Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Idols Live in the Heart

I was reading the wise words of Mr. William Wilberforce last night so I thought I would post some of his words:

All who have read the Scriptures must confess that idolatry is the crime against which God's highest resentment is expressed, and his severest punishment denounced.  But let us not deceive ourselves.  It is not in bowing the knee to idols that idolatry consists, so much as in the internal homage of the heart; as in feeling towards them, any of that supreme love, or reverence, or gratitude, which God reserves to himself as his own exclusive prorogative.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, December 3, 2012

God Will Sort Things Out in the End

Have you ever read an article and been amazed at the boldness of some people to speak powerful words?  Many times I come across articles that make my jaw hit the floor because people are bold enough to speak.  I'm not saying it is always good things they have to say but they say them none the less.  Recently I read an article titled Brad Pitt on Same-Sex Marriage: 'Let Your God Sort It Out.'  Lets just say the title alone grabbed my attention. 

Brad Pitt is very much a proponent for same-sex marriage.  On the issue he recently said, "Equality, absolutely, that's what defines us.  It's what makes us great."  I'm assuming the "us" refers to America and not Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  The opposite of Pitt's argument is the reality that those who are opposed to same-sex marriage are not about equality.  This puts those, like myself, in a crux.

I say it puts myself in a crux because I must either conform to "equality" or what God says in his Word.  I know the scale is close to balancing between "equality" and God so this decision must be though through carefully (That's called sarcasm).  But I am also not sure Mr. Pitt has a definition for equality.  Sounds good in the same-sex argument because "we" has already redefined the definition of marriage so "we" can also change the definition of equality.  I'm afraid Mr. Pitt only wants equality up to a certain point.  That point is marriage.  He is all about same-sex marriage and changing the law, yes, the law, in order to have "equal rights." 

Interestingly enough in the same article Mr. Pitt also talks about the issue of "federal drug restrictions."  He says, "We should be responsible for our own choices in talking about the drug laws...the drug war is an ultimate failure and that the billions and billions of dollars that we've committed to it, there's got to be a better way."  Bingo.  Pitt is correct in saying we've got to do better on the drug war.  But does anyone else see a problem with Pitt's statement?  "Equality, absolutely, that's what defines us."  Really?  What about the drug lords?  No equality for them?  Is that because Mr. Pitt is against the drugs?  "Equality....no so much."  I'm not sure Mr. Pitt has thought all these issues through completely.  I hope he will consider them and figure out if he is for "equality" or not. 

But "equality" wasn't even the biggest issue in the article.  The statement that made my jaw drop was Pitt saying, "If [same-sex marriage] doesn't sit well with your religion, let your God sort it out in the end, but that's us. We're equal."  Speechless but not thoughtless, so here are some thoughts. 

1. God is sovereign and as followers of Christ we can rest secure in his sovereignty. 
"Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is God who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness" (Isaiah 40:21-23).

2. Equality for everybody in a sin cursed world isn't possible not matter how hard people try.  Our equality comes from being made in the image of God.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).

3. God will sort it out in the end.
"And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book...Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone one for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Revelation 22:7, 12-13).

4. The gospel of Christ gives us peace with God and one another.
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). 

This article didn't shock me but reminded me that I should be bold to proclaim the message of Christ and him crucified.  We are ambassadors for Christ and he uses sinners like you and I to spread the gospel message so others can be reconciled to God.  May people hear our words and God use them to save sinners.  God will sort things out in the end but until then may we beg people to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).  May God's Word define us as his followers.  He is our authority not the ideas of man.  Man's ways are flawed but God's way is perfect.  We can stand on his truth.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Things I'm Thankful For

Today I thought it would be good to think upon things I am thankful for in my life:

1. The reality that God has rescued from his wrath and my sin through the blood of Christ and his Word which reveals this truth.

2. A wife that fears the Lord and loves the Lord.

3. Two beautiful little girls.

4. My parents and in-laws.

5. My sister and brother-in-law and sister-in-laws and their husbands.

6. The Bible Church of Little Rock

7. Men who disciple me and encourage me.

8. The youth kids I have the honor of serving.

9. My job.

This list could continue down for pages upon pages so I'll stop here. What are some things you are grateful for in your life? I hope you praise the Lord for every single one of his blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why It All Began...

Recently I had the privilege of studying the beginning of Acts chapter two and seeing the start of the church on the day of Pentecost.  So many things were packed into those first four verses of the chapter that I spent my entire time teaching on them.  Let's face it that day with those 120 gathered in the upper room was a miracle.  This was the event when God's promise of the Holy Spirit coming in full power was seen and felt.  Jesus made it crystal clear in John 16 that it was too the advantage of his followers that he go back to the Father so they could receive the Holy Spirit.  Does this mean the Spirit was not working prior to this moment in Acts 2?  No.  We can clearly the see the Spirit working right at the beginning of Scripture in Genesis 1:2, "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."  But at Pentecost we see the Spirit coming in full power upon his people.

These 120 had just seen the resurrected Christ ascend into heaven 10 days prior to this event in the upper room.  Not only had Christ promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples in John 14 and 16 but at his ascension he spoke to all 120 saying, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).  In those 10 days I wonder if they sat there starting to wonder what that promise would like to them or even wondering if they had missed it somehow.  They were to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth yet they were gathered picking a replacement for Judas. Then suddenly a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the entire house were they were sitting (2:2).  This word for wind in Hebrew is the same word for breathe or Spirit.  The comparison of wind and breathing is one we are familiar.  Wind and breathing are very similar besides the fact wind can last longer and be stronger.  But we can also understand why the Spirit would be translated with the same word as well.  Think back to John 3 when Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus about being born again.  Jesus and Nicodemus go back and forth for a time but than Jesus says, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (8).  Jesus compares the work of the Spirit with that of the wind.

At Pentecost we know where this mighty rushing wind came from because the text tells us it came from heaven.  Whether this was an actual mighty rushing wind or Luke is giving us the best description of what took place I am not for sure.  The important part is seeing God's faithfulness to keep his promises to his people.  He had promised to not leave his people but to send his Spirit to them.  He had promised this would be to their advantage and as you read and understand the history of the church it is clear that Jesus was not blowing smoke.  Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about and as his followers we need to be grateful for this day when his Spirit came upon the church in full power.  Because of his promises and the fulfillment of this promise all who are in Christ are his bride.  His bride is the church which is an unstoppable reality because the head of the church is the infinite God who sustains all things. 

As God breathed physical life into man which he formed from the dust of the ground back in Genesis 2 so he breathed spiritual life into his church this day at Pentecost.  This is the work of God in the life of his bride.  What's so great is that he has chosen to use sinners like us as his means of grace in the lives of those who do not know Christ.  We, as his church, get to be heralds of the gospel so others can be adopted into his family.  If your local expression of the church exists to promote itself then you have the wrong idea of church.  The local expression of the church exists to promote Jesus Christ and proclaim his message so people will be added to the church universal.  In Acts 2 we see the beginning of this reality at Pentecost.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, October 22, 2012

Eternal Life

What is eternal life?

Jesus said, "And this is eternal life, that they know me, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).

Eternal life is knowing Jesus Christ.  This does not begin once we physically die but rather when the Spirit opens our eyes to the reality of Jesus Christ's saving work on the cross.  Eternal life begins when spiritual life begins. 

What is the point of eternal life?

The point is knowing Christ more and more as we grow by his grace knowing that an eternal inheritance with him is awaiting.  This eternal inheritance is when we will be unhindered by sin to worship him for his great majesty and great love.  For now we long to have Jesus at the center of our lives because he alone is worthy of our praise, honor and glory but when we are ushered into glory this great longing will be satisfied eternally. 

