Thursday, June 30, 2011

Response

The fourth part of the gospel outline:

1. God
2. Man
3. Christ

4. Response

Faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:9)
Repent (Acts 17:30; Acts 26:20; Isaiah 55:6-7; John 3:36)
Turn your heart from all that dishonors God (Luke 9:23; 1 Thess. 1:9; John 12:26)

My plan is to put this whole outline together in one document to post on the blog if anyone is interested in having a copy to learn for memory or to have as a reference.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Christ

Part three of our gospel outline:

1. God
2. Man

3. Christ

He is God and Lord of all (John 1:1; Titus 2:13; Phil. 2:9-11)
He became man (Phil. 2:6-7)
He is holy and sinless (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5)
He paid the penalty for the sins of those who would believe (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 1:7-8; Col. 1:20)
He rose triumphantly from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Man

Here is the second part of the gospel outline:

1. God

2. Man

All men are guilty of breaking God's law (Rom. 3:10-11, 23; Isaiah 59:2; James 2:10)
All are sinners and worthy of death (Rom. 6:23)
No one can save themselves (Isaiah 64:6; Prov. 14:12; Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:20)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 27, 2011

God

For our summer mission's trips our youth pastor George Lawson has been taking us through the book What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. He is also having us memorize an outline that I think is very helpful for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. The outline is structured like the book: God, Man, Christ and Response. I thought this week I would use Monday - Thursday to post the different parts of the memory work so if any of you would like to learn it with us that would be great.

1. God

He is Creator and Owner (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 19:1; Acts 17:24-29)
He is holy and pure (1 Peter 1:15-16; Isaiah 6:3; Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48)
Because He is holy, He hates sin (Ps. 1:5; Rom. 2:16)

Tomorrow we will look at Man.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, June 24, 2011

Members of the Household of God



“Members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19)

Have you ever considered what goes into being a member of the household of God? Have you considered the privilege of being a part of the household of God? In Ephesians 2 we read one of the most beautiful pictures of the gospel and it’s accomplishment in building the true Church. Men, women and children from every tribe, tongue and nation are now able to be “members of the household of God” because of Jesus Christ.

The first ten verses of Ephesians 2 are some of the most glorious verses in all of Scripture. Paul beautifully articulates the gospel speaking of our condition in the flesh:

1. Dead in the trespasses and sins
2. Following the course of this world
3. Following the prince of the power of the air
4. Once lived in the passions of our flesh

Our condition was horrific yet we loved living this way. We loved being slaves to sin. Without knowing our condition we had no problem with the way we lived. Paul then turns the corner of hope when he says, “But God.” Our fleshly condition was bad but there is good news; God is rich in mercy and saves us by his grace. Nothing we could ever do could earn his favor but he graciously opens our eyes to see our sinful state and brings us to himself. Then our condition changes: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (10). God makes us new creatures in Christ where we go from being slaves of sin to his workmanship. Paul is making sure we clearly understand this is how the Lord builds his Church.

Because of verses 1-10 Paul now turns another corner to talk about reconciliation being brought to both Jews and Gentiles through the blood of Christ. The Gentiles are no longer separated from Christ because of uncircumcsion. “In [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11). There is no more separation because the gospel is for everyone, both Jew and Gentile. The dividing wall of hostility was taken down because of Christ. Now Christ is building his Church through his saving power. To those who are being transformed by the gospel he says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Through Christ we go from being children of wrath to children of the King.

Christian, this should amaze us more than it does. We go from death to life where we will forever be “members of the household of God.” This is a household forever and ever. We are family for life. Ponder the reality that this life is short. We have family members we will never meet until we reach heaven. Then, in bliss, we will worship the risen Lamb for all eternity with our fellow brothers and sisters. This is why we long for the day of Christ’s return. We want to be with him forever with the saints surrounding his throne singing praises to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Until that day we wait eagerly, catching glimpses of eternity, when we join corporately as a body to celebrate Jesus Christ. The gospel has made us “members of the household of God” therefore we are his ambassadors, uniting for one purpose, the glory of God.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our Great God and Savior

