Thursday, April 30, 2009

Morning Needs

O God,
The Author of all good,
I come to Thee for the grace another day will require
for its duties and events.
I step out into a wicked world,
I carry about with me an evil heart,
I know that without Thee I can do nothing,
that everything with which I shall be concerned,
however harmless in itself,
may prove an occasion of sin or folly,
unless I am kept by Thy power.
Hold thou me up and I shall be safe.
Preserve my understanding from subtilty of error,
my affections from love of idols,
my character from stain of vice,
my profession from every form of evil.
May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore Thy blessing,
and in which I cannot invite Thy inspection.
Prosper me in all lawful undertakings,
or prepare me for disappointments;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with food convenient for me,
lest I be full and deny Thee
and say, Who is the Lord?
or be poor, and steal, and take Thy name in vain.
May every creature be made good to me by prayer and Thy will;
teach me how to use the world, and not abuse it,
to improve my talents,
to redeem my time,
to walk in wisdom toward those without,
and in kindness to those within,
to do good to all men,
and especially to my fellow Christians.
And to Thee be the glory. (Valley of Vision)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Love for Baby Landry

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)

I know I have talked on this blog about adoption in the past. Adoption is a beautiful way to look at our relationship with the Father. If we are one of His children we have been adopted into His family through the work of Christ on the cross. But I want to turn to a real adoption story that took place not too long ago with my brother-in-law and sister. They had the privilege to adopt a beautiful baby girl named Landry. Here is a short glimpse of the ups and downs of adoption from a human standpoint but also some assuring truth about our sovereign God.

"I'm Krista...my husband Jason and I have 4 children. We started our adoption process last October. For us, just starting the process was a huge leap of faith. As we looked into adoption and realized the cost, we were discouraged. Then as we began to talk with many of our friends they encouraged us to trust that the Lord would provide the money.

We finished our paperwork and started our interview process in mid-December (2008). A lady began to share with me that her aunt and uncle were raising their Great Grandchild and that they knew the best thing for her was to put her up for adoption. She continued to share that the Lord had put our family on her heart several months earlier. I usually talk these kinds of things over with the hubby, but this time I said 'yes' without running it by him!!

Just ten days later we received a call that the Great Grandparents wanted to meet us and that the mom had signed the papers necessary to move forward with the adoption...well two days later we met Landry and her Great Grandparents. As I looked at them and saw how deeply they loved her I was heartbroken. I wanted her for my own, but I honestly prayed 'Lord, why could they not be 10 years younger.' After they left we knew we had 8 days left to sit and wait. In Arkansas a birth mother has 10 days to change her mind. So...that's what we did, waited.

Friday, January 30th was day 10. We woke up that morning and knew we made it. We were so excited!! The Lord had been extremely gracious to us for those 10 days. They honestly went by very quickly. The kids were doing school and I was making lunch and I turned around to see my husband standing in my kitchen. I asked him what was wrong and he just shook his head. Landry's mom had changed her mind, and the adoption was off! As I began to process I quickly began to think about the Sovereignty of God. I knew and believed that God had a purpose and a plan. I won't say that we didn't shed any tears, because we did, but I will say that we were at peace because we knew that God was in control. 'Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be His name, He gives and takes away, blessed be His name.'

I don't think Jason or I slept much that night, but I knew that I needed to be ready for the next day. Allissa [my daughter] was playing and I was were coach. So, I had ten, 10 year olds counting on me. After getting to the gym Jason decided to call and check on the Great Grandparents. They were extremely upset and Jason wanted to check and see how they were holding up. As I was sitting there watching some of the other girls play, Jason walked back into the gym and sat down next to me. He said her mom had changed her mind again and wanted us to have her! Well, I could no longer hold in any of my emotions. I just sat there and cried. What was the Lord doing? What was He trying to teach me? What was He trying to teach our family?

From that day until March 6th, when Landry arrived in our home, all we could do is trust that the Lord would sustain us. We knew that the Bible said, 'He would never leave us or forsake us', and for those 5 weeks all we could do was rest in that."

For the complete story click here.

Grace upon grace,
JRL (Landry's uncle)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Claim the name and Live the life

Pastor Steve Lawson offers some great and challenging words on what the changed life looks like for a Christian. "If we bear His name, then our life and conduct must be in conformity with His holy character. That’s what it means to be a Christian and to adopt His name. A Christian is a follower of Christ or one who imitates Christ.

