Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Miss Christmas

In Luke 2:6-7 we read these history-altering words: “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” In just a few sentence Luke encapsulates ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’. Messiah has come! And we read with joy of the angels appearing to the shepherds, announcing the birth of the King. We wonder at what must have gone through Mary and Joseph’s mind through that first night. What an amazing experience, to be there for that first Christmas!
But have you ever thought about those who missed that first Christmas? It’s hard to imagine but there were many who simply missed it. And the reason I think it’s important to consider these who missed Christmas is because if we don’t guard our hearts, we too can miss it. Not that we miss December 25th, but that we miss the meaning of the season, the reason why we celebrate. I don’t want to miss this season of joy and worship! So who are those who did?
I think first of the religious leaders of the day. Everything in the scriptures they had given their lives to study pointed to the coming of Jesus. But when he came there were no priests to worship Him, no announcements in the temple. The reason is that the religious leaders had constructed in their minds an idea of who Messiah should be. They thought he was coming to institute a physical kingdom, but the kingdom Jesus came to usher in was a spiritual kingdom. And since Jesus didn’t meet their expectations, since He didn’t arrive with any fanfare or ceremony but was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, they missed it. Have we constructed a false image of Jesus in our minds? Do we believe He exists for us, or that we exist for Him? Do we worship who He is, or do we worship what we want Him to be?
I think of Roman Empire. There was no delegation from Caesar to herald the birth of the King of Kings, no recognition from the Empire. Why? Because what of any importance could possibly happen in Bethlehem? It was a backwater place in a backwater part of the empire. And since they didn’t think it was important, they missed it. Do we miss Christmas because we fail to see the importance of who Jesus is and why He has come? I know we pay a good deal of lip service to Him this time of year, but do we really acknowledge who He is and what He’s done?
I think finally of the people in Bethlehem. They were going on about their lives, just trying to get by. They weren’t doing anything overtly sinful but scripture tells us that only the shepherds came to worship the new King. No locals were there. Nobody from the inn. What were they all doing? Why did they miss it? I think the answer is most likely that they were simply too busy with their lives. The idea of a Messiah was nice but they just really didn’t have time for it. They had so much else going on in their lives they didn’t realize that Immanuel had come. Are we so busy that we don’t have time for Jesus? I know we like the idea of salvation, and we’re certainly not opposed to coming to church. But do we make time for Jesus? Is He the focus of our lives, or simply a part of our lives? This Christmas let’s make certain that we don’t miss it. Let’s make certain that Jesus is our focus, our joy and our purpose. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Christian's Obligation to His/Her President

So you might have heard that we had an election last night. Today about half the country is in mourning and the other half is rejoicing. But whether or not your candidate won is irrelevant to what the Bible says is your obligation to the leaders of our nation. Scripture gives clear guidelines that every follower of Christ must follow if we are to be obedient. Here are a few, in on particular order.
1. Recognize the Authority of our Leaders. Your candidate may not have won. You may not like who's in the White House. You may still have a bumper sticker that reads "My President is Charlton Heston." Thumbs on the bumper sticker because that's just funny. But that doesn't change what scripture says. Romans 13:1, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Did you catch that last part? Paul says that there are no authorities except for the ones that God has instituted. This means that whoever you voted for, God voted for President Obama. Now I know we're getting into some muddy theological waters here but the point is plain--leaders are instituted by God and their authority comes from God alone. So followers of Christ are to recognize that authority.
2. Obey our Leaders. Notice the first phrase in vs1 again--be subject. That means we obey. That means we follow the law. That means we pay our taxes. That means that, until a law is changed, we are obligated to obey that law. Does this mean we're obligated to disobey God? Not at all. If a law demands that we stop praying or stop sharing the gospel, we disobey that law because God is our ultimate authority. But unless a law specifically calls us to disobey God, we obey that law.The beauty of our nation is that we can write letters of protest, we can march, we can work to get the laws changed. But until they are, we obey them.
3. Pray for our Leaders. I Timothy 2:1-2, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for Kings and all who are in high positions..." We are commanded to pray for our leaders. Not encouraged to, not challenged to, not recommended to; but commanded to. Lots of Christians gripe and complain about our nation's leadership. My question is, do we pray for them as well? Because I know I don't as I should. It's much easier to complain about them than to pray for them. Now I've heard some people say, "You bet I'll pray for President Obama. I'm praying Psalm 109:8, "May his days be few; let another take his office." That's sort of missing the point. And by sort of, I mean completely. Why?
4. Respect our Leaders. I Peter 2:17, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." Now keep in mind that many scholars believe that Peter wrote this letter during Nero's persecution of the church. Consider that for a moment. When Christians were being persecuted and killed, Peter writes that we are to respect our leaders. I've heard many comments that essentially say, "There's nothing about our President I respect so I won't respect him at all." Actually there is something about him--his authority is from God, and you are commanded to honor him. We can--and should--disagree when things are done that are contrary to scripture. We should advocate for change and live gospel centered lives. But none of this should be done disrespectfully.
5. Don't Trust in our Leaders. Note I didn't saw we shouldn't trust them; rather, we shouldn't put our trust in them. God has created us to glorify Himself, and to allow us to enjoy His presence forever. Politics is not the way God intends to bring either of these about. Our hope and our trust should not be in whomever is in the White House. Our hope is found in the fact that Jesus is on the throne, that He has secured our righteousness before the Father and has granted to us the great privilege of going and making disciples. That's what matters most, and that should be our focus. Psalm 20:7, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." Our hope isn't predicated on who is in Washington. Our hope is in the Lord.
So let us, as followers of Christ, be obedient to His word. Let us be salt and light in the world. Let us stand for what honors God and oppose that which dishonors Him. But let us do so in an obedient way. And if you're convinced that President Obama is the Antichrist, that he is determined to take away our rights to pray and he wants to persecute us, I would encourage you to consider Matthew 5:44-45; "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why October Was Great, Even Though I Thought It Wasn't

