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“We are a purchased people. The Bible shows that this makes all the difference in how life is lived. We exist to proclaim and to praise the glory of the One who purchased us.”
Pastor Dan Cummings

Four years today, Pastor Dan Cummings was called home to swim forever in the ocean of God’s love after a 10-month battle with cancer. He was a beloved husband, father, pastor and friend. But what I am grateful for this morning is that he was a true mentor. In the short time we labored together in the ministry of the glorious gospel at Five Points, He taught me much about being a man, husband, father, pastor and friend. In Our Time, it is rare to find a man who is not afraid to think rigorously about God, his gospel and its vast implications for every area of life. Even rarer is finding a man who “if you cut him would bleed Bibline”. Dan was both of these and I am thankful to God for his influence in my life. 

In a sermon given on November 14, 2004 entitled, By His Grace and for His Glory: A God-Entranced Witness, Pastor Dan said, “If you did nothing else in your vapor-like existence except be a faithful witness to the glory of God in Christ, you would have lived. But if you did everything else and the whole world was your acclaim and everything you wanted to accomplish got accomplished… but were not a witness to the glory of God in Christ? God’s evaluation is: You Never Lived. It was absolutely worthless.” He shepherded his flock under this banner. In the power of the Spirit, he preached of the great worth of God in Christ to a world that wants to relegate God to the periphery. He faithfully called us to give our lives by following the Great Shepherd of the sheep as he fixed our eyes on the glory of Christ. For in giving our life for the glory of God in Christ, we would come to find it!

The way Pastor Dan would want us to remember him today is for our remembrance to be more about our Great God than about him. So let us plod on together in the power of the Spirit remembering that every breath we are given is by God grace so that we would live for his glory.

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The following is the closing of Pastor Dan’s first sermon in his first preaching series at Five Points entitled, The Ten Words on Religious Affection. This sermon, The First Word on Religious Affection: No God But God, was preached on December 14, 1997. You can find the sermons here:

“The Christian, when he comes to die, even the bad [frowning providences in life] is good. Does that mean that when you go to the doctor and the biopsy comes back and it’s not a favorable thing that you go running around cheering, “Yay! Yay! I have cancer!”? No. When that biopsy doesn’t come back well and you’re laying in that hospital room, in the depths of it, what God do you believe in? This will be good in the end… What do we really believe? Where is our trust? Where do we run for our security, our help, our satisfaction, and our pleasure and our joy? Dan runs too often to the gods of this age and my guess is that you might not be a whole lot different than I am. No, we find our satisfaction and joy and pleasure in Christ and in Christ alone, the only True and Sovereign One… What God do we really believe in? We’re commanded to have no other god but God. So the questions stands: Where’s my trust and what do I believe? The gods of this age or the God of the ages?”

Seconds away from turning in last night, I heard that the President was going to address the nation. As we all know by now since it was reported over and over as we waited and waited, a live, Presidential address at 10:30pm on a Sunday after everyone was home and prepping for Monday is far from ordinary. In fact, it is extraordinary. After 9 years, 7 months and 20 days (3,519 days), the United States military achieved their top priority in their mission against al Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden is dead. President Obama said, “On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.” The United States government rightly executed its divinely appointed authority to bring wrath upon workers of evil, bringing about justice for a country and its citizens, especially those who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terrorism. A just government cannot stand idly by, as it “does bear the sword in vain.” But during the President’s address and in much of the following commentary, I was reminded of a few truths. First, though “justice has been done”, it is only a glimpse of true justice. Ultimately, every human being deserves death for their willful pride and rebellion against the One True God. Mankind does not deserve justice in the sense that it has been used these past hours. It is a mercy that God has not left us to ourselves, dead in our sin and objects of wrath, for that is what we truly deserve. Bin Laden met his just end, but I am keenly reminded that if my sinful heart and rebellious actions against the Creator were revealed to the world, there would be many who would want me to get what I deserve.

We also must remember that God is magnified when justice prevails in our world. John Piper wrote on September 12, 2001, that God-ordained authorities using “force to restrain evil and bring law-breakers to justice” bring glory to God in displaying His character and His will that sin be somewhat restrained in this world. The United States’ execution of justice points us to the God who is just and who will one day make all things right in a world filled with injustice. When this news comes up in conversation today, boldly point those around you, both believers and unbelievers, to the ultimate reality of true and coming justice so that Christians may glorify God and unbelievers may have an opportunity to hear the good news of the gospel. Today, let us boldly proclaim the story of redemption that culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, where justice and mercy met.

