Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Being Entertained by sin does not increase Compassion for Sinners

John Piper gives some great insight into media and the gospel in his article "Why I don't have a television and rarely go to movies."

"I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies.

If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.

All Christ-exalting transformation comes from 'beholding the glory of Christ.' 'Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another' (2 Corinthians 3:18). Whatever dulls the eyes of our mind from seeing Christ powerfully and purely is destroying us."

I would encourage each of you to click the link and read the whole article.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 29, 2009

Media's allurements

Craig Cabaniss on media:

"We begin by recognizing that the media's messages are nothing new. Essentially, our world puts forward the same allurements that the apostle John's world did some two thousand years ago: 'the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions' (1 John 2:16). Christians in John's day didn't have the Internet, cable television, or iPods, but the desires of the flesh have been around since the fall. To be sure, the packaging and delivery of the world's offerings have advanced technologically, but their substance had remained as primitive as a talking serpent. Christians of all ages have been required to soberly assess the temptations found in the surrounding culture and to respond in a God-glorifying way.

If we're faithfully to resist the ever-present 'desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions,' we'll need to sharpen our biblical discernment and wisely evaluate our media intake, for the glory of God." (Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, June 26, 2009

Happy Birthday Jason!

To all of Jason’s readers: This is Heather, Jason’s wife, and Jason doesn’t know I’m doing this but since today is his 30th birthday I wanted to use his blog as an opportunity to honor him.

Jason,
Happy 30th birthday! You are so faithful to use this blog as a chance to honor others so when your first Father’s Day and your 30th birthday fell on the same week I couldn’t help but want to take this opportunity to praise God for you.

One of the things I love most about you and I am most grateful to the Lord for is your desire to be a servant leader. You have always served me well whether it is doing the dishes after dinner or being faithful to lead me in family devotions. Now I have the joy of seeing you live this out as you become a father. Know that it has only caused me to love you more. To see you care for Emma and desire to help me however you can has been a blessing to me. You are patient with Emma when she fusses; you want to make sure I’m getting enough rest; you are already singing hymns to Emma. All of these things reflect God’s glory even if I’m the only one who sees them.

Another thing I want to praise the Lord for is how you pour yourself into others. You give your time and your life to so many people. It is a joy to see your love for the kids in the youth group. You have built wonderful relationships with so many of them and you are encouraging them in their walks with Christ and challenging them as they grow. There are so many others you love with the love of Christ; your Saturday morning coffee guys, CJ, the kids at the detention center, and of course Emma and I. Thank you for a Christ-like example of giving your life away. It is both an encouragement to me and a challenge to do the same.

Jason, thank you for your desire to reflect Christ in all areas of your life. It has been such a blessing to watch you grow in the Lord these 11 years that I have known you. I look forward to so many more, if the Lord wills. Thank you for the encouragement and leader you have been for me. I love you so much!

Your very blessed wife,
Heather

He Saved Us


“He saved us” (Titus 3:4)

O the magnitude of these three great words. The great comfort these words bring to the followers of Jesus Christ. Our own righteousness is dirty in the eyes of a holy God. We cannot obtain to the perfection of God’s holy law but while we lived in this rebellious state “He saved us.”

Titus 3 is one of the most beautiful passages speaking of who were before Christ and what Christ has done for those he saves. Paul reminds us, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (3). Paul is not asking us to go through this list to see which of these marks who we are but rather he is telling us who we are in our natural state. This list is not up for debate. The bad news for those who are trusting in themselves and their own willpower to save them is this is who you are now. The text would read “For you yourself are foolish, disobedient” and so on.

The good news, for those who are trusting in Christ, is the word “were.” We “were” in this state before the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in which “He saved us.” The text does not stop at verse three but Paul goes on to tell us what happened to those who formerly walked in disobedience. “But”, this is a transition word from bad news to good news, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” (4-5a). When the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see how good and kind God is to expose our darkness in his light we have the ability, by God’s grace, to repent of our sins to this holy God.

There has to be a condition, right? Not according to God’s word because the text goes on, “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (5b-7). Our condition is sinful “but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). If there is a condition we are doomed for all eternity. All we can offer is our sinful condition but God in his rich mercy looks at the accomplished work of his Son on the cross and gives us Christ’s perfect righteousness.

