Friday, October 28, 2011

The Word of the Cross is Folly


“The word of the cross is folly” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

In our society it seems like the cross is just a normal idea. Crosses are around people’s necks, hanging on walls in houses, tattooed on bodies and even displayed for all to see on interstates. For the most part crosses are fine decorative pieces, but all of that changes once someone start to speak about the cross. This is why Paul says, “The word of the cross is folly.”

As Christians we must speak about the cross. When Paul speaks about the cross he is speaking about all that sums up the cross. Christ coming, living a perfect life, dying on the cross for sin, resurrecting three days later showing his power over death and now being seated at the right hand of the Father. The cross is the summary of all those truths. Trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation is clinging to all of these truths. Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but humbled himself by coming to take on the form of humanity (Phil. 2:5-7). Christ perfectly obeyed the Father therefore he was able to be the mediator between us and God (Rom. 8:3-41 Tim. 2:5). Christ obeyed perfectly even to the point of death upon the cross as our substitute (Phil. 2:82 Cor. 5:21). Christ then resurrected three days later just as he said demonstrating his power over sin and death (John 10:171 Cor. 15:56-57). Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father as the name above all names and the only name by which humans can be saved (Phil. 2:9-11Acts 4:12). True Christians affirm each of these truths and they shape the way we live while here are earth. Sadly to the majority of the world “the word of the cross is folly.”

What can we do as Christians to make this message more appealing to our society who reject the message of the cross? Should we change the parts people find offensive? Tempting. No one enjoys being rejected. Rejection normally produces future fear. But we must trust God’s unfailing Word. When you are tempted to change the message of the gospel open God’s Word and find comfort in truth. When we change the message of the gospel we do the most unloving thing a person could do, we lose the message of hope. God’s Word tells us to not be ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). The Scriptures tells us to speak the truth of the gospel in love (Eph. 4:15). When we proclaim the truth boldly in love, God does his saving work in the lives of others. But we must be prepared for rejection. We should be grieved when the gospel is rejected. We must be faithful to pray for those to whom “the word of the cross is folly.”

Christian, are you faithfully and lovingly proclaiming the word of the cross? We are all familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 because it is read at the majority of weddings. This chapter is known as “The love chapter” in Scripture. I think we casually read over it many time not really pondering what is being said by the apostle Paul. Tucked away in the middle of the chapter are these words: “[Love] does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (6). Love rejoices in the truth and God’s Word is truth which means God’s gospel is truth. May we love others through the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we rejoice in the message of Christ crucified knowing it is the power of God unto salvation.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Grand Governing Maxim

I had the privilege to read William Wilberforce's biography once again this weekend.  What a great man of God. 

When considering the nature of sin, Wilberforce said, the vast bulk of Christians in England estimated the guilt of an action "not by the proportion in which, according to Scripture, actions are offensive to God, but by that in which they are injurious to society." Now, on the face of it that sounds noble, loving and practical. Sin hurts people, so don't sin.


Wouldn't that definition of sin be good for society?

Wilberforce's reponse:

"Their slight notions of the guilt and evil of sin reveal an utter lack of all suitable reverence for the Divine Majesty. This principle [reverence for the Divine Majesty] is justly termed in Scripture, 'The beginning of wisdom' (Ps. 111:10)." And without this wisdom, there will be no deep and lasting good done for man, spiritually or politically. Therefore, the supremacy of God's glory in all things is what Wilberforce call 'the grand governing maxim' in all of life. The good of society may never be put ahead of this. That would dishonor God and, paradoxically, defeat the good of society. For the good of society, the good of society must not be the primary good."

