Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughts on holiness and socks

So the other day I had to buy some new socks. And I really don't like buying new socks-not that I'm opposed to wearing new socks or anything, it's just that when I think about buying something new, I want it to be something cool, something that I really, really want. And when I think of things that are cool, socks rarely come to mind. But I needed socks, so socks it was. And as I was putting my socks away the other night, I noticed something remarkable. My old socks were incredibly dingy. Now I knew already that they weren't as bright as they were when I bought them; but compared to the new socks, they looked pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that I'm considering buying more new socks-and as you might have heard, I don't like buying new socks.

But that's not the point. The point is, new socks can teach us something about holiness. I know, you don't expect to learn anything about holiness by looking at new socks. But I did. My old socks looked OK to me-until I compared them to a different standard, a higher standard than my own opinion. And compared to that different standard, compared to that higher standard, my old socks didn't measure up. I saw things wrong with them, things that I hadn't noticed before. Compared to new socks, my old socks didn't look very nice anymore.

And in the very same way, you and I can look at our lives and think that we're pretty good. When our only standard is our own opinion, we can come out looking pretty well. But the standard by which we must be judged isn't our own standard, isn't our own opinion or anything like that. The standard is God. And His standard is remarkably higher than our own. I Peter 1:15-16 says, "...but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

My life is like my old socks. When looked at based on my own opinions and my own judgments I can come out looking pretty good. I go to church regularly, I try to serve the Lord; or, as I've heard it said before, "I don't smoke, I don't chew, and I don't go with girls who do." I'm a pretty good person. But God's standard isn't goodness; it isn't morality or any of that. God's standard is holiness, absolute perfection. He says, "Be holy because I am holy." Holiness is what God demands because holiness is Who He is. And there is no debate, no wavering on this point. Spurgeon said, "As the God who must do right, the Lord cannot shut his eyes to the iniquities of man; he must visit transgression with its punishment." God demands holiness-and the standard by which we are judged is Himself. And when I judge myself against the glorious holiness of God, I know begin to see things that I didn't see before. When judged against the perfect holiness of the LORD, all my church attendance doesn't seem as impressive as it did before; my feeble, inconsistent attempts at obedience begin to look less like garments of righteousness and more like the tattered rags of a spiritual beggar. I am lost and undone compared to the holiness and righteousness of a great and holy Judge.

Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn't it? Here's the good news-God wants to give you new socks. Isaiah 61:10, "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." See that? God wants to clothe us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. When we see our own goodness as insufficient, when we see that we are unable to be holy we cry out for mercy. And that mercy comes in the form of righteousness-not our own righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God grants to us the righteousness of Jesus. And so even though we couldn't live a holy life on our own, we are treated as though we lived the perfect life that Jesus lived. All this happens when we come to God in faith and repentance-we trade our old, dirty socks for the perfect righteousness of King Jesus. All in all, not a bad deal is it? So rejoice in the righteousness that is yours through Jesus Christ. Exult in your good standing with God; and worship the One who made that standing possible-Jesus Christ. And check your sock drawer for dingy socks.

Father, thank You for mercy and grace. Thank You for being such a gloriously holy God. Thank You for revealing Yourself to us-though we were dead in trespasses and sins, You have called us to Yourself and have clothed us in the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And now we are a part of Your family-not because of any good works we have done, but because of the good works that Jesus did. Thank You for the gospel, and for appropriating it in our lives. Amen.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The one about politics

OK, so this one is going to be a little about politics. You've been warned. If you don't want to read it I'll harbor no ill feelings; scroll down and find the Punky Brewster pic-you'll like that one, I'm sure. Last chance to go...still there? OK, I'm officially climbing on my soapbox now.