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

True Passion

In Byron Yawn's book Well Driven Nails he speaks about what true passion looks like in a preacher but I believe this should be true of every Christian:

"True passion risks its own dignity to exalt Christ. True passion is a freedom from insecurity and the fear of man. It's a type of freedom people observe in a sermon on Sunday and want in their lives on Monday. Piper described this phenomenon as a liberating self-forgetfulness:

'I just know that what I want is the gift of self-forgetfulness in what I would call a full engagement, a full passion, a full zeal with what's there in the text, and the reality of God in and through the text. I want to see Him, and know Him, be engaged by Him, be thrilled by Him, say it with whatever effectiveness I can, and let the chips fall where they will...'

He offered this summary of the same idea, 'It's a freedom from self-consciousness. Preaching has reached its ideal moment when I have seen and perceived and am experiencing the greatness of what I see about God in the text and am loving it'."

Once again I know this book is aimed at expository preaching but I wonder how much carelessness in the church would be nonexistent if lay people would be in awe of God. We've been duped by so many pastors and preachers because rather than dig into the text ourselves we take their word for Scripture. We don't want to investigate ourselves because frankly most of us think it does not have an affect on our lives. Digging into the Scriptures is for church and ministry people. It is their job to teach us, so we think. But shouldn't every Christians desire to know God? Shouldn't we all want to be "thrilled by Him?"

Christian, open your Bible. Read God's Word! Be thrilled by his holiness, glory, righteousness, majesty, wrath, grace, mercy, love, kindness, gentleness and the list could go on. Be so thrilled that you cannot be quiet about him. Be so thrilled that when you are being quiet it is driving you crazy because of your silence. Being thrilled with God will produce true passion which will drive away the fear of man because of your love for God. I pray this is me more often than naught.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Gospel Song

Holy God, in love, became
Perfect man to bear my blame
On the cross he took my sin
By his death I live again (Drew Jones & Bob Kauflin)



Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 20, 2011

Seeing is not Believing

Yesterday at church for the corporate Scripture reading our pastor Tim Senn read the crucifixion account from Mark 15. As he read, "So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, 'He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe'" (21-22), my mind instantly raced to the resurrection. The chief priests and the scribes were in total rejection of Christ. Jesus did not come down from the cross. Praise the Lord! But he did give them greater proof that they saw yet they rejected him still. Matthew's account of the resurrection tells us:

"While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, 'Tell people, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep. And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day" (Matthew 28:11-15)

This is amazing! First the chief priests and scribes rile up the crowd to shout for Jesus' execution. Then at the crucifixion we see them coming up to Jesus while he is suspended on the cross mocking him. Jesus does not buy into their lie because he knows their hearts. Then three days later Jesus resurrects himself from the dead. The soldiers appointed by the chief priests are eyewitnesses of Jesus walking out of the tomb. They tremble and fear and go report to the chief priests what they have seen. Now the chief priests must believe. This was a greater miracle than getting down from the cross. All they wanted to see was a miracle so they could believe that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be. But rather than bow in reverence to the King of kings they harden their hearts doing whatever they can to hide the story.

Many people in our day and age have this idea that if they only saw the miracles they would believe in the Christ. Don't buy into that lie. The guards were right there when the stone was rolled away and Jesus walked out of the tomb yet they rejected Jesus. The chief priests and scribes mocked for a sign and then the greatest sign of Christ's divinity took place yet they rejected Christ. Rather than ask for a sign beg that God would be gracious to you a sinner and cleanse you from your sin. Christ's death brought forgiveness and his resurrection brought his children the conquering power over sin. Ask him to open your eyes so that you may see him as all the glorious King and Lord. He is gracious and will not turn away from those who repent of their sin and trust in him alone.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hope in the LORD!


“Hope in the LORD!” (Psalm 130:7)

Where is your hope? When the circumstances of life seem to be smooth sailing, where is your hope? When the weight of the world seems to be crushing you with anxiety and trials, where is your hope? When life seems to be mundane and normal, where is your hope? If we were to answer honestly I bet in all those circumstances our hope may shift from one thing to another or maybe more accurately one person to another. But here we see in Scripture: “Hope in the LORD!” It is hoping in the LORD that brings us true rest in all circumstances.