Here is a link to Piper's book for free: Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce. Go get the book.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Open Appreciation to Byron Yawn

Outside of the pastors at my church, whom I love very much for their impact in my life, there have been a handful of men who have had an impact on my life through their writings or teaching.  I have read many books by men of this generation and many books by men of generations past.  One person is the object of their love: Christ.  I love reading these men because they encourage me to press on in the race set before me.  I am grateful to God for these men and their God-centered, Christ-exalting wisdom.  One of those men is Byron Yawn the pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, TN.
Byron was first introduced to me on a youth retreat many years ago.  I was a leader at the time and I can remember him as a man who seemed to love the youth and really enjoyed spending time with them during the weekend.  He was very involved and his teaching left an impression on the hearts of many youth that weekend.  As time moved on and the memories of the weekend were gone, Byron was nothing more than a speaker at the youth retreat for me.  But by God’s sweet providence, Mark Smith (my former youth pastor) shot me an email telling me to go listen to his pastor, Byron Yawn, preach on 1 Corinthians.  The name came back to me as I remembered him speaking on the retreat years ago.  So because of my love and respect for Mark I went ahead and downloaded the first few sermons from Byron in 1 Corinthians.  He had just started the book and the first sermons I saw on iTunes were titled The Centrality of the Cross.  Byron’s teaching was crystal clear.  He communicated so beautifully the truth of the gospel.  Following those sermons he took a detour for Easter to preach a sermon titled The View from the Tomb.  I quote this sermon often to myself because the truths he reminded me of are what I need to hear on a daily basis.  I’ve listened to the sermon several times because I love hearing the truth about our resurrected Savior and what his resurrection means for me as his follower.  The resurrection brings victory, hope and life.  One of my favorite reminders from that sermon: “If you can just walk inside the empty tomb and think that there is something else you need to do, you just don’t get it.”  The gospel is so powerful.  Powerful enough to change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.  Powerful enough to make a sinner into a saint.  Powerful enough to make an enemy into a son.  Powerful enough to break the chains of sin and give us the power over sins dominion in Christ.  The gospel is so glorious and I’m grateful to have men all around me to tell me this over and over.  Byron is one of those men.
Next Byron put out a book titled Well Driven Nails: The Power of Finding Your Own Voice.  I asked Mark if he could get me a copy to which he did and mailed it to me.  The book was about preaching.  I love to read theology books but a book on preaching wasn’t really my top interest.  In the back of my mind was a desire to preach because I love to study God’s Word.  But even more so, I love Jesus.  When the book arrived we were heading on vacation so I took the book along.  It was hard to put the book down.  God was using the book to grow my excitement to teach his Word. 
By its very nature, preaching is ignoring man's opinion. We have been called to speak on behalf of God. Let God speak. Let man listen. Why not allow the Word of God to crush and rebuild me and then carry that transforming message to those people I love who are yearning for the same thing? That's real.” 
But something that blew me away from the book was God teaching me about humility.  Without specifically addressing the topic, Byron had communicated the importance of humility in the preacher’s life.  Humility does not magically appear on Sunday when the preacher ascends to the pulpit.  Humility begins and ends with Jesus.  A love and life captivated with Jesus produces humility.  “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.”  It’s all about being a fool for Christ.  I’m grateful to God that he used Byron’s book to have this impact on my life as well.
The last thing I’ll say is how blessed I was to join our youth for another retreat just last month where Byron was coming back to speak.  He wouldn’t be a forgotten memory when he left this time because of his impact on my life.  He came to tell us about Lies, Myths, Urban Legends and the True Gospel.  I was excited, not because of Byron but because of the gospel he was going to remind me about.  I needed to hear it.  I always need to hear it and knew he would communicate it to my soul once again.  Sure it was great to meet him, talk with him and let him know the impact he has had on my life.  I really love and appreciate Byron because he turns my eyes to Jesus.  This is why I love my pastors and these other men who preach and write: They tell me to look to Jesus.  My prayer is that Byron and the rest will continue to press on toward the goal, stay humble and keep pointing fellow brothers and sisters to Christ. 
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Short Songs

Here are a couple of great short songs that pack great truth in them.  These are special songs to me because I sing them most nights to Emma before she falls asleep.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace (Helen Lemmel)

Your grace is sufficient for me
Your strength is made perfect when I am weak
And all that I cling to, I lay at your feet
Your grace is sufficient for me (Martin Nystrom)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, October 21, 2011

