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Archive for the ‘Work of Jesus’ Category

On the drive to church this morning,
I wrote the first verse of the following poem.
Hands free communication (as with a cellphone) disallowed me
to write it down, so the beginning of the second verse was lost
to me before I could write it down. But the direction in which
I was thinking remained for the rest of the poem to come this afternoon. God’s grace and goodness are so great, especially in contrast to our inability to comply to His commands and wishes.

So much wickedness in my heart
Made in God’s image, tarnished art
Frequent failings, falling away
To often straying from the way

Desire to follow ever grows
Distracted by pleasures and woes
Many small failings of the heart
Who will give me a brand new start?

Jesus only, beginning, end
Power to enable, transcend
All my failings and weakness
Distracted thoughts and selfishness

All by grace He has given me
From Him any good that you see
This fragile glass His strengths reveal
Demonstrates His goodness is real

One day my faulty service gone
Perfect obedience will dawn
In good time I will be steadfast
Then I will see God at long last

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The first advent we celebrate
As babe in flesh we can relate
Without a sin He lived His life
Through all temptation, pain, and strife

Miracles He performed with ease
Controlling nature as He please
To His deity these pointed
And with the Spirit anointed

Taught us of the Father’s kindness
Of religious leader’s blindness
God’s kingdom come in hearts of men
Of wrath to come, the cost of sin

His most amazing, gracious toil
His death that sin and death did foil
For those who believe and submit
Eternal life He will commit

He rose from the grave on day three
From sin’s power He set us free
Now we serve Him with joy and peace
Seeking for others sweet release

He returns that glorious day
His mighty power on display
The dead are raised to life anew
Trailing the Master in full view

So with Him forever to reign
His was the price, ours is the gain
With joyful hearts we’ll worship Him
The saints singing eternal hymn

In His life and death is our hope
Eternal in extent and scope
What assurance it is to know
The One from Whom all blessings flow

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Frances Havergal wrote the following poem for New Year greeting cards in 1874, which later became a hymn:

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.

It is a time to reflect on the past, take stock of the present, and aspire to a better future. Much if not most of life is beyond our control, but she clearly pleads God’s provision, not for an easy time, but for a fruitful time in belief and service to God. I ask that my Christian brothers and sisters be blessed with just what this poem requests, “another year for Thee”.

There are other of my friends and readers who do not yet know God through His Son, Jesus Christ. I plead with God to choose you in this new year to be His child. Though He is the one who chooses, in some mysterious and yet simple way we must choose Him as He enables us to. The offer is there; knowledge of God and life eternal awaits. Trust Jesus to take away the guilt of your offenses against God by the sacrifice He made on the cross. It is not a complex choice, but it is a definite one. Do not reject Him for some misguided sense of fairness:

“Give us fairness,” said many voices.
“You don’t want fair,” he said,
“For then we would all be dead.”

Grace that will set you free,
Mercy to pardon, can’t you see?
You have no other choices.

And why would we all be dead? “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) There is the same sentence with the bad news, death, is the good news, eternal life. 

May your New Year be blessed with the knowledge of God and joy in serving Him.

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I was out of town last week, so I hadn’t gotten the new Sunday School curriculum. I decided to piggyback off of the lesson my pastor had taught the children last week about God choosing David as king. What else did he choose David for? Prophet, Warrior, Psalmist. All of these are true but His choice of David as progenitor of an eternal dynasty  is most important.

Here is how it played out. I had the students do a Bible drill and read passages about 4 covenants of God. God made other covenants not mentioned here, most notably the Adamic and Noahic, but these four represent much of the focus of the Old and New Testament (i.e. Covenant) passages. The table and preliminaries don’t copy over quite the same as they appear on the student’s worksheet, but you get the idea:

Four Great Covenants of God

God chose _______________ to be _________, in place of ____________.

There are two points: 1) He was a man ___________________________ (Acts 13:22)

2) God desires from us ______________ and _______________ and _______________

(I Sam 15:22; I Cor. 1:27)

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 3.59.24 PM

From last week’s lesson, God chose David to be king, in place of Saul.

The two points of the previous lesson were 1) He [David] was a man after God’s own heart.  2) God desires from us obedience and humility and integrity.

