Friday, December 23, 2011

Immanuel

“Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23)
This is the most wonderful time of the year.  It is a time to celebrate.  It is a time to spend with loved ones.  It is a time set aside to give gifts to friends and family.  It is a time to be reminded of the greatest gift ever given.  It is a time to celebrate the birth of the baby born of the Virgin Mary.  It is a time to celebrate “Immanuel (Which means, God with us).”  But it is crucial, as Christians, that we not only celebrate the coming of Christ on Christmas but every day.  Jesus’ coming has everything to do with our salvation.
The deity of Jesus Christ is often a stumbling block for many.  This is often what separates biblical Christianity from false religion.  There are many people and religions under the umbrella of Christianity that deny this most important truth.  This is a doctrine we must stand up against.  Why?  Isn’t that unloving?  If eternal life is on the line than the most loving thing we can do is fight for this truth.  We are not physically fighting over this truth but rather standing up, in love, to speak about the truth written in God’s Word.  Jesus claimed to be “the way, the truth and the life” and also said “no one can come to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).  The Bible also says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we can be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Obviously Jesus is important because our salvation is based on him. 
Why does he have to be God in order to save sinners?
The reason he must be fully God and truly man is because we need a mediator.  Sinners cannot have a relationship with a holy God unless sin has been dealt with by a perfect and holy sacrifice.  But this perfect and holy sacrifice must also be able to relate and sympathize with humanity.  This is why the Mediator must be 100% God and 100% man.  The Father sent us a mediator when he sent his Son into the world to save sinners.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Jesus knew he was the mediator.  He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).  The baby born in the manger is our hope.  The baby born in the manger is God in the flesh.  He came to dwell among his creation so that we could have a mediator.  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).  His singular sacrifice on the cross atoned for our sin.  Without Bethlehem there is no Calvary.  Without his birth, we have no victory. 
“Immanuel” should ring through our ears throughout the year.  The celebration should be going on in our hearts as we ponder the gospel.  The man who died upon the cross was the very baby born in a stable.  His single purpose was to be the perfect sacrifice for sinners.  Through faith in Jesus, the Mediator, we have salvation.  There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.  Salvation is only found in “Immanuel.”
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Luke 2:1-21

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

 
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:1-21)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sinners are the Source of Evil

Recently an article was put out by ABC News titled Atheists Who Go to Church: Doing It for the Children.  In the article I saw an interesting statement:

"Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, physicist Victor Stenger and others see religion as a source of evil in the world."

For once I agree with Dawkins.  As a follower of Jesus Christ I agree with this statement from these atheists.  No, I haven't denied my faith.  No, I haven't lost my mind.  But I agree that religion can be a source of evil in the world.  Dawkins, Stenger and the others may argue that biblical Christianity is a religion but I argue that true, biblical Christianity has everything to do about faith in Jesus Christ rather than the external rituals of religion.  This very thing seperates Christianity from the other religions.  Religion is a legalistic, man-made idea which tries to earn or appease a god.  Biblical Christianity is all about God working in the life of the sinner.  Religion has ranks.  Christianity has a level playing field.  Religion is all about doing.  Christianity is all about what's been done. 

This is why I agree with Dawkins and his crew that religion can be a source of evil.  To believe in an afterlife without knowing how to get there will drive a person mad.  The reality is everyone wants an afterlife. Everyone knows this world cannot be it.  This world does not satisfy us like we are meant to be satisfied. We all want rescue from this fallen world.  Religion tries to earn the afterlife.  Atheists try to get rid of God.  Both religious people and atheists reject God but they both know there is a God.  One wants to earn his favor and the other wants to get rid of him.  But notice they both acknowledge that he exists. 

What's the point?

The longing for both is a proper longing.  Lets face it: Atheists think religion is a source of evil and the religious think atheism is a source of evil.  But let me direct our attention to Jesus Christ.  Jesus came to bring peace.  He came to bring peace or reconciliation between sinners and himself which in turn bring peace between humans.  Sin is why we have no peace.  This is a fallen world.  Sadly we have looked to everything as the remedy.  Whether it's earning God's favor by doing "good works" or trying to get rid of God altogether.  But there is a remedy.  The remedy is Jesus Christ.  He is the answer to the problem of sin.  And he came to earth to die for sinful humanity.  He came to break the bondage in which sinners are enslaved.  Remember what the angels declared at his birth:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14)

Jesus Christ is the one in whose image we are created.  He is our Creator.  He knows how peace will exist between us and him.  But he also knows how peace will exist between you and me.  It starts with loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength then and only then will peace be among humans.  The source of evil lies in our lack of loving God in the way he intends for us to love him.  The bottom line is sin is at the heart of evil and we are all sinners.  We all need peace with God in order to fight against the sin in our own hearts which keeps us from living at peace with one another.  We need grace.  We need God's grace.  We need God's transforming grace found only in Jesus Christ.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Don't Assume Saving Feelings

