Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Office of a Minister Defined by Jonathan Edwards

"A minister by his office is to be the guide and instructor of his people. To that end he is to study and search the scriptures and to teach the people, not the opinions of men - of other divines or of their ancestors - but the mind of Christ. As he is set to enlighten them, so a part of his duty is to rectify their mistakes, and, if he sees them out of the way of truth or duty, to be a voice behind them saying, 'This is the way, walk ye in it.' (emphasis mine)
Hence, if what he offers to exhibit to them as the mind of Christ be different from their previous apprehensions, unless it be on some point which is established in the Church of God as fundamental, surely they are obliged to hear him. If not, there is an end at once to all the use and benefit of teachers in the church in these respects - as the means of increasing its light and knowledge, and of reclaiming it from mistakes and errors. This would be in effect to establish, not the word of Christ, but the opinion of the last generation in each town and church, as an immutable rule to all future generations to the end of the world."
--Jonathan Edwards, from the Journal on the Communion Controversy,
Dwight, Life of President Edwards, p. 358
Well, let me say two things: 1) May I always by God's unwarranted and inexplicable grace be found to be this kind of minister; and 2) Amen! Please close your bibles and let's be dismissed - here endeth the lesson!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wheat or Tares?

Well, God was gracious enough to see us through another night. So, now I want to take up where I left off in yesterday’s post. Lest anyone think I am merely riding a “hobby horse” please take note that I am responding, with genuine grief, to a letter sent to Grace Partners concerning an individual who “apostatized” from the faith. The question I left hanging yesterday, was what do you do when someone responds to a gospel presentation? In reality the question is how do you tell if someone is genuinely saved? It is interesting to me to have received this letter at the same time that I reached the chapters detailing the controversy and dismissal of Jonathan Edwards from his pulpit in Northampton. The reigning issue of his controversy was his growing concern of admitting non-repentant and non-regenerate communicants to the Lord’s Table who claimed to have had religious experiences. It is obvious that none of us can tell if a convert is genuine or not. God has reserved the true knowledge and condition of one’s heart to himself. There are no “tests,” “surveys,” Barna Reports, or such that we can use to gauge the genuineness of a conversion experience. All we can do is rejoice, pray earnestly, disciple biblically, observe the fruit of the Holy Spirit and wait. I think one of the most difficult passages to not only interpret properly, but to accept is found in Luke 8; The Parable of the Sower. Of the four seeds sown, only one had true or real life. We know that because only one produced fruit. It is fairly obvious to us when we share the gospel and someone flat out refuses it or rejects it that they were not converted (doesn’t mean that they may not be someday.) It is harder for us to understand and accept when someone seems to accept the gospel and hangs around for awhile until trials, tribulations, or testings come their way. We must be absolutely careful with our presentation and the motives that we extend to people for accepting Christ and the gospel. If they are in it for what they can get, then when they don’t get they will leave. (Might not be good English but it is the truth) It is much harder when someone responds with great joy, looks like the real McCoy, sounds right and then digs in and serves or ministers just like you and then abandons the faith. Matthew 13 tells us, among many things, about the parable of the weeds, or the tares. It is amazing that people can and do have counterfeit gospel experiences. It is tragic and heart breaking to realize that this Lord’s Day you may sit and worship next to someone who really does not know the Lord and is actually counterfeit. God knows the heart but we can examine lives in order to effectively minister to people. If there is no evidence of any fruit for a lengthy period of time, we may need to go back over the gospel with in humble and earnest prayer. We may need at times to confront people who are lingering in sin or disobedience. We who are strong may need at times to find those who are weak and in need, as Galatians 6 states, and put our arms around them and help them through their sin, or problem, or difficulty. I grew up in a “fundamentalist” sect that for all practical purposes lived the motto – Win-em, Wet-em, and Work-em! Anyone who made a profession was considered instantly and for all times to be a believer and they were thrown into Christian ministry immediately. Rarely was there any waiting period, watching period, or disciplining period utilized in order for these “converts” to prove to be genuine and to grow. So, as we grow verbose, we can not know for absolute certainty the heart of anyone. We can be patient and take some time and look for evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. We can be selective and patient in using people or placing them in ministry. After all, does anyone remember the words of the Apostle Paul when he said, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” (I Tim 5:22 ESV) Even then, it seems that someone can “receive it with joybelieve for awhileand in the time of testing fall away.” (Luke 8:13 ESV) That is tragic.
Perhaps Steve is genuine and God will grant him repentance. Perhaps he was merely seed on rocky soil that had no root and eventually through testing proved himself to be a tare. Only God knows.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Does She or Doesn’t She? (The Difficulty of Discerning True Salvation)

We have a terrible practice today of authoritatively pronouncing an individual as a believer if they have conformed to a pattern of either praying or repeating a simple prayer. As a result there are so many within the visible church, not to mention an innumerable company of individuals outside of the visible church who have been pronounced as ‘believers’. As you are also aware the accompanying mantra is usually, “Now never doubt this, don’t ever let anyone including the devil cause you to doubt what you just did.” There is no salvation in that prayer formula. Yes, it is a response to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” It patterns the biblical response, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” The salvation is not in a repeated or manipulated prayer, the salvation is in the working of the unseen Holy Spirit as He opens the heart of an individual by giving regenerating life and the gift of faith. This new life imparted by the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith issues forth in repentance of and from sin and a new heart with a new direction of life. Jonathan Edwards in his Religious Affections wrote: “Grace planted in the new-birth is a ‘principle of holy action or practice’ and it always produces an abiding change of nature in a true convert.” Why then, are not all of our so called “conversions” accompanied by such notable distinctions? The alternative was argued by John Wesley in 1773 when he wrote against Edward’s premise; “The design of Mr. Edwards in the treatise, from which the following extract is made, seems to have been chiefly, if not altogether, to serve his hypothesis. In the three preceding tracts he had given an account of a part of these ‘turned back as a dog to the vomit’. What was the plain inference to be drawn from this? Why, that a true believer may ‘make shipwreck of his faith’. How then could he evade the force of this? Truly, by eating his own words, and proving as well as the nature of the thing would bear, that they were no believers at all.” Wesley’s answer as to why a number of people could become excited about the things of Christ, seem to have the ear-marks of salvation and then fall completely away was simply this – ‘that persons can be renewed, and then, ultimately lose both their holiness and their salvation.’ The problem that Edwards and Wesley faced is the same problem we face today. Quoting Ian Murray, “…Edwards believed that the problem involved the recognizing of true Christian experience as a fact.” We face this same problem – we can not tell if a “conversion” is real or not, so how can we pronounce someone authoritatively saved on the basis of praying a short, simple, scripted, and sincere prayer? Edwards argued that there were always some missing ingredients from what he called the “affections” of those who had some type of religious experience or profession of faith. Let me list those ingredients which we may or may not go into greater detail later: An attitude of humility is missing. We are driven by the Spirit of God until we discover that we deserve nothing but judgment and death. We discover that we are unworthy to receive such a gift as this glorious salvation being provided by our Savior. Hence Edwards is right, humility should mark a true convert. An abiding sense of sin is missing. There must be repentance from something, such as sin, and a turning to something or someone, such as Christ. There is to be some ‘mourning’ for sin. Christ spoke on this often. An attitude of true balance is missing. By this Edwards seems to mean that there is to be a balancing combination of assurance of salvation with ‘holy boldness’ with a ‘lessening of self-confidence and more modesty.’ One more thought from Edwards to chew on – “The love and the pursuit of holiness is the enduring mark of the true Christian.” What are we to do as either leaders or members of a visible congregation when someone responds to an invitation to “receive Christ?” Let’s take that up in tomorrow’s post, shall we? May our gracious, loving, and kind Lord be so willing!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Danger of Religion & Religious Activity