That's it?  Eternal life is nothing more then worshipping Jesus forever?  Sound boring?  If that sounds boring then maybe you haven't come to know Jesus.  You may also have a misconception of heaven.  Maybe you want the gold and the pearls and the crystals.  Maybe you just don't want to go to hell.  I totally understand both of those realities.  But the main point of a life with no end is to know the God who loves with no end.  The good news is you can know this God right now because of Christ coming and mediating on our behalf.  Repent and trust in Christ for your salvation.  Know his love for sinners like you and me.  Once you taste his love the things of this world will grow strangely dim because your soul will finally be filled completely.  Gold, pearls and crystals will pale in comparison to having Christ.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

God's Grace (Part 2)

I know I said I would post on Tuesday part 2 of God's grace but life happens with work and a family so here is part 2 this wonderful Wednesday. 

Monday I posted on God's grace seen at the cross.  I focused in on Luke 23:39-43 which is the scene with the two criminals being crucified on the right and left of Christ.  You can read part 1 by clicking here.  Today my focus is on Christ's response to the criminal asking Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  I believe Christ's answer to the criminal is why so many people truly hate grace.

In the previous verses we saw the grace of God change this criminal from a God-mocker to a God-fearer.  God's grace had opened his eyes to the reality of Christ.  Because of grace he now understood his sin and Christ's perfection and Lordship.  This man had been changed.  But the most astonishing point of the passage comes in verse 42 when this lifetime criminal turns to Jesus and says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  Simple enough from the surface but it is good to stop for a moment and really think about what is taking place in this moment.

First, this man was being executed because of crimes committed.  He is described in the Bible as a robber, criminal and insurrectionist.  Chances are this man had terrorized people his entire life.  He wasn't some rookie who got caught once but this man was an experienced criminal.  There is a good shot he had even murdered in his lifetime.  He may have been part of a clan with Barabbas who was the one release in order for Jesus to be crucified.  This man was what people in "normal society" would call a low life.  He was exactly where he deserved to be.  Most of us would applaud and approve and potentially cheer his execution.  But now he is pleading with Jesus to let him into his kingdom?  How does that make you feel?

It is easy to have this ho-hum response but if we were to really examine our hearts at this moment I think we would be conflicted.  Here he is moments from death asking for eternal joy with the God of the universe.  Isn't the reason hell exist for people like this guy?  No way would a good God allow this man into heaven.  You might even wonder if your mansion might be next to his.  I know as I thought this through I was a tad conflicted because I know what Jesus says in response to the criminal.  Did this man deserve to go to heaven after the life he lived in the world? 

...No...but now we can grasp God's grace to a greater degree.  It wasn't and isn't just this man who didn't deserve to inherit eternity with God in bliss and joy but all of us.  As soon as we think we deserve an eternity with God more then this criminal or anyone else we have jumped into the category of thinking we deserve grace.  And thinking we deserve grace is moronic: oxy moronic.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing it is a gift of God not a result of works so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, October 15, 2012

God's Grace (Part 1)

I recently had to privilege of studying Luke 23:39-43 which is the scene of the criminals and their encounter with Christ on the cross.  This passage is blaring of God's grace for sinners like you and me.  We read in Matthew and Mark both criminals were mocking Christ:

"Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.  Those who were crucified with him also reviled" (Mark 15:32)

But when we read Luke's account he starts verse 39 saying, "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him."  This should make us wonder, "What happened to the other criminal?"  Both were once reviling but now only one.  As we continue on in the text we quickly discover the other thief had been changed by the grace of God.  One criminal is still mocking Christ with a concern only for his temporary condition.  He is still screaming at Jesus, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!"  This criminal only wants releif from his suffering.  He wants to escape his physical death but what he fails to see is something worse is ahead. 

But the other criminal has had a heart change.  He proceeds to rebuke his former cohort saying, "Do you not fear God"?  This is a great first question to ask an unbeliever.  The fear of the Lord is holy reverence and a healthy dread for the One who Created us.  Proverbs tells us many things about the fear of the Lord.  It tells us that "the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life" (Prov. 14:27) and no doubt this criminal has found life in his death.  The hymnwriter nailed it when he wrote, "The dying theif rejoice to see that fountain in his day."  He found life because of God's grace being poured out to him through the blood of Christ.

This criminal proceeds to say, "Since you are under the same sentence of condemnation.  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds."  It has been rightly said that a fear of the Lord will produce a proper knowledge of sin.  This criminal understands the what is due to him because of his sin.  I don't believe this is only in the physical sense but he also understands his spiritual condition.  He understands that he has earned death because of his sin. 

But he also notices their is One who has not sinned.  He says, "I am a sinner getting what I deserve; 'but this man has done nothing wrong'."  The eyes of his heart see Jesus as the perfect Lamb slain for sins.  He has gone from a God mocker to a God fearer simply because of grace.  But his next statement is shocking.  "And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom'."  The King James Version reads, "And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom."  No doubt this man now saw Jesus as the God-man.  He calls him Lord and acknowledges that he has a kingdom.

Kingdom?

We must remember Jesus was not sitting on a throne with a robe, crown and sceptor.  Jesus was a beaten and bloody man hanging on a cross dying a criminals death.  What would make this man think Jesus has a kingdom?  Nothing but the sheer grace of God.  God's grace is all over this passage.  Tomorrow I want to look at why people hate grace by looking at the response of Christ.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Gospel of God

Milton Vincent writes:

The gospel is called "the gospel of God," not simply because it is from God, nor merely because it is accomplished through God, but also because ultimately it leads me to God, who is Himself its greatest prize.

The essence of eternal life is not found in having my sins forgiven, in possessing a mansion in heaven, or in having streets of gold on which to walk forever.  Rather, the essence of eternal life is intimately knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.  Everything else that God gives to me in the gospel serves merely to bring me to Himself so that this great end might be achieved.

As I meditate on the gospel each day, I find my thoughts inevitably traveling from the gifts I've received to the Giver of those gifts; and the more my thoughts are directed to Him, the more I experience the essence of eternal life.  The "gospel of God" is from God, comes through God, and leads me to God; and it is in Him that my soul finds its truest joy and rest.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, August 17, 2012

Grace upon grace

“Grace upon grace” (John 1:16)

Imagine for a moment another person showing you grace not just once but over and over again. It’s easy to find that person to be a kind-hearted saint. But this is not true of us. We might think it true of us but the blinders are still there blocking our view of reality. Undeserved favor (grace) is not a gift we wrap all pretty with a bow on top. We might show compassion, mercy or forgiveness at times but most of the time we are inclined to hold a grudge or want revenge. Now imagine the holy Creator of all things showing you grace not just once but over and over again. That should blow our minds.

Grace is nothing more than unmerited favor. It is a gift which means we don’t deserve it. This is why it’s like pulling teeth to extend grace to another sinner. We want to be shown grace but we don’t want to extend grace. We like gifts but not giving them. We think we deserve grace. That’s a contradiction. Sadly we lack extending grace to others. What should be our basis for extending grace? As followers of Christ our basis is the gospel. The foundation of our grace to others is the grace shown to us in the gospel. Grace begins in Christ. “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. In him was life” (John 1:1-4a). Jesus the Creator of all things is the One we have despised and rejected. In the garden we told God who we thought should be in charge. We clearly told him to get up while we tried to sit down on his throne. What did we deserve for this defiance toward God? Death. But rather then death God extended grace upon grace to Adam and Eve.

Now a death did occur at the fall. Sin entered the world through Adam and the curse has affected each of us. What we deserve for our sin is death: spiritual and physical. Yet what most of us receive is breath. We receive grace upon grace. Rather than acknowledge God as the giver of our breath we mock him. He causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall yet he receives rejection rather than honor and praise. This is how all of us treat our Creator. Yet beyond this common grace he extends to everyone is his saving grace which he gives as a gift to his children. We all had no hope until “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Creator came to dwell among his creation in order to redeem a people for his own possession. Sinners have been granted new life through his grace. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

Christian, since you have received this magnificent grace shouldn’t we be people who extend grace to others? I find it impossible to be made a new creation in Christ yet reject to give grace to others. May we be the most gracious people in the world. This doesn’t mean we compromise on the truth but we do want to speak the truth in love. Our desire should be to represent Christ. Christ showed us grace upon grace. We in turn ought to show grace upon grace.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Responding to Truth

In Psalm 63 David longs for his God.  He cries out, "Earnstly I seek you; my flesh fainst for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water."  This should be the cry of all Christians.  David finds his longings satisfied in the truth.  He finds his satisfaction in who God is.  "So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary...and meditated upon you in the watches of the night" (2, 6).  What did David discover?  God is powerful and glorious and his steadfast love (mercy) is better than life (3).  He longed for God and found his longings satisfied in God.  We also can know the truth about who God is by looking and meditating upon his Word.  He has given us his Word so that we might know him. 