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! (Psalm 34:8a)
 In his book Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards says this about the natural man having a perception of God's greatness yet not submitting to God for salvation:

"Natural" people can have some perception of God's greatness, power, and awesome majesty, and this tends to convince them that the Bible is the Word of a great and terrible God.  They may even have a sense of the great guilt that sin against this God brings, and the dreadfulness of His wrath.  Because of their guilt and fear, they then tend to believe more readily what the Bible says about the world to come.  But this sense of fear and guilt is not enough for a truly spiritual conviction, for these people have no sense of the beauty and sweetness of God's holiness.  And yet this fear and guilt are sometimes mistaken for a saving conviction, and the emotions that result are assumed to be a saving feeling of the heart.

Edwards is not taking away from the fear of the Lord but salvation is not all about dread.  God's wrath is against all of us yet for those who are is chosen children through the finished work of Christ we now have been given a new heart that cherishes God.  The wrath we deserve has been poured out on Christ so we in return will have hearts that are overflowing in worship for our Savior.  The "natural" religious man knows nothing of this part of the relationship.  The reason?  Because he truly does not have a relationship with God.  To the "natural" man God is an angry grandfather who lacks compassion; but for his children he is a loving Father who has graciously sent his Son to die in our place in order to bring reconciliation.  


We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:11)


Grace upon grace,
JRL


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

He Died, was Buried and Rose Again

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)


Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At Your Name

At Your name
Mountains shake and crumble
At Your name
The oceans roar and tumble
At Your name
Angels will bow
The earth will rejoice
Your people cry out


At Your name
The morning breaks
In Your glory
At Your name
Creation sings Your story
At Your name
Angels will bow
The earth will rejoice
Your people cry out


Lord of all the earth
We shout Your name, shout Your name
Filling up the skies
With endless praise, endless praise
Yahweh, Yahweh
We love to shout Your name, oh Lord

There is no one like our God
We will praise you, praise you
There is no one like our God
We will sing, we will sing (Tim Hughes & Phil Wickham)


Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, December 12, 2011

Beware of Legalism

Our Pastor, Tim Senn, has been going through the book of Galatians.  Paul was writing the the churches of Galatia because some Jews had crept in to tell the Christians that salvation in Christ alone was not enough.  They were saying that other things, mainly circumcision, needed to be added to the work of Christ.  These Jews were trying to be bring these believers back into a bondage that was not theirs anymore because of faith in Christ.  Throughout the book we have heard much between what faith in Christ means compared to legalistic religion.  Recently in a blog post Tim laid out a few things from that list:



  • The legalist thinks of God as a harsh task-master to serve. 
    The Christian thinks of God as a loving Father to trust.
  • The legalist takes great pride in their morality and good works, and is very judgmental toward those who are not as ‘righteous’ as themselves. 
    The Christian is painfully aware of his or her sins and sinfulness, and knows that they only reason they are accepted by God is on the basis of His grace.
  • The legalist measures their spirituality and relationship to God upon external actions and behaviors – the measure is performance.
    The Christian measures their spirituality and relationship to God based upon faith – measured by grace motivated obedience and spiritual character qualities and attitudes that can only be produced by the Holy Spirit of God! 
  • The legalist looks at the commandments of God as burdensome and oppressive, which is why they “water” down the requirements. 
    But the Christian does not view God’s commandments as burdens to bear, but desires to please God and bring Him honor and glory.
  • The legalist focuses upon the external rules and regulations.
    The Christian focuses upon the heart and the motives.  We desire to serve God – to know God – to love God and His people. 
  • The legalist can produce “children” – Ishmael’s just like themselves – but only God can produce a Christian, because only He can give new life! 

To read the entire post click here.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, December 9, 2011

Before Abraham was, I Am

"Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58)

 Is it possible that Jesus Christ is God?  In John chapter 8 we see Jesus having a conversation with some of the scribes and Pharisees about the law.  They bring into the scene a woman who has been caught in adultery.  Basically they want Jesus to make judgment on how she ought to be treated.  Jesus shows her grace and mercy and then proceeds his conversation with this group.  Near the end of the conversation Jesus tells these religious leaders that they are of their father, the devil (44).  These men had to be shell shocked because they thought they were good, righteous people.  Their problem?  They were good, righteous people.  But good and righteous people have no need for Jesus.

