Matthew 5: Poetry in Mountain

This week our church comes to the end of Matthew 5.  Here are some poetic reminders of the truths we have been through in this first chapter of Jesus' great sermon. I suggest you have your bible open as you read.  I hope it blesses you. 

In timelessness and wisdom full,
The counsel of The Triune God,
Determined for His glorious good,
To be with man on earth to trod.
Revealed to us, created ones,
A grace too great for minds to hold.
The Unique Son is God with us, 
His Kingdom come as once foretold. 

Matthew 5:1-2
He sat upon the great ascend,
Amidst the crowd He gathered some.
To those who knew Him to be true,
He taught them of this Kingdom come.
Embody now contented joy,
To hear from lips, anointed truth.
Oh blessedness to us employ,
The sense of our eternal youth.

For Christ is King, and Kingdom sure,
His blessings far too much to count.
He teaches life beneath His throne,
In this great sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:3
Oh joy and bliss to start this word,
That comes from depths of great despair.
For sin revealed in perfect light,
Is more than mortal man can bear.
One vision of the King with crown,
Will bring a sinful man to grief.
But cross and empty tomb exchange,
The curse of death for true relief.

Matthew 5:4
And of this sin, rebellion’s pride,
Our sorrow will not pay its toll.
Be dead to sin and mourn its grasp,
Flee from its power and control.
My feeble will is impotent,
Forgive me Lord, I seek Your face.
Gratitude for Mercy mine,
The comfort of extended grace.

Matthew 5:5
All earthly conquerors and kings,
Who think they have a reigning role,
Has not The Christ enthroned above,
Placed them according to His scroll?
And yet this station now is mine,
Deserving not this crown received,
Inherited from God alone, 
And none of self yet be deceived.

Matthew 5:6
This Kingdom not just moral good,
But justified by pure Divine.
A holiness that none can know,
Unless our hearts to Him incline.
More as the deer will thirst and pant,
That I will seek my daily fill,
Rejoicing in the promise true,
That He will give His heavenly will.

Matthew 5:7
Living in eternal grace,
His mercy covers guilt and shame.
How can this be? A wretch is free?
When bound to sin I am to blame.
Oh Mercy true and flowing full,
The one who wrongs is sure to know,
A pardoned stamp upon my head,
When mercy now to him shall flow.

Matthew 5:8
A heart of sin now beats for Him.
My eyes are poised on His embrace.
For gift of joy and joy of need,
Complete in gazing on His face.
Forbid me now to look abroad,
To seek the things of temp’ral earth.
But look on Him and know in full, 
The wonders of a greater worth.

Matthew 5:9
Restore my love for those at war,
The traitors of our conquering King,
It once was mine, the traitor’s fight,
But now Your love and peace I bring.
You promised peace in gospel news.
This peace so infinitely priced.
For living in my Father’s will,
The peace I bring, is peace in Christ.

Matthew 5:10
This Kingdom Christ has taught is true.
No earthly gain can near compare.
However man may cause us pain,
Know this, that Christ had more to bear,
In face of persecution’s fire,
Deny the cross or lie in tomb.
My Kingdom is beyond this world,
And entrance from a virgin’s womb.

Matthew 5:11-12
Oh blessedness oh joy Divine,
Secure in Him there’s none can hurt.
Kingdom has come and Christ is King.
My joy is not in dust and dirt.
I stand accused by what men say,
Attacked because I claim my Lord.
Desire and fear is not in man,
But in my God is my reward.

Upon this truth is more to come,
For those of old have testified.
They sought Messiah’s truth to tell,
And for it suffered scorn, and died.
But do we dread for those before,
Who lived to tell the Savior’s tale?
They do not weep beyond the grave.
They too were saved by cross and nail.

Matthew 5:11-16
Rich in act and rich in words,
Upon the rock of truth imparted,
Christ has taught a Kingdom joy.
A teaching for the heavenly hearted.
For this on earth we have a season.
Salt to give this world some flavor.
Living out this grace of Christ.
Exhibits of electing favor.

How does one taste a human salt?
This allegory worth its weight.
How does one stand in front of friend,
And spread a season on his plate? 
In every task, event and time,
Display of Christ is ample.
Gospel grace in human sight.
Gospel grace in sample.

My Lord may I be used in grace,
For earthly citizens to see.
When those who come intend to harm.
May I show mercy as your plea.
But Lord forbid that I should act,
Just as the world would now expect.
For then they should not taste your love,
And Your gospel not detect.

Lights should shine as beaming rays.
Not hidden in the dead of night.
Christ should gleam with radiant love,
Glory full and glory bright.
Sheep are lost and Shepherd seeking,
Sends us out with torches lit.
With light in us will quicken death,
And save them from eternal pit.

Matthew 5:17-20
This glorious life in Christ our King,
Tis not defined by points of law.
He did not come to add this weight,
To echo that from Moses jaw.
Our Lord is man in sinless state,
Fulfilling all from Scriptures past.
Our Lord is God in ruling reign,
Perfection His with which to cast.
Can there come a change in law? 
This flag that flew from Israel’s mast? 
Can Decalogue be done in time? 
Have Moses words now been surpassed? 
Tis not abolished from our time,
Nor ceases to expose our guilt,
But in The Lord personified,
Perfection past the law is built.

Beatitudes have shown the way.
The glory of the Christian life.
Rich in Christ, our standard set,
Church as bride, obedient wife.
Pharisees and Scribes of old,
Could not breathe with Moses breath.
If we cannot then better this,
We too, dance, the dance of death.

Comes the One in humble light.
Keeps each jot and breaks no tittle.
Comes the all-perfecting God.
In Him alone is our acquittal.
Comes the one we must adore.
Shows us more than law itself.
Comes the Everlasting Lord.
Our greatest reach, our highest shelf.

Matthew 5:21-26
Do you say then “Do not Murder”? 
Is this but now enough to live? 
BUT HE SAYS “Don’t even hate them”
Yet be ready to forgive.
Is your sin upon the paper? 
Or is it written on your heart? 
For if we curse the one we hate,
Sin and we are not apart.

If we with swift and fast paced action,
Meet the one who hurts us most,
Does this not show within our spirit,
This is He in Whom we boast?
If all the world will wait and linger,
‘Til a time is set in court,
Our salt and light then comes apparent, 
If peace instead is used to thwart.

Matthew 5:27-32
To take the woman not your own,
To lead her in forbidden lust,
The consequence is deep and wide,
The breaking of a wedded trust.
BUT HE SAYS “don’t you even look”
An eye of lust will cause you sin,
And take away that thing that tempts,
That lustful thought where you begin.

Cut it off and cast it out.
Whatever leads you to despair,
For paths to hell are on this road.
There is no place for peace down there.
Salt and light works differently,
Like Joseph with his master’s wife.
Fleeing from temptations arms,
And keeping family tree from strife.

But more than this, don’t have a door.
An opening for your excuse.
Divorce on paper might seem right,
But with The Lord it has no use.
When Christian couples say “I Do”
They willingly are bound till death.
What thing can Christ not overcome,
To keep them till their dying breath?

If one has then already done,
This deed with woman not his own.
The marriage bed has been defiled.
The sin to break already known.
Even then don’t flee to friend,
And marry with a second vow.
The salt in works can bring repair,
Seek The Lord to show you how.

But it should not then go unsaid, 
That many who do not have life,
Are married to a Christian man,
Or married to a Christian wife.
If they are then to go their way,
To take their leave from marriage bed,
Let them go to where they will,
Tis Christ’s to deal with them instead.

Matthew 5:33-37
What better way to taste the salt,
Of Christ’s elect in practice true.
When grounds of trust are built and firm,
Integrity is clear in view.
But need of oath to say your piece,
And truth becomes a nervous guess.
BUT HE SAYS “need ye not of this”
But simply let your yes be yes.

Matthew 5:38-42
When stricken by aggressor’s doom,
Or one who steals your shirt and tie,
Will striking back then seal his fate,
Or eye for eye or death to die?
BUT HE SAYS “give that man your coat”
Give them more than they desire.
“What salt is this that tastes so good? 
That sets my conscience well on fire?”