When David's longings are satisfied we read his response to the truth throughout the rest of the Psalm:

1. My lips will praise you (3)
2. I will bless you (4)
3. In your name I will lift up my hands (4)
4. My soul will be satisfied (5)
5. My mouth will praise you with joyful lips (5)
6. I will sing for joy (7)

Have you meditated upon our great God to where you respond to his power, glory and mercy this way?  God is awesome and we tend to make him boring.  David was in the wilderness praising, blessing, surrendering, satisfied and singing because of the greatness of God.  We have so many ways in which we can learn more about God yet we tend to be bored with him.  May we be a people who earnestly long for God.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thirsting After God

"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water."

Psalm 63:1 – “Do you thirst after God?”

The only object of our worship should be God. He is all we need. When we are without God our longings move to every new object of worship. Titus 3:3 says we were “slaves to various passions and pleasures.” We were owned by every new desire we would encounter. I need a new phone. I need new shoes. I need a new computer. I need this and I need that. Our heart longs for something to satisfy it. The problem is those temporary objects cannot satisfy an eternal longing. The perishable cannot quench the imperishable. The things of this world were never meant to bring us eternal joy. Our hearts were created to be satisfied in God alone. “In his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). Is your thirst for the fleeting or the eternal?

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hello

What do you do when the guilt doesn't cease the morning; after a fall, crying "Lord would you send relief, relief, relief. In Christ you will send relief"


Constantly feeling down. What's this really about? I'm recommitting the sins I feel most guilty about. I'm weak. Fearing you'll leave my bones, thinking now "I want holiness, but I don't have the power to live it out! That's why i gotta preach, cause the gospel has got to hit me - Jesus has died for my sin; there's no power without relief. Believe it!

Oh, I'm letting go of my yesterday, grab a hold - free in your grace I live. There's no more guilt! Hello new mercies! Hello every morning! And every day I live, is another day I know that I've been forgiven"

I know that I've been forgiven.

After life, there's a judge that we face. With no Christ, Then the Lord, He's bringing a brief case – Guilty. But not for those who are truly underneath grace. That's making me chase though all of my sins have been erased. After we stray, we see no point in breaking. I can't go to God, I'd rather hide ‘cause he's angry.

WHAT?!

Who told me that? The Gospel lifts me from my fall. I have no sins to pay; Jesus has paid them all!

That's why I preach, better get that Gospel to me, you see the power indeed is available through belief. Believe it!

I am His, He is mine. Bought with the blood of Christ. Every sin, on Him, lay. (I'm spoken for! No Condemnation) (KB)

You can listen to the song on Reach Records website or click here.

Grace upon grace,
JRL


Monday, August 6, 2012

Cling to Christ's Righteousness

Recently I had to privilege to teach on a Wednesday night to our youth the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18.  The parable's central theme is justification or righteousness. Jesus is speaking to a crowd consisting of his disciples, some Pharisees and presumably some commoners.  But for this parable he is focusing in on "some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt."  Jesus teaches us through the parable that there are two options for salvation:

1. Self-Justification
2. Justification (God's Justification)

Jesus uses a Pharisee to portray someone who is self-righteous.  To the general eye the Pharisees were the religious giants.  These were the teachers of the law.  They would have been known as the "good guys."  Every person hearing this parable would have been familiar with a Pharisee. 

Jesus uses a tax collector as the other character in this parable.  To the general tax collectors were some of the most hated people.  These men would collect taxes for the Roman government plus charge extra in order to put extra money in their pockets.  They were known for suppressing the Jews by placing extra taxes upon them.  Jews turned tax collectors were ostracized by the Jewish community and lost their privileges to worship in the synagogue.  The tax collector would have been known as the "bad guy" in the story. 

Jesus has a purpose in using such contrasting characters.  Those who were trusting in themselves that they were righteous would have been expecting Jesus to affirm the Pharisee for his good works.  We read that the Pharisee and the tax collector both went up to the temple to pray.  This would have been a normal occurrence for the Pharisee. We read that the Pharisee prayed first.  He thanks God he is not like a certain group of low lives in community or even like the tax collector who is sitting in the same congregation as he is during his prayer.  The Pharisee goes on to tell God reasons why he deserves to have God's favor: "I fast twice a week and give tithes on all I get."  I imagine those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous were giving the affirming head nods. 

Next up was the tax collector.  He is seated near the back hoping not to be seen because of his reputation.  His head is low not out of self pity but brokenness.  He feels unworthy to lift his eyes toward heaven.  He is beating his chest in repetition praying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner."  A short yet very powerful prayer for God to make atonement for him the sinner.

Jesus then drops the bomb: "I tell you, this [tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the [Pharisee}."  I have to admit this is huge fist pump every time I read it.  But since my study it has become a fist pump for a different reason.  The great part about this passage is not that it simply would have exposed the self-righteousness of those listening but Jesus exposes our self-righteousness.  My excitement in Jesus' words were over the fact that the Pharisee got put in his place.  I was excited because the Pharisee was getting what he deserved.  He was self-righteous and thought he was better then everyone else.  My excitement was exposing my self-righteousness. 

My fist pump has changed.  Now I get excited over the fact that the tax collector was justified.  Apart from God's saving grace this doesn't happen.  His sins which were many have been forgiven.  This takes me right back to the fact that God has been gracious with me in declaring me not guilty because of the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.  His blood even forgives my self-righteousness.  Now when I read this parable I am sadden that the Pharisee did not see his need for a Savior and plead for atonement to be made on his behalf.  Rather he walked down from the temple still in his sin. 

The Pharisee is a picture of someone who is trusting in themselves for salvation.  They believe their good deeds will ultimately justify them before a holy God.  But the tax collector represents sinners who have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Are you trusting in your righteousness to be justified before holy God or are you clinging to Christ's righteousness?

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, August 3, 2012

I have been Crucified with Christ

“I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20)


Are you aware that the Bible talks about two crucifixions in the Bible? Most of us are aware of the events that took place some 2,000 years ago when Jesus was placed upon a wooden cross on Calvary. But most of us are not aware of the implications that crucifixion has upon the second crucifixion talked about in the Bible. The second one cannot occur without the first one. Are you able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ”?

The Bible’s central focus is Jesus Christ. God had made a promise to his people that he would redeem them and restore them to a right relationship with him. In the Old Testament we see the foreshadowing of this promise which was first given right after the fall in Genesis 3. We read of unblemished animals being given up as a sacrifice in order for sins to be forgiven. Ultimately we know that the sins of all God’s people were washed away when the God-man, Jesus Christ, laid down his life on the cross. The message of hope is Christ and him crucified. The Old Testament pointed to this coming Messiah and the New Testament was the fulfillment of God’s promise.

But the Bible also tells us that we also have been crucified with Christ. It is true that our sins have been forgiven in the death of Christ and we all love that part because we all desire heaven. But sadly this other crucifixion talked about in the Bible doesn’t get much airplay. We want to be forgiven but then could care less about change. Forgiveness without obedience does not make sense. When the Bible talks about being crucified with Christ we ought to go back and see Christ humility in laying down his life for us. We in turn need to die to self and surrender to Christ’s will for our lives. Jesus’ death was not only for our forgiveness but also our release from the chains of sin and freedom to obey him. We are free to pursue holiness found in obeying Christ which is for our greatest good and his highest honor.