We should marvel constantly at this amazing grace God has given us. It is God’s mercy, it is God’s washing of regeneration, it is God who justifies by his grace, it is God who makes us alive and it is God who declares us heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Lord, “Not the work of my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” By his grace “He saved us.”

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Goodness and Loving Kindness of God

"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:1-7)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are you convinced of the Resurrection?

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seek First the Kingdom of God

In response to our economy Jesus says to his children:

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:25-34)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 22, 2009

It was the Will of the Lord to Crush Him

I hope with this blog I never replace God's words with man's. This week I want to post passages from God's most holy word and I hope and pray you will read them and let them sink into your hearts.

"Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; 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 griefsand 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 himthe iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who consideredthat he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence,and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to deathand was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, June 19, 2009

Made Himself Nothing


“Made himself nothing.” (Philippians 2:7)

Humility is the greatest gift given to humanity. Our example? Jesus Christ! Jesus being fully God emptied himself by becoming man to live amongst sinful people. I wonder many times if Christians fully grasp this reality and how this truth applies to our lives. Do we follow our example and hear the words “Jesus made himself nothing?”

We live in world of self-promotion. “Just do it” says Nike. “Have it your way, right away” at Burger King. It’s all about us. We want it, we get it. The world has the right concept of “loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” but they have the wrong god. The god of our world is self. Our pride thinks there is nothing greater on this earth then ourselves. This is the great lie that has kept us from seeing the only eternal fulfilling satisfaction. Nothing this world has to offer will fulfill us for all eternity. The LORD declared, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). We have forsaken living waters for broken cisterns that hold no water. What is worse is they do not even have the ability to hold water. Why? Because our Creator did not create us to glory in ourselves but rather to bring him glory.

We all want the fountain of living waters because it is part of our nature. We all seek for the latest and greatest things of this world that will satisfy us. This is why there are new trends and the latest advances in our society because we are always searching for them to satisfy our pride. Jesus is the living fountain, satisfying the human soul for all eternity. Jesus “made himself nothing” so we might know eternal satisfaction. Paul tells us to “have this mind among yourselves” but a making ourselves nothing mindset can only be obtained by submitting to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ submitted fully and perfectly to the will of his Father by not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped but taking the form of a servant, he was born in human form being obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:6-8). But for Jesus it was not just some ordinary death it was the most horrific death in all the land, death on a cross. Apart from Christ’s work in our lives through the Holy Spirit we do not have the ability to submit in humility to the Father. Jesus “made himself nothing” to accomplish everything for his elect.

So what do we do with our pride? How do we kill this wretched sin that is a part of our very nature? We submit. The Father has bestowed on Christ “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-10). Christ, through his humility, is now exalted at the right hand of the Father. His name is above every other name in heaven and on earth and under the earth. See the example of Christ, submit to the Father’s will and confess Jesus as Savior and Lord therefore making yourself nothing “to the glory of God the Father.”

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The work within comes from the accomplishment without

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)

"All God's work within you should remind you of his work for you [on the cross]." (C.J. Mahaney)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Suggestions for Preachers

“Here are some suggestions…for a preacher. Fling him into his office, tear the office sign from the door, and nail up a sign, "Study." Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the lives of a superficial flock and a holy God. Force him to be the one man in the community who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all night long, and let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing. Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks. Stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence, and bend his knees in the lonesome valley of suffering. Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry over his life before God. Make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Amen. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets. Put water in this gas tank. Give him a Bible, and tie him to the pulpit, and make him preach the Word of the Living God. Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, game scores, and politics. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist.

Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day. Sir, we would see Jesus. And when, at last, he does enter the pulpit, ask him if he has a Word from God. If he doesn’t, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper. You can digest the television commentaries. You can think through the day’s superficial problems. You can manage the community’s weary fund drives. You can bless assorted baked potatoes and green beans ad infinitum better than he can. Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up worn and forlorn and say, "Thus says the Lord." Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom, and give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word. Sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left, God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter, and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward until all he says rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, when he’s privileged to translate that truth of God to man, and finally transferred from earth to Heaven, then bear him away gently, and blow a muted trumpet, and lay him down softly, and place a two-edged sword on his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant, for he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.” (John MacArthur, Suggestions to you for your preacher)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Heart of Humility