And to the need of him who comes,
Insulting need for more of much,
To him give more and then again,
Whatever he can hold and clutch.
Is it yours to hold it back? 
For meaning of these words are great.
Christ owns us and is on display,
Revealed within our generous trait.

Matthew 5:43-48
And speaking of one hard to like,
What comes of them we call our foes?
Our friends we seek so soon to love,
But those who hate seek to oppose.
BUT HE SAYS “love your foes as well”
You may win them for your King.
His providence grows their grass too.
They have a winter and a spring.

Again the world will tread our salt,
And notice not the richly taste,
If all we do is just like them, 
To fight our foe with fear and haste.
Is love of friend a true reward?
Or is there better to receive?
When Jesus seeks to save our foe,
To leave his sin for Christ to cleave.

Why Your High View of Marriage Is Not High Enough

It is very easy for Christians to fall into the simplistic, moralistic trap as we live in a world and culture that has distorted God’s natural order.  We see our culture’s approval and legalization of same-sex marriage and think we have a high view of marriage simply by stating that marriage is “one man for one woman for life.” While I hope we can stand strong in this simple statement, I would also argue that this statement is missing the new covenant emphasis that marriage is a picture of redemptive hope. This is where marriage finds its greatest definition in the whole spectrum of redemptive history. 

It is no doubt true that God created marriage as part of his perfect order.  In Genesis 2:24 we read, “Therefore, a man shall leave his mother and father and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” The pre-sin creation of the natural order gives us a perspective that a man and woman should come together as one in their calling to reflect the glory of God as they spread and multiply across the earth. This is a picture of joint worship and obedience in a one-flesh union with a ring of absolute permanency. Even from Genesis 2, when we simply identify that marriage is one man and one woman without also identifying the context of joint worship, we miss a large part of God’s initial purpose in the compatibility of their roles to serve and honor their Creator. 

With the introduction of sin in Genesis three, comes the introduction of not only the distortion of the one-flesh male and female union, but mankind’s denial of God to worship self. No wonder today we see all sorts of distorted definition for marriage. However, one thing we must never overlook, is that God’s divine sovereign purpose from before the foundation of the world is the glorification of his Son through the work of the cross (Eph. 1:3-4).  Even as we read Genesis 2, we must keep in mind that this marriage of Adam and Eve, in the timeless mind of the sovereign Creator, was always going to be about Jesus. 

Therefore, there are three reasons in Christ that we should view marriage redemptively rather than simply moralistically.  To help us, let’s engage the words of the Apostle John in Revelation 19: 6-9.  “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."

1.    We have been taken off the market. 
Revelation 19 has a ring of victory to it.  Babylon has been defeated and the smoke of her ashes goes up forever and ever (vs. 1-3). God’s people have been saved out of Babylon.  We are no longer of the world and instead we are a great multitude around the throne giving praise to our God and Savior. We are no longer available to be lured by temporary sensualities of this world. Babylon is dead to us, her smoke is rising, we have no need for her.  We are betrothed to Christ. Marriage is not just a fact that we have become unavailable to other men or women, but that we are a picture of no longer being available to Babylon. The Church is a new bride awaiting a wedding day to a husband that is not of this world. 

2.     We are preparing for the big day. 
One day the church will stand before Christ, face to face, in front of his unveiled glory and in the ecstasy of eternal joy and satisfaction. The words given to John from Jesus are that this is like a bride preparing herself for a great wedding banquet. Marriage is worshipful. It is supposed to be a picture of the holiness of worship as God’s people are being sanctified to meet Jesus face to face. Whenever we see a young lady carefully arranging her hair and flowers and dress and make-up (and everything else) for her big day, it should remind us that Christians are also preparing as we anticipate the coming of our King. As husbands and wives come together in betrothal and ceremony and in a life of mutual edification, they should do so intentionally as a picture of our anticipation of future consummation.  The bride in Christ is seen in the splendor of fine linen, bright and pure. 

3.    The Bride price has been paid. 
We cannot read past these words in Revelation 19 without also seeing that the wedding banquet is attributed to the “Lamb.”  Every time we see this description of Jesus, it must remind us of his ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. We are a bride that has been purchased at great cost.  The sacrificial love of Christ for his bride is depicted in the reality of the eternal righteous judgment of God being poured upon him in furious holy wrath. The love of Christ is inexpressible in a sacrifice that is unfathomable. This is why Paul says that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). While this kind of love is completely unachievable for any of us, our marriages have this as our standard of love that points to the redemptive act of our Lord to whom all Christians are ultimately betrothed. 

Do you really have a high view of marriage? It is more than a man and a woman for life.  It’s a man and a woman in Christ. 

Christians Can Watch Something Better Than Hamilton

I went online to look at ticket prices for Hamilton.  When a live performance is done well, especially when it has historical value, I really love them. I soon realized that I didn't love them enough to spend over $300 per ticket. But there is a greater live drama that is totally free.

This week our church has a live drama that exceeds everything the world has to offer. We are having a baptism Sunday. I was considering the solemn importance of this ordinance that was given to us by our Lord. Let’s think for a moment about what is on display, namely, the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the declaration of the gospel through faith. This is not any declaration, but it is the acting out of the most central and important point of human history.  While people are paying over $300 to see an extraordinary life portrayed in musical theater, this week our church will watch a re-enactment of the pinnacle event in all time and space where death and sin were conquered and the head of the greatest enemy of humanity was crushed. 

For our baptism service this week I simply want to answer two big questions and give one big invitation. 
1.    Are you the sort of Christian who says, “It’s just a baptism service?”
If you are the sort of person who says this, then by default you are also the sort of person who says, “It’s just the gospel.”  This is not saying that I believe you are at all saved by baptism.  The text of Scripture is clear that we are in God’s family through faith, and baptism is a visible declaration of this (Galatians 3:26-27, Colossians 2:11-12). However, baptism is a visible enactment of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We will watch and hear a person testify of their faith in Christ.  We will understand their hope in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. We will watch them taken under the water that signifies the waters of judgment over them much like the flood of judgment in Noah’s day.  We will think upon the horrific event when Christ was drowned in the eternal furious wrath of God on our behalf.  We will think of him buried in a tomb as the body will be submerged under the water.  We will think of Christ’s glorious hell conquering resurrection as the one being baptized emerges. We will leap in our hearts because this is a visible testimony of another one who has been grasped out of the pit of hell to declare that they are one of us. 
2.    Are you the sort of Christian who has excuses for not being baptized? 
If this is you, I would encourage you to think through the answers to these questions.  How excited are you about being saved? What value do you put in the cross? How much do you appreciate that the church was bought with the blood of Christ? Is the gospel beautiful enough for you to act it out in visible recognition that you too have claimed Christ? Are you linked to Christ in the way that you wish to be identified with his bride in local visibility where we gather? Bottom line, if you love Christ, you have no option but to identify with all the others who love Christ. That identification in Scripture first happens with baptism. While baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is still important and commanded in our declaration of salvation. 

So, this is the invitation for every single baptism service our church will ever have. Come and watch the most magnificent re-enactment of the most vitally important historic event in the history of the universe. Come and see that this event is not just a piece of history to be dramatized before you, but it is the declaration of the transforming effect it has already had on the one who will be baptized. And…’s free. 

Is Your Heart Dusty or Muddy?

John Bunyan believed that a muddy heart is better than a dusty heart. 

If you have ever read Pilgrims Progress you may remember that at one point, Christian was led into a parlor that was very dusty and a Sweeper began sweeping.  The dust in the room rose into the air and Christian began to cough and splutter under its dominating effects. 

The Interpreter helps Christian to understand that the dust is the sin in our hearts. When the sin in our hearts is stirred, it causes great discomfort and is impossible to remove. The Sweeper is the law.  The law has no power to remove sin but causes further discomfort as we see the effects of sin and find that we are powerless to remove it.  We are tarnished by a dust that will never leave and we cough and splutter because of the impotent discomfort of law. 