Many of you are Grace Partners and supporters of Grace To You. As a result you received the same letter from John that I did detailing the apostasy of a man named Steve. How tragic that letter is! I don’t think that there is any real need to reproduce that letter here; suffice it to say, that Steve, who thought he had been a Christian, who had pastored for over ten (10) years, and who had received “much help” from Grace To You walked away from the God that he had professed.
So, many of us would say, how can that be? How can something so tragic with such monumental consequences take place? Naturally, the accompanying interview between MacArthur and Phil Johnson on a recorded CD gives the ultimate answer – Steve was never a Christian at all.
Johnathan Edwards had asked three (3) penetrating and eternally important questions in the preface of his book, The Religious Affections. More than likely there are not any greater questions that could ever be asked, unless it be “What must I do to be saved?” Those three (3) question are as follows:
"What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards?"
"What is the nature of true religion?"
"And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God?"
We are ever in need to be reminded of the profound statement made by Jesus Christ, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14)
Hebrews 12:14 is an equally challenging and chilling passage of Scripture that I have been meditating on and off for quite some time – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (ESV)
Strive for the holiness, what holiness? It is not the physical acts of holiness or sanctification such as church attendance, bible reading, giving, serving, or acts of separation that is being spoken of. We are to seek after, follow after, strive to detect and determine the work or effect of the Holy Spirit in our lives as the evidence of true redemption.
The distinction is important because the writer is not talking about the fact that you have been set apart as holy for God, or that you do holy things. The idea that is conveyed in this word is the underlying truth of the reality of salvation in your life. This reality has been made possible and is being made possible by Christ and accomplished by Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit in your life. It is the effect in Christians, so that the "hagiaomos" or the sanctifying effects of the HS is the living form of the Christian state. Let me say it another way – this holiness that the writer is talking about is the working of the Holy Spirit that is made evident by His fruit.
The fact that the HS is present in our lives and demonstrates that presence by conforming us to the image of Christ is the sufficient evidence that we are true believers. Not because we do or don't do certain things. Yes, the flip side of this coin is that we do and don't do certain things because salvation is evident in our lives - but let's not get side-tracked. The atonement of Christ is the basis or foundation of the Christian life. The sanctifying effect of the Holy Spirit is the moral form which develops out of the atonement of Christ and by the way without this work of the Holy Spirit no one can see Jesus Christ. So, do you see the distinction? We are striving after, or seeking to know certain the effects of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are not striving after church membership, church attendance, or any so called Christian activity.
We are striving after the moral influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives; which of course will produce true Christian activity. Otherwise, how would we differ from the Pharisee or the hypocrite? We are to be constantly, continually and actively striving for the effects of the Holy Spirit in our lives since this is the gauge by which we have certainty that we are the children of God.
This is what Steve missed. Steve, it seems, got caught up in visible signs of “sanctification” without having been diligent and earnest in seeking the signs of the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit in his life. This is how people can think they are believers for long periods of time, and even pastor churches who have never been brought to the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
May those who name the name of Christ never forget this warning and admonition by the writer of Hebrews. May those who name the name of Christ never be found to be apostate due to the fact that the the effect of the Holy Spirit is missing because He is missing in their lives.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When The Rubber Meets The Road

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your (my) adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone (me) to devour. Resist him, firm in your (my) faith…” (I Peter 5:6-9a ESV) If there ever was a time I wasn’t sober and watchful, it was today. Talk about being blind-sided – now and then regardless of your love for the Lord, faithfulness in your walk, and correctness in your doctrinal teaching and theology, your faith will be tested. Today is that day for me. “Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence and the integrity of your ways your hope?” (Job 4:3-6 ESV) Yikes! Ouch! Oh how sometimes we must practice what we preach! It is one thing to teach on trials, tribulations, and testings with all the scripture references that go along with it all, but another when I am wearing that ill-fitting shoe. But I trust that when I am tried I will be able to say as Job; But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. (Job 23:10 ESV) Thank God for His Word and for His everlasting care! I have a Father who cares for me and I have nothing to fear. It is enough for me!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Gospel - It Is Of First Importance!

This morning I am starting a five (5) day spring vacation. We aren't going anywhere- simply staying home and catching up on a number of things. I "slept" in this morning - really I just laid under the warm, comfy covers and let my mind race around the things that I wanted to do today. The first, was post something before I began my devotion. I have been thinking allot lately about the gospel - and I am reading a little book that was graciously given to me; A Gospel Primer for Christians, by Milton Vincent. Milton opens with this quote from C. J. McHaney's The Cross Centered Life" "If there's anything in life that we should be passionate about, its the gospel. And I don't mean passionate only about sharing it with others. I mean passionate about thinking about it, dwelling on it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look a the world. Only one thing can be of first importance to each of us. And only the gospel ought to be." This quote seems to have come from reflecting on I Corinthians 15:1-4: "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel - what a shame that we have to be reminded of the truths and implications of the gospel, but thank God that faithful men are given by God to remind us - I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved - unbelievable and indescribable that God has chosen to save any of us - if you hold fast to the word I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain." I hope that you have never gotten over the gospel! I hope that you think much on it and its implications to you. I shall be thinking much this week on the gospel and hope to post some thoughts off and on as God impresses these truths even deeper into my heart and soul.

Jesus is the Word of God and He is the light of the world!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sanctification In Puritan Thought

"There is no imagination wherewith man is besotted, more foolish, none so pernicious, as this - that persons not purified, not sanctified, not made holy in their life, should afterwards be taken into that state of blessedness which consists in the enjoyment of God. Neither can such persons enjoy God, nor would God be a reward to them. Holiness indeed is perfected in heaven; but the beginning of it is invariably confined to this world."
--John Owen

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Guilt - What Is It Good For?

