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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Why It Is So Important to Know the Love of God

Imagine that someone you love deeply is involved in an automobile accident. For ease of illustration, imagine that you’re a parent and the person injured is your only son.  After the accident, for the longest time, he is in a coma and the doctors are not sure that he is going to make it.  You are naturally by his bedside every day.

Then one day, joy of joys, his eyes flutter open, and he says he is thirsty.  You are overjoyed!  You’re hugging him and crying over him. It’s the best day of your life.  Then the best day of your life becomes one of the worst, when he utters those three words: “Who are you?”

That’s right – your beloved son has amnesia and can’t remember who you are.  Now, as I understand it, unlike the movies, most cases of amnesia are temporary, and that is the case with this as well, but when he does begin to recognize you as his mother or father, he still has a hard time believing that you love him.  In other words, he remembers and believes that he is your son…but does not believe that you love him.

What is it that you try to do?  Faced with the prospect of your child not understanding your deep love for him, you immediately start to demonstrate your love with gifts and acts of kindness. Faced with the thought that your child might not know your love, you simply try to tell him in as many different ways as you can of your love.

Now convincing your child of your love is natural – good parents do it all the time whether their child has amnesia or not.  But think with me for a moment and let me ask: why are you so hyped to tell your son that you love him?  Why are you so energized about this thing?

Well, for one, you do love him and you want him to have the wonderful assurance of parental love.  You want him to experience your love.  That’s a natural part of being a parent.

But there is another reason that you are anxious for him to know your love.  The truth is that as you visit him day after day in the hospital, he’s just not the boy you’ve always known.  In other words, your son is acting polite toward you, because, after all, you’ve taught him to be polite…but something is missing.  There is a distance there.  And you realize intuitively that the connection that you have had with your child through the years is actually formed on the basis of love.  Get this: you have a sense, rightly I might add, that if he does not know your love, you will never have the relationship that you have had in the past and that you long to have again.

Let me put this in a slightly different way:  you have a sense that if he does not know your love, he will never ever be able to love you in return.  Sound familiar? John put it this way: We love because He first loved us 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

And now we are beginning to understand – there is a reason that our Heavenly Father puts it as supreme importance that we know His love. There is a reason that Paul prays for the Ephesians that they might know the height and width and length and depth of Christ’s love, the love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18, 19).

And finally, there is a reason that He gives us His Holy Spirit Who witnesses to our spirits that we are the children of God, and thus…deeply loved:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, Romans 8:15-16 (ESV)

 

Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 1: Romans 9 

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Why More Rules Don’t Make You More Holy

Romans 724–25 [widescreen]In the early 1980’s, I attended a Bible seminar called Basic Youth Conflicts put on by a Bible teacher named Bill Gothard. Gothard was a Youth Pastor in the Chicago area for a number of years until he went into this traveling ministry of putting on these seminars.

There were many good and useful things that he taught: the importance of the Word of God and memorizing it, the value of accepting how God has made you, etc. On the other hand, some of the things he had to say were just a little whacky – like that everyone should memorize out of the King James Version because the poetry of it was better for your mind.

Anyway, because of his emphasis on the importance of the Word of God in the life of the believer, one of the things that Gothard encouraged his attendees to do was make a vow to read it 5 minutes every day for the rest of your life.

And he told us not to take the vow lightly as he quoted Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5, “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”

So with Bill Gothard’s encouragement, I made a vow.

Now I wouldn’t encourage anyone today to make such a vow, as this article will hopefully demonstrate, although I would definitely encourage everyone to read the Bible every day for at least five minutes. But that’s another blog.

Well, some years later, I thought I would expand on Gothard’s idea to bring life change to other areas of my life.

So I set up a system of vows. I didn’t talk about it a lot, and I don’t think very many other people knew about it outside of Diane. There were a few different areas where I made vows, but you can guess the usual suspects – eating right, exercise, etc.

I promise I won’t eat desserts after 6 PM. I promise to work out 3 times a week for a half an hour, etc.

I would make a vow for a week and then renew the vow at the beginning of the next week. And at first, it was great; at one point, I even thought I might write a book about this new vow plan I had developed, but it was not to be, because I eventually gave the system up. You see, while there were small gains, it was not producing the life change that I wanted it to produce, and it was probably having some unintended negative effects.

