Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In this rejoice...

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.“

1 Peter 1:3-7

Peter was writing this letter to a people that were undergoing severe persecution and suffering. Peter has been called the ”Apostle of Hope” and in this first chapter we see that it is with this hope that he encourages his readers to endure the hardship of being a follower of Christ.

Here Peter repeats Christ’s encouragement in Matthew 5:12 where he says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ”

The reason for our rejoicing is that we have an inheritance awaiting us in heaven. And this inheritance was not bought with anything that we had to offer but was given to us by God in His grace through Jesus. In that there is great hope, even a guarantee, because if we were the ones who had purchased it with our own deeds there would be the grave possibility of losing that inheritance but verse 5 reassures us that we “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” We can stand secure in the fact that it was God’s choice based on who He was not what we’ve done. It cannot be taken away.

This hope in the future is a life sustaining truth. It is a joy filling, peace giving hope. Something to hold on to in our times of pain and weakness because of the cause of Christ. Being obedient to Him is a hard path.

I often hear and have even said myself that it’s easy to be a Christian in America. That there are other places in the world where being a Christian is difficult and dangerous.

But now that I think of it, being a Christian in America is very hard. But not in the same way as it is difficult in North Korea, China or Iran. Here we have so many things competing for our affections and it is easy to be comfortable and complacent. There is no pressure to pursue Christ or not. We can call ourselves a Christian or not and there is no real impact on lifestyles and situations. Now the case is different for certain individuals in different familial settings or college classrooms but generally speaking there is no danger. No great cost. We are not asked to change much.

But the road of salvation is a difficult one. In one setting the road is difficult because of outside physical threats and tangible fears. However, in this setting I think that the road is difficult because we have so many things competing for our affections. Too many of us, myself included, are not living the radical lives prescribed in the Bible and so the world for the most part tolerates us because the difference is not great. Our values are still similar.

That is why I have often struggled with giving this future inheritance the value that scripture affords it. Because of the high value that I have placed on the temporary, the value of the eternal is lessened. Although mentally I understand that my hope is ultimately in that inheritance, practically speaking I don’t live it.

However in persecution and suffering, our strength is poured out and we are found wanting and it is often at that point that we finally surrender to Christ and hope in Him and the inheritance that He has prepared for us.

It is for this hope that those facing death and imprisonment in other countries readily count their Familial relationships, material possessions and even their lives as loss for the gain of Christ.

Like the man who found a treasure in a field and then covered it and in his joy went and sold everything that he had in order to buy that field and obtain that treasure.

This idea of rejoicing in suffering is one of those things that we often get in hindsight. We have those, “Oh, now I get it.” moments. We can see God’s hand when we pull back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like the TV show 24. I once watched the entire first season on DVD in one sitting. In the midst of watching the season I would get anxious and the suspense would get to me.

“What’s gonna happen next.“ I would say. I couldn’t sleep or get peace until I knew what would happen next and so I ended up watching the whole thing through. But then when I would catch a rerun on TV I didn’t have to finish it. I wasn’t entrenched in the story. I knew the end so I had a peace about what would happen next. In fact I would even just have it in the background while Idid something else. Why?

Because I knew how the story ended.

Likewise, in the midst of our suffering the Bible tells us what the end will be. We have a hope to look forward to. Todays troubles are not everything. In fact once we know what the future holds we can almost put our suffering in the background while we pursue Christ’s transformation in our hearts and Christ’s will for us in other places. Knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us and that He is preparing a place for us in heaven.

I need to get this. Consistently. I need to not just ”get this“ but to apply it. To live it.

Please help me realize the treasure that I have in Christ and to feel the weight and the value of my future inheritance in comparison to this temporary world in which I am in exile from heaven. I pray that you would work on my heart tonight that I would have a renewed passion for the pursuit of Christ. Help me to count this world and all the it has to offer as loss compared to the all surpassing glory of Him whom you have sent for me. Help me to not have to wait for suffering to understand this hope that I might make you famous today.

In Jesus name, AMEN.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Conviction Salted With Grace

Ray Ortlund on the "Truly Reformed" (check out the comments too):


I believe in the sovereignty of God, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Solas of the Reformation, I believe that grace precedes faith in regeneration. Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian – or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.


What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone.

View the full post here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prayer that changes things

“10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.“

Hebrews 12:10-11

The writer of Hebrews is exhorting his readers to endure; to push through suffering and temptation. In verse 4 he writes, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” He asks us to “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you(we) may not grow weary or fainthearted.

He tells us to look back at Jesus’ example for encouragement in our own trials.

He then moves onto the discipline of the father and writes a phrase that hit me like a ton of bricks:

“...but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

In the past I’ve preached on this idea that God imparts His righteousness on us because of Christ’s propitiation on the cross on our behalf and in our place. But for some reason as I read these words in Hebrews the weight of that statement was renewed in my heart.