It seems that there are at least four (4) reasons why a weak view of sin develops both in our personal lives and within the body as a whole. The first reason seems to be an improper conclusion that grace nullifies the significance of sin in our lives. A second reason that leads to a weak view of sin is that we fail to grasp that sin (singular) is the issue rather than sins (acts). There is a third reason that a weak view of sin develops both in our personal lives and within the body of Christ, and that is we fail to be grieved over the principle of sin still embedded within us The fourth and final reason that a weak view of sin develops is … … we fail to see that sin is against God and not simply or merely that we feel guilty or that we are afraid of its consequences First of all, almost no one, at least no one that I know likes to feel guilty. Why do we feel guilty? Where does guilt come from? Listen to modern psychology’s answer: “Guilt is the inability to forgive oneself for a perceived wrongdoing. Perceived wrongdoing means that you believe you have done something wrong. The wrongdoing may or may not have had negative consequences for yourself and/or others. If others were involved, they may or may not still be angry or hurt by the wrongdoing. A perceived wrongdoing may be an action, a thought or a feeling. If the wrongdoing was an action, you probably think of it as a mistake. You feel guilty for the wrongdoing because you cannot forgive yourself for it. You cannot let it go. If you cannot forgive yourself, you will not overcome the guilt.” What does the bible say? Biblically guilt is that state of a moral agent after the intentional or unintentional violation of a law or principle established by God. Guilt is personal responsibility. Guilt carries with it the concept of deserved punishment or payment due. Now what clouds the issue is the wrongful interchanging of the terms guilt and guilty feelings. Guilt is an after the fact reality or state that may or may not be accompanied by guilty feelings. Guilt is recognizing that you have sinned, you in fact have violated a law or principle of God, so guilt is not what you feel but it is what you are. Guilty feelings on the other hand are a conglomerate of emotions that usually include anxiety in anticipation of punishment or consequences, shame with the sense of humiliation, dirtiness with the need or desire to hide, depression (which is pride). Believe it or not, guilty feelings do have some value. They stem from the fact that we are aware that we have violated some standard or value system, whether it is, God’s law, federal or state law, society’s norms, or our parents rules, and etc. They (guilty feelings) are to lead us to correction, by way of recognition, taking personal responsibility, confession, restitution, and etc. Most of the time people try to eradicate guilty feelings by escaping, evading, or killing the feelings causing the pain. So, when we sin many times we are only concerned about how the sin will affect us. By this I mean I don’t like the feeling that comes with the awareness that I have sinned, guilt feelings – I am afraid of the consequences, loss of money, health, reputation, material possessions, and even freedom – or we are afraid of the chastisement of God. But those are not the foremost things we should be concerned about. We should be concerned about how our sin affects God. I want to quote from Jerry Bridges book, Respectable Sins: "The more important issue is how our sin affects God. Someone has described sin as cosmic treason … when we sin we violate the law of God in any way, be it ever so small in our eyes, we rebel against the sovereign authority and transcendent majesty of God. To put it bluntly, our sin is an assault on the majesty and sovereign rule of God. It is indeed cosmic treason."[1]
Well, there you have it - four (4) reasons why sin develops and is alive and well in both our personal lives and within our own church body or fellowship. I hope that you have benefited from this little examination of the principle of sin rather than just considering sin as acts of little or no consequence. If it has been helpful at all or if you choose to challenge some ideas please feel free to comment! God bless you!
[1] Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007, pp. 26-27

Friday, May 22, 2009

Joy Comes in the Mourning!

It seems that there are at least four (4) reasons why a weak view of sin develops both in our personal lives and within the body as a whole. The first reason seems to be an improper conclusion that grace nullifies the significance of sin in our lives. A second reason that leads to a weak view of sin is that we fail to grasp that sin is the issue rather than sins. There is a third reason that can lead to a very weak view of sin, … …we fail to be grieved over the principle of sin still embedded within us I read this illustration and I want to share it with you; a pastor invited the men in his church to join him in a prayer meeting. Rather than praying about the spiritual needs of the church as he expected, all of the men without exception prayed about the sins of the culture, primarily abortion and homosexuality. Finally, the pastor, dismayed over the apparent self-righteousness of the men, closed the prayer meeting with the well-known prayer of the tax collector, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) It should be not unusual for Christians to feel guilty because of sin in their lives. It is a fact that Christians have problems dealing with that guilt and sin. We think that once we have become Christians, we will no longer have a struggle with sin, and that through Christ we will have power to overcome it. And that is true, Christ does overcome sin. Actually, Paul talks about his struggle with sin and the grief that it produced within him in Romans 7:14-25. What did Jesus say in Matt 5:4? Blessed are those who (what?) mourn - it means to wail or to lament. So, happy are they that grieve? What a striking paradox. It is the strongest word in the Greek language for mourning. It is the word that is used for the mourning of the dead, it is a passionate lamenting for the loss of one who was deeply loved. In the LXX (Greek translation of the Old Testament) is the word that was used of Jacob’s grief when he believed that Joseph, his son was dead. (Gen 37:34) This is the word that is defined as the kind of sorrow or grief that takes such a hold on a man that it cannot be hid. It is not only the sorrow that brings an ache to the heart, but it is the also the sorrow that brings and unrestrainable tear to your eye. So, how does Matt 5:4 really read? Blessed is the man who mourns like one mourning for the loss of someone loved very deeply to death.
John MacArthur writes – "There is a great need in the church today to cry instead of laugh. The frivolity, silliness, and foolishness that go on in the name of Christianity should themselves make us mourn." [1] The Arabs have a proverb: All sunshine makes a desert. The land on which the sun always shines will soon become an arid place in which no fruit will grow. There are certain things which only the rains will produce; and certain experiences which only sorrow can produce. I walked a mile with Pleasure, She chatted all the way, But left me none the wiser For all she had to say I walked a mile with Sorrow, And ne’er a word said she But, oh the things I learned from her When Sorrow walked with me! Why is this so crucial in this portion of the beatitude? What was Jesus first words of His message? Repent! No man can repent unless he is sorrowful, grieved by, and mourns for his sin. I know that this refers to initial grief, repentance, and comfort in forgiveness and salvation, but sin because of what it is should continue to grieve us as we trust in Christ and submit to the Holy Spirit to enable us to resist sin. MacArthur writes again – "The faithful child of God is constantly broken over his sinfulness, and the longer he lives and the more mature he becomes in the Lord, the harder it is for him to be frivolous. He sees more of God’s love and mercy, but he also sees more of his own and the world’s sinfulness. To grow in grace is also to grow in awareness of sin." [2] So I submit to you, that the mark of a mature Christian is not sinlessness, but a growing awareness of our sinfulness. Paul is a great example of this as he neared the end of his life and after a long fruitful ministry. Listen to what he told Timothy: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Or in the KJV it says of whom I am chief.
John Newton the slave trading, drunkard, and immoral ship captain who was gloriously saved and became a preacher who wrote Amazing Grace, repeated a tremendous truth even at the end of his life: "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”
[1] The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Matthew, John MacArthur, Chicago: Moody Press, 1985, p. 158
[2] ibid, p. 159

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is it Sin or Sins?

It seems that there are at least four (4) reasons why a weak view of sin develops both in our personal lives and within the body as a whole. The first reason seems to be an improper conclusion that grace nullifies the significance of sin in our lives. It is crucial then that we don’t allow our concept or understanding of grace to nullify the significance of sin that remains in our lives. A second reason that leads to a weak view of sin is … …that we fail to grasp that sin is the issue rather than sins Matt 15:19-20a – “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (ESV) Our sins are the expression of a sinful heart or nature. Individual acts of sin spring from a principle or nature within us that is sinful. Wayne Grudem wrote "… sin is a failure to conform to God’s moral law not only in action and attitude, but also in our moral nature. Our very nature, the internal character that is the essence of who we are as persons, can also be sinful … we were also sinners by nature." Origen, who is considered to be an early church father, wrote, “It is not eating with unwashed hands, but if one may use so bold an expression, it is eating with an unwashed heart that defiles a man.” Chrysostom wrote, “Even in the church we see such a custom prevailing amongst the generality, and men giving diligence to come in clean garments, and to have their ands washed; but how to present a clean soul to God, they make no account.” The Apostle Paul knew this struggle all to well! In Romans 7:15 he made this remarkable statement, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (ESV) Romans 7 should be studied with great care for some time. We know that the theme of this chapter is that the law can not bring nor can it produce victory over sin in our lives. However, the good news is that those who are in Christ have been freed from both the law and from death. There are both good men and women on either side of the question of whether Paul is speaking of himself prior to or after his salvation experience. Irregardless of the side that you are on, it is clear that there is a principle of sin that battles against us from within the believer. In verse seventeen (17) Paul states, “So it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Paul is not excusing himself from any personal culpability; he is merely recognizing the power of the sin principle that dwells within each of us. So, how do we battle this sin principle that dwells within us? The answer is found in verses twenty four (24) and twenty five (25); “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (ESV) The living presence of Jesus Christ in our lives is the help that we need to combat the reality of a sin principle that yet remains within our heart or our nature.
Why does a weak view of sin have a tendency to develop? First, it is because we have a tendency to permit grace to nullify the significance of sin in our lives; and secondly because we fail to grasp that sin is the real issue not just individual sins.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Danger of Amazing Grace

