Monthly Archives: March 2014
A letter I wrote to our church many years ago. And today, it’s still about Grace!
Why do children ask “why” to every little statement you make? Our neighbor’s, the Arnolds, have a little girl named Jena who is 4 years old. Jena and Anna enjoy playing with each other and sometimes Jena rings our door bell to invite Anna to play. Upon opening the door the following conversation and others like it take place: “Can Anna come out and play?” I respond politely, “No, she has to take a bath,” which she responds with this long drawn out, “WwwHhhYyy?” “Because she has to get ready for supper.” Again, she asks, “WwwHhhYyy?” I say, “Because she needs her energy for school tomorrow”, “WwwHhhYyy?”, she says again. This goes on and on. She’s so cute.
Adults are no better – and no wonder, we want to know why as well. We want a reason, a purpose, a goal that makes sense and compels us to jump on board with something great and awesome. In fact, I believe we were designed to ask, “Why?” This is part of what it means to be made in the image, in the likeness of God’s character. God does nothing without a reason, absolutely nothing without an awesome purpose in mind. And we are like him in this area – both the saved and the lost, all humans are made in the image of God and all of us want to know [Why?].
Like, Why did God create? Why did he allow sin to persist? Why does he allow Satan to exist? Why do we have so many variations of colors, birds, trees, animals, terrain, bugs and fish? Why do we aspire to great things? Why do we even care to aspire to great things? Why do angels exist? Why should I go to work? Why should I love my wife, my husband, my children, my dog? Why am I unemployed? Why do I suffer with physical infirmities? Why did my car break down – today? Why is there gravity, and other laws of creation? Why do we like to play games, grow vegetables, make our lawns and homes look attractive? Why do we as humans love beauty? Why did Jesus die?
Answer: Everything – to the Praise of the Glory of His Grace!
“. . . to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6), “. . . to the praise of his glory” (vs. 12), “. . . to the praise of his glory” (vs. 14).
Ephesians 2:3 teaches us that we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the sinful desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. As lost men and women, everything we did, we did it to satisfy our quest for meaning and happiness in this life. We lived sinfully to fill our lives with purpose and joy. From sexual immorality to self-gratification and self-envy for doing such a splendid job on a test, a project, a global cause – we lived for ourselves. We lived, played, worked, and everything else that can be done as a human, to the praise of the strength and wisdom and folly of man. In other words, being made in the image of God we correctly pursued meaning and joy and satisfaction in this life but we pursued it without giving thanks to God and without glorifying Him (Romans 1:21). Everything we did, we did it to derive pleasure and praise from our accomplishments. We did not value the glory of God as praiseworthy (Romans 1:23) so we found our purpose and meaning in life by placing greater value upon everything else but God (Romans 1:24-32).
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. For we are his masterpiece created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them”
As an heir of salvation, everything in this life has a purpose and a goal – and it is this: God’s priceless grace will be seen in everything that he has created and worked through His Son Jesus Christ. Undeserving sinners will be filled with praise and adoration over this grace because as humans, we have groped for purpose in everything we do. This outward praise comes from the joy that we feel in our souls. And why are we happy about this? Because we know why everything exists and why everything happens the way it does. We know why there are butterflies and why sin is so unsatisfying. We know why we are here on earth and we know why God sent His Son. We know why we support missionaries and we know why we mow the grass. We know why we sleep and we know why God created sex. We know why suffering is a part of our lives and we know why we die. Everything, absolutely everything will somehow and in some way, cause joyful praise to gush forth throughout the universe over the massive wealth of His Grace that God chose to give us through His Son.
It is because of His Grace that I don’t love my sin or His creation more than Him. It is because of His Grace that makes sense out of my existence.
This is the vision, the horizon and perception that I have as a Christian for all of my life. It is with this vision that I shepherd, to help sheep see what God is up to in His creation and in sending His Son for you. It is with this vision that I encourage you to lay hold of for your life; your sufferings, your delights, your marriage, your singleness, your child-rearing, your work, your play, your emotions, your longing for justice, your growing distaste for sin, your failures, and your craving to be clothed in pure righteousness.
I believe that we at Grace Community Church must have a clear vision for living our lives. If we don’t, we will struggle with our identity and purpose as a church, we will waste our lives on the temporal, and we will miss out on pursuing a goal for which we can give our lives to. We are to be cause-oriented to something great and meaningful as Christ-followers. We seek a homeland whose builder and maker is God. I want us to see, feel, taste, smell, and know that everything in this life is going somewhere – it is going to display the majesty and worth of Jesus Christ in all His Holy Wrath and Grace. If our God is immeasurable and infinite in all His being, then you can count on it, everything in your life will in some way, somehow, and someday, cause you to praise the glory of His grace.
