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Heroism and the Ordinary Christian Life

Have you ever read the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal at Mt. Carmel? It’s found in 1 Kings 18. I would recommend you read it for yourself, but here is a summary. Israel had turned aside from the Lord to the false god, Baal. In order to prove to Israel that the Lord alone was the real and living God, Jesus had Elijah challenge the prophets of Baal to a duel. Each would build an altar to their respective deity and then each would pray that their god would consume the offering with fire from heaven. So, the priest of Baal build their altar, spend all day crying out for him to consume it – even cutting themselves – and nothing happens. Elijah, on the other hand, has water dumped on the offering multiple times, even filling a trench he had dug around it. He then stands back, prays once, and immediately fire descends from heaven. The water is dried, the offering consumed. God wins. Elijah is a hero.

I think most Christians want to be Elijah. I know I certainly did. Before I was a minister I wanted to lose my life on a pyre singing hymns of praise to Jesus. I wanted a public opportunity (Note the word “public”.) to give everything I had to a homeless person and build a name like Mother Theresa. I wanted to do extraordinary things for Jesus. I wanted to be a hero.

I think this desire is common among Christians (at least here in North America). The two most common names this desire goes by today are “Radical Christianity”, and “being sold out for Jesus”. All this means is, we want to be heroes for Jesus. We want to be the faithful servant of the Lord standing alone and outnumbered, but called by God to do something spectacular, something worthy of history.

 Zach Eswine, is his helpful book Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being, raises an important question about this way of thinking.

What is the heroic moment meant to do [in the Bible] but recover the ordinary greatness that God originally intended? (locations 672-679)

This wonderful question is a great corrective to our desire to be heroes. After all, what was Elijah’s sacrifice for? For bringing Israel back into relationship with God so that she would live each day loving him and neighbor. Eswine explores the book of Judges and notes the same thing. What was the purpose of the Judges? To reestablish Israel in an every day relationship with God and neighbor in the gospel. The same is true of New Testament heroes, like Paul and Stephen. Why were they preaching and eventually martyred? Because they were trying to bring people to Jesus so that they could live ordinary lives, loving God and neighbor.

Eswine goes on to say this applies even to Jesus’ actions for his people.

The true act of heroism in Jesus on the cross and emptying the tomb is to return us to the grace of doing life with God in a place of love for our neighbors and finding enjoyment in that which God created for us. (locations 679-685)

Jesus didn’t die to turn us into Superman or Wonder Woman. He died so that we could experience and express our humanity in its fullest way. That is to live as those who, related to God by faith in Christ, love God because he first loved us and love our neighbors because we are loved by God.

I think a cursory reading of the New Testament will bear this out. What does God want his people to do after they’re saved? To “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). What does this peaceful, quiet life look like? Like a relationship of love and forgiveness and honor among family members. (Ephesians 5:22-32), Like submission and respect to civl authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17). Like hard, honest labor for our employers and like thankfulness and enjoyment of our food (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is what the gospel does to us. The good news of Jesus doesn’t turn us into heroes; it turns into people who love the Triune God and love those around us in the every day ho-hum-ness of life.

As Eswine says in a great summary,

Heroic moments have as their aim the recovery of the ordinary. (Locations 679-685)

What great news for us. The gospel doesn’t call us to be heroes. Jesus has already done that on our behalf. The gospel instead calls us to be ordinary: ordinary Christians who love God and seek his glory, who pray for his kingdom to come, and who worship him in Spirit and in truth; ordinary Christians who love their neighbors by praying for the gospel’s arrival in their lives, by treating them with dignity, and by giving them a cup of cold water in the name of Christ.

The great Martin Luther once said, “God doesn’t need your good works, your neighbor does.” This is perfectly true. We might say as well: God doesn’t need your heroics, and neither does your neighbor. Instead, God wants your ordinary faithfulness. That is what your neighbor needs – and it’s what you need too.


Prayer Help?