So this morning I was lying in bed, mentally reviewing the month of October. And truth be told it didn't look too good. From most angles, October appears to have been a pretty lousy month. At the beginning of the month I rolled my ankle while running (I also narrowly avoiding being hit by a car, as I fell almost directly into it's path when I rolled said ankle). This minor injury caused me to miss almost 2 weeks of training. This mattered simply because I was preparing to run my first Half Marathon. When my ankle recovered I eased back into running, then went for a 10 mile jog the week before the race. My knee was pretty sore after the run and at the time I thought I had tweaked my knee. But the following Saturday my knee was still hurting. It hurt at the beginning of the race. It hurt worse during the race. By the end of the race I could barely walk. Couple hours after the race I couldn't walk at all. Turns out I've partially torn my meniscus (which, though a terribly unpleasant thing to experience, is actually a fun word to say--go ahead, say it a few times. I'll wait.). To top all that off, on the way home from the race, as I grumbled about my meniscus (isn't that fun?) the transmission on our van went out.
Now that brief summary should make plain to you the joy of the month of October. Lots of stuff went wrong. Lots of stuff happened that was very frustrating. Some of it was quite embarrassing. The point is, I thought I had lots to grumble about. But as I mentally replayed this disastrous month I was reminded of the things that made October great, even though I thought it was terrible.
I've got an amazing wife. She loves me. She takes care of me when I do stupid things like run on a messed up knee (even though she's been having heart & blood pressure issues for a while now). She is an incredible mom. She loves Jesus. She loves her church. And to top it all off, she's pretty dang good looking. A gimpy knee and worn out van hasn't changed that.
I've got some incredible kiddos. Lily, Emma & Owen are a constant source of joy and/or frustration. Just kidding. Mostly joy. They are an absolute hoot to be around. They even finished my race with me! Through all the frustrations of the month I can still rejoice in my precious children.
Most of all, nothing that happened this month has made any changes to who I am and where I stand. Jesus is my righteousness before the Father. I've been clothed in His good works and all my sin has been placed on Him. In Jesus I've been granted adoption, redemption, and justification. God's wrath was poured out on Jesus, my substitute, and nothing can change that. I choose to glorify God for last month. I can thank Him and worship Him for this month, and for all the months to come. Why? Because nothing that happens can change what He's promised. In Romans 8:38-39 Paul writes, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  God's love for me is wrapped up not in what I do or what happens--it's all contingent on Jesus. And He has secured that for me forever. That means that neither gimpy knees, nor worn out vans, nor ungrateful creatures like me will be able to separate me from God's love.
This month, despite all my grumblings and frustrations, God has not cast me off. He hasn't grown weary with me and washed His hands of me. He has continued to love me and care for me. And He will do so forever, because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Thankful for Thankfulness?

As we enter the Thanksgiving season there'll be much talk of giving thanks. And this is a good thing. It's good to pause and remember all that we have to be thankful for. God continues to richly bless His people, to shower us with good things and to extend grace and mercy to us.He is so worthy of our praise and gratitude! Any list of that for which we should be thankful will never be completed but there's one thing that I'm afraid we tend to overlook, one thing for which we don't always express our gratitude. That is thankfulness. Are you thankful for thankfulness? Sounds like an odd question, but I think it's important that we learn to thank God not just for the things He gives us, the things we would call our 'blessings', but for giving us a heart that is willing and able to express our thanks to Him. Why does this matter? Why should I be thankful for thankfulness? Let me give you two good reasons.
First, I should be thankful for thankfulness because it's God's will for me to be thankful. In I Thessalonians 5 Paul is giving the church a list of responsibilities to fulfill. In verse 18 he writes, "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." It's God's will that we give Him thanks in all things. We spend so much time trying to discern God's will that we overlook specific aspects of that will that scripture shows us. It's God's will that I give thanks in all things. That means, then, that when I have a thankful heart I'm walking in His will. So a heart full of gratitude is a blessed grace from God--it is a concrete proof I can look to, a fruit that shows me I'm walking in God's will for my life. 