For our Eternal and Increasing Joy,
Happy 74th Birthday Dad!
West Virginians Would Never Act Like This:)
God is Bigger Than My Theology of Him
I’m glad that God is bigger than my theology, i.e., my study and understanding of him. If God is no bigger than what our finite and jumbled minds can make of him, then there is no real worship, trust, joy, and admiration for us to behold that which is beyond our own reasoning. And yet, we so often get frustrated and down-right surly about our limited knowledge that we come near to accusing God of being so secretive in his ways. But we can’t have it both ways: if we are to be awe-struck at something grand and awesome, we can’t complain than we don’t fully understand. That’s the aim of all knowledge of God in his word – it’s to see the incomprehensible and rejoice. So . . . let’s look at some big stuff about God and see if your God is bigger than your understanding of him, and yet find him all the more glorious to your affections.
1. God Sovereignly Ordains things that He Morally Opposes
Joseph’s brothers became jealous of his status in their father’s eyes, so they kidnapped him, lied to their father about his whereabouts, and sold him into slavery. Many more unfortunate and evil things happened to Joseph. But at the end of the story, Joseph confidently rejoiced, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20).
Job’s life was satanically attacked and some of his family and servants were murdered. Satanic activity and murder and stealing are things that God Morally opposes, and yet, God Sovereignly ordained that these evils fall upon Job. Even Job understood this, saying, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” – (Job 1:21b, 22).
Samson was a sexual baboon chasing after prohibited Philistine women, doing “what was right” in his own eyes. But the reason why he was sinning, and acting against God’s Moral will, is because “it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (Judges 14:3, 4). The Lord brought the house down!
Israel was immorally attacked by her surrounding enemies and Israel then destroyed her enemies in battle. But the explanation goes like this: “For it was the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed. . .” (Joshua 11:20).
Jesus’ cross was planned by God. All the lies that led up to his kangaroo trial and the murderous venom poured out on Christ, were all against God’s Moral will. But it was his Sovereign will that orchestrated the whole event (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).
Though this is all too much for my understanding, I rest in God’s sovereign hand over my life, especially when evil comes upon me. For I know that it too was from the hand of God for my ultimate good and hope in God.
2. God Can Stop You From Sinning but Sometimes He Chooses Not To.
Abimelech was going to have sex with Sarah because he was told that she was Abraham’s sister, and not his wife. But God stopped him in the middle of the night. Abimelech thinks that he chose to do the right thing and not sin. But the Lord said, “. . . it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.” (Gen. 20:6).
The Sons of Eli were having sex with women as they, the young virgins, were serving at the entrance of the tent of meeting (this would be like the pastoral staff of a church having sex with the single women in the foyer before worship). Eli told them to stop their wickedness but his sons would not listen. The reason why is, “for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death” (1 Sam. 2:25). God used the Philistines to kill them (4:11).
In Christ, the reason why I do not sin more than I do is not because I’ve got more will power than others, it is because the Lord is restraining me.
Outside of Christ, the reason why you do sin is not because God respects your self-determination and exercise of free will, it is because he is planning to put you to death.
Even for everyone who does not know Christ, and has no Spirit to control their sinful appetites, you would be more wicked than you presently are if God were not restraining your sinful urges. God is merciful to the wicked every day.
Though this is all too much for my understanding, I will not deceive myself thinking that my choice for sin says something good about my will power. And I will not deceive myself thinking that my choice for good is because of my will power.
3. God truly feels anger and compassion at the same time, but not with the same passion.
“. . . though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (Lam. 3:32, 33). God angrily crushed Israel for her idolatry and wickedness. But like a parent who spanks a child, God did not want to do this but he did it anyway. And he did not do it “from his heart”, that is, he did not enjoy what he was doing in the same way that he enjoys doing good things.
Though this is all too much for my understanding, like a child who can’t sit down for a few minutes after dad or mom leaves the bedroom, I believe that God loves me when he hurts me. But he does not enjoy it like he enjoys playing with me: that’s his real enjoyment. He hurts me so that he can protect all the good times that he plans to have with me.