In the life of every true Christian, there will be the pursuit of Christlikeness. A Christian is one who knows Christ, follows Christ, and is becoming like Christ. His life bears a distinct resemblance to the One whose name he bears. This pursuit of holiness, called sanctification, is the lifelong process of the true believer in which he experiences a decreasing pattern of sin and an increasing practice of righteousness. While we never become sinless, we do sin less. Sin remains in us, but sin no longer reigns in us. The more we pursue and practice holiness, the less we sin."

Here is the beauty of God imparting His Spirit into our life at regeneration. He creates a whole new person who now sees Christ and His law as beautiful. Our obedience is not to earn God's favor but rather our obedience stems from a love of Christ. The great treasure is Christ and everything He is and commands the Christian will love. We will still sin but Romans is clear saying "sin shall no long have dominion over us" (Romans 6:14) because we live in the grace of God. Dead to sin and alive to Christ (Romans 6:11).

Lawson goes on with a warning: "Unfortunately, not everyone who claims to be a Christian lives like Him. It is to this one that Christ says, in essence, 'Change your conduct, or change your name.'"

Are you claiming the name of Christian and clinging to the world? This is not possible because if Christ has changed your heart your affections will change. "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24).

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, April 27, 2009

What is your one thing?

Here is a great piece of writing from Paul David Tripp based on Psalm 27:4. His main focus is challenging Christians to examine their lives to see what is the one most important thing in life. Here are his thoughts:

"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple." (Psalm 27:4)

"It’s an incredible statement, one that I’m not sure I could honestly make. It’s made even more powerful when you realize that it was written by a man who is under attack. His “one thing” isn’t safety, or vindication, or victory. His one thing isn’t power, control, or retribution. No, even under personal duress, the one thing that David wishes for is to be in God’s house taking in the grandeur and glory of the beauty of the Lord. This desire was designed to be the central motivating desire of every person created by God and made in his image. And yet, on this side of the garden, it seems a statement that could only ever be made by a deeply devout human being.

It does beg the question, “What’s your one thing?” What is the one thing that your heart craves? What is the one thing that you think would change your life? What is the one thing that you look to for satisfaction, contentment, or peace? What is the one thing that you mourn having to live without? What is the one thing that fills your daydreams and commands your sleepy meditations? What is your one thing?

The spiritual reality for many of us is that the one thing is not the Lord. And the danger in that reality is this: your one thing will control your heart, and whatever controls your heart will exercise inescapable influence over your words, choices, and actions. Your one thing will become that which shapes and directs your responses to the situations and relationships of your daily life. If the Lord isn’t your one thing, the thing that is your one thing will be your functional lord. Here is what you say to yourself when something is your one thing: “Life has meaning and I have worth only if I have ___________ in my life.” The problem is that the one-thing catalog1 is virtually endless:

• Power. Life has meaning or I have worth only if I have power and influence over others.
• Approval. If I am loved and respected by________.
• Comfort. If I have a certain kind of pleasure or experience.
• Image. If I have a certain look or body image.
• Control. If I am able to have mastery over a particular area of my life.
• Dependence. If someone is there to keep me safe.
• Independence. If I am completely free of the obligation or responsibility to take care of someone.
• Inclusion: If a particular social or professional group lets me into their inner ring.
• Achievement. If I am recognized for my accomplishments.
• Prosperity. If I have a certain level of wealth, finance, nice possessions.
• Work. If I am highly productive and get a lot done.
• Religion. If I am adhering to my religion’s codes and accomplished in its activities.
• Irreligion. If I am totally independent of organized religion and have a self-made morality.
• Race or culture. If my race and culture are ascendant and recognized as superior.
• A person. If this one person is happy to be in my life and happy with me.
• Family. If my children/parents are happy and happy with me.
• Helping. If people are dependent on me and need me.
• Suffering. If I am hurting or having a problem, only then do I feel noble, worthy of love, or free of guilt.

You see, in every situation and relationship of your everyday life, there is a one-thing war being fought on the turf of your heart. You and I are safe only when the Lord really is the one thing that commands our hearts and controls our actions. Yet there are many things that compete with him as the one thing that your heart craves a shelter in the time of storm.

Where are you looking for meaning and worth? What is the beauty that you wish you had in your life? What is your one thing?"