You see, the problem with what I had done is that I was simply creating a number of new laws, and my biggest problem was simple: I didn’t understand the power of the gospel, and I didn’t understand the purpose of the law.

It’s in Romans 7 that Paul wants us to understand the purpose of the Law, and it was really not to help us obey.  Instead, it was to show us why we needed a Savior.  It was to magnify our sin and make us run to Jesus.  In fact, though the law is righteous and good, it actually worked against us in making us holy, as Paul explained…

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. Romans 7:7-10 (ESV)

Remember the assigned reading in high school English class that you didn’t want to do simply because it was assigned? In the same way, the Law has a way of working against you.  Paul said that when the law told him not to covet, the act of coveting became his main desire.  So what is the answer?  Well, it’s that we need to be set free from the Law through believing in Christ…

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. Romans 7:4 (ESV)

Paul is saying that if we want to be fruitful for God, then we need to be set free from the Law of Moses. Because in the end, it’s not the Law of God that transforms us, but the Love of God.  We will not be changed by rules, but we will be changed by grace.  In fact, this is the larger point of Romans 7: Rules will not make you holy, because the flesh cannot observe God’s commandments – only the Spirit can help us do that, and He comes to us through the glorious gospel of God.

So I’m thankful for the good things I learned from Bill Gothard, and yet, as much as I love to tell people to read their Bibles, I would never encourage anyone to make a vow to do so.

Laws don’t make holy people.  The Spirit of God Who comes to us through believing in the Gospel – He is the key to holiness.

 

For Tuesday, March 31: Romans 8

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Pastoring a “Feel Good” Church

Romans 64 [widescreen]One of the things that I find fascinating in my role as a Pastor at Edgewood is to occasionally find out what people out there are saying about our church. The truth is that I really don’t know what people outside of Edgewood are thinking and saying, probably because I’m just naturally insulated.  People outside of Edgewood just aren’t going to walk up to me and tell me what they’re thinking.

But occasionally a comment or two from the world outside of Edgewood filters to me, and recently I was I was chatting with someone new to our fellowship after a service, and he told me about a recent encounter he had with people from his old church.  When he told them that he was attending Edgewood, they said, “Really?  Isn’t that a “feel good” church?”  This wasn’t the first time I had heard this one, but what does it mean?  Certainly not a church where Chuck Mangione is playing his famous jazz classic all the time: “Feels so Good.”

No, it’s something other than that…I don’t know how many people say that about Edgewood, but at least a few I suppose, enough that I have heard it more than once through the years from different people who as far as I know are not connected with one another.

I’m guessing the idea could be that we’re all about entertainment, maybe because we have contemporary music, or screens, or we laugh and smile and actually enjoy coming to church. More likely I’m guessing that the comment comes from what people think our message is.  More likely I’m guessing that a few people put us down as a “feel-good” church because we talk a lot about the gospel here. They wouldn’t put it like that, but that’s probably what it is.

You see, if any message were ever a feel good message, the gospel is.  After all, think about what Paul said in Romans 5:20

…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, Romans 5:20 (ESV)

Now if you attend Edgewood and love our church and it discourages you to hear that some people would call us a “feel good” church, don’t let it get you down. They said the same thing about Paul’s message, and I love the quote from the great preacher Martyn Lloyd Jones who said that this is the mark of accurate gospel communication:

“There is no better test as to whether a man is preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it doesn’t matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching.  If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 6, The New Man

Now it is in Romans 6 that Paul begins to clarify what exactly he means by what he has said in Romans 5 about sin increasing and grace abounding.  And he begins by asking, “Doesn’t this “feel good” message just lead to sin?”…

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:1-4 (ESV)

The reason the “feel good” message doesn’t lead to more and more sin is that something else wonderful happens to us when we come to Christ: we are placed in union with Jesus. Romans chapters 1 – 5 is about how we are saved through union with Christ.  Romans 6 is about how we live holy lives through union with Christ. And it happens this way – when you are united with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection, you receive power…power to live for God, power to live a holy and righteous and joyous life, and all in all power to walk…in newness of life.