Run with Endurance the Race

“Run with endurance the race” (Hebrews 12:1)
The Christian life is running a marathon on a short track.  We know the finish line comes quickly so we keep our eyes fixed on the prize.  A cloud of witnesses stand around cheering us on.  They have faithfully endured to the end and now they are encouraging us to do the same.  They are there at the finish line with Christ.  May we “run with endurance the race.”
Chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews is well known as the “Hall of Faith.”  As you read through the chapter it is easy to become overwhelmed by the faithfulness of these saints.  It is easy to see that what is recorded about these faithful saints is times when they were under persecution or suffering.  Abraham being called to sacrifice his own son trusting God was able to raise him from the dead.  Moses choosing to be mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin.  “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Heb. 11:36-37).  Are we willing to die for what we believe?  The answer seems easy as long as the blade isn’t spinning or rocks aren’t being thrown in our direction.  I pose the question, because when I think of Moses’ case, he was willing to be mistreated with God’s people and forsake the fleeting pleasures of sin.  That seems way easier than dying for my faith yet I’m too much of a people pleaser to do what Moses did.  If I’m not willing to suffer reproach for Christ what makes me think I’ll die for him?  It’s a good question to ask.  It’s how we need to examine our own hearts.  But the writer of Hebrews had a point behind every account in chapter 11.  The author wants us to look at these saints of old and be reminded that if our eyes are fixed upon Christ we too can “run with endurance the race.”  But we can only finish if we have eyes fixed upon Christ.
Christ is that single focus that puts all of life in perspective.  This is why we must run the race with eyes fixed upon Jesus.  The saints of old had eyes gazed upon Christ and so should we.  Running the race without Christ is impossible.  Without Christ there is no endurance.  It is faith in Christ that removes every weight and sin and frees us to run without being burdened down.  It is Christ who is the author of our faith.  Faith is a gift from God.  But it is also Christ who sustains that faith in us to the end.  He is not only the author of our faith but the finisher.   This is why we have a hope to endure to the end.  Christ promises to sustain his children.  He promises that we will finish this enduring race.  This should make us confident that we will finish the race, not because of our great faith in him but because he promises to faithfully sustain us until the end.  Life is a short track but the days can seem long with our desires competing against our flesh.  The battle is waging.  The track has its ups and downs but we can cling to our faithful God who will bring us to the end. 
Are your eyes fixed upon Christ?  Remember that “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).  You can bank on that promise.  Christian, Christ completed the work for you with great joy.  He endured the cross, despised the shame and now he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  It is finished.  There is no more need for sacrifice because the Father is completely satisfied with his Son’s atoning work at Calvary.  Trust in Christ.  Keep your eyes on Christ.  We are being cheered on by those who ran before us but we must “run with endurance the race” before us with eyes fixed upon Christ.  Without Christ you won’t make it. 
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Eternity!

Below is a Grace Gem from James Orr.  This is heavy stuff to think upon:

We have only one life to live-only one. Think of this for a moment.

Here we are in this world of time, making the journey of life. Each day we are farther from the cradle-and nearer to the grave! Solemn thought! See the mighty concourse of human lives; hear their heavy tread in their onward march. Some are just beginning life's journey; some are midway up the hill, some have reached the top, and some are midway down the western slope. But where are we all going? Listen, and you will hear but one answer, "Eternity!" Beyond the fading, dying gleams of the sunset of life-lies a boundless, endless ocean called Eternity! There, you and I are daily traveling.

Time is like a great wheel going its round. On and on it goes. Some are stepping on-and some are stepping off. But where are these latter stepping? Into eternity! See that old man with bent form, snow-white locks, and tottering steps. His has been a long round, but he has reached his end at last. See the middle-aged man. His round has not been so long, but he must also step off. See the youth. He has been on only a little while-but he is brought to the stepping-off place. He thought his round would be much longer. He supposed that he was just getting started-when that icy hand was laid upon him and the usher said, "Come, you have made your round, and you must go!" The infant that gave its first faint cry this morning--may utter its last feeble wail tonight. And thus they go. But where? Oh, where? Eternity!