This is the same idea that we get from Paul in Romans 7:23-24. Paul says, “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?” (cough, cough, splutter, splutter). The whole intention of Paul in Romans 7 is to make sure that we know that the law has no transformation power. It stirs up a whole lot of convicting uncomfortable dust making it really difficult to breathe. 

Christian then finds relief when a young damsel comes to sprinkle some water in the room.  The water has the effect of subduing the dust and allowing the room to be cleaned.  This is the effect of the gospel in our lives.  While the law stirs up the uncomfortable awareness of sin in our hearts, the gospel is the only way of salvation that overcomes the tragedy of sin. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sweeps the dust of sin as he quotes the law as taught by the Jewish leaders.  The disciples have all heard the law preached and have grown in a culture of meticulous law keeping. The dusty hearts of the Jewish leaders were on display in their impotent self-righteousness that only stirred up the dust in others.  Jesus wanted the disciples to know that their law keeping does nothing for their hearts of sin.  Their actions only prove that law exposes a sinful heart. This is why Jesus focuses on helping his disciples to understand that their inability to perfectly keep the law is nothing compared to the state of their hearts due to original sin. Bottom line, we need the water of the gospel. 

The big solution for us all is that Jesus fulfilled all the teaching of the law and took his perfection to the cross where he substituted himself for us.  The eternal wrath of God was poured out on Christ so that we might be found righteous through faith in him. This is transforming. 

Jesus says that breaking the laws of murder and adultery are only symptoms of our hearts of anger and lust. He sits in front of the disciples as their only solution. In Romans, Paul answers his question about being delivered from our bodies of death.  He says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And then he starts the next chapter by saying, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” 

Christians will continue to struggle with sin in this lifetime, but we will also know that Jesus has sprinkled the water of the gospel on the dust of our hearts.  He is transforming us into his image and the Spirit is dwelling inside giving us the power to say no in the new life we have been raised to live. We no longer sweep dusty hearts. We live in the transforming sprinkler of the gospel. 

If I sound like a broken record, it’s intentional.  Our answer is only always Christ. 

When Your Anger Becomes Beautiful

God is a perfect being of unlimited glory. There is not a single aspect of God’s being that is not perfectly glorious, and God has not made a single mistake. He is without error and incapable of it. Yet it is not simply that he is without fault, but that he is positively glorious in all he is and does. The words we tend to associate with God’s perfect glory are “holy, pure, righteous, and good.” It is equally important to associate some other words…..“angry, wrathful, and furious.” 

Maybe you are comfortable associating the word “love” with God’s glory but not so much the word “anger.” This is because we often see anger as something that is wrong because we are most often sinfully angry.  Our anger is regularly a response to not obtaining our own selfish desires. We get sinfully angry because we desire our own glory. God is righteously angry because he desires his own glory. The reason this is not a contradiction is because we are creatures and God is the Creator. Only God is God. All glory is God’s glory and all adoration and praise is attributable to him. For God to attribute even 1% of his glory to another is to admit that only most of the praise belongs to him. This cannot be. God is the self-existent, eternal source of being, wisdom and power. His excellences are unlimited, and his beauty is beyond grasping. He basks in the limitless explanations of the wonder of his glory. He is right to do so. It belongs to him alone. Any attempt to rob God of that which can only belong to him is not only doomed to failure but must be an offense of the highest magnitude. 

This is why it is no surprise to read that which God spoke through the prophet Isaiah. “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11)  
God’s anger is absolutely beautiful. He pours out his fury in the Divine protection of the greatest prize in the universe, his glory. It cannot be shared or divided or taken or stolen or diminished.  Any attempt at grasping God’s glory for ourselves is an attempt at undermining the very definition of glory and placing its limitless definition in God to a finite definition in fallible, fallen creatures. HOW DARE WE! And…Why would we want to devalue a glory that we can bask in for all eternity and never reach the heights and depths of its wonder and riches? Shouldn’t we be just as angry at every attempt to diminish God’s glory to the futile accomplishments of fallible man? Shouldn’t we be just as angry when we acknowledge it in ourselves? 

This is the anger that is beautiful. The anger that says God’s glory is my one great desire. I am jealous for the protection of my God’s glory.  It is everything to me because it is my greatest enjoyment that is eternally satisfying and exponentially enriching. 

We are all guilty of attempted theft of the most valuable treasure in all space and time and beyond. Our attempted theft of God’s glory amounts to the worst kind of treason. The fury of his wrath upon us for all eternity would be the beautiful outworking of his protected glory. But there is something that should amaze us even more.  God’s eternal fury was poured out on himself that he might also display, to his glory, his unlimited mercy and grace. Oh, the wonder of God’s anger. It means so much in so many ways. 
It means that we too can have a righteous anger. Through faith in Jesus Christ, God brings a regenerating work to the heart of traitors. We repent of glory theft and seek to delight in the bliss of God’s glory. We seek to worship God and not man. It also means that we hate the attempted theft of God’s glory in each and every sin in us and others. 

But it also means that our fury acts in the same way as our Savior’s. God acted toward us by initiating and implementing the gospel. When we are sinned against or when we see sin in our life or in others, our anger should act in the same way. We respond with the words and actions that point to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We don’t condemn, retaliate, punish or take revenge.  It’s not our glory at stake. Our anger over sin must point to the only answer for it. 

What would it be like if all Christians lived out this kind of anger?  

If you just read this and realized you are falling way short, join the queue. It’s a long one. Even as we fail at righteous anger, the gospel is also for us in this very failing. Let us not forget that the power of the cross and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit also empowers us to be obedient in the right application of anger that pleases God. So, let’s get on our knees and then use our feet, mouths and actions to be angry in a way that loves our Savior the most. Let’s run to the saving fury of God poured out on Christ in atonement. Let’s marvel at mercy and grace. Let’s glory in his glory alone…. for all eternity. 

Are You a Smelly Christian?

I could also ask if you are a tasty Christian, a shining Christian, or an audible Christian. 

Human senses are gifts allowing us to experience life with vibrancy.  I am sure we all know somebody who has lost the use of one or more of their senses.  Often when this happens, the other senses are heightened in their increased dependency. Our senses help us from being numb to the world around us.  We see the grandeur of beautiful wilderness, but we also see the sorrowful effects of poverty and injustice.  We hear beautiful music and the disturbing rhetoric of evil dictators. We can smell the fragrance of fresh lavender and the pungent aromas of a refuse tip. We taste the exotic flavors of Indian spices and curries and gag at a mouthful of milk well past it’s used by date. 

The Scriptures tell us that Christians should be experienced like human senses.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that Christians should be seen as the beautiful lights of a city on a hill.  We should be visual standouts.  Jesus also says that we should be the saltiness of salt that is well distinguished from the bland tastelessness of the world. The proclamation of the gospel demands that we should be the sound of hope in a hopeless world. In 2 Corinthians Paul tells us that we should be the beautiful aroma of Christ. 

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Corinthians 2:15-16

The common denominator in all that we bring to the world’s senses is that our light, taste, sound and smell are all life giving.  We bring a distinct sense to a dark world and that sense is Christ. Most of the time the world will not enjoy our fragrance.  In fact, most in this world will take a small whiff of the gospel in our life and words and seek to run from or eradicate the essence. The Apostle Paul is never ashamed of his Christian aroma.  It is an aroma that, to the world, stinks like the foulness of a sewer. Paul knows that those who believe his fragrance to be this putrid are not rejecting him but are rejecting Christ. 

It also tells us something of Paul’s purpose.  Paul is not an air-freshener in the world.  He is not trying to make the world smell better.  Sometimes Christians can fall into this trap. We can prioritize motivations to make the world a little less smelly.  This is never the intention when Christians are likened to smells, tastes, sounds and sights that impact the senses.  Paul emphatically states that his fragrance will either be from death to death or from life to life. People will snort out his fragrance in disgust or breathe in the fresh aroma of salvation, the aroma of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. 

