regarding Mary.  "All of this..." is inclusive of all the details which means even the details regarding Joseph.  For Mary, she had no knowledge of being pregnant until after her angelic visitation (Luke 1:29-31).  Not so with Joseph.  Matthew 1 is very clear.  Joseph already had knowledge of Mary's pregnancy prior to his angelic visitation.  In fact, based on his intentions given to us in Matthew 1:19 he assumed that Mary had disgraced herself and their engagement by betraying her vow to Joseph by becoming sexually involved with another man.  Why is this important?  Because God intentionally allowed Joseph to feel betrayed before He intervened.  God could have easily said to Gabriel, "While you are there telling Mary she will become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit make sure you tell Joseph too.  We don't want him to feel betrayed...he should know."  Did Gabriel forget?  Not likely!  Matthew 1 says "All of this..." meaning the timing of Joseph's notification was by God's design.

Why would God do this?  I believe God was preparing Joseph to be the kind of father to Jesus and husband to Mary that would be demanded of a man who had been given such a grand destiny.  Can you imagine the kind of character required of a man to take on such a responsibility?  Our character is not formed in the ease of life.  Our character is formed when tested, when tried.  The stress of life accelerates the growth of virtues in us.  God wanted Joseph to face the appearance of betrayal, the sting of public humiliation, and the weight of shame.  God was preparing Joseph for his purpose in life, to be the earthly father of Jesus and the husband of our Savior's blessed mother.  God had Joseph in a season of virtue growing pains.

Are you in an "All of this..." season as you start this new year?  Are you facing hardship that feels overwhelming?  Do you feel as though you are suffering in innocence, meaning your hardship is not the consequence of your own foolishness?  My encouragement to you is find patience.  Psalm 27:13-14 might be your verses for this season!  Trust in God's goodness and His timing to reveal that goodness to you!  He is making you ready!  You have a divine destiny!  You are chosen!  You are special!  I guarantee that your pain now is far less than what it could be if He allowed your purpose to approach you only to find you unprepared.  God knows what you need to be victorious in this life.  He shapes us so that we can serve Him... "All of this..."

Pastor Fred

Stranger Things

Well if you are tracking with our most recent sermon series at all three campuses, you know we are all about some Netflix binging!

Here is a portion of the plot description that you can find on one of my favorite websites and most used phone apps...IMDB, "In a small town where everyone knows everyone, a peculiar incident starts a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of a child - which begins to tear at the fabric of an otherwise peaceful community.  Dark government agencies and seemingly malevolent supernatural forces converge on the town, while a few locals begin to understand that there's more going on than meets the eye."  At the time I pulled that quote, there were over 165k user reviews for this show and the average rating was 9.1 out to 10...which is historically high!  Now be warned, the show can be creepy, evil, and disturbing.  So if you are prone to nightmares, you may be living with EVERY light on in your house for a while...especially all the new Christmas lights!

I love this show because I believe it reminds us that just because something is strange doesn't mean it can't be real.  In the series at the Newport News Campus, we are exploring some strange things in the Bible that I believe God wants to be our reality!  They may belong in an "upside down world" but God's hope is that we will grow to both expect them and embrace them!

We started our study in 1 Corinthians 12.  If you are interested in listening to those two opening messages, then you can use this link:  City Life Podcast.  Last week I was not able to finish our look into this amazing chapter and wanted to share my final thoughts to complete the teaching on this text.