Sometimes I find myself “stuck” when it comes time to pray. Either the words won’t come out, or the words that do come out are not shaped by Scripture. Rather, they’re shaped by my fear and unbelief. When this happens I find a lot of help in turning to prayers that have already been written. Normally, I turn to the Psalms or to the prayers from the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (as an aside, many of these prayers deserve to be memorized and used by all Christians, not only Anglicans). I have also turned to prayers by well known Christian theologians like Augustine, Irenaeus, Chrysostom, and Spurgeon.

When I find it hard to pray my own words by faith, or when I find it hard to shape my prayers with Scripture, these written prayers have been profoundly helpful. As with so much of the Christian life, I have learned that the struggles which I face are not unique to me. Because of that I thought it would be helpful if I shared some of the prayers I have written from time to time. Not because they are particularly pious or powerful but because God strikes straight blows with crooked sticks, and because perhaps they will be helpful to you when you find yourself stuck.

I have hyper-linked the various portions of this prayer to the Scriptures I had in mind when I composed it. I won’t do this every time I share a prayer, though I’m doing it now in the hope that you can start reflecting on how Scripture can shape your prayers to your God. After all, what better thing do we have to pray then God’s own word back to him?


Grant this day that we fall into no danger or harm. By your Holy Spirit preserve our bodies so that we may be about your work this day; and preserve our faith in your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, from all the attacks of our Adversary and all the sins that lie within our hearts, so that we might overcome by the blood of Christ and the word of our testimony. Fill our mouths with rejoicing for your goodness; give us patience as we wait upon your deliverance; and pour your love into our hearts that we may be known as your disciples. Do this, O Lord, in accordance with your covenant with us in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, for we pray in his name, knowing that in Him all your promises to your people are ‘Yes and Amen’. Amen.

Confession and Repentance

While pondering God’s interaction with Adam and Eve immediately after they eat the fruit in Genesis 3, I’ve had to think about the relationship between confession and repentance (the connection between those ideas and Genesis 3 will be explained Sunday). Repentance is something that receives a lot of air time in Christian churches – as it should. But it occurred to me that confession, at least as a word, isn’t used very frequently; nor is its connection to repentance always made clear. (Perhaps this only describes my own failure to clearly connect the two.)

So I thought it would be helpful to draw out the connection a bit as confession and repentance go hand-in-hand. Repentance, for those who may not know, is turning away from one’s own righteousness (which is like filthy rags before God) and from one’s own sin, and turning to Christ to receive him by faith and to live a holy life before him. Christians should therefore be in a constant state of repentance: Always looking to Christ alone for salvation and always working to live a righteous life before him. Confession is a verbal acknowledgment of sin, which would mean that it’s a part of repentance – an important part. When a Christian confesses his or her sin, they are admitting that they did something which was wrong, a sin, a violation of God’s law. In the Garden we see an admittedly weak confession of sin when Adam and Eve tell God, “I ate.” But even as weak as it is, it still has the elements of a confession: The action is confessed and the personal responsibility acknowledged.

In Hosea 14 we see a much fuller example of what a confession of sin looks like:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,

for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.

2  Take with you words

and return to the Lord;

say to him,

“Take away all iniquity;

accept what is good,

and we will pay with bulls

the vows of our lips.

3  Assyria shall not save us;

we will not ride on horses;

and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’

to the work of our hands.

In you the orphan finds mercy.”

The Lord tells Israel to acknowledge her sins, “to take words”, and what words the Lord wants to hear is then spelled out: They must acknowledge that they have sinned against the Lord. The first step in returning the to the Lord and repenting of sin involves a verbal confession of failure and lawlessness.

This is important for at least two reasons. First, it challenges our normal, passive-aggressive approach to dealing with sin, whether with our God or with our neighbor. In terms of our neighbors, we sin against them but don’t confess that sin. Instead, we try to “repent” by just picking up where we left off, hoping both that time will encourage them to forgive us and that our behavior will get better simply because we’ve grown older. But if repentance involves a change in behavior, and if confession is the beginning of repentance, then we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that we’ll simply be more righteous because we’ve add more days to our lives: Age is no measure of righteousness. Moreover, if repentance is an important part of forgiveness (and it is) then by refusing to confess our sins to our neighbor we’re actually hindering their forgiveness not helping. Time does not heal all wounds.

