Monday, November 30, 2009

'I Ain't Been Nuttin' But Bad' or Why I Need the Gospel for Christmas

I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas
Mommy and Daddy are mad
I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas
'Cuz I ain't been nuttin' but bad

So echoes the humorous chorus to a humorous song penned in the 1950s in which a bratty boy rattles off in verse his various sins of commission coupled with his refrain that "somebody snitched on me" before issuing an admonition to fellow and would-be rotten brats:
So you better be good whatever you do
'Cause if you're bad, I'm warning you,
You'll get nuttin' for Christmas.

It's a funny song, but it made me think of how it's a great springboard to discuss the Gospel.

After all, the Bible tells us about how we've been "nuttin' but bad" and how that badness is pervasive, stemming from the very core of our being and manifesting in numerous sins that are fruits thereof. Simply put, we sin because we are sinners, we do bad things because we are bad: [Romans 3:10-20;22b-23]:

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Taking Your Idol with You to the Grave

Literally.

From Sunday's Washington Post front page:

Joe Kelly won't go as far as calling Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course a burial ground.
But the 91-year-old track historian is quite sure that Willie Doyle, who rode Effendi to victory in the 1909 Preakness, isn't the only guy whose remains are mingled with the turf where the great Seabiscuit and War Admiral famously battled.

"Oh yeah, it has happened fairly often, including a couple of bettors who were very well known," Kelly says. "They figured they'd spread their money around there; may as well spread their ashes."

While Doyle's choice of Pimlico's finish line as his final resting place is among the more colorful episodes in horseracing lore, it's hardly unique. From baseball parks to football stadiums to golf courses, sporting venues regularly field requests to scatter a loved one's cremated remains at the pitcher's mound, under a goal post or on a fairway overlooking the sea -- anywhere a sports hero has trod and triumphed.
Death is the ultimate reminder of our limitations, our creature-ness, if you will. We all are headed there and all will give an account to our Creator, yet without a changed heart, we will cling tenaciously to our idol(s) of choice, even to the cold recesses of the grave.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spinning the Generalities

Today's Non Sequitur comic strip drew a chuckle from me and has a theological hook, as it were, so I thought I'd include both:


How true. Confronted with God's holy law we try to justify ourselves by narrowly defining it to such an extent that we pass the test.

Under divine inspiration, the Apostle Paul wrote about this very thing in his letter to the Romans:

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Monday, October 26, 2009

A Pitiful Answer

This past weekend I ventured with my wife up to New York City. On Saturday as she hung out with her sister who had taken the bus down from Boston, I ventured around Lower Manhattan, taking in the sites, including Trinity Church, a historic Episcopal parish on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street.

I walked around the graveyard and admired the beautiful architecture and art both inside and outside the church. I love seeing how God is glorified in the beautiful artwork that adorns sacred spaces intended for the heralding the Gospel.

But of course, the Episcopal Church USA these days is not generally -- especially in liberal urban centers -- a fearless defender or even proclaimer of the historic Christian faith, so it was a bittersweet visit, all the more confirmed by a visit this evening to the "What We Believe" Web page for Trinity.

It was the following portion from the FAQ that prompted this blog entry and its title, because anyone who believes the answer the parish provided is truly to be pitied:

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Adoption: God's Work, Our Identity

Last night as my wife and I hosted our small group for fellowship, something struck me about the passage preached on Sunday, Galatians 4:1-7. The Lord brought to my attention that the action verbs in the passage were all performed by God (see portions in bold), with the result being the blessing of our identity -- notice the verb "to be" in italics -- as adopted children of God.

The one action verb undertaken by those of us in Christ (shown in bold and italics) is that of receiving God's gift!:

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Because Christ Has Made Me His Own...

Being at peace with God the Judge is great. Being made His child by His adopting grace in Jesus Christ is even greater, Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C.J. Mahaney preached in a guest sermon at Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland on October 18, from Galatians 4:1-7 on the doctrine of adoption.

Sovereign Grace churches are great about preaching, and should continue declaring the wondrous truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but we should grow in our embrace of the even greater truth of our sonship in God's family through the atoning work of Christ.

Camp out on this truth, Mahaney urged, memorizing and meditating on the passage to make the joyous truth of it sink in.