In the immediate context we read of the deep anguish of the Psalmist in the first part of the Psalm. He is wrestling with what seems to be a deep awareness of his own sinfulness. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!” This seems to be the idea of the weight of his sin in light of knowing the holiness of his God. Have you been in this place before? Maybe you’ve read a passage of Scripture becoming aware of a certain sin you have been oblivious to for many years. Maybe a sermon was preached where the Holy Spirit convicted you of a pattern of your life you were unaware of. I know I’ve been there before and the weight is heavy because we see how unworthy we are compared to holy God. The Psalmist seems to be in this position as he cries out to the LORD to hear his pleas for mercy.

Next the Psalmist goes on to ask a question that really requires no answer whatsoever: “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If you are contemplating the answer right now let me help you out with the correct answer: Nobody. Simply put not one person could stand before God if he were to guard (mark) our sins. Another translation says, “Keep a record of sins” (NIV). The Psalmist does not stop his train of thought after the question but rather brings in the hope all Christians can cling to tightly. “But with you there is forgiveness.” “But” is a word of hope. We not left to own to stand before holy God in judgment if we place our trust in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. The Psalmist is struggling over the weight of his sin but he finds “hope in the LORD” when he remembers the steadfast love the LORD has for his people. His pleas for mercy are met with this promise: “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 Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-5). The reason the Psalmist pleads with Israel to “hope in the LORD” is because he understanding the mercy and grace God gives in pardoning sin. Not only did he pardon our sin but he also “made us alive.” The Psalmist comes to the same conclusion when he says, “That you may be feared.” This is the purpose of God’s forgiveness so that he may be feared. God wants us to be awed by him and wants us to show him the reverence he alone deserves. The gospel is an anchored hope because it is a “hope in the LORD.”

To answer the question above: Where is your hope? Whether times are good, bad and just plain normal we, as Christians, should be anchored in our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. He is sovereign over all of life and he is good so we can completely trust him in all circumstances. So with the Psalmist I will conclude:

O readers, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Practical Ways to Grow

Yesterday I talked about the gospel's affect to not only forgive us of our sins but to also free us from sin's power. I thought today I might give some practical ways to grow in grace. The goal of every Christian is to be like Christ. In order to be more like Christ we must do battle daily against our sin.

Ways to grow:
1. Prayer (Eph. 6:18)
2. Study your Bible (Eph. 6:17)
3. Rehearse the gospel (Eph. 6:14-17)
4. Humble yourself and rely on the Lord's strength (Eph. 6:10)
5. Proclaim the gospel to others (Eph. 6:19-20)

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:10-20)

For tomorrow do it all over again!

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Power of God

Christian, are you grateful for the grace of our great Savior, Jesus Christ? I was recently struck with the kindness of our God to reveal himself to me. There is a team of us who regularly visit the local Juvenile Detention Center to hang out, play some music and talk about the gospel. Every time we go we have someone who teaches the message of the gospel. After the teaching we have time for one on one interaction with the youth at the Detention Center. It is a joy to find out about these youth and also talk with them more about the gospel of Jesus Christ. What we come to find out in those conversations is just how amazing it is when God opens the eyes of the blind.

Only God knows how many have been impacted by this ministry. It is a joy to go and serve the Lord with gladness but it is not always easy. Turnover rate is quick so chances are we may only see a kid one time. We have one shot to get the gospel to them. They hear it and most of them agree with it. "I am a sinner and I believe Jesus Christ is the Savior" but then it seems to get interesting from that point on. Most of them will follow that statement with: "When I get out I'm going to try to just do better." Then the list begins with going to church, reading the Bible, praying and staying out of trouble. The gospel goes right back to works and earning God's favor which is not the gospel at all. So why is there a disconnect between understanding one is a sinner in need of a Savior and then relying on one's own strength to change?

Most of these youth have grown up in a religious setting where church is a very high priority. Sunday's are a big family time to get together and go to church. Church is important but it is not the "power of God unto salvation." What happens with most of them is they grow up seeing a disconnect between church and life. Sunday is a day to honor and praise God but what about the rest of the week? The church may preach the gospel but unless God gives life to a dead heart church is just a social outing. When Monday hits they are back to "real life." But that is not the case with those who are born again. Worship is an every day, every hour, every minute, every second part of life. We all worship but the object of our worship is different.

