Saturday, September 27, 2014

Part 3: In a letter, to my daughter, after a sermon.

Audio: 1 min. 2 sec.

But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of heaven." So what is Jesus saying? What is he trying to do? He's trying to drive home a key component of true faith, and it's this... You can't follow Christ without giving up your life.

And right in the middle of it is a cost-benefit analysis. Do you see it? He's really saying don't go down this path if you're not really willing to pay the cost. Calculate the cost. Make sure you're really willing to pay the price that is necessary in order to be my follower. This isn't a time to be flippant, or glib, or impulsive. This is a time to be very thoughtful. And make sure that you're really willing to do this. You see, you can't follow Christ ... there's no reward of resurrection ... without giving up your own life. That's true faith.

Dear E.,

It is true that many of the words of Jesus are hard sayings indeed. And yet, perhaps He is describing less how we are to rise to the occasion, and desires more for us to understand just how unfit we really are. And that's a good thing. It drives us, with nothing to offer and nowhere else to go, ... to Him.

You've probably heard the saying, "don't put the cart before the horse". When we hear words that describe a "key component of true faith", it is important not to think of these components of faith as something we are supposed to generate or procure beforehand to make us fit to come to God. Faith is a gift from God, it is not the result of a cost-benefit analysis.

Instead of fumbling with more words of my own, I leave you once more with better words from Charles Spurgeon:

"I would like to make this very plain. ... It does at first seem most amazing to an awakened man that salvation should really be for him as a lost and guilty one. He thinks that it must be for him as a penitent man, forgetting that his penitence is a part of his salvation.

'Oh,' says he, 'but I must be this and that,' -- all of which is true, for he shall be as the result of salvation; but salvation comes to him before he has any of the results of salvation. It comes to him, in fact, while he deserves only this bare, beggarly description ... "ungodly". That is all he is when God's gospel comes to justify him.

May I, therefore, urge upon any who have no good thing about them -- who fear that they have not even a good feeling, or anything whatsoever that can recommend them to God -- that they will firmly believe that our gracious God is able and willing to take them without anything to recommend them, and to forgive them spontaneously, not because they are good, but because He is good.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners: forgiveness is for the guilty. Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are; but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly."

All is grace,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

In a letter, to my daughter, after a sermon. (Part 2)

Audio: 41 sec.

"So here's the question ... What's the going price for a happy resurrection? Now the bible consistently answers that question with one word, Faith. But what is faith? How do I recognize if I have true faith? True faith is not cheap. No, true faith is very costly.

So what's the key word here in Peter's call? ... Repent. Right away we see something of faith's nature in that word, don't we. For the apostles often use repentance as a synonym for faith."

Dear E.,

It is certainly true that faith and repentance go hand in hand. To quote Charles Spurgeon once more, he says:
"Repentance goes well, side by side with believing. If I were asked whether a man repented first, or believed first, I should reply, 'Which spoke in a wheel moves first when the wheel starts?' When Divine life is given to a man, these two things are sure to come — repentance and faith."

And yet, we must be very careful not to think of repentance as a kind of sacrifice, or payment that we offer in order to secure God's mercy.

As I have shared in the past, John Piper makes this important distinction between faith and repentance.  Repentance must never be viewed as something we bring to the table as a qualification for God's blessing:

Audio: 30 sec.

"Faith is the peculiarly receiving grace, which none other is.  Were we said to be justified by repentance, by love, [or] by any other grace, it would convey to us the idea that something good in us is the consideration on which the blessing was bestowed."

And yet I'd like to suggest that even Piper might be missing an important quality of repentance here. He seems to characterize repentance as a positive virtue that represents "something good in us". I would suggest that repentance is not defined by what it offers, but rather it is better defined as being born out of the essence of our emptiness. It is only best understood in the context of what we lack, not what we bring. It is the receiving of Christ into our emptiness that germinates repentance in our being. Let's consider Spurgeon's words again to help us better understand repentance:

There are some who think that repentance is a preparation for Grace. They hope they shall receive the Grace of God if they repent. There are others who think that repentance is a qualification for faith in Christ.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The only qualification a physician seeks in his patient is that he is sick. The qualification for imparting His fullness is your emptiness — that is all!

The ground of a man’s belief that he is saved is not that he repents, but that he has trusted Jesus Christ, who is able to save him, and that God has declared that whoever trusts Christ is saved!

Nothing is to be trusted but the finished work of Jesus Christ upon Calvary’s bloody tree! No feelings, no emotion, no believing, no conversion, even, must ever be put into the place of that one eternal Rock of refuge. Cast your guilty self on Christ and rest there, for there alone can you find salvation!

Learn this lesson — not to trust Christ because you repent, but trust Christ to make you repent — not to come to Christ because you have a broken heart, but to come to Him that He may give you a broken heart — not to come to Him because you are fit to come, but to come to Him because you are unfit to come! You are to be nothing, in fact, and to come to Christ as nothing — and when you so come, then will repentance come!

We do not repent in order to be saved, but we repent because we are saved. We do not loathe sin and, therefore, hope to be saved, but, because we are saved, we therefore loathe sin and turn altogether from it.

Now, dear seeking Soul, do you see the tack to go upon? Your business is to believe in Christ Jesus just as you are and to trust Him to save you — and then to believe what the Word of God says concerning those who trust in Jesus, namely, that they are saved, forgiven, loved of God and at peace with Him. Do you believe that? As you believe it, you will feel, “My heart melts under a sense of this superlative love. Now I can and do repent of sin — the very thing which seemed impossible to me before.”

Finally, Pastor Fisk concurs:

All is grace,

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In a letter. To my daughter. After a sermon. (Part I)

Audio: 34 sec.

Most of us understand the cost-benefit concept. And it boils down to a simple question ... Is the benefit (the reward) worth the cost? Every decision that you make, every day of your lives, is controlled by that idea.  Now last week we said that the resurrection is the cornerstone of our hope. So here's the question ... What's the going price for a happy resurrection?

Dear E.,

On Sunday, we heard a sermon together that began with the words above. As I've pondered them, I'd like to share with you some of what's been stirring in my heart. Yes, in a very real sense, it is true that every decision you make, every day of your life, will be controlled by weighing the costs and the benefits as they apply to you.

And yet, on a deeper level, I keep coming back to this question: Does this cost-benefit idea really best describe the method by which we "lay hold" of salvation? Perhaps a cost-benefit approach is less a feature of our awakening, and more a feature of our brokenness. Perhaps it best describes our lot in life as fallen creatures who are in bondage to our own selfish desires. Since the time of Adam and Eve, hasn't our sin centered around having our own view of what's best for "ME", and then acting on it as a way of having control?

I do not say that the words we heard are "wrong". The benefits of faith are real, but perhaps in this case discernment has a bigger role to play. A great preacher named Charles Spurgeon once defined discernment this way: "Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right."

One of the problems of a cost-benefit model is that it characterizes every decision as a "means to an end". My choice ends up nothing more than the means by which I get what benefits me in my own eyes. And yet, do you remember what Paul says in 1st Corinthians, chapter 13?  "Love does not insist on its own way"(RSV). Love "seeketh not her own"(KJV). There you have it. Love, as described here, does not operate as a means to obtain a beneficial end for the self. It seeks something "other".

We catch a glimpe of this even in the ordinary blessings of life.  There will hopefully come a time in your own life when your love for your husband, or your love for your children, will cause you to think and act in ways that have very little regard for yourself. And for a few moments your heart will not entertain even a hint of a cost-benefit analysis. You will see your loved ones in an "other" centered light, not as a means to an end, but as ones who, each in their own right, are ... PRECIOUS.

So love is not bound by the laws of the cost-benefit model. And what's many times hard to grasp is ... neither is the gospel and the salvation that it proclaims. If I could be granted one wish with regard to the gospel and my children it would be this ... that they might fully receive the gospel, not as a means to an end, but as a finished promise that is PRECIOUS in their sight.

