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Archive for the ‘gospel’ Category

Amanda Criss has provided some very helpful thoughts in how to respond properly to criticism. Here’s a taste:

I realize now that my feelings were so hurt because my pride was so devastated. A proud heart like mine is shocked and offended at an accusation of imperfection. I want to be liked and admired, but instead, my desperate need for a Savior was shamefully exposed.

But the gospel frees me to receive criticism without anger and indignation. In the reflection of God’s holiness, I realize and embrace that I am much more sinful than my accuser can ever think to express. Even if the specific accusations I receive are without merit, when it comes to my deceitful heart, they don’t know the half of it.

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It is hard to claim that twenty-first-century America is a happy place. Anger and bitterness abound, and joy and peace are in short supply. A sense of despair hangs over us. As a people, we seem to have no sense of purpose.

We try to alleviate this despair with busyness or toys, so we distract ourselves with work and social media and television and smart phones. Such things, though, do not solve our basic issues, so we seek therapy, believing that a psychiatrist and perhaps the right drugs will get our minds balanced to deal with the problems of contemporary living.

In many churches the pastor is the spiritual therapist, and his sermons are therapeutic, giving attention to hearers’ felt needs. People flock to such churches because life is all about them and their issues, and they know that this particular pastor is going to deal with human concerns and give them some spiritual therapy to apply to their psychological sore.

Unfortunately, we miss the root issues while trying to fix the surface ones. The primary reason for our despair is sin, and the solution is not a pseudo-psychiatrist masquerading as a preacher.

Fallen man and woman live in selfish sinfulness. They live outside of God and in rebellion to his will. This man or woman may attend church periodically, perhaps even every Sunday morning. Perhaps he or she recognizes that something is out of order in life and considers church as the place to get it right.

While the therapeutic salve or always being on the go may distract momentarily distract us, in the dark of night and the quiet of one’s soul the despair continues. It may be dulled, but it is not removed or replaced. Unfortunately, many stumble through life, day by day, pushing their despair aside with the distraction of entertainment or social media, work or recreation, or alcohol or pharmaceuticals. Anthony Burgess [1600-1663] observed this about the nature of man centuries ago: “Oh, it is to be feared that there are many that give themselves lusts, and carnal pleasures, that so they may put a foggy mist between their conscience and themselves. Others dig into the world, labouring to become senseless, that so there may be an eclipse of this light by the interposition of the earth. Others run to damnable heresies, denying Scriptures, God, heaven, hell. . . . What are these but refuges of guilty consciences? We must distinguish between our carnal concupiscence [desire], and conscience; between deluded imaginations, and conscience; between an erroneous and scrupulous conscience, and a well grounded and truly informed conscience, and when we have done so, we must follow conscience as far as that follows the Word.”

The despair remains because the condition of the fallen person remains. Scripture instructs that, as fallen humans, we are “dead in trespasses and sins,” that we “follow the course of this world, . . . the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” that we live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

We are helped only when we recognize that despair is a God-given gift to alert us to the fact that we are not what we were intended to be. God created us to live in fellowship with him, but like the fish longing to live on land, we rebelled and find ourselves out of the environment unto which we were created.

God has graciously gifted us with despair so that we will grow weary of living in an alien environment. Our conscience convicts us of our waywardness, and the Word of God and the Spirit of God point us to Christ. Only in Christ will our lives find the peace and sense of purpose unto which we were created: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” [Romans 14:17 (ESV]). Despair arises from living in the wrong environment, but despair is God’s gift to drive us to Christ, the One who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

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The older we become, the more aware we are of the specter of death. When we are young, relatively few people whom we personally know die. As we grow older, that number increases.

Many of us grow more aware of death because we realize we have fewer days before us than we have behind us. Youth sees death as little more than a possibility. Young people realize death can and does occur, and sometimes they even have a friend who dies. Still, the young person sees that he or she probably has several decades ahead, and that is probably true.

The older we become, the less theoretical and the more real death becomes. The apparent invincibility of youth becomes gradually replaced with an awareness that our days are numbered.

How do we to deal with the prospect of our inevitable demise? Some have plastic surgery, as if looking younger externally will do anything for one’s aging organs and bones. Others live in denial, refusing to think about death. Still others look to medicine or exercise or nutrition in order to postpone what is coming. And still death comes.

How should a Christian face the prospect of death? It seems that we need to change the focus. Instead of focusing upon death, we need to focus on life. The One whom we follow is life. The apostle John proclaimed, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). We were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), “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” (2:4–5). We were dead. Christ has given us life.