"Amid what are considered the temptations to impatience and touchiness, to hard thoughts and sharp words, which come from the failings and sins of fellow Christians, the humble man carries the oft-repeated injunction in his heart, and shows it in his life, 'Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as the Lord forgave you.' [Col. 3:13] He has learnt that in putting on the Lord Jesus he has put on the heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and long-suffering. Jesus has taken the place of self, and it is not an impossibility to forgive as Jesus forgave. His humility does not consist merely in thoughts or words of self-depreciation, but, as Paul puts it, in 'a heart of humility,' encompassed by compassion and kindness, meekness and long-suffering - the sweet and lowly gentleness recongnized as the mark of the Lamb of God." (Andrew Murray, Humility)

O Lord,
Make me nothing so Christ can be all.
Let me have a heart of humility reflecting the transforming work of Christ in my life.
Give me a heart of compassion, kindness, meekness, gentleness and long-suffering.
Too often I am prone to live in my prideful state and love the sin that so easily entangles me. Let me fight with the Sword of the Spirit which is your word Lord.
Allow me to put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.
I want to hate sin and love Christ.
Forgive me for my short temper and angry words toward my fellow man.
Forgive my self-righteousness.
Thank you that salvation is not based on my righteousness but Christ's alone.
Thank you for your Spirit's work of changing my heart daily and conforming me more and more into the image of Christ.
Let me not love sin assuming grace will abound but rather love your abounding grace that sin may not have dominion over me, your child.
To the praise of your glorious name!

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Inner Being

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." (Ephesians 3:16-17)

These words are a model for Christians on how to pray for one another and also for ourselves. This is how we prepare for home. We should pray that our inner being, the soul of man, be strengthened hourly "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." D. A. Carson writes,

"The Christian's ultimate hope is for the resurrection body. But until we receive that gift, it is our inner being that is being strengthened by God's power. In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health, but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul's example and praying for displays of God's power in the inner being. In short, Paul's primary concern is to pray for a display of God's mighty power in the domain of our being that controls our character and prepares us for heaven." (A Call to Spiritual Reformation)

Are you striving by the strength of the Holy Spirit to know Christ more and more? Do you care about his word? Do you care to know his will? Are you "being rooted and grounded in love to have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge , that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19)?

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, June 12, 2009

Becoming a curse for us


“Becoming a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13)

Nothing is more exciting then the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul gives us a clear picture of this accomplishment on the cross here in Galatians. We who are under the curse of sin are made right in the sight of a holy God because of Christ’s death. Nothing is more devasting then knowing we are sinners but nothing is more exciting then knowing our sins are atoned for through the cross. We are freed from the curse with Christ “becoming a curse for us.”

We must not rely on our own merits to achieve a right standing with the Father. This is the very thing Paul is fighting against in the book of Galatians. The Judiazers were swaying the churches of Galatia away from the true gospel teaching them a works salvation. Banking on our own merits will only damn us greater. We need a perfect mediator between humanity and God. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Only Jesus can make mediation between the Father and sinful humans. Why? Jesus was one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man so he is the only person in all of history who can justly make atonement for the sins of humans presenting those who trust in Jesus holy and blameless before the Father.

This is the good news of the gospel. Nothing is more important than the true gospel of Jesus Christ “becoming a curse for us.” What curse are we under? We are under the curse of sin which is shown to us through God’s perfect and holy law. As I said, the Jews, in Galatians, were proclaiming a salvation through obedience to the law. Paul says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” Why? “For it is written ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Gal. 3:10). Since God is perfect and his law is perfect we also must be perfect if we claim salvation through the law. The problem with this way of obtaining salvation is it is impossible because we are all born into sin. We all have a sinful nature (Romans 3:23). Sin is not a part of us but it is who we are, sinners! We are all under the curse of sin. But “Christ redeemed us from the curse.” How? By graciously “becoming a curse for us.”

Are you excited about this news? Do you take the time to praise God for “becoming a curse for us?” Without this sacrifice there is no hope. Jesus willingly went to the cross on our behalf. He paid our price. He bore the Father’s wrath to the fullest extent by “becoming a curse for us.”