For true Christians the object of our worship is Christ. We are saved through him, we stand firm in him, we are being conformed more into his image and we long for his return. We have surrendered our rights to the One who rightfully owns us. The Bible says, "We are not our own for we were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20) This seems like a drag unless you understand that the Creator is the only one who can truly understand what is best for the creature. The religious person does not understand this reality therefore they only wish to be saved from the hell rather than surrender all to Christ. Christ is the Savior but not Lord. We cannot miss this point. Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins upon the cross but through his resurrection he defeated sin's power. When a person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ he is not just receiving forgiveness for his sins but he is also receiving the power to not let sin reign in his mortal body (Romans 6:12). The gospel transforms an old person into a new person.

One of the saddest parts in talking with these youth is the fact that they have the knowledge of the gospel. They understand they are sinners in need of a Savior but they are unwilling to let Jesus be Lord of their life. They would rather climb up an eternal hill of condemnation than submit their lives to Jesus who climbed that hill for them when he died at Calvary. The whole gospel is a power beyond my total comprehension which is why I am daily amazed by my God's work in saving me.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

HIs Forever

Jesus, friend of sinners
Loved me ’ere I knew Him
Drew me with His cords of love
Tightly bound me to Him
’Round my heart still closely twined
The ties that none can sever
For I am His and He is mine
Forever and forever

Jesus, friend of sinners
A crown of thorns You wore for me
Bruised for my transgressions
Pierced for my iniquities
The wrath of God that I deserved
Was poured out on the Innocent
He took my place, my soul to save
Now I am His forever

Jesus, friend of sinners
I love to tell the story
Redeeming love has been my theme
And will be when in glory
Not death nor life nor anything
Can ever separate me
O love that will not let me go
Yes, I am His forever (James Small, Pat Sczebel)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fearing the Lord

"If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared." (Psalm 130:3-4)

"The result of true forgiveness is never a lackadaisical attitude but holy fear toward God. Divine pardon, rightly understood and humbly received, will always lead to deep reverence for God" (Steve Lawson)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, June 10, 2011

They Bowed Down with their Faces to the Ground



“They bowed down with their faces to the ground” (2 Chronicles 7:3)

What is the proper response of a sinner who has seen the glory and holiness of God? When the eyes of a sinner are made to see clearly the majesty of Jesus Christ the only proper response is bowing down in worship. This is the response we see from the people of Israel when they saw the glory of the LORD at the temple dedication: “They bowed down with their faces to the ground.”

"Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayer of this place. ‘And now arise, O LORD God, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let your saints rejoice in your goodness. O LORD God, do not turn away the face of your anointed one! Remember your steadfast love for David your servant’” (6:40-42). This is Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple. The people of Israel are standing around listening as Solomon is pleading for God to be magnified in this place but also in the hearts of his people. Solomon concludes: Amen. I’m sure the people were anticipating the sacrifices to be offered to the LORD for the dedication but I’m not sure they knew what was about to happen as soon as Solomon concluded his prayer: “As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple” (1). Can you imagine? God sent fire from heaven to consume the offering and sacrifices. This is a clear display of God’s amazing power and glory.

Christian, this is our God! Not only did he send fire down to consume the offering and sacrifices but the Bible says he is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He is not to be taken lightly. He is to be feared because he is God. God is holy, holy, holy. His glory not only fills the temple but fills the heavens and the earth. His glory is radiant throughout everything. We cannot miss his glory. The people of Israel saw it clearly and so much we. But this is the amazing part of the story: God is the one who also opens our eyes to see his glory. He reveals himself to us through his Word. The Holy Spirit awakens us to the glory and majesty of God. Through faith in Christ we are rescued from the wrath of God and brought into his holy temple. He makes us his people.