We must be sure we do not confuse these two crucifixions. The second one only makes sense and is only impossible in light of the first one. Without the death of Christ we are still in bondage to sin. But “if we have been united with him in a death like his…We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:5-6). Obedience doesn’t earn God’s favor. Trusting Christ does. Obedience out of love for what Christ has done transforms and sanctifies sinners. The point of dying to self is so we can live to God (Gal. 2:19) giving him all the praise, honor and glory. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:21). Forgiveness found in Christ is truly amazing but turning your back on a Savior like Jesus does not make sense.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Big Jesus

Joe Thorn has written a great book title Note to Self.  The book is on the discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself which is a practice all believers ought to have in their lives.  In his chapter Jesus is Big he says:

The bigger and more biblical your understanding of who Jesus is, the more likely he is to be such an object of love and adoration that the idols that aim at capturing your attention and swaying your allegiance will lose their power.

This is where theology meets the practical.  The more we know Jesus we dim the allurements of sin.  We sing this very truth in the song Turn your eyes upon Jesus when we say "Turn your eyes upon Jesus and the things of this world will grow strangely dim."  A small view of Jesus will do just the opposite.  Thorn goes on to say:

Small Jesus does not inspire awe, command respect, lead to worship, or compel us to talk of him (much less suffer for him).  And small Jesus is too little to arrest the attention of the world.

May we all grow in our knowledge of the Savior but not for knowledge sake.  May we grow in order to love him more so that the allurements of the world will pale in comparison to his greatness.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Beware of Short Verse Syndrome

We are all aware of those verses in Scripture that are smaller and easier for us to memorize.  I love those verses mainly because they are easy to remember and recall throughout the day.  I'm not talking about John 11:35 and walking around all day reminding myself that "Jesus wept", but I do have in mind a simple verse like "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again" (John 10:17).  What a great short verse to learn for memorization.  But with these short verse we may rehearse over and over we need to beware of short verse syndrome.

What is short verse syndrome?  I'm glad you asked.  Two problems occur in short verse syndrome that need to be addressed:

1. We can forget the context of the verse
2. We can forget the powerful truth wrapped in the verse

1. We can forget the context of the verse

Many times when we memorize Scripture we do tend to go to the smaller verses so that we will actually learn a passage.  But sadly we just learn the verse rather than reading the text in its entirety.  We walk away saying, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" without reading Philippians 4 or the entire book of Philippians.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" become our motto to accomplish any task and when failure happens we have God to blame.  But Paul was writing this letter in prison walls, chained to a guard all the while expressing his joy in the Lord.  Not many people make "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" their slogan when they are placed in prison walls.  Winning gold in the Olympics?  Yes.  Prison?   Not so much.  Paul when he wrote this well known passage was telling the church about his contentment in the Lord.  He was speaking about how the Lord had provided for him in all circumstances.  Whether free or in prison Paul was blasting the trumpet of God's faithfulness and goodness in his life.  We also need to say with Paul: "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:11-13).

2. We can forget the powerful truth wrapped in the verse

Let's look at the verse I referenced in the introduction: "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again" (John 10:17).  Short verse but so much packed into what Jesus is saying.  This is the section of Scripture where Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd and the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  Great "I am" statement and picture of what Jesus came do for his flock.  The reality that Christ came in order to die in the place of sinners like you and me.  Amazing.  In this short verse in John 10 Jesus is telling us of his deity and power.  No one is going to take his life when the time comes.  As a matter of fact the timing is his.  How many times did it seem Jesus was about to be arrested or even put to death and the Bible says, "His hour had not come yet."  The timing was in the hands of our sovereign God who laid down his life at the perfect moment. 

Jesus goes on to say he would take his life up again.  Jesus is telling us that he is the one who would have the power over death.  Any man can make this claim but only Jesus backed it up.  The people Jesus is addressing were not aware of all Jesus was saying but we have the whole story.  When we read these words we should be in awe of Jesus.  He claimed to have the power over his death and his resurrection.  Only God has the power over death.  Jesus did not only claim to be God but he proved when he laid down his life on his terms and rose victorious over death three days later in accordance with the Scriptures.  A short verse but one with huge gospel implications.

May we all beware of short verse syndrome.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meekness and Majesty

Meekness and majesty manhood and deity
In perfect harmony the Man who is God
Lord of eternity dwells in humanity
Kneels in humility and washes our feet

Father's pure radiance perfect in innocence
Yet learns obedience to death on a cross
Suffering to give us life
Conquering through sacrifice
And as they crucify prays Father forgive

Wisdom unsearchable God the invisible
Love indestructible in frailty appears
Lord of infinity stooping so tenderly
Lifts our humanity to the heights of His throne

O what a mystery meekness and majesty

Bow down and worship for this is your God
This is your God (Graham Kendrick)

Grace upon grace,
JRL


Monday, July 30, 2012

Tim Keller's top 10 evangelism tips

I find these tips very helpful:

1. Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
2. Ask friends about their faith - and just listen!
3. Listen to your friends problems - maybe offer to pray for them
4. Share your problems with others - testify to how your faith helps you
5. Give them a book to read
6. Share your story
7. Answer objections and questions
8. Invite them to a church event
9. Offer to read the Bible with them
10. Take them to an explore course

Hope these are helpful.  Keller advises to start with 1-4 and see if people are interested and want to talk more.  Then move to stages 5-7.  If they continue to show interest move to the last 3 stages. 

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Speaking the Truth in Love

I recently read an article on ESPN.com written by Rick Reilly on Nebraska’s assistant football coach Ron Brown and his “top recruit” Brett Major. The article wasn’t about a football recruit but a recruit Ron Brown made while speaking to a youth group about Christ. Brett Major, who was 11 at the time, heard Ron Brown speak at his youth group. Major says, “He was a dynamic speaker…We idolized anybody that had anything to do with Nebraska football. I just sat there and went, ‘Wow. He’s cool and he’s Nebraska football and he believes in God.’ And that’s all it took for me.” Brown then called any listeners who wanted to give their lives to Christ to come forward. Major says from that point forward “I decided I wanted to live a Christian life.”


Now 24 years old Major is a homosexual. Brown’s message and Major’s lifestyle don’t go hand in hand. Brown speaks out against those who practice homosexuality as a lifestyle while Major is a professing Christian who is a homosexual. The man who once brought hope to this 11 year kid is now speaking against his lifestyle. “Ron Brown can think whatever he wants…I just don’t want him to put up barriers in my life…I don’t have to report to Ron Brown at the pearly gates” says Major. Pretty mind blowing stuff.

Also in the mix is Reilly who has his own take on the story. Reilly thinks Brown shouldn’t be fired but should quit for spewing his “bigoted, hateful, un-Christian message.” What’s his source on Christianity? You would think it would be God’s word but all we get is the opinion of Major and a quotation from Pastor Craig Finnestad of the Water’s Edge Methodist Church who says, “The Bible gives no account of Jesus encountering homosexuals…Jesus loved everybody and his love for others didn’t depend on their behavior or beliefs.” There is so much wrong in this article that I’m not sure I’ll address all the issues but these comments from Pastor Finnestad must be addressed. This is a minister of God’s word who, I fear, is missing out on God’s word. So before we get too carried away on who we call bigoted, hateful, un-Christian, maybe we should turn to the Bible to see what God has to say.

First let’s set a foundation on God. God has always existed. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps. 90:2). There are many passages on this reality but due to space I will only speak of a few. The Prophet Isaiah says, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (40:28). This brings us to the next reality that God is the Creator of everything. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). All of us know there is a God who created everything. “How can you say that as a matter of fact?” Glad you asked. I’m not. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:19-23). We decided to reject the Creator to worship that which is created. We became fools. This is a good foundation: God is God and we are his creation. We are all accountable to him.

Next let me tell you why I want to go to the Scriptures for an argument. When Scripture is quoted the rebuttals back or arguments that may flood back will not be against me but against God. “How can you be so sure the Bible is God’s Word?” Once again, glad you asked. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). “But I thought different men wrote the Bible?” Tis true but Scripture says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). God spoke through these men being carried along by the Holy Spirit who is God. The Scriptures are God’s word to us. They are without error, speaking the truth about life because they were given to us from our Creator. The Scriptures are for God’s glory pointing us to his redemptive work in Christ for the saving of sinners. This is why we must turn to God to see what he has to say about us.