This perfectly holy and eternal being actually shares His righteousness with me, a sinner.

But an important part of this verse that we mustn’t overlook is that we get to share His righteousness through the path of His discipline.

Too often we pray for God to fix this situation or to get us through that situation; to know His will for our lives that we might have something to hold onto in our times of trouble.

Kind of like my friend in high school who would pull out his policeman dad’s business card whenever we would get pulled over. He would never learn and we would get pulled over again but all he had to do to change his situation was pull out his dad’s card and we would again escape the ticket.

But in light of this verse I think that our lives and our prayers should be different. They should sound different.

Instead of asking Him to change our situation we should ask Him for strength and patience to endure; for open and teachable hearts that we might learn from His discipline and be able to share in His holiness. We should be begging Him for joy in the midst of our circumstances.

Dear Lord,
Help me to have eyes to see and ears to hear what you are trying to teach me through trials and discipline. Forgive me for being so blind and selfish at times to only pray for situations to be change but not hearts. I pray for a renewed perspective and a teachable heart.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Obedience and Faith: you can't have one without the other

“18 Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:

though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red like crimson,

they shall become like wool.

19 If you are willing and obedient,

you shall eat the good of the land;

20 but if you refuse and rebel,

you shall be eaten by the sword;

for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 1:18-20

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.“

Titus 3:8


In Isaiah’s prophecy we see God telling His people that he will clean them of their sins. That the red stain upon their souls will be turned white as wool with this condition: they be willing and obedient.

Then we see Paul urging Titus, right after proclaiming salvation by faith alone in the mercy of God through Jesus, to insist on right living according to correct doctrine as seen chapter 2. Orthodoxy leading to orthopraxy. Right thinking that leads to right practice.

He is clear in pronouncing our salvation as solely dependent upon God’s mercy and grace. But he is quick to remind Titus of the purpose of this insistence: ”...so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.“

In preparing to speak at Thrive High School Camp about discipleship I have been pondering what it means to be a believer and a disciple of Jesus. What I have found is that many people disassociate belief and obedience. They think that a saving faith in Jesus is simply acknowledging His atonement on the cross for our sins. They think that being a Christian means having that knowledge imbedded in their hearts. And to be true there is a great truth to that. None of our actions will ever be effective in changing God’s view of us. It is only up to His loving mercy.

Salvation IS through repentance and faith in Christ alone.

But in thinking about that statement more deeply I have come to realize that even that very first step of repentance is the first step in a lifetime of steps towards obedience to Jesus.

You can’t have one without the other.

There are folks who say that good works are a result of faith. The good fruit born of the good tree. But repentance is not simply a turning form sin. It is a turning towards God. It is an about face. It is a step of obedience.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship writes, ”Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.“

They are forever intertwined.

The true believer’s life is marked by this devotion to do good works.

Too often man will justify their sin by proclaiming God’s promise to forgive those in Christ Jesus. It is a false sense of comfort. This kind of grace is self imposed and unbiblical. It justifies the sin but does not justify the sinner.

A true believer in Christ is a person broken before the Lord because of their sin but bold in life because of God’s forgiveness.

God’s grace does not simply wash us clean but it also urges us to get back up when we fall and keep on contending for our faith.

Accepting God’s forgiveness is the same as saying, ”Yes Lord, I will follow you.“


As a pastor I am called to bring the people that God has placed under my care to an understanding of this concept. That being a Christian, being saved means becoming a disciple of Jesus at great cost to our flesh. It is a renunciation of one life for another one.

Sometimes we put a few coins into a vending machine to get some Funions or something. But when we place that last coin in nothing happens. The coin is stuck and so we don’t get the bag of chips.

The Gospel for far too many is like that last coin. It is in their minds. They have knowledge of it. They may even feel the weight of Christ’s sacrifice but it hasn’t dropped into their hearts. And so it does not produce emotions and affections that bid them to obedience. Their is no bag of chips and God is left waiting.

2 Corinthians 13:5 says:

        ”Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not         realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet         the test!“

It’s not too popular to question ones salvation. People often feel judged and become indignant when their faith is questioned. ”Who are you to judge?“ they ask.

But Paul’s admonition to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith means that there are people who are deceived into thinking that they are saved but their actions show no objective evidence.

I praise God that the coins have dropped in my heart. I am not perfect by any means but through obedience and constant repentance I am assured more and more that Christ is my savior.

I think instead of becoming indignant we should welcome the challenge to test ourselves.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your grace. Please forgive me of my disobedience. Holy Spirit, please continue to form and mold me that your grace would flow out of me through my actions in obedience to you.

In Jesus Name, AMEN