Faith is trust in someone "other".  It is not a means by which we lay hold of a benefit. We walk by this trust and not by sight. It is the very substance of what is hoped for, not the prerequisite cost for securing what is in reality a free gift.

There are places in the bible where we catch a glimpse or two of how the gift of God, "the cornerstone of our hope", transcends a cost-benefit view of life. I offer you these few:

"In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins."  (1 John 4:10)

"We love, because he first loved us."  (1 John 4:19)

"And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  (John 8:32)

"We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose."  (Romans 8:28)

"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."  (Romans 7:15)

"For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."  (Romans 7:18-19)

In closing, permit me to state one last time that one of the most precious truths of the gospel is that Christ is not a means to an end. George W. Peters says it well I think:

"Salvation is not a detached gift of God in some gracious and miraculous way bestowed upon man. Salvation is Christ, and to experience salvation is to experience Christ. It is not the experience of something, but of someone.

The Bible does not teach that Christ has salvation and dispenses it like a benevolent master giving gifts to his servants who obey him. Christ is our salvation and gives Himself to us as our salvation. He is our life; He is our strength; He is our peace; He is our joy; He is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption."

All is grace,

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Free will. It's UP TO ME. Or is it?

I attended a sermon on Sunday which reminded me that words alone on the topic of "free will", while defendable and containing much truth, can be approached with differing emphasis that appear to conflict.  Sometimes the wonders of the Good News involve subtleties.  I begin with words from Sunday's sermon, followed by more words for your discernment.

Audio: 2:06 min.

And God already knew that they weren't going to listen to Him.  He was going to preach to call them to covenant renewal, to faithfulness, to repentance from their sins.  That's what the gospel always calls for.  It says come back to God, which means turn from your sins.  The gospel call, the covenant call, is always a call to repent.  God's way is the way of righteousness.  You always have to turn from your sins to come to God.  To come to Christ.

I'm pleading with you this morning.  Some of you get lost in this idea because you're Calvinist kids like my kids are.  So you've been raised to understand that God's sovereign over everything and then you've become confused to think that God must be to blame for everything.  And you're all mixed up about your own sin.  The bible's just plain.  The bible doesn't neglect the obvious.  God is making an obvious offer of life for all who will believe.

And God is sending out messengers like me, and some better than me, to plead with you to stop it, to listen, to give your life to Jesus Christ, to receive the free gift, to know forgiveness of sins, to know the freedom that comes in Christ.  All you have to do is believe.  Hear, believe.  Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of Christ.

Don't blame God, but wake up.  Would you wake up this morning, and put your faith in Christ.  Some of you are still in desperate need and right this moment God is causing me to offer grace to you.  Do you hear that?  Right this moment, God is extending a kind hand to you.  Far from being to blame for you situation, God's trying to lift you out of it, right now.  Right this second, Jesus is opening His arms to you through the gospel, and I'm telling you, as the bible plainly says, it's up to you to believe it, or not.

Just like it was up to the Jews who walked away that day, it's up to you ... to come to Christ, and I call you to Him.


Audio: 1:30 min.

Well God has offered Christ, but we have to accept Him.  God has put Christ forward, but we have to believe in Him. God has put Christ out there, He's put the parts in place but we have to assemble it, and make it our own.  Well that of course is exactly wrong.

So Luther drives it home.  When it comes to the work of God, the very power of God to create faith, I believe that I can't believe it.  By my own reason or effort I cannot believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him.

If we believe at all in Christ as our savior, if we have any hope in Him, if we have any faith ... It is not because we've sized Him up and decided He's worth the effort.  It's not because we've taken the bits and pieces of the story of salvation that God has laid on the table and managed to assemble them in such a way that now they fit for us.  It's because the Holy Spirit has reached into our hearts and minds somewhere along the life that we've been living, and has called out of us trust and faith even against ourselves.

And so, with great freedom and courage and honesty, Luther gives us the language to say I believe that I can't believe.  I know this is true.  I see it evidenced in my life every single day.  As I take up the business of god-hood and deity into my own hands and take charge of my own affairs, often at the expense of my neighbor.


Audio: 4:16 min.

So again, election is the loving choice by God the Father to give to His son a bride, the church.  But now our question is this.  What is the basis of that choice?  Is it conditioned on something man is or does?  Or is it unconditional, dependent on God alone?

Election is not based on what man does.  God's choice had nothing to do with what they did.  The twins were not even born.  They hadn't done anything good or bad.  That means they didn't enter into the equation at all.  That's what it's saying.  You see, it's based on God's pleasure, on God's prerogative.  Look again at verse 16, chapter 9, "So then, it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God, who has mercy."  This is dependent on God.  Salvation is dependent on God, not man.

A sinner cannot believe in Christ.  Because he's enslaved.  He's imprisoned. You see, when Adam sinned, he lost his free will.  He lost his ability to choose Christ.  He and his posterity became slaves to sin, that's why it says there's none who does good.  And he can't even believe the gospel.  This moral impotence extends all the way to his ability to receive Christ.  And thus man's fallen nature in Adam requires God's initiative.  Lest no one be saved.  And that initiative is the election of grace.

God is omni-everything. And therefore He's omni, or all sovereign, even in the matter of salvation.  No one resists His will.  He decides, unilaterally, on whom to have mercy, and whom to reject.  He is the sovereign potter, who does with the clay as He wishes, and we must be content and submissive to that.

God gave His son to redeem sinners, out of His great love, and it all boils down (so it seems and so it is) to one's willingness to believe in Him.  Now here's the UN-biblical assumption:  Man must therefore have the freedom to believe.  If the gift is predicated on his believing, doesn't it seem to follow that man must have the freedom to take that gift.  It would seem that way, but the bible says 'NO'.  God does promise eternal life to all who will believe, but none are able to believe.  And it's not because of election, it's because of sin.  God's electing love is actually the key that unlocks the cell of moral impotence, and marks sinners as recipients of that quickening ray from heaven, and always in the context of the hearing of the gospel.

So if you're here this morning, and you don't know Christ, and you've been tempted to hide behind the doctrine of election.  Oh let's get rid of that excuse right now. And let's not view election as a foe.  Election is a friend. Do you realize, dear sinner, if you're outside of Christ, there's not a chance in the world that you can believe of your own.  You are lost.  You are impotent.  You are morally bankrupt.  I might as well go try and dunk the ball in today's basketball session.  I can't do it, and you can't believe the gospel.


Audio: 1:15 min.

Whereas faith, biblically understood, connotes an empty receiving, an empty-handed receiving.  Out there is the virtue I need, not in here.  I'm the problem, that's the solution.  Faith welcomes the solution.  That's all it is.

God intends to make it crystal clear the He does the decisive saving outside of us.  That the work and person of Christ are the sole ground of our acceptance with God.  In other words, don't replace faith with any other virtue, because faith is tailor made to say, all I need as the ground of my salvation is out there.

Faith is the peculiarly receiving grace, which none other is.  Were we said to be justified by repentance, by love, [or] by any other grace, it would convey to us the idea that something good in us is the consideration on which the blessing was bestowed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By far the hardest part of my calling

If I may speak of my own experience, I find that to keep my eye simply on Christ, as my peace and my life, is by far the hardest part of my calling. Through mercy he enables me to avoid what is wrong in the sight of men; but it seems easier to deny self in a thousand instances of outward conduct, than in its ceaseless endeavors to act as a principle of righteousness and power.

-- John Newton

Important note:  The last part of this quote contains grammar that I find difficult to untangle.  I offer my own interpretation here:

It seems easier:

To deny self in a thousand instances of outward conduct,


To deny self in the midst of its ceaseless endeavors to act as a principle of righteousness and power.

An interpretation shared by this blogger:

"I have a very real sickness that attempts daily and even hourly to supplant Jesus from His rightful place in my life. It attempts to act, like Newton put it, "as a principle of righteousness and power." Yet what power have I? What righteousness have I?"

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Called to carry crosses, not boxes

In a loud world — certainty is what sells. 