Following is a picture of how I outlined the Covenants as the students read through them:

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A little confession time meant to show God’s goodness. I could have acquired my Sunday School lesson book in the five days since being home but other things, including a distracted mind, prevented me from making the one hour drive. So I desperately reached out to two of the pastors to tell me what the main passages were for the lesson. Both replied, one with the answer. So, I pray, study, go to bed a bit late. This morning as I am traveling to church, two other applicable Scriptures come to mind but I can’t remember where they are found. I charge into the church, asking the pastor for a concordance, look them up, and rush off to prayer. Even though I don’t advise this type of study and most usually don’t practice it, God was gracious to give me a very productive class in the logic of my presentation for young minds and the attentiveness of my class- they are such a joy.

The lesson was the Ten Commandments. We read Exodus 20:1-21, taking breaks along the way to to explain the commandments and God’s commentary on them. First of all was verse two. God gives the reason why we should heed these commandments: He is God, and He is the one who rescues. In fact, this is the reason for all law. Rule by law is ultimately based on fear (proper reverence) for the Law Giver, and there is only One. The breakdown of law comes when we reject the Law Giver, making all our laws relative, that is, non-absolute.

Next I pointed out that the first four laws are focussed toward God, and later that the next six laws are focussed toward your fellow humans. God’s person, name, and worship are to be reverenced. The day He set aside as the remembrance of His creation is to be observed (no excuses- notice the list to prevent loopholes). This passage, as my son points out, is the best one to refute Old-Earth Creationists. There is nothing symbolic or allegorized about the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, or six literal days in this passage. To say otherwise makes a mockery of all of Scripture.

Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise)” (Ephesians 6:2) It is not simply obeying when young, but esteeming in speech and practice when grown. God blesses this attitude and action with long life.

Murder is not the same as killing since God requires killing when murder has been committed: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:6)

Adultery is acting like married people do with each other. Since that is a protected relationship, God says, “No.”

Stealing, lying, and wanting things that are not yours are wrong.

God said all this with “thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking” (Exodus 20:18) to scare the people into reverencing Him and obeying Him.

(It didn’t work, as the golden calf demonstrated (Genesis 32), and as God knew it would not. Why, because that was not the purpose of the Law as evidenced by what Moses and Joshua said: “The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.” (Deuteronomy 31:16) and “Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins.” (Joshua 24:19))

The purpose of the Law is stated in Galatians 3:23-26, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” So, believers don’t neglect to include the Law in your Gospel presentations. The sinner must know that he has transgressed the Law before he will understand that he needs a Savior. But what a blessed thought, as the hymn says, “Free from the Law, oh, happy condition, Jesus hath bled and there is remission…” The Law no longer condemns me, for I am under the blood of Christ. I am freed from the penalty of sin.

Does that mean that the Ten Commandments no longer apply to me. No, ridiculous! As Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

But how does He fulfill the Law, enabling us to obey it so that it is accomplished? “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4) Because of the sinfulness of our flesh, we could not keep the Law, meaning the Law was weak to bring about its own accomplishment. But God the Father sent Jesus whose death on the cross and sending of the Spirit enables us to overcome the power of sin. The Law showed us our inability; Christ on the cross provided ability; the Spirit applies the ability.

In  conclusion, John 1:17-18 says, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” We were given this valuable tutor, the Law, to point us to Christ through whom we may receive grace and truth to know and obey God. If you have come to Christ and are seeking to live by the Spirit, you are fulfilling the Law and it is no longer your tutor. It has accomplished its purpose; God is accomplishing His purpose, praise God!

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The Lie that was promulgated in the garden is persistent and pernicious. The enemy knows it is the most subtle way to destroy us, and it is persistent because it is part of our nature. “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5) is a Lie with many iterations. It is the basis of all works salvation whether it be the religions of the world, the self-assured atheist, or the nominal, legalist Christian. Such an ominous enemy to our soul must be regularly and rigorously opposed. The remedy for me is focusing on the grace of God brought to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To that end, I asked my pastor recently if he had a book that would refresh my focus on grace. He loaned me the little book, “All of Grace” by C. H. Spurgeon. He leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of convincing the reader that God “justifieth the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

The persistence of the Lie most frequently resides here: “We stubbornly believe that there must be something in us in order to win the notice of God” (p.14) But “God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatsoever in us.” (p.14) Our pride rises up against this thought, but salvation is for those who realize “He makes those just who are unjust. He forgives those who deserve no favor.” (p.14) Those who are closest by training to what is right and good can sometimes be the fartherest from salvation because they have become self-deceived into thinking that the rightness and goodness resides, even if only partially, in them. On the other hand, some who reject the very existence of God are equally self-deceived about their own goodness. For this reason, what Spurgeon says is profoundly true: “The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride. The Gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.” (p.21) To those already broken by their sin, we preach the good news of God’s grace. To those self-assured of their own goodness, we convey the law so that they will come to a point of despair over their sin and grow in desire for a solution only found in the Gospel. Though the witness is a messenger of these things, the Holy Spirit through the Word of God is the means of this grace. “When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) and ” the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galations 3:24).

