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