Psalm 20:7 says, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." Great, great verse of scripture. It draws a beautiful comparison, doesn't it? "There are those", says the Psalmist, "who hold to temporal things. These temporal things have the appearance of power, and compared to you and I they are powerful indeed. But compared to the Lord our God they are weak and impotent. And so rather than trust in these things that have only the shadow of power, our trust is in the One who is eternally powerful, Who is eternally good and will eternally save us." You could preach for weeks on that, right? But what I've noticed is that many of us Christians say we believe that verse, but our hope is actually in something else-namely, politics; specifically, our government.

Now depending on which side of the political aisle you sit you probably think that either we've got the brightest, most intelligent, articulate President in recent memory (if not in history), or we're headed to Hell in a communist basket that's being carried by Nazis and Fascists. Unfortunately, neither are true. Our President can give the heck out of a speech-but that doesn't make him a genius. And I disagree with many of his policies-but that doesn't make him the next Hitler. "What does any of this have to do with Psalm 20:7", you might ask. Here's the answer; I'm afraid that our passion for politics betrays our misplaced trust. Many of us have placed our trust in our government, in the political system of our nation. Nothing gets our dander up quite like politics. And there's nothing wrong with that, per se. But if our trust is really in the Lord, why so much fear and anxiety? I'm not being flip, and I'm certainly not suggesting that we don't stay in contact with our representatives and Senators, or that we somehow remove ourselves from the public square. What I am suggesting is that none of that really matters so much.

Before you get all huffy, consider the words of Jesus. Matthew 6:25, " “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" Read that one more time, a little more slowly. I'll wait. Consider what Jesus is saying. We are told by Jesus, commanded by Jesus to not concern ourselves with food, drink, or clothing. But you want me to believe that I'm supposed to be worried about who sits in the Oval Office, or get all worked up over what laws Congress passes? Again, not saying we shouldn't vote our conscience, or that we shouldn't care about it-but we care as though we didn't care. Let me explain.

In I Cor. 7, Paul is encouraging the church to have an eternal, rather than a temporal focus. And he says that those who have wives should be as though they didn't have wives; those who weep as though they didn't weep, and those who rejoice as though they didn't rejoice. And his point is that our passion shouldn't be for the temporal-it should be for the eternal. An illustration might help-I love my wife. I'm nuts about her. Seriously, it's borderline disgusting how crazy I am about my wife. If my high school self could meet my present day self, high school Randy would mock old, married Randy (but old married Randy would go home to a lovely lady so who's laughing now, chief?). But as much as I love my wife, I love my Lord even more. And my greatest passion, my greatest satisfaction is not found in my wife; it's found in King Jesus. The gift of my wife doesn't remove my passion for my Lord; it reminds me of His goodness towards me, that He has given me such a priceless treasure. And so while I love her, and I'm crazy about her-my passion remains with King Jesus. In the very same way, I love my country. I'm so glad I'm an American, I'm so grateful for this land. But my highest passion isn't found in who sits in the Oval Office or what laws are passed. My highest passion is found in King Jesus; in knowing Him, serving Him, and fellowshipping with Him. And so while I'll make my voice heard, while I'll vote-I'll do so with my eyes on eternity, not on temporal things like governments and nations.

"Some trust in chariots and horses-we trust in the Lord", said the Psalmist. Is our trust in the Lord, or in our government? You might say, "Well I trust in the Lord, but I think we're supposed to stand up for what's right." I agree. But show me in the New Testament where the early church was commanded to act like the church in America does. Change is not supposed to come from the White House, it's supposed to come from the church house. Congress can't change unregenerate hearts. A government can't look at those who are spiritually dead and say, "Live!" Only Christ can do that. And for many of us, we have taken the mission of the church and given it to the government. And so we've transferred our trust from the One who is trustworthy to something that is temporal.