Second, I should be thankful for thankfulness because a thankful heart is a heart that is surrendered to Jesus. In Colossians 3 Paul is outlining what the new self looks like. The gospel says that when Jesus saves us He recreates us into His image (2 Cor. 5:17). The change in who we are will lead to changes in what we do. And Paul is saying, "This is what those changes ought to look like." In verse 15 he says, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." Notice how he links thankfulness with letting the peace of Jesus rule in our hearts. A surrendered heart is a thankful heart. It's a heart that has learned to trust in and rest on Jesus for all things. That doesn't mean we're happy when bad things happen; means we rejoice that we serve a God who is bigger than those circumstances and is able to work them out for His glory. Paul goes on to write, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Notice how thankfulness undergirds everything else. A heart that is surrendered to Jesus will bear the fruit of thankfulness. If my heart is bearing that fruit I can give God the glory because He is reminded me that He who began this good work will complete it; and He is in the process of completing it right now. My thankful heart is evidence of the gospel at work in my life. It reminds me that I'm continuing to be conformed, by the grace of God, to the image of Jesus. And that, my friends, is something for which we can be thankful. What a joy to be reminded that the gospel that saves me is the gospel that is changing me. And what a blessing to be able to see the evidences of that change. Not so I can pay myself on the back, but so I can  give thanks to One who is doing the work in me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jesus is Always With Us

When you serve as pastor you're usually around for the big events in people's lives. When a baby is born you get to be there to celebrate with the family. And to hold the baby, of course. When a loved one passes away you have the great honor and privilege of mourning with the family and offering the comfort that comes from God's word.

Yesterday was a first for me, though. I got to experience both extremes. In the morning I mourned with a family as they said goodbye to their mother. In the afternoon I got to celebrate the birth of a new baby girl with another family. Though both events were very different there was one constant--Jesus was there for both. In the morning, as we mourned the loss of a family member, we sought the presence of Jesus and appealed for His comfort and strength on behalf of the grieving family. We looked to His word for promises to soothe broken hearts and to give us hope.  In the afternoon, as we celebrated the birth of this precious little girl, we gave thanks to Jesus for His grace. We thanked Him for the health of both baby and mommy, we prayed for strength and patience in the days ahead, and we expressed our gratitude for His goodness.

Thinking about this later I was reminded once again of God's promise to us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. The Bible promises that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, which is ours through Jesus. And my mind went to some verses of scripture as I was reminded that Jesus is always with us.

First, scripture reminds us that Jesus is with us in the beginning. In Psalm 139:13-16 David said, 
"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully madeWonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance;in your book were written, every one of them,the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."  
David says that at the beginning of his life, even before the beginning, God was there. He was knitting David together, creating him, planning his life, setting the number of his days. What comfort we can take, what unspeakable joy we can have knowing that at the beginning of our days God was there. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God's workmanship, and that we've been created in Christ Jesus for good works. Then Paul says that God prepared these good works for us beforehand. Before I was a twinkle in my mama's eye God had planned my days. He was there at the very beginning.

Scripture reminds us that Jesus is with us at the end. In Psalm 23, David poetically speaks of God's presence and His goodness. And in perhaps the most well-known portion of this Psalm David declares,
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff,  they comfort me."
Even in the face of death David will fear no evil. Why is that? How could he be so courageous? Simple--he knew God was with him. So even in the face of death he could be comforted. In 2 Timothy 4:6-8 Paul said, 
" I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
As Paul faced the end of his life his confidence was not shaken. Rather, he welcomed what was to come. Why? Because he knew who was to come. Death was not a journey that Paul would take alone. Death did not have an unknown destination for Paul. That's true for us as well. Jesus is with us at the end.

Scripture reminds us that Jesus is with us right now. Finally, we glory in the truth that Jesus is with us right now. It's a blessing to look back and see His hand at work in the beginning. And our hearts are comforted knowing that though there will come a day when we face death, we will not face death alone. But what about right now? What about today?  Look at David's words in Psalm 139:2-3--