If you were to start today and ask each person you met the question, "Where are you going?" and, if possible, you were to travel the world over and ask each one of earth's inhabitants-there could be but one answer, "Eternity!"

"Oh, eternity, Long eternity!
Hear the solemn footsteps of eternity!"

Only one life to live! Only one life-and then we must face vast, endless eternity! We shall pass along the pathway of life but once. Every step we take-is a step that can never be taken again.

This world is not a play-ground-or a place to trifle with time. Life is not given us to squander nor fritter away. To trifle away time, is indeed, to be the greatest of spendthrifts. If you squander a dollar-you may regain it; but a moment wasted-can never be regained. God gives us all the time we need to accomplish all that He purposes us to accomplish-but He does not give us one moment to trifle away.

We have only one life to live-only one. (James Orr, How to live a Holy Life)


Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stand on God's Promises

Yesterday I posted the hymn Standing on the Promises of God because I have recently been pondering why believers struggle with doing the very thing we sing.  This is an area I struggle but I'm not thinking I am alone.  We see these outrageous promises written in God's Word yet we tend to doubt them so often.  Most of the time this takes place because we are so focused on us.  We see our failures to resist temptation and give into the flesh which in turn makes us wonder if God's promises are really for us.  This type of doubt goes beyond the self-examination process.  Self-examination is a good thing and doubt can drive us to self-examination but I am concerned about unbelief.  Unbelief means we are not believing God's promises to be true.

If you are familiar with the song you know the tune is pretty jubilant.  The writer is trying to communicate the joy of standing on God's promises.  Too many times we, as Christians, are hanging our heads because of what we have done rather than rejoicing in what Christ completed.  I'm not saying we should just dismiss sin as no big deal but I am saying there is great joy in the promises of God.  When he says, "Sin shall no longer have dominion over you for you are no longer under law but under grace", that means sin no longer has dominion because of grace. God is not making empty promises.  He wants us to believe the truth.  This is also why the hymn writer says, "Standing on the promises of God" so many times in the song.  We need to be reminded where to stand.  When we look at our performance our heads will always be hanging but when we gaze upon Christ we can rejoice in his grace and mercy to sinners like us.

My encouragement to each of you is to consider once again the words of the hymn. But even greater than those words are the words of our God written to us in Holy Scripture.  There is promise after promise in the Bible where we should dwell and memorize so when the storms of doubt arises we can fight with the truth.  When temptations are all around us may we be ready with the Word of God to fight.  May we be people who are constantly standing on the promises of God.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Standing on the Promises of God

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God. (R. Kelso Carter)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, October 14, 2011

He Who Ate My Bread has Lifted His Heel Against Me


“He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (John 13:18)

I think all of us need to ponder the question: Do I truly love Jesus or am I more like Judas?  Passover was at hand and Jesus knew his time had come.  Jesus sat down with his disciples to have supper.  He was spending his last moments with those he loved most in the world.  But at supper Jesus speaks of the one who would betray him.  This seemed impossible because he was there with only his disciples.  This betraying was inside job.  Jesus knew who would betray him.  Judas knew who would betray him.  No one else knew who Jesus spoke of when he said: “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.”

At dinner, Jesus quietly gets up and takes off his outer garment.  I am sure the disciples were watching every step curious to what Jesus was going to do next.  Jesus picks up a towel and ties it around his waist.  He starts to pour water into a bowl.  I wonder who that first disciple was Jesus bent down to wash his feet?  The room was probably silent.  Eyes were stunned at the sight of Jesus down at the feet of his own disciples.  We don’t hear a response from anyone until Jesus arrives at the feet of Peter.  We are all surprised to read that the disciple with the foot-shaped mouth was the first to speak up.  But let’s face it Peter was saying exactly what all the other disciples were thinking, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”  Peter cannot comprehend why his Master is acting like a servant.  Jesus is doing exactly what the disciples should do for him.  Peter gets it.  Not totally but he at least gets that reality. 