In the first two weeks, we talked about how God wants us to expect and embrace a "strange voice" in our lives.  That is the opening of 1 Corinthians 12.  Paul is exhorting them and now us that we need people in our lives who love us enough to challenge and even when necessary bring correction.  That feels strange if you aren't used to it but it is most certainly a vital part of any healthy spiritual family. I build trusting relationships at church so God can use me to help others and so I can have people I trust to help me.  We also talked about a "strange expectation."  This is where we worked through the list of nine results of grace that manifest God's reality in a supernatural way.  I like the phrase results of grace because that is the true meaning of the word "gift" that appears in the text.  But for simplicity sake, we call them:  three gifts that reveal, three gifts that declare, and three gifts that command.  Being a candidate for God to use to reveal Himself in a supernatural way feels strange, especially the first time we experience something otherworldly like the working of a miracle or a word of knowledge.  We talked about a "strange reliance" that took us through verses 12 to 27.  All ministry begins by learning how to serve one another as part of the same body.  Mutual dependence is not easy for us; it feels strange.  We like to champion this idea of rugged independence!  You will never be fully complete until you connect your life to others in a covenantal community called the local church and there is a local church out there somewhere that will be forever incomplete until you show up!

The point we never reached is a "strange deference."  Take a minute to read 1 Corinthians 12:28-30.  Remember, Paul has already given us an outline for this chapter in verses four through six.  Here he is shifting gears into part three of this chapter in talking about a "varieties of activities" that he connects to God.  (If you recall, he connected a "varieties of gifts" to the Holy Spirit and a "varieties of ministries" to Jesus).  I believe what Paul is trying to communicate to us here is that if the activity of church is not directed by the activity of leaders who ensure order then chaos will soon be present which is why Paul is having to write this letter to Corinth...they are a chaotic church!  Paul is assuming that you have read the preceding verses.  His use of "first, second, and third" are to say all of these three are examples of directive leaders in a church.  We know this from connecting this text to Ephesians 4, which Paul also wrote.  Paul believes in the principle of directive leaders (which I also call nucleus leaders or senior leaders).  And these numbers are not to be interpreted as an order of importance.  It is simply three offices in a church whose primary activity is to bring healthy authority.  The emphasis should not be placed on the unique role that apostles, prophets, or teachers carry out.  That is more related to the "varieties of ministries."  The emphasis should be placed on their specific activity of being directive leaders.  This is why we have this portion of the chapter connected to God because He reminds us of the need for the presence of a directive authority.  

Again, Paul assumes you have read the whole chapter so when the verses shift in the NKJV with the use of "after that" and "then" Paul is pulling examples from both of the two former lists.  He gives us some examples of "varieties of gifts" and "varieties of ministries."  He is saying that what makes a church a safe place for these former two lists of "varieties" is the activity of directive leaders.  It can be strange for people to allow others to be in a place of spiritual authority in their life.  Although I am a nucleus, directive leader now, that has not always been the case.  Many of my years in church were benefitting from the direction of elders and other senior leaders.  They created order, defined vision, created ministries, set the pace in giving, exemplified Christ, cared for people in crisis, and invested in others who might one day walk in their shoes.  I can't imagine what my formative years as a Christian would have been like without them.  Leaders can never demand this relationship from people.  They can make demands of people and sometimes that is necessary but those demands are never fruitful unless the person being directed has already embraced that person's authority in their life.

Verse 29 is basically a synopsis verse for everything that preceded before.  Every person matters.  Every ministry is important.  Every role is essential.  The family of God is made complete when each part does it's work in love...again, the great partner text here is Ephesians 4.  Remember, even though I am constantly referring to verses and chapters, this was originally a letter.  It did not have verses and chapters.  Verses and chapters aid our study but sometimes they break the flow of the original text.  Verse 31 is supposed to flow right into chapter 13...where Paul reminds us that love must be the defining aspect of any church culture.  And love is not the only standard...all of chapter 13 points to every other portion of Scripture that demands of us the character of Christ.  And when we find ourselves immersed in a healthy community of people called the local church, we are able to challenge one another to that let's be a little "strange" together!

Pastor Fred

An Answer to Prayer

Do you remember your first prayer?  Not the first time you memorized, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." and not even those meaningful prayers you may have prayed at bedtime as a child.  I'm asking for you to recall that first time you cried out to God in desperation.  I'm asking you to remember that first time you faced a situation so overwhelming that it exposed the magnitude of your human limitations and left you in a place of frenzied faith for divine intervention.  Do you remember that time?

