Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Cross is not about Self Improvement

Some great words to ponder and also to evaluate your own life to see if this is how you treat the cross of Christ:

"Only western evangelicals could take the message of brutal, substitutionary death on a cross and make it about self improvement." (Byron Yawn)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gazing upon the Cross

Yesterday I briefly touched on what worldliness is but I gave no solution to fighting worldliness. In the book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, C. J. Mahaney gives us the antidote to worldliness:

"Only through the power of the cross of Christ can we successfully resist the seduction of the fallen world. The Savior's death on the cross is what makes possible forgiveness of sin and provideds power to overcome sin. And the cross is the attraction that draws our hearts away from the empty and deadly pleasures of worldliness...Do you want the world to lose its appeal? Then crowd out worldliness by filling your affections with the cross of Christ. Crucify the world as a dead and undesirable thing by meditating on the love of the Savior. Resist the bait of the world by gazing at the wondrous cross. For it is 'the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,' wrote Paul, 'by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world'" (Gal. 6:14).

The gospel is not just for pastors to preach on Sunday or Wednesday night. The gospel is not just for Bible studies or community groups at church. The gospel is for every single aspect of life for the follower of Jesus Christ. We are seduced too much by this world because our affections are not upon Calvary. If we draw our hearts, soul, mind and strength to the cross our affections for the world will die but our impact on the world will grow.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, March 29, 2010

What is Worldliness?

"Do not love the world or anything in the world." (1 John 2:15)

Have you considered worldliness?

"Worldliness is a love for this fallen world. It's loving the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God. More specifically, it is to gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God. It rejects God's rule and replaces it with our own. It exalts our opinions above God's truth. It elevates our sinful desires for the things of this fallen world above God's commands and promises." (C.J. Mahaney)

"The goal of worldly people is to move forward rather than upward, to live horizontally rather than vertically. They seek after outward prosperity rather than holiness. They burst with selfish desires rather than heartfelt supplications. If they do not deny God, they ignore and forget Him, or else they use Him only for their selfish ends. Worldliness...is human nature without God." (Joel Beeke)

"Worldliness is departing from God. It is a man-centered way of thinking; it proposes objectives which demand no radical breach with man's fallen nature; it judges the importance of things by the present and material results; it weighs success by numbers; it covets human esteem and wants no unpopularity; it knows no truth for which it is worth suffering; it declines to be 'a fool for Christ's sake'. Worldliness is the mind-set of the unregenerate. It adopts idols and is at war with God." (Iain Murray)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, March 26, 2010

I received mercy


“I received mercy” (1 Timothy 1:16)

Paul, in the midst of sharing his testimony in a letter to Timothy, remembers that God is the one who has shown mercy toward him. Reflecting back on his life before Christ lets him remember that he was not seeking after God but rather God sought him out in his great mercy. Every follower of Jesus Christ ought to say with Paul: “I received mercy.”

Mercy is defined as “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power” (dictionary.com). As God’s children we have been given mercy from our Father. Before our conversion Christ kindly showed forbearance to us the offending party. Paul who was “a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent” was shown mercy by the very God he was blaspheming. Like Paul we all are the offending party. All of us have sinned against the holy God of the universe. Our authority, God’s word, is clear that we all have fallen short of God’s perfect holiness. If you are breathing right now you have been shown mercy whether you follow Christ or not. This is a great reality of God’s great love. For those who love Christ we can be grateful like Paul and reflect on our lives saying, “I received mercy.”

If you have not humbly submitted to Christ and his finished work on the cross may I show you the kind mercy of God: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance [mercy] and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness [mercy] is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4)? What love God has shown to every single human being. We all deserve one thing but God displays his kindness and draws us to himself in repentance. What a gracious God. Because of his Son, Jesus Christ, we are offered the forgiveness of our sins through faith and repentance. This is God’s forbearing kindness. Look at the gospel: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” God has taken his wrath away through his Son but then the text talks about the forgiveness of our sins: “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance [mercy] he had passed over formers sins” (Rom. 3:23-25). Mercy, mercy, mercy. God is showing his mercy so that we may repent and trust in the finished work of Christ.
Christian, this reminder of the gospel should bring great joy to your heart. What a gracious God who loves us beyond any sort of love we could imagine. To bring more joy to your heart look at this text I hope we are all familiar with but haven’t put aside or stopped being affected by it: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). God is so rich in mercy. Paul isn’t the only one who can look back and reflect on a life of spite against God. All of us were blasphemers, persecutors and insolent opponents against God. Maybe it didn’t manifest itself out like it did with Paul but our hearts were enemies of God. O but “I received mercy” through God’s kindness to me. He graciously showed me my sin and then showed me the great forgiveness found only in Christ. Thank you Lord for your great mercy!