 

For Monday, March 30: Romans 7

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Missing Peace by Josh Knowlton

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Celebrating Josh’s 20th birthday a month ago at Wheaton College

(Note from Roger:Today I have asked one of my favorite people in the world to be a guest blogger.  He is my one and only son, Josh Knowlton. Josh is a sophomore at Wheaton College studying Anthropology.  Aside from academics, Josh is a member of the Wheaton Men’s Glee Club and the acapella group, Thundertones. He’s also a weekly worship leader for three-year-old Sunday School at the Church of the Resurrection and also leads a weekly ministry to teach English to native Chinese speakers in the Chinatown area of Chicago. Lastly, he also occasionally writes a personal devotional from his Scripture reading. So for today…I asked him to go public. Be sure to share freely!)

One of the deepest cries of every soul is the plea for peace. Not having peace is like a restless night’s sleep. You toss and you turn as your bed creaks and moans. Your pillow always has a lump in it; your sheets always have a crinkle. The temperature either makes you shiver or sweat, as nagging frustration runs through your mind. And when you wake up the next morning in a half-sleep stupor, you end up more tired than you were the night before. Not peace.

This “not peace”  is a constant reality everywhere we turn. It happens at home in the sounds of raised voices; it happens at work in gossip or a biting remark; it happens at school in the form of stress and “being left out”; it happens in the world in the ways of Ferguson, Ukraine and Russia, ISIS.

Every night, the world has insomnia. It’s tossing and turning, desperate for some peace it believes should be here. Restless for rest. But every morning we awake to a world that seems worse off than it was before.

And yet, Paul says that because we have been “justified by faith” by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can have peace! True peace, a “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Although the world may still be broken and restless in endless ways, God wants us to experience his peace by being in a relationship with him, by knowing his grace.

This probably isn’t shocking to you. But it should be. You see, God knows the words you’re going to say before you even think to say them (Psalm 139:4). He’s numbered your days, and knows what each one will be like (Psalm 139:16). He knows you, the real you. He knows your family history and your inside jokes with your best friends. He’s watched and smiled at your most embarrassing moments, and applauded you at your biggest successes. And he knows your sin—the horrible things you wish you could forget and the little things you can’t even remember.

God knows you better than Google knows your search history. And yet he still loves you endlessly. And as Paul says, he lets us, unclean sinners, enter into a peace with him. No more restless nights, right?

Maybe one day. But for now, this isn’t quite the end of the story. We still live in a world full of violent unrest, unrelenting agitation. Not peace: suffering. And even though as Christians, the Holy Spirit has given us peace, there’s still going to battles we have to face—there’s still going to be suffering.

So how does this suffering work into this plan of peace?

Paul, as usual, has the answer. He outlines: “suffering produces endurance…endurance produces character…and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3).

You see, suffering is like a super-charged, rocket-engine fuel that is agonizing to produce, but ultimately launches our hope in God into the stratosphere. Just like rocket science, it’s hard to understand—especially when you’re living through that suffering. But with Christ working through our suffering—we end up producing hope. It’s kinda like putting last week’s garbage in a blender and ending up with the new iPhone 6. It’s wonderful, beautiful, impossible, glorious. It’s Christ working through us.

Without Christ, peace is like a puff of smoke we see but can’t contain, a handful of sand running through our fingertips. But with Christ, peace is a reality that takes hold in our hearts. And it’s here for us—here for you.

 

For tomorrow, Friday, March 27th: Romans 6

While you’re at it, here’s another story about Josh…

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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How to Get to Heaven…the Old Testament Way

God changed.

The very thought should make us shudder.  And you know why, right?  Because if God changed then He either became better, or He became worse.  Now, if He became better, then He wasn’t perfect yesterday, and tell me, just who or what exactly was answering your prayers last week?  And if He changed for the worse, well, horrors…

So get ready for a 5 cent theological word: immutable.  That’s what God is – it means He never changes.  Put that on the list of something God can’t do:  He can’t change.  After all, how could One who is already perfect in beauty and power and love ever change?  It’s impossible…and praise God that it is.

Well then, what are we to do with this grace thing? After all, when we turn the page from the Old Testament to the New, don’t we go from law to grace? Wasn’t Yahweh one God in the Old Testament and another in the New?

The $64,000 question…did He change?

Of course not! God has always been perfect in love and grace, in the New Testament as well as the Old. And this is the point that Paul must prove to his readers in Romans chapter 4.  After all, the people of the church in Rome know that if the Apostle is teaching them something which shows God as being different than he was before, they must throw out all of Paul’s teaching.