People love the hawkers, the big talkers, the bloggers that sell certainty.

Turn on the cranked up experts, click on the screaming headlines —  and what people are shopping for is certainty. Certainty sells because we like to take home our boxes — to put people in boxes, put our life in neat boxes, put parts of the world into manageable boxes.

Turns out what we want most is someone to just sell us some certainty about who is who, and what is what, so we can have this sense of knowing what’s safe — instead of knowing Who is the Savior who calls us to love in dangerous, upside-down ways.

But the thing is: Truth isn’t found in trite boxes — Truth’s found in the richness of Christ. Truth doesn’t come marked as simplicity — Truth comes marked with the fullness of grace, or it isn’t Truth. Truth is a Person and He is the complexity and the empathy and the integrity and the certainty and the supremacy of Christ.

Because the Truth is: We’re not called to carry boxes — we’re called to carry crosses.

Boxes carriers are about buying certainty for living. Cross carriers are about carrying the complexity of living.    
Box carriers strain for the power of controlled lives. Cross carriers surrender to the power of the Christ life.

Box carriers box things into simple. Cross carriers unpack things and sit with the suffering. 

Because it turns out: Christ-followers aren’t called to go buy certainty — we’re called to go walk by faith. 

Christ-followers don’t have a certainty to sell — we have a certainty who saves, and His name is Jesus. The absolute certainty we have is the Truth of Jesus — and He welcomes us into living the humble and complex nuances of a servant Faith.

Faith that says we are all just people who are both His good and our bad and He’s the only One good, Faith that requires His patient love and His merciful understanding and His servant actions and His willingness to suffer with and for the wounded.

--Ann Voskamp
from her blog post: here

Thursday, August 14, 2014

When Christian syllogisms are no match for pain and suffering

Nicholas Wolterstorff is a Christian who taught philosophical theology for many years at Yale. He and his wife have six children, but he lost an adult son.  ... He published his journal years later as a book entitled "Lament for a Son".
. . .

Wolterstorff’s harrowing account explodes the tempting notion that if we only grasped God’s will more clearly, if we only knew something we don’t know now, the wound would hurt less. But the Gospel is not ultimately a defense from pain and suffering, rather it is the message of God’s rescue through pain. In fact, it allows us to drop our defenses, to escape not from pain but from the prison of How and Why, to the freedom of Who. The answer to our pain isn’t finally found in a syllogism but in a Savior—a suffering Savior.

We are not responsible for finding the right formula to combat or unlock our suffering. The good news of the Gospel does not consist of theological assertions or some elaborate religious how-to manual. The good news is Jesus Himself, the Man of Sorrows, the crucified God who meets us in our grief.

--Tullian Tchividjian, in a blog post: here

What's a syllogism?

Friday, August 1, 2014

God's presence with us, symbolically stated

The ancient world was a vast field of magnificent temples. Only buildings bespeaking power, permanence, and ultimate authority could adequately proclaim the mystery of divinity. The gods deserved nothing less, or so thought the ancients. 
Then God set up a cross. 
It was forged by nameless servants of imperial authority. A bare, rude thing. A time tested instrument designed to evoke terror and coerce obedience through the application of unspeakable cruelty. Only the very worst, despised offenders suffered the fate of the crucified ones. The Romans lined roadways with them so that passers by would be forced to carry the weight of pitiful suffering and inhale the stench of rotting corpses. It was about as far from divinity as one could get. This is the symbol of God’s presence with us? 
God set up His cross where the four roads we travel most, meet: guilt, failure, spiritual poverty, and willful disobedience. The gift of God’s cross, the baptism into Christ’s death, is not given until I see that nothing in the world – nothing – can address my sickness unto death except this one, impossible, ridiculous sacrifice. For only by the shame, cruelty and utter godlessness of the cross can the true magnitude of our guilt – and God’s merciful love – be measured. The cross proclaims to us what our true position in life really is. No wonder we flee from it for all we’re worth. 
But Christ Jesus did not flee from the cross. He embraced it’s suffering and shame in love – for you. And three days after they laid His battered corpse to rest, God vindicated His trust and raised Him from the dead. 
...And since Christ Jesus embodies hope, He rightly calls us to hope – not in our efforts, our so-called free will or determination, but in Him, the crucified. This is the scandal of the gospel – Jesus appears in the defenseless form of the crucified God to put an end to our pretensions to righteousness in order that we might have a righteousness based on faith. A righteousness won for us, the ungodly, through His death on the bloody cross and His resurrection from the dead, where the true glory of God is revealed.

-- Pastor Mark Anderson

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Renounce Your Righteousness

God certainly desires to save us not through our own righteousness, but through the righteousness and wisdom of someone else or by means of a righteousness which does not originate on earth, but comes down from heaven. So, then, we must teach a righteousness which in every way comes from without and is entirely foreign to us
Christ desires to have our hearts so free and divested (of our own righteousness and wisdom) that for our sins we fear no denial of grace and for our virtues we seek no glory and vain satisfaction. We even should not boast before men of the righteousness which is ours from Christ; nor should we allow ourselves to be cast down by the sufferings and afflictions which are sent to us by Him. 
A true Christian should renounce all things — (all righteousness and wisdom) — that in honor and dishonor he always remains the same, assured that whatever honor comes to him belongs to Christ, whose righteousness and gifts of grace shine forth from Him, and that whatever reproach he endures is inflicted on Christ, (who is in him).

— Martin Luther
Commentary on Romans

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Absolutely everything hangs on this...

Audio: < 2min.

The state of the promise:

The christian faith is all about the promise. At the end of the day, it's all or nothing for us. We live or die on the promises of God. That's it. We add nothing to them, and we hang everything upon them. And that is both its great comfort, and what terrifies us most about it.

Is it really enough to trust God's promise? And all of us, to one degree or another, answer that question with a 'No'. It doesn't matter how long we've been in Christ, how long we've been in the faith, the temptation to abandon faith is always there. And it affects all of us one way or another, from time to time.

... It doesn't matter if it's me, or you, or somebody else that delivers the promise, what matters is that it gets delivered consistently, routinely, to people who can't believe it. And this is exactly why, in Luther's great catechism, he wrote, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or effort believe in my Lord Jesus Christ, or come to Him. But that He has called me, by the gospel."

Luther was saying that what I believe about my belief is what? ... that I can't believe. And so I turn to the promise that calls me again and again to trust. That is the fundamental business of the preacher and the hearer. You come ... I come ... with my unbelief. And into that unbelief, we preach Christ sufficient, Christ alone ... in spite of unbelief. It is preached to unbelief to create faith.

-- Pastor Mark Anderson

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What kind of person receives the gospel?

The sinner is the gospel's reason for existence. You, my friend, if you are undeserving, ill-deserving, hell-deserving, then you are the sort of man for whom the gospel is ordained, and arranged, and proclaimed. God justifies the ungodly.

It does at first seem most amazing to an awakened man that salvation should really be for him as the lost and guilty one. He thinks that it must be for him as a penitent man, forgetting that his penitence is a part of his salvation.

"Oh," says he, "but I must be this and that," but salvation comes to him before he has any of the results of salvation. It comes to him, in fact, while he deserves only this bare, beggarly, base, abominable description... "ungodly." That is all he is when God's gospel comes to justify him.

-- Charles Spurgeon, "All of Grace"

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Effectual Love

A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him.  He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him.  We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. . . . 
But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved.  He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.

--John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), II:63.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Right Perspective is Grounded in This...

A couple of posts ago, we were introduced to the idea that perhaps "our fatigue is mostly driven by a confused perspective". What follows is some Good News for those of us who may have "lost our way a bit":

Audio: 3m:29s

You know, if you think about christianity, there's a kind of paradigm we can use to kind of describe the way it's often portrayed: In this life our job is to do the best we can, to be as good as we can, because in the next life we're going to be rewarded for what we've done. Now I would argue that that's probably the way most christian people actually think about their religious life. The demand that you fulfill your existence.