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ancient Words

In the great faith chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 12, we read of those martyrs killed over their faith in Jesus Christ. Hebrews reads, "Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated - of whom the world was not worthy - wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Hebrews 11:36-38).

How amazing to see the faith of these followers of Jesus Christ. Dying for the truth that Jesus is God and only way to the Father. The song Ancient Words really captures the reality of the martyrs blood shed on behalf of the truth of God's most holy word:

Martyrs blood stains each page
They have died for this faith
Hear them cry through the years,
"Heed these words and hold them dear!"

May we as followers of Christ hold the words of Christ dear to our lives. By faith may we cling to the word of God so we may respond:

Ancient words, ever true
Changing me and changing you
We have come with open hearts
O let the ancient words impart.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Without the Gospel Everything is Useless

Tim Challies asked the question last week: What difference does the gospel make? We must all answer this question. This is a great question to ponder and ask questions about. Tim quoted John Calvin to address the question:

"Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation [life] is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation [verbal abuse], abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Spirit's Interceding

I recently had a friend ask me to pray that his prayer life would not be so self-centered but that he would pray for others. I know exactly what he is talking about. Many times when I am finished praying I realize my selfishness. I genuinely say I love others but then I don’t pray for them which really reveals more of my heart. But then God graciously reminded me of the truth. I can get so sucked into my feelings instead of hearing what God’s Word says about prayer. Also note I am not making an excuse to not pray or just pray for yourself but take comfort in the Word of God if you are like me and have a weak, self-centered prayer life.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

This is good news! If you are a child of the risen Christ he has graciously given us his Spirit to intercede on our behalf. As I was thinking about what this means I started to realize that as his children we cannot pray selfish prayers. This reality ought to bring us a humble spirit. We should be broken by the fact that sinners like you and I can offer up prayers to God without selfish ambition. Yes our own hearts will be prideful and selfish but we must remember the Holy Spirit is interceding for us “according to the will of God.” This is truly mind-blowing.

Think about how prayer works: Sinners approach the throne of grace through our great High Priest Jesus Christ and as we pray his Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God. Why? Because as sinners we do not know how to pray as we ought. We must be completely dependent on God for everything. Prayer is a humble admission of this reality. The Triune God works in perfect harmony when prayers are offered up from a broken heart. While our words may not always come out in a correct manner the Holy Spirit sees our hearts. He knows our desire, by his grace alone, is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, March 22, 2010

Think Before you Speak

Last Sunday our pastor, Lance Quinn, gave us some really good practical advice on testing what we hear.

"There are three questions we must always keep in mind when we’re hearing any and all kinds of information about things or people:

1. What is the precise nature of what you are hearing? In other words, is the information being told to you either true or false? This is always the first and most important question you must discern when you are listening to the words of someone else. Before you ever speak to someone else regarding the information you’ve heard, you must precisely check its validity. This takes a great deal of discernment and might also take a good bit of investigation, especially in order to protect the innocent. We could call this first question the truth test. Test what you’ve heard and see if it’s true before you pass it along to another. If it doesn’t have the ring of truth to it, don’t believe it! If it doesn’t pass the smell test, don’t even sniff it! Refuse to bite on anyone else’s juicy morsels of gossip! The truth test will motivate you to be precise with how you handle what you hear. Listen carefully before you speak. Your personal motto should therefore be: I’m a forceful discerner of truth and a fierce deflector of lies!

2. To whom are you passing the information along? Are they a part of the problem or the solution? If they are neither a part of the problem nor the solution, then don’t share with them what you’ve heard! Be discerningly deaf to the things that don’t concern either yourself or the others with whom you’re engaging in conversation. If what you are passing along is false, you are passing on an evil report. We could call this second question the tongue test. The tongue test will help guard you before you pass along any unnecessary or hurtful information either to or about others. Your personal motto should therefore be: I’m a fearless defender of others and a forgetful dealer in gossip!