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, April 24, 2009

Plainly Seen


“If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

One of the pastors at our church has been going through certain texts in the book of John highlighting the deity of Christ. Wednesday night we saw in John 10 the Jews questioning Jesus about His claim of being the Son of God. The statement from John 10:24 (referenced above) really stuck in my mind. Previously Jesus had performed many miracles and healings that only could be done by God. Yet His claim of being one with the Father (10:30) is considered blasphemy according to these Jews (10:33). Why? Because Jesus claimed He was fully divine yet wholly man. Jesus had already shown these Jews plainly He was God incarnate.

Prior to this conversation with the Jews, Jesus made the claims of being the “Bread of life” (John 6:22), “light of the world” (John 8:12), “I Am” (John 8:58), “the door” (John 10:7) and “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11). These are claims only God could make. He also had healed a man who was unable to do anything for thirty-seven years telling the man to take up his bed and walk and the man does. Then he feeds five thousand men with five barley loaves and two fish. He then walks on water. Finally he gives sight to a man who had been born blind by spitting on the ground and making mud with the saliva. We can easily see these miraculous works and wonder how the Jews were questioning Jesus claim of being God. He has plainly revealed this truth with His claims and backs up His claims with the miracles and healings.

But reader we cannot look at the Jews and wonder, “How can you be so blind to the evidence?” Before Christ opened our blind spiritual eyes we were the ones questioning the claims. Jesus’ claim of being God is true! We have the truth from God’s authoritative Word that these claims were made and the miracles did happen but we must look beyond these miracles alone. The Jews at this time did not know of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. They did not know of the lashings and beatings. They did not know of the mockery of the Savior. They did not know of the death and resurrection of Christ at this point in time. They did not know of the accession. We have the whole picture yet we refuse to see the beauty of the truth so plainly set before us.

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). Do not miss this clear message: Jesus Christ humbled himself by taking the form of a human and coming so that the Father’s will might be fulfilled by crushing His only Son so that sinners (you and me) might be justified by his grace and be heirs with him for all eternity. Yes, this is the plain message of the Bible: Redemption. Jesus bore the wrath so we would not have to bare it. He took our place. This is the only pride crushing message in the whole world: Christ died to save sinners.

“If you are the Christ, so us plainly.” He has plainly shown us in His Word.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Cup (Part 2)

Through the cup of agony Jesus Christ drank on our behalf we can now lift up our cup of salvation. "I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord." (Psalm 116:13)

"Listen again to the precious and powerful words we hear Him repeat to His Father:

'Yet not what I will, but what You will'
'Yet not what I will, but what You will'
'Yet not what I will, but what You will'

Jesus is saying, 'Father, I willingly drink this cup by Your command - I'll drink it all.'

And He will. He'll drink all of it, leaving not a drop.

Not only will He leave nothing in that cup of wrath for us to drink...but today you and I find ourselves with another cup in our hands. It's the cup of salvation. From this precious new cup we find ourselves drinking and drinking - drinking consistently, drinking endlessly, drinking eternally...for the cup of salvation is always full and overflowing.

We can drink from this cup only because Jesus spoke those words about the other cup: 'Yet not what I will, but what you will.'

I will drink it all.

As we watch Jesus pray in agony in Gethsemane, He has every right to turn His tearful eyes toward you and me and shout, 'This is your cup. You're responsible for this. It's your sin! You drink it.' This cup should rightfully be thrust into my hand and yours.

Instead, Jesus freely takes it Himself...so that from the cross He can look down at you and me, whisper our names, and say, 'I drain this cup for you - for you who have lived in defiance of Me, who have hated Me, who have opposed Me. I drink it all...for you.'

This is what our sin makes necessary. This is what's required by your pride and my pride, by your selfishness and my selfishness, by your disobedience and my disobedience. Behold Him...behold His suffering...and recognize His love." (C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross Centered Life)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Cup (Part 1)

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

"Knowing the hour for His death is fast approaching, Jesus has come here in need as never before of His Father's comfort and strength. Instead, hell - utter separation from God - is thrust in His face.

We hear Him cry out: Father - is there an alternative? Is there any way to avoid this? If there's a way this cup could pass from Me, would You please provide that to Me?

Silence.

We can see it in His face - Jesus receives no answer to this desperate entreaty.