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Christian Liberties

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” (Romans 14:13-15)

Too often we use our liberties in Christ in a sinful manner. I know liberties are issues of freedom within God’s family but liberties also exist for the stronger brothers to refrain in love for the weaker brother. At the beginning of this section of Romans 14 we see the crucial word “Therefore” indicating words in front of this text speaking to this particular section of Scripture. The text in front is speaking of brothers with different perspectives on food or observances of days. I think the key is in verse 3 when Paul writes, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” Paul starts in verse 14 speaking about the implications of liberty in the Christian life.

Liberties do not include sinful practices but areas to be discerned by each individual Christian. Paul tells us to “not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” In our liberties we can still sin by passing judgment on a brother or by placing a stumbling block in the way of a brother. Paul takes it a step further saying, “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat (watch, listen to, wear, say, etc.), you are no longer walking in love.” Liberty issues can easily become sin when we act selfishly and not in a manner of love. If a brother struggles with an area of your life do not just shrug it off and tell them to suck it up but rather Paul tells us to abstain in love.

Love looks totally different from the world when speaking in the context of the body of believers. The world says “Just do what you want and don’t worry what others say or think.” The Bible says we are to love by putting our liberties aside for the cause of Christ. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Are you letting your liberties get in the way of loving a brother? Are you walking in righteousness, striving for peace and having abundant joy in loving your neighbor?

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Sin of Self-Righteousness

"If you think goodness and decency is the way to merit a good life from God, you will be eaten up with anger, since life never goes as we wish. You will always feel that you are owed more than you are getting. You will always see someone doing better than you in some aspect of life and will ask, 'Why this person and not me? After all I've done!' This resentment is your own fault. It is caused not by the prosperity of the other person, but by your own effort to control life through your performance" (Tim Keller, The Prodigal God).

Jesus Christ is the way to merit a good life from God. Christian remember for those who are in Christ all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). Many times we think we know what is best because our pride sucks us into believing this lie. Our Creator knows what we need for life. He does not want our self-righteous goodness but he wants us to be totally dependent on him.

We need to repent of our self-righteous ways we think merit a good life from God. We need to repent of the sin that stems from our self-righteousness. The good news is not that we have to perform for God to be in a right standing with him but rather he graciously sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place. We must repent of our sins and believe Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Contextualizing the gospel

We need to constantly remind ourselves of Paul's message to the church of Rome: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (1:16). Matt Chandler gives great insight into many pulpits of our day when he says, "If you've contextualized the gospel to the point that everyone likes it you're no longer preaching the gospel." I think Chandler hits the nail right on the head because too many preachers today have taken the focus off the gospel and on to themselves. If your message becomes cool to a God hating world and not offensive you are probably not communicating the gospel from Holy Scripture.

Every teacher of the gospel should constantly be examining themselves to see whether they care more about their reputation or God's. I must confess that many times I have posted on this blog for wrong reasons or for selfish ambition but God has patiently worked in my life pointing me back to the cross. The cross always brings about repentance. The gospel must be central to everything taught from God's word. A text that has really helped me out on this issue is Galatians 1:10 where Paul asks, "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."

When you speak to others the message of the gospel, speak the true gospel not your own version of it. Seek God's approval not man's. The greatest joy in all the world is to be known as a servant of Christ. The gospel needs no man's help "for it is the power of God for salvation."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 8, 2009

Comuning with Jesus

Have you ever asked yourself the question: What would you do if Jesus showed up at your door? John Newton gives great insight into this thought:

"Surely, if He were now upon earth, and I expected a visit from Him this afternoon--my heart would bound at the thought! With what a mixture of joy and fear would I open the door to receive Him! How cautious would I be--not to do or say anything that might grieve Him, and shorten His stay with me! And how gladly, if He gave me permission to speak, would I catch the opportunity of telling Him all my concerns! Surely I would be unwilling to let Him go--until He had healed the wounds in my soul, and renewed my spiritual strength; until He had taught me better how to serve Him, and promised to support me in His service. And if I heard Him say, with an audible voice, 'Though they fight against you--they shall not prevail, for I am always with you to deliver you!' I would bid adieu to fear!

But, alas, my unbelieving heart! Are not these things true, even at present? Is He not as near and as kind? Have I not the same reasons and the same encouragement to set Him always before me--and to tell Him . . .
all my needs,
all my fears, and
all my troubles--
as if I saw Him with my bodily eyes!" (John Newton)

Be sure of this: I am with you always--even to the end of the age! (Matthew 28:20)

Jesus is with us always. We can speak to him through prayer. We can hear from him through his word. Jesus is ever present with us. Praise the Lord!