“Amazing grace- how sweet the sound – That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.” (John Newton) Almost all, believer or not, would agree that no greater words outside of Holy Scripture have been written that comes close to capturing the immensity of realization, thanksgiving, and wonder of God’s truly amazing grace. These words of course were written by John Newton, a man who truly was a wicked wretch whom God chose to redeem by his unspeakable grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV) So, why does a weak view of sin seem to develop? It seems that there are at least four reasons why a weak view of sin develops both in our personal lives and within the body as a whole. The first reason seems to be an improper conclusion … …that grace nullifies the significance of sin in our lives. We love God’s grace! We love to talk about God’s grace and to sing about it. One of my favorite songs is “Wonderful Grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin, how shall my tongue describe it, where shall my praise begin.” So we talk about grace, we preach about grace, we write about grace and we exult in grace. Sometimes it is to our detriment. As much as I love ice cream, to much can make me sluggish or even sick. When we become out of balance on any topic, including the wonderful, amazing grace of God, we can become sluggish or “spiritually sick.” It is true that by God’s almost indescribable gift of grace toward us, we are freed from the penalty and the power of sin. God forgives and forgets, in Christ, our sin. What a great joy it is to know that our sins, past, present, and prospective are forgiven in Christ. We cannot earn redemption. However, having been freed from the penalty of sin and from the power of sin, we can not rid ourselves of the sin nature that lives inside of us. We still sin. We sin by choice, primarily because we love sin. We cannot simply appeal to God’s grace to excuse or minimize the presence of sin within us. Sin is very significant in our lives. It must be dealt with not only on a day by day basis, but many times moment by moment. The danger we face and must avoid is nullifying the reality of sin by ignoring it through a wrong exaggeration or emphasis on God’s grace. We cannot over emphasize the wonderful grace of God to the detriment of our understanding of the remaining residue of sin within each one of us. God’s grace is real and it is great – it also enables us to recognize sin and to eradicate sin from our lives. Let’s not forget the words of the great divine, John Owens, when he said;
"...the choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin...Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work." (Mortification of Sin)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When God Roars!

One portion of scripture that had given me some “trouble” and had caused me to chew on for quite some time was Amos 3:1-8. Particularly troubling was Amos 3:6 - “…does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has done it?” It seems that God, through the prophet Amos, has asked a series of questions in order to show Israel that judgment and disaster was immanent. God, through these questions, had Amos ask Israel by looking at nature and certain sequence of events which leads to predictable outcomes to see his working. For example: A lion does not roar unless he is about to make a kill or has made a kill. So unless Israel takes action – repents & returns to the Lord, God is about to make a “kill” In other words, disaster is certain. The Israelites are to see a natural sequence of events; their sin leads to God’s judgment through such things as what we would call natural disasters. In verse 6, the word disaster is an important word. It is usually translated evil. It is used for concepts of, evil in general, to moral evil, or to disasters of any kind. The same word and idea is used in Jonah 3:10. What is the lesson? If there is a disaster taking place in the land, the Israelites should not chalk it up to: “Bad luck” Nature out of control Global warming A conspiracy theory Satan They are to take note that God is at work. If God is at work then they should respond accordingly. VS 7 – God does nothing without revealing some truth and purpose to his people. God gives His perspective on things that happen in cities, like disasters, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, rivers overflowing, earthquakes, and etc. God did not destroy the earth by flood or Sodom & Gomorrah by fire because of heinous sin and then decide to go on break. He still hates sin, he is still grieved by sin, and he still judges sin. Whole cities may not be destroyed by fire and brimstone, but Hurricanes, Tsunamis, earthquakes, and overflowing rivers are still God’s way of calling people to repentance. You say they don’t see this? That’s our job. Just like Amos’ job was to tell Israel that disasters don’t happen in a city unless God causes it, disasters didn’t happen to New Orleans except that God caused it and his message for the New Orleanians and the rest of the country was to repent. Historical events need to be interpreted accurately and proclaimed accurately.
God sends trials into our lives to give us his perspective and to call us to repent, and to prune our lives in order to reflect his glory. We can’t miss the significance of trials in our lives. Needless to say, not all trials are a result of our being guilty of sin – God permits trials for a number of reasons. As we recognize God working in our lives through a trial and the pruning process by a fiery furnace we need to examine our lives and see if there is any sin present. If sin is present then we do need to repent.
This passage is extraordinary to me since we live in an age where the love of God is improperly emphasized. We don’t like to think of God acting in such a manner. Looks like we occasionally need to readjust our thinking doesn’t it?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Worldly Christians?

This is a word that we would not ordinarily associate with obedient, spirit-influenced, and holy believers who desire to live "godly in Christ Jesus." More often than not, when we hear the term "worldly Christians" we think of someone who is backslidden or is "carnal." Yet, this Friday and Saturday that is what we were admonished to become! I had the indescribable pleasure of attending the Living Water/Christ Our Redeemer Men's Retreat. Our speaker took his text from John 17:15-19 and pleaded with us to be the type of authenticate Christians who engage this world and those who are of it by being sent by Christ as ambassadors of good news. Jesus prayed for the disciples (apostles) and then sent them into this world with all his authority to engage the unbelievers. The truth of the matter is all to real that at times we have both isolated and insulated ourselves from the unsaved. However, you have heard the old expression, "that we can become to heavenly minded to be of any earthly good." This happens as we withdraw from the unbelievers in our daily lives. Yes, we are not of this world, nor are we to love this world, and we are truly pilgrims passing through this world. Yet, the truth remains that we are in this world. There are worldlings all around us that are lost, chained in fortresses of darkness, who are doomed to an eternity of judgement and punishment. We need to go into this world and purposefully and intentionally engage them in a loving, humble, realistic manner in order to share the gospel with them. To be authentic we were admonished, is to remain pure and free from sinful behavior or practices while we develop friendships and relationships in order to effectively share the gospel. Intentional evangelism, life-style evangelism, enemy engagement - call it what you will, just authentically, do it! (Sorry, Nike) It was a challenging weekend to say the least. The food was great, the fellowship was heavenly, and the fun was, well fun. It was challenging to the soul also. I came away refreshed and recharged and with a tremendous desire to engage those immediately around me who give evidence of not knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior. In other words, I have been challenged to become a worldly Christian!

Friday, May 15, 2009

What Ever Happened To Sin? Part I

As a whole the evangelical church at large no longer has any influence over this world. As a matter of fact it is hard to determine the difference today between the world and the church. The church has been called to be both salt and light in this present age. Unfortunately, for the most part, we seem to be neither. I think there are at least four (4) reasons for this failure. The first reason is that the church today has such … A weak view of sin Why does the church seem to have such a weak view of sin? It stems from the fact that we have; 1) forgotten what sin is and 2) we have attempted to reject God’s definition of sin and redefine it. Here are a few thoughts to chew on until next time. Karl Menniger wrote – The very word “sin”, which seems to have disappeared, was once a proud word. It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word … But the word went away. It has almost disappeared – the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin? [1] Charles Hodge wrote - The existence of sin is an undeniable fact. No man can examine his own nature, or observe the conduct of his fellow men, without having the conviction forced upon him that there is such an evil as sin. [2] Emery H Bancroft wrote - Sin is a reality and not an illusion, although some have so pronounced it on the ground of fatalism … others deny its existence … [3] Louis Berkhof wrote - Sin is one the saddest but also one of the most common phenomena of human life. It is a part of the common experience of mankind, and therefore forces itself upon the attention of all those who do not deliberately close their eyes to the realities of human life. [4] Wayne Gruden wrote - Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature. Sin includes not only individual acts such as stealing or lying or committing murder, but also attitudes that are contrary to the attitudes God requires of us. [5]
The Apostle Paul wrote -"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
[1] Whatever Became of Sin?, Karl Menniger, 1973
[2] Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge, Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1979, p. 130
[3] Christian Theology, Emery H Bancroft, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, p. 213
[4] Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof, Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1996, p. 227
[5] Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p. 490

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Standing on the Promises of God – Literally?