I've often wondered why these religious, moralistic teachers hated Christ so much.  The conclusion: Because he claimed to be God.  We tend to think these religious leaders would like God but the issue is the fact that they enjoyed God at a distance.  They didn't want Jesus to be God because he was destroying their self-righteousness.  Jesus brought every person to a level playing field.  So he directs their attention to who he is by saying to them, "Before Abraham was, I am."  These Jewish teachers couldn't understand how Jesus could claim that he was before Abraham.  Abraham was their father so for Jesus to make this claim had huge implications.  They would have also understood the meaning behind: "I am."  Back in Exodus 3 we read, "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM'" (14).  This was Yahweh speaking back in Exodus and now Jesus was giving himself the same name.  These Jewish teachers knew exactly what Jesus was claiming which is why they were indignant.

Sadly in our day we tend not to pick up on these profound claims of Jesus.  We tend not to care because we want moralize his teachings.  We want to know what kind of impact it can have on our lives so we can go out and do what Jesus did.  We want to be like Jesus but we don't care to know Jesus.  Jesus was never a good moral teacher.  Jesus said and claimed the most outrageous things.  There are only two options when it comes to Christ: He is either a blasphemer or God.  He cannot be partly one and partly the other or both.  It isn't possible.  These Jewish teachers understood this completely which is why they wanted to kill him. Positive, motivational, moral teachers don't have groups of people constantly trying to kill them. Once the heat is on, they change their message to suit the haters.  Christ never changed his message.  Why?  Because he is the "I am" which means he is unchangeable.  Think about some of things Jesus taught: "Pick up your cross, deny self and follow me."  When did this become a good moral teaching in our society?  As sinners we do not want to die to ourselves. These are not good moral teachings but rather demands about how we live.  And we do not want someone telling us how to live.  These religious teachers did not want this either which is why they wanted Jesus dead.  But we also want him dead because he makes these demands.  He can make these demands though because he is God and he created us.

Christ is God.  He has always existed.  He is the eternal God who created the universe.  Either he is God or he is a blasphemer.  Those are the only options when you read what Christ said. My hope is that you will trust him as your Lord and Savior.  He is the One who humbled himself by coming to dwell among his creation for the purpose of saving his creation.  He came to die in our place.  He came to defeat our sin and take upon himself our death.  He proved his power over sin and death by triumphing over the grave three days after his death.  Only God could raise himself from the dead because he is the One who gives life.  Jesus is exactly who he claims to be: "Before Abraham was, I am" and he still is today.  Repent of your sin and trust in the risen Christ.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Creation Sings of God's Glory


The heavens declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1)

"We were made to know and treasure the glory of God above all things; and when we trade that treasure for images, everything is disordered.  The sun of God's glory was made to shine at the center of the solar system of our soul.  And when it does, all the planets of our life are held in their proper orbit.  But when the sun is displaced, everything flies apart.  The healing of the oul begins by restoring the glory of God to its flaming, all-attracting place at the center.

We are all starved for the glory of God, not self.  No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase self-esteem.  Why do we go?  Because there is a greater healing for the soul in beholding splendor than there is in beholding self.  Indeed, what could be more ludicrous in a vast and glorious universe like this than a human being, on the speck called earth, standing in front of a mirror trying to find significance in his own self-image?  It is a great sadness that this is the gospel of the modern world."  (John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, p. 15)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Word Became Flesh

As Christmas approaches may we take the time to reflect on the significance of the birth of Christ.  I hope this is not the only time of the year we reflect on this most important reality.  But may we also remember that this birth is not the creation of Jesus.  Yes his birth reminds us of the fact that he came down to live as a servant in this world.  He truly did take on humanity.  But this was not the beginning of Jesus.  Many people think this is when Jesus was created rather than celebrating the truth that God has come in the flesh.  We even sing about this truth when we sing the name: Immanuel.

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)" (Matthew 1:23)

This is why I love this time of the year because it almost becomes common for people to talk about the birth of Christ.  They may not fully understand the significance of the event but none the less they speak and sing about God coming in human flesh.  Sadly their are some in the "Christian" realm who also deny this grand truth but the Bible is clear about who Jesus is.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3)

So what does this have to do with Jesus?  John is talking about "the Word."  That is true but notice how he speaks about "the Word" in verses two and three: "He", "him", "him".  "The Word" is obviously speaking about a person.  Who is this person?