"You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and m lying down; you are familiar with all my ways." He knew that God knew everything about his life. How? God was with David. In every moment, in every situation, God was there with him. And the same is true for us. We can take comfort in the knowledge that no matter what life brings we don't have to face it alone. Jesus isn't just with us at the beginning of our lives and at the end of our lives; Jesus is with us every day, every moment. He is a very present help in times of trouble, He's promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
May we glory in this Savior who has promised to be with us forever; may we rest in these great and precious promises; and may we find our greatest joy in the presence of the one who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,
I write this in the hopes that all is well with you and your family. Last night you gave your acceptance speech at the DNC. I've not watched the speech but I've read the text and its for that reason I'm penning this blog. I've no delusions of grandeur here, no expectations that this will somehow find its way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. My goal is to simply try to articulate a few policy differences I have with you.
Let me say from the outset that I do not believe you are a secret Muslim who intends to destroy America and institute Sharia law. I do not believe that you hate white people. I do not believe that you were born in Kenya. On the contrary there is much about you I admire and appreciate.
I appreciate the obvious affection you have for your family. Your wife and children matter to you, sir, and that is plain to everyone. Your affection for your family is a wonderful example to men everywhere. I think you love our nation just as I do and desire to see America succeed. Though we may have different ideas as to how to make that happen we both want our nation to be who she can be. I admire your willingness to publicly identify with Christianity. Though we would most certainly have our theological differences, you have stated on several occasions that your trust is in Christ. From a theological standpoint, that makes you my brother and I'm grateful to God for a leader who trusts in Christ as I do.
However, there are several disagreements I have with your policies. In your first campaign much political hay was made of your statement regarding a redistribution of wealth. Mr. President, certainly you can't be serious? Where in the Constitution do we find such an idea? If wealth is attained by illegal means then laws are in place to deal with those crimes. If they aren't strong enough, Congress can legislate tougher penalties. If, however, the chief motivation is a desire for financial equality then, Mr. President, we must acknowledge that such an end is simply unattainable through legislative means. How does one determine how much money another can have? How does one decide where the line is to be drawn? And what, Mr. President, gives me or you or anyone else the right to tell anyone else how much or how little they're allowed to have? Are not such restrictions contrary to the very nature of this great nation?
Second, I disagree with your position on abortion. Mr. President it is both uncivilized and unethical to allow a  person to decide to end the life of another simply for the sake of convenience. I would concede that there are instances where abortion may be the only option. If the life of the mother is in obvious and imminent peril then yes, I would support saving her life. But you know the statistics better than I, Mr. President. You know how rare such cases are. How, Mr. President, can we justify the killing of a fellow citizen? We speak of a woman's right to choose her own reproductive rights and that's true. But once a woman decides to engage in the act of intercourse--the process by which babies are conceived--can it not be argued that she has made that choice? Some would argue that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. Perhaps. But again, can we agree that such instances are certainly not the norm? Mr. President, arguments are often centered around when life begins. You've stated such questions are above your pay grade. I understand the sentiment behind the statement. But can't we agree that if abortion stops a heart from beating, if it causes brain function to cease, if it causes life to end, can't we agree that someone has died? By any medical definition, sir, those qualifications would point to death. Why then do we apply different standards to an unborn child? Why, if a baby in the mother's womb isn't a person, why are there federal laws protecting the eggs of endangered turtles? If a fetus isn't actually alive before birth then how can we prosecute those who destroy those eggs? After all, what have they actually killed?
Finally, I disagree with the inconsistent way in which you appeal to the Bible to support your positions. I've heard you mockingly refer to passages throughout the Pentateuch and ask the question, "Which of these verses should we use to make public policy?" That's a fair question, sir, but if you then use the teachings of Jesus to enforce why we must care for the least of these in our society, is that not inconsistent? If we can't use one portion of scripture to make policy decisions, how can we use another? If we appeal to one section of the New Testament to enforce social policies for the poor how can we ignore other sections of the New Testament when making an argument for social policies regarding marriage? The inconsistency is obvious and staggering.
Mr. President, I'm grateful for public servants. I'm grateful that you're working as hard as you can to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. But I have serious and substantial disagreements with you. And that is why, Mr. President, you have my respect and you have my prayers. But you do not have my vote.


Randy Cox

Monday, July 16, 2012

God is good even when its humid

Recently I was able to take the kids fishing to one of my favorite fishing spots in the world. My Dad remembers his Dad digging this pond when Dad was just a boy—he grew up fishing there and my earliest fishing memories are at that pond, and so it’s always special when me and the kiddos are able to fish there. 
We had a great afternoon of fishing. I caught some, they caught some, I caught some more (actually they caught more than me; but that's OK). Mom and Dad even joined us and that made it better because it's a scientifically proven fact that everything is better when Mimi and Papa are around.
One reason the day was so enjoyable was how the weather cooperated with us. It was a perfect a day as you could hope for. The temperature was in the low 80s, we had a little breeze blowing, the humidity was low--just perfect weather. If you're familiar with Arkansas weather you know how uncommon it is to have a day like that in July. But we did. And it was great. The great day ended with a drive by the house I lived in when I was a kid--and the weather continued to cooperate. We had the windows down, the sunset was breathtaking, and I was walking the sunny slopes of long ago. And in that moment I was just overwhelmed with a sense of God's goodness. The joy of spending a perfect summer afternoon with my kids and parents, the fish we caught, the memories of years ago and the knowledge that I was making new memories, the perfect weather--all that just sort of flowed together to give me a feeling of gratitude.
But as I was thinking about God's goodness I was gently reminded of another truth--
God is good even when it’s humid. My focus on His goodness was based largely on what a pleasant day we'd had together. And that's not a bad thing. God's grace is revealed in every good thing we experience. But the fact is, God is good even when I have a crummy day. He's good when I get to go fishing and he's good when I don't. He's good when I get to make memories with my kids and when I don't. He's good when I get to see a beautiful sunset and when I don't. He's good when the weather is perfect and He's good when it's humid. Malachi 3:6 says, "I the Lord do not change." People smarter than me call that the immutability of God, i.e., who He is--His nature, His essential attributes, that which makes Him God--remains unchanged.
The practical implications of that are incredibly comforting because if God is good then He is always good. When it's humid or pleasant outside, God is good.
And so what I have to continually ask myself is, 
for what am I praising Him? It's much easier for me to praise Him and thank Him when things are going well. But if He's good then it doesn't matter if things are going well or poorly. If God is good then He's always worthy of my praise. And if I can learn, by His grace, to continually thank Him for who He is, to find my joy not in what He does but in who He is, how much more will I bring Him glory!  John Owen said, ‎'That God is what He is, is the matter of (our) chiefest joy.' May we learn to glory not just in what our God does--rather, may we learn to glory in who our God is. To rest in Him, to worship Him, to find our joy and peace and comfort in Him. God is good even when it's humid. May my life demonstrate that truth.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