So why must I, who have long been in the grace of God, refocus on that grace? As I have already said, the Lie is persistent and pernicious. My old nature would have me believe that afterall there is some measure of works I must provide to be satisfactory to God. No, I must continue in “simple reliance upon Jesus” (p.89), cling to Him, turn constantly for a view of His goodness, love, and power, all given to me by His grace. Herein is joy and peace; hence is purpose and hope. The quicker and more deeply I can become totally convinced of the grace of God, the more readily I can love others and point them to that all sufficient grace.

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On Resurrection Day
God’s power on display
No better way to say
Death’s sting has gone away

Great exchange took place
The Pure One for the base
Elect ones of the race
Will meet Him face to face

Now I have been set free
From death, sin’s penalty
Live no longer for me
For God and His glory

Death to life He will bring
Sinless life enabling
All Creation will sing
Saints with praise rejoicing

Reflect on His goodness and grace on this Resurrection Celebration Day. We have been made alive; we have hope; we have a purpose and a message to share. Rejoice!

Lily1

Signs of New Life

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When my pastor was leading the Lord’s Supper yesterday, he spoke of the Savior’s perfections, making mention of His impeccable life. For those who have read my blog for some time, you know that words and thoughts can set me off. Words beginning in “im” and “in” began to pour into my mind concerning all the ways that Jesus is perfect. The only one that didn’t come to me was inimitable, but I was looking for an “i” word that means perfect to use in the title. I came home in the afternoon and wrote the following poem. I have provided definitions below to help you.

His impeccable life
On display to see
His impervious character
The reason it could be
His invincible power
Makes His enemies flee
His indescribable wisdom
Totally beyond me
His indefatigable grace
Has set believers free
His incomparable mercy
I praise on bended knee
His interposed blood
Rescued His church, we
His inconceivable love
In salvation the key
His infinite existence
The great I AM is He

Inimitable-so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique
Impeccable-in accordance with the highest standards of propriety; faultless
Impervious-unable to be affected by
Invincible-too powerful to be defeated or overcome
Indescribable-too unusual, extreme, or indefinite to be adequately described
Indefatigable-persisting tirelessly
Incomparable-without an equal in quality or extent; matchless
Interposed-place or insert between one thing and another
Inconceivable-not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable
Infinite-limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure

 

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We had such a blessing around the table and advent wreath last evening with three of our sons and future daughter-in-law. My personality hardly even knows how to do unhurried time, but it was so good, good conversation, good food, good consideration of both advents, good singing, and good gifts.

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Let us remember that among the other blessings that Christ brought was His rescue of us from under the Law as slaves to sin so that we might become sons of God. He accomplished all of this through His incarnation, sacrificial death, and resurrection. The penalty of sin is gone because He eliminated the legal problem by satisfying it. Now His Spirit indwells us so that the power of sin is retreating from our lives. And we have hope of His second advent that will bring judgement so that we might live in His holy presence apart from the presence of sin. May your New Year be prosperous in health, relationships, finances, and most of all, your knowledge and service of our Savior.

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When two different objects or ideas are placed near to one another, so that their nearness emphasizes their differences, this is called juxtaposition. [Raise up an off white, slightly stained rag and ask, “Is it clean?” When there is doubt, say, “Let me help you.” Raise up a very white, clean rag and point to the first rag, saying, “Is it clean?”] The hymn writer highlights the juxtaposition well, a contrast of seemingly incompatible facts, when he writes: “’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies: Who can explore His strange design?” (Charles Wesley) Indeed, how can this be, that the infinite, immortal, all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present, eternal God sovereignly limits Himself to finite, mortal, frail, limited in knowledge and location and time, human flesh?