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

"The Word" is Jesus Christ.  He was the One in the beginning with God and he is God.  "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."  How could everything be made through him if he was just created at his birth?  Paul helps us see why Christ came into the world in human form:

"[Christ], though he 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, 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." (Phil. 2:6-8)

Christ humbly came to live in the world he created with the people he created in order to humbly die a substitutionary death for their sins.  The baby born in Bethlehem is the hope for sinners like you and me.  I would be more accurate to say he is the only hope for sinners.  Christ came to rescue us from his wrath.  Maybe I could end with these words:

"Hark!  The herald angels sing
'Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Evermore

Of the Father's love begotten*
'Ere the world began to be
He the source of all that has been
And all the future years will see

Oh that birth forever blessed
When the chosen virgin go
By the Holy Ghost conceiving
Bore the Savior of our world

He is found in human fashion
Death and sorrow here to know
That the race of Adam's children
Doomed by law to endless woe

My not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below
But forever rest in beauty
In the lights of Heaven's glow

Evermore, evermore
He shall reign forevermore
Humble King, Sovereign Lord
He shall reign forevermore

And evermore
He shall reign forevermore
Humble King, Sovereign Lord
He shall reign forevermore (Phil Wickham)


Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, December 5, 2011

May the LORD Rejoice in His Works

Many great truths about God are all over Psalm 104.  The Psalmist is praising God for who he is as the Creator of everything.  He is screaming, "God, you are holy and awesome."  He is screaming the same exact phrase as the creation.  But as he closes the Psalm he writes:

 
May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.  May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.  Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!  Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!

 
Notice the phrase, "May the LORD rejoice in his works."  How awesome is God?  That is amazing to hear the psalmist say, "LORD rejoice in what you have done."  Should God listen?  Would that make God an idolater?  No!  He must rejoice in his works.  He must glory in himself.  If God does not rejoice in his works and get himself glory than he would be an idolater.  He would also cease to be God.  But this also plays a role in our worship as well.  If God did not rejoice in his works then the psalmist could not say, "Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!"  In order for us to praise and worship our Creator he must rejoice in his works.  He must rejoice in himself.  When we see him rejoice than we rejoice.  When we see him praise his great name than we praise his great name.  "I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being...Praise the LORD!"

 
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, December 2, 2011

There is a God in Heaven Who Reveals Mysteries

“There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Daniel 2:28)
Have you ever contemplated God’s sovereignty?  Have you considered the fact that God is over everything?  His plan and purposes are never messed up.  While this is certainly a comforting reality it can also produce many questions about life.  But God’s sovereignty is about who he is rather than having all of our questions answered.  Sometimes God shows us why now but other times he chooses not to reveal why.  Reading the book of Daniel has helped me to see the great sovereignty of God. 
I’m sure we would all agree with God’s sovereignty when we read of Daniel being protected from the lions.  We read there was not even a scratch on him.  Then when his enemies were thrown into the den the lions devoured them instantly.  God’s sovereignty is all over this historical event.  But from the beginning of the book of Daniel we see God at work.  King Nebuchadnezzar commanded some from Israel to come get educated and then stand before him (1:6).  The king did not want just anybody but those “of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace” (1:3-4).  That’s a pretty hefty resume but it just so happened that Daniel was one of those men.  The king gives orders to give these men a daily portion of food that he ate and wine to drink (1:5).  But Daniel did not want to defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine so he asks the chief of the eunuchs to see if he can have vegetables and water instead.  The chief of the eunuchs agrees to a ten day contract of vegetables and water.  Eventually all the young men received vegetables and water because of what the chief had seen in Daniel’s appearance.  Daniel is also seen as superior to the others (besides Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) because of God’s favor on Daniel.  The text says, “And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (1:20).
The king then has a dream.  He wants to know the interpretation but the problem is none of the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, or Chaldeans could tell him the dream or its interpretation.  King Neb is not happy.  The result: “Because of this the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed” (2:12).  Not a good day for these wise men.  But this also meant not a good day for Daniel.  Daniel was now being sought after to be killed.  Daniel then requested a time to see the king that he might show the interpretation to the king.  If no one else could show the king his dream or its interpretation what makes Daniel so sure he can accomplish the task?  Is Daniel just trying to buy time?  I believe Daniel was trying to buy time because we read back in chapter one, “Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (17).  But I am not sure if Daniel knew this or not.  I believe Daniel was trusting in his God.  “Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon” (2:17-18).  Daniel and his friends make petition before God pleading with him to be rescued.  “Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night” (2:19).  God rescued his prophet Daniel and the other wise men. 
I suppose you could be wondering if I am making a case for modern day prophets or the interpretation of dreams or if God speaks through visions.  Fair question.  I think the whole of Scripture answer those questions.  All the prophets, whom God spoke through, were verified by what they spoke coming true.  It’s all written is Scripture and its all true.  The prophets were never in it for their own glory but God’s glory alone.  Daniel doesn’t make his boast in himself but in the fact that “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.”  As Christians we should be rejoicing in this reality because the greatest mystery of all has been revealed to us.  The triune God works in a life by his Spirit revealing the Father’s sovereign grace through the cross of his Son.  “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making know to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ” (Eph. 1:7-9).  Do you realize the gift of salvation?  O what a mystery God has revealed to his children. 
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not One Complaint