His Thoughts Are Not Our Thoughts Because He Thought Up the Gospel

In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read these familiar words: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." These are amazing verses that offer us comfort. We can go to them in times of hardship, in times of disillusionment and remind ourselves that when we don't know what God is doing, He does; that when we can't see how it will work out, He can.  Those are precious truths, anchors that help secure our souls.  Those truths are also not the point of these verses.
One of the most important parts of interpreting the Bible is context, i.e., what do the verses above and and the verses below say? If we read these verses by themselves then the above interpretation might seem to be the proper interpretation. However, a careful reading of these verses in context shows us that's not exactly what these verses are referring to. Again, I'm not saying that's not true and I'm not saying we shouldn't apply that truth to our hearts. But I am saying there's more here than just "God knows what He's doing even when I don't."  What do the verses immediately before this text say? "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord that He may may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."  Nothing in those verses about God having some greater plan for our lives (though He does). And nothing in those verses about God knowing what He's doing even when I don't (but He does). Rather, these verses present a call to seek God and His mercy.
So the point of verses 8-9 isn't that 'God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform' (though He does). The point is the greatness of the gospel.  In the first two verses of the chapter God says, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." God here calls us to Himself, to come and buy though we have no money. How is this possible? By grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves. God is calling us to experience the free gift of salvation is available through repentance and faith in the finished work of Jesus. And it's in that context that God says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts." Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the gospel-who else but God would create such a plan of salvation? Every other religion in the world is based on our works; but God bases His salvation solely on His grace, His mercy, and merits of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.
So must we abandon our hope that God knows what He's doing even when we don't? By no means. Rather, we embrace it even more fully. We look at the sufficiency of the gospel, at the guarantee of its success and of the fruit it produces in the lives of those who are saved and we glory in the greatness of our God. We glory in His brilliance and His preeminence. We look at the gospel and shake our heads in holy amazement at the plan and the God who created it accomplishes it. And we rest in that gospel, worshiping the One whose thoughts are above ours and whose ways are higher than ours.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Losing My Religion

I spent some time on the road today and as I was coming home I was listening to NPR. This may not be a good thing to admit but I like to listen to "All Things Considered." Not sure why, but there you are.  Anyways, they were interviewing a couple of former pastors. Former because they had left the faith and embraced atheism. From time to time I hear about folks who have left the faith and I'm always intrigued by their stories.

The people being interviewed today came from different backgrounds; I believe one was a former Pentecostal, the other a former Methodist. But though their traditions were different they both shared a common complaint about Christianity.Their main point of contention was that they didn't like the idea of people having to live in fear of God's anger. They were opposed to the idea of being having to live perfect lives to appease God. They thought it unrealistic to expect people to do enough good works to outweigh the bad and escape God's wrath. And it's fascinating to me that these things drove them away from the faith because I agree with them. I don't like the idea of people having to live in fear of God's anger. I too am opposed to the idea of having to live a perfect life to appease God. As one who frequently sins and misses the mark I find it unrealistic to expect people (and myself) to do enough good works to outweigh the bad.

But here's the thing--that's the whole point of the gospel. We can't appease God so Jesus has appeased Him on our behalf. He is our substitute, the Lamb who has taken away our sins; He is the propitiation for our sins; God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  See, because of Jesus I don't have to live in fear of God's anger--His anger was poured out on Jesus on the cross. I don't have to live a perfect life to appease God because Jesus, my substitute, has lived a perfect life in my place--and by repentance and faith, His perfect life, His righteousness is imputed to me; I'm robed in His righteousness and have a perfect standing with the Holy Judge of the Universe. I don't have to do enough good works to outweigh my bad because my righteousness is hidden in Christ; I don't have to worry about escaping the wrath of God because His wrath was poured out on Jesus--God's wrath was satisfied when Jesus drank the cup of sacrifice on my behalf.

It was heartbreaking to me to hear these former ministers who had obviously missed the point of Christianity.  Our faith is not about doing good to please God, it's about resting in the good that Jesus has done on our behalf. And these guys missed it; they never really got the gospel. Years were spent in prayer and study and preaching and ministering to others--but they never got it.

And so the point of this post is twofold; first, it's a caution for me to continually guard my heart and always rest in the finished work of Jesus. We are naturally inclined to pharisaism. We are natural born legalists. We want to keep lists and check sheets and all these things that chip away at the gospel. We get so good at keeping our lists that we forget about the cross. We forget that Christ has done away with our lists and our works and our righteousness. None of those things earn us any favor from God--Christ has earned us favor with God. And we rest in Him and His finished work. The second thing to consider is this--have you gotten the gospel? I don't mean do you know the story, can you recite it to me, can you quote the scriptures, etc. I mean, is your hope built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness? Are you resting in what Jesus has done, or do you attempt to add to it with your own good works? May we continually guard our hearts against missing the point of the gospel and may we continually rest in the finished work of Jesus and glory in His righteousness rather than our own.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Grace of Anticipation