As we read further we know Peter doesn’t fully understand because he asks Jesus to wash his hands and head as well.  Peter wants every part of him to be clean.  Jesus says, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.  And you are clean.”  That had to bring comfort to Peter.  His master had just told him he was clean but Jesus proceeds, “But not every one of you [is clean].”  I wonder if the hearts of the other disciples began to sink at that moment.  Who? Is it me? Is it him?  Keep in mind, Judas was in the room and his feet were washed.  He knew who Jesus was speaking about.  He knew he was one that was not clean.  I wonder if Judas loved the fact that Jesus was washing his feet.  Here was the Son of God down at the feet of his betrayer.  But this did not mess up Jesus’ plan at all.  He finishes washing the feet of his disciples and takes his place back at the table.  Then he reminds his disciples that a servant is not greater than his master.  Jesus was the one they called “Teacher and Lord” yet he just did the job of a servant.  His words rang loud and clear to them as they sat there thinking about their master serving them.  None of them were greater than Jesus yet he washed their feet.  Jesus is the motivation for them to wash one another’s feet.  Jesus is the ultimate picture of humility.  He did not just talk about it but he demonstrated it in his life. 

Jesus demonstrated humility.  Judas demonstrated pride.  Jesus served everyone.  Judas served himself.  Judas was a deceiver who loved his position amongst the disciples.  He loved being the treasurer so that he could take for himself.  His heart was filled with the pride of possessions.  He couldn’t love Jesus because he loved himself so much.  Eventually his greed brought him to place where he sold Jesus over for 30 shekels of silver.  He betrayed the One who gave him everything.  He didn’t heed the warnings from Jesus but continued to be sucked away by the wide road of destruction.  He was the one who ate the Lord’s bread and lifted his heel against the very hand that feed him.  This is how Judas will always be remembered. 

The saddest thing to ponder is that God has always been the One who has provided everything in life.  He gives us life, breath, every heartbeat, food, drink, shelter and we could keep going yet so many respond the same way as Judas.  Rather than be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ so many would rather lift their heel against the Giver to worship the gifts.  Rather than being humbled by the love and grace of Christ displayed at the cross so many are sucked away by the fleeting pleasures of sin.  Don’t be like Judas!  Repent of your sin and surrender your life to Christ.  Place yourself at the foot of the cross and ask God to be merciful to you.  

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sin Blinds us to Reality

If you've never read Exodus 32 I would encourage you to do so in the near future.  I have been studying the passage to teach it this coming Sunday morning.  The first few verses struck me about the foolishness of sin.  Or if I may say, "Sin makes us stupid."  It is easy to read these verses and think, "Huh, these people weren't so bright" but before that happens maybe we should examine our own hearts.  I find I am more than like the Israelites than I want to admit. 

The Israelites witnessed many amazing things before this moment in Exodus 32:

The plagues
The Passover
The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night
The parting of the Red Sea
The log turning the water from bitter o sweet
The raining of bread from heaven
The water from the rock
The Lord's audible voice on Mt. Sinai

The Lord had shown them spectacular realities about himself in rescuing them out of Egypt.  They saw things that we read about and are blown away.  Then in Exodus 32 while Moses is on the mountain talking with God the people get impatient with Moses.  Rather than continuing to trust the Lord's plan they turn there back on him.

"When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, 'Up, make us gods who shall go before us.  As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the Land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' So Aaron said to them, 'Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.' So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" (Exodus 32:1-4)

Really?  Don't you feel like shaking them and saying, "Hey knuckleheads, do you not remember the true God who lead you out of Egypt? You just made the calf from your own jewelry. The calf is not the God who lead you out of Egypt."  I know that is my first response when I read this passage.  But after the initial shock of their actions, I think about my own sinful heart and how I am like the Israelites. 

Christian, ponder a moment with me:

God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins on a bloody cross.  Christ took our punishment and our sins upon himself and in return he gives us his perfect righteousness so that we can have a relationship with our holy Creator.