It's that point that brought me to see a tie-in with the previous week's sermon passage from Philippians 3:2-14. That message, from guest preacher Mickey Connolly of Charlotte's CrossWay Community Church, focused on the surprassing worth of knowing (and being known) by Christ.

Verses 7-14 particularly stuck out at me (emphasis mine):

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thoughts on Ted Kennedy's Papal Prayer Request

Today's Washington Post published in full a letter that Ted Kennedy had President Barack Obama hand-deliver to the Pope a month ago.

Upon reading it, I felt grieved for the late senator and his family given how it seems Kennedy did not grasp the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and embrace the mercy available for him at the cross.

The letter (excerpted in full below) was full of lots of "I"s and reference to his practice of the Catholic faith, but nothing about the grace of the Lord Jesus:

Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand-deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am so deeply grateful to him.

I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God's blessings as you lead our church and inspire our world during these challenging times. I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.

I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful family. And both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.

I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I have worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a United States senator.

I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I'm committed to doing everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I'll continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.

I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith. I continue to pray for God's blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.
Only God knows with certainty Ted Kennedy's present and permanent residence: in the presence of our merciful Savior or in the abandonment and unending torment in Hell.

What I do know is that one's life work or good works can never get Ted Kennedy, yours truly, or any of us to the former. The Bible tells us that "by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20)

The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, continued by noting that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and that those in Christ "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith."

Later Paul asked the Romans "what becomes of our boasting?" and answered that "It is excluded.... For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul explains that that faith itself is also a gift of God, so that no one may boast. And yet good works do result, as fruit of a changed life (Ephesians 2:1-10 emphasis mine):

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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 workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ted Kennedy admitted in his letter that he has his shortcomings, but then said that he's always "tried to be a faithful Catholic."

But God is not impressed by our vain efforts. He is pleased when we admit we are weak and that we desperately need Him to save us. As Paul wrote the Galatians:
[F]ar be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Religious ritual doesn't save. Good works don't save. Law-keeping doesn't save. Being a "good" man on balance doesn't save. It's clinging to Christ's cross that saves us from God's judgment and from the corruption endemic in our sinful flesh (Romans 7:21-25a):

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The book is closed on Ted Kennedy's life, and he has appeared before the judgment seat of Christ, as will all of us one day (Hebrews 9:27-28):

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
The question for us is whether we will appear before that throne trusting in Christ's mercy alone, or pointing to our good works in a vain attempt to curry God's favor.

My plea with you today is to cry out to Jesus to save you from His wrath and from your sins, so that one day you may join that great heavenly multitude praising the spotless Innocent who died to save ungodly sinners like me (Romans 5:6-8; Rev. 5:6-14]:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

[...]

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Resting in the Word of the Cross

What follows is adapted from an e-mail I sent my father, explaining why I asked him to read John Piper's "Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die." I thought I'd take that e-mail and expand a bit on it and make that a blog post. So here goes.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 1:18):

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.


and (I Cor. 2:2-5)

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

The word of the cross is the preaching of Christ's atoning work on the cross. Not only has belief in this gospel saved us [past tense --justification], it saves us [present tense -- our sanctification], in that it continually works grace in our lives, grounding our hope more and more in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ as we "are being transformed into the same image [of Christ] from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Our faith rests not on the earthly wisdom of any kind but in the power of God. What is the power of God? It is the message of the cross, that is, Christ and Him crucified to ransom us from captivity to sin and reconcile us to God.

While our walk of faith can feel like a fight and indeed often is a fight of wrestling to subject all thoughts captive to the knowledge of Christ, Scripture teaches us that in its truest sense, faith is a fundamentally restful posture.

Faith is a restful reliance on the finished work of Christ, and it comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).

Our faith rests not "in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." So it does rest, by virtue of "wholly lean[ing] on Jesus' Name." In Christ we enter the true Sabbath day rest of the people of God (Heb. 4:9-12). His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30). It is He who has borne the sins of the heavy-laden sinners who by faith in Him are justified by His blood (Rom. 5:9).

How joyful is our task to rest in God's grace!