His glory demands a response. That response will either be one of true devotion and worship of Christ or rejection of Christ. Don’t reject Christ. Don’t turn away from his love demonstrated at the cross. Our God is a consuming fire. He is a jealous God and he will have no rivals. In the end he is either for you or against you, that is based solely on your relationship with Christ.

Remember the Day of Judgment is coming and the response of the Israelites will ultimately be the response of everyone. Either you will bow now, joyfully submitting yourself to Christ as Lord and Savior, or you will bow before him in terror as you see the righteous Creator on Judgment Day. Bow the knee now! At the judgment it will be too late. Remember Isaiah when he saw the glory of the LORD in the temple? His response was much like the Israelites when he said: “Woe is me! I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” That is what a humble heart looks like before a holy God.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rejoice in your Salvation

"Do you presume on the riches of [God's] kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Romans 2:4-5).

But God sent his Son to be "put forward as a propitiation (wrath-bearer) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:25-26).

"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, muchh more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation" (Romans 5:9-11).

We see clearly that every sinner deserves God's righteous wrath yet he sent his Son to be the propitiation for the wrath that we deserve. Through Christ's righteousness we are declared justified through his blood by faith as a gift to be reconciled to God. Then Paul writes, "We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This seems obvious yet I think it is in the Scriptures as a reminder to us as Christians to rejoice in the work Christ accomplished. Our sin runs so deep that the Holy Spirit knew to remind us to rejoice in our salvation. What a kind and gracious God we know and love.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grace...Saving Sinners (Me)

My friend George Lawson recently went to minister for 3 days at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (aka Angola). He recently posted about his time at the prison on the BCLR Blog. I would encourage each of you to visit the blog and watch the 25 minute video when you get the opportunity. Just another amazing display of God's grace to sinners like you and me. There is also a book titled Cain's Redemption which tells the story of the transformation taking place at this prison. Here is the excerpt George posted from the book:

Taken from the chapter "Saving Antonio" in Cain's Redemption

“He didn’t have much time. In just a few days, Antonio James, sentenced to death for killing a man in a New Orleans robbery, would leave his “home” for a final journey. Guards would transport him to a holding cell in Camp F, some distance from the Death Row complex and on the other side of the broad expanse that is Angola.

The teenager, Marshall Cain, had asked his dad, Burl, the warden of Angola who would preside over James’s execution, if he could take a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies to the condemned inmate, now less than a week from his appointment with death. The father, who had come to deeply appreciate how James made the most of his days on Death Row, readily agreed.

There, on top of the chest, was a worn and much-underlined Bible, Antonio James’s most precious possession. The inmate kept it open so he could immediately turn to one of his favorite passages.

“Here,” Marshall Cain said as he inserted the paper plate filled with cookies through the narrow slit between the cell bars. James took the plate, sniffed the cookies approvingly, and sampled one. In a moment he turned his attention to the youth.

“Thanks,” the inmate said, “that was kind of you. They’re my favorites.”

Marshall nodded somewhat self-consciously, then asked a question that clearly reflected both his disbelief and dismay. “Antonio, I have to ask you something. You are a Christian. You care about others; you teach the other inmates to read and you do Bible studies. Why are you here on Death Row? Now my dad has to execute you—why?

James did not answer for a moment. Then he began to talk about his abusive upbringing, about a father who liked to hurt and belittle him, about escaping by sleeping under the house with his dog keeping him warm. He talked about running away to New Orleans when he was twelve. He and his friends formed a small gang that would rob tourists at gunpoint in the French Quarter. Most of the time, the victims did not resist, except one. Antonio shot him, and he died. “That’s why I’m here,” the condemned man said.


“I didn’t mean to kill that man,” James insisted, as he had throughout his years on Death Row. “But it happened, and I take responsibility for that.”

As the date of his death drew near, Antonio asked the warden lots of questions. “How is it when you die? What happens to your soul, and how does it really work?” Cain listened, taking the man’s question seriously. He quoted Jesus’ words to the chief hanging next to Him on the cross. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

He also told Antonio what Billy Graham, in his book Angels, says about those celestial beings and how they escort the redeemed soul to heaven. Antonio asked Cain if he would hold his hand when the time came, so he would be connected to this earth while he reached into heaven with the other hand. Cain promised he would.