3. What will this information produce in those I tell? Will the information build them up or tear them down? Will it produce help or harm in those I’m talking about? This third question is designed to check your own heart before you pass along information either to or about someone else. We could call this third question the tarnish test. Why do I desire to pass on this information? Would it serve to tarnish reputations or enhance them? Solomon says paying attention to false information produces wickedness in those you tell. It only serves to tarnish others. Don’t spread falsehoods because they will poison those around you, as well as produces evil thoughts about others. Don’t use wicked information to produce more wickedness. The tarnish test therefore serves to curb your own producing of false and damaging information regarding others. Testing your own heart of love or hate for others will inevitably increase or decrease your production of information. Hatred of others will serve only to increase that producing of information when you know that information will be hurtful and injurious to them. Love for others will only serve to decrease the producing of such information when you know that information to be unloving and unedifying. Your personal motto should therefore be: I’m a fervent discoverer of my motives and a faithful demonstrator of love.

In summary:
The Truth Test has to do with the Precision of Information. Is it true or false?
This concerns the “what” of my hearing. Be a forceful discerner of truth and a fierce deflector of lies!

The Tongue Test has to do with the Passing of Information. Does this person need the information I’m sharing?
This concerns the “who” of my speaking. Be a fearless defender of others and a forgetful dealer in gossip!

The Tarnish Test has to do with the Producing of Information. Will it tarnish or enhance the reputation of others?
This concerns the “why” of my words. Be a fervent discoverer of your motives and a faithful demonstrator of love."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, March 19, 2010

You have put more Joy in my Heart


“You have put more joy in my heart” (Psalm 4:7)

David in the midst of trouble speaks to the Lord, “You have put more joy in my heart.” In difficult circumstances we are often found complaining and questioning rather than trusting. Or when things are going well we rely on the circumstances to bring us joy. Circumstances can often show us the idols in our heart. May we learn to cry out with David, “You have put more joy in my heart.”

We live in a Genesis 3 world which is saturated in sin. Whether we want to admit it or not our sin many times puts us directly in circumstances we do not want to be in. But there are times when trials come our way to test our faith. As disciples of Christ we must trust in his sovereign plan knowing his promise that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). David understands this truth about God which is why he can say to the Lord in the midst of this trial: “You have put more joy in my heart.”

But the opposite of a life of trials is a life of ease. In our western mentality we want comfort to satisfy us until the day we die. No sacrifices just a little R & R. But God has called us to something totally different. He has called us to “deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow him” (Luke 9:23). Why? That doesn’t make sense to deny self and live for something else. Yes, I agree that is a tough command to obey but God tells us to do this so we will be eternally joyful (Ps. 16:11). Christians are to “set our minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth” so our focus shifts to greater realities found in Christ alone. In Psalm 4, David is saying that the Lord has put more joy in his heart but the question then comes more joy than what? The Lord brings more joy than any offer this world could bring our way. “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” What an amazing statement.

Do you see the beauty in David’s statement? While going through a trial where men are seeking his life he says to the Lord: “You have put more joy in my heart.” This joy is greater “than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Followers of Christ have greater joy while the greatest trials come their way than the millionaire without Christ. Only the grace of God could bring about this truth. This is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the children of God. The joy he gives isn’t based on circumstances but rather a fixed hope upon the solid rock Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord with David saying, "You have put more joy in my heart."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Grace, Grace, Grace

Have you ever finished reading your Bible and thought "ouch"? Or a book that is saturated in Scripture? The other day I was reading Maurice Robert's book The Thought of God and was terribly convicted on my trivialization of sin. In his chapter 'O the Depth!' he writes:

"It is the besetting sin of our age to trivialize sin. The remedy is to mediate on the holiness and righteousness of God himself, on the strictness and perfection of his laws, on the agonies of the damned in hell and, above all, on the sufferings of our blessed Redeember on the cross of Calvary. The Christian stops making spiritual progress as soon as he stops repenting. The modern fashion is to skp through a few words of confession as though sin were no more serious to God than the omission of some detail of etiquette or the infringement of table-manners.