4. God hears the prayers of millions and empathizes with each one completely all at the same time.
Jesus is capable of weeping with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice – at the same time. He is a high priest who hears the prayers of all of his children at the same time and can stay fully engaged with every prayer without distraction. God can hear a thousand of his children cry Psalm 22, and hear another thousand sing Psalm 150 – all at the same time (Rom. 12:15; Heb. 4:12ff).
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. But I’m so glad that he can hear us all at the same time, with all of his emotions perfectly suited to each prayer.
5. God does not desire that any should perish but that all come to repentance, while at the same time he sees to it that many cannot repent so that they will perish and receive their just due.
God desires that you repent (2 Peter 3:9) while at the same time the ability to repent is a gift that God may or may not grant (2 Tim. 2:25).
Jesus spoke in parables intentionally to hide the truth so that some will not be able to understand and therefore repent, having their sins forgiven (Mark 4:11, 12).
Jesus calls sinners to come to him with genuine appeal, but at the same time, along with his Father, hides the truth of the gospel and only reveals the truth of himself to whomever he chooses (Matt. 11:25-30).
God hardened Israel’s heart against himself so that the gospel will go to the nations (Rom. 11:7-12).
“The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Prov. 16:4). The lost are like irrational animals, “creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12). The only reason that Pharaoh existed was so that God might show that he was more powerful than the highest man on earth, destined to be destroyed (Rom. 9:17, 18).
Though this is all too much for me, I am humbled to the ground that God did not lock me up in my sin and justly leave me to die in my sins.
6. God is both fully God and fully Man at the same time, in Jesus.
He was born of Mary (Luke 1:31). He is Son of God (Luke 1:35). This is wildly beyond me, but at the same time, it is irresistibly beautiful. There is a real substitution for my sins – a real man lived a sinless life in my place. O what grace?!
7. He has written all my days in advance and yet calls me to live all my days for him.
Psalm 139:16 says, “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” For David, this truth did not result in a passive and negligent life. He did not cynically murmur, “Well if God is so sovereign and already has my entire life decided and written down, then there’s no point in getting involved and making decisions.” No, David took comfort in the fact that his entire life was in the Lord’s hands and at the same time wanted to turn away from every wicked way as God searched his heart (vss. 23, 24).
Though this is all too much for me, I take pleasure and comfort in the fact that this day, with all of its good and bad, including my own contributions to it, were written in advance. This does not make me feel like a puppet, but rather a son whose Father in heaven will leave nothing to chance for my own good.
I thank God that he is not like me. He’s much bigger.
Satire for St. Pat’s Day
Oh to feel particularly loved!
This past Sunday in worship, in my pastoral prayer to our Father in heaven, I said,
“You laid the strap to Jesus’ back. There’s not one lash left for me.”
For those who are in Christ, our Father in heaven wants his children to know how deeply they were loved when he sent his son to make a full, actual, particular, and definite atonement for us. I love children that are not my own, as our Father in heaven does. But no one faults me for having a particular and special love for my own three, as we should not fault God for having the same, since we are only acting and feeling what image we were made in.
The angel told Joseph, “Call his name Jesus, for he will save (that’s definite and actual) his people (that’s particular) from their sin” (a real ransom paid in full) – Matt. 1:21.
In John’s gospel, Jesus said that he will lay down his life for his sheep only (John 10:11,14). He said that the Pharisees were not his sheep (10:26). He said that they do not belong to his Father, but to their father the devil (8:44). Jesus said that since he lays down his life for his sheep, they will hear his voice and follow him, meaning, Jesus’ death purchases and secures their faith and faithfulness (6:37; 10:16, 26). Jesus also said that for all those that he dies for, he will not lose one but raise them up (6:39). He said he would do all of this only for those his Father gave him out of the world (17:2, 6, 9). Jesus said that the Pharisees do not believe because they are not his sheep (10:26) – and the only way you can become a sheep is if the Father freely gives you to his Son (10:29). It is not that you believe, then become a sheep, but that the Father chooses you to be his sheep, and that is the cause of faith in Christ.
Jesus died for his sheep, of whom the Father gave to him. The Pharisees are not his sheep, says Jesus. The sheep are sheep even before they are saved because of the Father’s love gift to his Son. They alone will be given eternal life and therefore, believe. They will all come into the sheep-pen and will hear Jesus’ voice and follow him, and not one will be lost.