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, June 5, 2009

Though the Earth Trembles


“Though the earth trembles.” (Psalm 46:2)

Today we live in a world that is weak and feeble not knowing what the next day is going to bring. Evil is rampant in this world. Murder, divorce, criminal activity and most recently an unstable economy are all clear indicators of a weak world. Those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can even see these clear indicators. Anxious about the days ahead we gaze too often into an uncertain future rather than turning to the great promise keeper, Jesus Christ. If I may take a line from a child’s song that should bring every Christian great comfort: “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

The earth does tremble because of weakness and fear but Jesus Christ is to be a refuge for his children. The beauty of this text in Psalm 46 is not that the earth trembles but rather the “though” at the beginning. “Though” is a conjunction word meaning “in spite of the fact that” (Dictionary.com). The bad news is the earth trembles but the good news for God’s children is “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). God is the solid rock on which we stand every moment of our lives. When life seems stable we praise him. When life is unstable we praise him. He is our refuge and strength “though the earth trembles.” In times of trouble he is not far off but he is “a very present help.” God is here reminding us that he loves us and we must trust his promises in order to not be shaken by the things of this world.

With this great truth in mind we now understand that “though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” God’s children will not fear (Psalm 46:2-3). Our fear is the fear of the Lord. Fearing the Lord is to know God is sovereign and in control of all the circumstances around us. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). The God of heaven and earth is pleased to promise his children that “though the earth trembles” he will be our refuge and strength.

Christian, find your rest in God’s promises. Know his will for you. Read his words he has given to us meditating daily on them knowing he is the sovereign God. Maltbie Babcock obviously knew this truth when he wrote:

“This is my Father’s world. O let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heaven be one.”

With all the circumstances this world could throw at us we must rest in the truth that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” This is a reality even “though the earth trembles.”

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Who's the Biggest Sinner You Know?

Here is a great post from Matt Monge at New Reformation Ministries asking the question Who's the Biggest Sinner You Know? This post relates back to yesterday's post on seeing ourselves as sinners in the sight of a holy God. Matt writes,

"My wife is daily a means of grace in my life. She rarely realizes it, but the Lord has given her the uncanny ability to ask me the right questions at the right times as I think through various things. I’m humbled when I think about this gracious gift from God. That God sovereignly has placed us together so that we might together serve Him is increasingly clear and obvious.

A while back, as I was about to speak to a young man about the sin that had ensnared him, I was in a state of “righteous anger.” At least, that’s what I told myself. But honestly, I was just really, really upset. OK, fine. If you must know, I was mad. I was mad at this kid for living in a pattern of unrepentant sin. I was mad that so many people had invested in his life, and yet he persisted in his flagrant rebellion. I mean, time and time again this kid had been the recipient of prayer and counsel, but he still willfully chose to rebel against the Lord and live a life that has been focused entirely on what makes him happy. (And I have never conducted my own life in that way. I say this with a great deal of sarcasm.)

As a result of a series of events, I was about to get on the phone with this young man. As I grabbed my phone and began to make my way toward the other end of the house, my wife sweetly and lovingly said, “Matt, who’s the biggest sinner you know?”

Boom.

And that’s one of the many reasons I love my wife.

She was right, and that was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment to put things in their proper perspective. And then so much of what the Lord has taught me over the past few years came flooding back into my mind with a vengeance. With just the posing of that question, theology was unpacked and brought to bear on my heart.

You see, all the things that angered me about this kid were, and often are, true of me to some degree. For years and years and years, I’d wasted my life in selfishness, outright rebellion, and pride. Yet a gracious God was so merciful and patient with me, and instead of letting me continue to run from Him for the rest of my life, He kindly and lovingly waited and worked.

This served to remind me of a couple things, and my hope is that others could profit from the reminders as well. First, who are we to decide who has had ample time and opportunity to get their life straightened out and who has not? Not one of us is the sovereign Lord of heaven. And frankly, if the Lord had held you or me to the same standard that I would have held this young man to, you and I would have long ago been left for dead, spiritually speaking. With a sovereign and omnipotent God, there is no lost cause. There is no one beyond the reach of His powerful and gracious gospel.