A second time He pleads for an alternative to that horror of abandonment by His Father. If such an alternative existed, the Father would most surely provide it. But the obedient Son's plea to His loving Father is met with silence. Why?

Listen to this verse again for the very first time: For God so loved the world...that He is silent to His Son's agonizing appeal.

This is what bearing our sin means to Him - utter distress of soul as He confronts total abandonment and absolute wrath from His Father on the cross, a distress and an abandonment and a rejection we cannot begin to grasp.

In this, our Savior's darkest hour...do you recognize His love for you?" (C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross Centered Life)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Approval of Man Means Nothing

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

Here are key questions for all Christians. We need to watch our lives to see if we are man-fearers or God-fearers. God has asked us, by His Spirit, to “guard the good deposit entrusted to us” (2 Timothy 1:14). God-fearers understand the importance of guarding the good deposit, “just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who test are hearts” (1 Thes. 2:4).

Religion will rarely offend people in our day. However, the gospel of Christ alone is offensive. The Bible is clear that Christ is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Christians should rejoice to have the title “servant of Christ.” An eternity of praising God is the reward. “The religious man is often praised; the Christian very rarely” (R.A. Cole, Galatians, 45). Are you seeking the praise of man? Or are you seeking to praise God? If you are still trying to please man, you are not a servant of Christ. Dr. Steve Lawson says, “If we seek to please God it does not matter whom we displease and if we displease God it does not matter whom we do please…we must seek the approval of the Almighty God.”

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where Else Have we to Go?

"Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).

We have come to see,
To know and understand
Things the very angels long to see.
God, who owed us nothing,
Has spoken to us all.
Christ the word of God himself has been.

Words of truth passed down
To those entrusted few
Who witnessed and proclaimed him, ‘Christ the Lord’.
We are their descendants
On us the light has dawned,
Standing in the gospel we first heard.

Come all you who labour,
You who are weighed down,
You who thirst and hunger for the right
There is truth and meaning,
Mercy, rest and hope.
True salvation comes through Jesus Christ.

Where else have we to go,
When you alone have words of eternal life?
Where else have we to go,
When you alone have words of eternal life?
(Nicky Chiswell)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fighting with the Strength of His Might


“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Eph. 6:10)

Christians cannot be strong in our own strength. We cannot be strong in our parents’ strength. We cannot be strong in anyone else’s strength but the Lord’s. Why? “Our battle is not against flesh and blood but…against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Relying on our own strength will result in losing the battle. We cannot underestimate the power of the evil one. He is the one who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). At some point in everyone’s life we were blinded by the god of this world but God shines the light into our heart “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:6), however we are not completely freed from Satan’s cunning lies. Satan never ceases tempting us. This is what makes relying on the strength of the Lord essential.

So what does this strength look like and what practical steps do we need to take?

Paul continues in this text to speak of the armor which God has given us himself. This armor is actually the armor of God. The prophet Isaiah says, “He [God] put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on His head” (59:17). He has given us the adequate armor for the fight: shoes (the gospel of peace), belt (truth), breastplate (righteousness), helmet (salvation), shield (faith) and the sword (the Scriptures). The source of power is then mentioned when Paul tells us to “pray at all times in the Spirit.” This all goes back to the strength of the Lord. He has given us the armor but His Spirit is what gives the power to the armor.

We have a responsibility to be obedient to what God has given us in his Word as His commands. Duties become delights as we beg for God to constantly change our desires. The practical steps to take: prayer, fasting, making the Bible a part of our mind and heart, fellowship with the saints, praise and worship, the Lord’s Supper and applying the armor.

Are you fighting with your own strength? Stop! You will fall for the cunning schemes of the Devil if you are not strong in the Lord. Put your armor on and pray at all times that the Spirit would give you grace to fight against the cosmic powers over this present darkness. Trust in the One who has conquered sin so that sin will not have dominion over His chosen. Trust in the One who will ultimately be victorious over the evil one.

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.”

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Were atoned by His blood"

Atonement - The doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, as accomplished through the life, suffering and death of Christ. (Dictionary.com)

Atonement was not provided on the cross, it was accomplished through the God-man Jesus Christ on the cross. His death brought life to those whom He died for on the cross. "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Three important notes from this text:

1. God the Son came in the flesh as the God-man.
2. The Father had a people chosen for himself to redeem.
3. Jesus came as a sacrifice to bring the Father's children to himself.