Let us recall that sin is the contradiction of God. The best saints have looked into their own hearts as into a bottomless pit of corruption or an ocean of depravity. They were right to do so. It is something we need to learn from them all over again. Of our sins, we might say 'O the depth!'"

Some of you may read these words and instantly think, "What's wrong with this guys self-esteem? No one is that bad of a person unless they have committed a major crime?" This is exactly the problem he is addressing. We have put God on our own level at this point. May we look at Isaiah 6 and be reminded that God is "Holy, holy, holy"! May we see him and be undone crying out "Woe is me" I am unclean. The point is not to lower your feeling of self-esteem. Let me tell you the objective truth: We are sinners!! BUT don't stay there. Lift up your voice being reminded "Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me." God is full of grace. His grace is so amazing when we realize the depravity of our sinful souls. What a great God who loves his children faithfully and graciously. O the depths of his love.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Christ Saved Me Through His Death

On Monday, Andrew Lisi, posted a wonderful article over on The Gospel Coalition Blog about Jesus' account on the cross from Luke 23. The article is speaking about the words "Save Yourself!" which were hurled at Jesus from many different people. Here is what he wrote:

"And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” -Luke 23:35-39

Three distinct movements. Three different sets of people. Three different mocking accusations. One angry command. One gracious response.

He was who they said he was

The rulers “scoffed.”
The soldiers “mocked.”
The criminal “railed.”

The venom poured out in every word that was spoken. They hissed as they accused him, challenging all that was said about him and all that he had done. They threw the titles out there, wholeheartedly believing that he was not who they said he was.

“If he is the Christ of God, His Chosen One…”
“If you are the King of the Jews…”
“Are you not the Christ?”

Come on, Jesus, if you are who we say you are, then prove it!

“He saved others
let him save himself.
Save yourself!
save yourself
and us.”

They knew he wouldn’t do it. They knew he couldn’t do it. They thought they knew why. They thought it was because he wasn’t who they said he was. But their “why” was wrong. He was exactly who they said he was. And more.

We try to save ourselves, but can’t

How much are we like the rulers, the soldiers, the criminals? Probably a lot more than we are willing to admit. How often do we hurl up thoughts and prayers that are based on our notion of who Jesus is, a notion that is mixed with both truth and lie. We might get the phrases right, some of the theological foundation may be correct, but as we shout our words to God, they come off as accusations. We cry out “prove yourself to me!” I have had countless conversations with non-believers about this very thing. It boils down to God not doing what they want him to do. They then conclude that he does not exist. The doubting, unbelieving heart wants Jesus to come down off the Cross. And if he did, however miraculous an event it would have been, he would not have been who they said he was. The Christ had to suffer and die (Lk 24:26, 46; Acts 3:8; 17:3).

In our doubts and unbelief we do not want Jesus to be God. We want to be gods. We want to be like him. We want the power to save ourselves. We want to prove that we are worthy of the greatest titles of the world — even if it’s our own little world.

“Best dad ever.”
“World’s greatest preacher.”
“Entertainer of the century.”
“Most humble person on the face of the earth.”
“Savior of the world.”

We desperately try to save ourselves, but can’t.

He could have saved himself, but didn’t try

He was exactly who they said he was. He had the power to save others and he did. He had the power to save himself and he didn’t. I am blown away by this. The thought is not profound, but Jesus’ action, or rather inaction, is. By his unwillingness to save himself, I am saved. To put it positively, by his willingness to die, I am alive. The criminal’s words echo through my head: “Save yourself and us.” Little did he know that if Jesus had, all would be destroyed. Jesus proved himself to be exactly who they said he was not by succumbing to their spiteful commands, but by remaining silent, fulfilling the will of His Father.

He could have saved himself, but didn’t try. Now, by his grace, I don’t have to either."

What great love Jesus display by staying on that cross for a sinner like me.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

God's Unfailing Love

Great words from C.H. Spurgeon on God's amazing love:

"I have loved you, My people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to Myself!" (Jeremiah 31:3)

"He loved you without beginning. Before years, and centuries, and millenniums began to be counted--your name was on His heart! Eternal thoughts of love have been in God's bosom towards you. He has loved you without a pause; there never was a minute in which He did not love you. Your name once engraved upon His hands--has never been erased, nor will He ever blot it out of the Book of Life.