When the Lord moves in the hearts of men, your aroma is enjoyed, your taste is savored, your light penetrates, and your proclamation is heard and believed. We live out our lives in this world proclaiming the gospel so that the elect in Christ will be given a new heart, new sight, new ears, new mind, new taste and a new sense of smell. They are the ones who will experience the new sensation in an ever-increasing human experience for all eternity. 

Pain Management for Pilgrims

Suffering is hard. If you are reading this because of the title, then perhaps you are a Christian who is suffering right now. What you will read in here is no new strategy or miracle cure that will take your physical or emotional pain away. In this fallen world, we don’t have any of those promises. It’s even possible that you are suffering in pain from something that is yet to increase in intensity. The Question is, how are you managing it?

The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to the church spread across the region of modern day Turkey. He called them exiles. People who were not in a land of their own and suffering under the Roman rule of the brutal emperor Nero.  Peter was writing to these persecuted Christians to encourage them to persevere and to give them hope in the midst of their pain. Part of his message might initially sound a little discouraging to us.  He says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12)

There are two points that Peter makes in these verses.  1. Pain in this world for the believer is normal (especially due to persecution). Peter talks of suffering that should not surprise us.  When we are saved into the Kingdom of Christ, it does not mean that we are indestructible or super human as we live in a fallen world.  We will still suffer as Christians and it is most likely that we will suffer under different forms of persecution, including whatever Peter means by the fiery trial. Pain and suffering is a normal occurrence in a sin cursed world and persecution is a normal occurrence in a world that hates Christ.

2. Peter makes the point that we can actually rejoice in the degree to what we are suffering because of what is ahead of us. This is where Christians might find our ultimate key to pain management that unbelievers can never know.  Our eternal reward in Jesus Christ is a certain hope that only increases in joy as we experience even more pain in this world. The greater the pain, the greater reason we have for joy.  Not because we love pain, but because our anticipation of our reward increases and our delight in our future with Christ is enhanced.  When all the glory of Christ is revealed to us in all of its majesty, we will stand before him in even greater ecstasy having had greater anticipation for our eternal deliverance.

This is not something that just happens.  The more we live with an eternal view and hold on to our eternal hope, the more our delight moves away from this world and to the glory of our reward ahead.  Don’t you think it is strange that Christians for the most part do not do this well? Puritan Pastor, Richard Baxter, wrote a book to help Christians with this very issue.  It’s called, “The Saints Everlasting Rest.” Baxter writes, “O my soul, let go your dreams of present pleasure, and lose your hold of earth and flesh.  Study frequently, study thoroughly, this one word – eternity. What! Live – and never die! Rejoice – and ever rejoice.”  The bliss of this subject that brings these words to Baxter can be the bliss for our meditation for our harshest moments of pain.  Our hope is great, and the anticipation of our glorious reward increases our joy as we think more upon the eternal rather than the temporal. In Christ alone, our increased suffering results in increased anticipatory joy and greater ecstasy in the receipt of our eternal reward that he alone has paid for.

When we see that Peter wrote this to exiles, it has even greater significance to us.  All Christians are exiles.  We are all sojourners in a land and country not our own.  We all belong to a greater Kingdom and we all await the day that our Citizenship is stamped into the perfect glory of the new earth.

Let me encourage you today, to be more heavenly minded.  Let me encourage you to use this for the sake of your joy in suffering.  In Christ, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater our anticipatory joy for the next.  Now that is pain management.

Are You Peacemaking or Punishing?

This is a lesson hard learned and this author is very much still learning it.  It is the lesson that is needed because we find ourselves leaning more toward punishing than peacemaking.

Punishment is the easy road because it is where our emotions tend to immediately drive.  When we are wronged, we think retribution.  The term theologians use for this is “Lex talionis.” It means that the punishment must fit the crime and anyone who has read Exodus 21:24 understands the phrase that there is an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth. We have a deep concern for justice, but mostly it is a special kind of justice – OUR justice.

While our sinful little hearts want to use Israel’s national judicial system as our own personal quest, we need to be very quick to correct ourselves.  Our peace is not obtained by seeing perpetrators suffering in our swiftly enforced retribution. Revenge is never as sweet as the movies say it is.  Just ask any bitter person living in the hollowness of their own hate.

As Christians we want to be biblical people, but in this area, it can be one where we so easily use the Scriptures as our own tool of retribution. A great indicator of whether you are jumping into punishment or peacemaking is to consider whether you are considering Scripture in the big context of its redemptive theme.  We can find any number of passages to fit our desire for judgment rather than redemption and reconciliation.  We can show people how their gossip and slander is wrong.  We can rebuke liars.  We can put people in the categories of evil doers, transgressors and sinners. We can even show Scriptures that rebuke God’s people for being indifferent, unjust, and divisive.  We can even remember the three-step process to get someone kicked out of the church. All the while forgetting every passage that reminds us of the mercy, forgiveness, and lavishings of grace that we have received in the cross. All the while forgetting that all those other scriptures also point to our own need for the cross.

When our first thought is the cross of Christ, we see all of these other passages in their redemptive context.  Yes, sadly sometimes the church has to discipline and sometimes we have to stand before each other and call a sin a sin.  But when our motivation is to imitate Christ, we seek peace through the cross rather than punishment at our hand.  We realize that but by the grace of God I would be walking toward an eternal hell and fully deserving of it.

One commentator has said “that we are always living in the midpoint between mercy received and mercy yet required.” That is so true. When the central theme of the cross of Christ is in our mind, we can think less of “Lex Talionis” and more of the sacrifice and mercy that we can make to bring reconciliation and peace. We think more of how we might imitate the mercy that has been shown to us.

When we are offended, our sinful hearts so easily want to forget the cross and our hands want to pick up the gavel of justice. Mercy replies, “Justice has been served on another.” Peace replies, “My own Son was treated as an enemy so that you might be reconciled.”

How will you reply?  How will I reply?

Colossians 1:20-22 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

My One Defense Is Not My Righteousness

When Matt Maher described his reason for writing the song “Lord, how I need you,” he talked of being inspired by the writings of C S Lewis.  Lewis wrote of a type of love for God that is completely born out of our very great need for God.  We see ourselves in our hopeless and helpless state and cry out for mercy and grace as we rely on God’s saving love to redeem us and reconcile us to himself through the cross.  Yes, we need God. We need the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are like me, then you love the sentiment in this song from Matt Maher even as it echoes that classic old hymn which compels us to “need Thee every hour.”

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
Where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

I have often sung these words in church and come to one line that I simply have not been able to sing as written.  The sentiment is there, but the words betray the sentiment. The song is saying that we do not have anything in us to save ourselves or to live in holiness.  The only hope we have is that we have a God who we need.  Agreed.  Even so, I have often found myself refusing to sing the line that would be totally out of place if we did not thoughtfully apply it to the intended context of the song.  “My one defense, MY righteousness.” If you think through the context of the song carefully, you do see that it is intended that it is Christ who is our one defense and it is Christ who is our righteousness.  In fact, in the final chorus, Matt Maher has even inserted the words, “You are” my one defense, my righteousness.  So, why do I struggle singing that one line at every other time? Right now, you are probably thinking that I am being very picky. But here is a test.  Just sing through the words of the song and ask yourself as you sing the words “my righteousness” if you are just a little bit tempted to think there is some good in yourself. This is why every time I have sung this song, I change the “my righteousness” to “Your righteousness.”

Righteousness is not an insignificant word.  The true definition of righteousness is something that can only be found in the very character of God.  His words are always true and right.  God has no capacity for lies and no ability for error (Psalm 19:8). When God judges, he does so only with a perfect standard and his justice is the very outpouring of his holy perfection in righteousness (Gen 18:25). God will never act outside of his righteousness and every action of his sovereign will is in righteousness (Deut 32:4).  God is right, only does right, and cannot do wrong.  This is the opposite of who I am and who you are.