Yet we so often chase after the things of this world.  When we compare the love of Christ for us with the love God showed the Israelites we look just as foolish as them when we turn our back's on him for lesser things.  Sin always makes us blind to reality.  May we fix our eyes on Christ and the things of the world will grow dim.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Nothing...

Sometimes the worship of God is most deeply expressed in a pause. Because of its semantic connection to other religions, meditation is mostly considered a bad thing in the Christian community. However, we shouldn’t run from the simple practice of deep reflection upon the weight of God’s truth. For me this has become a tremendous help for worship when I consider one of the weightiest songs in the hymnal, Nothing But the Blood.

Each line of the first verse offers a disturbing question; one that cannot be ignored:

“What can wash away my sin?” “What can make me whole again?

These questions assume a lot. First of all, they assume that we have sinned against God, and that, in order to be whole again, this sin must be washed away.
I believe that this is a proper place to pause and reflect. Consider your options. What can wash away your sin? What can restore you to fellowship with God that is as sweet as what Adam had in the garden? Money? Family? Church? Helping the less-fortunate? That’s not what the song says. Instead, it begins by putting us in our proper place:

Nothing…

We don’t want to pause here, but perhaps we should. NOTHING. There is nothing on this earth that can save you from eternity in Hell; nothing that can make you righteous before God. Absolutely nothing! Ephesians 2 tells us that, left to our own resources, we are “dead in sin” (verse 1) and “without hope” (verse 12).
Thankfully, the song continues…

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

“What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

After reflecting on our options (or lack thereof) we can now see that God has done the impossible. He has replaced our morbid future with hope. He has shined light into darkness. Christ, by his blood, has washed away our sin by his obedient, sacrificial death; he has made us whole again by his perfect, righteous life.
It is after this meditation that we can cry out with the hymn writer:

Oh! Precious is the flow / That makes me white as snow

No other fount I know / Nothing But the blood of Jesus

Grace and peace,
Stephen Bean

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sir, We Wish to See Jesus

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21)

This should be the desire of the heart of every single Christian.  The author of Hebrews says, “Fix your eyes upon Jesus.”  This is exactly what these Gentiles desired to do when they arrived in Jerusalem to worship.  They had one desire and goal: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
When we consider what has just taken place the scene becomes even more powerful.  Jesus has just been in Bethany where he has raised Lazarus from the dead.  Lazarus had been dead for four days before Christ shows up on the scene.  We see the love Christ had for Lazarus as he weeps with the other mourners who include Mary and Martha.  But then something strange happens when Jesus tells them: “Take away the stone.”  Not knowing what is going to take place Martha responds by telling Jesus that there will be a great odor if they remove the stone.  They obeyed and then listened intensely as Jesus prayed to his Father.  Once he finished he cried out: “Lazarus, come out.” Stop for a moment…what are you thinking right now?  What do you think was going on in their minds?  They obviously did not have much time to think about his word because the next thing they know Lazarus is walking out of the tomb.  The response: Many of the Jews believed in him yet some went away to tell the chief priests and Pharisees. 
Now six days before the Passover the chief priests and Pharisees had a plot to kill both Jesus and Lazarus, hoping this miracle would fade away.  Jesus is eating dinner with Mary, Martha, Lazarus and the disciples when the chief priests find out where he is.  Basically they followed the huge crowd who had learned where Jesus was eating.  The fact that people believed in Jesus was killing the chief priests.  They hated Christ because he claimed to be God and challenged their beliefs.  Floods of people had heard of Lazarus being raised and they believed in Jesus.  “The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.”  The Pharisees even admitted, “You see that you are gaining nothing.  Look, the world has gone after him.”  The Passover was now at hand with many gathering to worship in Jerusalem when these Gentiles arrive requesting, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 
Pondering these words I cannot help but imagine the desire of those who reject Christ.  They would not care to see Jesus but Lazarus instead.  In our lost condition we don’t understand who or what we are seeking.  We search after the wrong object of worship.  Why would we seek after the one who was raised from the dead rather than the One who raised him from the dead?  We chase after signs and miracles rather than the power behind them.  The same thing is true today.  Christ did not only raise Lazarus from the dead; He himself died, was buried and after three days raised himself from the grave.  Yet the world seeks for a sign. They want to see the proof while avoiding the empty tomb.  Sadly they run from the only proof they need: The resurrected Christ. 
Is your desire to see Jesus?  Are you pursuing him?  I pray this is the heart of every Christian.  We should strive to be more like Christ, letting the world see the power of the empty tomb.  The change from sinner to saint doesn’t occur in the power of self but the power of Christ and Christ alone.  Our spiritual condition was the same as Lazarus' physical condition: Dead until Christ spoke life into our hearts.  Then when the world takes notice of the change we have to tell them about Christ.  If we don’t tell them about the power of the gospel they begin to think they can do it on their own.  Tell them.  By God’s grace they too might repent and trust in Christ. 
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Word of Faith (Part 3)