Burl Cain had done his best to prepare Antonio James for death. The two men had spoken often about the events soon to unfold, most recently just that day. The warden had explained what would happen when he would arrive to escort the inmate from his holding cell to the death chamber. He spared no detail, believing James would be helped by knowing exactly how things would play out.

The inmate listened intently, taking everything in without interrupting, almost as though the procedure were meant to help, not put him to death. The calm expression on Antonio’s face did not change as Cain explained what was going to happen.

“Any more questions?” the warden asked Antonio shook his head. “Let’s pray together, then,” said Cain. “I’d appreciate that very much,” Antonio said. The warden reached out and grasped the inmate’s hand as he whispered: “Dear God, You’re about to welcome Antonio into Your kingdom. Help him to keep his focus entirely on You during the coming hours. Help him to realize that he is about to come into the presence of Jesus. And Father, we just pray for the victim’s family, that You’ll be with them and comfort them…”

The efficient strap-down team did their work in ninety seconds, securing leather straps around the prisoner’s ankles, thighs, abdomen, chest, and shoulders. Then the executioner began searching for a vein in his right arm into which he could insert the needle.

“Antonio was so calm, his pulse so low, that we couldn’t locate a suitable vein even when he made a fist,” Cain said later. “He apologized for making things difficult. The EMT slapped his arm to see if he could raise a vein. That didn’t work, so finally we inserted the needle into his leg,”

Now, with every step of the procedure accomplished, the warden signaled for the curtain to open so the witnesses could observe the actual execution. Cain took hold of Antonio’s hand and stared into his eyes. Then he said, “Antonio, the chariot is here; get ready for the ride. Here we go; you are about to see Jesus.”

The process, irrevocable began. In a moment, the first drug began to enter Antonio James. The inmate breathed two deep breaths, relaxed his grip on Burl Cain’s hand, and closed his eyes for the last time. The lawyers had tears in their eyes.


Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Saved By Grace

Just a singin' a gospel song today
Get a ready to send the years
Of guilt and shame away
The years of failing
The years of nailing up yourself
To a cross you can't bear
That's why He was there

What a beautiful day
When He washed all our sins away
What a beautiful day

By grace you have been saved
By grace you have been saved
By grace you have been saved
By grace through faith
Through faith

Even the faith I have to sing
Hallelujah to my King
It's freely given
That I might not boast in myself but Him

Can't sing it enough
Say it enough
Play it enough
When will I get it
I can't earn it
And no I don't deserve
Can't say it enough (Shane Barnard)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, June 6, 2011

We are at Peace with God

Currently I am reading a small booklet called Justification: Being Made Right With God by Guy Waters. This is a great resource if you want to know more about the truth of justification. In one section the author talks about sinners being able to have peace with God through justification. He quotes Romans 5:1: "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." He speaks clearly that this peace is given as a gift from God to those who put their faith in Christ. This isn't a peace like we hear about in our world. It isn't some inner feeling but rather a hope and trust in our Savior. This is a peace that cannot be taken away because it is a peace with God that comes from God. The author writes:

"The reason we will never lose our peace is not our firm grip on God. Our peace in Christ stands firm because of God's grip on us."

The God of the universe is holding us firm therefore our assurance of peace should not waver. We ought to constantly remember our great God's promise that "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Peace comes from knowing our sins have been forgiven and Christ's perfect righteousness has been imputed to us by God's grace through faith.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, June 3, 2011

No One Will Take your Joy from You



“No one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22)

This promise from our Savior, Jesus Christ, ought to produce great comfort and gladness to our souls. God has promised that “no one will take your joy from you” and God is always good on his promises. That means the joy we have, as his children, goes beyond any circumstance this world can throw our way. This is a joy with the solid Rock as its foundation.

The disciples had no clue what Jesus was talking about at this point in his ministry. Jesus is talking about seeing them no longer and then in a little while longer he would see them again. They were asking each other what Jesus meant by not seeing him for a little while. Jesus proceeds to answer their question by speaking about his impending death using the illustration of a pregnant woman. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (16:21). The delivery of a baby is done with much anguish and pain but to watch a mother with her baby for the first time is a good reminder that the pain is worth it all. The pain is quickly gone because of the great joy of a new life. Jesus is communicating to his disciples about the sorrow they will feel in just a little while when he is sentenced to death on a cross.