Because of God’s grace, he has given all those who trust in Christ a righteousness that is not of their own.  Because of the great exchange in the cross we stand in the righteousness of the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Because of God’s saving grace, we are concerned to live in a righteousness that can only come from him. In faithful obedience to Christ, he works his righteousness out in our life and grows us more into his image day by day. Without Christ we are defenseless without any righteousness of our own. 

My one defense, YOUR righteousness, O Lord how I need you!

Do You Hate Sin Enough?

I can answer this question for you.  “No.” 

Honestly, how can any human on the face of the planet answer yes to this question?  If we could answer yes, we would be sinless, or we would be lying.  John tells us quite plainly that “if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:20).  Nobody is sinless. 

Through the illumination of the gospel and power of the Holy Spirit, we finally become somewhat aware of the sinfulness of sin.  As we grow in Christ and God’s holiness we become even more aware of the sinfulness of sin. This is because we become more aware of the awesome wonder of the Holy God who saved us.  God’s hatred for sin is often described in ways that hit us where it hurts. “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” (Psalm 5:5). If we call ourselves God’s children, then God’s sentiments must become our sentiments.  “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13). 

Jesus told us that those who mourn over sin will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Sometimes it’s easy to read over such statements, especially the pithy little statements in the beatitudes, and not think seriously through their meaning.  What sin should I mourn? How should I mourn? The more I think about this statement, the more I realize that it is a lifelong activity that looks toward an eternal comfort.  Even though we can take great comfort in the forgiveness that is given to us in Christ right now, our groaning in this sin cursed world has Christians yearning for ultimate comfort at Christ’s return. Until that day, we mourn sin actively in our own lives, in the lives of others, in our churches, and in our world in general. 

Here are just some of the ways that Scripture talks about mourning sin. 

We mourn our own sinfulness: Psalm 51:9-12.  Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.

We mourn over sin in God’s People: Ezra 10:6  Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles.

We mourn over sin blatantly overlooked. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 

We mourn for lack of repentance of sin. 2 Corinthians 12:21  I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

We mourn sin that drives the world toward God’s judgment. Galatians 5:19-21  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

We mourn friends who will not recognize their sin and need for salvation. Philippians 3:18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

This list could continue for quite some time, but I hope you get the idea.  The wide-ranging devastation of sin is in us and all around us.  Sin is a comprehensive problem for all humanity and if we are numb to any aspect of sin we offend the perfect holy God who judges us by his perfect holy standard. Sin has ruined us, but much more than that, sin has made an impassable canyon between humanity and our Creator. “…but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2). 

But as all-inclusive as that devastation is, we have hope in the only human to ever live without a sin nature and without committing one single sin. If there were no Jesus, there would be no comfort.  Our comfort is in his great discomfort. He took the eternal wrath of the Father for us so we might be declared righteous. God looks at those who trust Christ and see the spotless lamb in their place. We are eternally comforted in the cross.

Can we possibly hate sin enough? No.  But let’s try.  Out of sorrow for displeasing our Creator, let’s try.  Out of gratitude for the sacrifice of our Savior, let’s try. Out of compassion for the lost, let’s try. Out of a desire to see the church look like Jesus, let’s try. And…knowing that with mourning sin comes the promise of eternal comfort through the cross of Christ, let’s utterly hate sin in all its forms. 

Sometimes Those Red Letters Do Serve a Purpose

The most famous sermon in all of history was preached 2000 years ago by God who put on human flesh, being born of a virgin, living a sinless life, fully God and yet fully man, who walked up a mountain and opened his mouth

Matthew gives us this small phrase seemingly of no major consequence.  “He opened his mouth.” The special revelation of God in the flesh opened his mouth to preach a sermon of which we have at least the recorded highlights in the special revelation of the Word of God.  The Word gave us the Word via the preaching of a sermon as a fellow human being. If this is not astounding to you, then the wonder of revelation has not sunk in

If you have the same high view of revelation as I have, then you would agree that there is not a word in the bible that is not from Jesus. He who is God has revealed himself to us in the entirety of Scripture from the first verse of Genesis to the last word of Revelation.  When I am reading the law in Leviticus it is no less the words of the Son of God than the words preached in Jesus’ great sermon. In this way, sometimes I find the red letters in bibles to be somewhat unhelpful. Yet, they are often very helpful

If you are reading Matthew chapter 4 in a red-letter bible, you will see that the red letters highlight the ministry of Christ.  He preaches, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and he calls to his disciples, “follow Me.”  These two statements are then the epitome of all of the color red saturating the pages in the following three chapters. The One who calls his disciples teaches his disciples about the gospel of the kingdom. God, who spoke the whole universe into existence, breathed out through human vocal chords a message that helps us understand who we are, who he is, and how to authentically follow him

Just think about it for a moment. Yes, those red letters are just as much a part of Scripture as any other section.  But they do remind us that God actually revealed himself to us with such humility that he became one of us, lived with us, and spoke to us through an open mouth. We certainly read of other instances in Scripture where someone opens their mouth to say something important. Even so, are you not amazed that God did it right in front of us in the flesh? Perhaps you reply, but it’s equally amazing that we have his Word through Paul and Peter and Moses and others.  Yes! And yet when Jesus speaks in those red letters it is the Word of God TO us from the Word of God WITH us. Are you grateful that God delivered this one in person? I am

For the next couple of months, our sermon series and these blogs will highlight the beauty of our Savior’s sermon. I hope you can take the time to meditate on the glorious beauty of the words spoken as Jesus opened his mouth and uttered that first phrase, 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In timelessness and wisdom full,
The counsel of The Triune God,
Determined for His glorious good,
To be with man on earth to trod.
Revealed to us, created ones,
A grace too great for minds to hold.
The Unique Son is God with us, 
His Kingdom come as once foretold. 

Matthew 5:1-2
He sat upon the great ascend,
Amidst the crowd He gathered some.
To those who knew Him to be true,
He taught them of this Kingdom come.
Embody now contented joy,
To hear from lips, anointed truth.
Oh blessedness to us employ,
The sense of our eternal youth.

For Christ is King, and Kingdom sure,
His blessings far too much to count.
He teaches life beneath His throne,
In this great sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:3
Oh joy and bliss to start this word,
That comes from depths of great despair.
For sin revealed in perfect light,
Is more than mortal man can bear.
One vision of the King with crown,
Will bring a sinful man to grief.
But cross and empty tomb exchange,
The curse of death for true relief.

Why I no Longer Identify as a Fundamentalist.

If fundamentalism were simply about holding to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, I would happily use this term for self-categorization. Sadly, the meanings of words have morphed with the development of movements. We have fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, reformed Protestantism, and many more including the broad category of evangelicalism. It’s very difficult to determine what somebody is saying today when they call themselves an evangelical. “Evangelical” Christianity has so many facets that it is impossible to detect what an evangelical really is. For that matter, I highly recommend the little book by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “What is an Evangelical?” In his book, Lloyd-Jones wrote six major essential and fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith that must be held for someone to claim that they are indeed an evangelical believer. His six doctrines explained were, 1 The authority of Scripture, 2. The Trinity, 3. Creation, 4. Sin and Judgment, 5. Jesus and one way of salvation, and 6. The second coming. It would do well for evangelicals to again grab on to these fundamentals so eloquently described by the great doctor.

Fundamentalism and evangelicalism are so difficult to categorize today by simply knowing someone who uses these terms to describe themselves.  We tend to see the visibility of movements as we see these words in practice in group settings.  We see fundamentalist churches and start describing the visible elements.  We might observe conservative style, hymn book worship.  The wearing of suits and ties and long length dresses only on ladies. Some stand staunchly on the KJV as the preferred or even only bible for use. They tend to be known by the do’s and don'ts of their faith. I have even seen signs in front of a few buildings that say something like, “We are fundamentalist, KJV only, Premillennial, Pre-tribulation, Dispensational….All Welcome.” Yes, as long as you hold to these non-essential doctrines that have become essential to us.