Praise God for the blessing of rest in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Relief of Confession and the Joy of Cleansing

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. --I John 1:6-10
This passage really meant a lot to me earlier today as I was struggling with sins of pride and anger regarding a situation at work. The matter in question my sense of self-importance and arrogance in not wanting to be challenged, and my anger stemming from my self-important/self-righteous evaluation of my work performance and the real or imagined insult to my work ethic that was essentially being leveled.

Bottom line: in my heart and mind I was confronted with a boiling stew of sinful reactions to a situation that should be met with patient reliance on God's grace and strength, thankfulness for an occasion to see areas of improvement on the job, and humility to admit my weaknesses and sins.

So on the way home I prayed to the Lord and confessed these sins and meditated on this Scripture. I came to the realization that it's not so much forgiveness of these sins that worries me, it's the ongoing uncleanness of my unrighteousness.

My unrighteous pride and my unrighteous anger still remain under the surface. Yes, I'm sorry I sinned and yes I've confessed it, but I see my propensity to fall right into the same trap again. My pride, anger, and self-righteousness are deep-seated and not going away instantly.

But that's where the blood of the covenant comes in. It's the blood of Christ shed for my justification which also works my sanctification. As I walk in the light of the Gospel and confess my sin, the blood of Jesus cleanses me. This process of my sanctification is a certainty promised by Scripture, but it's not a process that will come on my timetable and conform to my whims. It is all of grace as the Spirit works within me, and as the Father sovereignly wills.

God is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and cleanse me from my unrighteousness. I am called to receive the promise by faith, confessing my sins and trusting in Christ for forgiveness and for the sanctifying grace to grow deeper in Christlike character and mortifying the flesh, dying to sin and self.

God is faithful to the covenant He has written in the blood of the Lamb (I Peter 1:17-19). He is just to forgive me because my sins are all paid for at the cross (Col. 2:13-15).

God is faithful to cleanse me of all unrighteousness because He finishes what He starts. He who began a good work in me is faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6). God is just in cleansing me from all unrighteousness because I am already declared righteous by faith (Rom. 3:26; Phil. 3:8-11) in the finished work of the Son.

I'm called to trust in God's promises and walk openly in the light before Him, confessing and forsaking my sin, trusting in his promise of forgiveness and cleansing.

Praise God for sending his faithful and just Son the Lord Jesus to die in my place as the propitiation for my sins (I John 2:1-2), and who now ever lives to intercede for me (Heb. 7:23-25) as my advocate before the Father!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sex to the Glory of God

Let's preach about sex, baby?

No thanks, say some conservative Christian watchbloggers, who are quick to ready, fire, and aim on sermon series geared towards preaching about the Bible's teachings on sex and marriage. Certainly preaching on sex and marriage requires great discernment and dedication to proper exposition of preaching, but does purposefully planning and advertising a series on what the Bible says about sex a bad thing?

Should pastors, from the pulpit, exhort married couples to have frequent sex to the glory of God or should marriage's joys and challenges be preached to the virtual exclusion of the sexual dimension of the marital union? Does talking frankly about the joy of marital sex from the pulpit lead primarily to inflamed lusts or to greater joy in knowing God's sovereign care for our sexuality?

I'd answer those questions with an affirmative to the former options. After all, Paul instructed married couples to not deprive one another except for a short time and to prayer, and there is plenty of content in Scripture that speaks to the joy of sexual union between a husband and wife.

Of course, critics will protest, these things can and should be discussed frankly, in private, in marital counseling, but have no or little place being proclaimed from the pulpit.

Certainly preachers should be careful to rightly divide the word of truth, preaching expositionally in a way that is appropriate for a general audience on a Sunday morning. But God's Word is divinely inspired and profitable for all ages, and rightly preached and teached, sex should be addressed from the pulpit as it is encountered in scriptural texts.

As far as planning a sermon series on sex and marriage to draw a crowd, well, that's a question ultimately for the elders of the local church to prayerfully wrestle with. Preaching series can and should at times have in mind how to reach the community at large by addressing issues of concern in light of Scripture BUT the Gospel must be central, not peripheral to every sermon and the primary concern for the preaching calendar should be prophetically addressing the spiritual needs of the congregation, not the roping in of curious new crowds.