I do.  I was eleven.  My mom was well into her pregnancy with my brother.  I remember my mom being in her room and dad was on the phone calling people on the phone to come to the house.  I'll never forget the expression on his face.  It is the only time I ever remember seeing my dad afraid.  Neighbors came rushing over, mom was helped into a car that raced off to the hospital.  They told me and my sister (13) that everything was going to be okay and that we should go back to bed.  It was one of those moments as a child when you realized that adults lie.

September of that year my brother was born after months of my mom being on bed rest.  I know scores of people were praying that night.  No Facebook in 1978, just the telephone!  Churches then had prayer chains.  You were assigned people to call to notify them of a prayer need whenever you were called...I think all of Varina's phones were ringing that night!  I made a call too, my first prayer.

I was in bed crying, afraid, I saw the look on everyone's face.  Was that going to be the last time I ever saw my mom?  Was she going to die?  Was my brother/sister going to die?  I found my prayer voice that night.  And although my prayer life went through what should probably be referred to as the silent years during the debauchery of my high school and college life, that first prayer has now become a life of prayer.  And God answered.

As I was praying for North Riverside Baptist Church on Wednesday, March 16th for their impending vote to invite City Life to join them at their church here on 311 Selden Road, God reminded me of that night in 1978.  Faith builds in our hearts when we recall the times from our past when God heard our cry!  Think of all the times God has intervened on your behalf!  Think of all the answers to prayer God has graciously given to you!  Think of all the times you have posted on Facebook, called a friend, shared at church, cried with your family...because of an answer to prayer!

But what if you could be an answer to prayer for God?  What would that be like?  Even though we call Matthew 6:9-13 The Lord's Prayer, this is really our prayer.  This is Jesus teaching us to pray.  But Jesus does have a prayer.  But that prayer is in John 17.    Look at verses 20 and 21.  Jesus says this prayer is for us, for all future Christians.  And what does He pray?  In verse 21 He prays for unity.  City Life has a vision for multi-church campuses for one central reason.  We want to be an answer to Jesus' prayer just as He is so often an answer to ours!  When NRBC voted in the affirmative last night, Jesus pointed at 311 Selden Road and told all of Heaven that another room full of Godly people answered His prayer!

I know there will be dissenters.  There will always be people who are not able to see past their own superficial, personal preferences...people who only ever want answers to prayer but never willing to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to be an answer to prayer, not even for Jesus.  I love how this decision for City Life to join NRBC and form a new multi-church campus here in the 757 is just weeks before Easter as we celebrate Jesus' greatest of sacrifices!  It's never wrong to question.  It's never wrong to be honest about your concerns.  It's never wrong to share your fears, your reluctance.  But God expects us to work through the reaction that comes from our humanity and feel the eternal part of who we are deep within beginning to resonate with the call of the Holy Spirit within us saying, "Be an answer to Jesus' prayer!"

City Life has never had 24/7 access to a facility before.  We have never had a campus where all of our operations were in one central location.  I believe God is going to give some of you dreams for new ministries, dreams that are going to be possible now because there is a place for those ministries to begin.  For example, we have never been able to do conference type ministry that starts on a Friday night and culminates with our Saturday night service.  We've dreamed for years of encounter type weekends where people can come for extended times of prayer and worship.  How about being able to baptize people...during our weekend worship service!

There is triple the parking capacity here compared to The Mosaic and a building with endless classroom space, phenomenal nursery, youth rooms, a commercial kitchen, and a fellowship hall that can accommodate our entire campus.  The sanctuary can seat 400 people which means our NN Campus can double in size.  There is also a budget to renovate the existing chapel for our weekly youth service on Wednesday nights!  I know from the picture I posted to Facebook yesterday of the existing sanctuary you see a worship space that is quite different from what you are accustomed to seeing on Saturday nights.  But once the renovation is complete which includes $70,000 in theatrical lighting, a stage redesign, $20,000 in sound upgrades, and all the technicals support systems necessary to provide a modern worship experience, you are going to fall in love with this sanctuary!

Jesus prayed.  Will you be an answer to prayer?