When Jesus died on the cross for me:
Jesus did not die on the cross to make me savable – he died to save me. Jesus did not come to merely provide salvation, he came to actually save me. Jesus’ work on the cross was not a possibility for salvation, it was my salvation. For me, Jesus really did take my place on the cross so that I would never be punished for my sins. He died for me – he really did! I can’t be punished for my sins, not because I had faith, but because Jesus paid for my sin of unbelief, too. The Father will not punish Jesus, then punish the same sins again in me.
Jesus died for the church, not an idea or concept or possibility of a church (Acts. 20:28; Eph. 1 and 5; Rev. 5:9-10). Just as the atonement was provided for Israel alone, and not Egypt, the Father has provided an atonement for his people alone. His people are from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
For the same reason that God set his love on Israel only, and on no other people (Deut. 7:6-8; Psalm 147:20), likewise, he sets his love on his people and sends his son to die for them so that there is no possibility of losing them (Rom. 5:8; 8:32, 39). The Son did not die with the possibility that his death would benefit no one. But rather, for all those that Jesus died for, they will absolutely receive every good thing that there is to have in Christ, because, no one will be able to charge the elect with injustice. Why not? Because it is God who predestines, who calls – and all the called are justified and all the justified are glorified – it is God who justifies based upon his free will to do so to his elect. God’s loving choice is the ground of my faith and flows from it. Faith is the condition for which Christ has secured because all the called (which produces faith) are justified (the consequence of being called – Rom. 8:29-33).
When Jesus died for me, I was successfully reconciled to God while I was an enemy (Rom. 5:10). That’s how loving and powerful the cross is without my faith. It is not my faith that unleashes the benefits of a dormant and impotent cross, but rather the power of the cross secured my faith in my dead, dormant, hard and impotent heart (Jer. 32:38-41; Ezek. 36: 26-29; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:8-12, 13:20-21; Eph. 1:3; Phil. 1:29). Jesus was wounded for my transgressions and the application of his death brought me peace and healing (Isa. 53:5), and it secured my righteous standing (vs. 11). Why? Because when the LORD laid on Christ our iniquity, he made many to be righteous, because he bore the sins of many (Isa. 53:6, 11-12; Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:48).
If you are in Christ, Jesus wants you to know that his death on the cross was not a general ransom, with no real eye on you in particular, with only a potential benefit to you, provided you do your part. No, he wants you to know that he died for you. And that dying for you, you could never be held captive and in debt to your sins, even your sin of unbelief – which he paid for, since unbelief too is a sin. You do believe that unbelief is a sin, don’t you? You do believe that “Jesus Paid it All” don’t you? Then hesitate no longer in believing this: There was not a chance that for those for whom Jesus died would ever suffer for their sins. Now that is the kind of love that the children of God are supposed to feel.
Suppressing the truth that Christ was raised from the dead is like trying to suppress surprise lily’s from coming up (I took this photo yesterday from one of our flower beds). Of course, you can dig them out or pour Round Up on them. But that does not nullify the truth: they are there and they are coming up for a reason:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Rom. 1:18, 19).
After a long, sub-zero, snowy winter, something beautiful is happening – in fact, it was happening when it seemed hopeless. Underneath the still frozen layer of ice and snow, life was working itself upward, up out of the ground. What power? What glory? What reason for joy?
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20).
Do you know why you feel hope in the springtime? It’s because you were made in the image of God. More importantly, you were made to know the God who raises the dead. Why is that? Because one day you will die and you can’t do for yourself what needs to be done. Are you prepared to die? Are you done with holding down the truth? Do you still deny the feelings of hope as flowers begin to burst out of the ground? Don’t be a fool and trade in your hope in God for hope in yourself (Rom. 1:21-23). If you deny this plain and simple truth of creation God may give you up to more blindness and more sexual dysfunction (Rom. 1:24-27). Your life will spiral downward into the very things that you despise in others (Rom. 1:28-31), and irony of all ironies, you will condemn yourself for judging in others the very things that you do, giving yourself a high approval rating while down-grading others as worthy to be judged (Rom. 1:32-2:1).
Two Surprises – take your pick:
One day, You will either be surprised and overjoyed with delight with what it means to be raised from the dead in Christ – to know what real human existence is all about, or,
One day, You will be surprised and bewildered with disbelief with what it means to be thrown down by the judgment of Christ – to know what real human suffering is all about.