Next let me say that we are all sinners in need of God’s amazing grace. From Adam to the baby born this second we are all sinners. It’s an ugly reality but reality nonetheless. Sin entered the world through Adam and the curse is passed down to every person since Adam. “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The result is death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In Romans 3 we get an ugly picture of our own heart’s, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (10-12,23). Not good! The prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (17:9). All of us are sinners: Ron Brown, Brett Major, Rick Reilly, Pastor Finnestad and me.

Being sinners we are all in need of God’s grace. Let me make a distinction on the grace we find in the Scriptures. Grace is receiving something we do not deserve. If we earned or deserved it then it would not be grace. First there is God’s common grace. If you are breathing then you are currently experiencing God’s common grace. “[God] himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Scripture says, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). God shows this grace to everyone. The other grace is God’s saving grace. God’s saving grace is for everyone but not everyone receives this grace. Saving grace comes through Jesus Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). “Being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). Most of us like this grace. We acknowledge we are sinners in need of grace so we sign up for the fire insurance. We tend to sign a card, walk an aisle, or raise a hand without considering the cost. Saving grace isn’t a onetime deal. Never has been, never will be. Saving grace continues to relieve us from our sin. Our justification happens in an instant. This is where we go from God’s enemies to his friends (Romans 5:6-11). But from that point on our life begins to change because of Christ’s work in our lives. Our desires and appetite for sin begin to fade away in the light of the supreme value of knowing Christ. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How are we who died to sin still live in it” (Romans 6:1)? Answer. We’re not but we will if we are trying to do it apart from Christ. The killing of sin stems from dying to self and submitting to Christ and his will for our lives. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:5-6). Freedom from sin comes from being alive in Christ. When we are alive in Christ “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (14). The cross of Jesus Christ not only provides forgiveness but also brings about change in the life of sinners. Our love for Christ compels us to love the things he loves and hate the things he hates.

Why these points? Back to Pastor Finnestad’s words, “The Bible gives no account of Jesus encountering homosexuals…Jesus loved everybody and his love for others didn’t depend on their behavior or beliefs.” The best argument is not Jesus’ lack of encountering homosexuals but should be the entirety of his Word. I started with the foundations because God is the Creator and what he says is right. He is good. His ways are the standard. We should go back to some of the basics we read in his Word. A pastor should most definitely go back to the Scriptures. The second chapter of Genesis tells us, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). “But it doesn’t say a female it says wife.” Maybe I should back up, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:20-22). All we have at the point of the verse 24 is a man and a woman. The wife God is speaking of is a woman. This is the first marriage but also the definition of marriage. God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman.

Then…the fall.

Sin enters the world. We read in Romans 1 is this: “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (1:26-27). We exchanged the natural for the unnatural. I say we because we have all done this in one form or another. The natural would ultimately be to honor God but that is not what we do in our sin. God defines marriage as one man and one woman but because of the fall we have exchanged the natural for the unnatural.

Another aspect that is sad about homosexuality is the destruction of family. Throughout the Scriptures we read that one of the aspects of marriage is to “be fruitful and multiply.” Children are a gift and a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 17:14, 127:3). Without being able to have children the family and society is ultimately being destroyed. In a letter written to Tom Osborne, Nebraska AD, and Chancellor Harvey Perlman, Major’s parents wrote, “Gays can be raised in the ‘perfect’ family environment with parents active and nurturing.” I whole heartedly believe this is true but the sad reality is the fact that it ends with that generation. What’s going to be missing is the next generation of loving, nurturing parents because there will be no children. The next generation will not be able to “be fruitful and multiply” as God intended to be the case for marriage. The family is destroyed.

Sadly I know what follows after saying these things about homosexuality, “You’re just a hater, narrow-minded bigot, who doesn’t understand love and compassion.” I get it. But you’ve missed the point. I would write these same things about those consumed and dominated by lust, anger, envy, coveting, divorce, adultery, greed and so on. Sin is sin. The Scriptures are clear that sin is against God and his holiness therefore sinners are opposed to God. He tells us what is right and wrong. That standard is perfection which all of us have fallen short. But he didn’t leave us in our miserable plight. Rather he descended from heaven to take on the form of a servant. He became a man, born of a virgin, living a perfectly obedient life to the Father’s will (Phil. 2:5-11). Jesus lived the life we could not live nor ever could life. He is sinless. Jesus had every right to go back to heaven before the cross. He didn’t have to die because it was our cup of wrath he was going to bear. We should drink it, not him. But in love Jesus endured the mocking, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the spitting, the climb up Golgotha and ultimately the laying down of his life on an old rugged cross. He had no charge against him yet he went. He hung. He bleed. He died a criminal’s death. Why? Because he was the only one who could die in the place of sinners as a substitute. Our wrath was poured out on Christ. This is love. "God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

As for the second part of Pastor Finnestad's statement that Jesus loved everyone and his love was not based on behaviors or beliefs. True. Jesus did love everyone but that doesn't mean he didn't correct people or point out sin. It seems love has to do with ignoring biblical matters or ignoring sin but that is not love at all. "Love does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love doesn't turn away from the truth and God's word is the truth. The Scriptures tell us the standard and those who reject Christ's word ultimately reject Christ. Jesus was ruthless with those that thought they knew God but rejected him. The Pharisee, Sadducees and chief priest all thought they were in because of every good or loving thing they had done but they had one really big problem: They rejected Christ. But Christ loved them enough to tell them the problem. Read John 8 and see the encounter he had with the Pharisees in that chapter. Jesus loved by confronting sin. He did not sweep it under the rug of acceptance but lovingly exposed sin. As Christians we have the only answer for sin. The only remedy offered is Christ and him as the substitute for our sins.

I am grateful for this article because it allows us to continue dialogue on very important issue while checking out the best sports site on the planet. I am grateful for writers who will talk about these sorts of things. I hope what was said in this post was honoring to the Lord first and foremost. I hope I spoke the truth in love to all parties addressed.
 
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Only Message of Hope

Have you ever heard the good news, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"? Paul penned those words to Timothy which we have recorded in the Scriptures. This is the great message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did indeed come to rescue sinners from their ugly plight. This is the simple yet profound message for Christians to proclaim. This is the message of Christ's bride the Church. The message of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is the message of hope. The only message of hope for everyone is the gospel. Paul says the gospel is the message of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-4). But I wonder how many churches put this gospel front and center in their services. How many churches are getting this message right?

I recently began pondering this question when I had some conversations with some people about God's saving work in Christ Jesus. I also heard a message from Thabiti Anyabwile titled "Will your gospel transform a terrorist"? Great question. As I've had the privilege to talk with people I am learning there can be a disconnect between the message that has saved them and the message for those who seem to be unreachable. As if the message of the gospel is for "good" church people only. But here is the deal; good people don't need the gospel. They may know the message of salvation because they have heard it but rather than depend on Jesus Christ and trust in him alone they cling to their morality. All of us can fall into this trap which is why we need to remind ourselves of the gospel. As we remind ourselves of what Christ has done in dying in our place we will begin to realize that we are not good people. No one is good (Romans 3:9-20) and as Christians we should be the first to understand this reality. We should understand that if God saved me he can save anyone. Good people don't need Jesus but the truth is everyone needs Jesus. Therefore all of us need the gospel. From those who are in the church constantly to those sitting on death row it is the same good news for everyone: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners".

