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