Since you have been in this world--He has loved you most patiently. You have often provoked Him; you have rebelled against Him times without number, yet He has never stayed the outflow of His heart towards you; and, blessed be His name--He never will. You are His, and you always shall be His. God's love to you is without boundary. He could not love you more--for He loves you like a God; and He never will love you less. All His heart belongs to you!"

"As the Father has loved Me--so have I loved you!" (John 15:9)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, March 15, 2010

Living Vicariously

Today will be a little different because my friend, Stephen Bean, and I decided to post on each other's blogs today. I have five great friend who write on a blog called Grace and Peace. So below is a great post from Stephen who graciously accepted the offer to write a post for this blog. I also had the privilege today to post on the Grace and Peace blog. If you'd like to check out that post just click the link.

Everyone would like to be someone else at one time or another. By that I don’t mean that every single person hates him or herself. I simply mean that there are times when you think of the life another person lives, the advantages that you see in their life, and you probably think “that person has it so good.” Most guys I know would love to be a PGA golfer, making millions to do their hobby. Some people love to hear the stories of rock stars, movie stars, or maybe just a friend who has a cool life. The joke (which can be very true) is that we like to hear about these people’s lives so that we can live vicariously through them.

The term “living vicariously” is usually meant to express the idea of one person experiencing a life second hand while acting or dreaming as if it is their own life. But in another sense the word “vicarious” expresses the concept of living as a substitute, that is what I want to talk about in this post, the irrationality of the vicarious nature of the gospel.

though he [Christ Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant [lit. slave], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

The gospel is completely contrary to our way of thinking. Certainly many people would love the opportunity to trade lives with another person, but nobody drives past a homeless man on the street and thinks “what I wouldn’t give to be like that.” However, that is what Jesus did. He who was already worthy of praise for his holiness, his wonderful creativity in creation, and his merciful patience with rebellious people took on human flesh. Think about that for a moment: one of the great side benefits we look forward to in heaven is the absence of physical aches and pains. We look forward to a day without heartbreak, stubbed toes, and temptation to sin. But Jesus put himself into a body and a world that would cause him to experience all of these things which we are now used to but are not worthy of the king. And this is all aside from the central purpose of his life on earth, his death and resurrection. What would motivate this seeming insanity?

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him 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, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

The reason the Son humbled himself to live in such a wretched place compared to what he deserved was to bring glory to himself. This is strange to us. We think “so you lived here for a few decades to show how much better than us you are?” And the answer to that question is sort of but the question misses the point. Jesus did this in order to show his supremacy over all things by rescuing helpless sinners. He subjected himself to the same life that we tread through daily but did not sin.

We might wonder why Jesus' vicarious life and death, in our place, matters. How it affects us to know the humility of Christ in the incarnation. The answer is found in Philippians 2:5 when we are called to imitate him, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” The mindset that Christians should have is that of Christ, humbling themselves as servants to one another. This is just another example of how the gospel changes lives.

Grace and Peace,
Stephen

Friday, March 12, 2010

Listen to my Plea for Grace


“Listen to my plea for grace” (Psalm 86:6)

In this Psalm of lament David is crying out to the Lord for mercy and strength as men are seeking his life. He acknowledges that his own sin may have contributed to the anger of his enemy but knows the Lord will hear his plea for mercy. David is displaying his trust in the Lord. He understands that only the Lord can spare his life so he prays, “Listen to my plea for grace.”

What a great prayer. As I was reading this Psalm I thought to myself, “Do I pray enough for God’s sustaining grace in my life?” Grace is such a beautiful gift from the Giver of life. Maybe men are not seeking your life right now, as was happening to David, but are you grateful for grace? Do you understand how much grace has been bestowed upon you? I’m in awe as I see all the gifts I have been given from God. A wife, a daughter, a job, a house, a car, a church body, a physical body, two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes, eyes to see, hands to touch, ears to hear, music, books, a bed and I could go on and on with this list. His grace to all of us is beyond what we ask or imagine. Too many times though I am not thankful for all these gifts. I think about what I’ve done to achieve them and the money I’ve earned to have all those things. In reality they are all gifts of his kind grace. Many times I find myself not praising him for all these wonderful gifts. Sadly the times I am most aware of his grace or want his grace or I think I need his grace are the moments of distress. In a rough time at work or our marriage or bad weather coming our way I start to panic not trusting in God to give his magnificent grace. I know the truth about God’s character but in those moments I listen to my own sinful heart.