Next time you are tempted to think God would not or could not save a certain person: repent. That is a lie from Satan. It is a sin because it takes the God of the Bible out of the equation and therefore diminishes God as God. It is also a sin because of the pride rooted in the heart that thinks they are better than another person. It is by grace alone that we are saved (Eph. 2:8-9) and by grace alone that anyone else is saved as well. If you have the tendency to find yourself superior to another person than you are clinging to morality not Christ which is a sin. The cross is a loudspeaker telling others we are not good people. Let's stop trying to fool ourselves and others about who we are in Christ. We are sinners saved by grace that ought to desire to see other sinners saved by grace.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, May 7, 2012

No Greater Joy


Imagine, no greater joy than this
The bliss
He redeemed those who were his
Elected
Chosen
Reconciled
By the God who rules on his throne
He loved the world so much he sent his Son to make them his own
But when I say Son I mean the God-man Jesus Christ
He dwelt in heaven with the Father and Spirit
Enjoying perfect fellowship as the triune God
Not needing us but we needing a substitute
This was an absolute
Cause sinners are not able to stand before holiness
So in weakness he came
Born as a slave
From the womb of a virgin
This was the plan before the foundations were formed
Because of Adam all mankind needed to be restored
"But it's not my fault" most people cry
"I didn't eat the forbidden fruit"
But they lie to themselves thinking they don't deserve to die
But the truth remains
We're all born in the grave
It's an ugly sight
But in our sin we take much delight
Eternal darkness
Eternal death
Endless punishment is ours to endure
God is all just, we must come to him pure
Spotless
Blameless
Holy
This is why we need a substitute
The perfect One
The spotless Lamb
Jesus Christ Fully God and truly man
Our hope
Our Rescuer
Redeemer, Master and Lord
He is the gospel
Not some made up fairy tale
But in Him life will be happily ever after
No end to the life he offers
He will not be mocked by fools or scoffers
But glorified
Magnified
Exalted he sits at the right of the Father
His enemies shouldn't even bother
They can't take his throne
His name is Jesus
The glory belongs to him alone
He humbly came to mediate on our behalf
He came to die in our place
So we could tell others,
"I'm not better than you, I'm just a sinner saved by grace!"

Amazing grace
How sweet is the sound
Praise the King of kings
Praise him loud
He is worthy
He makes me clean
Even though I was dirty
Stained with the darkest of sin
Relentlessly he pursued me
My soul to win
No longer to fear death, hell, eternal devastation
This is God's grace that exceeds my imagination
Impossible to comprehend His love has no end
Complete
It is finished in the cross
The blood Jesus paid the debt for the lost Infinite cost
His death was a must
The Father's wrath had to be satisfied
In order to remain just
He sent the justifier
Invaded my soul, he changed my desires
No longer a slave to sin
My chains have been broken
My life rearranged
 Because of God's Word being spoken
The Spirit He opened my eyes
Now I could see for the very first time
I'm alive
Regeneration
Justification
The pursuit of godliness
Known as Sanctification
Loving the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, strength
Naturally allows me to love my neighbor like I love myself
Neither command is possible
Without the Spirit's help
His power working in me
Me Being faithful to my responsibility
Submitting to God's will
Following hard, treasuring the Scriptures
His Word
The Bible
Forsaking the fleeting pleasures of sin
Running from any idol
Why?
Christ is superior
He is the greatest treasure
He offers eternal joy at his right hand
He promises eternal pleasure
The last link of the unbreakable chain
Found in Romans 8:30
Glorification
Since we've been called
Justified
Sanctified
This chain says we will see him eye to eye
Because we'll be glorified
Seated with him in the heavenly place
We will sing with the angels
Praising the Lamb who was slain
This is the guarantee
The promise
God's design before there was time
He chose a people for his own possession
He had them in mind
He had me in mind Me?
Brought in by adoption
Me?
Chosen
Elected
Redeemed
All praise to the triune God!

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Only Hope is the Gospel

Recently I have been able to have a few good conversations with people about the gospel. I love to talk about the significance of salvation found in Christ alone. Most who have gone to a gospel teaching church can tell you what the gospel is all about. They can tell you about the grace of God found in Jesus Christ and that trusting in Christ is the oly merit of salvation. Normally I follow that up with two simple questions. The first one is simple:

What does that mean for your life in your pursuit of holiness?

Basically how does the gospel change and transform a person? The gospel isn't fire insurance but the gospel takes us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light. We should be people who strive to be like Christ. Our desires should be his desires. The things he loves we should love. The things he hates we should hate. We find out his will for our lives in his Word. In order to grow in godliness we must be people who dig into the Scriptures.

My second question is another simple one but I've discovered many do not really know the answer or they give an answer that has nothing to do with the gospel. The second question is more of a scenario that leads to a question:

Pretend someone was on lockdown and they had 30 minutes before being executed and they wanted to talk with you, what hope would you give them?

The responses: "I don't know", "That's a good question", "I need to think about that one" and so on.

Puzzled by the responses to the question I ask, "Do you have any hope for them?"

I have wondered how someone can say they believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone yet not have an answer to this question. Do we only believe in this gospel to save "good" people? Is this the message we have heard in church and also thought it was only for those in church? If our only hope is Christ crucified then the only hope we have to offer the inmate on death row, who is about to be executed, is the same. Christ is the only hope he has and needs. He is the only hope we have and need.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

What hope would you offer?

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Faithful God

The faithful God

The one true, eternal, God is God
Faithful, his immutability means he's the unchanging one
Independent, he has no need for anyone or anything
Completely self-sufficient, he needs no offerings
Unchanging is who is in his purposes and promises
If he were to change we should wonder, "What kind of god is this?"
Eternal, no beginning and with no end
Who was, who is, who is to come is hard to comprehend
Omnipresent, he's everywhere, there's no place to hide
If you think you're hiding your sin from him this should make you terrified
Unified, no one attribute is greater than another
Complete in every part of his character, completely together
This is our God, the God of the Bible, the one we can trust
Holy, merciful, gracious, loving and just
His faithfulness is no different from his other attributes
He is fraithful in spite of our faithlessness, this is an absolute
How can we be sure he will be faithful to us in all of life?
We can look to cross where he sacrficed his Son to pay our great price
If God would not spare his one and only begotten Son
Why would we doubt him? Thinking he would forsake his own love?
He promised to redeem a people for his own possession
Then provided the substitute, Jesus, who suffered much rejection
The cost was great, with much pain and grief
But God made a promise he was faithful to keep
So with the greatest promise fulfilled in Christ
Why do we doubt his faithfulness with the simple things in life?
Food, clothes, shelter, tend to bring us much worry
The problem begins and ends because our vision of Jesus is blurry
But why do we worry when our cup overflows?
O we of little faith, not trusting the God who is faithful

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I'm Good



I hear the drummers coming for me death is at my doorway
Fear says Imma perish but that ain't what my Lord say
He said I ain't guilty though I still ain't have my court date
Tasted and I've seen even though it's just a forte
I don't know what they feeling I don't know what they thinking
But my soul's invincible like Mario when he blinking
They see me full of joy like "I don't know what he drinking?"
Cup is full of living water bro I sip it and thank Him
Yes sir may not win grammy or get another stellar
But I get rewards from my Lord there ain't nothing better
I may not jot again I may not sell a milli
But I've been purchased by my king He's forever with me
So what they talking bout no they can't knock me down
Yes sir I do feel pain but Jesus got me now
That's why I'm making noise that's why I'm running hard
That's why I go gorilla spitting monkey bars

Partner now you know I'm good to go
Pressure creates diamonds and fire refines the gold
Ain't nothing on this planet that satisfies my soul
I'm living for tomorrow today is out of control for sho
I'm good take all my money
I'm good here come the pain
I'm good ya they can kill me
I'm good to die is gain
I'm good I ain't insane yet we don't feel any pain
I'm the same you can't take us out the game
Cause homie we good

I done been through the fire I survived all the floods
And them writers is with me they all covered in blood
Drag my name through the mud they can hate they can gossip
But my passion for Jesus they ain't never go'n stop me
I was dead I guess that made me better than I ever was
Look at me I'm good partner I'm on my forever buzz
If everything I have is taken I can take it
They say I never make it I know the person who made it
My life is hidden in Him so when I die I gain
And Jesus really be walking with me so how I'm lame?
My life is full of pain problems and such
But I'm focused on forever in eternity's touch
While the world try to fight me Pharisees try to stone me
I am Tebow in the fourth quarter they can't hold me
Ya the Lord is my coach got me off in the zone
Tell my mama that I'm good when he carry me home

I know that Imma suffer that will only make me tougher

Death is just a doorway to take me to my faithful lover
The lover of my soul is with me you can save me brother
But you can never knock me down and take me under bring the thunder
Let the storms come to hunt us and hurt us
They can't take our Lord from us bro we got us a verdict Not Guilty
He's with us and He stays present He never leaves me
He even gives me stage presence (Trip Lee & Lecrae)