[But John says that] When the Messiah comes, a different word is going to be given to you. It's a word that is actually going to do something. And it's not going to be something that depends on you. The winnowing fork is in His hand, John said. He will do the work.

But in order to see that, to know that, something must be given to us, and it's called faith. For the christian life, faith is what gives us access to the promise. That's why, for the christian, it is not the struggle with sin that is the hardest thing, it's the struggle to believe the promise. That's the hardest thing for a christian, to actually believe that I am forgiven for Christ's sake no matter what.

Faith is not a little bit of "well, you know, I'll just kind of hope that God will help and trust that maybe somehow He'll give me a little grace, and I'll somehow get a little better, and..." NONSENSE. Forget it. Throw it overboard. It aint gonna happen.

When the Messiah comes, and He starts baptizing, something is going to happen. The Holy Spirit is going to be given. A new life is going to be yours, and is yours. Now, you see, what this paradigm creates is a life that looks forward in hope, rather than one that looks forward in apprehension and uncertainty... Have I done enough? Have I believed enough? Have I loved enough? Do I have enough faith? This way of life looks forward and says I can dare to hope all things, believe all things, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Not because of what you've decided, not because of who you are, not because of how good you are or how bad you are. You are mine for Jesus' sake because I say so. And that is a formula for freedom and hope.

Now the christian can enter daily life, not seeing it as a burden and project to be performed, but as a gift to be lived, with all of its struggles and uncertainties, and joys and promises ... in the greater light of God's promise.  Your sin is forgiven. Now, and always, for Jesus' sake. I mean that's the kind of word that just might get you smiling, looking forward, anticipating what's to come.  Why, you might even want to call that GOOD NEWS, GOSPEL!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Complacency and Urgency - Part II

The scripture referenced in this sermon is Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well.

Audio: 4m:39s

We have an opportunity to talk about something that runs to the heart of the gospel. We have a woman here who exhibits complacency. Jesus gives this powerful word about the Father and spirit and truth and worship, and how this is what God is really after, and she says, "ya ya ... one day when the messiah comes it'll all get straightened out, but in the mean time..."

And of course when you're complacent the preacher has an opportunity. And this is what is striking about Jesus' response to her. He's not a very good preacher. Because after all, when you complacent christians are truly complacent, the job of the preacher is to create urgency in you, right? Shape you up, motivate you, and put the lash on your so-called free will so that you'll get busy.

Well this woman is tailor made for such a preacher. She's theologically confused. She's a real sinner. (Five husbands and the one you're living with now is just kind of a live in). So there's real work to be done here to motivate the complacent sinner, and get him busy working on themselves. Isn't that what you often hear? You're supposed to get up there, preacher, and motivate me to believe, right? Tell me what to do.

Jesus doesn't do that. What kind of a preacher is that? No, Jesus doesn't do that because Jesus is not going to be drawn in to the complacency-urgency conspiracy. Jesus is not interested in putting the lash on her to shape her up. And the key to this is in His response to her when she says, "All that - the messiah's going to clear up when He comes." And Jesus said, "He's here. I am He." -- Your time is up. There's nothing to be done. Nothing CAN be done now. I am the one.

We are people who are caught in the complacency-urgency paradigm, constantly wringing our hands over what has not yet happened, anxious over what has happened, anticipating the fullness and the wholeness and the success that may yet come.  Jesus is interested in immediacy. Now, is the hour. I am He. The one who is speaking to you.

The christian church paradigm of complacency that must be urged to action is not gospel language. If anything it is simply law language. Your will does not need a whip put on it to perform. Your will is bound to a certain set of performance standards which are going to take you to the grave. So somebody else's will has to do some work here. And that's precisely what Jesus does in the text.  We're though talking about our good intentions. We're through talking about what sinners we are. We're through examining, and we're through trying to improve. We're through with all of that.  I am here, now, with the living water, and when you drink of it you will never thirst again, for you will find your rest in Me.

You see the gospel speaks, not to the free will that must be put upon and motivated to act. It speaks to the bound will who can do nothing else but act in the complacency-urgency paradigm. The gospel speaks to the bound will. We don't need motivation. We need resurrection. We are dead in sin. And all of our works and deeds, as good as many of them may be, ultimately lead us only to one place...

The grass withers. The flower fades. It is the word of God that abides.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Complacency and Urgency - Part 1

Each of these distillations, each 3 minutes or less, are from the same sermon.  Before each, a question is asked for your discernment.

(If you're having trouble connecting the content with the title of this post, part II will offer more clarity.)

Question #1:
How do we gain a heart opened to the Gospel?

Is it a cognitive exercise? A convincing? A cost-benefit analysis?
Or is it a work of God?

Audio: 1m:8s

Lydia is the first believer in Europe, and she comes to Christ. God opens her heart to the gospel.  A miracle takes place.  Now we need to stop right there to unpack that miracle.  What does it mean that the Lord opened her heart?  First of all, it implies that no one has the power to believe the gospel.

That's one of our big problems in evangelism today in America, we've turned it into a mere cognitive exercise, a mere transferal of information.  And when people believe, they're simply mentally assenting, many times, to that information.  There's not a real work of God in their heart.

You see this language that the Lord opened her heart tells us that our hearts need to be opened.  We can't open our own hearts.  We can't make the gospel make sense to us.  We can't convict ourselves of sin.  We can't become convinced that we deserve the wrath of God.  We can't believe that.  God has to move in.

Question #2:
How does a fatigued heart in ministry regain zeal and a right perspective?

Is it a cognitive exercise? A convincing? A cost-benefit analysis?
Or is it a work of God?

Audio: 3m:3s

I'm wondering about something.  I'm wondering how you're feeling today.  May I tell you how I'm feeling?  I'm feeling tired.  It's been a long year.  It's been a good year, but it's been a long year.  I think the ministry is tiring, and I'm sure that you can identify with that.

So what should we do?  Well, you know maybe we're just working too hard, personally and as a church.  Maybe the ministry is just wearing us down.  Or maybe, just maybe, (and I'll speak for myself), maybe I've lost my way a bit.  I've lost sight of the glory for which I labor.

I think it behooves us to consider that maybe our fatigue (assuming you identify with me) is largely due to that ... losing sight of the glory of what we're doing.  In other words I'm suggesting that our fatigue is mostly driven by a confused perspective.

I think this passage this morning will help us.  Not only to see that blurred perspective, but therefore to be renewed in our zeal, to minister this blessed gospel, to actually be looking forward to the start of the new ministry year.  I think it will help us to do that.

The gospel work that we're doing is tiring.  And we can become withdrawn, and disengaged.  We can even become negative in our attitudes if we're not careful.  But I think this text helps us.  It reminds us that there is a reward, not just the reward we'll receive in heaven ... there's a reward right here.  There's the fruit of our labor right here.  There's the opportunity to witness new life.  There's the opportunity to witness people being saved from hell, from sin and death.

And I think that opportunity, when we experience it, tells us, instinctively, like a parent who finally launches his child into the world.  It tells us that all the hard work has been worth it.  It takes just one conversion to renew our zeal, to remind us that it's all worth it.  And it's worth it for us to labor till we drop.

When we get our perspective renewed like that, I can look enthusiastically to a new ministry year ... not groan about it.  Brothers and sisters, as you look to the new year, let us give ourselves fully to our savior, and to the glorious work of His kingdom.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The key word of faith: ENTIRELY

We can put it this way–the man who has faith is the man who is no longer looking at himself and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not even look at what he hopes to be as the result of his own efforts. He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and rests on that alone. He stops saying, 'Ah yes, I used to commit terrible sins but now I have done this and that.' If he goes on saying that, he has not got faith. Faith speaks in an entirely different manner and makes a man say, 'Yes I have sinned grievously, I have lived a life of sin, yet I know that I am a child of God because I am not resting on any righteousness of my own; my righteousness is in Jesus Christ and God has put that to my account.' 