Now I'm sure that many will disagree with this, and that's OK. I don't mind you disagreeing with me if you don't mind being wrong :) But in my experience, this has been the case. If I make a post on Facebook about the Lord, or about the lost I'll get a few "likes", maybe a comment or two. But if I make a political comment, my page becomes a message board. Hasn't that been the case in your own life? Ask your fellow Christians about missions or the lost and you'll get a couple grunts. Ask them about politics and the fight is on. If we're so passionate about it, that must mean that we've transferred our trust to it. But our trust must be in the Lord.

Again, doesn't mean we remove ourselves from the political discussion. The Psalmist wasn't saying that he opposed the use of chariots or horses. His point was that his trust wasn't in these temporal things; apart from the Lord, it was useless. And so it is with us. Apart from a trust in the Lord Jesus, all our marching, and sign holding, and slogan chanting and all that is useless. Make your voice heard-but don't put your trust in temporal things. Let others trust in a government, or in an Office; we'll trust in the Lord.

Father, thank You for sovereignly ruling all things. Thank You for holding the hearts of leaders in Your hand, and for turning them wherever You please. Help us to put our trust in You, not in temporal things like governments and politicians. Help us to guard our passions, and to not care too deeply about politics. Help us to find our greatest passion, and our greatest satisfaction, in You and You alone. Amen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's in a Name?

William Shakespeare's Juliet famously asked, "What's in a name?", and on my way to work this morning I heard a song that made me ponder the same question. The song was Lincoln Brewster's new one The Power of Your Name, and one particular line he sang stuck out (and to be honest, I'm glad it did; when Brewster first came on the scene I couldn't really concentrate on his songs-each time the DJ said, "Lincoln Brewster" all I could think of was Punky Brewster, and that distraction would cause me to miss at least half of the song-but at least you now know why Punky is grinning at you from the top of this post). The line was, "Jesus Your name holds everything I need."

Now scholars and others who are much smarter than I tell us that when the Bible references the 'name' of Jesus or the 'name' of God, it deals with much more than how they are called. It deals with their titles, with their personalities, i.e., all that They are is wrapped up in the name. And so when Punky, I mean Lincoln, (see, I can't help myself!) sings about the name of Jesus holding all that we need, he's reminding himself (and us) that who Jesus is is sufficient for all we need. It's really a declaration of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

This isn't new theological ground he's breaking, is it? This is a theme that we hear in our churches, we study in our morning devotions, and I would venture to say that if we follower Christ we claim to believe this. But do we? Do we really believe it? You see, belief influences action. What we believe influences what we do. For example, I've never been to the Grand Canyon. I'd like to because I'm a boy and few things are cooler to a boy than holes in the ground. And I hear that the Grand Canyon is a fair sized hole. But if I ever get there, one thing I'm going to be sure and do-with all that is within me, I'm going to try and make certain that I don't fall to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. You see, I've got this personal philosophy about that. I believe that if I fall to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I'm going to die. And since I believe that, I'm going to avoid falling at all costs. What I believe influences what I do. If I simply said I believed that, but then didn't act as though I did, you might be inclined to wonder if I truly believed it.

How often, as a follower of Christ, do I demonstrate by my life that I believe that Jesus is sufficient? Conversely, how often do I demonstrate that I simply claim to believe that He's sufficient? The Bible couldn't be clearer. Colossians 2:10, "and you are complete in Him..." That means that if I've truly trusted in Christ alone for salvation, I need nothing else. Mentally, emotionally, psychologically, etc. Jesus is all. John MacArthur said, "Having the Lord Jesus Christ is to have everything needed in spiritual life for time and eternity. To have Him is to have everything. Not to have Him is to have absolutely nothing at all. All joy, peace, meaning, value, purpose, hope, fulfillment in life now and forever is bound up in Christ. And when a person receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they enter in to an all-sufficient relationship with an all-sufficient Christ."