James 1:17 tells us, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." James reminds us that everything good in our lives comes from God. Now we often take such verses to mean the "holy" things come from God; the Bible, our church families, etc. And those are certainly gifts from God, given from the benevolent hand of the one who loved us and gave Himself for us. We praise God for these expressions of His goodness and worship Him for His generosity. But when James says that every good gift is from above, I don't think we're being untrue to the text to say that everything in our lives that is good is an expression of God's goodness. Even the things that aren't "holy" things can, I believe, be rightly considered to be good and perfect gifts from God. These are what we might call graces, i.e., demonstrations of the mercy and favor of God based on the imputed righteousness of Christ.
We have for example the grace of friendship. What a joy to have those with whom we can share our burdens and whose burdens we can share. It's an expression of the goodness of God that we can have these relationships.  
We have the grace of the beauty of creation. God could have made a drab, boring landscape. But He formed this world with the majesty and beauty that can only come from the divine brilliance of His holy creativity. 
In addition to these two is a grace that has been on my mind lately; the grace of anticipation. Anticipation is an expectation, a strong desire for something we look forward to, a hope that it will soon be ours. For the past couple weeks I've been anticipating an event that has become one of the highlights of my year--Guy's Weekend.  What is Guy's Weekend, you ask?  Simple; me and several college friends will get together for the weekend (pretty self-explanatory isn't it?). We'll talk theology, politics, and anything else we can find to disagree on. We'll play risk, cards, and golf (I won't actually play golf; my job is to ride in the carts and mercilessly taunt those who do). We'll eat an outrageous amount of ridiculously unhealthy food. We'll tell stories, we'll laugh and we'll crack on each other in ways that would ruin friendships less healthy than ours. Mostly we'll just enjoy one another's company. And I look forward to this event. It's a great time to unwind and to recharge.
A few weeks back, as I was thinking about the weekend and what all we'll be doing, God gently spoke to my heart; He reminded me that this anticipation I feel about Guy's Weekend is a gift from Him. And the reason it's a gift from Him is because it reminds me of a greater anticipation I have--the anticipation of going to be with Him forever. See, every good and perfect gift is from above. It comes from God. And so the point of these gifts is to point me towards God. The graces that God pours out on our lives are not just for us to enjoy. Certainly we are to enjoy them, to drink deeply of them and rejoice in the goodness of our King. But even more, they ought to cause us to want to enjoy Him, to drink deeply of Him and to passionately pursue the Giver of all good things.
The grace of friendship reminds me that there is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother. It reminds me that greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends. The grace of creation reminds me that if all that I see is so magnificent, how much more magnificent is the One who spoke it into existence? If I can be swept away by the grandeur of the landscape, how much more should I be swept away by the grandeur of the divine artist Who designed it all? And if I can get so excited about a weekend with a bunch of knuckleheads, how much greater should my anticipation be for the eternal joy that will be found in the presence of King Jesus?
Let me share one other definition of anticipation--a realization in advance, a foretaste. All the good things in the world are simply a foretaste of the greater goodness that is found in King Jesus. All the good and perfect gifts are given to show us the ultimate satisfaction that is found in the good and perfect Giver of those gifts. 
May we drink deeply of the graces that God gives us. May we revel in them and rejoice in the expressions of goodness and favor from our great and benevolent King. But even more, may learn to look beyond them. May we learn to see that the greatest goodness we can enjoy in this life is but a foretaste of all that will be enjoyed in the presence of Jesus. May we learn that the greatest source of joy and delight is not the graces that are given; the greatest source of joy and delight is the Giver of those graces.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

God Answers Job

The book of Job is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and sometimes head-scratching account of God's dealings with a man who by all accounts was righteous man. As tragedy after tragedy befell him, Job doggedly held to his trust in God.  At the same time, though, he wanted answers from God. Why, if he had followed God faithfully and passionately, would these things be happening to him? In our ears that sounds like a fair question doesn't it?  However, Job had friends who didn't think so. A good portion of the book is taken with the "comfort" they offered him--which basically amounted to, "Job, God is good and this must be happening because you are sinful. So what have you done?" One young man in particular, a fellow named Elihu, took pains to ask these same kinds of questions. He asserts that God is great, that we can't understand Him. He says in Job 37:23, "The Almighty, we cannot find Him..." God, who is not without a sense of irony, picks this moment as the time to show up and answer Job's questions.
What's fascinating, though, is that God's answers, the explanations that Job has been so hungry for, are shown to be beyond his reach. God doesn't explain; rather, He points out to Job why Job can't understand. With question after question, from chapters 38-41, God says, "Job, you couldn't get it even if I did explain it to you." And those chapters are great for reminding us of the greatness of God, of who He is and who we are.
This morning one specific question stood out to me. And it's not the one I would have thought. There are some amazing questions God puts to Job. Some give us a glimpse into the parts of God's creation in which He delights. In 39:5-12 God affectionately speaks of the wild donkey and the wild ox; He joys in their freedom and in their strength.  In vs19-25 of the same chapter He seems to take special delight in the fierceness of the war horse. Other questions soar poetically, such as 39:26, "Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings toward the south?"
The question that grabbed my attention, though, was the first question God asks Job. 38:4, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth." Nothing particularly memorable about that, right? No poetic language, no wild and free animals; no power of creation or mysteries of God here. Just a simple, straightforward question: "Job, where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Where were you, Job, when I began building the earth on which you now walk, the earth onto which you were born? Job, where were you when I decided the laws by which this earth would be governed?"
I suppose the reason this question was so memorable to me is because of its simplicity. What would be the answer to it? How could Job respond? "I wasn't yet here, Lord. You hadn't yet knit me together in my mother's womb, fearfully and wonderfully making me. I hadn't yet breathed air (which You created) into the lungs You gave me, thereby drawing the oxygen that is necessary for life (which you breathed into my nostrils) into the body You fashioned from the earth--the earth You created."
God's 1st question to Job could rightfully have been His only question couldn't it? "Job, you are asking many questions. Let me ask you one." And the discussion could have ended there. But God wanted to make the point abundantly clear--both to Job and to us. He is far greater than we are. He is far wiser than we are. He knows things we don't know, He understands things that are beyond our ability. And while it isn't wrong for us to ask Him to help us understand, it is wrong to question Him. Why? Because we are unable to take hold of who He is, much less of what He does.
In 37:5 Elihu said, "God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend." Elihu may not have had it all right, but that statement is good theology. God does great things that we can't comprehend. But even when we can't comprehend, we can trust. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even though we are led there by the Lord who is our shepherd, we will fear no evil. Why? Because He is with us. We can rest in His presence when we can't understand His plan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nothing but the Blood

