Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Saying “No” and saying “Yes”.

In his excellent work, True Spirituality (Crossway Books, 1982), Francis Schaeffer makes the following observation;

We are surrounded by a world that says “no” to nothing. When we are surrounded by this sort of mentality…then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying “no” to things and “no” to self, it must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us…We have a society that holds itself back from nothing… Any concept of a real “no” is avoided as much as possible…Absolutes of any kind, ethical principles, everything must give in to affluence and selfish personal peace…Of course, this environment of—of not saying “no”—fits exactly into our natural disposition, because, since the fall of man, we do not want to deny ourselves…And this natural disposition fits in exactly with the environment which surrounds us in the twentieth century.

As one can see, there is nothing new under the sun and we, as a society, are continuing to see the fruits of saying “no” to nothing. But, as Schaeffer so clearly points out, saying “no” is part and parcel of the Christian life. A great place to see this fact explained in the Scriptures is Titus 2:11-14;

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

As Schaeffer rightly points out, saying “no” is very much opposed to our natural disposition. Before salvation in Christ, I can recall innumerable instances of being told by some authority to stop doing something and I would stiffen my neck and fight against it simply to fight. Even as a regenerated believer, the dying old flesh still will rebel and struggle against the new life of Christ in me.

But note that in this Titus passage, saying “no” is very much an essential aspect of the work of grace in our life. Indeed, Christ (who is grace personified) calls us to say “no” for the glory of God. To what are we to say “no”? We are to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions. This is a holistic “no”. We are to stop sinful actions (ungodliness) and say “no” to the source of such actions (worldly passions). As we are under the control of the Spirit and grace, as with Christ, we will say “no” to that which dishonors God.

But the controlling idea in this passage is not so much saying “no” as it is “to live”. Or, rather, the main emphasis is saying “yes” to self-control, uprightness, and godly living. We are to focus on these awesome goals of personal holiness, excellent relations with others and nearness to God. As we do so, saying “no” to those things which keep us from these awesome goals will naturally flow from us. Thus, as you pursue Christ and his glory in your life, you will need to say “no”. But as you are saying “no”, focus on that to which you get to say “yes”. The hymn writer states this truth in another way;

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of the world will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

The writer to the Hebrews (12:1-2) states this truth this way;
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

So, as believers, we are called to say “no” to the wickedness of this world and the wickedness in our own hearts. But that to which we are saying “yes” is so much greater. Thus, as you say “no”, never forget to what you are saying “yes”.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

“…Christ who is our life…”

Recently, when I was explaining the gospel to a non-Christian friend, this person said something to this effect, 

“I am concerned that when someone decides to become religious, he loses his true self. Following God or some religion suppresses our personality and our true self.” 

Have you ever had this type of statement posed to you? How would you answer it and what passage of the Bible would you bring to bear to this statement?

One could bring dozens of passages to this discussion and it really is a vital topic to have a firm grasp upon. First of all, this statement addresses the source of our life. My friend’s statement indicates that he believes that life and self is sourced in something other than our life-giving God. This opens up all kinds of questions about where life comes from and, if life isn’t given to us by God, then who or what gives it and how is meaning assigned to it. But the Bible is very clear on this issue. According to Genesis 1:26, man is created by God and in his image to serve his purposes and glory. Not only that, Paul explains to Athenians in Acts 17 that God “gives to all people life and breath and all things;” (v.25) and that “in him we live and move and exist.” (v. 28). Clearly, the source of our life is God.

Another aspect of this statement concerns the nature of man.  In our natural self, apart from God and his saving grace, is a man really alive in the ultimate sense of the word? Due to sin, we are dead in the ultimate sense. A familiar passage is Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,…” The writer of Psalm 73 states, in verse 22, that when we are not living in awareness of the character and nature of God and our own character and nature, we are “senseless and ignorant…like a beast…”. Again, in Psalm 32:8-9, we are told to listen to instruction from God and not be “…as a horse or mule which have no understanding,…” The Bible instructs us that only when we are saved and listening to God are we really alive.