As I was reading Daniel 6 the other morning I was reminded of so many great events that took place to show off the sovereignty and power of God.  We are all familiar with Daniel being thrown into the lions den but we may forget why.  The king, Darius, had a plan to place Daniel over the whole kingdom (6:3).  Then we read:

Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.  Then these men said, "We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God." (6:4-5)

I thought about this passage for a while and wondered if that would be the response of the people I work with day to day.  I hope they wouldn't be out to sabotage me but to think that they could find no fault with me would an amazing display of God's grace.  In Daniel 6 we read that these men had no dirt against Daniel because he was faithful.  Is my life like Daniel's?  Do I love God this way?  I must admit that is always true.  Actually I wonder how true it is at times.  This was a real eye opener to me as I read this passage.

My desire is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and love my neighbor as myself.   Daniel pressed on in the grace of the Lord.  Daniel did not compromise even when these men tricked the king into making a law against God's will.  Daniel trusted the Lord through every circumstance. But in the end we see the faithfulness of God more than anything else.  God was faithful with Daniel and he will be faithful with all his children.  May we cling to him no matter what this life may throw at us.  We can trust him.

Grace upon grace,
JRL


Monday, November 28, 2011

God Delights in God

I recently decided to pick up again John Piper's book The Pleasures of God.  I remember certain things about this book that made an impact on my life but there is so much in the book that I need to be reminded of in order to understand God and the gospel to a greater extent.  I want to drink in the fact that God finds his greatest delight in himself and that "God delights to give us the very delight that he has in himself."  Simply amazing and encouraging.  The book / sermon series came from a line in Henry Scougal's book The Life of God and the Soul of Man in which Piper read the words:

The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.

While Scougal was speaking on a human level John Piper thought this is also true of God.  The greatest delight of God's soul is found in loving himself.  How is that not pride or arrogance?  Simply because God is the greatest treasure.  God cannot find a higher object to love or someone superior to himself.  If God worshipped or love someone or something else he would be an idolater and therefore cease to be God.  Piper says this about the gospel:

The gospel is the good news that God is the all-satisfying end of all our longings, and that even though he does not need us, and is in fact estranged from us because of our God-belittling sins, he has, in the great love with which he loved us, made a way for sinners to drink at the river of his delights through Jesus Christ.  And we will not be enthralled by this good news unless we feel that he was not obliged to do this.  He was not coerced or constrained by our value.  He is the center of the gospel.  The exaltation of his glory is the driving force of the gospel.  The gospel is the gospel of grace!  And grace is the pleasure of God to magnify the worth of God by giving sinners the right and power to delight in God without obscuring the glory of God.

What a great God and great gospel.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

John 13:1-20

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand."  Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you."  For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean."

 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'  I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me." 

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Born by the Holy Spirit's Breath

Born by the Holy Spirit's breath.
Loosed from the law of sin and death,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Now cleared in Christ from every claim
No judgment stands against our name.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

In us the Spirit makes His home
That we in Him may overcome;
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Christ's risen life, in all its powers,
Its all-prevailing strength, is ours.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Children and heirs of God most high,
We by His Spirit 'Father' cry;
Alleluia, Alleluia!
That Spirit with our spirit shares
To frame and breathe our wordless prayers.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

One is His love, His purpose one:
To form the likeness of His Son
Alleluia, Alleluia!
In all who, called and justified,
Shall reign in glory at His side.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Nor death nor life, nor powers unseen,
Nor height nor depth can come between;
Alleluia, Alleluia!
We know through peril, pain and sword,
The love of God in Christ our Lord.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! (Timothy Dudley-Smith)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life for Life


“Life for life” (Deuteronomy )

Recently I have been studying the topic of evil.  Capital punishment has been the big issue being addressed which is addressed in Deuteronomy 19.  Not really an exciting topic but since I started the study it makes complete sense.  God designed it therefore the ultimate thought behind capital punishment is a righteous and holy design.  

No doubt capital punishment is a hard topic to address.  We have seen people wrongly executed and some others get off the hook when the evidence is clear.  The media definitely helps the general public sway one way or the other in making a decision.  Most of us have an opinion when a big case is shown on TV all day long or in the news because it is what we see and hear about non-stop.   The judge and jurors have much to think about as the public weighs in with its opinion.  But not all court cases are broadcasted for the world to see.  I read our local news and hear of homicides that take place and very rarely are they broadcast all day long.  Normally it is mentioned briefly on the news that night.  The report normally comes in when the police or FBI have found the suspect.  The murderer is then brought before the judge to face trial.  Evidence is presented, attorneys examine, witnesses testify and the jury makes a decision.  Until the case is finished the alleged murderer is locked up during that time.  Verdict: Not guilty.  He walks free.  Verdict: Guilty. Life in prison or the death sentence. 