Second, as long as we have breath, we must be willing to battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of others. We must preach and teach the gracious gospel of Christ and bring it to bear on people’s hearts and minds. It’s through His truth that the Spirit works, breaking wills and bringing individuals to repentance. The gospel must inform who we are, what we do, and how we minister to others.

We must fight for their hearts, showing them the glorious gospel of grace, of which we have already been recipients. We must be tireless. We must be willing to be vulnerable, hurt, disappointed, and overwhelmed. We must be willing to get down into the trenches and engage. We must be willing to get dirty, grimy, and even bloody in this quest. Ministry, as a dear friend of mine says, is messy. It gets on your shirt.

The fight is on."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Would you rather be the Pharisee or the Tax Collector?

In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisees were the outstanding, moral religious leaders of the day. They were wise teachers of the law. Tax collectors on the other hand were those who were despised for being dishonest people. They cheated and lied to selfishly reward themselves with extra money that was not their own. Basically the Pharisees were righteous and the tax collectors sinners. Most of us would say we want our lives to reflect the Pharisee but Jesus tells us something different.

“He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). He defines the Pharisees as those who trust in themselves for their righteousness and looked down on the “less righteous.” Speaking to them he says, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (18:10-12). Here we see a man who views himself as good. He is totally relying on his own merits. This Pharisee has no need to trust in another’s righteousness because he is so caught up in his own. But in Isaiah we read, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (64:6). Because of Adam in the garden all of us are born into sin. We are sinners (Romans 3:23). Being sinners our hearts are dark and wicked so we cannot rely on our own righteousness to save us.

Jesus goes on, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’” (18:13). Here is a picture of a sinful man having a right understanding of himself. This tax collector realized he was a sinner. We see his humility when Jesus says the tax collector “would not even lift his eyes to heaven.” He does not even feel worthy enough to gaze upon the heavens where God dwells. “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). When we see God as the holy God he is we begin to see how sinful we are in our thoughts, attitudes and actions. Isaiah’s response after gazing upon the holiness of the King was “Woe is me! For I am undone” (Isaiah 6:5). This is the response of true repentance.

The Pharisee trusted in his own righteousness but the tax collector, knowing he was a sinner, trusted in Christ’s righteousness. Our standards should not be a comparison to those we see as greater sinners but we should gaze upon God’s holiness seeing this truth: I am the chief of sinners. The tax collector’s response was that of Isaiah, Paul and every other child of God. How do we know his motives were pure? Jesus tells us plainly: “I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Have you humbled yourself before the King of kings and Lord of lords?

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Joyful Gratitude

"And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:10-14)

"If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.

What Paul is saying is that to live a life worthy of Jesus Christ is to overflow with joyful thanksgiving in the light of the salvation we have received at his hand. If we have been transferred out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son beloved by God, our only appropriate response is joyful gratitude." (D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation)

God is our Creator and he knows exactly what we need. Our focus is too often on the economy, entertainment and politics that our eyes slowly shift to the things of this world. Later in Colossians Paul gives us these words to dwell on: "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col. 3:2). Our eyes need to constantly be gazing on the beauty of Jesus Christ and our inheritance with him for all eternity. Setting our minds on the things above should shift our attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified for sinners. Christians, praise God he has rescued you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to his kingdom.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 1, 2009

One thing is needful

Here are some great words from John Newton. This is taken from Grace Gems. If you do not subscribe to Grace Gems I would highly recommend subscribing.

"Only one thing is needful--
to have our hearts united to Jesus in humble faith;
to set Him always before us;
to rejoice in Him as our Shepherd and our portion;
to submit to all His appointments, not of necessity, because He is stronger than us--but with a cheerful acquiescence, because He is wise and good, and loves us better than we do ourselves;
to feed upon His truth;
to have our understandings, wills, affections, imaginations, memory--all filled and impressed with the great mysteries of His redeeming love;
to do all for Jesus;
to receive all from Jesus;
to find all in Jesus!

We are empty vessels in ourselves--but we cannot remain empty. Unless Jesus dwells in our hearts, and fills them with His power and presence--they will be filled with folly, vanity, and vexation!" (John Newton)

Grace upon grace,
JRL