--D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Friday, June 6, 2014

Prayer: Rule #1 - Account yourself 'desolate'

Proba wrote Saint Augustine because she was afraid she wasn't praying as she should. Augustine responded with several rules for prayer:

The first rule is completely counter-intuitive. Augustine wrote that before anyone can turn to the question of what to pray and how to pray it, he or she must first be a particular kind of person:

"You must account yourself 'desolate' in this world, however great the prosperity of your lot may be."

He argues that no matter how great your earthly circumstances, they cannot bring us the peace, happiness, and consolation found in Christ. The scales must fall from our eyes. If we don't see that truth, all our prayers will go wrong.

He quotes Proverbs 30 as an example: "Give me neither poverty nor riches: Feed me with food appropriate for me lest I be full and deny you ... or lest I be poor, and steal and take the name of my God in vain." Ask yourself this question. Are you seeking God in prayer in order to get adequate financial resources—or are you seeking the kind and amount of resources you need to adequately know and serve God? Those are two different sets of motivations.

In both cases the external action is a prayer—"Oh, Lord, give me a job so I won't be poor"—but the internal reasons of the heart are completely different. If, as Augustine counseled, you first became a person "desolate without God regardless of external circumstances" and then began to pray, your prayer will be like Proverbs 30. But if you just jump into prayer before the gospel re-orders your heart's loves, then your prayer will be more like this: "Make me as wealthy as possible."

- Tim Keller, from a blog post:  here

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Look totally away from yourself

I read a blog post on a popular christian site the other day.  It had the following opinion:

"How can a holy God have a kingdom full of unholy prostitutes? There are two ways: either God overlooks sin or God transforms sinners."

On the surface, this is a innocent attempt to focus on the nature of God's mercy toward us, which accomplishes our salvation without compromising His holiness.

And yet, it's also an opportunity for discernment.  Please take less than five minutes to listen to why this statement should raise some grave concerns, and yet also listen as the preached word also points us to "the subtle wonders of the Good News":


Audio: 4m:23s

This text is about how to be justified.  There's a way to do it, and a way not to do it ...

"He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt."

Now here's what you must not do, Bethlehem.  If you should care about anything this morning, it should be, 'Oh God, don't let me do that'.  Now, to not do that, you got to know what that is.  And there's a lot of people who don't understand what's being condemned here.

Because everything hangs on this.  Your life hangs on this.  Your eternity hangs on whether you trust in yourself that you are righteous.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus ... 'I thank you.  You're the one who did this.  You're the one who helped me be moral.  You're the one who helped me be devout.  You've given me this inclination.  And I thank you for working in me this moral, religious, righteousness.  It is from you.

[[ We believe it takes God all the way to get us saved.  We give all the credit to God.  He subdues John Piper's will, and makes me willing to believe.  And if I try to resist Him, He knocks down my resistance, and keeps me for Himself.  Praise God, that's the only reason I wake up a Christian in the morning, is because God is on my side, working to keep me believing. ]] ... This man, may be that way.

The problem here, is not whether this man believes he produced his righteousness, or God produced his righteousness.  He says God produced it.  This man's problem is very simple.  He trusts in God produced righteousness as what will commend him for justification.  That's clear.  He may believe entirely in the sovereignty of God, for all we know.  He may say, "Not I, but the grace of God in me has worked this righteousness."

His mistake, was not in taking credit for his righteousness.  His mistake, was that once God had given it to him, he trusted in IT as what would be the basis of his justification.

[By contrast...] What did the publican do right? ... "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner.' "  What did he do?  What this man did right was ... he totally looked away from himself, and anything in him, ANYTHING in him, ANYTHING in him ... Totally, totally, totally, totally away from himself, to God's mercy which is now in Christ, our righteousness.

Faith is not looked to here.  Faith is the looking away.  You don't look to your faith as the ground of your righteousness.  Faith is the not looking at faith.  If you're looking at your faith you're not believing.  Faith is looking away.  Faith is a glorious gift of self-forgetfulness, and seeing the one righteousness that will count in the court of heaven ... and saying mercy, mercy, may I have it as a sinner ... and you will have it.

You're going to say, "Jesus, no matter what you work in me, I'm looking to You.  I'm looking to You and not what you work in me as the ground of my acceptance with your Father."  And oh what a sweet peace will come into your life.  God wants you to enjoy the assurance of your salvation.

-- John Piper
From his Sermon, Aug. 6, 2006
"This Man Went Down to His House Justified"

I should not wish to have free choice

For my own part, I frankly confess that even if it were possible, I should not wish to have free choice given to me, or to have anything left in my own hands by which I might strive toward salvation...

But now, since God has taken my salvation out of my hands into his,  making it depend on his choice and not mine, and has promised to save me, not by my own work or exertion but by his grace and mercy, I am assured and certain both that he is faithful and will not lie to me, and also that he is too great and powerful for any demons or any adversities to be able to break him or to snatch me from him...

So it comes about that, if not all, some and indeed many are saved, whereas by the power of free choice none at all would be saved, but all would perish together. Moreover, we are also certain and sure that we please God, not by the merit of our own working, but by the favor of his mercy promised to us, and that if we do less than we should or do it badly, he does not hold this against us, but in a fatherly way pardons and corrects us.

-- Martin Luther
(Luther’s Works, vol. 33, pgs. 288-289.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Faith comes by hearing? ... or heeding?

On Sunday, I heard a sermon preached on Acts chapter 13.  It was titled "Heed the Message of This Salvation!", along with the following summary:

"The message of the gospel presents each one of us with a choice – will we embrace God’s salvation in Jesus for eternal life, or will we reject that salvation and be rejected ourselves?"

Now listen to what the preacher had to say as he expounded on verse 48 of Acts 13:

Audio: 50 sec.

"And it says, 'as many as them were appointed to eternal life, believed.' "  There's abolutely no getting around this statment.  God is the one who appointed them to eternal life.  And in consequence, they believed.  Had He not appointed them, they would not have believed.  God determined, God took the initiative, God brought the gospel to them, and they responded in faith.  Notice how there's absolutely no tension for Luke between divine election, and human responsibility.  The unbelievers are utterly responsible for their scoffing unbelief.  They have judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.  And yet those who have believed do so because they have been appointed to that same eternal life, by God."

Here is a question. Is there, for you, a tension regarding our "choice"?  The preacher puts forth that there is no tension "between divine election, and human responsibility". The bible is pretty clear about this with regard to our guilt. But what about in regard to the role of our "choice"? I invite you to an exercise in discernment as you listen to snippets from another sermon I listened to on Sunday.  Do they compound the tension?  Do they relieve the tension?

As always, the purpose of these posts are to catch a glimpse of "the subtle wonders of the good news".

Audio: 3m:31s

You've probably noticed these days, that everybody seems to think they have to do something to be a christian.

And this gets us into the real issue here with Nicodemus.

And so he says to Nicodemus, "well, you know, it's sort of like the wind blowing, Nicodemus".  Isn't that frustrating?  Really, that's just frustrating, isn't it?  If there's any place in the gospels, where it would have been the moment for Jesus to have said, "Here's how you get in, Nicodemus ... you accept me as your saviour."  He didn't do that.  Because after all Nicodemus, even when it comes down to this final and important relationship between God and you, you are not in charge.  You have nothing to say.  And that really offends us.

And that's why it's just so tempting to say there's only one thing you have to do.  Just one little thing.  God's done everything else, 99.9%.  Everything, but that one little thing now ... you have to do to close the deal.

...But if there's even a little bit left for you or I to do, then as Paul was to say ... Christ is of no benefit.

...Now Luther called it a myth.  The myth of free will.  Because he understood quite properly that to claim to have a choice before God is blasphemy.  It is acquiring unto yourself an attribute that belongs to God alone...freedom. Only God is free.  So to suggest to sinners that they have something within them that is able to flip a switch in heaven, to make God respond to them ... well Luther said again ... it's the worst form of blasphemy.