By way of fairness, I should also point out that there are those who are fighting well for the fundamentalist name to retain its original purpose rather than how the current movement is redefining it in practice. Fundamentalism was originally birthed out of a need to fight liberal theologians who denied supernatural and authoritative claims of Scripture such as the virgin birth, the resurrection or miracles in general. Those attempting to hold to the origins of fundamentalism now categorize the distortions in the modern fundamentalist movement as, “Hyper-fundamentalism.”  Dr. Kevin Bauder is one of these men and has described eight potential hyper-fundamentalist attributes (one does not necessarily need all eight to be in such a category). They are, 1. Loyalty to an organization, movement or leader. 2. Militant stance on extra-biblical (or even anti-biblical) teaching. 3. Guilt by association 4. Inability to receive criticism. 5. Anti-intellectualism. 6.Turning non-essentials into tests of orthodoxy. 7. Militant political involvement. 8. Double standard for personal ethics.*

So why does this affect us? If you, like me, used to take pride in the fundamentalist name, it is worth knowing the difference between the movement and the original purpose, and that most people today define this by way of the movement. The problem for me is how these stereotypes affect the advancement of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 8-10 Paul was dealing with issues in the church in Corinth where by some brothers had extra-biblical rules that eating meat once sacrificed to idols was a sin. This was a legitimate concern for these people who desired to honor God in their life.  We should say this is also true of our modern fundamentalist brothers and sisters. We should be careful to think the best that they desire to honor God in their life. On the other hand, those who knew meat to be simply meat and idols to be a fallacy were warned to be careful not to push their non-meat-eating brothers to sin against conscience. Paul was concerned for unity in the church but also for the advancement of the gospel.  So, when it came to matters of food or drink he said, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10:31-33).”

The more we, like Paul, align our consciences to the truth of Scripture rather than our own rules or external source of authority, the more we will be able to know biblical flexibility for the sake of the gospel that some might be saved. I am not anti-fundamentalist. I would be only too happy to put on a suit and tie and preach the gospel in a modern fundamentalist setting.  In fact, I have done so. But, neither will I enforce those standards on others for the sake of Christ. It is not one group or another that guides my flexibility or inflexibility for the sake of the gospel.  It is the Scriptures.  In that way, I aim to say with Paul that I desire to be all things to all people that I might win some. And…in this way I do not desire to be categorized as anything that brings unnecessary restrictions or barriers upon the advancement of the gospel of Christ.

*Kevin Bauder’s chapter from the book, Four Views of the Spectrum of Evangelicalism.



When Common Sense Is Not so Common

If the term “common sense” doesn’t give you nostalgic sentiments about your childhood, then you did not have similar parents to mine. The term “common sense” was a common phrase in my childhood home.  If, as a child, I was doing something that was dangerous or careless, my parents would quickly retort, “Don’t do that!” Of course, the question that most logically responded from my childhood mind was, “Why?” And the response from my parents that I was soon able to predict with great precision was, “Because it’s just common sense.” Common sense is properly defined as a widely held expected practice of good judgment. It’s just common sense. 

As I grew into my teenage years the “common sense” discussion with my parents changed as my circle of influence broadened. Every teenager goes through the same stage of appealing to their parents for approval to do something because, “All my other friends are doing it.” At these times the response expanded to, “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff would you do it? No! It’s just common sense.” If sense is common, then wouldn’t following a group be a good thing? Wouldn’t the commonality of friend’s good judgment be more secure in bigger numbers? I’m sure the reply would be something like, “Your friends don’t know common sense yet.” It is certainly true that good judgment has to be learned and guided.

As we look around our world, we see that common sense is actually not so common.  In fact, when it comes to good judgment, the believer and the non-believer are often separated in our sense of judgment. Why? Because Christians have one consistent authority that guides our judgement and decisions in all matters of conscience, preference, and absolute right and wrong. The world’s sense of morality and good judgment is continually changing on the basis of human philosophy and humanistic autonomous reasoning. The more Christians conform to the absolute truths and guidance in God’s Word, the less common our judgments become in this fallen world. The only true common sense is where there is a common authority to guide it.  It is only when we place our trust and attention to God’s Word in careful study and meditation that our common unity of good judgment strengthens in the light of absolute truth and righteousness. 

As the defining authority for common sense changes in our world, this presents the church with an amazing opportunity. The light of Scripture stands out as an unchanging guide in the darkness.  The bible points us in to one path with a clear understanding of future direction. While the church walks on a straight and narrow path heading toward a certain future, the world is meandering in the darkness trying to establish a common sense of judgment in a sea of confusing voices. We have a way in that darkness and can shine that light of the gospel authority and clarity for those who may respond out of the confusion.

Do you have a contention with an issue of preference? The bible says that in honor we are to give preference to one another (Rom 12:9-11).  Do you have a contention with conscience? The bible says that the work of the cross purifies our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9:14).  Are you concerned about which direction to take? The bible says that through God’s divine power he has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3). In the gospel of Christ, we are enlightened to the superior guiding truth in all of the universe.

To be fair to my parents, their use of the term “common sense” was never outside of the context of the authority of the Bible.  My parents may have used that phrase a lot, but they also clearly taught me that the wisdom of the world was folly and that God’s truth brings absolute confidence while this world is hurtling toward destruction. As I matured, I came to know that in the world there is actually not a common sense, but a common nonsense. In Christ and His Word there is a true common sense under a common authority for all those who are committed to study His Word and feed on His truth. 

Your Guilt IS Your Problem!

Part of being created in the image of God means that we share common attributes with our Creator. God is loving, just, merciful, wrathful, forgiving, gracious, and the list goes on. We as humans share these attributes but we do not have the infinite unlimited capacity that God has. Ever since sin came into the world we have corrupted these attributes in our fallen state. Everything in humanity has been corrupted by sin, even our sense of morality.

In Romans 1 Paul tells us that ever since the fall, we have been given over to our human depravity and by the end of the chapter, Paul states that we even celebrate as good that which God calls evil. We see this in our society as the moral brokenness of humanity is celebrated when a cake maker is famously deemed immoral because he does not conform to the moral compass of the culture.

At the same time millions of people are sick with depression and worry because they are stricken with guilt. Particularly in western cultures where laws and principles have been somewhat influenced by a Christian ethic, the chasm between the cultural change and the traditional values are transparent in the psychologist’s offices. This cultural change has given rise to guilt-ridden, anxious humans who are arguing against their parent’s values to live the way their sinful hearts lead. The psychologists have an answer for this.  It is not your sin that is the problem it is your guilt. Get rid of your guilt. Fight your Freudian Super-ego and embrace your Id. Don’t let your guilt get you down but overcome it with healthy measures of self-esteem.

How do Christians act with this dilemma in our societies? Unfortunately, many Christians have embraced the psychological principles of our day to merge biblical truth with the self-esteem doctrines of the world.  The dilemma of sin is not as much of a problem as the way you feel about yourself.  But the Scriptures give us an answer for our culture’s dilemma of conscience. It is in a simple verse that says that our guilt leads us to an ultimate cure for conscience that the world will never teach.

Hebrews 10:22-23 “…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Our consciences can be washed clean through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. We can appeal to the moral dilemmas of our unbelieving friends and family and say, “Your guilt is not such a bad thing. It is saying you have a problem that only the cross of Christ can fix.  You don't need self-esteem, you need forgiveness.”

The cross is the true cure for conscience.

You Want Us to Do WHAT?

“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

If the Jewish fishermen hearing this from Jesus really thought about this statement, they may soon reflect on some unpleasant history.

At the time of Assyrian ascendancy, Amos warned the Northern Kingdom of Israel that their arrogance would result in their demise. In his warning he said, “The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that behold, the days are coming upon you when they shall take you away with hooks even the last of you with fishhooks” (Amos 4:2).  Because Israel had ignored and dishonored God, they were going to be dragged like fish resisting a hook through its lip. Many scholars believe that this was a literal practice for the barbaric Assyrians.