And, at least according to some, Paul was presenting a “new” God: Jewish teachers of the day taught that Abraham was saved by his good works, as for instance, the book of Jubilees said, “For Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life.”

So to make his point, Paul takes us all the way back to a story…from the Old Testament, Genesis 15 to be exact, and it happened this way…

The Lord came to Abram (God had not yet changed his name) one night in a vision, and he promised him protection and blessing.  But Abram immediately thought about the primary way he was not being blessed: he did not have a son. And in that holy moment, God promised him…a boy, his very own son.  And then…

Genesis 156 [widescreen]And with that, Abram…was saved.  And it didn’t happen by being circumcised – Paul goes on to show that circumcision happened after this – and it didn’t happen by any other good works either, not even because he was a really great guy.

No, no, Abram was saved…by God’s grace, through faith…and this, at the very start…of the Old Testament.  Glory to God, He hadn’t changed after all.

And therefore this gospel that Paul was proclaiming was not presenting a new God after all – he was simply telling all the rest of us the most glorious and wonderful news that Abram had heard centuries before, telling us that we could be saved in the same blessed and hopeful way, and for this even we Christians call him “Father Abraham”, for he was indeed the “father of all who believe”. (Romans 4:11)

 

Tomorrow I welcome my first guest blogger in our Inspired readings through the New Testament: my son, Josh Knowlton…on Romans 5

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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There is no Distinction

I knew a young man in my college days who was convinced that the way of salvation was not open to Him. He had sinned in some apparently major way (or perhaps only in his mind) – the truth is it really doesn’t matter – I don’t think he actually told me.  Either way, he was despondent and utterly convinced that somehow, he was a special case and that the way of salvation was not open to him.

Everyone else, maybe.  Just not him.

And into this despondent thought we read Romans 3:21 – 23…

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (ESV)

There is no distinction.  Here is Paul saying that the gift of righteousness is open to everyone WHO BELIEVES without distinction. Some of us will be slightly more wicked than others.  But all of us will be ungodly (Romans 4:5). And yet, the righteousness of God is available to all through faith in Jesus.

Here is a verse to hold on to if you are tempted to think that you are one of those who has gone a bridge too far.  That’s impossible. In God’s eyes, we are all tainted with sin.  In God’s eyes we all stand in need of His Son.

In God’s eyes…there is no distinction.

 

For tomorrow, March 25th: Romans 4

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Hypocrites Anonymous

US Supreme Court BuildingWhat if Judgment Day was not about whether you kept the commandments of God, but instead, whether you kept your own commandments?  You know, the commandments you not only tell others (like employees and kids) to keep, but the commandments which you judge others with:

In his book, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, Francis Schaeffer illustrated this idea:

“If every little baby that was ever born anywhere in the world had a tape recorder hung about its neck, and if this tape recorder only recorded the moral judgments with which this child as he grew bound other men, the moral precepts might be much lower than the biblical law, but they would still be moral judgments.

Can you imagine the kind of things that would be recorded?

“I can’t believe she’s late again.  She’s always late.  How inconsiderate.”

“How selfish can you be?  He’s always thinking of himself.”

“Talk about lazy.  He won’t lift a finger around here.”

“She’s the kind of person who is always talking about others behind their back.” (Wait for this one – it will come to you.)

Or likewise: “I can’t stand those Christians – they’re so judgmental.” (And who’s judging now?)

Francis Schaeffer continued:

“Eventually each person comes to that great moment when he stands before God as judge. Suppose, then, that God simply touched the tape recorder button and each man heard played out in his own words all those statements by which he had bound other men in moral judgment. He could hear it going on for years—thousands and thousands of moral judgments made against other men, not aesthetic judgments, but moral judgments.

“Then God would simply say to the man, though he had never heard the Bible, now where do you stand in the light of your own moral judgments? The Bible points out . . . that every voice would be stilled. All men would have to acknowledge that they have deliberately done those things which they knew to be wrong. Nobody could deny it.”

In other words, have you ever been late? Or selfish? How about lazy? A gossip? Have you ever sat in judgment on someone else?

And now, consider carefully what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 2:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:13-16 (ESV)

And you you know what this means, right? We are all hypocrites. And therefore no one will be able to stand on Judgment Day based on their own righteousness. Our only hope is that, through faith, we might be clothed in the righteousness of Another. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

 

For Tuesday, March 24th: Romans 3

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 
 
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