Look at the Lily’s, then turn to Christ in faith and repentance of sins. Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved. Saved from what? Saved from the consequences of the very sins that you disdain in others. Saved from trying to do enough good works to earn your way into eternal life. Saved from guilt and shame. Saved from fear of dying without knowing Christ. Saved from wondering if this is true only to find out that it is. Saved from being a slave to sin. Don’t you want to be surprised with joy?
We Sing a New Song this Sunday
I love to introduce new songs for worship because there are always new mercies worth expressing. Our life in Christ is not static and neither should be our repertoire.
Here is what will be in our worship folder:
“O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head!”
(Written by Anne Ross Cousin in 1857, this song appeared in the Scottish Presbyterian Hymnal, 1876. She was a poet, writer, and musician in the Free Church of Scotland and traveled with her husband who was a preacher of the gospel. She was born, April 27, 1824 and died Dec. 6, 1906. Her most famous published song is “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.” Her song-writing was greatly inspired by the writings of the puritan, Samuel Rutherford, Scottish Presbyterian Pastor, 1600 -1661).
O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A Victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.
Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me.
Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.
The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ, it broke on Thee!
Thy open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
Now cloudless peace for me.
Jehovah bade His sword awake;
O Christ, it woke ’gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thine heart its sheath must be;
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.
For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee!
Thou art risen—my hands are untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white and tried,
Thy glory then for me!
As many old songs do, this one died in the church a long time ago because of the music. Here is the new tune that we’ll use:
The Value of Watching the Oscars
My wife and I truly enjoy a good movie – like the recent uplifting movie, “Gravity” (boo on the pun). But, I’ve never watched the Oscars until last night, for no special reason other than to say that I have.
Things that I appreciated that are a reflection of something that I want to say below, but first:
1. A good story, told well and shown well, is captivating to our sense of being a human. We know ourselves and our world best when we see both told in a story.
2. Stories told well do not take place by chance. The months, even years of time that it takes to produce one good story is breathtaking: look at the credits of a movie and notice the amount of people that it takes to pull it off; think of the brain-cracking hours of script-re-writing and “take 53” moments that happen in a movie to get it right; stand in awe and wonder over the brilliant talents that come together to put on paper, then film, what they see unfolding in their minds; believe that not one frame per second (30 frames per second) is left to chance to tell the story.
3. Finally, all good movies create a problem to fix. There is no such thing as a story that does not have some kind of tension that draws us to a resolution.
I felt sorry for the very people who spend their lives working so hard to tell a good story, yet live so blindly to The Story of all stories. Of course, not all are blind, but it seems that most are. If we are by nature story-tellers and cannot make sense out of our world without telling stories, and seeing ourselves in one, then does it not make sense that a very detailed, personal, grand Story-Teller is casting the Hero of all heroes?
I appreciated that Glenn Close said, “thanks,” to all the recent deceased in the film industry, who contributed in their own way, a “story” to be told. It is right and good to show respect to people who helped make a good story come to life. And it is right to feel loss when people are no longer with us. Having observed this: if there is no higher point to the stories we tell and live, then by reason, we would not care one bit about stories and those who tell them, and live and die for them. How inconsistent it is to so appreciate story-telling and then not believe the reason why we appreciate them?
All good story-telling is Diachronic, not Synchronic. Diachronic is a word that means the present is connected to the past and the future. Synchronic is a word that means the present is not necessarily connected to anything by intention, but only by coincidence. Not one movie last night that was up for an Oscar would have gotten that far had it been told, synchronically. By nature, humans want to know why and where does this lead? We want to see real, intentional connections to people, places, and things. We can’t and won’t follow random. And we can’t just watch an event without wanting to know the meaning of the event as it relates to other events.
So if you think that your life is to be interpreted synchronically, that is, you’re here for a little while, and when you’re not – poof, you are being hypocritical to yourself since you like good story-telling. Or if you believe that when you die, there is some marshmallow cloud with unlimited internet access where you can float around and do whatever you want – don’t you see that you are not being honest with what your heart is telling you? Don’t you see that you are suppressing a truth that you can’t seem to shake? And that truth is: You were made in the image of a real and personal God who wrote the greatest script with Jesus at the center, and you were made to support the main actor. You will either support the main actor with your adoration and joy and trust and hope and allegiance and satisfaction and worship, or you will support the main actor in your rebellion the way any villain supports the hero in a story: The true hero always wins as the malcontent is defeated. And everyone cheers for the true hero!
Dear reader, do not think that you should have played the main part to your life-story. Only Christ is qualified to take center-stage. See yourself as “supporting-actor,” and you will discover the true meaning for your life.