A company in Ohio is marketing shoe inserts with Bible texts printed on them called "In-Souls". You put them in your shoes and actually stand on scriptural texts containing certain promises from the Word of God. You can even purchase a companion journal to record your experience standing on God's word. Can a collection of the writings of John Bunion be far behind? After initially being grieved at the frivolous way God’s Word was being treated, I found out this company is connected with the "name it- claim it" or what I call the "blab it- grab it crowd and I was’t surprised. It’s one more time symbolism is touted over substance in the so called Christian community. This is not what the author of our song had in mind when he wrote this wonderful hymn. He was caught up in the majesty and splendor of the truthfulness God’s Word, and he was so overwhelmed by the confidence that can be placed in the word of God that he wrote the words and music of this song. God has not told us to hide his word in our shoes, but where? In our hearts! Listen to the bible: "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; ..."Titus 1:2 "He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he ..."Deut 32:4 "And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant." II Sam 7:28 "For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth." PS 33:4 "Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us": Heb 6:17-18 We do not need some God dishonoring gimmick to show with empty symbolism that we trust God’s infallible Word. We stand on the promises and truths of God’ word when we live it, when we practice God’ truth. We live out in daily practice what we believe. What we don’t live out in daily practice demonstrates what we don’t really believe.
So stand with me and lets continue to sing with all our heart, might, and soul to our ever truthful God at all times that great hymn, "Standing of The Promises of God!"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Five Aspects of A Good Devotion Part V

We have looked at the first four aspects or the components of a good and meaningful devotion. I have simply called these aspects Confession Communion, Connection, and Conviction. I hope that you will take the time to read those prior posts in the archives in order to know what was already said. We will now move into the fifth and final aspect of devotion and that is what I call…
Sometimes it is very difficult to tackle a paragraph and find its meaning in order to interpret it properly. Many times it is easier just to look and use the work that someone else has put in on the passage at hand. However, there is something else that can be just as difficult, if not more so. The application, or the putting into practice the principles of the passage can also be just as difficult.
Once you know what the passage says and you know what it means, it is now time to consecrate yourself to God and to the applying of the text in your daily life. In other words, it is time for the rubber to meet the road. You must get all four tires squarely on the pavement for good traction and a good ride.
Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Just prior to this point you have asked the hard questions, such as, “What is God telling me? How does this passage encourage me, instruct me, rebuke me or strengthen me? Is there sin in my life that I need to confess and forsake? What will I do about what I have learned?
Don’t forget what your goal is for having these devotional times; to become mature in Jesus Christ. (Col 1:28) Consecrate yourself in order to discipline yourself to apply what you have learned. Your study is to be accompanied by the determination that God will give you an application.
It is good to make your applications measurable and practicable. Think through questions like how, when, where, or to who will I live out the principles that I have gleaned through my time with the Lord. For example, if you have been reading about love, how will you practice love? In what concrete ways will you live out the passage in the daily context of your life?
Someone once suggested to me that making short range and long range goals are good. What can you do in the next 24 hours that will allow you to work out your application? Remember God is at work in your live on a daily basis conforming you to the image of his Son.
So, through honest, Spirit enabled, and soul searching prayer, consecrates, or offers you solely to God and to his purpose. Give yourself to him and to the application (s) that he has given you in your daily passage.
There you have it, this has been a brief look at the various aspects of a devotional time with our Lord. Begin with Confession of sin and your absolute trust in the propitiatory-sacrificial work of Christ; seek Communion with our Lord in order to delight in him in order to be awed by him; Connect with the text with asking for an inclination, interpretation, instruction and implementation of the text, allow the word Conviction in your heart for change, and then Consecrate yourself to God for practice and obedience.
I trust this has been a blessing and you have learned something. Hopefully, at least one thing can be gleaned from these past five (5) posts that you can add to your devotional time. If this is the case, let me know through a comment. God bless you and your time with our majestic, glorious, awesome God!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Five Aspects of a Good Devotion Part IV

We are taking time to look at some important components or parts of a good devotional period with the Lord. A devotion time with God is very important for any disciple, or child of God. It is during this time that you have the opportunity of coming into the very presence of our God, sharing your heart with him, speaking with him, as he is speaking to you through his word.
We have looked at the first three components, which I have chosen to call Confession Communion, and Connection. You can read those posts in the archives and know what has already been said. We will now move into the fourth aspect of a devotion and that is what I call…
There are many reading plans available today. It seems everyone from organizations to churches have developed some sort of plan or method designed to read the bible through in a year. Reading is certainly better than not reading. Reading is not the end result that is of the greatest benefit to you. You must read, re-read, study, meditate, and pray through the text that you have chosen. It is now time for the word to be convicting to you.
When you come to the reading portion of your devotion, choose a book of the bible that interests you, or contains principles that you want to explore or implement into your life. I recommend that you alternate between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Once you have selected a book then slowly work through the book a paragraph at a time. It is very difficult and often unproductive to try and meditate through a chapter or two at one sitting.
As you read and re-read the paragraph, you are going to have to examine everything in that paragraph in order to answer at least three questions:
What Is Being Said?
As you are reading, you must answer this question. We call this observation. Look for repeated words or phrases, look at the nouns and verbs in the sentences and see how they relate to one another. Ask who is speaking, who is being spoken to, and what is being said. In this stage of your reading you are attempting to determine the main idea, the main thought, or the over-arching principle that has been disclosed. Once you have narrowed down the main idea or the main topic of what is being said, write it out in a single sentence. Now you can answer the second question:
What is meant by what it said?
In other words, now that you know what it says what does this paragraph mean by what it says. What are the principles that helped you define the main idea? What do we derive from what has been said? What did the author want you to understand from what he said? Here is where you pray through the text, asking God through the Holy Spirit for insight, wisdom, and understanding. Check your cross references, examine related passages, scripture will interpret itself.
By the way, resist the temptation to use a study bible for your devotion and commentaries. This is not the time to let others think for you. This process is not easy. Many times wild and unbiblical teachings and doctrines have developed out of undisciplined times of trying to find out what a paragraph says. Trust God and the Holy Spirit to reveal his word to you.
Once you have determined what it says by observation, and you have determined what it says through the principles that you developed through interpretation, and you have crossed referenced your findings you can now check with a commentary or help to determine if your findings are correct. (Sorry for the lengthy sentence.)
So, now you know what your paragraph says and you know what it means by what it says, now you move to:
What does it mean to me?
Here is where the conviction comes into the picture. What am I going to do with what I have learned? In other words, how do the truths I discovered in this passage apply to me?
You have mused over the passage, you have taken notes on what has been said, you have spoken the words of the paragraph out loud, you have contemplated/pondered over the words and you have pray the paragraph in conversation back to the Lord, what do you do now?
You can’t be the guy who looks in a mirror and sees broccoli in his teeth and never brushes the broccoli out! When you look into the word you must discover the principles that you will add to your life, the changes that must be made, or the behaviors to put on or off.
There you have it, conviction. We must begin with confession, move into communion, pray for connection and be changed through conviction. Next time, Lord willing we will conclude with a look at Consecration.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Five Aspects of a Good Devotion Part III