Today my friend, Stephen Bean, will address "Faith and Confession."

The Power of Faith

Through our faith, God does incredible things. Miracles. Through faith the dead are raised. Through faith the blind see. Through faith chains are broken. There are many reasons to criticize the Word of Faith (WOF) movement, but one of them is not that the faith which they teach is too powerful. In fact, I would argue that the faith they present is weak.

There simply isn’t enough room here to have a full discussion of this issue. Volumes have been written on this subject. The question we need to ask is, what is faith? Is it the means by which we grant God access to work in our lives and the lives of others? That is what Gloria Copeland suggests in her article Understanding Faith - Part 1 – If God Can't Do Anything Without Faith…Neither Can We:

Everything that happens to us supernaturally happens by faith. Somewhere, somehow, someone has to release faith for the supernatural to happen in our lives…       
           
…So whether it’s getting us born again or getting us healed, whether it’s avoiding a financial disaster or avoiding a fatal car wreck, faith must be released. Someone’s faith must be in operation—and if it’s not our faith that gets us in the right place at the right time, then it’s somebody else’s that does.

A lot of this understanding of faith comes from passages like Mark 11:22-23:

And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.

This passage alone is enough to make one consider giving Mrs. Copeland and others a little more credibility. However, we must consider what Jesus is actually trying to teach here. As my favorite writer/speaker D.A. Carson is often fond of saying, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.” 

The immediate context of Jesus’ words here in Mark 11 is that the disciples discovered a tree- which Jesus had cursed - had “withered away to its roots.” Amazed that this happened, Peter says to Jesus “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” To which Jesus replied “Have faith in God…” We must be careful at this point in how we understand what Jesus is getting at. It seems that the Copelands of the world would like to understand Jesus as saying “if you want the power to curse trees and see them wither, have faith in God.” I guess that’s possible, but personally I wouldn’t put this in my top 10 list of Jesus’ miracles. Causing a bad tree to do what bad trees do faster than usual is certainly impressive, but it’s not on the list of things in his ministry that I aspire to emulate.

Instead, it seems that Jesus is teaching his disciples how not to be like the tree, namely, hypocritical. The tree had leaves well ahead of its scheduled time, but bore no fruit (11:12-14). Likewise, the Jewish leaders had plenty of “good” religious works to show for themselves, but they weren’t bearing the fruit of faith in God. It doesn’t matter that the Jews were a product of their own time, they were still hypocrites; so was the tree.

So Jesus tells his disciples to have faith in God, and then continues by explaining that there are no limits on their prayers. If you have faith in God, you can ask for the miraculous and receive it. However, if you are simply using language that gives the appearance of faith with motives that lack faith, you are more likely to wither like a bad tree than move a mountain.

Faith is something that God grants us, through which He blesses us with salvation and daily provision (Eph. 2:8). Christian, don’t be like the WOF who peddle a faith that is void of the power of God to save. Don’t be mesmerized by flashy promises of health, wealth, and prosperity. Put your hope in the gospel and be willing to suffer for righteousness.