Thirdly, God’s plan of redemption will not stop. It will not hit any roadblocks. It will not be deterred. It will come to pass. As our country’s top officials slap each other’s backs at the accomplishment of a mission that the world had come to wonder if success was achievable, we see a picture worth a thousand words. Judgment is coming for all (Acts 17:30-31; Revelation 20:11-15). We can fight it. We can ignore it. We can even try to hide from it. But one day, “God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5) and “Christ will judge the living and the dead” (1 Timothy 4:1), both believers and unbelievers (Romans 14:10,12; Matthew 25:36-41). We are heading somewhere and it is to stand before a great white throne and Jesus Christ sitting upon it. Though Osama met a violent and just end, it is nothing compared to having to account for his heinous actions against a holy God.

Not only is judgment coming, but our life’s end as well. Whether we die someday or are alive when the Last Day arrives, our time will come to a close. Maybe it is today. Bin Laden woke up yesterday like he had every day for the previous 54 years, unaware that the previous 8 months had been leading up to his death. We do not know when death will come, but it is one of the sure things in life. And even if you live during the time when Christ returns, even that event will be sudden and unexpected (Matthew 24:44, 25:13). Let us live with our eyes fixed on Jesus as we run this race. Let this news be a reminder that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, so that you may pursue your joy in Christ alone today in everything you do for His glory.

So let us be reminded today of the God who created all things for his glory with justice having a right and good place in it. Let us be reminded that we too are sinners deserving death and in need of great mercy, and new mercies every day. Praise be to God for his justice and mercy! If justice is all we had, judgment is all we would receive. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Justin Taylor linked to this post by Erik Raymond. Stevie Johnson, a Buffalo Bills wide receiver, and his tweet are the talk of the town. Even one of our staff pastors’ mother told us about Stevie blaming God for dropping a game-winning touchdown pass!  But there is only one problem… Stevie didn’t blame God, as clarified in a later tweet:

“And No I Did Not Blame God People! Seriously??!? CMon! I Simply Cried Out And Asked Why? Jus Like yal did wen sumthin went wrong n ur life!”

I don’t blame Erik for jumping on this. While hosting SportsCenter, ESPN’s Mike & Mike commented on the tweet and declared that blaming God for dropping a pass is something that you probably don’t want to do. However, I would hope that fellow Christians would be quick to listen and slow to tweet and blog. Stevie’s original tweet sounds eerily similar to many psalms of lament. He even ends it with thanksgiving! With only 140 characters, one can hardly jump to any conclusions about someone’s entire life trajectory or theological foundations and one can hardly be absolutely sure Stevie was being flippantly idolatrous and thinking God owes him something. In the midst of turmoil, Stevie lamented. Those of us who have gone through tough circumstances have wondered “Why?”. Sure it’s football, and dropping a TD pass is obviously nothing like Job went through and other personal struggles of family, health, life and death. But where did Stevie turn? And it seems the church should be there to help people land where the psalmists and, seemingly, Stevie landed after asking the question:

“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Psalm 43:5

Joel Zumaya, a hard-throwing pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, fractured his elbow pitching on Monday night against the Minnesota Twins.  This article on the Detroit Free Press talks about his injury and his thoughts after learning that though it is a season-ending injury, he will be able to pitch again.  After reading the piece, I thought of three things I would say to Joel if I had the opportunity.

First, the article’s title is “Joel Zumaya hopes to return next spring”.  To that, I say, “Joel, hope in Christ alone.”  All things in this world fade away.  There will come a spring that you will not spend in Lakeland, Florida getting ready for a season of playing baseball.  A life worth living is a life lived to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate purpose for the existence of everything. Living to that end will be the path of finding true joy, whether God allows you more seasons or not.

Second, if baseball is taken away from you, God means for it to be a way of pointing to the only thing that will truly satisfy your heart’s desires.  All the idols of this world are worthless and those who love them become like them… deaf, blind, empty and dead.  But sometimes we don’t know what we are idolizing and it takes God removing what we’ve put in His rightful place to realize how backwards we are living.  Suffering exists as a means of giving us more of God while weaning us off the idols of our hearts.  All we need in life is God.  We were made to see and enjoy and proclaim the glory of God.  Anything else we live for will always leave us empty.