We are taking time to look at some important components or parts of a good devotional period with the Lord. A devotion time with God is very important for any disciple, or child of God. It is during this time that you have the opportunity of coming into the very presence of our God, sharing your heart with him, speaking with him, as he is speaking to you through his word.
We have looked at the first two components, which I have chosen to call Confession and Communion. You can read those posts in the archives and be brought up to speed. We will now move into the third aspect of a devotion and that is what I call…
Someone once said, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” I think we can apply this phrase to our bible reading at times. If we are not aiming at hearing from God or seeking specific results we probably will not hear from God. This is how devotions become dry, boring, unproductive, or non-beneficial. The end result is that we stop having quiet times or devotions altogether.
You must come to your time of bible reading and studying, first, expecting to meet God, and second, with some specific desires in mind that you believe God will meet or fulfill. Naturally, there is any number of specifics that you can seek from God as you ask him to bless your time of reading. I want to look at just four (4) at this time. These four (4) principles are found in Psalm 119: 33-40. As you move from you’re speaking to God concerning confession and your desire to commune with God, move into what I call…
1. The Inclination towards the Word
The Psalmist prays that God would incline his heart towards God’s testimonies or towards God’s word. The word incline gives us the idea of bending or stretching something. In this case the desire is that God would bend the Psalmist’s heart towards God word. Why? Our hearts are not bent toward the word of God naturally. The Psalmist is asking God to create a desire, to create a motivation, and to bend his heart toward God’s word because there is no natural desire towards it. You must recognize that you do not naturally desire Gods’ word therefore you must ask him sincerely to supply you with a deep desire for the effective working of Gods’ word in your heart.
2. The Instruction by the Word
In verse 33, the Psalmist prays that God would “Teach me, O LORD the way of your statutes.” He is specifically asking God to teach him the meaning of his word. He is not asking to learn for the mere sake of learning, he gives the reason in the second part of the verse – “…and I will keep it to the end.” Always seek instruction in order to be obedient to what you have read. Sincerely, in our own words, ask god to teach you his word because you have been given a desire by God to obey his word.
3. The Interpretation of the Word
The Psalmist also prays in verse 34 for understanding of what he has been instructed in. Here is where you must exert some energy and effort. Sometimes little golden nuggets will be easily found on the surface of God’s word. However, most learning comes from hard work.
First – prayerfully read the text you are studying a number of times. Observe all that you can. Ask some open ended questions such as; who is speaking, whom is being spoken to, what is being said? Look for repeated words, phrases, or principles and mark them.
Second – determine what the passage or paragraph is saying within its context. This will be the main point of the paragraph. Write out this main idea in a sentence.
Third – determine what the passage means by what it says. Scripture is always its own best interpreter, it will never contradict itself. How does the meaning fit within the context – examine what was said previous to your passage and what was said subsequent to your passage. After this point in your reading – not before or during – you may check a commentary or help to see if your observation and interpretation is correct.
4. The Implication from the Word
The Psalmist prays in verse 35 that God would, “lead me in the path of your commandments for I delight in it.”
It is now time to determine the application of the passage. Now that you know what the passage says and what the passage means, what is God saying to you? In other words how does this passage apply to you? What will you do with the principle and truth that you discovered?
Meditate on the passage and its meaning. Ask yourself what have I learned about God or about Jesus Christ? What does God require of me today?In order to connect with the word of God you must sincerely ask God to open your eyes to his word.
The Psalmist prays in verse 18 that God would, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” The things of God are spiritually discerned and we are not naturally inclined to them. We are dependent upon God to reveal himself and the principles of his word to us. We must trust God and ask him to help us connect with his word!
Next time, Lord willing, we will look at Conviction.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Five Aspects of a Good Devotion (Part II)

In our last post, I wanted to lay the ground work and reason behind the next five posts (unless providentially interrupted). I wanted to add my bit of insight into one of the most important aspects of the walk of a Gospel Driven Disciple; which is our devotional walk with the Lord.
There is no doubt of the extreme value and necessity of a spirit-filled and biblically based devotional time with our Lord. I wanted to share with you some insight into a beneficial and God honoring devotion by looking at five aspects of a devotional time. . Again, I must say we are not talking about a performance or a ritual that is conducted legalistically, hypocritically and without the involvement of your heart. Last time we looked at the first aspect of a good devotional and that was what I simply called the CONFESSION. If you missed that post you can read it and be up to speed. In this post we will talk about the second aspect of a good devotion and that is what I call… COMMUNION There seems to be at least three invitations included in this portion called Communion: 1. The Invitation to Delight in our God Psalm 37:4 states: “Delight yourself in the LORD…” One of the main and distinct purposes of our devotional time is to come to a place in our Christian life that we delight in our God. The Hebrew gives us the idea that we are to take pleasure in God, we are to enjoy God. We don’t have a problem understanding pleasure or finding pleasure. We delight in many things; from children to food to physical pleasure. We delight or take pleasure in sunsets, sunrises, beaches, mountains, the rain, or a good song. Our sin lies in the fact that we rarely take pleasure in God. Job 22:26 – “For then you will delight yourself in the almighty and lift up your face to God.” Isaiah 58:14 – “then you shall take delight in the LORD…” Phil 3:1 – “…rejoice in the Lord…” Phil 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.”
C. S. Lewis wrote: “[I]t would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” We need to delight in the Lord and be pleased with Him. Ask God to teach you how to delight in him, express your desire to delight in him. Ask God to take your weak desires and pleasure in mundane things and to give your strong desires for him. Learn by his grace to delight and take pleasure in your God! 2. The Invitation to Discover our God Psalm 33:8 - “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” As you pray and read the scriptures during your devotional time, pray that God will teach you about himself. Pray that you discover the glorious character and nature of God. As you discover various aspects of God’s character and nature you will become awe-struck! You will be amazed at this glorious, majestic, indescribable God who has saved you and given you eternal life. It is during this time that you are communing with God and discovering all that you can about him. God is a God who loves color, texture, design, pleasure, glory, and variety. He created sea monsters to play in the ocean to amuse him; he created thousands of varieties of flowers, trees, and animals-all for his glory and for his pleasure. God is glorious and majestic! He has chosen to reveal himself to us! Forget about all the Chamber of Commerce commercials to Discover Arizona, Utah, or California – discover your God in all of his infinite glory! 3. The Invitation to Dally with our God I know we don’t use this word very often. But let’s use it today. By it I mean fellowship or commune with God. Devotions are a time when we “sit” with God and we speak to him and then we listen to him. In other words we take our time with him; we dally. We speak to him during our times of prayer and we listen to him as we read his word. Resist the temptation to view your devotion as a must do item on your to do list, without which completing you will have a bad day. (Jerry Bridges has a lot to say about this aspect of devotion.)
This is not a performance or ritual that is to be dry and void of any value. It is a time of fellowshipping personally, privately, and pointedly with God. Take time to fellowship and commune with him. As you read, pray and talk to him about the passage you are reading. Thank him, praise him, and seek him during this time. Take time to hear from him through the Word of God as the Holy Spirit unfolds God’s word to you. 1John 1:3 – “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
Learn to drink long and deep at the well of God during your devotional time as you enjoy and take pleasure in communion with God. Learn, by his grace to delight in God, discover God, and to dally with God