Pastor Fred


The problem that leads to our sin is not the most serious problem.  What happens in our heart after our sin should be most feared.

Am I willing to be undone?  If not, a heart of rebellion is growing.  In Greg Gilbert's book, What Is The Gospel?, he teaches that sin is ultimately not about what I may have done or not done but rather my refusal to submit to God's sovereign right to rule over my life.  Sin is rebellion.  Sin is my saying to God that I will do what I want.  Sin is allowing my heart to exist in a place of feel as though I have the right to rule myself.  Becoming undone keeps my heart moving toward submission to God and moving away from its natural inclination for self rule.

If ever there was a Psalm written for us when we are in that precarious place of having sinned (violated our sense of right and wrong in regards to something moral, maybe a matter of conscience, or even failing to forego a liberty all of which are found in Romans 14 and let's not forget failing to do the good we should which is found in James 4:17) we have Psalm 51.  When I read Psalm 51 I read about a man who is willing to become undone.

What is being undone?  Undone means I lay down all defensiveness.  I make no justifications for my actions.  I make no excuses.  I stop trying to convince others that my situation is unique.  I don't blame.  I don't minimize the pain I've caused.  Being undone stops looking for an excuse.  Finding people who can model this for us is like a snow leopard spotting in India...will I ever see one!  God most certainly did NOT choose for King David to sin but because he did, God was able to use David as a snow leopard spotting for all of humanity...let's see him together.

I begin by sharing some quotes from prominent Christians throughout history in referencing Psalm 51.  Victorinus Strigenlius (1524-1569), "This Psalm is the brightest gem in the whole book, and contains instruction so large, and doctrine so precious, that the tongue of angels could not do justice the full development."  Thomas Chalmers writes, " This is the most deeply affecting of all the Psalms, and I am sure the one most applicable to me."  William S. Plumer writes, "This Psalm is often and fitly called the sinner's guide.  It is the first used to reference "The Spirit" as the Holy Ghost, was a favorite of Athanasius, and Luther himself wrote no other Psalm was more often sung or prayed in churches."  But I only need the history of my own life to realize the preciousness and wisdom of these words.

Verse 3 (NLT)  is where you and I should start reading, "For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night."  Then and only then can we receive from God the mercy, compassion, and cleansing He so freely gives that is promised in verses 1 and 2.  Look at how verse 4 follows the thought I shared about about sin.  "Against you, and you alone, have I sinned..."  Have we probably sinned against others too?  Sure!  But if we had not rebelled against God first in our hearts then there would have been no harm inflicted on others.

Verse 5 is not very encouraging on one hand but a reality we must embrace.  You and I were born sinners.  I believe through the power of Christ living inside me I always have a choice (1 Corinthians 10:13) but because I was born a sinner, I will face sin choices all my life.  While verse 5 may overwhelm us, verse 6 reminds us that we do not have to be a slave to our nature!  "But You desire honesty from he womb, teaching me wisdom even there."

Verses 7 through 12 remind us of the prize of being undone:  purification, cleansing, joy, a clean heart, Holy Spirit presence, restoration, salvation, desire for obedience.  Wow!  Who doesn't want that?  Then be willing to be undone.

Verses 13 through 15 are also deeply important!  God wants to use my sin, my story, my failures as a road sign warning others.  Being undone means being public about our brokenness!  Now are there limits?  Sure there are, especially when your sin involves others and your being public may unnecessarily violate their privacy.  We all need mature, wise people to know the right way to let our story become a lesson for others.  But be undone!

Verses 16 through 19 is a combination of returning to the theme of being undone but brings in this beautiful metaphor of the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  God always desires for us to be built up.  Being undone feels like being torn down but only so something beautiful can be created.

What have you done?  What sins are you hiding?  What excuses are you making?  Find someone you trust, someone who further along in their journey of Jesus maturity than you are and ask them to help you become undone.

Pride says you can do it alone.  Pride says you don't owe anyone anything.  Pride is a liar.

Be undone.

Pastor Fred