We do not merely speak of incarnation. You and I are incarnate, that is, housed in flesh. No, we speak of Divine Incarnation, God in flesh. As the Scripture says, “Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:6-8) But another Scripture says, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)

We have stated the fact of God the Son taking on human flesh. But what was the means? How did it happen? The Scripture says, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20-24)

Through the conception by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, Jesus retained His sinless, divine nature enabling Him to live a perfect life and overcome death, which had the power to save. By being developed in Mary’s womb, Jesus gained a body of flesh and human nature and capacities by which He could be a substitutionary sacrifice for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Therefore, we should celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, because by it we are both saved and taught about God. We should also resolve to serve the Incarnate Christ, because we owe Him our life now and for eternity. As the songwriter says:

“From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King”                (by Graham Kendrick)

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In this third installation of the 5 solae, we come to what another brother had to say about grace alone:

I want to begin with a personal testimony from January of this year…

After a brief explanation from the Lutheran pastor, I followed the funeral procession into the church—deeply moved. Why? For sure I was going to miss my wife’s aunt, who had been a dear family member to us.

But more importantly, what impacted me was the symbol on her casket that illustrated a truth most dear to me. You see, the casket was covered in a white cloth, symbolizing righteousness, which would be the only thing God would accept from her as she would be presented to Him for judgment. But…whose righteousness?

The symbolism goes further—on the cover was the shape of a cross, and the Greek symbols for Christ. Whose righteous works is God accepting?   Would He see ANY of my aunt’s works?

No, for He would not accept them!

She was being presented to God, covered by the righteousness of our blessed Christ! And THIS was our family’s comfort in our loss.

Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In this short statement is the sum of the Biblical teaching of the work of grace. It begins with God-working in us faith which justifies us (giving us Christ’s righteousness), which results in good works which please Him—according to His working in us.

Over time, as the Church of the Middle Ages abandoned the supreme authority of Scripture—“Sola Scriptura” in favor of traditions, other doctrines began to emerge—not only those absent from the Bible, but also changes to the understanding of grace itself.

The Medieval Church’s teaching gradually drifted to the assertion that God’s grace would help us produce the works that He would accept for justification, rather than the grace of Christ’s finished work of cross and resurrection for us.

It is in this world that Martin Luther sought to be right with a Holy God.

In keeping with church traditions, he followed the rules of the monastery, and did penance–all to a radical extreme (and even the annoyance of his fellow clergy)—all the time being under condemnation in his heart because of the majesty of God’s holiness and perfection overwhelming him.

At this point, as he studied the Bible, he discovered that it is not his righteousness that God will accept, but Christ’s, and that he should by faith abide in Him! Luther received God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

Luther and the other reformers returned to the Biblical, apostolic understanding that good works and a changed life flow from Christ’s righteousness given to us, instead of leading to it. God will not have his glorious gospel assisted by human works.

Our Christ, as God in human flesh, takes on Himself ALL of our sin and sinfulness on the cross, and gives us ALL of the righteous obedience of His perfect life.   We call this teaching Sola Gratia, or “grace alone.”

In short, God’s grace justifies us completely in Christ’s work, and gives us a heart of repentance, rather than demanding we “do penance.”

Church Historian Stephen Nichols tells us that Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, is portrayed in a portrait with an open Bible.

In an illustration of this grace to us, the Bible was opened to Matt 11:27-30:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Christ’s gracious invitation to us—then, and now.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate our salvation in Christ, Sola Gratia, by grace alone—in the words of the Apostle Paul: “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”

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My son and his wife hosted a Reformation 500th Anniversary Conference back in April. The website for the conference has history of the various states in Europe that were effected by the Reformation. They wrote and edited summaries of these histories. The website also has links to all of the conference speakers’ talks. Soon the site will have legible pictures of the 40 story boards (trifold boards) he and his wife made for the conference. All of these resources may be accessed at www.reformation500pa.com

Happy 500th and happy researching!

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Some anniversaries are celebrated with much pomp. Perhaps in limited or hidden circles or isolated from one another, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated. But from my limited view, I am not seeing it. Perhaps this history changing event is obscured by the willful ignoring of the main purveyors of information. It is my hope that the quiet remembrance and thanksgiving of the saints for this God directed change in direction of the church and at that time will result in godly resolution to renew repentance and reformation in our time.