Friday, May 8, 2009

Five Aspects of a Good Devotion

When I began this blog it was because of a post I read on the Desiring God Website called “Six Reasons a Pastor should blog.” That post intrigued me and inspired me, which led to the birth of this blog.
My main motivation and reason for calling it the Gospel Driven Disciples was two fold; the first was a more biblical approach than the so called “Purpose Driven phenomenon” and the second reason was my commitment to the maturing of God’s people. Matthew 28:18-20 compels me to “make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Colossians 1:28-29 also compels me with a burning passion to teach all men: “Him, we proclaim, warning everyone, and teaching everyone with all wisdom that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (ESV) So having said this, I wanted to lay the ground work and the reason behind the next five posts (unless providentially interrupted). I want to add my bit of insight into one of the most important aspects of the walk of a Gospel Driven Disciple; which is our devotional walk with the Lord. There is no doubt of the extreme value and necessity of a spirit-filled and biblically based devotional time with our Lord. I want to share with you some insight into a beneficial and God honoring devotion by looking at five aspects of a devotional time.
I want to look at the Confession, the Communion, the Connection, the Conviction, and the Consecration as vital and viable parts of a good devotion. Mind you now, we are not talking about a performance or a ritual that is conducted legalistically, hypocritically and without the heart. As you begin your devotion, it is good to begin with prayer. I suggest first, that you give thanks to God for a good night of sleep and rest (provided your devotion is in the morning). Thank God for the protection that you experienced during the night and that you are looking forward to meeting with him. This can lead you into thanking God for the blood of Jesus Christ which makes this time possible. As you are thinking on the blood of Christ and thanking God for the blood you can transition in the first part of your devotion which I call… CONFESSION This is the place to begin. There seems to be at least four elements included in this portion called confession. 1. The Realization of the Propitiatory Sacrifice of Jesus Christ Here you are confessing from your heart to the Lord that you know apart from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which satisfied the wrath, justice, and righteousness of God you would have no grounds for coming into the presence of the Lord. You are acknowledging that without this sacrifice you would be unable to stand before the Lord, for you would have nothing to offer to cover your unrighteousness and satisfy his righteousness. The good and gracious news is that the curtain, the veil, which had separated man from God has now been torn in two; a way has been made for us to come into the presence of God. “whom God put forward as propitiation by his blood…” (Romans 3:25 ESV) “…that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4:10 ESV) 2. The Reaffirmation of the Mediatorial Work of Jesus Christ As you are thanking God and meditating on the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ you are then lead into the reaffirming of your absolute and complete trust in the full mediatorial work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. In other words, you are trusting solely in what God accomplished through Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross for your soul’s salvation and nothing else. This is a time of remembering that it took the cross and the death of Christ to purchase your salvation and all the blessings that come with his death. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (I Timothy 2:5 ESV) “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15 ESV) 3. The Recognition of Personal Sin of Yours Truly Now, you are able to move into another element of confession, the confession of your sin. Here, by God’s grace, His Holy Spirit, and His word you recognize that you have sinned. You have been freed from the penalty of sin and you are freed from power of sin, but you are not yet delivered from the presence of sin. Confession is built upon admitting your guilt and naming your sin as sin. The Greek word for confess in I John 1:9 mean to “say the same thing.” We are to say the same thing about our sin as God says. We are not to overlook sin, sugar-coat sin, give sin “cute” little names, excuse sin, or otherwise refuse to recognize it and call it what it is. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9 ESV) “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalms 66:18 ESV)
4. The Response to the Awareness of Forgiveness This element of confession is very important. Here you are confessing that you accept the forgiveness of God that is provided by the death of his dear son. You cannot progress through the remainder of your devotional time if you are not convinced of the fact that you are forgiven of your sin. “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4 ESV) “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything” (Acts 13:38 ESV) “…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18 ESV) “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…” (Eph 1:7 ESV) This shouldn’t take long or a major part of your devotional time. However, adequate time must be made for confession; confession that you are only approaching God because of the propitiatory work of Christ, confession that you are fully trusting in the mediatorial work of Christ alone, confession that you have sinned against God, and a confession of your realization that you are clean and cleansed by the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This confession then will lead you into the next portion of your devotion which is Communion with God. We will cover that tomorrow, Lord willing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

10 Things I Wish Jesus Never Said

There is no doubt that when Jesus arrived on the scene that the religious crowd was in for a surprise. The events that surrounded his birth and the few insights that we have as he grew older were certainly disturbing. How he lived, what he said and what he taught was far different than what the Pharisees, Scribes, and Priests had been teaching. We can call his teachings controversial, mind boggling, or even shocking. He made tremendous demands on those who followed him. He made it patently clear what it was that made the majority of religion his enemy. The way to eternal life and happiness was a difficult path. Victor Kuligin does a masterful job of tackling 10 difficult and shocking statements of Jesus and applying them to our everyday lives. He takes just 10 teachings of Jesus and breaks them down for us to clearly see the instruction and implication for each one of us. Kuligin says: “With the rise of the health-and-wealth gospel and prosperity teaching, we have become accustomed to a comfortable, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’ Messiah. It is a picture of Jesus I call ‘Jesus-lite.’ Great taste, less demanding.” He goes on to say: “The teaching of Jesus was often harsh. He was not a preacher of convenience, but hardship; not a preacher of comfort, but suffering.” I have read and re-read this book. It is quite challenging and I highly recommend it. Reading this book will change the way you think about how you “do church.” Reading it can transform your thinking about the cost of true salvation and discipleship. Please, pick up a copy today!
Victor Kuligin is a professor and Academic Dean at Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary, as well as an international lecturer, author, and assistant pastor. He and his wife Rachel, have served with Africa Inland Missions for the past twelve years in Namibia, Africa. They have five children.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Enlisting Your Prayers

I trust that one of the many blessings that I unworthily reap from writing this blog, is that I receive the benefit of your prayers for me. One major prayer request that I share with you and desire your prayers is the burden I have in my heart to plant a church.
I desire to plant a truly New Testament church that is committed to inspiring believers to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the glory of God and for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
It is my vision that this new church plant joins God our Father in magnifying the supremacy of His glory through our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit by: treasuring all that God is, loving all whom God loves, praying for all of God's purposes, meditating on all of God's Word, being fully sustained by all of God's grace and by believing and preaching the gospel of the free and sovereign grace of God for the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of saints in order to bring the greatest glory to God.
The five main values of this new plant will be: exegetical/expositional preaching, doctrinal teaching, powerful prayer, fervent fellowship, and awe-inspiring worship.
So, may I ask you to pray that God will engineer and bring together the pieces that would enable this vision to be born? I thank you in advance.