What about our weaknesses and sins which keep us bound and trapped in destructive lifestyles and decisions? How does the man apart from God deal with these things? One of the greatest joys of being saved by Jesus and totally forgiven by him is that we now have the capacity, with Christ, to deal with our wickedness and weakness in a way that will allow us to overcome these things. His grace and forgiveness allows me to face my weaknesses head-on and not be fearful of condemnation and eternal punishment (Romans 8:1). When I look deep within my heart and life, what I find there rightfully horrifies me…my heart is dark with sin and depravity. Any person who is living in reality knows this about himself. But praise be to God! If I am a Christian, whatever I find in the pit of my existence has been eternally forgiven by the work of Christ on the cross. In Christ and through his power, I am free from sin and death. He has declared me righteous and, thus, I will stand before Him pure and holy. As I continue on this earthly sojourn, God and Christ are constantly working to make me further into the image of Christ. In him, I can deal progressively with the sin and weakness that is in my life and experience his life in me more and more and more. This is great news! In Christ and only in Christ can I deal with my wickedness and weakness in a way that really will lead to victory and change.

Lastly, only in God and Christ does a person really understand why he or she exists. We exist for His glory and praise and service. In light of his amazing mercy and grace manifested in Christ, we are called to glorify him (Colossians 3:17) and live for him (Romans 12:1-2). As we pursue such a wonderful task, Jesus tells us that his “joy may be in [us], and that [our] joy may be full.” (John 15.11). Christ truly is our life (Colossians 3:4) and only in him do we truly live! May we do so today and on into eternity!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Monday, November 18, 2013

“Adorning the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.”

Did you give any deep thought to what clothes you put on this morning? If you’re like me, the quick answer is “no”. Although I am growing up in this area, my dear wife still rightly gives more consideration to my attire than I do. I think, at least, that I know what she would pick for me in a given situation and then dress accordingly. What about you? Perhaps your job requires a certain dress code or you dressed for a presentation at school? Speaking for most men, this isn’t a topic that really is given too much consideration.

However, there is an aspect of dressing that really should occupy our minds with seriousness and deep consideration. Did you put on Christ this morning (Romans 13:14)? I know that if you are a born-again believer, Christ is already fully in you and is the preeminent aspect of who you are. We are saved, purified, holy and complete in Him simply due to his declaration to this end. And yet, according to the Romans passage mentioned above, we are to be actively clothing ourselves with Christ. Our life is to reflect him in how we think and interact with the people and in the places where he has called us. In the book of Titus, Paul instructs Titus to tell bondservants to behave in such a way toward their masters so as to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” (2.10). In the same section of Titus, all types of believers are admonished to similar lifestyles that bring glory to God. In verse 5, we are called to live “that the word of God will not be dishonored.” In verse 8, we are called to live in such a way that those opposed to us and the gospel “…will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.”

So what does this dressing in such a way to adorn the doctrine of God look like? In Titus, the context of these verses lets us see that bringing glory to God is bound up in fostering and pursuing Christ-like character. Be encouraged to read through Titus 2 and see how grace not only amazingly saves us, but instructs in living for God’s glory (2.11-14). As those who have been purified by Christ, we should be zealous for good deeds and the glory of Christ. Dressing in a manner that adorns the gospel is simply found in pursuing Christ and cultivating our lives in such a way that the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) is growing in our lives. As we abide in Christ, this fruit will naturally show up (Jn. 15.1-11). And we should be intentional in showing this fruit to the people around us.