In terms of our God, it forces us to take sin seriously. Confessing sin keeps us from pretending that he doesn’t really mind if we have idolatrous and murderous hearts and minds, acting like it will just go away if we ignore it – a classic passive-agressive move. In other words, confessing our sins forces us to take it seriously, both in terms of our neighbors and in terms of our God.

Second, it challenges our desire to hide our sins from God and justify ourselves. In the garden, Adam and Eve hid from the face of God because they didn’t want him to see their sin. Throughout Scripture, we see people hiding their sin rather than confessing it because they’re under the mistaken impression that – in the end – they can make up for it. But a confession of sin (e.g. “I have sinned”) will require a necessary corollary: It requires the confessor to both ask for forgiveness and for the righteousness of another (Can someone say, “Psalm 51“?). Confessing sin begins the first part of repentance, looking to Christ’s righteousness and not my own, and establishes the ground for the second part, trying to live a righteous life.

Certainly there are other reasons why confession is important and I’m sure I’ll blog about them some day. In the mean time, I hope this brief reflection will encourage you to make confession of sin an important part of your repentance; by which I mean, a central part of your relationship with our Triune God and all those people whom he places around you.

Genesis and the Gospel

When thinking about the Old Testament its common for people to treat the Old Testament like an introduction to the main content of the Bible, which is found in the New Testament. The resulting attitude looks something like this: If you really want to get to know our Triune God and his character, if you really want to know the gospel, if you really want to understand the nature of the church then you have to go the New Testament. The Old Testament is fine so far as it goes, but at it best it’s only anticipatory, the pure light of God’s mercy and grace found in Jesus Christ being visible only in shadowy glimmers.

One of the things I hope that our series through Genesis will help you see is that this isn’t really the best way to think about or receive the Old Testament. Even in Genesis 1 we already saw that our Triune God was clearly present: The Father and the Holy Spirit are explicitly mentioned and differentiated in the first 2 verses! Moreover, we saw that our God’s creative act took something that was formless and void, dark and chaotic, and made it into something good (very good!), holy, and at a rest with him. Is there a better picture for what the gospel does for us then this? Further, since it was the word of the Father which brought this dead world to life before God is it any wonder, then, that John identified that word with Jesus Christ? Who is it, after all, that takes us in our dark and dead state and makes us alive to God in holiness, giving us rest with him? So Genesis has all three persons of the Trinity present. And it reveals  the character of our Triune God: He’s a God who in mercy makes dead things holy and alive and at rest with him out of love.

Genesis 1 isn’t unique in the way it presents our God to us or his character or his gospel. Rather, as the prologue to the entire Bible it calls us to receive the Bible as a testament to this God who acts this way in this world. Therefore we ought to expect to meet this God in every passage. And it’s my hope that this series in Genesis will do just that. So pray that each Sunday you would have your Triune God presented to you clearly from each passage of Scripture. And pray that you would be enabled by his Holy Spirit to receive that God and his gospel by faith: the same God and the same gospel that is announced in both testaments of the Bible.


Welcome to the blog of Grace Reformed Church!

This blog is primarily the thoughts of our pastor, Matt Barker. Each week, Pastor Barker will post reflections on Bible passages, thoughts on books, links to articles or other blogs, or reflections on recent events in the life of our congregation. The goal of these posts will be this: To encourage the church of Jesus Christ to love their God and Savior and bring him glory in their lives.

And if that interests you, loving our Triune God and bringing him glory, and you are looking for a church home – or if you’re not a Christian but are wondering what Christianity is all about – we welcome you to worship with us this Sunday. Our address and worship times, as well as our contact information, can be found on our home page,