Third, Joel said, “I felt like I had no one on my side.”  To that, I say, “When Jesus was taking the final steps of His path towards the cross, he was all alone.  The crowds were against him, the religious leaders were against him, his best friends had deserted him and one of them even denied knowing him.  In fact, even God The Father forsook His own Son at the cross.  Jesus knows what it is like to be utterly alone.”  1 Peter 3.18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God”.  Through Christ’s suffering, God’s enemies were made His sons.  Christ’s suffering enabled us to regain fellowship with God.   So, Joel, whether you are experiencing the joy of playing baseball or the pain of having it taken away, anyone who believes in Christ alone and pursues their joy in God alone are rich beyond comprehension and have so much to live for.

So, Joel, believe that Jesus Christ, the Righteous Son of God, died for all our sins and conquered death by rising eternally triumphant over all his enemies and that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy in the fellowship with the One True God, both in this life and one to come.

The pastors of Five Points Community Church are now collaborating on a blog called Pursuing Joy.  Here is an excerpt from Pastor Brent Nelson’s first post:

Lord-willing, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, new posts will appear by Pastor JJ Sherwood, Pastor Matt Johnson and myself. These will further clarify sermons, express the daily insights of our devotions, or offer the overflow of our study. We’ll include anything that God supplies to us that we believe will serve to enhance your joy in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Join us as we pursue our joy in God alone through Christ!

Today, July 23rd, is my mentor and good friend’s birthday.  Dr. James Grier has been a faithful friend, who has helped shape me, my theology, my view of ministry, my exegesis of Scripture, my affections for God, my care for my wife in ministry, and in countless other ways.  He continues to schedule a ministry calendar full of preaching, teaching, and lecturing dates.  He reads more in 3 hours than I can in 3 days!  He loves wisdom in the Proverbs sense, seeks it and treasures it and helps countless others do the same.  He speaks of the might of God’s awesome deeds, declares God’s greatness, pours forth the fame of God’s abundant goodness, and sings aloud of God’s righteousness.  He loves to think hard about the things of God, and loves to help fellow pilgrims think hard as well.  He is funny, fun to be with, and I have never gone through a meal without enjoying the gift of humor and laughter with him.

But above all these other excellent and praiseworthy qualities, the one that sticks out in my mind this morning is that his passion for the glory of the Kingdom still burns white hot, even at age 77.  He has had amazing ministry experiences, like preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London and contributing to a book on John Calvin in honor of his 500th birthday.  But it is his burning passion for God’s Kingdom that I want to imitate. So, thank you, Jim Grier, Olde Pilgrim on his way to the Celestial City, for your service to and servant’s heart for our great and glorious King.  Happy birthday!

Today, July 10th, is John Calvin’s 500th birthday (it also happens to be this guy‘s birthday too!).  The great reformer and servant of the gospel was born in Noyon, France in 1509.  Here is a little blurb about this looming historical figure from this week’s bulletin:

This year the international Reformed community celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. Born in Noyon, France, on July 10, 1509, Calvin studied law before converting to Protestantism (ca. 1530). His magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian  Religion, was a manual for Reformed spirituality, rich in detail about the Christian life, displaying a vital connection between learning and piety. The reforms that he instituted in Geneva spread throughout Europe and the New World. John Knox described the city under Calvin’s leadership as the “most perfect school of Christ…since the days of the Apostles.”

Above all Calvin, must be remembered as a church reformer.  Under his leadership the Geneva church restored the marks of the true church – godly preaching of the Word, proper administration of the sacraments, and faithful exercise of church discipline.  In his Institutes and elsewhere, Calvin placed great stress on the absolute sovereignty and holiness of God. For this reason he is often associated with doctrines such as predestination and election. Calvin is better understood as one who sought to align all life in conformity to the Word of God. Humanity was created for communion with God, and the Christian life was a pilgrimage that meditated on the work of Christ and life to come. It was lived coram  Deo, in the presence of God and for His glory. Commenting on Romans 11:36, Calvin wrote: “[O]ur being should be directed to His glory. How absurd it would be that creatures, whom He has formed and sustains, should have any other purpose than to show forth His glory!”

Amen & Happy Birthday John Calvin!