There was a free will decision made all right.  And it was God's free will to choose me as His child.  And I will stand on that promise, and that choice, rather than my own.  Because I know what my choices are all about and so do you.  If you make some decision for Christ because you're afraid of going to hell ... what kind of decision is that, for example?  That's about you ... fear ... self concern.  But to make choices in life based on the promises of God for you, that came to you before you could understand, before you could say anything.  To build a life on that kind of foundation, is to build on the foundation that no one else can lay, and that is Jesus himself.  And His promises to you, and for you.

You see, that leaves us with nothing to say and nowhere to go and nothing to do, and that's exactly what makes it so uncomfortable, this gospel business.  It enters us into a new reality called grace. It's not a seemless movement from the world I'm putting together for myself out there, into the church, and back again.  I'm now confronted with something that stops my mouth, that shuts me up, that kills my action, and says ... "Receive" ... what you and the world could never buy, the gracious forgiveness of your sins, the un-merited mercy of God in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Your sin must be first and foremost ...

Your sin must be first and foremost ...  pardoned.

No sin can be crucified in heart or life, unless it is first pardoned in conscience.  If it not be mortified [put to death] in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power.

--Robert Haldane
Commentary on Romans

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In acquiescence, this alone is my liberty

You are dead. In and with Christ you are habitually, constantly, dead. You are dead, and this very death is, in truth, your life.

For who shall slay you now, seeing you are dead already? He who is already and always dead, what fear can he have of any farther death? Does the law again point against me the thunders of its deadly threatenings of wrath? I am dead, and against the dead no charge can be brought. I am dead, and over the dead no enemy has power. I am dead, and to the dead there is no more fear of death.

This is my safety. This alone is my liberty... to be always, in myself, dead. It is only as one dead that I am freed from sin, from its terrors, its temptations, its triumphs; and the more I die with Christ, entering into the meaning of his cross, reckoning myself to be condemned with him, the more am I able to defy every attempt to subject me anew, in any other way, to condemnation.

To every challenge at any time which would require me now to answer for myself as a criminal or as a rebel doomed to death, my reply is that I am dead already. Or rather, it is Christ’s reply for me. “He is dead in me. My death is his.” And I, believing through grace, acquiesce: “Yes; Lord, I am dead in thee. I live no more myself. It is thou who art my life. I live; yet not I: thou livest in me.

--Robert S. Candlish
Sermon, "Death and Life with Christ"

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Patients don't serve their physicians

What is God looking for in the world? Assistants? No. The gospel is not a "help wanted" ad. Neither is the call to Christian service.

God is not looking for people to work for him. But isn't there something we can give to God that won't belittle him to the status of beneficiary?

Yes. Our anxieties.

It's a command: "Cast all your anxieties on him" (1 Peter 5:7). God will gladly receive anything from us that shows our dependence and his all-sufficiency.

Christianity is fundamentally convalescence. Patients do not serve their physicians. They trust them for good prescriptions. The Sermon on the Mount is our Doctor's medical advice, not our Employer's job description.

Our very lives hang on not working for God. "To one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (Romans 4:4–5).

Workmen get no gifts. They get their due. If we would have the gift of justification, we dare not work. God is the workman in this affair. And what he gets is the glory of being the benefactor of grace, not the beneficiary of service.

-- John Piper

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Part 2: Do we know what repentance is?

Audio: 1m:12s

That's what repentance is ... It's recognizing [that] my righteousness can't fix this, only the grace of God can.

We too often are like the rich young ruler. I think the way that I'm going to repent to God is that I'm going to make it up to Him. Like the young man I'll get down on my knee. I'll pray more, I'll pray longer. I'll feel badder, longer ... surely God will appreciate it then. That's not repentance.

Repentance is not the substitution of one category of works for another category of works. Repentance is an emptying of self, saying, "Lord, I can't make this right." It is not so much a doing as a depending.

We make a mistake sometimes about talking about repentance as a turning from evil to a turning to good, as though the repentance itself is walking in a different path. Repentance is turning to God, but repentance is not just doing good. God calls to us to recognize the reality of the cross and the goodness of the blood and says, "I have made you well." If God has made me well, then He has made me glad.

-- Bryan Chapell

Friday, April 25, 2014

Do we know what repentance is?

Video ( < 1 minute )

And the result of this is, in fact, the purity of faith ... faith that has nothing to do but believe. Faith that has nothing to do but cling to Jesus. 
I preached this last Sunday about Peter's confession ... "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." That at the end of the day the christian life is having nothing, sacrificing nothing, and bringing nothing. But falling at Jesus' cross and saying, "Lord I have nothing to give you. You have to do it all."

And somebody asked me after the service ... someone (a dear woman) said, "but we must have repentance, right?"  And didn't know even what to say. How can I fall at the cross and say, "Lord I have nothing to give you", and not have repentance? Who without repentance is going to do that?

I just don't even know that we know what repentance is. The purity of faith is the belief that I have nothing to give ... and that IS repentance. I'm not repentant if I come, saying, "Thank God I'm not like other men." [Rather,] It's the tax collector who sat in the back and beat his breast because he knew he wasn't worthy to stand in the sight of Jesus.

- Pastor Jonathan Fisk

Monday, April 14, 2014

What we need to be convinced of

Audio: < 2 min.

Why do we have this passage? In order to enable us to see that the wounds of Christ reveal the nature of what must fill them ... My sin, and your sin, and every child of God for whom the Son of God died.

We don't like being in this place. Where in humility we have to confess that it was for me my savior died. But this place of humility, where we do not want to be, where we resist being, is the very place where we are most blessed by God. For when we can in our hearts say it was for me my savior died. My sin nailed Him there. It's my sins that filled His wounds. When we can say that, then we recognize this... My sin He took, and I need to know that.

I think sometimes people believe it is the role of a preacher to help people be convinced that their sin needs forgiveness. I actually don't think that's the case. I don't think those in whom the Holy Spirit is working need to be convinced that they are guilty. We know that. We need to be convinced that the wounds of Christ were made for our sin to fit there. So that the guilt we have is not upon us, but as we turn to Christ in faith, our sin is on Him so that we could be free of it now and forever.

--Bryan Chapell
From his sermon on April 13, 2014: "I Am King, You Say" (John 18:37)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The only way to rid yourself of sin

Audio: about 2 min.

'But sin cannot be known in relation only to the law. It must be placed in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.'

What he means by that is ... it's not enough to simply say that the law convicts of sin. You have to move to the next step and say, "Christ has become your sin." It's not that you are going to be working on your sin, to finally rid yourself of your sin. Your sin has been completely accounted for until the day you die.  "Upon Him was heaped the chastisement of us all. Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows." That's what that means. "He became sin who knew no sin."

You have to think of Jesus as a sinner, the biggest sinner of all time, the sinner beyond all sinners ... Not a pretend sinner, not a fake sinner, not a sinner who just kind of went through the motions in order to fulfill some kind of divine formula.  But who became sin, and the wrath of God was poured out on Him on the cross, and He allowed the devil to take Him right down into the grave. That's how serious it is. That's how devastating sin is, how utterly beyond us it is.

But you see, if that picture of urgency is not present ... A world in the control of evil, a creature desperate to flee from God at every possible turn, and then a God who takes this muck of a world and covers Himself with it for our sakes ... If that isn't painted in clear terms, then this is just religion ... we do a little bit, God does a little bit, and everybody comes out good in the end.

(And that's what you want. That's what I want.)

--Pastor Mark Anderson

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I have good news for YOU. Period.

Sometimes even our popular christian leaders get it wrong.

It's rare that I post a negative example.  I only do so when the example illuminates, and strikes to the heart of,  "the subtle wonders of the Good News".

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
(Romans 5:8)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Luther: "The cross alone is our theology"

The cross is, in the first instance, God's attack on human sin. As an attack, it reveals that the real seat of sin is not in the flesh but in our spiritual aspirations, in our "theology of glory". Thus, the theology of the cross is an offensive theology. Unlike other theologies it attacks what we usually consider the best in our religion.