Why? What’s the point behind this process?  Life in prison is one thing but why would we take the life of another human?  I know the Bible talks about premeditated murder being grounds for the life of the murderer to be taken away from him as well.  But we don’t live in Israel’s time.  No one is executed for adultery anymore.  No child is executed for speaking back to their parents.  Why would this command continue?  “Life for life” is not just a concept here in Deuteronomy 19 but goes back to Genesis 9 right after the flood.  “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image’” (5-6).  The reason behind “life for life” is the fact that man is more valuable than anything else created.  Man is superior over the land, sea and animals.  We are distinct because we are created in the image of God.  The consequences are greater because of being made in God’s image.  It has everything to do with God’s value.  Capital punishment is still in play because God commands it.  The process is not perfect because sinners are involved but we must do our best to honor God’s perfect design of “life for life.” 

Capital punishment has everything to do with the value of the One whose image we are created in.  It’s not fun, simple or easy but it is commanded.  It is right.  It is a display of God’s holiness.  When we read of “life for life” we should be reminded that this is God’s plan.  It is his plan as a consequence for sin. But “life for life” should also take our minds to another substitution.  It should take us to the most important murder that ever took place.  We should look to the death of Jesus Christ.  The crazy part about this substitution is the fact that the perfect Son of God died in the place of those who were once “haters of God” (Rom. ).  In capital punishment the murderer’s life is taken because they have taken the life of another.  In the gospel the only innocent man to ever live dies in the place of those who are his murderers.  He dies so his enemies may become his sons and daughters.  He dies so his enemies can come sit at his table with him.  This is something that is truly impossible to comprehend.  In Christ temporary life is exchanged for eternal life.  Better yet eternal death is exchanges for eternal life.  

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jerry Sandusky and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Let's just be open and honest about this whole mess at Penn State University with Jerry Sandusky.  Things quit frankly are not looking good.  Being a huge sports fan I have been compelled to follow this story but only to a certain degree.  The reason: It's a hard story to follow.  Hard because it's gross.  It's a story of perversion.  It is a sad story but one that does not shock me. But in this post I don't want to focus in on the case or the crime but rather our response to wickedness.

Why?

I'll start by saying:  Jerry Sandusky is a wicked, sinful man.  (Stick with me)  If you were to ask the general public, "Is Jerry Sandusky a wicked man?"  I think right now the general answer would be "yes."  But before this scandal he was a good man in eyes of the general public or at worst an unknown man.  The problem is having a mindset that his status has changed because of this scandal.  But the truth be told he has always been a wicked man.  I think most people are compelled to this story because now there is a new person to hold up and say, "I'm good because I haven't done what he has done."  The public loves this story because there is a poster boy of wickedness and most of us rank above him as "good people."  We feel better about ourselves because we think, "I would never do anything like he did."   When we think in this manner we show that we are wicked, sinful people as well.  Sadly, we have have always been wicked, sinful people. 

We enjoy the failures of others because it puffs up our pride.  We are always searching for people who outwardly are worse off than we are because we feel so much better about ourselves.  This is why we need a standard or better yet an authority.  Goodness has become a relative term and the standard is whatever we set.  This makes us the authority.  But natural born sinners cannot set the standard for other natural born sinners.  Therefore, I am not the authority.  You are not the authority.  No human being is an authority unless that human being perfectly obeyed the perfect standard set by the Creator.  There is only one authority and he says this about each one of us:  "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12). 

"But...I've never committed a crime of Sandusky's magnitude." 
"You know if I had been in Joe Paterno's shoes I would have done better." 
"If I was the president of Penn State I would have handled things in a right manner." 

Maybe things could have been handled better but my point in this articles is for us to examine why we react the way we do to such sad news.  In each of these responses we are assuming we are "good people."  We are assuming our hearts are always set on doing what is right but that is a wrong assumption.  God says our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).  You say, "Not mine."  Really?  Would you the creation call into question your Creator?  That doesn't make sense. 