Grace upon grace,
JRL








Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Gospel Poem

God
Let's start at a time when nothing existed
Besides the holy Creator who spoke everything into existence
He spoke and everything came to be, Creator means he owns you and me
He rules and reigns all he created, he has dominion in his sovereignty,
All-knowing, all- powerful, he's present at all times, in all places
He is the one true eternal God, faithful, loving, full of patience
Judge of all the earth he is jealous to protect his glory,
He's not jealous of any human although that seems to be Oprah's story
Gave his perfect will for us to obey, delight in him everyday
But we wanted his throne, we were led astray
Man
Deceived in the garden Our condition is ruined from birth,
No way to escape our sinful nature when brought into this world
Inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve wanted God's throne
Deceived, thought they would receive the status of God
Believing the serpents lie, they spiritually died
Separated from God, perfect fellowship was denied
Broken, Cut off from the garden, our hearts are hardened
Enslaved, shackled by sin's power, we need God's grace to be pardoned
We've all gone astray led away by sins various pleasures
But God had a plan in his infinite wisdom to send his Son he treasured
Jesus
The Long expected Messiah left the glories of heaven
The Light of the world, the Bread of life, the holy manna
Descended from his throne to take the form of a slave
Perfect life, death on a cross, the Son of God laid in the grave
But death could not hold him, no way could the grave contain him
The stone was rolled away, the angel declared, "He is risen!"
Jesus died in our place as our substitute, bearing our wrath we deserved
Sins forgiven, made new creation's, eternal life now reserved
Jesus the only way of salvation, enter by the narrow gate
Confess your sins, be forgiven, repent before it's too late
Response
The call of salvation is ringing loud to all ears
Come you tired and wearied souls, Jesus draws near
He desires for all to repent, he laid his life down on a tree
He demonstrated his love, not for the righteous, but enemies like you and me
No greater love will you find in all your days
Turn and run to Jesus, forsake your wicked ways
The gospel is a command, don't reject the forgiveness found in Christ
He loved you like no other, he paid your infinite price
Place your faith in him today, trust him, find yourself hope and freedom
Enemy to friend, sinner to saint, you will be adopted into his kingdom
Summary
God the holy Creator, owner of all
Those he created rebelled, sinners from the fall
But Jesus descended, lived, died, rose defeating the grave
Will you reject Jesus? Repent and believe for his life he gave

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Happiness and Holiness go Hand in Hand

Recently I listened to a sermon preached by Jesse Johnson. Jesse is the teaching pastor at Immanuel Bible Chirch in Virginia. He was starting a series from Psalm 119 which is a chapter of the Bible about the Bible. The whole chapter speaks of the Psalmist delight in the precepts of God. It is 176 verses about the Scriptures. It is fantastic! In the sermon Jesse made a statement that stood out to me more than anything else. I believe what he said is something many Christians get wrong unintentionally. Jesse said: "Happiness is found in holiness."

Amen!

I've heard many times that God is not concerned about your happiness but your holiness. Or God is not about making you happy but holy. While I undestand the intention of those types of statements I just don't agree with them. My reason is Psalm 119:1, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” Or Psalm 16:11 where David writes, "You make known to me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore". No doubt God saved us from the wickedness of our sins. He purchased us with his blood and broke the chains of sin’s dominion over us. He wants us to pursue him. He wants us to seek his will. He wants our obedience. He wants our holiness. But I don't think he wants them at the expense of our happiness. We too often forget God, as our Creator, knows what brings us the greatest happiness or greatest joy. He knows what will make us truly happy.

I think what is hard for us to comprehend is the fact that dying to self could possibly make us happy. As Christians we can be quick to say those who are worldly are not truly happy yet our hearts can tend to crave what they have at times. Why? We think it will make us happy as well. It is true that those who don't have a relationship with Christ are not truly happy. Eternal souls can only be satisfied with eternal pleasure or eternal joy. Those eternal realities are only found in the eternal God. A relationship with the eternal God is only found in trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior will produce a life of holiness because of the Spirit's work in changing your desires for the things God loves and hating what he hates. Or simply put: "Happiness is found in holiness".

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Good Life

Today I want to promote an album coming out next Tuesday, April 10 by my favorite artist Trip Lee.  The album is called The Good Life being released by Reach Records.  If you are a fan of Hip-Hop I would recommend this album.  But more importantly if you want to hear words that magnify Jesus Christ I would tell you to get this album.  Trip has always done a great job at pointing people to Jesus Christ through his lyrics.  In rap music the artist can really present a mini-sermon with all the words being used in a song.  They are able to communicate more information.

I was recently on You Tube and caught a live version of the track Take Me There featuring Jimmy Needham.  A few other songs have already been released but I am most excited about this track because it is really a cry for heaven.  It is a cry to see Jesus face to face and to dwell with him for all eternity.  I am ready to hear the recorded track.  Here is the song:


Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Victory

On a hill
Your blood was spilled
Your brow, Your hands, Your feet
With nails and thorns
the veil was torn
To make a way for me,
You made a way for me.

Jesus, Savior, my God, my King, my Lord
Jesus, Savior, the victory is Yours.

Wrapped and bound,
they laid You down
A perfect sacrifice
But in three days,
the stone was rolled away
Forever You're alive
Forever You're alive

Death has been beaten
The grave has been conquered
Jesus is risen
Life ever after (Phil Wickham)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, April 2, 2012

Finally Back (I Think)

I took some time off from writing because my wife and I had another baby. Some things just have to go for a time and the blog was one of those things. But now I am going to try and start writin again. Like I said we were blessed with another baby girl (Avery Rose) which has consumed most of our time. I am not sure how those bigger families do it. More power to them or maybe I should say grace to them. One big thing I have learned during these past couple of weeks is the selfishness in my heart. I feel like I am holding a stack of bananas and the French Peas keep screaming, "You're so selfish!" It's brutal! But it has been good for my growth in godliness. The saddest part was the fact that I was so surprised by my selfishness. Apparently I was beginning to think of myself as a better person thanmimactually am. I was holding a higher view of myself rather than a true view of myself. It boils down to the fact that I wasn't focused on Christ. Because of my higher view of self I was beginning to think I could serve and love in my own power. Wrong! I forgot what the cross says so loudly about me: Sinner. But I also forgot what the cost speaks about Christ: selfless. Because of Christ's selflessness my selfishness is forgiven. I've had to keep reminding myself of this truth. Christ needs to be my focus so I can die to self as Christ did. I am grateful he has not left me to myself but continues to pursue me. He is so good even when it hurts.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, March 9, 2012

Words of Eternal Life

"Words of eternal life" (John 6:68)

Imagine someone telling you they have words that will get you through a tough situation.  They have words will bring you joy for the moment.  They promise their words will sustain you for a temporary period.  There is nothing wrong with each of scenarios.  But imagine someone telling you that they have words that will never perish.  Words that will last for all eternity.  "Words of eternal life."

It seems that such hope up would make our hearts leap for joy.  This would bring us all the comfort we need to know that we have words of eternal life.  But we don't have to imagine this is true.  It is true.  Plain and simple this is what the Bible is all about.  God's truth spoken to us.  These are the words of eternal life.  When we enter the scene is John 6, Jesus has been speaking about being the bread of life.  When he concludes we read that many of his disciples were having a hard time understanding what Jesus was talking about in the synagogue.    Jesus ask, "Do you take offense at this?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe" (61-64).  Some of them were truly not his disciples because they had not been granted by the Father (65).  They rejected Christ and his words.  They did not believe he was the eternal God who descended from heaven in order to ransom sinners from their sin.  Sadly many walked away and no longer walked with him.