The most common overarching story we tell about ourselves is what we will call the glory story: We came from glory and are bound for glory. Of course, in between we seem somehow to have gotten derailed, but that is only a temporary inconvenience to be fixed by proper religious effort. What we need is to get back on "the glory road". The story is told in countless variations. Usually the subject of the story is "the soul." The basic scheme is what Paul Ricoeur has called "the myth of the exiled soul." The soul is exiled from its home, and its true destiny is to return.

Indeed, so seductive has the exiled soul myth been throughout history that the biblical story itself has been taken into captivity by it. The biblical story of the fall has tended to become a variation on the theme of the exiled soul. Adam, originally pure in soul, either by nature or by the added gift of grace, was tempted by baser lusts and "fell", losing grace and drawing all his progeny with him into a "mass of perdition." Reparation must be made, grace restored, and purging carried out so that a return to glory is possible. The cross, of course, can be quite neatly assimilated into the story as the reparation that makes the return possible. And there we have a tightly woven theology of glory!

One of the difficulties in the attempt to set the theology of the cross apart from the theology of glory is that the differences between the two are often very subtle. The theology of the cross arises out of the realization that it is simply disastrous to dissolve the cross in the story of glory. Jesus was crucified "outside the camp," not in the temple. The cross insists on being its own story. It does not allow us to stand by and watch. It does not ask us to probe endlessly for a meaning behind or above everything that would finally awaken, enlighten, and attract the exiled, slumbering soul. The cross draws us into itself so that we become participants in the story. Just as Jesus was crucified, so we also are crucified with him. The cross makes us part of its story. The cross becomes our story. That is what it means to say, as Luther did, "The cross alone is our theology."

-- Gerhard Forde
selected from his book:
On Being a Theologian of the Cross,  (Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Jesus didn't purchase a "possibility" for you

When Jesus went to the Cross,
He didn't purchase the "possibility of salvation".

(As if He opened a door for people to walk through, if they so chose).

No, Jesus took names to the Cross.

--Paul David Tripp

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What have you got?

I often hear people say, “I wish I could get hold of Divine Healing, but I cannot.” Sometimes they say, “I have got it.” 
If I ask them, “What have you got?” the answer is sometimes, “I have got the blessing”, sometimes it is, “I have got the theory”; sometimes it is, “I have got the healing”; sometimes, “I have got the sanctification.” 
But I thank God we have been taught that it is not the blessing, it is not the healing, it is not the sanctification, it is not the thing, it is not the 'IT' that you want, but it is something better. It is “the Christ”; it is Himself. 
How often that comes out in His Word – “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses”, Himself “bare our sins in his own body on the tree”! It is the person of Jesus Christ we want. 
I prayed a long time to get sanctified, and sometimes I thought I had it. 
Of course, I lost it because I did not hold on to Him. I had been taking a little water from the reservoir, when I might have all the time received from Him fullness through the open channels. 
And when at last I got my eyes off my sanctification, and my experience of it, and just placed them on the Christ in me, I found, instead of an experience, the Christ larger than the moment’s need, the Christ that had all that I should ever need who was given to me at once, and for ever! And when I thus saw Him, it was such rest. For I had not only what I could hold that little hour, but also in Him, all that I should need the next and the next and so on. 
I had to learn to take from Him my spiritual life every second, to breathe Himself in, and breathe myself out. So, moment by moment for the spirit, and moment by moment for the body, we must receive. 
There came a time when there was a little thing between me and Christ. I express it by a little conversation with a friend who said, “You were healed by faith.” “Oh, no,” I said, “I was healed by Christ.” 
What is the difference? There is a great difference. There came a time when even faith seemed to come between me and Jesus. I thought I should have to work up the faith, so I labored to get the faith. At last I thought I had it; that if I put my whole weight upon it, it would hold. I was trusting in myself, in my own heart, in my own faith. I was asking the Lord to do something for me because of something in me, not because of something in Him. 
That is it. It is not your faith. You have no faith in you, any more than you have life or anything else in you. You have nothing but emptiness and vacuity, and you must be just openness and readiness to take Him to do all. You have to take His faith as well as His life and healing, and have simply to say, “I live by the faith of the Son of God.”  
The Apostle Paul tells us that there is a secret, a great secret which was hidden from ages and from generations (Col. 1: 26), which the world was seeking after in vain, and God says it “is now made manifest to his saints”; and Paul went through the world just to tell it to those that were able to receive it; and that simple secret is just this: “Christ in you the hope of glory.”

Albert Benjamin Simpson (1843-1919)
the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A death He can use instead of a life He cannot

Life is a web of trials and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life. But that will never work. If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its ways there. 
For Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot.

-Robert Capon

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Only in dumb love

Too many preachers are trying to make themselves lovers, when the thrill of any romance is the blinding realization that someone else loves you ... your identity is your Lover ... only in dumb love will you ever be able to speak.

-Robert Capon

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Faith is not our saviour

We must understand that faith does not justify and save us by itself, but as an instrument, whereby we lay hold of and apply to ourselves Christ with His righteousness and merits, by which only we appear just before God. A small and weak hand, if it be able to reach up the meat to the mouth, as well performs its duty for the nourishment of the body as one of greater strength, because it is not the strength of the hand but the goodness of the meat which nourishes the body. 
-- George Downame

Faith is not our saviour. It was not faith that was born at Bethlehem and died on Golgotha for us. It was not faith that loved us, and gave itself for us; that bore our sins in its own body on the tree; that died and rose again for our sins. Faith is one thing, the Saviour is another. Faith is one thing, and the cross is another. Let us not confound them, nor ascribe to a poor, imperfect act of man, that which belongs exclusively to the Son of the Living God. ... God has asked and provided a perfect righteousness; He nowhere asks nor expects a perfect faith. 
-- Horatius Bonar

By the stripes of Jesus we are healed. All those stripes He has endured, and left not one of them for us to bear.  "But must we not believe on Him?"  Ay, certainly. If I say of a certain ointment that it heals, I do not deny that you need a bandage with which to apply it to the wound. Faith is the linen which binds the plaster of Christ's reconciliation to the sore of our sin. The linen does not heal; that is the work of the ointment. So faith does not heal; that is the work of the atonement of Christ.
-- Charles Spurgeon

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A much stronger grace: Not reform, but redemption.

I've heard people say that justification means that God looks at me "just-as-if-I'd" always obeyed — somehow, because of Jesus' obedience, when God looks at me He sees only Jesus' obedience. That sounds very holy and theologically wonderful until you reflect on it a bit. It leaves this lurking suspicion that God may love Jesus, but He rejects the real me ... the sinning me. In this sense I am not only presenting a fake persona to other people around me in order to be accepted, I am instructed to present a fake persona to God in order to be accepted. 
The message of the cross of Christ shows forth a much stronger grace
It sees our sin
I do not come wearing a fake Jesus mask. It is most liberating that while God may deal with me just as if I'd never sinned, he does not see a fake me. He sees and loves the weak and sinful me. My sins have not simply been forgotten or overlooked, and He does not simply pretend that they never happened. In Christ I have been definitively and authoritatively forgiven
The cross acknowledges that I have truly sinned, and that God has seen it all the way to its root; there is no pretense whatsoever. He has loved me knowing the depth and persistence and richness and evil of my sin. The justice for my sins has actually been executed, and a strong vengeance and wrath has been delivered upon my choice to obey my selfish and harmful lusts. I don’t have to act like I am OK or pretend like I am righteous. Justice has truly been executed. 
We have to be willing to face the fact that if the law is going to be fulfilled for us, if justice is to be upheld, it is not a matter of future obedience. We are tempted to think that the fulfillment of the law involves obedience from now on; we are often foolish enough to think that from here on we will be sufficiently successful at our righteousness. We want to promise that we have "repented". 
You do not need reform, you need redemption. Faith says that the blood of Jesus satisfies justice for every little thing we do wrong, all the time. Faith says that I always feel inadequate because I really am inadequate, but that I am saved through His cross from all of these judgements that daily accuse me. The cross declares that the law, which speaks so powerfully to my conscience, has been fulfilled — not because I obeyed it, but because Jesus has more than sufficiently borne its penalty. ... It is not your reform which saves you. It is Christ who saves you
The cross of Christ declares that law has been fulfilled on my behalf — it is indeed finished. I do not need to wear a fake Jesus mask for God to accept me; I am accepted and justified in Christ as myself.