My church is committing some small focus to this great event and how it effects the church today. For 5 weeks leading up to the 500th anniversary, we are presenting a 5-10 minute “Reformation Moment” on the 5 solae of the Reformation. Then this coming Sunday night we have a speaker who will give us an overview of Reformation history. One of the solae for which I have a transcript is “Solus Christus”:

In these 5 weeks we are giving consideration to the 5 solae that summarize the Reformation ideas about God bringing salvation to man. As has been said, the Latin word sola means “alone” or “only”: only Scripture, only grace, only faith, only Christ, only God’s glory. There is, however, one sense in which they are not alone. The solae must be taken together to give a full picture of what God has done and evermore will do to secure our salvation. All of these solae grew out of the reformers’ realizations that the Roman Catholic Church had strayed from the true Gospel message by adding requirements and layers to what God had done, much as the Pharisees had done by the time Jesus was on Earth.

Today we focus on Solus Christus, Christ alone. That this idea is Scriptural is abundantly clear from numerous references. Jesus, Himself, proclaimed His exclusive role in salvation when He said in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (v. 6) Peter amplifies the idea when he and John are brought before the rulers and elders of the people in Acts 4:  And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved”. (v. 12) No priest, no deacon, no pastor, no pope, no mentor or prophet or holy man or saint or angel can in any way help us in salvation other than to point us to Christ because, as I Timothy 2:5-6 says, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”

Furthermore, Christ is only and once sacrificed. For the celebration of the mass is said to be the true body and blood of Christ sacrificed for sins. Scripture says: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)” Salvation comes through trusting in Christ alone for his once and final sacrifice on the cross. We do not need the priest as mediator or the mass as a means of applying saving grace.

Luther understood our tendencies all too well when he said, “we humans are weak and stubbornly perverse and are more likely to become attached to saints than to Christ…that it is easier for us humans to believe and trust in everything else than in the name of Christ, who alone is all in all, and more difficult for us to rely on him in whom and through whom we possess all things.”

As Huldrych [Ulrich] Zwingli proclaimed, “Christ is the only way of salvation of all who were, are now, or shall be.” In Article 54 of his Sixty-Seven Articles (1523), Zwingli explicitly contrasts the Roman sacramentalist view with solus Christus: “Christ has borne all our pain and travail. Hence, whoever attributes to works of penance what is Christ’s alone, errs and blasphemes God.”1

Joel Beeke in writing about the Solus Christus says, “The centrality of Christ is the foundation of the Protestant faith. Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible”—meaning that who He is and what He did in His death and resurrection is the fundamental content of Scripture. Salvation is only in Jesus Christ because there are two conditions that, no matter how hard we try, we can never meet. Yet, they must be done if we are to be saved. The first is to satisfy the justice of God through obedience to the law. The second is to pay the price of our sins. We cannot do either, but Christ did both perfectly”2

In his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, John Calvin wrote, “Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him…we look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!…Hence Christ is called “King of peace” (Is. 9:6) and “our peace” (Eph 2:14) because he quiets all agitations of conscience. If we ask the means, we must come to the sacrifice by which God has been appeased. For anyone unconvinced that God is appeased by that one atonement, in which Christ endured his wrath, will never cease to tremble. In short, we must seek peace for ourselves solely in the anguish of Christ our Redeemer.”3

Solus Christus, Christ alone. As one blogger said, “Since Rome has not changed, and since our own hearts constantly look elsewhere for salvation, the issue is still before us today.  So it is still the duty of the church to clear away all helpers and assistants in salvation and preach Christ and him alone. He is all we have for salvation, but he is all that we’ll ever need.”4 Martin Luther gives us a simple summary, quote, “I must listen to the gospel. It tells me not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for me.”

  1. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/top-five-books-five-solas-solus-christus/
  2. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/christ-alone/
  3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.16.2
  4. https://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/martin-luther-on-solus-christus/

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I was asked, as one of the guests requested by the Eagle Scout candidate, if I would like to speak during the ceremony. I asked if I would be allowed to share Scripture. The response was, “That would be good because the pastor had a conflict and can’t come.” Following is an approximation of what I said then:

Eagle Scout Candidate (ESC- I used his name where this appears), congratulations on your accomplishment. I am here to give you a challenge. Your Scout Oath speaks of duty to God, Family, Country, Others, and Self. Life is about relationships. I add family to the list because, even though it is not included directly in your oath, it is the most fundamental unit of society, even above government, and is surely included in “others”. The Scout Promise and Path is about fulfilling these duties within these relationships.

My challenge today, ESC, pertains to the question, What is our duty to God?