Grace and Peace,
Stephen 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Word of Faith (Part 2)

Are you healthy and wealthy?  If not all you have to do is...trust in a false gospel.  Prosperity teaching is all over the place.  There are prosperity gospel churches all over the place and if you are not near one, than get your remote and flip over to the "Christian" channels because prosperity preachers have raided the television.  They will tell you how to become healthy and wealthy in this life but sadly they will leave your soul empty.  Today I want to look at the Word of Faith teachings of "Health and Wealth."

 Physical Prosperity is twofold – health and wealth.  Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law – sickness, poverty and death.  Health and wealth belong to the believer.  Meditation on the Word and acting on the Word will bring results.  When you act on the Word, mix your faith with it and do not doubt in your heart, the Word will work for you.
We cannot settle for prosperity in the physical or mental realm only, just as we cannot settle for spiritual prosperity alone.  We can’t afford to be lazy and to discount physical and mental prosperity simply because we are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s will for us to be made whole – spirit, soul and body – and to be kept that way until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Kenneth Copeland, Understanding Prosperity)
A passage often quoted by Word of Faith preachers on physical healing comes from 1 Peter 2:24:

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.

This is a great passage speaking about the gospel of Jesus Christ but rather than focus on the entirety of the passage they quickly read it over to get to the words: “By his wounds you have been healed.”  This is a quotation from Isaiah the prophet where Isaiah is prophesying about the suffering servant Jesus Christ.  My argument is not against the words, “By his wounds you have been healed” because I completely affirm this truth but how the Word of Faith movement turns this into a physical healing passage.  God never promised good health in the gospel.  If good health is the point, than God didn’t need to crush his Son on a cross.
So what is the point?
The point is salvation found in Jesus Christ alone.  This passage is clear on what the life and death of Christ accomplished for sinners.  Earlier is the text Peter writes, “He committed no sin.”  This is essential because every other human being is born into sin.  Our nature is a sin nature.  We are sinners in Adam but Christ (The second Adam) “committed no sin.”  He was / is not a sinner.  Yes, he healed people.  Yes, he cured diseases.  Yes, he did call himself the great Physician.  But his perfect obedience to his Father helped accomplish the deepest issue of sin.  Not everyone who was healed by Jesus repented and trusted in Christ.  Unfortunately there were those who still loved their sin even though they were made well.  Today there are many who are relatively healthy people that have no relationship with Christ.  Christ did not come for physical healing but to wash away sins.  He could be the sinners substitute because “he committed no sin.”  Therefore he is the only One who could die in our place. 
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”  He took upon himself my sin.  Isaiah talks about this substitutionary death when he says, “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (53:4-5).  The reality of healing is ours; all of our sins washed away, God’s entire wrath against us removed and the promise of the Holy Spirit.  “By his wounds we have been healed.” 
Please do not buy into the lie that God wants you healthy, wealthy and prosperous.  He wants you to trust in his Son Jesus Christ so that you may have eternal life.  He wants you to know your sins have been forgiven in Christ.  He wants us to be like the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians 8 who knew the grace of God and gave in abundance out of their poverty.  Why?  So they could have more wealth?  The Bible never says that they received more wealth because they gave.  They got something even better:  The gospel!  They understood the practicality of Jesus Christ giving his life for them so they in turn gave what they had to bless the saints.  “For you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was right, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (8:9).  They had the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives so they gave in abundance out of their poverty.  The Macedonians were concerned about the building of the gospel not the building of comfort.  Take the Macedonians gospel and cherish it.  Know that the best is yet to come.  Don’t settle for a false gospel of physical healing and wealth.  Take the true gospel which can remove sin forever! 
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Word of Faith (Part 1)

Over the next couple of days myself and a friend are going to do a couple of posts on the Word of Faith movement.  We want to touch on a few of the core doctrines they believe such as health, wealth, prosperity, faith and confession.  This will not, by any means, be an exhaustive study but we hope to show where this movement has gone wrong and turned away from the true gospel of Jesus Christ. 

If you want to know more about the Word of Faith movement here is a helpful link

Below is a video from Dr. John Piper on the Prosperity Gospel:



Grace upon grace,
JRL