As Christians we should all examine our hearts and pursue Christ so that we can fight against the temptations and sins in this life.  What I love about the gospel is that it puts all of us on a level playing field.  Sandusky is not someone that should us feel better about ourselves.  This story is not a cause for self-righteousness.  As Christians we stand at the foot of the cross as forgiven sinners.  Were it not for God's grace, where would we be?  Yes, this crime is hideous.  But when we stand at the foot of the cross we can easily see how hideous our own sins are.  We can see clearly our own wicked hearts.  God had to come in the flesh in order to die a criminal's death so that my sins could be pardoned.  As Christians we shouldn't look to Jerry Sandusky and feel better about ourselves.  The cross already tells us how wicked and sinful we are.  If you're puffed up in pride when you see the wickedness of another person than you just don't get the cross and really haven't seen your own heart.  As forgiven sinners we should be grieving over the sins of another not rejoicing and patting ourselves on the back.  That doesn't make sense. 

We should be praying for the victims.  We should be praying for the school.  We should be praying for Jerry Sandusky.  While the cross speaks volumes about our wickedness, it speaks louder of God's grace and forgiveness for those who will repent and trust in Christ.  Jerry Sandusky can be forgiven of his sins.  There will still be consequences in this life for his crimes but he can find freedom in Christ.  This is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is why the world despises the gospel.  But it is so true and so glorious.  How do I know?  God promises: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).  This promise isn't for "good people" who don't realize they need Jesus but for sinners who realize they cannot save themselves. The best of deeds won't outweigh his perfect righteousness and the worst of sinners can be covered in his perfect righteousness.  Trust me, I've been forgiven.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Music with Instruction

I love music.  I know nothing about it but I can listen with the best of them.  I've also never missed one note in my car.  My steering wheel recently told me I have the voice of an angel.  Okay not really but I do love music and the words in my book are as important as the music itself.  I love artist that can make my mind think and especially love artist that make my heart and mind focus on Christ.  Matt Papa is one of those artist.  He recently released a new album titled This Changes Everything.  The title track has some of my favorite lines on the entire album.  Matt is speaking about growing up in church and how it is easy for those who have grown up that way to become callous to great truths.  Here are some of the words:

I grew up in a little town
Used to sing in the old church house
There in the pew where I used to hide
Learned the story bout the man who died

Well I was sure I heard that He got back up
But as we broke the bread and drank the cup
Seemed the faces told another tale
They were as dry as the bread was stale

Did I miss something? Was I not supposed to cry?
Did they hear preacher, "Jesus is alive"?

I think Matt does a great job of helping us, as the Church, to see that the truth of the resurrection should bring great excitement to our souls every time we are reminded of it.  He goes on to say:

Oh Lord have I become a man
Too scared to be a child again
Too comfortable with amazing grace
Familiar with the empty grave

We should never become "too comfortable" with God's abundant grace he has lavished upon us and too "familiar" with the resurrection.  These are life altering truths. 

In the chorus he asks some "If" questions:

If this is true, this changes everything
If this is real, I've got to tell the world
If He is God, then I've got a choice to make
If I believe, then I must follow Him

Then in the last chorus he changes to the fact that these things are true:

Cause this is true and this changes everything
This is real so I've got to tell the world

That He is God, and now there's a choice to make
If you believe, then you must follow Him

I'm grateful for songwriters like Matt Papa.  Check him out.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Perfect Love

Verse 1

Now let's get straight to the topic, God's love is weighty to process
And apart from the Holy Spirit, we're unable to digest
Because man's depraved in his logic, so God's haters will mock it
But inter-trinitarian love should make us astonished
Imagine the Son enjoying the embrace of His Father
Eternally paying Him homage as He bathed in His knowledge
Equally faithful and sovereign, gracious, patient and honest
Cosmic greatness blazing with radiance- conscious
Holy Spirit also present, full display of His God-ness
No creation could watch this- it wasn't safe for their optics
What an awesome scene in heaven with all esteem and reverence
It's Psalm 16:11 as conveyed through the prophet
Overflow of joy and love, the Father made Him a promise
To give His Son a people to liberate from their bondage
So they're no longer slaves and hostages, but blameless and spotless
Consequence of eternal love- our salvation's accomplished!

Chorus

Love so perfect
Love eternally
Unchanging, Holy, Righteous Love
Transcends our understanding
But in Your nature there is perfect love
Love so perfect
Love eternally
Unchanging, Holy, Righteous Love
Transcends our understanding
But in salvation there is perfect love

Verse 2

Now it's one thing to consider God's love that's within
But how could God's love extend to men corrupted with sin?
Because we certainly don't deserve it, He's perfect and we're imperfect
What's lurking beneath the surface? His mercy and deeper purpose
Made in His likeness, installed with reminders of His law
Despite our blindness from the fall, His kindness reaches all
The fact He allows the sun to rise on this evil planet
Means that His love is such that we can't even understand it
In other words, don't let traditions fool ya, gotta let them Scriptures school ya
As a matter of fact, see how Christ reacted when it came to the rich young ruler
Love explicit, if it isn't His love, what is it
Restricting Him from inflicting His vengeance on the wicked?
Some call it common grace, but I'm inclined to state
that it's the love of God shining from a place that beyond time and space
They say, "If God is love, what's eternal torment for?"
Well, He loves the world for sure, but He loves His glory more!