David goes on in Psalm 86 to remind himself of God’s saving grace. As his children we are able to cry out for God’s sustaining grace over our lives but we always need to go back and remember his saving grace. His saving grace is what made us his children in the first place. Sadly the world soaks up God’s common grace without acknowledging him as the Giver of grace. But Christians ought to always be reminded of God’s steadfast love toward them through his grace. After we cry for God to “listen to my plea for grace” we should give thanks that we even care to cry out to him. That is his grace. How great is God? He gives us grace to cry out for grace. This should always take us back to the cross. This is where the greatest display of grace took place. As we read or hear about the cross we should be reminded that his grace is sufficient for all of life. He who is faithful to save us will be faithful to sustain. But we need to remember our dependence upon him.

After David’s plea for grace he reminds himself of God’s faithfulness to him with praise: “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Ps. 86:12-13). Christian, are you aware of God’s grace in every aspect of your life? Do you praise him for every gift he showers you with here on this earth? Are you grateful to him for your shoelaces? I must confess my heart is not always there. May I challenge you to be grateful for every grace God bestows upon you. He has gracious opened your eyes to see that every gift has been given from him, the Giver of life. May we hear him tell us over and over: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Sad False Teaching of Scientology

I recently read an article from The New York Times titled Defectors: Church of Scientology hides abuse. If you have time I would recommend reading the article but I want to just take a little snippet from the article to show you the sad reality of man-made religion. Under the section 'Bridge to Total Freedom' the article says:

"Scientology is an esoteric religion in which the faith is revealed gradually to those who invest their time and money to master Mr. Hubbard’s teachings. Scientologists believe that human beings are impeded by negative memories from past lives, and that by applying Mr. Hubbard’s 'technology,' they can reach a state known as clear.

They may spend hundreds of hours in one-on-one 'auditing' sessions, holding the slim silver-colored handles of an e-meter while an auditor asks them questions and takes notes on what they say and on the e-meter’s readings.

By doing enough auditing, taking courses and studying Mr. Hubbard’s books and lectures — for which some Scientologists say they have paid as much as $1 million — Scientologists believe that they can proceed up the 'bridge to total freedom' and live to their full abilities as Operating Thetans, pure spirits. They do believe in God, or a Supreme Being that is associated with infinite potential."

What a sad sad thing to read. What is going on in Scientology is a whole lot of spending money for the sake of earning freedom. I'm not going to beat around the bush that Scientology believes in the god of self. Scientology does not teach the one true living God in holy Scripture. Don't be fooled. We cannot buy our way to a clean past. We cannot work our way into freedom. We cannot will ourselves into eternal life. The God of the Bible is the answer.

Scientology says "faith is revealed gradually to those who invest their time and money to the master." But Scripture teaches us faith is a gift given by the grace of God to those who believe (Eph. 2:8-9).

Scientologists "believe that human beings are impeded by negative memories from past lives, and by applying Mr. Hubbard's 'technology', they can reach a state known as clear." But Scripture tells us "As far as the east is from the west, so does he [God] remove our transgressions from us" (Ps. 103:12). "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" (Is. 53:5).

Scientologist "spend hundreds of hours in one-on-one 'auditing' sessions." Scripture tells us that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). From a human standpoint the Scripture tells us to "confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16).

"Scientologists believe that they can proceed up the 'bridge to total freedom' and live to their full abilities as Operating Thetans, pure spirits." Jesus tells us, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). Jesus then says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)

Don't seek your satisfaction in broken cisterns. Seek your satisfaction in the eternal fountain of life, Jesus Christ. The work of salvation was accomplished at the cross. Don't be enslaved to earning salvation that has already been earned through Christ crucified. Humble yourself before his finished work. Confess and repent of your self-centered efforts and flee to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It is Impossible to Fool Christ

Yesterday we ended an 8 part series from Matthew 23 about being a hypocrite. Today I just want to give you a quotation from J.C. Ryle to close the series:

"Think what a solemn warning there is to all worldly and hypocritical professors of religion. Let all such read, mark, and digest these words. Jesus says to you, 'I know thy works.' You may deceive me or any other minister; it is easy to do so. You may receive the bread and wine from my hands, and yet be cleaving to iniquity in your hearts. You may sit under the pulpit of an Evangelical preacher, week after week, and hear his words with a serious face, but believe them not. But remember this, you cannot deceive Christ. He who discovered the deadness of Sardis and the lukewarmness of Laodicea, sees you through and through, and will expose you at the last day, except you repent."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Woe to you (Part 8)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers." (Matthew 23:29-32)

Finally Jesus reminds the Pharisees that they are no different than their fathers. The Pharisees announced that their fathers were the ones who murdered the prophets by saying if they had lived in their days they would not have murdered the prophets. But once again we see the clean cup of the hypocrite's tongue against the backdrop of a black heart filled with rage for the murder of Jesus. The Pharisees wanted Christ killed because of this very reason: conviction. Christ brought about the conviction of the heart.

Sadly I see much of myself in this passage. I would be fooled to think I also did not want Christ crucified. By my sin I declare "Crucify Him!" just like the mob the day they delivered Christ over to the Roman soldiers. My heart was filled with rage against Christ. I loved my sin and even now as one of his children I see my heart tugging back to the fleeting pleasures of sin. But God who is rich in mercy has given me a new heart. He has replaced the old dirty, dead heart with one of new life that is pure. He has given me his Spirit so that by his grace I may fight against temptation and sin. He has given me eyes to see the beauty of his Word that is for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. What a good God! He loves me because of Christ! To the praise of his glorious grace.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, March 8, 2010

Woe to you (Part 7)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:27-28)

This warning is very similar to Jesus' previous warning in verses 25-26. The Pharisees were those who were morally righteous on the outside but on the inside Jesus says they are "full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness." Back in Acts Paul speaks similar words before the Sanhedrin: "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck" (Acts 23:3)? Those who were supposedly upholding the law and condemning Paul were the very same people who were breaking the law to strike Paul. This is what the Pharisees do. This is sadly what all of us do.

Christian, are you living a manner that is worthy of your calling? Are you living a holy life set apart from worldliness? Jesus tells us to "be holy for I am holy." We are not under a standard of other human beings but God's perfect and holy standard. Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple to pray? The Pharisee prayed "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" (Luke 18:11-12). Have you ever prayed in this manner? Comparative praying is what we will call it. Now look at the tax collector: "Standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner'" (Luke 18:13)! Wow. What humility. Jesus knows the heart and declared that the tax collector went away justified (Luke 18:14).

Who are you in the parable? Charles Spurgeon simply said it this way, "Pride cannot live beneath the cross." I'll close with the words of Jesus at the end of the parable: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, March 5, 2010

Known by God


“Known by God” (Galatians 4:9)

I’ve had the privilege of studying the book of Galatians for quite some time now and just came to this verse. At first glance I just read over the text but as I began to study and collect my thoughts I began to be amazed by this reality that through Christ I am “known by God.”

You might be thinking “Everyone is known by God because God is all-knowing.” This is a true statement and we must assume the apostle Paul understood that reality as well when he wrote these words. If you read Galatians as a whole you will hear Paul speaking of a more intimate relationship with Christ rather than a general one. Paul begins chapter four talking about our adoption as sons into the kingdom of God. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (4:6-7). Through Christ we can have an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe. God is perfect and holy and through Christ we can have intimacy with him. This is crazy but so true. We are “known by God.”

We are heirs of the kingdom. This means we will spend our lives wrapped up in kingdom work. Our hearts and minds will be geared toward the future spurring us to live for the glory of Christ rather than pursuing worldliness. We will strive to emulate our Father. How? Since he is perfect and holy how can we strive for that goal? The text answers that question: “Because you are sons God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” We have been given the Spirit of Christ. We have been made new creatures in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is God’s work being done through us by his grace and mercy given to us by the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to be “known by God.”