In the time of the Babylonian conquerors, Habakkuk was already reeling under the brutality of these oppressors. He pleads for God’s mercy upon Judah who are being treated as if they were lowly fish on the end of Babylon’s hook. “You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. He brings them all up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so, he rejoices and is glad” (Hab 1:14-15).

Careful consideration of these images may have greatly disturbed Andrew, Simon Peter, John and James, but standing in front of them was no Assyrian dictator and no Babylonian emperor. It was Jesus.

When Jesus calls us to make fishers of men, he is asking us to bring a message that takes people captive. But these captives are caught, not as those who remain in bondage, but those who are freed from sin and the brutality of this dark world. Jesus hooks us with his illuminating, regenerating Spirit as we are gloriously made into slaves of the King of the Universe who is fully trustworthy and perfectly righteous. As we throw out the gospel message, most men will not even bite. Those who do will not be caught up into their demise from a self-absorbed earthly ruler, but they will be captives who are also sons and brothers and joint heirs in an everlasting kingdom. While the oppressive kings of this world treat humans as if mere animals, Jesus catches us to take us from acting like animals to know what it means to be truly human.

This is the glorious mission of the gospel and it is secure in the fact that the greatest Fisher of Men is faithful, true, merciful, forgiving, and unlimited in his love. We delight in being caught in his net. Not only this, but Jesus will never allow his captives to see demise because he already paid that ultimate cost on our behalf.

When being a fisher of men should be a troublesome and fearful thought, in Christ it becomes a delight because his catch will never want to be thrown back into the sea…..and they never will.

It is such a delight that should have the same response as Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John.  “Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.”  Immediately! Discipleship is not just a learning process, it's a capturing process.  Let’s get to it. Immediately!

Should We Really Call it "Good Friday?"

One of the most famous excerpts from a modern day sermon comes from S M Lockridge who was the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in the 1950’s. You may know this sermon by the title, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin!” Lockridge focused on what may have seemed to be the most dismal of days for the disciples as they watched their Master hang on a cross, die, and get placed in a tomb. They had heard Jesus say that the temple would be raised in three days but they were not aware of the reality of his resurrection until it actually happened.  Friday was in some ways a horrible day, but Sunday was coming.

While I agree that Lockridge likely portrayed the outlook of the disciples with some accuracy, we need to be careful not to look at Easter Friday as if it is Bad Friday.  Sunday is absolutely a day of victory, but do we look at Friday as if it is somehow a day of defeat? Before the foundation of the world God had determined that Jesus would take the full brunt of righteous judgment for sin upon his own shoulders as a once and for all sacrifice. Jesus paid it all for us on Friday. Friday is the day that our redeemer redeemed us with his blood. I am not in any way undermining the importance of Sunday, but we should see the whole work of the cross from atonement to resurrection as victory.  We should find our hope in Christ’s redeeming blood every bit as much as his resurrection life. We should glory in our substitute for wrath every bit as much as an empty tomb. So, let’s remember that Friday is coming so that we can remember that Sunday is coming.  

Its Thursday: God is offended at the rebellion of every human being without exception and the fury of His wrath will be without escape and without end – but Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and ever since his deception in the garden, Satan has been deceiving and blinding whole nations from seeing God’s glory – BUT Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and the descendants of Adam and Eve still await the coming of an offspring who will crush Satan’s head…. BUT Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and all Israel have failed at keeping the covenant God gave them to be His holy people …. BUT Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and the continual animal blood sacrifice in the temple is a constant display to Israel that there is no one single comprehensive atonement for sin….But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and Israel’s scribes study and debate the types and shadows of the past arguing about the times and places of their fulfillment…But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and a curtain separates access to the Holy of Holies.  The very heart of the presence of God with His people…..but Friday is coming.

Its Thursday…and every year high priest of Israel enters the holy of holies taking the blood of the sacrifice for his own sin so that he may also seek atonement for Israel….But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and Israel are confused about the true identity of their Messiah and how he will establish His kingdom….But Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and twelve disciples of Jesus are confused about the teachings of their master …..But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and Herod is dillusional about his lust for power having beheaded his most annoying enemy, John the Baptist…..But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and Caesar, the conqueror and ruler of the greatest empire in the world, sits as he claims the title son of God….But Friday’s coming.

Its Thursday: and satan sets himself to enter Judas and finalize his strategy to strike at God….But Friday is coming

Its Thursday: Judas Iscariot, unnoticed but the other disciples, poses himself as a true follower of Jesus…..But Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and once called the son of God, Israel has lost sight of what it means to be truly Israel….But Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and Jews see no present hope that there will be another David to establish the prophesied everlasting kingdom…..But Friday is coming.

Its Thursday: and the whole creation groans in pain yearning for any sign of hope that it will once again be restored to its original perfection….But Friday’s coming.

And lest anyone doubts in any of the accomplishments that are achieved on Friday…….Sunday is coming.

Why Jump From a Perfectly Good Roof?

When Satan was tempting Jesus in the wilderness he attempted to use Psalm 91 to lure Jesus into testing the faithfulness of God.  Satan wanted Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple to force God to prove his faithful love and care for his Son. Jesus answered Satan by declaring that he would not put the Lord God to the test.

Psalm 91:11-12 does indeed say, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Surely if this is in the text, we can rely on it happening.  Surely God would not make a promise he does not intend to keep, or perhaps Satan is simply the king of proof-texting. As we take a quick tour of Psalm 91 we find that Satan truly is a deceiver and God’s faithfulness is our greatest comfort.

The first verse sets the tone for the entire Psalm.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Eight verses later we also read, “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, the Most High, who is my refuge.” Our confidence, hope, comfort and security are firmly in place as we seek to dwell in the shelter of God. These are beautiful thoughts indeed.  Between these two verses we are told what those who faithfully abide in God can face.  The terror of the night and the arrows of the day (vs. 5). The pestilence that stalks in darkness and the destruction that wastes at noonday (vs.6). Thousands and ten thousands falling all around you (vs. 7).

And then vs. 8-9, “You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, the Most High, who is my refuge.” No matter what we go through in this world, the faithful children of God will never be separated from his love and care. The last verses of the psalm show that those who hold fast to God, who know his name, and call to him, will find answers and honor and salvation. Not once does this Psalm say that the faithful can only be faithful if God proves himself to them. The very essence of being faithful is to trust God in every situation in which you find yourself. This is what it means to dwell in Him.  We can trust that the God of the universe has the power and will to protect those who call upon his name and live in faith. Further to this, no matter what happens, God will rightly judge the wicked.

In reality, we could lose everything including our mortal lives and still be protected by the eternal God.  This is what Paul tells us when he says that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In Christ, God’s children are eternally protected and guarded, and Satan is powerless to break it. Jesus was already enjoying the faithful care of the Father right there on the roof of the temple.  He did not need to jump in a faithless act to prove it. Satan however is a wicked, proof-texting liar and Jesus has directly looked into his eyes knowing his eternal recompense.  Perhaps it is very fitting that Psalm 91:13 states that one of two creatures being trampled is a serpent. Satan’s use of this Psalm is pointed back at him.

For us in Christ it always means this: God is faithful! You can take that to the eternal bank! You can tell the Tempter to go and throw himself from the roof. He will have no salvation. Your salvation, however, is firmly in the one who endured this test to take your place on a cross.

We Are Fully Human.....Yes....and No.

If you will allow me to begin by stating the obvious, “We are Human.” I haven’t yet met an animal that can read, so if you are reading and understanding this, odds are, you are human. You are not an animal. But… How human are you? You may answer that you are fully human, and again, you would be right. Even so, there is a quality of being human that is more human than our present condition and it has to do with failure and success.

In one sense, we have failed at being human even though we are fully human. All humans have the essential human quality of being created in the image of God. To be a successful human we would need to live up to that quality which requires us to reflect the perfect character of God as we worship him as his creation and in his creation. Adam was our original human representative as head of the line to all humanity. As that representative head, Adam would determine success or failure for all his descendants.  He failed.

In Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3) we see a line of ancestry from Jesus to Adam.  When the line finally arrives at the first man, Adam, we find that Adam has no earthly father.  He is called, Adam, the son of God. As God’s perfect image bearer, Adam was to live in the fullness of humanity that God intended for us.  When Adam rebelled against God, we lost that fullness.  In fact, we devastated that fullness. Since the fall we have all been failing sons. As failing sons, we are failing humans.

This term ‘Son of God’ is found in many places in Scripture in both the Old and New Testament. As we have already stated, Adam was son of God.  When God chose another man, Abram, from among the gentiles, he established him as a nation.  That future nation was called Israel.  They were to be God’s shining light as his chosen children.  In Exodus 4:22-23 God tells Moses to go to Pharaoah and demand the release of Israel when they were in captivity. He said, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”” God saw Israel as his son. Israel were supposed to show the other nations what it meant to be the son of God. In obedience to God they could display true humanity. When they entered the wilderness they also rebelled against God to make their own idols and to grumble about him. In the Promised land they did what was right in their own eyes. They became like everyone else in the world. They failed.

We get the sense that from Adam to God’s chosen people, we have failed at being God’s children and therefore failed at being the humans that God had created us to be. Israel were supposed to be the display of God’s glory to the rest of humanity.  They were supposed to be the example of what God created humans to be as they live for him and reflect his character. Regardless of Israel’s failure, God remained faithful and promised a Son of God who would succeed where they could not. 2 Samuel 7:13-14, “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son….” The promise is for a Son who will have an everlasting kingdom.  This is Jesus who came in the line of King David.

Jesus succeeds where both Adam and Israel failed.  He truly reflects the very character of God in all perfection.  Jesus shows us what it truly means to be human.  He is the better and true Adam.  He is the better and true Israel.  He is the better and true Son of God. At least one of the elements making the term “Son of God” so significant is that Jesus really is the successful Son. He was born perfect, lived a perfect life and through his sacrifice he conquered the consequences of our sinful failure. He takes our failure and gives us his success. Do you want to know what it is like to truly be human? We can know something of it in Jesus Christ now even while waiting for the day when the final consummation will bring full realization.

Of course, we are not evolved ape-like creatures.  Of course, we are not animals. But even as humans we need to learn how to be human.  For that, look to the true Human – The Lord Jesus!

Could John Piper Be Wrong?

Answer: Yes.  Of course.  We are all human and all open to error.

If you have known anything about Dr. Piper’s ministry you have heard the term, “Christian Hedonism.”  If there is anything that makes me cringe just a little, it is that the word hedonism, which is largely associated with the saturation of fleshly pleasure, could be associated with the word “Christian.” Sometimes I wish Dr. Piper used a different term for what he was trying to convey in his book, Desiring God. Regardless of this term, how could I possibly disagree with the underlying statement that he uses to define it? “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  

To Christians, the word “pleasure” seems to have become a dirty word.  When we think of pleasure we most often think of fleshly humanistic pursuits of lust or entertainment that distract us from lives of holiness. But this is not the case.  God actually wants us to enjoy the greatest pleasure that he himself enjoys. We find God’s pleasure announced in the anointing of Jesus for ministry at his baptism (Matt 3:17).  The Father said, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” The pleasure that God wants us to have is so essentially beautiful that God wants us to grip it with full intention to enjoy.  That pleasure is Christ.

God is essentially pleased with himself and so he should be.  He is the perfect, unlimited, glorious God of the universe.  His self-existent and eternal glory shines forth his complete satisfaction that he has in himself.  As God revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ, his perfect pleasure in his triune nature is pronounced upon his perfect Son. God is pleased with Jesus for good reason. He is perfect, sinless, obedient, true and every other description of goodness we could possibly muster. This tells us that true pleasure has a standard.  We are pleased in what we determine to be good. The objects of our pleasure tell us something about how we determine what is good. So, when we are assessing what we take pleasure in, we should be careful to ask what our standard of goodness really is.  Why does this please us? How does this show the good and glorious pleasure that the Father takes in the Son?

Pleasure is ultimately caused by the engagement or stimulation of the affections of our heart. This is why pleasure has become such a precarious subject for a humanity with essentially sinful hearts. What we take most pleasure in will expose the state of our heart. The less we look at the beautiful perfection of Christ, the more warped our idea of pleasure becomes. We are not pleased by what repulses us, only by that which attracts us.

Surely, we don’t find Christ repulsive. Do we?

Let’s look for a moment at what pleases God. “(God) was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles..” (Gal 1:16). “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Cor 1:21). “For in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Col 1:19).

At the end of the day, we can conclude that God takes pleasure in the saving work and person of Christ. If Christ is the object of God’s pleasure, how much more should it be ours? This is our great question. Does our pleasure primarily flow from our affection for Jesus or self?

We can debate about whether or not John Piper should have used the word ‘hedonism’ in his teaching. Ultimately, his defining statement is far from wrong.  God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied (pleased) in him. Particularly, when we are pleased in Christ.

2 Cor 5:9 – Whether at home or away, we make it our aim to please him! As we finish with this verse I cannot help but wonder how we could possibly do anything other than please him if Christ is our true pleasure.


Is Your Good News Good Enough?

That sense of relief you get when you hear something good is the differentiating factor between news and good news. When I hear my daughter is taking a test a college, it is simply news.  When I hear she passes her test at college, it becomes good news.  There is relief and joy knowing that she was successful. There is a huge difference between news and good news.

Good news is part of the DNA of the Christian Church.  Without the message of good news, the church has nothing to offer.  We preach relief. All over the world pulpits are proclaiming to larger groups and individuals are witnessing to friends and family.  These proclamations are about giving lost people hope as we show how Jesus brings relief. But the nature of that relief determines the extent of the good news.  What exactly is the relief we are proclaiming?

After 4000 years of human history, a prophet called John came to prepare God’s people for the ultimate sense of relief. Here is John’s message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 3:2). Doesn’t sound like relief to you? John’s role was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus, The Messiah.  Perhaps John was just getting people’s attention so that they might get the real message of relief from him. What did Jesus proclaim when he started preaching? Matthew records, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”” (Matt 4:17).

To understand how ultimate relief is displayed in a message of repentance, we must understand the dominating power of the Kingdom of Heaven. Both John and Jesus were preaching a message about how Jesus would bring full and final victory over sin and death and every power of darkness in the created realm. Jesus’ Kingdom is an eternally reigning kingdom that brings eternal reconciliation with God to all who turn from being faithless enemies to faithful citizens. Those who remain as enemies and deny the Lordship of Christ remain under the eternal wrath of the all-conquering King. Jesus paid the ultimate price for his Kingdom’s victory.  He took the full brunt of God’s wrath on human sin by dying on the cross in place of all who would turn from sin and believe in him. He rose as Savior and Lord and took his place on the throne as the conquering eternal King. Relief in the message of John and Jesus comes from being delivered from eternal condemnation to eternal restoration and a sure hope of glory. Relief comes through repentance from sin as we turn in faith to Jesus Christ our Savior.

Is your good news good enough? The answer comes by asking yourself about the relief you are proclaiming. If the message of Jesus is simply your deliverance from a life of drug abuse – it’s not good enough. If it is simply victory in your life at home or work – it’s not good enough.  If it is simply fixing your broken marriage – it’s not good enough. If it is making our society safer or more moral – it’s not good enough. If it is gaining political victories – it’s not good enough. If it is bringing you some sense of satisfaction in your daily life – it’s not good enough. If it teaches you how to prosper in this world – it’s not good enough.

If it is taking you from eternal condemnation to eternal reconciliation with the all-powerful God of Creation, then you have heard the only truly good news that correlates with the words of John and Jesus. The gospel is more than a menial temporal benefit.  It brings an eternal transformation to the glory of the infinite God of eternity. When the gospel lacks the message of sin and repentance, it lacks everything that makes the death and resurrection of Jesus the very substance of good news. When we preach repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope as sinners, we preach the only way to eternal salvation and authentic eternal relief.

Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!