The church is the Lord's house and His people must be fed solid food from the preaching/teaching elders. That includes preaching and teaching both chastity in singleness and frequent, fruitful sexual congress in marriage, all to the glory of God.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

What Will My Son Write About Me?

Writer Christopher Buckley, son of famous conservative thinker, writer, and publisher William F. Buckley Jr., has a new "warts and all" book out about his famous father and socialite mother. Reading Chris Buckley's interview with the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz in the April 26 post got me thinking: what will my son write about me, and how will they look wildly different, yet perhaps all too accurate, from what the outside world sees?

I'm a sinner saved by grace, and while I see evidence of grace in the progress of my attitudes, behaviors, motives, and morality, I'm weak and prone to failure, especially as a husband and father. Simply put, I'm sure there are many sins and errors in judgment I'll commit against or make when I have kids.

So what will my son or daughter, should God bless me with children, write about me? I don't think I'd mind a warts and all portrayal, so long as they get out of my life that I didn't claim to be the ultimate example to look toward.

Yes, I want my children to follow me but only as I follow Christ. I want to teach them that dear old Dad is a sinner saved by grace through faith, and that not of himself, but it's a gift of God. My hope in life and death is that body and soul I belong to my Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for my sins. That's what I'll want my kids to take away from my life, and that's what I want the world at-large to see.

Poor Chris Buckley joked in his interview with Kurtz that maybe his dad, if he's in heaven, can argue him in on a technicality.

I want my kids to know that the only defense counsel that can work their acquital is the Lord Jesus Christ.

The price was His blood and his representation is pro bono, if only we repent of our sins and trust in Him.

I pray Chris Buckley does so before the Lord summons him to court, and that my kids will do the same.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Glory of Election in Isaiah 6

Today as I read from Isaiah 6, it struck me how Isaiah's salvation and call to ministry are all of grace. Of course Scripture as a whole shows us that our salvation is of the Lord and that we have absolutely nothing to do with earning it or being gifted it. It is unconditionally granted by God at His pleasure according to His will for His glory.

But it seems to me Isaiah 6 gives us a beautiful illustration of how God calls us to salvation and then to walk in light of that salvation by calling others to faith and repentance, even if it's a heart-breaking task that seems to us to yield little fruit.

Let's begin with verses 1-7:

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train [1] of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” [2]

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “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!”

Isaiah's experience with the Lord is ordained from all eternity, but happens in time. It occurs in the year King Uzziah died. We see Isaiah does nothing to seek God's presence or favor, but that the initiative is God's. God suddenly draws Isaiah into a vision of Himself in His glory.

Yet God doesn't just wow Isaiah with His glory, he lets him hear a sermon of sorts, which is actually a song of praise being sung by the seraphim, who are ascribing holiness to God and declaring that the "whole earth is filled with His glory." Interestingly enough, Isaiah records that the seraphim are not addressing Isaiah nor are they directly addressing God. They are "addressing one another" and singing the praises of God's holiness and glory. Even before the throne of God they are preaching and declaring to one another God's infinite worth and pure holiness, and God chooses to show this ongoing worship to Isaiah so that he might not just see and believe but hear and repent.

Undone by the weight of God's holiness and glory and the depths of his depravity and unholiness, Isaiah declares woe upon himself, confessing not just his generic sinfulness and uncleanness, but a particular besetting sin (unclean lips). He contrasts this with God's perfection and declares he is lost, that he is a goner. He recognizes no works or deeds on his part can justify or appease or propitiate the wrath of the holy Lord of hosts.

So what happens next? Even before he can plead for mercy, a seraph "flew" to him with cleansing fire from the altar, touching Isaiah's mouth with the burning coal and declaring absolution. Isaiah's guilt is taken away and his sin atoned for.

Remember, this happens immediately after Isaiah declares his utter inability to save himself. This happens not because Isaiah convinced God to save him but because God granted salvation of His own initiative to Isaiah and because the Lord is slow to anger but abounding in steadfast love, quick and eager to forgive the repentant sinner.

The grace to save Isaiah, to remove his guilt and atone his sins was all from God, wholly unearned or merited. It came immediately after Isaiah was brought to an awareness of his brokenness and sinfulness in light of God's holiness, and that awareness of God's holiness was made by divine revelation and by preaching the glory and holiness of God by the seraphim.