Charles Spurgeon said, "Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ's death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved."

As believers in Christ this should make us want to sing:

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!


Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

At the wonderful tragic mysterious tree,
On that beautiful scandalous night you and me,
Were atoned by His blood and forever washed white,
On that beautiful scandalous night.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

You Bled to Heal our Wounds

"Imagine the Savior crucified, racked with anguish far beyond all human comprehension, and then, picture that motley multitude, all wagging their heads or thrusting out their lips in bitter contempt of one poor suffering victim! Surely there must have been something more in the Crucified One than they could see; otherwise, such a great and mixed crowd would not unanimously have honored Him with such contempt. Was it not evil confessing, in the very moment of its greatest apparent triumph, that after all it could do no more than mock at that victorious goodness that was then reigning on the cross?

O Jesus, "despised and rejected of men" (Isa. 53:3), how could You die for men who treated you so horribly?

Herein is amazing love, divine love, yes, love beyond measure. We, too, have despised You in the days of our unregeneracy, and even since our new birth, we have set the world high in our hearts. Yet You bled to heal our wounds and died to give us life. Oh, that we could set You on a glorious high throne in all men's hearts! We would ring out Your praises over land and sea until men would as universally adore You as once they unanimously rejected You."
(Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gazing upon our Sin

"He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:2-6)

"When we behold the disfigurement of the Son of God, when we find ourselves appalled by His marred appearance, we need to reckon afresh that it is upon ourselves we gazed for He stood in our place." (John Calvin)

Beaten beyond recognition. Crowned with thorns. Pierced with nails. Dead. This is our life before Christ awakens us. Sinful and spiritually dead. When we gaze at the man of sorrows on the cross may we remember it was for our sins He was crushed.

"Man of sorrows, what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim
Hallelujah, What a Savior!"

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, April 13, 2009

Can you see the Kingdom of God?

When Jesus tells Nicodemus "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" what does Jesus mean? Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel and did not understand what Jesus was saying. So what happens to us in the new birth? John Piper answers this question in a profound manner:

1. When you are truly born again and grow in the grace and knowledge of what the Lord has done for you, your fellowship with God will be sweet, and your assurance that he is your Father will be deep.

2. If you know what really happened to you in your new birth, you will treasure God and his Spirit and his Son and his word more highly than you ever have. In this, Christ will be glorified.

3. In the process of believers discovering what really happened to them, the seriousness and the supernatural nature of conversion will rise and that will serve a more general awakening of authenticity in the Christian church so that religious hypocrisy will diminish and the world will see real love and sacrifice and courage in the service of Christ.
(Finally Alive, 18)

Do you have sweet fellowship with God and assurance that he is your Father? Do you treasure God and his Son and his Spirit and his word more than you ever have? Have you discovered the seriousness and the supernatural nature of conversion? Does your conversion serve as an awakening of authenticity in the Christian church so that religious hypocrisy diminishes? Does your conversion show the world real love and sacrifice and courage in the service of Christ?

These are crucial questions to examine yourself to see whether you are born again or not.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He has Risen, as He said


“But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6)

Have you heard the news? Jesus Christ is risen just as He said. Christ was crucified but now He lives and death has been defeated. Go quickly and tell the world Jesus is alive.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 12-19)

Delivering the news of the gospel is of first importance. The gospel is the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both had to occur so the Scriptures would be fulfilled. The problem lies in those who were teaching that there was no resurrection. But Christians must know the truth. Christians must believe the resurrection as historical fact. The resurrection happened. The whole of Christianity is a stake. Christianity is not a moralistic, feel good about yourself religion. Paul says if the resurrection never happened “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Then the news gets worse, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Still in our sins? There is no message of hope or salvation without the resurrection. But at the end of the text Paul makes the most intriguing statement: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” What does he mean? He means if Christ has not risen from the grave then Christians have lived their entire life as a lie. But the good news is Christ has risen, as he said.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, April 10, 2009

Were you there?


And they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13)

Here we are on Good Friday reminded of the cross. Jesus went to the cross silent before the multitude. Jesus was humble because He knew His Father’s will must be completed. He understood He was to be crushed for our iniquities. We can see His agony in the garden asking the Father if there was any other way to let this cup pass from him but once again knowing “not as I will, but as you will.” But as we reflect back on the cross we must understand there was no other way to pardon sin. Sin so great must be pardoned by so great a love.