Verse 3

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of this subject
Would be the love of God that He expresses towards the elect
And the second some people hear that, they get mad inside
But it's a special kind of love the Husband has for His Bride
It's a love that distinguishes her and sets her apart
No other woman could ever have the same effect on His heart
Because this Groom is not adulterous, this marriage has no openness
His devotion is traced back to when the world was motionless
In love we were predestined for adoption as a son
Not for anything that we've done, check Ephesians chapter one
Look, when we lived as God's opponents, He gave His only Son for atonement
So we've got to see He can't possibly love us more than He does this moment
In love, He justified us, in love, He sanctifies us
So we don't have to jump through hoops to try to make Him like us
One thing we truly cannot fathom- we're stunned
The Father loves us with the very love He has for His Son! (Shai Linne & Monielle Laney)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Forgiveness at the Cross

Have you ever seriously considered the command: "Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive" (Col. 3:13)?  I must confess forgiveness at times is not an easy thing for me.  I can look like the servant in Matthew 18 who has been forgiven much therefore I can forgive a fellow servant.  But at times in my heart I have locked my fellow servant in prison until I am paid back.  I work on a penance system at times which has nothing to do with true forgiveness. 

I recently studied through Philemon which was a serious heart check for me to see the character of Philemon.  Philemon had been wronged by his servant Onesimus with a crime that was punishable by death at the time.  Not only did he run out on Philemon but he may have also stolen some of Philemon's possessions.  This was no light matter. Philemon was a member of the church of Colossae who loved his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  We read about his godly character all throughout the short book of Philemon.  Paul says this to Philemon:

"I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you." (4-7)

Paul wasn't trying to butter up Philemon so that forgiving Onesimus would be easy rather Paul is comforted in sending Onesimus back to Philemon because of Philemon's godly character.  Keep in mind Onesimus was probably standing right in front of Philemon has he read Paul's letter.  Onesimus was back because he was a changed man.  While Onesimus had run out on Philemon he had sought after Paul who was in prison.  Surely this was the work of the Holy Spirit in this sinners life.  We see grace at work while Onesimus was in sin.  Through it all Paul ministered to Onesimus and ultimately Onesimus repented of his sin.  Onesimus was a new man in Christ and now he was seeking forgiveness from Philemon who he had wronged.  Philemon now had an opportunity to make his theology practical. 

What about us?  What if we were in the situation where a brother or sister in Christ has wronged us and come back seeking forgiveness?  A lack of forgiveness hinders our fellowship with God and not only with God but also our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Relationships are hindered when we don't truly forgive.  When I'm struggling I normally sit there and think about how foolish it is not to forgive people.  As brothers and sisters in Christ we all live at the foot of the cross.  Imagine for a moment you are sitting with a fellow brother or sister in Christ, who has wrong you, at the foot of the cross.  They ask you to forgive them of their sin against you but you reject their forgiveness.  There you are sitting with them at the foot of the cross unreconciled.  Something doesn't seem right.  Don't you think gazing upon your infinite debt that is nailed to the cross would break your hardened heart?  This is what Paul is saying in Colossians 3 when he says, "Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive."  Paul was confident Philemon would forgive Onesimus because he understood the saving grace of God.  We all need to be reminded of the grace and forgiveness of God so that we in turn may forgive as we have been forgiven. 

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God's Child

"If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God's child, and having God as his Father.  If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all." (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 201)

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13)

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (Romans 8:15-17)

Our Pastor this Sunday preached on this very topic.  Click here to listen.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Psalm 62

My soul finds rest in God alone,
My Rock and my salvation,
A fortress strong against my foes,

And I will not be shaken.
Though lips may bless and hearts may curse,

And lies like arrows pierce me,
I’ll fix my heart on righteousness,

I’ll look to Him who hears me.

O praise Him, hallelujah, My Delight and my Reward;
Everlasting, never failing, My Redeemer, my God.

Find rest, my soul, in God alone
Amid the world’s temptations;
When evil seeks to take a hold
I’ll cling to my salvation.
Though riches come and riches go,
Don’t set your heart upon them;
The fields of hope in which I sow
Are harvested in heaven.

I’ll set my gaze on God alone,
And trust in Him completely;
With every day pour out my soul,
And He will prove His mercy.
Though life is but a fleeting breath,
A sigh too brief to measure,
My King has crushed the curse of death
And I am His forever. (Aaron Keyes)


Grace upon grace,
JRL