I claim to believe that. But do I? Does my life give evidence that I trust that Jesus is truly sufficient? Unfortunately, I'm afraid that I don't always. I get distracted by the things the world has to offer-even though the world is passing away. Isn't it sad that we sometimes trade the temporal for the eternal? What a shameful thing for a follower of Christ to profess that Jesus is sufficient, that He is all but then, by his/her life, to demonstrate that He's not really sufficient. And how often I'm guilty of this. Thankfully, we can rest in the sufficient grace of a Savior who loves us not because of what we do, but in spite of what we do.

So what's in a name? Quite a lot. Everything, in fact. As long as that name is Jesus. Let's trust in the sufficiency of Jesus. Let's rest in the sufficiency of Jesus. We are complete in Him-in the mighty name of Jesus Christ.

Father, thank You for being all I need. Thank You for being more than I need. Thank You for making me complete in Jesus. Help me to see and savor the greatness of King Jesus. Help me to rest in His goodness and grace and not be distracted by temporal things. Help me to hold onto Your sufficiency and find my rest in it. Help me to show, by my life, that You are greater and more wonderful than anything the world has to offer. Amen.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dead Man Walking-A Lesson from Lazarus

Last night I was preaching from the story of Lazarus. And there's something really important to point out from that story. Actually there are several really important things to point out, but I'm only going to point out one of them. Normally we focus on the part of the story where Jesus reanimates Lazarus. And that's certainly a dramatic point. Imagine being there and seeing Jesus call for the dead man to come out of the ground. The only thing more outrageous than calling for a dead man to come back to life is when a dead man actually comes back to life. Imagine what it must have been like to see him come out of the tomb, wrapped in grave clothes. And of course we focus on Jesus' command that he be loosed and let go. Lots of good stuff in all of that. But it's the very next verse, John 11:45 that I want to consider; "Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him."

Did you see that? Read it again. Something of colossal importance is made clear; and it's in the very first word. "Then." What's the significance? After Lazarus rose from the dead, many came to faith in Christ. Up to that point they had heard Christ's preaching, and apparently had seen some of His works-but they hadn't trusted in Him. But after Lazarus is raised from the dead, then they believed.

What's the point? Simply this; God will sometimes put His followers through a hard time for the sake of others. God used Lazarus being raised from the dead as the catalyst for the salvation of these folks. Now certainly God is sovereign; and He certainly could have used anything else to bring these people to repentance. But He chose, in His sovereign pleasure, to use the resurrection of Lazarus. And of course, Lazarus wouldn't have needed to be resurrected had he not died. And he wouldn't have died had he not gotten sick. The point is, God brought this into Lazarus' life for the benefit of others.

Now how often, when we face something difficult in our lives, do we immediately think, "I must have done something wrong, God must be punishing me"? And that might be the case. The Bible certainly says that God chastises those whom He loves. When I'm disobedient, I can expect consequences. But there are times when God is pleased to bring hardship into my life not as punishment, and not as correction, but so that He can do something that will glorify Himself; and maybe, it will even bring unbelievers to a place of faith.

To be fair, we aren't wired that way are we? We don't want to be used for the benefit of others. Our focus is on self. But the Bible says that God is the potter and we are the clay. That means He has the sovereign right to do with us as He sees fit. Sometimes that means happiness and blessing; sometimes that's going to mean sorrow and hardship. But we can rest in the fact that even when we're in the middle of a hard time, God is still able to use that for His honor and glory. And maybe, He'll use it to bring someone to Himself.

Our desire, then, ought to be for a willingness to be submissive to what God has for us. We ought to try and cultivate an outward focus rather than an inward focus. Instead of saying "Woe is me!", we ought to say, "Lord, how can I face this situation in a way that will most honor You?" Because of what Lazarus went through, the lost were found. Am I willing to be a Lazarus in my life? Or am I so concerned with my own comfort and my own happiness that I don't want to be used to minister to others?

Father, thank You for Your power and Your grace. It's so wonderful to serve a God who is so amazing that You can take hard times and use them for Your glory. Help me to be submissive to what You want for my life. Use me to benefit others, for Your honor and for Your glory. Amen.