Micah 6:8 says, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In the context before and after this verse the prophet points out that this requirement is not being fulfilled. Is it an unreasonable requirement? Paul quotes King David, the prophet (Psalm 36) when he says,There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands,there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does goodthere is not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) Paul summarizes the problem just a few verses later: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (v.23) Is God being unreasonable to require what we cannot do? What is the solution? The solution is relationship with God. Hear what Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The first step in duty to God is to know God through His Son, Jesus.  The next step is to live for God. These two steps cannot be reversed. You cannot simply serve God and be a nice person. You must know God through Jesus first, then He gives power to those who know Him by providing everything they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:2-3).

ESC, my challenge to you is this: Know God through Jesus, not know about God. Know God by receiving Jesus as your Savior. Secondly, know God regularly through His Word and through worship. Thirdly, serve family, country, and all people through the power God gives, giving Him the credit. This is your duty to God.

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In Isaiah 11:1-10 the rule of the Messiah is gloriously summarized. The first and tenth verses suggest the lineage of this ruler by a plant metaphor. But at first glance it appears to be a mixed metaphor. Verse one reads,Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit”, and verse ten in part reads, “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse…” So which is he, a shoot and therefore a branch or a root? Is it a poorly played metaphor or a profound mystery?

The best place from which to better understand Scripture is Scripture. Isaiah 53:1-2 introduces the the chapter on the Suffering Servant: Who has believed our message And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground”. Here we see again that He is both shoot and root, and seemingly fragile and stressed. In this chapter the horrors of his demise are chronicled with such detail as to cause even the casual observer to think it must refer to Jesus on the cross. Jeremiah 23:5 states, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.” On trees trunks (or stems) shoots become branches. Now Jesse was the father of King David, so both passages imply the promises given to David in 2 Samuel 7 concerning “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (verse 13) In context the “his” of this verse is the descendant (branch) of David who will rule. Messiah will also be a priest: “Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.” (Zechariah 3:8) Priests symbolizing the Priest who will come, the Branch. In Revelation 5:1-5 His authority is shown: I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.  Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” God, the Father, sits in majesty upon His throne holding a sealed scroll. John weeps because it seems that no one may open it. But the Root of David, Jesus, has that authority and power because He has overcome sin and death and hell according to the command of His Father. But why is He characterized as a Root here? The final verse I would like to share clears up this dichotomy: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Jesus declares He is the root and shoot (descendant). I believe that the meaning of Him being declared both Root and Branch is as follows: As God He is the Root or origin of David’s line and all things; as Man He is the Branch or descendant of David who would save His people and rule righteously forever. Messiah Jesus is the perfect God-Man, both Root and Branch.

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The hymn by this name has become one of my favorites over the years because it conveys the holiness and glory of God by transporting the mind to the mercy seat both in the tabernacle and in heaven. The version I have has 5 verses. The original, written by Frederick Faber, has 8 verses: (for a choir rendition, albeit too slow for my liking, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4VtpEu3CDQ)

My God, how wonderful Thou art,
Thy majesty, how bright;
How beautiful Thy mercy seat
In depths of burning light!

How dread are Thy eternal years,
O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night
Incessantly adored!

How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be;
Thy endless wisdom, boundless power,
And glorious purity!

O how I fear Thee, living God,
With deep and tender fear;
And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears!

Yet, I may love Thee, too, O Lord,
Almighty as Thou art;
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart!

No earthly father loves like Thee,
No mother, e’er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou hast done,
With me, Thy sinful child.

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name,
Earth has no higher bliss.

Father of Jesus, love’s Reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze, and gaze on Thee!

As I sang this wonderful hymn, and others, and mused on Psalm 103, more verses came to me. They are not of a quality of the original but I do intend them as worship to God:

He righteous deeds each day performs
Judgments for the oppressed
Compassionate and gracious He 
With love for the distressed

As high as heaven above earth
So great His steadfast love
Is toward all those who fear their God
The God who dwells above

As far as east is from the west
Transgressions He removes
A Father who compassion on
A child who his God fears

For all is peace, my soul at rest
Submitted to His will
Our God is good and great and kind
To know Him is a thrill

One day in heaven we will be
Adoring face to face
But now we see His glory great
Through His redeeming grace