The following is taken from a sermon preached October 31, 1875 by Charles Spurgeon.  I couldn't decide which particular quote to post so I decided to post the entire quote. 

That part of the line of battle which is most fiercely assailed by the enemy is sure to be that which he knows to be most important to carry. Men hate those they fear. The antagonism of the enemies of the gospel is mainly against the cross. From the very first it was so. They cried “Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him.” They will write us pretty lives of Christ and tell us what an excellent man he was, and do our Lord such homage as their Judas’ lips can afford him; they will also take his sermon on the mount and say what a wonderful insight he had into the human heart, and what a splendid code of morals he taught, and so on. “We will be Christians” say they, “but the dogma of atonement we utterly reject.”

Our answer is, we do not care one farthing what they have to say about our Master if they deny his substitutionary sacrifice, whether they give him wine or vinegar is a small question so long as they reject the claims of the Crucified. The praises of unbelievers are sickening; who wants to hear polluted lips lauding him? Such sugared words are very like those which came out of the mouth of the devil when he said “Thou Son of the Highest,” and Jesus rebuked him and said “Hold thy peace, and come out of him.” Even thus would we say to unbelievers who extol Christ’s life: “Hold your peace! We know your enmity, disguise it as you may. Jesus is the Savior of men or he is nothing; if you will not have Christ crucified you cannot have him at all.”

My brethren in Jesus let us glory in the blood of Jesus, let it be conspicuous as though it were sprinkled upon the lintel and the two side posts of our doors, and let the world know that redemption by blood is written upon the innermost tablets of our hearts. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Joy of Hardship

Psalm 119:71 says, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." As curious as it sounds, there is often good that comes from bad. There is a joy that can be found in hardship--as long as we take hold of the fact that God can and does use those hardships for His glory in our lives.

Commenting on this truth, J.C. Ryle said

"Let us mark this well. There is nothing which shows our ignorance so much as our impatience under trouble. We forget that every cross is a message from God, and intended to do us good in the end. Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees.
Health is a good thing; but sickness is far better, if it leads us to God. Prosperity is a great mercy, but adversity is a greater one if it brings us to Christ. Anything, anything is better than living in carelessness, and dying in sin. Better a thousand times to be afflicted, like the Canaanitish mother (Mark 7:24-20) and like her flee to Christ, than live at ease like the rich fool (Luke 12:20) and die at last without Christ and without hope."

No one enjoys hardships. But if we can take hold of the fact that God will use them for His glory, and to teach us of His goodness, and to use them to minister to others, we can learn to embrace these times.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Job's Righteousness

WARNING: This is a rather wordy post. Proceed with caution.

I've been reading through Job as part of my daily Bible readings this year and today's reading was fascinating. In chapter 31 Job is defending himself against his friends' assertions that the calamities in his life were a result of his unrighteousness.

Defending yourself against untrue claims is an awkward proposition. I find it hard to strike a balance between humility and setting the record straight. I want to correct false accusations but I have a bent towards self-righteousness and if I guard myself I can easily begin to not just defend myself but to pat myself on the back a little. Something like, "Not only are you claims untrue, I'm actually a better guy than you realize!" That sort of thing. Anyways, that's why Job 31 was so interesting to me. In this chapter, as Job defends himself, he lays his life out before his friends and before God. He essentially says, "This is who I am. You guys are saying I'm being punished for sin but there's no patter of sin in my life." That challenges me because I want to be able to say that. I want to be able to say, "There is no pattern of sin; you can check this area, that area, and any other you want but my life is blameless."

Job lists 13 areas of his life in which he is blameless before God. Some of them I expected; some of them surprised me. Not because they were bad things, but because they wouldn't be things I would use to vindicate myself.