--Jim McNeely

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Do you think that you're going to mess this up?

Audio:  < 2 min.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord. Who is, who was, who is to come. The Almighty. This is the Jesus that we serve. This is the Jesus that we believe in. This is the Jesus that will return. 
For the christian the return of Christ is a glorious thing. For the christian Jesus is no longer the baby in the manger, he's not merely a sacrificial lamb, but as John writes in Revelation 5, he is the lion of the tribe of Judah. The root of David, who has conquered. He is the one who sits on the throne. The one who is worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals. For he was slain, he was sacrificed. His blood ransomed. And by His blood he ransomed the people of God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 
[Now let me just say],
Do you think that you're going to mess this up? 
For those of you that struggle, maybe with assurance, thinking that you're too sinful to be a believer, and yet you're holding on, you're trusting ... Do you think that you're going to mess this up?  That you're going to overturn the blood that ransomed? ... that your sin is going to overturn the blood that ransomed a people of God from every tribe and language and people and nation? 
It will never happen, dear believer. Jesus has taken care of your sin once for all. Just as certainly as He rose from the grave, He will return to bring you home with Him.

-- Jason Achmoody

From the First London Confession of Faith (1646)

All those that have this precious faith wrought in them by the Spirit, can never finally nor totally fall away; seeing the gifts of God are without repentance; so that He still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise, and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock, which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief, and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of this light and love, be clouded and overwhelmed for a time; yet God is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palms of His hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Faith is the catchers mitt, it's not the pitch

On the heals of my previous post, I listened to two sermons that proclaimed "The Gift" that came to us on that first Christmas.  And each, in its own way, deals with:

1. What is that gift.
2. What it looks like to receive that gift.

On the heals of my previous post, I present to you the salient parts of each sermon, distilled to less than 5 minutes of audio, for your discernment.

Audio:  < 5 min.  - "The Gift that Lasts and Lasts"

John 3:16 is, in so many ways, the Heavenly Father leaning over into the cradle of our dark existence, and saying to people who are struggling with failure, and weakness, and shame, and uncertainty, and do not know how they will take care of it all, "Don't you know that I would move heaven and earth to help you."

John 3:16 is saying, "Don't you know that God loves you this much." And yet it is the very things that we stuggle with ... our weaknesses and our faults and our failures that somehow make God seem so distant that this can't possibly be true. And so He begins to reveal Himself to us in such simple but profound terms to say, "Don't you know, how big is my heart, for you."

And the evidence of it is in the great gift that is being described. You know these words ... "God so loved the world that He GAVE His only son." And the reason that you and I need to say that is even here today there are those among us who say, "Listen, I've heard this gospel, and you gather at church, and you look good, and you look fine, and I know Jesus died for you. But if you knew who I really am, and what I struggle with, and what's in my life, you would not want me part of this church." And what you need to hear me say is, "God does know, and sent His son for you."  That was His very purpose. That He could know the worst, and still say, "But I give the gift." That is how big is the heart, that is how great is the gift, that it would be even for those who are undeserving, because that's ultimately who we all are.

And because He loves us that much we ultimately have a great hope. That God gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. It's so important to read the words, "whoever BELIEVES in Him."  The persons who are made right with God, who get this great gift, are those who believe in Him.

Because formal religion says that you're made right with God because of some religious practice, like you've been baptized, or you joined the church. You pray long enough, or read your bible well enough, or you've done things exceptional, made a pilgrimage of some sort.  It may even be that you're saying, "my faith is in my faith". I have the right frame of mind, I have the right doctrine. Listen, whether you are saying that your faith is in your practice, or your faith, in all of those kind of frame of mind, frame of reference, frame of activity, your actual faith is in you.

No, the faith [of a believer] is in Him. Not in the degree of your faith, not in the rightness of your practice, not in the goodness of your background, the faith is in Him. Well, what does that mean? You have to believe that Jesus was SENT for you, and was SIN for you. That on the cross, what made you right with God was not your background, not your religion, not your practice, not even your correct beliefs. That what makes you right with God is that God put your sin upon Him, that what was represented in Jesus was the penalty that we deserved. I'm not made right because of what I do or think. I am made right because of leaning upon what Jesus has done.

We have to remember that faith is the catchers mitt, it's not the pitch. Right? It's something I receive. It's not that I've thrown enough faith at God. It's not that I've thrown enough practice or baptism. It's not what I have done. It's what I have received. He was sent for me. And I believe I'm made right with God because of what He has done. It's the step away from self, not the building up of something in self.

Believe in Him. That God sent Him for you. And that He was sin for you. And when you depend on that alone, you are His now, and for ever. Father, would you work the gospel into the hearts of all who are here. You call us to believe this very simple but profound gospel. That your heart is so big, that you would give your Son for us. And that if we believe in that, that He was sent for us, and took our sins upon Him on the cross, that we are ... yours.

Audio:  < 5 min.  - "The Greatest Gift Ever"

Because as we think about the coming of Jesus, we could certainly look at it from the angle that God gave the world the most remarkable gift the world has ever known. He gave His Son. Moreover I think you can also think about it from another angle ... you see as with any gift this gift that God gave must be received. It has to be received. Tonight what I want to do is just spend a few minutes as we prepare out hearts for Christmas, to think about the gift that God gave us that first Christmas, how amazing that gift really was, and what it looks like to receive that gift.

Jesus is the gift. Jesus is the greatest gift ever given. He looked into our brokenness. He looked at our fallen world. And He sent His Son. The bible says, in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever would believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Romans 5:8 says, "God shows His own love for us in this ... while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God sent His Son into the world that very first Christmas to reconcile His wayward people back to Himself. And He would do this by coming to earth as a man, and going to the cross.

The bible makes it clear ... all of us have sinned. We've all rebelled against God and our sin separates us from our perfect God who cannot tolerate sin. But at the cross, the bible tells us that every single sin of those who would believe ... every sin past, present and future ... was nailed to Christ. Now, how's that dear friends for an amazing gift.

But here's the thing. Like any other gift, this gift, for it to apply to you, must be received. And remarkably, this is a gift that is often outright rejected. Or one that is rejected by those who think they have received it.

There are some who believe the truths of what I'm telling you academically, and yet still reject this gift. They believe that Jesus came and walked the face of the earth. They believe that Jesus really lived. They believe that He was really crucified, that He was really dead, He was buried and He was raised on the third day. But they reject Christ with their life style.

And John [in 1st John] is very clear that false claims about ones relationship with God mean absolutely nothing. He says [that] if we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, (in other words we don't live for Him), John say we lie. Or he says that if any one says, "I love God", but does not love his brother, (and that's referring to a brother in Christ, and that's referring to, when you read 1st John, knowing brothers and sisters in Christ, being connected to a church, serving people, laying down your life for others), he said if someone says, "I love God", and does not love his brother, he's a liar.

You see, receiving the gift of God, receiving Jesus, truly believing in Christ is a life changing experience. Jesus Himself said [that] if anyone wants to come after me, if anyone wants to be my follower, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me. You see we can't earn or purchase a right standing with God. We've already seen it's a gift. God did it. And yet when you read the scriptures you know this gift will cost you your life.

When we come to believe in Jesus, He becomes the king of our life. Jesus says [that] if you love me, if you really love me, you will keep my commandments. Receiving Jesus means believing in Him entirely for your right standing with God. And it means submitting your life to Him as your King, as your Lord, as your master ... following Him wherever He leads ... now, and for all eternity.

So that's, that's Christmas.