In this text we can see the magnitude of our sinfulness. Pilate asked “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews” (v.12)? “Whom you call the King of the Jews” lets us see Pilate’s unbelieving heart that Christ is who He claims He is. Pilate reveals his lack of understanding of Jesus truly being the King of the Jews, the Messiah, sent to rescue sinners from eternity in hell. But we must not reflect back to Pilate or Herod but rather see the angry mob yelling furiously for the Son of God to be crucified. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?...We must answer yes, we were there, not as spectators only but as participants, guilty participants, plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining and handing Him over to be crucified. We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate (Matthew 27:24) but our attempt will be futile. Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us leading us to faith and worship, we have to see it as something done by us leading us to repentance. Only the man or woman who’s prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross may claim his share in its grace” (C.J. Mahaney).

I am a guilty, vile sinner who shouted from the angry mob for Jesus to be crucified. I violently wanted Jesus to die on the cross because of my hatred of His claims. Christ went to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will and through the Father’s will redeemed a people for himself. I wanted Him to die from my hatred but He died in obedience to His Father so the Father could show His love for me in that while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8).

If you have placed your trust in Christ and His finished work on the cross I would encourage you to read Romans 5:6-11 tonight. Put yourself in the text then read the text how it is written. Two things will encourage you: 1. The cross justified you by His blood and you are now saved from the wrath to come; 2. This is the message of redemption that is able to melt a heart of stone.

Jesus Christ, thank you for saving me at the right time and dying for an ungodly sinner like myself. Thank you for showing your love for me in that while I was still a sinner, you died for me. Now I am justified by your redeeming blood and saved from the wrath of the Father. For while I was an enemy, I was reconciled to you by your death. More than that, I also rejoice in the Father through Christ, whom I have now received reconciliation. Thank you Father for sending your Son to die for me and revealing salvation to me by the work of your Spirit. Amen.

I don't normally post on the weekend but if anyone is interested I will be making a post for Sunday morning.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Praying like Paul

We now come to the conclusion of notes from Dennis Conner's teaching from our youth retreat. On Sunday morning Dennis moved over to the book of Philippians to show us how Paul prayed for the Philippians. Dennis encouragement to us was to go and do the same.

"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9-11)

"Only Christians can understand and enjoy true joy."

Five Burdens of Paul for the Philippians
1. Love would grow.
2. Have proper priorities.
3. Intergity in light of Christ coming.
4. Bear fruit through Christ.
5. Soli Deo Gloria

"Love quenches wrongs instead of holds wrongs."

"Theology is grace and living is gratitude."

"In your moments to relax where do your affections turn?"

I hope these few notes are an encouragement to you all. I understand they are just notes but I would love for you to look at the text and use these as some sort of guideline. Dennis also did a beautiful job challenging us with questions from the text or that relate to the text. I tried to include at least one question with each set of notes. I hope you all are challenged and encouraged as I was.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Are you drifting?

Today I want to look at what Dennis Conner taught Saturday evening of the youth retreat. I posted Friday evening's notes and also Saturday morning's notes in previous posts. In this evening session Dennis taught from Hebrews 2:1-4:

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will."

Three motivations that keep us from drifting:
1. The message that is given.
2. The mandate claimed (Take Action)
3. A meticulous response.
A. Hear its seriousness
B. Heed it faithfully

"Hearing brings accountability."

"The problem is not the law but rather sinful man."

"True believers may drift but will not drift far. It doesn't take much for our hearts to get cold."

"Have you drifted away from the centrality of the gospel?"

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Importance of the High Priest

Last week I posted about a retreat our youth group went on to Oklahoma. I spoke last time about Hebrews 4:12-13 on Piercing the Heart. Today I want to look at what Dennis Conner taught on Saturday morning of the retreat.

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)

v. 14 - A great High Priest
v. 15 - A sympathetic High Priest
v. 16 - A generous High Priest

"The One who gave me faith to believe will give me faith to sustain."

Why was there a need for a high priest?
A. Because of sin.
B. A reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. (Hebrews 10:10)
C. The high priests would have to go to the holy of holies every year but Christ made atonement once for all. (Hebrews 10:12)

"We have difficulty believing that Christ paid for sin once and for all. By not believing this truth we make the cross null and void."