This exchange recorded in John 14:1–6 between Jesus and his anxious disciples should be encouraging to us when we consider death. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas asked Jesus a question that may have been on all the disciples’ minds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas wanted to know how this was going to be worked out, but Jesus told him to look deeper: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

How we pass from this world to the next is not to be our concern. Our gaze is steadily to be on Christ. The One who is life, the One who conquered sin and death, the One who saved us from our death and gave us life will have us ushered into his presence.

Such a change in perspective is not living in denial of death and it is not a psychological crutch to get us through tough times. Death is real. Unless Christ returns during our lifetime, we will experience death. We shall not escape its reality. The heart will produce its final beat; the lungs will draw their final breath. We may die in great physical agony, or we may go quietly in the night. Regardless, we shall go.

And yet we focus not upon our coming death as though that were a time of doom. We focus upon Christ. He is our life. He has saved us, is saving us, and will save us from our sins and from the tyranny of death (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-57).

So we focus upon life, and that focus means that we dwell not on death but upon living. We are “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” now. We are to live life to the fullest now, intentionally seeking to honor God with our desires and plans and choices. A thought penned centuries ago by London preacher Josias Shute [1588-1643]: “A musician is commended not that he played so long, but that he played so well. And thus it is not the days of our life, but the goodness of our life. . . . that is acceptable unto God Almighty.” The apostle Paul put it another way, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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To state that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is central to Christianity is to state the obvious. The Bible abounds with testimony concerning the importance of the cross. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In Matthew 16:21 we read, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Peter wrote that Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus, pointing to his forthcoming crucifixion, said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Likewise, the apostle Paul taught that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

The question, however, is often asked: Could there have been another way for God to save sinners? Did Jesus have to die?

A lot of people have a real issue with the cross. While they see Jesus’ death as a sacrifice or an act of love, they wonder not only why he himself had to die but also why anyone has to be punished for sin.

One popular blogger has stated unequivocally that Jesus did not have to die for humans to be reconciled to God. God could have done things a different way.

The logic goes something like this: God is capable of doing whatever he wants. After all, he is God. Consequently, God did not have to require the crucifixion. As a matter of fact, God did not have to allow the Fall, Adam and Eve’s sin that got humanity into its sin predicament.

Such thinking goes on to say that there is no “must” or “requirement” with God. Saying that God “must” or “is required” to do something violates the concept of God. God is totally free from any requirements. To say that his justice requires the punishment of the sinner is nonsensical. In fact, God could have simply waved off sin, pronouncing that it is forgiven and all is well.

Orthodox Christianity has said that God’s justice requires that sinners be punished for their sin, but some professing Christians return to the idea that God can do what he wants because he is sovereign. Such an idea, though, fundamentally misunderstands the nature of God.

The fundamental mistake with such a notion is understanding what it means to say that “God can do whatever he wants.” That is a true statement, but it must be rightly understood. God’s sovereignty never conflicts with his nature. While God can do anything he wants, he cannot violate his very nature. In other words, God would never want to do that which is contrary to who he is. God can do whatever he wants to do, and he always wants to do that which is according to who he is.

God is in essence holy. Isaiah saw the seraphim announcing the absolute holiness of God (Isaiah 6:1-3). That which is unholy, that which is sinful, violates the very nature of God. Sin is rebellion against God because it violates who he is. Consequently, the sovereign of the universe must punish sin because allowing it to go unpunished would be for God to contradict his very being.

Therefore, Christ had to die or else all of humanity would face the judgment of God. God cannot allow sin in his presence. To do so would violate his very nature. He cannot simply wave off sin. Again, justice would not be served. Holiness would be contradicted. Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem to die upon the cross (Matthew 16:21).

Could there have been another way? Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Were there any other way, the inexpressible spiritual agony of the cross could have been averted. There was no other way.

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David Garner:

Common misconceptions of the gospel (and/or of the Reformation) can come by consuming evangelical soft-drink theology. Epithet-driven, self-absorbed, and emotively drenched, this soda-fountain ‘gospel’ syrup offers high fructose spirituality – addicting and compelling, but ultimately devastating and destructive for heart health. A flip ‘Bible promise’ calendar or a daily devotional pick-me-up supplies my spiritual sustenance, a soda for the day that keeps the devil (of my troubled conscience) away. Such tonic may be ‘just what the doctor ordered,’ but it is not the provision from the Great Physician.

Read Dr. Garner’s entire post for a needed corrective to our evangelical culture’s superficial understanding of the gospel of Christ: Salvation is by Works Alone.