So Isaiah has seen the Lord's glory and lived to talk about it. What happens next? Let's look at verses 8-13:

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, [3] but do not understand;
keep on seeing, [4] but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull, [5]
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned [6] again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
Isaiah is saved, and as a fruit of his salvation and repentance he desires to please God, to minister to God's people for the sake of God's elect by doing His will.

Yet God makes clear Isaiah will declare salvation but see very little to show for it. His preaching will harden hearts. People will ignore the call to repent and go merrily to destruction. Yet even so, God will preserve His people. He will call forward His elect through the preaching of His Word, just as He did with Isaiah, through the preaching of his glory by the seraphim.

Preaching will precede judgment and exile, but after exile an elect remnant shall return to the Promised Land. This was true of national/ethnic Israel in the Babylonian captivity, and it is true of Christ's church in spiritual Babylonian captivity.

We are saved by grace and called to proclaim that salvation to others by God's grace. Many times our hearts will be broken as call after call to repentance will go unheeded by most, but our call remains, as it did for Noah, who preached for 120 years while building the Ark but saw no converts from it (2 Peter 2:5).

Even so, like Isaiah we can rejoice that all the Lord has called to salvation will be saved, that faith that justifies comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of Christ (Rom. 10:17), and that not one jot or tittle of God's Word will return to Him void; it will accomplish what it was sent forth to do (Isa. 55:11).

Soli Deo gloria!

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Some Christianese We Should Rethink: 'Went Home to Be with the Lord'

On Thursday I attended a funeral that I felt did not adequately explain the h0pe of the resurrection of the body.


Today I thought I'd address some Christianese I think tends to subtly leave out the hope of our bodily resurrection when spoken in front of non-believers.

Doubtless you've heard the expression, "went home to be with the Lord." It's not completely without scriptural merit, and indeed as the Apostle Paul wrote, "to live is Christ, to die is gain."

But left by itself, the phrase "went home to be with the Lord" communicates to an unbeliever that our bodily existence is to be cheerfully sloughed off, for our true home is to be disembodied in the Lord's presence. 

Yet Paul wrote that our longing is NOT to be unclothed of our mortal body so much as look forward to the resurrection of our bodies to immortality, imperishability, and incorruptibility (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1-10):

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self [3] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

5:1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwellingif indeed by putting it on [1] we may not be found nakedFor while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the LordSo whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

And in a similar passage from Romans 8:18-30:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because [6] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, [7] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

We groan inwardly for release from the bondage to death and decay. So does all of creation. It doesn't long to die but to live, for death to be swallowed up in victory. Likewise we groan for the redemption of our bodies at the resurrection of the dead.

The bottom line is that heaven alone is not our ultimate home, our final dwelling. A glorious immortal body in the new heavens and new earth are our home, wherein righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-12):

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies [2] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. [3]

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Please Preach the R-Word at Funerals!

Today I attended the funeral for a family friend and sister in the Lord. It was moving and touching, honoring her and glorying in God. But unfortunately, I fear, it assumed the Gospel and shortchanged attendees.

I could be mistaken, but I don't believe I once heard the R-word: resurrection.

The pastor who gave some "words of encouragement" noted that the dearly departed could credibly "be convicted in court" if being a Christian were illegal. He cited a passage from Micah and one from Matthew noting characteristics of those who are righteous, but not once did he say that the source of the departed's righteousness was faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, she was a godly lady and lived a life devoted to honoring and serving God. But that all is fruit of the sanctification which followed her justification by faith in Christ. This lady was saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Yet that wasn't explicitly mentioned. Nor was the hope of the resurrection.

There were tearful and moving goodbyes to my dear sister in Christ, but there was no reminder that while in Heaven that is not the final chapter. The dead in Christ WILL be raised to new life at the Resurrection, and those of us who remain alive at Christ's return will be transformed.

But nowhere was this glorious hope of the Resurrection explicitly preached or proclaimed.*

What's more, the pastor obliquely suggested that there are people in the congregation who need to repent and put their faith in Christ, but there was no clear call to repentance or explicit warning of the final judgment. Although a final day of judgment was suggested, it was not exposited.