Treasuring Christ in Catastrophic Situations Part III

In the last post we looked briefly at the fact that God is at work developing at least five attitudes in each of his dear children. Rather than being a God for our convenience and supplying all of our carnal wants and wishes, God has a far greater purpose as he works in our lives. It seems so incongruous to us that God would use such painful things like trials, tribulations, and testings to burn away the dross that is in our lives, but he does. The first attitude that we looked at was; we are to love our God with all of our heart. This is a tough task since this world has so many things to offer to us to love. Through various means God is ever at work wresting these things from our hearts drawing us nearer to him. He is ever at work showing us his worth and beauty, giving us ample reason to love him and him alone. Like Pilgrim, when he looked on the one hanging on the tree and his burden dropped from him, he loved him, so we too, love him. We are not to love the things of this world. However, it seems we can; on page 5 of Olsteen’s book, you will come across this line which by the way is the main basis for his book. There he says, “God wants to pour out his favor and beyond favor. God wants this to be the best time of your life.” He encourages the reader of his book to dream the following on page 5: “Someday, I’ll earn more money, and I won’t have to worry about how to pay the bills.” Again, on the same page Olsteen writes, “God wants to increase you financially.” On page 9 he says, “Even if you come from an extremely successful family, God still wants you to go further.” On Page 11, he writes, “Get rid of that small-minded thinking and start thinking as God thinks. Think Big. Think increase. Think abundance. Think more than enough.” And on page 23 he writes, “Many people settle for too little. I’ve gone as far in my career as I can go. I’ve hit the peak. I’ll never make any more money than I’m making right now.” But that is not what God wants for you, says Olsteen. What does God say? God is at work in our lives to instill important attitudes in each of his children, and that is … 2. To make Him your greatest treasure Mt 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Mt 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field”. Why? So that he can have that treasure that he discovered! Is God your greatest treasure? Most of the time He is not our greatest treasure. You must ask yourself what is your greatest treasure? 3. To live as a pilgrim passing thru this life Heb 11:13-16 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from where they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: 1Pe 2:11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 4. To set your affections on things above not on things below Col 3:1-3 If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Why are we to set our affections on things which are above? The answer is actually rather simple. In a spiritual sense, we have left this life and the loves of this life. We have been moved to a new domain where Jesus Christ lives. This brings a new understanding to us. Among several things that Paul is calling the Colossian believers to, is to have a proper mind about themselves. It is just more than a way of living, but it includes the ideas of values and our loves or our affections. So Paul commands (thru an imperative) that these believers, it applies to you and me as well, that they focus on things or matters that relate to the rule of Christ in the world. God’s concerns should occupy each Christian. Why is that? Creation and everything in this world will pass away; the things of God will remain. So we have the responsibility of having values and loves that are focused on Christ and our energies are to be devoted to making the things of Christ a reality on this earth until the earth passes away. So, get this, please don’t miss it, the task of the church is to call people to Christ and away from earthly things. Now here is what is important. Paul is not calling us to abandon the things that God has created in this world, but when our spiritual devotion is properly focused on Christ, we will be able to see, value, and use the things on this earth with God’s perspective rather than a perspective that merely satisfies, comforts, or pleases us carnally. Do you see that? God has created beautiful lakes, rivers, mountains, and valleys. We have material and the know how to build houses, cars, trains, and beautiful things. We have been given children and friends. God has graciously given us so many wonderful things in this world – not to love and use for our own selfish or self-centered pleasure, but to use them to further the gospel, expand His kingdom, demonstrate His Lordship and sovereignty, and to magnify His glorious nature. There is nothing wrong with having a house, but why do you want or have that house? Wow, God is at work cultivating or developing our love for Him, bringing us to a point where we treasure Him above all things, enabling us to live as pilgrims or strangers in a foreign country; and to think in terms of God in relation to all that is on this earth. 5. Live in the light of eternity not the temporal II Cor 4:16-18 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. Did you see what he said? Our light affliction; what was this light affliction he was talking about? We see this in verses 7-15 · Hard presses on every side · He is perplexed · Struck down · Carrying in his body the death of Jesus Christ · He faces death regularly These are just some things that both you and I know that the apostle Paul experienced in His ministry for Jesus Christ. But he considers it light, what is light? Why would he consider trials, tribulations, afflictions, trouble, anguish, and even persecution as light or almost noticeable? Vs 17 – these things he says, “… is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” What these things produce in the life of a believer is almost unnoticeable in comparison to what they are working in the believer as far as eternity is concerned. Let me ask you: what do you consider your trials, tribulations, or temptations to be? Do you consider them to be nuisances, or a major bother, an interruption to your life? Or do you see them as God working in your life to make you love Him with all your heart, to treasure Him above all things, to wean you from the love and desire of the things of this life and world, to cause you to live as a pilgrim or stranger and not as a citizen, and to live in the light of eternity rather than the here and now? So the proposition stated is simply this; no Joel, God’s best for us in this life is not necessarily wealth, health, financial success, or a freedom from pain, suffering, trials, tribulations, or temptations. God’s best is our sanctification, our progress in holiness.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Treasuring Christ in Catastrophic Situations Part II

Yesterday I hope I primed the pump and piqued your interest. Let me say first of all, that I know Joel Olsteen is not the only false teacher and more importantly, he was not the first false teacher to propagate the fact that God wills all people well. What breaks my heart is that the enemy can take what he knows to be in the heart of every sinful nature and put it together in such a way that makes it sound doable, sound desirable and sound delectable. Let me share a staggering proposition with you! The proposition is simple and it goes like this, God is not concerned about our happiness as much as He is concerned about our holiness! As a matter of fact, He states this proposition in I Thess 4:3 - For this is the will of God, your sanctification …” God’s will, or in other words, His determined purpose is that we, his children, be holy. In this context, the determined purpose of God for our holiness includes sexual purity. God has repeatedly, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, commanded us to be holy. Search the scripture and you will not find a command to be healthy, wealthy, or comfortable. Salvation takes us from death and wicked disobedience to holiness. We come to Christ in all of our sin, and we receive cleansing by His atoning death. Then, day by day we become more and more what God designs us to be. We increasingly experience the reality of being set apart for Him in holiness. Sanctification is the name given to this process. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians of the implication of their having been purchased by the blood of Christ. The implication is this, they belong to Christ and their lives must reflect that, just as your life and my life must reflect that. Sanctification is the process by which your moral condition is brought into conformity with your legal status before God. A second place that we see this truth is in Ephesians 1:4: “just as He chose us in him … that we should be holy and without blame …” God is our Father who “has loved us with an everlasting love” Therefore, God uses many methods in the process of our sanctification, including trials, tribulations and testings. We will examine this method in detail in the next few posts. Once we have been redeemed we cannot continue to sin as a habit or as a pattern (I Jn 3:9). A careful examination of scripture reveals that God is at work developing at least five attitudes in our life. Let’s take a look at these five attitudes that God develops in the lives of his redeemed children. After establishing these five attitudes I then hope to share how God uses things like trials, tribulations, and testings to develop them in our lives. The first attitude that God develops is that… 1. You are to love the Lord with all your heart De 6:5 - “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jos 23:11 - “Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God.” Ps 31:23 - “Love the LORD, all you his saints!” Mt 22:37 - “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God is at work in your live through various means to bring you to where you love Him with all your heart. Yes, I know that none of us while living in these bodies, this side of heaven will love the Lord our God with all of our heart perfectly. There is no room for God nor is there opportunity to love God when we love the things of this world. When we love things like power, prominence, position, possessions, or pennies, we don’t love God. “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (I John 2:15 ESV) It is such an unfortunate and almost unthinkable concept that we who have redeemed by the grace of God and the blood of Christ could be so much in love with so many things that we are unable to love God. However, it is a reality. God is not taken by surprise. He knows us all to well. So God designs trials, tribulations or testings to drive us to him and to drive out the “leaks, garlic, and onions” of Egypt that have lodged themselves in our hearts. Among all the reasons that God has in his design for your trial or tribulation is this – God is working to drive out the love of the things of this world from your heart and to develop a greater love for him. The crime, yes the treason lies in this, that more often than not we desire the gifts rather than the giver; we desire the things of God rather than God himself. Listen, God does determine to give to his children the best that he has to give. What is that? It is himself. If God determined to give us anything else, anything less than himself, God would be an idolater. We have the best now, we have God. Joel, I don’t need the favor of man – I have the favor of God. I don’t need Mercedes, Mansions, or Millions. The bitter trials I have experienced have taught me that I am guilty of loving them more than I love God. So… “…let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me…” (Jere 9:24 ESV) We will look at the other four attitudes tomorrow, Lord willing.