So, did you “dress” this morning in such a way to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect”? May we do so today and always as we live in Christ and strive to live out Christ in the places he has called us.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

“…praying for us as well…”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been preaching through the small pastoral letter of Paul to Titus. The reason I’ve been so doing is that our church is actively putting together a new constitution that will put in place the biblical pattern of elder-led leadership. Our church has historically held to the pastor-deacon model, electing new deacons each year and having the pastor and deacons function as the elder board in the church.
As I’ve had the privilege of studying this passage, as well as others, on the serious topic of eldership, the Lord has reminded me once again of the weightiness of the call to lead a church as an elder. Consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians elders in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Note the statement about God’s sacrifice for His church…the church “…He purchased with His own blood.” What a huge, sobering statement about God’s attitude toward His church and, consequently, the elder’s responsibility to shepherd the church wisely and with seriousness. Also, give consideration to Peter’s words in 1 Peter 5:1-4, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” These are serious, weighty charges to those who lead the church and any man who doesn’t tremble a bit at this charge doesn’t really understand God’s attitude toward His church. His church is a treasure that needs to be honored and cared for with diligence and intensity. This is no light calling!

In light of such weightiness, do you actively pray for those who are leading your church? This is so vital. Your leaders need your support and you are directed by God to give it to them. Listen to Paul speaking to the Thessalonians in his first letter to them, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,  and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). There are any number of ways that you can “appreciate” and “esteem” your elders and be encouraged to thing up some ways to do so. But perhaps the simplest and most effective would be to commit yourself to consistent, diligent prayer for those who lead your church. Paul specifically directs us to this in Colossians 4:2-4, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” Note the call to general, consistent prayer…we are to be devoted to it and alert in it. But also note the specific call to pray for those who are called to the proclamation of the gospel. As we go about our general prayer life, “at the same time” pray for those who are leading the church and given the task of formal proclamation. There are worse things you could do than consistently and fervently pray for your elders. Will you do so now and continue on?

Sola Deo Gloria

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Holding Fast the Faithful word..."

How would you describe your attitude and actions towards the word of God? Is it a treasure and an absolute need to you? Or is it simply one of the accessories of your Christian life that you sometimes put on and then take off when you feel like it?

In Titus 1:9, the prospective elder is one who is “holding fast the faithful word…”. As you contemplate the qualifications for elders, these characteristics are, generally, the marks of one who is simply mature in Christ and is striving to live in light of the glorious gospel. Of course, not all are called to serve as elders in their local church. But all are called to live growing, maturing lives for the glory of God and Christ. This really is the only reasonable response to all that Christ as accomplished for us and it is a thoroughly biblical directive (See Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31).

In light of this, how are you doing in “holding fast the faithful word”? One who is growing in this characteristic of Christ-likeness will be marked by two distinct attitudes toward the word of God:

1.       He will be one who delights in the word.
When you think about the Bible, does Psalm 1:2-3 come to mind?  “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.” Would you consider yourself to be one who is delighting in the law of the Lord? Do you see it as a treasure and blessing from our most holy and gracious God? Do you look forward to when you can spend time in the word, reading and studying it? Do you look forward to being taught the word through preaching and teaching? These attitudes and similar ones will mark the one who delights in the word. A very real aspect of “holding fast the faithful word” is to really enjoy the fact that God has revealed Himself to us and desires to commune with us through His word. Reading and learning the Bible really should be a delight to us.

2.       He will be one who knows that he has to have the word.
When we consider the greatness and holiness of God and our devastating wickedness, the fact the God would speak to us at all should inspire shock and awe. Indeed, the understanding of our own depravity and God’s holiness is central to embracing the gospel in a saving way. The fact that God reaches down to us and gifts us forgiveness and eternal life is absolutely amazing and transforming. This attitude will show up in the realization that we absolutely need the word. If I’m going to live and walk in a manner worthy of the glorious gospel, then I need instruction and guidance. God has abundantly supplied that instruction and guidance through His word.

Be encouraged to read through and meditate upon Psalm 119. As you do so, please note how the Psalmist balances the tension between delighting in and needing the word. Here are two examples:
·         Delighting ~ Psalm 119:14, “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches.”
·         Need ~ Psalm 119:50, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me.”