"Trying to perform for God will zap your zeal for God."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, April 6, 2009

Have you been Born of God?

In John Piper's new book Finally Alive he gives 11 evidences of the new birth from the book of 1 John. I would challenge you to review these 11 evidences to whether you are in Christ or not. If you have time read the passages of Scripture that go along with each evidence. Don't just take John Piper's word for it but rather see what God has to say in His Word. Knowing you have been born again is the most important part of life.

1. Those who are born of God keep His commandments.
1 John 2:3-4; 1 John 3:24

2. Those who are born of God walk as Christ walked.
1 John 2:5-6

3. Those who are born of God don't hate others but love them.
1 John 2:9; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:7-8; 1 John 4:20

4. Those who are born of God don't love the world.
1 John 2:15

5. Those who are born of God confess the Son and receive (have) Him.
1 John 2:23; 1 John 4:15; 1 John 5:12

6. Those who are born of God practice righteousness.
1 John 2:29

7. Those who are born of God don't make a practice of sinning.
1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 5:18

8. Those who are born of God possess the Spirit of God.
1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13

9. Those who are born of God believe that Jesus is the Christ.
1 John 4:6

10. Those who are born of God believe that Jesus is the Christ.
1 John 5:1

11. Those who are born of God overcome the world.
1 John 5:4

I would encourage you all at some point to read the book of 1 John and examine your life to see whether you are born of God or still living for yourself.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rejoicing and being Reminded when it Rains


“He…sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

Yesterday morning the Lord brought rain upon the earth. As I was outside walking around seeing the wetness of the ground this passage came to mind. I tend to have two typical reactions when the rain is coming down: 1. What a great day to sleep or 2. We needed that rain to get rid of the pollen. But here in Matthew Jesus tells Christians what to set our minds on when the rains come. As Christians we are to rejoice not only in God's common grace, displayed by the rain, but also His saving grace.

Jesus says first “He sends the rain on the just.” This should cause a great rejoicing when the rains start to fall from the heavens. When the rains come we should remember Christ sacrifice on the cross and His blood that made atonement for our sins. Jesus' sacrifice was to “show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). If you have put your faith in Christ alone then Christ’s work has declared you just before the Father. O rejoice in the truth the rain portrays.

The second half of the text gives us a reminder that “He sends rain on the unjust.” We live in a world that is hostile to God. They want nothing to do with His love or grace. They suppress the truth. I myself was once lost and dying “but God in His great love with which He loved me, made me alive together with Him, by grace I have been saved” (Eph, 2:4-5). The rain should be a reminder of the truth that God’s mercy saves souls from eternity in hell. The unjust need to hear the truth of the One who is just and the justifier of souls. When the rain falls be reminded of the truth that the world needs Jesus as Lord and Savior.

“He…sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Are you willing to call iniquity, iniquity?

Love...rejoices not iniquity (I Cor. 13:4-6)

"Let us be willing to call iniquity what is really iniquity, rather than to call it weakness, temperament, failure, hang-ups, or to fall back on the tired excuse, 'It's just the way I am.'" (Elisabeth Elliot)

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Piercing the Heart

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Hebrews 4:12-13)

This was the text of our weekend with the youth at the Bible Church of Little Rock. My wife and I have the privilege to serve on the youth staff with our youth pastor Tim Senn. Our guest speaker for the retreat was Dennis Conner the pastor of family ministries at Grace Immanuel Bible Church. Here are a few of the notes from Hebrews 4:12-13. I will cover the other text from the weekend throughout the coming days. (Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 2:1-4; Philippians 1:9-11)

Two points from Hebrews 4:12 were:
1. The power of God's Word
2. The penetrating and piercing eyes of the God of the Word.

"We do not make the Word relevant, it is relevant."

"What does the Word of God reveal about our hearts?"

Three points from verse from Hebrews 4:13:
1. God sees, there is no escaping.
2. God sees, there is no covering.
3. God sees, there is no hiding.

"Is the gaze of God a sweetness to your soul or a terror?" In Proverbs 28:13 the Bible says, "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."

I thought the most thought provoking question of the first session was one I want you to consider as well:

"Does your heart gravitate to the Word of God?"

This was convicting because too many times I find myself not excited about the Word of God. I must confess I find my joy in fleeting pleasures too often. Lord, change my affections and my heart to gravitate to Your Word of truth.

Grace upon grace,
JRL