But when Jesus turns to his disciples we see that they were trusting in Christ and his words.  They understood, because of God's grace, that Jesus was the God-man.  They knew Jesus to be the Christ.  When Jesus turned to them and asked, "Do you want to turn away as well?"  The spokesman for the group, Peter, says, "Lord, to whom shall we go?"  This was a great follow up question.  He was basically stating, "Lord, there are no other options.  We have nowhere else to turn."  Why?  Were there literally no other options?  Of course not we just read that the majority had walked away from Christ.  But Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."  There really are no other options.  When it comes to following something or someone who offers words of eternal life the options begin and end with Jesus.  The disciples knew it.

My question for all of us is: Do we know and believe that Jesus offers to us the words of eternal life?  The words of eternal life are nothing more than the words of God himself.  What is eternal life?  Knowing Jesus (John 17:3).  Jesus is our hope.  Jesus is our comfort.  Jesus is our refuge.  Jesus is our everything, now and forever.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

O Fount of Love


O fount of love divine that flows from my saviors bleeding side
Where sinners trade their filthy rags for His righteousness applied
Mercy cleansing every stain now rushing o'er us like a flood
There the wretch and vilest ones stand adopted through His blood

O mount of grace to thee we cling from the law hath set us free
Once and for all on calvary's hill love and justice shall agree
Praise the Lord! the price is paid the curse defeated by the Lamb
We who once were slaves by birth, sons and daughters now we stand

O well of joy is mine to drink for my Lord hath conquered death
Victorious forevermore, the ancient foe is laid to rest
Hallelujah, Christ is King! alive and reigning on the throne
Our tongues employed with hymns of praise, Glory be to God alone! (Matt Papa)

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Rocking Chair Sin

"Do not be anxious about your life."

I'm sure we have all read these words spoken from the mouth of our Savior Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.  These are words I turn to often but struggle obey.  Many times I find God's grace sustaining me to trust him and not be anxious but other times I find myself worrying like it's going out of style.  I come back and read this section praying that God would help me not to be anxious but trust him.  It is still not easy.  I have to confess this is a great sin.  It is revealing my heart that really wants control instead of trusting the sovereign God of the universe.  I've heard it said that "anxiety is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere."  Jesus says of those who are anxious, "O you of little faith."  May we be people who love the Lord and trust him no matter the circumstances in our life.  Jesus says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, February 17, 2012

Making the Best Use of your Time

"Making the best use of your time" (Ephesians 5:16)

Have you ever stopped to consider how much time is wasted in a day?  Did you know we are all accountable for our time?  The Lord knows our days and the time we have on this earth and he does not want us to waste the moments we have in this life.  He created us with a purpose and for a purpose in the time he has given to us.    He is the One we are accountable to for our time.

In Ephesians 5, Paul is graciously encouraging followers of Christ and also admonishing us to "look carefully how we walk."  Paul promotes discernment and wisdom in our walk in this world.  True wisdom and discernment flow from a fear of the Lord.  We are told to make the best of use of our time for time ahead.  Our focus should be on eternity.  An eternal focus brings this world into perspective.  We are told to walk wise in this world because the days are evil.  As sinners it is easy to get wrapped up in the evil ways of the world rather than set our minds on the things above (Col. 3:1).  Paul tells us in Romans to "not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing our minds, in order to live holy" (12:1).  We can conclude that spending time in the Word and in prayer would be making good use of our time.  The Word is where we find renewing and begging God for mercy is where we are given the strength to walk in holiness.

Sadly it is easy to get sucked into our culture which is so me-centered.  That is not to blame the culture because me-centeredness comes from a heart full of pride.  This means all of us are guilty.  If this wasn't a struggle Paul wouldn't have to tell us to make the best use of our time because we would naturally do it.  Since God has spoken it to remind us that we live in evil days, we should heed the warning.  We should seek his wisdom and grace in order to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.  We should see what his Word says about the best way to use our time.  We should seek to honor him with the time he has graciously given us.  Please don't hear me say we should be sitting in a church 24/7 because that is not making the best use of our time.  It does mean we should ask him for the grace to eat, drink and do whatever to his glory (1 Cor. 10:31).  We make the best use of our time when we can do life to his glory.

Are you "making the best us of your time"?  Are you striving to live for the glory of God in all you do?  This isn't easy but by God's grace it is possible.  Seek his wisdom and look carefully how you walk "making the best use of your time."

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Our Need of God

I am rereading John Piper's book The Pleasures of God which is an anthem on God delighting in being God.  In his chapter The Pleasure of God in doing good to all who hope in Him, Piper wrote this simple phrase:

We have a God whose nature is such that what pleases him is not our work for him but our need of him.


Piper is talking about the pleasure and delight we find in knowing God.  We find our infinite joy and pleasure in knowing him.  In him is where are dependence ought to be found.  I found this sentence helpful in killing legalism.  It is a sinful tendency to think we can work for God as if he needs our help.  As if once we are in the family we can bear the work load to pay back what God has done for us.  But this is not the God of the Bible.  The God of the Bible is not asking us to pay back any debt we owe.  For starters that would be impossible so we ought to be glad he does not require us to pay him back.  What pleases God is holding on to him for grace. He is the Savior but he is also the Sustainer.   In our sinful nature this doesn't make sense.  The God of the universe, the Creator of all wants nothing more than our dependence upon him?  Could this be true?  Yes.

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." (Isaiah 55:1-2)

Or how about Jesus with the woman at the well?

"Everyone who drinks of this water (the well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 5:13-14)

Come freely and drink from an eternal spring of life.  He doesn't want our work but he wants us to drink.  It pleases him to know we need him.  May our complete dependence be upon God.

Grace upon grace,
JRL


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Your City

Oh the glorious day when we arrive
And Heaven's gates are opened wide
All our fear and pain will fade away
When we see You
Face to face

Our Great and Awesome King
You will reign in brilliant light
Forever glorified
In Your city
And we
Your daughters and Your sons
Will see the kingdom come
In Your city

Love will rain and joy will have no end
When the saints go marching in
God we pray that You come soon
'Cause we were made
To be with You

When we've been there for ten thousand years
Our song will be the same
Praise to the One who has brought us here
Jesus is His name
Jesus is His name (Phil Wickham)


Grace upon grace,
JRL

Friday, February 10, 2012

Forget not all His Benefits

"Forget not all his benefits" (Psalm 103:20)

Psalm 103 is like the loud trumpet blowing in our ears that tells us why our souls are to bless and magnify the name of the Lord.  David is spurring his own soul on to bless the Lord with everything that is in him.  The Lord is the only one worthy of worship because he is holy. But what is truly amazing is the reality that holy God gives benefits to sinners like you and me.  This is why David tells us, "Forget not all his benefits."

How many benefits are tied into the word "all"?  It is a good question to ask yourself.  Have you truly considered what it means to receive benefits from the God of the universe?  Recently, I happened to be having a pretty "bad day."  My wife and I were having some trouble with our wonderful two year old daughter.  To pile on top of that situation our car got a flat tire.  I was sure the world was going to end with all the trouble going on in my life (That is called sarcasm).  I remember driving our other car to go change our flat tire when the Lord recalled to me many of his benefits.  I remember thinking, "Lord you have spoiled me."  If having a little trouble with our two year old and a flat tire means the world is coming to an end than I have been blessed way too much.  In the moment of "trials" I had totally forgotten all of God's benefits.  Rather than rejoice and bless his name, I was complaining that I was suddenly put out.

The gospel is also tied into his benefits.  David reminds us of the fact that sinners can have their sins removed for good.  These are the very sins that offend holy God yet in his great love he rescues us from the pit of destruction and brings us into his presence.  When David says, "Forget not all his benefits" he continues on reminding us of God's kindness in forgiving sin. 

"Who forgives all your iniquity"
"Who redeems your life from the pit"
"Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy"
"He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities"
"As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us"

Not only do we see his goodness in every moment of life but we see and recognize his goodness when he opens our eyes to the gospel.  When he quickens our hearts to see the glorious reality that Jesus Christ came  into the world to save sinners, we should bless his name.  Our souls ought to leap for joy when we can know that our holy God has provided the way for us to be in his presence for all eternity.  May we not forget the gospel.  When our heart's and mind's are fixed upon the Savior we will bless his holy name and "forget not all his benefits."

Grace upon grace,
JRL