He says first that he's blameless because he's committed himself to sexual purity, vs1-4. Then he's blameless because he walks according to truth, vs5-6. He doesn't covet, vs7-8, and he's not been guilty of adultery, vs9-12. Then in vs13-15 he says he hasn't been guilty of showing partiality. He says that when his servants complain against him, he listens to them. In vs15 he says, "Did not He who made me in the womb make him?" How about that, civil rights in the oldest book of the bible? And what's fascinating about this to me is that I would never think to point to my impartiality as proof of my righteousness. That isn't to say that I show partiality; I don't think I do, but for Job this was a central point of his argument. And why not? James 2:1 says, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Not showing partiality--something I would never even consider as a fruit of righteousness, is an explicit command in scripture.

Job continues his defense by asserting he is blameless because of his compassion for the poor and destitute, vs16-22. Again, not something I might point to in my own life. But again, we find a clear command in the New Testament. James 2:15-16, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled', without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" If there's anything we don't talk much about it's taking care of the poor. Yet Job points to this as proof of his righteousness; and James commands this of us. Job next says that he's blameless because he doesn't trust in riches, nor is he held captive by materialism, vs24-25. That's a powerful thing for a wealthy man to say. He also asserts that he doesn't follow false religions, vs26-28. These are characteristics that maybe would come more readily to mind. But then he says he's blameless because he loves his enemy, vs29-30. What a convicting defense. Can I look at my life and say, "I know I'm blameless before God, I see fruit of the transforming power of the gospel because I love my enemies. I don't rejoice when those who hate me are destroyed"? Job's final three points of defense are that he is hospitable, vs31-32, he's not a hypocrite vs33-34, and he is honest in his business dealings, vs38-40.

Which of these things would we point to as proofs of a right standing with God? Some of them we might, others we most likely wouldn't. And understand, this isn't an exhaustive list, nor should we judge our righteousness by Job. Jesus is our standard, not Job. However, remember how Job begins. Chapter 1 vs1 says, "There was a man in the land of Uz who name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil." And lest we think this is Job saying what a great guy he is, in vs8 God says of Job, "...there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil..." Job was indeed a righteous man; God declared him to be righteous and Job was able to point to specific things in life, evidences of the righteousness that had been imputed to him.

So here's the point; actually, the points. First, Just as Job was able to point to fruit in his life, I need to be able to do the same. Jesus said you know someone by their fruit, right? So I need to be able to point to fruit in my life, evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and of the transforming power of the gospel. And second, I need to reevaluate what I think constitutes righteousness before God. Many of us, I think, would answer charges such as were leveled at Job by saying, "I go to church, I give money, I read my Bible and pray." I don't see any of that from Job. All those things are great but even lost people can do these things. Job pointed to specific, concrete evidences of the work of God in his heart. He pointed to things that are almost completely overlooked in the church today; especially his focus on caring for the poor and destitute, and his claim that he hadn't fallen victim to materialism. Can I say the same? Can you? I need to be certain that the fruit I look to as evidence of the Spirit's work in my life is biblical fruit, i.e., that my life is matching up with the teachings of scripture. Not that I'll do this perfectly. But I should be doing it consistently.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bowl--So What?

Last night was the Super Bowl. And whether you're a football fan or not you must agree that the Super Bowl is a big event. Each year about half the nation watches; a big star puts on an incredible halftime show (or as was the case this year, Madonna sang); advertisers paid millions of dollars for commercial time; and there was also a football game. Parties were had, tons of food was eaten--it's a huge event. If you're a Giants fan it was a good game. If you're a Patriots fan, not so much.

But here's a question; is your life any different this morning? By that I mean, did the Super Bowl make an impact on you? Have you been changed as a result of it? Now the answer of course is no. Unless you bet tons of money on the Giants and won big; in which case I'll address your gambling problem in a separate blog. But by and large the Super Bowl makes no difference in our lives. We may go to a fun party, eat great food, laugh at some commercials, be grossed out by Madonna, or even cheer for our favorite team. And when it's all said and done we're still the same people.

Now the purpose of this post isn't to bash the Super Bowl. I love football, I love the commercials, I love the whole deal. But I was reminded this morning of how easily my heart can chase after the wrong things. I can spend all week reading about the matchups, about who's going to win, about what commercials will be shown, all that. And when I stand before Jesus to give an account for my life none of things will matter. Again, I'm not saying it's wrong to watch the game or like football. I'm saying I was reminded that my heart is desperately wicked. I was reminded that even though I'm supposed to set my mind on things above, there are times when I don't.

The Super Bowl can't change my life. It can't make me more holy. It can't make me a better husband or father or pastor. But Jesus can do all those things. He can make me more like He's declared me to be. He can make me the kind of husband who loves my bride like He loves His bride. He can make me the kind of father who is an example of my Heavenly Father. And if He can do all those things, how much more excited about Him should I be? How much more should I look forward to spending time in His word and in His presence? This morning I'm not any different because of the Super Bowl. But I'm eternally different because of Jesus.

Father, thank You for Your love. Thank You for changing me. Help me to passionately run after You, to seek You desperately above all things. Help me to enjoy the good things You've given in this life; time with friends, things that bring laughter, football games that are fun to watch. But help me to find my greatest joy and deepest fulfillment in You. Help me to be more like You. Amen.