As we walk with Jesus, we need to always keep this tension in mind. Let us be those who delight in what we desperately need! Spurgeon describes what it means to hold fast this great word in this way, “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.”

So, how are you doing in this area? In the grace of God, what are some ways that you could grow in your “holding fast the faithful word”? Pursue this in light of the glory of Christ!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

“…not my will, but Yours, be done.” ~ Luke 22:42

Undoubtedly, as you have walked with Christ 
through the years, you feel that God has withheld things from you. This is often times best articulated by thinking that God has said “No” to a particular prayer request or desire that you have. With the passage of time and the gaining of perspective, you also undoubtedly are thankful that God didn’t grant you some of your desires! But, more somberly, perhaps you have wondered why God did not answer a prayer that you felt was very important and significant. At least twice in past years, I can recall times where God said “No” to what I felt were great ministry opportunities. Again, looking back, I can see why He said “No” to one of them, but still wonder at His purposes at saying “No” to the other. You can probably very well relate to such occasions in your own life and times with Christ.
One of the great comforts and encouragements of our life with Christ is to know that Christ can understand all of our sadness, temptations and difficulties firsthand. He came and walked among us and knows the difficulties of living in a fallen world. The writer to the Hebrews makes this very clear, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (4:15). Jesus knows and understands all that we go through and this does provide great comfort for us. The writer continues in verse 16, encouraging us that in light of Christ’s sympathy, we should “…with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,…”

One of the more compelling questions about God and Christ is this, “Was Jesus ever refused a prayer request by God his Father?” Our quick reaction to this would be to say “No way!” How could the perfect Son of God ever be refused anything from His Father? All of his requests would be pure and right and holy. How could God the Father ever refuse anything the Son asked? And yet, in the Garden of Gethesemane, this is exactly what happens. Jesus, in great agony, goes to His Father in prayer and beseeches Him, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” (Luke 22.42) Of course, the cup that Jesus desires to have removed is the upcoming events of the crucifixion where Jesus will bear the sins of mankind, experience extreme physical agony and, much more trying, separation from His Father. The text does not mention any verbal response from God the Father, but we know that the answer to this request was “No”.

Friends, as hard as some refusals from God may be, you will never experience a “No” like this one. Words fail when trying to describe the interactions between God the Father and God the Son in these events. Indeed, the heavenly transactions occurring in these hours are beyond our mortal minds to comprehend, even though we live and rejoice in the implications and results of these hours. Thus, when you sense from God a refusal of something you desire, you would do well to look back into the Garden of Gethesemane and meditate upon this “No”. God’s love for Jesus never ceased. His affection for him never faltered. Indeed, God’s heart broke in ways we’ll never know as He forsook His own Son. Again, you will never experience a “No” like this.

Thus, when you are sensing a refusal from God about any particular issue or desire, the God-glorifying response is also found in Luke 22:42, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Bring to mind that God is sovereignly overseeing even the perceived “No’s” that He puts in your life. Your desire is for His perfect will, not your own. Thus, trust God when the “No” comes and declare with Jesus your desire for His glory and will and not your own. Jesus can indeed sympathize with your “No”. His “No” was of a far greater magnitude than anything you and I will ever experience.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Person of Adam

The reality of and life of Adam has a consequence that we should cherish: the reality of Jesus. Adam was a real man, that committed a real sin. In comparison, Jesus was a real man, that committed NO sin.

A ratio is a comparison between two numbers or a relationship between two quantities. Ratios can be expressed in several ways and reveal significant relationships hidden in mass of data.  For example man for man (1:1) or sin for no sin (1:0). The reality and truth of these ratios are what saves me as a believer in them.

If Adam isn't real, then his sin wasn't real and Jesus doesn't need to be real.  I know that I am real and I have committed real sin.  I need a real savior.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22
For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be alive.

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