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Are we amazed at grace?

Doubtlessly, one of the most widely-sung and best-known hymns of Christianity is “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

Perhaps familiarity has bred dull thinking. Have we lost the significance of the words “amazing” and “grace”?

I think that there is far too much of the Pharisee within all of us. You remember our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” A Pharisee and a tax collector went into the temple to pray. In our culture we hold neither Pharisees nor tax collectors in esteem, especially with the nefarious activities of the Internal Revenue Service coming to light in recent months. In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were among the most highly esteems persons in Judaism. They were conservative, hard-working, and honorable men.

We often think of Pharisees as those self-righteous Jews who went around condemning anyone having a good time because some religious law somewhere was being violated. That the Pharisees were self-righteous is true. The reality of the matter, however, is that most people who condemn the Pharisees as being self-righteous are themselves self-righteous. Excusing one’s own trespasses while denouncing those of others is a ubiquitous human trait.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable does little more than articulate a pervasive human condition: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

We would not be so crass as to voice such a description of ourselves. When we observe the sinful lifestyles of others, however, how often do we have the attitude of the Pharisee?

Clay Layfield, minister of worship at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Georgia, pointed me to a new hymn entitled “Not in Me.” We plan to introduce it to our congregation one Sunday evening soon. “Not in Me” was composed by Eric Schumacher and David Ward with the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in mind, and you can hear it here. Look at the first verse:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,

No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

O God! Be merciful to me—

I am a sinner through and through!

My only hope of righteousness

Is not in me, but only You.

The hymn rightly notes that nothing in us warrants God’s acceptance of us—not the sins we have not done, not the virtues we have esteemed, not a comparison with those we deem less worthy for whatever reason. Our depravity permeates all of our being; our “only hope of righteousness is Christ alone.”

The second and third verses continue the theme:

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

My righteousness is Jesus’ life,

My debt was paid by Jesus’ death,

My weary load was borne by Him

And He alone can give me rest.

 

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

But Jesus died and rose again—

The pow’r of death is overthrown!

My God is merciful to me

And merciful in Christ alone.

Only an awareness of ourselves in our sinful state and an awareness of what God has done on our behalf can help us understand that God’s grace is indeed amazing.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

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A blue Christmas?

Christmas seems to be a particularly depressing time for many people. Statistics reveal increased numbers of suicides and attempted suicide when compared to other times of the year. Mental health professionals report an increase in cases of depression.

Many reasons for increased depression are offered. Folks get overwhelmed with trying to find the “perfect” Christmas gift. All the festivities can crowd needed rest out of one’s calendar. Expecting one’s Christmas season to match a Hallmark movie doubtlessly produces a blue Christmas for many. Gatherings that force folks to be around others they dislike can be a downer.

Perhaps more persons need to feel blue at Christmas, though not for any of the reasons often offered. The thrice-holy Christ entered the world. Juxtaposed against his holiness, any human should be filled with dread and shame, a state of the darkest blue.

In Isaiah 6 we find the prophet in the presence of the Almighty. Confronted with perfect holiness, Isaiah shrinks, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5). Isaiah saw himself and his people as they really were: wicked and evil. “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45) correlates what a person says with what a person is. That is not a comforting thought.

One might ask, “Well, that’s all well and good, but we’re talking about Christmas. What does Christmas have to do with Isaiah’s experience with the holy God?” The apostle John records this account in his gospel: “Though he [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:37–41, ESV; emphasis added).

Isaiah saw Christ in his glorious holiness and saw himself as wicked and unworthy. Somehow, that’s a reality we need to grasp during the Christmas season. We are not celebrating the miracle of a birth, though the Virgin Birth was certainly that. We are not celebrating the innocence of a little child, though this Child is the only one who has ever been born as innocent after Adam’s fall. Too much of Christmas in our culture borders on sappy emotionalism, and a lot of it is thoroughly baptized in sappiness. Even the “Put Christ Back into Christmas” campaigns miss the mark, because most people would be aghast at who Christ really is. Perhaps beside manger scenes should be a depiction of Revelation 19:11-15: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Seeing Christ as Scripture depicts him should drive us to the cross, for there “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). Seeing Christ in his holiness reveals us in our sinfulness and lawlessness. By his grace, we loathe our sin, repent of it, and embrace his atonement for us. And, yes, we celebrate Christmas, but for no sentimental reason. We celebrate because our kind, benevolent, gracious, holy Savior God has satisfied divine justice due our sin and has clothed us in his righteousness.

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