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“But In these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” (Hebrews 1:2) When one spoke for God in times past He was considered a prophet. Jesus taught about God. Jesus revealed hidden things about God. Jesus spoke miracles into existence. For the people who observed these things “Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and, ‘God has visited His people!’” (Luke 7:16) By late in His ministry they were convinced: “And the crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:11) It was certainly true that they were anticipating a prophet. Messianic fever had been rife for many years. When a Roman commander and his cohort seized Paul the Apostle he wanted to know the cause of the riot forming. Knowing the tendency of Jewish people to look for prophets and messiahs he responds to Paul’s request to speak in Greek: “Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” (Acts 21:38) This question also suggests that the people were perhaps looking for a revolutionary, political savior rather than a spiritual one. The spiritual leaders participated in this anticipation and probably incited it, even if not intentionally. When they asked John the Baptizer about who he was, “They asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, No.’” (John 1:21) (underline mine) This phrase, ‘the’ Prophet, arises again: “Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’” (John 6:14) They were most definitely looking for one certain prophet who would come for a specific purpose. The crowds were evidently weighing the evidence for this being the one: “Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, ‘This certainly is the Prophet.’” (John 7:40)

But what specific prophet were they anticipating and for what reason would he be special? Moses was a one of kind prophet, as the Scripture says: Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12) But Moses looked forward to an even greater prophet than himself when he said: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) The Prophet would be similar to Moses but superior in that refusal on the part of anyone to listen to him would be fatal. The people of Jesus’ time were anticipating The Prophet, the great Prophet, who Moses said would come.

Jesus fit the description. He claimed to be the one: The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us. Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’” (John 4:25-26) Jesus did miracles of provision and healing and raising from the dead. He revealed the mystery that He was in fact God and had authority to explain who God is. He had the authority to condemn though He says that He was not the one who would do it: And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.’” (John 12:44-50) God said that the one who refused this prophet He would require it of him. Jesus says that the result will be judgment at the last day for not receiving words He pronounced from God the Father. The Prophet has come about 2020 years ago. A mere 30+ years later He died so that we may live and rose so we might rise. This Christmas season receive His words from the Father so that God may require your disobedience in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross rather require it of you for eternity.

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Yeah, man, my life motto, “Life is Good”, “livin’ the dream!” Good vibes, positive outlook, need plenty of that, right? Not so fast. What about when you are sick and you just lost your job and the dog got run over and taxes went up and there is another war and…you get the idea. So, does that mean life is bad then? Is that what I’m saying? Let’s take a closer look. If the phrase, “Life is Good” was the end of the thought, it has limited utility to help us along in life perhaps, but as used in our society at this time it has modifying thought that follows. This implied extension of the thought is also explicitly stated in places like the “Life is Good” Facebook page. It goes something like this: Life is good because I’m doing what I like and liking what I do. The implication is a totally self focused or humanist view of life and it doesn’t work on several levels. First of all, you can’t always do what you want to. Secondly, in a more narrow sense, if doing what you want to do refers to your vocation, it is an economic impossibility for everyone to have the job of their dreams. And as just pointed out, many times life is hard. The idea may well turn into life is good for some subset of the population for whom everything is falling into place, but that must surely imply that I don’t care what happens to the other half or I think they just need to get their life together, think positive, and make it happen. Or maybe we are being urged to follow blind optimism: Let’s pretend life is good and that will somehow make it better. All of these possibilities seem a bit depressing unless you happen to be riding the wave, and even then it probably won’t last.

Rather than just burst your bubble and leave you hanging, I would like to suggest a more meaningful and purposeful phrase and explain why it is not just wishful thinking: “Life is good because God is good.” Stated this way the fact that life is also at times hard is not ignored or denied. God is working blessings deeper and more lasting. In the midst of hardship God is training us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6,12) and look for what is honorable, pure, and good (Philippians 4:8). He is building, reserving, and guaranteeing future blessings (1 Corinthians 2:9) that outweigh these present difficulties (Romans 8:18). Through His gifts of goodness to us and as we praise Him we are given value, comfort, and provision (Psalm 34). Our lives are filled with meaning (Romans 8:28) and purpose (Psalm 67:7); He is given glory (John 15:8). These reasons that life is good will seem foolish to those who do not know Him (1 Corinthians 1:18), but I invite you to find the peace, joy, and purpose in serving God through the knowledge of His Son, Jesus (Psalm 34:8; Colossians 1:9-13), for He is the way to God (John 14:6). “Life is good because God is good”, which means that all of life is life gained from God and lived unto God (2 Peter 1:2-4), to His glory and for our benefit.