In preparing them for his death we can see the tender compassion Jesus has for his disciples. He wants them to be prepared for what is about to take place yet he knows they will not fully understand. Jesus had always been preparing them throughout his entire earthly ministry but crucifixion is not what they had in mind. At this point they still really have no idea what is going to happen to Jesus. His death and resurrection are the only reason Jesus can promise the great joy for his disciples. Without the cross and the empty tomb there is no true, sustaining joy. Jesus understood this reality because it was all part of the Father’s plan for redemption. His death will produce their sorrow but three days later, when he walks out the grave, Jesus assures them: “No one will take your joy from you.” They will see clearly Jesus is exactly who claims to be. The sorrow of Calvary will be forgotten because the understanding of the Gospel will be a joyful reality. This reality of Christ crucified penetrates the heart and soul so deep that the joy it produces cannot be taken away. The reason? Our hope is fixed on our victorious Savior who will make all things new in the new heavens and the new earth. We have an unfailing promise to cling onto.

Christian, are you lacking joy? If you are I hope you will constantly fix your gaze upon Jesus Christ. If you are suffering remember the sufferings of Christ and the comfort he gives. If things are going well in life remember the goodness and kindness of God. If life seems confusing remember that God is sovereign over all of life. Always remember the promises of God no matter the circumstance and praise him through it all. You can rejoice because of Christ. The victory is won and “no one will take your joy away from you.”

If you know nothing of this joy found in Christ I would encourage you to humble yourself before God and beg him for mercy. Sin is separating you from joyful fellowship with your Creator. Repent and trust in Jesus Christ. He accomplished eternal joy through his death and resurrection. "In his presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11). It is impossible to have eternal joy taken away.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, June 2, 2011

They Hated Me First

Remember Jesus' words to his disciples:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:18-25)

These are not words to pursue people for the purpose of being hated but rather sharing with others the truth about Jesus Christ because of our love for him. The world will despise those who are followers of Jesus Christ because they hate the One we love. Our comfort comes from knowing we belong to Christ and that he has chosen out of the world. Christian, rest in the grace of God and be actively looking to share the message of the gospel with a dying world.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Who you Rollin' With?

When I was younger and churchy (unregenerate) I had this idea that Christians were meant to be engaged in the culture. By engaged I mean strongly involved with "sinners and tax collectors." I spent most of my time with those who were "of the world." I think there is a huge group that still believe this is the right thing to do. They are a group that believes Christians are to be "in the world but not of the world", or so they think. They attend church, read their Bible's, pray and I believe they really want to be like Jesus by ministering to these "sinners and tax collectors." But their greatest danger is they have engaged the culture too much with no help. Their closest friends are these people that are the "sinners and tax collectors." They have taken the teaching of Jesus too far. Listen to a few the passages they and I (in the past) use to defend their reasoning:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matt. 9:10-11)

And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (Luke 5:30)

We notice Jesus is most definitely reaching out and spending time with "sinners and tax collectors" as we, as Christians, should do as well. But if you notice in all his interaction with the unbelieving the Scriptures say his disciples were there with him. Two things that need to be understood when being "in the world" to reach the lost:

1. Our closest companions are not to be those "in the world" but rather other like-minded believers to help encourage and strengthen us in godliness. They are also to join us in the cause of Christ.

2. If your closest companions are "sinners and tax collectors" (unbelievers) then you are a lone ranger who will struggle in your pursuit of God.

If Jesus is our example on reaching the lost then we need to heed his full example by making sure we have an army of like-minded brothers and sisters to fight the war. We were not meant to fight it alone. Josh Harris once said, "A lone ranger is a dead ranger." The Psalmist also talked about this danger:

How happy is the man
who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path of sinners,
or join a group of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the LORD's instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.

He is like a tree planted beside streams of water

that bears its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

The wicked are not like this;
instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment,
and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin. (Psalm 1)

Grace upon grace,
JRL