For some this can be a reason to be puffed up and arrogant. This is a reason to make us feel good about ourselves. This is a reason to think we are superior to other people who are really sinful. If this is you please go examine your heart to see whether or not you are really “known by God.” This truth ought to do nothing more than humble us. Can you imagine a greater love? The all-knowing Creator of the universe knows me. He calls me his son. He has made me an heir of his kingdom. All I’ve offered is my sin which placed Christ on the cross. That’s it. I’ve offered nothing more than my sin which his only begotten Son bore for me so I could be an heir of his kingdom. How in world can this truth make us prideful?

Christian, praise God for his amazing grace. Praise him for the sacrifice of his only Son on your behalf. We deserve wrath but instead we receive an eternity with Christ. That’s not fair; but gracious of God. “Now that you have come to know God” rejoice in the reality that you are rather “known by God.”

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Woe to you (Part 6)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean." (Matthew 23:25-26)

Jesus is condemning the religious leaders of external righteousness with wrong hearts. The Pharisees looked good because from the outside they were viewed as morally upright people but Jesus knowing their hearts warns them of the filthiness inside. In the gospel of Luke Jesus tells the Pharisees, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows the hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). We may have people fooled by our lives but on the Day of Judgment who cares! God sees the heart. He will not be fooled.

What a scary thought to go to church, open your Bible, go to Bible study, pray, stand up for justice, speak out against sin and do it all for your own glory. Are you spending your time trying to look right in front of the world or are you preparing your heart and life to meet the King of kings? Only the saving work of Jesus Christ can wash a man clean from the inside out. We must be washed in the water of the Spirit's regenerating work in a life in order to clean the inside of the cup and plate. I'm pleading with you: Don't be a Pharisee! Impressing mankind for a short time is foolish when viewed from eternity. Confess your sin to the Lord and repent trusting in Christ's atoning work on the cross for you.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Woe to you (Part 5)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!" (Matthew 23:23-24)

Here we see Jesus condemning the Pharisees for neglecting weightier matters of the law. The Pharisees tithed a tenth of everything they received. They understood the law from Leviticus 27 about giving a tenth of everything you were given from the Lord. The Pharisees would give a tenth of everything even small garden crops like mint, dill and cumin. Jesus is not condemning them for tithing because he says "these you ought to have done" but rather for their lack of mercy and faithfulness. The Pharisees were all law and no grace.

When religion is your savior obedience to the law becomes your salvation. This was the issue with the Pharisees. Even tithing, which is something good, became a heavy burden because of the weight behind tithing. There was no salvation if they missed giving a tenth of anything. Paul reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) not a disgruntled, heavy laden giver. In Christ giving is a joy not a burden. We give to our local church and missions because of the weightier matters of the law. We see God's faithfulness to provide so it compels us to be faithful to him in our giving. We see the mercy our God has bestowed upon us so we give to missions so that mercy may spread abroad to every tribe, tongue and nation. Tithing is a response to the gospel not the law.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Woe to you (Part 4)

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it." (Matthew 23:16-22)

The ESV Study Bible says, "The Pharisees distinguished between oaths made by the temple and those made by the gold of the temple, and between oaths made by the altar and those made by the gift on it. As in much of their belief system, they focus on misguided superficial distinctions and overlook the higher principles of the law." May we be careful to not fall into the same sin as the Pharisees.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, March 1, 2010

Woe to you (Part 3)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:15)

This is not Jesus condemning the making of disciples or speaking the gospel so those whom God has chosen will hear and repent trusting in Christ's work on their behalf. When know this is true because Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). Rather Jesus is condemning the Pharisees for placing heavy weights around the necks of people by sharing with them with a message of earning salvation by works of the law. What a tragic thing. Jesus says instead of bringing them hope the Pharisees were making converts who were now "twice as much a child of hell" as themselves. No hope is given in the message of earning salvation by works of the law. The law is God's perfect law which all of us have broken therefore we cannot obtain salvation through obedience to the law.

One thing for us as followers of Jesus Christ that we can take away as a positive from the Pharisees: they were zealous to share their message. Yes, they did indeed share a false gospel but we how have the true gospel ought to be even more zealous than the Pharisees to share the true gospel. Our message brings hope to the hopeless. Life to the lifeless. Blind eyes are made to see. The reward is not making people twice the sons of hell but rather sons and daughters of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We bring a message of eternal joy with the Creator of the universe. We ought to proclaim as Paul did, "I am not ashamed of the gospel." Why Paul? "For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).

Grace upon grace,
JRL