In short, I fear the gospel was shortchanged and thereby God was robbed of the glory that could have been given him and unrepentant sinners were robbed of a chance to hear a clear gospel call to repentance.

All the same, there was plenty of Scripture and sound doctrine in eulogy and in song, and I pray that many people walked away with a greater sense of their mortality and the pending judgment to come.

Father, please work in the hearts of the lost who were there today. Call them to repentance and faith in Your Son Jesus, in whose Name I pray. Amen.


*The passage from John 11 where Jesus proclaims that He is the "resurrection and the life" was read, but one cannot assume people know the concept of resurrection and what it entails as a great hope for the Christian.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Escape Clause Righteousness

This exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees from Mark's gospel account (10:1-12) struck me earlier today:

10:1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, [1] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Whole sermons can and have been preached on this, but what really struck me was how the Pharisees dodged Jesus's question, "What did Moses command you?" Notice that they answer "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away."

The Pharisees answered Jesus by noting what they viewed as an escape clause (see Deut. 24:1-4) to God's design for marriage. Self-righteous legalists --including yours truly all too often -- have a keen eye for loopholes. But Jesus goes back to God's ordaining marriage before the Fall, to God's original command regarding family life. This command was recorded in Genesis by none other than, you guessed it, the prophet Moses.

What's more, in the two verses that follow, can see that while the Pharisees are concerned with justifying themselves by making a legal case based on technicalities, Jesus demonstrates that you can technically and outwardly follow God's law while your heart is desperately sick with sin:

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Here Jesus addresses the heart motivation behind a lot of divorce common at the time. Sick of your wife? Want a younger, richer model? For the Pharisee, the answer might as well be to send the old one packing with a certificate of divorce and trade up.

Jesus makes clear that thinking doesn't cut it with God, who weighs the heart.

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Righteous Anger Is A Grieving Anger

So I'm reading the Gospel of Mark now, partly spurred on by a book a friend gave me that attempts to interpret the gospel account through an existential lens. The result, of course, is stripping Christ of His divinity and his kingly reign.

But as Bible-believing Christians know, Mark's gospel is anything but a picture of a confused, befuddled postmodern Christ.

So I thought I'd camp out in Mark for a while, reading and re-reading the entire Gospel over the next few weeks.

Here's something that struck me the other day from the third chapter (vv. 1-6):

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, [1] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus looked at the Pharisees with anger, a response with which we can readily identify. Or can we? My anger would likely be an indignant, sinful human anger, full of nothing but rage.

Yet notice Jesus's anger is not a sinful anger of man. It's an anger accompanied by, complemented by, and tempered with grief over the hardness of heart caused by sin.

Jesus does not go on to angrily rail against the Pharisees.

Yes, there are plenty of times where Jesus does preach woe unto the Pharisees and does call them to repent. But here Jesus simply goes on to heal the man with the withered hand, determined to do the will of the Father and to do what his fiercest critics are so obsessively fixed on Him not doing: violating manmade laws about the Sabbath, laws the Pharisees made and kept in order to appear righteous before men.

Here Jesus did good on the Sabbath. Here Jesus saved life on the Sabbath. In response, the Pharisees went out and "immediately held counsel" about how to assassinate the Lord of glory. It is never lawful to hold counsel to murder the innocent, yet the Pharisees are so fixed in their hatred of Christ that they set to work on the conspiracy to kill him on the Sabbath day they professed to hold more strictly than others.

Indeed, the Pharisees were demonstrating the anger of man, which does not produce the righteousness of God but rather fixates on death and destruction.

By contrast, Jesus's righteous anger is just. It is directed at those who stubbornly oppose the gracious work of God through His Son Jesus Christ. Yet it is an anger that is not a blind and unremitting rage. It is an anger coupled with and inseparable from grief over the fatal effects of sin.

Jesus knows His opponents are dead in their sins, under the just wrath of God unless they repent. Jesus is angered at the Pharisees for "shut[ting] the kingdom of heaven in people's face", neither entering themselves "nor allow those who would enter to go in." (Matthew 23:13)

Yet Jesus is grief-stricken at their hardness of heart. Jesus demonstrates that He is slow to anger, abounding in mercy.