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Hebrews 1:3 is a deeply insightful verse about our God: “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” I have long been fascinated by the phrase “radiance of His glory” and have written about it once upon a time here (Radiance Check out the poem, too.). “Radiance” is translated “brightness” in several versions but seems to fall short of conveying what Jesus accomplishes by revelation to us of His Father. He shines forth His glory, that is, we could not know of God without seeing His glory in Jesus’ representation of Him. You only see the sun because of the light radiating from it. Analogies can be taken too far, in this case to make Jesus out to be something or someone separate from the Father. That is heresy and not at all my intention in explaining radiance. Rather, hear what Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9) That verse, of course, bears on the phrase “exact representation” also. In the ESV it reads, “exact imprint”. As an illustration I pressed my truck key into Play-Doh. I pointed out that plastic could be poured into the imprint, harden and used to open my truck door. Again, you could get into positive/negative imprint or representation being a facsimile rather than the original but that is not what the Scripture is saying. These analogies fall short because of the mystery of the Trinity, meaning our inability to understand the essential nature of God, but He gives us insight to extend our understanding even though we fall short of full understanding.

The next phrase is the one that has caught my attention most recently. I am now going to indulge in some manifest musing (or “thinking out loud” as we usually say if I were talking to you). Heupholds all things by the word of His power.” “Word of His power” is an odd construction in English. NASB, KJV, NKJV, and ESV use this phrase. NIV, HCSB, and NRSV say, “His powerful word”, and the RSV says, “his word of power”, both phrases which seem to me to have a different meaning from “word of His power”.  I suspect the three newer translations (NIV, HCSB, and NRSV) made interpretative decisions for the purpose of clarity. Is this change justified? The Greek Interlinear Bible (http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/heb1.pdf) has the literal English word order as “declaration [word] of the ability (power) of Him” (“[]” being my addition and “()” being theirs). Not claiming to know more than the slightest inkling of Greek grammar, I can at least say that the majority translations are going with the more literal wording. The interlinear translation and Strong’s help us with what the particular words mean. “Word” here is not logos, the expression of God, but rhema, a declaration. And “power” is dynamis, which means ability or potential for power or action.

The “of” is important. It denotes possession. If I say, “son of mine” I mean the same thing as “my son”. The shade of difference is the emphasis on son in the first phrase. So the reason I don’t think “word of His power” and “His powerful word” mean the same thing is that “powerful” is not possessive, but a descriptive modifier. It says His word is powerful. “Word of His power” says His power’s word. The power is expressed in a declaration (word). Rather than saying His word has power, it seems to be saying that His power has word. His power proceeds forth as that which communicates what will be (be that static (“upholds”) or dynamic (“created” Isaiah 40:26)). Word modifies power rather than power modifying word. If we had the word it could read, ‘His wordful power’. The emphasis is on declaration (word) that upholds all things but the source of that word is His power. From His power proceeds forth a word which upholds. The way his power is being exhibited is through efficacious declaration.

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All the political hubbub with no real solutions. All the anxiety ridden news reports without real hope. All the suggested intrusions on freedom with no real security. We are not going to make progress and are going to regress rapidly without turning to the one and only solution. 

This poem actually began as two conflicting thoughts and considering the circumstances under which they came about. It seems to me now the first verse does not even go with the rest of the poem so I will separate it with extra space. See what you think:

I write poetry to keep from being bored
Focus mind when feet are nailed to a floorboard
Teasing out thoughts that are both far flung and near
Sorting through the hurtful and that which is dear

When I think of all the wrong that’s in the world
Murders and abuse and war banners unfurled
My mind grabs for solutions to bring to bear
All beyond reach in a world cruel and unfair

There’s the pain to loved ones from me and others
Scarred relationships start with father, mothers
Friends and neighbors had words and are offended
Words out, actions done, cannot be rescinded

Is there no hope for mankind, is it all gloom?
Tearing down self and others, is this our doom?
No, there is hope, but it’s not in self-help plans
Nor is it in the police state or gun bans

Our hope is in God’s Son through His sacrifice
His death on the cross for sin paid the full price
By trusting in His work we have peace with God
Relationship growing in place of the rod

Repentance and forgiveness we have in Him
We may pass to others as a precious gem
When seeking to forgive and be forgiven
We have with sin and disharmony striven

This makes possible reconciliation
Moving past hurt beginning restoration
Extending peace to strangers and enemies
Doing right by neighbors knowing that God sees

Hope for the future and for the present too
Pointing people to purpose both real and true
Spending time and resources to relieve pain
Pointing to the Savior in Whom is real gain

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