How often does my anger exhibit grief over sin? How often do I confuse sinful rage for righteous anger? How many times am I rightfully upset about an injustice but am not motivated to pray for the sinner who commits it? How often do I neglect to cry out for repentance and salvation to evildoers, rather than wish evil and death upon them?

Father, help me to watch my tongue and to guard my heart. Help me to respond to injustice with righteous anger that is demonstrated by grief over hardness of heart caused by sin.

Forgive me of self-righteous, prideful anger that compares myself favorably against other sinners, for I am a sinner saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is He alone that is perfectly righteous, and the righteousness I have is a gift from it, I have not earned it.

Thank you for forgiving me and adopting me into your family. Make my hearts cry be for the lost, including and especially those who in their hardness of heart violently oppose and conspire against the work of the Gospel. In the name of Your Son and my Lord Jesus I pray, Amen.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Apocryphal, But Edifying

So a Catholic buddy of mine at work had this up as his Facebook status message last night:

found a great Bible quote: "Sober drinking is health to soul and body" [Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 31:37]
To which I replied:

Apocryphal, but edifying.

Thanks. I'll be here all week. Try the veal.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Icy Sanctification: God Scraping Away My Sin

So last night we had a bit of an ice storm. Freezing rain plus two cars equals a lot of work getting windshields cleared in preparation for the morning commute.

After showering and dressing but before eating breakfast, I headed out to de-ice my wife's car and then mine. As you can imagine, it's not my favorite task. My issue is not so much in serving my wife. I love serving her in this way. But my attitude as I scraped the ice off, about the inconvenience itself, was a battle.

God ordains all things, even freezing rain, I reminded myself. Looking back on this morning, I also am reminded that all those things work together for my good (Rom. 8:28), because God is using the annoyance of the morning ice-scraping to sanctify my attitude.

Who am I to complain either verbally or by mulling it over in my head, about the weather? Who am I to insist that my morning go according to how I've rehearsed it or experienced it many frost-less and freezing rain-less mornings before?

What's more, my minor inconveniences and sufferings can neither hold a candle to a) my Lord suffering in my place on the cross (Isa. 53:7-9) and b) the weight of glory to be revealed at His return (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

My Lord stepped down from the glories of Heaven to be born to a young virgin betrothed to a poor carpenter. As an infant he narrowly escaped slaughter by a paranoid power-hungry Herod (Matt. 2:16-18). Jesus didn't have a place to lay his head during his earthly ministry (Matt. 8:20), the leader of his apostles denied him thrice at his time of greatest need (Luke 22:22-24, 54-62), another stole money from the kitty and betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver (Luke 22:3-6). Then after that all he was beaten, whipped 39 times, and put to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who had himself declared Jesus guiltless.

Surely spending 15 minutes to warm up the cars and scrape off ice is no big trial. Except that in some ways, in my heart-felt attitude it was.

So I thank God for ordaining mornings like this. I thank Him that he's scraping me clean of these sins of pride and anger and frustration that he wants to purge from me, conforming me to the image of Christ.

Thank you Father for writing all my days in your book (Psa. 139:16). Thank you that my joy is in your Son Jesus, my only hope, the author of my faith and the prince of true peace.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So I'm Reading Augustine's City of God

Aside from Scripture reading and dipping in and out of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, I'm presently reading Augustine's "City of God."


It's such a joy to read from a fellow saint, who, though long dead, still speaks.  It's a great reminder that "nothing is new under the sun," especially when it comes to the enemies of the Gospel and the ready defense we are called to have when the world asks just what the heck is up with us that we have hope in hopeless times.

Though separated by 17 centuries and different sides of this present age, Augie and I share in the communion of saints, in a common citizenship in Heaven. We stand before the throne of grace in the "city of the living God" robed not in our own righteousness but that of our faithful Lord Jesus (Heb. 12:22-24) who has cleansed us with His blood:

 But you have come toMount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,23 and to the assembly [1] of the firstborn who areenrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus,the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Please pray that the Lord speaks to me through His servant Augustine insofar as Augustine rightly divided the Scripture and that I grow in my thirst for and capability to wrestle with the collective wisdom of the writings of the saints who have preceded me into the presence of the Lord.

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